I had the pleasure (as many of you probably have as well) of taking part in the Overwatch open beta that took place a few weeks ago. I was uncertain how to approach the game at first. I had heard a lot of how the game was in direct competition with another upcoming shooter, Gearbox’s Battleborn, and that it had influences from Quake and League of Legends.

I am an ardent fan of Quake, but couldn’t really ever wrap my head around the movement mechanics of League of Legends or all the intricate weapons and armor available for players to improve their characters during battle, so I was a bit apprehensive about a lane-pusher style game with first-person shooter mechanics. On one hand I love Quake style twitch shooting and unique character abilities. On the other, I was concerned all of that would get buried behind the chore of managing load outs and worrying about minions and lane objectives.

Upon actually playing the open beta and the final release I can say a few things about those first impressions:

  • Overwatch and Battleborn are completely different experiences.
  • The MOBA mechanics don’t get in the way of the shooting whatsoever.
  • The complexity of MOBA roles pairs well within the objective-based shooter.

But most importantly, two things I can definitively say are that Overwatch is a beautifully crafted, endlessly enjoyable game to play, and everyone should give it a shot.

Story:

Since Overwatch is a competitive, multiplayer-only title, the universe is very story-lite, and I’m okay with that. I personally don’t need that much context to get into a multiplayer shooter, especially one as straightforward as Overwatch. The clearly marked objectives and well-defined character abilities and roles flesh out the dance of combat enough by themselves that I immediately know what I’m in for. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a layer of lore at play for those that enjoy a bit more backstory to their online frag-fest.

It goes a bit like this: Thirty years after The Overwatch – a rag-tag group of heroes with special abilities – was formed to protect a near future world (we’re talking laser guns, flying cars, and teleportation) from an uprising of once-subservient Omnic robots, a conflict between the two leaders of the group lead to internal conflict which culminated in a large explosion at the teams Swiss headquarters, killing both leaders and tearing The Overwatch team apart. Now the remaining members of The Overwatch are trying to rebuild their squad and restore order to a world that desperately needs them. No, I’m not sure why all the heroes are fighting each other. I’m guessing it’s because  slamming two ability-infused heroes together in combat  and seeing who wins is a lot more fun than fighting generic robots, but that’s just my guess.

In the year leading up to launch Blizzard has released animated shorts, made in typical Blizzard quality (that being, really, really good), detailing a few different characters and fleshing out their backstory. You can watch the fourth and final animated short for this season “Hero” detailing Soldier 76 below. More such shorts will be released as part of season 2 with a video on Roadhog already promised.

The Guts and Gears of the Game:

The real stories told by Overwatch are those created on the battlefield and shared between friends and other players. The creative plays made by individuals or tight matches won by teams that barely eek out a victory. At this early post-launch stage, all of those stories are sparkling with a sense of discovery.

That discovery comes from the way that Overwatch is designed to continuously drip new information about itself to the player. The different role combinations that make up a team can teach something new, as well as how effective one character and their abilities fare against another. Each character has different attributes and abilities that make them wholly different from one another, and that makes it easy for players to choose a character that best fits their style of play. Combine that with four different game modes and there is an almost limitless amount of team combinations and ways to play. In nearly forty hours of play, I’m still discovering new idiosyncracies about the game that teach me something new and keep me coming back for more

For instance, the rocket-boosting Pharah can fly above enemies and over objects that other characters would be forced to run to. Her ability to cover a ton of ground in a short amount of time is invaluable when pushing the objective forward in Payload or moving from one objective to the next in Point Capture. Showing up behind enemy lines and raining down rockets is a sure way to get the enemies attention and confuse them for a short bit while the rest of your team continues their push.

Pharah’s rocket boost and rocket barrage can be invaluable during objective modes

But on other modes such as Control, which task either team of staying put and controlling an objective, Pharah’s ability to cover ground is much less important, so I might switch to a character like Symmetra who can set up as many turrets as the player has time to craft and is made for defending a certain point on a map.

What is great about all this variation in strategy is how Blizzard cultivates an environment to support it. The tides of a battle can change so rapidly that the game necessitates giving players the ability to react accordingly. You might pick a character at the beginning of a match that you find isn’t nearly as effective at the midway point of a match, you might encounter a team comp that simply smashes your own, or you might have a personal preference to start a match with a certain hero and finish with another. Whatever the reason may be, Blizzard allows players to switch characters between deaths as many times as they want. This ensures that players aren’t frustrated by having to play a character that simply isn’t working for them for the duration of a match.

Players can switch characters as often as they want between deaths.

Overwatch is, first and foremost, and amalgamation of a ton of classic shooters thrown together, however. You have the spot on hit detection of a Call of Duty, the twitch arena-style shooting of Quake, the quick objective-based rounds of Counter-Strike, and the cartoony personality of Team Fortress. This all comes together to create a package that feels wholly familiar to longtime FPS players and yet entirely unique based around the classes and roles the game introduces to the mix.

What’s in the Box!?!

Overwatch is a multiplayer only first-person shooter that players can purchase for $40 ala Titanfall. Players who purchase the base, $40 version of the game will be given access to all 21 heroes and all the games maps and modes.

For an additional $20, the $60 Origins Edition includes all of said previous content, as well as 5 Origin Skins for players such as Bastion and Tracer and “Digital Goodies” such as a Heroes of the Storm themed Tracer, A World of Warcraft Baby Winson pet, Diablo III wings for Mercy, and others. I opted for a boxed Origins Edition on PC and I must say, Blizzard certainly knows how to put a good package together. Just look at all this stuff. The $129 Collector’s Edition comes with all of the above content as well as a visual sourcebook, soundtrack, and a special Soldier: 76 statue.

Besides all of the extra content included with the purchase of the game, Overwatch has four separate game modes to keep players busy, along with a training mode and character gallery to allow players to get familiar with all the characters before jumping online.

The game modes included at launch are Escort, in which the Attacking team’s objective is to move the payload to a delivery point, while the Defenders must halt the Attackers’ progress until time runs out, Assault, in which the Attacking and Defending teams must attempt to take or defend capture points across the map, Hybrid, in which players begin with an Assault and end with an Escort section, and Control, where two teams fight over a series of objective areas in a best-of-three format.

Each mode is playable on only a few maps specifically designed for each mode. My favorite mode thus far has to be Escort. Pushing back against the objective’s seemingly inevitable arrival at its destination is exhilarating and takes full advantage of the length of the match and the scope of the maps, whereas other modes tend to stick to specific areas of the map a bit too long. Teams can even design strategies based on where the objective is on the map and focus chokepoints to help hinder the attacking team.

numbani

None of this would be enjoyable if the maps weren’t expertly crafted arenas of mayhem, and Overwatch delivers those in spades.  From the dusty red cliffs of Route 66 and the backlot movie sets of Hollywood to the Eastern-themed Hanumura temple and utopian African city of Numbani,  each map is distinctly themed, lively, and full of color.

Each map also lends itself to different play styles. Some of the more wide open maps such as Watchpoint: Gibraltar is best played with long-range characters such as the sniper Widowmaker or the bow-wielding Hanzo. Other maps are full of twisting roads and small rooms perfect for a little up close and personal attention from characters like Reaper or Genji. Character selection can be influenced by how your team is put together, by the game mode you’re playing, and by the map the match takes place on. The nearly limitless combination of the three is what truly gives Overwatch legs, where it’s limited number of modes would be a hindrance for other games such as Titanfall.

Overwatch is also promising a Competitive Mode complete with ranking system for those level 25 and above. The mode was cut from the open beta after fan feedback from the closed beta, but should be re-introduced sometime in June when the games first update hits.

A Sweet Dance of Death and Mayhem

Overwatch plays like butter. The hit detection and smooth movement are all impressive, and it speaks to the talents of the networking guys over at Blizzard that I have never experienced a disconnect through both the open beta and the final release. After years of botched multiplayer launches from AAA developers, it’s refreshing to see such a well put together game function so perfectly at release.

The twitch speed at which the game moves means that the weapons and movement need to feel responsive and quick, but they avoid the problem of feeling floaty  and disconnected from your character and the world. Weapons feel appropriately powerful and cutting down another player is endlessly satisfying. Rarely will you feel cheated out of a kill based on the performance of the game or the online network.

Maps are vertical as well as horizontal so players need to account for enemies coming at them from any point on the map. Some characters can boost up to high ledges in an instant while others must run to get there. The maps have clearly defined boundaries and a few dead ends, but for the most part, the routes feed into one another to keep the action moving. There are only a few instances where I thought I could go onto a roof and surprise enemies only to find I slide right off. I’m guessing that was a deliberate design choice by Blizzard to make sure players can still be hit by characters with limited range (and so players couldn’t use the verticality as cover and camp).

Players move through the maps rapidly, though some are boosted due to their defined abilities while others are slowed down (such as tank and support characters) to balance out their increased health in comparison to attack and healing classes. Some characters  have additional movement abilities.

One such character is Tracer, with a Blink ability that allows her to “blink” ahead a few times and gain a temporary boost to move in for a kill or dodge enemy fire. Tracer can even rewind time a few seconds, transporting her back to a previous position while restoring the health she had at the time. All of these movement-boosting abilities are balanced out by her rather weak dual pistols and hard-to-land Ultimate, a sticky C4 explosive which can latch on to enemies and kill them, but with a limited blast radius.

The characters and roles are what make Overwatch such a compelling game to play. Each character has a few abilities (the number of which changes based on character and class) that lend themselves to attacking, defense, support, etc. These abilities are tied to different keys/button presses (depending on platform)

Reinhardt can earn points towards his ultimate by blocking incoming fire.

Reinhardt can earn points towards his ultimate by blocking incoming fire.

Reinhardt and Roadhog are two tank characters that can bolster their team defenses by deploying a shield that moves with the character or having a combination chain pull/heal move respectively. These characters typically have the most health in the game and are in charge of distracting the other team and absorbing damage.

Support characters such as Mercy and Symmetra serve roles outside of just combat, but both can still hold their own in battle. Mercy typically follows behind or within the group healing targets to ensure survival. Symmetra can activate turrets that can surprise and slowly burn enemies that wander into them while also providing a portal directly from the spawn point to the fight, cutting down on travel time (which can be pivotal since the matches are typically short affairs).

Mercy's healing beam makes up for her lack of health and offensive ability.

Mercy’s healing beam makes up for her lack of health and offensive ability.

How these characters interact with one another gives the game a ton of strategy. A character like Pharah can be deployed to soar above the battlefield and rain rockets from above, disrupting the defenses set up by tanks and defense specialists to give their team the ability to move up. Genji can slip speedily and quietly behind enemy lines and activate his Ultimate, which pulls out a sword that can cut through enemies in rapid succession and quickly clear areas or take out snipers in wait.

My favorite character so far is McCree, a cowboy with a six-shooter that does a ton of damage. He has a basic, semi-automatic single-fire revolver that can pick off low health enemies with a careful shot, but he also has an alt-fire mode that quickly unloads all six shots into an enemy at once. I love to use his flashbang grenade to stun enemies for a brief second while I unload the alt-fire into them for a mostly instant kill. He also has a dodge roll that refills his ammunition upon using it.

All of these abilities run on varying cooldowns whose lengths are balanced to account for how useful or how strong the abilities are. This is to ensure that no character can spam a powerful attack too many times, making them overpowered.

PC Performance

Since I purchased my copy of the game on PC, I felt it necessary to note that the game runs at a nearly solid 60fps constantly on my machine sporting an AMD FX 8350, 16gb of DDR3 1600 memory, and a pair of R9 290 graphics cards in Crossfire.

Though that might sound like a burly PC, most of the parts are nearly 3 years old at this point and the PC Master Race might consider them to be ready for the nursing home. Your rig may vary, but the game seems to run well across a wide variety of PCs thanks to it’s focus on art style over visual fidelity. Even when streaming or recording at high resolutions the game runs as smooth as if I was playing it stock. Below are the minimum and recommended system requirements for PC.

system requirements
Those system requirements are pretty low by today’s standards and speak to the scalability of the engine powering Overwatch. This isn’t much of a surprise coming from Blizzard, who’s World of Warcraft, Starcraft II, and Heroes of the Storm are designed to run across a multitude of hardware for maximum accessibility within the platform.

That’s not to say the game isn’t gorgeous. At 1440P, the game is a truly beautiful and expressive thing to behold. The textures are a bit bland but are hi-rez enough to look good up close. Particle effects burst with color and flare and there is rarely a hitch in framerate to be seen. If you’ve got a PC that meets these requirements and don’t prefer to play on console, I’d suggest picking it up on PC and having a go at it. You might even run into me (you poor, poor soul).

The Gavel

Overall, I would say that Overwatch is a must own product for anyone who enjoys multiplayer shooters. It doesn’t provide the same MOBA team strategy as a game like Battleborn or League of Legends, but is instantly accessible due to the variety of characters and abilities available and playstyles catered to. Matches play out in a fast, frenetic ballet of bullets and special abilities that very rarely feel stale. There is always something new to discover, some new way to use a character, some new way to combat an enemy.

I have yet to learn everything there is to know about Overwatch and, for me, that’s a sign of a good game. The action is balanced and varied, the art style is charming and beautiful, and the combat is balanced to near perfection. The only downsides are that it’s a shooter, which means if you aren’t one to typically enjoy the genre you’ll likely be left out in the cold by the games fast and frantic twitch shooting action, and that there is a lack of game modes available in its current state, though that will be remedied in future updates. Overwatch is a game that every shooter fan should pick up.

Overwatch Review

The World Needs Heroes - and Overwatch

A fast and kinetic multiplayer shooter that provides complexity through interesting and varied characters, maps, and modes. A must have for multiplayer shooter fans.
The Good
  • Fast, Smooth, and Responsive Gameplay
  • Colorful, Expressive, and Complex Characters
  • Reveals Itself Through Continued Play
The Bad
  • Lack of Game Modes
9.5Overall Score

About The Author

Evan W
Senior Staff Writer/Review/Editorial Writer

Evan discovered gaming with Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis and never looked back. He has spent the last 20 years criss-crossing genres and platforms, and is an equal opportunity rager, breaking consoles and PCs alike. If you spent summer days off from middle school playing classic PC shooters instead of developing a tan and social skills, you've got a friend in him. Mom might not understand the pain of being "180NOSCOPEWTFPWNED, SON!", but he does. Oh, he does.