When I first saw Overwatch, I thought it was a Team Fortress 2 clone.
You have the distinct classes, the team- and objective-based combat, and a bright, cartoon-like art style. Overwatch certainly takes plenty of inspiration from Valve’s online shooter series. It’s just better.
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I spent dozens of hours playing Overwatch’s lengthy beta, and I’ve played the full release (which came out on May 23) at least a couple of hours (sometimes much more) every night. Just like a Pharah plucked out of a sky by a Roadhog, I’m hooked (that’s a little Overwatch humor for you).
Blizzard’s latest game doesn’t do anything new. The game maker just executes its gameplay and aesthetics better than any other team-based shooter that’s come before it.
What you’ll like
In Overwatch, two teams of six players fight each other while trying to secure an objective (either escorting/stopping a moving payload, securing/defending an area, or battling for control of the same objective at the same time). Winning requires teamwork. Unlike a team deathmatch experience (like you’d find in Call of Duty), a single player can rarely carry his team to victory. You need to use each character’s distinct abilities in conjunction with your allies’ powers.
When I play a lot of online shooters — like Call of Duty or Titanfall — I sometimes I feel like the team aspect feels secondary. When the focus is on team deathmatch, victory usually depends on individuals getting a lot of kills. My teammates are little more than virtual avatars I’ll see running by as move from fight to fight. In Overwatch, an individual can only have so much impact by himself. For the most part, teams need to stick together and communicate to succeed.
I haven’t worried about voice chat in a shooter in a long time. If I did use it, it was mostly just for jabbering with friends while playing. With Overwatch, I’m always talking strategy. We have discussions before matches about what characters we want to be, trying to make sure we’ll have a strong team with complementary abilities. We’ll call out the locations of enemy players and let each other know when we’re about to start a team fight.
I even talk to the people on my team I don’t know, something I had sworn off of after years of dealing with whiny children and vulgar people on Xbox Live. In Overwatch, most players have been helpful and willing to coordinate without once threatening to sleep with my mom.
A likable, distinct cast
In order to win, you need a good team. You have 21 heroes to choose from. Blizzard divides them into four categories: offense, defense, tank, and support. And these characters — even the ones in the same categories — are nothing like each other.
And every character has plenty of abilities. They all have a basic attack that can use with a weapon. For example, a character named Reaper has dual shotguns, while Pharah has a rocket launcher. Most heroes also have special moves that work off of cooldowns. Reaper can become invulnerable for a short time or teleport to any location in sight. Pharah can boost herself in the sky or shoot a projectile that knocks enemies away on impact.
Each hero also has an ultimate ability. These slowly charge overtime, but you can unlock them faster by doing things like dealing damage and healing. Pharah can unleash a powerful stream of rockets that make her immobile except for aiming, while Reaper will do a ton of damage to any characters near him as he spins in circles and shoots his shotguns in all directions.
You don’t just use these tools blindly. When playing, you’ll discover which situations you want to use specific abilities. When I first played the cowboy McCree, he seemed pretty straightforward. He has a pistol that can shoot six shots (either individually or all at once in quick succession) and he can do a doge roll. However, I quickly learned he automatically reloads his pistol when he rolls. Soon, I easily killing tanks with full health by unloading my gun, rolling, and emptying another clip in them.
Another character, Mei, can create a wall of ice. At first, I was just using this to block the other team, forcing them to have to wait behind a wall of ice every once in a while. I’m sure it annoyed them, but it probably didn’t win my team many games.
Once we were in a situation where my whole team was stuck in the tank Zarya’s ultimate, which is a gravity well. Worst, Pharah was about to use her ultimate, which shoots a barrage of explosives. It would have wiped our whole team. Quickly, I shot up an ice wall right in front of the Pharah. It blocked all of her hits. The splash damage even killed her, while completely saving my team. It won us a game.
I felt like a hero.
And that’s the real magic of Overwatch. Its huge cast and objective-based gameplay gives you the opportunity to become a hero for your team. Once I was the healer Mercy and revived most of my dead team right when the enemy was about to capture the final objective. Another time I used the ninja’s Genji reflect ability to shoot McCree’s high-damage ultimate back at him and kill him. Nothing feels better than knowing that you’re making the difference for your team between victory and defeat.
A beautiful, colorful world
Overwatch is set a futuristic world full of technological wonders. Maps take inspiration from across the world, like the England-themed King’s Row and the Mexican-themed Dorado. They’re full of colors and details (like a hilariously overpriced menu board at a movie theater in the Hollywood map). Even the background details, like far-off, gigantic robots in the Volskaya Industries map, impress. You could have fun just walking around each level and admiring the virtual architecture.
I also love the music. It’s a heroic score full of triumphant fanfares and melodies that have musical cues based on the level you’re in (you’ll hear some distinctly Japanese instruments when you start a game on Hanamura, for example). It’s reminds me of the soundtrack to The Incredibles, which is fitting considering both that movie and this game are about a world that banned heroes. I find myself humming along to the distinct melody that plays every time you begin a game on the Hollywood map.
It doesn’t have much of an actual story, but you still pick up pieces of lore just by paying attention to the maps and listening to the characters talk. Widowmaker will recall an especially thrilling hit while walking through King’s Row, for example. It’s about as much story as I need in this kind of game.
These days, most online shooters reward players by having them unlock new items while they play. In Overwatch, you start with everything. You’ll have every character, gun, and ability. All players are always on the same level, with skill being the only differentiator.
You do still level up your account and unlock stuff. Each time you hit a new level, you earn a Loot Box. These each contain four random cosmetic items, including sprays (you can plaster these anywhere on a map), voice lines, poses, and (most important) skins that change a hero’s appearance. These help make your characters feel more personalized, and they also give you fun rewards for playing. I often keep playing a little longer than I intended because I want to earn just one more Loot Box.
It’s running smoothly
A lot of online games have troubled launches. Servers will be down or people will have to wait in long queues before they can start playing. I haven’t had any of those problems with Overwatch since its official release. I haven’t even noticed any lag. Games have run smoothly for me. The worst problem I saw was some teammates getting kicked from the game during the first few hours it went live. It hasn’t been an issue since.
What you won’t like
A hard learning curve
Overwatch is not a simple game. To be good, you must have a decent understanding of how every character works, know which heroes complement and counter others, memorize the layouts of each map, and more. It takes time, and Overwatch doesn’t give you a lot of tools to help. It has one, short tutorial that only lets you play as one character. If you want to get good, you’ll just have to jump right in.
This can be frustrating, since you can quickly become overwhelmed by all of those characters. You might have to deal with your allies yelling at you for not knowing where to go or for picking the “wrong” hero before you really understand the game.
I haven’t been this addicted to an online shooter since I was kid spending every day after school capturing flags in Team Fortress Classic (well, trying to capture them, anyway). Overwatch has everything going for it. It’s fun, beautiful, deep, and so far, it’s never boring. You might be overwhelmed at first when you start your first match and have to pick just one of those 21 gorgeous heroes, but you’ll quickly have a blast as you learn each characters’ strengths.
Overwatch is a game that I know I’m going to be playing for a long time. It’s one of the most appealing, polished titles any developer — even Blizzard — has ever made. Other online games make you feel like a player. Overwatch makes you feel like a hero.
Overwatch is out now for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Blizzard provided GamesBeat with a PC code for this review.