Heroes of the Storm BlizzCon interview discusses Orphea, the Nexus lore, and Janitor Leoric

As Heroes of the Storm's lore push hits its climax, Shacknews sits down with Game Designer Jade Martin and Concept Artists Oscar Vega to learn more about Orphea, the story so far, and the process behind selecting skins.

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Heroes of the Storm has been taking the best characters across the Blizzard pantheon and placing them all together in a single place for several years. Up until this year, all the names have been recognizable characters from across a number of Blizzard's modern and classic franchises. But 2018 offered a little bit of a twist, with a renewed lore push that has led to the introduction of the game's newest character, Orphea.

As the daughter of the Raven Lord, Orphea represents uncharted territoty for Heroes of the Storm. She's the first playable character to be an entirely original creation. Fascinated by this latest twist in the HotS narrative, Shacknews sat down with Heroes of the Storm Game Designer Jade Martin, along with Oscar Vega, one of the concept artists who helped bring Orphea to life. We discussed Orphea's place in the lore, in the game itself, as well as the process behind bringing out skins like Janitor Leoric.

Shacknews: I was very surprised to see a completely new, original addition to the game. Before going into Orphea as a playable character, I want to ask about Orphea's place in the lore.

Oscar Vega, Concept Artist: This whole year, we've just been trying to culminate at this one spot at BlizzCon with Orphea. All of these events that have been taking place in the Nexus have tied into this big Orphea reveal moment. For example, Alterac Pass and the Dark Nexus event have been these key moments that happened in the game that prepared us to reveal her.

Jade Martin, Game Designer: She grew up in the Nexus. That's kind of her place. She's born of the Nexus, which makes her different than any other hero who's been brought into the Nexus, which is really cool. It allows us to explore stories with her. Her father is Oberon [The Raven Lord] and she grew up there with her father and, as his thirst for power grew and grew, she started to distance herself a little bit, seeing that he wasn't necessarily a great guy. His thirst for power was changing who he was. So Orphea, in a disagreement with her father, fled and wanted to find her own path and find a way to stop her dad from taking control of everything. That was really her goal and, before leaving, she takes this relic with her, which is a very iconic part of her silhouette, that coffin-looking relic that she has on her back that harnesses the power of her ancestors.

Vega: If you are more interested in her place in the lore, we actually have a comic coming out soon, titled "Orphea," that will have her story.

Martin: The fourth comic. We've already released three and the fourth will be coming soon and this one really focuses on her.

Shacknews: This has really been the first year that you guys have really gone all-in on the lore push for Heroes of the Storm. What kind of freedom has that given you when it comes to playing with these characters. For example, I saw the last update had the Raven Lord recruit his horsemen, who were Alexstrasza and Zarya, just to name a few.

Vega: Visually, it's been awesome, because we have these universes that we get to play in. Being able to tie them in and bring in these iconic Blizzard heroes, having them be their best version, but in another world if things had been different. For example, with Whitemane, we had the Raven Lord and we knew he needed an army and we knew he needed someone powerful. And we have these Blizzard heroes right here who are powerful and iconic and awesome, so why not just take them and bring them into that universe. It's been really, really fun.

Shacknews: Where does the game's lore go from here?

Martin: I think it's really open. We have a lot of liberties, seeing how the Nexus has proved so large, like this huge galaxy. So we really have a lot of opportunities to explore different areas of the Nexus. But right now, we're just focused on Orphea and where she comes from and how she fits into the Nexus.

Shacknews: So now I want to ask about Orphea as a playable character. What sorts of abilities does she bring to the table?

Martin: So she's a mage, a Ranged Assassin. She's really a lot of fun. I almost view her as a hybrid mage, because not only does she want to use her abilities to deal damage, but it's very important that she's weaving in auto-attacks, because of the way her trait works.

To give you an idea of what that is, her trait is Overflowing Chaos. Anytime she damages an enemy Hero with an ability, she gains a stack of Overflowing Chaos. This stacks up to three times. When she auto-attacks an enemy Hero with Overflowing Chaos, it consumes all the stacks, deals increased damage, and heals her based on that damage dealt. So it really creates this fun gameplay loop of trying to maximize the amount of hits you're getting on targets and then following up with an auto-attack. She's really this aggressive, fast-paced mage that you really want to play and rewards the player for hitting these skill shots that she has.

Shadow Waltz is the perfect example of this. This is her (Q), it's a line area-of-effect that has a small delay, so it has a quarter-second delay and can be dodged, but when she hits an enemy Hero, it allows her to dash a short distance afterwards. So it really lets her play around and dance a little bit with the enemy. But it also gives you a lot of fun gameplay as an enemy, because you can completely shut her down by dodging this skill shot. If she's not able to dance around you, she becomes a little less effective. She's got mobility, but it's a conditional mobility.

Shacknews: What are some team builds where Orphea would fit really well?

Martin: She's a really aggressive mage, so she definitely wants to be more on the front line. She can poke from behind, she has Dread, which is her (E), she shoots out a line and has a little bit of a delay. I don't know if you saw the Opening Ceremony, but it delays and then pops up and deals damage, slows enemies inside of it. So that's a great form of ranged engagement, but really, she wants to be up front, because Shadow Waltz has a limited range.

Any kind of team that can benefit from that. A Blaze and a Garrosh are going to be really good with her, because they're going to be able to peel people away from her or stay on the front line. Garrosh might be able to throw people away if they get too close to her.

As far as a support character, there really are no limits there. Whitemane is a good Hero, because Whitemane is also focused on being an aggressive damage dealer to get her healing off. And her Heroics are putting AOE armor on everyone. It allows Orphea to sustain and stay in those fights, as well.

My personal favorite is Auriel. I think Auriel is a really fun pairing with her, just because Orphea can really dish out the damage. But Auriel, obviously, her traits feeds into that and allows her to heal for more. And then Crystal Aegis... if Orphea does find herself too deep into the enemy team, can actually recover very nicely by being saved with Crystal Aegis, giving her a moment of reprieve.

Shacknews: I want to ask about the new skins you revealed. I don't think anything at the Opening Ceremony got a bigger pop than Janitor Leoric. Can you walk me through the process of how the team decides on these skins?

Martin: I think Leoric was just this huge community event that we were able to respond to. Once we saw it initially, we were really excited about finding a way to get it into this game. We were glad we could announce it here at BlizzCon.

Vega: The way we decide the skins, it's all about timing. We look at what heroes are popular and what heroes need skins, so there's a bunch of caveats that feed into how we pick the skins. But as far as Janitor Leoric went, I think it was a long time coming. The community just wanted it so bad. The dev team, we wanted it so bad. And we were like, "It's time. Let's go for it!"

Shacknews: Can you give me an example of a skin that you guys batted around that didn't quite make the cut?

Vega: We have this thing on the art team where we do a lot of exploration with skins and we have a backlog of skins that we make. It's not that none of them have made the cut, but it's not the right time for them.

Martin: Honestly, that's a huge point right there. I love our artists. Our artists are phenomenal. I always go on their Wiki pages and look at everything that's supposed to be coming and all of the concepts that they come up with and some of them are my favorite. But I've been on this team for over three years now and something that I initially saw may just now be coming in. We always have a backlog. I don't think anything we come up with is completely shelved.

Vega: I think Nexomania and our luchadore-themed Diablo is actually a great example of this. Because that concept was done by an artist like way early into the game's development and it just wasn't its time until this year.

Shacknews: At the end of the Heroes portion of the Opening Ceremony, you threw out a lot of ideas for what's coming in 2019. Can you give me a general idea of what's ahead for Heroes of the Storm next year?

Martin: From the gameplay side, we have some gameplay updates. We're redistributing how we do experience gained while you're playing the game. The goal here is to bring the games closer so we don't see those large level gaps that really swing a game to one person's favor and you don't ever feel like you're completely out of the game. To combat that, we wanted to give you, the winning team, a feeling that you are still doing well, despite not having a four or five level lead. And a lot of this is by rewarding you with different things.

A good example of this is, now when you take forts, you spawn a catapult for your team. Traditionally, catapults would only spawn when you took out a keep. Now they spawn when you take out a fort. Rather than it being every wave, it's every third wave, which is about a minute and a half. This kind of allows you to play around and get yourself into a position where you're able to either force the enemy team to respond to that or you can make a decision to push with a lane and play the macro in that way, with the XP being redistributed. And since we pulled out the XP from the forts, we had to put that into minions, which now give extra experience.

On top of that, a big concern of the community and a lot of our pro players is how armor works in our game. It's very easy to stack up to the armor cap, so you would often see games where you would just get a ton of heroes who had armor talents or a Heroic or ability that modified and put it onto a carry or a ranged assassin and really allowed them to go to town. So what we decided to do is change armor so that it takes the highest value. So it's only ever going to take the highest value. So let's say you have Whitemane, who gets 40 armor off her Heroic, but you have a talent that gives 10 armor. The 40 armor will always take priority over the 10.

Out of game, we're doing some really cool things with XP boosts. XP boosts now contribute to your whole team. And it's not just allies, but it's also enemies. So if all ten players on the teams have an XP boost, you get an additional five percent for a total of 45 percent. So it doesn't just count for yourself. It's a nice way to show everyone, "Hey, I have an XP boost. You're all going to get a little more XP." It brings everyone together. I think it's a neat little thing we can do there.

On top of that, we have some Quick Match changes coming that we're really excited about. It's what we're calling the Call of the Nexus. A lot of times in Quick Match, we see games that just get out of hand. And a lot of the time, it's because the team compositions just get a little chaotic, being able to have five specialists on one team or no healer and no tank. So in the Call of the Nexus, now when you queue, it will always match you with one ranged assassin, one healer, and one tank, and two floaters. What we find is, when Heroes is played with at least those three in your composition, the games are just more fun. It creates a better environment for everyone, so we wanted to find a way to support that.

Now that doesn't mean you won't be able to queue up in these wacky compositions either. If you queue as a five-man, you'll be able to queue in your five specialists, your five healers, or whatever you might be and still be able to play that way. We're not taking it away completely, but for the people who are solo queueing and queueing in less than fives, we wanted to make that a better Quick Match experience.


Look for Orphea, along with the latest batch of skins and mounts, to debut in Heroes of the Storm in the coming weeks.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?