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The Lost Vikings may be Heroes of the Storm's most challenging heroes

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The return of The Lost Vikings, who were confirmed as a playable hero in Heroes of the Storm, was a great piece of news from BlizzCon, but a word of warning to fans of Blizzard's classic puzzle-platformer: They might be the hardest heroes in the game to play.

Heroes of the Storm senior programmer Alan Dabiri said that The Lost Vikings were originally part of a long list of Blizzard characters that the developer considered for the game's roster. When the game was unveiled at last year's BlizzCon, the numerous requests for The Lost Vikings prompted them to put Baleog, Erik and Olaf into the game, as something of an experiment. Turns out that experiment resulted in one of the most interesting and unique heroes in the game.

Blizzard labels The Lost Vikings as a "very hard" to play hero, chiefly because players can control each of the vikings independently. Each viking can be selected and controlled individually using the 1, 2 and 3 keys, or they can be selected as a group with the 4 key to move and attack as a group.

The movement speed and attack range of each viking is different, like the original The Lost Vikings. In Heroes of the Storm, that means that Erik runs faster and will outpace his viking brothers, while the portly Olaf lags farthest behind. The range of Erik's slingshot, however, is longer than Baleog's sword and Olaf's shield bash, so managing the attacks and position of all three can be something of a challenge.

But having three independently controlled characters also has its advantages. Players can position the tougher, shield-equipped Olaf in front of the other two vikings to block attacks or interfere with the movement of enemies. And losing just one (or two) of your vikings doesn't mean you're sitting around waiting to respawn. Smart players can also hide one or two of the vikings in the tree line, in an attempt to surprise their enemies.

Some of The Lost Vikings' abilities that were available in the BlizzCon demo included a group jump — their Q skill — that launches all three into the air, effectively making them invulnerable for a short time. A whirlwind-style attack (W) causes each viking to spin around, inflicting damage. Having all three bunched up to do triple the damage to one unit sure seems like an effective strategy. One of their heroic abilities puts all three vikings into a wooden longboat that launches fireballs as they row along, hovering slowly across the map for a limited time.

I got to spend some hands-on time with The Lost Vikings, and although the micromanagement of playing as the trio proved a challenge, that didn't mean it wasn't enjoyable. Using The Lost Vikings with simple brute clumsiness, I was still able to defeat the game's AI on one of the new battlegrounds, The Sky Temple.

Blizzard had the two other recently announced characters, Warcraft's Jaina and Thrall, playable in the BlizzCon build as well. Both are medium skill level characters, much simpler to grasp than The Lost Vikings.

Jaina was designed to be a straight-up spellcaster, Dabiri said, and she's listed as a ranged assassin. Her abilities are cold-based, and she can cast area of effect damage and slow enemies with chill. Jaina can summon a water elemental to fight alongside her or cast a large AOE attack called Ring of Frost that roots and chills her opponents.

Thrall, a melee assassin, has a more varied range of attacks. He can cast chain lightning that spreads to multiple opponents, launch a Feral Spirit wolf that roots a target and use Windfury to boost his movement and attack speed temporarily. Thrall's heroic talents include a ground shattering move called Sundering that stuns any opponents caught in its path and Earthquake, which slows enemies for an extended period.

The Egyptian-themed Sky Temple battleground that Blizzard debuted at BlizzCon differentiates itself with a trio of temples that the player can occupy for a tactical advantage. At certain points during the battle, one or two of the temples will become active, and if a player takes control of the temple by standing within a glowing ring, the temple will fire arcs of electricity at enemy structures. But temple guardians will also spring to life and attempt to kill anyone currently occupying the location.

Based on what we played at BlizzCon, Heroes of the Storm continues to be an enjoyable, addictive, more streamlined take on the multiplayer online battle arena genre. The addition of a new, high skill level hero in The Lost Vikings show Blizzard isn't afraid to experiment in interesting ways — or mine its oldest franchises when fans speak up — while also adding straightforward, fun-to-play and familiar characters. Heroes of the Storm is currently in a playable alpha state and will launch in closed beta in January.