Overwatch is the shot in the arm that console shooters so badly needed. While Team Fortress 2 was released back in the day on Xbox360 and PS3 with Valve’s Orange Box collection, it wasn’t kept updated in the same way that the PC version was, and pretty much failed to find an audience right off the bat. It’s been a long wait for a colourful shooter that combines the same focus on team work and playing your role right.
Overwatch is a vibrant, team based shooter by Blizzard by way of the MOBA game. Heavily inspired by the likes of League of Legends, DOTA 2, and Blizzard’s own attempt in Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch wants you to pick your class and play your role well. There’s no extraneous tat, no weapon drops or performance boosting cosmetics. There’s no in game levelling or persistent levelling system, it’s all about skill, team work, and knowing how to counter your foes tactics. The only items come in the form of unlockable sprays, emotes, and skins, which you can earn through loot boxes every time you level up. Or alternatively, you can spend some real world cash, but there’s no need. It’s purely cosmetic.
Overwatch has a total of 21 heroes from the off, each with their own very distinct abilities, strengths, weaknesses, and play styles. Be it sniper, tank, support, or attack characters, all core MOBA/MMO bases are pretty much covered here. The genius in the character balance is that in the right hand, every hero feels overpowered. Whether it’s series’ mascot Tracer’s abilities to rewind time and teleport forward, or sniper Widowmaker’s combo of sniper rifle and assault rifle, with the ability to grapple from danger or lay a mine to delay a pursuer. Even the support characters have great abilities. Mercy can fly to any team mate she can see in her line of site to heal or escape damage. She has a healing beam and an attack power boosting beam, plus a potent pistol. On top of that, her ultimate ability allows you to bring nearby team mates back from the dead, an action that can turn the tides of battle if you bring 2 or 3 friends back into the fray at a crucial moment.
There’s not a single character with weak abilities, and the variations in play style keep things constantly fresh. If you’re getting your ass kicked trying to be an attacker, switching to support to heal team mates, place turrets, or weaken foes is endlessly satisfying. If you’re tired of a lumbering tank like Reinhardt or Bastion, switching to the zippy Tracer or Genji can really switch things up. Speaking of Genji, there’s melee characters too. The green ninja can deflect bullets with his sword, do a killer dash and swipe, double jump, run up walls, and throw shuriken.
I could go on and on about the variety of characters on display. Not only are their skills varied, but so are their appearances, voices, and backstories. There’s an incredibly diverse array of faces on display here, with just about every nationality represented somewhere along the line. Overwatch has a hefty back story which isn’t covered in the game at all, but you can explore it further through Blizzard’s stellar animated shorts online, as well as a range of comics and supplemental material, and you will want to dive into all this. The characters are so vibrant, the world is so compelling, that you’ll be desperate to find more about what is going on behind all the team based action.
Overwatch is an explosion of colour and a breath of fresh air in a genre crowded by greys and browns and po-faced seriousness. Comparing the Gears of War 4 beta and the DOOM multiplayer to Blizzard’s shooter is like comparing black and white. There’s a playfulness here that has been missing from the genre for so long.
It’s not all rosy for Overwatch, however, and despite its innovations and varieties of play styles, it often falls into the same traps that other team based shooters face. When selecting your character before a bout begins, the game offers advice on your team composition. It’ll let you know if there are too many Tanks, not enough Support characters, too many Snipers etc. to help you along to understanding the importance of a balanced team.
This advice often falls on deaf ears. Even when defending an objective, you’ll often find your team mates opting to be attack characters. You might end up with two or three of the same character on your team, unfit for the current objective. Consistently, strangers online will pick their favourite characters and then run off, ignoring the objective and treating the game like it’s team death match. Every mode in Overwatch at the time of writing is objective based, but a good chunk of the game’s population apparently didn’t get that memo. I often find that I’m the only one interested in balancing the team, so most of the time I’m a healer or support character. They’re tons of fun to play as, but it’d be great to have a team who are more interested in balance.
The obvious solution here is to play with friends, and this is where Overwatch really rises to the next level. It’s soon becoming essential to play with buddies as well, as any halfway competent team out there of friends can easily demolish a team of strangers playing as whatever role they damn well please. With the lack of a ranked mode (Blizzard promise it’s on the way) at the moment, the clan teams and pro gamers are absolutely annihilating groups of random folks paired by matchmaking.
It’s the case in any online game, but at least in a team death match setting, one great player can lone wolf it to an extent and help carry a terrible team. With a team of idiots against a bunch of co-ordinated pros, it’s no fun at all in Overwatch, and it can be downright infuriating and frustrating. It’s a shame, and there’s not a whole lot Blizzard can do about it. Improved matchmaking and a ranked playlist will clear some of the issues up, but for absolute best results in Overwatch, play with friends if you can.
If you’re craving a team based, unique game with personality, excitement, and some of the best emergent moments of team work and skill you’ll experience in gaming, then Overwatch is a must own. If you’re a lone wolf who prefers to play solo and only plays online to hit the top of the scoreboard, then you might want to pass on this title, but trust me, you’ll be missing out.