The cat’s out of the bag (or should that be “the gorilla’s out of the pink bubble?” Someone please get that…) thanks to the big Day 1 BlizzCon announcement. Blizzard’s newest game in development is, in fact, Overwatch, a team-based multiplayer first-person shooter that’s focused around heroes, hope, and unique characters.
Yeah, you heard me right. Hope. In a genre that’s based around blowing people to bits, dark, gritty environments, cussing random strangers out, and teabagging dead opponents. Interesting, right? Even the graphics of Overwatch are different than most FPS games. They’re light, cartoon-like, very similar to a Pixar movie or the style of WildStar.
Characters are brightly animated, and each have defining characteristics that help them stand out and catch our attention—both from a stylistic point of view and an emotional one. Some of the little details that were revealed last week—from the peaceful, bird-loving nature of the robot-turret hybrid Bastion to Tracer’s lovable accent and Winston’s glasses—speaks to us on a level of uniqueness. These are characters that are each a little odd. As geeks, perhaps that lets us identify with them easier.
Blizzard’s on to something here, and that statement isn’t just the still-reminiscent BlizzCon hype speaking. Sure, there were definitely a few features mentioned that sent red flags flying up for me personally, but overall? Blizzard’s doing a lot of things very right with Overwatch. Let’s look at five examples:
1. Overwatch is Diverse
Blizzard—and most other game developers—are currently under heavy fire from gamers who want to see more diversity in games. A whole lot of gamers out there (including myself) are tired of having to play skimpily-dressed females who are casters or who don’t look like they can wield that two-hander they’re lugging around whilst daintily grunting. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not the skimpy clothing that’s the issue. It’s the lack of other options.
Some single player games aren’t even offering female model options, which just isn’t cool in this day and age. What about different racial options? Diverse protagonists? 90% of games are still stuck with white male protagonists, and it’s frankly getting a little old.
Blizzard, in the past, has been pretty guilty of not being the most sensitive to the subject of diversity in their games. With Overwatch, it looks like that’s finally changing somewhat. The “main” character used to push Overwatch’s advertising campaign thus far is female. Of the 12 characters we know about, 7 are male and 5 are female. That’s great.
We also have some diversity in races. Thanks to the game’s setting on future Earth, we have a sense of familiarity, and an accompanying broad spectrum onboard: Egyptian, Indian, Japanese, English, French, alien, robot, and dwarf. Sure, the diversity could be better, but for Blizzard? This type of diversity is fantastic.
2. Overwatch is Approachable
During Friday’s Overwatch panel, the devs referenced more than once that their goal is to make Overwatch as approachable as possible—despite the fact that FPS games tend to draw in one type of gamer and only that type of gamer.
They expanded the class system of the game to let players heal allies, support their team, and build cool turrets if they want to explore other options besides shooting. Players who love tanking can actually tank and lead a charge while shielding away bullets. The goal for Overwatch is to be less twitchy and less reliant on one-shot kills. Instead, the devs are hoping for strategy and teamwork to play a larger role. All of this should draw in more fans.
The game’s also designed aesthetically in order to attract a larger audience. The graphical style is colorful and bright as opposed to dark and gritty in order to appeal to gamers who aren’t fans of militaristic-style settings. Even the game’s cinematics tell a completely different story than most FPS games. “Be a hero” is the message told. Not “Slay the world”. It’s a bold statement. But it works because the FPS genre needs something new. Something that’s not a copy and paste, a 7th expansion, or a re-told Halo.
3. Blending MOBA Elements in an FPS is Smart
There are quite a few elements in Overwatch that are also seen in most successful MOBAs. Ultimate abilities that can’t be used all of the time, teamwork-based objectives, a lack of deathmatch-type maps, an emphasis placed on team fights instead of solo kills, and unique characters that each have a unique skill set. Even the match size (6 vs. 6) is similar to that in a MOBA.
This all is an attempt to place strategy at the forefront instead of mere firepower, and it’s an extremely solid move for the genre. It’ll be interesting to see how Blizzard can manage the class balance once the game heads into beta next year, but with any luck these unique elements can make the final cut and keep the game unique.
4. Characters > Classes
One other element the developers of Overwatch kept stressing was the fact that characters are the main focus in the game and not classes. Class roles are part of the game, but not mandatory necessarily. They’re more in place to help players identify with particular characters.
Instead of a player saying “Well, we don’t have a healer—I guess I’ll play one”, Blizzard wants players to pick out their favorite characters based on their unique ability sets and not their roles. They’re giving support characters powerful ultimates like the teleport move and the AoE resurrect ability to try and get people to want to play support. This is a risky move regarding class balance, but hopefully one that will pan out.
Characters also have unique back stories on top of their already-unique characteristics and defining “oddities” that give them personality. This is all intentional as to give each character a heart and soul instead of just a plain combat role.
Honestly, the one thing that disappoints me about Overwatch so far is the fact that there won’t be a single player campaign mode. I’d love to play through a story with just the characters introduced thus far, and that means Blizzard has done a great initial job with creating characters we want to care about.
5. Hope is Risky, but Hope is Vital
Finally, we need to return once more to the theme of hope in Overwatch. It may seem odd for hope to be a theme at all in a world where shooting down your opponents is the primary objective, but just like the real world—there can be a myriad of reasons for doing what we’re capable of. Hope can be an objective of war just like destruction and peril can be objectives of war. It all comes down to what reasons the characters have to fight.
Creating a game that revolves around hope and helps players feel as though they’re heroes and not just random, maniac slayers also tends to give players a brighter outlook on the game in general. Outlook matters. Even the grittiest of single player games tends to have a silver lining. An equivalent of the giraffe scene in The Last of Us. There always needs to be that silver lining, that sliver of hope. Most FPS games may not have that sliver, but it’s time some do. It’s well past that time.
Just as Mike Morhaime mentioned during the opening ceremony of BlizzCon, it’s time for us, as gamers, to start treating each other better. He’s right, and with hope, we can get there. Not every single game needs to be hopeful and full of heroic moments, but the fact that there are games being made that do have those slivers of hope and moments of heroism help remind us that hope is needed. Hope is always needed.