I've had my ups and downs with Overwatch. In the space of a few short weeks, I've discovered much to admire and run into what I consider to be weak links—the relative passivity of support play, matches that are frequently one-sided, the frustrations that emerge whenever a game makes strangers dependent on one another for success.
I won't say that the build I played today fixed all of that, but something definitely clicked into place with all 21 heroes in play. Blizzard have confirmed that Overwatch will be a regular boxed game and they've been pretty cagey about whether or not we should expect new heroes after release. In this light, the new characters—Mei, Genji and D.Va—aren't just the latest additions to an ever-expanding roster: they're the missing pieces of a very particular puzzle.
Mei fits into the same fuzzy middle-ground between defense and support that Symmetra occupies. She can slow enemies at close range with her primary fire and freeze herself to regenerate health, which gives her a sustainable controlling presence in the frontline of a fight. Her ultimate allows her to lock down a wide area with a massive AoE slow—like Zarya, she's most effective when paired with somebody that can capitalise on the setup she provides. What makes her special, though, is her ice wall. Other characters can add to the gameworld, but nobody else modifies it like Mei does.
The wall is a game-changer. It can be used to raise heroes without a movement power, like Zarya, onto high ground. It can be used to create bridges that slower heroes can't cross. It can be used to temporarily block ingress points and to provide cover for an attacking team. If you've played the beta, you'll certainly have encountered situations where a well-positioned Bastion can feel completely impassable: where one player gets to sit and hold LMB while the attackers attempt to overcome him with sheer weight of numbers. Mei can ruin Bastion's day with a gesture, throwing the wall down in front of him and forcing him to relocate. I'm really excited by the tactical space she opens up, and it's great to see a new backline character with a skill ceiling this high.
Mei's great, but expect Genji to draw the crowds. He's a playmaking cyborg ninja, and every match I've played today has featured about six of him. As an offense character, he sits somewhere between Reaper and Tracer with a higher skill ceiling than either. His throwing stars, his regular attack, are powerful but require careful aim and have a regular cooldown period—a little like Tracer's SMGs. Unlike Tracer, however, he doesn't have a reliable 'get out of trouble' button. Genji's primary escape option is his dashing sword strike, which is wasted when you use it to relocate: if it kills somebody, its cooldown is instantly refreshed. Defensive play is a missed opportunity to go on a multi-kill sword streak.
The same is true for Genji's deflect—it doesn't just block incoming ranged damage, it points it back where he's aiming. You can use it to get out of trouble, but you can also use it to snipe Widowmaker with her own bullet—or reflect an entire Pharah ultimate. This skill-based defensive option turns Genji into an aggressive character who has options when he's outranged and outgunned. It won't always work, and he falls quickly if he gets flanked (or if his brother, Hanzo, knows how to aim) but you don't feel as helpless against Pharah as you sometimes do as Tracer. He feels like a more consistent flanker, somebody who presents a threat that defenders can't ignore in a way that scales dramatically with player ability. Tracer's still better at cracking an entrenched position, but Genji dances behind enemy lines in a way that she can't.
D.Va is my favourite of the new set. She's a StarCraft pro in a bubblegum-pink mech that she deploys from orbit like a Titanfall drop. In effect, she's two characters: D.Va with the mech, which is the default—she spawns in it—and D.Va without. In the mech, she's a consistent damage dealer with strong defensive and repositioning options. The mech's miniguns don't need to reload, but slow her down while she's firing—you stomp about and suppress large areas, draw fire, then move on. She can activate a defense field that destroys all incoming projectiles—again, a great counter to Bastion, Pharah, and Hanzo—but she can't use it while firing. By pressing Shift you activate thrusters, which allow you to quickly jet from one side of the combat zone to another.
You will, however, inevitably lose the mech. Take too much damage and it explodes, ejecting D.Va in the process. Her mech-ultimate accounts for this: she bails, the mech blasts forward, implodes on itself, and detonates in the biggest explosion in Overwatch. Losing the mech early, then, is a waste. The idea is to skirmish around the frontline while using your shield to stay alive, built up your ult, then kick out of the mech while using the explosion to open a door for your team. You can even combo her ult with her thrusters, blasting the mech forward so that it detonates further away.
On foot, D.Va is weak but not helpless. She only has a pistol, but it's not quite as bad as Mercy's—you can still be killed by it, and she's incredibly fast and slippery. In this mode her ult summons the mech suit again, and it charges at an accelerated rate. You have to be a bit more cautious, but there’s a big difference between ‘momentarily becoming less powerful’ and ‘momentarily becoming dead’. My favourite moment in any of my games today came when I, as D.Va and mechless, led an enemy Solider: 76 on a chase in and around the buildings on the new map, Hollywood. He totally outgunned me, I could outrun him. I’d turn and fire, make a little progress towards my ult, and run again. He’d chip away at me, I’d grab a healthpack. Eventually, I earned my ult right as he got me to 10 hitpoints. I turned; he fired; I dropped the mech, instantly returning to 500 health and opening up with two massive chainguns.
You can also kill people with the mech drop, like in Titanfall. I know because this happened to me, and was humiliating.
Overwatch really benefits from the new techniques these characters introduce. Even in a con environment, players were rolling out the strats I’ve become a little bit tired of in the beta. It feels so good to find new ways around an entrenched Bastion, new ways to push attackers off points, new ways to play the skirmisher role. This experience has left me much more confident in the game as a whole: 18 heroes was good, but 21 feels right.
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