Five Must-Play Characters for Overwatch Beginners

overwatch

In keeping with my emergent pattern of playing the new team-based multiplayer beta, writing an article about how awesome it was, and then doing a list of characters to watch out for right before launch (as established by Battleborn), today I’m prepping for the release of Overwatch.

According to Blizzard, nearly ten million players (lifts pinky to corner of mouth) partook of the Overwatch Open Beta, practically guaranteeing the game will be a smash hit and that this list will be unnecessary since everybody and their grandmother probably already has strong opinions on victory pose bootyshots and transforming salt-powered turret bots.  

But this is video games on the internet. There is no dead horse we shall hesitate to beat, and besides, there may be some poor soul somewhere who was in a coma for the beta or sat it out  because the SJW’s had won but whose resolve is crumbling amidst friends’ tales of online glory. Overwatch is coming in hot and unlike Battleborn, every character is available from the get-go, making that first character select screen a little bit intimidating for newcomers.

But fear not, theoretical noobs; I’m here for you. This is my list of five characters that future pros are going to want to familiarize themselves with if they want to be the coolest of the cool. Overwatch has a fabulously charming and balanced cast to choose from, and I chose this motley crew based on style, usability, and general in-game effectiveness. With a little finesse, any kind of gamer should be able to wreak online havoc with one or all of these characters in any situation. These are five of the best Overwatch has to offer.   

D. Vaoverwatch d va

Let’s kick this thing off with the giant girly mech in the room, shall we? D. Va is just awesome. Tracer may have grabbed headlines as the face (and butt) of Overwatch prior to the beta, but it seems like most sites are leading with the pro gamer-turned celebrity mech pilot these days. And why wouldn’t they? She’s cute as a button and lethal as all hell. And did I mention the giant robot?

D. Va’s mech is equipped with dual scatterguns with infinite ammo. That makes her perfect for laying down suppressing fire. At a chokepoint, she can keep an entire team at bay if none of them has a shield. Also, she has a shield. Activating the Defense Matrix gives her a few seconds of anterior invincibility. It’s not much, but she doesn’t need much because D. VA CAN FREAKIN’ FLY! Jet boosters can be used to roadkill weakened enemies, attain better vantage points, or just close ranks with the opposition really quickly to cause some havoc.

And even if the other team whittles down the mech’s massive health bar, she’s not done. She’ll eject and become a nimble footsoldier. She may not be as effective as Tracer at this point, but her laser pistol can do serious damage so with a little hit-and-run, D. Va can still be a beast all by herself. And when you build up her Ultimate meter, she can call down another war machine and carry on as she was. When she builds it up while she’s in the mech, she can self destruct it and take out an entire team in one fell swoop and get an immediate replacement. Use while boosting to turn her mech into a room-clearing missile or even drop it on them from above. “Nerf this” indeed.

 D. Va’s personality makes her the star of every show. Her combination of geekspeak commentary and J-pop styled cuteness is as entertaining as her deathbot is awesome. Expect to see her around. A lot.

overwatch reaper poseReaper

Reaper is good at one thing and one thing only: killing every last motherfucker in the room. And boy does he have the tools for it. His backstory as a former military officer turned vengeful mercenary is somewhat mysterious, but his appeal as a playable character is not. I picked him in my very first game based on dat mask alone. He looks badass. He plays badass. He is badass.

Reaper is armed with twin shotgun pistols that are absolutely murderous in mid-to-close range. Three to four well placed shots and on to the next victim. Making it even worse for the opposition is the fact that he can teleport damn near anywhere he can see -regardless of elevation- with only a slight charging delay. He also has the ability to turn into an invulnerable wraith form, which is equally perfect for getting in close to attack or retreating when the odds turn against him. Nobody is ever safe from this guy.

Reaper can consume the souls of his victims after they go down, restoring his own health in the process. And expect to see a lot of Play of the Game highlights featuring his Ultimate attack, where he goes full John Woo and holds his weapons at arms length while twirling and spraying lead in all directions while chanting “Die! Die! Diiiiieee!” (the other team usually complies).   

Reaper’s personality as a no-nonsense evil assassin will make him a favorite among edgy teens and hardcore player killers alike. He’s a great pick-up-and-play character to rack up kills with and his teleportation skill makes him palatable to your inner strategist as well. He’s a no-lose choice.

Torbjörnoverwatch torbjorn turret pose

Because the world will never have enough cyberpunk dwarves. This Shadowrun throwback is the perfect man to defend any objective. He’s an old-school (by Overwatch standards) engineer with a distrust of AI and a knack for advanced engineering. He is among the last heroes I tried and I immediately felt like I’d been missing out. I did better with him than with any character previous.

Torbjörn is great for any situation and a major asset to any team. He can throw up a turret in seconds and given a few more, he can hammer it into killing shape. This alone wildy changes the balance of power in any area because his upgraded turrets track extremely quickly and deal out damage by the boatload. If any non-sniper character takes it on alone, I’m betting on the turret. But that’s just the beginning. His gun has both long-range and short range firing options and both are plenty deadly.

The dwarf can also salvage scrap from fallen enemies and convert it to armour packs that he can leave as power ups for himself and his team. Lastly, his Molten Core Ultimate skill upgrades both himself and his nearby turret into super mode to make them both killing machines for a short while. Neato.

Torbjörn’s personality is what one might expect from a crusty old mechanic; charmingly grumblesome and lacking in the humor department. But that’s okay because no matter how much he complains, the other team will complain much more about his goddamn omnipresent turret. Keep it up and running and watch the kills rain down like mana.

overwatch mei droneMei

Hey look, a fully clothed woman in a video game! And she’s not even wearing full body yoga pants. In a game where cute, sexy, and sassy ladies are at the forefront of the marketing blitz, Mei’s personality stands out. At first, the bespectacled Chinese eco-warrior’s ice attacks made her seem like a gimmick character because she plays very differently from most playable video game heroes, but with a little strategy, she can be one of the most fun and functional choices for any fight.  

Mei’s weapon of choice is her Wall-E-esque cryo-drone, which contains her life’s work in climatology. It may have been intended to save the world from global warming, but that makes for weak sauce in a PvP shooter, so you get to freeze people to death with it. Her gun has two methods of firing, a long-range deadly icicle projectile and a short-range immobilizing freeze spray. You can literally run circles around D. Va all day with that thing. In a pinch, she can also entomb herself in ice to recover health and get a few seconds’ reprieve from enemy attacks.

What turns out to be her best ability is surprisingly her ice wall. A match in Overwatch is largely about capturing and defending objectives, and whether you are approaching a group of entrenched enemies or buying a few seconds of cover for allies scrambling to hold onto territory, a wall of ice blocking enemies off can be a real life-saver. It can also be used to divide enemy teams and if you aim at your own feet, you can use it as an on-demand elevator to reach higher vantage points as well. Mei’s Ultimate ability sends out her drone to create a localized blizzard and freeze all enemies caught within it for a few seconds. A stationary enemy is easy pickens for any player on their worst day, and Mei has multiple ways of making that happen.  

As far as personality goes, Mei’s is as unusual for a woman in a video game as her attire is. Shy and introverted are not qualities one associates with first person shooters very often, and her demeanor makes her stand out in this game as much as her unusual abilities do. Judging from the amount of inappropriate fanart of Mei that’s been surfacing, I’d say her charms have struck a chord with the fanbase as well, for better or worse.   

Hanzooverwatch hanzo pose

I had a really tough time picking this fifth entry. I really wanted to go with a support character (Lùcio being particularly cool and unique with a good combination of team buffs and offense), but Hanzo is already such a standard that it’s hard to ignore how valuable he can be to a team. Plus: samurai archer. His mythology-steeped backstory is best explored in this official video but his combat abilities speak for themselves.

He’s got a bow. He’s got arrows. I doubt I have to spell this out for you, but Hanzo works at long range while your teammates get down and dirty at mid and close ranges. Ideally, you’ll be raining death from above and afar, and it’s easy to get a good vantage point because Hanzo can scale about any surface effortlessly. He can also fire an arrow that scatters, potentially damaging a whole group of enemies at once. Pretty basic stuff, really.

But what makes Hanzo especially valuable to any team beyond his sniping skills is his Sonic Arrow, which reveals the location of any enemies within its range to all allies across the map. In an objective based game, this kind of intel can be a game changer, particularly when paired with his Ultimate Dragonstrike attack, which sends out twin spirit dragons that can pass through structures to deliver instant death to unwary bad guys.  

Hanzo is pretty much what you see is what you get. Samurai are cool. Archers are cool. Hanzo is cool. And also really a dragon in human form, so bonus cool points to boot. And giving your entire team a strategic advantage while dealing out death by the quiverfull? Very cool. I guess what I’m trying to say is that his personality is cool, and cool players play as him.

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Four Things that Set Overwatch Apart from Battleborn

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It’s a bit tragic that two games so similar with no real competition besides each other are releasing just weeks apart after massive open betas. Battleborn and Overwatch are both excellent team-based sci-fi/fantasy first person shooters with massive rosters of quirky character capable of filling many hours of your life with joy. But do you have time and money for both right now? I’m guessing maybe not, because I don’t. But whichever game you choose you’re likely to pick a winner.

I’m not exactly the first (or fifteenth) person online to make an article comparing the two highly similar games, but given that the other lists of this nature I’ve read contained such obvious information that I’d assume that they just read the Wikipedia entries, I felt like I should make sure there is at least one from an actual gamer based on actual experiences with the games in question.

In spite of the fact that this is an Overwatch-centric list, I’m going to point out right now that I’m team Battleborn (on consoles, at least), largely because Gearbox Software’s game has a single player/co-op campaign to help justify its AAA price tag whereas Blizzard’s is multiplayer only and twenty dollars more expensive on consoles than on PC for some reason. I also prefer Battleborn’s MOBA-based multiplayer to Overwatch’s more traditional FPS objectives as well as its sense of humor.

That said, Overwatch is still a hell of a game and depending on what you’re looking for (PvP), it may well be your game of choice. I wouldn’t trust any of the Metacritic user reviews on Battleborn that rate that game a 0 while sounding suspiciously like an advertisement for Overwatch if I were you, but if you missed the beta due to some horrible twist of fate, I’ve got you covered. These are four features where Blizzard’s upcoming multiplayer shooter really shines in comparison to its already available competitor.

Visualsoverwatch characters

I’ll go with the most obvious advantage first: Overwatch has got the look of a winner. Not that I don’t love me some cel shading, but it’s not a visual style that appeals to everyone. But if you hear any complaints about the graphics of Overwatch, you are listening to a liar.

The animations are full of vibrancy to really bring each character to life and the overall look is full of charm and details that make the experience feel more visceral and cool. In addition to a massive and visually distinct cast, the maps represent a diverse array of settings that are instantly recognizable. You’ll be murking fools everywhere from Japan in full cherry blossom season to an Egyptian temple, historic Route 66, and even B-movie sets in Hollywood.

There’s just something about the style here that screams “love me”, so hats off to Blizzard for that. It’s not often we see a game with a distinct look that is so instantly and universally engaging, but this is definitely one of those games.

overwatch loot crateLoot

It’s kind of funny that Gearbox Software seems to have botched the loot system with Battleborn when it’s such an integral part of its predecessor series, Borderlands. Battleborn throws a ton of loot at the player, but almost none of it is worth keeping around. And on top of that, you have to individually activate each piece of gear in your loadout of choice during gameplay by spending crystals you collect in each round/level that may be better spent elsewhere. If you’re super lucky you may get a taunt or new colour palette for a random character that you could have unlocked by leveling them up anyway.

Overwatch ditches anything that could give players any advantage, no matter how small, and instead focuses entirely on what Battleborn should have focused on: swag. Each character has a huge number of unlockables ranging from new skins (not necessarily just colour palettes) to victory poses, emote animations, intros for your Play of the Game videos (more on that later), player icons, and even new lines of dialogue they can say at will. And you have to work to earn them, either by gaining currency and purchasing them or luck of the draw.

In addition to these slices of awesome, there’s something else that is really small but I kind of love that Battleborn has no answer for. You have the ability to tag your environment, and these tags make up a large amount of the loot you receive. You get to choose which character-specific tag you want to use for each and can then go about putting your stamp on the scenery. During the beta it was becoming a bit of a tradition for teammates awaiting release in the spawn room at the beginning of the match to tag up the door. It’s a small thing, but I feel like the focus on expressing yourself through unlockables adds a lot of fun to the culture of the Overwatch.

Peer Approval

overwatch mvp vote

I’m not sure if this is the first game ever to do this (probably not, but I don’t recall ever seeing it before), but there is a vote at the end of each match to determine who kicked the most ass for their team. A post-match popularity contest may seem like a bad idea and it definitely needs some tweaks (you shouldn’t be able to vote for yourself, for example), but there’s no feeling I’ve experienced in gaming quite like getting an “epic” vote (over 40% of players) in Overwatch.

I’m normally of the DGAF school of what other players think of me, but I have to admit the first time I scored five votes and was declared “epic”, my immediate reaction was clutching my controller to my chest and declaring “You like me! You really like me!” It’s like being voted homecoming queen of gaming for a match, but instead of being pretty and sociable, you were awesome at a video game.

By comparison, Battleborn has an objective scoring system, which sounds better but has its own set of problems. Some things that may be less important (player killing) are scored way higher than other things (minion destruction) in objective-based gameplay, and sometimes you can get the biggest numbers for almost everything and somehow not get the highest score. No idea how that works.

There are aspects of team-based gameplay that can’t be quantified -such as effectively shielding other players from damage- that the game may not add as a factor, but other players really appreciate. This empowers gamers to use the support classes, even if they don’t get to shred enemy players’ faces as much. In the beta you didn’t get a reward for votes, but Blizzard has hinted that this may change and I think some in-game currency and/or XP would be in order to further push gamers towards helping their teammates with support classes or playing the objective rather than just focusing on killing.

overwatch d va play of gameHighlights

This one is pure vanity, but we humans are vain creatures. Prior to the MVP vote, Overwatch shows you the “Play of the Game”, which is really damn cool. Usually it’s a triple or quadruple kill (although I’ve seen timely feats of multiple player resurrection make the grade), and the game doesn’t really have the ability to take style into account when choosing who gets the nod but it’s really nice to both admire somebody else’s well-executed kill streak or Ultimate attack and have other players see yours as well. Every game is so frenetic that it’s good to take a moment at the end of a match to see a particularly impressive slice of that action.

But wait, there’s more! You don’t have to rush to mash your share button and comb over your recent gameplay to make videos of your greatest hits. The game does it for you. Your last several impressive plays are saved complete with your intro of choice, so after a night or two of gaming you can relive your finest moments and save/share your earth-shattering badassery without all of the searching and editing hassle. Observe:

Ah, the old “throw up an ice wall, toss a cryo drone around the side, and then murder them all with icicles while they’re helplessly frozen” play.  

In spite of the lack of single player/co-op, Blizzard seems to be pushing online gaming in the right direction with Overwatch. Giving players lots of choices and unlockables to express themselves with and dozens of diverse playable characters with distinct roles to fill and not overloading them with useless loot or rewarding more experienced players with even more advantages and instead just focusing on style while offering a well-balanced multiplayer experience is something to be applauded. I may not be buying it on release day since I’m loathe to pay full price for a MP-only title, but Overwatch and I will meet again someday, and I’m betting it will have even more to recommend it by then. Looking forward to it.

 

Five Games that Seriously Triggered My Arachnophobia

spiders

I like to consider myself a fairly fearless person; que sera, sera, nothing to fear but fear itself, and all that. Maybe it’s desensitization due to a lifetime of gorging myself on horror films, shows, novels, and games or objective analysis of realistic risk factors that has left me mostly numb to the crippling anxiety that afflicts people who watch Discovery ID and the news and then go to bed with their covers pulled over their heads and visions of murderers and rapists dancing in their dreams at night.

Where others are terrified of real life due to over-dramatized and hyped up atrocities being portrayed as everyday life on television, I’m actively seeking things to terrify me through fantastic fiction. In real life, fear is the great mind killer that keeps you from doing what you want to do and therefore from being who you should be. In other words, just a challenge to overcome and then realize that there are very few things in general worth fearing. Save the fear for make believe, I say. But you know what does scare me in real life (yeah, I know you read the title so you already know the answer, but humor me)? Motherfucking spiders.

Other people take rational fears of human evil to irrational extremes. Me? I’m freaked out by something I could effortlessly kill in a thousand ways and could genuinely harm me under almost no circumstances. But it wouldn’t be a phobia if it made sense, yeah? And besides, I’ve got real life stories of personal surprise encounters with black widows that would make anybody believe they really are out to get me. Very few works of fiction have really captured what makes spiders so damn unnerving, but video games have a leg up due to their interactivity and visceral nature.  

A lot of people have made lists of this sort claiming that this game or that game is terrifying to arachnophobes because there’s some giant spider monster or something of the sort in it. But that’s not necessarily scary by itself. I mean, blowing up giant spiders by the thousand with rocket launchers or whatever in Earth Defense Force or encountering and slaying your hundredth cave spider in Skyrim is freakin’ exposure therapy if anything (although there is a PC mod for the latter that replaces spiders with weird bears due to some arachnophobes being unable to deal with it, so maybe that’s just me).

I consider a game to have sufficiently triggered my arachnophobia only if it causes me physical pain, meaning my body tenses up to the point that I get cramps or I clinch my jaw so hard it aches. Not a lot of games have successfully done this, but I can think of at least five, and here they are.

Resident Evilspiders resident evil remake

The original PlayStation was perhap the first console to make genuinely scary games. Cinematic graphics, voice-acting, and three dimensions opened up a whole new world of icky storytelling possibilities and it didn’t take Capcom long to show me the first video game spiders to ever legitimately terrify me. They just seemed so much more lifelike than anything that came before them, and the way they reared up when they attacked looked so realistic it sent shivers down my spine. And I still hear that scritching sound they make when they move about in my nightmares.

When I played the remake, they got me again in spite of the fact that I was prepared. Heck, I was counting on them. Yet when I walked through a rather innocuous door to find the camera fixated on one of the bastards perched right over my head I seriously shouted “NONONONONONONO!!!!” and ran back through the door.

After a minute or so staving off hyperventilation I was ready to unleash some lead into some virtual bugs, and unleash it I did. But there was this one room where one of them was up in a corner where I couldn’t shoot it scritch. scritch, scritching while I was solving a puzzle and it almost gave me a nervous breakdown expecting it to jump down and eat me. Well played, Capcom. Well played.    

uncharted 3 spiders

No, no, no, NONONO!

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Like I said, it’s not necessarily giant spiders that get me. Like the Resident Evil boss spider, for instance. That’s just a bigger, more shootable version of the ones that scared me. What makes spiders scary isn’t how big they are, it’s that they can and will hide anywhere. Give a huge black widow an inch of shadow and it can make itself practically invisible. Case and point: Uncharted 3.

I remember early in the game you come across a disturbingly large specimen of spider resembling a black widow. Not “shoot it with a grenade launcher” big, but “hey, that could happen” big, which is way worse. It made me instantly nervous because of the old Chekhov’s Gun trope. Narrative law states that if you show something cool now, you have to do something with it later, and Naughty Dog is nothing if not a slave to storytelling tradition

Naturally, being Nathan Drake, I found myself in a cave and said cave became lined with spider webs and a small crevice I had to squeeze through to proceed. It was like a nightmare where I knew what was going to happen but was powerless to stop it. Me. Spiders. Tight places. Just no. There’s nothing worse than knowing spiders are totally going to crawl all over me while my inner optimist is holding out hope that maybe they won’t and then they totally do. Somehow that’s even worse then when it’s a complete surprise.

Being Uncharted, and therefore prone to blockbustery spectacle, the next obvious step was being chased by a million billion kajillion spiders, which I’m sure is somebody’s worst nightmare. But for me once you take out the suspense, it becomes just another rollicking good time action sequence and a gameplay challenge to stay in the light that the rampaging arachnids fear (see John 3:20). But I’ll remember that crevice for a loooong time.

Dark Souls 2spiders dark souls 2

FromSoftware are amazing at invoking fear, paranoia, and panic. Okay, maybe not geniuses; all you really have to do is create a hellscape world where every single goddamn thing can kill you and then turn the player loose in it. But nobody does it like they do it. What other developer can claim a basic gameplay feature like having enemies come up behind you pretty much whenever you do anything? Their company motto must be “surprise, motherfuckers!”

But rear attack isn’t exactly how they played the spider thing in Dark Souls 2. Like Uncharted 3 they went for a combination of suspense and shock-and-awe, but they did it much more successfully. They used horrible fantasy-sized spiders as cave wall decorations. Maybe give you a few easy kills. Just enough to creep you out while bolstering your confidence. Then you walk into a large room and like two dozen of the things immediately descend on you from hidey-holes the ceiling. Fuck you, FromSoftware.

As a gamer and a human being, I’m eternally grateful that some kind soul left a message in front of that room in Brightstone Cove Tseldora advising me that I’d need a torch going forward, but as a horror fanatic I’m kind of disappointed because if I’d walked into that mess without a torch to ward off these eight-legged atrocities, I…I don’t know what would have happened (aside from my avatar dying horribly), but it may have included unpleasant bodily functions and neighbors calling the police. Could’ve been fun.

But thanks to that helpful message, that wasn’t the even worst part. The worst was remembering that moment and exploring the cave while giant spiders watched me from their perches. Sometimes one or more would come and try their luck, and sometimes they would not. The not knowing made the whole experience extremely intense. As a general rule, you have to watch your back in Dark Souls, but at this point I could barely progress. I was mostly just spinning in place. Every time I had an eye on a complacent spider, I felt like another was going to descend from the ceiling or crawl out of a hole behind me.

There was another moment a little later on where I entered a house and heard something smashing against wood right before a spider burst from a hole hidden behind a bookshelf just to show me that I wasn’t even safe indoors. Fuck you again, FromSoftware. Fuck you and well done!    

alien isolation facehugger deathAlien: Isolation

Sorry, purists, but I’m putting the hands-down best horror game of the last generation on this list despite its lack of actual spiders. But any way you look at it, the facehuggers are specifically designed to tap into our fear of creepy crawly arachnids. They’ve got eight arms to hold you and a tail to strangle you with to boot. And they don’t just bite you and hope you die from venom, they literally rape your face and impregnate you with an alien horror. Facehuggers are arachnophobia’s final form.

Most of Alien: Isolation, you’re being relentlessly stalked by a terrifying and merciless unstoppable killing machine while trying to avoid feral humans and politely murderous androids. You literally make any noise and the xenophobe is upon you. This game will raise you blood pressure permanently on its tamest day. But is that enough? Nope! Bring on the creepy spider-legged instant death machines!

The scariest scene in Aliens was when Ripley and Newt are trapped in a room with a facehugger and you can hear it skittering around, unseen. You know it’s there, but you don’t know where. Yeah, well, Creative Assembly took notes. Towards the end of the game the little bastards start coming at you -often in tight spaces- and if they get to you it’s game over, man. As in you get a first person view of all eight legs wrapping around your face. It’s a hell of a moneyshot to take after crawling around in the dark being able to hear the things coming for you, but not knowing which direction to look.

Limbospiders limbo web ceiling

Okay, so this one is on all of the spiders in gaming lists, but that’s because it’s mandatory. Limbo quite literally tapped into one of my greatest childhood nightmares like no other game at one point. What’s so scary about spiders, again? Horrifying, inhuman appearance? Check. Utterly silent and capable of amazing feats of stealth? Check. Can produce venom that can potentially do severe harm to a fully grown human in spite of the fact that they eat goddamn bugs? Check. How about they trap their prey in sticky silk, wrap them up with it using their freaky legs and leave them to ponder their horrible fate for a while before slowly dissolving and drinking their bodies bit by bit?  Yeah, screw that.

Remember the original version of The Fly? The ending where the man’s head on a fly’s body is trapped in a web screaming for help? Still one of of the most terrifying horror moments for me, ancient cheesy special effects and all. Just the idea of existing on that level of the food chain and being caught helpless in a spider’s web is unthinkably horrible. The first time those legs are unfurled from behind a tree in the shadow world of Limbo in an attempt to spear you, there’s something elementally triggered, and the fact that it continues stalking you after the initial encounter is even worse.

But the part that made me grind my teeth until I was afraid I’d need dental work was when you are walking in a cave and step into an innocuous-looking piece of landscape that turns out to be spider’s silk. While you struggle fruitlessly, the huge spider slowly crawls into view from the ceiling behind you and gingerly grasps and cocoons you. I hadn’t thought about this in a really long time, but childhood terrors came flooding back to me in those seconds. HELP MEEEEEE!

Five Must-Play Characters for Battleborn Beginners

battleborncharacters

The launch of Battleborn is upon us and I can’t kick the feeling that some poor souls missed out on the open beta last month are going to buy it and be tossed into the fray with pros who have already spent dozens of hours learning the ins and outs of the game’s twenty-five strong army of insanely diverse playable characters. Worry not, forlorn gamers! I’ve got you covered.

The early game of Battleborn is all about acquainting yourself with the various characters, their strengths and weaknesses, and how they are best utilized in any situation en route to finding one or two special characters that suit your own personal gaming style and taste. Preferably one that lets you utterly dominate your fellow players.

I picked the following five characters based on a combination of their strength in story missions and multiplayer battles, novelty and personality, and general fun factor. And although they are among the best characters in the game when used properly, they are among the easiest Battleborn to unlock (although the methods vary so make sure you check the in-game codex), so you don’t have to wait very long before you get to play as them. These are the early game characters beyond the starting seven (who are also fantastic in their own way) you’re going to want to latch onto early to simultaneously maximize both your score and your online success.

battleborn galilea

“Only pain and death for you here.”

Galilea

This dark knight strikes fear into any online player who sees her coming. In the beta, she utterly dominated PvP exchanges and almost invariably carried the high score for any match where somebody chose her. And somebody always chose her. She’ll likely be nerfed to some extent prior to release, but her capabilities are delightfully stackable, so if you level her up right and play smart she’s going to be a threat no matter what.

Galilea’s main weapons are a sword and shield. Her melee capabilities are only rivaled by Rath, but in addition to swinging a nasty broadsword, she can use her shield like Captain America to block almost all incoming damage and throw it to damage and stun opponents. One of her upgrades allows the shield to return to her hand if she hits the target, which is awesome because you won’t have to wait for cooldown to get your defense back. But what really makes Galilea a killer is her demonic powers, which allow her to get stronger as she fights, amplifies damage done to enemies in her vicinity while healing her, and even lets her transform into a pool of pure dark energy to devastate multiple enemies at once.

The Battleborn’s backstories are filled in with unlockable lore earned by in-game achievements. Galilea’s past includes ill-advised covert operations that have led to a catty rivalry/frenemyship with Ambra and to her present terrifying abilities. Neither lady is big on personality, but if you like no-nonsense characters with a serious darkside and nigh-unlimited power or have been quietly nursing fantasies of a playing as a medieval/sci-fi sword-swinging female demonic Captain America, then your time has finally come.  

battleborn toby

“Apologies in advance for your grieving widow! I’ll send flowers!”

Toby

Out of the whole batch of available lunatics Battleborn gives you to choose from, Toby stands out. Maybe it’s his personality, maybe it’s the fact that he’s a mech pilot/mechanic or the way his helmet doesn’t fit, or maybe it’s the fact that he’s an adorable penguin cut from the Rocket Racoon mold. Maybe it’s all these things, but there’s just something really awesome about this guy.

Toby’s death machine has got some beastly combat capabilities. On top of a chargeable/zoomable railgun built into one arm, a mine-launcher on the other, a massive laser, and thrusters for serious mobility, it can project a stationary shield that blocks incoming fire while allowing for outgoing. In fact, the shield can be modified to enhance your outgoing railgun blasts to increase damage, velocity, and even split each projectile into three for some seriously devastating effects. This makes him an ideal pick for crowd control to deal epic damage to the enemy frontlines, but it also makes Toby a major target in PvP where he’s often at a huge one-on-one disadvantage, especially against melee fighters, so most gamers are going to want to stick to story missions with him unless they’ve got friends with solid teamwork.

Toby’s most endearing quality is probably his dual personality. He’s naturally super adorable, but he doesn’t want to be and is prone to flying into rages when people patronize him or treat him the way he looks and acts. But I mean, come on! The dude climbs out of his mech to fly at the bow when he goes through a man cannon like he’s going to shout “I’m king of the world!” and alternates between apologetic anxiety and cackling psychosis on the battlefield. Who wouldn’t want to cuddle him? Plus, I’m pretty sure he flirts with me during the matchmaking screen. If the game takes off, he may single-handedly launch a furry storm the likes of which we haven’t seen since Friendship is Magic debuted.

battleborn benedict

“I see lots of explosions in your future!”

Benedict

One of the most prominent faces of Battleborn, and for good reason. First, he’s a hawkman, man. Second, he’s got a bigass rocket launcher. Third, dude is crazy. And lastly, he’s a ball to play as. One of the great things about this game is the breadth of gameplay styles presented by the characters. Some characters are great at mobile hit-and-run harassment, objective completion, and resource gathering (Thorn), some are great at buffing and healing teammates (Miko), some are absolute player killers (Ghalt), and some are just really cool. Benedict is one of those.

Obviously, sporting a rocket launcher has its advantages; explodey area of effect damage and all that. But in addition, he has a special projectile that tags a target when it hits and allows subsequent rockets to home in, making them much harder to dodge, and an ultimate attack that allows players to manually guide the missile in first person and detonate it manually. But the big advantage to playing this character is exactly what it looks like: he can fly. Or at least glide. One of his skills launches Benedict skyward and by holding the secondary attack button he can remain there for quite a while either slowly floating down while raining death or actively pursuing and dive-bombing the enemy. Being the only character really capable of this give him a huge advantage in evasion and surprise attack capabilities. And, as stated previously, it’s also really fun.

Benedict’s personality is….interesting. His initial taunt is hopping from leg to leg with his hands up next to his head in a “nah nah nah-nah nah” manner, but he can also cough up the occasional spare rocket, owl pellet style. His bio claims he loves three things: himself, rockets, and himself. Personally, I’d add a fourth: more rockets. His trash talk is routinely rocket-centric and besides, who doesn’t love a good explosion?

battleborn shayne aurox

“Shayne and Aurox: Teen Detectives. Tell your friends”

Shayne and Aurox

Definitely a personal favorite of mine due to both cool factor and gameplay. Shayne is a punk kid with a talent for boomerang-slinging, and Aurox is an interdimensional demon-djinn-symbiote thing. Together they are trouble. One of the best attackers from any distance, these two have a combination of skills that make them extremely adaptable and dangerous.

As a general rule, Aurox is a melee attacker, but with Shayne’s rapid fire boomerangs as a secondary attack capable of ricocheting to hit multiple enemies, they’ve got major offensive flexibility. Plus you can send Aurox flying to physically grab a distant enemy and bring them back to your position, which is great for opponents in groups or entrenched positions trying to snipe you and it can be upgraded to steal their shield to boot. In a pinch, you can activate stealth mode, which renders you invisible either for escape or advance and deals explosive area-of-effect damage when it expires. Their Tag Team technique sends Aurox to an area of your choice to unleash hellfire while the player controls Shayne to inflict even more damage with boomerang attacks.

These two make a hell of a duo, but there’s trouble in infernal paradise that goes beyond Aurox’s indignation at being called a teen detective if you dig into the lore. It’s some dark stuff, and all the more reason to love these two. The moment I knew I was really going to love this game was the first time I taunted and Shayne and Aurox both put out their arms, shook their fingers, and shouted “JAZZ HAAAANDS!” in their young girl and monster voices together. Shayne in general is a serious trash talker and like a lot of the Battleborn, her ongoing dialogue is part of what makes the game so fun.

battleborn ambra

“Please stare directly into the flaming orb of death.”

Ambra

The character that proved the best fit for me in PvP and along with Galilea, probably the most essential character to boost your score, gain experience to unlock more Battleborn in multiplayer matches early on, and generally kick ass. Ambra is crazy powerful, easy to use, and possesses healing capabilities, so consider her a must. Praise the sun.  

Ambra’s stackable skills make her almost unbeatable in a pitched match. First off, her staff auto-targets and drains the life out of any target within range, healing her at the same time. She can also create multiple solar balls that simultaneously heal allies (and herself) and drain enemies and can also explode like mines. Now picture fighting an enemy whose attacks heal her while they damage you with no need for aiming and has multiple balls of fire doing the same. You do not want to engage this character on her own terms. Ever. Throw in her insanely powerful solar wind area of effect attack and the ability to make a goddamn meteor fall from the sky on you and you can see why she’s going to need a nerf.

Immortal, all-powerful priestess of the sun or not, Ambra has a bit of an attitude. Then again, I’d say she earned it. The woman just dominates the battlefield. I’m not crazy about her initial “Walk Like an Egyptian” taunt (kind of out of character), but I definitely loved having her make a throat-slitting motion after taking down another player knowing that the camera zooms in on it and forces the defeated to watch. Her powers may harness the heat of the sun, but she’s got ice cold killer’s blood in her veins.  

I know what you’re thinking, fellow beta testers: “where’s [insert favorite Battleborn here]?” And who am I to minimize the elegant-but-deadly charms of Phoebe, the generic space marine appeal of Oscar Mike, the lithe elvish mobility of Thorn, the C3PO-inspired snipery of Marquis and his army of mechanized attack owls, or any of the others? Well, it’s a testament to how great Battleborn is that even if I did a list of my top twenty characters, the five that I left out would probably have an army of advocates demanding to know why they weren’t included. The cast is that good, and that’s the best reason to pick this game up. See you online!