Let’s put my cards on the table – I’m not a fan of Overwatch’s latest hero, Ashe. Set loose on live servers this week, few heroes have been as polarising for the community as the white-haired outlaw.
We could be here all day talking about Ashe’s visual design. She’s weighed down with baggage, with early concept art for the gunslinger teasing a rootin’, tootin’ woman of colour. But what we got was another conventionally attractive white woman – one who the team found so compelling during the creation of McCree’s cinematic that it bumped her to the front of the hero release line.
But characters aren’t just their outfits and one-liners. Every new hero needs to justify its existence mechanically: are they going to fill out a glaring gap in the roster? Do they add a new perspective on the hero shooter, and are they mixing things up in a stagnant endgame meta?
The Overwatch team has historically asked important questions when it comes to new heroes. What can a certain RPG role look like when transferred to a first-person shooter? Ordinarily a tank is just a slower character with pumped-up hit points, and a healer simply has the option to revive or renew.
Overwatch has those characters, but it also has so much more. We’ve had support heroes that can leap into the fray with a mace and shield, or send foes to sleep from half a map away. A tank could be a beefy man holding heavy weapons, but it could also be a web-slinging hamster slamming into battle from orbit.
Even DPS roles get weird. Sombra darts around the map, disabling health kits and key targets. Doomfist, meanwhile, slams into the fight, throwing teams into disarray. These characters do so much more than just fill gaps in the meta – by rethinking what a hero shooter character can be, they feel uniquely Overwatch.
Then there’s Ashe. With a gun, a stick of dynamite, and a light knockback, her toolkit feels solely designed for the people sharing Widowmaker trickshot gifs on Twitter. She offers no interesting choices to play against, particularly when her ult simply summons a bowler-donning bullet-sponge. Where other characters have a personality in play, Ashe has only a firearm.
She’s not enough by herself to indicate a trend, but she does skew far more towards traditional shooter skills than any hero to date. Overwatch attracted so many players who would never otherwise have picked up a shooter – for them, characters like Mercy, Symmetra, and Lucio proved that they could be valuable members of the team without precision point-and-clicking.
Ashe isn’t for those people. And increasingly, Overwatch has begun to shun those new shooter fans in favour of the competitive scene. Mercy’s launch ultimate was too much of an instant game changer for esports, so it was changed to something more mobile and twitchy to suit the pros. Similarly, Symmetra now requires a good aim – both in her main weapon and her sentries – where previously she did not.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with giving another character to the Widowmaker mains. But the Overwatch dev team has been at its strongest when creating heroes that are entertaining to play at all levels. Both in her look and in play, Ashe feels creatively bankrupt.