Overwatch’s release is approaching and it appears that Blizzard is poised to extend it’s grasp into yet another aspect of gaming.
For the uninitiated, Overwatch is an multi-player team based “shooter” from Blizzard Entertainment that is set to release May 24th for PC, PS4 and X-Box One. I use the term “shooter” very carefully because I don’t want people with terrible hand-eye coordination, bad twitch reflexes or unsteady mouse hands to avoid this game. There is certainly room for people who excel at shooters to also excel at Overwatch but Blizzard, as they usually do, has also opened the door for a wider audience, but more on that later.
First off, some things that Overwatch isn’t. Overwatch is not a single player game. Blizzard’s history of creating engaging universes and telling stories in their games might lead you to believe that all these wonderful cinematics are going to be explored in more detail in the game. They are not. From what I can gather, the goal appears to be to create characters and a universe solely to add another dimension to their shooter. And it pays off. In playing the game I never felt like I was playing “the armor/hammer guy with the big blue shield thing” I was Reinhardt. And I was never “the British chick who can teleport”. I was Tracer (and briefly, I was adorable).
Overwatch is not something to be enjoyed in a bubble. Previous Blizzard titles without a clear single player focus (I’m looking at you Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm) are very playable and enjoyable without involving a single stranger or friend. Due to the complex nature of the gameplay, characters and abilities the AI can, at best, be fun target practice and I guess at worse can be boring target practice. There are safeguards in place to allow communication for people without mics, or that just hate them, in canned phrases and emotes. You will run into foolish people who do terrible things because they have an open mic. Muting them will be a reality that you need to be ready to face. So you’ll be playing with people and probably against people and if that’s not something you want then this isn’t the game for you.
Overwatch is not Free to Play. Well… it is now, it’s in Open Beta, but it’s not an F2P game and Blizzard has no intention of moving in that direction. This means a few things. Most obviously it means you have to have some money ready if you want to join the fun at the end of the month. But it also means that you’re free from people that don’t care 40 dollars worth if they ever play this game, which brings a certain amount of quality to the player base. You’ll also avoid the majority of the bots and spammers that come free with F2P games. And that’s nice. And, lastly, although there are micro-transactions, you start off with a full gameplay experience. And that’s also nice.
But what is Overwatch? That’s a little tougher to explain since it’s fairly unique. At the most basic it’s a six on six shooter with some familiar modes that you may have seen in Call of Duty, Team Fortress or Halo. With one notable exception: No Deathmatch, team or otherwise. Every match requires teamwork to succeed. Every hero requires teamwork to succeed (people will tell you that Widowmaker the sniper or Bastion the turret do not. They are wrong). Kill/Death ratio is… important, but definitely not the only goal. Some of the heroes abilities make it so that dying frequently is far less of a hindrance (one can increase movement speed drastically, another can create a destructible portal anywhere on the map that links to the spawn location, for example).
So there’s no Deathmatch, what is there? The game play amounts to three major styles. First is control point capture/defend. This is where a location on the map needs to be held by one team for a set time and the other team needs to get to it. Second is basically the same thing but the control point is neutral and must be controlled by a given team for a set period of time. And lastly they make the control point move around, which amounts to escorting a “payload”. There are combinations of these three styles (maybe you need to control a point for a shorter time and then it launches into a payload escort, maybe you’ll need to capture two points on one map consecutively in a set time frame, that sort of thing.)
So why go to all this complexity when other shooters have seen excellent success just throwing us into Deathmatch/Team Deathmatch and walking away? Well that’s where the “wider audience” I mentioned earlier comes in. Overwatch has character classes. Some characters specialize in controlling the map, taking hits/protecting their teammates, healing/supporting the team or just doing damage in general. Within these classes there are also variations of play-styles. Some support characters will heal directly and then spend most of their time dealing damage while others heal very little and focus on picking off foes and providing safe places/defensible positions. Some damage dealers throw rockets, some throw shuriken.
You might think “Sure, there are 21 heroes, but those are just skins and voices. There are four classes so I can play one of four roles.” That’s patently untrue in this game. If you’re terrible at aiming there are options in all four roles where you can still be super useful. If your spatial awareness is garbage, ditto. Don’t like getting one shooted because your health is too low? There’s a support character for that and there are damage dealers for that. You’re not just limited to tanks if you don’t want to die in one hit.
You heard microtransactions before and I know that is troublesome, especially in a PVP game. Other games make it easier to get more powerful characters and items for money. So far it looks like Overwatch is staying out of that game. Unlockables are exclusively cosmetic. No hero or gun purchases and it seems like that will also apply to potential future heroes, which is nice.
Also, and of interest to people who very much don’t want to pay more for a game for which they’ve already paid, it also looks like all the cosmetic upgrades can be attained by gameplay either by playing well or consistently. The system seems to be set up so that with some patience (so far it seems about a week or two of regular play) even the “legendary” cosmetic upgrades can be obtained without spending money. But we’re in Beta and there are no daily quests or stores yet, so it’s hard to say. At the moment you get a “loot box” when you level.
And each one contains four cosmetic upgrades.
Upgrades can be:
Sprays: leave a little personal mark somewhere while you’re playing
Voice lines: something for your character to say, either a bit of trash talk or an inspiring remark
Emotes: a lot like voice lines, sometimes inspiration/cute, sometimes the equivalent to a bit of tea-bagging
Player Icons: simple enough, changes your icon, visible when you are in a party
Skins: ranging from simple palette swaps to visual overhauls, depending on rarity.
Winning Poses: You probably remember the Tracer “controversy” regarding one of these recently. A bunch of them appear when you win, alikea thisa:
Highlight intros: A little custom animation for when you get “play of the game.” These are super detailed and some of the more amusing aspects of the game, which adds another element of accomplishment.
Now I’m not the the type to buy into this type of thing but I found myself customizing my spray and voiceline and binding them to keys I can find quickly so I can keep my team motivated without actually talking to them. My generous estimate is that when they monetize these things they are going to make, approximately, a fortune.
Final verdict, how is it? I can’t tell you that. I’m all about objective value for games. Some games can, and should, be enjoyed by anyone. This is not one of those games. It’s cute, but it’s also a shooter, at the end of the day. But it’s also not a shooter, so I can’t say “if you like shooters you’ll like Overwatch”. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say “If you like Team Fortress, you’ll like Overwatch.” It’s definitely it’s own thing and it’s trying to hit as many bases as it possibly can while doing so.
What I can say is it’s absolutely worth your time to boot up the Beta to see if it’s for you. If you didn’t hear anything in this preview that interested you then I’m doing a terrible job because there is at least something in this game for everyone. And if you’re worried about the lack of single player, the abundance of PVP or the fact that you’re historically awful at shooters I can tell you that I am awful at shooters, don’t measure up well when playing with other people and generally prefer single player games and I’m thoroughly enjoying Overwatch.
In any event, Open Beta is free, come join us and check it out. You could find your new favorite game. I know I might have. Official release is May 24th for XBone, PS4 and PC. open beta is up until Monday morning/afternoon depending on your time zone (closes Monday 10:00 PST, if you are the type that stays up all night and wants to get one more night of Overwatch).