Director’s Take – Retrospective on Season 6 Hero Balance
Hey y'all! This is Alec, Lead Hero Designer, stepping in for Aaron this week. We thought this Director’s Take would be a good time to chat about our heroes, recent balance changes, and what we’ve learned from them, and talk a bit about the philosophy behind our two upcoming reworks for Sombra and Roadhog.
Illari and the Safe Side of Strong
Let’s start with Illari. Going into Illari’s launch, our slogan was “safe side of strong.” We want hero releases to be impactful. It’s best for the game for a number of reasons, but most importantly, it creates change throughout the meta. An impactful hero launch can shift other heroes’ viability and create new and unique team compositions - an unimpactful hero launch can feel as if the game didn’t enter a new season.
Making a new hero feel impactful on launch is challenging because we are asking you to choose between that hero and their overall potential versus picking the heroes that you may have hundreds or thousands of hours on. Players like to try new things, but players also like to win. To mitigate this friction, while you are learning the nuances of a hero, we generally will continue to aim for the “safe side of strong” with our hero releases and then tune them where necessary. In situations where the hero's kit contains mechanics we'd describe as more “sharp” or potentially polarizing (say we were to release Widowmaker again), we may exercise more caution with this approach.
We aimed to make sure Illari was powerful, and we were happy to see that she launched in an impactful, game-changing state, but it's important to evaluate where that power is coming from. A lot of her initial power budget was wrapped up in her Healing Pylon and her lethality. Despite its potency, the Healing Pylon itself can feel invisible throughout a match due to its fire-and-forget automated healing. It was one of the first things we tuned for a few reasons. First, it can create situations that resemble stalemates. Next, breaking through the line of defense to shoot the pylon can already be a difficult task - it shouldn't be hard to kill once you're shooting it. Finally, as a more passive ability, it does not have the immediate impact and satisfaction of other elements in her kit, like her primary and secondary fire. Going forward, we'll continue to iterate on Illari's balance whilst making sure she doesn't feel muted. We think there's still a good amount of room there, and we will be making an adjustment to her secondary fire healing in Season 7.
Layers of Balance
Now let's talk about some recent balance changes and how we approach our start-of-season and mid-season updates. There are a few goals when we approach balancing Overwatch 2, but two that are consistently front of mind are that Hero changes should be an improvement to the game experience - whether that be on the individual hero themselves or to the overall metagame - and to also keep the game feeling fresh across seasons. With these goals in focus, we aim to make impactful changes that meaningfully inject themselves into the gameplay loop of a hero. There may also be number tuning alongside those, but we don't want to be in a world of arbitrarily injecting change by shifting the same numbers up and down from season to season (like Soldier 76's primary fire damage, for example). So, while a balance update may have reactive changes that look to knock down some of the top-performing heroes, it should also have changes that evoke intrigue and have you asking questions like “How does this new ripple on an ability affect my matchups?”
When considering non-reactive changes to heroes, we usually begin with a question, or overarching goals. Let's take the recent Zarya changes as an example. Our aim here was to add more incentive to Zarya bubbling allies versus using two bubbles for herself (a fairly common behavior). How do we incentivize that enough? How do we make it noticeable in-game? A common strategy we employ here is to layer multiple changes onto a hero that all help achieve our stated goal. For Zarya, that was the reduced cooldown for using a bubble on an ally + the increased size of the ally bubble + the increased health of the ally bubble. While this strategy comes up against our overall complexity goals, layering allows us to have individual changes that work synergistically together without needing to have any particularly extreme individual changes. This also helps when we want to further fine-tune what we’re trying to achieve, as we can easily remove any number of those smaller, layered changes as needed. If we are willing to pull back quickly enough, layering is an approach we'll continue to utilize in certain instances. For Zarya, we are going to be pulling back on the size of the ally bubble + the health of the ally bubble, but we will be keeping the reduced cooldown.
Looking closer at Season 6 and the current metagame, we’ve seen Bastion, Orisa, and Torbjorn rise in popularity. The standout among them has been Bastion: he’s been succeeding at all ranks and is higher than we like at the highest levels of play (around a 55% unmirrored win rate). We’re happy with the added reliability to his primary fire and Tactical Grenade, but we are going to remove his armor repair when transforming into Configuration Assault – that has made Bastion quite difficult to kill, even when out of position (a note here: in the middle of writing this blog, we decided to hotfix this change earlier than Season 7).
Some other adjustments that we are reverting or pulling back on at the start of Season 7: Orisa’s Fortify damage reduction, Torbjorn's Primary Fire recovery time, and Mei's changes that we introduced in Season 5. On those reverts to Mei, it’s important to recognize when a swath of changes isn’t resulting in improved gameplay. Our goal of trying to reintroduce some of her previous mini-game to her primary fire was a good one, but it resulted in a hero that was more frustrating to play against - especially from a Tank point of view - and wasn’t clearly more engaging or effective to play.
Finally, we’re looking forward to revealing our plans for our upcoming reworks. Sombra’s changes will be coming at the start of Season 7. Here are some of our stated goals heading into her rework:
- Make Sombra more committal when engaging
- Increase the active feel throughout her kit
- Uphold her current hacker identity and playstyle
Roadhog is currently undergoing the finishing touches that will release with his rework in Season 7’s Midseason Patch. Our broad goals for his rework are as follows:
- Increase his ability to protect his team and claim space
- Maintain his overall identity and playstyle
- Move some of his power around so that his effectiveness isn’t so tied to his one-shot potential
We’ll get into more details for Sombra and Roadhog’s reworks in the weeks ahead, including looks at a new ability for each of them. That’s all for now! Thank you for your continued feedback, and I’ll see you in-game!