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Overwatch impressions, and some tips to get you started

Blizzard’s FPSMOBA (that’s a thing now) is now finally here after a successful launch. Here’s what I think after 7-or-so hours with it.


Overwatch Basics

Overwatch is the first new IP from Blizzard in almost two decades, and their first go at an FPS if you discount the cancelled StarCraft: Ghosts. It’s a multiplayer first-person shooter with obvious inspirations from the likes of Team Fortress 2 on the shooter front and League Of Legends on the character front. Yeah, that’s a pretty broad spectrum to cover, but Overwatch is fairly grounded in what it wants to be, and that’s an objective-based team shooter.

Matches take the form of two teams of six playing either Attack or Defense. There are 18 characters to choose from, each with varied game styles and special skills. These heroes are spread out across five “offense” heroes, five defense, four tank, and four support/healers. As you can see there’s plenty of variation here, and certainly a lot of flexibility in how your team can enter into battle.

Each hero has a basic attack, a special attack, some sort of movement, tool or support/healing type, and then an “Ultimate” ability that slowly builds up over time. Now the special attacks will vary from character to character: for example, Bastion has a basic assault rifle and can turn into a turret for his second attack, he can self-heal for his third ability, while his “special” ability is transforming into a tank. Reinhardt on the other hand has a giant swinging hammer for his primary weapon, a swift and fast boosting ability to pin enemies, a giant shield to protect teammates, a lightning attack, and, once he’s built up his Ultimate ability, a devastating ground punch. These two characters fall into the “Tank” and “Support” categories respectively, for obvious reasons, and you can see just how varied their play styles would be.

 Overwatch Impressions

The Good

I didn’t get a chance to test out the Overwatch closed beta so I can’t comment on how much the game has changed since then, but from what I have heard they have added character progression, more Loot drops, a few more characters and stat tracking. First thing’s first: I’m having an absolute blast with this game. Even though the broader package feels fairly limited and it lacks much variety on the game modes front, I’m addicted in a way I haven’t been with a shooter for a long, long time.

The first thing that stood out for me was how pretty Overwatch looks. It’s gorgeous. It’s a strong, vibrant aesthetic, with beautiful animations and lush environments. It sets a pretty high standard for multiplayer shooters, with a slick presentation showing no signs of slow-down on Xbox One. It’s a simplistic art style — it might lack the ambitious (and arguably obnoxious) design of a Battleborn — but it perfectly suits the style and pacing of the experience.

Blizzard’s self-proclaimed expertise on intuitive design is on show in Overwatch, with a diverse range of map design that mostly lack the gameplay bottlenecks that plague so many other games in the genre. These maps have so many pathways to the objectives, yet never have I felt that my team was being purposefully spawn-trapped into corners of the map, unless of course my teammates were playing so moronically as to leave the defensive area of the objective in an attempt to flank the enemy. The Hollywood map lacks much variety in terms of how you can enter into the main arena, but this is where Overwatch‘s commitment to team balance comes into play. It’s not so much that the main entrance into the movie lot is impossible to penetrate with the defensive team setting up vantage points to beat down on the attackers: it’s that all too often teams go in without a single healer or support character to get them through to the battle arena.

Situations like this are where Overwatch really shines, putting the onus on the team and its individual players to make hard decisions in an attempt to shift the match in their favour. Much like Team Fortress, without some sort of character balance on your squad  it’s hard to really succeed. Possible, but hard. The pre-match character selection screen makes this easier, showing you which characters your teammates have chosen. The game gives you “tips” in that it will alert you if the team lacks specific classes, but you can never fully satisfy the game’s expectations in this regard. The great thing about this is that you can make a decision based on who your teammates have chosen, so that therefore you’re not going into the match with two of the same character. Even if you all choose an offense character, so long as there’s enough variety there you should be able to compete.

But of course, that’s not what Overwatch wants you to do, and it has a subtle way of punishing teams that don’t balance their assault across the four classes. The modes on offer here might seem like they’d get boring after a while — it’s basically just capture/defend the point, stop/guide the payload — but with such a diverse character roster and an ever-changing pace to matches, you never quite know how each match is going to play out, or whether or not the last character you used on defense is going to be equally as effective in a defensive capability. Balancing your character selection next to the roster of the other team is another challenge that really places Overwatch firmly in MOBA territory.

What I really love is that one second you could be playing as the Old West, six-shooting gunman in McCree, before switching over mid-game to the futuristic D.Va and her powerful Ghost In The Shell-esque mech. It’s insane just how quickly you could change from “old” to new”, all within the context of how the match is playing out.



The Bad

My primary concern with Overwatch at this point is whether it adds more variation to the type of modes your playing and the objectives you’re chasing. I’d also like to see more in the way of tactical objectives for teams outside of those that dictate a win or a loss during a match. The beta played like a free-to-play match and the final game is essentially the same, but surely there’s more to add in here. I’m having an absolute blast with it, don’t get me wrong, but I’m just concerned that it’ll stay grounded in what’s on offer here without really adding much more in the way of character progression, in-game levelling and stuff like that. The latter might be a good thing because it’ll stop the MOBA snowballing, but I wonder if potentially it could work here if balanced well enough next to the natural progression of a match. Perhaps specific modes that open this up and allow in-match levelling for teams.

One thing I certainly hope they tweak is spawn locations, although they didn’t after the beta so I’m guessing they never will. It sometimes takes me 30 seconds just to get back into the thick of things. The challenge here is keeping spawns close enough to get players back into the action, but far away enough so that there’s a nice lull between when a player dies and when they get back into play. I appreciate that death here is punished so harshly, because you should be playing a way that benefits your team, and as such if you play your cards right you shouldn’t die that often. But there are occasions where you have to take one for the team. I like playing as Bastion, and sometimes on defense I’ve had to hang back and set up shop with his turret right near the objective. This leaves me vulnerable but it’s necessary because my teammates are either dead or unprepared to protect the objectives, instead moving around looking for a cheap kill. I have to act as the last line of defense for my team, but if I die, without any sprint function it takes far too long for me to return to the objective.

And The Tips…

I’m certainly no expert here but I think that after close to 20 hours with the beta and 7 hours with the main game, I have a pretty great grasp on things.

Team Balance Matters, But Let Things Play Out

I’ve heard people going absolutely wild because two teammates have selected the same character, or because we have too many assault character, or too many healers. The reality is that, yes, team balance matters, but if you actually find a way to adapt, you can still come out victorious if you play each character to the best of their abilities. My ideal attack team would always have Reinhardt to shield as my team moves forward, whereas my ideal defense team always has Bastion to create perimeter defense around the objective. But these characters aren’t necessary, and I wouldn’t want someone who can’t play these roles to take them on, because then you’re just wasting a useful character. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and remember that matches are fairly lengthy and can change very, very quickly.

Don’t Be Afraid To Mix Things Up Mid-Match

At first I was skeptical of this option, but being able to change hero throughout a match is a very useful tactic if you’re struggling, or even if you really want to bury the opposition while you’re ahead. As an example, if I start with Bastion on defense and can’t quite get things going, I’ll switch over to Reaper or Genji for a different approach to stopping attackers and defending the area. Alternatively while on attack, if we can’t penetrate forward I’ll switch to Reinhardt and slowly moving forward absorbing enemy fire while my teammates watch the flanks. With the ability to change characters mid-game, matches would lack the high sense of urgency and exhilaration that they currently offer, so be sure to utilise that feature to give your team the edge.

Defend The Damn Objective!

This is not Team Deathmatch, and never has a game dictated as much of a commitment to the objective as Overwatch does. The amount of times I have found myself lone-wolfing the objective and defending it against attacks is enough to make me quit in frustration. If you’re defending, going out to find the attacks is a futile exercise because they’ll just spawn at another locations, sometimes with a quiet pathway to the objective in which they can flank those that are actually playing their role. Set up your defense, change heroes if necessary, and make sure you plug all the holes around the map so that the enemy can’t sneak through. If you want cheap kills, go and play Call Of Duty.

Aim For The Head

There is actually one more thing I disliked about the beta: the game doesn’t make that much of a deal about headshots. This is strange because headshots are so important, and are the difference between life and death during a duel. You can’t really tell that you’re landing a headshot apart from a very subtle audio cue that you can easily miss. I’ve often taken out enemies with one or two headshots and been bewildered as to how I took them down, and it wasn’t until I watched my feed that I saw that I had nailed some headshots.

That’s all I have for the moment. Be sure to stick around FENIX Bazaar for more Overwatch features over the next few days.

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