Overwatch couldn’t have come into my life at a better time.
It’s no secret that I’ve been pretty burnt out on 1st person shooters lately. In fact, I haven’t really been engaged by a 1st person experience for a few years now. I brushed off the last few iterations of Call of Duty, Halo: Master Chief Collection was a broken steamer, and Halo 5 was a flashy letdown. Aside from the occasional romp through Counter Strike, shooters seem to have flatlined. To me, high profile, AAA shooters have turned into that, “end of the loaf that nobody wants to use for a sandwich”, genre.
My rebirth of social gaming
This stale taste has been a disappointing problem for sure. Not because I’ve had a lack of games to play; on the contrary, my queue is pretty full. It’s disappointing because I’ve lost the people with whom I’ve grown accustomed to playing.
Most of my life, I’ve had a specific group of friends I’ve known since childhood with whom I’ve enjoyed social gaming. Ever since the Halo 2 explosion, and the rise of online competitive shooting, these cool dudes have, for the most part, been in my life every day. I’m super thankful for that time.
Unfortunately for us, time is a cruel dickbag that comes around and tries to ruin all the good things in life.
We got older, jobs happened, I got married, life occurred. Heartbreaking as that already sounds, the games we played together became dull, and it became easier to do other things. Unfortunately, the easier those other preoccupations became, the easier it was to put those relationships on somewhat of a back-burner. We would try to play a game together, the fun would fizzle as soon as we realized it sucked, and that was that…
Then Overwatch happened.
Almost every night I’ve spent hours with these people. They’re back in my life in a big way, and I owe it all to Overwatch.
If you had told me that my likely candidate for Game of the Year 2016 would be a 1st person, objective based, team shooter, I’d have looked you in the face with a dead eye and kicked your shin.
I’ve dabbled into some wonderful games this year. The Witcher 3, Fast Racing Neo, Twilight Princess HD. They’re all stellar games that should have stole my attention. Alas, we are into June, and Overwatch is the game I’ve fallen madly in love.
Honestly, I had absolutely ZERO interest in this game until it launched. Shooters have sucked hard, and I’ve never played a Blizzard game for more than half an hour. (I actually had to make a new Blizzard account. Someone hacked my account for the gear I acquired during my VERY short lived trial of World of Warcraft. Then he changed all of my authentication info and the primary language is now something of Asian origin. Joke’s on you, dude. I didn’t exactly have the sword of a thousand truths.)
It seemed to me that both Overwatch and Battleborn were created as a way to try and force feed an esports market with titles people don’t necessarily want. I actually only picked up Overwatch as sort of payback. I’d made the mistake of convincing my friend Ryan that The Division was going to be rad and he should totally pick it up.
We all know how that turned out.
Anyways, I decided I’d give Overwatch a shot since those cool friends seemed really into it’s potential. Turns out, barely a week in and I’ve broken double digit playtime already. I haven’t been this excited for an FPS experience since the insanely under popular Gotham City Impostors.
Okay, I’ve finally finished fluffing up how excited I am over the game, let’s talk about why it’s so cool.
Overwatch touts itself as a 6 on 6 team objective shooter. Rather than a kill fest to 75 (ala Call of Duty), the point is not about how many kills you rack up, but how you help your team either attack or defend an objective. These can include things like escorting armored cars, seizing territories, etc. This might sound like just another disposable shooter; but it’s also a clear showing of Blizzard doing what they do best: Taking an effective idea and making it great.
At its core, Overwatch is a shameless love song to the nine year old Team Fortress 2. They both have a colorful stable of characters to choose from, and basically accomplish the same thing. They both have beautifully rendered colorful art styles, They both focus on specific objectives in lieu of straight up death match. Team Fortress 2 laid the groundwork for today and was fun when it was a young gun. As time passed though, it turned into the old man who refuses to die; cold and grumpy towards newcomers, it has developed a weirdly obsessive opinion on “My Little Pony.” Seriously, unless you fell into Team Fortress 2 half a decade ago, don’t bother. You aren’t welcome to the party.
On the other hand, Overwatch might as well hang up a sign that says “Come on in, the water’s warm.” Community is where this game stands apart from other shooters I’ve played in a VERY long time. It could be because the game is still so new, or simply that I’m still not used to a community of PC gamers being respectful. Where Xbox Live constantly hurls social garbage and threats of rape toward your mom (or dad), Overwatch has been blissfully pleasant. Rarely am I matched up with team members who aren’t willing to communicate and work together. Even opponents faced with a loss simply congratulate me with a “gg”. It’s so refreshing that I can’t imagine going back to a toxic player base like Call of Duty.
A colorful crowd
One of the highest points I can make about Overwatch is the roster. Diversity is key. Everyone brings something to the table, and can potentially affect each match in a big way. Instead of a generic batch of soldier/cyborg/alien/trope of the day that you slowly gives the best new gear, you get a colorful cast of well thought out characters. Each of these characters do something wildly different. Character is the keyword here for two specific reasons:
As soon as you enter the character select screen, you get a sense of what each character can do based on nothing more than how they look.
“Okay, this giant shapely fellow is obviously a powerhouse.”
“This cloaked guy definitely spends a lot of time in Hot Topic.”
It’s clear that a lot of thought was put into the way these characters look. Not only does this identity help give you an idea of what your strategy can be, it really helps identify your opponents. Gone are the days of being being unknowingly gunned down by that cookie cutter red robot man in the distance. Now you KNOW it was that person, unique from everyone else, and now you can better strategize for the next push.
Tell me more!
I could directly compare this point to the characters of another beloved game to me, the 2002 sleeper hit, Timesplitters 2. The two shooters share some of the same beloved characteristics, especially with the diverse catalogue of players. Not only do these guys look unique, they are genuinely interesting. The game gives you a brief “Yeah, so the world was at war or something so Overwatch was a force for good I guess” storyline, but the real story is with the characters. Through their simple backstories and scripted dialogue throughout matches, you get a brief look into who they are. Before matches begin, you can listen to characters converse between each other in ways that are specific to their personality. It gives a lot of flare to an otherwise boring waiting period. Also, if you hop over to the Overwatch website, you can check out some very well done character intro videos. Why these weren’t included in the final game are beyond me, but I want to know more about them. These are characters that are fun. I care about them. Fantastic, Blizzard. You’ve made me love things again.
None of what I’ve already talked about would make a lick of difference if the game sucked. So why doesn’t it? What makes it stand out in a literal cesspool of other FPS games that want my money? The answer is simple:
It’s easy to play.
Stacked onto what I’ve already said about how easy each character is to approach, Overwatch has abandoned the ever popular front facing systems of stat tracking and gear building. Instead of plastering my kill/death ratio all over my profile page and showing me how many kills I need to get the next cool perk, I have an exp bar and not much else. The experience I do get doesn’t have to cause confusion on what I should pick up next, I can just focus on the cosmetic add-ons that I like the best. It’s a very personal thing.
Sure it’s minimalist, but it’s also unintimidating. With other games, it’s easy to be bogged down and bummed out when the numbers don’t go your way, but with Overwatch, none of that seems to matter. I’m only ever being shown how my progress is moving forward, never how I’m holding myself back.
In-game is a similar story. We’ve grown accustomed to the idea that kill streaks and top talent are what give you the best rewards and it can be a bummer when you aren’t playing at that level. (Trust me, the crew that I run with are exceptionally more talented at first person shooters than myself. I feel this way all the time.)
What Overwatch does differently is throw that superiority complex in the trash and constantly gives you points towards special moves to help your team. Even when you’re not playing your best, you’re still going to get the chance to make big moves for your team. Novice players can make game shifting moves and save in the face of certain defeat. It’s exciting! As someone who has never been able to compete in FPS games on the level of others, I can’t begin to tell you how refreshing this feels.
So what’s the bad stuff?
This isn’t a fluff piece, and no game is without its criticisms. Granted, I did have to dig pretty deep to find them, but here they are.
Plopping down $40-60 dollars might seem like a lot of cash to spend on a game that is the younger cousin of a free to play title. The good news is Blizzard has promised that all Maps and Characters developed in the future will be a free addition. Literally the only thing you can spend money on in game is cosmetic. That doesn’t eliminate the concern of the game being too expensive, but personally, I’ve already put enough hours in to make the investment worthwhile.
Play of the game
After every match there is a brief cinematic replay dubbed “Play of the Game.” This is generally some kind of moment where a character builds a massive kill streak. It’s a cool show piece and gives that player a sense of temporary MVP status.
I’ve got two problems with this:
First, “Play of the Game” implies that what’s happening is game changing. I’ve played multiple matches where the moment on screen was chosen over scenarios that ACTUALLY affect the course of the game. A final push to victory by one person or someone successfully holding off an offense and resisting defeat. Limiting the POTG to one player who happened to get 5 kills in a row seems like it’s taking the rightful glory away from those well deserved moments.
Second, there are hardly any moments where this reward is given to a support class. I might be biased because I spend a lot of time healing, but there are moments where these POTGs are only possible because of the boost those support characters are giving to the powerhouses.
It is worth noting that Blizzard has already announced this issue is currently being addressed to give support classes a more fair chance at being the star.
So yeah, tl;dr, Blizzard’s Overwatch is a surprise home run. It’s easy to play, engaging, and most importantly, fun. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you ignore it. With the slow summer lead up to E3, there really is no excuse to avoid playing this game which guarantees new content and new fun for a long time to come.