The trick to writing this review is to not compare or mention Battleborn. Oh no, I’ve done it already haven’t I? Sorry. It’s hard.
There’s been a lot of debate this last month about which of these two games is better. It’s tricky for me to not fuel this debate with the rest of the world because they are both 1st person online shooters in colourful cartoon lands and they’ve both been released at roughly the same time. But they are different beasts; Battleborn has a complicated looting system, campaign and long lengthy games. The other has simple 6 vs. 6 combat, on limited maps with a very diverse fighting mechanic. But as you are going to find out during this review, the more simple game, is the most enjoyable. Welcome to my life, Overwatch.
Overwatch is, on first play, as simple as chips and gravy. There’s a tiny tutorial that gives you the basics of the gameplay; run, shoot, special etc…then you get thrown straight into an online match. You have 21 characters to choose from and these roughly fall into different sets, e.g. Tank, Support, Damage and more. You’re then launched into a battle arena with your team of six and left to either defend or attack. There will usually be an area to watch guard over or attempt to take down, whilst at other times you will be escorting a vehicle to the opposing teams base. The game is over when one of these events takes place. Simple right? Boring? NO!
I first jumped into Overwatch and instantly thought ‘is that it?’. Is that really all there is? But what Blizzard does with this simple format is make it the best at what it could ever be.
Let’s start with the characters themselves. All 21 of them are brilliantly designed, voiced and play out in unique and surprising ways the more you play. They all move differently, perform different attacks and soon you will be picking your favs and putting posters of them on your bedroom walls. The game also lets you change character after you die and this is brilliant for a number of reasons. Firstly you just might be terrible at playing with the chosen character and you get a chance to swap instead of having to endure the rest of the battle unhappy. The second reason is solely down to tactics, whereby you can choose the character depending on how the battle is panning out. You might start off as a tank in an aggressive manner, but quickly realise that the other team is too good at attacking, so then you have the choice to choose a defensive character and ride it out. This mechanic is a tiny example of the number of things Overwatch does to perfection.
The shooting comes with a simple but effective design. You have a shoot button for your chosen character and weapon. Then there are a number of special moves for each character that have a cool down timer after use. These range from teleporting, magic dragons and grenades to a bouncy wheel trap that explodes after following you – even up walls. There is also a very special move when your points fill up and you unleash a moment of perfect mayhem. There is a jump button of course but the rest is up to you. What’s fantastic about the design of the game are the combinations of the play and learning new tricks the more you game. I have my favourite character to use now and I just love healing people; it’s just a thing I do. I don’t like to talk about my charity work though, but when you see others do something brilliant with their characters, you really what to learn that move and give it a go.
There are a couple of features that utilise the playful nature of the game and I think the possible future of eSports, is “play of the game’. A player is selected after each round is won or lost and the most brilliant, bombastic and unique kills are played out in podium glory. Here you witness amazing deaths or strange pieces of luck and become jealous at the skills of your counter parts. If you’re lucky enough to be ‘play of the game’ yourself it feels like winning an Oscar, the World Cup and a 100-meter swimming badge all at the same time. It’s simple, but bloody brilliant.
The game servers at the time of playing were full and it will take you no more than a minute to get into a game. While you are waiting though you can check your stats, bonus features and your upgrades. Now loot and upgrades aren’t what you think they are in this game. The loot you receive after each level increase isn’t limited to special guns or moves. No, it’s extra skins, sprays or voice emotes for your characters and no matter how much you level up, you don’t get given any extra skills – it is just the experience you gain which will make you a better player.
Graphically, Overwatch is all about colour, beauty and interesting character design. The worlds are make-believe and are a heightened reality from the normal COD-like designs. Everything looks slightly more rounded and unreal, which adds to the experience. Sound wise you have a fantastic emotive score that builds at exactly the right time to build on the dramatic points in the game. Each character has an individual set of voices that have great one-liners that you might start repeating in your sleep and the acting is nicely delivered from the gruff unearthly haunting sounds of “Die, Die, Die” to the cockney twills of Tracer. The other sound effects are of a high standard and really add to the gaming world. Story wise it’s all quite humble with its opening cut scene, however through the characters interactions with the maps you pick up little snippets here and there about their past glories. Bits of the set, like the film posters in the Hollywood map, hint at other lives for example.
I really didn’t think I would enjoy Overwatch. My experience of 1st person online shooters usually results in me getting very bored of the gameplay, the same modes and the online idiots quite quickly. This experience though is refreshing, bold and superb. Some of the battles I’ve had have ranked as some of the best online experiences I’ve had over the last ten years. That’s from me just playing with random people and I can imagine playing with friends will be even more rewarding. The only criticism I have is the lack of maps and content at launch, although I understand that there is more stuff coming very soon. I just hope this is free and quick.
Overwatch I salute you for making something so unassuming, such a wonderful gaming experience.