Mercy’s Rework is a Bad Direction for Overwatch

In a recent developer update, Overwatch’s game director Jeff Kaplan announced a substantial rework of the playstyle of healer Mercy. In between repeatedly telling players not to worry, he outlined a new set of abilities that seemed, well, worrying.

Mercy is – or was – one of Overwatch’s most popular heroes. She was also one of the most hated. Much of this polarisation came down to her ultimate, Resurrect. Mercy was able to swoop into a downed team and revive allied players. It was exhilarating to pull off and widely considered utterly frustrating to have to play against.

Mercy is my second most played hero (falling a little behind D.Va, who is also being reworked). This began accidentally – teams in Overwatch rarely have healers, yet almost certainly need one to win. So I began to acquiesce.

Thank your healers

There are certainly many reasons why Overwatch’s healers are underpicked, but a major one is how thankless the job is. No one wants to play healer, but everyone has an opinion on how they should be played. Not able to reach a far away hero who needs healing? Not wasting your ultimate on picking up a single downed attack hero? Died because no one was protecting you? You’d better be ready for unwarranted criticism, and potentially abuse.

For me, Resurrect made it all worthwhile. There was a heady power in holding the ability to undo a devastating enemy push. Mercy’s new kit comes with a single target rez, but it’ll never give the same feeling that came from her old ultimate.

Certainly, Resurrect could be frustrating to play against. So are most characters. I’ve never been as angry at an enemy Mercy’s ultimate as I have at a good Widowmaker or a well protected Bastion. Mercy could turn a game around, certainly – but so can a Zenyatta or just about any of the offensive ults. And there’s little more irritating than playing as a healer against a team that knows how to take one down at every opportunity.

I’m biased. But so is everyone – and a lot of people loved to hate on Mercy.

The “no skill” problem

As I wrote about before, certain Overwatch heroes have become the centre of a storm regarding the kind of skill required to play them. Mercy was a lynchpin of this argument. People hated that she was easy to pick up, and especially that her ultimate could be used effectively without much practice. In truth, playing Mercy well takes plenty of skill, but the perception was that it was unfair that a character should be so valuable while being “for noobs.”

Blizzard valued this frustration enough to entirely change her character. This is not something they have done for other widespread community irritations; those that aren’t rooted in a desperate need to prove something about how “gud” you are.

In acting upon that frustration, they have taken away the fact that Mercy was an invaluable way in for players unfamiliar or uncomfortable with generic first person shooter skills. In doing so, they have made their game far less approachable and inclusive. That they did this to appease a section of the community that appears primarily concerned with how well the game rewards twitch reactions demonstrates an unnerving priority.

Having validated the community’s perception that “easy to play” characters ought to become more involved, what’s to stop the variety of playstyles and skills needed being flattened beyond recognition? What’s to stop them removing everything that makes a disabled reviewer like Latif call the game “amazing”?

The new kit

Not only will new Mercy no longer be a foothold for newer players, she will be an even more thankless pick for everyone. Ignoring people demanding resurrection will no longer be rewarded by a vindicating triple-plus-rez – you might know that picking up the tank instead of the Genji was the right decision, but the impact won’t be as obvious, nor as dopamine-inducing.

Moreover, surviving her new resurrect is far more difficult. Not only is Mercy no longer invulnerable during its activation, but she also must get within five metres of the spot a character (one likely less squishy than her) just died in. More deaths means more times gritting your teeth at hearing “I need healing!” while you’re on your way back from the spawn room. And there’ll be the cries of “why didn’t you rez me?!” I doubt Mercy’s getting a keybiding for “because you died in a maelstrom of bullets that I can’t survive either.”

In its current state, her new ultimate, Valkyrie, is fairly fun to use (though not as fun as Resurrect was). During it, she can fly, and her abilities are all much more powerful. However, Blizzard is already considering nerfing her pistol power during it, making it much more of a “do exactly what you were doing, but better and in the air.” It doesn’t have the kick that Resurrect had – and once players adapt to focus on killing her during Valkyrie, it’ll be even less rewarding.

Who is this for?

Those saying that her current test build is overpowered generally appear to be those who didn’t play her much in the first place. Those who played her before played her because they enjoyed her, and while there will no doubt be those who do enjoy playing new Mercy more than old Mercy, the general feel seems to be one of lower appeal. This makes sense considering Blizzard’s concern that she was overpicked, but seems fairly damaging in a game where getting a single healer in a team of six people already feels like an uphill battle.

But at least there won’t be any more huge rezzes, right?

Crucially, my concern here is not just that a hero I previously enjoyed playing in the right circumstances will now be entirely different in a bunch of ways that I, personally, dislike. It is also that – but more, new Mercy doesn’t feel like she belongs in the Overwatch that I fell in love with. Instead, she feels emblematic of the parts of the game I’ve long pushed back against – inaccessibility; genericism; and a resentful, angry community.

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Jay Castello

Jay is a freelance games writer specialising in intersectional feminist critique, how to improve games and use them to improve the world, and cute dogs. She loves inhabiting digital spaces in all their forms, and being constantly surprised by just how weird and wonderful games can be.


2 responses to “Mercy’s Rework is a Bad Direction for Overwatch”

  1. Every team needs a healer? Sure – that’s true across basically any game with a healer as an option. But what a healer does is fairly niche in terms of scope, which means that it’s pretty… Unlikely… for a healer to be OP, at least because of their healing ability. So… It seems far more likely that if this is a nerf for Mercy in the grand scheme of things (rather than changing the skillset she plays into, in which case… Why bother?), then it seems more likely that the other healers needed a buff. Every team needs a healer in everything that has healers, but healers are rarely OP; if only one healer is viable in a game with multiple, and if Mercy is getting picked over other healers that’s probably the case, it’s more likely that the other healers need a buff (…Or to be made as fun to use as Mercy is, if they’re about even)

    Honestly, the way you tell it it’s reminiscent of a GDC talk about a dev team that was trying to balance around a shotgun which they kept thinking was OP for how often people went for it, and no matter how they nerfed it, even if the data was telling them it wasn’t that effective, people kept using the shotgun over anything else over various games in the franchise and patches, and every time they nerfed it people were going “No, no, you don’t understand, it didn’t need nerfing.” – Eventually they realized that the reason that people were disproportionately picking shotgun over anything else was that it was the most fun weapon to use, and that instead of nerfing it, they should have been making the other weapons as fun to use (Not even necessarily buffing them, just making them feel better to use)

  2. It’s interesting how Blizzard observed “Mercy is a must-pick for her rez ability”, tried to change that, and made her even more of a must-pick. Her new rez is even more powerful (it works more often and you can squeeze four into one ult pull or sth). She is even more of a must-pick in team deathmatch.

    They also might have missed that their ranking system greatly favors players who just play Mercy all the time. Switching heroes, which should be encouraged since there’s counters to every hero’s ability and situational picks, yields less points. Consistently supporting your team with heals while staying out of the fight yields more points. I don’t think that has been adressed at all.

    Imo, Blizzard should look into buffing all the other healers slightly, to make them viable options and to remind people that they are still fun to use. Like Lucio, who always has been my “low skill healer” pick and also is a lot of fun to play.

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