Exclusive first hands-on with the new righteous defender of Wrath of Heroes

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Tanky, melee-DPS hybrids are the best. You get the adrenaline rush from charging into the frontlines of battle, mauling your enemies face-to-face—but, if you become the enemy's new target, you won't immediately crumple like an armor-clad stack of wet paper. In a nutshell, that's Aessa: this never-shown-before hero in the free-to-play Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes, which lets you skip leveling to get straight into the MMO-style PvP action. We got some exclusive hands-on time with this High Elf hero, who's equal parts altrustic protector and honorable face-smasher. We've got her full ability list, gameplay footage, and tips for the next big brawler in the Wrath of Heroes closed beta.

As you can tell from her arsenal of attacks, Aessa is all about being the first to battle, clearing the way for and supporting her allies by sustaining them throughout a fight. Pounce is the perfect initiation spell: Aessa will leap through the air and crash onto her target, snaring them in place. Her abilities flow well. Once I've entered the fray, I usually pop Elite Bodyguard to greatly reduce the damage my allies take by allowing me to intercept a percentage of the damage intended for them. Next, I activate Zealous Protector, which turns all that intercepted pain into pure damage output for me. If it sounds incredible, it's because it is: using this skill in a large 6-vs-6-vs-6 teamfight (WoH has three teams fighting on each map) is insanely powerful.

BioWare Mythic breaks down Aessa:

In the last round of beta, we noticed some nasty imbalances in how much melee support Heroes we had, which was leading to ranged Heroes dominating the game. To address this imbalance, we wanted to create some cool, thematic, melee support Heroes. In Warhammer's fiction, the White Lions are bodyguards and defenders, protecting their charges with their flashing blades. It was a perfect fit, and so Aessa, the White Lion, was created.

Aessa always wants to be near her team, and preferably for her team to be near the enemy! Chop and Slash are solid damage abilities, but you need to be close to use them. Aessa is also unique in that while she inflicts physical damage her attacks can't be dodged, making her a particularly tricky Hero to defend against. If your opponents are using ranged Heroes, you can use Zealous Protector to charge your critical damage before you're in range to Pounce. Pounce is not only great for getting into the fight—it's also effective at running down stragglers trying to escape. If you're clever, it can even be used to escape from trouble. Elite Bodyguard is a particularly difficult ability to use, but it can benefit your team immensely. It's particularly effective at preventing your team's softer support Heroes from being taken out too quickly. Be careful using it around Heroes that inflict a lot of AoE damage, though, or your health will vanish in an instant.

PC Gamer's take

Of the game's current roster of 17 heroes, Aessa is my second-favorite character to bust face with, second only to the Black Orc Bax. Her skillset is similar to his actually, enabling playstyles that reward wading in the middle of fights instead of chipping away at enemies from afar. She's also blessed with some of the coolest spell effects in the game I've seen thus far. Case in point, activating Elite Bodyguard causes a gigantic spectral lion head to roar above you. On more than one occasion, I found myself staring in awe at the majestic beast instead of smacking my enemies in the face, as I should've been. Plus, who doesn't love swinging around a giant cleaver as a slender High Elf maiden?

My best moments in the game were when I was Pouncing from target-to-target during a fight, knowing that even if it all went south and I didn't score a kill, I was helping out my allies just by standing there taking damage for them. Aessa's certainly not invincible: when more than two or three DPS heroes start targeting you, it's probably time to cut your losses and back out of the fight if you can. But for players who want to buff their allies while doling out a heavy dose of damage, Aessa is just the hero you're looking for.