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Overwatch BlizzCon 2015 hands-on preview

Overwatch BlizzCon Preview

The Overwatch Beta has been live for several weeks now, so we’re going to go ahead and assume that anyone reading this has either been playing Blizzard’s forthcoming FPS, or at least has an interest in it.

To that end, we’ll dispense with any preamble and instead address the question that likely buzzing inside the heads of anyone who caught the part of BlizzCon 2015’s keynote that concerned Overwatch: How do the three heroes that were revealed – D.Va, Genji and Mei – handle in the game?

As one would expect, the three are very different from each other. Genji is a sword-wielding robotic ninja who looks like he stepped out of an early Metal Gear Solid game, Mei is a bespectacled wooly-armour wearing girl toting a massive freeze ray and D.Va is a lithe acrobatic waif who also happens to be the proud owner – and operator – of a massive mech, which is painted Day-Glo pink.

We’ll kick off with Mei, since she’s the easiest of the three to get to grips with. Her freezing gun can fire sharp icy bullets, but its primary draw is its ability to slow down enemies, turning them into easy targets for her teammates. She can also deploy a wall of ice that acts as a barrier against suppressing fire or a means for her teammates to reach higher levels in the map by clambering up it.

For these reasons – and the fact that she can toss out a proximity mine that stops any enemies caught in its blast radius cold (ha ha!) – she’s best suited for the support role.

Genji is something of an artiste’s Hero in Overwatch because he does the most damage up close and personal and his distance attacks feel decidedly underwhelming – even though they’re pretty effective. His sword is useful as a shield as it can deflect projectiles back at the players that fired them.

At the same time, players can charge up an attack and if they pair that with Genji’s ability to close the gap on opponents, they can scythe from player to player, turning opponents into sashimi (although, in keeping with Overwatch’s Pixar-esque visual aesthetic, there isn’t much gore on display).

Genji is also quite a speedy Hero and one of the only characters in Overwatch who has a double-jump ability. If you can get your head around using a melee-based character in a shooter, Genji is a lot of fun.

D.Va is the odd duck in this flock – which is quite something given Overwatch’s assymetrical structure as a shooter. Between her pink mech and skintight white and blue outfit, D.Va looks like she was built by a committee of anime fanboys, but she plays like a tank/scout hybrid. Her two combat states offer wildly different approaches and tactical considerations for the player.

On foot, D.Va is a lithe, acrobatic Hero armed with a pistol; what she lacks in damage dealing she makes up for in speed. Inside her mech she moves a little slower, and she slows to a crawl when she’s firing, but the damage she dishes out is far more brutal.

D.Va is also able to activate a jump-boost in her mech, allowing the player controlling her to reach high ledges in the map, and the mech has a handy self-destruct button (which automatically ejects D.Va if the player activates it. If you send it sailing towards some enemies, hit the self-destruct and eject, you can cause all sorts of damage.

D.Va’s mech can also deploy a deflector shield in brief spurts, which helps immensely if the player wants to close the gap on a target.

Even though the three new characters require very different approaches, they feel right at home in the mult-faceted, free-for-all that is Overwatch. The fact that they even seem to compliment team play, regardless of who they are paired with in a fireteam is testament to the talent at Blizzard. On paper Overwatch feels like it should be a mess; on screen it’s awesome – and addictive.

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