When Blizzard release a new game you know it’s going to be special. However when they announced Overwatch, a team-based first-person shooter, I must admit I was a little concerned. There are already so many established shooters that it sounded like they were taking a big risk.
However, just five minutes with the Overwatch beta convinced me that they were onto something special again. Tens of hours later I was hooked and couldn’t wait for the final game to launch to sink in many more.
Overwatch can be played against AI opponents but it’s really designed as a game to play online with other people. Each game pits two teams of six heroes against each other. At launch there are 21 heroes available, and refreshingly they are all unlocked and available to all players. Moving forward, Blizzard is planning to release more heroes and these will also be free.
The heroes are grouped up into four roles – Offense, Defense, Support and Tank. Players can pick whichever hero they like, and there’s also nothing stopping everyone in a game picking the same hero. An ideal team setup is comprised of a variety of heroes across the four roles. If you’re missing a vital role the game will let players know but it doesn’t force you to take the advice.
When a player dies they can respawn with the same hero or swap for another. There’s no restrictions or penalties for doing so. Due to this swapping characters becomes essential if you want to be successful. It pays to keep an eye on your teammates and the enemy. For example, if you’re struggling because the enemy has more defensive players then you can add in more offensive players. If the enemy is cutting your team to shreds with a cannon then you can maybe bring a sniper on to safely take it out from range.
Despite having the character roles, each hero is actually unique. Some are easier to play that others but players who master a variety of characters will be at an advantage. The game rates each with one to three stars to give you an idea of how hard each is to play. As you play you’ll learn plenty of tricks and different ways to overcome the enemy.
Every hero gets their own primary attack or skill and then two or more others. Certain skills require a few seconds cooldown in between uses. Helping your team or eliminating the enemy build your ultimate skill. There’s an incredible variety between the different characters which initially makes playing each one a new experience.
Soldier: 76 is one of the easiest to get to grips with as he plays like the kind of soldier you’d see in most other first-person shooters. He carries a heavy pulse rifle and can sprint. When his ultimate fills up he gets a special tactical visor that ensures his shots don’t miss that removes much of the need to aim.
My favourite character at the moment is Mercy. She has a staff that is capable of healing a teammate or buffing them with damage. When playing Mercy it’s worth trying to stay out of sight but close enough to your team to use your staff. Switching between teammates is simple and if you charge in together Mercy is capable of keeping all their health topped up which buffing the damage output. She also has a neat slow fall ability and can swap her staff for a pistol that is good for taking out enemies that are low on health. Her ultimate allows you to resurrect one or more players and can really turn a match if used at the right time.
Other favourites are Bastion who can transform into a turret, D.Va has a powerful mech suit, Genji can block and bounce projectiles back, Widowmaker can snipe and Pharah can unleash devastating rocket barrages. There’s also Winston who is a highly intelligent gorilla that carries a Tesla cannon. If you want to know more about the characters then Blizzard has created detailed background stories for them.
Getting into a game is incredibly simple and takes just a few seconds. The Matchmaking system just works really well and for now only casual matches can be played. A ranked mode is expected to launch later this month.
At launch there are 12 maps to play on and four different game modes – Escort, Assault, Assault/Escort and Control. In Escort the attacking team needs to move a payload to a delivery point while the other team defends. Assault has the attacking team trying to capture two set areas. Assault/Escort is a mix of the first two modes while Control has the teams fight to capture a common point.
Overwatch is a game that demands teamwork so trying to play solo is an easy way to lose. Matches are most fun when played with a group of friends but I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at just how much fun the game is with complete strangers. Even when you’re losing Overwatch somehow remains fantastic fun. At the end of the match the game chooses the ‘Play of the game’ and highlights that player before showing off the reason they were picked. Players also get to vote on the top players in the game at the end of the match.
Playing the game earns you XP to level up your account. There’s also no level cap to reach so you can keep on levelling forever. Joining a game in progress or sticking around for more games grant you bonus XP. Each time you make the next level the game rewards you with a loot box. These must be opened one at a time and when you do they explode with a selection of loot. These include spray-paint logo’s, poses, voice lines, icons and new player skins. Optional microtransactions are present if you fancy buying yourself some extra loot boxes. It’s worth noting that all rewards are simply cosmetic keeping the playing field level.
Overwatch looks absolutely stunning and runs at 60fps. Everything is so polished and the characters and environments are full of personality. The sound design is also well done and once you’ve played a while you pick up on audio cues when characters use certain abilities. A neat touch is when characters automatically call out to you to warn you someone is behind you.
As with their other games, Blizzard are promising to support Overwatch for a long time to come. In addition to new characters, expect free maps, new modes, special events and endless tweaks to balance.
Blizzard have done it again. It might be their first crack at the genre but they’ve absolutely nailed it making Overwatch an essential purchase.