Release Date: May 24, 2016Platform: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox OneDeveloper/Publisher: Blizzard EntertainmentGenre: Multiplayer first-person shooter
Gameplay, Aesthetics, and Personality
Like many old school Blizzard fans, I was very hesitant about Overwatch when it was first announced. I love a good story-based shooter, but a multiplayer shooter from a company that can’t even seem to nail down arena balance in World of Warcraft? More importantly, how could Blizzard really add anything new to the shooter genre? It was a tough sell. But as more time passed, it became harder not to fall in love with Overwatch’s diverse cast, vibrant graphical approach, and the way it seemed to embrace fun in a genre full of dark themes and cynicism. And this decision to be the brighter new kid hasn’t really hurt Overwatch at all.
As I mentioned in my first impressions article, the game’s aesthetic strikes this rare mix that appeals to a whole lot of gamers. Sure, it’s a shooter. There are guns and rocket launchers and pulse rifles galore. But there are also rampaging gorillas, dudes on roller skates, giant pink mechs, WoW-style dwarves, and robot monks. Overwatch takes itself seriously enough to come off as a fairly competitive game, but it’s just goofy and zany enough to appeal to players who just want to have fun with cool-looking characters.
Overwatch is a great entry point for gamers who have never tried a shooter before. The controls are intuitive, the characters are surprisingly well-balanced as far as strengths and weaknesses are concerned, and the diverse cast guarantees that every type of gamer can find a character they can quickly feel comfortable with. D.Va, Reinhardt, Lucio, Mercy, and Winston are among those on the easier side, but there are still a wide range of characters, like Zarya, Genji, Symmetra, and Hanzo, that are complicated enough to appeal to FPS veterans.
Characters look and feel completely different from one another thanks to their distinct personalities and the diverse range of abilities and animations. You have your standard shooter, sniper, melee, tank, and medic classes, plus a nice assembly of abilities that include grapples, leaps, healing orbs, and charges. There are even a few moves you’d expect in an MMORPG, such as Mercy’s healing abilities and Lucio’s passive songs that work like auras. Half the fun of Overwatch is learning how to best utilize each character.
Maps are simple to navigate at first glance, but have plenty of nooks, crannies, and sky-high escape zones to allow for newbies and veterans to both have a good time. The game’s super short match times let players experiment, become better, and even switch between characters without repercussions. If a match looks unbalanced, any player can swap at any time. This helps encourage the game’s community to be somewhat less volatile.
In a lot of ways, Overwatch has the essence of a MOBA. Teamwork, quick objective stealing, and ultimate abilities can make or break a match, but even so, it’s casual enough an experience that you can hop on and play a few matches without feeling like you need 10 hours of practice before going up against other players.
Leaping One Step Ahead
For all the ways Overwatch succeeds as a team-based shooter, there are still faults to be found. Despite Overwatch’s solid core gameplay, I can’t help but wish Overwatch had a story campaign. It’s a game obviously focused around grouping up with friends, but for solo players, the lack of a story campaign makes the game lose a fair chunk of appeal.
Is the extremely solid match-based gameplay worth the game’s price tag by itself? I would argue it is, especially with future content and characters all being available for purchasers. But if you’re the type of gamer who enjoys mostly solo play, that price tag may warrant a second glance.
Overwatch’s in-game store and loot box system also aren’t as good as they could be. While loot boxes allow you to earn optional cosmetic items for different characters, micro-transactions also players to just buy the boxes. It would have been better for Blizzard to allow players to unlock the best cosmetic items (such as skins) through achievements or dedicated gametime rather than just the boxes. For a lot of players, progression through Overwatch will take place in the form of cosmetic upgrades. The possibility of multiple progression paths is always better than forced progression through random boxes. Especially for a game that was already bought and paid for.
The subject of progression brings me to another possible issue with the future of Overwatch—its place as a truly competitive game. We all know that Blizzard will push Overwatch into the world of eSports rather quickly. There are players set and ready to take the game to the next level of competitiveness. But once the shininess of the game wears off, how will Overwatch stand as a competitive option?
We’ll witness the answer to this question soon enough, but even during after the game finally gets a competitive mode in June, I find myself wondering if veteran players will find the game challenging enough to make Overwatch eSports viable in the long term. There are certainly characters that present more of a challenge to master as I’ve mentioned, but the game’s shorter matches and maps, which require less strategy overall, make me wonder how Overwatch will stand the test of time. It will be up to Blizzard to balance releasing shiny cosmetic options and new characters along with new maps and rules of engagement that keep improving the competitive community.
Currently, Overwatch leans on the side that favors the game’s high levels of approachability as opposed to its levels of competition. While I do think this is a strength for the game and the overall community, I can’t help but think Blizzard might be trying too hard to make the game perfect for everyone at the same time. In doing so, they may lose out as one audience—or both—quickly loses interest in encouraging Overwatch’s longevity. I applaud Blizzard’s effort to try and make the game ideal for everyone, but I’m just not sure it’s possible. It’s a mistake the company’s developers have made in the past with World of Warcraft, and they may duplicate it yet again here.
That said, it’s still quite early in the life of Overwatch, and for now, the game has a lot of one thing to offer—fun. Overwatch delivers the fun and deserves high praise. Aside from a few minor faults, I’d say that Overwatch fits the bill of “plays well, looks awesome, and actually helps bridge gaming communities together.” Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a rampaging gorilla to attend to.
Laura Hardgrave is a staff writer.