Written by Jessie Seilhan
Once upon a time, World of Warcraft was king. The massively multiplayer online role-playing game was so big and so popular that most critics called its success “the death of gaming.” At its height, WoW had 12 million concurrent monthly subscribers. The industry felt this in a real way, as other PC games failed to sell to their projected levels, multiple MMOs fell by the wayside, and the geniuses at Blizzard Entertainment were laughing all the way to the bank. But when the inevitable conversation around designing a follow-up began, they were stumped. Instead of trying to strike gold a second time, Blizzard reworked what could have been one of the most botched sequels of all-time and turned it into something they have never made: a first-person shooter. Overwatch is the product of 20+ years of game development, design, and philosophy, and it is one of the best games of this generation.
If there is one thing Blizzard fully understands, it is the role of defined classes. Any pen-and-paper RPG enthusiast will tell you that the strength of a team is composition, and from the three unique factions with myriad units in StarCraft, to the distinct archetypes found in Diablo and WoW, Blizzard has shown that they know how to balance multiple classes. So when you boot up Overwatch for the first time and are greeted with over 20 unique characters to choose from, you can pick any of them and feel confident in your choice. Each character falls into one defined group: attack, defend, tank, and support. The roles and responsibilities are fairly obvious from their names, but choosing the right mix is the difference between swift victory and clumsy defeat. Trust me when I say most games are won or lost during the hero selection.
But how does a first-person shooter feel made by a team that has never developed one? Turns out, pretty damn good. The shooting is accurate and snappy, the movement speed varies per character but is always responsive and logical. Some characters like the ninja Genji and his brother Hanzo can double jump or climb walls, while the healer Mercy can fly to her downed partners and the sniper Widowmaker can grapple hook her way to vantage points. Each hero has their own weight and distinct silhouette which makes quick recognition possible, a lesson learned from Valve’s Team Fortress 2.
Maps make a huge different in a game like this, especially as the content is extremely light. There are payload maps that require one team to push a moving object to the objective while the other one stops them. There are control point maps where both teams fight for a centralized location. And there are hybrid maps that are one part control, one part payload. But each map has enough distinctive flavor to make them replayable for hours on end. Symmetry is the goal on the control maps, and those that are more attack/defend focused feature dangerous choke points, wide-open battlegrounds, and winding paths. You play these game types across four different modes, ranging from quick play, competitive play, practice, and a weekly rotating developer-crafted mode. Each game earns you a bit of XP for completion and individual merit, resulting in an eventual loot box filled with customization items like new skins, emotes, lines of dialogue, and more for each character.
You already know if you fancy something wholly realistic in your gun games, but if you’re willing to go on an expertly-designed journey with no campaign, zero upgrades, and purely cosmetic customization, Overwatch is nearly the perfect game for you. The ever shifting strategies employed by professional gamers over the past few months show the depth and complexity the game offers, but casual fans also pick up and feel like they are making a difference in no time. Blizzard took a huge chance making something new and they pulled it off like they always do.
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