It’s rare to have a new IP, even one supported by a big publisher, be such an overwhelming success in a short period of time. Overwatch has conquered the gaming world over the last week or so, with Twitter feeds being full of Play of the Games, stores actually selling out of physical copies of the game while players log hours and hours into Blizzard’s hero shooter. Having played it for about a week, pushing payloads and defending control points, I’m not truly convinced that Overwatch has the staying power to be the juggernaut that it seems on launch. For all of its audio-visual polish and style and its mastery of that ’30 minutes of fun’ that will keep players checking back in for the first month, it may not have sufficient substance or innovation that will have it inspiring a new generation of shooter 10 years down the line.
The look of Overwatch is what captivates more than anything and for good reason. Blizzard has created a fantastic cast of diverse heroes, both in terms of visual and skill design which means there is something for everyone. If hooking unsuspecting supports or low health heroes in a skirmish is your thing, the Mad-Max inspired Roadhog is for you. If zipping round the map and dealing little bits of damage here and there, Tracer’s your girl and if you have no soul, you might as well play Mei. Switching back and forth between heroes mid-game to counter an enemy’s tough defensive line or to build your own is where the main competitive meat of Overwatch is, it’s just a shame that some of the characters seem one note and don’t allow for much counter play besides their single gimmick. Bastion for example, can be devastating when placed in certain chokepoints but outside of those points, the robot’s kit makes it super boring to play. Certain characters like Torbjorn also lose their utility if your team is already falling behind in a mode like Payload, meaning you cannot scramble to mount a defence as by the time you’ve got back to position to set up a turret, the enemy team will be upon you and ready to swarm over the next checkpoint. You really have to play with a pre-built team to get the best experience with Overwatch, as having a team who knows what they are doing and will actively switch to counter enemy threats will make games become properly exciting. Playing with pubs is alright, but it will only be a matter of time before you run into an enemy team all playing turret characters and you can’t co-ordinate your team to smash through the line of robots and slowing beams.
To Overwatch’s credit, its sound design goes a long way into allowing players to co-ordinate and point out key threats. Heroes shout out that there are snipers or teleporters placed around the map, allowing you to take pre-emptive evasive manoeuvres before running into a potential killbox. Each hero has their own unique callout when they fire their ultimate ability, so players are never unaware that a giant set of glowing dragons may erupt through the nearest wall. Every hero has its own set of aural cues that gives away their location, like Roadhog’s heavy breathing or the unique sound of Mercy’s healing beam, so there is always a way to anticipate an attack, as long as you listen closely. In the heat of a firefight, this can go out of the window somewhat as the combination of hero abilities firing off left and right while people scream very forcefully in a variety of languages but Blizzard cannot be faulted for the amount of work that has gone into their audio design.