Overwatch Review

By Blair Nokes on July 10, 2016

Blizzard originally announced a very ambitious massive multiplayer online role-playing game called Titan. It was in development for seven years. Due to many internal struggles and concerns regarding the game's fun factor and passion Blizzard games are typically known for, along with more of a focus on popular successes in first person shooters like Modern Warfare 2 and Team Fortress 2. Around the same time, massive online battle arenas became very popular, which gave Blizzard another idea of incorporating large-scale and fast gameplay of Team Fortress with the cooperative nature of MOBA titles. This formed the foundation of Overwatch. Normally, reviews are typically supposed to be at or near the launch window. With a game as deep as this, I felt it proper to spend a solid month getting accustomed to every character, every map and to get a true sense of the community post launch.

While there's no story in Overwatch, the game is still packed with plot and lore. It takes place sixty years in Earth's future, and thirty years after the "Omnic Crisis"- a rebellion of Omnics, or artificially intelligent robots, against their human creators. Prior to this, humanity had entered their golden age of technological development. The rebellion arose when the Omnica Corporation "“ the company responsible for the development of Omnics, shut down, also shutting down future Omnics. The Omnics eventually woke themselves up and launched a military campaign, churning out legions of militarized robots. The United Nations formed Overwatch "“ an international task force to combat the Omnic threat and restore order. The team was led by two individuals: Gabriel Reyes, and Jack Morrison, who soon developed a rift, as Reyes was sent to take charge of Blackwater "“ Overwatch's covert operations, while Morrison became the defacto leader of Overwatch. After an explosion that allegedly killed Reyes and Morrison, The UN passed the Petras Act, which dismantled Overwatch. The game we are playing, takes place thirty years after the act was passed, with signs of another Omnic Crisis on the rise. Former members of Overwatch reformed the organization. For an online only game, primarily focused on competitive multiplayer, the backstory is quite rich, in typical Blizzard fashion. Each of the 21 playable characters have their own unique history, and of course players can assume the role of the two veteran soldiers originally in charge of Overwatch: Reaper (Reyes) and Soldier 76 (Morrison).

The core gameplay for Overwatch is team-oriented, dividing the 21 characters into 4 main classes: Offense, Defense, Tank and Support. The ideal balancing for each is broken down like this "“ Offensive characters deal higher damage but have lower health, Defensive characters protect specific locations, create choke points and can provide field support, such as sentry setup, and traps. Tanks have the most hit points, and can draw enemy fire to themselves, and the Support class are typically utility characters than can heal and buff their team, and also debuff the enemies. It's pretty standard, but the wonderful thing about it is that no two characters on any one classification play alike. Bastion and Mei are both classified as Defense, but one can chew through enemy lines as a self-mounting turret while the other can force the flow of traffic by summoning ice walls, or freeze enemies in their place. A common practice for the game seems to be to find one character and stick with it; I've found it far more useful to the team as a whole to adapt to the situation at hand. I may start out as a healer, but if our team is doing just fine with health, but we need another line of defense, I may choose to switch, to better our odds. That may not always be the case, and there are a myriad of instances where I stuck with one character because the synergy in our team was just that good, but it's good to encourage players, or perhaps future players to not be afraid to switch mid-game just because you made your choice during the initial setup.

Overwatch technically has 3 game modes, with a 4th being a hybrid of two. Assault has an attacking team capture two objectives while the defending team has to prevent that. Escort has attackers move a payload to objective checkpoints, while the defending team can slow down the movement, and even move the payload back. Control is when both teams have equal opportunities to capture and hold objective points, and Assault/Escort is a mode that mixes the two aforementioned modes. While they all play flawlessly, it really does seem kind of bare bones in terms of the number of modes available. Ranked is set to release, but hasn't officially yet, but in the future I'm sure they could incorporate other staple FPS modes like Capture the Flag, VIP, etc. There is a "Weekly Brawl" mode separate from just being dropped into any given match. These are flavourful matches that have conditions. Last week's brawl had players only choose defensive characters, which quickly turned into teams of pure Mei, or Torbjorn. Another week had a brotherly bout between Hanzo and Genji. They're nifty, but to be perfectly honest I rarely detract from the core experience. There are 12 maps that you have access to, all divided among the four game types. Some are quickly being hated for their design and how they might make it easier for one side than the other. A good example of this is the Temple of Anubis. It has the attacking team funnel into the first entry point, which is usually littered with turrets and Bastions at this points. Once that objective is clear, the next objective is once again after a narrow entry point. It's certainly doable as an attacking team, but it's clear that the terrain is advantageous for defenders.

Play of the Game is a great feature at the end of each match, where (in theory) an exemplary instance by a player either turned the tide of the game, or had a considerable killstreak. Sometimes they look wonky, with a Torbjorn waltzing around as their turret makes the kills, or rounds that were so poor that only one kill was enough to earn POTG, but regardless, it's a great way to capture that moment, and it's sweet to see you make the play. Post-matches also highlight characters from either side that were the top among their team depending on various factors, and allows each team to vote on which they personally think was most impressive.

Each match earns you experience that lets you level up. Each level rewards players with something called loot boxes. Akin to trading card game booster packs, loot boxes have the potential to contain one or more of the possible following: Normal Character Skins, Mid-tier Character Skins, Legendary Skins, Intro-reel animations, emotes, voice-lines, spray paints, account avatars, normal/medium/legendary currency values, and victory poses. The currency can be used to purchase anything the game offers through loot boxes, so players will most likely save enough to buy the legendary skin they desire. Alternatively, Blizzard offers bundles of loot boxes as microtransactions, which seems to be the only form of DLC. Yes, in a time where seasons passes are now the norm for games, where players play double for the "true gaming experience," Blizzard seems to have designed a game for gamers, and for sensible consumers as well. You get the full game right out of the box, with DLC being optional. Best of all, when (not if) Blizzard releases new heroes and maps, they will be free of charge, as game director Jeff Kaplan stated post-launch. This is a very smart business model, and the community proves it. Not to long ago the game showcased 10 million users within its first month. To put it in perspective, World of Warcraft at its peak in 2010 had 12 million players.

Overwatch is visually sharp as an online game. Player models are fabulously detailed, and the environments and level designs are both well done, and even have enough detail to hint at future plans for the game. Players on PC are treated to the royal treatment in performance, as is expected, but console owners needn't fret; the game looks and plays very smoothly. This shouldn't really come as any surprise as Blizzard tends to put a lot of focus on scalability for their games, so that everyone can enjoy. Each of the 12 maps takes place in different spots around the world, and there was a considerable job in making sure each have their own unique design, look, and feel, to coincide with the locale.

Final Thoughts

Overwatch was very anticipated title from one of the best developers in the industry, and they came out swinging hard. This is technically the first new IP Blizzard has released in ages, and they've done a tremendous job in establishing the foundation for this easily foreseeable franchise. It has captured the attention of an enormous portion of gamers, it has quickly become a highly watched competitive game, and will be great to see at future eSports events, and there's something about it that has that lasting appeal that few shooters manage to have nowadays. For me, it was the same feeling that had my friends and I hooked on CS1.6 way back when. It's the ease of hopping in, the tight gameplay and shooting, the great focus on team and composition, and excitement of what's in store with future releases. Overwatch may not have a ton in terms of gameplay modes, but the quality in this game far outweighs that.

21 unique characters that all play and look totally different.
The microtransactions and promise of free characters and maps post-launch is a terrific business model for players.
The team gameplay is done exceptionally well, and can have players adapt to certain situations.
A small handful of modes to start with.
Some wonky play of the game highlights.
Some map designs that may favour one side a little too much makes things harder for the opposing side.
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