The Overwatch Problem: Translating Design Part 2
Tanks were never meant to be simple, but they were meant to be direct.
Tanks are a role dedicated to singular purpose.
That purpose, however, has several traits to it (Resources, Space, Timing among others) and several avenues of approach (Peel, Barriers, CC to name a few) and it is within the combination of these traits and avenues that we can see the skeleton of how Tanks are designed.
Initially, Tanks were relatively straight-forward; large Health Pools, Damage Mitigation techniques, both passive and active (Armour v. Abilities) and some Engagement tools that put them in Range of their opponents. Often limited in their application of damage, they were the bedrock for approaching objectives and allowing their team to achieve goals.
But with the advent of Overwatch 2, there's been a significant shift. Dropping to a single Tank, means there's no longer two bodies piloting simplified hulks who, when combined, prompt synergies (of varied efficiency) that achieve their goals and approach objectives.
Now it is down to a single Tank to accomplish the same feats and that, similar to Supports, brings a radically different approach to design.
With that in mind, Translating the Design of Tanks for Overwatch 2, needs to come with relatively easy to understand metaphors, whose function allows players a glimpse...an X-ray aimed at the skeleton of Tank Design and how to understand their foundations.
So without further ado, let's explore the Archetypes of Tank Design:
For every Tool a use -
Tanks operate like tools; Looking for a specific tool for a specific use, that often turns into a blunt way to navigate many situations. A Hammer has a very specific thing it does, very well, putting a nail in, but can be used in a variety of other situations to accomplish a goal. Sometimes with brute force, sometimes with careful balancing and other times with significant weight but it is first, always, a Hammer.
Each of the Archetypes is meant to take advantage of this "Tank is a Tool" mindset, forging a path through that Tool's use to establish varied playstyles.
Of all the Tools in the Box that players can make use of, one of the most commonly recognized and known within the Community? Is the Anchor.
Anchor Tanks (Reinhardt, Sigma, Winston)
Tanks engage their Environment, from locking down cover, to challenging objectives, to cutting off escape routes and setting up safe zones around the map for their teammates. No other Archetype does this better than the Anchor Tank.
An Anchor Tank establishes a zone of influence that is comfortable for them. Their ability to do this is in part because of their entire kits, but the single unifying element of an Anchor is in their Barrier. Wielding it as a (Temporary) blockade, Anchor Tanks drive wedges between the enemy and their Teammates, chaining themselves to a part of the map and drawing an imaginary circle to their Anchored point in which they can operate to maximum efficiency.
Some do this by rapidly switching their Anchor point (Winston and his bubble can create rapid Anchorage to different positions using his Jump Pack), while others take a more steady attrition approach (Sigma's damage attrition combined with his Barrier and Gravitic grasp can chew away at an Enemy position).
Player Viability: Low - Moderate. Rigid by Design, Anchor Tanks tend to have little in the way of flexibility to their playstyles, but make up for it in their ability to leverage resources out of the enemy, who have to dedicate those Resources to punching through their Barriers just to get at the Tank (and their Team). Understanding Attrition, offensively and defensively, is a key component of Anchor Tanking.
Design Viability: Low - Moderate. That same Rigidity in play can make designing new Anchor Tanks difficult. Barriers come with limitations on their application and can quickly get out of hand, if not designed with care. This Archetype is also one of the most direct, least Ranged capable and easily focused by enemies, which can make the balance of power for them, hard to find.
Current Issues: Currently, Winston and Reinhardt are in too simple a state, with the inevitable release of future heroes steadily pushing them back into niche value (Rein especially) until they are updated to fit with OW2's "More" value system. Sigma's barrier, meanwhile, is still the most powerful in the game with it's omni-directional approach. Further Designs would need to keep this in mind and find unique options while avoiding "Sigma does it better". Designing more Anchor tanks and adjusting the current ones might not be doable until Sigma's Barrier is looked at, possibly even removed by shifting him into another Archetype.
Sponge Tanks (Dva, Zarya)
Sponges absorb what they touch, soaking up spillage and depositing it into safe, unharmful or more useful locations, often times even converting areas into previously inaccessible zones. A Sponge Tank operates similarly, absorbing incoming Damage to themselves and their Teammates in order to create well timed windows of safe passage from one area to the next.
Unlike Anchors, Sponges go with the flow, bringing their safety with them in a constantly mobile and adaptable area. They don't protect cover, they are cover, at least for short periods of time.
Sponges are the Tanks most often associated with "Peel", denying damage onto their teammates to ensure safety. This Peel is a temporary moment of invulnerability and/or immunity that requires good timing, resource management and cooldowns. A Sponge Tank can make all the difference for a good engagement on the enemy or the facilitating of a retreat to safety.
Player Viability: Moderate to High. Adaptable, versatile and often applicable in many situations, Sponge Tanks rely heavily on the Range of their Peel (High Burst Mobility, Long Range delivery and Area/Line of Sight denial) to achieve success but can flummox new players when faced with their Timing intensive playstyle. When mastered though, the split-second decision making of these Tanks and their applied resources are incomparable.
Design Viability: Moderate. The versatility of Sponge Tanks, makes them an ideal baseline to aim for among Tanks, but it can also leave their Design somewhat nebulous in direction. Cancelling Damage can be frustrating to play against unless their are notable ways to work around it (D-matrix can't block Melee/Beam weapons, while Zarya Bubbles have a breaking point and can be punched through with enough damage applied), and it can be tempting to steer away from the Design challenges of this in favour of more focused Archetypes.
Current Issues: Both Zarya and Dva are exceptionally well designed, to the point that major changes to their kits could result in wonky balance or gimmicky additions as well as Playability disruption. This creates a unique issue, where-in more problematic design choices in other heroes can push these two out of play as more heroes with access to Sponge Tanks weaknesses enter the game (This is the same reason Genji, despite his exceptional design, can struggle to find purchase in the game.)
Hammer Tanks (Doomfist, Wrecking Ball)
Sometimes a nail is just a nail and sometimes, everything else just looks like one. Hammer Tanks operate with very direct, very specific purpose. Their goal is to cause as much disruption as possible, alleviating pressure on their teammates by both drawing attention and sowing chaos amongst the enemy ranks.
Fast, unpredictable and self-sufficient, Hammer Tanks go looking for nails to punch as often as possible, but will absolutely settle for smashing other things. Repeatedly. Displacement helps them secure Space, Openings and Force Errors while threading the needle of taking damage without dying. The Hammer lives in the margins, barely escaping with their lives or winning the race to death over their opponents by prolonging their life as long as possible.
A Hammer Tank goes looking for engagements, forcing the enemy team to alter their strategies and tactics on the fly, much to their teammates advantage.
Player Viability: High. Skill ceilings through the roof, the mechanical aptitude one has to have to play a Hammer Tank to it's maximum is significant. Their Tanking comes from their disruption, building protective sustain and knocking many of their opponents into vulnerable positions while keeping the attention on them so that the rest of their team can move freely and comfortably in their own objectives.
Design Viability: High. The Concept of Hammer Tanks is simple, but their execution often involves highly technical mechanics. There are many refinements to be found in the Design of a Hammer Tank, but CC is chief in their kit. Knockback has been the traditional go to method, but Slows, Stuns, Stalls and Displacements all have their place in the Hammer Tank arsenal. Without the complexity of their technical design, however, a Hammer Tank can become predictable. They are a highly focused Archetype though and once a style is identified, the entire kit can fall into place with ease.
Current Issues: There is some difficulty in balancing the Tanking aspects of a Hammer Tank (CC, Disruption and Confusion) with "Playability", where-in playing the Tank vs. Against them can feel lopsided, especially in lower Ranks of play. A significant tempering element to Hammer Tanks is pushing them to have a Team peel option beyond just their Disruption which is more offensive in nature. Experimenting with Hammond's Adaptive Shields, transferring a percentage gained (15%? 20%) to all allies in range might solve for some of his solo escapades and weaken his survivability enough to enjoy playing against him. Doomfist has a similar function in Overwatch 2 with his Power Block (despite needing some refinement), creating a vulnerability in his kit that has more balance of play.
Bucket Tanks: Junkerqueen, Roadhog
When a problem can't be solved with engaging, isolate it for more singular solutions. Bucket Tanks put enemy members into specific, controllable zones, locking that enemy away from the other enemy teammates to be dealt with more comfortably. This also ensures that the enemy Team has difficulty mounting a successful engagement or defense and secures the Bucket Tank's team strategy and goal.
Bucket Tanks utilize isolation techniques combined with high self-sufficiency and powerful damage to put constant threat on the map. Threat forces players to make bad choices and can zone the enemy into favourable pathing that the Bucket Tank and their team can exploit.
Like fish in a bucket.
Player Viability: Low - High. Bucket Tanks tend to be very fun to play, manipulating the other team into making poor choices and then capitalizing. They are also highly self-sufficient and can exist beyond their Team's expectations, allowing for a much more freeing experience. Solo-friendly but capable of high impact plays, Bucket Tanks come with significant hurdles and weaknesses, but trade it in for highly rewarding delivery.
Design Viability: Low - High. Probably one of the easier Tank types to design, a Bucket Tank can be boiled down to Survival, Isolation and Skill, minimizing many of the other Tank Archetypes demands in favour of a much more direct approach. Often referred to as 'DPS Tanks', they tend to be very friendly to Damage players and for good reason; Bucket Tanks, though easy to design, can often cross over into a poor state, using Damage specific traits (Pressure, Kill-potential, Burst etc.) on a Tank framework which...can be a nightmare to balance and play against, resulting in heavy handed counters/responses that ruin any chance of a Bucket Tank's playability (Bio-nade, Immortality Field etc.).
Current Issues: Too many Damage specific traits, not enough resilience. Bucket Tanks are easy to burn down, expecting that their Isolation techniques are going to net them a kill before they get destroyed. Their resilience needs to be a wider duration, while their damage is lowered to compensate, allowing them to exist longer and increase the Threat on the field over time with their presence. Roadhog's tanking elements last for 1 second, while Junkerqueen relies exclusively on Self-heal and Overhealth, both of which fall off, the more Anti-heal is added to the game. (Prolonged low-medium Damage Resistance should be the main goto for Bucket Tanks).
And then there was...
Orisa is in a really strange spot. There have been comments and confusion surrounding where she is meant to fit and not many people have an answer. Super fun and enjoyable as she is, the fact she can't be played at the Pro level, has clear weaknesses against much of the cast and can't provide any sort of Tanking capability to her Team (that isn't outpaced by it's value to her exclusively), means Orisa is a bit lost.
The reason? Orisa is a patchwork of different Archetypes. She has the Isolation of a Bucket Tank in her Spear Spin ability, able to segregate members of the enemy team but puts herself in danger at the same time. It's also her only movement ability and gets used as much for, if not more for, escapes and repositioning.
Fortify is still a powerful ability, but the cooldown of it makes it a 'Wait for CD' option to fight against and with less CC in the game, it isn't as valuable against those who might have once struggled against it and doesn't offer the Ult-Denying safety of an Anchor Tank barrier or the momentary immunity of a Sponge Tank.
Javelin is very effective and probably the best part of her kit now, securing kills for herself or her team, interrupting key abilities (and ults) and giving her long range follow-up to her Fusion Driver.
All of this puts her in a position to be a Bucket Tank, but with even more exploitable weaknesses without the damage or kit to even it out. There is literally a Tank that is better than her in every conceivable circumstance, making the question of her Design:
What was the point?
There are directions that she can be taken. A few design options that could push her in several directions, by either getting her firmly into the Bucket Tank archetype with stronger isolation techniques (Javelin snaring a Target in place for a short 1-2 seconds, rather than a stun) and survival (Remove mobility from Spear Spin and put it on Fortify) or go all in on her design as a Sponge Tank and upgrade her ability to provide Immunity to her Team in short bursts and at range (The ability to launch Spear Spin away from her, eating projectiles and pushing enemies back).
These are just the stand out archetypes as a baseline. There’s room for hybrid mechanics and abilities, naturally, there’s also room for more archetypes to be found in the design phase but the more important element of all this is to recognize that the Archetypes point out problems in the way these characters are designed by granting players a method of communication and translation.
Tanks represent a very important component of the game, especially come Overwatch 2 when they will be reduced to just one per team. It is critical that their Design makes some sense with the remainder of the game given that they will be the most obvious driving force behind Player perceptions and Entertainment.
But if Junkerqueen is any indication? We might just be getting "More Everything" as a standard of play.
We'll see how that goes.