By 2014, I had already been following rumours of Blizzard’s next big project for quite some time – having been an avid fanboy of the company since my youth with games such as Starcraft as well as a longtime obsession with World of Warcraft. So, honestly, I was a little shocked to learn they would be cancelling their highly ambitious MMORPG title, Titan – despite their standing history of cancelling games in production like with Starcraft: Ghost. However, later that year at BlizzCon, the mammoth gaming studio would go on to debut their latest project (a new game risen from the ashes of Titan), Overwatch. Since then, Blizzard has been all-in with promotion, albeit for better and worse – from fantastic promotional hype videos for some of the characters to a scandal involving the sexually provocative design of Tracer. Suffice to say; I was one of the crowds who were very excited to see what Blizzard had done with Overwatch.
I won’t spend long explaining the synopsis, as that’s not what the primary focus of the game is. Overwatch is set in the not-too-distant future, years after the resolution of the “Omnic Crisis.” With artificial intelligence threatening life on a global scale, the United Nations formed the “Overwatch” team to restore peace to Earth and protect the human race. In the years following, the Overwatch team would continue to keep the peace and maintain order – despite public dissent amidst rising crime and allegations of sedition and corruption. Eventually, one day, the Overwatch headquarters were attacked (reportedly by accident), taking the lives of leader Jack Morrison and his second in command Gabriel Reyes. This heralded the disbandment of Overwatch, with some opining that the downfall of Overwatch was a giant government conspiracy. Personally, I found this level of context just right given the genre, providing a backdrop for a story that isn’t complicated to follow, and also allowing Blizzard to deliver more personality and backstory in the pre-release videos to establish the relationships and personalities of the heroes.
At the core of Overwatch, it’s focused on making sure that teamwork is paramount to the entire experience. Unlike other first-person shooters, such as Call of Duty, were an absolute master can single-handedly carry their team, Overwatch firmly educates players straight away that you can’t be one man hero to win. From this foundation, the game has role classes which players can gravitate towards – offence, defence, tank and support, depending on what your playstyle is. Interestingly enough, my preferred style usually leads me toward support and offence, depending how I feel – in this instance, though, support was dropped for defence and tank in equal portions. While supports such as Mercy and Lucio, for example, are incredibly necessary for victory, Overwatch inspired the need in me to be controlling the action somehow – especially given the rapid nature of how the game swings in favour each time.
The game also has a levelling system, which provides you with a loot box each time you level up – opening which reveals character animations, sprays, character voices, and skins, if you’re lucky enough. If you’re searching for something in particular and want to do so, you can also purchase loot boxes through the client at about $1AUD at the time of writing. Luckily for me, I learnt from my League of Legends experience how easy it is to drop large sums of money into these games, so I resisted the desire and managed to persevere.
Blizzard has also seemingly tried to address the issue of toxicity in online games as well, with a voting system being implemented at the end of the game to vote for players who have done extraordinary things – such as the percentage of team damage, healing, most kills, etc. It’s a fresh system. However, it’s also not strictly enforced as players don’t have to vote. This particular issue has always been difficult to address, and while I don’t think Blizzard has solved the problem by any means, I do hope that they continue to join in the effort of creating a tolerant and understanding community around their game. What I’m most interested in for the future of Overwatch regarding design, is what new game modes, maps, and champions they’re going to add in down the line – as modes and heroes, in particular, will change the current landscape of the game from its current release standpoint. Regardless, what we currently have is an incredibly polished product in terms of both design and online support – and that’s saying a lot more for Overwatch than other big release titles that have come into the market unprepared and under-developed.
The gameplay of Overwatch, is, in one word, insane. Coming from League of Legends, where everything is a lot slower and calculated, Overwatch has taken me a while to adjust to given the sheer speed that everything happens. With its current game modes of Assault or Escort, Hybrid (Assault and Escort), and Control – the dynamic is very much about either protecting or attacking, depending on which side of the coin your team falls on and doing it well as games can range in length anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. This particular point is fascinating, as it’s one of the only games I’m able to play with friends where we can cycle through turns and nobody gets bored – as it’s so quick, it’s the next persons turn before you know it.
With this in mind, I think Overwatch has a future of accessibility for people who have limited gaming time such as parents or full-time workers, but there’s a debate as to whether a hardcore audience will develop around the game given the smaller dedication scale towards time and effort. About the characters, every champion has unique abilities to their character, with each one having roughly 3-5 regular abilities and as well as an ultimate ability. What this means is that timing is also crucial in Overwatch, as a well-placed ability (especially an ultimate), could change the tide of battle just like that. What also encourages players surrounding this idea, is that at the end of each match there’s a “Play of the Game” segment. While currently it seems specifically focused on the largest kill streak, Blizzard has stated that they will be amending the system to include other plays, much to the delight of supports everywhere.
Honestly, though, my favourite feature of the game is probably the artwork, musical composition and voice acting as they’re all sublime. What Overwatch offers is just completely different to the current standard in the FPS/MOBA industry, and it’s a highly refreshing experience for it. From the moment I first booted the game up and heard the main overture, I was automatically locked in – and I can only say that about a few games from my personal history, with Uncharted being the other coming foremost to mind at this point. With such a vivid tapestry of artwork on display, not only has care been taken with the champions but also the level designs themselves – with each region being both interesting and beautiful to look at without ever getting visually desensitised to the experience. While World of Warcraft has received a facelift over the years, Overwatch showed off the real capability of the art department at Blizzard – and I’m looking forward to seeing what they roll out with future content. If they remain committed and engaged with their audience, I don’t see why they won’t be able to overcome the steep price hurdle to purchasing the game which has some gamers currently sitting on the fence.
Honestly, I think there are still a lot of questions to be answered about Overwatch over time. With it obviously being in its infancy, there is still room for change and improvement, which at this point Blizzard seem more than prepared to handle. Given the more laid back and quick-burst gameplay nature of Overwatch, I’m also curious to see how the audience will be divided over the game – especially if it pushes into the eSports arena as many people are predicting. However, what’s undeniable is that we received an immaculately polished AAA game on release day with no bugs and a high accessibility ceiling. In my eyes, Blizzard has done it again – AKA the Daniel Day-Lewis of video games. Appearing from the shadows once every few years to deliver one hell of a performance, they’ve managed to captivate and delight audiences to the ends of a stellar product.