It’s been a little under a year since Blizzard launched their first foray into the first-person shooter market with Overwatch, and it would be a complete understatement to say that the venture has been a success for them, which is commendable given that it was somewhat born out of a failure for Blizzard.
Back in 2007 it was confirmed that Blizzard Entertainment were working on a massively multiplayer online shooter game called Titan, and although little was revealed about the game, we knew it was to be a class based shooter where players could add points to skill trees to increase their abilities as they progressed through the game, much like in other MMO’s such as Blizzards own World Of Warcraft. In May 2013 however, Blizzard announced that Titan had been delayed – but in truth the game had already been cancelled internally. While most of the Titan team were transferred to other departments, 40 members of the team were kept together in a group to create a new IP. Inspired by the success of team based shooters such as Team Fortress 2, this group of 40 – headed by Jeff Kaplan – used existing Titan assets to develop a prototype for a team based shooter that would eventually become Overwatch.
Overwatch launched on May 24th 2016 to both critical and commercial success, with Blizzard reporting 7 million players after its first week. This figure has continued to grow, with the company reporting 10 million players by mid-June, 20 million by October and 25 million players as of January 2017. So now, approaching its first birthday, we ask the question – Is Overwatch still worth a purchase?
Overwatch is set on a near-future version of Earth, and while it does have a narrative, you’ll have to search for it. Overwatch doesn’t have a single player component, it is strictly online only – it’s narrative exists through settings, voice lines, random character interaction, online animated shorts and comics. You don’t have to follow or understand the narrative to enjoy the game, but it’s there if you want to learn more about it. Players face off in teams of 6 vs 6 in objective based games across 14 maps, with a cast of 24 heroes to choose from.
Overwatch doesn’t have a single player component, it is strictly online only
I’d like to talk about the art style first, which makes Overwatch instantly recognisable. The maps and characters are all bright, colourful, vibrant. This is a far cry from your standard brown/beige/grey aesthetics of a Call of Duty, Battlefield or Halo. The cartoon-y finish of Overwatch helps to establish the important thing about the game, it’s meant to be fun, and damn it’s fun.
The excellent heroes of Overwatch are its main centrepiece. The 24 characters are sort of sub categorised into four classes – Attack, Defend, Tank and Support (which is basically healer) – and each one looks, feels and plays distinctively different – From a Japanese bowman, to a genius Gorilla scientist or a music blasting healer on skates – each hero has their own backstory, their own distinct ethnic background, their own unique abilities and their own usefulness in the right situation. For example, the character of Reinhardt can project a large shield that can help his team to push through a crucial choke point, while the robot-come-sentry turret Bastion can set up and defend the said choke point by destroying the shield quickly. A jetpack propelled Pharah can cause havoc by firing rockets down from the air, but an accurate Soldier 76 who can fire his assault rifle from long range can drop her quickly. Each hero is easy to learn but difficult to master, which makes the game both fun to play and skill dependant – but where Overwatch really excels is in broadening the definition of what skill is. A great aim doesn’t make you the best player, such are the depths of the characters that superior decision making ability or map awareness can be just as vital to an engagement as someone with a dead shot aim, which makes the game equally accessible to everyone.
Certain heroes favour certain maps, certain heroes counter other heroes, and learning these things are key to success
The remarkable thing is, in general none of these characters feel over powered. Blizzard have done an unbelievable job with keeping a game full of so many differing characters and abilities feel balanced – certain characters are only useful at close range while some are more effective at long range, so considering the map layout and who your opponents are playing as is key to picking the right hero for the right situation. Certain heroes favour certain maps, certain heroes counter other heroes, and learning these things are key to success. There is a lot to learn, but the important thing is that you’ll have fun while learning. Teamwork is also vital, this game is not designed to be a run and gun one-man army killstreak fest like Call of Duty, Overwatch is designed to encourage teamwork and cooperation to achieve a goal together, and that’s what makes it feel so rewarding. Picking heroes that complement each other is key, as is picking the right team composition for each match. The diversity of the characters means that no one structure of team composition is standard – two tanks, two supports and two attacks isn’t always the best way to go, you must understand the characters, think about who your opponents are playing as and what map you are playing and build from there. It’s these intricacies which make Overwatch stand out from the crowd, and it’s these intricacies which make Overwatch an overwhelming success, and although there have been some slight balance issues along the way, these have always been corrected with various swift buffs and nerfs to characters.
Overwatch had one problem at launch – it was a bit bare on content. It had just 12 maps with each map dedicated to a specific game mode (of which there are only four) and 21 heroes to play as – nearly twelve months on and we have seen the addition of a skill rating based competitive mode, custom games, arcade mode, 3 new heroes and 2 new maps, and while it could be argued that these things should have been present at launch the important thing is that all of these have come in the form of free downloadable content, and all of the upcoming updates have been excellently put to and discussed with the community by the way of Jeff Kaplans developer updates on YouTube and various posts on the Overwatch forums. Both new maps are great, and all three of the new heroes are equally as unique and viable in the right situation as the original cast. The competitive mode can be addictive, frustrating and rewarding and its rewards can be used to unlock skins, voice lines, sprays and golden weapons – but if this isn’t your scene then there is a Quick Play mode for casual play. Unfortunately paid content rears its ugly head in the form of loot boxes which reward the player with various cosmetic items but these can easily be earned through play and don’t give the player any kind of advantage.
With all that being said, is Overwatch still worth a purchase? Absolutely. The game and its community are still thriving – with more planned free content and more seasonal events (that offer seasonal arcade modes, seasonal cosmetics and some map alterations) on the way, this game is going nowhere. Excellent map and character design coupled with a colourful and vibrant aesthetic design make the game both an absolute blast and a tactical delight to play, and while it would benefit from a few more maps and some more varied game modes, it still manages to keep me and many others hooked for hours on end, and that’s without considering the fantastic lore and narrative that’s available to explore both in and beyond the game if you so wish.