May 30, 2016

With each new trailer and teaser, the excitement surrounding Blizzard’s breakout shooter swelled - the production values in the cinematic shorts, Blizzard’s own considerable reputation, and the intriguing characters all contributed to a hype singularity that many felt was almost unattainable. And it was.


So let’s get this out of the way now: Overwatch lives up to the hype.

A class based shooter in the same vein as Team Fortress Two, Overwatch pits teams of heroes against one another in various objective-based game modes: capture the point, payload, and so on. The game is played in first person, but it’s actually incomplete to describe it as a “shooter”; players will find themselves swinging hammers, healing, building, shielding, throwing out mechanical orbs and shuriken - and deflecting them - all in addition to shooting.

The strongest point of the game (aside from some major hiccups - more on that later) is this variety, which stems from mostly rich character design. No two heroes feel alike, and, more importantly, every hero has a definable role to play given a certain scenario. Need a meat shield to absorb sniper fire and charge the front line? Reinhardt’s your man. Rather hunker down and sap your enemies’ momentum? Turn to Symmetria or Torbjörn. Need to speed past the enemy defenses? Try Genji or Tracer. It’s this rock-paper-scissors balance that makes Overwatch shine - there’s a character for everyone, and every character has a job to do. Even more impressively, few characters feel strictly “bad” - more often, they’re just misapplied to the situation at hand.

The variance in play styles also allows for both some pretty devastating counterplay, and some incredible synergies; At one point, I was having trouble with an enemy sniper. In another game, I might’ve been forced to pick a sniper myself to try and pick them off - instead, I was able to pick Genji, a cyborg ninja who can reflect bullets back on his enemies. My solution? Wait out in the open to bait out a shot, then ping it right back. One sniper dealt with.

Overwatch pulls this off not only because of its character design, but because the game’s fluid mechanics and incredible network reliability give players a platform to do what we all really want to do: feel like a hero. It’s evident that a major focus of Overwatch was ensuring that a player’s skill and imagination translated to epic moments in-game, a point further underlined by the “Play of the Game” feature. While pegged for sometimes picking subpar moments, the fact that a game is able to determine “coolness” on any level is impressive, and puts player experience front and center.

Visually, the game is simple but strikingly pretty - character models and effects are exciting and bold, and the environments, while not awe-inspiring, have charm. The game is also visually clear - if something looks like it’ll kill you, it almost certainly will; If something looks helpful, it probably is. This intuitive clarity makes the game easy to pick up, so there’s very little frustration involved in learning your way around.

There are some stumbles, though - in an effort to put together a “multicultural” cast of characters, the game falls into some stereotyping pits that are tired at best and offensive at worst, particularly with Hanzo and Genji. There is no rule dictating that Japanese characters must wield katana, or shuriken, or must be motivated even partially by “Honor”. Genji is the mostly palatable on that second front, but some of Hanzo’s voice-over lines are cringeworthy.

On the other hand, some characters really shine - Zarya is a great example. It’s this contrast, though, that makes the missteps even more apparent. It’s difficult to overlook lazy, off-putting clichés when many of Overwatch’s other characters are unique and memorable while existing outside of (or actively defying) stereotypical roles. From a social standpoint, Overwatch is a case of “One step forward, one step back” - impressively progressive in some aspects, but far off the mark in others. That said, the developers have issued statements indicating that they intend to do better in dealing with issues like this and the Tracer controversy.

I can honestly say that Overwatch is great game; however, I implore those who game everywhere to hold developers to a higher standard when it comes to creating narratives without relying on careless, potentially offensive typecasting (or really, typecreating).


Despite a few cringe-worthy character designs, Overwatch offers the most polished and fluid gameplay of any class-based shooter.