Team Fortress 3?
HIGH: Launching into the air and landing the perfect Pharah ultimate
LOW: The feeling of helplessness against a Bastion/Reinhardt combo
WTF: A Play of the Game in which Junkrat kills himself and three others by flooding a room with grenades.
Overwatch is friendly. Very friendly, in fact. Its world is bright and colorful, its cast of characters is animated and vibrant, and it goes to great lengths to ensure that players have a positive experience, like a doting waiter at a fancy restaurant. This powerhouse title from Blizzard is sparing no effort in an attempt to anoint itself the successor to Team Fortress 2, which is the current ruler of its genre. Overwatch comes closer than anything I’ve seen up until this point, but the ball is dropped in too many places for me to crown it as the new king just yet.
A team-based first-person shooter, Overwatch offers 21 different characters, each with their own unique weapons and abilities. Every hero fills a different role — Tracer handles hit-and-run attack duties, Mercy’s got dedicated healing and damage buffs, and Zarya has stalwart defensive abilities, just to name a few.
As the latest entry in what is becoming an increasingly-crowded genre, Overwatch initially stands out by offering an extremely smooth initiation process. It’s an area where many similar games fail, and it’s hard to overstate just how well it treats new players. By avoiding a steep learning curve or esoteric mechanisms that might turn away the uninitiated, Overwatch is downright Mario Kart-esque in how easy it is to pick up and play. In this regard, it deserves all the credit one can give it.
For example, it respects the player’s time as matches rarely last longer than 15 or 20 minutes and can be exited at will. All characters and their weapons and abilities are available from the start, with no unlocking or grinding required. Finally (and in my opinion, most importantly) there’s a sandbox mode where players can practice with different characters at their leisure. That last item is a badly needed feature in most multiplayer-focused games, so its inclusion here was particularly welcome.
Post-game stats and highlights, usually the place for trash talk and assorted “git gud” comments, are also geared towards being a positive experience. The information displayed is designed to highlight varied aspects of the player’s performance, such the amount of healing done, projectiles blocked, time spent on objectives, and so on. Standard kill/death ratios are strongly de-emphasized in favor of more progressive metrics, and this lack of “you suck” statistics is welcome. The value in this kindness shouldn’t be underestimated, as it goes a long way in keeping players who aren’t ace headshotters around.
The wonderful collection of heroes is another major point in Overwatch’s favor. In addition to looking and sounding great, most of the characters are easy to pick up and understand quickly, and the best quirks and qualities from Team Fortress 2’s roster have been spread out over a more diverse group. For example, Torbjörn’s stationary defense turret and Symmetra’s web of smaller turrets represent the two most prominent Engineer play styles split into two classes. The two most common Soldier builds can be seen in Pharah and Soldier 76 as well. The correlation isn’t exact for everyone, but the Team Fortress influence is undeniable.
Unfortunately, while the cast oozes charm, there are several balance issues that need to be ironed out. The most notorious is Bastion’s incredibly powerful chaingun which also has absurd range, making many characters who should be able to counter him ineffective, and a Bastion behind the huge shield of a Reinhardt is a recipe for a bad time. Getting hit by Hanzo’s ultimate attack is a frustrating way to die because it passes through almost all physical barriers, and Torbjörn’s tanking ability combined with the power of his sentry turrets can hold an entire team at bay almost single-handedly. There are plenty of other imbalances, and such problems aren’t unexpected for a game of this scale. However, Overwatch will have to address these things if it wants the staying power of its contemporaries.
Another issue is that there’s a dearth of game modes to play at launch, offering only two discrete options — capture points and payload escort. (A third mode exists, but it’s just a combination of the first two) The available maps are pretty, but they’re unremarkable and tend to be chokepoint-heavy, leading to a lot of stalled action. I can understand wanting to keep things simple in order to nail the launch, but after four or five matches I felt like I had seen everything the game had to offer in this regard. Again, these are the kinds of things Blizzard will have to improve if Overwatch is going to be around for the long haul.
Overwatch is trying hard to rope in players who don’t normally go for team-based shooters, and in that respect it succeeds better than any other game in its class. The exceptional treatment newcomers get makes me want to love it, but I’ll need more modes and better maps if I’m going to spend hundreds of hours with it as I have with similar titles. Given Blizzard’s record with post-release updates I’m confident that those things are coming, but right now there just isn’t enough there for it to fill the Team Fortress 2-sized gap in my life.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Blizzard. It is currently available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. This copy of the game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the game, and all modes are online multiplayer.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood, Use of Tobacco, Violence. I have yet to see any instances of blood in the game, though the ESRB says it’s there. While online interactions may vary (as always!) there’s nothing objectionable to be found content-wise, and I would have no issue letting a child play this.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Unfortunately hearing-impaired players will likely have a difficult time. Many of the ultimate abilities are signaled only by audio cues without visual components, and in the case of Hanzo’s dragon shot or Junkrat’s rip tire, the audio cue is often the only warning to get out of the way. It’s not unplayable, but a lack of hearing will be a significant disadvantage.
Remappable Controls: Yes, the PC version offers fully remappable controls.
Colorblind Modes: There are detailed colorblind modes available in the options.
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