The month of May is upon us and with it a string of new releases all vying for your attention, hoping to be the game that you will choose for your summer break. At least 4 different shooters (DOOM, Battleborn, Homefront, Uncharted 4) are beckoning, each with drastically divergent features. Overwatch sets itself apart with perfectly balanced gameplay & levels crafted with Blizzard’s usual attention to detail. It immerses you in it’s world & makes the time fly by until you realize it’s 3 am (and you have work at 9).
Made by the juggernaut that is Activision Blizzard Overwatch has a long and somewhat infamous history. Built from the ashes of what would’ve been Blizzard’s next MMORPG Titan, Overwatch is a culmination of knowledge & blunders that emerged. It was 7 years worth of work that was scrapped. That might seem mind-boggling until you remember which company this is. Blizzard is known for never having a solid release date, only releasing “when it’s done” as well as being obsessive perfectionists. This is evident in the caliber of games they put out, with only 3 IP’s (Diablo, Starcraft, Warcraft) since 1991 albeit with multiple entries in each and their scores (Metacritic score of 87).
You might be asking yourself, how did an MMORPG turn into a team-based FPS? It did not. Overwatch is its own project with some inspiration coming from Hearthstone, Blizzard’s collectible trading card game. This is evident in the character design as well as the gameplay depth. Unlike Blizzard’s previous games Overwatch is simple in comparison. The simplicity is it’s core strength due to the depth hiding underneath. It is set in a fictionalized version of our future facing a global crisis and it has the potential to be Blizzard’s newest masterpiece. But the core is only the sum of it’s parts, with a masterpiece combining them into something remarkable.
Visually speaking Overwatch strikes an aesthetic balance between cartoony and realistic, not unlike Borderlands & Battleborn (both by Take Two). Blizzard long ago pioneered this in Warcraft and it shows here. It’s very slick with no performance issues running on high without having a killer gaming rig. Console suffers a little in comparison with slight stuttering and slowdown issues. The levels as well as the characters are vibrant & alive, their personalities shining through all the eye candy. The frantic action is a feast for the eyes as well as the ears.
Each of the characters have 3 unique taunts and 10 voice lines once again showing off Blizzard’s signature humour. The sound is also uniquely balanced, the more dangerous/heavier characters make more noise. The enemy team also makes more noise than yours. The music does get a little bit stale after a while but you hardly notice it amid the chaos. Causing this chaos are the unique abilities each character is given. With over 20 characters you might be overwhelmed at first but with practice the deep mechanics will reveal themselves.
The simple onion that is Overwatch (Shrek comparison notwithstanding) top layer is it’s characters. They are broken down into 4 categories: Offense, Defense, Tank and Support. It is a correlation to the tank, dps, heals triumvirate that MMORPG’s are well known for. In the context of a PVP 6v6 shooter your choice of characters for your team will depend not only on your skill but on the map, mode and side (attack or defense). Choose poorly and suffer a crushing defeat. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses as well as counter-characters. Mercy is great a single person heals while Lucio is great at helping the team push while healing. Roadhog is great at defense, due to his hookshot & self-heal. Winston is a awesome pusher with leap and a shield. Mei (ice wall, freeze gun), Bastion (turret, self-heal), Symmetra (turret, teleport special) and Torbjorn (turret, armor) are terrific at locking an area down. Tracer (blink, time manipulation), Pharah (rockets, jetpack) & Genji (ninja stars, counter) are great harassers, moving swiftly to disorganize the enemy. McCree (revolver 6 shot, reload roll, stun), Reaper (teleport, invulnerability) & Soldier:76 (heals, run, DPS) are unstoppable on the offense. Bastions can be countered with a Widowmaker or Genji, Tanks can be flanked & too many of 1 character with leave your weak in another area. This layer is perfected in thanks to the many years Blizzard has spend balancing the PVP combat in World of Warcraft. This leads us to the next layer of tears.
Tears of joy are evident here after you realize that the balance extends to the maps and game modes. Featuring 4 modes, Assault (taking turn to cap 2 points) Escort, Control (both teams fight over 3 points) & Hybrid (Assault, then Escort). None of the maps repeat in any of the modes. They were crafted for that specific modes balance. Not overly complex, the levels remind me of Counterstrike. Easy to memorize, a lifetime to master. This requires you to think about your team make-up & strategy. Depending on the enemy & their tactics you might need to make adjustments on the fly & rethink your options. One of the most fun matches I played, our team had 2 Lucio & 4 Bastions defending. It took the other team by surprise & even though we lost, it was the most fun I had in an online shooter in years. Another great tactic was was using 2 Junkrats. With only 30 seconds left the enemy saved their special to wipe our team & get on the point. By the time we got back the second special killed us again & assured their victory. This balance and beauty in tactics will also make a giant impact on the eSports community (especially the lack of non-cosmetic progression).
All the various layers come together in a game unlike any other. They are crafted with love and care, like all Blizzard games. The console version suffers from some framerate issues & the usual controller VS mouse conundrum. After PC I could not go back to my PS4. This is somewhat rectified in the fact that all the controls can be remapped for each characters. This includes, unlike in most games the sensitivity of the controller / mouse (also per character). Blizzard went so far as to have separate toggles for Controller X/Y sensitivity. They also feature Halo-like slowdown when going over an enemy (in console version). Overall the only thing that might hurt is the games’ longevity. Unlike Call of Duty or Battlefield it features no unlocks other than cosmetic customizations. Featuring 54 cosmetic unlocks per character (taunts, voices, sprays, poses, highlight animations), they can be bought with currency or found in chests you get when you level up. This also puts the game closer to the balance of arena shooters of old. Only time will tell if the terrific gameplay will hold up overall.
Compared to other games coming out this month, it seems short on features. With no Single-player (DOOM, Uncharted 4, Homefront), Coop (Battleborn, Homefront, DOOM lvl creator) or ground-breaking features (Battleborn leveling, DOOM violence/lvl maker) it seems like a losing pick. I feel overall it will still outlast them all. DOOM beta multiplayer was not that special & the level creator will depend on the creativity of the player base. It will also take time until some true masterpieces are made. Battleborn is already getting a lukewarm reception due to how slow & grindy it is. Uncharted 4’s beta also did not leave me that impressed. Homefront will hopefully be an exception. Taking all that into account, after you beat the single-player in a week or so these games will collect dust on a shelf. Overwatch on the other hand sucks you in and refuses to let go. It is the core gameplay that does this. I’ve put in more hours into this beta than Battleborn, DOOM & Uncharted 4 beta combined.
Only time will tell how Overwatch will perform, but from the early beta feedback & the fact that it is now the most streamed beta on twitch.tv I think it is safe to say Overwatch has a bright future. Hopefully Blizzard can keep it going as it takes another gaming genre by storm.
This article has been approved by the highest authority at Blizzard…. Roadhog. =D