The first stress test weekend for Overwatch, the new upcoming character-based team shooter from Blizzard, kicked off today, introducing a huge amount of new players to the highly anticipated title.
To prepare for the influx of neophytes, Blizzard also introduced a key balance patch with repercussions for both the competitive and public game—nerfing the sniper class, Widowmaker.
No character has caused as much caterwauling in the beta than the iconic sniper class of Overwatch, and for obvious reasons if you look at her kit.
She’s a sniper class, an avatar of the one-shot-one-kill mantra in a game where it often takes more than that to mow down targets. She’s the only character that can attack from any range in the game, making her incredibly dangerous when positioned as far away as possible from her targets. Her venom mine and amazing assault rifle allow her to win close-range fights against even mobile tanks designed to shut her down, especially when she’s receiving a damage boost from the game’s medic, Mercy, one of the most popular strategies in competition and public play.
In most games, a powerful sniper who lords over long-range combat and is capable of one-shotting most of the characters in the game with a headshot (or all of them, with a damage boost) has a weakness: A lack of mobility that makes her food for characters who manage to close the distance and reach her. But in Overwatch, that isn’t the case: Widowmaker has a grappling hook, enabling her to move anywhere on the map, instantly escape foes who do get close, and reposition to the optimal spots to kill the enemy team in seconds.
Oh, and that’s ignoring her ultimate—literally a wallhack. Yep.
When Widowmaker is in the server, it completely changes the way everyone has to play the game. You need mobile tanks like Winston and D.Va to pressure Widowmaker to make space for your team. Your team needs to play safe and can’t peek corners to spam or scout, because Widowmaker can kill you in one shot. And rue the day the mobile classes you have that can actually get on top of a Widowmaker shooting from a ledge get picked off, because then she has free reign to move around the Z axis of the map and destroy you. No other hero entirely changes the way an enemy team must respond to playing the game. Picking a Pharah, for example, certainly provokes a response, like forcing a foe to swap to a hitscan hero like McCree.
Regardless of her ability to completely change the way a competitive match plays, Widowmaker is probably the best pubstomping hero in the game. No hero dishes out as much damage as she does, and it’s easy for even a semi-skilled player to make the enemy team’s lives a living hell with her wallhack and mobility.
So in many ways, it’s not surprising that Blizzard chose to nerf her ahead of inviting a new wave of players. While a few heroes like Genji and Mei received small changes, the biggest ones came to Widowmaker.
Her scoped damage was reduced “slightly,” according to the patch notes. Testing shows that instead of 170 damage with a fully charged body shot she now deals 150. In addition, sniped shots consume 3 ammo, meaning Widowmaker can no longer freely spam her dangerous weapon.
In addition, Mercy received a nerf that directly impacts Widowmaker: Her damage boost beam now increases damage dealt by her target by 30 percent, down from 50 percent.
The changes combine to put Widowmaker’s damage at a different breakpoint. Previously, a fully charged bodyshot dealt 170 damage, leaving 175-health heroes like Widowmaker or Mercy at five health, requiring a quick second shot to finish them off. A charged body shot plus Mercy’s pre-nerf damage amp dealt a whopping 255 damage, one-shotting every hero in the game except for tanks and even one-shotting many of them with a 510 damage headshot.
Now, that same boosted shot does 150 damage up to 195 with a Mercy boost. That means any hero that isn’t “squishy” like Widowmaker, Zenyatta, or Mercy will survive a shot. Most offense type heroes, like McCree, will survive with 5 health, meaning Widowmaker will need team support or another shot to finish them off. That also makes a headshot deal 390 damage, which won’t one-shot any of the tanks currently in the game.
All in all, that’s a pretty big but welcome change to Widowmaker’s dynamic. She’ll still be incredibly dangerous at range, especially with a Mercy damage boost, but she won’t be nearly so punishing. Now players don’t have to fear getting one-shot so easily as they walk around the map.
Other significant changes from today’s patch include a reversion of a recent nerf to Mercy and her resurrection ultimate. Blizzard added a cast time to it in a patch on Nov. 9, hoping to add some counterplay to one of the most powerful abilities in the game, but the way it worked turned out to be awkward and present bad quality of life for players. Of course, that brings the ability back to its pre-nerf state, and even with the damage amplification nerf Mercy will be a required component of every competitive team composition. Blizzard has discussed other nerfs to the ability, like reducing the range at which it picks up teammates, but none were applied in this current patch. Expect some at a later date.
Of course, most people playing Overwatch this weekend will play with no knowledge of what Widowmaker was like before this patch. But that’s probably a very good thing for them and for the future of the game—no one class should have as much impact as she did before this nerf. Whether this nerf truly mitigates that impact remains to be seen, but it’s a move in the right direction both for public play and for competition.
Screenshot via Blizzard