Platforms PC, PS4, XBO (reviewed)
Developer Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher Blizzard Entertainment
Release Date May 24, 2016

Overwatch is a first-person multiplayer arena shooter, which pits players in 6v6 team-based combat. Each player selects from a set of pre-defined heroes, each with their own weapons, skills and abilities, and they must work together to complete objectives to win matches.

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Overwatch has captured my attentions like no multiplayer game has in recent memory. I’ve been playing the game on a nightly basis since its release, with play sessions lasting many hours at a time. It’s fair to say I’ve not been this caught up in a multiplayer game since Halo 2. There’s something about the game that just keeps pulling me back in for more. There’s never a point a match ends that I’m even considering stopping. Well, except at 3AM when I decide I should probably sleep, but that’s more a “me” thing as opposed to a “game” thing. What I’m trying to say is, I’m an Overwatch addict.

The first thing that struck me about Overwatch  is just how easy it is to pick up and play. The game seems tailored around accessibility. There’s a series of tutorials and training the game recommends you to undertake before you get started. I blitzed through these with relative ease, playing against obviously inferior AI. I figured I’d have to suffer through a learning curve once I got online before getting a foothold in the game. After playing for the first time for about two hours, I was amazed that I had picked up the game and was having a good time (and not sucking) right from the get go. It helps that it plays ridiculously well, and is probably one of the tightest first-person shooters (mechanically speaking) I’ve played all year.

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Overwatch is a game that so obviously wants you to have fun, in case you can’t tell from the bright visuals. It cuts away so much off the unnecessary guff you find in many modern day multiplayer shooters, leaving almost no barriers between you and a match of frantically chaotic shooting and explosions. Find a game, pick a character, play. There’s no need to mess around with loadouts, or optimise perks or weapons or abilities to make sure you can run fast or shoot more. The game has done all the heavy lifting for you. All you need to do is play it.

One of the key ways Overwatch achieves this is in the way it encourages teamwork above all else. There is no leaderboard, no visible kill/death ratio. You can see your own stats as you play, and after a match has concluded, but you can’t see anyone else’s. There’ll be no-one shouting at you (or aggressively typing at you) for “letting the team” down because you didn’t get enough kills, or died too much. In fact, Overwatch goes out of its way to promote positivity.

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The first thing you see post-match is the Play of the Game, showing a highlight of the most significant or impressive kills. After that you can vote for the best commendations. The game offers you four to choose from, and highlights the players who contributed the most to a game. Crucially, these aren’t all tied into number of kills – everyone gets involved, and commendations can be awarded for high levels of healing, high levels of damage blocked, time spent with an objective and more. It always warms my heart to see the Overwatch community (which seems fairly fantastic) constantly reward good team play, and to see the game itself promote teamwork to such a magnitude.

Overwatch has a cast of characters that are easy to fall in love with. It’s no easy feat to imbue each and every cast member with so much character when they’re only viewed from a first-person perspective, and there’s no story mode or cutscenes to speak of save for an opening cutscene that doesn’t really impact the game at all. There’s a lot of detail to their personalities, the way they carry themselves, and how they act during gameplay. While there’s a lot of lore available for players who know where to look, my one complaint about Overwatch is that none of it is in the game. There are summaries, backgrounds, animated movies and free comic books available, which are all excellent, but it would have been nice if some of them had found their way into the game itself somehow.

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Overwatch pulls off a trick I’ve never encountered in a shooter of this kind (hell, a game of this kind period). I can play just about the entire roster. In any other class-based or hero-based game, I generally have to cast around to find the small handful of characters I can actually play effectively. In Overwatch I started out as D.Va, got to grips with her play style almost immediately and thought I’d lucked out. After experimenting with several other characters, it turns out that they’re all easy to pick up and become proficient with. Some are more difficult than others, and there are certainly characters I shy away from.

But there are no characters in Overwatch’s expansive roster of 21 who I can’t play as and make an impact on a game. The level of variety in the heroes is, quite simply, astounding. The 21 different characters are organised into four types – offence, defence, support and tank. While you might think that characters in a specific type will all play similarly, as I did, the reverse is actually true. All of the tanks play drastically differently from one another.

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For example, Reinhardt uses a shield to protect himself and his teammates from damage, Roadhog makes use of a chain to pull enemies towards him and blast them with a shotgun, D.Va provides continuous fire from her mech that doesn’t need to reload. The same is true across all the different character types – Mei, Widowmaker and Bastion are all defensive heroes, but they play substantially differently from one another. Instead of having one or two main characters, I have about a dozen, and they’re spread out across all the different class types too. Whether our team needs a healer, some damage, a tank or anything else, I can pick a suitable hero and make a difference. Astonishing.

This variety in the different characters more than makes up for the lack of variety in Overwatch’s game modes and maps. There are three game modes spread across twelve maps (which is probably about right for a game like this at launch). This could very easily have made the game feel same-y after a few hours, but because of the variety of characters you’ll both play as and run into, Overwatch somehow feels continuously fresh. You’ll constantly come up against teams made up of different combinations of characters, and you’ll probably need to adapt on the fly.

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Overwatch allows you to switch characters at will while in the spawn zone, even going so far as to highlight any hero types your team lacks for the mission type you’re undertaking. Whether you’re attacking or defending, escorting a package or trying to secure an objective point, you’ll need different heroes to accomplish different goals. Bastion, for example, is incredibly useful on defence, given his ability to transform into a stationary turret. Not so handy on attack, when you need mobility. This level of adaptability and fluidity even extends to the type of teams you come up against.

There’s an amazing feeling of satisfaction in making the switch to a character to break down an enemy team, and having that switch be a catalyst for turning a losing battle into a winning one. Quite how Blizzard have managed to craft a roster of characters with this much variety, yet still somehow managed to keep everything balanced, feels like witchcraft to me. There are a couple of issues here and there – turrets are overpowered, some characters have some OP moves they can pull off, but there’s no game-breaking character or team combination out to ruin your good time.

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Overwatch is a masterfully designed game, as you’d expect from a Blizzard developed title. Its visuals are a breath of fresh air in a genre dominated by over-saturated, colourless, super serious titles. Overwatch is fun and colourful. If Pixar decided to make a video game, and that game happened to be a first-person shooter, it’d probably look an awful lot like this. It runs at 60 FPS too, even on consoles. I haven’t noticed a single glitch, bug, graphical quirk or basically anything wrong with the game at all.

Summary

Overwatch is a stunning game, and will probably be remembered as a major phenomenon in the years to come. I love it more than I ever thought possible. Its roster of heroes are all ridiculously different from one another, which lends the game an absurd amount of variety it might otherwise lack in certain areas. Better still, each and every one of the heroes feels playable to me – I can pick a character from any of the four hero types and make an immediate impact on the game. It’s a level of accessibility you just don’t find in most other class-based or hero-based games. But most importantly Overwatch is a game that both is and encourages fun at every opportunity. It’s clear that it has been built from the ground up to ensure that its fans and players are having the maximum amount of enjoyment at all times. And in that goal it has succeeded completely.

10

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