It’s been 17 long years since Blizzard pumped out anything wasn’t related in some way to one of its big three IPs: Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo. Though all three will go down in history as some of gaming’s most iconic and beloved video game series ever, fans are now welcoming a new member to the Blizzard family. Overwatch is the studio’s take on one of today’s most popular genres of gaming: the first-person shooter.
If you haven’t been following its growth since the initial announcement back in 2014 or missed out on its closed and open beta phases, Overwatch could simply be described as this generation’s Team Fortress. But it’s also a little more. It aims to appeal to a much broader audience, including both PC and console gamers, as well as fans of different styles of shooters. While it achieves this on a gameplay level, its colorful and cartoonish presentation might be hard for some to look past.
Overwatch is a 6 versus 6 Hero-based shooter tied to a game world that appears to belong in a Pixar movie. Characters and levels are bursting with color, which can make it extremely inviting. All 21 heroes are distinct from one another and memorable in their own way, just like any character from ToyStory. Considering the current state of the shooter market that’s full of military-style games cluttered with dull colors, gritty atmospheres, and nameless soldiers, Overwatch might be a big breath of fresh air for many.
At the same time, those more accustomed to today’s standards of unlocks in FPS games may be disappointed in the lack of actual progression. Currently, leveling up doesn’t mean much, aside from earning loot boxes on a per level bases. On top of that, those who don’t mind throwing some extra real-life cash down can also just straight-up purchase loot boxes, buying their way to some of the more rare skins, taunts, or sprays. On a positive note, unlocks are mainly cosmetic, ensuring a balanced playing field with experience and skill being the only determining factor for success.
All of the twelve maps in Overwatch are very pretty to look at and have a great atmosphere to them. In terms of layout, however, it feels as if a good portion of them suffer from areas with too many choke points. A majority of the maps only have one main route with one or two additional routes that don’t really provide the attacking team a good chance to flank, unless you’re picking one of the more mobile heroes like Genji.
All four game modes on offer are fitting for the type focus Overwatch puts on teamwork, though some of them come across as very similar to one another. They mainly involve escorting a payload to a destination, a variation of capturing a control point, or even a hybrid of the two, making long play sessions a tad monotonous.
Those few grievances aside, Overwatch is an impressive title with some of the most smooth, polished, and rewarding FPS combat the genre has seen. The feel of it, along with the way weapons handle, will have you second guessing that this is a Blizzard title. It’s as if the studio has been making shooters for decades and it’s just second nature to the team.
To accompany the excellent core combat, the diverse cast heroes offers a completely varied gameplay experience from one character to the next, even if they fall in the same archetype, such as Hanzo and Widowmaker. For example, both serve as sniper classes, but play completely different from one another; Hanzo is a bit more mobile and excels at mid-range while Widowmaker is excellent at supporting her teammates by locking down an area at longer ranges.
The wide selection of characters may seem overwhelming for some who are completely new to the whole hero-shooter thing, but there’s a method to the madness. Some heroes are purposely very easy to pick up after only a few minutes of play time, which gradually helps introduce the steep learning curve associated with some of other ones. Playing with Pharah, for example, is very reminiscent of arena shooters like Quake and Unreal Tournament.
The game also allows you to cycle through heroes during a match while at your team’s spawn location, allowing you to mix and match throughout the course of a game. This lends itself to a more thoughtful approach to team-oriented strategies, as it allows you to fill in the gap of what your team composition might be missing. In the hero selection screen, Blizzard also offers an in-game tool tip that suggests how to build a well-rounded squad.
4 / 5
Overall, those who are out to experiment and try something new will find a great deal of enjoyment out of Overwatch. The game’s colorful and cartoony appeal is inviting while the depth of its gameplay will hook you for hours and hours, unless the small selection of game modes and lack of any single player campaign end up turning you away. Still, the core combat is polished to a shine, which makes it a joy to play. On top of that, there’s hero for every type of player, but experimentation is always encouraged.
Overwatch, welcome to the family.
Overwatch is out now on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.