Overwatch – A Refreshingly Stylish Shooter | Review

In-universe, when the world needed the heroes of Overwatch they were nowhere to be found but thankfully they’ve come to our consoles & PCs at just the right time to save us from the onslaught of generic grey/brown FPS games. This is not only Blizzard Entertainment’s first original intellectual property in 17 years but also the company’s first foray into team based First Person shooters. Can the folks at Blizzard capture the objective and prove that they can still innovate or is Overwatch a causality of its own hype?

It is almost impossible to talk about Overwatch without acknowledging what little we do know about the project that preceded it – Titan, we do know for sure that it eventually became the team based shooter we know today after a lengthy development period stretching all the way back to at least 2007 and included at least one full project reboot. Blizzard has publically said that Overwatch is not only their first new franchise but also a redemption story for Jeff Kaplan and his team – who up until the game’s November 2014 unveiling had lived in the shadow of the other Blizzard development teams. Like the heroes that comprise Overwatch the development team behind this game experience a great loss before being able to climb their way back to the top.

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At it’s most basic Overwatch is a 6 Vs 6 team based shooter where co-operation and communication between teammates to absolutely vital to victory. Blizzard has taken hints from one of their other games, Heroes of the Storm, by eliminating the focus on kills (called eliminations in Overwatch) or the ratio between a player’s kills / deaths. Instead, teams must focus on the objective at hand – whether that is defending / attacking a given point on the map or escorting / stopping a moving objective called “the payload”. Player’s won’t find a traditional scoreboard upon death either, everything revolves the completion or failure of an objective and this gives players a sense of comradery even when playing with randoms.

Heroes are a core component of the Overwarch experience and the game does as much as it can, without locking you out of selecting certain broad categories of Hero, to ensure that your team is as balanced as possible. Each hero has a hand full of abilities which give them a unique play-style and toolkit but if you were to boil them down to the essentials you’ve got: Attack, Defense, Tank & Support. A successful team must be able to adapt their play-style and change heroes fluidly in order to successfully counter-strategies from the opposing team. A failure in maintaining a good team composition can make the difference between success & failure.

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Overwatch’s gallery of heroes sports a roster of 21 colorful and eccentric individuals. Rather than list all of them here are just a few of the heroes that I’ve enjoyed in the week since the game’s release:

Bastion – Categorized as a defense hero this robot is able to transform into a powerful stationary turret at the press of a button. A well placed Bastion is able to rip through an entire team minus a tank in just a few seconds flat. The downside to bastion is that it takes several seconds for Bastion to switch modes, so a well-placed Tracer can be an effective counter to our robotic friend. Bastion’s ultimate allows players to transform into a mobile tank delivering a near insta-kill concussive blast.

Pharah– This armor-clad security chief is a no-nonsense combatant. Welding a medium damage rocket launcher & thruster pack, former Quake III players will be right at home with Pharah. Her primary attack launches a rocket straight forward while her secondary move allows her to jet into the air for a couple of seconds before floating down. Perhaps her most devastating attack is her Ultimate which sees her rocket into the sky and unleash a barrage of missiles at a given target area.  If you’re looking for that old school arena FPS feel you can’t go wrong with Pharah.

D.VA – A professional Starcraft player who joined up with the Korean special forces during the story events leading up to the present. How did South Korea defend itself from the oncoming Omnic hordes? By allowing professional E-Sports players to pilot mecha, of course! D.VA has one of the highest health pools in the game and to offset this advantage her base damage is a lot lower than other tanks. She has a “defensive matrix” that allows her to negate all incoming projectiles in a frontal cone for a few seconds which is a great option when you are cornered waiting for teammates to help out.  Her ultimate is perhaps my favorite in the game – she sacrifices her Mecha, bailing out and overloading its engines causing a miniature nuclear explosion killing all enemies within line of sight. The destruction of her mecha isn’t the end of the game for D.VA either, she continues on foot with a smaller pool of health and a powerful pistol!

 

With little single player content, save for a versus A.I mode that is more of a training tutorial to get your feet wet with new heroes before heading off into the competitive mode no discussion of Overwatch can be complete without talking about the game’s community. For the most part it was smooth sailing in regards to fellow players but every so often one or two players would decide that they didn’t need to play the recommended roles – a sniper on an attack phase is totally a legit strategy and there is no way 6 tracers (who has a very small health pool) could go wrong /s. Overwatch is certainly one of those games where it is better to play with a full party of friends than just going it alone in the matchmaking queue. Also, given that this is an FPS – be prepared for “salty” players to hurl slurs at you and ignore objectives to play Overwatch like a team deathmatch simulator. Sadly, like most popular online games there is an element to the community that is outright toxic and they can sometimes ruin the fun vibe that Overwatch works so hard to create.

How did someone not realize that maybe this particular skin isn't the best idea?

How did someone not realize that maybe this particular skin isn’t the best idea?

Once you’ve mastered your favorite heroes and memorized all of the maps what is left to keep you coming back? Overwatch offers players experience after the match based upon a number of factors – damage dealt, healing done, number of eliminations, whether or not they were part of the winning team etc. Upon leveling up players receive a “loot box” which contains up to 4 collectible unlocks for their heroes – wheether that is a new skin, voice line or spray. These loot boxes are a great way to keep players engaged with the game long after they’ve seen everything there is to do, content wise. For some reason, Blizzard has decided to allow players to purchase loot boxes for .99 each, which would make sense if Overwatch was a free to play or budget title but the console version is a $74,99 CDN release. Also, some of the additional outfits are cool but hopefully Blizzard veers away from the cultural appropriation with the next infusion of unlockable content – one of Pharah’s unlockable costumes is literally a stereotypical North American aboriginal person complete with headdress. Not only does this make zero sense in the context of the character – she is of Egyptian origin – but a company as large as blizzard should be culturally aware enough to realize than an entire culture’s way of dress is not a costume for characters to throw on and murder each other in.

In the end, Overwatch is an entertaining and bright shooter than brings the popular “hero” mechanics from the MOBA genre successfully into the FPS space. With its focus on objective game types it does its best to ensure that every game is a fun experience, even if the community can sometimes hamper these efforts. At the heart of the game is its’ great cast of character, with 21 options available at launch players are sure to find a few heroes who resonate with them but even new players shouldn’t be afraid to step outside of their comfort zone and check out that one hero that they have 0 minutes of play time with. A lack of gameplay mode variety and some troubling unlockable costumes certainly take Overwatch down a peg but if you’re looking for that unique brand of Blizzard fun, Overwatch has your back.

 

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