I don’t have anything against sequels, remakes or remasters, but I have to be honest: I wasn’t sure if we were going to get much of anything else this console generation (at least on the AAA side of things). There’s no denying that titles like Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Dark Souls III and Ratchet & Clank have made this year the best one to be a PS4 owner so far, but all of them were inherently derivative the moment they were announced — they owe the majority of their characters, worlds and gameplay to prior installments in their respective franchises. That sort of thing can serve as a massive obstacle for players who may have missed out on prior installments, or who feel intimidated by the communities that have already been established (Souls, I’m looking at you). That’s why Overwatch is so fresh and exciting: yes, this is Blizzard’s next blockbuster project, and yes, this is the talk of the gaming block, but it’s also so much more than that — it’s one of the first huge games this generation that feels like it could be enjoyed by absolutely anyone.
I’ve never quite understood certain people’s opposition to accessibility: as far as I’m concerned, as long as you’re having fun and not interfering with the fun of others, there’s no “wrong way” to play a game. Overwatch seems to know this well, as it happily topples all the barriers to entry that keep so many potential players away from multiplayer first-person shooters. But while the lack of complex variables might seem like a blow to the hardcore, I actually think voracious FPS fans will find a lot to love in the simplicity. The game’s 21 playable “heroes,” each serving one of four main roles (offense, defense, tank and support), offer a lot of variety without the frustrations of a learning curve. With just a few moves apiece, you can expect to get a feel for each character’s strengths and weaknesses within minutes of playing them — and since you can seamlessly switch between heroes in battle, there’s no consequence to experimenting or altering your role to fit your team’s needs.
A Diverse Cast
It feels like Blizzard made a conscious decision to tackle concerns over diversity in gaming with Overwatch, and the end result is a breath of fresh, colorful air in the often gray-and-grim world of first-person shooters. The global cast encompasses a number of cultures, jobs and fashions you don’t see too often in gaming: you’ve got Lúcio, a Brazilian DJ and freedom fighter; Mei, a Chinese climatologist; Pharah, an Egyptian security chief; and even Winston, a scientist gorilla with glasses and a hilariously awkward personality (I can’t help but watch a little of the opening cinematic every time I forget to skip past it). But these characters aren’t just from a variety of backgrounds — they also play very differently, even among characters in the same class. I personally thought Lúcio’s speed and ability to quickly switch between combat and healing would be right up my alley, but I quickly found out Mercy’s auto-lock-on ability and zooming glide (which brings her closer to teammates in need) were much closer matches with my ideal support style. This is the sort of game where you spend your first few hours testing out every character to see what clicks — and have an absolute blast doing it. It’s clear that Blizzard put a ton of effort into polishing and perfecting each character to make them both easy and fun to use, and that’s clear as soon as you take control of your first hero.
I also admired the way Overwatch makes players feel welcome through its use of simple audio and visual cues, which can prompt players of all skill levels into action. For example, triggering each character’s ultimate move — earned after building up a meter, and often used to devastating effect — causes a character-specific line of dialogue that warns players in the area. When you hear McCree drawl “It’s hiiiigh noooon” or Hanzo let out a furious “Ryuu ga waga teki wo kurau,” it’s time to get the hell out of the way. As another example, the winding nature of certain maps is offset by a helpful pair of lines drawn on the ground, so you can find your way back to your teammates if you’re killed and respawned by your lonesome. There’s also something to be said for the way characters’ movesets intuitively inspire strategies as well — as soon as you get a handle on each hero’s range, movement options and offensive/defensive capabilities, the plans start building themselves in your head.
Must-Read Overwatch Reading:
The joy of Overwatch is that it really is fun playing over and over again — though there are just a handful of maps and variations on the attack/defend objectives, the chaotic way these play out leaves no two matches feeling the same. There’s also a good deal of content to unlock through repeated play, as you net a “loot box” for each level you gain. These boxes contain cosmetic upgrades like skins, emotes and player icons, and though they’re by no means necessary to enjoying the game, I think trying to unlock them all will be a fun incentive for completionists to keep at it. It is unfortunate that Blizzard chose to offer these loot boxes through micro-transactions, particularly when the cost/content ratio seems wildly off — $1.99 for two loot boxes with random cosmetic upgrades is pretty lame — but there is at least the promise of meaningful content being added on a strictly free basis moving forward to distract us from that. At the very least, it’s good to see the content available from the start didn’t take a hit in quality or quantity to make room for post-launch stuff a la Street Fighter V. What’s here is so uniformly excellent that it should have players frothing at the mouth for the prospect of additional heroes and maps.
A Playable Cartoon
I’ll spare a paragraph to talk about the game’s presentation, but if you’ve seen any sort of pre-release material — or played the beta — you already know it looks and sounds wonderful. The brilliant colors of the maps and characters, alongside some truly stellar animation, make Overwatch feel like an interactive cartoon. That’s even more true when you’ve got groups of characters chatting and quipping through map after map; despite the repetition of certain sound bites, I never got tired of them. And if current fan-made materials are any indication, I can tell that the endearing personalities of the heroes are quickly making their way into the annals of gaming history (and deservedly so). At last, a non-JRPG game community where I’ll finally understand the memes.
With accessibility to spare, a real commitment to diversity and an infectious sense of innocent fun, Overwatch feels like an important game — the sort that can bridge boundaries in the oft-segmented gaming community. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that this may just be the project to revitalize lapsed or disheartened gamers’ interest in the medium, or the one to bring new players onboard the FPS wagon. So many big games unintentionally put up a wall, implying through their communities, marketing or even gameplay, that they are only for one kind of player or another. Overwatch, on the other hand, makes no mistake in identifying its audience: anyone and everyone that wants to take a shot. It’s ironic to imagine a title about a fragmented team fighting amongst itself serving as a big unifier, but that might just be what we need. At a time when the division between our hobby’s constituents seems more visible than ever, Overwatch reminds us that we’re more alike than different — if we let them, games can bring us together. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s something well worth fighting for.
Overwatch: Origins Edition review code provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.