Out Of A Comfort Zone
When Blizzard announced Overwatch at BlizzCon 2014, there was a mixed reaction. From the developers themselves, there was uncertainty as they breached out from their comfort zone. Something they loved to do, but were afraid of audience reaction. From the audience there, myself included, nearly unanimous applause. Revealed in a trailer reminiscent of Disney-Pixar's Big Hero 6, it was certainly something new from the company. A multiplayer team based first person shooter, something to sate the appetites of those who want teamwork based experience without drowning in the grays and browns of most modern shooters.
My friends and colleagues cautioned me about overhyping myself, but with each passing month as information slowly trickled out I'd found myself only growing more and more excited until it finally happened; it was release time. So, is Blizzard's new IP the next big thing in their stable? Or will it fade to obscurity? Well, here are my thoughts on the cartoony chaos.
Heroes, Not Classes
At launch, Overwatch brings 21 playable heroes to the table; and they're all different flavors for whatever mood you're in at the time. Characters are separated into four different categories that split them up based on their attack, defense, and support abilities. If you need a tank to move an objective forward, take Reinhardt for a spin and use his shield to protect your allies, and his devastating charge attack to break the onslaught of the enemy team. But, be quick! A well-placed Widowmaker can make quick work of even the most hardy of enemies. From a random perch on the map, this deadly adversary can cause pain like the bite of a most poisonous spider. But that's negated briefly if Zenyatta happens to be around, using his ultimate heal to make the team invulnerable. Or perhaps Mercy's revival ultimate will help get downed team members back in the fight more quickly. There's even a character that answers the genre-long issue of spawn-trapping, as Reaper can fade and teleport among the enemy ranks and unleash havoc just long enough to break the trap, and get a few kills under his belt in the meantime.
The amount and variety of the different characters is honestly more than I could ask for. There were some characters I had to force myself to at least try because once I found my characters that I played best with, it was hard to try new things. But I'm glad I did, or I never would've learned about the devastation that is Symmetra, the underrated tanking of Road Hog, the rush of unleashing a barrage of death as Pharah. Each character plays vastly differently, and it's highly encouraged that players get a feel for at least most of them so they don't just settle into one hero role.
All Around The World
While the amount of maps isn't as numerous as the number of characters, it's still sitting comfortably at 12 with 3 maps for each of the 3 current match types in the game, and 3 for the hybrid match type that blends objectives together. The modes themselves are familiar flavors for any FPS fan, consisting of an attack and defend type (Capture), an escort type (Payload), and a king of the hill type (Control). Those are rather self-explanatory, so I'm just going to focus on the maps themselves.
Overwatch takes us to a variety of locales all across the world, in a future that blends utopias and dystopias around the globe into a mesh of unique sights and sounds. Whether it's an Egypt that blends future and past as high rises tower over pyramids and ruins, or the quaint Mexican streets of Dorado on a moonlit night, almost each map is a memorable set piece for the match that's about to play out.
I say almost, because there is one map in particular I don't find to be all that special and that's Volskaya Industries. This map itself is pretty bland due to less vibrant coloration, and a more mundane layout. That being said, it still remains as balanced as all the other maps in the game. In fact, Overwatch may be a game that has finally perfected launch-day balancing on nearly all fronts.
A Balancing Act
I say on "nearly all fronts" because there are only a few things that need to be changed currently to really give the game the perfect balance. For the most part, every map is well balanced and so is every character. Even maps where you can be spawn trapped at the beginning I feel are balanced simply due to the fact that they've ensured that with some smart gameplay, a well-placed Reaper or Junkrat can break the hold the enemy team has.
Every enemy encounter I had felt fluid and offered both intensity and fun, but two characters in particular raised red flags of caution. Those would be McCree and Hanzo. I can already hear the readers yelling "WHAT ABOUT BASTION?!" Well, Bastion's turret form is easily countered if you follow a tank into an encounter with him. The two characters I'm mentioning I think many will agree do need some tweaking to be more balanced with the other characters.
McCree is already a great character, with a fantastic ultimate ability and high damage output balanced out by a slow fire-rate but accurate main attack, and a high speed close range attack. But he also gets the advantage of a flashbang. Simply put, if you run into McCree at close range a flashbang/close range high speed attack ensures that you're going to die. This is true for almost ANY character that runs into him at close range (which really puts a damper on characters who excel at close range such as Symmetra and Genji). I wouldn't go as far as to suggest a nerf on his damage, but his stun needs to have a chance of failure or something rather than giving him a combo for a guaranteed kill.
Then we have Hanzo. My grievance with him is directly aimed at his ultimate attack. You see, Hanzo has an ultimate where he can literally fire it through the walls of the map. It moves slowly enough that in most instances, you can get out of the way but the fact that he is the only character who can utilize an attack ultimate in such a manner does give him a large edge over other heroes.
Other than these two characters and my minor nitpicks with them, I have to say Blizzard has nailed the balance rather nicely. The game is in its early days, so we'll see what all tweaks and balances come over time, but those two are the only ones I think are necessary.
Overwatch: The New Household Name
It's tough for anyone to step out of their comfort zones, whether it's an individual person or a corporate gaming entity like Blizzard. Sometimes you take a shot at something new, and it just doesn't live up to expectations. Well Blizzard, it looks like you have a fantastic new IP on your hands because Overwatch comes just shy of perfection with addicting enough gameplay to ensure people stay hooked in the same way they stay hooked on your other long standing games.
Great quantity and quality of character selection, visually appealing maps, nearly perfect balancing.
McCree and Hanzo are just a bit overpowered compared to most other heroes, Volskaya Industries lacks the same magic that the other maps hold