Hanamura in HotS
An Experiment Gone Awry
Written By: inimical
Blizzard has re-energized Heroes of the Storm and brought in more people than ever with their recent marketing campaigns and HGC 2017. Along with the latest major changes, the introduction of Hanamura has breathed some life into a rather stale map pool. With Japanese aesthetics and a unique payload objective borrowed from Overwatch, the new map is consistent with Blizzard’s high quality standards. However, the map mechanics of Hanamura generally work against it.
It’s possible I’m an old curmudgeon who is afraid of change, but in its current state, Hanamura isn't for me. I've been playing the game since 2014, and with the exception of the (second) rework of Haunted Mines, I haven't ever felt this critical about a battleground. Heroes is a team brawler, but the constant brawling caused by Hanamura’s payload mechanic doesn’t feel like Heroes of the Storm and presents a worrying case for the direction of the game.
Go to the Payload, Go Directly to the Payload
Hanamura is a departure from the excellent macro and rotational play we've seen on previous battlegrounds. It puts the player in a position where, instead of having multiple options regarding the map objective, there is only one: push the payload and ignore everything else. In many ways Hanamura captures the meat-grinder experience you would get from playing a game of Overwatch, but this isn't Overwatch. Constantly brawling is neither fun nor does it mesh with the rotational and macro play which contribute to the depth of Heroes of the Storm.
To some degree, the constant brawling on Hanamura is a symptom of an overly convoluted objective. The map objective is similar to Towers of Doom where each escorted payload deals one damage to the Core and players cannot attack the Core directly. Like Towers of Doom, Hanamura comes with its own unique set of rules which can be confusing for new players.
At any given time there can be two to four payloads on the map. While two payloads are manageable, when three or four are on the field, the game quickly devolves into chaos. Added to the complexity of how destroyed forts interact with the payloads, and it can become overwhelming for someone just learning the basics of the game.
In addition, the games are really short. The Core health is set to 7 compared to the 40 on Towers of Doom, so the map plays out quickly compared to other maps and misses out on the late game complexity that HotS has to offer. If you’re making it to level 20 on Hanamura, you’re doing something wrong.
The fact the late game is rarely experienced contributes to Hanamura’s problems. Late game Heroes of the Storm is very much a nail-biting edge-of-your-seat experience since one mistake can cost your team the game. However, with a few payloads secured and a structure taken out early, you can easily snowball the game while your opponents are virtually powerless to stop it. Even if your opponents win a teamfight, the two lanes and short death timers don’t ensure enough xp to negate a talent advantage or xp lead. Hanamura comeback mechanics: 6.5/10.
Back in my Day, Mercenary Camps Used to Push
Another contributor to this constant brawling is the lack of map pressure exacerbated by mercenary camps that don’t push and a strong defenders advantage that makes it easy to stall out payloads for excessive periods of time.
When you capture a merc camp on Hanamura, the camp drops one of three power-ups—the healing pulse being far and away the best of the three—but unlike other battlegrounds, the mercs do not push. The lack of lane pressure hampers your ability to press your advantage elsewhere on the map and devalues waveclear. Again, this is a huge departure from the macro play we've seen on virtually every other battleground.
The boss doesn’t push either and feels even more useless than the mercenary camps. While the boss does grant a single shot, right now it feels like a glorified paperweight that sits in the middle of the map and functions as a nuisance when an ability accidentally triggers it. It’s far easier to push a fort down when death timers are high than take on the boss, especially since he can gorge someone and even the scales during an enemy invade. There’s less risk to your team pushing, and your opponents can't steal it. Why boss?
What a lazy mercenary, refusing to push lanes....
No map pressure also makes having a numbers advantage in the early/mid game fairly meaningless. On other maps, especially before level 10, you can press a minimal advantage after you secure a takedown, but having a numbers advantage doesn’t become punishing until later in the game on Hanamura. If you lose a member during a payload fight before level 16, you can easily delay 4v5 until your teammate respawns.
If your opponents happen to have a global hero, takedowns—excluding the xp gained—do not provide the same advantage they would on a map like Battlefield of Eternity. The ease of stalling out the objective means that players can back or even die without a substantial shift in either team’s favor, and the constant reinforcement forces both teams to continue to sit on the payload and avoid any other objectives on the map.
The map objective is also guarded by a strong defenders advantage which allows teams to free push the payload to the center of the map before facing any real opposition. Once there, it stalls indefinitely until one team can secure a significant lead or the other team messes up.
Time to Break Out the Toolbox
Ultimately, Hanamura attempts to do far too much, and this is its greatest flaw. Every other map in Heroes has a charming simplicity, yet the matches on those maps tend to take on a wonderful complexity of macro, rotational play, and a variety of other strategic choices. Hanamura, with all of its complexity, feels incredibly one-dimensional with players mindlessly hunting down opponents to create a numbers advantage. While some strategies have developed (most notably The Lost Vikings split), these strategies are not enough to circumvent the map’s flaws. I applaud Blizzard for trying new ideas, but Hanamura desperately needs to go back to the drawing board.
With that in mind, here are a few ideas that could potentially improve the map for future iterations.
Start the payload on the opposing side of the map
The map should force teams to enter enemy territory to begin pushing their payload. This forced aggression does two things:
- It draws the players out of the lanes and creates real map pressure
- It rewards decisive play when a team has the numbers advantage
If the defending team wins fights over the payload, they become the aggressors. Objectives on Battlefield of Eternity and Cursed Hollow spawn in enemy territory too, so this is by no means an unusual suggestion.
Reduce the max number of active payloads to two
Minimizing the amount of active payloads to two could simplify the complexity of multiple payloads going at once. Blizzard could go so far as to create a single payload which can be both pushed and denied by teams. Both ideas seem to make more sense and would act as a preventative measure against Hanamura’s current trend to descend into chaos.
Increase the Core HP to 10 or 12
Right now, games end too quickly even if teams manage to stall out the payloads for a lengthy amount of time. Increasing the Core HP would create a real late game where death timers are more impactful and options like pushing down a fort or taking the boss are realistic.
Make the boss count for more
The boss is mostly useless, but allowing it to shoot two or even three shots at the Core would make it substantially more important, especially in the later stages of the game.
Teams that are behind could take the boss to catch up in shots, and teams that are ahead could weigh the risk vs reward factor of sacrificing a payload to finish off the boss. Overall, it would give the map a lot more strategic complexity.