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Sombra Gameplay: Hands-on with Blizzard's new Overwatch character

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After months of teasing, Sombra was announced as the 23rd Overwatch hero at Blizzcon 2016.

I got an opportunity to try out Sombra on the Blizzcon show floor, getting an early look at the Mexican hacker hero.

When Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime announced Sombra, he described her as a stealthy, offensive infiltrator who can “hack enemy abilities” and “turn the tide of battle in subtle and not so subtle ways”. I’d say that’s a fair enough description; she reminds me of playing Reaper or Tracer, sneaking behind enemy lines to take out enemies.

But first, let’s touch on character and storyline. Sombra is a hacker and cryptographer who, coincidentally, occasionally works with fellow hero Reaper on some good old-fashioned espionage. She’s mostly clad in purple, rocks a fierce undercut, and chatters away in a thick Mexican accent that would make Donald Trump have a panic attack. It’s clear that Blizzard was going for a futuristic cyber-punk vibe, and I’d say they got it spot on.

Right, onto gameplay. Sombra’s primary weapon is a machine pistol, which fires in a short-range spread – no sniping, folks. Seriously, it becomes increasingly pathetic the further you are from your target, and the reticle bloom ramps up quickly too. That said, with practised tapping, you can pick off weak foes in the mid-range. Overall, I'd say the pistol seems balanced, and it fits Sombra's character design too.

Sombra also has a passive ability called ‘Opportunist’, which allows her to see critically injured enemies through walls. This makes her a great choice if you like sneaking deep behind enemy lines and finish off battle-worn foes. Unlike the pistol, I think Blizzard needs to give this a little work. Right now, it feels very overpowered – it's way too easy to track down weak enemies and finish them off. Potential solutions could be reducing the health cap that activates Opportunist, or reduce the range it tracks over.

She also has four distinct abilities, which I’ll outline in turn. The first is called ‘Hack’, and it’s basically a silence. Using it on enemies prevents them from being able to use their abilities, while using it on a first aid kit disables the power-up for the enemy team. It's mostly useful when sneaking up on enemies that have strong short-range abilities. But it's not so strong in the heat of battle – unless you have excellent timing, of course.

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Then there’s the ‘Thermoptic Camo’, which is what really enables Sombra to live out her role as a stealthy infiltrator. Activating the camo will turn you invisible for a short time, as well as boosting your speed significantly. The only downside is that if you take or deal damage while invisible, the camo will be deactivated. My advice is to be doubly cautious about dodging traps, and avoid walking through ongoing firefights – flank, then spank. This was probably the ability I used the most, because it's handy for both killing and general map mobility.

Next up is the ‘Translocator’, a beacon that allows for teleporting. Once you’ve thrown out the beacon, you can instantly return to it by tapping 'E' again, with the aim of juking critical blows – or just getting around quicker. What’s really cool is that you don’t even need to set the beacon on the ground to teleport; you can zip to it even when it’s in mid-flight. Using it doesn't cancel your Thermoptic Camo either, so it's very handy to transfer between buildings or rooftops surreptitiously, or getting behind a foe without having to flank them.

And finally, there’s the ‘EMP’, which is Sombra’s ultimate ability. It basically discharges an electromagnetic energy field in a wide circle around you, destroying barriers and shields – and ‘hacking’ (read: silencing) enemies caught in the blast too. I didn't get much use out of this, largely because it's very dependent on timing. It's best paired with offensive ultimates from other heroes – think Pharah's Q, for instance.

First Impressions

Sombra is insanely fun to play; I can't wait for her to roll out on live servers. She's mobile, stealthy, and has a very versatile and powerful toolkit. There's real joy to be had in stealthing behind a team and gunning them down, only to hit stealth again and teleport away – as if you were never there.

The caveat to all this is that I'm convinced Sombra is a little overpowered right now. Her speed boost when stealthing seems unfairly quick, and her 'Opportunist' passive is far too generous. I'm sure Blizzard will tone her down for launch – although she may become less useful over time as players get more savvy to her tricks.

In any case, Sombra feels like a very complete hero with thoughtful and playful design.She'll be available next week on public test realms, although we’re not sure about her actual release date just yet.

Related: Blizzcon 2016

Watch: Overwatch gameplay

What do you think of Sombra? Let us know in the comments.

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