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A Review: Overwatch

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    Rating: 4.0 – Great

    A Review: Overwatch

    To say that Blizzard’s team-based FPS Overwatch has shaken up the gaming community would be one of the greatest understatements in the industry’s history. First announced at Blizzcon 2014, the already well-established company’s new IP turned a lot of heads for many reasons over the next two years until its release date. The immediately charming cast of characters, the advent of character-based shooters on consoles, and a stunningly well executed marketing campaign all proved their worth in moving units and meeting sales quotas. Overwatch quickly became one of the most (if not THE most) hyped game in recent memory. As is the case with all hype trains, however, some will ultimately climb to success while most are destined to crash.

    In simplest terms, Overwatch is an objective-oriented team-based competitive first person shooter that borrows elements from many genres. As a character-based game, it features a wide cast of 21 playable heroes who each have unique abilities that serve distinct purposes in game. Conceptually, between skill cooldowns, Ultimate abilities, niche characters, and an emphasis on methodical objective play, everything about Overwatch screams MOBA. However, after some hands-on play time, it becomes clear very quickly that it’s a shooter first and foremost. The game’s tutorial character, Soldier 76, acts as a plausible segue for your typical shooter player into some of the more advanced and mechanic-heavy characters in the game. Once you get into a game, characters are organized into four categories for you to choose from: Offense, Defense, Tank, and Support. It’s worth noting that even though they’re classified into overarching categorizations, each character is unique enough to warrant a completely different playstyle from one another. Take these two Assault heroes for example: Soldier 76’s skill set is good for holding and pushing a frontline, while Tracer’s excellent maneuverability and low health makes her a skilled yet fragile harasser.

    Every character in the game is easy and accessible in learning how to play, yet the skill gap for each is so high that mastering their individual playstyles will only come with hours upon hours of use. The diverse amount of abilities that different characters bring to the table all serve a practical purpose, but there’s also plenty of room to use these abilities in creative combinations. D. Va, a Tank characterized by her use of a deployable mech suit, can combine her rocket propulsion technology with a manual detonation function and launch an exploding metal robot into the heart of the enemy team. Zarya, another tank, specializes in energy weapons and team buffs. Her Ultimate, Graviton Surge, allows her to fire a gravity bomb that sucks enemy players into it, rendering them immobile. It’s often used in combination with offensive characters to deal massive amounts of damage to grouped enemies. Alternatively, it can be used to pull the enemy team off of the objective, allowing the clock to run down or granting your team a second wind.

    From the main menu, selecting "Play" will quickly matchmake players into lobbies of twelve who are then divided into two teams of six. The game ships with twelve maps and three game modes, and each map is designed around its specific objective-centric game mode (think Rush in Bad Company 2). The game modes Escort and Assault both designate an attacking team and a defending team, while Control pits both teams against each other over a neutral King of the Hill style point. There are also three "hybrid" maps, where the attacking team starts off capturing an Assault objective which then transitions into an Escort objective. Because of the constantly shifting situations a standard match presents, playing the same character for the entire game may sometimes prove disadvantageous. While most MOBAs lock players into chosen characters at the beginning of games, one of Overwatch’s strengths is the ability for players to freely choose if and when to switch characters during matches in order to meet current requirements. For example, on a Hybrid map that starts as Assault and later becomes Escort, one might play as Genji in order to dislodge enemy snipers and assist the attacking team in securing the control point. Once the objective transitions into the payload that the team must deliver manually, it might benefit the team for Genji to switch to Reinhardt in order to provide a mobile shield and closer range threat. In this way, Overwatch separates itself from both traditional shooters and traditional MOBAs, becoming an inventive amalgamation of the two genres.

    It’s important to note that Overwatch is a multiplayer only title. Before the game’s release, there was some speculation as to whether Overwatch would have a story component akin to Titanfall, where the story campaign would take place over the course of a series of multiplayer matches. It does not have any single player content, instead relying heavily on replayablility and enjoyment to keep players engaged. This is not a criticism; it’s just a critical piece of information to take into consideration when deciding to purchase this game. If you don’t like competitive multiplayer games, this might not be the one for you. You can play against AI opponents with custom settings, but you need to be online to log into the Blizzard servers, and if you’re that far, you might as well just play online.

    It feels unorthodox talking about a game’s marketing campaign in a review of the final product, but as I mentioned briefly in the first paragraph, Blizzard absolutely blew me away. Potential customers were introduced to the world of Overwatch through a series of animated shorts that, for as brief and ultimately unrevealing as they were, really drew viewers into the new world. By the time the final short, titled "Hero", was revealed a week before the game’s final release, Overwatch was situated neatly in the center of the gaming world. Taking off my reviewer hat for a second, the energy was absurdly intense all across the internet. That’s why I was a little disappointed when the game finally released and it was confirmed that there were no story components in the finished product. It irks me how this expansive world with complex characters was built for a game with no storytelling elements, and while I have no doubt that Blizzard has plans for the story of Overwatch, it’s a criticism that I know many others share too. Outside of a few haphazard bits of dialogue, the animated shorts, and some map queues, there’s really no indication that the game has any story at all.

    Aside from the core multiplayer game, Overwatch also has plenty of unlockables. Each character has 54 in total, which are all cosmetic and have no impact on gameplay at all. Players have a variety of poses, emotes, skins, and one-liners to unlock for each character, but unlocking what you specifically want can lead to frustrations. Every time you gain a player level from experience earned in-game, you are rewarded with a Loot Box. You can also purchase Loot Boxes with real money via microtransactions. Each Box can grant you up to four random items with higher tier items having a significantly lower chance of dropping. Boxes can also drop Credits which can be used to simply purchase what items you want without the added RNG. Duplicates in Boxes can also be exchanged for credits. While I think this system is smart in avoiding the pay-to-win effect, the problems it generates are threefold. First, it’s painfully obvious that it was implemented in this way to add artificial longevity to a multiplayer-specific title. Second, the RNG nature of opening loot crates can be frustrating and currency drops are often too small to lead to quick and satisfying rewards. Lastly, unlocking everything will either be a completionist’s Nirvana or their worst nightmare. Assuming that Loot Box conditions are favorable – meaning no duplicates and no currency drops – my extrapolation puts players at level 284 before they finally unlock everything. Take that how you may.

    If you really want to break it down (@Lucio), Overwatch doesn’t really have that much content for a full priced retail release. Twelve maps and three different game modes with no single player component is undoubtedly off-putting to most potential customers. However, I wouldn’t come shy on saying that Overwatch is easily one of the most fulfilling multiplayer experiences on the market right now. Characters are excellently balanced outside of professional play, the story elements have limitless untapped potential, and (unfortunately) it’s very rare to find a multiplayer game that actually works as intended on release. Outside of the multiplayer audience, Overwatch has limited appeals and many shortcomings, but it is a multiplayer title at heart and should be judged as such. For Blizzard’s first venture into the first person shooter market, it’s safe to say they did a fine job in making a stable, well-designed game with many facets and a yet indeterminable skill ceiling.

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