Blizzard’s synonymous relationship with PC has gotten more and more blurred in recent years. Diablo 3 and its expansion pack, Reaper of Souls, was the company’s first console supported title since StarCraft 64 back in 2000. Now, in just over a week, console owners will be able to get their hands on Overwatch, Blizzard’s first foray into the first person shooter genre. Thought to be a heavily inspired spiritual successor to the very PC-centric Team Fortress 2 (TF2 technically was ported to console through the Orange Box, but that version was terrible), Overwatch effortlessly caters to a new platform audience in such a way that it seems like Blizzard have been shipping console games all along.
Character based shooters are fairly rare to non-PC platforms. Outside of the relatively popular PVZ: Garden Warfare titles, most console shooters follow the style and system trends of militarized, player customization games. Knowing this, Blizzard is introducing Overwatch to a potentially fresh audience, and has been overtly deliberate to make their new IP as accessible as possible on almost all levels.
Take the tutorial for example. Almost every shooter out there begins with the obligatory right stick calibration where the player has to look in four directions (up, down, left, right) before instantly throwing you to the masses. Overwatch goes way deeper than that, teaching the player movement with dual analog sticks, reviews the HUD by highlighting important information, and even shows players how to use their different abilities. A 3D shooting gallery – filled with passive and active bots – and a player vs. AI mode offers low threat levels of opportunity to break in the surface level nuances of all 24 of Overwatch’s characters. This is all incredibly useful for the newcomer who is looking to get a feel for which characters fit their playstyle best.
In my time with the Overwatch open beta, I’ve settled on four different characters depending on whether I’m playing offense or defense in the two objective modes made available. On the attack, I favored Soldier: 76 and Tracer. Mr. 76 is Overwatch’s most traditional commando-styled character, armed with an assault rifle and mini rockets set on a cooldown. Tracer on the other hand fits my short-ranged/high-power playstyle from my Call of Duty career, but also her teleport and rewind abilities make the close ranged risks far more forgiving and satisfying.
On the defense, I stuck with Bastion and Lucio. Bastion is also relatively traditional, although his slow speed is compensated by his high damage output when he activates his sentry mode. Lucio reminds me a lot of Caira from Turtle Rock’s Evolve in that he can not only heal his allies, but he can provide a speed boost to teammates as well. He’s easily one of Overwatch’s most interesting support characters because both of his buffs are proximity based, where the center HUD shows you just how many allies are within range so you know exactly how many team members will benefit from your abilities.
There’s a through line to all of my favored characters however: they are all self-sufficient healers. In Overwatch, regenerative health is not a thing that characters can benefit from automatically, which is something many console owners would have to get used to. As a self-proclaimed “bro-shooter” gamer, playing as characters that have to rely on health packs is still uncomfortable for me. Even more so, playing as characters that have very unilateral roles in combat exists even further outside of my comfort zone. But one thing that’s worked surprisingly well in encouraging me to try different classes is Overwatch’s Killcam, as I study how other players mop the floor with me using more unconventional characters.
The Killcam is one of the game’s brilliant uses of its HUD design, one in which I’d argue is the best I’ve ever seen in a shooter. Studying the vocabulary through which Overwatch speaks to the player, Blizzard has put plenty of thought and consideration into their new shooter, helping to ensure that the player is almost fully aware of everything that’s happening around them. For example, enemy players aren’t only outlined in red, making them painfully easy to spot even from a distance, but their projectiles and abilities are also red, juxtaposed against your team’s default colors. Reinhardt’s Barrier Field may be blue or Lucio’s Sonic Amplifier green, but they’ll always show up red on the opposite team.
Callouts are also surprisingly well done here; something that’s greatly underappreciated in shooters. Generally, they act as reminders of objectives and the status of the current match. What most impressed me, however, is how they proactively alert you about danger that lurks from behind. The one time I heard a player character shout “Behind you!” before I immediately turned to kill the enemy gunning for my back, I felt like I was truly one with the machine. The only seemingly obvious thing I can think of that’s missing from Overwatch’s HUD is screen discoloration indicating player damage. This visual cue works quite well in every game from Uncharted to The Division by providing a warning to you that you’re in danger of dying. This may seem small, but the split second it takes having to look at your health bar and then back at your enemy to determine whether or not you should stay in the fire fight can very much mean the difference between life or death.
There are lots of other little details that reinforce Overwatch’s excellent HUD design: the player selection screen advising you on the balance of your team’s characters, clean and bold notifications for support characters informing you on the status of your team members, the list goes on. Overall, Overwatch is shaping up to be a carefully considered character class shooter that is yet another feather in Blizzard’s impressive cap.
Overwatch will release on PC, Xbox One and PS4 on May 24th later this month.