Blizzard’s acclaimed team-based shooter is delighting millions with its brash visual style and surprising tactical depth. But while there are many online guides drilling down into the specific nuts-and-bolts of each character, some players are still struggling with the fundamentals of this fresh take on the first-person shooter.
So let us take you through some basics, some not-so-basics and some dirty secrets.
1. Health / Armour / Shields
This is one of the first things Overwatch explains, and it’s pretty clear that a lot of players didn’t take it in. We could go into endless depth but it’s important to understand some basics about how the different types of HP operate: health and armour doesn’t regenerate (unless you’re certain support classes), but shields do regenerate. Hence, with the shield-heavy Zarya, the character’s being set up to bait shots with her shields before dropping her barrier to absorb the fire and power-up (which lets the shield regenerate.)
Much more importantly, having armour as any part of your health pool reduces the damage of incoming fire for as long as it’s there. This is super-effective against high-frequency low-damage weapons, where every shot will be affected, and less so against single-shot big-damage weapons like rockets.
As a practical example take the oft-misunderstood tank D.Va, sometimes seen as a poor alternative to the Reinhardts and Winstons. The whole point of D.Va is that her health pool is disproportionately stacked with armour, and therefore she’s the choice counter for teams attacking with Tracers and Soldier 76. Dash into their vicinity and the shots bounce off you like confetti.
2. Exploit hidden shield effects
To briefly return to the Russian bicep queen, Zarya is built around applying a barrier to herself and teammates, and it has one very special property. The barrier has 200HP but can absorb a single attack greater than that value before disappearing, meaning it has incredible utility against something like Junkrat’s Rip-Tire ultimate or even D.Va’s self-destruct – pop a barrier on yourself and any nearby teammate, and you’ll emerge unscathed from the explosion.
3. Audio cues are practical, not realistic
Overwatch’s incredible sound design is all about information, and it’s worth realising that your teammates’ actions are dialled-down and the enemy has higher priority. So if you hear clunking footsteps, for example, even though there’s a heavy teammate nearby, the game is still telling you something: each character – barring Zenyatta, who floats – has a different sound effect for their footsteps. (If you’re especially keen, there are videos running them down)
Finally, the audio cues for ultimates are different depending on whether it’s a teammate or an enemy. English-speaking characters will have a more aggressive ultimate phrase when on the enemy team, but others like Hanzo or Zarya will speak their native tongue – so if you hear a foreign language it’s always bad. Hey, I didn’t develop it.
4. Fire at anything
There’s a reason Overwatch has infinite ammo, and that’s because Blizzard believed the alternative wasn’t fun enough. Take advantage of this largesse by not waiting for the perfect shot, but firing in the general direction of any sign of the enemy, not least because even potshots that dink foes will build ultimate charge faster. This goes double when talking about Reinhardt’s shield – which a lot of my teammates don’t seem to realise has a finite health bar and is relatively easily destroyed. Abuse the fact that you’ll never run out of bullets / rockets / lasers / whatever.
Bastion is one of the biggest roadblocks for new players, because his fixed turret form can shred through opposing teams in seconds. The counters to Bastion are many, and we’ll go over a few, but the principle across all of them is to respond to his position. If you take on a fixed turret and it sees you coming, you’re dead.
First, Bastion in turret form acquires a big shield at the front but a newly vulnerable point on his back – which any flanking character can take advantage of. Roadhog’s hook will not only pull Bastion out of position but put him in his less-powerful walking mode, though finishing him off might require some assistance. But by far the most useful thing to know about Bastion is that you can corner-peek him (as Widowmaker, for example) and aim at the exposed edges of his shield, without his being able to see you and return fire.
The most baller thing to do, of course, is walk right out in front of him as Genji and deflect every single bullet back into his smug robot face.
6. Deflect anything
Genji’s deflection is amazing against Bastion but can be used on any attack in the game with similarly spectacular results. The most beautiful thing about deflect is that it’s a duration ability, so you just need to get the timing roughly right rather than have split-second precision – if you see Widowmaker lining up a shot on you, it’s surprisingly easy to predict the shot within this window and return it with interest.
But this isn’t the half of it, because deflect can be a hard-counter to enemy character’s ultimate abilities. Something like Soldier 76’s ultimate, which makes all his shots tracking headshots, is begging to be deflected. But less obvious is that you can bounce back Hanzo’s twin dragon ultimate – as long as you hit the arrow before it transforms – or even bat back the canister for Mei’s infuriating freeze circle. And this may just be the tip of the iceberg: Genji can even deflect the cluster bombs that Junkrat drops on death (very useful if you’re finishing him with a melee), while in close-quarters he can deflect and steal Soldier 76’s healing “biotic field”, a projectile that drops on the ground.
7. The easy way to time ultimates
Ultimate attacks are the biggest tool any Overwatch hero has, so it’s a tragedy to see players throw them away in small engagements or, even worse, use them in isolation to no good end. Characters like Zarya depend on synchronising their ults with others, and where one ultimate can give an enemy team problems, two or three makes things inevitable.
An easy way to prep for this when playing solo is just hitting tab to see the stats. Under each player on your team there’s space for a tick mark and, if they have the tick, their ult is ready to go. Hang around their general area, use the quickchat option to let them know you’re charged too, and get ready for the cue.
8. Reinhardt’s Shields are permeable
Overwatch’s attacks and abilities have many characteristics that aren’t explicitly identified by the game, and one useful thing to know is that certain characters can attack directly through Reinhardt’s shield barrier. Winston’s tesla cannon goes straight through there, although that depends on a close engagement, but both Symmetra’s orb attacks and Reinhardt’s own fire strike will travel straight through, while any melee attack also gets full damage. Hence, one supposes, his hammer.
9. Tweak character-specific options
Every character in Overwatch has a few dedicated options in the controls screen and, OK, we may be approaching the point of nerd return. There’s little else to do in matchmaking lulls apart from admire your collection, however, so it’s worth getting familiar with your favourite characters’ capabilities – PC Gamer has an exhaustive guide.
Don’t underestimate the life-or-death importance of control options – I couldn’t stand Mercy for ages because her escape ability would so often screw up choosing the intended target, and leave me in the frontlines getting chewed down by the enemy team. After switching “Guardian Angel prefers beam target” off, however, I started flying where I was supposed to, and the character came alive. Also, toggle mode for her beam will let you look around much easier while still healing.
10. Hidden abilities? Mercy me!
Speaking of Mercy she’s a great example of how many characters have ‘hidden’ abilities – in this case, she passively heals herself when out of combat – and this passive heal is buffed if she’s healing allies. These things become obvious, but the potential of her other basic abilities can be magnified in the right company. One possible combination is with an airborne Pharah – Mercy can jump to her position with Guardian Angel, use her ‘Float’ ability to hover with Pharah above the battlefield, and by the time you’re falling the cooldown for Guardian Angel has reset.
Beyond even this keep an eye out for little bonuses that the game doesn’t explicitly tell you about – an especially useful one is that Genji’s blade dash will reset after a successful kill or assist. This means you can take a risk to chase down opponents with the dash and rely on the reset to escape. Tracer’s pistols will fully reload from a recall, Winston’s ult will restore all his health, Junkrat can double-jump using his mines if you wait for the first cooldown to pass…
11. The other way to heal turrets
As Torbjorn you can sit at the back clanking away on your lovely placeable turret, making sure any damage gets repaired, and no one thinks any the worse of you. But Torbjorn can also be played as frontline defence, which lets you make much more use of his armour pack ability – and necessitates a more fleeting relationship with his turrets. An amazing thing about Torbjorn’s turrets is that they can swallow health packs, so stick one atop a frequently-used medkit. It won’t have the greatest view of the battlefield but, if it’s the right moment, you’ll pick up several easy kills from low-health enemies looking for a medkit – and if they return fire, the turret uses it to heal! A true win-win scenario.
12. The medals rank the team, not your personal bests
The medals received at the end of every round are delicious, but initially I thought they were ranking my own personal records. In fact they reflect your performance within the team in that game – so don’t feel too proud, or downtrodden.
13. Cooldowns are quicker than you think
This is a somewhat similar adjustment to taking advantage of Overwatch’s infinite ammo. There’s a certain unhelpful mentality of waiting for the perfect moment to use your abilities, but recognising that you’re not going to nail a quadkill with every life is important. The cooldowns for most of Overwatch’s characters are very short and the game is built around the abilities much more than the gunplay – get in the habit of using them, rather than saving them for no reason.
14. Use the melee
I know this is forehead-slappingly obvious, but an awful lot of players just don’t use the melee attack. It’s fast, does a guaranteed chunk of damage and is much more accurate in close proximity than the majority of weapons. Abuse it. With characters like Tracer, maybe not an obvious fit, it’s what separates life and death.
15. Attack the flanks, defend the flanks
Simple really, but you’d be amazed how many people continually run up the main thoroughfare after respawning and get one-shotted by a smug Widowmaker for their trouble. All maps have main road and the key to winning on all of them is dominating the side positions, the flanking spots and the nested coves that let defenders set up shop. You should always be attacking the centre but, unless you’re a well-supported tank, never from the centre.
This is a crucial point for some characters’ play styles. Roadhog, for example, is not a tank class in the sense Reinhardt is, in terms of being able to walk into a hail of fire. Instead he’s a tank who flanks, and causes enormous trouble by being close to the enemy, hooking in high-value targets and healing himself constantly.
On the point of flanks, don’t trickle into objectives either – after a bad engagement regroup with respawning teammates and go in together. Marching in one-by-one to a fortified objective is the surest way to lose a match, and there’s little worse than watching your teammates batter themselves like moths against the flame.
17. Damage boost ultimates
Several support classes have damage boost options. Try to get in a pattern of laying this down on a teammate that’s using their ultimate, especially when it’s something like Pharah’s rain of rockets or Soldier 76’s tracking visor.
18. Mei = Bae
Don’t put a wall in front of the enemy team. Put a wall behind the first two or three players to split their team in half and focus down the trapped ones. Stick one in front of McCree at High Noon, things like that.
19. Class-based means counters
Every hero in Overwatch is unique, and this means there are mismatches. Once again the good folks at PC Gamer have an exhaustive run-down of specific class counters, but don’t overthink things – this is a team game and the important thing is not whether you’re hard-countering Bastion, but whether someone on your team is. Turn a corner as Tracer and run into McCree and Genji? Just run away and let others take care of them – you’re there for the clunkier backliners.
20. Skill matters less than brains
The most pleasing thing about Overwatch is how it leaves traditional FPS gameplay intact through certain characters while introducing a new layer of more ability-based tactics with others. And it’s important to recognise that Overwatch is a less purely skill-based shooter than Counter-Strike or Rainbow Six: Siege, and to this ends rewards a different kind of thinking. Team composition will win out over pure twitch skills and the game is tailor-made for switching – so don’t just stick with your favourites.