NOT AN OVERBOTCH (I’M SO SORRY)
By Sam Jones
DEVELOPER: Blizzard Entertainment
PUBLISHER: Blizzard Entertainment
INITIAL RELEASE: May 24, 2016
GENRE: First person shooter/MOBA
Well folks, it’s finally here. After what feels like ages of anticipation, expectation, and hype, the single most long-awaited release of recent memory has finally arrived.
That’s right: my review of Overwatch is finally here (HYPE FIRE). Oh yeah, I guess the actual game’s out too? Not that anyone really gives a shit about that, just thought I throw that out there. Y’know, just give Blizzard the ol’ Jonesy Bump. I do like to help out the little guys now and then.
In all seriousness though, Overwatch has proven to be one of the most anticipated and hyped big-name game releases of recent memory, and is arguably leading the charge in the next phase of the MOBA life cycle, which is apparently crossbreeding with FPS games. The question is, does it live up to all the hype?
In Overwatch, players assume the role of one of 21 different unique characters, and compete against each other in teams of six, being able to seamlessly switch between different characters at will, across a variety of globetrotting maps. If this is a format that sounds only vaguely familiar, its probably because you played Team Fortress 2, and Overwatch does indeed bare a great deal of surface-level similarities to Valve’s oddball team shooter (less hats though). All told, I wouldn’t say this is a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, and I would in fact say it’s a credit to Overwatch that its taking a familiar formula and trying to build on it and give it its own unique twist. While not quite as eccentric as TF2’s cast of sociopathic weirdoes, Overwatch’s characters are nevertheless a colorful and diverse bunch, and in some cases boast some truly great and memorable designs, even the ones that are memorable because they are so terrible that they make me want to sleep and never wake up (looking at you, Reaper). Each character has a different role in the team, whether that’s attack, defense, tank, builder etc., and for the most part, every character feels like they have a particular niche they fill nicely, although there are certain characters, such as Roadhog or D.Va, who sometimes feel like they either don’t really fit in anywhere, or that wherever they could fit in is a role that already better filled by another character. That being said, this isn’t a huge issue more often than not, and you’ll generally find you don’t always need a perfectly balanced team to have an enjoyable experience (although it helps).
In terms of game modes, Overwatch gives players a selection of 4: Control Point Attack/Defense, which is fairly self-explanatory; Capture and Hold, which is a king of the hill type mode where teams battle for one central control point; Payload, wherein players have to take turns escorting and preventing a payload from reaching its destination; and Hybrid, a combination of Control Point and Payload. While the sameness of the modes and the only fairly small selection of maps on offer might make Overwatch seem somewhat limited, it’s worth mentioning that each map has been carefully crafted to fit its respective game mode, and are loaded up with enough fun little nooks and crannies and subtleties that the maps avoid feeling too repetitive. That said, however, despite ostensibly having four game modes, the fact that two of these game modes are essentially just repurposing and recycling of the other two really brings it all down to one of two objectives in each mode (or both), which means regardless of the map, you’re gonna be doing the same one or two things a lot, so here’s hoping Overwatch adds some game modes with a tad more variety down the line.
The gameplay across the board strikes a nice balance of fast-paced and high-energy, while avoiding being overly frenetic or chaotic: while things can sometimes get pretty nuts, you’ll generally never find yourself completely lost or confused. Another great aspect of Overwatch’s gameplay is the way it strives to make the experience as positive as possible for everyone. A really great example of this is the fact that Overwatch doesn’t really have kills, but eliminations: and in order to get an elimination, you just need to deal damage to an enemy that eventually gets taken down, without necessarily needing to deliver the killing blow. It’s a great idea, and one that really makes you feel great as a player, since it means even if you’re not great at securing kills, you’ll still feel valuable and useful to the team because anything you do contributes toward an elimination for you and the team. Even better is the fact that you can only view your own score and stats, and no-one else’s, meaning teammates hopefully have far less menas to get unduly salty at teammates they feel aren’t performing up to snuff. As someone who has long grown tired of the way multiplayer games often foster an extremely negative and toxic player environment, I greatly approve of Blizzard’s efforts to make Overwatch an relentlessly positive experience, even if its not always successful.
And it’s only now that I’ve noticed I’ve gone this whole review without even talking about Overwatch’s visual style. Suffice it to say, its pretty great. Having gone with the whole “broad appeal”, Blizzard’s approach to Overwatch’s visuals is on that blends cartoony embellishment with bright, bouncy animation that is strongly reminiscent of something out of a Disney Pixar film: the whole visual experience is both very clean and extremely smooth, adding up to an highly appealing experience on the graphical end of Overwatch’s spectrum. The interesting thing about Overwatch’s bright, clean cartoony atheistic is that it feels very at odds tonally with the darker aspects of the game: the clean and bloodless nature of the gameplay is at times clashes more than a little with you mowing down foes en masse, as you may well often do, and some of the darker and grittier characters, like Widowmaker, Soldier: 76, or (God help us) Reaper, actually feel they’re in the wrong game entirely. But again, this is a fairly minor point in the grand scheme of things.
Really, the biggest knock against Overwatch is its lack of any kind of catering to the solo/single player oriented gamers out there. Overwatch lacks any kind of single player story or campaign mode, and while it does offer a custom mode that allows for single players, its lack of options and restrictions are hardly satisfying for the lone player. It’s a shame too, because for all the effort Blizzard went to in creating Overwatch’s world and backstory in the background of the game world and in supplementary and spin-off material, Blizzard probably could have used that to deliver a pretty great campaign experience.
All in all, Overwatch is a wonderfully enjoyable multiplayer experience. Fast-paced, vibrant, and with plenty of personality, anyone with even a remote interest in multiplayer-geared games and shooters generally will get a lot of joy out of Overwatch, even if its lack of game mode diversity sticks out more than a bit. Add on top of that promised completely free future add-ons and content and there’s little reason not to give Overwatch a go.
Really, the only folks I couldn’t readily recommend Overwatch to is anyone hoping for something with a bit of love shown to the single-player crowd, since Overwatch provides very little outside its multiplayer experience.
But hey, if that don’t bother you, then go forth and watch alllll the overs.