So I played a bit of the Overwatch Beta this past weekend. I kind of liked it.
It’s going to be tough talking about Overwatch in the context of just a quick beta rundown while holding off the meat of it for a full review after launch and that’s mostly because of how feature complete and polished the Beta was. When it was announced I scoffed at it for being Team Fortress 2 but not free. I might have even said something about Blizzard trying desperately to rescue their failing franchises or something like that. I was young and foolish.
When the first closed beta rolled out a lot of streamers and youtubers and game journalists from big outlets started to sing its praise, but I wasn’t about to buy into it that easily. I’d been hurt before by Diablo III and the myriad problems it had at launch and for months after. The open beta was the perfect opportunity to try it out first-hand and having done it…yeah, I kind of liked it. The first thing that struck me was how unfair the TF 2 comparisons were. Sure, it borrows heavily from some of its core tenets: it’s a class-based FPS, you play modes like Control, Payload or King of the Hill and it has a colorful, stylized cartoon aesthetic. However, it’s wildly different in dynamic. See, while TF 2 had some differences between how the classes played in terms of equipment, they did play sort of similarly to one another in terms of core mechanics. Overwatch takes the class system one step forward by adding abilities to the different heroes making them more similar to what you may find in a MOBA. Each character has one or two firing modes on their weapon, one or two weapons in rare cases, maybe a passive ability, a movement ability, a special ability and an extremely powerful ultimate. This makes team composition a key factor, maybe as important as shooting skill if not more so, in winning the game.
What I really liked about Overwatch, however, was that because of the huge variety in hero classes (21) and four main categories (Offense, Defense, Tank and Support) it would be extremely difficult for any player to not find at least one hero that they can play at least moderately well. I’m not that good with MOBAs. I fumble when precision and timing are required, I don’t always think fast enough and I’m bad at playing optimally. I’m not that good with shooters either. The last true FPS I played was Destiny, which says a lot. I did eventually get borderline mediocre, but I’m pushing 29 and am not a young man anymore. I can’t compete with you kids these days and your superhuman reflexes. However, neither seemed to matter in Overwatch. Whether just shielding my team mates with Reinhardt, healing them with Mercy or haphazardly lobbing grenades around with Junkrat I managed to enjoy myself in most of the matches I played. I may not have excelled at any of it, but the game seemed to give me the tools I needed to play the game the way I wanted to and that goes a long way towards a game being fun. Funny how that can be important.
It’s the dawn of a new genre. 2016 is the year of the Hero Shooter. Battleborn is already out, and Overwatch will follow in two short weeks with even more titles to come later down the line. It’s going to be interesting to see how they compete against one another, even if they have some fundamental differences, but from what I’ve played of Overwatch it looks like a damned worthy contender either way.