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A beginner’s guide to mastering the many characters of ‘Overwatch’

How to make the most of Sombra, Overwatch's stealthy new hacker

Blizzard’s class-based shooter, Overwatch, has been a runaway hit, pulling in more than 7 million players in its first two weeks, and spawning its own sub-culture, complete with cosplay and, bizarrely enough, a thriving erotica scene. What makes Overwatch so compelling? As you might expect from a developer like Blizzard, it’s a very well-made shooter, and its 23 unique characters give every type of player a fun way to play, whether they prefer to rush headlong into enemies, snipe them from afar, or keep allies alive. Moreover, it’s surprisingly accessible, with mechanics that are easy to grasp, but difficult to master.

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Although Overwatch is relatively simple compared to other popular team-based games like Dota, newcomers may still find there is a lot to take in. For those who want to jump in but would prefer not to sink before learning to swim, here is our introductory guide, with explanations for the various classes and characters and tips for improving your game.

Character Class: Offense

Characters in this category excel at taking objectives, picking off enemies and weaving through their defenses. Offensive characters tend to have movement abilities, allowing them to get to their targets quickly, and will usually be the primary damage-dealers on the team. However, these characters also have low health; players will need to maneuver properly, flanking enemies and avoiding fire, or they will quickly end up dead.

Sombra

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One of Overwatch’s sneakiest characters, the hacker Sombra, has a set of skills built around evading enemies and neutering their abilities. Her first ability, Hack, renders the target unable to use their abilities for a brief time; she can also hack health packs to make them useless to enemies, and hack turrets to disable them. Her second ability, Thermoptic Camo, makes her invisible and faster for a short period of time, but taking damage or attacking will end the effect.

Sombra can also throw a Translocator, which she can then teleport to at any time, even if it is in the air. Finally, her ultimate ability, EMP, activates a massive explosion around her that destroys all barriers and hacks any enemies within range. Although her damage is not outstanding, she can leave enemies nearly helpless by disabling their abilities. A talented Sombra player should poke at enemy defenses, opening holes that her team can then exploit.

Genji

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Quick to move and quick to kill, Genji is a nimble character suited for flanking and quickly taking out high-priority targets. Genji can double-jump, as well as run up walls, allowing players to navigate levels with ease. Genji’s ultimate ability, Dragonblade, replaces his shurikens with a sword that deals massive damage at close range. Although he has low health, Genji’s speed and ability to deflect incoming projectiles means skilled players can dance through enemy teams without fear of dying. Players who choose Genji ought to focus on tearing up the enemy supports, or else creating a distraction so their team can advance.

McCree

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McCree is a sharpshooter who is great at quickly killing enemies from close or mid range. His flashbang lets him stun an opponent, after which he can quickly drop their health by emptying his revolver into them. McCree’s gun is very accurate, rewarding skilled shooters. Although not built to survive much damage, McCree’s combat roll lets him dodge incoming attacks; even better, rolling automatically reloads his weapon. He is a character best suited for quickly eliminating low-health targets.

Pharah

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Armed with a jetpack and a rocket launcher, Pharah can rain havoc on opponents, hitting them from places they didn’t expect. Although she can kill most characters quickly, Pharah herself is quite vulnerable, particularly when flying. Her slow flight speed make her an easy target for snipers. Her ultimate, Rocket Barrage, causes her to hover in place while firing hundreds of rockets forward, dealing enormous damage, but leaving her open. Best paired with characters like Zarya or Mei who can immobilize enemy teams.

Reaper

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Wielding two shotguns, Reaper is a lethal close range character. His abilities, which include short-range teleportation and “wraith form,” give him multiple ways to close in on enemies and sneak up on unwitting opponents. Reaper’s high damage at close range makes him good for taking out enemy tanks, especially if he can get behind them. His ultimate, Death Blossom, can be difficult to pull off as smart teams will kill or stun Reaper the moment he jumps into them. By using stealth and high vantage points, however, Reaper players can potentially wipe out entire teams.

Soldier: 76

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A good pick for new players, Soldier: 76 is a well-rounded offensive hero, with a nice bag of tricks, including a healing field and the ability to sprint. His assault rifle and ability to lock-on to enemies enables him to deal with threats easily. His ultimate ability causes his bullets to home in on enemies, which is useful for eliminating quick targets like Tracer. His versatility also means that he can fit into most lineups, but as a jack 0f all trades — pardon the cliche — he really is a master of none.

Tracer

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One of the most agile characters in the game, Tracer’s ability to move through space and time makes her incredibly difficult to pin down. She can blink (a short-range teleport) up to three times in quick succession. She can also jump backwards in time, returning to wherever she was a few seconds ago and restoring her health and ammo to whatever they were at the time. She is great at harassing and distracting opponents, allowing slower teammates to move get things done, and players who time her abilities well can stay alive through all sorts of firefights.

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