I recall the first match of Overwatch I played being a key to a new era of gaming in my life. I was the rugged gunslinger Mcree and in the next moment aerial superiority Pharah then in the next a wall riding speed boosting healer Lucio. After 200+ hours of gameplay it is clear to me why this game hooked me so deeply; not a single match in my time spent on Overwatch has been alike.
The game arose from the ashes of Blizzard’s MMO “failure” Titan and gave life to a 180 degree turn of a well balanced synthesized shooter. The game takes inspiration from shooter based classics such as the Quake mod Team Fortress, the balance and precision involved with Counter Strike Global Offensive and the casual simplicity that comes with the Call of Duty franchise. The game brings different shooter fans together with Overwatch’s hybrid of classics. The draw of Overwatch’s design doesn’t lie solely within these woven shooters, but the game mechanics from MOBA hits such as Dota and LoL also make appearance along with fresh designs developed by the team at Blizzard. Overwatch is a cultivation of well designed gameplay with the removal of disengaging fluff found with most shooters.The game now influences other companies development by inspiring a new generation of class based shooters seen with the upcoming PS4 title Lawbreakers or the Overwatch clone Palatins.
The current game features an ensemble of 24 heroes with varying skills, active and passive abilities, and an ultimate move that charges during the match. The hero select screen meticulously divides the four primary classes of the heroes into attack, defence, tank and support. While building a team composition in the pregame setup there will even be prompts for team compositions such as “no tanks” or “too many snipers” edging players to design a balanced team to get the most effect and utility during matches. Each game is a 6v6 with players allowed to only select one of each hero on their team; the most balanced of teams being two of each class. When playing the game however any team composition will work, but the team impact may be reduced. The game does not limit how you choose to play, but rather nudges players towards a balanced team.
The art style of Overwatch finds itself in the simplicity of character and map design. The style takes a non-standard approach of an apocalyptic title taking form in a vibrant colored cartoony pseudorealism. The visuals are not tech intensive or pushing graphical outcome. Each hero and map is rendered courtesy of a simple “low” polygonal designs, yet in no way do these “lower graphics” hinder the pleasing visual aesthetic of the game. The characters visual designs are related to the abilities and personalities of each hero. An example of this is the anti “hero” Reaper who embodies death with abilities to teleport and to turn into a wraith form. The design of Reaper matches his personality of an edgy emo death definer with a skull faced design and an all black outfit giving an extra wave of life to the characters and Overwatch world.
The audio is a direct match to the maps and heroes. Each map opens with its own unique piece of music such as Eichenwalde opening a match with a short classical techno piece that fits its Germanic futuristic setting. Hero’s voice lines are wisely set within their personalities like when Reaper teleports he monotonically pronounces “ Death comes” an audio cue that establishes character and helps the enemy team knows their is a flanker. The game is filled with audio cues like hearing enemy footsteps and knowing exactly which hero it is or the distinctive cry of an enemy ultimate.
Map design follows the simplistic theme with picturesque landscapes made from fantastical pseudo realistic envisions of our world. Great variety is turned out in each map whether you are in the future African city Nubani, clashing in the walls of the German castle Eichenwalde, fighting alongside tranquil cherry blossoms in Japan Hanamura, or even at the birthplace of hero Winston The Moon; each map offers nuances that keeps the game’s setting fresh and untired. Maps also offer an outstanding level of verticality creating in game strategies such as using advantageous high ground or falling below team fights for cover. When playing through the 18 maps currently offered in Overwatch it is clear that map design choices were stressed to promote outstanding gameplay rather than becoming a backdrop to combat.
The general design of each map is dependent on the four core game modes escort, assault, hybrid or control. Escort begins with a payload ready to be pushed by the attacking team who try to reach the end of the payload track as the defensive team tries to stop the push that passes through checkpoints along the way. Assault features two points to be captured in an area of the map that attackers must stand on while defenders contest the meter requirement standing in the area as battling. Hybrid (as its name suggests) begins with an assault point attackers must fulfill before they can begin pushing the payload in attempt to reach the end. Control has a single area in the center of a symmetrical map which both teams must attempt to capture and hold until they are able to reach a 100% requirement. Arcade rotates a variety of unique game modes as well, but the only map difference in arcade are seen for 3v3 elimination maps that don’t feature a large play area like the aforementioned modes.
When the game design is looked at collectively what is revealed is a well balanced shooter that promotes competitive gameplay. Luckily enough Overwatch features a competitive mode for players to hone their skills and increase in rank as they progress through the game. The ranking system is impartial with skill rating won or lost with the winning or losing of each match, while individual performance affects how much SR is gained or lost.Competitive mode plays out differently than the matches found in quickplay.The escort mode in competitive has the attacker team push the payload as far as they can go, but rather than losing if the payload does not reach the end of the track the teams switch sides. The once defending team now pushes the payload to where the once attacking team pushed to, to win. Competitive assault mode takes the same approach measuring out how far the points are captured and then a switching of sides. These changes allow for a balance between attacking and defending in the modes for a fair competitive experience. Capture point does not require a switching of sides like the other game modes, but instead it is best to three rather than two for a larger “sample size” of the matchup. Competitive play is my favorite portion of Overwatch since the care and small tweeks constantly patched into the game make it as balanced and player skilled based as possible.
With the gameplay and aesthetic as fine combed as it is Overwatch takes itself a step forward by emerging the player in a world with interesting characters and lore. At no point does the game force the lore upon you (or distract from the main gameplay,) but rather it is seen in subtle interactions with the environment and voice lines delivered by the hero’s in the pregame. Hanzo and Genji show the most interesting voice lines such as “What’s wrong, Hanzo? Don’t you recognize me?” “You may call yourself my brother, but you are not the Genji I knew.” or if Hanzo is without Genji in setup you may hear “My brother is dead. I killed him with my own hands.” These nuances give the game life that emerges you into a sense of more than just gameplay.
Overwatch delivers players a sprawling world with intricate characters and multi layered maps of gameplay and aesthetic. At the whim of a player’s fingertips is a passive quickplay mode, a goofy arcade mode and an adrenaline heart stomping competitive mode. The time I have spent on Overwatch has been a captivating addictive craze of eight months that I will long remember for incredible gameplay and possessive joy. No game has hooked me as deeply as Overwatch has with its spectacular design choice and memorable gameplay. Furthermore the developers continue to release new heroes and maps to a roster that outpaces its competitors. I am humbled to be a player of a game bolded in greatness and will continue my hours spent for Overwatch with no end in site.