IceFrog’s Dota has been around for more than 10 years and yet it is still the most innovative and diverse “MOBA” in the scene. Each and every hero in the game is truly unique and fills a niche with little to no competition from the other heroes in certain aspects. Until recently this was achieved without overcomplicating the hero designs—a very impressive feat which separates Dota from its successors.
While many other games in the genre went for fancy mechanics like vector-targeting and simplified multi-unit control to create something new, our game remained true to its Warcraft 3 ancestry. However, with the last remnant of Warcraft Dota ported to the new client, are we going to see substantial changes to how the new hero concepts are handled?
The former kings
When it comes to Dota hero design, there is no simpler hero than the Wraith King himself. He has gone through several changes over the years, with a second active ability added at some point, but returned to his former state shortly after. At its core, however, the hero remained largely the same.
Even this simple concept proved to have a lot of depth nonetheless. The hero can not only be played in different roles with relative success, but even within a single role his item builds may substantially vary.
The same holds true for the majority of other heroes in the game. Versatility and understanding of the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses allows players to overcome unfavorable matchups and come out on top even in the direst of situations.
Compare the King to the newest Dota additions, namely Oracle and Earth Spirit. Each of them has at least four active abilities. Moreover, almost all of these abilities either have multiple variants, or can be cast on both allies and enemies. Both of these heroes are a lot more complex when it comes to their overall design.
This complexity often came at a price—these heroes were tweaked and balanced in every patch since their release in the Dota 2 client. Their initial introduction into the game was followed by a community outcry—the cancer spirit is still fresh in our memories, while Oracle, with his previous “turn-anyone-into-Slark” ultimate, was widely regarded as one of the most annoying heroes in Dota 1.
Before the readers get the wrong idea—this is not a critique on the new hero designs, but rather a highlight of the major hero design philosophy change of the recent years, with the potential pitfalls during the process. These changes are not inherently bad and can even be looked at as a necessity for the game to develop and grow.
Both of these new heroes, as well as their predecessor, Arc Warden, have a place in Dota and their place in the current roster of available heroes is well-deserved. But the topic raises an interesting question—what kind of hero will the Monkey King be, especially given the removal of limitations of the Warcraft 3 engine?
The new King
Sun Wukong, the Monkey King is a well-established character in the Chinese mythology. There is very rich lore surrounding him and it is understandable why he became a staple in many games.
The character is attributed with high strength, agility and speed, as well as a variety of magical abilities:
“ Each of his hairs possess magical properties, capable of being transformed into clones of the Monkey King himself, and/or into various weapons, animals, and other objects. He knows spells to command wind, part water, conjure protective circles against demons, and freeze humans, demons, and gods alike.”
Teaser Trailer Overview and Speculations
In the teaser trailer, it is possible to see some of these abilities in action.
There is almost definitely an ability related to the hair transformation, since it was one of the focal points of the teaser. Interestingly, the amount of created “illusions” far exceeded the current maximum of 8 for Phantom Lancer. It seems unlikely that these illusions will be player-controlled or will even follow the general illusions rules—in the trailer most of them are seen running in a single direction. Four of them, however, remained by the Monkey King’s side.
At one point we also see Wukong transform from a tree into his normal self, however there is a question whether this ability can be a viable design choice on a map where tree placement is very important. If there is an ability associated with the “trickster” segment, it will probably involve possession of an existing tree, rather than a creation of a decoy, but it still does not answer the question of level-scaling of the ability. There is a high chance that if it is an in-game ability, it will be a side-part of a different one.
Vaulting over the treetops is another concept which can be seen as either a potential ability or a cinematic-only feature, but somersaulting is a very common Sun Wukong skill in multiple other games. Potentially important, the creeps noticed Wukong, while he was running on the treetops. Other heroes who can go through trees without destroying them (e.g. Spectre) are generally unseen by the enemy, unless there is flying vision in the area.
The segment also ended with a well-defined slam on the creep wave, with Monkey King’s staff visually extended. The new items such as Dragon Lance already broke some of the Wc3 limitations, allowing heroes to have a variable attack range. Previously, it was only possible by changing the unit in question permanently, e.g. Enchantress could not drop Aghanim’s Scepter. The extended staff in the teaser for MK could indicate that the hero might have temporary >150 melee attack range from skill.
Returning to the design philosophy discussion, it is almost guaranteed that Sun Wukong will be more similar to the new wave of heroes, with “busier” gameplay. Given the character’s lore and the teaser trailer, he is also likely to be a highly mobile elusive target. With that and extended melee attack range in mind, we might have the first melee kiting hero, which fits the theme of Monkey King very well.
There is also an old playdota image outlining the potential abilities of the hero. Some of them, however, have been incorporated into other hero designs, such as Phantom Lancer’s modified Cloud Dance/ Doppelganger and Naga Siren’s modified Echo Sweep/ Rip Tide.
The introduction of the first brand new hero in three years is certainly exciting. With the removal of Warcraft 3 engine limitations, the Monkey King has the potential of being so much more than just a new hero—he can introduce some concepts and mechanics not previously seen in any other hero and he is definitely going to be highly experimental.
Whether it is a good or a bad thing is up to the community to decide. There are always going to be dissatisfied Dota purists and given bumpy introduction of the last two new heroes to Dota there is a justified reason for worry. Yet, in the end, it always works out. What do you think of the way Dota is headed and what hero do you think Monkey King will be?