Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Platform: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: 24th May 2016
Note: Title contains microtransactions.
Overwatch has without any doubt been the first game in a long time that has lived up to the hype, the promises and has far exceeded expectations. This is Blizzard’s first FPS title, which came about as the result of a cancelled MMO project “Titan” and a hell of a lot of love from the design, development and engineering teams. Until the launch of this title I have most recently experienced botched launches with minimal content, season passes offering me the second half of the game for the same asking price, downgrades (both graphical and mechanical) and other unacceptable business practices. Knowing that a game this polished, refined and with no season passes or other nonsense coming out with a tremendous amount of hype behind it and actually delivering is a marvellous feeling, a feeling that consists of mostly of happiness and excitement but also a little bit of schadenfreude (knowing that all other developers have no excuses for the above mentioned practices).
Objective focused and teamwork centric game design is the core of Overwatch’s design and it is a welcome sight in a sea dominated with point accumulation focused military shooters. The game features twenty-one characters and twelve maps with four game modes. Each character, locale and game mode is unique in it’s mechanical and aesthetic design with no two characters or maps ever playing in a way that is similar to one another, although they may share a similar role or game mode they are different in every respect.
Character variety in Overwatch is huge, no two characters play the same and each has a unique appearance, background and personality. There are four roles in the game with each being more of a guideline than a design constraint, it is perfectly reasonable for certain attackers to be used in defensive situations for example. The character I have spent most time with is Winston a huge genetically engineered gorilla scientist with a jet pack and a lightning gun. This character is considered to be a tank however the way that this game handles tanking is different from other titles where the big dude has a big weapon and big armour and needs lots of big hits to be brought down. In Overwatch you are quite vulnerable when fighting multiple enemies alone regardless of how many hit points you have or how much damage you can deal. To play a tank in Overwatch you will place shields or deflect attacks or soak up damage to charge your own weapons, each tank has their own way of performing their role and each way is unique, fun and very well designed. Tanking as Winston for example will task the player with jumping around the map, placing shields to protect friendlies or taking out enemies in hard to reach places. Reinhardt however will spend a lot of time raising his giant energy shield to cover friendlies behind him and swinging a giant hammer in melee to hit a lot of people at once.
The other roles of the game include Attackers, Defenders and Support. It may sound obvious from their names what there roles are designed for but each character is viable as a choice in some situation or another. There are some defenders that can work well for the attacking team and vice versa, builders and snipers are located in the defenders role as they work well all round in this role however can be effectively used in other roles if the player is competent or the situation is suitable. Other defenders include trappers and even a playable turret/tank transforming robot. Building a turret on top of the payload is an effective way to ensure that the other team can’t get close to it and this can be done be either team. It is pretty funny to see a hover-car with a giant double barrel machine gun turret driving around the map killing unsuspecting enemies. Trappers can place mines, traps and remote bombs, some characters fill the role of trapper along with other roles such as Windowmaker who is equipped with a hybrid sniper/assault rifle a grappling hook for climbing building and a poisonous gas mine.
Attackers vary in capabilities too one is deadly at close range with dual-wielded shotguns and a deadly dancing attack, another is equipped with a jetpack and a bazooka and can take out enemies from afar by blowing them up or knocking them out of the map. The attacker role contains a lot of characters capable of putting out the a terrifying amount of damage but these weapons can be slow firing or very inaccurate depending on the character being played. A good example of an attack character that can do a lot of damage and take a lot of damage too is Soldier 76, an assault rifle wielding bad ass dispensing justice with his attached rocket launcher and healing team mates with his biotic field. He is a great character for any situation due to his adaptability to different situations. A good example of a character that can be played very well in attack but should be a second thought in defence is the game’s mascot Tracer. She is equipped with two machine pistols and a portable time travel machine that can blink her several meters forwards instantly or reverse her passage of time to retreat to safety. These abilities are great when attacking as they can be used to get into a fortified position or lure an enemy away from one.
Support heroes in Overwatch are the most diverse in their capabilities, with each of them having a completely different use when played. Lucio has the ability to heal team mates with music or speed up their movement with music, he is a DJ and likes his music. Mercy is a Valkyrie with a staff capable of healing team mates or increasing their damage, she can also fly from one friendly to another very quickly to deliver heals where they are needed most. Symmetra places mini turrets and can provide friendlies with a shield boost, her main weapon is a corner bending energy beam gun that is also capable of charging up balls of energy and firing them like very slow but very painful bullets. Finally there is Zenyatta a robot monk that can heal friendlies with floating balls, debuff enemies with the same floating balls and shoots lasers at people, he also floats whilst in a meditating posture the entire time he is doing this.
Each character has a unique Ultimate ability that is charged throughout the match, it charges faster the more effectively you play the character too. Winston’s ultimate ability is Primal Rage or as I like to call it “Going Bananas”. This ability will double his maximum health to 1000, increase his speed and will change his main attack to a melee flurry of gorilla punches that can knock enemies around the map. These abilities are “over powered” by design and allow players to turn the game around when time is running out or just to eliminate the enemy team for a short period. Other Ultimates include the ability to resurrect all deceased team mates that are in range, a giant stun that will knock enemies over and prevent them from acting temporarily, a temporary wallhack for your team and many other cool ways to bring swift balance to the game temporarily.
Maps have a lot of detail, even in places most games would overlook or ignore. There are fully readable posters, scrolling diner menus (I’ll take an order of Bacon n Bacon to go please) and if you look into the distance there is no drop in quality on the skybox and other assets. The maps currently only have one game mode each but have fully designed areas that go unused by the game mode in question which allows for some sneaky manoeuvring and ambushes. It also suggests that Blizzard may update the maps to include other game modes or alternative object areas in the future.
Each game mode is well designed and realised for the maps that they take place on, the game modes include Escort, Assault, Hybrid and Control. Escort is similar to Payload in Team Fortress 2, there is a vehicle that needs to move through the map to the opponents base and the attacking team must push it there whilst the defending team must prevent them from doing so, as mentioned above it is possible to build turrets on top of the vehicle which allows for it to have a moving defence which can be coupled with a tank’s shield for a scary amount of uninterrupted damage. Assault is similar to the capture point game modes from other FPS titles, the attacking team must capture the given point to unlock the next, whilst the defenders have to prevent them from gaining control of it. If the attackers gain control of all the points then they win, if time runs out they lose. Hybrid is a mixture of Escort and Assault, the attacking team must capture a point and once this has been done the mode switches to Escort, this is my favourite mode as it guarantees a change in tactics between the objective types and keeps the game interesting. Control is Overwatch’s varient of the classic King of the Hill mode. The team that holds the point gains points towards their victory, the first team to 100 wins, this mode has multiple rounds with each taking place on a different part of the map, the first team to win two rounds wins the game.
Overwatch’s aesthetic is incredible, when moving around this world it feels like I am in Pixar movie. Everything is pretty, the textures are consistent throughout the entire game, nothing looks out of place. The games music is fantastic too, this entire week I have found myself humming along to the music, sometimes when I am not even playing. The sound assets for weapons, abilities and movement are fantastic too, guns have a bang that matches the power of the weapon, footsteps for smaller characters are light and barely audible compared to the thunderous pounding of the stepping of a large character. You won’t hear the ninja coming but you will hear Reinhardt stomping his way towards you with his giant hammer and tremendously sized amour. This game is very colourful too, it is a nice change from the usual brown and grey shooters that are usually released and forgotten. Overwatch has style, the closest thing you will get to a military shooter with this game is Solider 76, a character that parodies all the traits of the generic army man from the standard Shooter of Valour games. Instead of camouflage and the face of every Vietnam movie soldier ever merged into one, you have a crazy old dude running around in a track suit, sporting a giant number 76 on the back of it so you know who he is, he has a cyborg face and a big gun and he is here to kick ass. Instead of being standard and fitting in he stands out and shows what a little creative freedom and imagination can accomplish.
Shooting mechanics are without a doubt the most fluid I have experienced in a multiplayer title in years, which is strange considering the game’s 20Hz tick rate. When I fire a gun I get instant feedback, either audible or visual, and with a controller I got some physical feedback too although aiming with it was foreign to me I was still able to competently contribute towards the team’s objectives. The feedback on some abilities such as the rocket barrage or high noon feel absent however as these abilities tend to be used like a fire and forget weapon in other titles.
Balance in Overwatch doesn’t coming from fine tuning of each individual character (although they are very well tuned to their purposes) instead it comes from the ever increasing ways to play each character that can be discovered. For example, I almost exclusively used Winston’s jetpack leap to get in close by jumping into the enemy, I discovered in one match that I can use it to jump over them, land in the middle of a group and separate them with the resulting shockwave and by coming at them from above I take less damage on my way there. I also discovered that I can activate my boost and then activate the nuke on D.Va’s mech to use it as a delivery method instead of having to jump into a group and activate it, possibly (most likely) resulting in my character’s death. This allows me to stay in the fight longer and avoid the walk back from the spawn room. No content is locked behind a progression system either, everything is given to you the moment you load the game. This means that you don’t need to spend any time doing something you don’t like to unlock something you would prefer, you have it all right now and can do what you want with it.
Blizzard made the decision to include all future content for the game as free updates, this includes maps, characters, modes and well pretty much anything related to gameplay. This decision alone cemented my belief that this game would be a great success. The community will not get split up into sub communities that own certain content and everyone will be able to play together forever. Future development will be subsidized through the loot box microtransactions instead, even though I would prefer there to be no microtransactions I am willing to accept their presence so long as they remain cosmetic only and will allow for future game content to be provided as free updates instead of as DLC packs with a purchase requirement.
Overwatch is without any doubt a glowing example of how a game should launch, bug free, well optimised, fantastically designed and with good intentions. I have already accumulated about 40ish hours of game time between the beta and the final release and I am sure I will continue to enjoy playing this fantastic title. I eagerly await what Blizzard has planned next for the game and recommend it without question. This is a bloody fantastic game, it is loaded with loads of potential for the future and is a good investment for players looking for a long lasting multiplayer title that will keep them entertained for many many hours of great fun. The game is currently £30 / $40 from the Battle.net store.
Rating: I, for one, welcome our new glorious Overwatch.