From May 5th – 10th, Blizzard cast their upcoming team-based shooter, Overwatch, into the public ether for some good ol’ fashioned scrutiny from the gaming masses. As if we needed any excuse, we at Power Up Gaming have spent these past few days tucked safely away from the throws of life, devouring this meaty tease until we’re fit to burst. To cut this preamble short, we present to you our thoughts on this mostly-final product.
Luckily for us, Blizzard’s beta presents players with reams of content. It quickly becomes apparent that Overwatch is packed with colourful characters and deadly toys. Whether it’s the ghoulish trickery of Junkrat, the deadly finesse of Hanzo, or the all-up-in-your-grill savagery of Roadhog, Overwatch’s 21-contender strong cast is packed with equal parts pomp and bite. Those in the market for short, medium and ranged fighters will all find themselves spoiled for choice. Blizzard have skilfully assured that there will always be a way for players to mix things up. Miraculously, almost every member of this feisty super-pack feels overpowered in their own way. But that’s precisely what makes Overwatch feel so superbly balanced. Nearly every character has some deadly ace up their sleeve that you will quickly learn to be afraid of.
Without offering up anything revolutionary, Overwatch’s four confirmed game modes provide a fitting excuse to team up and face off against a force of deadly doppelgangers. There really are no surprises on this front. You’ll be enlisted with defending marked areas, guiding payloads and taking over attack points. In the most fitting of clichés, the fun here really isn’t the end goal, but the journey.
Something that is worth noting is that Overwatch boasts no Deathmatch/Team-Deathmatch set-up to speak of. In what we found to be a refreshing niche among the online console shooter market, Blizzard’s attempt places a fair greater emphasis on staying alive than actually grabbing kills. In fact, you won’t even be able to find player kill counts on the scoreboard. Rather, Overwatch credits each player with the number of individual damage points they deal. In what is a far more organic approach to team-on-team warfare, every player gets a slice of the cake.
Teamwork is, most definitely, the name of the game here. What makes this hardy cast so compelling is that even the most overpowered of fighters all boast a dastardly foil, ever waiting in the wings to check them when needed. Blizzard have cultured an acute system of checks and balances which assures that teammates truly need each other to survive. Players will quickly find that it is never wise to go it alone in Overwatch.
Overwatch’s finest moments always derive from the coalescence of these mighty heroes into an even mightier force. Much to Blizzard’s credit, a balanced and communicative team is an unstoppable one. There’s nothing quite like storming a heavily guarded checkpoint with Reinhardt’s Barrier Field to your left, Reaper’s Hellfire Shotguns to your right and Widowmaker’s sniper prowess on point – all the while having Mercy’s Caduceus Staff healing you from behind. Even when playing with strangers, Overwatch’s team-based combat frequently comes together in beautiful ways. Teams growing tired of Destiny’s treadmill-grind will quickly find a new home here.
Quite expectedly, not all is perfect. When dealing with a cast this beefy, a beta would feel remiss without a handful of balancing issues. When perched proudly atop the payload in escort mode, Bastion’s turret configuration can perhaps prove far too deadly. Indeed, Zarya’s combat tool feels more like a bottomless bleach bottle than a deadly laser. Her shield hand-out specials can feel equally ineffective. These are early days, and Blizzard have plenty of time to pad out the more ungainly features of Overwatch into something far more weighted. Until then, the balance they have already achieved here is impressive.
A swathe of robust maps provides some neat settings for all of these hijinks to play out. Blizzard have aptly toed that sweet spot between simplicity and complexity. Navigation is consistently intuitive, yet flanking is an ever-present danger. A striking colour palette assures that proceedings never appear too samey, either. Whether it’s the moody streets of London, or the vibrant heights of Gibraltar, a confident art direction assures that every inch feeds elegantly into Overwatch’s striking futurist aesthetic.
Words fail to pay full credit to Overwatch’s excellent presentational ethics. Glance at one of the game’s stunning story trailers and you’ll get a taste for yourself; each and every character is shrouded in an instantly memorable design credo which speaks powerfully to their own individual skill sets. The cross-genre influences come thick and fast, from every direction. Junkrat’s devilish ticks and beaten, road-warrior garb appear to be torn straight from the set of Mad Max; Lucio’s dreads and futuristic green garb appeal as a direct homage to Tekken’s Eddy Gordo. Overwatch’s superb design portfolio makes the likes of Team Fortress 2 look suitably bland. If what we saw of the game’s loot system is anything to go by, you can be sure that all of this will also be buffed by a huge gravy train of alternate costumes, voices, poses and more. All you need to do is chase down that XP like there’s no tomorrow.
When it comes to the Overwatch beta, there is an astounding amount to love. While there is certainly some not-so-loveable content such as basic games modes and a bunch of unbalanced characters, none of this ever amounted to being a deal breaker, or even a single rage quit. If what we have seen so far is anything to go by, Blizzard have cooked up a more than competent multiplayer fun-fest – one that we’re more than hyped to see return come May 24th. A few tweaked ingredients, and we could be looking at the beginnings of the latest esports phenomenon.