That's What's Up: Every Overwatch character ranked from worst to best

Each week, comic book writer Chris Sims answers the burning questions you have about the world of comics and pop culture: what's up with that? If you'd like to ask Chris a question, please send it to @theisb on Twitter with the hashtag #WhatsUpChris, or email it to staff@looper.com with the subject line "That's What's Up."

Q: You play Overwatch, right? Who's your favorite hero, and why is it Winston?via email

All right, look: while it is a very safe bet to assume that I would personally find something to like about the superintelligent gorilla from the moon who got a disbanded team of superheroes back together, I have to admit that Winston's not my favorite. He's up there, sure, but for a game that's composed entirely of people shooting each other over and over, Overwatch has some genuinely compelling, beautifully designed characters. So if you really want to know who my favorite is — and why it's actually not Winston — then we might as well go through the entire roster.

Before we do that, though, keep in mind that this is by its nature going to be a pretty subjective list, and that I pay a lot less attention to game mechanics than I do to design, character, and whether or not a character is an adorable robot dog that is also a machine gun. If that sounds good, let's do this.

27. Road Hog

I'll be honest: I don't really get Road Hog. By all rights, he should be a comedy character, or at least the straight man to Junkrat's trashy antics, which is how he's often portrayed in media made by fans. In the game, though, he's taken way too seriously, trundling around growling nonsense like "life is pain, and so is death" and "I'm a one-man apocalypse."

That's pretty big talk for a dude who has a tattoo of a cartoon pig on his tummy.

26. Junkrat

At their best, Junkrat and Road Hog are the Overwatch equivalent of Spike and Chester from Looney Tunes, but that never quite seems to work out as well as you want it to.

There's a solid idea here, and I do love the idea of this twitchy little weirdo who's fighting people with particle beams and jetpacks by literally just throwing garbage at them. That said, a purposefully unsavory character is still unsavory, especially when his design evokes the scent of burning hair.

25. Doomfist

Doomfist isn't a bad character, but he is a uniquely frustrating one. Like, my dude's name is Doomfist, and his primary characteristic is his gigantic metal arm. You know, the Doomfist? And yet, if you do a melee attack with that guy, he punches you with his other hand. Get it together and hit people with the big one! That's what it's there for! His name ain't Regularfist, people!

24. Genji

Since you've made it this far into the list without getting too mad at me to stop, I'll let you in on a little secret: I don't actually dislike any of the Overwatch heroes. Even my least favorites are interesting, and even the most generic designs are done well.

Genji is a prime example of the latter. He's fine, but he also feels like he's in there because someone realized that you can't really call yourself a video game franchise if you don't have at least one cyborg ninja involved.

23. Zenyatta

Zenyatta is actually a really cool idea, taking the question of sentient robotics to its logical conclusion. He's rooted in the exploration of whether sentience also includes a soul, and what it means for an artificial life form to seek enlightenment and a higher form of existence. Unfortunately, these are all questions that feel like they're never going to be explored in a game that's primarily about shooting people until the payload gets to where you want it.

22. Hanzo

Hanzo is one of those characters that would be super fun to play in a completely different game. He's cool, but seems like the most interesting thing about him is his backstory, which is never really explored in Overwatch beyond a few lines of dialogue. A single-player adventure about a man questing for honor beyond death, climbing walls, taking people out with a bow, and occasionally unleashing a devastating spirit dragon? It'd be awesome. 

Although now that I've written it out, I think that's just Breath of the Wild.

21. Sombra

Don't get me wrong, Sombra is extremely cool. Her powers, origin story, even her hair are totally on point, and shutting down enemy powers adds an exciting twist to gameplay. But you know what she's not as cool as? Literally any main character from 1995's Hackers, starring Angelina Jolie as Acid Burn and Jonny Lee Miller as Crash Override. Even Blizzard knows that — they gave her "hack the planet" as a voice line! If you can honestly tell me that it's not at least a little disappointing that cyberpunk aesthetics and names hit their apex about 23 years ago, then I will be happy to move Sombra to a slightly higher spot on the list, but here we are.

20. Zarya

Aesthetically, Zarya is fantastic. A punk rock weightlifter with laser-pink hair who carries a gigantic particle cannon because she's the only one who can deadlift it, and she has a cool-ass anime scar? Sign me the heck up.

In practice, though, she's not actually that fun. I'm willing to accept that this is more about me than Zarya — Overwatch is literally the first first-person shooter I can play without getting motion sickness, so I never got any good at them in my youth — but nothing about what she does in the game seems to reflect any of the cool stuff about her character.

19. Torbjorn

One of the best things about Overwatch is that the company that's still making endless amounts of money with World of Warcraft made a sci-fi game set 80 years in the future but were also like "hey, don't worry, it's still going to have dwarves and night elves in it." I'm honestly surprised we haven't gotten an orc yet. Emphasis on "yet."

Torbjorn does a better job translating fantasy ideas to the future than some, and his guilt over his partial responsibility for the Omnic crisis is a good underlying character motivation. That said, that one beardless "Young Torbjorn" skin is viscerally upsetting to me, and that victory pose where he's got a photo album featuring pictures of the turret is pretty weird now that we know he has an actual human daughter.

18. Reaper

Listen: Reaper is great, and I mean that completely without irony. He's a DeviantArt OC come to life, with spooky goth guns that he just leaves laying around when he's done with them because he has an endless supply in his trenchcoat. He's every Vampire: The Masquerade character created in the '90s, and if he had a katana and a cybernetic eye, he'd be every Shadowrun character, too.

The best part, though? You can appropriately respond to literally everything he says about being death incarnate and consuming darkness by rolling your eyes and saying "sure, Gabe."

17. Lucio

There's a moment in xXx: The Return of Xander Cage when Vin Diesel puts together a team of extreme sports commandos that includes a sniper who hunts poachers, an indestructible wheelman, and, no joke, a DJ whose military specialty is that he can "get the party started." This is amazing writing, because it means that they keep having to get into situations in which having a DJ around can give them a tactical advantage.

Lucio is that, but he also has rollerblades, and I honestly cannot tell if that makes him better or worse.

16. Reinhardt

He seems nice.

No, really. He's got a good tragic backstory with pure Lawful Good motivations, and the inherently appealing weirdness of a dude in a futuristic setting full of killer robots and guns that reload themselves who decided to dress up like he was going to a particularly violent RenFaire. In the game, he's got a set of moves that do a great job of casting him as a walking battlement, and that even translated well to being scaled down for a sidekick in Brigitte, but mostly he seems like a very nice old man who just loves his hammer. Just loves it. Maybe a little too much

15. Soldier: 76

Soldier 76 is the most straightforwardly superheroic character on the entire roster, to the point where he's basically the answer to "What if Captain America Became the Punisher?" and literally has his origins as a comic book character. He's well-rounded and one of the easiest to get the hang of playing, with a cool design, a compellingly dramatic backstory, and even a slight action-hero sense of humor to break things up.

Unfortunately, all of those things also seem make him seem pretty boring when he's standing there next to French Night Elf Ballerina Assassin or An Actual Angel with a Gun. He's great, but in this context, he's not that exciting.

14. Moira

I feel like Moira was the result of an escalating series of dares.

Like, someone designed Reaper and then challenged the next person to come up with a character that was even more ridiculously over the top, and then that person came up with Widowmaker and set the new standard. Then someone else came in, accepted the challenge, and that's how we got Moira: an cybergoth Irish Dracula with a robot eye who has one good hand… and one evil hand. That's amazing.

13. Symmetra

Here's the thing about lists like this: most people only care about who ranks first and who comes in last. The middle tends to dissolve into this big blur where whatever you're ranking is only defined by its relationship to everything else. That's why you never hear people arguing about why something was listed as the 12th best whatever of all time, and instead hear them getting mad that it was ranked higher (or lower) than something else.

Symmetra, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of person who would care about exactly where each entry came in, with a particular interest in who fell in the exact middle, which makes her a perfect midpoint for the list.

12. Mercy

Mercy's another character who combines a hilariously fantasy-inspired aesthetic — she literally has a halo — with gameplay that's way more fun than your standard-issue healer. Mostly, though, I like how this poor, put-upon lady is apparently the only doctor in a world where people just run face-first into a hail of bullets all day, every day. No wonder she has that voice line wondering why she should even bother.

11. Widowmaker

Widowmaker is… a lot.

I mean, at her core, she's a night elf from Warcraft that's been transported to a sci-fi setting, with her longbow swapped out for a sniper rifle. Unlike Reinhardt and Torbjorn, though, who are just "a dude who likes armor" and "a short blacksmith," everything even vaguely elfy about Widowmaker has been justified within the story. The result? A brainwashed French ballerina assassin who is blue because of mad science that slowed her heartbeat, and also she has no emotions. That's so much! And it's also pretty rad.

10. Mei

At first glance, Mei seems like the Ice Climbers of Overwatch, with a design that's cute and cartoony even by the standards of the rest of the characters. She's also a singularly frustrating character no matter whose side she's on, thanks to the Ice Wall ability that can block off enemies and allies alike, with a shocking tendency to pop up right as you're sniping at someone.

But of all the origin stories we've seen, Mei has the most emotional by far, giving her character a core of undeniable determination behind her bubbly personality.

9. McCree

There are a lot of reasons to like McCree. His dark and mysterious past, his roguish and lighthearted charm, the Boot Scoot Boogie, those are all great. Let's be real with each other, though: the single best thing about him is the only thing that matters, which is that despite living in the future, my dude has committed so hard to cosplaying as a cowboy that he has spurs. Spurs! There are no horses in this game! Unless we see him jump on Orisa and ride off into the sunset, then those things are just a sign of how hard he's living that gimmick, and I love that.

8. Tracer

It's hard to imagine Overwatch hitting stores with Road Hog on the box, but Blizzard could've gone with almost any of these characters as the mascot of the franchise. Instead, they put Tracer directly into the spotlight. That's great for several reasons, not the least of which being that she's probably the most high-profile queer character in the entirety of video games, but one of the strongest is the way that she embodies the premise. She's a teleporting fighter pilot who can reverse time, and making those ideas work in a shooter makes her the embodiment of how this game has pretty much redefined the entire genre.

7. Winston

I already went through the reasons that Winston's great way back in the opening paragraph, but there are two other things that are definitely worth noting. First, the crucial fact that when you start up the game, Winston is the first character you see. They could've opened with Tracer, the game's mascot character, or 76, who has the clearest connection to the backstory, but they didn't. They started this thing off with the talking gorilla in reading glasses trying to make new friends, so you'd know exactly what you were getting into.

Second, the entire "cinematic trailer" is pretty great, but there's a part where Winston hits Reaper with a straight up rolling powerbomb. It's just a shame he didn't hook the leg and get the pin, brother.

6. Brigitte

Call it recency bias if you want, but Brigitte is awesome. It's always a good trick to introduce a new character by giving her ties to existing ones — she's Torbjorn's daughter and Reinhardt's sidekick — but I also love that she's the kind of character who can only exist within the context that the game has already created. It's a little weird for Reinhardt to be a straight-up knight in a world with sentient robots and particle beams, but once we accept that, it's not even a leap to get to the idea of having a squire. She's a great design, way more mobile, and shows off a ton of personality even in the small amount of story she's been given so far.

5. Ana

Ana has all the cool stuff from Soldier 76's origin, but with the added intriguing twist of a personal connection to her daughter, who still believes she's dead. That's interesting in its own right, but also makes her one of the few mothers, let alone older women in general, to take a featured role in a game focused on combat.

Plus she can heal you by shooting you in the face with special medicine bullets, and that's delightful.  

4. Pharah

I feel like Pharah's abject radness is self-explanatory, right? Like, she's a beautiful six-foot lady who is also an alive fighter jet. She's Starscream if he was Batman. If you don't understand why that's great, then you and I have fundamental differences as people.

3. Bastion

I will be the first to admit that I am a sucker for the trope of robots who strive to become more than the weapons they were created to be, and as the old saying goes, if you're going to steal, steal from the best. Thus: Bastion, whose animated origin story makes it Overwatch's equivalent of the Iron Giant. Just watch that thing and try not to get a little bit choked up when he makes a friend.

2. Orisa

Remember my theory about how Widowmaker and Moira were the result of people trying to outdo each other with the most over-the-top character? I feel like while that argument was happening on one side of the office, someone else rolled up and dropped "adorable robot puppy with a machine gun arm" and then took the rest of the day off.

Orisa's great for all the same reasons as Bastion, but instead of the bird friend, she's the robot and the friendly pet put together. Her origin story brought a connection to an aspect of the universe that we hadn't seen before and incorporated a kid genius in a really cool way, but the way they figured out how to give a robot the most expressive eyes in the entire cast would get her this high on the list all on its own.

1. D.Va

Overwatch is full of great characters, but D.Va rules on virtually every level. From a gameplay standpoint, she's easy to learn, but has plenty of tricks to make her interesting to play. She's the only character that gets a second chance at sticking around if her first form is destroyed, and the fact that she goes from a hugely powerful robot tank to a small and incredibly vulnerable human gives her a dramatic shift in how she plays. She also has one of the game's most iconic designs, both D.Va herself and the hot-pink bunny robot she rides around in.

What really makes her great, though, is the lore. It's only mentioned once, in a single paragraph on her official profile page, but the entire reason D.Va's there is that there's a gigantic Omnic Cthulhu in the seas off the coast of Korea that rises with a twisted new form every year to attack the country, and our pal Hana Song was so good at video games that the government decided she should be the one to fight it. And she did.  

In other words, she's a child soldier who battles a genocidal godlike robot created by the hubris of man, and livestreams it to her fans. She's the only character I can think of that's just full-on dystopian, but, you know, in a fun way.

Each week, comic book writer Chris Sims answers the burning questions you have about the world of comics and pop culture: what's up with that? If you'd like to ask Chris a question, please send it to @theisb on Twitter with the hashtag #WhatsUpChris, or email it to staff@looper.com with the subject line "That's What's Up."