It’s difficult to make a solid judgement on how Overwatch’s 23rd character will affect the game from what we’ve played at BlizzCon 2016. The downside of Blizzard’s policy of one hero release at a time means that every match we’ve had down here has been 6v6, Sombra only, with her signature abilities leading to basically nobody ever able to do anything. However, from watching her turn the odd brave soul picking an alternate option into a bullet-ridden mess of hacked code, it’s pretty clear that she’ll have an immediate and noticeable effect on the game - whether you’re playing in the World Cup or down in Bronze.
For more hacking, cloaking and teleporting from BlizzCon 2016, we've got you covered.
I personally made the mistake of, during one of these 6v6 games, trying to be the smart-arse who imbalances the equation by switching characters. A Zarya fan and main since beta, I fell back on her as an easy option.
Zarya, it turns out, is a paperweight when hacked. 200 HP with no abilities for six seconds, she’s taken down rather quickly even by the relatively ineffective SMG wielded by Sombra. This doesn’t even take into account Sombra’s EMP ult which breaks Zarya’s barriers for no benefit to the bodybuilder.
That’s just one example. Lucio mains, who can have a game-ending ult turned into a total rout of their team by Sombra’s EMP, should probably start checking the wanted pages. Reinhardt shields are no longer reliable at an instant. If the Sombra player is good - and believe me, it’s going to take a bit of practice to master the teleporting, cloaking and disabling - at any time your most important team member might suddenly be locked down for six seconds. Build that on top of a coordinated team and that’s the end of your day.
There’s also no getting away from Sombra. She sees players under 50% health through walls, she can teleport, she can stop you healing by shutting down a health pack - you just aren’t playing the same game once Sombra’s in play. Rather than retreating to a big HP boost and returning to the fight with an advantage, you’re now leaving a battle you could have had an effect on to run to a room with a pack you can’t use, only for Sombra to teleport on top of it, heal herself, kill you and move behind your now man-down team to disable the tank.
So. Y’know. Death.
For the Sombra player, that’s going to be just like that first perfect Zarya black hole, the game-winning resurrect or the sneakiest Reaper death blossom in the world. For her target, and possibly their team, it’s going to feel almost abusive. Balancing around that is the ultimate challenge, but many heroes have what should be incredibly frustrating abilities that people have learned to play around.
The truth is that in week one people are going to think this character is busted, and that’s how it should be. If we’re going to be getting a maximum of around three characters a year out of the team at Blizzard, it requires that each feels like a significant event. We should be panicking out of our skin that they’re going to snap the meta in half each and every time, at least while the roster remains in the 20s for the next few years.
Sombra, and every character going forward, needs to be worth the wait. Whether Michael Chu and the story team decide each deserves a six-month ARG or if teasing is a little more limited in the future, these are going to remain humongous events for the equally massive playerbase. When you make a five minute Pixar movie for each of your biggest patches, they better change the game.
Beyond that, they need to be unique in design. Nobody in Overwatch quite plays a control game in the same way as Sombra. Across her kit there are comparisons to be made with Reinhardt’s Earthshatter, Mei’s primary fire and Reaper’s teleport, but each part of it operates distinctly separate from those comparisons and the blend is, obviously, totally different. Making waves at each level of the metagame could be done by simply setting a boring character’s numbers too high. Strong design is far harder and far more interesting,
There are worries, of course. Sombra is not your beginner’s 76, or as immediately understandable as a Widowmaker. Neither was Ana, and complexity will likely only increase - it’s difficult to sell enfranchised players on another simple character, even if it might help bring the noobies in, vitally important as that is. Continuing along that path could lead to characters made useless by having too many tricks and not enough raw power, or ones made fundamentally OP from pushing too hard at the boundaries.
However, Blizzard are not a company that’s ever had the problem of making games that are too complicated. If the Overwatch team is willing to buck the trend of the world’s easiest to learn, hardest to master games company by throwing a few curve balls, that’s very unlikely to be a bad thing. One glance around BlizzCon will tell you they’re invested here, every effort being made to convert what is traditionally the World of Warcraft show into their newest franchise’s homebase. Roll on its own 25th anniversary.