In the melting pot of first-person-shooters, where the military themes of greys and browns combine with such futuristic staples as mechs and drones, Overwatch is a game which seeks to break out from the herd and stamp down its own identity. Presented in a colour palette much akin to an animated movie by the likes of DreamWorks or Pixar, the game’s visual styling is certainly engaging; one that’s backed up and treated well thanks to a varied and diverse ensemble cast of characters.
Overwatch: an online shooter with soul
Overwatch is an online-only shooter which takes the lore and background of its universe quite seriously. While these often conflict in games and things never work out as a result, Overwatch is notably different. Set in a far-off future where Artificial Intelligence seeks equality after a global crisis involving a robotic uprising, the world finds itself split in two and a taskforce is called in: The Overwatch. Blizzard has not only created a video game, they’ve given birth to an expansive universe; one that’s branched out into comic books, animated shorts, and a graphic novel.
On the subject of video games though, how does it play? Is it competitive to the likes of Counter Strike? Or is it more strategic like Rainbow Six: Siege? Overwatch takes an objective-based approach to its gameplay doing away with the old tropes of death-matches and free-for-all. I for one am pleased to see this as the design of each character and level design does well in demonstrating just how much of a creative risk the project actually is when attempting to appeal to a mainstream audience. What’s even more fascinating about the game’s design is just how approachable it is thanks to it’s simplicity and presentation.
Three game modes
The game offers up three modes to participate in with a fourth serving as a hybrid of selective objectives. While each of these three modes hold a sense of familiarity and relation to one and other, this is largely due to the game’s objective structure. Escort mode positions each of the twelve players in an attack versus defence stature, with the latter being required to protect a moving payload to a secure destination. As with all of the game’s modes, Escort plays on a timer, judging and rewarding players at the end of each round based on their kill-counts, team support and participation towards its objectives. This isn’t by any means subject to this one specific modes as each of the other two game modes treat the player in the same exact manner, resulting in continuous progression.
Accessible Overwatch maps
As previously mentioned, each of the game’s three modes share similarities, more predominantly so with Assault and Contro. The former places each team in offense or defence with the aim of the game taking over specific sections on the map, while the latter introduces a series of objectives while doing so. While they all sound similar on the surface, experiencing them brings out their distinctions while still retaining the game’s simplistic design and friendly nature of being accessible.
This feeling of accessibility is further enhanced by the design of the environments. Delivered in an arena-based fashion consisting of large open areas and fully explorable interiors, the game’s use of high buildings, underground entrances and tightly-packed corridors do well in bringing about a strategic element, encouraging players to band together making use of their class-specific abilities. It’s also within the game’s level design where it feels modern yet old school, catering to each and every one of its unique characters in the way they traverse the game’s maps.
Whether you’re barricading the streets of King’s Row London, blitzing in and out of set pieces from the now desolate Hollywood, or watching over your payload from the futuristic rooftops of Numbani Africa, every map is an absolute blast to take part in, holding no personal preference or dislike towards one or the other. Previously touching on the game’s strategic formula of gameplay, this is an element that comes highly encouraged but is by all means optional. As each of the game’s twenty-one characters contain their own specific skill-sets, weapons and special abilities, playing strictly as a squad of offensive-based characters and expecting to actually get somewhere isn’t going to work out so well if the opposing team has a stellar line-up.
Despite my own nature for a direct assault and facing the enemy head-on in a fight to the death Bro-shooter mentality, I felt no way disheartened in changing my class should my teammates require an additional support character or an extra line of defence. What’s unique about the game’s class system aside from its emphasis on co-operation, is the ability to change on-the-fly to any character of your choosing during the match. This isn’t mapped to a simple button press, mind you, as this would greatly dampen the experience, leaving it unbalanced and meaningless.
Players can switch at their group’s spawning locations or in the event of death. This is where the friendly and approachable nature of the game proves to be so damn appealing and encouraging, where other games tend to fall flat on their faces, leaving the player feeling forced into a class they would rather avoid. Not here, though—Overwatch has your back, keeping an eye on you. So how does each of the characters and classes differ from one and other? Well, visually the line-up is superb. There’s no two ways about it. What Blizzard has essentially done is taken the stereotypes and archetypes from popular fictional universes then shoved them into a space where they hold no sense of belonging, yet, they’ve made it work.
The characters and classes of Overwatch
It’s within this choice of artistic design of how everything fits together that supports Blizzard’s approach to combat. Take Tracer for instance—my own personal soft spot and latest favourite character in gaming. She’s a duel-welding time traveller that can blink across the battlefield, and rewind her position in space-time. She’s difficult to hit, yet ineffective when dealing out damage over a long-range shootout. This balancing act of being quick on her feet while having to be in close proximity to actually make use of her abilities is one that extends to each of the cast– albeit within their own unique ways and specific to their skillsets. The effort that Blizzard has taken in designing these characters is appreciable, meaning no player is without preference and no character is at all overpowered.
Then there’s Soldier 76…oh my. In a game where we have a robotic gorilla with glasses and a Brazilian singer who uses music as a weapon while skating down rooftops, Soldier 76 has to be the most comical of all the characters that the game has to offer. He’s an ironic cliché for the generic white male in just about every first-person-shooter from the past three to twenty years. One of his three special abilities is to sprint while another is an automated targeting system for unleashing a barrage of bullets. If this wasn’t cliché enough then I’m pretty sure his endless dialogue of getting too old for the war and never giving up each and every time he respawns will certainly bring about a laugh.
Overwatch is a game that knows exactly what it’s doing in regards to showing just how bold and creative it really is, all the while humiliating those that are too annually-inclined to appease their established fan base. While my "go-to" characters will no doubt remain as so, experimenting with other classes proved to be just as enjoyable, changing my play style in a way that’s quickly adaptable and beneficial towards the objectives of the game. Taking on a defensive role, characters like Hanzo and Junkrat brought about a feeling of irresponsible levels of power, which in themselves are somewhat short-lived, but do prove suitable for maintaining capture points.
In order to grasp somewhat of an understanding as to how this power fantasy actually plays out, consider this—Hanzo can shoot arrows that bounce off walls while summoning dragons. Not dragon. Dragons. Then we have the tank class. Upon first hearing of Overwatch and how each of the character classes would work in tandem with one another, I was a little worried in regards to the differentiation between the defensive roles and the tanks. It turns out I worried for nothing, as they work perfectly fine. Tanks are the characters you rally behind as they stampede forward with shields and barriers, and in the case of D.Va, a professional StarCraft player who now pilots her own mech, she can set her robotic assist to explode at will, but not before hitting the eject button and calling in a replacement. Insert TitanFall joke here.
While the tank class is inherently quite slow as one would expect, given the pacing of the game and just how diverse each character is in how they navigate the environment, I found that using this class was a actually a breath of fresh air, having me feeling quite protective over the rest of the group. This element of responsibility extends to the support class where characters such as Symmetra can plant turret guns through the manipulation of reality itself, and the ironically named Mercy; a guardian angel who can buff up nearby allies, allowing them to inflict more damage towards their opponents.
So, does the game fall short in any places? Is the technical performance up to snuff? and could it be improved in any way? No, yes, and go ask Blizzard. Overwatch is a team-based shooter that’s distinct, colourful, and attractive. It’s clear that every aspect of Overwatch has been given careful attention and the extraordinary amount of time and effort has paid off. Insert microtransactions here which are purely cosmetic and unlockable through playtime. But in all seriousness, Blizzard hasn’t done anything new here, but what they have done is taken the genre of "shooty-shooty, bang-bang" and injected a dose of colour and personality, delivering a game that’s enjoyable, eye-catching and crammed with just the right amount of depth and accessibility that will grant a tremendous amount of replay value to establish an audience. Go team Tracer.