I’m not an online shooter guy. The opposite, really. I rarely check out multiplayer modes in games, and there are few things more boring to me than running around an arena shooting at other people for hours on end. As such, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to Overwatch in the run-up to its release. It just didn’t seem like a thing I should care about.
I likely would have kept on ignoring it for who knows how long except for a few things…
The first was that I’d heard so much positive word-of-mouth that the critical part of my brain felt like it was maybe worth a look. That by itself wouldn’t be enough to sway me since there’s no shortage of unwarranted positivity about any new game that comes down the pike, but it just so happened that my oldest son came to stay with me for the summer, and he loves anything where two (or more) people try to kill each other. We have differing tastes, but we needed something to work on together, so Overwatch seemed as good a choice as any.
Considering that I went into it with no real interest, I couldn’t have been more surprised to find that this game I never planned to play ended up being a fantastically good time.
Although I like the aesthetics and character design (always important!) I loved that the 21 beginning characters are so fundamentally different. I also appreciated that the phrase ‘team-based’ means more than a bunch of people playing individually for the same side. In Overwatch, people actually have to work together in order to get ahead.
In service to this idea of teamwork, there are several different roles available. For someone like me who is absolutely garbage at nailing headshots, the ability to take on supporting or defensive tasks means that I can bring value to my team while not needing lightning-fast twitch reflexes. I’ve heard that Blizzard intended this variety-as-approachability as one of their main focuses when designing the game, and I’d say they succeeded beautifully.
While what I’ve just mentioned is good, there’s another layer to Overwatch which is probably what hooked me the most — the puzzle-like meta-quality to each match.
Because Overwatch lets players switch characters at any time, they’re never locked into a certain role. I’ll frequently start off as an offensive attacker, get stuck at a chokepoint, and then switch to a defender or a sniper to push through. In another, I’ll start as a sniper for covering long, open stretches, but switch to a close-range character for proximity advantage when the fight moves to narrow hallways. This constant examination and re-examination of what’s happening combined with the ability to swap to a more appropriate character keeps me on my toes.
The specificity of characters adds to this meta-layer. For example, I didn’t understand what Winston the giant gorilla was for until a friend on Twitter shared some insights. He can leap incredibly long distances, create a barrier shield, and he carries a short-range tesla-type gun, but when I tried to use him as an all-purpose character, it was a spectacular fail. However, once I played to his strengths, it was a night-and-day difference. Instead of using him for straight assault, I used his leaping to pick off enemies on nearby roofs. Snipers in Overwatch don’t have much life and they don’t expect characters to rocket straight into their face from ground level — in a role like this, he performs magnificently. Once the enemy team caught on to me patrolling the rooftops, they switched to different tactics, which in turn led me to choose someone else. This constant push and pull of characters on the field lends the game quite a bit of richness.
Another great aspect to Overwatch is that the game can be played and enjoyed solo (everyone’s auto-matched with others of similar level) but when playing with friends, it takes on yet another level of complexity.
For example, some powers specifically benefit other members of the team – the healers are the most obvious ones meant to assist, but Symmetra creates armor only usable by others, and the Russian gunner Zarya can cast a barrier on friends which shields them, but also powers up her own weapon. When players understand how the characters work and take advantage of the connections, everyone benefits.
Although Overwatch is just getting off the ground and there are clear areas where it needs to grow (more modes, character balance tweaks, and so on) Blizzard has already made an incredibly positive first impression on me, and I look forward to seeing how the game grows in the coming months – With a start as strong as this, the odds are that it’s only going to get better.