Overwatch is back in Beta mode, and from the few hours I’ve managed to pour into it, it’s clear that, as with all their titles, Blizzard never do something half-arsed. On the surface, this may appear to be a cute and colourful, simple shooter with a collection of interesting characters, but look further, and you’ll find an amazingly deep, tactical, team- and ability-based shooter.
The aim of the game? Defeat the other team. The beta currently has 10 maps, and 21 heroes - split into 4 role types (Offense, Defense, Tank, Support), with each character sporting their own unique skills and play styles. Maps are seemingly chosen at random when you pick the Quickplay option, along with one of three game modes: Point Capture, Control, and an asymmetric steal-and-deliver mode called Payload.
Alongside Quickplay are a Players vs AI mode, which is great for getting familiar with the game and working on tactics, and Custom Games, where the host has full control over everything from available maps and heroes to timers for respawns and supers. The best part about Custome Games is that, come release, the developers will be looking at the most popular customizations, and will attempt to work them into new official modes - a pretty cool way to take player feedback, if you ask me.
At the heart of Overwatch is the amazing ability for players to switch their character, either during their respawn time, or while standing in the home base’s safe zone (even without dying first). This is an incredibly useful feature, and means that players of all different skill types can work out a way to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. Unless you’re up against a team who know their characters well, and what works best in each situation - you can really get wiped pretty quickly against a team that knows what they’re doing.
So how can players work better? Well, communication is always key. The game actually provides a fairly decent built-in voice chat, and dialogue command wheel for those who don’t have mics. It’s all pretty simple, and definitely helps teams let each other know what they are doing, what is required, and work together... providing you or your squadmates listen, and don’t go all lone warrior. In most cases, that’s just asking to be killed.
On attack? Stick the Tank, Reinhardt, up front with his massive shield, while an Offense character like Soldier: 76 follows along, laying waste to enemies with the aid of a Support like Lúcio. Meanwhile, you have Reaper coming around the sides, culling the enemies who are focusing on the Tank, while a long-range Offense player, like Pharah, provides cover fire from afar. Finally, have someone like Zarya moving with the tank, providing additional defense.
Then, when both Reaper, and Zarya have their Ultimate Abilities primed, combine them against a heavily defended area - Zarya’s Graviton Surge pulling all nearby foes towards a powerful gravity vortex, while Reaper unleashes his Death Blossom, decimating those trapped in the well.
There are so many tactical options. Sure, not all of them will work against every team, but that’s why it’s so important, and awesome, that you can switch characters mid-game, as you adapt to the other team’s style and the changing scenarios and objectives.
However, I do wish all the characters had a sprint ability. Instead, characters in Overwatch all have the same standard speed, with single-use, rechargeable, and completely different movement ability each - be that sprinting, grappling, a short boost forward, teleporting, and so on.
New to this version of the beta is the Progression system. In classic fashion, your player level increases the more you play - faster based on how well you, and your team, do. Achieving each new level provides you with a loot box containing cosmetic items.
These unlockable are things like new skins, voice lines for characters, decals, and profile pictures - cool, but with no bearing on gameplay and thus totally optional. Come launch, there’ll be no level cap, but higher level players will have no mechanical advantage, just more time played.
At the end of the day, who wins all comes down to player skill, and how well they know the game. That even a default, level one player can take on someone much higher, who’s decked out with cool voice, epic skins, and a fancy profile pic on an even playing field… to me, that’s the sign of a well balanced title.
Come launch, I really hope there are some awesome narrative based character cinematics in this game, because as of right now, that’s one part that has me a little confused about the overall game. Why is the world in crisis? Why was Overwatch was dismantled? Why some of those ex-Overwatchers now mercenaries? There are so many questions that I hope the game manages to answer come release, I just hope they don’t leave the narrative by the wayside.
Each hero is completely unique, with their own personalities, great voice acting, and as I’ve been saying, they all play completely differently from one another. But as it stands, there’s seemingly no reason for the them to be teaming up, or fighting against each other…. unlike the scenario shown in the cinematic trailer. I’m really hoping for a cool background story, as was hinted at in the first Gameplay trailer - particularly the point where Hanzo and Genji are about to face-off.
If that’s my main concern, Overwatch is shaping up to be really good. It’s got a great gameplay loop, with well thought out characters whose unique abilities make for incredibly tactical, team-based scenarios. I’m certainly looking forward to what the final game brings to the table come launch.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I might be able to get a few more hours of the Beta in before it closes down.
Update: There are actually three Quickplay modes, not two as originally stated.