I spent the whole time editing this podcast on a yoga ball. So Gabe, I get you.
I’ve never been a huge fan of online shooters. I played around with Halo, where I would routinely get destroyed to the point the game was no longer fun. I played the occasional Call of Duty match to try to see what the fuss was, but to no avail. Even the cartoony hit Team Fortress 2 met me with frustration. I’d decided that online shooters simply weren’t for me. That is, until I played Overwatch and found everything clicking on a level I was surprised by. From how the characters look to the feel of the game, this is a game that nails it.
After a tutorial that really holds your hand (and only with one character), the game leaves what you do next up to you. The game offers a training mode, as well as online matches with bots to try out new heroes. Honestly though, the best thing to do is just enter a quick match and go. The game has an incredibly smart visual language to tell you what each character does, whether you are playing as them or against them. I was surprised how easy it felt to switch to a new character and easily know what they did and how to do it.
I went in wanting to play Zarya just because I thought she looked cool, but as I skipped between the game’s twenty-one characters, I found myself loving all of them in a particular way. It’s so satisfying to get behind enemy lines and wreak havoc as a Tracer or Reaper, and even though it might not net you any Plays of the Game, it feels just as good to heal your team as Lucio- especially as he throws his hand in the air proclaiming that he’s “turning it up.”
The game’s characters are its heart and soul, and not just for their abilities. Despite distinctive looks that make the heroes easy to differentiate on the battlefield, the game’s character aesthetic is unified enough that cowboy McCree can stand next to gamer mech pilot D.Va without it looking weird. Your team ends up looking more like the Avengers than anything; superheroes from distinct series meeting up to face off.
The matches cycle between game types and maps, making it so you’re never stuck defending or attacking or doing King of The Hill for too long. This switch up between matches also means you near-constantly have to switch characters to best serve your team, and finding the ones you’re best with feels rewarding. This is helped by advice at the character select screen telling you if your team needs a builder, or a tank, or maybe not to have three snipers. If each character wasn’t so fun to pick up and play this might feel like passive-aggressive needling by the developers, but I never felt sadness when my team needed me to play as a healer. They were too fun to play to be sad!
Matches feel quick, to the point I never felt like one was dragging on. Even if a match turns hopeless, it’s over quick enough, and the only real penalty is that you don’t get as much XP for the overall meaningless leveling system. Plus, it’s so rewarding to finally capture that objective in overtime and extend the game another few minutes. Having the Overtime feature, something that was also in TF2, is great. It makes it so that even one person holding out can eventually turn the tide of the entire game.
I said in the last paragraph that I felt like the leveling system was meaningless, and I want to make it clear: I don’t think that’s a bad thing. All you get when you level up is a loot box of cosmetic gear and another number next to your icon. If Blizzard had backed the leveling system with character abilities or items, it would’ve ruined Overwatch’s simple charm. It’s good to know that nothing on a gameplay level separates me at level 10 from someone at level 30. It also means that when I see another character on the field, I know what they have and how to counter them.
There are things I don’t like about the game too- nothing is ever perfect. Some maps feel particularly difficult, especially defense maps where the first point is easily captured can cause a leading a mass exodus the defensive team, and I’m usually left trying to hold the point as the other team washes over me. The game is also more than willing to put together a five player vs six player team. I’m sure a more coordinated group could work with that, but in random games it can just leave one team with a hole in their set-up. That missing team member can mean no healer or builder, which makes the match feel like too much of an uphill climb.
I would feel bad if I didn’t also mention something that seems small, but can have a huge impact. Several of the characters’ legendary skins, especially of those characters who aren’t white, have them dressed up as another culture. The game goes to great lengths to show that Overwatch is a team built of people all over the world. So why does the Egyptian Pharah need to get dressed up as a Native American with a skin called Raindancer? Zenyatta’s Djin skin is also tough to look at. When compared to the goofy fun of Soldier 76’s Evel Knievel style skin, these seem out of place. I get that Blizzard wants to pull on different cultures from across the world for their characters but can they at least put the right costumes with the right cultures?
Ultimately this game is some of the most fun I’ve had with a shooter in a very long time. The problems I have melt away when I get that right streak going, or even when I simply get away by doing a wall run. The game is great at giving you small moments that make you feel good as you fight towards the team goal. It leaves you with a good experience, and even when you’re defeated it feels more like a playful ruffling of your hair and a challenge to get back out there. Now if only I could get an impressive Play of the Game.