Gaming: A Look at Overwatch

Well summer’s here and with it the usual lack of any major game releases. Typically this is when I dig into my backlog and pull out some older titles I never got around to playing. I’ve been a bit lucky the past two years, though. It was last year around this time I was held hostage by The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, a fantastic RPG that gave me 224 hours of content over the course of that summer. Seriously, if you havent played it yet, go do so right now (more on that here). Now, a year later I’m being taken once again by a game that was almost completely off my radar a month ago.

That game is Overwatch, an arena-esque class based multiplayer only first person shooter. If that mouthful of gaming jargon went over your head, here’s what you should know: basically Overwatch is an online multiplayer shooter that comes with a bunch of different “heroes” you as the player can choose to play as, each with their own unique set of abilities that influence how you play the game. If you’ve ever played Team Fortress 2, it’s basically that game but with more characters to choose from.

21 heroes to choose from in Blizzards new shooter.
21 heroes to choose from in Blizzard’s new shooter.

Overwatch is very different from most AAA shooters currently on the market. The game was developed by Blizzard Entertainment, the same studio behind juggernauts like World of Warcraft and Hearthstone, and as such Overwatch adopts an art style consistent with Blizzard’s other games. It’s colorful, pixar-like look sets it in strong contrast against shooters like Call of Duty and Counterstike where shades of brown and gray seem to dominate the environments.

Honestly the style of the game is why I dismissed it at first, and why I’m guessing a lot of people might as well. “This looks so stupid”, I thought. “No one’s going to play this, it looks like it’s a kid’s game.” But when the free beta came out a couple of weeks ago, I said to myself, “Okay, whatever, I’ll try Overwatch out. I mean, it’s free to play for the weekend and I have nothing else going on.” By Monday I was sold. I picked it up a few days ago and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be my summer game this year. So if you’re sitting on the fence right now looking at this game, unsure if it’s worth your time and maybe even thinking it looks a little silly like I did, let me give you three reasons why you should strongly consider giving Overwatch a shot.

 

1)It’s a Breath of Fresh Air

Since 2007, when Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare hit, shooters haven’t been the same. That game was so influential that it, along with the Nintendo Wii console, brought video games into the limelight and transformed the hobby into the multi billion dollar industry that it is today. As a result of Call of Duty 4’s immense success, shooters since have nearly all copied its realistic, mature, and gritty style. In many ways this became what most consumers expected in a shooter.

Overwatch is the opposite of that. It’s not realistic, but that’s a good thing. Instead of getting shot and killed by a 12 year old camping with his M16A4 in the corner of dark room, an opponent now needs to score multiple hits on you to take you out, and can do so with weapons ranging from lasers, blasters, and shock guns to six-shooters, ninja stars and samurai swords. The game forces you to be constantly on the move and work together with your teammates in order to win. The synergy between the differering heroes also makes an impact on the outcome of a match. Depending on what mode you are playing, a team will need a specific makeup of characters, from medics to snipers to flankers, to be successful. This isn’t a new concept by any means, but Overwatch, being essentially the spiritual successor of Team Fortress 2, emphasizes this dynamic more strongly than a lot of games, and it gives players a sense of purpose when they’re in a match other than just filling a slot in the roster.

Furthermore, the game isn’t drab like so many shooters today are. No more brown and gray maps set in a third world shanty town. Instead Overwatch gives players colorful and interesting arenas to play on, all of which are exceptionally well designed I might add. The thoughtful map design and diversity of characters makes even games played repeatedly on the same map feel different. This is an area most multiplayer shooters struggle in. For whatever reason map design– that is, how a map’s layout can positively or negatively contribute to the gameplay– seems to be somewhat of an afterthought to developers these days. The last guys to really nail this in my opinion were Respawn with Titanfall, and Overwatch getting this aspect right is a huge plus in my book.

 

 

2)It’s Fun for (Nearly) All Ages

This one’s more oriented at the parents out there. As I’m sure most of you know, a lot of modern shooters are pretty adult oriented. I mean, just look at this sample I picked off my shelf. It seems you can’t release one of these games into the market without it earning an M rating. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. But I would imagine playing one of these games with a younger sibling, son, or daughter might be out of the question for some.

The nice thing about Overwatch is the titles’s relatively mild tone. Now don’t get me wrong; the game is a shooter, and by its very nature will have a degree of violence to it. However there is no profanity, no gore, no sex. I almost wrote there was no blood, because I don’t recall seeing any during my time with the game, but it’s apparently there according to the game’s T (teen) ESRB rating. Needless to say it’s very minor. There is tobacco use by the cigar smoking cowboy, but come on, that’s just what cowboys do.

Actual cowboy circa 1970
Actual cowboy circa 1970

Plus, just look at the game. It really does look like Pixar made it. All in all it’s a way better fit for youngsters than Call of Duty. (Please parents stop buying your kids Call of Duty. Getting repeatedly called racial slurs by 12 year olds in the post game lobby gets old fast.)

That said, Overwatch is by no means a kid’s game. Just take a glance over at twitch.tv, and you’ll find people of all ages playing the game. I’d wager somewhere out there there’s even an AARP member on the servers. It’s a game nearly anyone can get into, and I think its accessibility is a strength not shared by many of it’s competitors on the market.

 

3)It’s $40 (on PC) and Can Be Had for $50 on Consoles at Certain Retailers

Overwatch bucks the trend of new games releasing at $60. It’s something that doesn’t happen that much and makes the game a solid value offering if you like multiplayer shooters. If you have a decent PC (and it really doesn’t take a powerful machine to run the game at all)

Toasters will run this game.
Toasters will run this game.

then you can pick it up for $40. If you’re more console minded, Walmart and Amazon have the game for $48.99 at the time of writing. Other retailers will typically price match those two as well, if for whatever reason you decide you’d rather shop elsewhere (I got Best Buy to price match Walmart for my copy, for example).

If the low price isn’t enough to sell you, then just add to that the fact that Blizzard has promised tons of free content updates in the future. So no $50 season passes or outrageous DLC offerings that split the community into haves and have-nots. With Overwatch you get a solid future outlook on content along with your purchase that looks to insure the game will have at the very least a decent lifespan.

 

Closing Thoughts

I will add a few caveats before I finish up, because the game isn’t perfect. Like I mentioned earlier the game is multiplayer only. That means no story mode, and if you’re on a console you will need an active paid online subscription from either Microsoft or Sony to play the game. This also means you will be at the mercy of the game’s servers. So if they go down for whatever reason you won’t be able to play. So far my time on the Overwatch servers has been solid, but it’s an issue that I have run into in the past with other online only games so bear that in mind. Also worth noting is the inclusion of microtransations in the game. All the unlocks for your characters can still be earned by simply playing the game and earning loot boxes, so I don’t think the microtransation system is too intrusive here. However it is an issue that annoys some people so I think it’s worth mentioning.

So there you have it. If you like shooters you owe it to yourself to give this game a shot. At the very least go Redbox it for a night. Overwatch is a different, energetic new shooter that we don’t see a lot of these days from the big time studios. I think that fact alone makes it worth trying. Oh and if you can, get some friends to play, too. The game’s fun scales exponentially the more people you play with.

–P.S.H.

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