You'd be hard-pressed to find a character in Heroes of the Storm over the last few months that have had more requests to be reworked than Chen.
The only "Pandamonium" that he has brought to the battlefield for the last couple years has been to the player piloting the panda who has a fondness for drinking brew. More often than not, Chen didn't feel impactful when dropped on the map. His death-by-papercuts damage output was a minor nuisance; his over-reliance on consuming brew to stay alive in fights wasn't particularly interactive; and when it came to the solo-lane, he was out-classed by many.
Enough was enough.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Heroes of the Storm development team released their most recent set of patch notes on the Public Test Realm (PTR) that included a full-blown rework to everyone's favorite panda (Sorry, Lili).
The task of ripping apart his kit and putting it together in the right order was put in the hands of Live Designer Adam Jackson. Fresh off of reworking Sylvanas' lackluster kit, Jackson sat down with InvenGlobal recently to discuss his point of attack for Chen.
Breaking up the binary
While it is easy for players to look at a hero and say that they are bad and hear others echo those sentiments, understanding what creates a powerful character isn't as black-and-white as it may seem.
For Chen, Jackson saw an opportunity to create a new, more dynamic playstyle for him while keeping the fantasy of playing as a Pandaren brewmaster alive.
There were a few problems that I saw in the kit that we were really looking to solve. The biggest one was his Trait. It was really hard to design around and to balance around because there are really two parts, in my mind, as to what the identity of Chen is. The first is that he has kind of a cadence to his abilities. They are all very low cooldown. He has a rhythm that he gets into where he kicks in, he does his Keg Smash, he breathes his fire to light the brew and then he drinks to mitigate the damage before he cycles and does it again. That is kind of his thing.
The key issue was that so much of his power was tied to drinking brew and it was so important to the rest of his kit. And while that is not necessarily a problem for a lot of heroes when they have one main thing they want to focus on, for Chen, it kind of defined what he wanted to do and his counterplay. It created a lot of binary interactions where a lot of the counter-play to Chen was, 'Do you have CC (Crowd Control) to stop him from drinking?' And 'Can you kill him before he drinks again?' For Chen, it was, 'How do you not let that happen?'
At first, it seemed like it worked pretty well but then as we made more and more heroes that bring different types of CC to the table, it became pretty easy to draft a team that has at least one CC or multiple interrupts that could stop him from drinking.
The natural question of "Why doesn't Chen's Trait grant him Unstoppable so he isn't impacted by CC when drinking?" floated around the Heroes' community. But Jackson felt that might cause more issues than it solves.
Making it Unstoppable would have definitely made him better and it would have made him more viable. But, in my mind, it would not have really solved the issue of creating interesting play and counterplay moments with Chen. All that it would have done was removed counterplay from him. Now the interaction would have become more binary where it is 'Can Chen out-drink the amount of damage that the enemy team is dealing to him?' If yes, then he just wins. If no, then they will just pump damage into him and kill him.
Jackson and the team found a middle-ground by tweaking the numbers on his Trait and adding Stagger as his E-ability to mitigate damage. According to Jackson, he wanted Chen to have the feel of a World of Warcraft multi-phase raid boss where you have to pay attention to multiple things at once.
Storm, Earth and lots of Fire
Long-time Chen players know that hitting level 10 meant two options: Do I go with the fun/meme-y Heroic (Wandering Keg) or the thematically awesome but pretty low-impact one (Storm, Earth. Fire)?
Neither of them turned the tide of team fights very much but Wandering Keg could prove useful, if used properly, so it was generally the go-to selection.
Jackson knew that had to change, so he tackled the seldom selected one and gave it a facelift.
I really wanted to improve the Heroics in different ways. Storm, Earth, Fire was a bigger headache because it is such an iconic ability that I didn't think we can get rid of it but I wasn't too happy with the way the ability worked on live because it was kind of spammable. You just used it and it frustrated the enemy team and you use it to get out of a bad situation and then Chen's clones would just kind of hop away and become more difficult to manage.
It was kind of simple to execute sometimes but frustrating for opponents because you couldn't really do much about it as it was difficult to kill all three. With that Heroic specifically, I really wanted to try tone down the mobility a little bit. I kind of figured it's cool that Chen can bait opponent's a little bit before he dies as you start channeling his Heroic then you can pop it and run away but I thought I was a little too easy to get away.
Instead, I wanted to play up, 'Okay, what if we had these abilities be really, really strong and Chen could only use them once?' So we tried that and I felt like it was a pretty big hit. We just tried to rip off of that and we thought 'What if the power wasn't in the abilities themselves but in the order that you use them?' So that is how we came up with each ability being really strong but the last one that you use is empowered and that, when we first played with it, was a slam dunk.
Depending on the situation at-hand, Chen's empowered move can be used to deal added damage, increase survivability or create some CC of his own.
A powerhouse from the get-go
Chen’s Heroic abilities being more impactful? Check. His kit feeling more balanced to provide more dynamic playstyles? Check.
What is left other than sprucing up his talent tree? Although they didn’t just “spruce up” his tree, they hacked away at it.
Probably the biggest thing as far as his talent tree is concerned that we wanted to do is that, and I think players will see this more over time if they get their hands on him, we actually have three vectors now that I wanted to tie his survivability to. Before it was really just his Trait. Now it is his Trait, obviously, stagger and his interactions with that Trait, and then the third one is that his Level 1 talents specifically as I put a lot of work into them. They are all pretty potent and give him survivability in different ways and are very powerful for Level 1 talents.
Time will tell as to whether the development team hit the nail on the head in terms of bringing the panda brewmaster into 2019. But they are feeling good about where he will stand in the meta and when he does go live, expect a few new surprises while playing him.
We’re confident that this version of Chen will be successful and find a healthy place beside his other Bruiser brethren. He has more playmaking potential than ever and with loads of counter-play baked into his kit/talents alongside a ton of tuning knobs, we’re comfortable he will quickly fall into a healthy spot. He’s still the same Chen that we all know and love, just with a few more tools at his disposal to help get the job done.
Tim Rizzo is the editor and a reporter for Inven Global. He joined the company back in 2017.