A few weeks into the release of this game, with around 100 hours invested into the game playing with several friends, I think it’s about time I talk about Overwatch.
I’ve looked at the previous Blizzard Multiplayer-Online-Battle-Arena (MOBA), Heroes of the Storm, and given an assessment of that title as well. I’ve touched on Overwatch as a PC gamer, so if my account doesn’t match up with your console experience, don’t be too surprised.
Most people know by this point that Overwatch assets were taken from the dismantled Massively-Multiplayer-Online game (MMO) from Blizzard that was titled “Project Titan.” After several years in development, Titan was set by Blizzard to be an incredible project that would replace their other MMO, World of Warcraft (WoW). Midway through it’s development, roughly 2-3 years, Titan was announced to be completely restarted from the ground up by Blizzard and would be delayed several years from their initial possible release date of 2017-2018. Another few years or so had passed and Blizzard had announced that Titan was completely cancelled this time, and would not be restarted. At this point, I would assume Blizzard still had an interest in bringing some of the story and characters from Titan out into the world and through it into Overwatch.
There is story to follow with Overwatch, though the gameplay has nothing to do with it. They are essentially separate entities, with a brief introduction to the story being that Overwatch was a name for an organization of heroes. These heroes were basically the Blizzard equivalent of The Avengers and, just like Civil War, would be shut down for their part in collateral damage of the areas around the world where they fought to keep the peace.
These heroes all had their own specialties that they brought into the fold, and this is well represented within the style of how you play each character during a match. No two heroes feel the same, be it game mechanics, special skills, or simply appearance and dialogue. Many people make the comparison to Team Fortress 2 (TF2), and I completely understand as a game that they are similar, but the characters feel much more authentic than anything I had ever seen with TF2. Mixing the personalities of each character with their play styles, Blizzard also made it into a more advanced version of TF2 by giving each character a set of skills and powers, with a single Ultimate ability to help turn the tides of the battle.
Each character has their own distinct voice call-out when activating their ultimate ability to give people a chance to avoid a powerful play, but it ultimately comes down to teamwork on who wins. As far as balance for the game goes, I’d say that Blizzard took it back to a classic WoW feel by making everyone unbalanced in some way so that each character’s unbalance is countered by someone else’s skills. With such a huge roster, compared to TF2, it’s more challenging to effectively counter your enemy teams composition. Many people, earlier in the release of the game, were also being incredibly vocal about a single hero in the game being way too powerful. Anyone that plays the game at this point knows that I’m referencing Bastion. I think the real problem people had is that Bastion is a robot with literally no dialogue, and he switches from his humanoid recon mode into a stationary turret mode called Sentry. His ultimate skill allows him to further transform and become a tank with a powerful canon shot. It made him a very bland character with little personality, and had a low skill cap to start playing. Most Plays of the Game involving Bastion involved them sitting as a Sentry for about 8 seconds and killing several opponents too stupid to find a way to counter his stationary movement. I had spent quite a bit of time with my friends playing against Bastions and playing as Bastion, and could never understand the reason for his hatred until a co-worker explained it to me. After all, we found it incredibly easy to counter most Bastion players as they didn’t know how to play him effectively. It usually revolved around half decent teamwork, or just basic outwitting of someone who refused to move from their position.
Since it is a team-based game, the balance is often reflected in who can work together the best. To promote good teamwork in Overwatch, Blizzard has implemented features like the previously mentioned “Play of the Game”, and a commendation system after the match. Play of the Game is essentially that one person from either team is selected that either scored the most kills, or had an amazing resurrect that changed the tide of the battle. Though a quick YouTube search will pass off some hilarious results where a dead turret making unit will be staring at a floor while the turret participates in 5 kills for them. After the match, Play of the Game shows everyone this brief clip and then moves on to the commendation screen. This is your chance to vote for one of four people in the match that had an impressive accomplishment during the match relating to their character(s) played. I’m not actually sure that this system rewards the players in any way beyond simple praise from your fellow gamers, though I do believe it’s important to highlight when people do a good job in a match.
Matches have a small variety of objectives, ranging from escorting payloads to King of the Hill style capture points, on an average variety of maps. There is enough maps that my friends and I didn’t see one of them for several days after release, though maybe that’s just bad luck with matchmaking and queues. Map awareness and remembering health pack locations can be vital to survival in a match and supporting your team. The game also employs an overtime function where if the ‘attacking’ team is at their objective at the time the match timer is ending, they’ll be able to have one last push to try and make it to their next checkpoint or the end of the game. It’s possible during this time to extend the match, or even win it entirely, if you can coordinate a solid push towards the goal with your team. My friends and I have come back from nearly no progress on the objectives to completely winning the match during overtime.
The last part of Overwatch is the unlockables and cosmetics for each character, shown in your Hero Gallery. Each unit has around 54 unlocks comprised of skins, voice lines, emotes, and sprays. These can only be earned from Loot Boxes at completely random rates, but Blizzard has allowed players to purchase Loot Boxes for real money. None of the unlocks affect your characters in any way, so it’s safe to never spend more money on the game than the initial purchase and you could still have a very long goal ahead of you. The only currency given out right now is credits earned from either getting credits from the Loot Boxes, or credits from receiving a duplicate item. Spending these credits can be done through each character to unlock items for varying values, usually 25, 75, 250, or 1000 credits. Since you can only earn credits and unlocks through these boxes, and you only get boxes from each account level you gain, or spending money on boxes, it’s also unfortunately at a state of complete random chance as to when you may be able to unlock something you really want since you can’t guarantee a rate of currency income.
Sometime soon Overwatch will receive it’s first patch for balance purposes, so I can only hope that Blizzard will continue to add major patches to the game down the road and add maps, map types, or even characters to the roster. I’m excited to see what comes next, and who will be brought into line with other heroes. Hopefully Blizzard will fix some of the issues with Hanzo having very large arrow collision with people’s bodies and heads around walls, or Mei having too much control over her opponents. Those are the only few large nitpicks I can really see with the game myself, as Hanzo is actually known to be able to shoot at people, completely miss, and still head shot them around walls with this leniency towards his arrows, and Mei essentially becomes the “Rogue” class of Overwatch. Everything she does will slow or stop opponents while doing damage to them for long periods of combat.
Overwatch is available at almost every retail location, online website, and so forth for an initial purchase fee, but is completely free to play afterwards. I’d say if you’re a fan of TF2, or the MOBA genre in general, and want a game that has a bit more depth and less ridiculous hats, then you should pick up Overwatch and give it a chance. It’ll be worth your investment if you end up playing with friends for even a few weeks. After all, Blizzard has quite a background with making competitive e-Sports, and Overwatch was used as a tournament game during it’s beta stages before release.