“Into The Fray”
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Format: PC (reviewed), PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: May 24, 2016
Overwatch is a rare exercise of polish and refinement coming together to form something special. At a glance, Blizzard Entertainment’s first new IP in nearly two decades, looks like a traditional first-person multiplayer shooter. However, beneath Overwatch’s inviting cartoonish flare and manic battles, lies an incredibly deep and engaging multiplayer experience ripe with intricate nuances that reinforce a solid foundation. Overwatch is a game brimming with great ideas and even better execution, allowing room for unforeseen layers of complexity to emerge in engaging ways the more you play. For as simple as Overwatch’s presentation is, it’s complemented with an abundance of tactical strategy, immaculate mechanics, and spectacular action that ensure its 6v6, objective-based modes never grow dull.
More than its peers, Overwatch is rooted in honing skill, providing players with the necessary material to learn, practice, and ultimately master, a respective character or class. There’s something incredibly addicting about uncovering the utility behind each member of the 21 character roster. Unfolding their potential effectiveness in battle lends plentiful replayability to the somewhat basic nature of each mode, keeping matters consistently rewarding many hours in. Overwatch is an exceptionally designed and refined experience, proudly displaying aptitudes of balance, personality, and near perfect pace. Blizzard Entertainment’s latest, is a spectacular combination of some of the genre’s strongest ideas; embracing the lasting power to secure itself a rightful spot as one of the best multiplayer shooters to date.For all Overwatch accomplishes, its biggest success is constructed upon its lineup of largely fantastic characters. The roster of 21 unique heroes are playable right out of the gate, creating a prolific volume of decisions to be made as soon as you enter a match. It’s immediately overwhelming, yet as you begin to better familiarize yourself with the purpose of each class, difficulty level of specific characters, and accessibility in relation to playstyles, Overwatch morphs into something greater than the sum of its parts. Once you realize Overwatch is essentially about following a path of discovery, everything around its fundamentals begins to fall into place with a rare cadence of rewarding cohesion. Giving the title a sustained level of experimentation is the motivation to employ new tactics, such as reorganizing defensive positioning with new characters, or charging the opposing team while on offense with more aggressive maneuvers. These spurt of spontaneous strategy are considerably heightened when taking into consideration the balancing of a team’s hero lineup.
EACH OF OVERWATCH’S CHARACTERS LOOK AND FEEL INCREDIBLY UNIQUE
Excelling by taking simple gameplay elements and melding them into something with a great deal of depth, Overwatch lives and dies on the back of the 21 playable fighters. Fortunately, Overwatch’s cast is a remarkable highlight, with each hero conveying their own distinctive personality, compelling origin, and memorable design. Heading into battle with a hulking gorilla scientist, cocky cowboy, endearing climatologist and charming time-jumping adventurer, is quite unlike any other shooter out there. You’d think this potential thematic clash could derail the investment in the radically different personas on display, yet if anything, Overwatch is strengthened by diversity. With so many options on the table to pick from in terms of heroes, it can be easy to forget playing the objective and choosing a character which best complements the task at hand. An attacking team without at least one healer or tank unit is going to be hard-pressed to find swift victory. On the other hand, a team of defenders will be fighting an uphill battle if no one opts to embody a member of the defensive class. With that said, there isn’t a definitive winning formula in terms of a team’s lineup, no single combination of tanks, attackers, or supports is going to guarantee a victory. Granted, balance is a crucial aspect in improving odds of success, but Overwatch’s gameplay is dependent on a multitude of other factors beyond crafting the prefect team. Without a doubt, Overwatch’s biggest learning curve lies in its firm resistance to offer a character that’s able to cover every gameplay base. With each distinct cast members encompassing completely different strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities, Overwatch is able to avoid feeling like the same experience match after match. The gruff Soldier: 76 is perhaps the most accessible of the bunch, yet his viability to the team quickly takes on limitations. He’s the closest hero to being an exception to Blizzard’s reluctance to incorporate more modern influenced characters–acting as a gateway hero for players more attracted to Call of Duty. However, even with the inclusion of Soldier: 76, Overwatch manages to feel wholly refreshing as a multiplayer package in 2016. Full of minute details that encourage players to invest more time into various characters, Overwatch shines in offering a reason to return to specific heroes.
Whether you’re drawn to running with Hanzo when defending Hanamura, or Tracer when attacking King’s Row, there’s never a shortage of character selection decisions to be made. As you become comfortable with specific characters, maps, and modes, a deep level of potential strategy reveals itself in the form of mid-game hero switching. Take the Assault game mode on the Volskaya Industries map for example, in the shoes of a defender, I’d likely begin the match as the rocket wielding Pharah. In the event of losing the first primary objective to the enemy team, I might switch over to Mei, a capable defender, sporting her handy ice wall ability. In the end, it’s this sort of unpredictable process that gives Overwatch the longevity and legs to stand on, it so proudly showcases.
NEW LAYERS OF INTRICATE DEPTH ARE UNCOVERED THE MORE YOU PLAY
In terms of maps and modes, Overwatch comes with 12 and four, respectively. By modern standards this may not seem like a lot, but what Blizzard Entertainment lacks in terms of hard numbers, they more than make up for elsewhere. Luckily, Overwatch’s rather short list of modes and moderate amount of maps avoid becoming weakness in the grand scheme of things. This is likely due to the fact that each map is candidly tied to an objective type, meaning if you’re playing on the map Watchpoint: Gibraltar, you’re participating in the Escort game mode. The construction and overall design of each map feels rightfully in-line with the current objective, with arenas that welcome multiple playstyles with open arms. Perhaps the design’s greatest feat in regards to the maps, are how they masterfully funnel players into points of action, while simultaneously allowing them to traverse environments how they see fit. The only real caveat here is the time it takes to get back into the fight. Without the provisions of Symmetra’s teleporter in place, strolling back to the fight with a slower moving character can be laborious. It’s more of an inconvenience than anything, but it does temporarily dampen the otherwise extraordinary pace.For as immaculately designed as Overwatch is, it isn’t flawless. That said, rough spots are reserved for the smallest of annoyances that on their own, have little affect on the actual quality of the game itself. Paramount to Overwatch’s issues is the questionable loot and progression system. While the tangible reward of learning and mastering a character is extraordinarily satisfying, the core leveling that follows each match is attached to an underwhelming, randomized loot system. It fails to serve a purpose beyond awarding the player with drip fed aesthetic material, such as character skins, emblems, poses and the occasional voice line. There’s no promise that a loot box will contain anything of interest to you, which makes the fact the system is built to accommodate superfluous microtransactions, all the more confusing.
Nevertheless, even with the simplistic, purposeless progression, Blizzard Entertainment has mostly knocked it out of the park with Overwatch. It’s quite possibly one of the better first-person multiplayer shooter ever created, illustrating fine-tuned balance and an emphasis on using your brain in meaningful ways. If you spend enough time with Overwatch, it becomes apparent everything isn’t as straightforward as it initially seems. Hiding under the clean and concise presentation–ripe with intoxicating personality–is a striking shooter with unrelenting standout moments. It can’t be restated enough the level of polish Overwatch exudes into all of its facets, creating a supremely impressive visual and mechanical manifestation. Conclusion: For as many praiseworthy adjectives I can crown upon Overwatch’s myriad of strengths, most all lead to the same simple conclusion; Overwatch is an absolute whirlwind of over-the-top enjoyment. It’s not everyday a multiplayer-centric title of this caliber comes along, emitting such dedication to various motivations. With the exception of the somewhat disappointing progression system and presumptuous inclusion of microtransactions, there’s very little about Overwatch that doesn’t feel completely realized. The variety of combat and diversity of heroes keeps the gameplay feeling fresh, match after match, fortifying the core vision driving the entire venture. Due to the focused nature of Blizzard’s goals, Overwatch never once feels like it’s trying to expand into something that it isn’t. This might bring up the notion that Overwatch isn’t ambitious, or full enough on content, yet that’s not quite the point. It’s a game that leans on exceptional execution to prove you don’t need loads of maps and modes to retain longevity. With this, Overwatch achieves a level of purity, and in knowing exactly what it is, puts its foot down on being anything more or less than an outstanding multiplayer shooter.