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To use Heroes of the Storm’s newest characters, you’re going to need to master shifting from ranged to melee, and the art of the stutter step.

We sat down with hero designer Kent-Erik Hagman from the massive online battle arena game to chat about the best strategies to use with each. Blizzard Entertainment announced three new characters at the BlizzCon convention recently in Anaheim.

All three characters in the massive online battle arena title are based on the World of Warcraft (WoW) massively multiplayer online universe. This story covers Greymane the worgen leader, Lunara the dryad, and a little discussion about the mountain of new heroes on the list for possible release in the future.

Both Greymane and Lunara are ranged assassins with a heavy focus on basic attacks, but their styles play out very differently.

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See our separate story for tips on the third character: Cho’gall the two-headed, two-player ogre mage, who was too big and too complex to fit into this piece.

Heroes of the Storm

Above: Greymane in his human and worgen forms.

Image Credit: Blizzard Entertainment

How to win with Greymane

“We wanted to add more basic attack heroes into the game,” Hagman said. “We had [StarCraft assassin] Raynor and [Diablo demon hunter] Valla and [Warcraft dwarf] Falstad, if he specs into it — heroes who are very focused on their right-click attack. Lunara was one step towards that. We knew she was coming in, and we knew she was going to be dealing poison abilities.

“So it was like, OK, if we’re going to do two ranged basic attackers, they need to play very differently from each other.”

It was Technical Designer John Hodgson’s idea that they should consider a character who could use ranged attacks but then go into melee form for the kill. They ended up choosing a worgen character, the werewolf-style race in WoW that can shift between wolf form and human form at will. In Warcraft, Genn Greymane is the leader of the pack in the gorgeous and sorely underutilized worgen home city of Gilneas.

“Everyone loves Greymane,” Hagman said, so he was an easy choice from the 200-character drawing board of ideas. “He has a super cool story. The artists were excited to do it. I was just hoping to get a guy with a top hat in. The artists were like, ‘we want him to be the gentleman-duelist, 10-paces-at-dawn sort of guy.'”

Combat with Greymane takes place in two phases. You start in a ranged phase, when he’s human and attacks from a distance, which takes up about 70 percent of gameplay time, Hagman said. That transitions into a melee phase, when he shifts into worgen form and does 30-40 percent additional attack damage.

Kent-Erik Hagman

Above: Heroes of the Storm game designer Kent-Erik Hagman.

Image Credit: Heather Newman

“With Greymane, it’s all about getting your opponents low enough as a human, then leaping in for the kill as a worgen,” he said. “You’re roaming around as a human most of the time, so when it’s worgen time, it’s real, and your opponents know you’re in for blood.”

The swapping mechanics make the character mobile. In both forms, the E button swaps you. As a human, it’s Dark Flight, which triggers worgen form, and in worgen form, it’s Disengage.

“Dark Flight is very much like [StarCraft melee assassin] Kerrigan‘s ravage ability,” he said. “You leap in on an enemy. You transform into a worgen. It puts you in melee range. As soon as you leap in, your button is on a six-second cool down. Disengage has worgen Greymane somersault away, and he pops up as a human, pistol blazing.

“You want to start as a human and wear down your opponents, almost like a Valla. But then, you turn into a Kerrigan or a [StarCraft assassin] Zeratul when they get low.”

The trick is knowing when to make the swap, he said.

“You have to learn the magic moment to leap in as a worgen, and you’ll just rip their throats out,” Hagman said. “He’s very visceral. He’s very based on his right-click basic attack.

“His W button [in both forms] increases his attack speed by 50 percent for three seconds. But, if you attack somebody during those three seconds, it refreshes the duration, so you can keep it up indefinitely as long as you have targets to attack. As soon as those three seconds wear off, then the ability goes on a 16-second cool down, which is pretty significant.”

The Q button in human form is Gilnean Cocktail, a poison molotov cocktail throw. For worgen, it’s Razor Swipe, which again adds to the character’s movement, as it’s a combination short dash and attack.

“He dashes forward a short distance, and that’s on a very short cool down,” he said. “As he’s ripping apart his opponents, he can dash to stay in melee range.”

Heroes of the Storm

Above: To play Lunara well, you’ll need to master the stutter step.

Image Credit: Blizzard Entertainment

How to win with Lunara

Lunara is one of the highest skill-capped characters in the game, Hagman said, and much like Greymane, it’s all about the way she moves. The dryad is based on cute-and-cuddly characters from Warcraft.

“Lunara is no desert rose,” he said. “She is the thorn that is going to stab you for touching that rose. Lunara will kill you. I love Lunara. I love the way she moves. She does this little bunny hop.”

Lunara doesn’t have a Z-key ability, but she moves 20 percent faster than other characters because of the hop. What’s important to know about that is how that speed is accumulated because it’s not steady.

“She actually moves about 50 percent faster for a quarter of a second and then decelerates rapidly,” Hagman said. “So she accelerates and decelerates, accelerates and decelerates. It looks very natural. But, the real kicker is that you can use this to your advantage.”

Dota 2 folks call the strategy orb walking; the Heroes team calls it stutter stepping. In both cases, it calls for the precise use of movement and attack timing so that when attacks are between swings or in mid-animation, the character is moving. In Lunara’s case, it’s all about timing the attacks after the quarter-second acceleration is done.

“You can hop, and then, while you’re in that deceleration phase, you can stop to attack. And then, that deceleration phase ends, and you’re back to high acceleration. … So, you can hop, attack, hop, attack, and really take advantage of your high movement while taking none of the downside that happens at the end of your hop,” Hagman said.

“There’s real nitty gritty mechanical stuff. There’s a high skill cap to mastering that movement that I thought was a very elegant way for us to get that in there, with it being very simple and straightforward. Oh, Lunara just hops as she moves. Everyone gets that. But, there’s a lot of nuance to learning to time her attacks.”

(Above: The BlizzCon announcement video for the new characters does a nice job of showing Lunara’s movement.)

Players should also watch their strategy related to Lunara’s poisons, he said. All her basic attacks apply a poison to enemies, and the poison can stack up to three times.

“All of her abilities interact with this poison. Her Q applies the poison to enemies in a small area. Her W [makes it so] every enemy that is poisoned, gets another stack of poison and they get slowed by 40 percent for 2 seconds, which is a pretty significant slow. So she wants to keep her poison spread on a bunch of enemies,” Hagman said.

Her heroic abilities use poison as well. One applies the damage over time to all enemies in a very long line, and the other has a dramatic leap, wink, and spear toss that also poisons, he said.

“She’s very high mobility and all about the damage-over-time effects,” Hagman said. “To play Lunara well, you want to master the stutter-step micro, the attack-move, attack-move, never standing still to attack if you can help it, especially in that team fight. You’re really good at dodging skill shots with those quick-hop accelerations.”

Any characters who depend heavily on those skill shots, which typically have a cast time, are at a disadvantage against a player who can manipulate Lunara’s movement well. Take Thrall and his wolf ability, which can hold players in place, he said.

“Playing [WoW shaman] Thrall against Lunara is one of the most frustrating things. You throw that stupid wolf out to root her and she just dodges it, and you’re like ah, I’m just dead, and she’s … just laughing and chucking spears at you.

“She’s awesome. I love her. She’s so much fun to play.”

Heroes of the Storm

Above: Heroes, including Cho’gall and Lunara, in combat.

Image Credit: Blizzard Entertainment

Which characters are next for Heroes of the Storm

So, now that these three new heroes are in the rotation, what’s next?

“We’ve finally got our StarCraft warrior, we finally got our Diablo support,” Hagman said. (Both of those were introduced at Gamescom in Germany this summer.) “That’s a huge weight off our shoulders. We’re continually looking at role diversity. We’re continually looking at what our other games are doing and trying to line up with them.”

Blizzard presenters confirmed Tracer, from the upcoming Blizzard team shooter Overwatch, would be a future character in the game during panels at BlizzCon this month.

“We look at what silhouettes are missing. What is the art team excited about doing? Do we have a cool mechanic in the wings?” Hagman said. Silhouettes are how big or small characters are, how they look from a distance, and how distinct they appear at a glance from other heroes.

“There are a few races we haven’t done: draenei, gnomes, trolls. Those are some easy Warcraft silhouettes to get. But, we have to be careful. Our fans have opinions about our universe representation. So, we do try to be equal opportunity employers from all the franchises.”

Blizzard designers are also careful not to release too many of the same class at once, and when they do, they give a lot of thought to making them feel different — Lunara and Greymane’s style differences, for example.

“We try to be smarter about how we release our heroes, so we don’t do four melee assassins in a row,” he said. “That’s not healthy for the game.”

The list of options designers can choose is huge — 200 characters and counting — and while Overwatch is tempting because its characters are new, designers have many other priorities on their list, he said.

“[There are] so many characters we haven’t done yet: Kel’Thuzad, Varian Wrynn, Garrosh. There are so many characters,” he said, joking about the fact that Alliance leader Wrynn is in the cinematic for the new World of Warcraft: Legion expansion but hasn’t made it into Heroes of the Storm yet. All three of those characters are iconic Warcraft figures. “So yeah, we can make Overwatch a priority, or we can make all these other characters we’ve been wanting to do for two years. Eventually, we want to get to all of them.

“And we will, eventually.”

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