On the surface, Overwatch doesn’t offer much. Four modes of play and little else. So, why has Blizzard taken years to build upon what was once known as “Titan”, a planned massively multiplayer online role playing game which was cancelled late in its development? What we have is something completely different, a multiplayer online shooter which is quite a distance from its precursor.
Overwatch is deception personified. You’d be forgiven to think that it falls under the modern day stigma of “just another online shooter”, overlooking what boils beneath its surface. I admit, I thought this at first. I thought to myself of how Overwatch could compete in a market dominated by your Call of Duty’s and Battlefield’s. Well, after spending since launch day playing Overwatch, it more than holds its own.
An easy to follow tutorial breaks you in gently, showing the ropes of the mechanics of the game. There is nothing else to discover whilst playing. No surprises or additional mechanics. The tutorial gives you everything you need before you’re thrown in the deep end. You are Soldier: 76, an enhanced version of a standard grunt with a cool mask. You’re shown his two unique abilities: sprint and heal, which has him drop a capsule that manifests a healing circle, granting health regeneration to anyone standing inside it. After becoming comfortable with these abilities and using his assault rifle which had unlimited ammunition, I was introduced to his ultimate ability which enables after the percentage count on its icon reaches 100. Triggering it enables his visor, which allowed me to lock onto opponents making all my rifle bullets home in requiring no aim. It was surely overpowered, but hell, it takes a while to charge up and runs out fairly quickly, so it was perfectly fine.
After the tutorial ended, I entered the Quick Play option and it was then that Overwatch started to make sense. Joining a match soon showed me it’s ace-in-the-hole. Twenty one heroes to choose from before the match starts. This cast of colorful and diverse combatants is where Overwatch proves to be something special. I’d mastered Soldier: 76, but I had twenty more to fathom. Within matches, experimentation was fun. The dynamic mish-mash of quick and nimble to slow and powerful had a rock, paper, scissors vibe to them. The towering Reinhardt with his huge rocket powered hammer was easily overcome by the super quick and agile ninja, Genji. Reinhardt is a melee character. Up close, he can ruin your day in a heartbeat, and to get there he can protect himself and his team using his other ability, a massive laser shield. He is a defensive character, designed to assist damage dealers and tanks. Genji can overcome him. He’s faster and has the ability to double jump giving him access to ambush points and canopies above. He can easily get around Reinhardt’s shield.
The cast of twenty one are separated into four categories. Damage dealers which are offensive types with some devastating abilities, like Reaper who dual wields powerful pistols which are ideal up close, and he can use his teleport or wraith mode to get there. Tanks are characters that can take a lot of damage and can hand your ass to you in a second. Roadhog can pull you in with his chain, take you out with his shrapnel gun, and then drink from his flask to heal, very dangerous. Defense characters help defend objectives, such as Bastion who can transform into a minigun turret at any time. Lastly, there are support characters who have abilities that are designed to keep team members alive or buff them up.
This is what opens Overwatch up. The six versus six skirmishes with an assortment of these awesome characters gives access to some great match ups. The twelve different maps are perfectly designed for some thoughtful tactics and ambushes. Hollywood is a great level to hide in shops or on verandas whilst fire fights explode beneath on the boulevard. Then there are other great maps such as King’s Row set in London and the Temple of Anubis. Each map is designed for one of the four match types which mixes traditional death matches to the domination style, Escort.
Overwatch is not easy to master. Finding a character that suits your play style takes a lot of trial and error. Thankfully, you’re able to switch characters upon death which allows you to effectively take out that sniper that has been terrorizing your teammates or grant support for your team because nobody has picked a support character and you’re getting torn apart. The strategy involved is staggering. There is no perfect team, but playing your part effectively can mean success or failure.
Overwatch falls short on a few things, however. One of which is its progression system. Completing matches, eliminating opponents, getting most effective player all grant experience points which go towards leveling up. Each time you do, you are gifted with loot boxes which are similar to Battlefield’s battle packs. They grant you four items for your band of merry men (and women). Where it falls short is that the rewards are all purely cosmetic. Poses and quotes don’t give the same sense of achievement as a new gun or upgrade. That just resonates Overwatch’s emphasis on balance. Giving out more powerful guns and upgrades would waiver the game’s balance every which way, so it’s clear that Blizzard want to keep Overwatch‘s integrity intact.
My second and final gripe is the planet sized missed opportunity of a single player story mode. Overwatch’s marketing plagued us with character shorts which made us hope for some sort of a campaign but there is none. Characters such as Tracer are ideal protagonists to a potential hostile takeover story or something to that effect, but the lack thereof feels like a gigantic misfire.
Thankfully, the gameplay and cast are more than enough to counteract these complaints, and Overwatch stands fairly tall in a multiplayer market dominated by military type shooters.
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 24th May 2016