Tuesday, a brand-new update hit Blizzard’s colorful, hugely popular multiplayer shooter Overwatch — and it’s forcing players who like one of the game’s most accessible characters to rethink their tried and true strategies.
In the past, Overwatch’s iterations on the designs of existing heroes have been well-received. The newly redesigned Mercy is a little more complicated, however, because it might be negatively impacting the more casual portion of its player base — and that goes against everything Overwatch is all about: inclusivity.
Why did Mercy change in the first place?
Before the latest update, Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan said there was a significant outcry from the community about Mercy’s most powerful ability — resurrect — which allowed her to bring several of her dead teammates back to life at once. It was a powerful, fulcrum-shifting ability that he claimed encouraged a bad behavior: hiding.
“If you’re a Mercy player and you’re healing your team and your ultimate is up or close to being up, you have this weird moment where you stop healing your team, you go into hiding, and you tell your team, ‘Everybody die on the point, die together, I have rez,’” Kaplan said in an Overwatch “developer update” video.
In order to squash this counterintuitive, frustrating tactic, Blizzard overhauled Mercy’s abilities. Now, resurrect can be used on just one dead teammate at a time. To compensate for that change, Mercy also has a brand-new ability called “Valkyrie,” which basically turns her into a super-Mercy, boosting all of her default abilities and granting her the ability to fly for a short time.
That’s all well and good, but in the process of trying to counter one of Mercy’s design problems, Blizzard may have risen the character’s overall “skill ceiling,” which means that players with less experience in first-person shooters may have a tougher time contributing to their teams.
Is Mercy’s redesign making her tougher for new players?
One of the most compelling things about Overwatch is that it’s the perfect introduction to the world of competitive first-person shooters for people who aren’t typically attracted to those sorts of games, and that largely comes down to the ways characters like Mercy are designed.
Mercy doesn’t require precise aiming or perfect reflexes to be effective. Her healing beams lock onto teammates automatically, so therefore it’s more important to be aware of her surroundings and to stay out of enemy sight lines so that you can continue supporting your allies.
These new abilities for Mercy still fall in line with that general mindset — that you don’t need to be good at first-person shooters to be a good Mercy player — but it undeniably increases the complexity of her toolkit. This means, in theory, that higher skilled players will be able to get much more out of her than they could previously.
That’s great news for those higher-skilled players, but it’s possible that newer, uninitiated players might find Mercy — the game’s most effective gateway drug — is now a pill that’s a little too tough to swallow.
It’s natural and expected that a game like Overwatch will have to change over time. I just hope it doesn’t lose sight of its inclusive mission in the process.