Overwatch Review: Heroes Never Die

overwatch-beta-headerIt’s been three months since Overwatch was released. Most reviews of the game dropped within a week of release which was before the game’s competitive mode was added to the game in June and even one balance change or patch was made. While I put in a lot of time into Overwatch in its early days, I felt that the game needed some time to breathe to see how enjoyable the game would be once the competitive mode was added, players had more experience, more weekly brawls were shown off and Blizzard added some additional content.

There was certainly a chance that the early buzz for Overwatch could have given way to numerous issues and complaints once the mass audience got a hold of it. Fortunately, Overwatch has largely lived up to the hype.

I’ve already covered the basics of Overwatch extensively in both my closed beta and open beta impressions posts but I’ll do a Cole’s Notes summary of the basics. Overwatch is a 6v6 hero shooter in which players select a team of heroes of varying ability to complete an objective. The map objectives include capturing or defending two points (called assault), escort a payload, a hybrid of those two and both teams attempting to capture and hold a point in a best-of-three match (called control).

If you’ve played the Open Beta, a little has been added to the game. A 22nd character, Ana, has been added as a sniper support character. The game’s 13th map, Eichenwalde, an escort map, has been added to the Public Test Realm and could make its debut in the full game very soon.

overwatch-screenshot-01The Ranked mode would be the big addition, though that was already in the game if you played the closed beta. Rather than the seemingly random assembly of teams in Quick Play, Ranked tries to match players at a similar skill ranking. It also extends the standard game mode so both teams get a chance on offence and defense to prove which is the better team. (Competitive also makes the control maps a best-of-five match rather than three.)

For example, both teams will have a chance to move the payload or capture the points (or both in hybrid) with the team who captures the most points or moves the payload farther in their attacking phase wins the match. Should there be a tie on the assault maps, both teams get another go at capturing as many points as possible in the time they had remaining from their first run (set to a minimum of two minutes). Failing that (and on escort and hybrid map ties after first runs), the game goes to sudden death where the game randomly picks a team for offence and defense. It’s a race to the first checkpoint / capture point in 1:45. If the offence reaches its goal, that team wins. If they don’t, the defenders win.

There are some downsides to the competitive mode. Sudden death doesn’t seem like the greatest way to decide a game though even Blizzard realizes this and is open to ending a match in a draw. I hope that a tiebreaker is added to hybrid/escort similar to assault so those matches don’t go straight to a draw. Queue and play times in competitive are considerably higher than Quick Play which is to be expected as the game is trying to balance the game as best as possible but to me, Overwatch is about the pickup and play factor where you can boot the game up and play four or so matches inside a half-hour and have your fill. You might get two Competitive games over that same half-hour.

The biggest problem with competitive mode is the way it handles leavers. If you are the first one to leave a game, it’s logged as a loss against you and you can be subject to XP reductions and suspensions from competitive play if you do it too much. That’s fine. The problem is for the rest of the leaver’s team. They have a system that allows people a minute after the first departure to leave without penalty but with a loss. Basically, you don’t have XP or matchmaking penalties but you’ll still lose ranking / MMR for leaving. It’s a wash because the man (or men) disadvantage the leaver’s team suffers guarantees a loss anyway. Overwatch needs to incentivize people to not abandon ship when someone else does. If a loss is a loss whether I stay or go, why should I stay and fight a losing fight?

overwatch-promo-01With that all out of the way, this is a fun and fantastic game. Even with only 22 heroes and 12 maps, there are enough combinations of heroes, teams, objectives and players that every match feels different. Even if I only play Overwatch for a half-hour at a time, it never feels like a samey grind playing through each match. That’s helped by the fact that each hero plays differently and has different roles, strengths and weaknesses. As such, I can play a half-dozen games a day and they’ll all feel different and enjoyable.

Being able to mix up the heroes, between games and on the fly, is probably the biggest plus to Overwatch. If one team is struggling, a well-timed or well thought out hero swap could turn the tide. It also helps if you get bored. I had a string of games where I was playing tank to fill the role and swapped between four of them (poor Winston) to keep things fresh. The fact that are great characters to bounce between in each class rather than one or two viable heroes in each class makes this game great. It’s that balance where you aren’t pigeonholed into playing the same six-hero team composition that helps the fun.

Visually, the game is the antithesis of most shooters on the market. The likes of CS:GO, CoD and Battlefield lack visual variety. It’s just various shades of brown and grey, be it the maps or characters. Even without the skins, there is a whole rainbow of colours in the levels and on the characters. The characters come in a variety of shapes, sizes, personal interests, and ethnicities so there is likely to be a character that you identify with too. It’s certainly the most aesthetically-pleasing shooter I’ve played this year.

The game has some pretty good music too. The Overwatch theme, The World Could Always Use More Heroes, that plays when you boot the game has become instantly iconic similar to Hearthstone’s theme. Every character has their unique personality conveyed through various lines and quips played during the matches. Backing up the varying backstories of characters, the characters all sound different to reflect their background. The audio is also designed in a way to help you know what’s happening before you see it. After playing enough times, you know the sound of the various weapons or abilities of the characters so you know what you’re looking for or what to do before ever seeing where Hanzo’s dragon or Junkrat’s exploding tire or which Mercy is reviving teammates.

overwatch-screenshot-02Unfortunately, there are some microtransactions but they’re all cosmetic. That doesn’t mean that Blizzard did a good job of implementing them. Every time you level up, you get a loot box (don’t call them Loot Crates) with five cosmetic items consisting of skins, taunts, sprays, emotes and so on for each of the 22 characters.  You can also spend actual money to buy these boxes starting at $1 per box and decreasing as you buy in bulk.

The problem is that the cosmetics received are random and could include duplicates of what you’ve already unlocked. Those duplicates do earn you in-game currency (which can also be in the loot box) but that currency is accumulated at a small percentage (20% of the value to buy with the in-game currency) so being able to buy what you want is a grind on top of the level up grind to get a loot box. There’s also the problem that the recent “Summer Games” promotion had items only unlockable through loot boxes guaranteed at least one of five items being from the promotion and they couldn’t be purchased through currency so that encouraged purchasing those crates to get those items.

While I’m on the topic of issues with the game, one could certainly make an argument about a lack of content and post-launch content. The game launched with 21 heroes and only one has been added since, though the game is in a good place in terms of balance so it doesn’t necessarily need to be fixed. Overwatch also launched with 12 maps and the 13th was just announced at Gamescom. A small map pool at the start lets players learn the tricks of the maps but a little hitch thrown in the game via characters or maps would help keep the game fresh. As time goes on, I find myself playing the game less and less but something new and fresh would easily convince me to come back. I’m logging into SC2 for co-op more regularly than Overwatch which should worry Blizzard since I suck at StarCraft II.

Also, Blizzard has clearly put a lot of time and effort into the lore of Overwatch and crafting the heroes both visually and with a backstory. None of that is reflected in the game. Sure, you might get the odd bit of character interaction but if you’re not paying attention, you won’t notice. Everyone in the game has some backstory with each other and the Overwatch but this lore is shoved off to the side. Is this something they’re saving for a single-player campaign? Maybe but there haven’t been any definitive hints in that direction. Considering how much people love Blizzard lore, I’m a little surprised that they aren’t pushing it more when there is so much to dig into.

Conclusion

overwatch-screenshot-03The easiest way to describe Overwatch is fun. It was built up with a lot of hype from streamers and Blizzard fans and the games media with preview content from the alpha and beta. While Heroes of the Storm had the same buildup and flopped relatively speaking, Overwatch thrived. It had a massive open beta before launch and retained millions of people when the $40/$60 release dropped. People played it and absolutely loved it because it’s a fun game.

Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Overwatch lands Game of the Year plaudits (or nominations, at the very least) from many outlets and it certainly deserves it. This is the most fun I’ve had playing a shooter this year.

Rating: 9.0/10

Overwatch was reviewed on PC but is also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Your impressions of the game may differ depending on platform played on, PC spec, and if your preferences for competitive shooters are for something that looks and plays more realistically than cartoony and arcadey.

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About Steve Murray

Steve is the founder and editor of The Lowdown Blog and et geekera. On The Lowdown Blog, he often writes about motorsports, hockey, politics and pop culture. Over on et geekera, Steve writes about geek interests and lifestyle. Steve is on Twitter at @TheSteveMurray.

Posted on August 26, 2016, in Game Reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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