Every once in awhile a game really gets inside my head. Overwatch is one such title, taking over my free time and filling conversations when I’m away from it. I don’t think I’m alone on this, as Blizzard’s latest hero shooter seems to have captured the hearts and minds of droves of people online. It could be the vast array of interesting characters, gorgeous animated shorts or the hunger for new competitive titles, but I think it’s because Blizzard have crafted the most enjoyable shooter experiences in years.
The core of the game is Blizzard through and through. They’ve taken the shooter and simplified it to the core elements that make it fun and challenging, then taken the best aspects of recent popular games and thrown them in the mix. Want to chase those gorgeous cosmetic skins level after level? Or do you like your shooters with a twist of MOBA style abilities? Overwatch has all this and more.In the trailers and shorts released in the lead up to the game’s launch we were introduced to the core conflict of Overwatch. Though fairly inconsequential in the game itself, the lore concocted offers a fascinating and surprisingly vibrant world for our heroes to face off in. Thirty years prior to now humanity faced the Omnic Crisis, a global event where machines rose up against humanity. An international team of operatives was created, the original Overwatch, to fight this threat. Since disavowed and broken, old and new members scatter the globe, forming the roster you’ll play throughout the game.
These characters are all unique, broken down into four classes; Offence, defence, tank and support. On the front lines of battle, tanks like Reinhardt and D.Va are responsable for blocking enemy attacks allowing offence heroes to do damage back. Defence heroes and support classes add the unpredictability to a team, giving you options to snipe from afar with Widowmaker or build up enemy slowing beam turrets as Symmetra. A well rounded team is paramount to victory on the battlefield, so switching to counter enemies and surprise them with new tactics keeps matches feeling fresh.
The character’s personalities are really highlighted through their design and abilities, which is a big part of what makes the game so endearing. There’s not a single cast member I don’t love – a wild mix of funny one liners, great reference and art direction that just pops. I don’t know many other games that could put a sci-fi cowboy, a DJ who buffs with sound and a scientist monkey in one spot and have it feel so natural.Before you even dive into the battles with these heroes you have the option to customise them with new lines, tag like ‘sprays’ and a whole host of legendary skins. Dropped from loot boxes or purchasable with in-game currency (also dropped from boxes), these items will quickly have players in the ‘just one more level’ mindset, awarded each time you rank up. You’re also able to change key bindings, sensitivity options and even reticules for each hero independently, a great move which encourages hero switching and ensures a smooth transition for players.
This all shines when you drop into Overwatch’s equally vibrant maps, set in real places all over the world. You’ll be battling in ancient Egyptian temples, Russian omnic factories and everywhere in between, each containing nods to the characters who populate the world. In Numbani, posters for Lucio’s concert dot the streets while D.Va, an esports champion, is the centrepoint of posters in Hanamura’s arcades.
Rather than functioning as maps for all of the game’s modes, maps are cleverly matched to a specific mode, allowing them to have a really unique design for each encounter. Three maps focus around escort, tasking one team with pushing a payload between three checkpoints, while the other team tries to stop them. Assault takes teams to take turns defending and attacking two points, while hybrid sees a combination of the two, with a payload activating after the point is taken.The final mode is control, where two teams must capture and hold the same single point, with three different map sections allowing a best of three scenario. This one is probably the most chaotic and can lead to some very drawn out and dramatic overtime segments, especially when playing as a group. The map and game mode queue does a good job of shuffling through these, so you won’t feel like you’re tackling the same defence map over and over. Even better, if you get stomped by an enemy team the match ends super fast and teams are shuffled, making any pains of loss fade away quickly as you’re dropped into your next game.
Balance is a huge part of the game, and for now things are almost spot on. Thanks to a long running closed beta heroes have been tweaked This is why counters and hero switching are so important – you can make short work of that annoying Bastion by lobbing grenades over as Junkrat, or selecting a sniper to combat a pesky McCree busting your tanks. It’s all about the ebb and flow of working as a team, deciding on the fly how best to change things up and secure that win.
While it may sound complex at first, Overwatch does a fantastic job of teaching you quickly, mostly through an incredible use of sound design. Before too long you’ll know when “It’s high noon” is called you need to scurry, or that as the pitch of the healing audio cue goes higher so does your health. Little things like this mean simply listening to the audio can help you get better, taking your eyes off the HUD elements and keeping you engaged in the action.The whole package comes neatly wrapped in signature Blizzard polish, boasting their strongest online launch yet. Servers worked right off the back, performance on the PC has been very stable (though I’d love a higher FPS) and there’s not been any game-breaking bugs. If you’re looking for something new to play online, it’s hard to recommend anything better than Overwatch right now.
Overwatch is a simply stunning experience. Every character is interesting and fun to play, the relative simplicity of the game makes it easy to pick up and the match times are perfect to combat boredom or frustration. Blizzard’s first new IP in seventeen years proves they still have the spark, creating easily the best multiplayer shooter I’ve played in years.
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
A review copy was provided by the publisher.