For years, Blizzard toiled behind the scenes on a successor to World of Warcraft. Codenamed Project Titan, it never saw the light of day in its intended form. Instead of throwing it all away, elements of that project were carried over to create the hero shooter we now know as Overwatch. With its hype hitting a crescendo in the summer of 2016, I picked up a copy just to see what it was about. I didn’t really “get it” back then for reasons of my own doing, so I never really covered it. Now that it’s my current obsession, let’s take a look at how the game fares in 2018!
Heavily inspired by Team Fortress 2, Overwatch is a hero shooter where teamwork is the key to success. You will play in games of 6v6 where the winning conditions are defined by completing objectives instead of scoring points through kills. While being able to dispatch of enemies is an asset, there are more valuable ways of contributing to your team’s efforts than sniping for enemies leaving the spawn point. Instead, you could be holding a capture point, pushing a payload, or taking out a specific opponent during a key moment that will more dramatically impact the outcome.
Adding to the team dynamic are the character designs. Sporting unique looks, personalities, and abilities, they are the true stars of Overwatch. From the intimidating knight Reinhardt, to cyber ninja Genji, to the angelic Mercy, these characters look amazing and contribute to their squads in many different ways. Soldier 76 has a toolset that is specifically tuned for players transitioning over from military shooters like Call of Duty. Players who want to take the skies and shoot explosives should feel right at home with Pharah. Or if you want to get outlandish, the hamster-driven Wrecking Ball uses its ball-shaped form factor to bully teams off of objective points. Since release, a number of new characters have been added to the mix with more on the way.
You don’t have to be a sharpshooter to succeed in this game, either. Mercy is a powerful healer that rarely ever needs to shoot. Instead, she can greatly impact a match by healing allies in front of her with her staff. No precision-aiming required. Torbjorn and Symmetra can pile up the eliminations quickly with great turret placement. Junkrat can hit a lot of people with the splash damage from his grenades.
As great as these characters are in the looks and gameplay department, they’ve also been designed with distinct weaknesses. Reinhardt wields a massive shield that can soak in bullets, but in a game where almost everyone has a gun, his hammer is a difficult weapon to do damage with. Hanzo is my favourite character at the moment, as his arrows have incredible stopping power. Unfortunately, its slow rate of fire and the arrows slower travel time makes it really hard for him to pick off speedy enemies like Tracer. Bastion in sentry form can mow down an entire team at close-to-mid range. However, his slow transformation time makes it a maneuver you can only do preemptively in most cases, forcing you to wait for the enemy to come to you. Furthermore, as a sentry turret, Bastion becomes a sitting duck for snipers on the other side of the map.
No character has it all, forcing you to play a specific role on your team while trusting in your teammates to do theirs. Even as a squad of five, you’re going to have weaknesses that can be exploited by the other team, depending on whose on the other side and what the mission calls for. As such, it is in your best interest to play as multiple characters if you really want to win. This was my stumbling block for the longest time, as I simply refused to play anyone but D. Va. Once I got over that mental block, the game truly opened up. I never thought I would enjoy playing as an archer, or a sniper, or a healer, but I enjoy them all and sometimes have to switch between them all in a match. There are so many fun characters to play as and working within the team dynamic truly makes the game shine.
The best way to play the game is with a group of friends, but that’s not realistic for most. I do squad up when I can, but most of my time has been playing with randoms online. At this point in the game’s life, the player base generally has an understanding of how to play, though it opens the door for some variance. You may get paired with a few weak links and you’re toast. Since launch, the game has added a “looking for group” feature, allowing freelancers like me to join an existing group, gaining at least some of the benefits that come with teamwork, even if it’s with strangers.
Beyond the game’s four main modes, there are a handful of silly extras in there as well. I personally steer clear of these, but I understand the desire to take a break from the norm from time-to-time. The one glaring omission is some sort of single-player or campaign-based content. Overwatch has a ton of amazing characters and so much lore has been developed over time outside of the game; none of which appears here. Having some way of allowing players to interact with the story would really take it to the next level.
Without that, the only real progression is done through loot boxes. After hitting a new level, you’ll receive one loot box filled with new character colours, sprays, icons, emotes, skins, and coins to purchase some items outright. Level caps don’t rise as your level increases, so you’re getting a loot box roughly once or twice per hour. It’s cool to be able to unlock stuff in this manner, but there are some glaring issues with the system. These boxes can contain duplicates. I understand why, but it’s infuriating to get duplicates after all of the effort you put in to get the box. Secondly, you can’t simply buy items that are contained within loot boxes. Instead, you have to get coins from a loot box which can then be used to purchase certain items. At that point, you’re spending money in hopes of getting real money back, and that’s kind of gross. You don’t have to engage with the loot box system, as its drops are only cosmetic, but it can be a really slippery slope if you’re playing for unlocks instead of the entertainment that comes from working as a team.
In a post-Fortnite world, Overwatch may no longer be the talk of the town. That being said, if you’re looking for a hero shooter in the style of Team Fortress 2 to play, or you’ve never tried one before, Overwatch is the way to go. Stellar team-based gameplay and a now-legendary cast of characters will win you over and keep you coming back for more. I really hope they find a way to give players some sort of single-player content, or at least an ability to experience the story unfold in-game somehow. For now, I gotta go back into queue for another round!