Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Price: $59.99 consloles; $39.99 PC
Blizzard was once one of the count-on-one-hand number of companies in the video game industry that could do no wrong in regards to video game development. Then they were acquired by Activision, and stretched the sequel to the most popular RTS of all time, StarCraft, into three stand-alone games with stand-alone prices. Before Heart of the Swarm could follow up Sons of Liberty, (Acti-)Blizz bestows upon the world the (Real Money) Auction House in Diablo III. While it is true that the company redeemed themselves with Reaper of Souls, it appeared as if Blizzard was no longer the golden goose from the Diablo II and StarCraft days, and had somehow misplaced its muse in ways that remind fans that Valve does not know how to count to 3.
When (Acti-)Blizz revealed at Blizzcon 2014 that they would be venturing into a genre is already super-saturated yet for them, uncharted territory, I was ambivalent, still mourning the vaporware known as StarCraft: Ghost that has now been at least partially recessitated in the form of DLC. Whenever I would walk through an EBGames/GameStop and see the empty laced with Overwatch artwork, I remained incredulous. The simultaneous release warranted side-eyes considering the fact that all of Blizzard’s releases have been delayed to console (StarCraft 64, anyone?).
Yet Blizzard came looking for players like me. Hard. As I enjoy the NBA Playoffs during the month of May, a commercial for the Overwatch open beta airs. AAA-tier is big money now, purchasing commercial spots on networks airing playoff sports! Yet by the time I saw this commercial, I had already invested a dozen hours into the the game and could not wait to get back to it (well, after watching the Spurs…lose).
An example of the language filter.
Violence: I had always wondered how I could introduce my kids to the FPS genre. Splatoon would have been an option, but since December 2012, I have spent less than an hour on my Wii U playing multiplayer anything, and did not really purchase the system for that. I am pleased to report that there is not not even the blood that the ESRB rating claims exists in the game. Overwatch is Nickelodeon-clean despite all the gunshots, grenades, rockets, and energy blasts.
Language: I wish more games would include the profanity filter that Overwatch employs. It can be toggled on and off, but while on, the standard four-letter words will appear as “****.” I have not tested it to see if it catches other unsavory terms, however.
Just a Bastion doing Bastion things.
Drug/Alcohol Use: As part of his default skin, McCree constantly smokes a cigar.
Sexuality: Before its official release, there was a faux controversy concerning Tracer’s “over the shoulder” winning pose because it allegedly depicted too much gluteus maximus. Because vision of Tracer as a character is all about speed, she wears a speed suit. With the 2016 summer Olympics around the corner, those who find Tracer’s or D.va’s outfits revealing had better not watch any women’s track and field. Or men’s. On the other hand, the open chest of Widowmaker’s outfit is a throwback to MGS’ Sniper Wolf: unnecessary, but at least Overwatch‘s femme fatale is not in Alaska!
Spiritual Content: Zenyetta is a Bhuddist Omnic, so I avoid playing him. Mercy, who is usually an angel, has an (ugly) devil alternate costume. Finally, Reaper’s character is based off of the Grim Reaper, or Death.
Hammering away at the competition.
I will dispense with conventional review procedure and tell readers up front that Overwatch is outstanding. Extraordinary. Remarkable. Hopefully by the conclusion of this writing I will have composed something that looks more like a review and less like a fanboy tribute or gameplay guide. For posterity, I will begin with the worst part of the game, the graphics. By no means does Overwatch look horrible. In fact, Blizzard adopts the financially sound route of using a “new proprietary engine” that runs smoothly on multiple platforms and systems. My GTX 970 gets north of 200 fps on ultra-everything. This should be expected of an arena shooter, and while Quake III: Arena pushed the boundaries of how many textures could fit on a screen and still maintain a smooth 60 fps, Overwatch does not wow in the technology department so much as it excels in art direction—merely good graphically, yet stylistically exquisite. One would have to play a few rounds in the Nepal, Lijiang Tower, Hanamura, Hollywood, or Gibraltar maps to get a feel for how Blizzard deftly captures a vibrant aesthetic in each while juxtaposing temples and markets with spaceships, dojos with arcades, and movie sets with theaters.
More slicing and dicing.
My only gripe with the maps is that during any given session of Overwatch, it is possible to instance the same map multiple times, and never instance certain maps for days. Due to the inevitability of leavers and the ineptitude of of certain players (Overwatch will sometimes “search for a more balanced game” as a nice way of saying that someone sucks), games will auto-queue and place players in different sessions that may have already cycled through a map or not arrived at it yet. Leavers/poor play may trigger the “not enough players” event and re-instance again. I hope that Blizzard will create some motivation for players to stay in games so that people such as myself will not have to tolerate Route 66 three times in an hour.
Headshot. With a rocket.
As the sub-caption of this review states, Overwatch borrows heavily from Valve’s Team Fortress 2. However, Blizzard continues what it began with Heroes of the Storm by de-emphasizing KDR, and instead stressing the value of teamwork while conquering objectives. Overwatch includes the TF2 staple of payload maps (my personal favorite) requiring one team to escort an invulnerable caravan along a fixed path from one end of the map to the other while the other team stops them. Control point maps (aka King of the Hill) are my least favorite because the team that successfully captures the point first after it unlocks is usually the winner because the countdown to 100% keeps ticking even when the territory is being contested. I used to absolutely abhor these maps, but after I “got gud,” I can win them with more frequency. Assault maps, a throwback to the days of Unreal Tournament, are two-phase maps that begin as capture/defend point; if the attacking team succeeds in phase 1, phase 2 begins as a payload map.
Walking them down.
The maps are not the only area in which Overwatch heavily borrows from TF2. Heroes such as such as Junkrat and Mercy are almost palette swaps of the Demo and Medic, respectively—almost. Unlike the Medic who will find himself toe-tagged in a morgue should the person he was healing fall, Mercy can use the shift key to swiftly fly over to any ally within eyesight. She can also do this in the air, and use spacebar to float down gracefully. Junkrat owns a bear trap to deter flankers on his position, and a landmine that can be activated via thumb trigger o blow his foes to smithereens or “explode jump” to elevation. And yes, these things make him even MORE annoying than the TF2 Demo. Pharah, a female Egyptian soldier whose name is certainly derived from “pharaoh,” is the equivalent of the Soldier, but instead of rocket jumping, the suit provides jump jets for 0-damage, and fuel to float for a limited time that can be throttled to extend the float. Tracer, Overwatch’s mascot, stands in for the Scout. Her walking speed is average, but she is able to quickly phase in any direction up to three times before a cooldown activates. She can also “recall” herself to a previous location, also restoring health. Engineers will find Torbjörn appealing. Though his turret can only be upgraded twice rather than thrice, it can be rebuilt and upgraded at no scrap cost, and his shrapnel gun makes him more useful even on front lines. Here, scrap is used to provide teammates with armor. Widowmaker stands in for the Sniper and plays virtually the same, and there is no direct equivalent of the Spy or Heavy, whose roles are divided between other heroes. There is no sign of a Pyro-like hero…yet…though Winston’s electric gun has an AOE that reminds me of a flamethrower.
Wrong place at the wrong time.
Each hero is placed in a category of attack, defense, tank, and support, and the beauty of Overwatch is that these roles are more suggestive than static. For example, Hanzo, a sniper who uses a bow and arrow, is found in the defense category, but can be used on an attacking team. Soldier 76 from the attack category can likewise be used on a defending team, and so on. The key to Overwatch is finding balance: teams with two Junkrats can be an effective combo just as it can be detrimental. Of course, no one recommends or wants two snipers, and the game will tell everyone during the hero selection screen what is lacking in the team composition. Players being stubborn with their picks will find themselves playing alone, which is a an effective waste of time and exp. Just having a two person party grants a 20% bonus in exp per match. That is significant, and Blizzard’s way of encouraging the community to play nice. I personally make god use of the “avoid player” option to avoid those who are more interested in playing for themselves rather than the team.
Only the Medic in TF2 has an “ultimate,” but all heroes in Overwatch do. This magnifies strategy even more than the well-balanced maps and heroes alone. If, for example, the enemy is well-entrenched while defending, a team with a Mercy can suicide into the other team, weakening them and possibly forcing some ults of their own. Afterward, the allied Mercy can revive them all, thwarting the other team’s stout defense. Widowmaker effectively bestows maphack to the entire team, exposing enemy locations no mater where they are on the map (and thus, making it easier to predict an around-the-corner headshot). Symmetra provides a teleporter, reducing travel time to the front lines after an embarrassing death. Soldier 76 gives himself an aimbot so that he cannot miss. Winston goes straight ape, hopping around and smashing fools as an enraged savage, disrupting any sort of team synchronization while tanking heavy-hitters like bastion.
When you get PotG because nothing else better happened.
I try to avoid repeating myself when I write, but “balance” is a word I have used often in this review because there is not a more accurate word to describe Overwatch. There is a counter to everything, and even counters have counters. Because players can switch to any hero whenever they are in the spawn room, good matches with skilled players may result in a fury of hero switching to gain the upper hand. But even hero switching is…balanced…as this resets the hero’s ultimate meter to zero.
Ninja strikes from the shadows!
Earlier in this review, I describe Overwatch as stylistically exquisite, and proceeded to discuss the maps. However, the soul of the game lies in the sights and sounds of its characters. Sound is a critical feature in survival horror games such as Amnesia: Dark Descent, Five Nights at Freddy’s, or even Alien: Isolation; Overwatch is no different in this department with the exception of mood. Hearing McCree’s “It’s high noon,” sends the enemy ducking for cover and not knowing where lest they suffer a fatal headshot. On the other hand, if McCree says “Step right up,” his team knows that they can blitz the objective under the protection of his ult. Players react to Soldier 76’s “I got you in my sights” and “Tactical visor activated” in the same fashion. Lucio’s ult temporarily supercharges allied shields, and the difference between an allied or enemy buff is also distinguished by different quotes, “Let’s drop the beat” or “Let’s break it down.” Hearing the “zip” of shuriken alerts players to a Genji, while heavy footsteps indicate perhaps a Roadhog. The sound of a walking toolbox indicates a Bastion while the sound of skates certainly betrays Lucio. Genji and Hanzo speak in Japanese to enemies and in English to allies. Rockets, grenades, turrets, rifles, and so on all feature their own distinguished sounds that can be found nowhere but in Overwatch.
Blizzard has polished the aesthetics of this game so much, players might note when D.Va shoots, she uses her trigger fingers individually like the triggers on a controller as the twin joysticks of her mech light up upon each button press. Mei’s ice gun empties as its ammunition depletes while Zarya’s energy orb swells to reflect how much power it has absorbed. Allies to Lucio can witness him bebop to the sound of the music playing in his headset. This is just a few examples of the fine details Blizzard has integrated into Overwatch.
Ult combos are how to win games.
And now for a fanboy paragraph! Those who have been watching the videos might have noticed that I favor Genji. During the beta, I was garbage with him, but I have taught myself how to fight like a real ninja, because going in head-on is suicide. Flank. Pick off the back line. Find the snipers and wreck them. I do the same with Tracer, but she at least has a more direct approach, and her sticky grenade ult can be used to kill tanks, something Genji lacks (a Roadhog with 600 HP will hook and kill Genji before he can strike four times). Usually after capping the first point, I will switch over to another character because 200 HP is sometimes not enough to survive the final assault. Therefore, I favor Pharah because of her air superiority, and the fact that I played Quake III back in the day. I also play all but Zenyetta as support, and especially enjoy a good “shutout” match with well-placed sentries and teleporters with Symmetra. Zarya is my primary tank due to her ability to absorb damage to augment her own. It also helps that she can auto-heal the majority of her HP in shields. Every blue moon, I will play D.Va, but she is already so popular that I rarely get a chance to (I hate when there is more than one of any hero on a team. That is wasted potential!). I have recently picked up McCree and Mei due to their short range lockdown, and Soldier 76 is the only hero that I have had any luck with while defending Route 66. That still leaves seven heroes that I do not (hardly) play!
Probably my favorite PotG. So SNEAKY!
Overwatch is the kind of game that has sucked me into the vortex in ways that only DotA 2 could manage. There is always another round, another match, another player to meet and befriend, revenge to be had, trash to talk (though people are generally quiet on mics, most of my friend requests have been due to my leadership in bunker-busting tough defenses), different heroes to experiment with, and loot boxes to unlock upon level ups. I imagine that anyone who takes the time to play a few rounds will feel the same.