With the release of Overwatch 2’s first post-launch season, Season 2, fans are getting to play the first post-launch tank hero, Ramattra. An imposing robot who can transform at will, he represents not just a complication of tank design, but also the game’s long-neglected worldbuilding around the Omnics. He is available to players at level 45 on the Battle Pass, or instantly via the Premium Battle Pass for 2,000 Overwatch Coins ($9.99).
Described by lead character artist Qui Fang as the first “tempo tank,” he is a hero that “can change states from moment to moment, embodying two forms.” The terminology is apt (despite having an existing meaning) as Ramattra’s gameplay should skillfully adapt to the momentum of a fight—using his staff-wielding Omnic state to “soften enemies up from range,” and strategically transforming into his Nemesis configuration to clean up with a beefier, more melee-based approach.
His default form gives him tools for letting his team engage from a distance. The Void Accelerator staff, which is Ramattra’s primary fire, sends out a steady stream of damage with no fall-off, making it perfect to chip away at a DPS on high ground. Void Barrier, his secondary ability, is a high-health, short duration shield, which can be placed in front to provide cover while moving towards the enemy team.
Nemesis is the cooldown that takes Ramattra from an annoyance to a full-blown nightmare. For eight seconds, he transforms into his larger state, gaining armor and swapping abilities. Most notable is the primary fire, which changes into Pummel, a melee attack with a “shock wave of energy” ahead of it. The wave does piercing damage (meaning it can pass through shields), and can hit multiple enemies in a line. His secondary changes from the shield to Block, which allows Ramattra to put both of his massive arms up to reduce incoming damage, but slows his movement speed.
His third main ability, Ravenous Vortex, can be used in either form. Vortex is a crowd control ability similar to Sojourn’s Disruptor Shot, which slows and continuously damages enemies. It is a shadowy purple column that can pull heroes deeper inside, meaning it can also catch a low-flying Pharah or Echo.
Like Ravenous Vortex, his ultimate ability, Annihilation, can be used in either form. When cast, Ramattra changes into Nemesis form and spreads a huge area of effect spell that sends out streams of damage from his body to all enemies in range, even as he moves. It’s a fairly powerful ultimate, but there’s an added twist: the duration of Annihilation is “paused” whenever an enemy is being damaged. This means that the ultimate will not stop until everyone is dead or has moved away from it.
All of this feels like it has the potential to be overpowered, but much of his strength relies on a Ramattra player being able to create opportunities with his many abilities and have their teammates actually follow through. The two forms create less of a brute force approach, like Roadhog, and more so a balancing act that revolves around using Nemesis form correctly. He’s a uniquely complex tank that is in line with the game’s design philosophy that enables higher skill players more tactical precision, while having some general “fun” features that lower skill players can enjoy.
Ramattra is just a refinement of the game’s new “Swiss Army knife” style of tanking. Removing a second tank made it necessary to redesign all of them in order to protect teammates from incoming damage, make space from different angles, as well as close distance on threats. While all tanks can do some of these things decently well, the niche designs that every older tank unique have been sanded down. There is a chance that post-launch heroes like Ramattra could reinvigorate those older design ideas, but the tradeoff will be the additional complexity.
When a Villain Is Also a Hero
Prior to announcing Ramattra, game director Aaron Keller hinted that the new character would be “a tank hero that players had seen before,” narrowing the list down considerably. As some fans correctly hypothesized, it would be the mysterious Omnic villain that had previously appeared in a story cinematic released with 2019’s “Storm Rising” Archive event.
Ramattra is an Omnic, a sentient android that originally was born from a rogue god AI. Omnics were originally created to serve humans, but were granted or gained sentience in some fashion and fought against their masters in the great Omnic Crisis that defines much of the backstory of Overwatch lore. (If this sounds familiar, rewatch the “Second Renaissance” portion of 2003’s Animatrix.)
Designed to lead other Omnics into battle, Ramattra decided to embrace peace as a Shambali monk under the now-assassinated Mondatta., an Omnic religious leader who strove to unite humanity with Omnics. He was in the Shambali alongside support hero Zenyatta, and the two forged a close relationship.
Lead narrative designer Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie explains that the Omnic “race” only exists within a single generation, being effectively mortal because their consciousness cannot be restored or duplicated. This makes them susceptible to human violence, which Ramattra witnesses, fuelling his disgust towards humanity. This moves him away from Mondatta’s ideas about unity and towards Null Sector, a militant faction of Omnics angling to liberate themselves by any means necessary.
While it is interesting to see the story of the game start to progress past where it’s been stuck over the past six years, Ramattra resembles one of the many character archetypes that Blizzard likes to create, pulled directly from the fantasy worlds and comic book arcs that inspire their developers. He’s a tragic, complicated character that goes too far with his tactics in his quest for freedom—the Magneto to Zenyatta’s Professor Xavier. It’s a neoliberal idea in fiction that turns the messy nuance of liberatory politics into easily digestible villainy. Calling Null Sector a “liberation group” and Ramattra a “revolutionary” makes this clear.
While single-player videogames have atonally reproduced these tropes pretty wholesale in the last decade or so, Overwatch is attempting to do this as a live service competitive hero shooter without a story campaign; at best it is a volatile emulsion of narrative design and gameplay. It presents a tension where heroes can be evil but not in a conspicuous or enjoyable way. Most people will ignore that they are playing a eugenicist, but it becomes more horrifying when the game makes it a part of the fun.
The first gameplay trailer for Ramattra illustrates some of the problems inherent in foregrounding villainy as a selling point. It’s a normal sizzle reel of gameplay animatics and voice lines, but something immediately feels off when a male hero (Cassidy) is attacked in a practical first-person perspective, but a third-person point of view is used to show a slowed down punch going straight into a female hero (Kiriko). It continues on similarly, with an ending that has the tank darkly looming over an ensnared Mercy. Fans on Twitter being happy that they can potentially pull Mercy players out of the air feels like the sentiment intended. (People expressing thirst for this when it is probably not meant to be titillating is another issue entirely.)
The rest of the trailer engages with Blizzard’s long-standing history of racialized design choices and cultural appropriation, if the vague misogyny wasn’t enough. An imposing android with dreadlock analogues who can turn into hulking mass threatening an injured, angelic white woman has racist overtones. The action is also set in the game’s new escort map that cribs from actual ethnic and religious groups. It almost feels like it wouldn’t be Overwatch if there weren’t some cultural missteps along the way.
Ramattra’s marketing pitch freights a considerable amount of ideological weirdness, a Gordian knot woven into the fabric of the game’s unstable narrative design. It already had shaky foundations with the use of Omnics as a metaphor for racial or class oppression. Like the aforementioned X-Men, fictional persecution often makes very little sense when scrutinized. Not only does it cheapen the struggles of the oppressed peoples it borrows from, but it also sidesteps addressing the justifiable fear humanity would have about invulnerable death machines.
The incongruence of Ramattra’s design seems to stem from needing to be a commercial product that entices players to spend money. He has to be interesting enough to lure people in, but also slot into the game’s competitive ambitions and endlessly retconned story. It’s a fracture that feels more noticeable since Overwatch 2’s extremely rushed development period.
If the game had launched with a PVE mode well in hand, then maybe Ramattra’s maliciousness would be more contextualized. If the development team hadn’t removed a second tank, then tank design might not need to be so complex. So many aspects about Ramattra try to split the difference between opposing goals, but only ends up proving that they cannot have it both ways.
Nico Deyo is a feminist media critic who lives in the Midwest. She can be found on Twitter at @appleciderwitch.