BlizzCon 2017 Heroes of the Storm Deep Dive Panel Transcript

Design: Alexstrasza

Matt: Hello, BlizzCon. I’m Matt Villers, and I was the hero designer on Alexstrasza. Now we just heard a lot about the artistic side of adapting Alexstrasza’s fantasy and bringing her into the Nexus; and it turns out that our approach on the design side was not all that different.

When we set out to design Alexstrasza’s abilities, we had two major sources of inspiration to draw from. First off, she’s a dragon. Dragons are awesome. You could build a whole hero base just around that, but Alexstrasza is not just any old dragon. She is the dragon aspect of life, and we wanted her gameplay to reflect that for her to interact with life and health in interesting ways.

Today, I am going to talk you through Alexstrasza’s kit. Some ideas we tried that didn’t quite work out, and how each of her abilities tie into that core part of her fantasy: the dragon, and the aspect of life.

First off, let’s go to her basic abilities. Alexstrasza’s first basic ability (her Q) is Gift of Life. This is a primary heal, and it allows her to sacrifice a portion of her own health and give it directly to an ally. Because Alexstrasza spends her life to heal, she has to strike a balance between keeping herself healthy and keeping her allies healthy. This becomes a very core part of her gameplay.


The strength of the heal scales with Alexstrasza’s health. So the more healthy she is, the more effectively she can heal her team. But if she’s going to be spending all this health to heal everyone else, she needs a way to heal herself as well. That leads us to her second basic ability (her W): Abundance.


This is a powerful Area of Effect Heal, and it is Alexstrasza’s primary source of self-sustain. It keeps her Gift of Life healing engine going.

We were actually inspired to do Abundance by the storm drakes in World of Warcraft: Cataclysm. What is cool about these guys is when you engage them, they create a Healing Well on the ground at their location. This rapidly restores their health. So if you wanted to damage them you had to first move them out of the Healing Well; and then as a bonus you could move your own party into the healing well, and take that healing for yourself. We thought this last part was particularly cool, and we wanted to explore it.


What will indiscriminate healing look like in Heroes of the Storm? That’s a heal that can work on allies or enemies. We gave it a try.

It turns out that in our game indiscriminate healing doesn’t feel great. Because you are healing both: allies and enemies, you kind of have to do math to know how much you’re really healing. It’s very hard to feel your impact.


So we did cut that part, but we really like that Alexstrasza with Abundance could create a zone on the ground that you could fight over almost like a miniature map objective.


That gameplay was really fun and we wanted to keep it. So the final version of Abundance has Alexstrasza create a zone on the ground that after a delay will explode in a burst of healing energy. This is a powerful area of effect heal that restores a percentage of maximum healthy to heroes standing in it.


But the area is fairly small. So enemies can punish you for standing in there. Something like a well-placed Junkrat mine can deny you healing entirely, so you have to be careful when and where you use it.


Alright. We’ve heard a lot about Alexstrasza’s healing. Let’s talk about her dragon side. If you have played World of Warcraft, you might be familiar with Blackwing Lair. You might remember that the dragons in Blackwing Lair used an ability called Flame Buffet.


This was a stacking flame damage effect that it didn’t hurt a lot at first, but as it hit you repeatedly the damage ramped up. Alexstrasza’s third and final basic ability is Flame Buffet, and it works a lot like that.

It’s a simple line skill shot. Lights enemies on fire, doesn’t do much damage, but it has a very short cooldown; and if you hit someone who’s already on fire, the damage is increased significantly, and it applies a powerful slow effect.


Flame Buffet allows Alexstrasza to harass enemy heroes, as well as to slow them down, and keep them away from her team. Now flame buffet is really cool but we wanted more dragon than that. A lot more dragon. We wanted a dragon on the battlefield and that led us to Alexstrasza trait: Dragonqueen.


This allows Alexstrasza to turn into a dragon form. Empowers her health, her damage. But remember Alexstrasza is the dragon aspect of life, and we wanted her dragon form to be about empowering her healing.

If you are familiar with restoration shaman from World of Warcraft, they have an ability called Ascendance. This is a button where your party is low on health and there’s lots of damage coming in, and you just can’t keep up.


So you activate ascendance and you go into super healer mode for a short time; and this extra output lets you stabilize your party and save the day. Dragonqueen for Alexstrasza works very much like that.

In addition to empower her stats, it also improves all of her basic abilities. Her Gift of Life becomes Breath of Life with a greatly reduced cooldown and no health cost.

Her Abundance becomes Preservation… healing a wider area for a greatly increased amount.


And a Flame Buffet is replaced with Wing Buffer. With a powerful flap of her wings, she sends enemy heroes flying away from her team.


Now we can talk about heroics. Alexstrasza’s first heroic ability is Life Binder.


This was inspired by her appearance in Hearthstone, where she can set a Heroes’s health to a specific value. We thought this was really cool and wanted to try it out in Heroes of the Storm.

Now what I’m about to show you is one of the very early versions of life binder we tried. It has Alexstrasza create a zone on the ground that after a delay will rebalance the health of all heroes standing there: enemy, ally… doesn’t matter we thought this would be a huge moment to swing team fights and feel really impactful. So we tried it out.

Now it turns out that in a fast-paced game like ours setting everyone’s health to an average value, it just felt kind of average. It was really hard to notice those movements in the health bar. A lot of the time you actually end up hurting your own team, or healing your enemies. Not exactly the kind of impact you want from a heroic, right? You want it to feel awesome. So we needed some refinements.


The final version of Life Binder has Alexstrasza link herself directly to an ally. After a short delay, the hero with the lowest health of the two gets boosted up to the same health percent as a higher up hero.


This allowed the healthy Alexstrasza to do a powerful burst heal on an ally, or a badly injured Alexstrasza can link to a healthy ally and boost herself up to kind of restart that Gift of Life healing engine.

Second heroic ability is Cleansing Flame. This allows Alexstrasza to fly up into the sky, soar over the battlefield raining down healing and damaging fireballs as she goes. It’s an awesome dragon fantasy moment.


Now something you may not know is that I was also the hero designer on Probius, and during Probius’s development we tried a heroic that was a lot like this. We called it Mother Ship, and it had Probius warp off the battlefield on his protoss mothership. It had him rain down the destruction.


Now this was a really cool heroic, but we didn’t ship it with Probius, and there was a couple of reasons why. First off, it had a limited number of shots, and a limited amount of time you were frantically trying to get the shots off, because you didn’t want to waste any of it. It made it hard to think about aiming. It also (at the end) had Probius warp down where he started. So often that would be right into the waiting arms of the enemy team who will then blow the little probe up.


But the biggest reason we didn’t keep it on Probius is that he had this kind of builder and advanced setup gameplay that the ability just wasn’t fitting with. However, Alexstrasza gave us another chance to do this awesome heroic, and we made some important changes. First off, the fireballs from Cleansing Flame come down at your mouse cursor on a fixed interval.

So you are focusing entirely on aiming the healing and damage to get as much value as possible. We also allow Alexstrasza at the end to choose a manual location nearby. So she doesn’t have to just drop right into the enemy team and get ganked right away.

You can see here, the cursor for Cleansing Flame shows time between shots, and the number of shots remaining. When you run out of shots it allows you to choose a nearby landing location. These improvements made the abilities feel much better to use. They allow Alexstrasza to have epic support moments from the Sky for her team.


So that’s Alexstrasza. I had a great time working on her, and I feel like her abilities turned out awesome.

Thank you very much and that they tie back into this two core parts of the fantasy: the dragon and the aspect of life; but don’t take my word for it. She’s playable on the showfloor today. If you haven’t gotten to try her out, definitely go check her out.


Now we do have one more dragon we’re here to talk about today. So for that, I’d like to welcome Brew back up to tell you all about Hanzo.


1. Modeling: Alexstrasza2. Design: Alexstrasza3. Modeling: Hanzo4. Design: Hanzo
5. Live Heroes Revamp6. Community Q&A

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BlizzCon 2019 Panel Transcripts


Tomas Hernandez is owner of since 2003. I post news about World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard Careers, and the Warcraft film.

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