Design a MOBA Character – Garrosh Hellscream

“Garrosh, always in your face, wanting you to hurt him, begging his healer to look elsewhere, ramping up damage until his dying breath.”

It’s been the year of Blizzard for me. First Hearthstone and now, improbably, Heroes of the Storm. Both games have been revelatory for me; bringing me rushing back into the brilliant PC gaming fold and opening my eyes to amazing game design.

Most of the posts I put on this blog are videos. I try and show a prototype I’ve made or tutorial I’ve completed. I wanted this post to be a little different. I wanted to design something on paper to show that I can be inspired by something and use that thing as a loose brief to create something which extends a game or changes it in some way.

My target was simple: to design a new hero for Heroes of the Storm inspired by the game most under-represented in Blizzard’s Nexus; Hearthstone! GarroshHellscream

Warrior has never been my class in Hearthstone, but I was fascinated by the Enrage mechanic and that could be applied to a MOBA character.

I wanted this design to be comprehensive, showing that I’m capable of layering mechanics in interesting ways and have the ability to both envision a high concept and break that concept into granular detail.

After some thought I chose Garrosh Hellscream, the Warrior, and his selection on unique cards, to be the basis of my hero design. Working back to front, here is my “final” design (all stats reflect the player being at level 1).

Garrosh Hellscream
Type Melee Assassin
Overall Concept: An assassin who becomes enraged, increasing damage output as he takes damage. Classic risk/reward.
Health 875
Health Regen 1
Mana 500
Mana Regen 3
Attack Speed 0.85
Damage 55
Ability Name Description Cooldowns
Q Mortal Strike Skillshot. Dive forward whilst swinging your fiery war axe, dealing 65 damage to all characters in the path. Stop when you hit a hero or structure, dealing an extra 20 damage to that actor. 12 seconds
W Whirlwind Spin the axe around yourself twice, doing 36 damage on first swing and 45 damage on second swing. 8 seconds
E Armour Up Gain a shield equal to 10% max health for 5 seconds. If shield expires, 100% of the shield restored as health. 8 seconds
Trait Enrage For every 25% health lost, raise attack speed by 10% and ability damage by 10%. Armour Up does no damage, so shield size increased by 25%. N/A
Heroic Opt. 1 Commanding Shout Health can’t be reduced to less than 1 for 3 seconds. 90 seconds
Heroic Opt. 2 Revenge Target an enemy and leap to them, dealing damage equal to the amount of health you have lost. 90 seconds
Level
1 Immolate Strike When Enraged, any hero or structure hit by Mortal Strike will be cleaved, bouncing 25%/50%/75% (depending on Enrage level) of the damage to nearby enemies.
Swirling Wind As Garrosh becomes more Enraged the range of whirlwind increases by 10%/20%/30%
Furious Steel When Enraged, gain 15%/20%/25% more shield per activation.
Seasoned Marksman For every 6 enemy Minion or Mercenary kills near your Hero, gain 1 Basic Attack damage. Hero Takedowns count as 2 Minion kills.
4 Brutal Steel If shield expires, only 50% of shield is restored as health
Mortal Wound Able to press Q again to trigger the final hit of Mortal Strike at any time, even if not in contact with enemy heroes of structures.
Fiery War Axe Apply a DOT to all enemies damaged by Mortal Strike, dealing 60 damage over 3 seconds.
Envenom Activate to poison an enemy Hero, dealing 180 (+30 per level) damage over 5 seconds.
7 Resilient Steel Taking damage to armour reduces the cooldown of Armour Up by 0.25 seconds per enemy attack.
A Storm is Brewing Whirlwind adds a third swing, also doing 50 damage.
Eye of the Storm Enemies hit by Whirlwind are dragged closer to Garrosh by 50% of the distance to Garrosh
Follow Through After using an ability, your next Basic Attack within 6 seconds deals 40% additional damage.
10 Commanding Shout Health can’t be reduced to less than 1 for 3 seconds.
Revenge Target an enemy and leap to them, dealing damage equal to the amount of health you have lost.
13 Battle Rage When health is lower than 50%, each basic attack lowers ability cooldowns by 1 second.
Giant Killer Basic Attacks against enemy Heroes deal bonus damage equal to 1.5% of the Hero’s maximum Health.
Burning Rage When Enraged, for every 25% health lost, raise attack speed by 15% and ability damage by 15%
Brilliant Steel Armour Up now creates a shield worth 15% of max health
16 Sharpened Blades The second (and third) strikes of whirlwind apply damage over time to all targets hit (15 per second for 4 seconds). If hit by second and third strike, the most recent DOT cancels the first.
Warchief’s Rage Deal 20 damage per sec to surrounding enemies when enraged
Stoneskin Activate to gain 30% of your health as a shield for 5 seconds.
Berserk Activate to increase your Attack Speed by 40% and Movement Speed by 10% for 4 seconds.
20 Battlecry of the Warchief At the end of the 3 seconds of Commanding Shout, gain a shield equal to 30% of maximum health for 3 seconds
Unholy Vengeance Activating Revenge resets the cooldown on Armour Up.
Hardened Shield Activate to reduce incoming damage by 75% for 3 seconds.
Bolt of the Storm Activate to teleport to a nearby location.

When finding a starting point I looked at a range of different cards and heroes, focussing most on their interesting mechanics and how they transferred to HotS. The visuals were all so amazing I knew I couldn’t go too far wrong in terms of theme, but it is the mechanics that drive me.

I settled on a Garrosh because of Enrage and Armour. In Hearthstone, Garrosh mirrors his Enraged minions, becoming stronger as he takes damage (using cards like Battle Rage and Mortal Strike) whilst protecting himself with armour. I wanted to bring Garrosh’s unique strengths and weaknesses to a HotS design.

The idea of Enrage quickly became Garrosh’s trait; take damage and become stronger. It went through a number of iterations (a couple of which had full talent trees) before I was happy with it. Here are a few discarded versions of Enrage, with the reasons they were not used:

Enrage Activate to modify basic abilities and increase attack speed by 20% and attack damage by 10% Just a flat modifier is liked a beefed up version of Kael’s Verdant Spheres. Not interesting enough.
Enrage At 50% health raise attack speed by 5% and ability damage by 5% So readable, but so easily manipulated. Also, a bit unfair, what if you end up in 51% health? Might be too tricky to use and to hard for the player to control themselves.
Enrage Deal and take damage to charge your enrage meter. Once full, it triggers for a limited amount of time, increasing your attack speed, attack damage and ability damage. Feel this makes character too slow. Waiting for cooldowns AND meter is anti-fun. Shame, because it is the clearest and easiest to understand. Unless amount of damage could happen really fast. Sort of similar to Sonya, though maybe just different enough.
Enrage For every 10% health lost, raise attack speed by 5% and ability damage by 5% Readability is the issue here. Exactly how enraged am I? How much extra damage will I do? Even if you solve that UI problem, how do enemies get a precise read on your level of Enragement. Probably too intricate.

Eventually I settled on:

Enrage For every 25% health lost, raise attack speed by 10% and ability damage by 10%. Armour Up does no damage, so shield size increased by 25%.

This combined the core of the mechanic (take more damage, have more damage dealing potential) with clear readability for the player, their team and the opposition. Ultimately, all those parties need to know precisely how much damage you’re going to do, and having only four states makes it easy to provide accurate visual clues over how enraged you are. Whilst I was doing this design I always came back to the trait. It was the heart of everything. Once it I was happy with it, it was the perfect jumping off point to abilities and talents.

The second pillar of the Hero was Armour Up. From the start I liked the idea of including it simply because it was a Hearthstone ability. However, it was because the combination of Enrage and Armour went so well together that I kept it. The combination is an obvious one; Armour up provides a significant shield for Garrosh, without raising his health total. It gives him some powerful survivability without limiting damage output. I made sure to add in talents that allowed the player to upgrade Armour Up if they wanted to go for a more sustain-orientated build.

Between Armour Up and Enrage I’m pleased that I have created an interesting risk/reward mechanic that pays homage to Garrosh in Hearthstone whilst adding a new play-style to HotS. Garrosh, always in your face, wanting you to hurt him, begging his healer to look elsewhere, ramping up damage until his dying breath.

I’m not going to go into his other two normal abilities too much. Mortal Strike is a gap closer or an escape (again, risk/reward) which deals damage, like Illidan’s Sweeping Strike. Whirlwind is how he punishes enemy heroes close to him. The two abilities obvious combo well, allowing him to focus a single enemy for big damage or dive into a group. Even if the skillshot misses, you can still Whirlwind and Armour Up and see how much damage you can deal.

For Garrosh’s Ultimates I took inspiration straight from the Hearthstone cards. Commanding Shout, not being able to die for 3 seconds, is unique, and gives you 3 seconds of maximum Enrage power to pile on some massive damage (and Armour Up). Revenge is a brutal finishing move, that deals out the exact amount of health you are currently missing. Very strong against more lightweight teams with squishy heroes. Both ultimates offer something very different and both link back to Garrosh’s desire to fight on the brink of disaster.

The rest of the talent tree copies the standard HotS template; four talent choices at the normal levels except the Ultimate choice, where there is two. I researched newer heroes to see their talent distribution and noticed a couple of things; most talent levels include one generic talent as well as the hero specific talents, and most talent levels offer two choices to upgrade one ability, rather than offering one choice per ability (presumably to stop the player stacking talents too heavily on a single ability). I tried to copy this as closely as possible with my talent structure.

Let me highlight a couple of talents which are interesting and unique:

Level 4:

Brutal Steel If shield expires, only 50% of shield is restored as health

This is a gambler’s perk. It could be considered a nerf but, in reality, it encourages you to armour up more readily before combat as you are much less likely to lose Enrage levels if the shield is not depleted by damage. The downside (if you see it that way) of Armour Up is that it disappears and returns health after a few seconds. This is great for sustain, but will crush Garrosh’s damage output and ability to start a fight with extra damage. This talent limits that downside at the cost of sustain. Probably a talent best taken if your team has an Uther, rather than Tassadar or Tyrande.

Level 7:

A Storm is Brewing Whirlwind adds a third swing, also doing 50 damage.
Eye of the Storm Enemies hit by Whirlwind are dragged closer to Garrosh by 50% of the distance to Garrosh

One of my “fork in the road” ability choices happens at level 7. Do you want the extra damage or do you need the CC? Your choice here will really influence how you choose to do damage and fight, and will start to define how you play Garrosh.

Level 13:

Battle Rage When health is lower than 50%, each basic attack lowers ability cooldowns by 1 second.
Burning Rage When Enraged, for every 25% health lost, raise attack speed by 15% and ability damage by 15%

Alternative trait buffs. One adds a component to the trait, the other improves the existing components of the trait. On the face of it, neither totally changes your playstyle; both reward being in an enemy’s face. However, there will be subtle differences, depending on playstyle. Battle Rage allows you to recharge your Q for an escape, or can be combined with Resilient Steel to give you a regular supply of armour (one of many combos that would need to be looked at carefully from a balance perspective).

Level 16:

Stoneskin Activate to gain 30% of your health as a shield for 5 seconds.
Berserk Activate to increase your Attack Speed by 40% and Movement Speed by 10% for 4 seconds.

The big “generics” level. I went with Stoneskin vs. Berserk. They both offer different synergies; Berserk tops up Enrage to ridiculous levels, whereas Stoneskin encourages more time at higher levels of Engage. I was keen to find some interesting synergies with generic talents and these two are great candidates. They might even be a little OP but, without actually trying him, it’s hard to know.

One of the big challenges in doing an exercise like this is trying to calculate balance without the ability to prototype and test. I would love to present a design with exact stats, perfectly balanced, with a number of quality of life changes to you. However, I don’t work at Blizzard. As such, where possible, I’ve looked at broadly similar abilities to the ones I chose and based damage numbers of them (adjusted of course, for Garrosh’s trait). If the ability doesn’t have a close facsimile, I’ve tried to be conservative with damage numbers. This might make some talents unappealing, but I’m not sure how to solve in a high level concept. The answer might be breaking out a spreadsheet and getting stuck into the power graphs. This might be the best answer and a good future blog post. The hardest single aspect to balance is Enrage. In a way, you are trying to balance four heroes. The non-enraged Garrosh should probably be weaker than most equivalent heroes, first level of Enrage needs him to be as strong or slightly stronger, then level two and three of Enrage should raise Garrosh’s power level significantly higher than equivalent heroes (maybe even stronger than Valla with full stacks). The risk of low health has to be paid back in full. Again, this is where I would need to prototype, though a deep dive into the numbers might well be helpful.

At this point I want to channel my old maths teacher and remember to show my working. Here are a couple of talents and abilities that I disregarded.

Q Mortal Strike Dive forward whilst swinging your fiery war axe, dealing damage to all enemies along the path.

This was the first draft of Mortal Strike. Ultimately it did not distinguish itself from Illidan’s Sweeping Strike, so I tweaked it.

Shield Slam Deal damage to a single target equal to the value of your armour. 90 seconds

This was an early draft ultimate that went with an early draft of Armour Up:

Alternate Armour Up: Gain a shield equal to 10% health. This shield can be stacked. Total of shield + remaining health cannot exceed Maximun Health

I loved this early idea, essentially trading health for armour to proc Enrage, but it was just too exploitable and allowed you to Enrage without risk, which defeated the point of the trait. Once I changed it so that you couldn’t stack permanent armour, Shield Slam had to go to (it’s been replaced by Revenge).

Quick to Anger Enrage triggers at 60% health

This talent was another casualty of an old version of Enrage. My first draft was the simple “Enrage triggers at 50% which buffs …”. This talent was just a little tweak. I include it here because I could have used this talent in my current tree, making each level of Enrage trigger at a higher health percentage. However, it’s a readability nightmare. How do you communicate it to enemies? Ultimately it just seems like an over-complication without a massive improvement in fun.

I had a great time designing Garrosh. I love creating my solutions to the intricate problems that are MOBA heroes. Making them unique, thinking about balance, how they remain interesting through a twenty minute match and then, in the long run, through twenty matches. It’s given me ideas for more heroes, which I will tackle in future posts.

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