Current Obsession: Overwatch

Steve Mullis
Jun 18, 2016 · 5 min read
(Blizzard Entertainment)

Unless you’ve been under a rock or just not keeping track of the gaming world, you probably know by now that Overwatch, by Blizzard Entertainment, is a massive hit. Released to the public on May 24, the game has already hit 10 million players and its robust competitive and fan community grows everyday. And I am among them and have been on board the hype train since I downloaded the first beta. It’s super fun, super fast and looks great. But for those that are still on the fence, let’s look a little closer.

What Is Overwatch?

Overwatch is a competitive, first-person shooter produced and published by Blizzard Entertainment, makers of among other things, the World of Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo franchises. Though some have tried to make comparisons, Overwatch is NOT similar to MOBA games like League of Legends, Dota 2 or the recently released Battleborn. While you do pick from a variety of “heroes” that each have unique abilities and roles, any similarities end there.

The playstyle is more akin to games like Counterstrike, Team Fortress 2 and other competitive shooters. Two teams of six players square off against each other on various map types, often either playing offense or defense, pushing a payload or capturing/defending a point. The basics are pretty standard FPS fare and the game is relatively simple to pick up. The overview of each hero fits on one screen, which is conveniently always at the touch of the F1 key if you need a refresher. But their skills are deep enough to reward players that practice and learn how to get the most out of each hero and work well with the team.

What really makes Overwatch pop is the crisp art style, the variety and interaction of the heroes (the roster currently stands at 21) and the tight balance and polish of the maps Blizzard has created. It’s something Blizzard has become famous for now: take a concept, boil it down to its essentials and polish the heck out of it. They did it for MMOs with World of Warcraft; they did it for action RPGs with Diablo; they did it for RTS games with Starcraft; they did it with card games with Hearthstone; and now they’ve done it again with FPS shooters. (I will say that Heroes of the Storm, their attempt at a MOBA, was a bit of a miss IMO, but still followed that formula.)

Spit-Shined And Polished

One of the things that has been most appealing to fans and reviewers, besides the fun gameplay, has been the equally gorgeous and polished art style. A mix between Pixar and Japanese anime, the characters all pop with enough style and personality to make a game that actually doesn’t have a single-player story mode feel alive.

Built from the remains of Blizzard’s cancelled Titan project (what was to be its next MMO), Overwatch has a fair amount of background and lore. But instead of wasting development time on an ill-fitting storymode, Blizzard chose to tell the story of Overwatch with supplemental materials like animated shorts and web comics. Personally I think this was a great move because frankly, for the genre, knowing the lore of the game doesn’t really matter or contribute to the core fun factor. It’s simply window dressing (but really great looking window dressing).

That attention to detail, I think, sets Overwatch apart. All of those interesting lore details exist in the characters and game world (seriously, explore the maps), but don’t get in the way of the actual game. All of the colorful elements exist just on the fringe enough to not distract you from the game, but still contribute to bringing the game to life.

Go Team!

Team play is highly emphasized in Overwatch. In fact, you really can’t win unless your team is working well together. Rarely will there be that one player that just completely carries the team to victory (though it does happen in rare instances).

To keep players focused on team play and less on individual metrics, Blizzard chose not to have the game display those metrics as a normal part of the gameplaying experience. You can still see your stats on another screen, but they are not part of the victory screens at the end of the match. Players can earn rewards (cards) for accomplishments during the game, mostly focused on things that contribute to the team, but most other stats typical of team-based shooters are hidden from the other players.

This is all in the effort to avoid the toxic communities that can often form around competitive games, where other players can have numbers to pick apart a low-performing player. And while not a complete panacea to the problem, it works well enough right now. Even when other players do get a little rowdy or too critical of others, it is relatively simple to mute that player and/or mark them to be avoided by the matchmaking system. Again, it’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction for competitive games that want to build a robust and positive community. This effort is still in the early stages, so it will be interesting to see how it pans out when the Ranked/Competitive mode is released later this month.

The Warts

No game is perfect of course, despite my obvious fawning. And Overwatch still has some kinks to work out. Like all competitive games, especially ones that have aspirations to be a major player in the e-sports circuit, there are balance issues that need to be handled between heroes and map bugs and exploits that are being taken care of each day. But Blizzard is well-known for listening to and responding to the community that plays its games, and they are already continuing that tradition with Overwatch. Just this week, they patched two characters considered overpowered to make playing against them more fair. The large majority of players responded positively to the updates, even those that favor the “nerfed” characters (Widowmaker and McCree, for those keeping track).

Another, I guess you could call it, side effect of the art style, is the rather unsettling amount of Overwatch fan art porn that has surfaced. While you can avoid it, and with a game this big that features quite a few female characters it is rather inevitable, Blizzard is taking steps to crack down on it as much as they can to protect their property. And most of it is banned on major communities devoted to the game.

Should You Play It?

If you like fast-paced, competitive games, then yes. It’s a great addition to that genre and a game that I have been thoroughly enjoying. The characters, the gameplay and the assurance from Blizzard the regular and interesting updates are on the horizon (all for free, we’ve been told, minus the initial cost of the game), make it a game worth picking up.

And if you want to play Overwatch (or Hearthstone) with me, add me on Battle.net. Battletag: PureGonzo#1639

Steve Mullis

Written by

WEB JUNKIE. JOURNALIST. CRITIC. MAVEN. BLABBERMOUTH. Digital news editor in D.C. @NPR.

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