From the initial announcement at Blizzcon 2014 and throughout its controversial beta period, Overwatch has been one of the most hyped up new properties of the past couple of years. How does it hold up against the public’s impossibly high expectations? Spoiler: It’s god-damn brilliant.
If there’s one thing Blizzard does well, it’s refinement. They have a knack of taking an existing game genre, distilling down to its finest qualities and adding a phenomenal sheen. With current success in both the MOBA market with Heroes of the Storm, and collectible card games arena with Hearthstone, Overwatch is Blizzard’s risky foray into the saturated world of first person shooters.
Overwatch is a team based, 6 vs 6 shooter, with differing objectives depending on which map players are randomly loaded into. Some maps will require an attacking team to reach and stay within control points on the map, while others have attackers trying to push a payload to the defending team’s base. While there is a simple co-op vs AI mode, the game is primarily PVP, and you’re able to play solo or as part of a group of friends; Blizzard tries to match players so that solo queuers will play with and against other solos, full premades facing off against each other, and so forth.
The entire game has the trademark level of incredible polish that Blizzard is known for; a sense of excellence that most game devs can only dream of.
You’re able to select between 21 (at launch) different heroes to play as, each with their own strengths and weaknesses and offering completely different playstyles. Each character has its own weapons, playstyles, quirks and personality: old Western cowboy McCree duels up close and personal with his revolver, ex-security Pharah takes to the skies with her jumpback and rocket launcher, and Mercy glides to her allies, able to both heal their wounds and boost their damage output.
Players can pick any hero, including having multiples of the same person, and your hero can be swapped with any other when waiting to respawn, or within your team’s spawn area.
Bright, finely sculpted and rich with detail, Overwatch‘s charismatic world is a welcome escape from the drab military shooters of late. Video performance is excellent, with framerates never dipping below 60 fps even during the most hectic of team ability combinations, and we haven’t experienced any slowdown on consoles either.
Every locale in Overwatch oozes with attention to detail, with easter eggs and nods to other Blizzard products scattered throughout. Ancient temples, cobbled city streets, and tight industrial spaces offer plenty of eye candy as well as giving various heroes their own ideal routes and zones where they excel.
A word of caution to enthusiasts running ultrawide (21:9) resolutions, however — Overwatch doesn’t support these resolutions in order to normalise player views and gameplay, so you’ll be forced to endure letterboxing.
Sound is an integral part of the Overwatch experience. Blizzard’s audio engineers have done fantastic work in tweaking audio dynamics, making sure that you’re clearly able to hear and distinguish nearby footsteps, attacks and abilities from both teams. Even on the most basic of PC speakers, environmental sounds clue you in on where enemies are and what’s going on — if a D.Va is flying above your head, or a Bastion firing on the floor below, it’s always crystal clear.
Every hero has subtle, distinct sounds that helps you immediately identify them, even down to their footsteps — quick and light for nimble Tracer, heavy leather boot thumps for Reaper, the sound of spurs jangling for cowboy McCree. Overwatch uses sound to give players as much information as possible, without overwhelming them. Whenever a hero uses their ultimate ability — a powerful attack or utility skill on a long cooldown — their trademark phrases for those abilities are announced globally.
Better still, ultimate ability announcements change dependent on friend of foe: an enemy Reaper will cry out “Die, die, die!”, while a friendly Reaper lets you know he’s “clearing the area”. Once again, the immediate information about what’s going on helps you make snap decisions, whether it’s running for cover from an incoming explosive tire or closing in to take advantage of the enemy team being locked down.
Being able to change hero on the fly is a huge factor in keeping games varied and exciting. An attacking team who is struggling against a turret nest may swap in long range offense like rocket-toting Pharah, to pick off turrets from afar; the defending team in turn could adapt by swapping a turret user for a sniper, and aim to shoot Pharah out of the sky.
This back and forth dynamic as players figure out strong compositions — and how to best counter their opponents — lends a huge level of replayability.
Even silly or “this’ll never work” compositions, such as six of the same character, are fun to play and can lead to some unexpected victories. Unlike many competitive genres such as MOBAs, which put huge pressure on players to do well, you never feel like Overwatch is pulling you down and forcing you to do X and Y.
Exploration is encouraged and well rewarded — sniper heroes Hanzo and Widowmaker are able to climb walls and traverse maps in order to take advantage of uncommon lines of sight, and flankers like Reaper and Tracer can discover and utilise unexpected routes to ambush the enemy team from behind.
The entire game has the trademark level of incredible polish that Blizzard is known for; a sense of excellence that most game devs can only dream of. Other games should take notes in balancing: every hero is viable, effective, and surprisingly fun to play.
Though the game loosely categories heroes into types such as offense, tanks and supports, these definitions shouldn’t be equated to their conventional MMO namesakes. Tanks in Overwatch don’t stand still and soak damage while everyone else has the fun — they roar into the fight, blasting and pummeling their enemies. Few things in life are as satisfying as landing Roadhog’s hook on an unsuspecting foe, pulling them towards you to receive a beautiful blast of shrapnel to the face. Even supports, who are traditionally passive, are proactive and amazingly fun to play; resurrecting fallen allies, setting up turret nests and debuffing targets to receive bonus damage means that a good support will not only hold their own, but be able to completely decimate their enemies.
Overwatch has a simple levelling system in place, where players gain XP from playing matches, with additional XP bonuses from being top on the team for damage, healing or objective time, getting your first win of the day, and so on. Levelling grants no practical benefit, but each level-up rewards you with a loot box, each of which contains four random cosmetic items such as sprays, character emotes, new voice-lines, and full hero skins. Players looking for immediate gratification can also pull out their credit card to purchase loot boxes in bulk, but importantly these are purely cosmetic — there are no paid advantages in Overwatch, making sure the game is pure, fun and competitive for all players.
Overwatch takes the tired FPS genre by the horns, punches barrels of fun into it, and gives it a hugely stylish makeover. Playing the game is an immensely rewarding experience, and we recommend it to diehard FPS fans and “I never play shooting games” people alike. Give it a try. We promise you’ll like it.