Having sunk many hours into the game over the course of the Open Beta and now its full-release, it’s incredibly hard to believe that this marks Blizzard’s first foray into the FPS market. Standing as further proof that Blizzard can spin any genre they touch into gold, Overwatch is without a doubt the finest multiplayer experience I’ve played in years. Choosing to refine the best qualities of team-focussed shooters rather than reinvent them, there is a distinct focus to this title that has ensured not a single misstep has been taken. Built upon incredibly strong foundations and filled with the classic Blizzard charm, this is a premium shooter that will steal your attention and have you coming back for more.
Emerging as part of the ‘Hero Shooter’ trend, Overwatch features a roster of 21 characters that each brings their own unique abilities to the fight. Framed within a team-based, MOBA-inspired, arena-shooter skeleton – the action here is frantic and intense, two qualities that are amplified by the diverse cast. Instead of fitting within entirely traditional classes, the characters of Overwatch present their own exclusive feature sets and weapon/gadget loadouts. Built around one of four character roles (Offense, Defence, Tank, and Support), every potential playstyle is catered for, and the sheer variety amongst these roles ensures that every character is able to stand out from the crowd.
Highlighting an area that Blizzard have excelled within, and to no surprise, the characters themselves are not only impeccably designed from an art perspective, but also from the gameplay perspective too. Each built around a certain character type and style, Blizzard has drawn inspiration from all over the world and from multiple defining eras. Though there might be your semi-generic, gun-toting robo-soldier amongst the ranks, there is also a cowboy from the old-west, a cyborg ninja, a turret-building dwarf, a genetically engineered Gorilla, and even an excitable cockney with the ability to manipulate time. When I said that the cast was inventive, I certainly meant it, and those are only a small glimpse of the bigger picture at play.
By focussing on such diverse personalities, this has allowed for exceptionally inventive feature sets to be built around them, leading to an entire roster that is fun to play around with. By aiming for such a high number of characters to play as, it would have been easy for the developers to slip-up along the way, but thankfully Blizzard have been able to trim the fat and present us with a set of characters that can stand as individuals, have their own uses and tactical implementations – and most importantly – are really well balanced. Once again, the game demonstrates just how focussed it is through the careful crafting of its character’s abilities. There are nowhere near enough actions at your disposal to possibly complicate the gameplay, but just enough to add tactical depth and keep the action feeling fresh throughout. As a result, this has led to a feeling of accessibility, a quality that only makes the game better. These feature sets combined with their distinct appearance and personalities makes for a wonderfully rich game with a surprising amount of depth.
Armed with typically one weapon and only a handful of abilities, characters are technically limited, but are far from boring to play as. By concentrating on the capabilities of each character and then identifying them as a particular role, these is a distinct level of interplay that can be created between each and every character, and this can lead to some exceptionally creative team-work. With the ability to switch between heroes during each match too, players can adapt to the ever-changing battle scenarios and can easily build new tactics to work around the enemy. After all, let’s not forget that this is a team-based shooter.
Comprising of three separate game modes: Escort, Assault, and Control, players will be working together to defend, attack, capture, and deliver objectives across 12 maps in total. Yes, objectives are the bread and butter of Overwatch, and as a result, you will have to work together as a team – not as individuals – in order to achieve victory. Though there is an air of similarity between each game mode, they are all welcome additions and do enough to separate themselves and feel necessary to the whole package. It also helps that they all stick to a certain type of formulae, and as a result, not a single one betrays the core strength of the game. Overwatch knowns exactly what it wants to be, and that is a team-focussed video game, a feat that it massively succeeds in achieving.
If this was simply any other shooter, only three game modes would be considered as being severely lacking, but Overwatch is able to dodge this criticism because its other key factors are able to come together and nullify this complaint entirely. The truth is the large character roster and varied team setups ensure that every enemy encounter and match feels like a totally new experience. While multiplayer games will often boast that “no single match will ever feel the same”, in Overwatch’s case I feel that is an undeniable truth and not at all a hyperbolic claim. Matches are never boring, and no matter how many hours you’ve played the game for, each mode feels as refreshing as it did on its first discovery. To contribute further, the maps themselves are built for specific game modes too instead of being ‘all-rounders’, and this has allowed each environment to blend perfectly with the gameplay scenarios.
Designed in a way that benefits each character, the maps are just as masterfully designed as everything else within this package. Catering for all character feature sets, there’s areas, routes, and vantage points smattered throughout that can be used in creative ways to utilise special abilities, defeat the enemy team, and repel attacks. Though mostly set in urban/industrial environments, each location is injected with incredible detail and cultural flourishes that see locations set in Japan, Egypt, and Russia simply ooze with personality. Mirroring the character designs, the level art is absolutely stunning, and the cartoon visuals are easily some of the finest ever seen in a videogame to date.
Of course a modern-day multiplayer shooter wouldn’t be complete without a progression system, though Overwatch approaches things in a slightly different way. While you will of course be awarded with XP after each game and will work towards gaining social status, the non-customisable nature of the entire roster results in rewards that don’t directly affect the gameplay. Instead of awarding players with ability unlocks, weapon mods, armour, or whatever else is thrown your way in a typical shooter, Overwatch deals in character cosmetics. Earning ‘Loot Boxes’ through levelling up (or from microtransactions, if you’re willing to part with real-world cash), you gain a random selection of goodies that can take the form of character skins, voice lines, poses/emotes, and even sprays (graffiti that can be applied to environments). Though I’ve never personally been one to care for cosmetics, the random draw of this content is exciting, and it’s clear that Blizzard have put a considerable amount of effort into creating this additional content.
I originally had concerns about the lack of game-changing unlocks, though ultimately progression isn’t what Overwatch is about. This is a game that isn’t driven by progression systems, but is instead focussed on pushing the gameplay. In a world filled with Call Of Duty’s, it’s nice to see a game that delivers on pure gameplay, and provides the player with everything that is essential from the very beginning. Ultimately, this is a video game that will retain its community just by being fun and incredibly accessible. With all future content including new heroes and maps arriving free of charge over the game’s lifespan, I have no reason to doubt the survival of this player-base, and that Overwatch will be a huge success over the course of 2016, and hopefully beyond.
When the only negative thing I can possibly say about this game is in regards to a particularly atrocious attempt at a cockney accent – yes, I’m looking at you, Tracer – I believe this speaks volumes about the games quality. Overwatch is exactly the kind of game that many hoped it would be: a well-balanced, team-focussed, highly-competitive and intense action game. Looking back over the past decade of online gaming, I’m really struggling to think of many multiplayer shooters that have got me hooked quite like this. Another Blizzard masterpiece to add to the list, Overwatch is one of the most exciting releases so far this year, and will no doubt make a huge mark in the gaming landscape of 2016.
Now then, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some Overwatch to jump back into!