Overwatch is getting an invisibility hero. I've feared this day would come for a long time. The much-teased Sombra was officially revealed at BlizzCon today, and reading her ability kit (opens in new tab) this morning was like eating a bowl of rusty nails for breakfast. Playing her on the show floor later didn't make that meal go down any smoother.
Given Team Fortress 2's continued influence, I knew that an invisibility character would come to Overwatch eventually. But I wasn't prepared for a character whose invisibility wasn't even the most frustrating part of their kit. Sombra can 'hack' enemy players, preventing them from using any abilities for a few seconds, but the indication that you are being or have been hacked is currently far too subtle—leading to many moments where I'd slam the key for my escape ability, wonder why nothing was happening, and die.
But the true sin of Sombra is that she's excruciatingly fun to play. Her Translocator ability can be thrown incredibly far, letting me pop-up behind the enemy team and create a big distraction. It is simply one of the most satisfying abilities in Overwatch. Her stealth grants a speed boost that made me feel like an invisible go-cart, lasting for about six seconds and with only a six second cooldown after it ends. I thought damage would be her downfall, but Sombra's gun packs a punch and has a deep magazine. I barely ever worried about reloading. She's speedy, powerful, and has a skillcap for movement and trickery that reaches straight into the clouds.
What it's like to fight Sombra
On the receiving end, however, Sombra is rage incarnate. Her kit is designed around preventing you from playing the game. Her Translocator isn't as frequent as Tracer's blink, but can go much further, making her nearly as slippery. And while she can’t effectively use her invisibility as an escape tool (any damage reveals her), it can be used in combination with the Translocator to appear in very unexpected places. You walk into an empty room on your way to the point, suddenly none of your abilities work, then you’re filled with bullets. Until now, I haven't felt paranoia in Overwatch.
I worry about the effect Sombra will have on Overwatch, at least in public games. She's a character lots of people are going to want to play as, but no one will want to play against. Killing her isn't as satisfying as catching other annoying heroes like Mei or Tracer, because you're often still left hampered by the hack for a few more seconds. Her movement mechanics and disables are empowering and cool, but at BlizzCon they've felt cheap to me when I'm on the receiving end.
It’s tricky to empower a player so much at the expense of their enemy, and Overwatch has danced with this problem before. Widowmaker has been getting constant tuning since launch because one-shotting other players is fun for the shooter but not the target. Bastion is always a point of complaint within the community because its high Turret Mode damage can make certain choke points feel impenetrable if not aggressively countered.
But I think Sombra might be a tipping point with this issue. Stuns aren’t uncommon in Overwatch, but it’s something altogether different to retain control of your character and simply be told your buttons don’t work and there’s nothing you can do about it. It made me feel helpless. It’s not a challenge you can try to beat or a stun to learn to play around, it’s being suffocated by an enemy player and left gasping for breath.
This isn’t to say anything about how competitively viable or strong Sombra is—we’ll be taking a closer look at her from that angle next week. She’s just a dangerous concept to put into any game. Nobody enjoys having a keyboard taken out of their hand, and Blizzard has made doing so one of the most fun ways to play Overwatch yet.