Blizzard Entertainment has been known to create unique franchises that entice players of all ages to join up, take up arms and fight for the freedom of their respective lands. Each game Blizzard has created is designed for specific audiences, while at the same time beguiles the casual observer to try a genre of game that may be new to the player. Overwatch, Blizzard’s latest, is one of those genre defining games. Blizzard’s first person shooter (FPS) is an opening attempt to capture the hearts of those who enjoyed playing character based shooters, while also attempting to introduce the genre to casual/novice players. The question is now, does Overwatch succeed in its mission to pull you in, hold you tight, and never let you go?
WHAT IS OVERWATCH?
For Overwatch, Blizzard Entertainment has an interesting strategy when it comes to its story. They have produced several CG animated shorts and comics available on its website. With each short featured, a different character brought me closer and closer to them by showing their struggles and failings. Each piece ended with uplifting imagery and music, prompting a response in me that I’ve not felt in some time, a call to action. It is rather unfortunate that the game itself doesn’t capitalize on the narrative told through the marketing materials, comics, and animated shorts. It is as if the game is an extension of the Overwatch universe and not the main source of story content.
Overwatch is strictly a multiplayer shooter, requiring a network connection to even play the different modes or custom games between friends. So, let’s get the biggest point against this game out of the way: Overwatch lacks a single player mode, and this could hurt the game’s appeal amongst those looking for a cohesive narrative to complement the phenomenal suite of multiplayer modes. To a story focused player, the lack of character motivation and development could distract them from enjoying the multiplayer experience and could present a few mental roadblocks. Why are they fighting each other? What is the purpose of defending or escorting the objective? Why are bad guys and good guys allowed to be on the same team? These questions can be answered outside of the game through Wiki sites, fan made comics, and marketing materials from Blizzard, but answers are not delivered effectively within the game. Blizzard has been known to update their games, add modes, balance characters, add characters well after release. A single player component could be in the works for later on down the line, but as of this review here is what we know so far.
In short, Overwatch is a unique global task force created with the purpose of routing out the Omnic threat. The Omnic race of machines started out as manufacturing robots and through a series of upgrades, basically bringing about the singularity as popularized by famous science fiction author and futurist Vernor Vinge and CGP Grey, among others, became self aware and began to fight for their rights. As the attacks by the Omnic became more lethal and widespread, Overwatch increased their efforts and eventually brought about peace for a time, but fights still broke out around the world. The group conducted operations for the UN, both sanctioned and unsanctioned. Eventually, nations and governments felt threatened by the group's growing power and sought to regulate Overwatch. Like with most things, groups rose up out of the shadows to take down Overwatch from the inside and seed discord amongst the ranks. Unable to prevent the inevitable, Overwatch was attacked, their base destroyed, and their leadership scattered.
The governments of the world made it illegal for the group to operate or engage in tactical missions of any kind. After Overwatch disbanded, the Omnic race and humans had become closer to brokering a peace that would be long lasting, but a new threat looms. Organizations that were in hiding are now running tactical missions of their own. Agents of Overwatch have kept their distance from the world after they were disbanded, but the increase violence and uneasy tensions between the Omnic and Humans caused some members to worry about their own safety. After years of back and forth hostilities between shadow governments and the effects of the Omnic Crisis, the old members of Overwatch will reunite and help bring peace to the world, once again.
MODES OF OPERATION
Many arena based shooters like Overwatch tend to focus less on an overall narrative and more on the gameplay; with that being said, the single player offerings include a Player vs. AI and Training mode. Player vs. AI allows you and a few friends or random strangers the opportunity to play matches against computer controlled opponents. Each AI player’s difficulty can be set individually or you can set the AI level to the entire group. You can also fill your team with just AI characters so that you can truly practice with your chosen character. Training, meanwhile, is an open arena that allows you to run around and get accustomed to moving your character around a map. I used it to test adjustments to my control scheme and graphics settings. Once I felt comfortable with my customized controls, which I discuss later in the review, I dove into the multiplayer modes.
The game includes several different modes for players to get their hands on at launch. You have Quick Play, which runs you through a random playlist of “Capture the Objective / Escort the Payload”, two rounds of “Capture the Objective” where one team defends and the other attacks, and Capture The Point, a mode where one point is activated by a team and both teams must hold that one point for a certain amount of time. Each game lasts for about 10-15 minutes, and then you’re out of there. Arcade Mode is, to put it simply, pure mayhem. The rules change every week, and the game balance is somewhat thrown out the window when higher health, damage increases, and ability cool downs are shortened. CO-OP vs. AI is pretty much self explanatory: you and 5 of your buddies, or random players, get together to stomp on the computer’s face. Players can also make “Custom Games”. You can set your own rules in this mode as well as offer a spectator channel. The spectator can fly the camera around, and stick the camera on each character to see how others play the game. No doubt, this will be useful come eSports time.
A LITTLE LESS TALK, A LITTLE MORE ACTION
Overwatch is a phenomenal game that scratches a particular Team Fortress/Counter-Strike/Smash Brothers itch. Nintendo’s action brawler series, Super Smash Bros., is a perfect example of what this game feels like. Each character in Nintendo’s fighting franchise has a set move list and balances against another. Overwatch is similarly balanced, with each character having certain abilities that can give it an edge against other particular characters within the game. No character feels overpowered.
When playing this game, and playing all the characters, I never felt like one character had a distinct advantage over the others. I had preferred styles of play, but it never felt like I was choosing a character because I thought they were overpowered and I need to learn them in order to win. Each character requires a little bit of practice to learn the nuances, but once you learn how your character plays, you will see your kill count/assists/objective time increase. The game doesn’t just measure your success in KOs either, like most arena shooters. The game takes great care to split out your performance statistics based on the character you are playing and their abilities. For instance, on the final score screen, my game as Mercy (a support character that can grant healing and damage boosts) showed me at the top of the leaderboard in assists. This made me feel that I was gaining skill and recognition for helping out my teammates, even if I wasn’t successful at shooting my opponents. Being stuck as the “healer” has never felt more rewarding.
Whenever you finish a match, you are presented with a screen that tallies up your score of kills, map objective focus (whether you guided the objective to it’s destination or captured a point), and assists and lumps them into your player experience point pool. As you gain levels you earn loot boxes that you can open to reveal character skins, in game currency, decal art, and voice pack unlocks. Each loot item is cosmetic and does not improve a character’s performance, but it would be important to note that some skins are only available with certain versions of the game. For instance the $39.99 PC version does not come with some exclusive skins or rewards for characters like Tracer and Reaper, whereas the $59.99 “Origins Edition” version of the game (PC/XBOX ONE/PS4) come with those exclusive skins mentioned before, which look really cool, and offer some potential backstory for the characters. The game features micro transactions to purchase more loot boxes, but it is not blatantly obvious at first glance. In fact, I had to dig deep in the interface to find a button that would allow me to throw more money at Blizzard. The developer definitely knows how to make the player invest time and money in the game.
With the criticism leveled against Overwatch for story modes, the lack of this mode does not detract from the enjoyment of the game if you go in knowing that multiplayer is the focus. The reason this game gets away with this is because the characters are the investment for a player. Your “main character” becomes your role and eventually becomes your identity. For example, I am a person who loves playing as Mei, a Chinese climatologist who freezes her enemies and creates Ice Walls. I don’t just play as her, I’m a defensive player and eventually I hope to be a “Mei Player”. When you see opponents in a match, you don’t just see characters, you see roles and identities. That has been the biggest draw for myself, and hopefully for many other players.
STICK AND MOVE
From a control standpoint, Overwatch feels good to play. The moment to moment gameplay was superb. To give a specific example, with Mei, I enjoyed creating Ice Walls and freezing other players, utilizing a highly defensive play style. When I see opponents coming around the corner, my first instinct is to hide behind something and pop up behind cover and shoot. With Mei, I am able to antagonize an enemy to draw them in, run around a corner to entomb myself in ice to heal myself, then bust out of the ice with full health and Ice Spike my opponent in the head to finish them off. I felt as though I was performing my assigned duties as Mei, and it felt great. If I am going into a battle against a tank, I observe their behavior, put up an Ice Wall behind them as they try to run away, then freeze them in place followed up by an Ice Spike to the face. The controls make the game further its agenda as being easy to use, customizable, and personal.
For me, It was the perfect meld of customization. You can even customize control schemes per character, which is big plus for me, because with Mei, I can switch her move set so that her Ice Spike ability and Ice Shield are on my right hand while her Ice Beam and wall are on the keyboard. Since I can aim better with a mouse, her Ice Spike is like a sniper bullet, making precision is key. I noticed that by customizing the controls for my main character, the other characters play styles also changed. I felt my control scheme worked for any character I chose. I purchased the PC and PS4 versions, and the control schemes helped make it feel as though there are benefits to both.
Both the PC and PS4 versions of the game run fluidly. If you have the PC capable of running the game, Overwatch on PC is the superior version by far. On a 2007 HP laptop with a built in graphics card from almost 10 years ago, the game runs smooth at 24 FPS, albeit on the game’s lowest settings. My only issues were some of the UI elements were too small to read and frame rate dipped between 10-15 FPS when loading a large area, or too many explosions. But why play it on my old PC? Well, for the simple fact that the PC version of Overwatch has built in controller support, allowing you to use your controller and mouse at the same time.
Not a lot of first person shooters let you use a mouse while also using a keyboard, and I can see the interface change over constantly when i aim with the mouse and move with the control stick. Like most gamers who grew up with a controller in hand, using a keyboard while circling an enemy is rather difficult, but with a Xbox 360 gamepad in one hand and a mouse in the other, it felt right somehow. The graphical performance of the PC vs. the PS4 versions is pretty good considering the age of my computer, but even with my 2007 laptop, I can see improved visuals over the PS4 version, albeit it runs at a solid 15 FPS when I set things to Ultra. If you can build a rig hearty enough to run this game on Epic at 60FPS at 1080p+, then PC should definitely be the way to play this game.
THE WORLD COULD ALWAYS USE MORE HEROES
With almost 15 hours of gameplay between the Beta and final release, I can confidently say that Overwatch is one of the best PC games to hit us in the collective faces in a long time. The graphics on the PC are stunning at the highest resolution and frame rate possible, but that doesn’t even matter when you think about how well the game plays. Each character feels balanced, so no one feels overpowered or at a disadvantage. With buried micro transactions and hidden unlocks to be revealed in the coming weeks and months, I could not be more excited to play a lot of this game. In fact, after I finish this review, I’m jumping into it once more. Overwatch, to me, brings back the nostalgic memories of playing with my action figures after watching their corresponding Saturday morning cartoon shows. Each hero has unique powers and are balanced out by the other characters. The sheer amount of polish and design work that has gone into this game sets Overwatch a step ahead of games like Destiny and Tom Clancy’s The Division in terms of longevity. It is too soon to say that Overwatch is to “Hero Shooters” as World of Warcraft is to MMOs, but let it be known that Overwatch makes the best case yet to keep a game like this installed on your PC or console well after the hype has subsided.
- Lack of single player offerings
- Satisfying gameplay
- Beautiful graphics
- “Pick Up and Play” feel
For the purposes of this review, Overwatch was primarily played on the PC
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
CHARLES SAMUEL - @darkkoji
Contributor for Rocket Punch. Currently on guard duty, looking over my shoulder...wondering if the Doom Guy will awake soon. Should call my wife, Mars is kinda lonely.