I’ve been a Blizzard junkie for most of my life, ever since the Starcraft/Diablo II days. I still count D2 as one of my top all-time games. I’ve played my fair share (read: way way too much) of World of Warcraft, Diablo III, Warcraft III, and Hearthstone. The only game they’ve released in the last ~20 years that I haven’t played is their MOBA, Heroes of the Storm. So you can be damn sure that I was ready for Overwatch, Blizzard’s first completely new IP since 1998.
The short of it is that Overwatch has hooked me in like few games ever have. It’s an instant classic with a long, long life ahead of it. Overwatch will be many people’s game of the year and it very well may be mine.
- TL;DR: Blizzard’s thrown their hat into the arena shooter ring and come out on top.
- Platform: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
- Time Played: 18:30
- What I Played: Match after match after match, tried all 21 heroes at least once
One of the only disappointing things in Overwatch is the lack of any single player or campaign content. There is a story, of course — a group of soldiers banded together when the sentient robots, or omnics, rebelled years ago. This group, called Overwatch, helped save the world from the brink. Why those same warriors are fighting each other now is unclear and I’m surprised Blizzard has done little more than that. They’ve made comics and short animated films, but I always enjoy the campaign content of their games.
Thankfully for us players, Overwatch is a 10/10 in just about every other department. First off, some basics. Overwatch isn’t a MOBA like League of Legends or DOTA 2. It’s an arena shooter with distinct heroes, more in line with Team Fortress 2. Heroes have two or three active skills, some have a passive ability, and all of them have an ultimate ability. Normal skills have small icons in the bottom right of the screen with their cooldowns counting down over the top of them. Ultimate abilities are the big, game-changing skills you’ve probably seen in countless GIFs. You gain ultimate charge over time or by dealing damage, healing someone else, or otherwise helping your team. One smart decision Blizzard made is that you don’t lose ultimate charge when your hero dies. This keeps the game moving forward and helps you always feel like you’re in the fight as your ultimate is always around the corner.
Heroes are split into four types: attack (the damage dealers), defense (the area lockdown specialists), tank (damage sponges), and support (healers and buff/debuff casters). Another excellent design decision is that the team overview screen will show you what your team is missing to be well rounded. If you’re missing a support hero or have too many tanks, a small banner will let you know. In my week plus of play, players have been really receptive to these slight nudges in the right direction and almost all of my teams have been sufficiently staffed. I’ve had a few games where all six players pick the same hero for the insanity of it, but in general, the small “hey, just a heads up” from Blizzard is enough to keep each team level.
Overwatch launched with 21 heroes. Some of them are fairly standard video game tropes. Reinhardt is a giant, heavily armored warrior with a shield and hammer, the epitome of a tank. Mercy is a classic valkyrie healer type with a staff and a resurrection ultimate. Then there are your super unique heroes, like the rollerblading Lucio that heals his team with the power of music. You’ve also got D.Va, a former Starcraft II pro who pilots a mech that can fly or turn into a nuke. Want to play as a climatologist with a freeze ray that can create walls of ice? Mei is for you.
The ability to play as multiple heroes is crucial to succeeding in Overwatch. You aren’t locked in when you pick a hero at the start of a match. Quite the opposite, in fact — you can swap heroes on death or by running back to the spawn room. This is critical for many reasons. If your team is attacking a location and the other team is hunkered down with a bunch of Bastion and Torbjorn turrets, you don’t have to keep slamming your head against the wall and praying that something will work out. Swap to Widowmaker or Pharah and blast them to hell. Maybe the support on your team isn’t quite up to snuff and you want to take over for them. Maybe you need a little more damage to finish that last second push.
I also truly believe that each hero has a counter and none are overpowered or unfair, even the often complained about Bastion. Since hero swapping is key, it’s a good thing that heroes only have a couple of abilities to learn and become comfortable with. It’s definitely important to know the little nuances of each hero. You can’t simply charge ahead like a Call of Duty marine or Halo soldier. If you are the jetpack-powered rocket-firing Pharah, get up in the air as much as you can. Tracer is best played by warping around and causing havoc for the other team while Zenyatta needs to stay back and throw his healing and debuff orbs around since he is essentially made of glass.
Blizzard has done an excellent job in the audio department as listening is every bit as important as watching a game play out in front of you. Heroes will call out things like trap placements and sniper locations and your hero will gasp when your health is critical. Ultimate abilities all have a callout, too, so when you hear a McCree say that it’s hiiiiigh noon, you better run for cover. Heroes will even talk to each other, which always makes me smile. One of my favorite interactions was when a Mercy revived another Mercy, prompting the recently deceased to say, “so THAT’S what that feels like.”
There are currently four gametypes, three different ones and one hybrid, none of which are deathmatch (and the crowd roars). Assault has one team attacking two map locations, the first closer to the attacker’s spawn point and the second closer to the defender’s, with the game ending when both points are captured or time runs out. Another mode, control, has both teams fighting over the same point in a best-of-three set. Escort charges one team with moving a vehicle along a set path that both teams can see by standing near it. There is also a hybrid mode that mixes one assault location with a payload. There aren’t separate playlists for each mode, which keeps each mode fresh since you basically queue up into a giant pool of all available gametypes. A separate playlist exists for a weekly brawl, a special ruleset available just for the week. The first brawl was essentially Mayhem Crucible from Destiny with increased recharge rates while this week’s brawl restricts you to only picking Genji or Hanzo on the Hanamura map.
Games never feel out of reach thanks to checkpoints, spawn locations, and map design. I’ve had a few games where the offensive team moves the payload 99% of the way only to be stuffed for eight straight minutes. A well coordinated team push with two or three ultimates can drastically change a game. I can’t count how many times my team has been close to finishing off a game only to have a Hanzo dragon clear us out. I am, of course, hopeful for more game modes and maps in the future, but Overwatch has only been out for a week and I’m far from bored.
Stat aficionados will have a field day with what Overwatch brings to the table. Each postgame starts off with a play of the game, usually a well-timed ult to bring down three or four heroes. Sometimes, like in the GIF of me above, it’s someone saving the team from being on the receiving end of that well-timed ult. You can then vote for one of four players based on their performance. This voting is simply a pat on the back right now, but I’m thinking that they’ll reward in-game currency in the future. After that is when the personal stats show up. High-level attributes like eliminations, damage done, healing done, and deaths are always shown with your career averages per hero and a notification if you managed a career best. There are also hero specific stats like direct rocket hits with Pharah or damage blocked with Reinhardt. You can check in on all of these stats along with win/loss ratios and playtime either in game or on the Overwatch site. Fingers crossed for an official app!
Level ups will earn you loot boxes, Overwatch’s foot in the cosmetic microtransaction door. Loot boxes have four items in them ranging from skins and emotes to sprays and highlight intros. The more common skins are essentially pallete swaps but the legendary ones can completely change a character. I’ve unlocked two legendary skins so far: a wood-grain Bastion and a dark/fiery Reinhardt. One of my favorite little bits of Overwatch are sprays, small spray painted logos that you can plaster anywhere on the map. Pre-game effectively turns into show and tell with everyone putting their spray out for all to see. It’s like bringing your Pokemon cards in for recess. If you ask me, the best spray has to be for everyone’s favorite breakfast cereal, Lucio-Oh’s. Everything earned from loot boxes, which can be purchased with real money if you so choose, is purely cosmetic. I have faith that Blizzard will keep it that way.
Games are quick, almost alarmingly so. An average match is only about five minutes so you can really get a lot of games in in a short window of time. The post-game portion of each game is only about 30 seconds, followed by about 45 seconds of picking heroes. Overwatch wastes no time getting you back in the fight.
Much has been said about Overwatch’s visual style. I keep comparing it to a Pixar movie. Heroes are slightly cartoony, yet very detailed. Everything is light and fairly happy instead of grimdark. To put it plainly, it’s great.
I’ll stop gushing to give my two cents on what I’d like to see added to Overwatch. A competitive/season mode is coming in June, which I’m definitely looking forward to. A daily quest system similar to Hearthstone would be a great addition, not only as a little something extra to do but as a way to get coins. The only current way to get coins to buy any specific skins/sprays/etc. that you want is by lucking into duplicates or coins in a loot box. A reliable source of coins would be nice. I’d also like to see the ability to choose skins and such in the pre-game lobby. These are far from game-breaking omissions, but I think they would do wonders.
So, yeah. Overwatch is pretty damn great. Blizzard has put together a cast of fun heroes with unique abilities that fit together in countless team compositions. Small details like letting you know what your team is missing and audio cues about low health or incoming ultimates help round out a tightly controlled, balanced game. Stats are tracked at an incredibly detailed level for anyone that wants it, like me. Overwatch is a game you’ll be hearing about for years to come and I’m glad to be in on the ground floor of it. It’s near perfect.