Blizzard, the renowned studio that brought us Starcraft, Diablo, and World of Warcraft, doesn’t like to stay in one place for too long. Although it boasts several of the industry’s most acclaimed and commercially successful franchises, that hasn’t stopped the team from exploring new horizons. Within the past few years alone, they’ve monopolised the card game genre with Hearthstone, broken into the insanely competitive MOBA scene, and are now romping towards its latest triumph. Impossible, it seems, isn’t a word that Blizzard know.
There’s no point in dilly-dallying, so let’s just get down to it. Overwatch is a straight up, team focused shooter with a vibrant cast of playful characters. Despite its extreme emphasis on hero synergy and objective oriented play, it should never be mistaken for a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) title. Similarly, there’s the percieved rivalry and similarities with Gearbox Software’s Battleborn, but beyond there colourful visuals and hero characters, there are no towers to defend, minions to herd, or jungles to farm.
If you’re desperate for another game to compare Overwatch with, then Team Fortress 2 is the closest you’re gonna get. From mission types to the general look and feel, there’s plenty of common ground between these two games. You can’t exactly blame Blizzard for going after TF2’s crown either, especially when you consider the baby steps Valve has taken with its ageing online shooter, not to mention its absence from current gen consoles.
That’s not to say Overwatch is some cheap knock-off, cobbled together by one of the studio’s sub-divisions. Sure, some of its core ideas are borrowed, but these are balanced with innovative ones of their own, especially in the way characters are designed. Brought to life in a Pixar-esque fashion, they each abide to individual mechanics and abilities, though never feel as complex as their MOBA counterparts.
When playing games such as League of Legends or DOTA 2, it’s easy to feel inadequate when faced with an overwhelming selection of upgrade options. These games take dozens, if not hundreds, of hours just to get a firm grip on the basics after toiling through public games and a encyclopedia of build guides.
In Overwatch, there’s none of that. Everything you need to make a killer play is there right off the bat with no item stores or in-game upgrades. Although there’s a handful of slightly more nuanced heroes, it shouldn’t take more than a few matches to suss out when to use their unique powers and in what situation.
Split between four loose roles, each character feels unique. Sure, there’s a bit of overlap here and there, yet this is muted by the diverse spread of weapons and abilities on show. For example, Overwatch currently has two snipers, Hanzo and Widowmaker. Though they both perform the same duties of scanning the field and picking off long-range targets, the actual look and feel to these heroes is completely different. Where Widowmaker’s rifle can double up as an automatic weapon, Hanzo can scale walls to seize a tactical advantage.
This allows for some flexibility when choosing your hero, but it can feel easy to get pigeonholed into a specific role or playstyle. As in any online shooter, some loadouts work better than others in certain situations and the same is true in Overwatch. These roles are further entrenched by hero-specific mechanics and stats such as health, size, movement speed, and armour.
Success in online matches depends largely on the makeup of your team. Fail to balance the delicate mix of offence, defence, support, and tank heroes and you’ll likely come a cropper. Thankfully, for those who aren’t used to this breed of shooter, Overwatch will nudge players when making their initial selection, highlighting any potential team weaknesses, and you can always switch characters mid-match.
Futuristic takes on real-world locations, each of the game’s twelve maps fall into four main categories and their associated game modes: assault, escort, control, and hybrid. In truth, they’re all fairly similar, tasking players with capturing checkpoints and/or escorting payloads. In all but one mode (control) there is an attacking and defending team, the latter given time to prepare as their opponents wait behind a barrier. Despite the similarity between game types, each match is its own unique chapter in an ongoing saga of multiplayer mayhem. Depending on when, where, and how heroes are used, teams can bulldoze the competition or find themselves in a frantic climactic period of overtime.
Although some will prefer the inherent finesse of a mouse and keyboard, Overwatch feels great using a gamepad too. With only a couple of abilities assigned to each hero, the control scheme is light and easy to adjust, depending on your own preferences. Surprisingly, with twenty-one individual characters thrown into the mixer, none of them are clunky or unenjoyable to play. From Reinhardt’s shield and hammer to Tracer’s blink teleport, every weapon and ability has been finely tuned to work in Overwatch’s multiplayer setting.
What’s easily the worst thing about Overwatch is its players. Given how team-focused the game is, there’s nothing more infuriating than idle squaddies or those who care more about their own kill:death ratio than actually completing objectives and winning the match. By that same token, Overwatch excels when buddied up with like-minded players who have managed to get to grips with the basics. Needless to say, when tactical team play comes together, the game is sublime.
In the long run, Overwatch’s longevity stems from its rank and loot system. Every time players level up, they are awarded a chest containing four random items. They’re all cosmetic with no in-game benefits whatsoever, ranging from icons and skins to voices and little graffiti tags known as sprays. Given how small and inconsequential most of these loot drops are, they provide little replay incentive, especially with the XP gap widening between each level.
Overwatch doesn’t really need these trinkets and baubles to keep players coming back. Although you can drop in for a couple of matches every now and then, it doesn’t take long for its hooks to ensnare you. Many will find themselves losing hours at a time under the game’s enthralling influence, regardless or whether playing with friends or saddling up alongside randoms.
The icing on the cake for Overwatch is its spectacular finish. From the rich character and level designs to the smallest of sub menus, it’s an absolute feast for the senses. It also boasts a brand of humour that permeates through play naturally instead of being overly intrusive or edgy. It’s no wonder that the community has fallen in love with its many heroes; they’re a likeable bunch that go way beyond being simple avatars.
For multiplayer aficionados, Overwatch is essential. It’s the kind of game worth sacrificing entire evenings to play and the kind of game you won’t be able to stop thinking about, even when you’re away. Although the lack of a singleplayer component will deter some, there’s more than enough mileage to be had from twelve maps and 21 heroes available.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4