It’s fitting that Lyralei the Windranger is such an ultra-mobile hero, because for the past two and a half months, Dota 2’s cheerfully sociopathic archer has been absolutely everywhere.
With the most games on any hero this patch – 1,500,000 more than the second-placed Shadow Fiend – as well as a well-above-average 41.9% pick/ban rate in pro games, Windranger has surpassed even infamous mid-hogger Pudge in terms of sheer ubiquity.
To this, I say: >Well Played! All too often, the most popular heroes of Dota 2’s metagame deploy a skill set that favours disappearing into the jungle until they’ve murdered enough wildlife to be able to run into an enemy team and right-click them to death. Windranger, by contrast, has moves. To pick her is to sign up for a game of thrilling chases, cerebral positioning, risky ambushes and tide-turning crowd control.
This is because she possesses what I’m convinced is the most well-designed, satisfying and well-balanced (versatility-wise, at least) combination of spells in the game. You’ve got Shackleshot, a stunning tether that rewards smart attack angles; Powershot, a long-range nuke and skillshot that slices through all units in a lengthy line; Windrun, a generous speed boost that grants effective immunity to physical attacks and Focus Fire, a semi-spammable ult that utterly melts towers and adversaries by upping WR’s attack speed to its hilariously exaggerated maximum.
Damage, utility, invulnerability and escapes – in other words, you can do almost anything. And you will, a lot, thanks to short cooldowns and affordable mana costs.
That said, most of these skills carry a pretty steep penalty for using them incorrectly, like how Shackleshot’s four-second stun becomes a momentary stutter if it fails to latch to a secondary target, or how Focus Fire cuts the damage of each shot, easily crippling Lyralei if her target escapes behind their approaching friends. What looks like an easy kill can quickly turn to disaster if the target manages to get out of arrow-thwipping range, leaving you to face down the backup with only half your usual attack damage.
And yet, this is still one of the easiest heroes to learn. Besides the modest charge-up time for Powershot, there are no casting animations that take three days to complete, nor any complex mathematics – I’ve played over 1,200 hours of Dota 2 and I still couldn’t explain how Doom’s LVL? Death works. Windrun also offers a good get-the-fudge-out-of-there tool to minimise the impact of rookie mistakes.
It helps that Windranger is just plain fun. Powershot is more of a sniping spell than anything Sniper’s got, perfect for cutting down a fleeing foe as they limp away from an engagement. Such a finishing move is both immensely pleasurable to pull off and sure to win the loudly vocalised respect of your teammates, especially if said foe is stood right next to them, and thus presents a mortal threat.
She’s also a natural Force Staff and Blink Dagger carrier, the two best items in the game for jumping around fights. These items, when paired with Wind’s positioning-based abilities, movement speed amp and do-or-die ultimate, make teamfights a beautifully improvised series of offensive and defensive manuevers, whether blasting forward to set up the perfect two-hero shackle or popping Windrun to chase down the last survivor, praying it doesn’t wear off before you can get back out. Nailing a teamfight as a farmed AGL carry is violent – as Windranger, it’s balletic.
(As an aside, this habit of pinballing around the map makes Windranger as much of a joy to watch as she is to play – Team Secret’s w33ha is currently the most terrifying WR player in the pro scene, but LightofHeaven’s Shackleshots from his time as Na’Vi’s indigo child offlaner are stuff of legend.)
As with all flavour of the month heroes, Windranger’s popularity is often perceived to be putting a target on her back for the next volley of nerf arrows. These would most likely narrow Shackleshot’s latch angle allowance, which is admittedly prone to sticking two units together at near-right angles, and possibly tone down her Aghanim’s Sceptre upgrade, which can potentially undo the Focus Fire damage penalty completely.
Frankly, though, it would take some bonkers, Oracle-level reworking for Valve to actually take away what makes the hero so damned grin-inducing; it’s not the damage she puts out, nor how easy it is to land her stun, but the madcap dance routine she performs while doing both. Apologies to Shadow Fiend, but I’m going to go make it 1,500,001.