For the purposes of this article, I’ve been playing a lot of Symmetra, Overwatch’s least-played character. I’ve come to a couple of important conclusions about her.
- She isn’t fun to play.
- She isn’t competitively effective.
I hope i’m not leaving anyone behind when I say that gameplay should be at least one of those things.
MasterOverwatch‘s hero comparison – the most direct comparison and dataset on Overwatch’s heroes available – shows strange figures that seem to contradict this. She’s least played, and 15th (out of 21) for score, but takes the #1 spot for “win percentage” – 62% of teams with her on have won their games. This suggests that she should be one of the more effective classes, yes, but there’s a few alternative explanations for this:
- Nobody plays Symmetra unless they’re already very good.
- Nobody plays Symmetra unless the team is already going to win. (When the team already includes a skilled healer, tank, sniper, etc etc.)
- Most likely to be the cause, however, is that she’s a purely defensive hero – almost never chosen on attack – and it seems that defenders win much more often than attackers.
Anecdotally – and i’m the pubbiest pub player there is – there’s a sense of a collective groan when someone picks Symmetra. She’s a Support class, so competing directly with Lucio and Mercy, both high-tier characters, and Zenyatta, who much more reliably doles out buffs and debuffs. I’m a half-decent player (my own win rate is above 50% with my most played classes, but only 36% with Symmetra) so I like to think it’s not just that i’m incompetent.
So, what makes her bad and not fun to play? A brief summary of her abilities – she can give shields to allies, build small short-range turrets, and her Ultimate builds a teleporter from spawn with six uses. This doesn’t really work because:
- To cover an area with her turrets as effectively as Torbjorn, you need to put a lot of time and energy into it, while not doing much else. Torbjorn can set up a turret in seconds, which covers a massive area. He can then immediately start fighting and giving out armour.
- Her defining feature – and best way of helping her team – is her ultimate. No other character is so dependent on their ultimate to be useful.
- Her teleporter is useful only at a few times – early in the game when defending, and later on when attacking.
- When defending, building enough Ultimate for the teleporter means the point is usually half lost before she’s ready to deploy it.
- And when attacking, her other main ability – her turrets – are nearly useless.
- (That’s a bit disingenuous maybe – you can certainly set them up around corners to block counter-pushes, assuming the enemy counter-pushes, and does so round that one corner. The turrets are so weedy individually that it’s nearly useless to deploy them in combat.)
- Her last ability – the shields – can only be deployed on each player once per life, and doesn’t honestly do much to keep them alive. Plus, it’s boring to use, requiring a single button-press and looking in the ally’s direction. To me at least, it feels like make-work.
So how does one fix Symmetra? What changes can be made to make her viable on defence and attack, stand out from the other classes, and to be more enjoyable to play? There’s a few ways of thinking about this.
Numerical fixes: The easiest and worst way. I’m sure that one could make her more effective simply by tweaking numbers – if her turrets were faster to deploy, and did more damage, she could use them in combat much more effectively. This would make her standard defence strategy of “three turrets on a corner” more effective too, which wouldn’t be terribly fun – but it would allow that strategy to be shaken up a bit.
Some Kind Of Reshuffle: Her teleporter is her most useful ability. Lets rearrange her powers to put that in one of her two primary slots- probably with limits like a slow cooldown – and move either her shields or her turrets to the Ultimate slot. Shields as an ultimate is exactly what Lucio does, so lets not do that. Instead, what about her turrets?
Perhaps her Ult allows her to place, say, ten small turrets – less damage, slightly smaller range, but instant-build (they build as soon as they hit, firing at about the speed Zenyatta shoots) and about as much stamina. It’s useful defensively – set up those turrets on or around the point very quickly – and offensively – cover an enemy defensive position with mini-turrets, and force them to waste time smashing them or take bee-sting damage. You can spread them around a wide area, or just plonk them all down in one point to create a small bubble of high damage. It synchs well with Zarya and Mei, balances out Lucio, and acts as a pretty good counter to Reinhardt in general.
She’s The One With The Teleporter: This takes the reshuffle idea further: her teleporter is what makes her unique. Lets put the teleporter front and centre, and build the rest of her abilities around that. How can a teleporter be a viable main-slot power? Perhaps if it had fewer uses – three, say – and recharged more quickly. Rather than retreating from the fight to hide her teleporter and spend more time defending it, she chucks it down more or less immediately where she is, and then a minute later is ready to do so again for the next few players. This is useful either on defence or attack. She isn’t – and shouldn’t be – much of a roamer, so typically wherever she is at the time is a good place to go. The fast turnover makes the death of the teleporter less of a big deal, and means it should always be somewhere relevant.
What other abilities can we give her to synch with that? We want to encourage her team to help defend the teleporter – perhaps it hands out buffs as well? Some small puddle of healing, or perhaps a passive version of her current shields? (Her shielding could be passive very easily, allowing her a whole extra ability.) An alternative might be to make the teleporter also act as a dispenser to nearby teammates, meaning that her role is to keep moving the teleporter around the battlefield – moving it up for best efficiency on attack, moving it around so it can’t be hunted down on defence.
If the “Dispenser” heals (and the way Overwatch’s ammunition works, i’m not sure what else it could do – armour? damage buffs?) she could be a very viable support – a static but tougher Lucio, plus the teleportation.
Back To Basics: Let me quote her official hero biography.
Symmetra literally bends reality. By manipulating hard-light constructs, she crafts the world as she wishes it to be, in hopes of engineering a perfect society.
She’s a builder. She makes things out of light. This is, to me, an incredibly evocative image that her current powerset simply doesn’t live up to. The fiddly turrets and teleporter could be made out of anything: “made out of light” sounds like such a fantastic sentence to design game mechanics around, it’s a real disappointment that we’ve ended up with “a laser gun”.
The background or “fluff” should always come after the mechanics of design, but for situations where the theme (“made of light”) and purpose (“usefully support a team”) are both clear, using the fluff to inform the mechanics can lead to brilliant, naturalistic results. (Think how well Lucio is themed around music and buffs, or Mei around ice and being fucking annoying.) I shan’t try and be too specific here, but starting from the theme and purpose above, here are some ideas:
- Holograms. Perhaps Symmetra should be able to protect teammates by surrounding them or replacing them with holographic copies of themselves. Perhaps she should be able to create holographic snipers or turrets to mislead enemies, or throw up walls that block vision but aren’t solid to players or projectiles.
- Lasers. I scoffed at laser guns earlier, but instead, tripwire or damaging lasers could be a useful ability to play around with, similarly to the mines some others have.
- Walls and Barriers. Constructed items like Winston’s shield or Mei’s icewall would be perfect for “building with light” – glittering see-through solid objects would be far easier to sell as “made of light” rather than fiddly technological things. If the abilities didn’t exist i’d suggest that they be given to Symmetra – i’d love to see a Support who works by reshaping the level. Hell, maybe she could even move them on the fly to shove enemies around.
- New Paths. On a similar note, creating ramps and staircases might be more difficult to design, but would make her provide an entirely new kind of buff. Could well make some other classes more powerful though.
- Shields. At the moment, many kinds of shields that exist only last for a few seconds, or have a given amount of damage they can absorb, such as Reinhardt. An interesting buff mechanic could be to allow Symmetra to heal other players shields – not too fast, or Reinhardt or Winston would become unstoppable, but putting a jolt of health into a shield would be a fun thing to do, especially if combined with a mechanic that encourages her to otherwise leave the prepared defensive position.
- Overloads. And an idea for an ultimate – what if she could overload enemy shields into an explosion? Breaking Reinhardt walls already usually requires an ultimate, so it’s not tremendously overpowered. It gives her a neat counter-attack or pushing ability – perhaps a slow projectile that, when it hits a shield (any kind of shield) detonates it, with damage proportional to the strength of shield remaining. Numbers could be tweaked – perhaps a delay on the explosion, or changed strength – to balance it, but, like the best existing ultimates (Teleporter, Resurrection, Blizzard), even the threat of it would change how both teams play.
- What if she could do this to shields she herself deploys? Imagine giving somebody a Zarya-style bubble shield, which as an ultimate she can explode remotely – work with your ally to turn them into a bomb!
If you were hoping a final set of conclusions from this, i’m sorry to disappoint you: I wouldn’t want to draw definite suggestions without more data. Perhaps everyone I haven’t spoken to loves Symmetra, and i’m an idiot. I hope not: this is a lot of words to write to just be wrong.
In conclusion, here’s a video of someone getting Play Of The Game as her without even seeing an enemy. I think we all owe Torbjorn an apology.