In my profession, I typically get a good chunk of the summer months off from work. When that time came around about a month ago, I was looking for something that I could get lost in for hours a day. Lucky for me, Blizzard was about to release a new IP for the first time in several years called Overwatch and just about everyone and their grandmother was talking about it. Overwatch at its core is a team oriented, class based first person shooter (FPS) similar to Team Fortress 2 that has gone the opposite direction of most shooters today in favor of a fun and stylized character design instead of gritty realism. I haven’t enjoyed a FPS since like Modern Warfare 2 but I decided to give it a shot and hope that I wouldn’t be too incredibly rusty.
While the game was installing on my horrible internet, I started off in training mode trying to decide which characters out of the 21 there are would be my favorite. There are four classes (offense, defense, tank, and support) and I was hoping to have a character in each that I really enjoyed. As I went through the process, one of the first things I noticed was the level of diversity that each character had not only in ability but in style as well. Each character has abilities that are completely different than the others. Yes, you may have two healers but one is a DJ and one is an Angel and the way they heal their team is very different and unique. Each lends to a particular playstyle which then leads to a diverse team (hopefully) that can coordinate in all kind of amazing ways. And there really is a character for everyone it seems. If you want to snipe, then snipe. If you want to build turrets, build turrets! If you want to be a scumbag and high noon me from behind, well you can do that too. Needless to say, the characters that I chose in training were not at all the ones I ended up playing in the actual game.
Most of the characters come from different cultures as well that are also represented in the maps that you cycle through. For example Mei is from China and when you play on Lijiang Tower, she says something about how it is good to be home! Each map represents a different culture and it helps you to know immediately what kind of match you are going into. If you just spend time looking around a bit in the midst of the chaos you’ll notice how much work went into making the maps indicative of the areas they are supposed to be in. Some are dark and gloomy like Britain at night while others are bright and use a lot of whites like the Greece map Ilios. They also lend themselves to certain strategy like knocking people into holes. The little bits of polish that Blizzard brings to the game add so much in the overall feel. Even little things like interactable environments, basketballs you can shoot into hoops with an explosion of confetti, and bits of dialogue between two characters whenever you pick them together on the same team. The little things all add up and it makes you really relate to the characters even without a story.
They game may not have a story mode but Blizzard has done a great job expressing each character’s personalities with their voice lines and how they interact with other characters. What they have done, however, is created a few digital shorts that show relationships between characters in the game and give it a level of depth that I didn’t expect. If you want to go the extra mile you can look up official lore as well for each character (which I still need to do). It’s the first game, in maybe forever, that I sit and think to myself, “Man, I kind of want to watch a movie about these guys.” The characters are just that fun.
Okay so now that I’ve said all that, we can talk about the actual game! Overwatch is objective based, meaning there isn’t a team death match mode, but rather 4 distinctive objectives. You will either play:
-Escort (Payload), where you push a vehicle from one side of the map to the other while the other team defends.
-Control, where two teams battle it out for control over a point, king of the hill style.
-Assault, where one team captures a point while the other defends and then there is a second point that is usually harder to capture.
-Hybrid, where you capture a point and then escort a payload to a point.
Each team has 6 players and there is no character cap meaning everyone could be the same character if you want to (and sometimes it works). Like I mentioned before, each character has 3 abilities that vary widely but the most important is called the “ultimate”. As you do well (or over time) your ultimate ability charges up and can usually take out several members of the other team or help your team to take out multiple members of the other team and take over a point. Others can counter the opposing team to try and make your team survive.
The games kind of go one of four ways. You either get demolished, win by a long shot, barely win, or lose by a little. The games that make you want to keep playing are the barely wins and lose by a little. The game ropes you in really easily because the games go from one to the next with ease. Personally, I will always love this game because of the time that it gave with my friends. I can say that I probably would have barely played this game if it hadn’t been for the time period that it released in. I would have hated to play by myself because the coordination would be difficult to pull off and those are some of the best moments in Overwatch. When you pull off a huge push and take a point while the other team is at 99 percent, you realize how fun this really is. I had plenty of time to play and could play with a team of friends which made it just an incredible experience.
At the end of each game you get to see who had the “play of the game” (POTG) which is usually just someone using their ultimate and getting 3-5 kills. Once in a high noon however, there is great coordination between a team or someone that just rekt the other team by being good at their character. It’s always a fun little add on to the end of a game and its feels cool when you’re up there. Then up to 4 people will get a “card” on the screen that says they did something good and you can vote for them. Right after that, you will get experience and level up. Each level you get a loot box that contains cosmetic upgrades for your character or currency to buy those upgrades. The upgrades are super cool too, you can get skins that completely rework the way your character looks (like turning an engineer into a pirate), voice lines, emotes, intros for when you get POTG, and sprays. It makes the progression continue to be interesting but if you’re if anything like me you’ll only get skins for characters you don’t play and complete crap the rest of the time.
Competitive mode just released on console as well and after playing nonstop from 9:00am to 7:00pm five days a week, I really needed something new. It brought a completely fresh experience to a game that was getting stale with the same map rotation and character selection every time. In competitive you have a rank and it’s a bit more serious because you have a stake in it. The rounds last a bit longer and there is more character switching to counter the other team. My friends and I did our 10 placement matches and ended up right at 50 as a team but I can say one thing: there were matches that we played where we were in overtime and BARELY won and our hands were in the air with an audible YES! It revived the game for me but I have heard that there are issues with the system and so I didn’t play past my placement and I’m planning to wait for Blizzard to patch it a bit.
Overall, this is by far the most fun I’ve had playing a game in general in a long time. The time and place were perfect for me and I played for hours. The balance of the game is great, each character definitely has a hard counter and can be beaten if you coordinate. The abilities are unique and it’s fun to try out new characters. The game has a beautiful polish on it all the way from character to map design. Some of the ultimates and abilities leave me raging but none of it is unfair and Blizzard is doing a great job of watching this game and seeing what needs to be buffed or nerfed. Just so you know, in the end I’ve settled on Torb, Lucio, Mei, Roadhog, and Pharah mostly. So now you can hate me because I’m the guy who gets POTG from a molten core while his turret does all the work. In the end I give Overwatch a 4.5 out of 5 jars of peanut butter.