Not long after the game’s launch in 2016, I bought Overwatch out of curiosity. It was the biggest game in the world at that point and I wanted to see what the hype was about. As much as I enjoyed it back then, it quickly fell out of my rotation, as I was still investing most of my competitive gaming time into Street Fighter V, and just starting to ramp up my obsession with Pokemon Go. Despite my own pressure and poking from myself and others to get back into it, the game collected dust on my shelf.
Inspired by the recent release of Paladins on the Nintendo Switch, I’ve found myself falling in love with the hero shooter genre as a whole in a big way.
My love for competitive shooters has come in waves. The first one for me was the Goldeneye 007/Perfect Dark era. Though I had played Wolfenstein 3D and Doom by that point, those were single-player experiences for me, as I didn’t have the means to play those online. Besides being an amazing game for its time, the novelty of facing off against my friends in the same shooter was an experience unlike any other at the time. Between those two Rare shooters, I’ve easily clocked in hundreds of hours of gameplay.
Shooters then moved into the Halo era, which I wasn’t a part of by virtue of not owning an Xbox. However, I could come back around for Call of Duty, starting with Modern Warfare 2. To this day, I still feel like Call of Duty has some of the best “gun feel” of any game on the market. The whole experience of firing a gun in those games has always felt extremely satisfying in ways that other shooter games have now attempted to copy countless times with varying degrees of success. On top of that, the RPG elements that allowed me to fill up a progress bar and unlock new gear were fun to work through. However, the franchise’s yearly release cycle and a general lack of innovation caused me to burn out on the series fairly quickly.
Starting with Team Fortress 2, the hero shooter sub-genre really took off in the mainstream with Overwatch. Instead of playing as largely-identical avatars whose only purpose was to kill, it leaned heavily into creating a handful of wildly-unique characters who must work for a common goal beyond boosting their personal kill/death ratio. As a fan of fighting games, this approach to character design immediately clicked with me, as there are a lot of parallels. I love how all of the characters have distinct looks, have backstories – as thin as they may be – and vastly different tool-sets that make them ideal to fit specific roles. It’s not hard for me to see how the hammer-and-shield-toting Reinhardt could be like the Zangief of Overwatch, right down to the detail of having a command grab.
Mechanically, the parallels run a bit deeper. Each character has a default attack, which I think is the equivalent of their normal moves in a fighting game. From there, each character has a handful of special abilities with timed cool-downs; essentially the same as fighting game special moves. Finally, each character has an Ultimate ability, which is basically the same as a fighting game super move. The joy I get from blowing up D.Va’s mech in an area filled with enemies is the same joy I get from finishing off my Street Fighter opponent with a super combo.
Overwatch is a fantastic game and I don’t really have any complaints with it. However, the game that has kicked my current fascination with hero shooters off in a big way is Paladins. While it is apparent that it cribs a lot of its design from Blizzard’s game, Paladins does it well enough and with enough tweaks to the formula for it to stand out on its own. Furthermore, until Blizzard ports Overwatch to the Switch, Paladins is the only hero shooter in town on that platform. By virtue of it being on the Switch, I play more Paladins than Overwatch for the convenience of being able to play it anywhere in my house. It’s a really bad habit to be playing video games while lying in bed at 3am, but I’m struggling mightily to put Paladins down.
I may ultimately grow tired of the hero shooter just like I did with the other phases of shooters in my life. Actually, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Since these require a heavy amount of teamwork, playing with random online teammates may wear thin. Ideally, I have a go-to squad of friends that play regularly, but pulling together a long-term team is tough. On top of that, I’m not sure that the standard capture and payload game types will be enough to hold my interest over the course of many hours of play. For now though, I’m loving the hero shooter experience and I can’t get enough of Overwatch and Paladins!