written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
Blizzard jumps into the battleground with Overwatch, a gaming experience that sits at a unique intersection between striking visuals and well designed gameplay. Overwatch takes the mantle left behind by Team Fortress 2, not that people don’t play TF2 anymore… but in the years since TF2’s release, there hasn’t been a game quite like this to capture the attention of the gaming community.
The most striking piece of the entire package is the game’s unique cast of heroes. Each hero has a thoroughly fleshed out back story that matches each character’s unique design. From a purple skinned sexy-ass-sniper, a genetically enhanced gorilla in glasses, to a pro Starcraft player turned freedom fighter. I found myself engrossed in the game’s lore even before the game was released.
The comparisons to TF2 are abundant, right down to the game modes. The two most played maps in TF2 were Point Capture and Payload, basically what the entirety of Overwatch’s gameplay is built around. Of course Overwatch iterates on it a bit by building four distinct gameplay modes around the two borrowed from TF2. Assault tasks both teams to battle over control of the map with one team defending a point and the other team attacking. Control is very similar to Assault, except both teams fight over control of a singular control point in a best of three format. Escort is essentially the same as TF2’s Payload mode, a team escorts a payload through a series of checkpoints while an opposing team tries to stop them. Hybrid is a mix between Assault and Escort, a team starts trying to take control of a point in the map and then escorting a payload while the opposing team attempts to halt them.
While the game is fairly light on gameplay modes, Overwatch succeeds in many respects… primarily on the backs of its extensive cast of heroes, all of whom are unlocked from the get go. It’s a testament to the sheer creativity the developers put into these characters that the most generic shooter character (Soldier 76) who should fit right at home in an FPS game seems the most out of place in Overwatch.
Each of the 21 heroes are grouped into one of four different roles, building a strong team requires a certain level of balance among each of the four roles. Despite being grouped into a distinct role, no two heroes play exactly alike. For example, Mei and Widowmaker both are technically classified as defenders but both of these ladies are like night and day. Mei specializes in freezing her enemies and creating walls of ice to better control the flow of battle; Widowmaker prefers to get the upper hand by grappling up to the perfect perch to snipe oncoming enemies. This differentiation in the heroes is the secret sauce in what makes up a strong team. Building a strong team doesn’t boil down to picking a team around these four classes, instead you’ll want to build the team around how well the skills of each hero work with the team as a whole.
After each battle, one player is awarded the Play of the Game based on an internal algorithm assigning points to various actions from a well placed snipe to a perfectly timed heal. Post match the game replays said play for all to see followed by a voting process for up to four additional players. Earning experience points levels you as a player up, awarding you with a Loot Chest with each level up. Opening Loot Chests unlocks a variety of cosmetic goodies. A new skin or an emote, while mostly superficial, does tickle the collector in me to keep leveling.
As far as skills are involved, unlike the yearly Call of Duty releases, Overwatch performs differently from your garden variety shooter. Instead of crafting load-outs, each hero has a primary weapon with a set of skills unique to that hero. Built less like your typical shooter and more like a MOBA, each hero’s skill set is built around a kit unique to that character. Learning how to best utilize your kit is just as important as learning how to work as a part of a team. Speaking of teamwork, with Overwatch being an objective based shooter, strong teamwork is paramount. Playing with friends makes for a dramatically different experience than just playing with randoms. Being able to coordinate with friends is much easier than using the game’s command system to coordinate tactics.
The most prominent pro Overwatch has over other shooters is its accessibility. Whether you are an experienced FPS player or an amateur, you can find a role in Overwatch. Of course, despite the accessibility the gameplay is surprisingly deep. Mastering any of the heroes will take a certain amount of repetition on a variety of maps. Some maps and modes fit certain heroes better than others. Maps with a sense of verticality make finding the perfect sniping perch for Widowmaker much easier; maps with an abundance of choke points can work in your favor if you know how to best utilize D.Va’s ultimate. The maps are expertly crafted for the game, some game modes can only be played on certain maps. Though this may seem limiting at first, it does give the designers the ability to build the map for the mode rather than try to fit different match types to all of their maps. It may feel like it cuts down a bit of the grand scope of the game, but for me I found this focus to be surprisingly refreshing. Mechanically, Overwatch’s maps are filled with nuances that can best be learned with repetition.
The limited map options and match types do get a bit stifling after a while. I found myself wishing for other match types beyond the control and delivery you get from the four included in package. Unfortunately, a traditional Team Deathmatch mode or All-For-One mode wasn’t present. While I understand that an all out battle royale wouldn’t work given the game’s unique balancing, I wonder why a classic Team Deathmatch game mode wasn’t included. I can only hope that in time they patch in new game modes as well as new characters, whether these will be part of a patch or considered DLC isn’t known yet. The saving grace of such repetitive match types is how short they are. Typically, a match won’t last longer than ten minutes… many are actually closer to five. This helps to get you into a match and out fairly quickly, making Overwatch the perfect competitive shooter to just jump in for a few matches before leaving for work.
While the narrative isn’t explicitly fleshed out in the game’s matches, you get a sense of each character’s personality in match. From opening dialog in the spawn room to posters showcasing one of the heroes. It’s clear that they didn’t want the world and characters to seem completely one dimensional. Blizzard also released a series of short animated films, acting as a companion to the game and as a whole making Overwatch feel like a more fleshed out gaming experience than just a 6v6 arena shooter.
Overwatch delivers for a wide range of players. Whether you are the type looking for a quick adrenaline fix or you crave a thoughtful and strategic multiplayer experience to binge with your pals; Overwatch delivers. While it may lack the variety of maps and modes present in many other modern shooters, Overwatch offers a plethora of exhilarating moments to keep you coming back. Imagine expertly controlling a map, hitting your ultimate at the perfect time, or taking out most of your opposing team in one fell swoop… I tell ya, most games wish they could provide this level of excitement; and it really feels like something special.
+ Exciting gameplay
+ Easy to pick-up shooter mechanics
+ Unique cast of characters
+ Maps with lots of personality
+ D.Va... is bae
- Limited match types
- D.Va is bae... but doesn't exist... irl...