Pulling up alongside the other three is Overwatch, Blizzard’s entry into the team shooter foray. Fancy black glossy paint, chrome wheels, and all the rest of the fixings you’d want on your fancy new Benz. The game is sharp. There is fluidity and polish on everything. Style caked on thicker than Trump’s toupee glue. Even if it’s a little light on the strategic thinking, this title is about keeping the flow. Jumping from match to match and evolving your approach to a stream of different micro-dilemmas.
Pressing the matchmaking button is like jumping into a raging river. Blink and you will be yanked away to Egypt, Hollywood, London, Nepal, and other futuristic takes on worldwide locales. One match bleeds into the next. Ten minutes of assaulting or defending capture points, push the payload, then it’s next week Tuesday and you haven’t eaten in days because of your new addiction.
Each location feels like an actual city or town, each spanning several blocks in length. With many buildings accessible from the ground floor, leading to upper level terraces perfect for sniping or setting up defenses. Spinning marquee signs and neon lights trail through once busy city streets. Abandoned cars, buses, shops, provide cover from the whizzing bullets, ice walls, firestorms, and screaming spinning dragons from the battles raging outside. All with a pristine sterile cleanliness that says “the future”.
There are 21 playable heroes, each with a set of unique abilities to play. From the onset all heroes are available, which is nice (*cough* Battleborn *cough). Each character model is intricately designed. From the behemoth gas mask clad Roadhog, complete with tattooed over-sized swinging gut. To the diminutive but deadly Tracer, who’s time warping abilities will steal a gasp or two when first activated. Every rivet and bolt around every armored piece is beautifully rendered. Cartoon-y look is not a substitute for any lack of detail.
Unlike its competition, heroes are displayed according to their roles. They are broken into four classes across the bottom of the selection screen: Offensive / Defensive / Support / Tank. It’s such a simple UI design decision, but it makes it far easier for players streaming in and out of matches to understand what each character does. This is a godsend for new players. Further, there are tips that display onscreen alerting players of what is needed. “No offensive heroes”, “No Support Heroes”, “Too many snipers”, and other such warnings cue players towards what they should choose. Players are free to switch heroes at any time during the match. There’s no limit on the hero selections either (want a team of five Genji’s? Go for it.). At first, I thought this was a little too haphazard. But it plays along the lines of the Team Fortress philosophies. Allowing for some creative all defense (or all offense) teams when needed.
As combat lights up the streets, good team players stay focused on their role at hand. Offensive players try to pick off snipers, or get behind enemy lines to push them off control areas. Defensive players focus on building turrets, laying down cover fire, or bottlenecks to trap assaulting teams. Tanks plop their armored butts down in a key area and not only lay down fire, but block incoming fire with shields, barriers, and other abilities. Support players heal, shield, or even resurrect their teammates with dazzling effects (and equally impressive tide turning results).
At the end of the match, regardless of your hero choice — if you played your role well you will be noticed. At the match conclusion there is a sexy replay of the best play of the game. Usually, the play that resulted in the most successive combo kills. Not only is it great to watch what is usually a key battle moment in the game, I’ve picked up some creative uses for ultimates along the way. The post-match screen also sets up three players who influenced the match to a high degree. You might see the matches top healer, top turret builder, or the player who defended the capture point the longest. Players then vote on the MVP of the match, and it is a nice “thank you unsung heroes” send off for players. It seems like a small touch, but believe me, it will put a smile on your face when players vote you up for being the biggest tank bitch throughout the match.
Snazzy graphics, impressive battle effects, streamlined multiplayer, help soften what is otherwise a simplistic team shooter. On the surface there is little “strategic” emphasis in this game. There are no ability trees. Item builds are non-existent. Complex gear loadouts? Nope. All that was traded in for a heaping size of “easily accessible”. That doesn’t mean Overwatch is devoid of meaningful team mechanics. There are some captivating tactics I’ve watch unfold in matches. In one, I witnessed a player use the elusive Tracer to lure the entire team to defend the capture point. All the while a player in a D.Va mecha suit drops his ultimate, which is to self destruct his mech. Launching it over a chasm and then ejecting himself backwards to a safe balcony. As the suit landed, it exploded killing us all. Genius. Tactics are very “shoot from the hip”, and it fits it’s online accessibility well. With shifting objectives and hero loadouts that change, quick thinking is a must.
Blizzard has a built in core of fans. Thus, Overwatch beta periods have not lacked for players. Hitting an impressive 9.7 million beta players in one weekend. Expect the same when the full release hits May 24th. Most players have a casual attitude, just there to blow things up, have fun, and hope see themselves during the “play of the game”. Players come and go, and matches do not go beyond the 10 minute mark. So despite it’s lack of “hardcore” elements it won me over by its abundance of little details, and how with the fluidity in which everything is handled.