Overwatch – Review
Pc, Xbox One, PS4
Overwatch was one of those games I was going to not bother with. I’m not really a fan of most multiplayer shooters and I’ve got plenty of games I’ve bought that scream out to be played instead. I had read a bit about it and saw all of those ‘butt pose’ articles, but that was going to be that. Hewso, our benevolent overlord, changed all that by handing a review copy my way. After popping the download code into my XBone and spending some quality time playing it I quickly realized that missing this title would have been a total, total mistake.
Overwatch comes from that gaming addiction company Blizzard. They’ve given me many mouse clicks with games like Diablo 1 – 3 and the magnificent Starcraft games (still my favourite RTS games, hands down), but WOW was not really my thing. It has been a long time coming for an original IP from Blizzard and Overwatch provides yet another rich and immersive gaming world to get lost in for hours. And on consoles no less.
Online shooters follow a pattern of many maps, many guns, upgrades and levels. Whether you play COD, Battlefield or Counterstrike you’ll know the drill. Some of these work and capture millions, others like Evolve and Titanfall have quickly faded away. Overwatch feels fresh and familiar. It oozes charm and simplicity but is hardcore in all the right places. It is damn near close to gaming perfection.
Story-wise, the world has been overrun and I have to save it by shooting other players in small maps. I know this because a talking gorilla told me. I could choose from 21 different characters, each unique, to achieve this and make my gorilla boss happy. Each game is a 6v6 shoot-fest involving human controlled players either capturing or defending key control points and that’s about that. The game modes are simple and familiar to anyone who has ever played an online shooter. Some players may walk away from this thinking that there is nothing new on offer. Don’t do this. Please stay.
Each game begins with your team waiting for a countdown. A team is chosen at a menu screen and an advice column will pop up to admonish your choices. Team balance is crucial, and it’s a beautiful thing. There are defensive and offensive heroes, snipers and builders, tanks and healers and each can help you win. If you like to be the hero, chose a gun happy thug or instead you can buff from a distance or build ice-walls and set traps – I love it! Overwatch feels like a shooter / MOBA hybrid. I know others have done it before but this game is all smooth lines and polished playing. You know an enormous amount of work has been put into getting the balance right because the shooting is crazy fun. When killed, players can even swap characters, making for a tactical smorgasbord of approaches against the opposing team. Characters that initially seem over-powered, like Bastion, can be brought low by clever choices (use Torbjörn!) or team up with another player to combine your skills. It’s all about being versatile.
Graphically, Overwatch is pretty. It’s cartoony and colourful and runs super smooth. The characters are brilliantly designed, mixing cartoony fun with a cool design. Influences run from anime to Warhammer to Street Fighter and each character is full of charm. Each map continues this design theme, and although they are small, they are littered with tunnels, platforms, choke-points and cover. It has been awesome to see how quickly the cohesive design work shown in this game has been embraced by the cosplay community and the standard has been high.
If I had any criticisms it would be that there isn’t much variety in game types. Really it boils down to escort or attack and defend points on the map. Game sessions are relatively short meaning that epic shootouts are harder to come across, but there is a hectic nature to the gameplay where winning or losing comes quickly. Loot (it is a Blizzard game after all) comes in the form of skins and voice unlocks, which don’t motivate me in the slightest. It is certainly a bold move to not be able to upgrade your character stats, RPG-style. If you want to improve your character’s stats, improve your skills as a player instead.
It is worth noting that such a major release has been embraced so overwhelmingly positively by critics and by players. Podcasts, articles and analysis of gameplay abound and surely it can only grow from here. Many gamers have shooter fatigue and even Destiny looks to have peaked, leaving mainly its dedicated grinders. Overwatch looks set to claim a new crown, not only for online gaming but hopefully for esports as well. I’m looking forward to learning tactics from clever players and getting the most from each character.
Overall, I really hope that Overwatch is here to stay. Blizzard has hinted at extra game modes and more content to come. Bring it on!