In contrast to other heavily tweaked characters (Benedict, Gali, Ambra, Kleese, to name a few), there’s been little chatter about the present state of Mellka. As someone closing in on 100 hours played with her, I figure I might as well get the conversation rolling.
Let’s recap the relevant changes.
• Slow debuffs no longer decrease attack speed
• Reduced Mellka’s base health by 18% (from 1130 to 982 at level 1)
• Reduced Mellka’s Custom Machine Pistol accuracy
• Reduced the duration of venom from 8 seconds to 4 seconds
• Increased the damage of venom by 50% (12 to 18 at Level 1)
• Spike now applies a 60% Wound debuff for 4 seconds to enemies that are covered in venom
First, some comments based on my very subjective experiences. Mellka is still deadly. She remains a viable choice for getting Worthy of Song: my best score, post-nerf, has been 28-0-14, and in a decently competitive game at that. There’s no reason for any Mellka mains to retire her.
That said, I’ve seen significantly fewer Mellkas post-nerf, and for every one I see going 15-1, there’s another two clocking in at 2-12. With her lowered health and frustratingly limited accuracy (killing Thumpers is a real pain), she’s a rough pick for new players. The nerfs hit harder for the fact that they fell on Mellka alone, given she wasn’t an outlying performer in the cast. I played a little Caldarius recently, and I was surprised at just how sturdy and precise he felt in comparison.
Now, on to some analysis…
Mellka suffers from a serious design flaw. She was originally designed as a hybrid ranged/melee (this is why she’s the Prologue character, I believe). After the nerfs, she is decidedly not such a hybrid. Some of her helix options were only remotely relevant before the last major patch - now, they’re effectively defunct.
Her secondary attack is a melee combo. It does less damage than her ranged attack, and improves slightly (but is still inferior) when the target is venomed. Now, when her venom was eight seconds, this meant something… but after her venom duration was halved, there was no tweak to her melee that compensated for her reduced window of opportunity. The intended synergy between Mellka’s melee and her venom was either forgotten or discarded.
The nerf to slow was a big hit to Mellka’s melee viability (if it could have been called viable even then.) She is one of the few characters who always has a slow in her kit, and I would be surprised if her melee potential wasn’t designed around her ability to debuff an opponent’s attack speed. Now, going toe-to-toe with someone like Rath or El Dragon isn’t just a losing proposition - it’s a massacre. Worse, ranged characters will also outdamage Mellka’s melee DPS. Don’t even consider meleeing Benedict.
Because Mellka actually does damage by reloading, and because her melee is so hard now to use efficiently, there’s really very few times you’ll ever use her scary monster claw as intended. In the best case, early game, it allows a few swipes for opportunistic damage. Looking at the helixes, we can see some intention that she be able to improve her melee and maybe even specialize in it - but this was implausible pre-nerf, and is now utterly unfeasible post-nerf. In reality, everything about her helixes discourages her from melee even further.
Let’s run through the choices now…
1: Hobbling Strike/Hobbling Spike
To put it poetically, Hobbling Strike is ass.
There’s no reason whatsoever to put a slow on Claw Lunge. Its most common usage, as a vertical escape, doesn’t involve hitting anybody - a total waste of the helix. Meanwhile, Spike is AE (you can slow multiple targets), applies a bunch of other effects as well (venom and wound), and is far more likely to be used offensively (it’s actually pretty lousy as an escape move.)
Anyone who does use Claw Lunge as a melee move (bold choice!) and takes this helix incurs a huge risk, because they’ll need Spike to escape, and Spike is only really viable as an escape when it has Slow attached.
2: Parting Gift/Spike Vault/Lift Off!
One of the most laughable helix “choices” in the game. Parting Gift is amazing: AE venom on your most aggressive, versatile skill! You take this. You take this so hard.
Then there’s the other two. Spike Vault is bizarre (what does it matter if Mellka flies forward instead of up? You’re going to disorient them either way.) Lift Off! is totally superfluous - Claw Lunge and Air Stall more than adequately take care of Mellka’s vertical needs.
One strategic, offensive choice with actual benefits, vs two choices that are basically aesthetic. Even worse than Ambra’s level 2 picks, imho.
3: Air Stall/Frag Canister
This is where it gets interesting. Frag Canister looks appealing on paper. It may even seem appealing in practice, until you realize what you’ve sacrificed for the sake of easier wave clear.
First, Air Stall is badder than a power glove on the fist of a space wizard. Any Mellka who forfeits Air Stall, forfeits her right to rule the lane. You can double jump with it (look down as you use it.) You can escape Dreadwind. You can dodge fools and change direction mid-air. One of my favorite usages is to create ridiculous hang-time: Claw Lunge up high, then Air Stall up, then Spike up. By the time you’ve landed, they’ve wandered off in confusion.
Because Air Stall can’t be silenced, and because its (invisible) timer is short, it is a premiere ability to be cherished. Like Phoebe with her True Strike dancing, clever usage of Air Stall is what part of what defines Mellka’s skill ceiling. This is more true than ever after her health nerf.
It only gets worse for Frag Canister. Unlike the default Venom Canister, which has brilliant range, Frag Canister can barely fly further than Toby can spit. As it happens, the other part of Mellka’s skill ceiling is the art of lobbing canisters. A good Mellka, starting at level 1, can venom everyone in lane - including the ones hiding at the back. You can even finish off a distant runner with a well-aimed canister. Take Frag Canister, and you sacrifice that power, and won’t get it back until level 8.
If that’s not bad enough for the Frag, a basic Venom Canister is already a splash attack. Frag Canister is an easier and wider AE, but Venom Canister can still land venom on a tight pack of minions. Fun fact: Venom Canister can even venom Boldur, Gali, and ISIC through their shields.
What’s seductive about Frag Canister is that it seems easier to land venom, but imho, taking it enourages bad play habits - especially in the present state of play, when Mellka’s gun accuracy is wretched and her low health demands constant movement. The range of Venom Canister combined with the mobility of Air Stall helps redress her post-nerf weaknesses. Go left and gain an amazing skill. Go right and forfeit two for a mediocre AE.
4: Blade Ejection/Action Reload/Tactical Withdrawal
Mellka has several really uninspiring levels. This is one of them. Tactical Withdrawal is mostly wasted, because a) you took Air Stall, right? and b) if they’re scary enough you need to instantly bounce back from them, you should be engaging them with your badass venom-laced Spike, not your panic-button Claw Lunge.
+50 damage to Claw Lunge is a substantial damage boost, but not enough to justify using Claw Lunge regularly in battle. To my mind, Action Reload is the best, even if it seems unintuitive at this point. After a Claw Lunge escape, you’ll land with a full clip: that’s not so inspiring before Level 8, but once you get venom bullets, it means you can immediately let loose with poison death.
5: Adrenaline Rush/Venom Contagion/Eldrid Rhythm
Here is where we really see some (surely unintended) knock-on effects of Mellka’s nerfs, as well as a sad reminder of her original origin as a melee/ranged hybrid.
Adrenaline Rush is laughable. +7 health regen for 4 seconds when you melee a venomed target… and venom only lasts for four seconds now, so the window of opportunity is tiny. If you land but a single swipe - not uncommon - that’s merely an extra 28 health. That’s awful. This was surely intended to give a melee Mellka some survivability. In practice, it deprives you of the only helix (besides Air Stall) that actually does give her some survivability. Namely:
Eldrid Rhythm. 30 max health, stacking to a maximum 300 health, when you kill a venomed enemy. This includes minions, so it’s effortless really. It used to make her tanky. Now, post-nerf, it brings her up to par. Even if Adrenaline Rush were heavily buffed (and it would have to be heavily buffed), it would still be the inferior choice, because Mellka just isn’t tuned for melee right now.
Oh, and Venom Contagion? Barely noticeable, a strictly PVE-pick (still barely noticeable even there, but let’s be fair, Mellka is a negligible presence in PVE anyway.)
6. Spike Burst/Desperate Lunge
Spike Burst is a considerable boost to Spike’s radius. Given that Spike is Mellka’s Swiss army knife, what with it packing slow, wound, venom, and decent damage to boot, it would take one hell of a helix to pass this up.
And Desperate Lunge is so very much not that helix.
It reduces the cooldown on lunge by 50% if you kill an enemy with it. This is the kind of thing you do rarely in any game, and only if you’re devoted to using Claw Lunge as an attack tool instead of the amazing escape technique it is. Even if you do land this, and KO your target, and get some cooldown back - so what? You’re not about to go on some crazy lunge spree. Your opponent is already dead, so you chances are you don’t even need to do much more than rock out and run away.
Maybe if Claw Lunge was instantly refreshed, so you could fly away instantly… but no.
This is another example where the Lunge helix is dramatically inferior to the Spike helix. The hard reality is, Spike gets all the goodies, so it only makes sense to overload on it.
7. Power Spike/Second Wind
+15% damage to Spike/Parting Gift is considerable, and plays well into the philosophy of overloading Spike. It’s a solid helix, impossible to go wrong with.
Second Wind is a little trickier. If your health is low when you Spike, you get the next one back faster. Spike is amazing, so this is potentially great, especially as Mellka has ways of escaping at low health. The catch is, “low health” for Mellka is practically dead for any other character. If you’re running around with enough health to get the full cooldown, you’re courting death.
This is actually a real preference choice here, though. Possibly the first. Probably because neither Lunge nor melee are involved. One is a safe but uninspiring pick, one is risky but dramatic. I wish more of her levels were like this.
8. Refined Canisters/Potent Toxins/Thrill of the Hunt
The notorious level 8.
Bafflingly, if you google Mellka, you’ll see some guides and players that argue for taking Thrill of the Hunt. Yes, +30% movement speed on venom is nice, but what are you going to do with it? Mellka is best when she focuses on her vertical strengths. Air Stall will get you out of trouble: trust in Air Stall. Nor do you really need speed to catch runners, especially if you take the sensible choice here and go left. It’s often wiser to let runners go at a certain distance anyway.
Refined Canisters is savage. Not only is the clip size bumped up - a generous sustained DPS increase - but everything gets venomed. This handsomely compensates for Mellka’s awful spread, because each bullet, however wayward, is far more dangerous. Even a nick on a distant target is going to doom them to 200+ poison damage. A full clip of venom, unloaded at close range, does so much damage that it makes the idea of using melee laughable.
In theory, Potent Toxins got a serious buff with the July patch. Eight seconds of the new venom is a major burn, and you get to revisit the old glory of shutting down shields and killing runners. But Refined Canisters still wins out in general play, because for as long as you sustain fire on a target, you sustain the venom. Because of this continual reapplication, it’s effectively a duration increase - and you can spray easy onto multiple targets throughout lane, meaning that really, you’re applying much more venom ticks than by going middle.
In other words, there is no real reason not to go left. I’d like to hear anyone make a case for it, but game after game, I have not been disappointed by my choice.
Importantly for the discussion: Mellka’s melee becomes genuinely pointless at this stage. Even if you’re out of ammo and they’re in striking range, it’s probably better to reload and tag them with a bullet ASAP, rather than futz about with your claw.
9. Feral Strike/Finishing Blow
My absolute least favorite Mellka level. Finishing Blow is +15% damage to Claw Lunge. Bland, rarely relevant, whatever.
Feral Strike makes Claw Lunge apply an eight-second 20% melee attack speed buff. At this stage, that’s still going to be inferior to simply filling them with Venom Bullets. Also, at level 9, if you’re still willing to Claw Lunge into your enemy and then unload melee for eight seconds, you have either drastically outleveled your opponents or you’re suicidally insane. Or you brought 3 health items.
This level is all the more heinous given that it comes at the point melee has long ceased to be relevant for Mellka. Legendaries are in play, ults are out, venom bullets are unlocked… these choices might have made a little sense before level 3, but even then, I’d despise them. As her penultimate choices? Utterly gross.
10. Blade Storm/Pool Shot/All In
The Pool Shot venom pools seem to be nearly ineffectual. All In makes Blade Launcher do a bit more damage overall, but with a delay that makes it far easier for someone to shut you down with CC first, not to mention hampering your aim and general flow.
Blade Storm makes your ult bounce off walls as it seeks the nearest venomed target. Apparently this is at the cost of the blades “exploding on impact”, but if anyone has ever noticed Blade Launcher’s “explosion” doing anything of note, please let me know. This helix allows you to assassinate effortlessly - even in mid-air, while fleeing, as your opponent is hiding behind a pillar. A game-changer choice that cements Mellka’s status as a lategame monster.
All In, in contrast, does nothing to add flexibility to Mellka’s ult. If anything, it makes it more dull. I’ve scored double kills (and am still hoping to someday get a triple kill) off the Blade Launcher by rapidly switching between weak targets. All In? A pseudo-Bindleblast, and one that makes you more likely to miss.
In closing, suggestions.
With the possible exception of level 7, Mellka’s helix choices appear very cut-and-dry. Melee is impractical, which rules out many choices immediately. Lunge is best reserved for escape (especially now that she lacks durability), and Spike’s versatility means it gives better return for focusing on it. Frag Canister changes the canister mechanics in a way that makes Mellka a worse skirmisher, and all for a B-grade wave clear. Eldrid Rhythm feels too powerful to pass up, ever; likewise Refined Canisters.
How do we improve this?
First, bump up Mellka’s melee damage. She’s got some of the lowest health in the game and no shield - offer some reward for the risk.
Second, tweak Frag Canister. Make it a worthy rival to Air Stall by offering a marked advantage in wave clear. It could leave a (mild) venom pool behind, for example, or have improved range. If necessary, give it a cooldown, so that frag canisters can only be fired every few seconds or so (with regular venom canisters in-between.)
Third, helix reworks. There’s so much that needs tweaking, I would barely know where to begin, but some ideas:
Replace Lift Off! (level 2) with “Tainted Strike.” Claw Lunge now applies Venom.
(Replace a pointless choice with a logical counterpart to Parting Gift. It’d still be inferior, but it’s better than nothing.)
Improve Adrenaline Rush (level 5) to also provide 20% damage reduction while Mellka is meleeing a venomed target. Increase the basic rate of health regeneration.
(Giving up Eldrid Rhythm is a huge loss for Mellka: she needs a powerful, but melee-centric, atlernative.)
Replace Desperate Lunge (level 6) with “Bio-Claw Upgrade.” Secondary melee now applies Venom.
(I think venom on melee would be a really cool mechanic, a real incentive to get up close, and I think this would be a good place to unlock it. Of course, it would make “melee while venomed” abilities trivial, but that’s partly the point.)
Improve Feral Strike (level 9) to also give 10% lifesteal to melee on venomed targets.
Improve Finishing Blow (level 9) to also give 20% lifesteal on targets hit by Claw Lunge.
(Make it possible, at this late stage, for Mellka to actually survive in melee - and give her a reason to do so at all, now that she has venom bullets to dominate from range.)
Would this be enough to make her melee viable? Not really, but it’d be a small step closer. Then again, should we even want to re-establish her as a hybrid, knowing how difficult hybrid characters are to balance? Something to discuss, I guess.
Okay. I’ll end this giant scary post here. Now it’s all out of my system, I feel much better!