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When the good ship Overwatch launches for PC and consoles today, it will carry with it more than just the historic fans of team shooter battles.
Blizzard’s first new franchise in 17 years hopes to broaden that base to include players who might not normally think of themselves as shooter fans: People for whom aiming on the fly doesn’t come naturally.
Never fear, developers say. If you can’t aim and fire faster than teleporting trigger woman Tracer can blink across the screen, you still have a huge number of ways to own in Overwatch. GamesBeat asked principal designers Scott Mercer and Geoff Goodman to give us some ideas for shooter-novice strategy.
GamesBeat: Does Overwatch have characters that you’d recommend to players who may not be into traditional online shooters? Folks that either are terrific at strategy but not as quick on the trigger, or they may be more experienced with different types of games, or they may be a few years removed … or more … from the reflexes of a 25 year old?
Geoff Goodman: It’s been a design goal for us that it’s not just like, if you don’t want to shoot, you have to play a healer. We intentionally wanted to create a lot of diversity in the roles. You don’t have to be the twitch shooter.
A character like Mercy is that healer, because we wanted to allow for that, but of course we have other characters like Reinhardt, who’s a tank. He’s not really about aiming. He’s more about putting yourself in the right position and helping your team and timing your abilities correctly. We have that direction.
We also have a character like Soldier 76. If you want to shoot people and you don’t necessarily want to be a sniper like Widowmaker, we want you to have that option as well. Soldier 76 has the auto-aim ultimate that shoots everyone for you. [Each Overwatch character has an ultimate ability, which becomes available after dealing or preventing enough damage. –Ed.] He also has abilities like his alternate fire [option], the rocket, which is easier to hit with: It’s a big explosion.
Scott Mercer: One of the key things I wanted was, because it’s an objective-based team game, there are lots of things you can do to create success for the team that aren’t just shooting someone. There are more characters that provide a fair amount of utility, whether it’s healing or shields or our tanks.
Just knowing that’s what actually wins the game — taking the objectives and playing the long game — will set you up for a lot of success. We have a lot of heroes that can help the team out in a lot of ways. We mentioned Reinhardt. I’ll just sit on a control point and put up a shield that protects my teammates.
We have several tanks that, if you’re stuck behind a choke [point] and your team’s having a problem pushing through, they can just go over the enemy and start taking a control point. Then the enemy has to react to you, which frees up your team to move in.
Goodman: It was a goal from the beginning with these characters. Maybe it isn’t about how well you can aim, or [turn] 180 and shoot somebody really fast, your reaction time. We want there to be a lot of depth to the characters and a lot of skill in the game. There’s a lot more to skill than just how well you can aim.
You have a character like Mercy, who has a gun, but she doesn’t use it that much. She can heal. Her main healing and buffing and beam has a kind of lock-on. But there’s a lot to playing that character successfully.
The really good players will be moving around, trying to stay out of enemy line of sight, trying to stay alive. Especially her in particular, where with her ultimate [ability], she has to be the last one to die to get good use out of that. There’s a lot of skill and situational awareness to playing that really well. [Mercy’s ultimate resurrects her team members at full health –Ed.]
GamesBeat: Have players discovered tactics that surprised you?
Goodman: Road Hog in particular is good against Reinhardt, because his ultimate will tear down Reinhardt’s shield. You can hook [Reinhardt] if he tries to charge. You can just alternate fire right into his shield and break it down. It’s interesting that they’re discovering these tricks. If people feel like they’re locking up the metagame and it’s getting stagnant to a degree where, as a team, you can predict what the opposition is trying to do all the time, you can react to that.
We’ve had some internal tournaments, too. We have our own sort of metagame internally, which isn’t necessarily reflective of what other people are doing. Internally, we’ve seen [female tank hero] Zarya be a huge impact, and [robot sphere-thrower] Zenyatta as well. But it’s interesting, because initially those characters weren’t being played hardly at all.
Mercer: Talking about the different heroes, you have Reinhardt, who’s not very mobile; more like this big brick that sits around. But then you have these very highly mobile tanks like [female mech driver] D.Va, with her jet pack, and Winston, who can leap around. That lends itself to a lot of possibilities.
There are characters who like to sit way in the back and protect themselves, keeping away. D.Va and Winston can close that gap super-fast. A lot of times it’s like, oh, we’ll go harass this [sniper] Widowmaker, harass this Zenyatta or Mercy in the back. There’s a lot of possibilities there.
It’s not necessarily a super-twitch thing, but you can impact a team by disrupting the opposition. Those tanks are really good at that.
Then we get into the defensive classes. You go to someone like [bomb-lobber] Junkrat.
Junkrat’s amazing. If an enemy team is coming through together, Junkrat has grenades for days. He can deal damage to a lot of enemy team members at once.
He’s also very mobile. He can place the one mine on the ground [and] leap off it. He can put himself in places that you don’t expect, which is another place where clever players can add a whole lot to the team. The ability to surprise someone by attacking from a different angle is powerful.
[Dual shotgun-wielding] Reaper is one of the best at it, because he has the ability to teleport to different spots on the map. He can use that to flank. Once he does flank, you surprise the enemy team. You suddenly appear in the middle of a bunch of players and then [use his ultimate ability] Death Blossom.
GamesBeat: Are there other ways new players can use strategy to get the win?
Mercer: Just knowing, as a player, how you can move around the map without a fight, that can be really handy. Know the flanking routes. Even if you don’t have some of these crazy ability options, just knowing, hey, if I go to this room here it leads to a hallway that goes around — you don’t have to teleport to flank.
Just understanding the map is another way to be really smart in our game, having that deeper understanding. That gives you more advantages that aren’t about how well you aim.
GamesBeat: Do you have any specific examples?
Goodman: There’s a spot on Volskaya offense, on the left side. It’s kind of over the water. It’s a pretty large flank. Not all the characters can use it, but if you have teleport or multijump or a leap you can get over there. It’s hard, as a defender, to protect the main choke in the front and also keep an eye on that. A lot of Tracer players can flank using that side route.
Even if you’re not successful at sneaking around behind and killing everyone, what you see people doing a lot of the time — especially Tracers, because they’re so hard to kill — is they go around the side, flank over the water there, and then just stand on the point. The enemy’s like, wait, we have to back up and deal with that, but all these people are over in front of us at the choke, too.
Just pulling people back to you — you don’t even have to fight them. You can just leave. Then they have to decide. Do they just chase you around? Chasing Tracer around isn’t easy. There’s a lot of almost non-combat, larger strategy points that have been interesting.
Mercer: Another interesting example: Lucio has an ability that speeds up his team around him. In Nimbani, there’s a main street that leads up to the first control point when it doglegs over to the right, but there’s also a path to the left. A very coordinated team, using Lucio, they get up to that first turn, and while the defenses are set up in one direction, they go with Lucio, he hits his button, and all of a sudden the entire team is super fast moving around to the left and getting behind the control point. Then the defense has to react to that.
Goodman: Also, the defense becomes the offense, because now they’re on the point.
Mercer: We’ve totally seen that, where the offense is sitting on the control point defending it from the defense, which is really strange. Lucio’s ability to quickly move an entire team, that’s a powerful tool.
Talking about snipers, even they have a lot of team utility. That’s something I really enjoy about our game. Widowmaker’s ultimate doesn’t make her kill things faster. It’s actually a team utility because it shows where the enemies are on the map. That information is super powerful. It’s great for the entire team.
Really smart Hanzos will say, oh, we’re all looking in one direction, so I’ll put the sonic arrow in another direction to catch people that are trying to get around. There are opportunities; all the characters have some sort of team element to them.
Goodman: [Shield-casting, turret-building] Symmetra is a character that a lot of people are drawn to that don’t necessarily have high accuracy or want to snipe people. She is really interesting to play from a meta-strategy perspective, because with the teleporter — her ultimate is to place a teleporter — it’s incredibly powerful for your team.
But [the teleporter] can also be killed pretty easily, so you have to be careful where you place it. Being able to read the game you’re in, see what the battle lines are, figure out what’s a safe teleporter spot and what’s a more aggressive one — I’ve seen entire games won instantly by a super aggressive teleporter spot that the enemy didn’t see in time. Your team floods in and they die and they’re right back where they were. It’s overwhelming.
That can be amazing if you pull that off, but you also have to be careful that you don’t just put it down and have it destroyed right away when it’s too aggressive.
Initially, it’s safer to put it a little farther back from the battle lines and get a read on how safe that is, see where people are coming from, then hopefully build up another teleporter pretty quick. If you can find a good spot for it, you can get in deep inside their base. If you place an aggressive one and let your team know it’s there, that can win the game outright by itself. It’s really amazing.
GamesBeat: Any other strategies to try?
Mercer: We could ramble on about more characters — like Zenyatta, how he controls the battlefield with both his healing orb and his sword orb. That’s another thing. If you’re really smart, having awareness of what’s happening, knowing who needs support …
A bunch of people ask, who should I heal? Well, heal this person, because if they live they can do the most damage. There’s a bunch of targets in front of me, which one needs to die fastest? Okay, that’s the one.
There are a bunch of constant decisions to make, and Zenyatta’s trying to stay away from everything because he’s so fragile. At the same time, he can just blow people’s heads off. He’s a very interesting character. That battlefield control style is another interesting gameplay style that Zenyatta and some of the other supports can do.
We could ramble on about different characters for a while. That’s a large part of what we’re doing during the day. Oh, did you see that play that happened last night? We’re playing at night, playtesting during the day —
Goodman: Watching streams.
Mercer: Yeah. Just absorbing all the different things that happen in our game. Oh, that was super cool. Oh, that was a little strange. Taking it all in, both good and bad, and making the appropriate changes to improve the game.
Goodman: This is something I brought up before, but we have a lot of characters we intentionally built to not require a lot of twitching. It’s definitely a design goal that these characters still have what we call a high skill ceiling, though, where you can put a lot of hours into them and get better and better. You won’t feel like, oh, I’m stuck with this role and it’s boring.
There’s so much to learn about the game that isn’t just how quickly you can flick the mouse. There’s a lot of communication, being a good commander, situational awareness, map knowledge. You mentioned recognizing an ult going off, or an ult about to go off. Why did that Reaper just race right into us? He’s probably going to ult.
A lot of that stuff goes a long way for your team. That’s definitely an explicit design goal.
GamesBeat: If you’re starting brand-new with the game, would you recommend that folks pick a particular character and try to specialize?
Mercer: A lot of that depends on how much experience you’ve had with first-person shooters before. We haven’t mentioned Soldier 76 much, but if you come more from the modern military shooter, he should feel very familiar. There’s something to that as well: “Hey, I can understand this. I have an assault rifle. I’ve got sprints. That feels familiar.”
Similarly, if you played Quake a long time ago and remember rocket launchers being a thing, we’ve got Pharah, which is intentionally very straightforward.
It’s not just a matter of simplicity. We’re trying to provide different heroes for different backgrounds and play styles and everything else. If you’ve never played a first-person shooter at all before, Mercy’s really good. Reinhardt’s pretty good. Winston is really good. He doesn’t really aim at all. He just projects lightning and punches people when he gets really angry.
Also, playing a support or tank, you can have more impact on the team as a whole.
Goodman: The nice thing about tanks is you get to survive quite a bit longer than everybody else. You don’t just feel like you’re getting sniped really fast. It allows you to learn quicker because you have a lot more up time. Especially a character like Reinhardt, who doesn’t have a cooldown on his shield ability. He can just walk around and almost spectate as he’s helping the team.
But to your specific question, I’d say try to find a character you can enjoy playing. Maybe jump around a little bit at the beginning, but ideally try to stick to one character at the start.
There’s so much to learn from what your opponents can do. You’ll learn a lot about the characters by watching what the enemy does. It’s nice to jump around at the beginning, to find a favorite character and get an overview of what everyone can do, so you’re not surprised all the time.
It can be a lot to take in initially, but I think the tendency, and it’s a good one, is to find one character and play it for a while so you’re not trying to learn your own character, plus all the other characters, plus the maps, plus everything else all at once. Let me at least lock down my pick and figure that out.
Mercer: To be honest, even if it’s something like looking at the character lineup and thinking, oh, I like the way she looks, or that looks like a cool character—go with that!
Goodman: That’s how I pick characters.
Mercer: There are all these elements we’ve been talking about, but a lot of times it’s just, oh, that character seems cool, and you roll with it from there. Whatever gets you excited to play the game, that’s unique for every person who plays.
Goodman: Some people love switching. They’ll switch like crazy all the time. Then there’s the opposite personality: “I’m only Widowmaker.” It depends on your play style and personality.
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