‘OVERWATCH’ REVIEW 

BY PHIL HORNSHAW

Posted on 
‘OVERWATCH’ REVIEW
Research Center:
Overwatch: Origins Edition

Update: Added information related to post-release characters and maps, as well as balance changes implemented since launch.

When developers set out to make team-based games, Overwatch is what they’re hoping to achieve.

In Overwatch you can play as a giant, super-smart gorilla who leaps into battle and blasts enemies with a gun that spews electricity; a gun-slinging cowboy who can drop enemies from 100 paces; a robot who’s also a tank; or an Australian pyromaniac who sets irritating traps, among more than a dozen other characters. Oh, and you can teleport, fly, shoot rockets, rewind time, construct strategic defenses, freeze your enemies solid and summon a gigantic ghost dragon to tear folks apart.

You can do all that stuff in the same match, quickly and easily. Overwatch is a surprisingly accessible team-based multiplayer shooter with a deceptive amount of depth. Most gamers with any experience at all will pick it up in almost no time, and dump hours into uncovering all its details and strategies.

UPPING THE GAME

Overwatch isn’t a mold-breaker. Plenty of people have likened it to Valve’s Team Fortress 2, or multiplayer online battle arena games like League of Legends and Dota 2. It’s not especially different from class-based shooters that have come before it, like Battlefield, Brink, or even Return to Castle Wolfenstein way back in the era of the original Xbox and PlayStation 2.

What Overwatch brings to the table that other games of its ilk don’t is a perfect combination of the moving parts found in those other titles. Watching Overwatch in action is like seeing a puzzle box solved. It’s baffling how well all of its components interact.

Those parts are, namely, its characters. At launch, the roster of uniquely cartoonish playable characters in the game stood at 21, and three more have subsequently been added in free updates. The personalities players can inhabit in the game are broken into four categories, recognizable to people who play MOBAs or massively multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft: There are damage-dealing attackers characters, characters that dish out short-term supportive boosts and healing, area-denying defenders, and “tanks” — the big brutes whose primary function is to draw fire and take punishment.

The classes and roles are familiar to online game players, but it’s the variety of moves the characters offer that makes them so much fun to play. There are several characters whose primary function is just to rack up kills, or just to play tank, but each one has very different abilities, uses, and strengths and weaknesses from the others. Playing as Winston, the science-minded gorilla who leaps into the fray, is very different from playing Reinhardt, the shield-bearing hammer-swinging knight who lets players hide behind his protective barrier. While both occupy the same “class,” that of tank, they’re worlds apart in how they play and function.

When developers set out to make team-based games, Overwatch is what they’re hoping to achieve.

Overwatch lets you switch characters basically on the fly to adjust your strategy and change your tactics mid-game. Your primary goal in every match is not to eliminate the other team like in most shooters, but to capture or defend objectives — specific areas in the level, or a moving “payload” that only advances when the attacking team stands near it, and which stalls or even reverses when defenders approach.

Teamwork is essential to victory. There’s no real benefit to being a “lone wolf” in Overwatch, unlike most other shooters on the market. You’re just as important healing your teammates or protecting them with shields as you are gunning down the opposition. Teams that pay attention to their composition, picking complementary characters and working together, always beat out teams full of players used to going it alone in Call of Duty.

That’s as Blizzard intended, and it’s what makes Overwatch such a blast to play. Other people — especially friends you bring along with you and can trust to work with you — are the engines that fill out the carefully crafted, almost perfectly interlocking pieces that Blizzard has created.

IT GETS BETTER OVER TIME

That’s not to say Overwatch is a perfect game, but like all of Blizzard’s titles, it has continued to evolve over time. For instance, the turrets that certain characters can build felt like they were just a touch over-powerful at launch, but the characters using them — dwarf-like Torbjörn and robotic Bastion — received patches that made them much more balanced.

And despite having some 15 main maps, including a few added post-release, Overwatch is still pretty thin at the moment. Games are basically all the same, with one team attacking a specific point on the map and controlling it for a few seconds, and the other team trying to hold them off. Sometimes they’ll include the moving payloads, which are just a mobile version of the control point game type (also known as King of the Hill in some games). And right now, that’s it. Aside from seasonal single-player events and limited-time modes, that’s it.

Overwatch makes it work because there are 24 characters to try and every single one is fun and fascinating. They’re all beautifully rendered, earnest cartoon heroes (or villains) with big personalities, and trying each — and getting skilled enough to recognize how to use them to the best of their individual abilities, and how to kill them at a key moment — is what makes the game worth playing.

But especially at a price point of $60, some players will feel like Overwatch needs more meat on its bones. There’s a competitive mode coming that’s aimed at the core group of players who want to get really good at Overwatch, but the game could stand to include more riffs on the formula, more varied maps, and more little quality of life improvements. It ought to be easier to find and team up with friends or to make new ones, for example; Overwatch’s user interface menu buries the list of other players in a way that feels annoying and counterintuitive to track them down.

The same goes for when you might want to mute another player on your team, something that comes up a lot in multiplayer shooters. Especially in the console versions, the lack of a keyboard means hunting through two or three menus to silence the guy who’s blaring his TV through his microphone and yelling at his kids.

Overwatch feels like it could just generally use more, and paying a full $60 for a multiplayer-only shooter with roughly two game modes is going to annoy some players. Yes, Overwatch is an incredibly well-tuned, well-made approach to team-based shooters — but it’ll be on Blizzard to keep it growing and relevant.

CONCLUSION

It might not feel like there’s much to the overall package that is Overwatch, but one year of playing intensely hasn’t satiated our appetite yet. Like all team-based games, Overwatch is better in every way when you add your own friends to the mix, and jumping into random games solo is a recipe for screaming at your TV and complaining about the awful choices your teammates are making, like bringing two snipers or neglecting to have a healer.

THE DT ACCESSORY PACK

$80
$180
$20

But the whole package just feels great to play. There’s so much nuance to discover with each of the characters that Overwatch can subsist on the delight of a perfectly placed Hanzo arrow, or a brilliantly executed harassment campaign by superfast Tracers. Where Overwatch fails to provide variety match-to-match, it succeeds brilliantly in providing variety in how the game can unfold minute-to-minute.

That’s what makes it so impressive. Blizzard has executed on making this a fun game to play under almost any circumstance. Mileage varies when going in solo — and when you’re not willing to communicate with teammates or work together — but the underlying components of Overwatch work brilliantly. Other developersmaking team games would do well to take note.

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