Overwatch is the passion project of a group within Blizzard entertainment that love team-based shooters. Over the last 10 years, team-based shooters – and first-person shooters in general – have dominated the console game market, with titles such as Team Fortress 2, Counter Strike, Quake, Doom, and many others. These games allowed people to enjoy a team experience while adding something unique to their specific genre.
Overwatch is a conglomeration and upgrade of the best elements of these shooters. This makes the game immensely fun, as you’re put into the body of one of 22, unique and diverse characters, each with skill sets with almost no overlap, making the cast accessible for people of any FPS background, and even those without one. No gun fires the same way, has the same effect, damage, or fire rate. Some overlap in style alone, there is two shotgun toting characters, for example, but those two use their weapons in very different styles and damage in different ways. You are tasked with coordinating your team of six to attack and control objectives, in many maps from around the world. Fun is derived from this, as each battle is crazy chaotic and different, with skills and “Ultimates” shifting the tides of battle. Play as a cowboy and duel down four people with your revolver, or a sniper to see through walls, a girl in a mecha, or even a talking space gorilla.
The game itself plays less like a traditional shooter in that scoreboards are gone. No one knows what anyone else’s kills are, or deaths, which helps eliminate some of the salty attitudes that come with that mechanic. Instead, you know how you’re doing, and that’s it. There are still many elements of other shooters, like rocket launchers, machine guns, turret building, healing and much more. This allows things to flow very easily, each character helping to cover each others weaknesses, but still having counters themselves. The counters come in the form of skills, which are accessed through keyboard shortcuts. These are all contained within four buttons: Shift, E, Right click and Q, with Q being your ultimate ability. Other than that, Overwatch uses standard Mouse and WASD controls. This choice of buttons is intuitive; it doesn’t mean you have to move your hand around the keyboard to access them. Other buttons are situated around the main WASD keys and are all used for social things, like C for a communication wheel, for example. All of these are completely rebindable, so if you prefer, you could use PL;’ if you’re a lefty. With multitudes of extra spectator options, controls certainly aren’t lacking.
The game itself boasts handcrafted models, with well made textures to match. Nothing is pristine, weapons have dings and scratches, swords have detail and knocks. Clothes bend and fold with a sometimes overactive physics engine, same with hair. The same applies to the maps and their assets. Although these textures are indeed pretty, it can get PC intensive, something my PC struggles with. But you can see the care put into everything. The style itself is a semi realistic cartoony, so no one looks outlandish or especially not human. (Except the gorilla and maybe the 250 kilogram monster of a man.) One amazing part is that Blizzard has taken the time to make short cinematics to convey story, animated to an amazing standard, even if the story is lacklustre. Character stories are conveyed through interactions, as you choose characters and spawn on maps, they speak and react to each other and give insight to some of their personal backgrounds. It’s certainly an interesting way to flesh out locations and characters with timelines and back story.
The game itself also has a history. The dev team behind Overwatch had previously been working on another project. Titan. An MMO they had been working on for 7 whole years, being their only new IP in almost 20 years. The problem was the team lost touch with their view. Instead of working as a unit and committing to ideas together, everyone went off to do what they knew they were uniquely responsible for. This lack of togetherness formed rifts in team morale, and led to things becoming sub par no matter what they tried. The team working on the game was reduced from 100s to just 30, and with the results not improving, after 7 years on the project, Blizzard had to cut the Titan. This was devastating to the team, no other team had lost an idea this big. This lit a fire inside of them, knowing they could do better, knowing they could make a game just as successful as their associates and friends at Blizzard. From this fire, the phoenix that became overwatch was reborn.
Sounds are integral to Overwatch. The music is often left to be very background, overpowered by the footsteps and voice lines of enemies. Don’t know where that reaper teleported and don’t want a few shells to the back? Listen for his heavy footsteps and loud breathing. Each character, their threat level, and team, can be identified by their footsteps. Healers are lighter on their feet, tanks clank and clang as their armour moves. This mixing of audio and the layering makes it a very stereo-based game. Both ears are required, as sounds are quietened over long distances to show their distance. Without this layering and priority the game would sound hectic and loud; too much going on. The music itself is faint and map specific, usually pertaining to a certain area’s traditional instruments or sounds. Trumpets and guitar make the mariachi background of Dorado in Mexico, Traditional singing for Numbani in Africa, and so on, each for fitting and appropriate. On the subject of different countries, many of the characters hail from around the world, it isn’t an American centric game. These characters, when using their ultimate abilities, will shout in their native language, terrifying when you hear Japanese and know a spirit dragon could just fly through the wall at you. German, Japanese, Mandarin, Arabic, French, Russian, and if you count it, 1337 speak and Cockney. It’s amazing to hear these lines from native voice actors.
While the game itself has no PvE mode – until recently, when a temporary horde mode was released – the replayability comes from its updates and how differently situations can play out. Updates do come slowly, but these updates freshen the game up, shifting the in game “meta game” which is who is used the most and who isn’t, due to their power after balancing. With new characters and maps ready to come out over the next months, this “Meta” will shift drastically in months to come. With many characters to play, try out and even master if you so wish, allows time to replay, and get better. Combined with the fun factor of hectic battles and trying to best your friends, I would say that Overwatch has a place in gaming’s recent history as one of the greatest homages to shooters across the ages, able to stand on its own.
Review by Dylan Morgan