Overwatch's Heroes Change Like the Seasons, and That's A-Okay

Overwatch's Heroes Change Like the Seasons, and That's A-Okay

Overwatch's character overhauls (like with D.Va and Mercy) have a lot in common with MOBAs.

Nowadays it seems like every time I return to Overwatch after weeks away, it feels like a whole new game. A Roadhog with a worse hook. (R.I.P.) A Lucio with a ring encircling him, telling me who I am boosting at any given moment. (Bless.) A Symmetra with a whole new secondary ability and an additional Ultimate. (I still don't play as Symmetra ever.)

The latter was the most stark change Overwatch has made over the past year or so of its lifespan. But there's a keyword there. Was.

Live in the current Public Test Realm (commonly referred to as the PTR) are two drastic reworks for popular heroes: Mercy and D.Va. Mercy's getting a new Ultimate ability called Valkyrie, which makes her fly and improves all her other abilities for the brief time, making her pistol extra-deadly, her bosting beams faster, and most essentially, her Rez cooldown lighter. Her former Ultimate ability to resurrect players isn't going away entirely. It's now relegated to a cooldown ability, and limited now to only one ally at a time. This, director Jeff Kaplan explained in a Developer Update, will help discourage teams from telling a Mercy to stay out of the line of fire, essentially to hide, while they have their Ultimate ready. This will ideally make Mercys actually act like more active supports again.

I'm all for this. But many others are apprehensive.

Now only one hero never dies.

According to Overwatch's internal data, my two most played heroes are D.Va and Mercy. I've played Mercy for a total of 17 hours, with D.Va creeping into first with nearly 40 hours. That's a lot of Mercy and D.Va play. When I first heard about the changes hitting D.Va, I was relatively peeved. A nerf'd Defense Matrix where I can't inhale other players' gunfire and sometimes Ultimates like a hungry Kirby? Count me out. But hearing about the changes in action—and the addition of a new missile along with the ability to shoot while boosting—these changes might be worthwhile after all, even if I have to bid farewell to my beloved decidedly OP (in layman terms, overpowered) Defense Matrix in the process.

Balance changes are nothing new to any competitive game, especially those of the shooter or MOBA variety. Guns are changed all the dang time, as are characters, abilities, and so on. But big hero changes like we've seen now with Symmetra, Mercy, and D.Va are rarely seen in shooters, and are far more common in the realm of MOBAs. For instance, League of Legends and Dota 2 have seen their fair share of character rebuilds; Heroes of the Storm overhauled its entire game earlier this year. But the shooter genre (even team-based shooters like Overwatch)... Almost never.

Yet to be fair, in a lot of ways, Overwatch is structured more like a MOBA than most competitive shooters. While these stark changes are surprising, they're usually welcome ones. Mercy, while a main for me and a lot of other players, has been long overdue for an overhaul. It wasn't too long ago when Mercy was easily the weakest Support around the block before she was buffed accordingly. Now, with her mass-Rez almost discouraging actual support, Blizzard taking a careful eye to redesign what makes her tick is what she so desperately needs. Mercy is a support first and foremost, not just an angel to cower in the shadows until she swoops in to resurrect lost souls after a D.Va Ultimate blew them all to smithereens.

Junkrat recently got a buff.

The same shift happened with Symmetra, a character only played on Defense once upon a time, and now the same is happening with D.Va, whose shield was arguably too much for opponents to handle. In MOBAs, usually character changes are met with excitement, thankfulness, sometimes poking at older characters and making them viable again when the overall meta changes time and time again. In Overwatch though, even the slightest balance changes are nearly always met with pessimism. A lot of players who main Mercy and D.Va don't want their heroes to change. They think they're perfect just the way they are. They think Blizzard's breaking Overwatch, but actually, they're just making it a fairer game for all who play it.

There is warranted apprehension with these massive changes, like the worry of the Pharah and Mercy combo being an almost unstoppable duo in the heat of battle. Others are worried D.Va's Matrix nerf will make her a less-efficient Tank, with players opting for something like a Winston or Orisa in her place. With this only being a test for now and changes undoubtedly being tweaked before they see wide release on the primary servers, it's fair to be skeptical now. And there's a chance these changes won't be as powerful (or unpowerful) as they seem currently in the PTR.

Everyone's new worst enemy.

Wholesale changes are inherently controversial outside of balance tweaks, because they mess with players' direct perceptions of what they play with on a regular basis. By altering that, players feel betrayed; they begin to mistrust the developer in turn. I suppose I'm more optimistic (mostly), and welcome these sorts of changes. Even if I'm forever salty about Roadhog going from my most-played Tank in competitive to never touching him, it's given other heroes a chance to shine where they might have not otherwise. Some people say "if it's not broke, don't fix it." But I'm of the mind that there's always something to fix, even if it's not obvious. As a developer, Blizzard is too. It's healthy for a competitive game to grow and change like the seasons; Overwatch is no different—it's just taking those changes more seriously, and being more experimental with it. Like a MOBA.

This is basically 1,000-plus words of nothing to just say: change is good y'all. Embrace it. Remember that competitive games change all the time, and just be thankful that Blizzard's spicing things up constantly in the world of Overwatch to make the game feel always fresh and new to play. I may have loved D.Va's Kirby-like shield once upon a time, but I'll learn to use its newly shortened one, and I'll have fun knocking players around as I fire missiles at them simultaneously with my boost. Mercy mains may be mad at her new Ultimate, but look at it this way: how many times do you save your Rez Ultimate for that perfect four-player team Rez? A lot right? Now you don't have to worry. You can just chain them, be patient and selective, and still hang around to heal the world at your leisure.

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Caty McCarthy

Features Editor

Caty McCarthy is a former freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, VICE, The AV Club, Kotaku, Polygon, and IGN. When she's not blathering into a podcast mic, reading a book, or playing a billion video games at once, she's probably watching Terrace House or something. She is currently USgamer's official altgame enthusiast.

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