Feel free to either watch the review below or read it, the old-fashioned way. I like to cater to all tastes.
Blizzard opened up the beta servers last weekend (5th to 10th May) for a final beta test of their new team shooter, Overwatch. So how was it? I’ll admit my skills in first person shooters are limited and this isn’t the sort of game that I would normally play. However, despite my unfamiliarity with the genre, I found the game enjoyable and relatively easy to pick up. There’s a tutorial for new players which goes through the basics of first-person shooter controls, followed by the option to enter a target range, in which you can try out the different characters and get to grips with their different abilities and play styles.
There are twenty-one characters in total to choose from, split into four different roles, offense, defence, tank and support. I took the opportunity during the beta to try out all the characters. Blizzards claims of there being a character to suit every taste certainly seems plausible, as the variety of play styles even among characters with the same role is impressive, and I soon found my favourites, Mercy and Soldier 76. Team dynamics are also well designed, as each character has their weaknesses as well their strengths; even the initially intimidating Bastion which despite some crazy DPS in turret mode, is easily taken out with just Mercy’s pistol or any ranged dps, or by flanking if you want to completely avoid any chance of getting gunned down by his machine gun fire. However, the ease of taking this particular character down doesn’t seem to be stopping a large number of players from crying nerf, but I think the reason for that is more than just his DPS and due, in part, to the way ‘Play of the Game’ functions which I’ll get to later.
The maps are well designed and are each set in different country with the visual look heavily inspired by the architecture of each setting , from Japan and Egypt inspired maps to, of course, good old England with its London map (King’s Row). The maps are not massive but are cleverly designed to funnel players in at certain points to create choke points, perfect for a face paced team shooter. There are certain objectives for certain maps range from capturing points to escorting payloads with some that combine the two. All the objectives are clearly indicated. The escort maps can lead to a less than co-ordinated effort, but that tends to be less to do with the objective not being clear and more to do with players forgetting teamwork and tactics and just charging off to net as many kills as possible.
Lack of teamwork, unfortunately, is a by-product of the way the post game stats are revealed. This is done in three screens, a ‘Play of the Game’ which plays a chosen highlight from the match. Currently, this is mostly calculated by most number of kills in a short space of time. Hence, it’s nearly always Bastion, as his turret attack can gun down a whole team in thirty seconds if he’s not spotted and taken down quickly. If it’s not him then there are a few characters who have ultra abilities which are particularly well designed to take out multiple enemies in one go, Reaper, Hanzo and Junkrat are the main contenders. However, despite there being twenty-one characters to chose from, about 50% of the ‘Play of the Game’s were Bastion, in my experience, with the other culprits named above taking most of the rest. There other ways to achieve a ‘Play of the Game’. For support characters resurrecting a large number of fellow team members can net you a ‘Play of the Game’, as can interrupting an Ultra ability, by killing the character while they are performing it. However, I saw very few of these types of highlights. It was nearly all multi-kills, in my experience.
This favouring of offense also quite often affects the next screen which displays four characters which the game decides have performed exceptional well in respect of certain categories, such as damage dealt, kill streaks, total healing, objective time and many more. While these do seem to be better balanced than the ‘Play of the Game’ as it does include support characters as well as dps, I did notice that tanks don’t seem to get shortlisted that often for damaged blocked, and that’s a real shame as tanks are important but quickly became a rare sight during the Beta as players flocked to the high dps, glory roles. Quite frequently there would be three Bastions and a Reaper in my team and not a single tank, as a result. I can’t comment on the balance of healers in groups as I quite often played Mercy, a healer class. I never saw a support class get a ‘Play of the Game’ in any of my matches, but examples have been posted on the forums, so I do know it can happen.
The final screen is a player only screen which shows you how well you performed against your teammates giving gold, silver and bronze medals for the top performers in each category. Extra experience points are given for attaining medals and while your character won’t get any more powerful on leveling up, as it is account and not character based, you do get loot crates which rewards you with customisation options such as new character skins, profile pictures, spray paints and more which, over time, gives you the ability to make the characters your own.
Despite the often unbalanced teams, with all dps and no defence, I’ve really enjoyed playing this game during the Beta. I put in a lot of play time and didn’t feel the game was getting tired even with only twelve maps available. I think a lot of this is down to the variety of play styles between the characters and that choosing another character complete changes the way you behave in game. Tracer has a particularly unusual play style as she can reset herself to the place and condition she was in a few seconds early which if you can master her fairly advanced tactical play, can lead to some fascinating matches. Torbjorn is also fun to play with his turret building ability. Unfortunately, the more interesting characters tend to be the ones not so well suited to one button fast kills and so you’ll need real skill to earn that ‘Play of the Game’ accolade, but that should just make it all the more rewarding when you finally do.
Without a doubt, this is a great team shooter. My only concern, on a personal level is that as I’m not much of a team shooter player, I can see myself playing it for a few weeks and then getting bored and moving on to something else. I’m just not sure if it would represent value for money for me, but for those of you who do love team shooters then this game is well worth a try.