Tales of an Overwatch Newbie (PS4)
In the past three weeks that I’ve been playing Overwatch, there has been a lot to take in. Learning skills, learning the story, and learning proper team composition is enough to fill my plate for months--not to mention I’m about a year and a half late to the game. But despite my workload as a new hero, Overwatch has delivered entertaining and exhilarating gameplay that stands neck-and-neck to even my favorite PS4 releases. Even in my short time with the game, I find myself itching to jump back into the fight almost every single night. While it doesn’t stem too far outside the standard FPS formula in theory, this game leaves an aftertaste that I can’t get rid of--and frankly, I don’t want to.
For those unfamiliar with this massive title, Overwatch is a team-based multiplayer first-person shooter released by Activision Blizzard in May 2016, and became their most successful launch within a year. Without spending too much time on the story (which is easy to do), here’s some key context: roughly 60 years in the future of a fictionalized Earth, humans are struggling to handle an uprising of self-aware robots known as the Omnics. This once-peaceful race turns hostile, and threatens humanity’s existence--until the UN steps in and establishes an international task force to combat this threat: Overwatch (get it? It’s in the title!). After defeating the Omnic and after decades of peace, some infighting within Overwatch results in their Commander, Gabriel Reyes, leaving the group to take charge of the secret ops organization: Blackwatch. Accusations of wrongdoing and public outcry mounts against Overwatch, a massive explosion levels the Overwatch HQ, and the UN passes the Petras Act, effectively dismantling Overwatch entirely. After the dismantling of Overwatch, terrorist group Talon rises in power and with no global ass-kicking team to keep Talon in line, violent conflict surfaces again--and the threat of a second Omnic crisis rises in Russia. This leads to a former Overwatch hero, Winston, reforming the team, and before we know it--the gang's back together, and we find ourselves at the start of the game.
So what makes this game just so damn good? The story is a fairly standard good vs evil, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle that is Overwatch’s massive success. For starters, this game is incredibly accessible. Players have 26 heroes to choose from, and with each possessing unique attacks and abilities, there are more than enough play styles for everyone. The roster is broken into four general categories: offense, defense, tank, and support--but none of the heroes really play too similarly, even within the same category. Offense heroes like Genji and Soldier 76 are lighter and more nimble than other offense heroes like Doomfist and Reaper. Support heroes have abilities that, you guessed it, support other players--which range from healing, to attack boosts and teleportation. The options are endless, which allows players to find a hero that fits their style and branch out accordingly. I’ll be the first to admit that I rely on Soldier 76 way too much, but hey - it works, right? That is, until I remember team composition is a thing…
Which leads me to another fantastic element of Overwatch: playing as a team not only leads to much greater success, but leads to much more fun. With such an emphasis on objective-based gameplay, Overwatch forces players to consider how their team is structured to account for their goals. Maps rotate between several modes: Assault, Escort, Control, and Hybrid. Each of these modes include specific objectives that teams must carefully plan for, and building a proper team is central to claiming victory. This kind of tactical, team-based gameplay is something I’m relatively new to, but even in my short time with it - the satisfaction is almost overwhelming. That being said, I’d love for a few more game modes to experience in Quickplay and Competitive matches. With the absurd level of creativity poured into Overwatch, I’m surprised there isn’t more to work with. However, being cognizant of roles, where and when to use abilities, and having general map awareness gives me ownership of my hero, and results in some wonderfully immersive moments. Holding off the opposing team’s final push for the win during overtime? Sign me up.
So I’m bought in. Overwatch is a good game. But what makes it unique? How does it stand out so high above similar titles? My answer is in the ingredients--the small bits of this game that amount to a fresh take on the standard multiplayer FPS structure is what anchors Overwatch in my library. The personality and colorfulness of each hero weaves a compelling story, and creates delightful context around the gameplay. With unique voice lines, cosmetics, and deeply interconnected storylines, the Overwatch heroes provide a frame for me as I fight through each match, layered on top of the objective at hand. This kind of hero-based theme emphasizes a pretty simple message: there is no “I” in Overwatch. In its core game modes, there is no scoreboard, and there are no “points” that add up to victory. There are only teams, and objectives. One of the game’s Senior Designers, Michael Chu, sites this as a cornerstone of how the game was built. He stated in an interview with The Guardian:
“...when we decided we wanted to enter the first-person shooter genre, we asked ourselves what it was that we could bring to the table that we felt was a little different. We settled on two things: one was that it would be hero-based. We wanted to have 21 unique heroes with really diverse power sets. And then the other thing is the team focus...We wanted teams of six players, and we wanted everyone’s focus to be on victory: winning as a team, performing as a team, and less about ‘how good am I at killing people’, or whatever.”
With this hyper-focus on team effort, mixed with a genuine depth of heroes, I simply can’t get enough of Overwatch. The art style is beautiful and witty, gameplay is smooth and tactile, and the on-ramp to victory is gentle enough to prevent frustration. With rumbles of new maps, updates, and patches always present - I’m always looking forward to more. For now, I can only echo the words of our favorite roller-blading DJ: it’s time to celebrate.