Even my mum has heard of Warcraft and this is a woman who thinks the Internet is modern fishing technology and the Google Streetview team are spying on her (tbf they kinda are). When it was clear that the juggernaut success story was starting to look past it's best, rumours started to surface that Warcraft's creators were working on some kind of new MMO. Project Titan, while never officially unveiled, was meant to be the next big game from Blizzard Entertainment. To the crushing disappointment for many the project never made it to the light of day and at the time, nobody knew what had transpired in the secretive halls of Blizzard. From the ashes of Titan a leaner team forged Overwatch and so finally we see the fruits of their labour: Overwatch.
Before I start the review proper I would like to suggest my readers to first take the time to watch the three part video series from Gamespot in which the main people behind Overwatch talk about its development. They also share some never before talked about information behind the Titan project and lament how the much anticipated Overwatch started with an unprecedented failure. These three videos gave me a very different perspective of Overwatch and made me see that to spite Blizzards gargantuan size this game was a work of passion and also redemption.
Overwatch is a fast paced, team driven first person shooter that seems to have gained influences from the decades of shooters that came before it. The idea is a fairly simple one, there are twenty-one unique characters to choose from, each with their own very distinct style and skills. These characters can fall into one of four classes, such as offence, defence, tank and support. Each team is made up of six players and once all twelve spots are full a map is chosen and it's time to get your hands dirty. In terms of overall match types, Blizzard has gone for more traditional blueprints, such as capture the point and escort. I personally don't think the class system works for this game, simply because most of the characters are so different they defy classification: which is also a compliment.
Throughout history, people have had ideas and then others have leapfrogged on them ideas. So many success stories are a clever (and well timed) riff on something we already had: love them or hate them Apple have become very good as taking something we already have and moulding it into something far more. Game design is often like this and here we see Blizzard taking some of the most overused concepts and crafting them into something that is better: significantly better.
It is not the most obvious aspect of an online FPS but the characters that inhabit the world of Overwatch are integral to its charm. From what I have seen at least some characters existed in even before the levels they now rage across were designed. Blizzard has spent a considerable amount of time and resources making these avatars stand out and for those who wish to know more, there is history and lore to enjoy. Some of the CGI films that have been made to promote Overwatch are exquisite and really help you to see where Blizzard are heading with this.
One thing that becomes clear very quickly is that in terms of progression there are no new abilities and no vast skill trees to unlock. This means that when a player kills you as say Tracer or D.Va, they are not using some obscure set of unlocks: everyone starts with the same set of skills and it is up to the player to use them to the best of their ability. Players that come in straight from COD may scoff at this concept but I love it. The magic sauce comes from how players arrange their teams and the clever tactics that are born from combining certain abilities. These combinations can be as basic as keeping Mercy (healer) on the tank class at all times to more advanced tactics like using Genjiis reflect skill against an entrenched Bastion character. In one match we saw the opposing team setting up two Bastion characters outside the spawn point, so when we ran out with a full team of Genjii's things didn't work out too well when they opened fire. This move, counter move is going to be the fuel that drives teams to evolve and become successful. Even in the beta we have already seen teams shift in composition several times in one match, to take into account for new situations or to counter the strengths of the other team.
So you can't change how your character plays but as you might expect in a Blizzard game there are plenty of cosmetic items to gather and apply. As you play you gain experience and level as you would in any other RPG game. This experience comes from general play, gaining specific achievement cards in each match and of course being player of the match. When you are player of the match a small clip of the action that gave you said accolade is played for the whole match to see. Post match players can also vote for whichever match card they think was the best, even if they apply to a member of the opposite team. These match cards can range from best damage, most eliminations or even best healer. Yes that's right, healers are actually recognised in this game which is awesome. However player of the match usually seems to go to players who kill multiple adversaries at once like with High Noon or D.Va's self-destruct.
Customising your toon is actually really fun and has plenty of that special Blizzard polish. Anything from new skins, emotes, victory poses and spray badges (why?) can be either bought with in-game currency or won from loot boxes. Yes, this is all shameless fluff but hey, it gives you something to do when waiting for a match lobby to fill up. My only wish is that you could choose from any of your unlocked catchphrases and emotes mid-game, thus adding a bit of context to what you are doing.
Is it PC?
This is the most polished game I've played in years and even in the closed beta we were treated to a virtually bug-free experience. The game runs like silk and even when there is a full-scale battle going on the framerate remains high. After a bit of digging it appears the engine was developed in house specifically for Overwatch with a few middleware programs used like Havok. This all hasn't been confirmed by any Blizzard developers of course but it would make sense given the origins of the game was tied to heavily with other Blizzard project.
How do the graphics actually stack up? Well, it really is a funny game to tie down visually, you see much of what makes up the maps is the usual Blizzard style: big, bold and colourful. So, for the most part, ultra-realistic textures are not what this game is about. However, the magic lies in the details: this is a Blizzard game after all. I have watched a few videos of player playing on controllers: honestly, I don't know how they do it. Part of the magic of these games for me is being able to move like lightning and spin around on a dime. I'm sure Overwatch will be a storming success on console but damn do they know what they are missing?
So can I recommend you pick up Overwatch? Well, praise aside this is an arena based FPS game and so you will know yourself if this genre is your bag. If Overwatch was pushing convention into new ground then I'd say everyone should give it a go. Alas Overwatch is just taking a very well established formula and polishing it to a fine sheen. I also feel like Blizzard has played it a little too safe when designing levels, this is a minor complaint and something that could be improved in the future: I'm thinking fights on moving trains or levels based in a volcano where you must win to escape the eruption.
You can analyse, compare and contrast until the cows come home but when all is said and done the fun factors is king. Overwatch is ridiculously fun and from the second you boot the game up to the last match of the night. Most people who play more than one genre of a game have one go-to title for that genre: for a long time now Team Fortress 2 was such a game when a group of friends wanted to have a few hours of fun. I now see Overwatch taking this crown and going onto great things. If Blizzard nurture this new IP in the same way Valve did with TF2 I suspect Overwatch will be around for many years to come.