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Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch, now in closed beta testing, adds an interesting mechanic to first-person team shooters: tanks.
More Overwatch impressions
I don’t mean tanks as in the giant metal vehicles (though Overwatch has that too, as we’ll discuss in a minute), but tanks in the role-playing game sense: giant, beefy characters that soak up damage and taunt enemies to attack them.
This works well when your enemies are under A.I. control and you can just press the Taunt button, but it typically hasn’t worked as well in player versus player combat. Most players are intelligent enough to ignore the beefy low-damage dude and focus on those delightfully squishy offense and healing types.
Overwatch bets that it’s found the solution to this problem, and four of the 18 playable heroes in the closed beta belong to the tank class. Truthfully, these heroes, plus the defense class that I’ll also cover today, are some of the most fun to play in the game so far.
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If you missed yesterday’s piece covering general first impressions and all the game’s maps, offense and support heroes, be sure to check it out.
The characters: tanks
I knew the first time I went up against a team made of nothing but Reinhardts that he had to be silly fun to play. And it’s true. This big, stomping knight-like fella looks and feels heavy. He’s got a good amount of health, fires relatively weak projectiles, and carries a huge hammer that can obliterate anything in melee range.
Reinhardt’s signature isn’t his attack, as powerful as that is: It’s his 2,000-point shield, wide enough to cover an entire hallway, which halts 10 times the damage of a normal offense hero’s health. He can move while casting it; it lasts until it’s destroyed; and his teammates can hide behind him and shoot through it. If that doesn’t taunt you into trying to kill him, I’m not sure what would.
In case that Shield isn’t enough, he can also charge, smashing everyone in his way. His ultimate move, powered by giving and taking damage, is a knockdown area-of-effect attack directly in front of him.
Reinhardt is a hoot to maneuver, feels indestructible, and has turned into one of the more popular tanks on the beta test as a result. Blizzard rates the difficulty of each character to play on a three-star scale; Reinhardt gets one star.
Roadhog is a snorting, potbellied, gas-sniffing character who would look at home in Mad Max or Borderlands. He has a chain that can pull enemy heroes toward him from a surprising distance away (à la Stitches in Heroes of the Storm or pretty much any Abomination in World of Warcraft.) That hook interrupts enemy fire and other moves, including the ultimates of several damage dealers.
Getting in melee range with Roadhog, as with most tanks, is a Really Bad Idea. He has a spread weapon that’s capable of doing midrange damage poorly, but it hits like a truck close up. Roadhog uses no shields, but he has a powerful self-heal over time. His ultimate is a frontal damage/knockback with gunfire that hurts. A lot.
He also sounds amusing: lots of grunts and groans and chuckling and heavy breathing. Roadhog’s difficulty is rated as one star.
If you saw Blizzard’s cinematic trailer of Overwatch from last year, you saw Winston: the gentle giant ape with the glasses. Winston’s a great example of how Blizzard can make even heroes in the same class feel different. While he carries a gun (a short-range, front-cone electric thing,) you wouldn’t really want to use it. This guy works best when he’s punching people.
Unlike the other tanks, he’s not ideal for the standard stand-and-soak-damage routine, though he does have a limited-duration protective dome he can cast for himself and party members to hide under.
Winston is best when he’s in motion: He has a quick, long leap that damages the people he lands on and makes him surprisingly mobile, since it’s up every few seconds. He is for tanking what Tracer is for damage — reasonably fast, hard to pin down, but a lot less squishy.
His ultimate move is just a power-up: It hands you a ton of health, but it only lets you leap and punch people. Then again, that’s all you should have been doing anyway. Winston is rated as a two-star difficulty hero.
Zarya is a limited-duration shield-caster for herself and others, and as a result, she has less health than the other tanks. She has a particle cannon with a short-range linear beam (whose damage I found to be pretty meh) and a grenade launcher (better.) The more you block with Zarya, the more damage you do, in case you didn’t have enough incentive to use those shields.
Her ultimate move is a gravity well that doesn’t stun enemies, but it does hold them in place and damage them. Of the four, Zarya feels least successful as a tank so far: that is, as a hero that all but forces you to attack her or die. She was also not that fun to play.
Used in combination with a team, Zarya feels more like a heavy utility player. She’s the only three-star difficulty tank, perhaps because that active mitigation takes so much more work for you to manage.
The characters: defense
Bastion’s a robot with two modes: recon, which is a lighter form that gives him some speed and a lower-damage automatic weapon; and sentry, which makes him an immobile turret with a 1,000-point frontal shield and a kickass rail gun.