Overwatch has been referred to as the "mixed martial arts" of competitive gaming and that feels like the most apt analogy anyone will make. It brings together a little bit of everything, shooters, MOBAs, even RTS and fighting games. All in a way that doesn't feel to convulted or overcomplicated.
+Quick and easy game types.
+Easy to learn, difficult to master.
+Blends a little of everything, from the competitive gaming scene.
+Insane attention to detail, from map design to audio queues.
Overwatch has broken ground on a few industry firsts during its production. Many are already aware of the long development history and transition from Titan to Overwatch, changing a massive multiplayer online role playing game into a first person team-based shooter. Not only did it make history in that unprecedented change, but it also has one of the longest running beta periods I've ever seen (about 6 months). So for all that work, all that testing and tweaking, has Blizzard truly created the next big thing? Or is the novelty due to fade?
There's no denying their opening numbers, people have been flipping out over the game. The hype is there, but what we need to ask now is: is it real?
One of the most impressive things about Blizzard, as a company, in their ability to craft incredibly well-rounded and long-lasting characters. Diablo, Starcraft, and Warcraft have all brought forwards characters that will stick with gamers until the day they die (and not only because they will keep making those games until long after we're in the grave). Character and world design have always been one of the staples in the company, and it's never been more prominent than in Overwatch.
In a "hero shooter" you need to make heroes that people will latch on to, feel kinship with, and yes even love. With the wide character pool of Overwatch (21 characters at launch) each with fully fleshed out backstories, ideals, and motivations there are more than enough options for everyone to have a favourite. Better than that, it's easy to fall in love with more than one.
When first announced, I immediately gravitated towards Tracer (as was intended by Blizzard, who has made her somewhat of a star in the world of Overwatch). Then during my Beta access I started to lean towards the (at the time) overpowered Bastion for easy wins... As his role evolved however, so did mine. I found D. Va, the Korean pro-gamer turned mech-pilot who is classed as a tank, but plays far differently than the traditional ideal of one.
And that's something else worth noting in Overwatch. The roles, or classes if you prefer, aren't rigid constructs as you might expect. In the case of D. Va she might be considered a tank by class and have some standard traits, like a larger "health bar" and the ability to negate all projectile damage for a couple of seconds but her in-game role is much more about the mobility of her jump jets and her ability to get in around behind the back line of the opposing team and disrupt their front wall. Doing damage via a flying-mech-based sneak-attack.
Up until the announcement of Overwatch the Hero Shooter genre was limited to just about 1 game: Team Fortress. It's enjoyed a rather unimposed success as the biggest and, very nearly, only hero shooter on the market. When Titan decided to close down production and shift the assets already built into a new space, Blizzard realized the untapped potential of that genre and went full steam into not only creating something new and shiny for fan of that game type, but reinventing it and making it something bigger than it was previously.
If you're interested in the whole history, from Titan to Overwatch, there's a great four-part series that Gamespot ran on the production of the game leading all the way up from the cancellation of Titan to the release of Overwatch. It delves into everything from the concept of the game to the audio technology and design used to make sure players are always aware of what's happening at an almost subconscious level.
For a short-hand though on the incredibly in-depth design mentality of the game though, I have to say I'm infinitely impressed by how much attention to detail there is. The textures on the walls will tell the story of the world, to those who devote their time to investigating them. The characters all have backstories that are incredibly in-depth and even bleed into the real world (D.Va has a pro-gamer page for Starcraft II). The audio has been designed to make you subconsciously aware of what is going on, things like the ultimates having different sound cues based on if the ult is on your team or the opposing team.
There are things like the fact that the footsteps of enemies are mixed higher than the footsteps of your friends. There are visual cues of where the damage is coming from and how much damage you're taking right on your reticle so you instantly know what's going on and how to plan your counter attack.
Then, not unlike a fighting game, there are moves and counter moves and counter-counter moves to absolutely everything. In example, Parah's ult can decimate a team with a barrage of drunk rockets either long or short range... but she's frozen in place while she casts, making her an easy target for snipers. Alternatively, as D.Va you can just choose to use your defense matrix and eat all the rockets by getting between her and your team.
There's no shortage of love to throw at this game, so opposed to how I generally write reviews, being more of a vertical slice of the experience to try and give an idea to potential consumers what they're in for. This "review" is more a forecast at what comes next. The bottom line is that me saying "this game is worth the price of admission" is almost moot at this point. The sales numbers have proven people are coming in droves, people from all kinds of different backgrounds and genre preferences are diving into this one and becoming obsessed with it's straight forward, fun, and deeply competitive game type. For those still wondering though, yes, yes you should get Overwatch.
As for the future of the title, well Blizzard has already confirmed that they will have more heroes and maps coming down the road. So, the purchase of the game is more of an investment at this time. It's an investment of time and money from all those interested, which means the question I want to look at is: will it be worth it?
Obviously in the traditional sense of "time enjoyed" over "money spent" the answer is yes. But we've already seen a number of unique, fun, original shooters come out and try and muscle their way into the eSports scene, traditionally dominated from games that have been around for 10+ years. Evolve was a great idea that wanted to be a serious competitive game, that kind of died off quickly... Titanfall as well. Heck, even within Blizzard's own house there was Heroes of the Storm which just could not pry away the eSports viewership and sponsors of games like DOTA and League of Legends.
This weekend saw the 10k Agents Rising Tournament, which means we're off to a good start. While nothing compared to say, the 18 million on the line in the DOTA2 International, it's proof that there's something starting to happen, if 10k can be put on the line 1 week after the official launch of the game.
My personal hope is that the scene continues to evolve and grow. One of the casters this weekend referred to Overwatch as the "MMA of eSports" and I kind of think that nails the competitive scene for me. Throughout the weekend we saw people who have history in MOBA, FPS, Fighters, and twitch shooter classics like Quake jumping in to take part in the newly established Overwatch scene.
Overwatch blends a little of all of the above. At the surface, it might look like a standard team-based shooter. But the abilities and class specifications definitely lend a little more from MOBA games than any other FPS out there. The maps and objective based combat as well feel a little more arena than something like COD, Halo, or even CS. For me personally, I have a fighting game background and I can see the threads that connect there too, with the various characters and "fight styles", the counters and the timing needed. There's really no group of gamer that isn't represented in someway here, so the hope is that it will bring everyone together and this will become the new standard.
Beyond the competitive aspects of the game though, there is an inherent fun-factor. Post-launch my Battle.net Client has been a constant stream of people online and checking in on Overwatch. People that haven't logged in for years, casual gamers, hardcore gamers, and even non-gamers are aware of this thing and at a minimum giving it a whirl. It's exciting to see so many people and such a diversified base, not only that but so far it has shown to be one of the most positive communities.
Coming from toxic communities in the MOBA genre, it's nice to see pleasant conversation in the majority of the games. Call outs, suggestions, GGs, and of course the in-game voting finally showing some love for support characters are all great experiences I've had and I'm sure many else can echo. Not to say there is no trolls in the game, just that they are far less predominant in Overwatch than most other competitive games I've played.
Is Overwatch going to be the next big thing? I sure hope so. I'm definitely spending a ridiculous amount of time and effort into not only playing the game, but learning the system and the lore. Thanks to the incredibly robust background of the game, initially intentioned as a MMORPG, there's no shortage of videos to watch, comics to read, and lore to read to find out as much as possible about the world of Overwatch. All of which may, or may not lead to me becoming the best damned D. Va in the world.
Review is based on a retail version for PC, provided by the Publisher.
Release Date: May 24th, 2016