It's May 10th and Overwatch, a shooter from Blizzard, is wrapping up their open beta in preparation of the upcoming launch later this month. At this point, I've put in several hours into both the console and PC versions. It's quite polished, which is something Blizzard had been quite good with in the past unlike some other developers.
I've been playing shooters for quite some time, with Counter Strike being the first to really occupy all of my attention. I remember playing Counter Strike when it was a mod, before Steam was a thing. The simplicity of it was appealing; you buy a gun and go shoot people. Your skill level was really the determining factor, and if you were better than your opposition, you'd beat them 9 times out of 10. I liked that, I got satisfaction in becoming better and it was something that could be measured linearly as you developed skills. Games against foes that were once competitive became trivial as you progress and that in itself was the reward.
I stayed with Counter Strike for quite a while. I even played competitively and enjoyed it quite a bit. Eventually though, my friends stopped and with it, my interest slowly dwindled. I moved on to other games, but Counter Strike was always my favorite shooter.
Change is inevitable, adaptation is not
I dabbled with Call of Duty, when it was a good game and not a cash cow, and played a few of the Battlefield series which I felt were always superior to Call of Duty. Both rewarded time invested with more powerful equipment, which is not something I'm a fan of. In my eyes, if we meet at "Long A" the better player is going to win. With games like Call of Duty, the "better" player might be the one with a death or kill streak reward, or some perk that otherwise compensates them and tilts the meeting in an unfair way.
These games were frustrating to me. I was in no way the best player, but at the same time, I am very competitive and losing a match up before it really begins is frustrating. I strayed away from shooters and played some MMOs while still dabbling with shooters here and there, hoping to rekindle the past magic. All my friends played MMOs, so the transition was easy.
Gaming with friends is always more fun than gaming alone. Unfortunately, I seem to be more vested in games than my fickle friends, who again moved on to other games leaving me with MMOs. By the nature of MMOs, I had formed relationships with online friends though. Those friendships carried me on for quite a while longer, but eventually fizzled out. Real life obligations and long times away from gaming, such as military life, do not mesh well with MMOs.
Gaming as an adult
I had been gaming as a young adult with no real responsibilities beyond keeping the lights on and feeding myself. By this point though I had a family, and the military. The payoff for the difficulties of setting aside large time commitments for online games was not there. For a while, I became extremely casual with online games, relinquishing myself to PvP in MMOs and continuing to try new shooters to no avail.
I played some Team Fortress 2, and while it was fun in a silly way, I did not enjoy the fact that some purchases and unlocks changed the dynamic of the characters. Perhaps not hugely game changing, it gave me a negative taste.
Fast forward just a little and I start hearing about Overwatch, seemingly out of nowhere, and not from a developer I'd expect given their past games. The first trailer I saw was true to Blizzards skill with trailers, and drew me in immediately.
I played a beta prior to the open beta in May and enjoyed that. Rumors of a pay-to-win system made me hesitant; game companies today seem at best content with breaking apart a complete game and charging for the pieces. Upon playing it the wide range of characters as well as most rewards being cosmetic in nature drew me in. It does appear as if their will be an in game currency, and it would not surprise me if there were micro-transactions as well, but it appears to not have an impact on the outcome of a match, and that is something I can appreciate.
Overwatch bills each playable character as a hero. I have to admit I have no interest in the story, and knowing Blizzard there's probably something quite in depth as their labels would indicate. The heroes are ranked by a 3 star difficulty rating and break down into four categories: offense, defense, support and tank. I've picked a few that I enjoy playing, and I'll touch on them briefly.
Genji is a 3 star difficulty hero and essentially a ninja. You throw ninja stars, you have a sword to block bullets and use as your ultimate, you seem to move at a faster pace than most characters, can double jump and you can run up walls. It's a fun character to play, and can be difficult, but when played well he is quite difficult to counter (a well timed reflect can be devastating). I enjoy playing as Genji on both console and PC, although the requirement to aim his reflection is a little more easily accomplished with a mouse.
McCree is a two star difficulty hero that has a wild west vibe. He wields a six shooter, and his verbal emotes in game would do well in an old west movie. You can shoot each shot individually, or you can unload all six in a rapid fire barrage with some reduced accuracy. He also comes equipped with a semi-short range grenade that stuns and an evasive roll than you can also use offensively as it reloads your weapon.
Pharah is a one star difficulty hero that's an aerial acrobat with a rocket launcher. You have a "power jump" and a rocket based knock back in addition to the ability to "fly" with your jetpack. To be fair, the flying is more in the style of Buzz Lightyear's definition of "falling with style." Her ultimate is a barrage of rockets. She can be quite dangerous when played well, but is quite forgiving given the splash damage nature of rockets.
Reaper is a one star difficulty shotgun based hero. I'm not a fan of Reaper, primarily because he feels like a noob friendly hero. He certainly can be played well, but rounding a corner and getting shotgunned in the face requires very little in the way of skill.
Soldier: 76 is a one star difficulty hero with an assault rifle. He's your run of the mill shooter character. You have a rocket cooldown, an area based over time heal and you run faster, with an aimbot as an ultimate. Basically you just run around and shoot people. Nothing flashy and nothing wrong with that. He's enjoyable, and kind of gives me that Johnny Cage feeling in that he feels a regular dude fighting among people with special powers.
Tracer is a two star difficulty hero with a low count magazine, but a decent speed reload. She's also extremely quick and has the blink forward with no cast time, rewind time (including damage taken) and a sticky mine for a cooldown. Played well she's extremely deadly, and hard to track before she mows you down. Stronger heroes may have better chance, but healers will often die due to the inability to escape her speed. Her ability to blink and, kill, and rewind out is devastating at times.
Bastion is a one star difficulty hero that's essentially a walking gatling gun. You have a self heal, turret mode and a tank mode as an ultimate. He's pretty powerful, but can be flanked in turret mode. You can also sit on top of the payload and make quite a force if your team rallies around the cause.
Hanzois a bow and arrow guy. Not too fun, but some people seem to enjoy him.
Junkrat is a two star difficulty hero that is a pyromaniac. He shoots grenades, has a bear trap and a remote detonation mine. His ultimate is essentially a wheel of death that you pilot while your character sits still vulnerable. Upon death he drops a cluster of grenades. He's fun, and you can use the mine as a rocket jump of shorts.
Meiis a dwarf with a fascination of ice. Not at all appealing to me, and I think i played one round with her before moving on. Torbjörncan be fun, but he's basically an engineer that constructs turrets. Widowmakeris a sniper with good mobility and a poison trap. I may one day enjoy her, but did not touch her much in the beta.
- D. Va pilots is two star rated and pilots a mech. You have an unlimited ammo main weapon, and can block oncoming attacks at the expense of stopping your own. You can also flying forward, using it as a charge or launching your mech. You have a self destruct for your mech as an ultimate which returns you to a lowly pilot with a shitty pistol. You can call in another mech through the same ultimate mechanic timer.
- Reinhardt is a tank in the sense I'm most familiar with. He soaks up damage, does some decent damage, but for the most part his strength comes from the ability in allowing others to dish out their damage.
Roadhogis scorpion with a shotgun. "Get over here" with a shotgun waiting for you when you do. He can be fun to play, but I prefer others. Winstonis a giant gorilla that I may grow to like, but I prefer other characters. Zaryahonestly didn't get enough playtime for me to form enough of an opinion to say one way or another.
Lúcio is a two star difficulty hip-hop flavored bard in my book. He basically skates around and has an aura heal or speed boost. He has the ability to "amp it up" and his ultimate is a health/shield boost for surrounding teammates that slowly ticks down. His weapon shoots a burst fire energy ball with travel time, and an alternative fire knockback. He can be kind of tankish in an avoidance sort of way, and if teammates play to this strength it's quite formidable.
Mercyis a traditional healer. Single target sort of healing. Some people enjoy it, I'm not one of them.
Symmetra is a two star difficulty hero that doesn't heal unlike her other support comrades, but can provide armor. She also can set up mini turrets, up to six at a time, that shoot lasers and can be quite devastating when placed properly. Her weapon is an energy beam that strengthens in damage over time, or a charged energy ball similar to Lúcios in flight dynamic only, although slightly slower. Her ultimate is a teleporter, which can be a game changer on both offense and defense given the distance to some objectives.
Zenyatta is a three star difficulty healer that hovers in a Zen state and throws orbs at friend and foe. Those orbs either increase damage or heal over time. He launches projectiles, or can charge and launch multiple in one go. His ultimate is immunity for his team.
There seems to be two main styles of matches. King of the hill type modes where two teams battle for control of a point, and conquest/mission oriented missions in which one team defends objectives while another tries to capture them and escort a payload through checkpoints. In the end, the game modes to make a difference in flow, but combat is relatively the same between them.
Combat is usually fast paced, and in the beta there seemed to be very little in the way of communication, which I'm sure will evolve as the game does. Still though, the basic strategies are immediately evident and a pug team with no communication can play quite well together. During the formation of groups, it also gives you hints of group formation, indicating you may be too strong in one area or too weak in another.
Again, gameplay is very polished. I felt no FPS drops on console or PC, and netcode seems to be spot on. The game plays quite well, and although sometimes you die from an ultimate that feels cheesy, it's still a fun game.
Overall the beta was extremely fun, and allowed for a lot of my competitive side to come back. Something I haven't really experienced in a while due to the trend of kill streaks and weapon progression as you play. It has a Team Fortress feeling to it, but does not play as silly as Team Fortress does.
I'll probably touch on the game sometime after release. Overall, I recommend the game.