or: Constructive Feedback on Roadhog’s Balancing
Roadhog was the first character in Overwatch that I really wanted to master. Coming from TF2 as an avid MGE (My Gaming Edge is a popular 1v1 practice mod in TF2) Soldier player, discovering the balance between the Rocket Launcher and the Shotgun lent incredible depth to a character of such apparent simplicity and formed the foundation of my passion for competitive gaming. Diving into the nuances of Roadhog, I felt just the same as I had in the early stages of mastering MGE’s Soldier duels: perfect play was so clearly possible and yet always tantalizingly out of reach.
Missing or landing a hook almost never felt like a game of chance, and a perfect understanding of range was a must-have to do battle while Hook was on cooldown. The character rewarded skill with unique carry-potential and punished mistakes and poor positioning with significant contributions to enemy ultimate tempo. Then came the hook 2.0 update.
It only took a few minutes of playing the new Roadhog for me to recognize the gravity of what was lost. Impressive hooks were often broken by odd geometry or falling opponents, only occasionally did this new mechanic yield the sense that your target had truly outplayed the hook. On the receiving end, I felt the same. Once in a while I truly intended to sidestep a hook and broke it with my cover, but more often than not my response was to say a quick prayer to RNGesus.
The mechanical change to the way the pull itself occurred was also rather shockingly bad. Characters hooked off of high ground or from height were not brought straight to the Road player, but rather in a diagonal trajectory that put the two players on level ground. As someone who practiced with the original hook mechanics for hundreds of hours, this change was both annoying and counter-intuitive while having no discernible impact on the balance of the character. Some heroes were originally quite difficult to consistently one-shot combo as Roadhog, most notably Ana. Prior to these changes, only a very small minority of players could truly achieve a very reliable maximum damage combo. The change to pull consistency was perhaps well intended yet in my view only achieved a ‘dumbing down’ of the character’s fundamental mechanics.
I don’t contend that no nerf was deserved, but rather that changes to Roadhog have been poorly designed. Roadhog as he was on release was most certainly overpowered. His one-shot potential was simply too high and counterplay options were sharply limited by his low cooldowns. The hook was also apparently designed for the lowest common denominator of players with a hitbox nearly the size of a payload cart. Despite these problems, at the end of the day the Pig was a hell of a lot of fun to play because the hook was a hell of a lot of fun to use.
The initial changes proved insufficient to properly balance the hero, so the devs turned next to a 33% increase to Hook’s cooldown combined with buffs to the spread of the Scrap Gun and a decrease in pull distance to compensate. The intent was apparently to make him less reliant on his role-defining cooldown and remake him in the style of a classic DPS character. Philosophical problems with this kind of change aside, this patch led to a significant decrease in Roadhog’s vulnerability during Hook cooldown and a significant increase to his ability to drop enemies into death-pits.
In the most recent balance patch, our beloved swine was finally driven into competitive irrelevancy with Ranked win rates approaching 40% and a near total lack of playtime in professional play. The developers had the following to say: “The Scrap Gun changes reduce the power of his hook combo and alternate fire burst damage potential while still keeping his DPS roughly the same.” (For those unaware, the recent patch decreased Hog’s damage by 33% while increasing rate of fire by 30% and clip size by 25%).
The notion that Roadhog could still realistically output the same amount of DPS as pre-patch is pretty laughable. As soon as I saw these patch notes on the PTR I knew Roadhog was destined for the garbage bin if they went live (and live they went). In a game with healing as cheap and effective as it is in Overwatch, burst damage is vastly stronger than damage dealt over time. Just because Roadhog has about the same ability to break a Rein shield (under perfect conditions) as before doesn’t mean that his meaningful DPS will be anywhere close to what it was. Furthermore, dealing the same DPS requires landing more shots than before and thus exposing oneself more than before.
If the developers had written that ‘Roadhog was much too strong and that these changes were intended to bring him in line’ I would disagree with their assessment but agree with the means by which they responded to it. What is really upsetting is that, from the above developer comment I interpret that they didn’t see these changes as a significant nerf at all. Perhaps with the decrease to his critical hitbox size they potentially even saw this update as a buff. The reality, however, is that these changes are perhaps the most significant nerfing any character has received throughout Overwatch except perhaps all of the Ana nerfs combined into one patch. Worse yet, this brutal blow from the nerf-bat was delivered to a character that was already fading out of competitive viability. What that says about the developers’ understanding of their own game is up to the reader to decide.
I am happy and sad at the same time with these changes. Happy because Roadhog stopped being fun for me with the first iteration of Hook 2.0 and now he is so competitively irrelevant that I’ll never need to touch him again barring radical re-balancing. Sad because Roadhog was the character that first made me want to become great at Overwatch.
All along, the changes Roadhog needed were so simple. Were I balancing Overwatch, the next balance patch would do the following.
- Reset Roadhog to exactly as he was on release
- Hook cooldown to 9 seconds
- Hook hitbox size decreased by 33%
- Take a Breather healing down to 250 from 300 (or 1-2 second increase in cool down)
Being deleted in one shot isn’t very fun. For newer players it is probably quite frustrating since they don’t understand the game well enough to really engage with counterplay options. These changes will make successfully landing hooks much harder, remove the original ability of the hook to pull players who were completely out of line of sight, and increase the size of the vulnerability window that Roadhog creates when he uses Chain Hook. Reverting the spread changes will push the character back into his original role of a space-denying tank and defender of back lines and further open up counterplay options to reward players who successfully bait out a Hook. If Blizzard remains really resistant to reverting the hook-break mechanic, the hook should instantly stop the motion of its target from the moment of connection through the completed pull so that skillful and ‘legit’ hooks are at least more rarely broken by gravity or odd map geometry.
P.S. This essay was more in a narrative structure than my previous pieces because I felt that it served the point I was trying to make better. Let me know what you thought in the comments; more pieces and potentially more new styles coming soon.