December 11, 2019 at 3:07 AM #710
Rating: 4.0 – Great
Had 6 days, only needed 3
I like to completely finish games before I review them, so Overwatch is already tossing up some curveballs given it’s a multiplayer shooter without an ending. You shoot people until you get bored and that’s about it, it’s all very philosophical for sure. If that wasn’t unusual enough, I’ve gone one step further; I don’t even own Overwatch. This is my views from 6 days with the game over two free weekends, and astoundingly I think I understand it enough to rate it based off that tiny window. Without some arbitrary end point to tell me I was ready, I had to ask myself two questions to determine when I’d formed an opinion I could stand behind:
1) Am I confident I understand everything I’ve seen well enough?
2) Do I think I’ve seen all the twists and ideas the game has to offer?
Despite barely putting double figure hours into the game, I feel both answers are "Yes". My second free weekend played out exactly like my first one with some new levels and some arcade faffing about I skipped initially; there really isn’t much to the game. Besides, doing a review based off less than a week’s experience will make me feel like a big time professional. So why not do a simple review for a simple game?
Where’s the rest of ya?
I don’t do buyers guides. I don’t care about the value prospect of a game. I play games late so they’re usually the price of a pizza and a few beers by the time I experience them, and tying an opinion to the price of a game makes the views outdated as the market shifts; it’s cleaner to view things as if they were free. Sure I could give this a four and whinge about how they’re charging ninety dollars for 6 v 6 capture the flag in levels the size of an average laser tag arena, but then I’d need to factor in future sales or eventual price drops and constantly rescore accordingly, and that’s far too much effort for someone who reviews games after spending less time with them than with local law enforcement. No, I wouldn’t pay more than $25 for Overwatch, but does that stop it from being a ripping good time? Not in the slightest.
With that said, Overwatch certainly does feel disposable at any price. It’s a game to waste a little time on when bored or between activities rather than something to get absorbed in. This is in no way a dig at online multiplayer games; Battlefield 2 is one of my all-time favourites and it basically didn’t have a singleplayer aspect beyond bot matches, but it felt grand and substantial. Yes it was just capture the flag, but the levels were huge, the sides were fully fledged 64 soldier armies, there was aerial warfare raging in the skies above boots on the ground teamwork and vehicular mayhem; it felt huge and impactful. Overwatch feels like the multiplayer tacked onto the side of a proper single player or co-op game.
There’s an intro cinematic that talks about what the Overwatch is and discusses a new international threat, ending with a rousing "THE WORLD NEEDS US" speech, all implying a heroes vs robots PvE concept that never came to be. There’s mountains of "funny" and "entertaining" clips online about each character giving them a bit of either backstory or summary of what sort of person/monkey/robot/dwarf they are, often with little tie ins to individual levels like Junkrat’s "hilarious" list of crime instructions showing up in a level. It feels like there was meant to be something more than capture the flag over and over.
… But there isn’t. It’s capture the flag and that’s it. There isn’t even a mainline deathmatch option other than the waiting-for-game skirmish and a rotating range in the arcade. To be fair it’s three alternating types of capture the flag with the standard mode, another featuring multiple capture points owned by one side which the other have to take in succession, and the final one with a single cart to be slowly escorted across the level. The Arcade segment offers timed a rotation of novelties like a ball game, a robot culling hoard mode, elimination modes and so on, but they’re little more than disposable gimmicks and suffer from insane latency on my terrible Australian internet. There’s a training mode which isn’t viable since the practice robots don’t do enough to allow you to study many advanced abilities. That’s it! That’s literally all the stuff to do in the game. I really can’t overemphasize how light on material Overwatch is.
To be fair, if there was actual context to the action it’d be awful. The sense of humour is either cringey or pathetic, the attempts at being cool are juvenile, the hyper bubbliness of it all is very twee and the waifu bait stuff is lame. If I had to watch failed monkey comedy or Tracer trying to manic pixie dream lure me over to Deviant Art between missions I’d be pretty damn annoyed, so the lack of context isn’t damaging to the appeal. It’s a big colourful mash up of off-brand toys.
I need a hero! Waaahhhh-oooooooooo!
It may be terrible value for money but Overwatch is ridiculously fun for what it offers. I’m not sure how balanced it all is since so many of the same characters show up in every single round, but the cast of characters is exciting not for their art styles or "personalities" but the wonderful variety in how they play. Ostensibly there are four classes of hero: offense, defence, tank, and healer, and the variety within each of those subsets is wonderful.
There’s melee clubbers, assault cannon turrets, shield producing robots, anchor launching obese people, agile mages, explosive mech suits, revolver wielding cowboys and any sort of ill-fitting jumble of ideas you could think of. I can’t think of any I haven’t seen someone use well at least once, even if statically you’re gonna see an absurd amount of turrets and shotgun death wraiths. I have a couple of friends who play quite intensively and it’s really fun to see just how different our character preferences are. I can’t shoot worth a damn on consoles so I need explosives, health, large ammo capacity and tactical shielding or supporting healer duties. One of my friends is a twitch shooting master and chases massive damage headshots with low fire rate weapons. The other is tricksy like a rat and abuses mobility to get the jump on players with clever warping, flight or traversal powers. The fact that a single game offers something all of us can find enjoyable and be competitive in with such completely different approaches is incredible.
You’re bound to stumble onto something that clicks immediately simply by switching around characters after deaths, another few will click after playing a full round with them, and others make sense after witnessing other people absolutely shred you with them. Before you know it you’ve got a solid grasp on half the cast without even trying, learning is natural and fun. Overwatch nails the easy to learn, hard to master philosophy and it’s a joy putting it all together. Admittedly it doesn’t seem overly balanced, most players will learn a couple of characters in each class properly and ignore the rest since the learning period is pretty taxing on your team and ruining everything for everyone doesn’t feel great, resulting in a lot of neglected heroes.
Discipline through Punishment
Ruining everything for everyone is the big issue with the Overwatch‘s structure. With tight six member squads and four distinct class roles there’s not a lot of room for weak links, and given we’re real human beings chances are a couple of participants won’t perform their duties overly well every round. An average casual side can’t handle having a few outright spuds if the other side doesn’t have any and hasn’t completely ignored team balance. Things get awfully curbstompy awfully fast.
Blizzard’s fun time shooter is surprisingly one of the most crushingly one-sided team shooters I’ve ever played; win or lose the vast majority of games are devastating maulings. For a game as light and colourful as this one it’s shocking how hopeless it can be when it’s apparent you’re completely and utterly screwed and there’s nothing you can do on a personal level to stop it. You impotently get slaughtered mercilessly for two minutes and the round ends. It’d be quite nihilistic if it wasn’t so cheery. Most rounds suck, but you’ll probably inflict the sucky experience next time which is more pleasant.
You know those rounds of Call of Duty where your team gets belted 3 to one, but you do fine and rack up a top 5 kill count? Those don’t happen here. Characters are tanky, shields are abundant, healing can be applied from third parties; having massive damage delivered from multiple sources is imperative in delivering reliable quick kills. Being faster than your opponent to make an accurate shot isn’t going matter if the guy you’re shooting is backed up with shields, healing and support fire; it takes the whole team working together to survive long enough to overwhelm the other team. Everyone running in head on as they spawn one by one is a quick recipe for getting shredded, and most matches have one side that executes this better than that other.
But that’s just a consequence of the design philosophy and it does pay off, the big issue is how bad it feels to not only lose convincingly, but to also know you’re the absolute cause. Learning how to play new heroes is really fun, with the ones you suck at feeling particularly rewarding to finally comprehend, but every second you spend researching is a second you’re depriving your side of and important cog in the machine. It turns out getting curbstomped into a black and white neo-nazi flashback is a hell of a deterrent to education and eventually the process of understanding stops being worth the effort.
I’m lucky that I happen to love a couple of tanks and healers since most team selections begin with three or four people grabbing offense guys, leaving the stragglers to build a balanced team; careless experimentation is punished. I got a really cool looking skin for the Gorilla man, so I took it upon myself to learn him, and sure enough, not only was I terrible at him, I also took up our tank role without actually performing competent tank functions, and if we already did have a good tank on the side, we needed a healer, offense, or defence member, and my selfish desire to learn broke our balance by not covering one of our weaknesses, thus making an entire third of our side mechanically broken. I gave up after a round and a half of relentless slaughter and fell in line. Overwatch beats creativity out of players with enthusiastic glee.
One time out of ten everything goes perfect for us all
But then there are the matches with competitive sides, and it is phenomenal. When everything clicks and both sides have tightly balanced, well drilled teams the game is absolutely riveting. I’ve had matches conclude with perfect offensive pincer attacks to steal the win in the last 15 seconds. I’ve held capture points 99% to 0% only to be overran because the other side was so tightly structured they could repel all of our best tactics. I’ve held onto seemingly doomed matches for over 5 minutes with defeat one mistake away with perfectly balanced defensive play. Win or lose when it goes down to the wire it’s incredibly tense and thrilling, and feeling like a cog in a well-oiled machine that’s operating at peak efficiency against a genuine threat kept me coming back round after round.
All the curbstomping is a direct result of making these moments possible and it’s a price worth paying. In a game with larger squads you might be helpful to your team by tossing around healing supplies or laying suppressing fire, but you’re very much support; with just 6 players every little thing you do is integral to your side excelling, you feel important. Rounds where I do nothing but place defences and lay down support fire feel just as significant as ones where I rack up 25 kills. Healers often win player of the round. The importance placed on every player and every role leads to everything falling apart more often than not, but when it works it’s one of the most gripping experiences you can get in a game about teamwork.
Buy! Buy! Buy! Send more Money!
Man my musical references have been all over the shop today. Obviously I’m gonna have to go over the topic no one ever gets tired of hearing about endlessly, lootboxes! This is actually the first microtransaction laden game I’ve ever played, let alone lootbox game. This is opened up whole new depths of skeeze by not only selling items that are already in the purchased game to start with – literal money for nothing – but not even letting players know what they were buying, allowing for hundreds and hundreds of paid spins on the wheel with no certainty of reward. This is the game keeps it’s "specials" at inflated $65 by "adding" lootboxes to the deal, which again isn’t any additional content. It’s objectively disgusting, so of course I’ve got some passionate and gripping insights on this troubling, massive issue.
They’re s***. Moving on.
I wanted to leave it at that for the comedy, but this actually screws with the experience in ways I can’t help discussing, so skip to the next segment if you’re tired of the topic. When isolated lootboxes are a perfectly acceptable form of game progression at their core. Once I’d settled on half a dozen characters I was pretty good at and enjoyed, out of curiosity I checked out their little cosmetic touches and suddenly had goals I wanted to achieve in game, providing a context and drive Overwatch sorely lacks. My sessions quickly became "Gain a level" so I could make some progress towards my desired loot, which is perfectly fine. Having a random outcome for prizes can be fun if it’s reasonably presented, like how forging a perfect new weapon in Nioh can be a rush comparable to beating a brutal boss. But money just screws with everything.
By level 17 I had 250 gold from duplicates. My most wanted skin for my favourite "main" cost 3000 gold. Sure, my gold rate per level would increase as I ran out of trash drops, so it wouldn’t quite take 180 levels at about an hour each to buy it, but this is clearly money’s fault. The amount of fluff is completely unreasonable for a real progression system, with Blizzard clearly pushing the numbers out to absurd degrees to incentivize just buying extra rolls at it. Unlocking everything would take thousands of hours; it’s not meant to be playable. If the amount of crap was cut by half, boxes had 6 items each and duplicate cash rewards were twice as high you’d have a proper 300-500 hour playtime to collect everything which would work as a solid hook for devoted players, but it isn’t. It’s broken because Blizzard and Activision are scumbags who hate you.
Blizzard’s take on matchmaking is a bit different from other shooters I played in my youth, but I am a decade out of the loop. In place of stable servers you join and travel along predetermined path with, Overwatch seems to make a whole new matchmaking group with each level created, with some limited freedom to stay in teams once you’ve played a match together. This changes a little in ranked matches which are accessed after reaching level 25, but given I only played like 15 hours I’m gonna focus on quickplay.
Rounds don’t flow back to back and you’ll routinely be kicked back to waiting skirmishes between proper bouts. This is justifiable given unbalanced match ups can’t be competitive due the small team sizes, but it’s considerably slower and more irritating than what CoD4 was offering a decade ago. Rounds will start but be quickly abandoned if a couple of players bail during the setup, resetting the whole process. Skirmishes will often empty out entirely so you’ll be forced from one boring time filler scrum onto another one back-to-back. The longest time I spent looking for an actual game was twelve freaking minutes. I get that a rolling server where people can come and go with sides never being more than a couple of players short doesn’t really work here, but it’s still rough.
That’s all folks.
Overwatch is a ripping game that can easily supply countless hours of fun, frustration, and disheartenment. If you’re someone who looks at value purely for Hours vs Cost you’ll be fine, I could easily chuck a hundred hours into this without even caring, but it is a simple, content light experience without a premium wow factor. There’s really not much to go into, it’s a bright and flashy explodey fun time which has far fewer good games than it deserves, but the good ones are so stunning that it’s hard to not give into the "just one more round" draw. This is the first console shooter I’ve really loved since the PS2 days, it’s accessible yet stimulating once the balance is understood, and that combo is absolutely perfect for some carefree disposable fun.
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