Welcome to Part 2.
In the interest of keeping any discussion directly on-topic, I’m going to post my thoughts in a few separate posts, organized by topic; this one will be with respect to hero balance with a focus on Flatline.
Part 2 of 3 - Hero Balance; feat. Flatline
Hero Balance Changes
This, specifically, refers to the hero balance changes that were released as a part of the August 2019 Update.
First of all, I want to celebrate the fact that some currently underused heroes are getting some love (albeit slowly). It’s good to see heroes like Beck, Chesterfield, and Halloway receive some much-needed attention. More importantly though, I’m thrilled to see a more measured take on some historically overpowered heroes. Here are my general thoughts, in no particular order.
Beck rocketed into the spotlight with the introduction of Alliance War since she has, by far, the highest base power of any hero in the game. This change is a step in the right direction, but likely won’t be enough that we start seeing her in either PvE or PvP. She simply doesn’t have a good niche and is overshadowed by other, vastly superior mech DPS heroes. Also worth noting that her bronze is quite possibly the worst skill in the game and seems to have been overlooked.
Chesterfield’s changes to Illumination Flare look amazing. It looks to serve a great purpose in countering cloaking despite my distaste for rock-paper-scissors style balancing. I’m hoping it’s enough to pull him into the meta, but I’m not convinced he’s useful enough beyond that skill. Cautiously optimistic here.
Disappointed with this. The “fix” to Holo Doubles feels like a lazy workaround to avoid actually addressing the bug. Halloway is in desperate need of a buff so it’s underwhelming to see him get mentioned without actually getting addressed. Currently his only purpose is to catalyze Ronin’s Honorbound and that looks to remain the case.
Good changes to Kaishi but he meets the same fate as Beck. Overshadowed by other heroes that do his job better.
Kurtz is one of the few heroes that yet eludes me so I can’t speak from experience. Happy to see this oversight patched up, but he’s likely still too strong. And the response of “well he’s the big bad guy dur durrr” does nothing but showcase ignorance in game balancing. When heroes are used in PvP, it is fundamentally flawed to have one hero deliberately stronger than the others. It’s just bad game design.
Shank, if I’m being honest, fails to be on my radar. Hopefully this makes him viable but I don’t think it will be nearly enough.
I think Ronin is finally in a pretty good place. Set up right, he’s still arguably the biggest DPS threat in the game, but this change moderates the level at which he keeps all of his squishy support alive. The health reduction across the board here is a smart way to approach Ronin’s strengths without reducing his characteristic ultra-high damage output.
This is a very good change, but I don’t think it will do the job in unseating the king of PvP unfortunately. Mandrake’s cloaking is not a problem because of its duration, it is a problem because it drops all AI attention off the hero the moment it activates.
A far bigger help against the overarching issue of cloaking would be to allow skills to target invisible. This would add some real strategy to the mix and give a lot of value to heroes that can Mark. Nightingale, for example, could target an invisible hero and mark them, removing the cloak and refocusing AI attention on that enemy. Food for thought.
“But wait, I don’t remember seeing Flatline in the balance notes”
That’s exactly the problem.
Again and again, we see a failure to address this criminally overpowered hero. Nerfing Clear was an insultingly insufficient change and hopefully this post will address why. (I want to note that I think Clear is in a great place right now and I have no problem with it.)
In general, well-balanced games have multiple viable strategies; and within those strategies are multiple viable implementations. Since every hero is different, each should have a role. Inevitably, some heroes will be very strong in certain strategies and weak in others depending on how their niche fits into the overall composition of the team. Ronin for example is only strong if used correctly, surrounded by squishy support heroes.
Flatline violates this basic balance fundamental. She has no niche. She slots perfectly into any team and Stay With Me (her gold skill) is strong enough that she gives a direct improvement to virtually any team she is added to. A healthily balanced game should have a variety of equally viable playstyles. The problem with Flat is that she is the single best healer in every team.
Stay With Me is Anti-Strategy
Stay With Me is the issue. It’s a crutch for bad players and a barrier holding back actual strategy for good players. It is not a cleverly-synergized niche. It’s a blanket, universal undo button. It hand-holds poor team design and compensates for a lack of planning by requiring zero effort whatsoever to be used successfully.
Final Thoughts on Hero Balance
There’s one more thing I want to mention with regards to hero balance as it ties in specifically to the problems that make Flatline so strong.
Too many heroes have now been released that are “must-kill-first” style. Mandrake was the first and dominated the meta for ages. The winner of every match was whomever killed the other Mandrake first. Flatline is similar in that without killing her first, your damage likely won’t be able to outpace the ridiculous undo-button that is Stay With Me. Kurtz is perhaps the worst offender in recent memory. If you don’t kill Kurtz first, his skills will wipe your whole team effortlessly.
So what happens when you have too many of these high-priority targets available? Who do you target first in a team that has Kurtz, Flatline, and Mandrake? Cloaking, infinite-resurrections, or Kurtz’ team-wipe; you get to pick which breaks your spirit.
These style heroes need to be done in moderation and should only be done with heroes that fit a very specific niche role (see notes above for how Flatline is not this). Otherwise you run into what we’re seeing now, where the spiderweb of interconnecting high-priority support skills creates an impenetrable mesh.