Overwatch is a game that does not follow the norm for first person shooters, but instead has become a phenomenon. It surrounds you everywhere you go, and that is no bad thing, because Overwatch is exceedingly addictive for the longer you play it. Some of that is due to the stunning visuals and audio, while another part of it is how the gameplay feels frenzied.
Thirty years ago, tensions between humans and robotic Omnics dramatically rose when the latter group declared war. Overwatch was banded by the international governments looking to take action, and they were active for many years to stop the Omnic Crisis. However, after a power struggle and the group being seen as useless to the public, Overwatch was disbanded, with any further action from them being seen as from illegal vigilantes. However, three decades on, history seems to be repeating, so Overwatch are recalled into action illegally.
However, the game does not explain this interesting history too well. After a brief cutscene that lets you know the synopsis of the plotline, this turn of events is only referenced briefly by characters – there is no attempt here to bring the lore to the forefront of the game. This seems like a wasted opportunity, especially because it is only being expanded upon through cinematic shorts outside of the game. These expansions being stored inside the game would allow for easier access, which would only serve to add more content.
The characters, who serve as one of the appeals of the game, range from the usual gruff protagonist in first person shooters, which clearly influences Soldier: 76, to D.Va, a Korean pro gamer drafted into the military to fight off invaders in a pink mech. The game simultaneously meets your expectations and is able to subvert them, with the usual cookie-cutter characters being poked fun at while also being given a distinct personality. The newcomers, too, are instantaneously likeable, with their main shtick not getting in the way of some wildly different characters. Even though the characters themselves are great, the best thing about their design is their outlines. Each character has a unique stature, which allows for quick plays based on the clearly visible opponents. This is a masterclass trick also used in Team Fortress 2 (before the hats’ introduction), and these great decisions are evident in the graphics as a whole.
Visually, however, it knows what it is trying to be without a doubt. Instead of a dour exterior, it almost has a cartoon visual style that separates it from other games. Colours pop to create a more intriguing environment, and each level has its own visual flair. Take Dorado, for example; it has a fiesta mood in the first half of the level, with buntings hanging from door to door and confetti strewn mindlessly across the floor. This atmosphere dissipates in the latter half of the level, where a factory with grey and light blue hues takes over the warm atmosphere that the first half of the level exudes.
For the audio, directional audio is concise in letting you know what is going on: playing with the sound down creates a stark disadvantage, and even more so than other games. Each action results in a different audio cue, which gives off necessary information. For example, a shot that hits a character’s body against a headshot emit two differing sounds, with the latter standing out if both sounds play at the same time. This sound direction, just like the outlines of the players, allows you to act accordingly, and even every single move results in very different sound effects, allowing for a player to get a proper hold on what is happening, even without being able to see the action in question.
The music during the gameplay can be sparse, but is utilised greatly. The more fleshed out audio tracks are usually used for when a match is about to start and when it is about to finish. These tracks do a great job of amping up the players on each team, but music as the gameplay unfolds is very limited. This makes the music better once it comes up, but there is a lack of variety, as all of the tracks will play out in the exact same order each time, with no deviation through alternating tracks with the same vibe. My main concern is that these could quickly get old, as these are the only pieces of music that are audible within the main game.
The bread and butter of Overwatch is the hero mechanic, a system where different characters are interchangeable. Each hero has a main weapon, two to three abilities that have a cooldown attached to them, and an Ultimate move, which dishes out lots of damage, but has a meter to charge it up. No hero really ranks above the rest, as they are all very easily countered, but most matchups mainly come down to the skill of each player and whether they can exploit their opponent’s weaknesses. This leads to very fast-paced games that are quite intense, especially when a full team is ready to try to reclaim their dominance over the other.
Matches are all about either wrestling to try to keep a point, capturing two static points from the defensive team, or an attempt from the aggressors to escort the payload to the destination while the defenders stop that from occurring. With this point based gameplay, this ensures that most will want to be in the point attacking or defending it at once, which means that team composition matters. Two teams of six battling against each other requires swapping your hero when it is not working out, and with advantages and disadvantages determining the outcome of the game, the intensity steps up a few notches over strictly gunplay-based games.
The map design emphasises this gameplay. Many flanking opportunities and chokepoints are present all over the map, meaning that matches can fantastically devolve into frantic shooting exchanged from team to team. These maps have great verticality, which not only gives snipers a vantage point, like usual, but also allows them to be picked off by airborne heroes, showing again that everyone has a counter. When games go into Overtime, this is where Overwatch really shines – the scramble to win the game is always very close, and complex plays can come into their own and be the difference between winning and losing.
The only mode mentioned so far has been the multiplayer, and that’s because there is no single player campaign. This, alongside the lack of explained continuity in the game, seems like a wasted opportunity, as the two could easily go hand in hand. This is a confusing decision, as the campaign is really easy to visualise, as it could be quite versatile and let you get to know all of the heroes. As it stands now, it is a head scratcher.
The other issue is with loot boxes. After every level, you gain a loot box that gives you four pieces of randomized loot – by itself, that is fine. However, you can pay for loot boxes as an additional transaction, which is deplorable for a game that you have to pay for already. It is evident that this is only to gift Blizzard with, essentially, free money, but it is a strange decision that seems to be one of Activision’s.
Overwatch is a great experience that allows for all sorts of insane situations. Characters and maps are creatively and smartly designed, and the hero mechanic allows for some amazing games. The game looks vibrant, with multiple colours bolstering the environment, and has sound engineered to give you great instant feedback. The lack of a campaign, the absence of more tracks, and the additional transactions are setbacks, but the multiplayer more than makes up for it.