Previews// Overwatch

Posted 15 Apr 2016 11:55 by
I've been playing in the closed beta for Overwatch over the past few months on the PC and have been enjoying it immensely. So, when I was invited to play the console version I was both excited and hesitant. Excited because I wanted to see how Overwatch played on consoles, and hesitant as I wanted to see how it compared to the mouse and keyboard controls I had grown very used to on the PC. Thankfully my hesitancy faded away quickly as I delved into what has become a regular haunt for me due entirely at Blizzard's mastery at making ridiculously polished games that, for me at least, never fail to disappoint.

But what is Overwatch? Essentially it is a five on five team-based first-person shooter (FPS) consisting of a vast array of moving parts. These parts are the characters players can control during any match session and they are regarded as a set of tools that players use to defeat the opposing team. The key to being successful at Overwatch is to know how to use these tools and, even more importantly, when.

There are 21 characters in Overwatch, all with their own unique skills and special abilities. These characters are split into four different types: offence, defence, tank and support. This categorisation aids players when they are trying to create a team that is reasonably balanced in order to increase their likelihood of success. A balanced team, however, is not always ideal as it is common for the theatre of battle to change quite drastically, forcing the hand of the players to take significant levels of risk to overcome what initially appears to be impossible odds. But more on that later...

When the player starts a session of Overwatch they are automatically logged onto the servers where matches are being hosted and participants are being matched with one another, based on their rank and experience as a player. Overwatch does much to reward repeated play by offering experience points and other tokens to encourage players to focus on a clutch of characters rather than jumping from one to another. They do this to infuse into players the importance of knowing how to play characters at their optimum level, for by doing so the team is improved as a whole, for Overwatch plays in a way not too dissimilar to MOBA games in that players must work together in order to achieve success.

Each character has their own part to play in the theatre as the engagements play out and players must be familiar with what that role is and how to exploit it as much as possible. This can only be done by repeated play, which leads to significant skill increase on the part of the player. Prowess on the battlefield is constantly rewarded by Overwatch to the point where players vote who should receive the most recognition after a match is over. This encourages those who demonstrate skill as well as good team play and gamesmanship to continue to do so.

Matches last 5-10 minutes and are very fast paced. Decisions have to be made very quickly and attacks must be dealt with swiftly else there is a very good chance of becoming overwhelmed by a barrage of bullets, arrows, grenades and rockets. Each match has three modes of play: Assault, Escort and Control. Assault is similar to Battlefield in that players must take control of two areas on a map. Escort has one team defending a vehicle as it moves slowly across the battle arena while the other team tries to stop it in its tracks. Control is similar to King of the Hill in the Halo games that has players rushing a certain area of the map while preventing the other team from doing so.

The controls of each character are largely the same with some slight variances between them. There are primary and secondary attacks, the latter normally has a cool down as it is more powerful - typically, but not always. The character Bastion, for example, simply turns into a immobile turret that can lay waste to anything within range, but is weakened by the fact that when in this mode he cannot move. There is no cool down for it, but this character is deeply dependent on the other players to prevent an untimely death.

The one thing that is common to all characters is the special attack, which is triggered as players rack up kills or assist others in dispatching opponents. This ability is typically extremely powerful and lasts for a relatively short amount of time. Returning to Bastion as an example, that character turns into a mini tank that can fire explosive shells that are far more devastating than even the stationary mini-gun.

One of the most interesting aspects of Overwatch is the ability to change characters during the match. It is possible to switch even when a player is alive by simply returning to the spawn point. This enables teams to adapt their strategies on the fly by changing their team roster to turn the tide of the battle. It is also possible for players to take on the role of the same character in a team, which does run the risk of created imbalanced composition during a match, but that may not be desired. Especially in Conquest mode, as the team who has control the longest wins that mode and no amount of picking off the defenders slowly will get them to yield their control.

By way of example, during one match I encountered a team that consisted of three Bastions, a Mercy and a Reinhardt. Bastions are, as mentioned, player-controlled turrets, Mercy is a healer and Reinhardt is a tank that can throw up an energy shield that can take a lot of pounding before it fails. This combination created what can only be described as a fortress of death and suffering that annihilated anyone who came close. This deeply defensive team roster did do well for a while, which had my teammates falling over and over against it as they were obliterated by the three Bastions.

It wasn't until we mirrored the philosophy of the opposing side by creating an offence biased team composition that we got a grip on the situation. Eventually we counterattacked from the sky by using three Pharahs, a McCree and a Zarya, with the latter two acting as a feint to the flying Pharahs as they rained down rockets onto the unsuspecting Bastions. I'm sure my howls of delight could be heard beyond the confines of my office as we took up defensive positions on the seemingly impenetrable control point.

Visually Overwatch is quite stunning, despite the relatively low polygon count models it uses. It carries with it the Blizzard trademark of not making games that require a monster of a PC to run. Granted this may have something to do with its console release, but the clean and simple graphical style that has been adopted ensures fast gameplay with little to no slowdown. This is true for both PC and console versions, which is what I discovered while playing the PS4 version. There is virtually no difference between the two ports, with the possible exception of the requirement of an aim-assist for the console version due to the lack of precision that can be achieved with a controller.

I can safely say Overwatch is an excellent game based on what I have experienced with it so far. The sheer amount of polish oozes from every pore of Overwatch and is
self-evident in the incredible level design Overwatch boasts due primarily to the skill and talent of Blizzard. I for one am certainly looking forward to late May 2016 when Overwatch arrives for Windows PC, PS4 and Xbox One as a traditional paid title. Yes that's right, it is not free to play, yet Blizzard are promising to support Overwatch long after its launch with new characters and maps offered completely free.

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