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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.
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.
Bastion is one character that can be absurdly overpowered if allowed to turtle. The rail gun’s damage is probably a little overtuned, that shield is hefty, and he has a fairly powerful self-heal. You really can’t ignore him and expect your team to live, and he’s perfect parked in a corner near an objective.
Bastion is stupidly difficult to kill from the front, but that’s also his weakness: Drop in on him from behind and he can be one-shot by some of the offense heroes. His shield is only in the front, and he can only face toward the front when in sentry mode. Unlike the tanks, his shield is only protects him.
His ultimate swaps him to (literal) tank mode: a mobile monster with a big cannon.
Hanzo performs as the archer-ninja of the group, shooting arrows and identifying enemies for his teammates to annihilate. He can wall climb, though this was one ability I found a little buggy: Which walls he did and did not want to climb frequently posed a mystery until I tried them.
Hanzo has a single shot that you can hold for longer range, making him a good sniper stand in; a sonic arrow to show enemy heroes skulking around; and a cool-looking dragon spirit (basically a projected area of effect damage attack) that he can fire as an ultimate.
His arrows aren’t overwhelmingly impressive — unless you’ve trapped an enemy in a tight space. Then you can fire a volley of ricochet arrows that bounce off the walls and shred anything unfriendly (leaving your team unscathed.) He can fire those arrows from quite a range, which makes him very interesting for taking out turtled targets.
Unlike Widowmaker, your pure sniper, he can take a reasonable amount of punishment. Blizzard rates his difficulty as three stars.
Junkrat, a giggling, flame-haired character, looks and moves like the Joker invested in a munitions factory. While he might not be the hero you’d tap for doing direct damage to anyone, his (literal) arsenal of explosives and annoying abilities make him an intriguing defensive troublemaker.
He can throw and detonate a concussion mine, knocking people back or himself into the air. He can drop a steel trap, snapping the heels of fast-moving enemies that you want to get into tank melee range, for example. His primary weapon is a frag launcher, which can ricochet attacks around corners and does a nice bit of close-range damage when the grenade hits.
Junkrat moves quickly, but he’s not beefy, and people with good situational awareness will avoid or take out most of his traps. His ultimate is hilarious: He turns into a rolling, hooked, high-damage tire that you can use to ravage a group of enemies until you explode.
And if you kill him, you better hope it’s not from melee: Junkrat drops bombs around him when he dies. His difficulty gets a two-star rating.
The dwarf Torbjörn builds things. He can create armor packs for his teammates and a turret that does a surprising amount of damage (compared to Symmetra’s smaller units, for example.)
Ignore him at your peril: Damage to enemies causes them to drop scraps for his construction, and if he gets that turret to level 2, it earns more than twice his own health and can kill an enemy solo. Upgrading the turret or repairing it if enemies have damaged it takes a little bit of channeled time.
While Torbjörn has a rivet gun — inaccurate but reasonably beefy up close, slow and long-range if held — his forge hammer melee and the turret pump out the real damage, at least in the matches where I played him. His ultimate is Molten Core, a straight power-up with more attack speed and armor.
Blizzard rates his difficulty at two stars.
Widowmaker is a ponytailed, StarCrafty-esque catsuit-wearing French sniper. She’s built for getting up high, hiding out, and head-shotting enemies. She can grapple up to ledges, launch (destroyable) poison traps, and her ultimate shows her team their enemies’ locations.
For me, Widowmaker turned out to be all about knowing the maps: where the good high hiding places were, and what angles they could cover. She’s incredibly squishy — definitely the easiest to kill of this group, and possibly even overall — but a well-placed shot from her in sniper mode can be devastating.
She has a shoot-while-moving attack, but it doesn’t do much. The power is in sniper shots, which significantly restrict her movement.
I typically love snipers, that feel of being at a duck hunt booth at the fair and picking off your enemies. But Widowmaker frustrated me, in part because she is SO easy to kill — I spent more time grappling away from enemies than I did climbing to interesting places — and in part because I haven’t memorized all the good map hidey-holes yet.
Blizzard rates her difficulty at two stars.
Blizzard hasn’t announced the launch date for the game (or the planned open beta weekends) yet, but we’re expecting to hear something at BlizzCon next week.
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