There’s lots to like about Ana, the first new character added to the roster in Overwatch. Her backstory adds depth to the world-building for Pharah and the whole Overwatch organization. It’s also refreshing to see an older character who can lay down the hurt. And obviously I think she’s got a great name (although clearly Blizzard meant to include a second N, right?).
But the most striking thing is just how strange her character concept is. Seriously, a healing sniper! Who thinks of that? Who realized it could actually work? Whoever the mad scientist was to bring that creative combination to life, I tip my hat to them. Shooters could use more of that zany thinking.
There are only so many ways to turn a gun into a game mechanic. And after so many years of long-running shooter franchises, the genre has fallen into a few standard character types. Some iterations of those characters might be better balanced or more fun to play than others, but the weapons and kits are usually familiar. Many games even push for real-world accuracy, recreating the feel of actual weapons to an uncanny degree.
Most of the changes and new ideas happening in shooters have been focused on the related technology, whether that takes the form of vehicles in Battlefield or exo-suits in Call of Duty or titans in Titanfall. Don’t get me wrong, those are all great for multiplayer fun. But it has been a while since we’ve seen such an innovative idea applied to what you can do with your weapon. And without the trappings of a cool setting or tech toys, the gun fights in many shooters can start to feel rote.
But you haven’t played anything like Ana before.
Usually healers and support classes hang back a little, but still are on the front lines. And they’re usually made with some area-of-effect in mind. But Ana requires all the same precision skill of a sniper, and even with Overwatch’s generous hit boxes, it took a couple of matches for me to sink into a rhythm her. After acclimating, though, I was zipping around the back lines, harassing rival snipers and keeping my tank players healthy.
Many of Overwatch’s characters are based on other shooter tropes, so the addition of a truly original idea has gotten me excited all over again about the game. Because I love playing shooters, but I also don’t want to play the same experience reskinned on a different engine.
Aside from the originality factor, it’s also a great move in terms of Overwatch’s team dynamics. If you’ve been on one of those servers with people who flat-out refuse to play anything but snipers (and who hasn’t?), then this gives them a character to fill that niche with a more supportive role. Getting a teammate to play as healer can be an uphill battle, so why not combine that skill set with another one? It gives you a motivation to grow as a player, to try something new.
The typical shooter requires the same skill set in terms of twitchy hand-eye coordination. The questions of strategy add more complexity to a game, and in some ways broadens the playing field. Bringing an original character like Ana into the mix means a meta shift in the game. Do you focus on healing or damage? When do you switch? If you’re good enough with Ana, do you need another sniper or another healer on your team? And if the Ana on the opposing team is causing havoc, how will you take her out? All fun questions to figure out the answers to in-game.
The titles that have been most creative with guns are often ones that stand the test of time. The portal gun in Portal. The gravity gun in Half-Life 2. The dubstep gun in Saints Row. The syringer in Fallout. The pixellizer in Ratchet & Clank. No matter how good the game is, you remember the experience with those weapons because they’re unlike anything else. Putting some of those off-the-wall ideas into action in the multiplayer arena is a way to inject new life into the genre and keep it exciting for another 20 years.