Overwatch Delivers, Though Content is Light
NOTE: The score at the bottom reflects Overwatch as it is at launch. Blizzard has reportedly said more content will be on the way, and that it will be free to the players (there are microtransactions for those who want to unlock the loot boxes sooner rather than later). The score is as objective as I could make it, factoring in the game’s performance, content, and overall value, as well as the subjective feelings on how fun it is to play. This may not be its final score as the game grows in the coming months, if indeed it does grow. The subjective part is obviously based on my own experience with the game. Others may love it more, or like it less, and the score is just a guide as to whether you may want to play or purchase the game. Hopefully it will be taken as such.
With that out of the way, it’s time to discuss Overwatch, a team oriented shooter from Blizzard and Activision. Some things on face value: The launch version of the game has 21 characters to play as (more are promised in future updates). The 21 characters are divided into four classes: Offense, Tank, Defense, and Support. The game has 12 maps at launch, three maps for each of the four game modes: Escort (guiding a vehicle to an objective point while protecting it from the opposing team), Assault (capturing an objective point on the map), Control (defending a point on the map), and Hybrid (a mix of Assault and Escort). Each match features 6v6 gameplay, with a strong emphasis on teamwork. Each character has a primary and secondary attack on their weapons, two special abilities, and one supercharged ability that becomes active once the meter is filled. Points are awarded for actions, medals earned, how much you heal, and etc., and reaching a new level grants you a loot box. The loot boxes contain cosmetic items, such as your spray tag, skins, emotes, and voiced lines.
Those are the facts of the game, but how does Overwatch play? Well, to put it simply, it’s quite fun. The frame rate holds up and I haven’t seen it drop yet during a match. Each of the 21 characters play differently, and you’ll need to adjust your playstyle accordingly depending on which one you choose. Offensive characters like McCree or Reaper are made to head up the assault with dual guns blazing. Tanks like Reinhardt and Winston have a greater amount of health and are used to get in close and deal out massive damage. Defensive characters like Bastion and Widowmaker are meant to hang back and protect your objective on the map. And support characters like Mercy and Zenyatta are there to boost the health of other players or provide shielding. Each character has its primary purpose, but that doesn’t mean you’re limited in their usage. An Offensive character can hang back to defend a point, and Defensive characters can charge into the fray. Even Support characters have an offensive weapon that can deal damage to the opposing team. The key is to pay attention to teammates and work together. Playing a match against AI bots can help players learn the ropes, as well as help them level up to open more loot boxes to customize the characters. A training mode will help you learn the fundamentals, and you can sharpen your shooting skills on a practice range. Each match lasts around 10-15 minutes, so the game is good for diving in for a quick session or playing for longer spells.
The maps are varied, but all help get you to the action quickly. Health pickups are sprinkled throughout, so if you find yourself separated from your team’s healer (provided someone chose that role) you can get some health back if damaged. Pickups respawn fairly quickly, so you never have to run frantically about the map looking for them. The maps do provide for choke-points and upper levels to assault the other team from. Being aware of your surroundings can be crucial, as you never know where an attack will come from. Characters like Widowmaker or Pharah work well in elevated attacks, or you can use a character like Torbjorn to place a turret up high for an efficient trap. The turret is a powerful weapon, and running blindly into it will result in a quick death. Other characters can lay traps as well, like Junkrat with steel traps that snap shut on a character’s leg, immobilizing them. Or you can use Symmetra’s wall mounted sentries, which can act as an alarm as well as a defensive weapon. Being constantly on the move is important as well, both for evading attacks as well as for coming to the aid of your teammates. And while there are multiple paths through a map, the maps are not so big that you waste time getting to your objective.
Making use of each character’s abilities is also crucial to successful gameplay. Torbjorn will drop armor for other players. Soldier 76 can set up a healing zone. Mei can raise an ice wall. Getting familiar with all of the nuances for each character can take some time, but it helps in building a balanced team. The game does offer hints at how to build your team, letting you know if you have too many offensive characters or no support. Unfortunately, the game does not prevent multiple characters from being chosen on the same team. On the one hand it’s nice, since you can never be barred from choosing a favorite. On the other hand, it can lead to an unbalanced team, which all too often can spell defeat. Thankfully you can switch your character on the fly, filling in roles as needed during the match. Progression only unlocks loot boxes, so you won’t have to worry about your character not measuring up. In fact, other than the ability to customize the look and sound of the characters, the progression in the game serves little purpose. What each character has for match number one will be the same thing they have for match one hundred. Only their look and voiced lines may change. There is no level cap, and with 54 or 55 unlockables to open per character, that’s probably a good thing. But if you were thinking a higher level will work like it does in other shooters, you’re mistaken. On one hand, this can be a good thing, meaning everyone will be on an even keel and success is determined by skill, not leveled up weapons or armor. On the other hand, it loses its sense of progress, reminding you only that you’ve made some by telling you how many loot boxes you have to open in the main menu.
While the characters are varied and all have likable personalities, you’ll need to go out of the game to learn each one’s backstory. Some levels offer scant clues here and there, but nothing more. There are no cut scenes for each character, though going to playoverwatch on YouTube will enable you to watch stylish, animated shorts, each featuring a different character. They haven’t covered them all yet, but it feels like a missed opportunity that these weren’t used as unlockables within the game. Even Overwatch’s overarching story, told briefly by Winston in the opening cinematic, means nothing as you play matches across the 12 maps. Sure they go to different locales around the globe, but it’s really all meaningless other than to give you a different background to duke it out against. The lack of any single player content, like a campaign or even some missions tied to each character stands out, making the title feel like a lesser overall package. This is a bare bones, multiplayer only title, and for some that will mean they’ll hold off until there’s a price drop. Others may trust in Blizzard, given their track record in supporting their games as time goes on. The thing is, while waiting for additional content, will the game be relegated to gathering dust or traded in on something with more substance? That will be an individual decision, of course, but only time will tell if this game will truly have legs.
Which brings me to the question of Overwatch’s value. This all depends on how much you enjoy team shooters. The game is fun to play, no doubt about that. Overwatch performs smoothly and can be picked up by any player of any skill level, so it’s friendly to those new to online shooters but takes enough time to master that veterans should be pleased. But with only four modes of play (and you can’t choose them as they come up randomly, assigned to whichever map is next in the rotation) some may tire of the game quickly, finding its repetition more tedious than enjoyable. Playing as all 21 characters can take a little time, if players are willing to put that time in. It makes it hard to recommend as a purchase at launch, despite the fact that what is there is excellently done. Overwatch is a superb shooter, and because of that I have no reservations about calling it a must play. But the lack of content at launch makes it hard to label it a must buy, despite Blizzard’s promises for a brighter future.
In all, Overwatch is a terrific team based shooter with a nice roster of varied characters to choose from. Both newcomer and veteran can dive in and do well, and enjoy the fast paced, colorful action. But this is a light package on launch, with bare bones content. Being multiplayer only also limits it in regards that you must be online to play, and should your internet connection go down, you’ll need to find something else to play. Only time will tell if the game will have legs, and a lot of that will depend on the amount of content and type of content Blizzard will add with future updates. In the short term, competitive mode will be arriving sometime in June, but beyond that Blizzard hasn’t revealed their plans. It is well worth your time to play, but it may not provide enough value to buy in its current form. Time will tell if Overwatch takes its place among the great shooters out there.
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