by Lewis Burnell on Sep 05, 2017
With win-rates of 50% and regularly drafted in all game modes, it would be easy to think that Leoric, the Skeleton King, wasn’t in need of Blizzard’s attention. Having recently undergone significant Talent improvements, with those changes now incubating on the Public Test Realm, how’s Leoric doing, and importantly, will it see him rise to the top of the Warrior roster?
Released on 27 July, 2015, Leoric was quickly hit with a series of nerfs. Not only were the effects of his healing during Undying halved, but tweaks were also made to his talents and Skeletal Swing. While that may appear harsh, especially being only two weeks after his release, it was undoubtedly necessary. At the time it wasn’t uncommon to see Leoric players relentlessly pushing a single lane with little fear of death. His respawn timers were such that he was effectively Murky, only with much more potency. With Skeletal Swing originally dealing 100% increased damage to structures, it was inevitable that the community would quickly discover his combination of short respawn times, and no requirement to run back from base, made him a one-stop shop for bringing Keeps down.
Match after match, Leoric would force opponents to babysit him, with little they could do to stop his march on their structure, even if they did kill him. While the constant looming spectre of a haunted (but dead) Leoric was certainly fitting for such a Hero, there’s no doubt it was too oppressive. Blizzard continued to reduce Leoric’s potency as a result, right up until February 2nd, 2016. By this point, Leoric's fortunes were fairly poor and he had fallen hard out of the meta.
As Leoric’s kit lacks hard crowd control, his opportunities to solo tank after having his sustain reduced so much were severely limited, while drafting him as a duo warrior was still an inferior option when the likes of Muradin and Johanna were in such high demand. He could still excel in a perfect composition, but his niche of being a self-sufficient Hero that was tough to bring down due to his personal healing had largely evaporated.
It was only in April and May of 2016 that Leoric’s fortunates began to shift, with improvements to Block, his total health and regeneration, offering glimmers of hope for his die-hard fans. By late June, Leoric received significant improvements to Drain Hope, allowing him - for the most part - to settle back into his old routine: surviving under pressure, while still constantly harassing the enemy. Unfortunately for Leoric, the changes made to Drain Hope and his talent, Willing Vessel, forced him into an unadaptable build, ensuring his only viable Talents routes were strengthening the one good ability he had: Drain Hope.
Although Leoric has continued to receive buffs to his kit, in a variety of areas, from June 2016, his continued reliance on Drain Hope and all its Talents was incredibly limiting. Constantly gravitating towards the same four Drain Hope talents (alongside Ossein Renewal) might have made him viable again, but it also killed his build diversity and left him a one-trick pony. Missing a single Drain Hope against a target saw Leoric fall to the sidelines, as his kit offered little else in the way of harass or sustain. Fundamentally, Leoric’s strength as a Warrior is lumbering through the front-line to zone the back. Drain Hope facilitates this, but remains as much a benefit to Leoric, as it is a curse.
While Leoric has fared well in recent months, especially on Battlegrounds such as Braxis Holdout and Hanamura, his lack of talent diversity is undoubtedly the reason why Blizzard have chosen to revisit his kit. He has huge potential (while likely being a challenge to balance), but the arrival of Quest Talents, and newer Warriors gaining greater utility or flexibility, saw Leoric in desperate need of attention.
Having played Leoric on the Public Test Realm since his Talent rework went live, it’s difficult to predict how he might pan out. That’s largely a result of his Drain Hope and its potency being reduced, but he makes up for this with a stronger set of Talents, and with better wave clear. His basic attacks now deal cleave damage by default, and with Skeletal Swing having a reduced cooldown when you strike a Hero, it ensures that when he is in amongst opponents, he can deal more damage more often.
In many of the matches I’ve played, I’ve not only achieved significantly more damage (more than any other Warrior I typically gravitate towards), but I’ve also proved harder to bring down. That might sound contradictory considering the reduction in Drain Hope’s potency. However, earlier access to Ossein Renewal, a vastly improved March of the Black King, and a dose of mobility thanks to a better Drain Momentum at level 7 allows Leoric to bully, reposition, and deal damage with ease.
Although there are still go-to Talents, such as Ossein Renewal at level 1, or Crushing Hope at level 16, levels 4, 7, 13 and 20 allow for some real choices. That, in comparison to what was before, is quite remarkable, and on multiple occasions I’ve found myself adapting my build based on the circumstance. The Talents Leoric now has give him a great deal of flexibility: he can focus on damage, sustain or survivability. Before, it was simply a case of, “I’ll take any Talents that improve Drain Hope.”
It’s a bit too early to make predictions on how Leoric will perform once released from the Public Test Realm, but early signs suggest he should do exceptionally well. My gut feeling is that he’ll undoubtedly climb in popularity because he is stronger, and although he’s still vulnerable to burst damage, he’s more than capable of being a lone Warrior, or doubling up.
If there’s any change I’d like to see to his Talents before his “release”, it would be to improve his level 1 Talent (Consume Vitality) so that it heals for 6% as opposed to 4%. This would ensure players don’t instantly gravitate towards Ossein Renewal. In addition to this, slightly buffing Mithril Mace so that it provides 25% attack speed (instead of 20%), but also improves his attack speed by 4% for every 10 Minions or 1 Hero killed. In total, that’d bring Leoric’s potential attack speed increase to 65% as opposed to 50% and should, I would think, give Crushing Hope a run for its money.
Cower before your king!