After the last several hero releases, Mars can feel like old school Dota. There are no tree jumping abilities, spell duplications, vector targeting or transformations into a ball of pain. Instead, we have a hero that fits right in, and it is a great change of pace.
Some players might feel Mars is boring: after all, we’ve been spoiled by some of the more unique hero designs in the last couple of years. While to a certain extent it might be true and the hero is probably less exciting than Pangolier or Grimstroke were, he still occupies his own niche.
Last year was the year dual lanes made a return: changes to deny XP more or less forced professional teams and high level pub players to have a support in each lane. From how cautiously Valve has been increasing xp from denies, it looks like the intent is to still have dual lanes as a viable option, alongside defensive and offensive trilanes and roaming supports.
Mars is an offlane, dual lane king. He has a stun that couples as a waveclear, a pushback with a decent amount of damage that can also turn into a waveclear later in the game, and a wonky, but somewhat effective defense mechanism for the later stages of the game. Relatively long cooldowns aside, he is a great hybrid of utility and damage the game didn’t necessarily lack, but was somewhat short on.
For a new hero, Mars looks pretty powerful. New hero releases often suffer from low win rate due to their popularity, but it isn’t the case with Mars, making him look overpowered from historical, statistical standpoint. There are a couple of points worth mentioning, however.
First of all, there is no question of what role the hero should occupy most of the time: he is a position three offlaner first and foremost, capable of being decent tempo mid in some specific cases, if you get last-pick “Broodmothered”, for example. There have been attempts to make the hero work as a position four support and even as a position one carry, but so far, from our personal experience, these attempts didn’t look convincing. He is too level and farm dependant to be a good support and his kit, stats and BAT don’t really support him as a carry.
Luckily for Mars, most people fully understand that and don’t try to shoehorn him into a position he is not going to shine in. For comparison, both Grimstroke and Dark Willow suffered greatly in their win rate department at release, because weaker players kept on insisting on playing the heroes mid, even in high level pubs.
Secondly, unlike most Dota 2-exclusive hero releases, Mars is pretty straightforward and easy to play. That means that the vast majority of players can do well with the hero in their first game and won’t need to try their abilities in several different games, before understanding how to utilize them properly. That directly improves his effectiveness and winrate.
Mars currently wins around 54% of his high level pub games, despite 45% pick rate. For most heroes released in the last couple of years, under the same statistical circumstances, we would be inclined to say that they are terribly overpowered. With Mars, however, we feel like the hero is just a little bit rough around the edges.
His first week winrate is mostly indicative of how at home he feels in Dota and how most players can execute the hero effortlessly. The hero is just a little bit too strong and going forward we will definitely see some nerfs to the hero, but they are unlikely to be too harsh. Overall, Mars is absolutely worth picking in the current meta, especially given how slow pubs are adapting to getting non-dual-lane options back.
It is probably going to be a while before Mars gets his own go-to item build, but typical offlane items such as Blink Dagger and Vladmir’s Offering remain popular and very effective. From there, depending on what your team needs, you can either go more utility or more damage.
Skill-wise, the hero is slightly more stable: the vast majority of Mars players max Spear of Mars first, God’s Rebuke second and his passive, Bulwark, last. The effects of the latter don’t truly shine until the later stages of the game and most players either leave it at a value point or ignore it completely until level 10 or so. It does come incredibly handy if you are pushed out of your lane and need to jungle, though.
Interestingly, maxing God’s Rebuke first is statistically better. The difference is not that significant and is probably a result of higher farm speed and waveclear potential, but it is probably something worth keeping in mind for slower games where you might need to recover from a bad laning stage. Second level of Spear of Mars does ensure an extra hit from Mars' ultimate, so a 2-2-1-1 build is probably going to be what most players will converge on.
Talent-wise, getting +20 MS at level 10 is generally preferable: the hero has a massive 3.6 STR growth and +8 Strength doesn’t really change the hero completely. +20 MS on an already decently fast hero makes quite a bit of difference, especially given how he frequently needs to position himself precisely to land Spears and maximize Rebuke damage.
+8 armor at level 15 might look incredibly good on a Strength hero with a lot of natural HP, but +35 damage is absolutely massive given a guaranteed 280% crit. It increases the hero’s burst, DPS and farm speed and enhances the hero’s abilities, rather than overlap with them: +8 Armor is a lot, but given how the hero already takes 70% less damage from the front, this armor might be redundant.
The level 20 talent should be more or less self-explanatory: +150 damage on a 14 second cooldown at this stage of the game is more or less nothing, while extra 1.5 seconds of stun is massive, regardless of the stage of the game.
Finally, there is the level 25 choice and statistically it is almost dead even between the two options. In practice, on one hand you can heal up to 750 HP for your teammates, on the other: +80% damage can be pretty neat for burst requirements. We would probably still recommend going for the regen talent, but it is mostly a matter of preference, opinion and the specific game situation.
Mars is an interesting new addition to Dota. Not necessarily in terms of new gameplay mechanics, but rather in the combination of the old ones. Iterative evolution processes are definitely less exciting in general, but we feel that Mars was exactly what the game needed. Especially after Pangolier, Grimstroke and Monkey King experiments.
At the end of the day, however, all new heroes found their place in the world of Dota and Mars will too, probably much faster than the aforementioned heroes. Use your time wisely and abuse Mars’ slightly-above-average power level to gain MMR. Or just play Viper.