Hands on with Overwatch's new heroes
Blizzard revealed three new heroes for its hotly anticipated first-person-shooter Overwatch Friday. The characters—an ice-themed Chinese scientist named Mei, a mech-riding former StarCraft pro named D.va, and a ninja assassin named Genji—complete the full slate of characters for the game's launch, which will happen sometime in Spring 2016.
Only a small number of people have had access to Overwatch's beta, and even fewer have been able to play as any of these characters. So how are they going to affect the game? Will any of them see serious competitive action? I got a chance to try out all three of them at BlizzCon. I've got more than 40 hours of play in the beta already under my belt, including hours of competitive six-on-six practice sessions, and 10 years of experience as a competitive shooter player. So I think I can help fill in the picture a little bit.
But first, a couple other notes about the game as I played it at BlizzCon, which had a couple new features that don’t exist in the beta build. The BlizzCon build featured loud hit beeps that were much more noticeable than the hit feedback currently in the Overwatch beta. Also, the crosshair turned red when mousing over an enemy.
Another huge addition: The end game score screen now features a leveling bar under your character portrait, complete with experience gain and a level.
Meanwhile, the end-game voting screen featured a change straight from your favorite social networks. Instead of a simple up arrow button to vote for your pick for player of the game, there is now a “Like” button. Yes, a “like” button.
Now, back to the heroes:
The ice lady Mei is listed as a defense hero, but a hero kit of supportive abilities will definitely fit right in on many attacks. Overall, she’s the most interesting of the three new champions. Her kit lacks healing and lacks damage, but it offers so many tools to enable teammates she’ll likely fit on many team compositions in place of a support or tank.
LMB - Endothermic Blaster
Mei’s primary fire is one of the most annoying abilities to fight in the game. It’s a close-to-mid range icethrower similar to the flamethrower from the Pyro in Team Fortress 2. But instead of burning enemies, it slows them. If you hit them with enough ice, it freezes the enemy in place for over a full second, essentially rendering them a free kill.
The slow stacks up very quickly and it’s difficult to win any fight if you get close to Mei, especially if she has support from her team, since your movement is affected very quickly.
The gun’s projectile is fairly slow, meaning you have to lead your target to actually get a lot of hits. But since it stacks a slow, once you land a couple hits it gets easier and easier to lock them down.
RMB - Icicle
Her right click gives her long range damage, shooting an ice projectile that arcs slightly and travels a long distance. It’s basically a spam ability, as Mei’s wheelhouse is really close range, where she can freeze people with her endothermic diffuser.
This ability does headshot makes Icicle a deadly part of Mei’s kit. The best way to finish off foes is to freeze them with her LMB and then land an easy Icicle headshot combined with a melee thwack that sometimes satisfyingly shatters the frozen enemy.
LSHIFT - Cryo-freeze
Mei freezes herself, making her invulnerable, blocking enemy movement, and healing herself. The heal ticks for almost her entire health bar if you channel it the max amount. You can cancel it at any moment by simply clicking a mouse button. It lasts about six seconds.
The ability makes Mei extremely difficult to kill and allows her to make plays she often would be unable to, like moving out of position to land a key ultimate, similar to how Zhonya’s Hourglass works for, say, Lissandra in League of Legends.
E - Ice Wall
The Ice Wall is one of the more creative and exciting abilities in the new slate of heroes. It serves as both a line of sight block, preventing an enemy team from engaging, or as a movement tool.
You cast the wall by hitting E once to activate a targeting mode, showing where the wall will cast (similar to Reaper’s teleport) and then hitting Mouse 1 to cast it. You can change the wall’s orientation by hitting E a second time in targeting mode, rotating it 90 degrees. That will allow Mei to, for example, block a choke point completely without needing to peek it.
If you cast the wall below yourself or a teammate, it will lift them up. This will allow low mobility characters like Bastion to get into new spots or teams to attack through new ways that they never could without Mei in the lineup.
There are other possibilities. I’m not sure this is possible and haven’t had a chance to test it yet, but you may be able to lift a deployed Bastion instantly, giving him a new and unexpected line of sight to mow down the enemy team.
Ice Wall is an incredible ability with a huge number of wide ranging uses that will take tons of time to explore.
Her ultimate shoots a drone out as an arcing skillshot that lands and casts a large AOE freeze area after a short delay of about one second. The freeze slows all foes inside it and eventually freezes them completely if they stay in the effect long enough. Because of the delay, it’s often hard to land, but if a foe is too close to the drone they won’t be able to escape before it freezes them.
The surprising part of the ultimate, though, is the damage. It dishes out over 100 to all targets in the area, making it extremely dangerous for many characters.
It’s not clear whether the freeze from the ultimate and her LMB combo, as in freezing a target faster if you hit them with both. I didn’t get a chance to test that and the Blizzard rep didn’t know.
The new mech pilot D.va is an interesting hero that at times seems borderline overpowered, but at other times (like when playing in a random pickup game with other press members and no supports) is tough to work.
She starts in her mech form, featuring 150 health and 350 armor, a ridiculous amount of mitigation. That gives her a huge amount of effective health if she gets healed, since most enemies will struggle to break through her shield, especially if she can block projectiles from high damage characters like Hanzo or Widowmaker using the mech’s E ability.
One note about mech form—you CAN be headshot, if an enemy shoots the cockpit. That means you’ll only be tagged that way when you are facing an enemy, which in some ways makes the E ability even more crucial.
One key aspect of the mech is that, if the mech dies, D.va ejects atomatically, at which point she has a pilot form. In pilot form, D.va has 150 health and a Mercy-like pistol that does an okay amount of damage. She has no abilities, meaning no mobility, making her an extremely vulnerable target. But she does have one advantage: As a pilot, she passively charges her ultimate, gaining about 1 percent charge every second. That makes it easier for her to charge up into mech form, where she really gets going.
LMB - Fusion Cannons
D.va’s mech fires twin gatling guns that do decent DPS but only at close range or mid range against larger targets. They have a wide bullet spread but they fire in a shotgun, meaning that they do big damage to targets you can hit with the full spread. They have no ammunition—she never has to reload—which means she’s sometimes effective at spamming damage from mid range. Close range the guns shred most targets.
The big issue with gatling gun is that it slows her movement speed by more than half the second you start firing, even in midair. That means targets can easily escape her damage if they’re aware of where she is and if she’s already used her charge.
LSHIFT - Boosters
The mech’s movement ability gives D.va more mobility than any other tank in the game. She can use her charge to fly through the air and on top of buildings, like the rooftops at the opening of Dorado.
The charge in some ways is like a Reinhart charge that you can aim into the air, and without a cast time. You can cancel it by clicking the mouse, which is important to land on the right spot instead of flying past a rooftop.
Boosters might be one of the strongest movement abilities in the game, giving her a full range of motion with a speedy charge.
E - Defense Matrix
Her E blocks all projectiles in front of her, making them do no damage. It’s a pretty wide field, bigger than say, a Reinhart shield, allowing her to protect teammates and advanced into close range against dangerous targets.
She’s able to use her E while using her movement ability, meaning she can close in on juicy targets like Widowmaker while blocking all damage from them. The block is also great against certain ultimate’s, like Pharahs, eating every single rocket from her barrage.
Q - Self -Destruct
When you first see this ability in action, you’ll think D.va is OP.
This ability is perhaps one of the most awkward but one of the most powerful in the game. It’s the one that will decide whether D.va and a D.va player is effective with the new champion.
When you hit Q in Mech form, D.va ejects out the back of her mech (note that you fly backwards, so if enemies are behind you, you won’t be safe) and sets it to self destruct after a few seconds.
The explosion does a ridiculous amount of damage, one-shotting anyone in the game (except maybe tanks) and the radius is huge. If you explode on the middle of the first control point on Volskaya, it’ll wipe the entire point, and likely hit targets a bit beyond it.
The real key to the ability is that, when the explosion occurs, D.va will gain a full ultimate, meaning she can re-cast her mech. That means if her mech gets low, she can eject and re-enter mech form at will.
That makes the ability high-risk and high-reward, in many ways. You willfully put yourself in the weak pilot form, gambling you’ll survive the few seconds needed to get your mech form back safely. Whether you pull that off or not will make a huge difference in your effectiveness. The eject also makes you vulnerable, since it shoots you in a similar arc every time, meaning a ready Widowmaker can easily one-shot you with a full charge, even without damage amplification.
Of course, even if pilot D.va gets picked off, the ultimate itself is incredibly powerful. Most heroes will need to line of sight it instead of simply running away, because the radius is so large you simply can’t move fast enough to avoid it on many heroes.
The ultimate has a few other interesting quirks. You can cast it while using your rocket charge and literally fling your mech onto the enemy, as it will maintain the momentum it had the moment you eject. That kind of play could make for some epic attacks once players get good at figuring out how to fling the mech onto just the right spot, or time it so that it explodes in midair, making it more difficult for foes to get out of line of sight.
The green ninja, as fans have affectionately called him since his artwork was revealed ages ago, will finally hit Overwatch. He’s an interesting character that will likely have a high skill cap, since using his abilities at the right moments and hitting shots with his shurikens and melee will be extremely important.
Genji is a pure damage character. He has no utility as a hero, unlike the utility-heavy Mei or the tank D.va, who offers her team at least some kind of support. He’s a character that needs high mobility to work. He only has 200 health and often needs to be close range to deal his damage. But his mobility seems like it can be exploited in organized play.
As base, Genji gets the same wall climb ability as Hanzo, allowing him to scale most of the obstacles in the game. As a bonus, he also gets a double jump, activated by jumping while in midair.
The double jump gets you more air than a base jump, and it’s especially useful in that it combos with your wall climb. You can climb to the top of the wall, reach a lip or edge you can’t climb, and then let go and double jump, allowing you to scale or top a spot that Hanzo can’t. Gravity feels weak on a double-jumping Genji, though, making you a sitting duck as you slowly float through the air against anyone with solid aim.
That means his mobility is largely reliant on his Swift Strike dash, and it’s a very all-in ability.
LMB - Shuriken
Genji launches three shurikens in rapid succession, a straight-line projectile that’s fairly quick. They do a ton of damage, especially if you land headshots. I’m not sure the exact number, but it seemed possible to one-shot weak classes if you land a full slate of headshots.
The projectiles are fairly easy to land at mid ranges, similar to Lucio’s LMB sound bursts. Spamming them at head level in a choke can do a surprising amount of damage, giving you an opening to dash in for a kill.
RMB - Shuriken Spread
Genji launches three shurikens in a cone, essentially an AOE version of his LMB. The cone, a wide spread, will likely be very awkward and almost never useful compared to the LMB, as you’ll much more easily guarantee landing all three projectiles using the LMB. The only use is likely adding a bit of burst damage against a tank in close range, since you can hit all three shurikens at once instead of with a slight delay.
LSHIFT - Swift Strike
Genji dashes forward in the direction of his crosshair, dealing up-front damage to enemies in his path while also applying a damage over time effect. If any enemy dies while they have that damage over time effect on them, the cooldown resets.
Using his dash will be key to Genji play. As a ninja-type character, mobility is key to his success. He’s fairly squishy when he can’t deflect projectiles, and thus he needs mobility to escape after dealing his burst damage. But he can’t do that without Swift Strike, so engaging on someone with it and then finishing it off to refund its cooldown and escape is key.
He can use his dash to charge through Reinhart shields, for example, making it sometimes easy to get onto the back line (though I’m not sure if such a dash will damage Reinhart or apply a bleed). The dash also allows him to vault into the sky. One satisfying play is charging through a Pharah, landing a midair melee, and nailing some shurikens on the way down to refund your attack and escape.
The big issue, though, is that Genji still isn’t particularly survivable. He’s very vulnerable to a Mcree stun and RMB, since he needs to be in close to really deal damage and only has 200 health. Comboed with teammates, though, he can be incredibly deadly. When a team commits alongside him he’s capable of bursting specific targets in a row and rolling an enemy team, especially with his ultimate.
E - Deflect
In true jedi fashion, Genji uses his sword to reflect projectiles, protecting him from damage and even shooting them back at foes.
The key to deflect is that it launches the projectile towards your crosshair. That means to get the best value out of it you need to aim at a proper target instead of, perhaps, the source of the projectiles you’re deflecting. It’s possible to, for example, headshot a Widowmaker with her own bullet from across the map, or shift that Bastion machine gun fire to the Mercy standing beside him.
Using this at the right moment can turn around a fight against certain targets, allowing you to turn a killing blow back on them to get a reset on your Swift Strike. I saw one play of the game where Genji just Deflected in a tight hallway and killed two people with shots from McRee and Zenyatta.
Q - Dragonblade
A big freaking sword. It’s a pretty simple ultimate ability.
You get a giant green sword, replacing your shurikens, and it does a lot of damage. It’s length gives it a bigger range than even Reinhart’s massive hammer, making it easy to slice through team. Genji does a ton of damage if he can get behind a team and activate it; the sword will two-shot any 200 health class, and maybe some of the ones a little bulkier. But as a squishy character, he’s often vulnerable in situations where you don’t, for example, eliminate McRee and his pesky stun before going in for the kill.
Comboing in an engage with, say, a Winston putting down a shield may allow a Dragonblade Genji to wipe a team.
The other key with Dragonblade is taking advantage of your Swift Strike potential. It’s easy to dash through a target and slice them with your green sword to score another reset and move to the next target.
There’s going to be plenty of play of the games where Genji looks like Overwatch’s version of Katarina, resetting his attacks moment by moment.
Overall the new slate of heroes will certainly see play in big games.
Genji does a surprising amount of damage, based off the short time I got to play him. That will be key to his success as a character, since that’s essentially all he brings to the table. But his mobility is also a little lower than I’d expect from a melee heavy assassin, meaning he may be too vulnerable to getting picked off by heroes like McRee in pro games. Still, combined with, say, a character like Winston jumping in, and Genji will definitely be dangerous, and maybe even deadly in certain compositions or against certain heroes. He has a pretty high skill cap to unlock his true potential, since using abilities like Deflect will take great timing and good aim.
D.va looks borderlined overpowered with the incredible damage and range of her ultimate. It’s something that’s going to get a lot of boring play of the games where a pilot ejects, hides behind a corner, and gets four kills. In pro games, though, without a Zarya ultimate to combo with it, for example, she may get punished. That combo, by the way, seems almost unstoppable, considering D.va can dash into a black hole with a projectile deflection shield and one-shot everyone by ejecting. Either way, it’s sure that she’ll see some play. It’ll be interesting to see if her turret-like mobility while firing the gatling guns will be too punishing. She’s also a hero that really relies on getting healed—with so much armor, the effective output of a healer like Mercy focused on D.va is incredible.
The most interesting addition, though, is Mei. Her kit is incredibly powerful. She’s tough to fight one-on-one, since she stuns you and heals with her left shift. Her slows make it incredibly easy for any teammate to secure a kill. Her Ice Wall is versatile and amazing, with a ridiculous amount of utility and game-breaking potential: blocking pushes, trapping enemies, enabling new defensive positions, enabling new angles of attack. But she provides low damage and zero healing; she’s listed as a defensive hero, but she’s kind of a support without healing. That means it may be difficult to sometimes fit her into a team composition. Does she take the spot of a second support? Does she take the spot of a second tank? In many ways the answer to those questions may just be “yes” considering the power she brings to the table, especially on maps where she’s able to use her LMB to easily apply slows.
Overall, the three new heroes are interesting and will certainly shake up the metagame.
Some of the Blizzard people who’ve had a chance to play the heroes already are excited about the prospect of shutting Widowmaker down. So far in the beta, Widowmaker is one of the toughest threats to deal with as Winston is really the only hero who can reliably assault her. But Genji and D.va, those Blizzard players say, are strong counters to her.
Watching good Genji players will definitely be exciting. He has potential to make solo plays on flanks, but his real wheelhouse will be cleaning up team fights by attacking at the right moment. But the omnipresence of McRee and his stun makes him seem like a risky proposition in many situations.
Mei will likely find herself on many teams thanks to her incredible utility, especially on certain maps and certain attack points. She’s a hero that will take a lot of experience and teamwork before her true potential is really unlocked.
D.Va just seems like an overall solid hero and adds another high mobility tank to the metagame while also offering a game-changing ultimate ability. Her use in comp games will be interesting because punishing her is often more punishing than it is for other heroes. It may be easy to take advantage of her team while she’s stuck in pilot form, which could make her a liability in some games or against certain teams. She may require a different kind of team composition, or at least different play style, than many teams currently using Reinharts since her projectile blocking isn’t as consistent as Reinhart’s. It’s more of an engage tool in many ways than a real shield, allowing you and your team to close on distant foes to fight rather than stay safe behind the big knight and fight from afar.
Overall, all three heroes look like they fit a niche in Overwatch. All three are definitely fun to play, especially if you like inducing the kind of salt that Genji and especially Mei will instill in their victims. Mei is a creative concept for a first person shooter, but in Overwatch it really fits, and that’s one of the things that makes this game great.