Dr. Ziegler, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mercy Rework

I’ve been away from Overwatch for a number of months. There are a lot of factors: I’ve moved across the country, 2017 has provided way too many games for me to keep up with, performance creep on Overwatch patches finally got the better of my old PC… the list goes on. But another part of it was a feeling uncertain about who I should play.

My passion has always been Mercy- I love the character, and I love playing hard support types whose sole job is to be helpful, rather than glory hogs. I don’t want to be The Guy, I want to be the one who has The Guy’s back. However, as the game evolved and the community’s understanding of it grew, Mercy began to feel like the wrong pick. Part of this is my own fault: I’d fallen into the trap of thinking of the game not as a fun thing to play, but as a performance I needed to optimize. It took some time away to reset my attitude and just be able to enjoy Overwatch as a fun thing, and not a test of How Pro I Can Be. But that wasn’t the only problem.

The biggest roadblock to my enjoyment of Mercy was a realization that the entire Overwatch community seemed to be having: sometimes, Mercy the healer served her team better by not healing. Now, I don’t have a problem in theory with a healer intentionally not healing someone as a tactic. Maybe you’re using it to bait the enemy out of position, tempt them into getting too aggressive. I can get down with that. But that’s not what Mercy strategy was. The old Mercy meta had at last become, “get your Ultimate and then let your team die at a tactical place so you can Resurrect all of them for a big push.” And not just letting them die, hiding and not healing to make the enemy think you were dead, or away, or just forget about you, so that you could safely get that big reversal off to turn the tides.

 

While the moment of hitting Q and watching five other players spring to life felt amazing, every other part of this optimal strategy felt miserable. Hiding instead of healing your team, watching their health drain in the absence of their medic… hell, it was even awful being on the other team. Knowing that there was a Mercy hiding somewhere nearby, that you wouldn’t find her in time, and that all the work you did wiping their team was about to be undone in the press of a button was infuriating. It was an unfortunate and unpleasant result of the mechanics they’d built into the character.

So, I played a lot of other characters. Lucio. Soldier 76. A little Ana, here or there. And listen, I have nothing against those characters: they’re fine. I will happily play them when the team needs something different, or I want a change of pace. But really… I’m there to play Mercy. And when she’s in a bad place, Overwatch loses its luster for me.

It was with some trepidation that I beheld the Mercy Rework that Blizzard announced about a month ago. The jist of it was that they were going to move her Resurrect to a regular cooldown instead of being an ult, and give her a new ult where she could fly and have all of her regular abilities enhanced. I agreed with all their logic about what Mercy’s problems were, and the idea of having more consistent access to resurrect was very appealing… but the ult really rubbed me the wrong way. Oh, it makes my gun infinite ammo, and I can fly? So suddenly I’m expected to turn into a DPS character every time my ult was up? These fears were made manifest in early clips from the Public Test Realm for the Mercy Rework, where powered up Mercys showed an ironic lack of their namesake as they gunned down entire teams. It also felt like a thematic downgrade: Mercy’s original ult was a mechanic completely unique and dramatic in changing the flow of the game. Her new one was “temporarily turn noclip on and make all of her stuff better.” It seemed uninspired.

The rework underwent some revision, and finally hit the live servers yesterday. With an upgraded PC now easily capable of handling Overwatch, and a burning Need to Know, I dove headfirst into the world of New Mercy. And what I found was actually… great? I’m still not convinced that the new ultimate, Valkyrie, has the same feel and punch as the old Resurrect, but my other concern was misplaced. While still on the test server, Blizzard also came to the conclusion that the offensive power of the ult was too strong, and they reduced that portion of it, so it’s still primarily a mobility and support ultimate. It isn’t the big reversal it was before, but instead a powered up state where Mercy can just be more Mercy- more healing, more escape, more lifesaving. You hit it when the fighting gets fiercest, before it’s all gone to shit, to salvage the situation. You use it in anticipation of a possible wipe, rather than “oh, my whole team is dead, guess I’ll press the undo button.”

But the part of this design that really makes New Mercy sing is putting her Resurrect on a simple 20 second cooldown. You don’t charge it up through play, and there’s no point in saving it until multiple teammates have been downed. you simply can choose to pick a teammate back up every 20 seconds (even faster during your Ult). It’s a smaller, but more reliable resource, and thus you aren’t worried about using it in a 100% optimal way. You just do your job, and never worry about if you’d be better served not doing it for a while.

I’ve seen concerns that Overwatch is getting more mechanically complex over time, and I agree that it’s a growing problem in the game. The game’s appeal is inexorably linked to how approachable it is. Overwatch already had a lot of different mechanics in it at launch, like armor, shields, stuns, invulnerability, and more. It was a lot to keep track of, but there were also a lot of shared mechanics. Symmetra’s rework gave her the ability to throw a moving shield, but it mechanically behaves a lot like Reinhardt’s shield, so it was very easy for players to understand. Reframing and recontextualizing different mechanics is a great way to create new heroes and new possibilities without confusing players. It can be good to toss in one new mechanic or so to keep things fresh, as they did with the tank Orisa: all of her abilities are repurposed mechanics from members of the original cast, plus a new Knockback Resistance mechanic where she can shrug off attempts to push her. This is fine; people can be expected to learn a new character’s one unique “trick.”

Where the problem arises is in characters that have multiple new, unique mechanics as part of their toolkit. As cool as Sombra is, she has the ability to sabotage health packs, disable an enemy’s abilities, and turn invisible- all of which are unprecedented abilities within Overwatch. That’s not just three new abilities, that’s three new types of abilities that people have to learn just for one character! Similarly, Ana is a bit overwhelming: she introduced new mechanics like a “sleep” where enemies are stunned for a time (or until hit by stray fire), the ability to block healing on enemies, and an ultimate that supercharges her teammates. That’s a lot of new mechanics to learn just to understand what Ana is doing.

When people complain about complexity in a game they love, what they’re really complaining about is being expected to learn new mechanics. Using old mechanics in new ways rarely raises people’s ire, unless there are balance issues associated with them. This is why the Mercy Rework is actually fine: there’s nothing really new here. I mean that as a compliment: New Mercy is an elegant repurposing of tools already in the game, without having to invent new mechanics. She still has a resurrect, it’s just a little different. She can still fly, she’s just better at it during her ult. And she still heals, boosts damage, and fends off flankers with her pistol. The Mercy Rework is successful because when a complex thing is made entirely out of parts we already know, it feels familiar in no time at all. Welcome back, Dr. Ziegler. I’ve missed you.