Note: The article began before the latest PTR patch on 4 Oct was pushed. It has been adjusted to account for the new changes in this patch. Notably, transformation ultimates like Genji’s Dragonblade are now all made consistent and will not be cancelled by stuns. Also, Sombra’s Hack and EMP has also been made to be consistent with stuns for cancelling and draining ultimates where they were previously different.

Two months back, I wrote on the topic of ultimates not immediately draining their charge and my thoughts on the flaws of how ultimates are consumed currently. There were two key points that were more controversial. The first being that ultimates with longer cast times fully absorb and have more risks, basically being a broad nerf to all slow casting ultimates. Secondly, I raised that some ultimates should be treated differently on a case-by-case basis with regards to ultimate drain, and Sound Barrier was used as example that required most attention.

PTR patch 1.16 has dropped us the bomb on 22 September, including a change that states “ Ultimate charge is now immediately expended when a hero’s Ultimate ability is activated, instead of being depleted over a short period of time”. This was a welcomed change to some, including me. However, after reading and hearing about discussions regarding this change, I have came to better realise the greater extent of this change that I did not previously cover.

Ultimates with longer cast times brought a few questions to the table. Should simple stun abilities such as Roadhog’s Chain Hook and the likes be able to easily disrupt and rob those ultimates? Are those ultimates too harshly nerfed with this changes? I think that it is fine for basic abilities to nullify ultimates. Ana’s Biotic Grenade completely voids Transcendence, especially in a Graviton Surge. So do barriers that block Zenyatta’s line of sight. There are already multiple preexisting cases where a normal ability either significantly or completely denies ultimates. It is equal treatment to allow basic stuns to punish ultimates with longer cast times. The keyword here is ‘punish’. I think there should be middle ground for these ultimates that they are not fully nullified by stuns as that could make them too unwieldy, and maybe even too weak for some cases.

Therefore, I propose that ultimates with long casting should only be fully drained on death during a disruption. When those ultimates are disrupted, transformation ultimates will continue to cast and tap on their ultimate duration, while the others are refunded if the user recovers from the disruption without dying. Disruption refers to both stuns and disables or silences. For example, a Flash Bang against Reinhardt’s Earthshatter will stop the cast, but Reinhardt needs to be eliminated before the stun wears off to completely deny the ultimate. However, the line to knowing whether the target was eliminated during the stun duration is blurry. It is not always reliable to know whether the finishing blow was dealt during or after the stun duration of Flash Bang and Chain Hook. Thus, it might be unreliable to tell if the Reinhardt still has Earthshatter afterwards. I will also suggest adding a specific killsound to indicate that the ultimate has been denied, similar to the ultimate denial sound for Genji’s Deflect and D.Va’s Defense Matrix. Blizzard might even want to add voice lines for every hero just like they did with Genji and D.Va.

My suggestion of ultimate drain on death isn’t without flaws as well. I believe that Sombra’s Hack and EMP should be consistent in behaviour with stuns when it comes to denying ultimates. In this case, if the target disrupted survives the initial duration of Hack or EMP (without them being refreshed by using one after the other), they are refunded their ultimates. However, if they die during this duration, the interaction is the same with stuns and the disrupted ultimate is drained. This makes Sombra consistent, but overall it depends on what is better and more intuitive for players. Her Hack could be made to only halt the casting of ultimates, but will never result in depletion ultimates while they are still casting regardless of death. The latter approach might be better if this makes the game play better, even if it is less consistent. This also brings up long duration stuns like Ana’s Sleep Dart or Mei’s freezing effects. Should they never be able to fully deny Earthshatter, or should they still be rewarded if Reinhardt gets eliminated before completely recovering from status? I think the latter approach is better still.

The proposed change will likely make using the longer casting ultimates feel more fair, and puts a heavy emphasis on being able to follow up on the disruption. A McCree who can quickly finish off a stunned Genji casting Dragonblade should be rewarded, while one that doesn’t get the job done shall meet his demise for his trouble. It also offloads some of the risks that slow casting ultimates have. On the current PTR, Earthshatter is even more punishing for Reinhardt to use. He exposes himself to plenty of risks from ranged stuns while casting Earthshatter. Mitigating these risks via protective abilities like Zarya’s Projected Barrier telegraphs the intent. With this change, Reinhardt who is less likely to be eliminated during a short stun, would then face less risk of having his ultimate completely denied.

For the defensive side of things, Lucio’s Sound Barrier will likely feel uncomfortable to use, and can be compared to the old Mercy Resurrect ultimate. Using Sound Barrier to counter offensive ultimates become less straightforward as the risk of being denied is more apparent. Lucio has to remain within LOS of this teammates to cast his protective ultimate, while still trying to avoid heavy focus fire that a coordinated team will dish out in an attempt to deny it. It forces Lucio to play much more passively in preparation for a defensive ultimate usage, which can also be a tell tale sign for the enemy team. Even by casting his ultimate quicker by landing on objects slightly above ground level, there is still a sufficient window to quickly burst down Lucio. Nobody wants to play the hide-and-seek game that we’re all too familiar with. It is awkward game play for having to play more passively when he has his ultimate up and wants to use it. There should be a middle ground for Lucio where shutting him down is still rewarded, but also making his ultimate feel more intuitive to use. As some have suggested as well, decrease the cast time of Sound Barrier. It’s a simple change, though I do not know for sure what the exact cast time should be. It also brings about an elegant solution for the interaction with Pulse Bomb + Graviton Surge combo as brought up in the previous article where it could make Sound Barrier more reliable to counter the combo. Lucio is no longer as discouraged from using his ultimate reactively which was a core purpose as a defensive support ultimate.

In summary, the changes regarding ultimates on PTR 1.16 is a step in the right direction. However, additional steps should be taken so that we do not solve one dilemma while creating another. In the current state, players are no longer punished for shutting down ultimates, but slower casting ultimates bear the full risks and downsides of this change. Blizzard has taken initiative to make all transformation ultimates in line together such that they will always continue their ultimates even after stuns, which is also something I strongly agree with and would have touched on in this article had they not already put that change up. Wrapping up, here are the key arguments and suggestions I brought up:

  • All ultimates are fully drained if the user dies while the ultimate is active or casting.
  • Stuns and disruptions do not drain ultimates while they are still casting unless the user dies before recovering from the first status applied to them.
  • The above changes even out the risks borne by slow casting ultimates so that they are not overly punished.
  • Add audio ques to indicate that an elimination resulted in complete denial of an ultimate.
  • Decrease Sound Barrier’s cast time to keep the ultimate intuitive to use as a primarily defensive ability.

These are my thoughts on this issue, and I would gladly hear your opinions on the matter too.

Special thanks to HammerKick, Boink, and several others who have shared their thoughts.