With the recent popularity of the “Arena” genre stemming from games such as League of Legends, DOTA 2, and Heroes of the Storm, it was only a matter of time before a developer to attempted to add new variety within the genre. One developer, Blizzard Entertainment found a way to do just that combining elements commonly found in First Person and Class Based shooters into an Arena setting. The result? Overwatch. Overwatch has been one of the most anticipated titles so far in 2016, but does it live up to the hype? More than you could imagine.
Characters & Story
Overwatch takes place in the near future on Earth where Humanity has created an artificial life known as Omnics. Humans and Omnics lived peacefully with one another for a while, until Omnic factories suddenly turned rogue. These factories known as Omniums started to create militarized omnics which started an uprising against Humanity to overthrow them. Overwatch is the name of an initiative and group formed by governments across the world where they sent their best agents to work together to fight against the Omnic uprising. In the end, Overwatch managed to defeat the rogue omnic threat and grew into an impressive organization over the span of 30 years, but the organization would soon find itself facing problems from public eye and from within. Many feared that Overwatch had become corrupted and that those involved were not truly heroes any longer, which was partially true. The organization finally collapsed after a conflict that occurred between Commander Jack Morrison (Soldier 76) and Gabriel Reyes (Reaper). Both men were presumably killed after their fight caused an explosion at their Swiss Headquarters. Under a mountain of suspicion and allegations, Overwatch disbanded, their leadership and integrity in shambles.
Today, many wonder whether or not Overwatch was still needed in the world, but with the rising threats across the planet, who else is capable of restoring peace? Afterall, Overwatch may have defeated the rogue omnic threat years ago, but new threats are emerging within the world. Some of the most immediate threats include the terrorist organization known as Talon, led by a rogue former agent of Overwatch focused on killing other deactivated agents. The rift between the peaceful surviving omnics and groups of radical humans continue to grow as fear continues to take root. Many worry that the world is in more danger now than before, which has led Winston to use the Recall initiative, a way activating and locating agents of Overwatch, so they can rescue the world. Doing such a thing is dangerous because of the The Petras Act, which clearly states that “any Overwatch activity is deemed illegal and punishable by prosecution.”
Despite much of this story not being explained within the game’s first trailer at Blizzcon 2014, Overwatch made an impact from day one. It didn’t take long for Blizzard fans to immediately become attached with the characters that they were seeing being brought to life in front of their eyes for the very first time. Blizzard has always managed to be successful when it comes to creating a vibrant cast of characters, Overwatch hasn’t been an exception in that regard. The characters that are involved within Overwatch feel like they’re living beings, and as more of their respective backstories are revealed through comics and trailers related to the game itself, their fandom only continues to grow. Unfortunately, that seems to be the easiest way to actually learn about the story for Overwatch.
To be frank, the story for Overwatch isn’t easily understood just by playing through the game, but then again this seems to be the case for many of the titles within the “Arena” genre, so I’m willing to give Blizzard some slack in that regard because of effort shown to flesh out the game’s story more through comics and trailers. Afterall, the major draw to Overwatch is how immersive and fun it can be even as a pick up and play title. So, with how the game is run it’s almost a guarantee every player who plays Overwatch will have a drastically different play experience than another person because of what level of enjoyable immersion a person can get themselves involved in or what their own personal skill level is. One of the key reasons why Overwatch is so immersive is how heroes interact with one another within the game itself. The amount of effort put into giving these heroes their own distinct personalities through tremendous voice acting isn’t normally seen on this level and is part of why Overwatch feels so immersive. It’s fairly common to see Junkrat react negatively to fighting against Zenyatta and Bastion because of his hatred of omnics, but he’ll still have plenty of witty things to say when he’s against other living characters. The level of depth and rivalry between characters involved in Overwatch really hasn’t been seen since Team Fortress 2. Overwatch currently boasts a roster of 21 unique heroes with additional plans to expand the roster in the future, but there’s still plenty to learn about each of the heroes for now.
Visuals & Gameplay
Overwatch is a multiplayer only game which can be considered a double-edged sword within the industry at this point for AAA titles. Afterall, without a campaign to explain and flesh out the story to their fans, the gameplay and experience they offer in multiplayer has to be flawless. Quite frankly, Overwatch managed to do just that in an absolutely exceptional way. After hundreds of hours of playing the game throughout beta phases and release I managed to find very few flaws with the game. It’s also one of the most aesthetically pleasing games that the industry has seen in ages. It’s very rare for a game to look so appealing, yet still remaining so smooth and operating at a high frame rate across every platform that the game is available on. With the power physics engine that is involved in Overwatch as well, you’ll often see character ragdolls and objects in the strangest of places every match.
To ensure balance from a gameplay perspective as well, Overwatch operates on a rock-paper-scissors system where there’s always going to be another character (usually anywhere from two to three) who has an advantage against you, but you’ll also have distinct advantages over a few others as well. If your skill level is high enough you can find different ways to get past some of your counters, but generally it’s a safe rule of thumb to remember that there are some fights that you’ll struggle to win no matter how good you are at the game, and that’s fine. It’s balanced.
It’s a team based game where you’re encouraged to swap your heroes out on the fly and coordinate with allies to fill in the gaps that every character has whenever they’re selected. The moment of feeling that perfect synergy with your allies is second to none one of the best experiences you’ll have on the game. You can easily achieve better synergy with your allies through some of the unique abilities that heroes have that make Overwatch dramatically different compared to other games in the genre.
Every hero in Overwatch has unique abilities and weapons that makes them different from other characters on the roster. Mei uses a weapon known as the Endothermic Blaster which has the capabilities of freezing enemy heroes in their tracks, but also has the capability of using long ranged icicles that can do massively high damage if they manage to headshot other heroes. She also has the capability of using an Ice Wall to block enemies and their attacks, and a personal Ice Block to make herself go invulnerable to all damage, while she heals herself for a short duration. A cool feature with Ice Block is that your allies can hide behind it to avoid taking fire throughout the duration as well. This weapon and these abilities are all unique to Mei and no other Hero on the roster other than another Mei will be able to access any of them. So, on top of each hero having different abilities as well as different weapons from one another, they also have unique capabilities through a “Ultimate Ability” that gains its charge overtime, or through successfully damaging and killing members on the enemy team. In the case of a Support, you can also gain your Ultimate Ability through healing your teammates. The Ultimate Ability itself is easy to keep track of as it’s meter is located within the center of your own UI, so it’s easy to tell on the fly when you’re capable of using it to annihilate or shock the enemy team. If you perform your roles well enough, you won’t just receive an Ultimate Ability as a reward, but you’ll also notice your character goes “on fire” and a fiery mantle will emerge around your character portrait on the scoreboard and in corner of your screen to indicate this. If your entire team is on fire, there is a significantly high chance that you’re coordinating properly, that you’re performing well, and that you’re winning the game.
However, when you’re going to play the game solo and without a party of friends, you may find yourself frustrated at times when your allies are not coordinating properly with you or when they’re not willing to make a more balanced team composition so that you have a better chance at winning the game. If you’ve played other games in the genre, this isn’t going to be something that’s particularly new, but it’s worth mentioning that it can be a frustrating experience at times to play the game only as a solo player. Not only that, but the game encourages that you at least play with one friend and avoid playing by yourself, since you obtain an experience bonus for your out of game account level whenever you’re playing with friends, which in return results in you earning loot boxes more frequently. Luckily, Overwatch makes it relatively easy to group up with friends, even when they’re already playing a game. You can request to join another player’s party and temporarily spectate their game until someone on their team abandons the match or until the game is over. This is never really much of an inconvenience because Overwatch matches generally are under ten minutes on most maps, with very rare exceptions along the way.
Even though Overwatch ended up launching with a total of 12 maps, I can’t help but feel that the game itself is still “lacking” a comfortable amount of maps. This may be due to the nature of the fast paced games that occur within Overwatch, which cause you to quickly leave and eventually return to maps you were once playing on again. However, I still feel that some additional game modes or maps could’ve gone a long way for helping the original release of the game. Some of the maps themselves also feel relatively underwhelming by comparison to others that are within the game. Too often on many of the “control” maps there are narrow choke points that redundantly play out the same way every single game with the same characters often being required to simply get through them to push through the enemy defenses. This feels like an oversight to me compared to the actual balance and the direction of the elsewhere within the game because of the amount of depth it boasts through it’s hero roster alone. Luckily, Blizzard has already addressed critics by promising a hefty amount of post-release content that will be available for free within the game itself which could include: new maps, updates to current maps, updates to existing heroes, new heroes, new game modes, new skins, new emotes, and more.
Overwatch also introduced a relatively unique highlight system within the game itself and has already grown so popular that it’s created memes all over the internet: Play of the Game. The Play of the Game is an automatically detected event that happened within the game itself that the AI believes was most influential or impressive event that took place within the game. This unique feature allows players to revisit a moment that they may have just recently encountered (for good or bad), but showcases it to the entire lobby in a dramatic fashion to show how that player particularly performed well. When the Play of the Game is finished, players are then able to vote upon meaningless “cards” that appear in the post game lobby to vote on different players who they feel performed the best throughout the entire game for nothing other than mere “ego-boosting” points. Unfortunately, the Play of the Game sometimes feels just as pointless as voting upon these cards in the post-game lobby because the system in place seems a little glitchy at the moment with how it selects the play of the Game. Sometimes you will see nothing other than a Torbjorn’s corpse lying upon the ground or you’ll see him walking back to his team, even though the true Play of the Game is his turret decimating the enemy team. Blizzard has promised that they plan to “update” the Play of the Game system at some point in the near future to avoid some of these gaffes that occur within the system, but until then they can sometimes be frustrating to watch rather than enjoyable as they’re intended to be.
Finally, Overwatch offers more control variety than I’ve ever seen within a game before upon release. It’s possible to style Overwatch in a way that’s entirely unique to your playstyle and how you play the game. From changing things as simple as a targeting reticule to something you’re more comfortable with, or something more in depth like adding health bars to allies when you’re playing non-support characters such as Zarya and Soldier 76 so you can better predict when to use your own abilities to assist them.
Overwatch hasn’t simply entered the gaming industry, it’s changed the gaming industry. Overwatch is going to be the golden standard for other first person shooters to be compared to going forward. It will be important for other developers to learn about the different things that Overwatch did so well and how they can attempt to add some of these own ideas within their own projects. The gaming industry, but in particular the first person shooter industry, could gain a lot from just adding in a few of the things that Overwatch has managed to do. I’ve never played a more “complete” title before that has strictly been Multiplayer only and that speaks volumes to the amount of depth Overwatch already boasts. Overall, Overwatch has earned a 9.7/10.
What do YOU think of Overwatch? Let us know in the comments or tweet me @Hahke!
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