I think we can all agree Pudge is terrible right now, and it's not just that he's terrible that makes it frustrating but the specific design space he fits into. He's extremely fun to play so people will play him regardless of how bad he is which makes games with Pudge frustrating for the 4 other players on the Pudge's team. On the other hand, from the perspective of people who enjoy playing Pudge, it's frustrating not just because the hero is bad, but because there's actually a surprisingly amount of really good things about him. His Hook is currently an incredible ability with the damage buffs. His new Aghs is probably in the upper quartile of Aghs upgrades in the game. His Aghs Shard is one of the best after being buffed. A BKB piercing disable like Dismember will always have really high potential. He's probably one of the hardest late game scaling initiators in the game right now, below Enigma but above just about everyone else. It's just that the more obvious problem of this hero having literally nothing good about his laning stage whatsoever either prevents him from ever getting there, and if it doesn't stop him from getting there, by some act of God, it still outweighs the upsides. Literally zero of his skills contribute to his laning. Less obviously though, I think his talent tree is one of the worst in the game in terms of design. I have a series of proposals that I think would give the hero more cohesive and level design. I'm not really sure about numbers personally, so I'm going to focus on design choices over specific balancing. Not all of these would need to be implemented to make Pudge viable, but I think they are good ways that you could adjust the overwhelming amount of issues with the hero currently.
To address his issues during the laning stage, we have to really dive into what makes all of his abilities so useless. Obviously he could use a base armor or move speed buff, but that wouldn't salvage the fact that his skill points are just not very important if he's laning. Hook is very obvious, in that if you are trading near the creep wave it just doesn't really do anything, and it's too much of a commitment to secure range creeps either. If you're playing support Pudge, all the enemy support has to do is stand in lane and bully your core and Hook is nullified in terms of trading. If you're playing core Pudge, you have to stand in the creep wave to last hit, again nullifying Hook. However I don't really think this is something that needs to be changed because I think it's a good weakness that can be designed around, but it still needs to be noted when talking about his laning stage holistically. The bigger problems are Rot and Flesh Heap. I want to talk about Rot first because my solution for this ability is honestly pretty simple: it really really really needs to slow attack speed. Right now even if you manage to hook someone in lane before 6, they can literally just attack you and force you to run away. Rot does nothing because you don't need to slow their move speed to hit them if they literally just hit you back harder, and the damage from Rot effects you both equally. There is nothing scary about standing in Rot and trading right clicks with a Pudge whether you're a core hero or a support hero, and this is extremely stupid in my opinion. If Pudge had the strength stats he used to have, or was more effective at recuperating health relative to most heroes in the game this would not be as big of a deal, but he doesn't. While this is a minor change, it would at least make Rot feel a bit less useless before getting your ultimate.
Now for the elephant in the room: Flesh Heap. This ability sucks ever since they removed the HP regen component, and replaced it with magic resistance that isn't even as good as a casual Hood at max level in an era where Hood is incredibly cheap and effective. And to add even further insult to injury, they increased the strength gain per stack by .5, but reduced his strength gain by an ENTIRE point. There is no tradeoff here, this is exclusively a nerf in 99.9% of games. You would have to get 2 kills at every level in order to recuperate the loss of his strength gain. It basically does nothing unless you somehow snowball with this hero who has no way to lane. You could bring the health regen back, but that would honestly be really boring and put the ability back in a design space that DK and Doom already occupy. What I propose is this: replace both the magic resist and strength scaling with a buff to his Strength gain and an aura that works similarly to the charges on Visages Soul Assumption where Pudge gains stacks that give him health regen as allies, enemies, and himself take damage. He should also gain stacks on enemy kills within the aura as usual. Maybe he could gain stacks on creeps he kills, but it would really depend on how you want to balance it so I'm not very sure on that. This would synergize so much better with Rot than just giving him magic resist. Instead of mitigating the self damage aspect of Rot, it embraces it instead. I'd still like to keep the talent for Strength from permanent Flesh Heap stacks to preserve that aspect of Pudge in some capacity similar to the Faceless Void Backtrack talent, but this would work much better as a way to make his skill points in lane at least somewhat useful while being more interesting than flat regen.
As for the issues with the talent tree, the main ones to me are that the configuration of the 10 and 15 talents just don't make much sense as choices and that the Dismember talents at 20 and 25 are just useless. The Hook damage talent should be swapped with the Rot slow talent but tuned down a bit, and the armor talent should be buffed because that talent is extremely undertuned compared to other heroes with level 10 armor talents (looking at you Bloodseeker). Having the choice between a talent that contributes to a more sneaky hooking style Pudge, and a talent that contributes to a more run/blink in and be a massive tank Pudge gives him a useful and more timely power spike as a support, and more flexibility in less than stellar games as a core. The Dismember talents should be replaced entirely because frankly they just suck. I'm not sure what I would replace them with, but here's an idea of what the talent tree might look like:
10: +90 Hook Damage or +5 Armor
15: +16%/16 Rot Slow or +12% Spell Lifesteal
20: -4 Hook CD or +20% Status Resistance(?)
25: +1.5 Strength per Permanent Flesh Heap Stack or Rot Pierces Spell Immunity(?)
As I said, implementing all of the changes I've proposed would probably make the hero OP, but I think implementing some of these changes would plug enough of the issues that this hero has right now to make him at least playable. What do you guys think of my proposals? How would you guys change Pudge to make him viable? Obviously this is just for funsies theory crafting and not really serious discussion, but I would like to see what people think would make Pudge tick based on his current issues.
- I think Nazeebo could use some changes
- Needed Gazlowe nerfs will kill his AA build and the talents should get changes
- Perhaps unusual opinion: Bristleback is the most buffed hero in 7.28 because he went from trash tier to reasonable and maybe even to good tier. A number of heroes are (far)stronger (hello Clinks), but these were already good before.
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