It’s difficult to describe what Overwatch brings to the table that other games before it hasn’t. From the very first moment of stepping into the game, it’s impossible not to see the similarities between it and Team Fortress 2 (TF2), but it also becomes immediately clear how much Blizzard has tightened and improved the formula. Overwatch takes the very simple concept of a class-based shooter and finds pure gold in getting back to the basics.At its core, Overwatch is just a simple 6v6 class-based shooter, where players take control of a hero with a unique set of up to 5 abilities, and try to complete an objective. There are no items or power customization, just each hero’s base abilities. It is this bare-bones nature that allows Overwatch to be as tight as it is. The shooting is fluid and unique for each hero. Even the reload animations are heavily customized. While Road Hog needs to load his shotgun with scraps of metal (presumably kept in his massive pockets), the cowboy hero McCree simply throws a handful of shells at his revolver and they magically fall into place. It’s these small details that really make Overwatch stand out from other strictly multiplayer games.
In addition to the intricate character details in game, Blizzard also released a series of shorts that put Pixar to shame. These short films follow a few of the game’s main characters, giving them back story, and setting up the world that Overwatch takes place in. Other games need to take note, because while Overwatch does not have a single player campaign, it never feels as though any of the backstory is missing. While it would have been nice to access more backstory in game, the shorts can be found very easily in the Battle.net launcher.
The heroes of Overwatch are split into four categories: Offense, defense, tank and support. Each hero also has a defined subclass, based on their focus, with options of sniping, tanking, building, or damage. Ideally teams will have a composition that includes all types of hero, but the game does not force players to do this. At the hero choice screen, it will suggest options for a balanced composition, but if a team really wanted to, they could all play the same hero. I’ve seen it done, and don’t let anyone tell you that a team of six massive gorillas in spacesuits isn’t viable.The heroes are also incredibly balanced. With the exception of Bastion (a robot who can turn into a mini-gun turret at will, which is understandably overpowered), all of the different heroes seem even on the battlefield. Each hero is given a star rating from one to three, with a three meaning they are more complex to play than one or two star heroes. However, even the simpler one-star characters are still a force to be reckoned with. No two character’s abilities feel alike, making each game feel fresh, and always leaving plenty of options to shake up gameplay. There is not a single hero on the roster that feels like they need more. Every character is polished and stands out in their own way, making them all fun and interesting to play.
For new players, Overwatch also has a very informative tutorial that doesn’t take long, and will help get them up to speed. There is very little barrier to entry to play the game. If you’re familiar with other class-based shooters, or just want to figure it out, the game won’t stop you, but for those who are much newer to the genre, Blizzard has your back. There is also the fact that, at its core, Overwatch promotes cooperative gameplay. With no kill-death ratio in sight, players are rewarded for any eliminations they participate in, and can vote to commend each other for various impressive stats at the end of a round (most healing done, least deaths, etc.). It really sets Overwatch apart from other first-person shooters which tend to promote individual skill rather than teamwork. Traditionally these titles can be caustic environments for new players (I’ve yelled at my fair share of noobs), but Overwatch makes it easy to contribute to the team in a noticeable way, even if a player’s shooting skills aren’t the best.The game modes of Overwatch are familiar, and don’t innovate much at all. At launch there are four modes: Assault, escort, hybrid and control. Assault is a very familiar mode where players will attack or defend a series of points. Escort has players guiding a vehicle along a set track while the other team tries to stop them. Hybrid starts with a point capture, then transforms into a vehicle escort. Control is really just king of the hill. Again, none of these game modes are anything new, but they still manage to be fun and interesting to play. The game has twelve maps to explore, and like the characters, they are all well thought out, with great attention to detail, and gorgeous visuals. Once more, no two maps feel alike, and with so many to choose from, it’s hard to see them getting old quickly. A large contributor to Overwatch’s replayability is it’s progression and loot system. After every game, Overwatch shows players their stats relative to previous matches, and rewards them on a medal system (bronze, silver gold). The medals are contingent on which hero a player used most in the match, and reward them with bonus XP for beating their previous performance records (kill count, healing done, deaths, etc.) This system creates a constant feedback loop, rewarding players for improving, and showing them how they can further advance. Each time a player increases in level, they are given a loot box, containing four random character customization items (skins, voices, taunts, emotes, and sprays). These items come in the traditional Blizzard classifications of common through Legendary, and in some cases can be pretty amazing. While in general I am tired of seeing the booster pack system in every game, Overwatch implements it well, and it does not detract from the game in any way.
Overwatch is one of the best games that I have played in recent memory. The game modes may be simple, and don’t vary significantly from the norm, but the true gold is in the game’s details. Very few games put as much effort and personality into their characters and maps as Overwatch does, and that’s what makes it stand out from the pack. The game mechanics foster teamwork rather than the traditional FPS lone-wolf spirit, and its options make it an easy title for new players to jump into. One thing is for sure, Overwatch is addicting, fun as hell, and will probably leave me with no social life for the foreseeable future.