Latest posts by Stephen Carr (see all)
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- Overwatch Review – Battle Boring? Far From It - May 27, 2016
Publisher: Activision Blizzard
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 (review platform), Xbox One
About three weeks ago, I had zero interest in Overwatch. I knew only two things about it: that it was an online multiplayer game – already a red flag for me as someone who tends to stick to single-player games – and that there was a minor controversy over one of the female characters having a sexy pose. In hindsight, that storm in a teacup probably did wonders for Overwatch’s publicity and it was the only reason I knew about the game’s existence in the first place.
Earlier this month, I checked out a stream of the final beta and watched no more than ten minutes of gameplay before I knew I had to play it myself. I played the beta for the final two days and it made me such a fan that I began hunting down every Overwatch-related news story and piece of media I could up until its release. Over the course of a few days, I had gone from not seeing a single piece of gameplay footage to pre-ordering the PlayStation 4 version.
I had turned into a fan overnight. It was so different from the online FPS games I’ve been used to; the Call of Duty series, primarily, but Battlefield and Bioshock 2’s multiplayer too. The inevitable comparison will be to Team Fortress 2, which is definitely Overwatch’s closest neighbour, but it reminded me of the PlayStation 2 TimeSplitters trilogy more than anything else, due to its bizarre cast of characters and fast-paced gameplay.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first though; Overwatch doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It’s a multiplayer first-person-shooter and doesn’t do anything spectacular to break that mould. However, its strength is in how well it does everything. From top to bottom, there’s very little of the game that doesn’t feel well-polished or worthy of a AAA game. It feels like Blizzard made fun the primary goal, rather than catering solely to an eSports crowd or encouraging high-level players alone. Instead of loadouts, you have an eclectic cast of characters to choose from, with varied weapons and abilities. Whereas in games like Call of Duty, the coolest stuff undoubtedly came from the kill streaks – attack helicopters, airstrikes, etc. – which could limit less-talented players’ enjoyment of the game, each of Overwatch’s characters have an Ultimate ability that charges automatically but rises more quickly when achieving kills. It rewards success but doesn’t alienate casual players. Simply put, you’ll be seeing and doing the coolest stuff several times a game and it feels rewarding every single time.
Basically, Overwatch wins you over with clever map design, a stable 60fps framerate, a variety of entertaining weapons and a charming, cartoonish aesthetic. There isn’t a single character who doesn’t drip with personality and expressiveness. It’s impossible not to appreciate the animation quality, from facial expressions on the character select screen to subtle in-game touches, like the way the attachments on some characters’ guns jiggle as they run and jump. The amount of polish and attention to detail can be seen in other minor touches too. For example, there is an explosives-obsessed Australian criminal called Junkrat who has a peg leg. It took me two days of playing as him to realise that he ran with a slight hobble.
The characters are by far the game’s strongest point, with designs that stand out immediately. Blizzard isn’t afraid of putting a gigantic German knight, industrious dwarf or shuriken-throwing ninja into the mix, even though it’s a sci-fi game set in the future. They don’t shy away from making characters that are weird (like Winston, the super-intelligent gorilla), ugly (like Roadhog, a morbidly obese post-apocalyptic psychopath) or sexy (like Tracer, the peppy English time-manipulator whose “controversial” derriere-showing pose was likely the first image of Overwatch many people saw).
In-game, the characters all feel so different to play and help the team out in different ways that it would feel wasteful to pick a “main” to stick with. One character can place traps, while another specialises in freezing her enemies solid. A couple of characters can build turrets, some characters have limited flight, one has a double jump, one can run on walls and so on. Blizzard’s ability to keep Overwatch feeling fresh is largely dependent on how fun each character feels to play and you’ll want to be good with each one. You’ll want to be able to say to your friends “I’m great with Hanzo” before going into a game and obliterating the opposing team with Hanzo’s amazing archery abilities.
There are 21 characters to choose from and 3 game modes spread across 12 maps. The game modes are all objective-based – escorting a vehicle, capturing a zone, defending a zone – so there aren’t any traditional deathmatch or free-for-all modes. To be blunt, the lack of game modes is Overwatch’s biggest flaw. A single-player story mode would be a lot to ask – even though the game’s mythology seems tailor-made for one in my view, with everything from evil robots to rebellious gorillas on the moon being enemies – but something like capture the flag would fit in perfectly, provided the flag-carrier’s abilities are appropriately nerfed (to prevent mobile characters, like the quickly-teleporting Tracer and speed-boosting Lúcio from annihilating the opposing team). As a TimeSplitters fan, I’d kill for a return of something like a single-player Challenge mode – something fun that doesn’t seem impossible to implement – but beggars can’t be choosers. I’d take any new modes Blizzard has to offer.
Each game gives you experience, and leveling up rewards you with a loot box. Each of these contains four random rewards, ranging from common to legendary. As a nice anti-frustration feature, Blizzard makes sure you’ll never go too long without receiving a legendary reward. These rewards are entirely cosmetic, ranging from skins, to victory poses, voice lines for your character to say in-game and more. To Blizzard’s credit, they went all-out when it came to creating skins for the game. The cheapest skins are palette swaps but the expensive, “legendary” skins are full of detail, revamping the character model entirely. They’re rewarding enough, especially with the prospect of more skins being available in the future, but it’s more likely that you’ll keep playing in the hope of doing something incredible, like wiping out the entire enemy team at once with your Ultimate ability, rather than because of the unlockables. Still, there’s a lot of them (at least 30 for each character), they’re a nice addition and it’s cool to have something that sets your characters apart from everyone else’s.
It’s likely that the main sticking point for many people looking to pick up Overwatch will be the price tag. If there’s one glaring criticism I have of the game, it’s simply that there isn’t enough content at launch to justify the cost, at least for console players. On PC, the base game price is a manageable £30. On console, the only option is the more expensive Origins Edition, which is around £42 plus the cost of PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live. That’s a lot. Even worse, the bonus skins you receive for the Origins Edition really aren’t worth the extra money.
However, there is a silver lining to this; the high price tag is somewhat mitigated by Blizzard’s pledge to keep all future DLC heroes and maps free. In other words, it’s a bit like paying for a game and a season pass in one go. It’s up to you to weigh up whether or not you think that’s worth it. For me, that’s what pushed me to take the plunge and purchase the game. The payoff seemed like it was worth it. As you might expect, microtransactions exist in the form of being able to buy more loot boxes. That’s somewhat disappointing but if it’s what keeps the future DLC free, it may be worth it.
The only other criticisms I have are relatively minor. I’d like to be able to choose a map to play on, for example, rather than waiting for it to come up. While Blizzard offers a “weekly brawl” mode – the usual game modes with crazy modifiers added, like double health, decreased ability cooldown times, random character switching on death, etc. – and allow custom games to use these modifiers, I’d appreciate a lobby for games with active modifiers too (so I can join games rather than having to invite people to them). I’d like a main menu theme that repeats instead of fades out. Little things like that.
Overall though, I haven’t been as satisfied with a game for a long, long time, and I say that as someone who was an ardent single-player fan before I played the beta. Overwatch has a charm to it that I can’t exactly put into words. It’s a credit to Blizzard that they’ve managed to take a genre where everything has been done to death and still make it feel fresh, exciting and packed full of charm. It needs more modes, there’s no doubt about that, and the price tag is steep unless you know you’ll love it or don’t mind shelling out for an online FPS. However, its quality is undeniable and the gameplay is just plain good fun.