Companies such Apple, Nintendo and Blizzard were cut from the same cloth. Their ideas aren’t unique or original but the way they re-imagine and implement those ideas is what makes them special. As such, Blizzard’s latest game, Overwatch isn’t an original idea; it’s a culmination of many ideas formed into one of the best multiplayer first person shooter experiences to date.
Blizzard brought their their production values and their creative flair to the Team Fortress 2 formula. Instead of nine characters filling specific roles, Blizzard expanded the roster to 23 heroes categorized into one of four roles. Many heroes shared similarities to those found in Team Fortress 2 but their game changing Ultimate abilities allowed each of them to impose their identity onto a match.
Most (if not all of) Team Fortress 2’s success was on the PC. Team Fortress 2’s console counterparts were abandoned after Valve couldn’t update as frequently or as their Steam version due to the console manufacturer’s red tape. But times have changed and companies like Blizzard can now update with more regularity. This is important because Blizzard are offering characters, maps and other items for free. Aesthetic items such as skins and emotes can be found in chests aka Loot Boxes as Blizzard calls them. The only form of monetization from Blizzard thus far is the opportunity to buy additional Loot Boxes for cash. I don’t mind this kind of monetization if it keeps the community together.
There are 23 heroes and only a handful of maps and modes but it’s the heroes that give the game its dynamism. The maps are fixed and lack game changing alterations opening opportunities for players to commit them into memory. Knowing the location of a health pack can determine life and death. Different heroes offer different mobility issues which could mean the map that I knew inside and out from one hero’s perspective is incomplete as another.
People will approach the heroes differently. Some will focus on one that they like an attempt to master it while others like myself have picked one or two for each role. I will switch roles and heroes as the situation dictates. I’ve found stubbornly trying to will a certain hero into every situation may not work with every team composition or situation. Being adaptable has its benefits in this game.
Voice chat is available on consoles but finding people using it in public matches is a rare occurrence. Thankfully, informative automated callouts warn teammates of enemies behind them and even the presence of a teleporter (which I argue is too helpful for teams and narrows the opportunity of the teleporter’s usefulness too quickly). A built-in radial menu contains additional voice callouts like “Need Healing”, the status of Ultimate abilities and the request to “Group up”. It was surprising how little voice communication was necessary to function as a unit in public games. Voice chat will undoubtedly help with the speed and accuracy of calling out flanking enemies or more complex situations but I felt Blizzard did a remarkable job facilitating team play without voice chat. In fact, I’ve played in games where voice chat actually hurt a team where arm-chair Generals try to dictate team compositions or too many people responded to a single flanking enemy.
Overwatch is the first Blizzard title that I see myself following from its launch and onwards. (I played Diablo III early on but fell away until the PlayStation 4 release.) Ongoing free support is ingrained into Blizzard’s DNA and witnessing the rollout of Competitive mode, a new character, balance changes and a seasonal event like the “Summer Games” has been very interesting. I don’t always agree with their implementation or decisions but Blizzard have done a stand up job communicating intent and delivering on those intentions.
What makes Overwatch stand out from its competition in the shooter space is the art direction; it’s lighthearted and colorful with a style that will age gracefully with time. The game runs at 1080p and 60FPS on the PlayStation 4 but there’s still room for improvement in texture quality that I would like to see. But those graphical criticisms fade into the back of my mind in the midst of the action.
For me, the most surprising aspect of Overwatch was its controls and how customizable they were. Each hero has his or her set of abilities. Some were straight forward with a standard outfit of two abilities and their Ultimate while others featured weapons with alternate fire modes on top of the standard outfit of 2 abilities. I quickly realized Overwatch was a game that benefited from mapping the jump function to L1 (aka Bumper Jumper configuration). Being able to jump/float and shoot was crucial to playing the rocket pack wearing hero, Pharah. I don’t know how effectively play as her otherwise. Being able to customize each hero’s button configuration was essential to learning each hero played and how they best fit my style.
Blizzard de-emphasized the kill-death ratio metric prevalent in so many multiplayer first person shooters. I love how the end of match screen highlights contributions by healers, defensive units along side eliminations and elimination participation. Healers may have a negative kill death ratio but it doesn’t matter when they’ve healed away a third of the opposing team’s damage.
Overwatch is a feel good shooter. There is a tough and deeply competitive team based shooter buried in it as well but it’s possible to never interact with that side of the game. Blizzard spends time trying to matchmake players of a similar skill level so that players can just hop in pick one of the nearly two dozen characters that I resonate with them and not get destroyed on a regular basis. It feels great to play, it looks and runs fantastically but so do many other games out there. What I appreciate most about Overwatch: the sense that Blizzard cares about making a game that embraces quality over quantity.
I love it