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Overwatch Review: Familiar Fun

Overwatch is finally here, and if you’ve been following the game at all, you probably know everything about it. There were plenty of opportunities to play prior to release, including a week-long open beta that featured every bit of content currently in the game. Now that I’ve had my chance to sink my teeth into it, chew it up, swallow it, and regurgitate into the mouths of my children, I can safely say that Blizzard have gone and done it again. But like all other Blizzard games, Overwatch is still in its infancy, and has plenty of room to grow, evolve, change, and improve.

In just looking at Overwatch, you can see the Blizzard touch of quality. Artistically, it’s a cut above, and on PC, thanks to some impressive optimizations, it runs well on a wide variety of systems. Much like World of Warcraft, the game’s super stylized, which means that in ten years, it’ll probably still shine, much like Team Fortress 2 does today. The attention to detail boggles the mind, too. There are countless little touches on weapons, the heroes, and all the maps.

If for some reason you’ve been living under a rock, or just woke up from a five year coma, Overwatch is Blizzard’s first ever shooter and first new IP in almost two decades. It’s an objective-based multiplayer game pitting two teams of six against each other. You push payloads, you capture control points, you defend, and you attack. It’s familiar, but it’s fun, and in a lot of ways it’s quite fresh.

Right now, Overwatch features twenty-one different heroes – with more to come later for free. Each one is unique, and each one has its own different playstyle. They’re separated into different categories: offensive heroes, defensive ones, tanks, and supports. Overwatch isn’t a MOBA, despite what some ill-informed people think, but it does share some commonalities with them – notably the inclusion of abilities and ultimates for the heroes. Abilities have a cooldown, and ultimates charge by dealing damage or supporting your team.

Almost as important as the heroes themselves are the maps you play on. There are twelve total – again with more coming later for free. The maps themselves are great, even though a few of them can be a pain to attack thanks to some frustrating chokepoints. Some of the defensive set ups that six players can come up with are impressive, and early on will leave you scratching your head on how you’d ever get through it, but the more you play, especially with people you know, the better you’ll get at coordinating and using the game’s ultimates in conjunction. Stacking just a couple of them will absolutely devastate the enemy team. Of course the enemy team will just devastate you with their ultimates in return, but that’s how the cookie crumbles. You’ll learn the best way to go about even the toughest of situations, and as more heroes are added to the game, more strategies and counters will develop.

Blizzard has also done a great job in building up Overwatch’s backstory and lore, which is quite the praise for them. On the story front, it seems like Blizzard hasn’t quite been hitting the mark as of late, so it’s nice to see them finally do just that. Overwatch hits the mark, and well. I’m way more interested in this world than any other video game of recent memory, and I’m curious – and quite excited – to see where they take it. If not reflected in the game, then in the comics and cinematics they release in the coming years. So far, though, it seems like any major story advancements that happen in Overwatch’s world will most likely happen outside the game and not inside. That’s a shame, but with any luck Overwatch’s success will allow Blizzard to dump some real resources into it, and maybe in time, we’ll see something along the lines of in-game events.

The quality doesn’t end with the game’s look and lore, it also plays impressively well. Much like every other Blizzard game, Overwatch just feels good, which is a combination of weapon responsiveness, animations, sound, and all the attention to detail, which is impressive, considering that this is their first shooter. Unless you count the MMO Titan, whose downfall led to Overwatch, then you could say Blizzard’s been working years to perfect their shooter chops, and they have perfected it well. All twenty-one heroes are a blast to play – even if you can’t play a few of them worth a damn. They all seem relevant, too. Sure, as the metagame evolves, certain ones may fall by the wayside, which seems even more likely once more heroes start joining the game. High-level and professional play will revolve around certain team compositions which will then trickle down to the more casual levels. This will in turn affect balance. So on and so forth.

Speaking of balance, no game is perfect, and Overwatch is no exception, but the real question is whether the balance of the game is off, or if it’s simply design choices. It seems clear to me that Blizzard intentionally focused on building a highly accessible game which appeals to people of all skill levels. They were primarily concerned with making the game fun, and that’s not exactly something you can criticize too hard. As you can imagine, the game has a high reliance on ultimates in general. Highly skilled players can charge them impressively fast. It can be infuriating to play against an enemy Mercy who seems to have her ultimate – a resurrect – available for every team fight. Of course this can be solved by simply killing the enemy Mercy, something teams will have to learn to do if they want to succeed. And even then, when the enemy spawn is literally around the corner on some maps, the enemy Mercy can die, respawn, run back, and resurrect her team.

I don’t think many of the game’s ultimates are unbalanced. I wouldn’t want Mercy’s resurrect changed, but the charge rate on hers and some of the others could definitely use adjustment. I’ve been in a few matches where some players have had their ultimates up ever thirty seconds. It’s a tricky balance to strike. Average players seem to charge their ultimates at a pretty comfortable rate. Good thing I don’t have to worry about balancing a game such as this for both casual and competitive players. That’s Blizzard’s problem.

One aspect of ultimates that’s much easier to balance is their callouts. You can hear the enemy hero voice a line whenever he or she casts their ultimate. For heroes like McCree or Soldier 76, that gives you plenty of time to run for cover, but a few of them are a lot harder to avoid. Pharah is a good example of this. The callouts should be a warning that you need to seek cover or otherwise prepare, but by the time you hear her say, “Justice rains from above,” it’s usually too late. It’s also worth noting that enemy and friendly callouts are different. So if you familiarize yourself with what your allies say when they cast their ultimate, then you can combo with one of your own. This is especially nifty when you’re playing solo where people are otherwise uncoordinated.

Thanks to ultimates, and the character’s abilities, and their designs in general, no matter how good you are at shooters, you can find characters you’re good at in Overwatch. You don’t need to be able to aim to smack people with Reinhardt’s hammer. It’s impressively, really, but it can also be infinitely frustrating. Many of the heroes can absolutely wreck house in the right hands, but in lesser-skilled ones they can still be forced to be reckoned with. Take everyone’s favorite cowboy, McCree. He’s got a revolver, and his primary attack is to simply shoot it, but his secondary attack, Fan the Hammer, fires off all six rounds in quick succession. Imagine how devastating that is in close range. Now imagine if he were able to stun you first, like with a flashbang, which – surprise – is one of his abilities. If an enemy McCree sneaks up on you, you’re as good as dead. Really good McCrees will actually use their primary attack and poke the enemy team, and do a lot of damage in the process. Lesser ones will just hide around corners waiting to flash bang and Fan the Hammer, and then he can use his other ability, a roll, to quickly reload and do it all again. This combo can obliterate most the heroes, and deal a lot of damage to tanks.

There is also Hanzo. Skill players are impressive to play with and again, and it’s fairly easy to marvel at the kill cam when he snipes you in the head with a crack shot, but the hit detection is just generous enough to allow players to rapid fire arrows into the enemy team and probably get plenty of lucky headshots in the process. And scatter arrow, an ability that fires an arrow that splinters and ping pongs around surfaces, is a really good way to get some lucky kills in. Take that as you will.

Widowmaker is a beast in skillfull hands, too, but she doesn’t seem as ridiculous as Hanzo in the hands of someone who can’t aim. Perhaps the most annoying designed character, though, is Mei. She freezes everyone and everything, rendering them unable to move or attack. She can also put up walls to block enemies in or out. She’s annoying to play against (and sometimes with), but I’m not entirely convinced she’s overpowered. She’s just built to disrupt an enemy team, and at that she excels. In their effort to make Overwatch fun and accessible, I don’t think they concerned how ridiculous many of the characters would be in skillful hands. It’s going to make the competitive scene really interesting to watch, and yeah, there might be some room for tweaks.

Perhaps some people might find annoyance in Overwatch’s vast amount of free/easy kills. They’re the reason people become bemoan certain weapons in other FPS games. Sniper rifles, shotguns, Titanfall’s smart pistol, DMR’s in Battlefield 4. All games have them, and Overwatch does too, quite a few of them, in both weapons and abilities. Ultimates are a given – the ones that can should wipe the enemy team – but when Mei freezes you in place, and then lines up her crosshairs on your head, and then pulls the trigger, it might make your blood boil. Or when an enemy Hanzo fires off a scatter arrow in your general vicinity and one of the arrows just happens to peg you in the head. Or an enemy McCree never leaves his favorite corner for the entire match, and it takes you a couple deaths to get it through your head to just go a different route and to leave him to do his business alone. How much stuff like this will frustrate you is a personal thing, and I appreciate that the game is accessible to players of all skill levels. So, in a way, it’s a necessary evil, but there might be some tweaks to make.

Compounding some of the concerns above is Overwatch’s netcode. This came up multiple times during the beta, and it doesn’t seem like Blizzard improved it by much. As is the case in a lot of other shooters, the killcam always tells a different story than the one you experienced, and if you’ve ever died after you’re pretty sure you successfully took cover, then you know. Oh you know. I think the game is responsive enough for quick play, but once the competitive mode comes out in June, Blizzard really needs to enable to the high bandwidth option that’s available in custom games in that mode as well, and if they can implement high bandwidth across the board, then I’d be an exceedingly happy camper.

No game would be complete today without some form of progression, and Overwatch is no different. At the end of matches, you earn experience, and each level awards a loot box. These are where you find all of Overwatch’s cosmetic items, like skins, highlight intros, voice lines, emotes, and sprays. What you get is random, so it might be ages before you get the skin you want for the hero you love to play, but as you open boxes, you’ll earn gold, too, and you can use that gold to buy specific cosmetic items. You can choose to buy loot boxes directly with real money, but there’s no real need for that. If you’re patient, you’ll eventually unlock everything. There’s not really a level cap in Overwatch. Every time you reach level 100, you start over with a new portrait background. Datamining found 190 different portraits, so in theory there are 1890 levels (and just as many loot boxes), and they could always add more on top of that when people start reaching their current cap, and the experience required to level up stops increasing at level twenty-three. So past that point, you earn loot boxes at a steady rate.

It is minor criticism, but some aspects of the game’s menu system could use some work. It requires an inordinate amount of clicks to get from one section of the menus to another. The Hero Gallery contains all the skins and other customization options, but you can’t view hero statistics from there. You have to go to the statistics menu and click a dropdown to see your current win percentage with a given hero. Under your career profile, you can see your playtime across all heroes, but you can’t get to that screen from the Hero Gallery or the statistics. You also have to leave a game in order to open any loot boxes you gain from leveling. Some minor streamlining would make the entire system flow a bit better.

Overwatch is still in its infancy, and much like every other Blizzard game that has ever existed, it’s going to be receiving years of continued support and content. New maps, new modes, balance changes, netcode improvements – hopefully. You name it, and chances are Blizzard is at least considering it. It’s hard not to deny how fun the game is, and even with a few of the concerns listed, it’s hard not to recommend Overwatch. If it’s your first shooter, then you’re bound to have a blast, and if you’re a seasoned veteran, you’re probably still going to have a blast. Blizzard’s first foray in the FPS genre is an impressive one and proves they’re nowhere near losing their touch.

About Josh Price

Josh Price is a writer who probably spends too many hours of the day playing video games. At some point he decided to put the two together to (hopefully) great effect. He also wrote some fiction. You should check that out if you're into such things, which you should be. Reading is FUNdamental.

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