​Three Lane Highway: Winter Wyvern and the trouble with silence

Winter Wyvern

Three Lane Highway is Chris' weekly column about Dota 2 and related games.

It's update week! For Smite in particular—season two went live on Wednesday, fundamentally overhauling the Conquest map and introducing a broad sweep of balance changes equivalent to a major Dota 2 patch. I've played Smite exactly twice since then because Crystal Maiden has a puppy now. Conquest revamp, puppy. Conquest revamp. Puppy. Look at the puppy! Look at it.

It's entirely too early to tell whether I'll one day regret having spent £18 on a magical cape that comes with a dog. I suspect that the answer is 'no' when it should probably be 'yes', but that's how it goes. I'm almost two thousand hours into this particular series of questionable life decisions. One day I'll end up spending even more. Imagine if the Crystal Maiden arcana extended Freezing Field's duration to three minutes and thirty-nine seconds and replaced the channeling animation with the entirety of 'Let It Go' from Frozen. I don't know how much I'd pay for that. A lot, I suppose. I wonder how much my kidneys are worth.

I'm not in a position to offer comment on the New Bloom event itself yet because of the way it is structured—the new mode is only accessable at random times, with warning given an hour in advance. I suspect that Valve has structured it this way to ensure that people in my position play it exactly twice—once when it appears by chance, and once after spending an entire day waiting. I have a job and commitments: I need to plan my Dota time in advance, and that is directly incompatible with the structure of this year's New Bloom. I imagine there are reasons for it being this way, but from my isolated place in the crowd they seem like they might be dumb reasons.

That being the case, I'm going to discuss something else. Specifically, I'm going to explain why this support-centric update adds to a long list of reasons why Silencer can go fuck himself.

Phew. It feels good to finally say that, you know? Over the last couple of years I've worked through most of my personal problems with certain heroes. I used to loathe Nature's Prophet, and Pudge, and Faceless Void—I had a very specific sense of the types of people who would play those characters. Nonetheless, I'm aware of how silly and immature it is to make assumptions about somebody's personality based on the types of characters that they like to play, and I appreciate the way that all of these characters ultimately make the game more interesting. I'd even extend that to Sniper. Sure! He's an irritating shit sometimes, but there's a kind of tragic comedy to his impact on the lategame if he gets out of control.

At the end of this long period of personal development, only Silencer remains as the hero I truly and personally dislike. He's a prick and I hate him and here is why.

I love Winter Wyvern. I love how Valve have reimagined her, and I love how silly and showy her abilities can be. Like Omniknight, she's only ever going to be a very situational counter-pick—but like Omniknight, her impact on a fight can be visible and exciting. Her skills come with plenty of potential for clutch saves and dazzling plays. In my last game with her, I discovered that she acts as a hilarious foil to Chaos Knight and Io. Watching them teleport in only to force CK to murder his glowing blue life partner in cold blood is a precious gift that doesn't get old. Other highlights: the moment your carry realises just how good Cold Embrace is. When you realise that she can do 1700 damage split between the entire enemy team at level 7. She's dependent on the circumstances being perfect, but man—what an interesting set of new ideas to add to the game.

Most heroes are like this, one way or another. I've written something similar about Axe in the past. Dota is about systems colliding in new and unexpected ways. It is fundamentally about stuff happening.

Silencer is about stuff not happening. He is a brutal counter to Winter Wyvern and any other hero that subsists on spells at the bottom of the farm priority pyramid. Expect him to be one of the major factors curtailing Winter Wyvern and Crystal Maiden's brief surges in popularity, because by design he shuts down exactly what makes these characters interesting.

This is a design issue, not a balance problem. The character has plenty of weaknesses—but, like Faceless Void, they're the kinds of weaknesses that pub players typically struggle to exploit. He's one of the kings of the potato bracket because he requires your team to do the exact things that pub teams are typically terrible at doing: building BKBs, disengaging properly, and timing engagements to coincide with ultimate cooldowns.

Unlike other powerful heroes, Silencer isn't exciting to deal with: he's just depressing. There's no spectacle or impact to his skill set. Think about how extravagant a Refresher Orb feels on other heroes. Think about the pushing power of a double Chaotic Offering—'full boy band mode'—or the way double Thundergod's Wrath feels like the actual wrath of heaven. Compare that with two Aghs-upgraded Global Silences—twelve full seconds of nothing happening, watching your health and mana slowly tick away.

He stops spellcasting. He drains mana. He steals intelligence. He disarms. He stops spellcasting again, for everyone, everywhere. Unlike every other character in the game, Silencer is designed to reduce the number of interesting interactions that take place. Replace him with literally any other hero in a line-up and the game becomes more fun for everybody. He's the only character whose complete removal I would applaud.

Just look at him. Look how unhappy he appears, in a game full of vivacious and lively characters. He's the awful guy at the party that everybody wishes hadn't come. He's the commenter that shows up to derail the discussion. He's the mob that floods your Twitter replies and doesn't know when to stop. He makes conflict less fun. He makes everything less fun. If there is ever a Silencer arcana, it should involve a fedora and change all of his voice lines so that they begin 'WELL, ACTUALLY...'

This should be a new golden age for support players. We've got a dog now and we can force carries to kill their friends. Except we can't, because there he is in every game. They've just locked in three punchy melee carries? It's Winter Wyvern time! Here they come, pushing down mid. You anticipate the teamfight to come. It's your time to shine. You're in the trees, your force staff ready, your finger over 'R'. Then -


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Chris Thursten

Joining in 2011, Chris made his start with PC Gamer turning beautiful trees into magazines, first as a writer and later as deputy editor. Once PCG's reluctant MMO champion , his discovery of Dota 2 in 2012 led him to much darker, stranger places. In 2015, Chris became the editor of PC Gamer Pro, overseeing our online coverage of competitive gaming and esports. He left in 2017, and can be now found making games and recording the Crate & Crowbar podcast.