The last hero Blizzard added to the Heroes of the Storm roster, Ragnaros, was overpowered in the way that was almost appropriate for a former raid boss. Before receiving an across-the-board nerf from the developers not long after release, the Firelord could boast of a 69% win rate, almost 13% higher than the second winning-est hero.
A certain breed of cynic in the Heroes of the Storm community maintains that newly released characters will almost always be overpowered, to convince players to shell out their hard-earned gold or real world cash to stay competitive, but Ragnaros seemed egregious even by those standards. Of course, we’ve seen plenty of characters go the other way; immediately after her release, Lunara had the lowest win rate in the game. Chromie, too, was the bottom of the charts until a slow and steady series of buffs brought her up to an acceptable level.
Zul’jin, the latest character to come to Heroes of the Storm, is officially live, and Blizzard seems to have been far more exacting with his design. For a day one release who didn’t even see time on the PTR, the Amani warlord is remarkably balanced.
As of the time of writing, Hotslogs puts Zul’jin’s win rate at 48.5%. We can expect that number to rise a bit as people get more comfortable with his various abilities and quirks, approaching that coveted “coin toss” level of design—not inherently stronger or weaker than a majority of the roster, but dependent on skill, match-ups and team composition.
This is all the more impressive because of the difficulty that must have gone into balancing the troll berserker. As a character, Zul’jin has almost no utility whatsoever—all his value comes from the amount of damage he can put out. That damage is largely reliant on the state of Zul’jin’s health bar; the lower it is, the faster his attack speed. Paired with his trait, which grants him 25% bonus damage in exchange for 2% of his maximum health for each axe he throws, Zul’jin becomes a character defined by his own numbers and the numbers of his enemy.
In designing Zul’jin, Blizzard was balancing (forgive me) on a razor’s edge. Make his damage too low, and his need to be at low health becomes far more risk than reward. Make it too high, and he’ll rip through anybody before being put in real danger. Give him too high a health pool, and he becomes a ranged assassin with the durability of a front-line fighter; make it too small, and sacrificing health to do more damage begins to seem like a desperate measure only.
Blizzard seems to have threaded the needle, though. Zul’jin is certainly strong in the right hands, particularly paired with characters who can support him in ways besides healing (Medivh and Tassadar, for instance.) However, he’s also very counterable; blinds will cut off his damage severely, and burst damage characters like Chromie, Li Ming and Kael’thas make his optimal condition (low health, high attack speed) far more precarious. When the 2017 Heroes of the Storm Global Championship begins, it’ll be exciting to see how he impacts the competitive meta.
If you’re curious about the details, check out Zul’jin’s hero spotlight below.