Five Must-Play Characters for Overwatch Beginners

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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.