Ever since Chromie, the Keeper of Time, went live in Heroes of the Storm back in May of 2016, the development team has had their hands full finding out what they want to do with her.
A Ranged Assassin who can one-shot an enemy with a couple of well-timed abilities is a delicate balancing act. In theory, if a hero relies on landing long-range skill shots for the majority of their effectiveness in battle the balance team needs to consider a few design aspects:
1. It’s important to make the damage output impactful enough to make up for that character’s low health pool while rewarding a good player who is able to land difficult skill shots.
2. If the range on those abilities is too long and the damage is too high, they will be able to poke away at the opposition while remaining at a safe enough distance, providing very little counter-play and a frustrating experience for the opponent.
3. If the opposite is true, then players will not feel rewarded for playing a weak hero that can be engaged upon easily due to a lack of necessary tools to keep themselves safe. You don't want so little damage output that makes the risk not worth the reward.
In the past 18 months,
By following the clues left in the patch notes since her inception and developer comments left by the balance team, a tale can be told about what they may have intended her to be and what they learned along the way.
May 2, 2016
Patch notes: https://heroesofthestorm.com/en-us/blog/20131418/
Within three weeks of her release date,
Developer Comments: “A Hero like
Chromie is the type of Hero who has high damage potential (and man, when she hits those home runs they’re a sight to behold), but is also very inconsistent. She’ll always be that way to a degree, which is by design. We’re attempting to buff her damage throughput to offset this inability to pick her targets, without making her “one shot” potential any scarier than it is.
We’ve increased her Health slightly as well so that she is a little more resistant to incidental damage. If enemies find a way to close the gap and focus her down, her still relatively low Health and lack of escapes will allow teams to eliminate our terrifying gnome-dragon, as they should.”
May 21, 2016
Patch notes: https://heroesofthestorm.com/en-us/blog/20157260/
Shortly after she received buffs across the board, the dev team took a look at making her (E) ability, Time Trap, more impactful.
Developer Comments: "We want to play up the strategic positioning that Chromie uses to stay alive. As such, we are making Time Traps less of a Mana drain and increasing their range so Chromie players are encouraged to reposition the traps where it will offer the best benefit. We are also increasing the Health of the traps so that they don’t die as frequently to incidental damage. These buffs will make it easier for Chromie to protect herself from the enemies that she knows are coming…or will know were coming… time dragons are confusing."
July 27, 2016
Patch notes: https://heroesofthestorm.com/en-us/blog/20184555/
Two months later, the development team decided to spruce up her talent tree a bit and provide players with the option to select different talents that would impact her play in unique ways.
Developer Comments: "We’ve seen Chromie trend upward steadily, and we’re happy to have the little gnome be a scary character in the right circumstances. We don’t really want to make any large overall balance adjustments to her right now, but we do want to make a few of her less picked Talents and Heroic more enticing. We’ll continue to work on more of these as time passes. Don’t worry, Chromie already told us she’s completely balanced a few patches from now."
September 27, 2016
Patch notes: https://heroesofthestorm.com/en-us/blog/20285864/
In the fall, the development team decided to add survivability to her baseline opposed to relying on abilities to keep her safe. Additionally, her Sand Blast (Q) and Dragon’s Breath (W) were given range boosts as she wasn’t powerful enough in the eye’s of the developers.
Developer Comments: "Reaching Through Time had a dominating pick rate, for good reason. We’re taking a little bit of that range from the Talent and adding it baseline. While we’re at it, we’re reducing the range on Temporal Loop slightly to require Chromie to put herself more at risk. Temporal Loop isn’t overpowered per se, but the majority of the counterplay required specific Heroes (Medivh, Auriel, Uther) or Cleanse. We’re also buffing her Health so that the sum total of all these changes will result in an improvement to her winrate, since she is slightly less powerful than what we’d like to see."
December 12, 2016
Patch notes: https://heroesofthestorm.com/en-us/blog/20405715/
Right before Christmas, Chromie players were given a present by the development team in a big way. Timewalker, her Trait, will now increase the reduction for getting talents from 1 to 2 levels, a huge buff to the character and improved her strength in the early game.
Developer Comments: "We’re looking to add more power to Chromie that fits the flavor of the character, without increasing her burst potential across the entirety of the game. We’re also combining the effects of Timewalker’s Pursuit and Peer Into the Future to create an enticing option at Level 1."
September 5, 2017 (first rework)
Patch notes: https://heroesofthestorm.com/en-us/blog/21043671/
Chromie’s numbers weren’t touched for nine months while the development team was secretly working on their first rework for the Keeper of Time. In order to reward players for hitting their skill shots, a baseline quest was added to Sand Blast which would add more damage and an Echo overtime to ramp up her power level. The option to build into her Dragon’s Breath was added to her talent tree as well with the addition of the Deep Breathing talent at level 1.
Developer Comment: "Chromie's baseline Quest on Sand Blast is designed to balance hitting a lot of Heroes with precision. We've reduced the damage of Sand Blast to move more of that into the Quest, so that there can be a greater variance between the performance of an okay Chromie player and a great Chromie player. We removed Piercing Sands because we felt that the longer Chromie's range gets, the less interactive Chromie can be for enemies, and replaced it with a Talent with a little more interesting gameplay."
September 20, 2017
Patch notes: https://heroesofthestorm.com/en-us/blog/21045724/
A couple of weeks after her rework, the development team noticed that her baseline quest for her Sand Blast ability wasn’t being completed nearly enough. They acted swiftly to change that.
Developer Comment: "Only about 40% of Chromie players were unlocking the echo over the course of a game, and among players that did it was occurring later than we’d like. By reducing the requirements for completing Chromie’s quest, we won’t increase her late game power at all, but make her output a little more consistent."
August 7, 2018 (second rework)
Patch notes: https://heroesofthestorm.com/en-us/blog/22012454/
For 11 months, Chromie’s numbers were not touched until her second rework was implemented to provide a more interactive playing experience for opponents. A great deal of power was transferred from her baseline abilities into her Basic Attack to incentivize players to move closer to opponents for more damage output. While her kit was freshened up and auto-attacks became impactful, her place as a long-range Mage who dropped bombs on her opponents from behind her teammate’s front line didn’t change too much.
Developer Comment: "We're making a few changes to Chromie to reduce the frustration when playing against her and to reduce her wide power variance between games. A number of these changes are designed to increase counter-play when playing against Chromie, like reducing her range on her abilities and letting enemies see Dragon's Breath shortly after it has been cast. In exchange, Chromie's Sand Blast has a shorter cast time, and she will now have a modified version of Bronze Talons baseline, where she can weave in auto- attacks for hitting enemy Heroes with her abilities.
The reason we decided to give her the additional Bronze Talons trait is so that Chromie players are encouraged to interact more with their opponents. We're rewarding them for getting into more dangerous positions with the possibility of increased damage output. This also lets us redistribute her damage away from her high burst, long range abilities, and more into something her opponents have a better opportunity to play around.
We like Chromie's unique place in our game as a long-range, artillery mage that requires enemies to pay attention to their positioning but over time we found that she simply had too much range and burst for players to feel like they had an engaging experience when playing against her. While we've had a blast with these changes, we'll continue to keep an eye on her going forward and are prepared to make additional tweaks as needed."
August 22, 2018
Patch notes: https://heroesofthestorm.com/en-us/blog/22358469/
Two weeks after her rework, the development team felt that they may have sapped too much strength from her base kit. Her damage-dealing abilities (Q, W and Trait) were buffed accordingly.
September 19, 2018
Patch notes: https://heroesofthestorm.com/en-us/blog/22484230/
Soon after getting buffed, she was buffed again. This time, her W and Trait were improved even further and her Health was given a boost to improve her survivability when she was engaged upon.
March 18, 2019 (third rework)
Patch notes: https://heroesofthestorm.com/en-us/blog/22933130/
This brings us to the most recent patch on the Public Test Realm where Chromie was, yet again, tweaked from the ground up. Unlike her previous rework, the current iteration looks quite drastic as all of her baseline abilities and Trait are fundamentally different. Her talent tree as well has been overhauled to (hopefully) create different playstyles and diversity in how she is built, according to the development team.
Developer Comment: "Our goal with this
We're instituting a lot of changes that allow Chromie to get partial success with her Abilities (multiple Sand Blasts baseline, 3 blasts of Dragon's Breath), while also widening her toolkit (friendly Stasis, Basic Attack damage, PvE damage). While we're diversifying her kit, we also want to make sure that Chromie feels special, and we think that her Sand Echoes and predictive gameplay with Dragon's Breath are still unique parts of her that embody the feeling of artillery mage while still having moments of counter play for opponents."
The roller coaster ride may be coming to an end for the development team and Chromie as the former hopes to finally be comfortable with the latter. That being said, Chromie's manipulation of time may just cause an endless loop of headaches for both players and Blizzard.
Tim Rizzo is the editor and a reporter for Inven Global. He joined the company back in 2017.