24 May 2016
It has been 20 years since Blizzard developed a new IP. Renowned for their small, but high-quality list of games and IPs, this is the first time they have ever made a First-Person Shooter, let alone a new game set in an entirely new universe. From the first reveal until the open beta that set a new record of beta testers, the hype for this class-based FPS kept on growing. But what is it all about? Is it the same thing as Team Fortress 2? Or is there something new that Blizzard brought to the table in this genre?
The short answer is: Not much is new or a major game-changer, but what you get is a fantastic class-based FPS multiplayer experience.
Graphics & Sound
The first time Overwatch was revealed, it was with an animated trailer that could be mistaken for a Pixar film. That aesthetic has been translated nicely into the game too, rendered at 60fps for consoles, and a targeted 60-70fps for PC (which has a low minimum and recommended specs, meaning a well-optimised game).
While, not the most beautiful game, Overwatch’s aesthetic is vivacious. From the detailed maps across various locales in the world, chock-full with references and minor details, to the amazingly animated characters. All 21 heroes on launch look unique and easily identifiable in the heat of battle, even when using the different cosmetic skins, plus some of them are more than just palette swaps.
Props to Blizzard with the amazing animations. From silly emotes to hype-inducing highlight animations, all are made to flash out each heroes’ character more.
But to top that off, the sound in Overwatch is just spot on. Audio cues play a lot of importance in an FPS and Blizzard nails the audio design by making it integral to the overall gameplay.
There’s a sound effect to inform you of a hit connecting, ala Team Fortress 2, and your teammates, sometimes your hero will quip to alert you of something important. No, this is not done by other players, but that’s the game naturally provide information within the game. Quips like a teammate pushing the payload, and then retreating, are commonplace. But what impressed me are the quips when an enemy is attacking from behind, and the heroes thanking the healers for giving health or armour packs. Then there’s the very loud audio cue for an enemy team’s ultimate ability popping to give you a head’s up.
Top that off with some loveable quotes from each hero and the character specific banters, and you got yourselves some good audio design that helps with making the gameplay better, as well as help fleshing out the lore and heroes. I laughed hard after hearing that old man Reinhardt was star-struck when pro-gamer turned mecha-pilot D.Va is on the team during the pre-match setup, even asking for her autograph.
Overwatch is easily described as a class-based FPS with a small twist. Instead of having specific classes like how Team Fortress 2 does it, each class have a list of heroes. Each hero has a few abilities (including some having passive ones) and an ultimate ability. Hence the comparisons of Overwatch with being an MOBA comes from. However, the comparisons end there, as the gameplay speed is fast. Matches can end in 5 minutes and last not more than 20.
Here lies the twist of Overwatch. Each hero for the four classes, Offence, Defence, Tank and Support, have a lot variation in gameplay style. If you’re fancy operating alone far from your teammates, flanking the opponents, then there’s Tracer and Genji in the Offence, Hanzo and Widowmaker for Defence, D.Va for Tanks, and Symmetra for Support. Some heroes are stronger when the teams are together, like Zarya and Lucio.
Sure, some may be analogous to several Team Fortress 2’s classes (Junkrat= Demoman, Tracer= Scout, Widowmaker= Sniper, Torbjorn= Engineer), but each hero has more nuances to be discovered. Instead of rocket jumping with her rocket launcher, Pharah can straight-up launch in the air and hover for quite some time, dealing rockets from above.
At the moment, the game has no direct team deathmatch, as all the game modes currently are objective-based. With this in mind, the hero abilities are designed to be situationally powerful, can complement certain heroes and mitigate others. Yes, there’s hero match-ups and counter-picking involved in Overwatch. It is by design.
For example, early in the open beta, many less experienced players cry foul of the balancing, with the turret that can reposition Bastion being the prime target. Now with the launch, from my experience players have figured out how to stop Bastion from dominating. (Hint: Genji’s Deflect and Roadhog’s Grapple are strong against it)
With counter-picking in place, the matches can be dynamic and hectic, ending with clutch victories and defeats. Maybe a defending team got butchered hard in the opening of the match. That does not mean it’s a GG, as a well-coordinated team can switch heroes and counter them, catching the offence off-guard if they are not prepared to face a whole different team a few minutes later.
Another neat thing is how there are in-game tips that help you understand the game. Team composition tips during the initial hero pick and the tips given after each death giving you the ones that can help you stop dying from the same situation is immensely helpful for casual players and those that just picked up the game. There are also shooting ranges and custom matches against AI to train alone. Yes, there are bots in the game. A rarity in multiplayer shooters these days.
The back-and-forth of each short burst of matches feel great, but the end of the match, it gets better. You won’t see a traditional Kill/Death ratio here, but players that did well are highlighted. The Play of The Game picks a short video clip of the hypest part of the game performed by a specific player, no matter if they are on the winning side or not, with a crescendo of epic music to back it. After that, there’s a small list of player performance, where other players regardless of teams can commend the achievers.
Then there’s a personal record screen that shows you how well you did, including stats that matter to Support heroes, like the amount of healing, and offensive assists. You gain an account-wide experience and levels, that serves as only an indication of how invested you are with Overwatch, and for each level, you get a loot box.
Content & Longevity
Yes, loot boxes. These boxes contain cosmetic items to customise your heroes. There’s many unlockables, 54 for each hero (55 for the five heroes with an Origins Edition skin) that is made of emotes, skins, voice lines, sprays and highlight intro for Play of The Game reels. You can get duplicates, which will then convert to in-game credits, and some boxes contain outright credits so you can purchase specific unlocks you want.
There are micro-transactions, but at least it’s implementation is fair. You can only purchase loot boxes that cost roughly 1 USD per box, with the bigger bundles giving better value. The unlocks are purely cosmetic, so it’s no pay-to-win situation here.
Overwatch at launch has 21 heroes that all play differently, and played in 12 maps, separated into 4 modes: Assault (capture two points), Control (best two of three rounds of King Of The Hill in smaller maps), Escort (push the payload), and Hybrid (mix of modes, right now only Assault, then Escort). Each map is designed around one specific mode, so you have three maps for each mode. Not that much, but fortunately more maps (and heroes) will be made available for free.
To spice up the game mode, there’s a weekly brawl where each week, there is a game mode with specific modifiers. The launch week has Arcade, where ability cooldowns are decreased and ultimates charges quickly. If you prefer to create your set of rules, as mentioned earlier, there’s custom game modes where you can play with just the AI, a team of friends against the AI, or just between 12 friends. The rule set changes you can set are plenty to mess around with. You can even limit certain heroes, so there’s a safe place to try out that 6-person Tracer rush strat.
Competitive mode did not make it in the launch, unfortunately, but will come by the end of June. This should incentivise those that plays competitively in the matches. As expected from Blizzard, e-sports will be something they are likely to push for Overwatch, and there have been a few tournament matches even before release.
To put it simply, the longevity of the game depends entirely on you being down to play an online FPS with the current maps and heroes again and again. Content-wise, Blizzard has a reputation for supporting games for the long haul; that means not releasing sequels/expansions on an annual basis. They have a lot of goodwill on obliging to this rule, and I don’t see Overwatch will break that trend. Plus, more content is coming.
Overwatch is by-the-by a Blizzard game. Take an already establish game genre, add and tweak a bit the established formula, and what we end up is a very well polished game that is just fun to play. If you’re an FPS fan that doesn’t mind playing multiplayer only, and can cope with the twist of how it balances heroes plus have some friends to play with, regardless of your skill level this is a fantastic experience out of the box.
However, the current content offered may not hold your interest for long if you’re just a casual player. If Blizzard’s track record of supporting their games, in the long run, maintains, expect more content to come, so it’s still a good purchase if you wait a bit. If you are playing to win, there’s a potential that it will be e-sports, so it’s worth investing in.
A Game Of The Year contender, for sure.
Game review based on the PC version, provided by the publisher
Shoutout to the Overwatch Malaysia Facebook community for indirectly helping with the review
Interesting game balance
Play Of The Game Highlights
Charming heroes that are fun to play
Brilliant audio design
Loot Boxes feed to micro-transactions, but nothing too scummy
Lack of game modes variety
At its core, just a class-based FPS shooter