Hands On with Sombra: Strengths and Weaknesses
After the announcement of Overwatch’s most anticipated hero, Sombra, I was able to get a hands on trial of the character. While we are not sure if the damage and cooldown values will stay the same, I was able to get a very good handle on the character itself.
Let's first summarize her kit and abilities, also seen and demonstrated on her hero page:
- Hack (Right-click, 12 sec CD): Sombra hacks enemies to temporarily stop them from using their abilities, or hacks first aid kits to make them useless to her opponents.
- Thermoptic Camo (Shift, 6 sec CD): Sombra becomes invisible for a short period of time, during which her speed is boosted considerably. Attacking, using offensive abilities, or taking damage disables her camouflage.
- Translocator (E, 6 sec CD and 15 sec duration): Sombra tosses out a translocator beacon. She can instantly return to the beacon's location while it is active (including when it's in mid-flight).
- EMP (Ultimate): Sombra discharges electromagnetic energy in a wide radius, destroying enemy barriers and shields and hacking all opponents caught in the blast.
- Opportunist (Passive): Due to her surveillance implants, Sombra can see the location of enemies with 50% or lower health, even through walls.
The biggest thing I loved about Sombra was how smooth she felt to play. Her stealth ability, Thermoptic Camo, is the most iconic ability in her skill set. While it takes a little time to channel the stealth, she is given a speedboost during the duration of the stealth. In terms of utility, this allows for Sombras to get into good flanking positions and optimize her silence ability, Hack. Hack is a short to mid ranged ability, which requires a two second channel before silencing the hero targeted. This ability lies on the higher impact side of the competitive scene by completely negating ability-reliant heroes, like Reinhardt and Zenyatta. Especially when being able to get behind enemy lines is only an ability away, Hack can be coordinated with a strong offensive engage to completely offset the defensive structure being set up. Hack is also able to target health packs to lock down the location from opposition use. This is ridiculous when teams are able to cut off specific areas of the map. Due to the very high duration of the lockout, teams can siege locations more efficient, by punishing locations with few health pack spawns.
If the speed boost and stealth aren’t enough to get into the optimal infiltration position, Sombra also carries a translocator, which gives her a set location for a one-time teleport. While the translocator lasts for fifteen seconds upon impact, the player is able to trigger the teleport midthrow. While Sombra loses the momentum carried with the throw, the lag between the throw and activation is extremely minimal, allowing for an almost instantaneous displacement. This can be used to dodge Roadhog hooks, while also allowing for an escape in sticky situations. These different tools to lock down locations and elude capture makes Sombra feel like a Call of Duty character. Her run and gun style rewards skilled players with the ability to pile on flank damage, while also being able to escape relatively safely. A good player would be able to simultaneously silence a long range enemy threat and immediately recalling to attack the now weakened frontline.
Her last and Ultimate ability is the EMP. Without question, this is the ability with the biggest game impact in the game. Her AOE silence is compounded with a shield and barrier negations. This is able to completely wipe out a Lucio ultimate, while also stripping the barriers from characters, like Zarya and Zen. This ability is extremely strong by being able to surprise supports and defensive characters, who may be attempting to prep ultimates to influence team fights. I definitely expect Sombra to be counters to Ana, Lucio, and Mercy (all characters who are extremely ultimate dependent).
For all of her mobility and damage, Sombra doesn’t fit in with her offensive characterization. Sombra suffers by having extremely short effective range, which makes her reliant on her stealth and translocator to get around the map. This would be fine if her stealth was not broken by taking any sort of damage. In my gameplay, Sombra felt extremely flimsy, especially when trying to attack positions with very little flank possibility. Upon being immediately spotted, Sombra does not have any consistent ways to escape, especially if the translocator was used to position her immediately before. For this reason, Sombra will often spend most of her time trying to position correctly, versus being heavily engaged in teamfighting.
The need to position correctly leaves Sombra in an extremely swingy situation when fighting against enemy momentum. While she has the ability to punish aggressive pushing, she is almost required to play perfectly to avoid being revealed by stray shots. A major worry is how effective her team will be when trying to wait for the infiltrator’s flank. This was a similar qualm with Pharah and Mercy compositions, who would often leave the rest of the team to fight a lopsided battle, while waiting for their win conditions. As a damage dealer, it would not be surprising to see uncoordinated teams left out to dry, as one of their primary carries is trying to make her way into the backline of the opponents.
Sombra is an extremely volatile character. In my head, I see her as an aggressive utility character, almost the other side of the coin of Mei, who is more of a passive utility character. Sombra’s passive, Opportunist, grants vision of critical health targets, allowing greater coordination and better target selection. With utility and silence abilities able to completely change teamfights, she quickly becomes a must pick in any composition. On the flipside, her reliance on optimizing cooldown management and positioning will punish bad decisions and expose less skilled players. I expect teams to face an immediate skill ramp when transitioning the character from quick play games to competitive environments. Stealth heroes have always been tricky to balance and integrate into the game, but after playing her at Blizzcon, I have high hopes for a smooth journey into the competitive scene.
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