The launch of Overwatch (May 24, 2016) marks another successful entry into the pantheon of Blizzard Entertainment video games. Releasing on PC, Xbox One, and Playstation 4, Overwatch brings new life to the shooter genre. With one of the largest advertising campaigns featured on social media, it’s become fairly difficult to avoid the game. With a diverse cast of heroes in a superhero-filled era, sprinkled with a few pinches of the “Blizzard magic,” Overwatch is sure to be the next big game, bringing in a large group of players casual and hardcore alike. Does it hold up in the longer run, though?
Overwatch is quite frankly a stunning title. The attention to detail in Overwatch is enormous. From the environments, to the damage that players can inflict on the environment, and the interactions that the heroes have among themselves, it becomes readily apparent that a lot of time was put into the polishing of these characters. They look very similar to Pixar animated characters. They all feature their own unique personalities, voice overs, and lore to accompany it. Even with heroes that some of us may never use, they still manage to have their own unique appeal from a gameplay and lore perspective.
Gameplay is centered around objectives. Whether it be taking a control point or escorting payloads to a destination, the layers peel back like the layers of an onion, revealing just how complex the game is. Even with only 21 heroes, the combinations and strategies formed are endless with the ability to switch heroes on the fly to counter the opposing players’ strategies. Take that to various locales inspired by real-world destinations, too. From the glamour of Hollywood to the snowy streets of Russia, Overwatch covers its cultural bases quite nicely.
Each hero operates with several skills in his or her repertoire. They’re divided further into classes: offense, defense, support, and healer classes. Their skills can be used in-battle to offer advantages to differing situations, from offensive skills to supportive boosters. Each has an ultimate ability that can be activated once a percentage bar is filled over time and by damaging the opposing players. These ultimates, when timed properly, can devastate players and lead to crucial turns for objective seizure.
Players aren’t locked down to the roles of DPS, tank, or healing. In fact, it’s more of a crutch to be isolated to one role in this game. Stages are ever varying and some heroes take the spotlight in their varying roles, and these stages are what adds an additional layer of complication to the strategies. However, one criticism of the gameplay objectives centers around its quantity of varying objectives; the game feels a tad empty as it contains very similar objectives for much of the game. It’s either seizing a point, or escorting and defending an impossibly slow payload against the foes’ onslaught. Because of that lack of variance, some character formations become readily apparent. Common denominators to a team include characters such as Reinhardt, a Bastion corner squatting and destroying teams, Junkrat hurling grenades, or Reapers who appear in the flank with a well-placed ultimate move. Matches end, players gain experience points, which contribute to leveling up the player and rewarding them with new portrait frames or loot boxes, which provide cosmetics that do little other than to supplant player ego.
With the lack in quantity of varying objectives, what Blizzard could have done in turn is to add a story behind the lore. The lore is incredibly rich, too, and that’s what makes this a bit sad in some ways. The lore as presented by the shorts was incredibly well-done. In these clips, the heroes were seen fighting against each other for a glove; it’s therefore disappointing that these short video focuses didn’t quite make it into the final product. I guess that’s what the Brawls are for (matches where heroes have modified and wacky parameters).
The gameplay from a single player in public groups varies wildly from playing with friends. Even then, the games are still unpredictable and can end up going either way with the Overtime feature, which allows players to contest the objective at the very end of the skirmish. Many a game has been lost by players who could not survive the final push in Overtime. From hours playing each style, Overwatch is definitely more fun with a group of friends, as groups of familiar players can be much more coordinated than a random group of players who often aim instead for killing rather than pursuing the objective.
Gameplay complaints aside, Overwatch is well-optimized and is a title that can run on many a machine with little to no issues. From a Macbook Pro (Mid-2012 2.9GHz i7, 8 GB RAM, 1 GB integrated graphics card) running Windows 10 on Bootcamp to a Windows PC (i3 processor, GeForce 750 Ti 2 GB graphics, 8 GB RAM), both ran Overwatch without complaint, save for heating up in the former. If that’s one thing Blizzard has done well with its games, it’s their ability to run on underwhelming devices with adequate performance. The performance measured out at an average of 36 FPS on low settings on the Macbook Pro, and 64 FPS on high settings on the PC. Details showed up very nicely.
An honorable mention for Overwatch goes to the sound team for creating one of the best original soundtracks for a new intellectual property. The soundtrack to Overwatch is easily distinctive as a hero-themed soundtrack to match the characters fighting as heroes. Think the soundtrack to Disney Pixar’s The Incredibles. The music is often glossed over; personally, the music is one of the pillars that makes Overwatch as great as it is. From triumphant themes to feverish when nearing loss, the game’s got it all. I grew up playing music, and this game exceeds many expectations for a great soundtrack by sounding unique.
Secondly, Blizzard introduced a great feature for Overwatch that many have been left wondering as to why no other game has added such a feature; that feature is Play of the Game. The game monitors the match, and at the end, an algorithm decides which move was best, strategically. The results have varied drastically. While some plays have been incredible with team kills from well-placed ultimate moves or in general combat, other Play of the Games have failed terribly with players being left with a sense of wonder as to what the algorithm picked up. It’s hardly accurate at times, but it leaves a point of bemusement for the player to contribute commendations to at the end of the match. Unfortunately, players can be quite bitter and not vote either.
Several weeks past the release date, admittedly, the novelty to Overwatch has started to wear off a bit. This can also admittedly be due to wearing down from the preparations for E3 2016. I won’t rule it out. Blizzard has thankfully promised more downloadable content and independent patches by system, but overall, the game in its current state lacks that engagement factor that keeps me coming back to and yearning (key word!) Blizzard games constantly, like Hearthstone or Diablo III. With the upcoming release of a competitive ladder, I don’t quite believe it will be a significant addition to the game as much as other gameplay methods would. At a $40 price tag, it’s a tad on the pricey side in its current state, but it can be said without a doubt that Blizzard has still done a phenomenal job in its initial launch. I like Overwatch, but I don’t quite love it just yet. It has entertainment value, but it’s not lasting for me yet. The game is so close to being there, though, and with a bit of time, it definitely will hit that mark. With over seven million players to date, Overwatch has one bright future ahead of it.