It's Wednesday night and I'm loading up Overwatch
for the very first time. Now don't get me wrong - I played an hour of the PC alpha way back in 2015 so I'm a bit of a veteran. The game opens with an inspiring orchestral piece that sets the tone; if presentation is any indicator then the game is going to be fun. I enter matchmaking and almost immediately find a match. I'm presented with an array of 21 different heroes to choose from. I pick D.Va (that's "Diva") because she has a mech and that seems pretty awesome.
I'm thrown into a match that's already in progress. There's a caravan it appears I need to protect but beyond that I've no idea what to do so I simply jump in. The map and objective design allow the game to flow very well and I'm quickly engaged in combat with the enemy. I have two abilities that are on a short cooldown and an ultimate ability that I can use occasionally. The cooldowns on the abilities seem to be tuned perfectly - every time I feel like an ability should be up, it is. Nothing is overpowered or totally worthless. Usually I die but it's never unfair - I was simply outplayed and I need to get better. A lot better.
Who wouldn't want to pilot a giant mech?
To the surprise of no one, I lose. I'm thrown into my next match almost immediately. This time I pick Pharah, whose name might be a sly reference to an Egyptian Pharoh. By complete coincidence, the map has an Egyptian theme. Buildings are packed in with a central capture point my team must attack. The rooftops and alleyways funnel players toward this point while providing a variety of directions to attack from. Pharah has a rocket jump that allows me to get on top of buildings and another ability that lets me knock other players a fair distance away.
I take to the roof and immediately encounter an enemy Widowmaker. I'm in a fight for my life, firing rockets that she's able to narrowly dodge as she jumps across the roof. As I'm reloading and getting peppered with assault rifle fire, I realize I've got another ability in my arsenal. I fire off my knockback rocket as Widowmaker jumps and she sails away. It seems like slow motion as she tries in vain to get some more shots off before she hopelessly falls to the ground. I run to the edge and see she's landed amongst two of her allies who don't yet realize I'm there. With three enemies in a crowded alley I know this is my moment. I get a double kill, then a triple kill. The gameplay simply clicks from that point off. I'm running across rooftops knocking enemies off and raining rockets down on unsuspecting heroes. Using my mobility I'm able to take shortcuts across the rooftops to cut off reinforcements and prey on enemies who flee. We lose, but it was an amazing experience.
Probably someone who'd rather wear falcon armor and fire rockets.
I played many more matches from there. The intricacies of the combat and a varying time to kill allow the player to go to depths of tactical thinking we're not used to seeing. Sometimes you die in a split second to a Tracer who came out of nowhere, but sometimes a duel is a chess match - you need to know what you can do, what your opponent can do, and then make the best choice. Your opponent is doing the same thing and you'll constantly reconsider your options - "should I use the knockback now or should I wait because I believe the enemy is going to get themselves into a worse position in just a moment." A fight only lasts a few seconds, but it seems like a minute in the best way possible.
Following a match, Overwatch
presents a short recap of the play of the game. This is always fun even when everyone in the match sees you eliminated due to an exceptionally poor play. Then the game highlights four players who found a lot of success in the match - most assists, most healing, objective kills, etc. There are many options and only the players that truly excel will be listed here. Everyone in the match can vote for the most impressive stat, which is pretty neat and it helps players feel valued when both teams are impressed with their effort. The feeling only lasts a moment though as a new game begins almost as soon as the previous ends and it's time to do it all again.Overwatch
can be very fun, but it's certainly not without its problems.
First and foremost are the visuals. This game does not look pretty. Make no mistake - the art direction is fantastic and Blizzard has done an absolutely amazing job making each level distinct. Even more importantly, there are subtle visual cues everywhere to help direct the player to combat zones. The art design is good, but the hardware limitations of the Xbox One clearly hold the game back. It's very clear that Blizzard chose to focus on performance over substance in the form of a very high and stable framerate - for a highly competitive game this may have been the right choice, but the effect of that choice is evident.
As I played with a variety of friends, one complaint kept standing out - you spend far too much time doing nothing. In between matches the game will re-enter matchmaking to find new players for the game. This is a necessary evil, but it does seem to drag. I timed it at over four minutes to find two players to enter our match. Blizzard tried to make this bearable to by allowing players to skirmish while they wait which is fun for a minute or so until you grow bored playing with no purpose at all.
Beyond the waiting for matchmaking, there's also the walk back. Overwatch
heroes cannot sprint. This makes for a painfully slow walk back after what is sometimes a very quick death. While in reality it's not too much time wasted (in one match I kept track, I spent about 20% of my time dead or walking back), it feels like an eternity and that is simply not fun. One of the heroes is capable of placing a portal for allies and the matches where those were available were by far the most fun simply because I didn't need to walk back.
Despite the problems, I can still faithfully say that Overwatch
is very good at what it tries to be - an arena shooter.
The variety in the heroes adds depth to the game. The cast of 21 heroes are all different. No damage dealer plays the same at all. The difference is not simply slightly different weapons and a unique ability like you might see in Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege
. In Overwatch
the playstyle of each hero is completely different.
For instance, Tracer and Reaper are both damage dealers and are the closest heroes I can think of. Tracer's combat revolves around zipping around very quickly with short teleports. Her weapons are dual machine pistols that expend an entire clip in less than a second. Her goal is to get in, unload, and get out. Reaper also has a teleport, but his is slow and covers a much greater distance. Instead of throwing off an opponent's aim and letting him escape quickly as Tracer's does, Reaper's is used to get in position so that he can ambush the enemy from the back. In combat he is also short range, but he's able to heal himself when he gets kills so that he does not necessarily need to flee.
The fun in this game comes from working with your teammates to pick the best lineup and then working together. Don't get me wrong - you can have fun going in solo, but you'll likely have a much better time teaming up with some friends. The game isn't perfect, but the groundwork arguably is. Blizzard may have a masterpiece on their hands if they're able to iron out the details and provide some great post-launch content. As it is now, I can safely say that the game is at the very least worth looking into if you're curious. For some, Overwatch
won't offer the kind of gameplay they're looking for in a game. For others, I've no doubt it's going to be the highlight of the year.