Of all the major game genres, Blizzard has never made a foray into first-person shooters (FPS) – until now. Enter Overwatch, a fresh-from-the-oven game from the makers of Hearthstone, Starcraft, and Warcraft.
Blizzard seems to be on a roll these days. Their eSports games, Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm, have both enjoyed success within their respective communities, giving rise to their own set of esports athletes. Overwatch has gained so much hype during its closed and open beta timeframes, that the most logical thing to assume is that this game would easily match – and surpass – how big their other games have become.
An FPS for (almost) everyone
Blizzard’s core strength has always been accessibility. Any player of any skill level can play their games and immediately hook them in, even the non-competitive players. An FPS game is naturally competitive, but for Overwatch, Blizzard has masked this competitive gaming nature by having easy to learn rules and skills, allowing you to pick someone and start playing off the bench, no real warm-up required.
Overwatch is a team-based shooter, similar to Team Fortress. Plays take on any of the 21 characters in the cast, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, in an effort to attack or defend an objective. Each side tries to eliminate the other while fulfilling the objective/s, in order to win. Individual and team achievements are awarded to both sides, winners and losers, but as with any kind of game, to the victor go the spoils.
Players earn character-based and account-based experience the more they play, and leveling up grants you a loot box per level, which contain common, rare, epic, and legendary character skins, sprays, highlights, intros, and emotes, You can also earn in-game currency from loot boxes, used to unlock the abovementioned cosmetic changes to your characters yourself. As with games nowadays, you can also use real money to buy loot boxes in the hopes of getting that Tracer skin you’ve always wanted. There is the typical rarity system in place; Common (white), Rare (blue), Epic (Violet), and Legendary (Yellow).
Everything is awesome
Most shooter games highlight either realism, gore, or both. Overwatch took that tried and true formula and turned it around. The game is on the cartoony side, with larger than life characters and maps that have a never-ending supply of twists, turns, moving platforms, and pitfalls. Maps are complex with no real true path to take when attacking and defending, allowing teams to create strategies and plays in order to win.
Overwatch, like any Blizzard game, seems to start with a solid foundation in its lore. Set on Earth in the not-too-distant-future, society is picking up the pieces in the aftermath of what was known as the Omnic Crisis, a war caused by intelligent robots called omnics going rogue. Overwatch was the original name of an organization formed to fight against the omnics, but expanded into a scientific endeavors, all to advance humanity. At the start of the game, Overwatch has been disbanded thanks to political and human rights scandals, as well as internal turmoil within the ranks.
The game’s lore is cleverly-written in that most of it happens in the past, so there’s no real burden for players story-wise. Plus there’s a wealth of online comics, animated short movies, and blog entries for the lore junkie, to help solidify the world of Overwatch and what drives the characters and their abilities.
Overwatch is a team-based FPS, with characters filling in different roles: offense, defense, support, and utility. Each character has a unique skillset that gives them abilities to help their team succeed in their objective. What’s fun about the game is that all 21 characters have very diverse weapons. You don’t pick up guns left by dead enemies in this game. You get a weapon that’s only for you, and ammo you can reload by pressing R (by default). The game starts you off in tutorial mode (skippable) to warm you up for the battles ahead, and to familiarize yourself with each character’s abilities.
You can customize your mouse’s lookspeed as a default or per character if you’re that anal, and the more you play, the more you learn about each character’s unique playstyles, and what team composition works best depending on maps and objectives. The best thing about Overwatch is that you can always go back to your deployment point (or if you die), and pick a new hero to play.
Being able to re-pick on the fly is what makes the game more competitive and appealing to eSports fans. You can scout the enemy team as you engage, and be able to pick a hero that can counter the enemy’s characters fairly quickly. This opens up a lot of strategy options for competitive players, and posits that you will never face the same team twice in games.
As fun as a few rounds of shooting other people online go, there’s not much else to hook players to keep playing FPS games. Blizzard keeps the interest train going with a levelling system and a career system that allows you to track your achievements and get rewards for them. The more you play, the more you (hopefully) get better at the game, and that can be easily viewed as stats. Plus the game compiles highlight reels for you to look back on all your sick plays.
It’s no secret that Overwatch is built with eSports in mind. As early as now, there have been tournaments (complete with highlights) on YouTube Gaming, and the game itself was built on this kind of path moving forward.
The game uses Blizzard’s eSports success recipe first started by Hearthstone: make a game easy to learn, but add in complexity and competitiveness. This is certainly the case for Overwatch: its visuals and mechanics are easy enough for a casual gamer to pick up, but offer a solid case for budding eSports athletes: strategy, skill caps, stats, and most importantly, a spectator mode.
One of the big updates to Overwatch (nerfs aside) is Competitive mode, where players need to play ten placement matches in order to determine their starting rank. Despite being a team effort, placement matches are based on individual performance. In the games after placement, players are grouped by rank (if going solo). Yes, you can play competitive matches with your friends.
At the moment, Competitive is a little buggy, listing the match a loss when one of your teammates leave in the middle of the fight. This sort of penalty can be very heavy if you really want to climb the ranks, and here’s hoping Blizzard will take a look at finer matchmaking in future updates.
A Solid 10
Overwatch offers something fresh in a gaming landscape that’s dominated by gritty, realistic shooters that either go the competitive route (CounterStrike: Global Operations) or the RPG route (The Division). The game is filled with cool soundbytes, animation, and even skins that let people know that it’s not taking itself too seriously, and Blizzard uses this patented brand of humor to keep players interested, no matter their skill level.
With gamers being able to access the game on PC, PS4, and Xbox One (but you can’t play on different platforms), Overwatch is already set to be one of the biggest games of 2016 as it is poised to become a big eSports player in the following years to come. If you’re a fan of FPS games like Team Fortress or Quake, or just want to game you can easily play with friends, then Overwatch is a definite must-try.