After almost four years, you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s nowhere left for Overwatch
to go. Well, Blizzard is certainly aiming to prove all of us wrong with the arrival of hero number 32. The next hero to join the fray, Echo will likely prove to be one of the game’s most revolutionary additions, with a suite of impressive abilities, aerial mobility, and an absolutely ludicrous ultimate.
Our first glimpse of Echo was in the 2018 short film, “Reunion,” with cowboy McCree telling the hologram-faced AI that Overwatch was finally getting back together. Things went a little dark thereafter until the Overwatch 2 announcement in which Echo swooped in to help save Paris from Null Sector robots in a scene that, to Overwatch fans at least, rivaled Marvel’s Avengers’ “on your left” moment.
Now, like Overwatch, we’re finally in the present day, and though Echo’s roots are firmly in Overwatch’s past, it’s her future that excites me the most.
Echo is the creation of the Singaporean Dr. Mina Liao, one of the original creators of the Omnic line of robots. When the Omnics went rogue and started causing mass mayhem, the guilt-ridden doctor saw fit to create Echo, a different kind of AI that would learn by observation in order to fill any niche that Overwatch needed while out in the field. When Dr. Liao died in a tragic attack, Echo was promptly shut away by Overwatch leadership, where she stayed until her eventual rescue.
An Assault Hero Who Can Adapt to Almost Anything
When it comes to actually diving into the battlefield and duking it out, the fundamental idea behind Echo is her skillset can adapt to numerous situations. And much like an airborne Pharah or a Doomfist plowing through your frontlines, she’ll be a constant source of focus for the enemy team.
I got my first taste of just how powerful Echo can be on Rialto’s payload map. With long sightlines and plenty of vertical space, I was able to capitalize on Echo’s ability to vertically (and sometimes horizontally) flank the enemy team’s Reinhardt and other defenses.
Right out of the gate, I’m looking to apply pressure on any enemy dumb enough to stick their neck out beyond the safety of their shield tanks. While those first few yards of Rialto can be a difficult area to establish dominance on, I immediately fly up into the air and proceed to pressure a McCree on a second-story balcony to abandon his post. With the press of a button, Echo can shoot off in one direction. What direction you go will depend on what direction you’re left stick/WASD key is pushing or if you’re jumping or not, making it a little more involved (and hectic) than a Pharah burst jump or Mercy flight. It’s not quite as fast as a Pharah jump, but it’s definitely more versatile, allowing you to cross a decent distance, like the large canal in Rialto. Echo can also descend about as slowly as a Mercy, allowing her to maintain that aerial command for a few seconds to capitalize on the team’s forward momentum.
I’m at no loss for options when I want to pressure an enemy player out of their position and hopefully eliminating them. My primary fire, a Doomfist-like burst shot that extends from Echo’s holographic fingertips, stretches a surprising distance. Couple that with Echo’s secondary fire, a slower burst of three sticky bombs, and you can make mincemeat of heroes with 200 HP. The sticky bombs are definitely difficult to land in the right spot, but they’ve got enough of a burst radius that even a missed shot can help scare off an enemy from reestablishing a position, much like a stray Junkrat grenade.
Though the enemy McCree is trying to shoot me out of the sky like any other hitscan hero, my team is able to sweep up and push the payload around the first corner. The surviving enemy Orisa is quick to set down a new shield, turtling in order to stall the payload. I’m playing with Blizzard playtesters, thank goodness, so they’re smart enough to focus Orisa’s shield to break it down. My Echo isn’t content to just sit back and let them take all the glory, though.
Seeing Orisa’s shield start to crack, I descend and unleash my third ability: A short-range “focus beam” that deals extra damage when a target (be it a shield or an enemy player) is at 50% health. It’s fairly useless when an enemy is topped off, but it’s perfect for cinching that all-important final kill that helps snowball your momentum, and it really emphasizes the careful balance between playing it safe from a distance and closing in for the kill.
Things are going just swell above the waterways of Rialto when my team hits a snag on the tight corner after the canal bridge. The enemy has established a strong command of those two different angles, and the team makeup just doesn’t have the aggression it needs.
Echo’s ultimate, “Duplicate,” is about to change all of that. Being a robot who learns by adopting the habits of those around it, it makes sense that Echo would see plenty of opportunities in other people.
I trigger my ultimate and manage to point at the enemy Zarya through the chaos, making Echo shapeshift into a bright blue version of my enemy – at full health and with a ludicrously faster ultimate ability rate. My own team’s Reinhardt seizes on this sudden change, and suddenly we’re a barreling combo of hammer and energy beam, coupled with plentiful shield bubbles. Within seconds, I’ve charged my ultimate, launching a graviton bomb and pinning the enemy team in a vulnerable position. They have no idea how to combat an enemy they never anticipated being there in the first place.
Echo’s various abilities help us push the payload all the way to the final, claustrophobic room of Rialto, and while we’ve put the enemy in a tough spot, we’re halted once again. With one last ultimate at the ready, I fly up between the main door’s archway, scan the battlefield below for a suitable target, and end up selecting the enemy’s Brigitte. In half a second, the area around the payload has become a massive whirlwind of mace and hammer swings, with my teammates sensing the push, which only adds to the maelstrom. Dueling cries of “rally to me!” break out amidst the noise, and when the dust settles, those final few inches have been secured.
Deep Roots, Long Future
Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan is visibly excited for Echo to dramatically shake up the way we all play Overwatch, citing her ability to create those exact ludicrous scenarios.
“We were defending on the final point, and we totally had the enemy team owned. They could not get through us at all. And then their Echo player [used two Roadhog ultimates], and the Whole Hog just blew us all off the point, like a leaf blower.”
Kaplan also cites another playtest session when the enemy team managed to bunker up a Bastion behind two shields. As Echo, he managed to fly behind the enemy team, and catch them unaware by turning into a Bastion of his own.
“Because Echo was brand new to the team at that point, we weren’t used to seeing her in playtest, the whole team is like “where did Bastion come from?! How did he get back there?! I thought he was on our team!” Kaplan says. “The creativity that opened up was just like well, wait a second, I’m going to use your tool against you. Not only to just become Bastion for a brief moment, but to set up behind them and shoot into their bunker was kind of an amazing moment.”
Though Echo has roots in character designs from Blizzard’s canceled Titan project (the failed MMO that became Overwatch), it’s clear that she could fundamentally alter the way both casual and professional teams think about their hero choices. Not only must you now consider what attack and defense options you’re giving yourself, but also what options you’re giving an enemy Echo player who will likely get a quick ultimate. Like a Nano-Boosted Reinhardt, Echo’s ultimate demands your attention, sparking exhilarating chaos that make for those hold-your-breath bar brawls Overwatch match finales are made for.
During development, Echo was basically auditioned as every kind of role: Assault, tank, and healer. Ultimately, losing any role but an assault proved frustrating for playtesters, so the team settled on keeping a lethal edge to Echo.
“That damage role started tweaking her story a little bit, too,” says Geoff Goodman, hero designer on Overwatch. “If she’s going to be this weapon, she gets…not an aggressive backstory, she has a little more of an edge to her because she’s a lethal machine. We started with that ultimate and built around it.”
Like any new Overwatch hero, it will probably take some time for players to get used to Echo. Her core abilities are familiar but tweaked just enough that we’ll all certainly be spending a week looking like little idiot hummingbirds flying around the battlefield. That said, if she can reliably make for the kinds of knock-down-drag-out fights I had after only a little bit of time at the wheel, then I might just be much more willing to sit through those long assault queues. Overwatch continues to surprise, and Echo will be no exception as we barrel towards Overwatch 2.
Echo launches today on the Overwatch Public Test Region on PC. Blizzard hasn’t confirmed when she’ll be available for general play, though. In the meantime, make sure to check out all our Overwatch 2 coverage, including the full Overwatch story leading up to Overwatch 2, and our Overwatch 2 gameplay impressions.
Joseph Knoop is a writer/producer for IGN.