For years, Blizzard fans anxiously awaited for the powerhouse studio to pull the curtain back and unleash Project Titan on the world. The game had been hyped as an MMO first-person shooter and, at the time, sounded like the follow up to World of Warcraft. As the industry shifted, Blizzard rolled with the punches and cancelled Titan, while announcing a smaller, team-based cooperative shooter called Overwatch. Initial reactions to the news scaled from disappointment to frustration, but now that the bizarre shooter has arrived, it’s clear that Blizzard was right all along.
Overwatch is an untraditional first-person shooter that features healers, tanks, and DPS fighters. The game lacks a campaign, but the addictive online multiplayer means that many players will sink dozens (and eventually 100s) of hours into this one even without any l0re to keep bringing them back for more.
Unlike Blizzard’s recent titles, Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone, gamers will be paying full retail for Overwatch to get the game on PC, PS4, or Xbox One. That may sound like a major hurdle for some shoppers, but it does mean that all 21 playable characters are unlocked from the get-go. There’s no rotating heroes to deal with or the pressure to purchase your favorite fighter as a microtransaction. The game is a bit of microtransaction pit, but only for aesthetic changes.
The real secret sauce that makes Overwatch special is how incredibly unique every playable character looks, feels, and interacts with the world around them. Just because two heroes both use long distance weapons to deal damage, that doesn’t mean they are interchangeable. The game is full of incredibly balanced rock, paper, scissor match-ups between heroes and the players that rise to the top are the ones who understand which opponents they are strong against and which ones are the most able to exploit their own weaknesses. Sizing up the opposing team and then switching characters appropriately after the first death is a major skill that players need to develop to succeed in Overwatch.
The mess of 21 heroes certainly don’t look like they should belong in the same game, but the little details make the bizarre setting and cast really work. The mad scientist, space marine, cowboy, and humanoid turret all feature the tiniest bright details that give players the sense that they belong to the same world. It also helps that their abilities interact in ways that mean they are clearly meant to to fight together.
The bright setting reflected by battlegrounds and characters alike is a welcome change from the usual greens and grays that plague every other AAA shooter. Although massive destruction and death are taking place all around the player, the game’s color palette and Blizzard’s trademark humor make it feel like a much lighter experience than something like Call of Duty or Halo.
Although the maps are vibrant and beautiful, gamers clocking a few hours a day may feel like there should be a few more battle arenas available (and there will be eventually). The game launches with 12 maps and each map is specifically designed for one of the game’s modes. This means that, unlike other games, users will never get the sense that they are playing ‘secure the payload’ on a map that was obviously designed for capture the flag. This is a strength because it means that every map perfectly fits the game mode – and it doesn’t hurt that they are all very well designed. The downside is that there are only 12 battlegrounds and gamers will play all of them… a lot.
At launch the game does lack some of the carrot-on-the-stick features that Blizzard’s titles usually boast. Loot boxes can be earned with every level up and these treasure chests contain fun aesthetic customizations for characters and avatars like new poses and catchphrases. Skins can be unlocked in loot boxes as well, but they feel a lot more rare. Of course, players have the option to drop real world money to pick up the costume customizations, rather than hoping to score one in a reward.
Overwatch launches with no ranked play, but it seems highly likely that this feature will arrive sooner than later. It makes sense to leave all users on the same ground for the game’s first few weeks, but Blizzard will need to offer hardcore fans some kind of Legendary status to chase in order to keep them hooked going forward. The rank systems and competitive play in Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone are a major part of the success of those games and we fully expect Blizzard to try and recreate that competitive scene in Overwatch.
In terms of world-building and lore, Blizzard really gives the audience a lot of homework. Aside from a mostly ridiculous intro cut scene, the game is void of any lore. Super fans can watch the animated shorts online, which provide lots of details about the characters and why they are saving the world. It’s nice that the story exists somewhere, but it does feel a little different from the usual Blizzard fare to have the story be completely divorced from the boxed product.
Despite only a handful of maps, no story, and no ranking system upon release, Overwatch more than makes up for all of that with its masterful focus on teamwork. The game is clearly designed with teamwork at its heart, which is a major strength, but can also lead to frustrations for any lone wolf gamers.
Playing with another person that isn’t communicating on voice chat against a team of players that are in sync is a brutal, punishing experience. It doesn’t seem fair to hold this against the game, when it is clearly marketed as a team-based gaming experience. It seems like a great strength of Overwatch that a lone wolf expert marksman can’t carry the weight of a whole team and steal a game the way that they could in CoD or other shooters.
In Overwatch, players win together or lose alone. There’s no reward for going rogue. It takes some time to adjust to this philosophy, but the demand to work together or fail alone makes Overwatch complex and incredibly rewarding.
Overwatch is now available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Game Rant played the game on PS4 and Xbox One for this review.