Blizzard has been able to recreate and reimagine characters and worlds from their existing IP for ages, so it's been nice seeing them flex their creative muscles with a new IP and a new set of faces.
The latest additions to the developer's team-based competitive shooter are painfully stereotypical, however. They're Australian. They're a little unhinged. And in a futuristic Earth that is supposedly more akin to the one we're living in, Overwatch's latest heroes come from an apocalyptic wasteland.
Meet Junkrat and Roadhog, the maniacal duo and the newest villains to the Overwatch world. They're just slightly inspired by Mad Max, although it's not entirely sure whether Team 4 (the designation for the Overwatch developers inside Blizzard) took more inspiration from Fury Road or the original movies.
While they're advertised a comical pair of pyromaniacs in Blizzard's latest teaser trailer, they're separate in-game characters with entirely separate roles. Junkrat's main attack is a grenade launcher of the traditional, delayed variety, while his ultimate is a remote-controlled tyre that explodes for immense damage.
The tyre's equipped with spikes allowing it to traverse up walls and objects, giving Junkrat's ultimate the same maneuverability of Lucio's wallrunning, Hanzo's parkour or Widowmaker's grappling hook. Junkrat can also deploy explosive mines, although they can also be used for rocket jumping since they only harm enemies.
The skillset won't do a great deal to quell complaints about Overwatch's similarities with Team Fortress 2, although in my experience -- which amounts to couple of hours at the Blizzard offices and approximately an hour at Blizzcon last year -- those parallels don't hold a great deal of weight once you play the game.
Unfortunately, Roadhog's assortment of abilities only invites further comparisons with Valve's free-to-play hat simulator. He's about as close as you can get to the Heavy class in Overwatch, with 600 HP and a self-heal that can recover around half of that.
In practice, Roadhog's really a combination of Stitches (or Pudge), the Heavy and the Flak Cannon from Unreal Tournament -- the latter applicable because it perfectly describes his main attack. It's a dual-purpose weapon that either fires a shotgun blast or an explosive shell with a slight arc that will be immediately familiar to fans of Epic's fast-paced franchise.
His ultimate's a minigun with a wide area of effect that lasts for around eight seconds, although it comes with a false sense of security. If there's not another player or two in the area to distract or at least support Roadhog during his ultimate, he can be easily focused down by the enemy.
But while Australians might be slightly miffed at the post-apocalyptic stereotype, it does afford the designers an opportunity to have more fun with the characters behind Overwatch. "Moving from a character like Hanzo who’s so serious and so mean and grumpy in his background to Junkrat, who’s over the top and bad but loveable bad and brings a lot of chaos; it keeps it really fresh and entertaining with us," game director Jeff Kaplan told me.
The biggest feature between the two characters, however, was the enabling and disabling of movement. Perhaps as a nice foil to Junkrat, Roadhog's second -- and probably most important -- ability allows him to pull characters in with a hook.
It's identical to Pudge's hook from Dota 2 or Stitches primary ability in Heroes of the Storm, and it's designed to combat airborne foes. The healer Mercy is the one that seems most liable to be targeted, although I can see Roadhog's hook being a wonderful counter to Pharah and her ultimate.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the two criminals, however, is the deliberate fashioning of them as criminals, further enshrining the good versus bad mechanic so evident in Overwatch's first cinematic trailer.
Kaplan strongly indicated to me in an interview (which you'll be able to read later this week, so stay tuned) that there was more to the Overwatch universe than its competitive team-shooter roots that the developers are concentrating on. If that's the case, then it's possible that Junkrat and Roadhog could get a more central role in the years to come.
But before that, we'll all have to learn how to rocket jump -- with mines. Blizzard hasn't lifted the lid on when a closed or open beta for Overwatch will kick off, although I'd venture that if it doesn't start some time around Blizzcon (mirroring the way the game was announced, and playable on the floor, at Blizzcon last year) then we'll at least hear more information then.
The author travelled to the United States for an interview and hands-on session with Overwatch as a guest of Blizzard.