Overwatch

Blizzard Entertainment threw the gaming community for a loop when they announced that their first new IP in 20 years was a team-based first person shooter. Blizzard is best known for their insanely popular MMO World of Warcraft. So a first person shooter was not what anyone expected when Overwatch was announced.

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So what is Overwatch exactly? Overwatch is an online-only, class-based, team-based, competitive, first person shooter that draws inspiration from Team Fortress 2. That’s a mouthful. But to be fair to both Valve and Blizzard, comparing Overwatch to TF2 would be like comparing Quake Arena to Call of Duty 4. Although there are similarities, there’s more than 10 years that separates the two games.

 

The idea for Overwatch was manifested  in the spoils of Blizzard’s cancelled sci-fi MMO, Project Titan. The setting for Overwatch is in the future, on Earth.  A conflict has risen between humans and robots. As a result of this conflict an elite force of Heroes is assembled to keep the peace and Overwatch was created. As the conflict draws to a close, Overwatch is deemed too powerful and the organization is disbanded. Without Overwatch the world is once again susceptible to corruption and turmoil ensues. The world needs heroes and Overwatch is once again activated!

 

As part of Blizzard’s mega marketing  campaign they released a series of animated shorts and graphic novels (comic books for us “old” guys) to  help build buzz for the game. It has not been confirmed, but it’s assumed that a lot of this backstory they’ve released came directly from the trash heap that was once known as Titan. These animated shorts are Pixar quality and provide a look at how each hero fits in the world.

 

At launch, Overwatch has 4 game modes. There’s  Assault, Payload Escort, Control and an Assault/Escort Variant. Each game is 6v6, one team plays defense while the other plays offense. On the surface it seems simple enough, but things can become deep and complex when you have 21 unique heroes to  choose from.

 

Each game  plays out like a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Every hero has heroes they are better against than others. Every ability has a counter ability that can be used to neutralize that ability. As you play you begin to learn  these counters. So if you have an opposing team playing Reinhart, you know  that  Tracer’s or Genji’s mobility can help you get behind Reinhart’s shield.

 

The key to success is for your team  to adjust  to what your opponent is  doing. These adjustments often mean you start out with one hero and end up finishing a game with another. The quicker you make your adjustment, the better  your team will perform. It’s as simple  as that. Blizzard does a great job of communicating what the “team objective” is which makes the game a lot more fun. You’ll hear the voices of the other  heroes, if not other players, letting you know that you have to get to the objective or you’ll lose the game. Gone are the K/D ratio reminders. As a matter of fact, I’m not even sure it’s possible to know what your K/D ratio is.  Sometimes sacrificing yourself for your team is what gets the job done.

 

There are currently 21 heroes to choose from, each one having strengths and weaknesses. These 21 heroes are broken up into 4 specialities: Offense, Defense, Tank and Support. Although these 4 specialties seem  well defined, each hero offers up his or her own flavor of unique  abilities that can help your team achieve  its  goal. These heroes are pretty diverse. You have everything from a Clint Eastwood inspired cowboy to a female russian bodybuilder. Each hero hero plays decidedly different than the next. The game  feels different with every hero change you make.

 

Offense classes are typically more mobile and deal higher amounts of damage, but have little in terms of defensive stats and should be mostly considered “glass-cannons”. Defense classes tend to do less damage, but are tougher in general  and offer up  some sort of utility to the group. Tanks or “Heavies” do less damage yet, but draw the opposing team’s attention  by being meat shields and giving their team an opportunity to push forward. Support classes are typically healing classes offering utility to the group in general by providing healing, shields, speed boosts  or teleporters for the group  among other things.

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I could spend a month trying to give an explanation on how each hero works. But  there’s plenty of YouTube videos out there that already do this. But in short, each hero  has an ability or abilities  that are available all  the time. They have other abilities that are available after a short cool-down. Finally, each hero has an “Ultimate” ability that can have a greater impact on the game and have a longer cool  down. For instance, Mercy, who’s  a healer can  heal and buff players on her team all the time. She has a special  ability, “Guardian Angel”, that allows her to fly to quickly to a teammate, but this ability is on a short cool down. And finally,  she has her “Ultimate”, which allows her to resurrect nearby dead teammates (multiple teammates if close enough.) Using these abilities  at the right time gives your  team an edge and can  quickly save a game or turn the tide in your favor.

 

Each hero has a player-difficulty rating: one to three stars. The one  star heroes are easier to learn and pretty straight-forward. As long as you have some gaming experience, you should be able to pick one of these and help your team out. As you move into  the more difficult heroes, they tend to have higher risk, with higher reward as a result.

 

Assumptions that Overwatch is a difficult game to learn would be wrong. Bushnell’s law certainly applies here: “All the best games are easy to learn and hard to master!” From World of Warcraft to Hearthstone Blizzard has proven that they design their games by this mantra and Overwatch is no exception. If you pick a one star character, you’ll almost certainly catch on within the first game or two.

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As I’ve played Overwatch, I’ve purposefully swapped away from  heroes I feel comfortable  with and the game feels almost like a new experience  by simply switching from one player to the next. My first go-to’s were Reinhart as tank, Mercy for support, Torbjorn as Defense and Reaper as  Offense. Now you might see me choose Zarya as tank, Zenyatta as support, Junkrat as defense and Soldier 76 as offense.

I guess my point  is, every hero feels unique. Every hero has their quirks that make them great and useful in the game.

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At the conclusion of each game, a “Play of the Game” is  selected and highlights a series  of actions that led to some success in the game. These plays are mostly multi-kill situations, but I’ve  seen a few where a healer provided a  team buff that led to holding the opposing team  back long enough for a win. After after the play of  the game, you’re invited to vote for an MVP. Statistics of  3 or 4 players pop up on the screen and all 12 players can vote. The winner ends up with some extra XP. Although kills, or Eliminations as they call it are important, Kills are not the centerpiece for accolades in this game. Teamwork is  rewarded with wins, while selfish players looking for deathmatch will be met with frustration and losses.

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Speaking of heroes, I should mention that all heroes/classes are available as soon as you start playing. There’s no unlock-able guns, abilities  or heroes for that matter. That’s actually quite refreshing and “old-school” if you will. As a matter of fact, Blizzard insists that they will never “sell” heroes or maps. They feel this splits the community, so as they release new heroes, maps and game types, they will be included with your original license.

 

At launch, Overwatch ships with a total of 12 maps. These maps are evenly split between the 4 games types. Each map is unique.  In other words, this isn’t Battlefield where DICE  would release “map-packs” that were nothing more than the maps you already owned  only playable as a different  game variant. Each map, in Overwatch  was  designed with all of  the heroes in mind. During Blizzard’s extensive closed Alpha they did their  best to not only balance the heroes, but  to make sure  that the maps worked with  each hero’s abilities.  All this  testing seems  to have  worked  because up until now, there haven’t been any reports of exploits or any other shenanigans.

 

The maps are absolutely beautiful and are designed for teams to exploit choke points where  hectic firefights  tend to take place. This is reminiscent to those  COD4 maps. There’s places for snipers, but backdoors to allow agile heroes to stab them in the back. Choke points can be followed by open areas to reward an attack team after working hard on pushing through. The maps are located  in futuristic versions  of cities from around the world. Everywhere from a Hollywood Studio backlot to the streets of London, England.

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So where is the infamous carrot  on the stick? The one that  keeps you coming back?  As you play you gain XP, leveling your account.  As a result, you earn vanity items such as skins, sprays, voice lines and an ingame currency. The in-game currency is used to buy  rare versions of those same  vanity items. They’re rewards that don’t have an effect on game play. And this is  where most likely microtransactions will come into play. Although not available at the moment, I’m betting they’ll allow people to  buy in game currency to unlock some of the higher end skins. Or even  sell specialized skins outright from a store.

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Blizzard has a long  standing history of supporting their games for many years past  launch. Just recently they released a patch for  Diablo 2, a game that was released in June of 2000. Diablo 3, which was released in 2012  receives free content updates every 3 to 6 months. I only bring  this up because Blizzard has said they will be updating Overwatch for years to come,  and as mentioned  before, they will not be charging for Heroes or maps. So the $40 investment will hopefully go a long way.

 

Although Blizzard has  mentioned that the console versions will enjoy the same amount of support the PC version enjoy, I’m not sure the audience is there over the long  term. Console gamers tend to  have  ADD  when it comes  to games  and multiplayer only games tend to die rather quickly. Best part of playing on PC is  that Blizzard offers  a $39 version. The only difference  between the $39 and $59 are some unique skins  that are included in the Origins edition. If you’re  on the fence, go for the less expensive  version since the difference  is only cosmetic  and does not affect your  gameplay. As a side note,  multiplayer PC games seem to have longer legs  than it’s console counterparts. Look no further  than games like Team Fortress 2, Diablo 3 and Left 4 Dead for  proof of this trend.

 

Between  the 2 betas I played in and the recent launch, I probably have 80 plus hours worth of game time playing Overwatch. In my honest opinion,this  is the best competitive multiplayer game I’ve  played since Call of Duty 4 which was a game I played online for 4 years. What’s surprised me  the most, is the similar approach Blizzard has  taken in terms of well designed maps and game balance. There’s enough content  here to keep me playing for a while, easily. Every hero plays so much different than the next, that switching is almost like playing a new game.

 

I played the first beta using an Xbox 360 controller on the PC and I held my own.  During the prelaunch beta, I switched to a keyboard  and mouse and if I’m going to be honest, I’m doing a whole lot better  than I was using a controller. Gamepads just don’t have the accuracy a mouse has. The PC I’m playing Overwatch on  has an i5 4690, 8 gb RAM and a GTX970 Video card. Playing Overwatch at 1080p on Ultra settings I’m averaging around 120 fps.  The game looks and sounds beautiful.

 

As much as I love Overwatch, there are some areas I would love to see improvement in. The Play of the Game feature tends to favor certain heroes. It’s pretty common that Bastion, Reaper and Hanzo have the featured play. It would be nice for Support and Tanks to be featured more  prominently.  Also, as much as Blizzard has put into the lore and story telling of Overwatch, they’ve dropped the ball somewhat communicating some of the more important intricacies of some  of these Heroes. If you truly want to understand the nuts and bolts of every Hero, you’re forced to research that  information outside of the game. Lastly, I’m hoping they add to the soundtrack at some point. The game plays the same music, regardless of map and that bother me a little.

 

So, should you purchase this game? That’s a tricky question these days. Every genre has sub-genres and people who have specific likes or dislikes. So I’ll handle the purchase question this way.

 

  1. Do you enjoy online multiplayer games? If not, you should pass.
  2. Do you enjoy first person shooters? If not, you should pass.
  3. Do you enjoy competitive team based co-operative games? If not, you should pass.
  4. Does a lack of a single player  campaign bother you?  If yes, you should pass.

 

In conclusion, Overwatch didn’t surprise me. It’s as good if not better than I’d  hoped. The game is an instant winner for me. I’ve always enjoyed a good online shooter, but have grown tired of team-death match style shooting galleries that only reward players who posses ninja like twitch reflexes. Blizzard has gone out of their way to construct a game that truly rewards players for playing together. Overwatch could be the most polished game experience I’ve  ever had. Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s some cargo that needs an escort.

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