Blizzard may be best known for StarCraft, Diablo and World of Warcraft to modern fans, but the company has a long history of releasing interesting games, including The Lost Vikings, a 2D puzzle game where the player controlled three Vikings to solve puzzles.
When the decision was made to bring The Lost Vikings to Heroes of the Storm as a new for-pay character, Blizzard had to find what made that character unique. How do you create a Lost Vikings hero while being true to the original game? What made these characters interesting?
"Trying to translate what is essentially a 2D puzzle platformer into a hero was a challenge," John Hodgson, the game's technical designer, told Polygon. "It was more of a blank slate than we like to admit."
"What the Lost Vikings brought to the table was that you could control three different guys and they all had powers and you had to use all three of them to complete levels. That's what we stuck with," Hodgson continued. "There had to be three."
That decision led to what is sure to be one of the strangest, and hardest to control, heroes of the game.
MOBA goes RTS
The Lost Vikings are three characters that make up one hero, and you can use them together as a group if you'd like. There are even abilities that only work when all three are fighting as a party. Things get interesting when you break them apart. This is the move that could have huge repercussions for the game's strategy.
"With the Lost Vikings we sort of revert you to StarCraft controls, you're able to select the Vikings individually and order them to go different places and use different abilities. They're not always a group, you can split them up," Hodgson explained.
"It's a break, certainly, from what we're used to doing."
It's going to take time to learn how to use this new ability effectively, and it's likely going to dramatically change the strategy on some maps. But it's also true to the original game. The Lost Vikings was always about splitting the characters and using their talents singly to solve puzzles. Using that ability in a strategy game, however, will be much trickier.
I've been trying to use the characters for the past few days, and it's not easy. You have to be aware of the first three numerical keys on the keyboard in order to rapidly switch between the three vikings on the fly. You can spread them across the map and then call them back together. It requires your attention to be in three places at once, rather than one, which is not how Heroes of the Storm operates. It's easy to become overwhelmed.
"When we put Lost Vikings in the hands of players ... there's so much information coming in. They have heroes that are all over the map, they're dying left and right but they're coming back quickly," Hodgson said. "There's confusion initially, it's got a big learning curve, more so than any other hero we've done. Once people get the hang of it they start to think about strategy."
Erik is the fastest viking, but he has the least HP. Olaf is the slowest, but can take the most hits. Balog is right in the middle. So you can set up a combination of Erik and Olaf to harass the enemy heroes, while using Erik's speed to run out and gain intel while perhaps picking up secondary objectives depending on the map.
Each Viking will be less powerful than a standard hero by themselves, but used well they should be effective at certain goals both as a single unit and singly.
Heck, on the Dragon Shire map you could use Balog to take the southern obelisk, Olaf to take the northern Obelisk, and then have Erik transform into the Dragon Knight, fulfilling the entirety of the map's secondary objective with one player as the rest of the team attacks the enemy.
The Lost Vikings mess with every aspect of the game; killing one of the three nets the enemy one-fourth the XP of a regular kill, and the Vikings come back to life much quicker. They play nothing like any of the existing heroes in almost every way, and that's by design.
"We're willing to embrace a lot of chaos," Samwise Didier, the game's senior art director, said. It's going to take a day or two until we see how the players use the characters, and we'll have our own hands-on time very soon, but this is big news for Heroes of the Storm. It also proves the team is willing to play with the game's structure, and to dive back into Blizzard's history for interesting characters.
"I don't think there is any character in our Blizzard world that we can't make in Heroes of the Storm. Down to Rock n' Roll Racing, driving a car around, down to Blackthorn, down to whatever," Didier said.
So if there's a character from a Blizzard game you thought may not fit? You could be surprised. "We have a Murloc in there that can kill Arthas," Didier stated. "We can make it work."
The Lost Vikings are available now in Heroes of the Storm.