The focus on expanding and contracting the action comes to a head on the first control point, where the attackers must congregate in order to seize a battering ram to push up to the castle gates. Emerging from the claustrophobic streets, this area opens into a large plaza. While houses towards the back of the point provide additional space for flanking characters and some high ground for damage dealers, the majority of terrain around the first control point is flat ground with a few piles of debris. There is one huge exclamation point: a large spire that splits sight lines.

The broken field of view creates a problem for the defending team as they return to battle. The battle at this part of the map involves the attackers trying to claim the control point. They’re not advancing now but trying to hold the space for 30 seconds. Attackers can die and easily rush up the main road, but when a defender dies and respawns, the spire limits their view heading into the action. As a consequence, the attacking team can dig in at the capture point and are free to quickly return from their own spawn point when they resurrect as long as a teammate is holding the point. Defenders either need to split up to block this pressure or commit to a full team fight. Eichenwalde has a reputation for favoring defense, but the initial control point reverses that dynamic as it alters the number of vertical options. Here, at least, the attackers have the advantage.

Eichenwalde explodes upward after the first point is captured. Attackers must climb a steeper incline than what led to the capture point. As they draw closer to Eichenwalde Castle, higher bridges and parapets provide extremely vertical options for defenders to hold or attackers to claim. This section fleshes out the map’s distinct personality. One of the flattest levels in Overwatch is King’s Row, featuring an extended escort segment across level ground that eventually dips lower upon entrance to an industrial area. The middle segment is an unremarkable battlefield that creates dull stories as a result. Eichenwalde oscillates between raised terrain and level spaces in order to modulate difficulty from moment to moment.

Eichenwalde’s escort segment takes the map’s initial scenario and increases the scale. There is more space for defenders to move under the first bridge, but aggressive pushers must now consider the expanded high ground to the side. These locations provide opportunities for defense characters to shine. The highest tower is a favored spot for the bomb-lobbing Junkrat or eagle-eyed hitscan characters like the sniper Widowmaker or gunslinger McCree. An underlying tangle of rooms offers options for flanking characters to ambush defenders, but the attackers’ path eventually converges on an open bridge right before the checkpoint at the castle. It’s another difficult position for the attackers to rest in and often requires shifts to a shield-wielding tank like Reinhardt or Orisa to dig in as the defending team fires in from the castle entrance.

The discrete chunks of Eichenwalde often call for a change in team composition on both sides. Turrets created by builder characters like Torbjörn do well in the lead-up to the capture point but suffer in the open space leading to the castle. Defenders might find themselves opting for characters who deal more direct damage while the attackers shift to tanks and aggressive “dive” characters like Winston or to counter.

The notion of shifting terrain and alternating power dynamics appears to be present even in test builds of Eichenwalde. In the early development footage above, members of the Overwatch team including lead designer Jeff Kaplan play through an early version of the map. The first two sections are largely unchanged although the space is slightly more constricted. It is easy to see the way Eichenwalde moves teams through funnels before allowing them to emerge into wider space.

Eichenwalde doesn’t hold on to the extreme verticality of the first escort segment for very long. Nor does it hold on to the bright and colorful art design that characterizes the outlying village. Befitting the mood of a final frantic push towards victory, the last segment of map takes place within the dark confines of Eichenwalde Castle. It tosses the battle into an extended sequence of close quarters combat in a dark, gloomy space. Ceilings are lower, side paths more winding, and the defending team’s spawn point deposits them almost directly onto the final capture point. Eichenwalde becomes more hostile in visual tone and construction. For some heroes, this provides challenge, while for others it is a new opportunity.

“Some characters can benefit from those differences, while it may become a bit more difficult for others,” Adams said. “Pharah has her way with two thirds of the map, and while the interior is more restricted for her and some others, they are still viable heroes in the castle. The key for any team is to adapt to the changing situation in the different gameplay spaces and try a different strategy.”

Across its major phases Eichenwalde proves to be a rigorous test in adaptation. All maps in Overwatch demand a degree of reactivity based upon topology and team compositions, but Eichenwalde seems particularly keen on challenging players with new complications in each segment.

Eichenwalde crafts a story much more easily than other Overwatch maps. Its highs and lows are etched right into the landscape. Some maps, like Hollywood, are breezy affairs, but Eichenwalde demands players rise to the occasion. It creates heroes who lead the charge and villains who laugh from high towers. It tells a terrific tale.