Blizzard conceived of Echo as far back as Titan, but the character only started to come together when she appeared in McCree's "Reunion" cinematic.
Overwatch's list of characters just got a little bigger with the addition of Echo, the game's 32nd playable hero. Blizzard first showed off Echo in action, at least a bit, during the "Zero Hour" cinematic trailer for Overwatch 2, and finally announced her arrival in the game earlier this week. We now have a sense of what Echo's role is on a team, how she'll play, and where she came from.
Blizzard gave GameSpot an early look at the character ahead of her launch on the public test realm, showing us Echo's capabilities. She's a damage character who specializes in mid-range attacks, but thanks to her Duplicate ultimate ability, she can fill a bunch of roles depending on the situation--at least briefly.
As senior game producer Gary Fonville explained, Echo is a Swiss army knife, of sorts. "She's an AI that can do many different things and build a role as needed," he explained. Echo's story is all about how she's an adaptive robot who's constantly learning from her environment, with the idea that she can help the Overwatch team with whatever they need--whether that means fighting enemies, supporting teammates, or piloting vehicles.
In practical terms, Echo spends most of her time trying to damage and eliminate players with a range of abilities. As we saw in the "Zero Hour" video, Echo can fly over the battlefield, allowing her to find targets and reposition easily. Activating her flight ability also gives her a big, quick boost, similar to the vertical boost of Moira or Tracer's dash, but Echo can use it in any direction, giving flight a bit of a dodge utility as well. When she runs out of flight capability, she can glide down from high positions, allowing her to extend her reach a little more. Her main weapon is the "tri-shot," a three-laser blast that emanates from her fingers, and which is mostly useful at medium ranges.
Complementing the tri-shot is Echo's "sticky bomb" ability, which fires a group of several delayed explosives that stick to surfaces, and more importantly, opposing players. Sticky bombs allow Echo to dish out a lot of damage quickly, potentially to several enemies at once. Her last ability, Focusing Beam, is for finishing off the players she damages. It's a high-intensity laser that is specifically geared to do damage to enemies after they fall below 50% health. It won't hurt much when directed against opponents with more than half health, but hit someone who's already damaged, and there's a good chance you can put them down. The beam also offers bonus damage against barriers that are at 50% health, so Echo can help knock out defensive shields at key moments with judicial use of Focusing Beam.
But the ability that really defines Echo is her ultimate, Duplicate. When it's active, Echo can turn herself into a clone of one of the characters on the opposing team for a short period. As lead designer Geoff Goodman explained, the idea isn't that Echo duplicates an enemy and then sneaks in among the other team--instead, an Echo duplicate glows blue and is very obvious to opposing players. Duplicating an opponent is meant to give Echo players an opportunity to quickly adjust their role based on what their team needs. You might dupe a Reinhardt to give your team another tank during a big push, for instance, or dupe a Tracer or Reaper while flying above, then drop yourself into the middle of the fray and knock out some quick kills before the other team sees you coming. Duplicating an enemy player also gets you full health; it doesn't give you the health level of whoever it is you're cloning, however.
Duplicating requires you to have a sight line on the opponent you want to clone, so you can't do it just anywhere. The upshot of changing your character, however, is that Echo gets a speedier ultimate cooldown while she's duplicating someone. That means that if you can knock off some quick kills while cloning a Reaper, you might get a quick Death Blossom ultimate you can use right away. Potentially, Goodman said, you could get multiple duplicate ultimates before the duplication ability runs out, making Echo a formidable opponent in the hands of a smart player. You can also use Echo's ultimate to make yourself a big target for your opponents, drawing fire from your teammates. If you lose all your health while duplicating an enemy, you won't immediately be killed--instead, your ultimate will end and you'll revert to Echo.
While some characters are created in response to things that are happening in the Overwatch meta, Goodman said Echo was a character Blizzard had created as far back as Titan, the canceled game from which Overwatch was eventually born. At the time, though, Echo was just a character drawing, with no real ideas about her gameplay or characteristics.
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"Typically, heroes in our game can come from a bunch of different angles," he said. "So often they come from design by prototype--like, we really need a sniper or something, we should try to get a sniper there, and build a character around the gameplay. In other common cases, we'll have somebody whose story just gets created for background, or an artist has a cool idea, and they just draw something. We don't have a gameplay part yet. So we have all these cool characters hanging out. And in Echo's case, it was more that we had the art for her for a long time ago."
The Overwatch team really started working on Echo in earnest when she appeared in the "Reunion" cinematic, which mostly focused on McCree and Ashe. Even as the cinematic was coming together, the developers weren't sure what Echo would be like, which made it hard to define things about how her character moved or acted. She was almost completely undefined.
The duplication ability was pretty key to Echo's identity, though, Goodman said--it was the thing that really excited developers working on the character. It helped Blizzard to figure out what role Echo should take on.
"The original idea was to keep her support, and then you'd be able to do this full clone ability that she has now," he explained. "But then, pretty quickly, we realized that ultimate is really cool, but it's not really going to work as a support, because I don't think you really want your healer to suddenly become a tank or DPS, and now you don't have a healer. Whereas somebody in the DPS role is much more flexible. Now you have a tank, now you have a healer. So it feels like, if we're going to do that kind of thing with swapping roles, you probably should start in the damage category. So that's when we started going down to the damage route and developed the rest of her kit to support that."
Key to Echo is her adaptability, and from what Goodman and Fonville described, players who try out the new hero should have a lot of chances to find creative ways to use her abilities. The character's versatility means she can be used to control territory with sticky bombs, as a straight damage-dealer using sticky bombs and Focusing Beam, or to shore up a team in an emergency by duplicating other characters. We'll have to wait to see what other creative ways players find to use Echo--and to counter her. Echo is live on Overwatch's Public Test Realm right now.