Overwatch Review (PC)
In a world where media companies are too content to endlessly regurgitate their greatest hits, one company has stepped out from the shadows to bring forth something different, something original, something amazing.
Overwatch, Blizzard's first new intellectual property in almost two decades, is here.
Hell, it's about time.
Overwatch foregoes an overt story for in-your-face, team-based multiplayer, first-person shooter action. No matter which game mode you've selected, from standard matches (standard mode) to versus AI (chill mode) to custom games (customizable mode) to Brawls (weekly rule-bending crazy mode), the basic format is the same: two teams of six players battle it out in huge maps with team-based objectives. Players have the option of selecting any of the twenty-one characters in Overwatch's cast, each of whom fills a particular type of class, to balance out their team composition. You can change heroes whenever you die, encouraging you to constantly shift and experiment. Are snipers blowing the faces off of your lightweight team? Shift to Reinhardt and use his giant energy shield to protect your allies. Is their team grouped up too tight to reach? Use Farrah or Junkrat to blow them to kingdom come. Is the enemy Bastion melting you in his turret mode? Switch to the cyber-ninja Genji and deflect that sucker's bullets right back at him.
This emphasis on switching heroes creates a huge variety to gameplay. Even after you've played the same maps 10, 20, or a 100 times, things will always be different. The maps themselves are gorgeous, full of nooks and crannies for agile players to explore and exploit, but Overwatch's cast are the real stars. These heroes ooze personality; Overwatch's gorgeous, stylish aesthetic and expressive character designs make each character incredibly memorable. Also, Blizzard has done a commendable job of creating such a diverse cast, with far more women and people of color than are found in most games.
While these heroes are great to look at and listen to, they're even better to play. The cast all play in drastically different ways, often building on FPS archetypes found in other games. Soldier 76 will feel very comfortable for Halo players, Torbjorn's great for anyone who likes the Engineer in Team Fortress 2, Tracer is reminiscent of the lightning-fast PC shooters of the '90s, and so on. It's easy to quickly get the gist of most characters, yet repeated play with them reveals the depths of their potential mastery. The more you play any given character, the more you'll come to understand the versatility of their abilities and the creative ways you can use them. Just one of these characters could probably carry a game by themselves; Blizzard gave us 21.
Player progression is entirely cosmetic; brand new players will be on an even playing field with people who've been at the game for months or years. Gaining levels grants loot boxes full of ornamental stuff such as sprays, logos, taunts, victory poses, and character skins. Though can buy loot boxes with real money if you're impatient, since they're 100% cosmetic (and entirely random) there's no reason to do so other than sheer impatience.
The matches are so fast and furious that you'll have little reason to feel impatient for the next loot box as you'll be too friggin' busy playing. Matches are satisfying, full of meaty moments of sci-fi FPS action, and flow quickly from one to the next to the next, rewarding extra exp. to those who play with friends and play continuously. At the end of each match is a clip of what the mighty Overwatch Gods of Highlight Reels deem to be the most impressive play of the game, and a post-game menu which allows both teams to give toast to the best players of the match. There's no in-game benefit to toasting your foes or allies, or to getting Play of the Game, but it feels exhilarating to do something so awesome that your team, enemies, or even Overwatch itself all take a moment to recognize it. Even if you don’t earn a play of the game, Overwatch does track personal highlight reels, though there’s no clear way to share them with friends or the community if you don’t have the options already set up on your platform of choice.
As was mentioned before, Overwatch is gorgeous, with an eye-tickling aesthetic to its characters, and unbelievable sound design. Characters quip with personality, and unique sound effects and call-outs grant incredible situational awareness to those paying enough attention. Everyone's game-changing Ultimate Attacks have signature phrases to go along with them; not only are these call-outs exciting to hear, they let experienced players better react to what's going on. When you hear "Justice rains from above!" take cover or (if you're bold) shoot the skies. When you hear the rev of an engine, get away from your teammates. When you hear "Ryuu ga waka teki wo karau," get the hell out of there.
It's also worth mentioning that Overwatch has a variety of options for players who want or need to switch their controls, and offers functions such as color-blind mode for those who need it. These seemingly small touches go a long way towards opening this game up to as wide of a playerbase as wants to play it.
Blizzard has a long history of supporting its products for years (World of Warcraft has yet another expansion pack coming, Diablo III recently added a ton of new content, and Starcraft II just expanded its co-op mode with new gameplay options and the awesome Zerg slugman, Abathur). The company has promised to continue adding content to Overwatch, with things like ranked matches, new game modes, maps, characters, balance updates and more all in the foreseeable future. If you're willing to put in the time, Blizzard will, too. Most importantly, those updates will be free.
Overwatch does the things most video games only dream of doing. This is a fresh, joyful experience offering an incredible variety of gameplay, high ease of access, and deep potential for mastery. In a genre full of dour shootymans using realistic guns to shoot at realistic people, Overwatch polishes off the grit to reveal a game that's optimistic and eager to be explored. This is a world you'll want to stay in, bring your friends to, and keep coming back to for years to come.
This review was completed based on a digital copy of Overwatch provided by the publisher for the PC.