Overwatch’s newest hero, Sigma, was very nearly a different character altogether. Fans of the game’s lore might remember the Baptiste short story Reunion, where the formerly Talon-affiliated medic is cornered by some of his old coworkers. One of those coworkers is a charismatic man, and powerful presence, named Mauga.
Mauga, a Talon Heavy Assault, has a long history with Baptiste — and so, Overwatch’s developers reasoned, he would make for an excellent Hero 31.
Swing and a miss
There was just one problem. The Overwatch team wanted to introduce another anchor tank, which is a specific kind of role in the game. Anchor tanks, like Reinhardt and Orisa, are the vanguard for their team. They set up shields, move with their allies, and control the pace of action. They’re a sharp contrast to tanks like D.Va and Winston who are happiest behind enemy lines.
“We really wanted to get another anchor tank or main tank into the game, and we were exploring a lot of mechanics surrounding barriers,” associate game designer Joshua Noh told Polygon in an interview.
When the team works on new heroes, it often looks to fill in parts of the story that have been implied, but not fleshed out. Baptiste, for example, was originally going to be part of another paramilitary group like the Caribbean Coalition. Instead, that seemed like it was extending the canon too far in another direction, and Baptiste was made into a former Talon member. Since Talon was on the top of the team’s mind, and they needed a new tank, the team turned to Mauga.
“We were having a lot of difficulty finding out how he was going to use a barrier, when he’s much more of a close range, berserker, melee kinda guy,” Noh said. And so, Mauga stepped aside, and Sigma took his place.
Talon and tanks
So, what does a Talon anchor tank look like?
Without a character concept in mind, the team returned to the drawing board and worked on prototypes for different anchor tanks. Once they had a compelling kit, they began to work on a gravity angle that justified a character having this power at their disposal.
“The original idea with Mauga was to have a Talon guy, and I think that persisted into Sigma’s backstory,” said Overwatch lead writer Michael Chu.
Not only is Sigma a powerful tank, but his presence in Talon adds more tension and intrigue to the group’s ranks.
“It’s also interesting for Sigma because he’s not necessarily a card carrying believer in Talon,” said Chu. “He’s sort of not there because he wants to be. So we thought that added interesting character to his backstory. I think it’s also interesting to see another scientist in Talon, and I’m looking forward to his interactions with Moira. That’ll be pretty good.”
Sigma is a character who’s disoriented and fractured; an experiment in space with a black hole went terribly wrong, damaging Sigma’s mind and body. He’s now being used by Talon, although we’re not clear on how exactly that dynamic works. Sigma is definitely kept sequestered away from the decision-making process of the group; similar to Baptiste, he’s in a situation that Chu describes as a “frog being boiled.”
“There are other groups that make up Talon,” adds Chu. “Especially for someone like Sigma, I imagine they set him up with his own lab somewhere. So he’s not like... walking down the hallway, bumping into Reaper.”
The nitty gritty of gameplay
“If we were just making the game, and we were going to make [Sigma] as one of our first heroes, I think we would have ended up with something a little bit like Zarya’s ultimate,” said Overwatch lead designer Geoff Goodman. “The giant black hole probably makes the most sense!”
But the team wanted to build a hero with a high skill ceiling who served as an anchor tank, and they also had to avoid thematic overlap with Zarya. Sigma’s kit had been designed first, and then the team realized they could represent it in-game with gravity afterward.
“We wanted to play around with different ideas around that, ideally without crushing or touching the design space that Zarya is,” Goodman said. “You don’t want to overlap heroes too much. So there’s a lot of subtle things.”
One example Goodman gives is Sigma’s Hyper Spheres, which launch two gravity charges that implode. The implosion pulls everything toward it a little bit, including enemy players. It’s a subtle addition to a power that reinforces that Sigma’s on a different level when it comes to gravity manipulation than Zarya. Sigma’s ultimate also has a radically different take on gravity.
“The theme of him controlling gravity is that he launches you in the air, and you effectively have a low gravity setting on you,” said Goodman. “Even if you ended up touching the floor during that phrase that floating stage, you can jump in and do a really high floaty jump. Then after that short window, it drops you back down with a high gravity status; you can’t jump, you move a lot slower, your acceleration is lowered. So just little touches like that don’t affect the gameplay too much, but it helps sell the feel of the gravity.”
There’s still some overlap between the characters — players still attack and use abilities like Lucio’s ultimate in both Graviton Surge and Gravitic Flux — but overall, Zarya retains her theme of strength, while Sigma feels much more like a scientist.
The end result is a character with a high skill ceiling, but Overwatch’s developers hope he has a low floor as well. Accretion, Sigma’s ability centered around gathering and launching debris, has a large window of effect that makes it relatively easy to land for a high impact knockdown. During development, Blizzard had to shrink the Accretion missile, as it was large enough to blind Sigma by blocking the player’s screen.
“His primary weapon is an explosive projectile. If you ask high-tier players, they often complain about Junkrat’s low skill, because he can spam his grenades,” said Goodman. Sigma’s meant to avoid that same mechanic. “Sigma’s ’nades are a lot less spammable, because the recovery is a lot longer. You can’t fire them as fast, but you still get that nice splash and everything.”
Because the new metagame of two tanks, two supports, and two damage — better known as 2-2-2 — is still early, the developers aren’t sure where Sigma will fit into the meta. He wasn’t designed for any particular composition, although Goodman suspects Sigma will be a potent dive counter. And this raises the question: What is good at bringing Sigma down?
“He’s really weak against close range aggression,” Noh said. “So heroes like Doomfist and Reaper really keep him in line. He doesn’t have a lot of defenses against beam-type weapons either, so like Zarya, Symmetra, and Winston all kind of bypass his damage blocking from Kinetic Grasp, and they’re high damage in close range.”
Sigma is currently available for testing on PC, by using the Overwatch PTR.