Upon its release in early 2016, Overwatch felt like a breath of fresh air for the shooter genre. Bringing with it a diverse character roster, balanced map design, and a fun albeit limited list of modes, it quickly established itself as both a genre and industry leader.
Fast forward almost three years, and the game is still sort of on the radar: the likes of Fortnite, PUBG, Apex Legends, and even a reinvigorated Battlefield and Call of Duty redirected a lot of interest in the online shooter, and so Overwatch has kind of just chugged along, with much of the attention being aimed at the game’s negatives, rather than acknowledging all of the things it has, does, and continues to do right.
Dating back to probably about late 2017, the community has long been asking: is Overwatch dying? Or is Overwatch dead? It seems to be asked every few months, and yet, 36 months after release, it’s still one of only a handful of shooters that still has an active community; still lets you find a game with relative ease; and is still updated and supported by its developer.
I’ll personally go, at most, maybe two or three months without playing Overwatch. And when that happens, it’s typically because I’m playing something else. But whatever that other game may be, there’s never been a case where I’ve returned to that game three years after its release.
There’s only a handful of games I can say I’ve actually returned to so consistently, over such a long period of time.
Overwatch is obviously one of them. Modern Warfare 2 was another. GTA 5 is up there if I feel the urge to jump online or play the campaign again. And, in the past, COD4, although the release of Modern Warfare 4 has me all COD4’d out for the time being.
I do understand and appreciate a lot of the frustration aimed at Overwatch currently. Many of the changes and character additions in the last 18-or-so months have subtlety changed the way the community approaches the experience.
Mercy, for example, is arguably a completely different hero now than what she was with her Resurrection Ultimate. The additions of Moira, Brigette, and now Baptiste stack what is already a heavily-influential Support class, and so we have a meta that tends the evolve and morph around these heroes, with tanks and DPS heroes coming and going with almost every passing update.
With every new update seems to come sweeping changes to key heroes, in an effort to keep the experience feeling fresh and exciting. I’d dare argue that if any of the likes of Mercy, Symmetra, Torbjorn, or even Junkrat hadn’t seen changes from their original kits, we’d have people complaining about how boring the game is, and that it needs a fresh approach.
New maps aren’t generally massively exciting, but they add essentially a “fresh coat of paint”: Oasis probably stands as the best of the post-launch additions, but all other additions are now in the heavy rotation, and are built to improve the game’s watchability on a competitive League level.
Quick Play is — unlike what many more competitive players may argue — in my opinion the best training ground across all online multiplayer shooters.
The divide between Quick Play — and even Arcade — with Competitive Play is so significant, that no one seems to really care — at least initially — if they win or lose in a Quick Play match. It’s a combination of casual fun, testing grounds with heroes you’re unfamiliar with, and just an opportunity to play the game without people screaming into your ear about your hero selection.
And yet, towards the end of close matches, players seem to fall in line with Overwatch‘s team fundamentals: players will change heroes to better suit the team’s composition; the team will group up; and the all-round camaraderie required to win a match is celebrated, despite the victory not really rewarding much outside of additional XP.
Over more than 500 hours of play, I’ve spent two-thirds of my experience across Soldier: 76, Reinhardt, Symmetra, Junkrat, and Moira. I could jump into Competitive with these heroes, or I could actually play and teach myself in Quick Play with the rest. Just this past month I’ve fallen in love with Mei, and put in close to 20 hours with her in a non-competitive environment.
This is ultimately what I feel sets Overwatch so firmly apart from others in the shooter genre: if I enter into a PUBG or Apex Legends squad, every single one of my actions is being scrutinised, such as the small room for mistakes in a kill-or-be-killed battlefield. There’s little in the way of incentive to improve, outside of bragging rights, and actually having what you say on your mic listened to and actioned. Call of Duty is much the same: you’re judged by the smallest of actions and indiscretions.
That’s not to say Overwatch‘s community can’t be toxic at times, but at the start of games there’s almost always the assumption that you know what you’re doing: one mistake isn’t going to cost your team for the duration of a match, and you have the room and flexibility to adjust and make amends.
I know what you’re thinking: you can’t compare a battle royale match with a game like Overwatch. But I think it’s important that we do, given much of Fortnite‘s audience and playing community came from Overwatch towards the end of 2017/start of 2018. The move was swift and fast.
If you’re thinking of coming back but may be wondering what Overwatch is like, don’t listen to the doomsayers and negative nancies: Overwatch is still very much the game you left a year ago, with some tweaks here and there.
You’ll still find a game quickly, you’ll still have fun across as diverse a character roster as you’ll find in a shooter, and it can still be aggressively competitive.
If the Overwatch experience did benefit at all from the Fortnite and battle royale genre juggernaut more broadly, it’s that anyone left still playing it is committed to it, what’s to see it do well, and has something to say about any changes made.
That means that when you return you’ll know the people you’re playing against are in it for the long haul, and probably want you to be just as good — and have just as much fun — as they’re having.
Just please, please, remember: we really, really don’t need two snipers. Flex, pls?