There’s no denying it: Overwatch is going to be huge.
Blizzard’s no slouch in the gaming industry, but a shooter is far from its wheelhouse. Turns out, that doesn’t matter — its pedigree shines though, as Overwatch is a masterpiece that easily outperforms similar big name blockbusters like Battleborn and more direct competitors like SMITE by, well, just being good.
I’m getting ahead of myself. For those who’ve lived under a rock for the past year or so, Blizzard’s jumped into the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre with a character-driven piece that wholly embraces the first-person shooter. Twenty-one unique characters are spaced out over four classes: offense, defense, support and tank. Twelve maps are used across four modes, with one of those modes acting as a hybrid of the other two. In Control, you fight in a best-of-three format over control points. Assault is similar, but one team is locked into a defensive mode, and the other offensive. Escort requires the safe transfer of a Payload to a base and Hybrid is a combination of Escort and Assault. Each of the game’s characters has a series of special moves, from stun grenades and quickfire pistol shots to different firing configurations and healing. Each character also has a super that can be activated after charging it up through a match.
That out of the way, let’s continue to use those two other games for comparison. Battleborn shares a lot of core concepts: a huge roster of characters with unique abilities and crazy multiplayer mayhem. Overwatch excels because its characters are unique, but all possess the same aesthetical look. It’s believable that Mei comes from the same universe as D.Va or Reinhardt, unlike the patchwork quilt that is Gearbox’s creation. Even though Blizzard’s newest doesn’t offer any single-player content, its surrounding animated shorts, digital comics and in-game quips provide a more engaging world than the handful of campaign missions on offer in Battleborn. While, admittedly, both of these titles offer very little variety in the way of game modes, Overwatch‘s extremely balanced cast of characters easily make up for it.
That’s not to say that additional modes wouldn’t be welcome.
Using SMITE in comparison probably isn’t fair; the free-to-play shooter easily falls flat when looking at its paywalled, rotating cast of characters. That, and Hi-Rez studios is about five tiers below the likes of Blizzard, if we’re being honest. It’s better, then, to use Team Fortress instead. The similarities between Valve’s game and Blizzard’s are easily identifiable; moreso when you realise that Overwatch doesn’t beat around the bush, calling Escort’s Payload just that. With the power of a major developer behind them both, each game is a guaranteed success — and not simply because a whole bunch of money will be thrown at the games to keep them afloat. Everything about Overwatch oozes carefully crafted polish. No one character feels overpowered to another. Each character, despite a three-star ease of use rating, can be picked up within a handful of matches. Control schemes — while quite obviously created and refined for PC — work well across all three available platforms.
In the right set of circumstances, you’ll be locked into the “just one more game” mentality that means you’ll look up from your controller and realise it’s suddenly three o’clock in the morning. When you’re paired with five other players and ditch the Call of Duty lone wolf mentality to play as a team, hours will seem like mere minutes. When a team just clicks, it’s a thing of beauty. Reinhardt holds the line, shield up and protecting allies. Directly flanking him are offensive characters, Genji and Solider: 76, using the shield as cover. They bravely stand, unflinching as Reinhardt’s shield takes the bullets meant for them… and return fire themselves, laying waste to those ahead. Mercy stands behind the three, applying damage boosts to the offensive characters, ready to swap to healing the moment Reinhardt’s shield breaks down. Above, Widowmaker and Hanzo leap across rooftops, providing cover fire when necessary and taking time to line up headshots when they’re in the clear.
Overwatch is indeed a thing of beauty. That has many meanings — there’s beauty in teamwork, of course, but also too in the crisp, detailed visuals Blizzard provides. This is only added to by slick, post-game reports that showcase teamwork and those who play to their characters’ strengths. It’s refreshing to play a shooter that doesn’t just award MVP to the person with the highest K/D ratio, instead highlighting superb medics or support players. While the game has microtransactions, they’re actually cosmetic only, offering up quicker access to skins and soundbites.
Conversely, being stuck with a horrific team is Overwatch at its absolute worst. As we outlined in our initial impressions, things can go very wrong for a team extremely fast. Having three healers, for one. Or three players who all desperately want to be Reaper. Having a Reinhardt who is constantly looking from left to right with his shield activated, unknowingly swinging it around and leaving teammates unprotected. Even worse yet, a Reinhardt who never bothers to use his shield during a match, instead thinking he’s the equivalent of Halo‘s Master Chief. It’s bleedingly obvious when people are thinking of themselves, not the team. This could be due to newbies jumping in, but I also think it’s partly because of Overwatch‘s varied, yet ultra-specific Achievements. You can tell when a character’s trying for four kills in a certain style, because he or she blindly focuses on a very narrow play style. It sucks.
With optimism in mind, those aforementioned players might just be new to a character. While Overwatch does offer some basic tutorials, you’re tasked to learn how a character works by playing against AI and figuring it out. For super moves like McCree’s High Noon, an actual tutorial detailing how it works would be a godsend. I wasted my super over and over, hitting Y to activate it, and immediately hitting Y again — as per the move’s flavour text — to activate it. Turns out, you’re supposed to wait until you lock onto targets before that second press.
If we’re being pessimists, Overwatch should do more to prevent players from sticking to a plan, no matter what. If another player’s chosen Mercy, don’t let another do the same. Items like these might be part of the game’s competitive update, but they’d also help out quick play. In the end, our gripes are nothing too damaging, but it’s strange that some no-brainers have been overlooked in such a polished title.
The bottom line is that Overwatch is easy to pick up and understand, and amazingly fun to play. It will clearly provide an engaging, energy-filled competitive scene — and that will come sooner than later, with a competitive update scheduled for June. With such a fun, varied gameplay loop, it’s hard not to recommend the title to anyone on Windows PC, Xbox One or PS4.
Overwatch was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One, as provided by the publisher. We will add to this review, or perhaps post additional impressions, using a promotion code given for Windows PC.