Post Beta-Break Hero Balance: First Impressions
What's up guys, CaptainPlanet here and HOLY CRAP THE BREAK IS OVER! Overwatch Beta has officially come back online, and those of us following the competitive scene have a whole bunch of Patch Notes to get through. Jeff Kaplan and Co. have introduced two new maps (Nepal, and Lijang Tower), a new game mode (Control, a King-of-the-Hill variant), and Private games with all sorts of options -- but what I'm most interested in right now is how our beloved Overwatch Heroes have changed in the Beta's absence. What follows will be my analysis of the Balance portion of the Patch Notes -- line by line -- where I will provide insight into how these changes affect where these Heroes fit in the competitive Meta of Overwatch.
- Healing effects now applying to Shields greatly improves the Heroes who have innate Shielding included in their kit: Zarya, Zenyatta, and Symmetra. These three Heroes suffered in usage compared to similar Heroes who occupied the same roster slot because they were simply not tanky enough under constant pressure with much of their effective health tied up in un-healable shields. Now, Shields stand to be the the best type of effective health in the game: not only can it be healed like regular health, but it still retains the bonus of recharging on its own after a delay of 3 seconds. Finally, Symmetra and Zarya can apply Shields to their allies, so look to see a huge increase in the usage of these two Heroes.
- Quick melee pausing weapon recovery time while active should address resetting weapon bullet spread by meleeing -- this will no longer work.
- Ammo reloading in the middle of the animation should be a helpful change for players who enjoy Heroes like Roadhog or Torbjörn who have excessively long reload animations which were un-intuitive when the reload occurred at the end.
- Improving enemy team color seems like a nice quality-of-life change, while muzzle screen-obscuring animations have been a major concern in the community -- especially for Heroes like Soldier 76.
- Finally, Sound Design is an often-overlooked element of first person shooters, so seeing Blizzard address and improve the Sound Design of Overwatch encouraging.
This is an interesting change and the developer insight explains why: Heroes like Junkrat whose maximum effectiveness was tied to spamming their regular fire over and over were being unfairly punished for playing correctly. At higher levels of play, spamming your abilities ended up being counter-productive by constantly charging the enemy teams' Ultimates -- leading to a drop-off in the popularity of such Heroes. Enemy teams would also engage in suicidal strategies by diving into your barrage to build their Ultimates, a playstyle that was not very fun or interactive to face. This change will hopefully cause Ultimates to recharge at similar rates, while also freeing up "spammy" Heroes to do their thing.
Bastion marks the first of our two "major" Hero overhauls along with Torbjörn, and there's quite a bit to go through here. Bastion received a buff to his base heath in Recon Configuration, making him a tiny bit tankier while moving from Turret spot to Turret spot. His Recon gun also received a small boost in accuracy at close range, allowing him to better defend himself against sneaky Tracers and Genjis. Speaking of defending himself: Bastion also received a buff to the speed at which he swaps Configurations, meaning that if you manage to get the jump on a Bastion, you no longer have time to melee him multiple times while he's stuck in an animation.
In Turret Mode, Bastion has both gained and lost ground in different ways. The most obvious change is that it is much more difficult to out-flank a Bastion now: Bastion's Turret mode has a 360 degree rotation instead of just 180. This makes some of the more innovative Offensive-Bastion strategies a bit more viable: such as planting a Bastion on top of a moving Payload. Bastion's Turret weapon has also received some Balance changes which increases his learning curve. By decreasing the bullet spread you reward the more skilled players who can aim better, while reducing the overall bullet damage makes the Hero less newbie-friendly. Blizzard has also done away with Bastion's frontal shield -- which makes sense given his 360 degree aim buff -- opting for a 300 Armor boost bringing his effective health up to the level of current Tanks. Despite all of these anti-flanking buffs to his kit, Blizzard seems to want to preserve flanking as the preferred strategy to deal with an entrenched Bastion: in Turret Mode Bastion's core is exposed, giving Tracers and Genjis a nice juicy target to target for triple damage.
With these changes, Blizzard seems to have addressed the "overpowered versus new players but underpowered against experienced players" situation Bastion players found themselves in. Nerfing his damage while giving him more tools to deal with hard counters provides an increased learning curve for all Bastion mains to enjoy and simultaneously opens up the possibilities for strategies and team compositions that Bastion can fit into.
D.Va is by far my favorite Hero in Overwatch, but I even I knew she was due for a nerf. As I discussed in a previous article, D.Va on her own is a strong tank -- but when multiple D.Vas enter the picture they can overwhelm an attacking team and neuter any offense. Blizzard realized this and has made the spread of her Defense Matrix much smaller, which should decrease the effective area in which multiple D.Vas can deny projectiles. While I love my Defense Matrix, I look forward to the increase in skill that maining D.Va will require in order to effectively use this smaller version. Finally, the change to the Mech despawn should make killing a suit-less D.Va slightly easier, because the Mech will no longer soak up random bullets.
Hanzo has received some fairly straightforward, quality-of-life changes. Scatter Arrow having a consistent spread pattern will allow players to more consistently plan how they want their shots to hit their Opponents, and Sonic Arrow sticking to enemies will provide additional position info while not forcing you to aim away from your target. Finally, like a few other Ultimates in the balance notes, Hanzo's Dragonstrike can be aimed while charging -- making it less likely to miss due to quick action from a well-prepared enemy team.
Mercy was a constant presence on every pre-break team due to the power of her Ultimate ability, something Blizzard has definitively addressed with Mercy's Ultimate overhaul. The cost of her Ultimate has been decreased likely due to the passive Ultimate recharge changes. This may end up allowing Mercy to cast more Ultimates than before, but that's a bonus she'll be needing because Mercy's Ultimate's range has also been reduced by more than half. This means that Mercy players need to play extra carefully to get a good Team Resurrection off as they now need to be right on top of their dead teammates to Ressurect them. Luckily, Mercy can now dash to her teammates' dead bodies due to the Guardian Angel change -- a change that will also give Mercy additional recovery options when she gets knocked off the edges of maps.
Pharah's balance change isn't really a balance change as much as a bug-fix. This will address Pharah players abusing map objects in an unfair manner and frees up design space for future maps.
Pre-break, Reinhardt was another Hero who was being picked in almost every team composition due to his immense tankiness and powerful Ultimate ability. Blizzard seems to have decided that Reinhardt's Ultimate was too powerful, allowing him to solo entire teams with a well-placed Earthshatter -- instead of simply setting up team Ultimate combos as they originally planned. The days of 1v5ing a poorly-spaced enemy team with Reinhardt seem to be over...Sorry Renbot :(. Like Hanzo, Reinhardt will now be able to change where he's aiming his Earthshatter while it's charging, making it harder for enemy teams to dodge.
Roadhog also receives a straightforward buff which should help less-skilled players hit the "hook-left click-melee" combo more easily. This will also help Roadhog become a single-target specialist, picking off more mobile characters like Tracer and Genji who previously could make a quick getaway after being hooked. Finally, an undocumented Roadhog change was just confirmed on Seagull's stream: Roadhog's weapon now always fires in the center of the target reticule, instead of from the barrel of the gun. This will make Roadhog much more accurate -- and deadly -- at close range.
Like a few other Heroes in this round of balancing, Soldier 76's changes seem to create a greater learning curve to the Hero, separating the pros from the beginners. Learning to balance 76's bullet spread with bursts of shots will now be essential for any aspiring fragger, however this gain in accuracy comes at a cost. Possibly prompted by some of Blizzard's more skilled testers, Soldier 76 now suffers a long-range damage fall-off similar to McCree, placing his maximum effectiveness in close to mid range battles.
I've already covered the how the overall changes to Shields help Symmetra, but she's also received a few Balance changes with Overwatch's return. Symmetra can now get her first Teleporter out faster -- giving her a boost to her roster potential on both Attack and Defense -- but no longer generates Ultimate charge while her Teleporter is active. As the Devs state above, they don't want Symmetra to be able to chain Teleporters one after the other, but it seems to me that being able to rush her first Teleporter could introduce strange gameplay. A team could have a single support rush out a Teleporter with the intent of immediately Hero-swapping as soon as their team has taken full advantage of it -- essentially becoming a single-use Ultimate bot. With this and other whacky strategies in mind, it will be surely interesting to see how Symmetra fits into new team compositions.
Blizzard seems to have saved the best for last with Torbjörn. Or, at least, the most. Torbjörn has received the most line item changes of any Hero in Overwatch post-break, but the Developer team seems to have still kept the spirit of the Hero intact. Torbjörn can now find and hoard much more Scrap, allowing him to buff himself and his teammates with Armor packs and increase their sustaining power. Torbjörn's base, non-Turret based fire has been buffed as well, making him more dangerous as an individual when he's finished hammering away at his stationary weapons. His Level 1 and Level 2 Turrets now deal more damage but have far less health as well, making them both more effective against his hard counters but less punishing against new players. Finally, his Ultimate Ability instantly converts Level 2 Turrets to Level 3 -- adding a bit of challenge to choosing when to activate his Ultimate ability. This also gives Torbjörn more freedom to run around bashing and shooting enemies while his Level 3 Turrets rain rockets from afar. Teams will have to experiment to figure out when and where on maps to make best use of a Torbjörn, as well as what compositions can make the best use of his Armor buffs while protecting his Turrets.
Overwatch's Devs seem to have a good handle on what knobs to tweak to break up entrenched Meta compositions while also bringing underused Heroes back from the grave. I can't wait for the budding esports scene to start experimenting with new Hero rosters to start pushing the limits of what's possible. Maybe we'll see an offensive Torbjörn, a Payload-pushing Bastion, or some crazy Symmetra strats in the coming weeks! One thing's for sure: regardless of what Heroes come out on top, we're all just happy that Overwatch has returned.