Overwatch is an interesting mix. While the game is classified as an objective-based team first-person shooter, it has an MOBA flavor. Heroes in this game have ultimate abilities with special effects. Often times, you can turn the tides of battle by using your ultimate ability at the right moment.
On the other hand, the FPS component is very strong in the game. Having a good aim is as much important as timing your ultimate ability. The game has plenty of characters for players with solid FPS experience. At the same time, you will find a hero to play even if you are bad at shooting and don't have good aiming skills. Each hero has its own interesting style of play and design.
GameplayOverwatch, at first, appears to be a cartoony team-based shooter with a wide variety of ways to go about your killing. Each of the 21 characters has two or three abilities, an ultimate ability, and one or two passive abilities. The game is an FPS at heart, so many of the mechanics will feel familiar with certain heroes. Once you dive in and spend a few hours in this world, however, the distinguishing characteristics reveal themselves. For instance, Halo and COD players will feel at home when playing Soldier 76 or Pharah, but may be a bit lost if they pick up Reinhardt with no experience. That is because this is not a point-and-shoot video game. There's no team-wide kill counter, stressing the fact that this game is not about a solo killing spree. Healers such as Mercy can go an entire game without a kill and still be effective. A tank like Reinhardt can spend the whole match blocking and still be the MVP. Having the most kills does not guarantee the win, and Blizzard accentuates this fact in the way they tackle scoring. This is a team game, and Blizzard made sure to stress that team composition is the most important key to success. An effective team will have only a few players who focus on killing, with the rest of the team as tanks, healers or builders. Solo accolades mean next to nothing in this game, and a team focusing solely on DPS (damage per second) and MLG sniping will find themselves respawning more often than not.
With Overwatch diverting the focus from the popular K/D format, the game types follow suit. You will not find a "Team Deathmatch" or "Slayer" game mode in the game, as the focal point of their game types are objectives instead of a simple point system. You will find yourself escorting a payload from checkpoint to checkpoint, claiming a zone from enemy control or playing some good-old-fashioned king of the hill. These game types further reinforce team composition and communication, prioritizing this over personal statistics. In addition, each map is designated for its own game mode. Overwatch does not try to force four or five game types into one map, instead, it focuses on creating a map that is perfect for the game type being played.
At the end of each match, the players will see a screen like the one shown above, detailing the most prestigious accolades of the match. The players then vote for the statistics they feel had the biggest impact on the game or are the most impressive. This is where the unconventional scoring of Overwatch gets the most recognition. Though a healer may not be racking up kills, they can be rewarded with a card for the amount of healing done. If a player is "on fire" for most of the match ("on fire" can occur while healing, doing damage or tanking) they will receive an MVP card. The cards are yet another mechanism in the game that rewards players for putting the team first. In my experience, the healers often garner the most votes at the end of a match. It's an unpopular and generally under-appreciated role, and the community has done a good job incentivizing playing as a healing character.
HeroesThe 21 heroes in this game are so vast and unique that they deserve their own individual reviews. Their passive and active abilities are too diverse to be covered with blanket statements. I can't begin to do them justice in one article, but it's clear that Blizzard has taken their love of video game history and injected it into their newest venture. In an interview with Gamespot, Blizzard's Gaming Director, Jeff Kaplan indicates that as recent FPS games have been "trending towards realism," he believes there is a void in the cartoonish and unrealistic shooters that the community used to enjoy. He also sees the current FPS market full of games with typical mobility, and this is something that Blizzard actively rejects in Overwatch. From climbing walls with Genji or Hanzo to flying in the air with Pharah, the heroes in the game have unique ways of getting from point to point. In addition, the developers' influences are evident in the heroes they created. Each character shows an individual influence; Pharah has a TF2 soldier appeal, Hanzo and Genji have mobility similar to that seen in Assassin's Creed, Reinhardt is like a traditional RPG melee character, Soldier 76 is an obvious interpretation of modern FPS games like Call of Duty and the gameplay itself is reminiscent of Counter Strike. The comparisons are virtually endless, and show how this team of developers took their favorite games and jammed them into one action-packed FPS.
Class BalanceAlthough I have not dedicated the last 24 hours to playing Overwatch (I would have if I could have) and have not played all of the heroes at length, I have at least tested them (both in the beta and the live game). This is, after all, a "first look" review, and not a 40 hours+ review. With that in mind, at my stage in the game, I have not found any overpowered or useless heroes. Every hero has their role and can work in the right situation. Likewise, each hero has an effective counter and can be rendered useless in the wrong situation. A character like Bastion seems completely overpowered to a new player, as his turret form can spray bullets from a vantage point and take out an entire team. For a more experienced player, Bastion is actually much weaker than he first appears. He is virtually useless on attack and can be countered by snipers like Hanzo and Widowmaker. On top of that, Genji can reflect the barrage of bullets back at Bastion or at another teammate. Games like Overwatch often launch with broken characters on both ends of the spectrum, but Blizzard seems to have been able to strike a balance between effectiveness and hindrance.
Progression and CustomizationProgression through the game is similar to any competitive FPS. Since there is no story mode, a player will need to be content with progression through competition. With each match, a player gains XP and eventually levels up. At level 25, competitive play is unlocked and your ranking is then dependent on winning and losing matches. I have not been able to hit the coveted competitive mode, so I will refrain from commenting until I try it, though I understand there will be seasons and resets to keep the competition fresh.
When you gain a level, you receive a loot box. This box contains your customization articles, which can be anything from character skins, sprays, player icons, voice lines, character poses, coins and more. These allow customization of individual heroes and will eventually make each player more distinguishable. These loot boxes are where the micro-transactions hide. For $2.00 you can buy one loot box, or 50 for $40.00. It's unfortunate, but micro-transactions are to be expected in new games. All things considered, this the best way to go about them. The products are 100% cosmetic and the prices are reasonable. I would never buy one, but it doesn't make me feel as though I'm behind for refusing to spend more money.
PlotHaving no story mode worried me initially. Star Wars Battlefront had a similar strategy and lost most of its player base as the novelty wore off. Overwatch is much different. Although there is no "story mode" in the game, Blizzard clearly put a lot of effort into developing a backstory for the characters. Sprinkled around the map are artifacts and posters that give the characters' context, such as a "Lucio in concert" poster. The way the characters interact also give hints as to how they know each other, as they often exchange a few words before the match begins. The most detailed information, however, is found outside the game. The animated shorts and comics can be seen on YouTube or on the game's website, and give a glimpse into the evolving story of each of these characters. From Tracer's attempt at foiling Widowmaker's assassination of Zenyatta to the complicated relationship of Hanzo and Genji, these stories engage and hint at a larger plot line yet to be discovered. With only some of the heroes covered in these comics and shorts, more of the plot surrounding Overwatch is sure to be uncovered as the game's life cycle continues.
VERDICTSo far, Overwatch is everything I want it to be. This is the perfect game for fans of old-school FPS's with a dash of RPG for flavor. It's competitive and intense at the same time as it's light and fun. Even as the hours pass and playtime gets longer, there are more and more aspects of the heroes and maps to discover. Every game will leave you with new strategies for your next match. This title lends itself greatly to the E-sports crowd, and will likely have a league in the near future.
As far as launch issues; I played on Xbox One and we were unable to play with friends for the first night. While this was frustrating (there was no effective workaround), they were quick to acknowledge the problem, which was fixed in less than 24 hours. In terms of launch-night horror stories, this is far from the worst thing that could have happened. What's more, Blizzard has indicated that any future content (including maps and heroes) will be free, abandoning the popular DLC and season pass model. This will keep the community competitive and united. Unlike COD, who's player base is split after the first DLC, Overwatch will keep all players together, adding to the longevity of this game. After ten or so hours of playing the live game, I give it a 9/10.
| + Perfect game for fans of old-school FPS's|| - Launch issues|
| + Dash of RPG|
| + Competitive and intense, light and fun at the same time|
| + Enormous amount of content to discover|
| + E-sports potential|