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August 11, 2017

Rise of Fenix

Fenix was released as a new commander for the coop missions with the Patch 3.13 in early may. This is not a full review, and I will focus only on some of his aspects. And while I will critique many things, in my opinion he is well worth his price.

Let's start with the things I enjoyed about him. The hero unit is great. After seeing a preview I was little skeptical, but HE IS FUN. Fenix suits might not be as strong as Kerrigan, but they support his army well. Either by taking down enemy attacks with powerful Solarite Dragoon, or by delaying and recalling his army with the Cybros Arbiter. Praetor suit can tank well while other suits regenerate. As a player you have to think about in which suit you want to be right now and plan ahead. If I'm in praetor suit now, I regenerate other two suits and I have them ready to summon anywhere, provided I have a vision. Perhaps I will send a probe to provide that vision. I will be able to summon the arbiter and recall my army next to that probe, switch suits and recall somewhere else shortly. This mobility is extremely useful in both normal missions and solo/speedrunning. The combination of suit regeneration mechanic, 15 seconds cooldown between switching suits, recall, stasis fields and summoning anywhere with vision make this hero unit unique and in my opinion the most fun by far. The only issue I have with it is the lack of single target DPS. This can be an issue on some mutators (e.g., Void Rifts, Propagators, Avenger,..).

Another good thing about Fenix is the reduction in infrastructure cost at level 10, and mastery for reducing upgrade costs. Players want to make units and get into action fast, and these things help with that. There is nothing more boring than spending all your money on infrastructure and upgrades for the first several minutes with very little action. Swann might be the worst case of this. Yes Fenix still has rather slow start, but these upgrades help and the hero unit alleviate this problem somewhat.

But it's not all sunshine and rainbows. There are plenty great design ideas about Fenix, but they are in a stark contrast to how badly they are implemented. The ideas are great, only the numbers are often wrong. The devil is in the detail after all.

I won't go into details on all issues. There has been a topic with a good discussion and some great ideas on the forums. The main issues are that the champion AIs don't impact battlefield enough. Tactical Data Web (TDW) that should further improve champions, often adds useless damage bonuses, instead of actually making champions better in their roles. Also TDW could have been a great tool to improve the diversity in Fenix's unit compositions. The Avenging Protocol (AP) is weak and overall it doesn't make a lot sense. Champion AIs have high health and the same attack priority as other units. They aren't going to die often, and so AP in the current form is rather useless. There are plenty of ideas on how to improve it, for example AP triggering each time any champion die or any unit of the same type. I won't give suggestions on what should be changed, as it's not the goal of this post.

A common complaint voiced by players is that Fenix lacks sustainability, and that perhaps conservators should be able to repair or recharge shields. I don't know about this. It's an idea to consider after TDW and AP are changed. But it would be good if Fenix could somehow help his ally in more ways. For the maximum diversity we should have as many commanders as possible that influence the ally in a significant way. The best examples are excess gas from Swann, barrier + repair + chronoboost from Karax, creep bonus and omega worms from Kerrigan or Guardian Shell from Artanis.

With mastery points the problem is that they do almost nothing for Fenix even at level 90. A good design would be if mastery levels changed at least somewhat the gameplay experience. But in this case I would be content with increasing their potency. 2x increase in effect of each mastery point would put it on par with other commanders.

Now let's fast-forward to the patch 3.15 (6/19/2017) From the ashes he rises!... or not really. The AI change in this patch was actually even worse than I expected. The coop team saw that Fenix had good winrates and players favored massing carriers over other compositions. And so they decided to nerf carriers by changing enemy AI, even thought the feedback, they received when they suggested it, was overwhelmingly negative.

There were several issues with this change. Their numbers might have shown that Fenix is doing well, but they were probably skewed by Fenix being a new commander. I can't give a proper explanation why those numbers were so far from the reality. Another thing is that Fenix does reasonably well in normal missions, but his strength drops significantly in mutations. It's the result of him being overall a good commander, but he doesn't do anything exceptionally well. I did solo all brutal missions with him, and he did reasonably well. But he is consistently on the last places in mutation rankings since he was released.

Another issue with this patch was that it ironically decreased his build diversity. Interceptors can no longer soak damage for scouts or other units. Mass carrier is even a better choice now and mixing carriers with other units is discouraged.

The final straw is that this change didn't just affect Fenix's carriers, and it didn't stop at Karax's carriers. All temporary units have had reduced their target priority. Locusts suddenly can't tank for swarmhosts, Stukov's mech units can't hide behind infested as they are intended, and many other units are affected. According to some people it even affect campaign. It's mind boggling. All this is described at length in this forum topic.

Update: In Community Update 8/17/17 David Sum addressed issues with AP, Champions strength and enemy AI. The AI change will be reverted and steps in the right direction taken on other issues. It's very good to hear.

I don't want to be all doom and gloom. Fenix is a fun commander and worth his price. The ideas that went to him are perhaps the most interesting out of all commanders. But he has his issues and the AI change didn't help. With changes he could be a great commander one day.

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