Yesterday, Overwatch added a hamster. The hamster’s name is Hammond, or Hammy for short. In a game about cyborg ninjas, strained mother-daughter relationships, and terrorist groups with edgy-ass names like Talon, here’s Hammy the Hamster. It’s just one more example of how Overwatch is embracing its wacky side.
I’m not sure if Overwatch ever fell into a rut, but for a few months there, it was dangling its toes dangerously over the brink of one. New events, maps, and heroes provided momentary excitement, but failed to shake things up in a lasting way or dislodge a meta that wasn’t shifting so much as it was adding appendages and finding new ways to cling on.
In the past few weeks, however, that’s started to change. First, Blizzard finally unveiled Symmetra’s third overhaul, aka Portal 3. The Indian architect-turned-international-superspy can now use her portals to set up positively bonkers plays that wreak havoc on traditional notions of positioning. You might think you’re safe from D.Va’s self-destructing mech, but all it takes is one well-placed portal to disabuse you of that notion and also your life. Sym can also toss out a shield that briefly spans entire levels. It is—and I do not say this lightly—an absolute unit.
This week, Blizzard also announced that tactical stealth espionage hero Sombra’s kit is getting supercharged. Soon, her invisibility and translocator abilities will stay active indefinitely. In other words, you’ll be able to remain unseen and blink back to safety whenever you please. That’s a big change from the strict time limits she operates under now. She can really sneak, help her team with recon, and find devastating flanks—as opposed to acting as a hack-happy B-grade Tracer.
Portals and invisibility are the context in which the hamster has been deployed. Some people might tell you that the hamster is bad, but I offer you this strongly worded counter-argument: Hamster good. Hammond, too, stands to render positioning as we currently know it obsolete with a cable that allows him—inside his already-iconic meching ball—to swing all over the dang place like the monkey many presumed him to be. He can go high or low while smashing enemies out of his way. Or he can do completely bonkers stuff like this:
He’s a giant ball of perpetually destructive glee. He can attach to everything from the payload to sharks. He’s a shrieking rodent in a shell that talks in a super deep and authoritative voice. He’s perfect.
In terms of both kit and tone, Hammond signals that all bets are off. His abilities fit the recent Overwatch trend of “fuck your positioning” while also being supremely over-the-top. At the same time, though, I do not at all think Hammond is a hamster out of water. Overwatch is a game about a time-traveling lesbian whose best friend is a talking outer space ape. He fits right in, y’all. The original idea behind Overwatch was for everyone to feel uniquely overpowered. The game finally seems to be headed in that direction for real, rather than playing whack-a-mole with nerfs in pursuit of hyper-standardized “balance.”
Of course, there are still causes for concern. Recently, some have decried Overwatch’s emphasis on abilities that threaten to knock less mobile heroes around like unwilling pinballs, and Hammond just adds to that perceived imbalance. It can be tiresome to feel like you’re barely in control of where your in-game body ends up in the thick of battle.
There’s also the question of who the Overwatch team is designing for at this point. Overwatch League is the elephant in the room here, and while it’s good to see more wacky heroes and abilities rather than a slew of bland but easily balanced kits, Blizzard seems to be designing pretty heavily with OWL and more generally competitive players in mind. Both Symmetra and, previously, D.Va got redesigns that took away some of their appeal to casual players thanks to more complicated mechanics. Sure, Symmetra might be wackier and more versatile now, but will she appeal to many of the people who used to adore her? On the upside, Overwatch’s new looking-for-group feature seems to imply that Blizzard is trying to figure out how to sort players of all types into groups and matches where they feel comfortable, but it’s walking a very difficult line.
Lastly, there’s the issue of support heroes. Mercy—who also got an OWL-friendly redesign—is still viable, but unlike offensively-geared characters, she lost her showstopping flair for the dramatic. Blizzard just can’t seem to figure out how to make supports fit Overwatch’s fantasy. Even Brigitte, who is very cool and good at thwacking, has a fairly bland kit, with her support abilities backing up a series of flashier offensive moves. Meanwhile, Symmetra had to be removed from the support category entirely before she could evolve from a Metapod into a Butterfree.
Overwatch’s decision to turn and face the strange is mostly a step in a promising direction, but it comes with drawbacks. At this point, it’s tough to say how all of this will settle when the dust clears, and the resulting meta could be a frustrating nightmare for all we know. But for now, I’m happy Papa Jeff and company aren’t playing it safe. The world could always use more small and furry heroes.