The sad little edgelord of Overwatch
When it comes to competitive multiplayer games, we all have our favorite characters and classes. In this series, I’m putting some of mine under the microscope to see what makes them tick, how they fit into their games, and ultimately why I like them! See the previous entry, Kotal Kahn.
Watching Blizzard slowly convert the roster of Overwatch into characters for their MOBA sister-title Heroes of the Storm has been a series of surprises for me. Not because I didn’t think they would bring over Overwatch characters, or that they’d do it so quickly (if there is one thing Blizzard understands, it’s brand synergy) but because there are five Overwatch characters in HotS now, and none of them are Reaper.
Reaper might waltz around with an edgy swagger and dual-shotguns like any good Quake-era FPS character, but make no mistake, his kit is pure MOBA-bait. Fortunately, it turns out the same things that make a MOBA character really fun to play can also make a shooter character an absolute blast.
The Devil in plain sight
Reaper embodies a character archetype I personally adore – the high-risk, high-reward ambush assassin. His whole job is to get behind the enemy (or beside, under, above them, whatever) and deliver a heaping pile of fatal buckshot directly into their backs before anyone knows he’s there. Some of my favorite characters are built on variations of this idea. The Scout and Spy from Team Fortress 2 are obvious examples. Heck, even fellow Overwatch characters Tracer and Genji are similarly based on attacking unexpectedly and dealing a ton of damage real fast.
Unlike those characters however, Reaper goes about his spooky-business honestly. Departing from the typical assassin design, Reaper isn’t lightning fast or extra agile. He plods along at exactly the base walk speed as every standard Overwatch character (in fact, his footfalls are extra heavy to give unsuspecting players a heads up). He doesn’t get a fancy cloaking device or disguise kit to make infiltration a breeze, not even a cardboard box to hide under. Reaper needs to do his creeping out in the open.
It might not sound like much, but it’s a profound difference from most other rogue/ambush characters. While characters like Tracer and Genji have abilities custom made to allow them to dive into the enemy team, Reaper needs to exercise a little more caution, he needs to play things a little slower. He needs to be sneaky.
So what does Reaper get to help him out? A crappy teleport and big shotguns. It rules.
Skulking around the Hot Topic
When I hear the word “teleport,” I think of Nightcrawler. A quick poof of smoke and suddenly Kurt has his blue foot in some dude’s face. What I sure as hell don’t think of is a dude slowly crossing his arms, staring into the void for a moment, and slowly rematerializing maybe 30 feet away in the most conspicuous plume of hellfire imaginable.
But that’s how Reaper do.
Slow and obvious as it is, that’s okay, because Reaper’s teleport is not about getting in quickly or pulling daring escapes. It’s for staying out of sight just long enough to bushwhack some cockney sprite before she can even utter a catchphrase. For getting in-between two doorways without anyone noticing, or making your way up onto a balcony that is normally empty. It’s for being in the “wrong place” at just the right time to blast away a knock-off transformer before it can unload on his team. It’s for skulking.
What I really enjoy about Reaper’s clumsy teleport, is how it introduces a heavy element of educated guesswork to his playstyle. It’s very easy to teleport right in front of the waiting sights of an enemy Widowmaker, so every jump is a gamble. You’re betting with your life that you know where the enemy is and what they’re up to. You know that four is due in the deck, and you’re gonna hit on 17 no matter what the rest of the table says.
An insidious presence
While Reaper might not boast crazy mobility or great stealth tools, you have to give the guy credit – he can take a punch.
A problem with a lot of my favorite stealth/ambush characters is that as cool as they are, they tend to go on a lot of suicide missions. The Spy from TF2 could make the game winning difference by sabotaging a sentry nest that’s been blocking the team, but he was likely to die a glorious death by wrenching in the process.
Reaper, on the other hand, can put up a damn good fight once he’s lost the element of surprise.
Unlike most ambush characters, Reaper is pretty hearty. He has above average health and his weapons are fairly effective in a straight up fight (so long as he can stay in range). But, what really gives him his staying power is the amazing combination of a great escape move in his Wraith Form, and the passive sustain from his Reaping abilities. These two powers are what makes Reaper a lingering, nasty, festering threat to the backline of any team and not just a passing annoyance.
With the Reaping, every enemy that dies near Reaper leaves a Soul Globe. This is a pick-up that restores 50 HP, only Reaper can use, and they slightly vacuum towards him when he gets close. Considering he almost always kills at point-blank range, they’re often absorbed as a matter of course whenever you waste anyone without even thinking about it.
As long as Reaper is doing what he is supposed to and making people dead, he always has a source of HP to rely on. 50 HP a pop isn’t huge, but a trickle of Globes allow him to punch above his weight class and soak a surprising amount of damage.
When things get too hot and the fight starts to turn, Reaper can always (literally) ghost out. With his Wraith Form, Reaper becomes intangible to enemy fire and slightly faster than normal for a few moments. It’s not fool-proof, but the invincibility and little burst of speed is often all he needs to escape back to the safety of his team or a nearby health-kit. When done right, this is astoundingly frustrating to deal with. Reaper shows up in your backline, kills a teammate or two, and just when you think you’ve finally got him – poof – he’s gone or all healed up.
That said, Wraith Form can also be a tool for satisfying your blood lust. That little burst of speed can be used to chase down a fleeing enemy, or to fling yourself into close range through a hail of gunfire and bully your way into a fight.
I love it when skills tempt me to do dumb shit against my better judgement. Wraith Form is such a great escape it seems criminal to waste it. At the same time though, it’s just so gratifying to chase down that pesky Hanzo and finish him off like a dog, or to menace Mei just after she comes out of her Cryo Freeze. C’mon, you won’t need to run away any time soon, right? More rolling the dice and taking calculated chances in the name of securing a kill – I guess I’m just a degenerate gambler at heart.
(As a side note, look at the language I’m using here, “sustain,” “escape,” “chase,” I’m telling ya, Reaper was designed as a MOBA character and someone at Blizzard accidentally picked up the wrong design doc and put him in an FPS. Someday, they’ll plop him into HotS, and he’ll play exactly the same as he does now, just from a ¾ view.)
Always the unappreciated loner
Reaper’s backstory is all about resentment. As Blackwatch’s shadowy leader, Gabriel Reyes felt overshadowed by the charismatic Commander Morrison and underappreciated by the public at large to the point where he snapped and betrayed the whole group. After nearly dying while leading a failed coup, Reyes was brought back, but irreparably changed. Now a disfigured monster, his body constantly dissolving and regenerating itself, he re-invented himself as a mercenary terrorist and has dedicated his life to personally eliminating his former cohorts.
I can’t help but chuckle thinking how life imitates art. In the ongoing metagame of Overwatch, Reaper is always going underappreciated and overshadowed.
Remember that period back a few months ago when Overwatch was dominated by the “triple tank meta?” When most games devolved into intractable slug matches between unkillable slabs of meat and their personal support posse?
Now, this is a personal opinion impossible to ever prove, but I can’t help but think that problem was exacerbated by how under-utilized Reaper is in general play. A climate largely due to the average player base taking its cues from the competitive scene a little too closely.
It’s a normal process, every game with a competitive scene draws inspiration from the top players, and the sad truth is, Reaper sees next to no play in high-level Overwatch. This is predictable. Ambush style characters are always the first to wither and fall in the brutal furnace of top-level competition. Coordinated teams that know every trick, tell, and tactic out there and can respond with Godlike precision and reaction speeds are not going to face much difficulty from a Reaper popping up behind them.
However, the same can’t be said for the vast majority of random pick-up teams. Even relatively skilled players can still fall victim to Reaper pouncing on them in the public queue setting. All the same though, people carried an attitude that reaper Should Not Be Picked. While Roadhog, D.Va, and Ana became insta-locks in an effort to replicate the pros, Reaper became a throw-pick, disdained nearly as much (and as vocally) as a Hanzo/Widowmaker duet, or a Bastion on Attack.
A pity considering Reaper’s high burst damage and ability to attack unexpectedly is the perfect thing for quickly eliminating an Ana, burning down a Roadhog, or forcing a shielding Reinhardt to turn. You know, all the things that were giving everyone trouble.
Poor ol’ Reaper, tossed to the sidelines in the exact moment he should have been walking in the limelight. Typical.
And if that wasn’t enough, along came Sombra, a much more traditionally designed stealth character, to eat his lunch! Now Reaper occupies an awkward spot where he isn’t the best offense character in a straight-up fight, nor is he the sneakiest character on the roster. No wonder the guy has attitude problems.
Reaper might be doomed to always play the second banana, but I can’t help but have a soft spot for the moody bastard. Maybe he’ll finally find the validation he craves when he inevitably lands in HotS.