Overwatch Impressions

Overwatch is the newest creation to come out of Blizzard’s laboratory. It is the first exploration of a new universe in 17 years for the company, and in a very new genre for them. Blizzard has proven that they can move from genre to genre making quality games, so many fans are excited to see what they do with this new Hero-Based Multiplayer FPS.

Overwatch can be seen as a mix of Team Fortress 2 style gameplay and MOBA-based hero selection. Instead of having particular classes (ie: Medic, Scout, Sniper etc) Overwatch aims to add more personality to the game through heroes with fuller backstories. Blizzard announced that they will not be including the lore in the actual game, but will be exploring other avenues and mediums to flesh out the game’s story and characters. With its distinctive art style, Pixar-like opening cinematic, and all-age appeal, many people are considering a webseries, comic, toys, or even tv/movie to be the mediums of choice. One quote from a Blizzcon attendee was, “Remember, it’s not just Blizzard, but Blizzard Entertainment.” Speculators think that Blizzard is ramping up to become a challenger to other companies like Marvel in the entertainment industry - spreading out from games into movies and comics. The recently teased Warcraft movie could support this idea.

At the opening ceremony, and during the Overwatch panel, many of the games defining features were explained. The game will focus on 6v6 team objective maps, players will be able to change characters any time they die in a match, characters will play specific roles - rewarding strategic play and not twitch-based lethality.

The decision on team-size seemed to weigh heavily on the Overwatch devs. They had explored larger teams, and smaller teams, before deciding on the number six. In larger teams, they found that one player was fairly ineffective, leading to a game where one could not necessarily affect the outcome. In smaller teams, it felt like too much weighed on the individual player - if you were having an off-day, it basically meant that your team would lose. With six people, if one or two people aren’t performing at 100% it doesn’t necessarily weigh the team down. Conversely, one or two people on a larger team may not matter enough - hence the decision to stick to six on either side.

Blizzard also made the decision to have objective-based maps rather than team deathmatch. In fact, there will not be a deathmatch mode in the game at all. The Overwatch team explained that they wanted people to be able to play the roles they prefer playing, rather than reward lethality. This should give them more design space as well, now that not every character needs to be balanced for team-fighting. They have heroes that can buff your team, debuff the enemy team, create teleporters or turrets, heal and revive, many roles that will be played far from the firefight. When playing Overwatch, it really did feel like some of the characters had no business entering a firefight.

Another interesting factor to the gameplay side of things was the ability to switch characters during the match. Any time you died in game, you could select a new character. Blizzard included a few evolving objective maps where changing characters to fit each new situation seems like a great tactical addition. The Overwatch team gave an example of their evolving objective map. In the first half of the map, you have a typical attack/defend scenario where the attacking team must reach a checkpoint and capture it, at which point a payload is revealed and the attacking team must escort the payload through the second half of the map. Pretty neat way to shake things up during the match.

Overall the presentation on Overwatch was very cool, and we did get some time with the game during the convention. With that in mind, we can explore a few of the different points in relation to how they actually feel during a match.

Regarding team size -- six did feel like the right number, however many of the maps we played on were actually fairly small. This forced a lot of teamfights, and the two tank heroes seemed to really excel in these situations. At one point the enemy team all switched to the same tank character, and steamrolled our intrepid heroes. Blizzard may have to adjust how many people can play as the same character at once in order to balance this. In one of the featured maps, there was only one choke point, which made defending it incredibly easy with the turret building hero. These issues will most likely be addressed by the players’ skill and knowledge of the maps, however they’re still something to consider.

Many of the characters felt very underpowered. This could be Blizzard attempting to bring the focus toward the tactical gameplay rather than the player versus player fighting. However, there are still many characters who can initiate fights, and they can easily one or two-shot some of the non-fighting classes. This led to the majority of new players choosing the more combat oriented heroes. Possibly with more practice the tactical classes will gain more popularity, but for the uninitiated, combat was the way to go.

There were twelve playable heroes at Blizzcon, and each felt very different. The major differences among them all were mobility, deadliness, and their abilities. Each class has a distinct weapon, two main abilities, and an ultimate. Every hero’s abilities varied incredibly with some being able to teleport, create turrets, heal others, increase teammates’ damage, and create damage absorbing shields. This made for some very chaotic games and gameplay situations which lends itself well to the wacky nature of the game.

It will be exciting to see how Overwatch develops and addresses some of the issues already raised. It’s a foray into a genre that Blizzard is unfamiliar with, however they’ve been expanding their catalogue into new games over the last few years and each one seems to be a success. It is certainly a breath of fresh air into the genre as the last major release in hero/class-based multiplayer FPS was Team Fortress 2 seven years ago. We’ll see how Overwatch affects that player base, and if it garners as much fanfare and attention as TF2 has.