Overwatch Review - Beckett vs. Overwatch - One Year Later
Written by Beckett Van Stralen
When Overwatch was released over a year ago, once again Blizzard took the gaming world by a storm in demonstrating their ability to step outside of their “comfort genres” and innovate something truly spectacular, in this case their premier first-person shooter. For me, Overwatch flew way under my radar up until the open beta hit the Playstation Store. The art style initially threw me off, especially since I’d just come from playing games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Destiny. I played the open beta and wasn’t a huge fan at first. The gameplay mechanics seemed very simple, there was no aiming button that had become a standard option in modern first-person shooters, and the massive roster with (now 25) different heroes to choose from was slightly overwhelming. A few months after its release, Blizzard announced there would be a two day free trial. At this point Overwatch had been gaining momentum for a while, and had worked its way into social media and gaming websites quite prominently, so it was on my radar more clearly than ever before. I bit the bullet and downloaded the game once again in an effort to give it another chance, and I am so glad I did. Almost 300 hours later, Overwatch is easily one of the best modern multiplayer first-person shooters released, and how it brings people together to work as a team in complex ways is a rare and beautiful thing. For console owners and fans of multiplayer shooters, Overwatch is a must-have game that will redefine how you look at team-based video games, and will also force you to look inward and examine your own abilities, strengths, and weaknesses in order to be the best you can be to deliver that payload, capture that point, or defend your team’s objective.
For the uninitiated or those who are on the fence about purchasing Overwatch, the game has two teams battling it out over three game modes - capture and hold the objective, escort the payload, and a hybrid of the two that involves capturing one point to escort a payload to the end of the map. Each team has six players; one team defends and the other attacks. There is also now an arcade mode that allows for games to be played with different rule sets. For example, classic Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch have been added, where winning is determined by the player or team that has the most kills at the end of the round. There is also a Mystery Heroes mode where your hero is chosen at random. Finally, for the gamers who like to tailor the specifications and rules for their matches, Blizzard has added a Game Browser which allows you to scan through custom game modes created by other players. For example, if you want to play a match where it’s Genji vs. Genji only, that’s where you’ll want to look.
There isn’t much in terms of a cohesive story for Overwatch, which isn’t a bad thing. In the game itself, there aren’t any distractions to take you away from the action - you go in, you fight to win, and you’re back out within 5-15 minutes of gameplay. Instead of weaving an in-game narrative, the story is told in a variety of mediums, from extremely well-produced digital short films to comics and small bits of lore within the game’s maps. The lore is fascinating and compliments the heroes and their distinct mannerisms. It helps you understand their motivations, the relationships they have with other heroes, and what ties them to the map they’re in at that moment. For example, with the character of Genji, one of the capture maps in Nepal houses a room that once belonged to him. It is complete with pictures of himself and his brother, Hanzo, as well as the sword Genji wields. It’s little details like this that make this world and the characters within it feel alive. Even further, in a digital short that features Genji and Hanzo reuniting, Hanzo shoots an arrow that gets lodged in the floor. During matches on the Hanamura map, you can still see this arrow lodged in the exact same place seen in the digital short. It’s a minor detail for sure, but the continuity is appreciated.
The playable heroes in Overwatch is where the game truly shines. Not a single hero feels similar to another in terms of how they play. Each hero is organized into one of four classes - Offense, Defense, Tank, and Support. Ideally in a team match, you want to choose a hero that fits your team’s objective. When on defense, ideally the team will be largely focused on support, defense and tanking (this should be a no brainer, but you’d be surprised). Due to the wide range of selectable heroes, many different combinations can be used. For example, Reinhardt, a tank that wields a massive shield and sledgehammer, can be perfectly combined with Bastion, a defense hero who has the ability to change into a turret. Planted behind Reinhardt’s shield, Bastion can pick off targets with ease before they even come close to damaging him. On Attack, usually offensive heroes are preferred (but again, sometimes people like to go defensive on the offensive - I’m not saying that this results in ultimate failure 100% of the time, but it can throw a wrench in your team’s synergy and composition), but also the aid of healers and tanks can go a long way in pushing to the team’s first objective. The possibilities are nearly endless, and with time and understanding of how the levels are designed and each hero's applicable utility to that level, there can be some game-breaking combos pulled off, resulting in an adrenaline rush that can’t be found in any other game. The fact that six people only connected by their PlayStation accounts and a headset, in their own separate living rooms and countries, can collaborate to reduce an enemy team to nothing, is utterly mind-boggling.
For heroes already bursting with personality, Overwatch also allows you to unlock skins, voice lines, emotes, and sprays associated with your favourite heroes. Usually the best unlockables are acquired by playing during seasonal events, as certain unlockables can only be obtained by opening an event-specific loot box. One of my personal favourite skins is Skullyata, which has Zenyatta in a skeleton-themed outfit and similarly themed throwing balls, unique to the Halloween Event only. Everyone else will have the chance to unlock this skin again, as well as new ones they will likely release, if the second iteration of the Summer Games Event is any indication. What makes this aspect so great is that while the heroes you play as are very distinct in their own way, you’re able to add a layer of your own personality on top of your hero’s. For example, your Reaper could command attention and fear with an emote that has him drawing his thumb across his throat threateningly. Or, you could have an emote that displays a sheepish shrug instead, or maybe even a maniacal cackle. What kind of Reaper you play as is up to you.
The majority of time in Overwatch will likely be spent in Quickplay honing your skills, or in Competitive Play, where at the beginning of each season ten placement matches must be completed in order to determine your Skill Rating (SR). The assigned SR then determines whether or not you are in Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, or Diamond, and beyond that, there is Master and Grandmaster. Once placements are complete, you are free to enter Competitive matchmaking to test your Overwatch chops in the field. Winning matches in Competitive increases your SR incrementally, but is not only based on winning matches. Should you perform well (indicated by medals received at the end of your match), you will get a minor boost on top of the SR received from victory alone. On the flip side, if a match is lost, you will lose SR points. The amount of SR points lost can be mitigated by good performance, even though your team suffered a match loss. In addition, if the team you are opposing has a higher SR than yours, you will receive more points if a win is achieved. If there is a loss, less points will be lost due to the opposing team having an SR advantage. If the opposing team has a lower SR than your own team, the conditions are reversed - a win will net your team less points than if the opposing team had a higher SR, and a loss will have you lose MORE points than if you lost against a team with a higher SR.
Due to the SR system employed in Overwatch, the sad reality is that the team environment can occasionally become rather toxic, with players calling each other out on their hero choices or their playstyle in an attempt to control the outcome of the match. The unfortunate aspect about this is it creates a rift between your team and doesn’t allow full focus on the match at hand. All current Overwatch players are guilty of these thoughts in one form or another, and it’s easy for the team’s confidence to go out the window when this happens. I will fully admit I am guilty of toxicity to an extent, but I have never, ever shared these thoughts with someone on my team directly. To combat this toxicity, I decided to play a few days of solo queue Competitive matches, and it was shockingly sobering. While your teammates may sometimes not make the same choices you would in a similar situation, the bottom line is that you are part of a collaborative effort, and you need to trust the choices made by your teammates. If you feel the player in question should’ve chosen a healer on defense instead of a tank, trust their decision. Trust them that they are choosing a character they have more experience with. It’s worse having a team member take on a crucial role with a hero they have barely played for longer than an hour. This mentality will undoubtedly cause strife for your team, and will also stress out any player who is in a role they’re uncomfortable with. Acknowledging this, I managed to have an excellent set of solo matches where the team came together beautifully, and even worked back up to my SR season high. In letting go of consuming myself with worry about the other team member’s choices, I was able to take a step back and focus on myself, and it seems to have worked.
I will also point out that during my solo queing I opted to join the team party chat, and to my surprise, very little toxicity was encountered. In fact, it was quite the opposite - people were remarking on the excellent plays being executed, and the individual contributions were being recognized respectfully. This might be a result of the new player reporting system introduced to consoles in one of the latest patches, but the difference was noticeable.
The benefits from playing Overwatch aren’t entirely limited to the digital world either. As a result of my core group of friends deciding to purchase the game with me, we’ve created something we can come together and work towards. We now have in-depth conversations on team composition, what our individual strengths and weaknesses are, and how they can be shaped for the best outcome when we are in a Competitive match. We’ve fantasized about the idea of all of us becoming skilled enough to become a sponsored team. Even further, we will now on occasion bring our consoles to one of our houses, set them up with spare monitors, and play through competitive matches in the same room to enjoy our wins and examine our losses. Overwatch has brought us closer together than ever before, and I could not be happier because of it.
Amongst all the praise, there is one minor gripe that needs to be addressed when it comes to team members leaving a competitive match mid-game. When you are part of a team that has to deal with that unfortunate reality, it is almost always a guaranteed defeat, and your loss of SR does not take this into account. While it allows you the option to leave the match without having additional points deducted for leaving early, you still lose SR and receive a loss. Again, this is a minor gripe, but it feels cheap when a team has stellar performance, yet all their hard work goes out the window when the match becomes 5v6.
Blizzard has once again set the bar for modern arena-based multiplayer shooters and delivered one of the most polished and engaging video game experiences available today. For people looking for a game to play a few rounds of here and there with no serious commitment, Overwatch can be that game. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a game to commit yourself to, to learn its nuances, maps, strategies, and meta, it begs to have time invested. For a video game that nurtures and encourages communication and teamwork, that pushes teams to come together as a unit to pull off some truly awe-inspiring hero plays and team compositions, Overwatch is a must-own for fans of multiplayer first-person shooters and is highly recommended for anyone’s video game collection.