Blizzard has formally unveiled Overwatch's 30th hero, the previously teased Haitian combat medic, Jean-Baptiste Augustine, AKA Baptiste (aged 32).
Baptiste first shoved a toe into the limelight last week, when Blizzard teased the new character by way of a missive from terrorist organisation Talon. Baptiste's origin story trailer then revealed he became an orphan during the war known as the Omnic Crisis, and fell in with military group the Caribbean Coalition. Eventually, his skills on the battlefield caught the attention of Talon, an organisation Baptiste would go on to desert - all of which brings us more or less to the present, ready for his Overwatch debut.
Despite what his soldier origin story might suggest, in-game Baptiste has all the characteristics of a support-healing hero - albeit one with a more aggressive edge. His primary mode of fire comes via a three-round burst gun known as the Medic SMG, which remains relatively accurate during firefights, despite its recoil. The Medic SMG also features hitscan (which is to say, its bullets have no travel time), making Baptiste the first hitscan support healer in Overwatch.
As for secondary fire, Baptiste wields Biotic Grenades. On detonation, the resulting blast does no damage, but will instead heal allies within its area of effect. Blizzard notes that, unlike some other heroes, Baptiste has separate ammo counts across both modes of fire.
Baptiste is also equipped with Exo Boots - essentially a small exoskeleton on the lower half of his body. In practical terms, Exo Boots function as a passive ability, and players can hold crouch for a second or so in order to to build up a meter to achieve a huge vertical boost. According to Blizzard, however, this is intended to be used more for map traversal than escape.
In terms of active abilities, Baptiste can deploy a Regenerative Burst. Once triggered, this causes all allies within the area of effect to heal over time. Crucially, and differentiating the ability from those of other heroes, allies will continue to heal even if they move out of that initial area of effect. Regenerative Burst heals Baptiste too, unlike his Biotic Grenades.
Baptiste's Immortality Field, meanwhile, is a throwable device that prevents allies within a certain radius from dropping below 20 per cent health. Its weakness, however, is that the device itself can be destroyed. According to Blizzard, the Immortality Field is extremely powerful in firefights (and particularly effective against Mercy's Ultimate), and has the added benefit that it naturally funnels allies into prime position for Baptiste's healing grenades.
Rounding out Baptiste's abilities is his own Ultimate, known as the Amplification Matrix. This activates a shield device on his shoulder, which also projects a small window directly ahead. Any projectiles that Baptiste or his allies fire through the window will do double damage and healing - meaning that Reinhardt's Fire Strike will, for instance, become a one-shot kill. Enemies can return fire through the window but, importantly, don't get the damage or healing boost.
Summarising Baptiste's tool kit, Blizzard says he's less about direct meta counter, and more about offering "a bunch of cool new abilities, and new ways to play support".
Despite Baptiste's arrival taking the Overwatch roster into the big three-oh, Blizzard shows no signs of slowing, and is already hard at work on the game's next batch of heroes. One area of criticism many are hoping Blizzard will address is the lack of black female representation in Overwatch's otherwise inclusive line-up. It's an omission that's been conspicuous for some time, but which came to a head with the arrival of Hero 29, Ashe - particularly when early concept art revealed that the character had, at one point, been envisaged with darker skin.
While Blizzard didn't offer specific assurances when I asked if it planned to address the issue, the developer did attempt to shed some light on its hero design process, explaining to me that while the game is "built on this idea of optimism, and inclusion, and diversity", its characters are borne of an "organic" evolution process during development.
"When we approach hero creation, we have a lot of ideas that are being tested and experimented on at certain points," a spokesperson explained, "and [because] they sort of can't just be like a grey box that shoots something, we start to narrow in on the personality early on in the process". As a result of that, "we felt that at the moment, Baptiste was the right character to make, and so he's the one who comes out right now".
Blizzard did note, however, that player "feedback and the criticism is definitely heard, and we have characters in the universe who we are really excited about getting into".
For now, though, Baptiste is the star of the show, and Overwatch players will be given the chance to put him through his paces very soon. The new combat medic will be made available on Blizzard's public test servers today.