Monday, May 9, 2016

Overwatch Open Beta Impressions!

                Blizzard’s plan to expand on IPs and genres started with Hearthstone, their first free to play game, which had an incredible success and it continued with Heroes of the Storm. After decades of hardcore multiplayer games, Blizzard’s focus has shifted and is now taking ideas from different genres adapting them for a more casual play style in order to attract more players. These games are also filled with well known and popular characters from all Blizzard’s lore, scoring a big plus with their fans.
                Overwatch is a continuation of that plan but with the twist of being a new IP that has no connection to any of the games or genres Blizzard released up to this point. Overwatch is a mash of traditional fast paced FPS with the silly team based style of Team Fortress and Super MNC built on the 50 million dollars skeleton of the cancelled MMO known as Titan.
                The interesting thing about Overwatch is its comical style with a rather juvenile vibe for a story that is centered on war. Using colorful cartoonish graphics, oddball heroes with amusing personalities and requiring no knowledge of Blizzard’s past titles, it’s quite clear that the target audience isn’t the veteran gamer which the studio has already won with their pre-2010 releases. Overwatch seems to be a game dedicated to attract a younger audience into Blizzard’s already huge fanbase (and cult). The younger players didn’t have that much contact with legendary titles like Warcraft 2 & 3, Starcraft 1 & Brood Wars or the better days of World of Warcraft. These games have brought Blizzard an eternally grateful community which has been able to overlook missteps like Diablo 3. But there is a huge and ever-growing market out there and here is a game with the target to bring new fans, while keeping the old ones entertained.
Someone was really mad at Hearthstone!

                Despite being risen from the ashes of Titan, it’s hard to imagine that the secretive MMO project looked anything like this. Overwatch is a team based arena shooter with a few elements borrowed from MOBAs. The game has 6v6 matches centered on four core game modes: Escort, Assault, Hybrid and Control. Escort is Blizzard’s version of Team Fortress 2 Payload mode, with the attacking team attempting to push a payload on the clock through several checkpoints to reach the last one. Assault resembles the Rush mode from the Battlefield series with the attacking team having to capture objective points in a set order. Hybrid comes as a mix of the two above mentioned modes. Last but not least, in Control mode the two teams fight to control a single objective point for a set amount of time in a BO3 rounds system. The four game modes combined with a decent number of maps add a fair amount of gameplay variety.
                Speaking about maps, each map has a cool unique artistic style and takes the players into a futuristic journey on several locations all over the globe. Players will get to visit Japan, Mexico, Egypt and even make a short detour to the movies capital, Hollywood. As a visual entertainment value, the maps are great, but despite having multiple pathways and a lot of verticality to be suited with the heroes mechanics, the map design isn’t the best. It all starts with some horrible chock points which tend to hinder the attackers’ job while making the defender’s easier. It doesn’t help that the defenders have time to prepare and install defenses right at the spawning location of the attackers, leading to some pretty ugly base rape scenarios that clearly only one side enjoys. The last factor that plays into this are the heroes which aren’t as balanced as they should be and the map design helps some in the detriment of others.
Colorful Unreal Tournament
Them chock points!

                The biggest selling point for Overwatch should be its hero roster. The heroes are split into four groups as Blizzard loves roles (remember the holy trinity?!): Offense, Defense, Support and Tank. Each group comes with a bunch of heroes with quirky personalities and a unique set of skills. The Offense heroes have a small health pool but are extremely mobile and excel at dealing a high amount of damage. The Defense heroes are static as their specialty is to lockdown areas and protect objectives. The Support group is specialized on keeping the team alive and providing powerful buffs which can make the difference during heated battles.  The Tanks are the toughest and the largest heroes in the game, they are usually capable of crowd controlling and come with abilities designed to protect their teammates. Each role is important but the unique thing about Overwatch heroes is that they can be swapped after each death, allowing the players to readjust to the situation on the battlefield and not being stuck on playing the same hero for the whole match.
Take your pick!

                The design of the heroes is good and the current roster of 21 helps maintaining the heroes fresh and unique as abilities don’t repeat which is a common problem with MOBAs. The heroes are equipped with one weapon (some have two) with an infinite ammo supply and have a range of abilities based on that weapon, their characteristics and role. Each hero has access to a powerful ability which charges over time, process that can be sped up through efficient fighting. This ability plays the role of a MOBA ultimate and in some cases if used properly it can wipe the enemy team.
                The heroes manage to greatly increase the fun factor with their goofy looks and funny banter while providing engaging gameplay in a progressive learning curve. The skill cap of each hero varies, being rated by the developers as easy-medium-hard, and by doing so is keeping the game accessible for casual players while still having something to offer to the hardcore gamers.
The angel of Mercy!

                I have to admit that I had fun playing with some of the heroes in the game. Pharah and her awesome rocket launcher took me back the memory lane to my days of Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament. But even if the heroes have unique abilities and styles, after playing for some time it feels like Overwatch is lacking something. Its FPS roots start to dry out sooner than expected and the hybrid gameplay didn’t manage to keep me as interested as I was in the first days of the Beta. I found myself craving for an additional weapon for each hero and those who would turn to this game for its shooter elements will find the lack of weapon’s variety disappointing. Another problem that comes up as more time is spent in the game is the balance. The rock paper scissors balance system works only partially. There are some overpowered heroes which tend to wreck havoc on the battlefield being helped not only by their powerful abilities, but by the map design as well (Bastion is a good example). I even spotted some netcode issues and after my experience with Rainbow Six Siege I became rather sensitive to this problem.
                As an online game focused on PvP, I’m aware that a perfect balance won’t happen right away and I’m confident that Blizzard will take notes from the players’ complaints and the OBT statistics. So I won’t rush to judge Overwatch based on something that will be in a continuous change over the game’s lifespan (hopefully a change for the better). But I feel the game is lacking in features that could impress. There is a visible mix of good and bad things when it comes to the gameplay, things of whose weight might depend on each player’s expectations from this hybrid shooter.
A sacrifice for the greater good!
I clearly picked the wrong target.

                Blizzard’s games always shine on production value and Overwatch is no exception. There is a ton of attention to details. From the smallest objects you will find on the map, which serve both as amusement and immersion factors, to the number of destructible objects, the game oozes Blizzard’s style.
The feng shui was wrong.

                On the graphics it’s always the same story with Blizzard’s games hitting home with the artistic style, but greatly lacking in fidelity. Overwatch falls in the same pile with all the Blizzard games to date. Its cartoonish graphics are visually pleasing and fit the thematic of the game perfectly, but their technical display is outdated. The texture quality is really upsetting using a low resolution even on the hero’s weapons, which are the closest thing you get to see, and the same story goes for every other graphical effect.
                There is a fear of crossing the line towards better graphical fidelity with Blizzard and I don’t understand why. The common excuse that these games are designed to work on lower rigs doesn’t really cut it as this is PC gaming and the video settings can always be adjusted to be suited for each computer specifications. I find it disappointing that once again an attractive artistic style isn’t properly supported by up to date graphics.
Why do I feel like I'm in 2007?!

                On the other hand, the sound design is excellent with unique sounds for each of the hero’s weapons and abilities. The voice acting piles up on that outlining each hero personality and adding to the comical style of the game through funny voices and playful banters. The music is up there with the sound design with unique songs for each map and heroic scores to keep you plugged.

This is just for epeen, don't add me!

                All in all, I had a good time playing Overwatch during its Open Beta Test. I wasn’t expecting much from the game, but I went in with an open mind and it surprised me a little in a positive way. The Team Fortress 2 and Super MNC influences are suiting for the FPS and MOBA hybrid gameplay and there are many good elements that make it enjoyable. But I haven’t felt the hook and I wonder for how long the game can keep other players entertained. There is a progressive system that surely helps, awarding players with skins, voices and other cosmetics which can be used to customize the heroes. And while disabled for the OBT, the final game will come with a Ranked system to give the competitive players something to strive for. Yet, it doesn’t seem like Overwatch has that incentive to play until you go crazy like the dangerously addictive MOBAs or the competitive online shooters.
                Maybe I’m wrong, but knowing the game’s problems, Overwatch needs time to grow, and taking into consideration the steep price and its competitors, I wonder if the game will receive that time from the players.



  1. You really got the point on this one! Your article shows new edges and leaves much to be considered. I love Overwatch too. Check out my blog, may be you'll know something new aswell.

    1. Thanks, I'll take a look at your blog. :)

    2. Are you still playing Overwatch?

    3. No, I went back to Rainbow Six Siege and ARMA 3, my kind of shooters. :D