Overwatch feels like a sort of natural evolution of the Team Fortress formula. Blizzard’s taken the basic idea of Team Fortress 2 and managed to modernize it with gameplay elements from the MOBA genre. It’s a hard locked six vs. six affair and there are way more characters (21, to be exact), but they’re ultimately pretty similar games with similar game modes. The real wrinkle is the way the MOBA inspiration gives each character more of a defined kit. In TF2, characters are more defined by the items they equip, but in Overwatch your hero will have a smattering of abilities with cooldowns, a passive trait, and so on. The combination of the TF2 formula and these MOBA elements work incredibly well together.
Overwatch features a healthy array of 12 maps spread across four different game modes for a total of three maps per mode. The modes include assault (point capture), escort (payload), control (king of the hill), and a hybrid mode that combines assault and escort phases. Gameplay aside, one of the most compelling aspects of Overwatch’s map variety is the fact they’re mostly based on real world (albeit futuristic) locations. As you move from match to match you’ll find yourself everywhere from the streets of London to the mountains of Nepal. On the gameplay side of things, I’ve developed a preference for the hybrid and escort maps. Some of the assault maps feel a bit too one sided, such as the second point of Hanamura being incredibly hard to capture because the defending team literally spawns five feet away from it.
The game’s 21 hero roster is diverse in aesthetic, origin, and in gameplay. Split into four different roles (offense, defense, support, and tank), there’s likely to be someone for everyone and hopefully more than that as the game strongly encourages switching characters mid match in order to adapt to what’s going on in the game. Like TF2, there are also characters that don’t emphasize twitch shooter skills. If you’re like me and you can’t keep up with all the flick shotting kids, you can play support characters such as Mercy (think TF2’s Medic, only way cooler) and still contribute in a meaningful way to your team’s performance. Overwatch is a welcoming game for shooter fans across playstyles and skill levels.
Progression is light in Overwatch. There isn’t any in-game progression nor is there any meaningful out of game progression. You can unlock things for each hero, but they’re all purely cosmetic. If you’re the type of player that’s constantly chasing the next gameplay unlock, Overwatch isn’t going to scratch that itch. On the other hand, there are a ton of cool skins, emotes, poses, and more to unlock so if you don’t mind things being purely cosmetic then there’s a lot to look forward to. The primary means of acquiring new unlocks is through loot boxes which are awarded at every level up (leveling is infinite), but it’s also possible to pay for loot boxes with real money, so if you want to fast track things a bit you can. Loot boxes can also contain currency which can be used to manually unlock something you want. If you’re gunning for a particular legendary skin like I was, this can come in handy.
As a team based game, it’s fortunate that Overwatch is really easy to play with friends. It’s super easy to put together a group and leave matches as a team. You can also right click friends to request to join an existing group or just jump right into the game with them. The game features voice chat as well, which is more of a bonus than anything else, and I haven’t heard it used too much in public games, but it’s definitely there to help with team coordination. Another neat little social feature I enjoy is the ability to prefer or avoid players I’ve recently played with. Maybe you suspect someone is hacking or they were simply toxic in your game, all you need to do is put them on your avoid list and the matchmaking system will try to keep you from ending up in their games. The opposite is true for players you prefer, of course.
One thing I do need to dock Overwatch on at the moment is the lack of ranked play. For a game that Blizzard has seemingly positioned as a major eSports draw, it’s curious that the team wasn’t able to get ranked play ready for launch. To be fair, ranked play is scheduled to go live sometime this month, so its release is imminent, but it’s appropriate to review the game as it is right now and right now it simply doesn’t have a queue for the more competitive players among us to jump into.
Blizzard’s first foray into the first person shooter genre was a bold move for the studio best known for its strategy titles and its MMO, World of Warcraft. Blizzard is first to market with Overwatch, its entry into the nascent, but rapidly growing hero shooter and unfortunately for everyone else, Blizzard’s managed to hit the ball out of the park on its first swing.
GAMEPLAY: 9 | Overwatch’s healthy roster of characters, maps, and game modes make for a meaty game to sink your teeth into. The potential for big game turning plays will keep you coming back.
VISUALS AND SOUND: 9 | The game’s art style looks like something straight out of a Pixar film and both the characters and maps are vibrant with color and distinct from one another. Frequent chatter between characters helps underline the game’s lore and the history between various characters.
LONGEVITY: 9 | Blizzard has committed to growing the game over time with new characters and maps/modes (all free with your purchase of the game) and given the studio’s track record, this should go a long way towards ensuring the game remains fresh over time. In the interim, the game’s solid foundation should keep any fan coming back for months to come.
VALUE: 9 | Overwatch may not be a free-to-play title, but at $40 you’re getting 12 maps and 21 characters as well as the aforementioned post-release maps and characters free with your purchase. Microtransactions are light and optional, applying only to cosmetics.
POLISH: 9 | We didn’t run into many bugs with Overwatch. The game has that expected Blizzard sheen.