A free holiday loot box full of Santa skins (it’s less creepy than it sounds) isn’t the only gift that Blizzard is giving to its Overwatch players this winter. Its new brawl game mode, running through the end of the game’s Winter Wonderland on January 2nd, 2017, joyfully focuses on its cuddliest parka-wearer, Mei.
Mei’s Snowball Offensive is a six on six rumble in the newly-introduced Ecopoint: Antarctica map (added as an arena for three on three and one on one bloodmatches in the Arcade mode) that assigns all its players Mei, a single-shot snowball blaster, and one-shot killing power. You can reload on the glowing snowpiles after a short duration of snowball manufacturing (you’ve got to pack and mold, there’s a process), though you put yourself at the mercy of the enemies while you do. When one team wins three rounds of the single-elimination contest it’s over and both sides know which Meis reign supreme.
It’s a hilariously hyper-serious snowball fight where everyone sweats constantly about checking their corners and where Soldier 76’s gruff introduction is derailed by Mei’s unassuming giggle. The game type is full of new voice lines that make the silly game mode all the sillier, though 76 still wonders aloud who authorized us to have fun out there.
Soldier 76’s description of the opposing team as a “highly trained, well-equipped, and ruthless enemy” doesn’t seem so far off when you hear Mei’s slightly-off remarks in this mode. She already had a reputation for being a bit of a closet sadist, and her singsong threats of finding and ultimately destroying her enemy is supported by her saying things like “I’m putting a rock in this one.” Not cool, Mei. That’s how people get hurt.
Now let’s talk about how best to hurt people in this game type. You only get one shot before you have to reload at specific locations, which means that if your teammates are firing off their shots in the pre-game spawn, then you’re with a bunch of rookies. It’s like emptying your gun on your D-Day landing craft. Shake your head at these poor farm boys that won’t make it home to see their mothers.
When you must reload, you’ve got Mei’s defensive abilities still at your disposal. Retreats and reloads can be covered by ice walls while you can bait your opponents’ shots with a well-timed immunity-granting ice block. The map, arranged more like a traditional shooter’s map (think Counter-Strike or Call of Duty rather than Team Fortress 2), means that the high ground is advantageous and buildings are full of dangerously tight turns prime for ambushing. The snowball’s arcing fire means that shooting up or at a distance is even harder than normal, so keep quarters tight.
You’ll still get capped a lot of the time regardless of what you do, leaving you to place your faith in the teammates you spectate just like in the game’s three on three mode. The scale for these teammates goes from new to experienced back to bad because they’re farming achievements.
Yes, like in Overwatch’s Halloween adventure Junkenstien’s Revenge, there are four new achievements that unlock sprays. For “Snowed In,” you’ll have to win the offensive without dropping single round. For “Whap!,” kill an enemy with a snowball from 25 meters away. For “Ambush!,” kill three enemies in game while they’re reloading. And for “Cool as Ice,” kill four enemies in a game without missing.
“Snowed In” can best be approached by queuing with people you know in order to limit the amount of trolls and make sure everyone’s competing with the same win-or-die spirit. Be careful that it doesn’t lead to you placing undue stress on your last Mei standing or you’ll find yourself with far fewer friends than when starting.
“Whap!” may seem like the perfect excuse to lob your single bullets into the sky, powered by only a hope and a prayer, but your frigid bullets have such an odd angle of descent that it’s a much better idea to try to snipe ground-dwellers from one of the map’s many buildings and walkways.
“Ambush!” is just good strategy anyways – always go for the unsuspecting opponent. The main problem here is that if your team is any good, they’ll also be shooting these enemies. So not only do you have to have a keen eye for stationary Meis, but a quick trigger finger to get them before your opponents do. It’s not unheard of to protect them from your friends with an ice wall only to slaughter them with your own icy projectile.
Finally, “Cool As Ice” is up to you. Don’t miss. I’d recommend getting close and camping corners.
Mei’s Snowball Offensive provides a refreshing alternative to those who’ve been playing Overwatch’s many different variations since its Arcade debuted in November. It follows the game’s main ethos, making its hardcore single deathmatch a fast-paced joke without losing any of the mode’s inherent one-hit-one-kill tension. When you want a level playing field after being undermined by inopportune Mystery Heroes or a hard-to-defend map, the egalitarian Mei melee is a test of pure skill that’s just as fun as the game’s objective-based bread and butter.
Jacob Oller is a writer and film critic whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, Playboy, Roger Ebert, Film School Rejects, Chicagoist, Vague Visages, and other publications. He lives in Chicago, plays Dungeons and Dragons, and struggles not to kill his two cats daily. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jacoboller.