Dota is about to get two new heroes, and the community couldn’t be more excited — the last time we had a double release was back in the days of Dota 1, with Oracle and Earth Spirit. Very little is known about the upcoming heroes, however there are some reasonable speculations regarding what many describe as “Pangolin”. While we will refrain from speculations on the new heroes themselves, this announcement raises some interesting questions regarding some underused Dota mechanics.
It is possible that new additions to the Dota roster will come into the game with their own, new concepts, but if the core rules of Dota are not to be expanded further, there is a chance we will see some of the more underused mechanics come into play.
In the teaser-trailer we see the “Pangolin” cut needles off from Bristleback, and by many it is seen as an indication of introduction of another “Break” source into the game. “Break” effect disables passives on a hero, and so far there are only three instances of it in the game: Aghanim’s Upgrade for Doom and Shadow Demon’s ultimate, and Silver Edge’s active ability.
Break is a very powerful effect in certain situations — it can make killing Bristleback less painful for your team, add consistency during ganks on Phantom Assassin, and even allow for nuke-bursts against Anti-Mage. It is a very narrow, “Silver bullet”-type mechanic and as such, it being hidden behind Aghanim’s upgrades for some heroes and an ever-growing paywall on Silver Edge is understandable (do note the Silver Edge also reduces outcoming damage from the target by 50%, which is a separate effect from “Break”).
“Break” can quite literally break the hero for the duration, leaving them a little bit too vulnerable and stripping them of their identity. Currently, of the heroes who are the primary “Break” targets, only Bristleback poses a definitive meta threat, and only in the professional scene. Everyone else isn’t even a problem in pubs at the moment, with win rates ranging from 49% to 51%.
With the “Pangolin” release we might be getting an answer to a problem that doesn’t currently exist. Furthermore, it can put these currently rather well-balanced heroes into underpowered territory, or at least have an impact on their popularity.
That said, it is almost certain that both Valve and IceFrog understand the issue and how important timing windows are for Phantom Assassin, Viper and some other heroes who rely on their passives. If the enemy won’t even have to climb a paywall to get to an answer to one of your core heroes, it is bound to create certain problems and it will be interesting to see how the issue is going to be designed around.
One of the most interesting relationships in Dota is not Crystal Maiden and Lina rivalry or even the Tidehunter-Kunkka enmity. It is the weird relationship Alchemist and Ancient Apparition have had ever since the 6.79 changes for the former. Almost four years ago Alchemist lost flat HP gain when using his ultimate and instead got a massive increase in regeneration — something that was problematic even before the introduction of Octarine Core and the ensuing Radiance+ Manta Style shenanigans.
Alchemist is supposed to be a massive beast, with many early big items, who is somewhat hard to nuke down and who pretty much ignores any chip damage. Add to it the prevalence of supports with saves, the popularity of Force staff even on core heroes and you might have a bit of a mid-game problem. The problem has a very radical answer in the form of Ancient Apparition, but the fact that these two heroes are interlocked in this weird relationship is an issue in itself.
You can’t make Alchemist or any hero with strong healing or regeneration too strong — there is a single answer to them, which can be easily banned out, allowing them to rampage through the game.
Similarly, you can’t make Ancient Apparition too good — being a definitive answer to a whole subset of heroes as well as being a well-rounded hero overall would push him into objectively overpowered territory.
Because of this dichotomy and the possibility of the AA ban, we constantly see some minor, yet painful nerfs to Alchemist. Slowly but surely, Alchemist has been losing tools to get ahead in net worth and during TI7 it was common to see him break even or pull ahead by measly 5-10% net worth, compared to the enemy cores. And the hero simply doesn’t properly function in such environment — he pays a massive stats tax for his gold income and when the latter starts dwindling, the hero breaks.
But what if there were more answers to the massive regeneration or strong heals? For one, Necrophos wouldn’t be a nuisance he is now. But more globally, it would become possible to have strong heals and still have strong regenerating heroes in the game without creating imbalance. The most important part of it is that the heroes would be able to retain their identity.
These answers don’t have to be as definitive as the one AA provides, potentially only reducing the effectiveness of regeneration and healing, rather than stopping them outright. But they are needed, preferably on an overall slightly more flexible hero.
Turn rate is a very important Dota mechanic. By simply existing it allows for a much bigger variety of playable heroes, without the need to slap a gap-closer on every single melee character. That opens a much bigger design space and the 95.5% of the hero pool being picked during TI7 is, in large part, a direct consequence of heroes spending time to turn around. This thought sounds funny, but there is absolutely no room for argument.
Being so objectively important, it is quite peculiar that only two heroes in the game have ways of affecting the enemy turn rate — Medusa and Batrider. But there are valid arguments both in favor and against more heroes being able to slow down turn rate.
On one hand we have an interesting interaction with Lycan, Weaver and Dark Seer Surge and an additional way of dealing with their persistent high movement speed, without hard disables. Their massive movement speed, which persists even through hex effects, will be of little use, when they have to run in circles to chase a target, or even have to slightly modify their path from a straight line. To a lesser extent, it also serves as a way to outplay opponents, who have powerful spells, which rely on the direction they are facing — Tornado/Ice Wall from Invoker, Dark Seer’s Wall of Replica, Magnus Skewer, any form of Blink etc. Moreover, it adds a slight delay to otherwise instant cast point abilities.
All of this can serve as a ground for some interesting interactions and potential counter-plays. On the other hand, there is one argument against further implementations of this mechanic — it is excruciatingly annoying for the receiving side. While it might not sound as much of an argument, not the objective one at least, it is important to understand that Dota is a game and games are generally played to have fun. Turn rate slowdown is rarely fun and the actual effectiveness-annoyance ratio for it is skewed towards the latter, even when compared to other forms of disable.
Dota has a lot of very interesting and engaging mechanics, and it is a marvel that all of them come together to create the most well-balanced and diverse game in the genre. The addition of new heroes will surely shake up the existing meta, as heroes don’t exist in a vacuum, but given the state of the game during the last two Internationals, there is no need to worry.Given how flexible Dota is, there are probably hundreds of ways the game could be expanded, and it is interesting to think of what the future might hold for our beloved game.