by Lewis Burnell on Aug 29, 2017
Kel’Thuzad is bloody tall. It’s the first thing that sprang to mind when diving onto the Public Test Realm. He towers over Heroes and structures, to the point where I’ve already got concerned about him being focused first. While it certainly makes him an imposing presence, it’s also a beacon that screams, “attack me!”.
Where the likes of Jaina and Chromie can often flank and avoid some focus due to their small stature, it’s just not happening with Kel’Thuzad (KT for short). When he arrives into a fight, it’s near impossible to focus on anyone other than him. If that’s the sort of impact Blizzard were hoping for when they designed KT, they’ve definitely succeeded. The most important question however, is how how does he play and can he compete against the likes of Chromie, Kael’thas, Jaina, Li-Ming and Gul’dan?
Kel’Thuzad’s kit took me a little by surprise. I expected much of it would revolve around existing abilities he uses in Naxxramas, but I didn’t quite picture him playing as he does. Unlike similar ranged Heroes, Kel’Thuzad largely revolves around a series of delayed abilities, with his only instantaneous attack (Chains of Kel’Thuzad) requiring further interaction after impact, to obtain its maximum effect. It takes a little practice to not only get used to firing off your abilities and waiting for them to do something, but also anticipating where your opponent will be. With cooldowns not too dissimilar to Kael’thas, Kel’Thuzad cannot afford to be wasteful.
Although the Public Test Realm is a fairly terrible place for testing any new Hero, purely because of fairly wonky team compositions, there’s two things that are instantly apparent: Kel’Thuzad excels at fighting in static areas, and his damage is incredible when he has maximized his Trait. Due to the fact he has to time his attacks so carefully, when fighting over an objective on a Battleground such as Cursed Hollow or Towers of Doom, he can afford to be a little more liberal.
As players typically group up during such objectives, Kel’Thuzad can cause huge problems; his combination of direct and AOE attacks can wreak havoc amongst an unawares opposition. In several matches I’ve caught players out, simply because they think they’re safe, only for them to walk out of one of your abilities and straight into a another (you’ve got to love those delays). That said, players experienced in reading telegraphs, or anticipating attacks from Heroes such as Chromie can also have a fairly easy time of avoiding his highest burst. That’s not to say there isn’t value in Kel’Thuzad’s zoning potential, but he lacks the immediate AOE threat of Kael’thas and the sustain of Gul’dan.
Death and Decay can prove particularly challenging to gain value from as it is easily blocked by a robust front-line and its damage, though rapid, isn’t particularly high by default. It has neither the, “oh shit!” impact of Li-Ming’s Arcane Orb, or the damage over time pressure of Gul’dan’s Corruption. What it does have however is solid impact damage (around 250 at level 20), that becomes particularly scary when your Trait is fully completed: its initial damage increases to 440, with subsequent damage over time ticking at 205. Considering it has a 6 second cooldown, as long as you can make contact with someone, it proves to offer particularly strong poke.
Where Frost Nova is concerned, it’s the type of skill-shot ability that’s undeniably rewarding. Punishing anyone caught in the center, it not only roots, but deals an instant burst of damage (999 at level 20 with a completed Trait). Best of all, with the right talent choices the root remains long enough to successfully land Shadow Fissure, and an empowered basic attack for a whopping 3150 damage. There’s something a little dirty about such a wombo-combo, as it’s more than capable of deleting multiple players instantly. It might be difficult to pull off, but with practice and in the right environment, it’s frighteningly hilarious.
For Kel’Thuzad’s final ability, he has Chains of Kel’Thuzad and this, for the most part, is where his complexity stems from. Allowing KT to fire a chain straight forwards, it deals a small amount of damage on impact, and allows him to then re-activate the ability to fire a second chain outwards. If this second chain hits a player, or enemy scenery, those affected will be pulled together and stunned. It’s a little tricky at first to utilise, but it becomes quickly apparent just how potent the ability is. While there might not always be enemy scenery to utilise in order to pull an opponent, more often than not there’s another enemy Hero to act as a target. In a team fight, quickly firing Chains of Kel’Thuzad towards a target, impaling a second, stunning both, and landing your full rotation is brutal.
What I particularly like about the interaction of Chains of Kel’Thuzad are the subtle interactions the ability allows. Whether it’s pulling an enemy away from you, setting up a burst with the rest of your team, or even just buying your team breathing room for a fleeting moment, it’s a clever ability that has a high skill ceiling. Effective use of it will undoubtedly separate the good Kel'Thuzad's, from the bad.
If I’ve any concerns about Kel’Thuzad, besides the fact he’s such an easy target, it’s that he’s a liability in the wrong hands. Not only is he easy to tunnel due to his lack of mobility, but he’s also particularly challenging to deal damage with if you don’t read player movement correctly, or don’t position yourself in the right spot. Entire rotations can result in you hitting nothing, while straying a little too far from where you should be can see you instantly killed. Where Kael’thas or Guldan can be relatively forgiving, thanks a combination of instant damage, low cooldowns and/or large telegraphs, Kel’Thuzad really is quite punishing. Personally, I think this is absolutely great, however, in a handful of matches I’ve played this also proved to be a frustrating experience when my team were heavily reliant on Kel’Thuzad’s damage potential. Playing a match for 30 minutes, only to find the KT on my team still hadn’t completed his Trait, can seriously hamstring your team and its ability to pressure the enemy.
Besides the above, Kel’Thuzad has all the hallmarks of being a powerful ranged assassin that can comfortable muscle in on existing territory. Even if his kit overlaps the likes of Kael’thas or Jaina, it’s unique enough to the point where minor similarities are irrelevant. It’s difficult to know at this point if Kel’Thuzad will become a preferred option over his peers (Jaina’s new talents see her run rings around him), but he undoubtedly fills a niche and his kit has huge potential. I’m looking forward to seeing which Talents players gravitate towards. Here’s my choices.