June 4, 2017

Review: Overwatch

5 minute read

Around February, a friend told me that the extremely popular (and award-winning) “Overwatch” video game was on sale for Chinese New Years. It was available at something like half off, so I picked it up and decided to try it out. This is essentially my first purchase of a video game that could be considered an FPS, a shooter, and a “Team Fortress” style objective-based unique character-driven map. Here are my thoughts on it in brief.

Overwatch logo

I Am Not Good at Shooters

I’ve never really owned a shooting game before Overwatch (and Overwatch isn’t even a hardcore shooter at that). Although I’ve played a little bit of Halo or Crysis in the past, I’ve never owned those games, and so I don’t have killer instincts when it comes to shooters.

When I first started playing Overwatch, I felt like I was at a huge disadvantage because I didn’t have great aim with some of the more aim-dependent characters. Although this probably was the case when I first started playing, I’m probably now at the point where I’m okay with the medium skill-cap heroes, although I still don’t have killer aim.

The nice thing about Overwatch is that amazing aim isn’t a requirement for playing (although lack of it will limit viable hero selection and counterplay). You probably should not play Widowmaker/Hanzo if your aim is terrible, but you can do reasonably well at most of the other heroes with only average aim. (The challenge becomes when facing down a top-tier sniper on defense without having stellar aim yourself; they can pick you off halfway across the map as soon as you leave cover, turning the match into a bit of a Spy vs. Spy situation).

Characters are Fun and Diverse

It’s nice that Overwatch features (primarily) human champions from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. It keeps the game interesting and also helps avoid the same tropes reappearing with every new release. Some of the cooler themes on characters are:

  • Lucio is a D.J. with musical abilities
  • D. Va is a video game-playing mech pilot
  • Mercy is a medical doctor with ambiguous morals who can resurrect the dead and who masquerades as an angel on the battlefield
  • Sombra is a Latin-American computer hacker

Game Mechanics are Interesting/Fun

The first thing I’d like to point out here is that most of the heroes have completely different weapons and abilities:

  • Winston is a diving tank with a non-targeted spray weapon
  • Widowmaker is a classic sniper with a zip line and infrared vision
  • Reaper is a shotgun-wielding assassin who can drop in for massive kills and then become intangible to escape to safety
  • Ana is a medic with a sniper rifle (cool, right?)

Many characters have quite a bit of depth will a high skill cap, which keeps things interesting. Characters can also we swapped mid-match in a resurrection point (after a player dies or if they return to a checkpoint).

Some of the characters can be a little hard to play correctly:

  • Sombra can hack enemy players as well as health items, but she requires lots of timer and item micromanagement skills, and her submachine gun is tricy to aim and use to kill someone. Also her ultimate ability, EMP, doesn’t directly damage or disable enemies, which means it’s hard to use her effectively without extremely good communication.
  • Symmetra has turrets and a teleporter machine for an ultimate, but she’s easily countered and she’s close to useless on attack.
  • Roadhog can one-shot any non-buffed non-tank when he lands his hook combos; but when he misses his hook, he’s easy and safe to focus fire.

Overwatch generally does a good job at balancing heroes, but some of them, like Roadhog (although he’ll be nerfed soon), are just incredibly strong at instant-killing, and are very difficult to play around.

I Like the In-Game Purchase Model

Anniversary Edition promotional cosmetic skin for Zarya

I’ve discussed my thoughts on game purchase models in the past. One clever aspect about Overwatch, which I’ve recently saw written about by The Verge, is the cleverness of their in-game purchase model.

Once you’ve purchased the game, you will for all time have access to every character the game currently offers and will ever offer. (Compare that with, say, League of Legends, where nobody is consistently free and you would essentially need to drop $5 every few months to keep up with newly added characters if you wanted access to them.)

What the game does offer to keep things interesting is a novel take on a loot box system:

  • Every match yields “experience”, culminating in “leveling up” your game account, and which rewards your profile with a loot box
  • Loot boxes contain cosmetic upgrades (of varying degrees of rarity) for individual characters, with some options being seasonal or promotional unlocks, including the most coveted of the cosmetic upgrades:
    • New skins/themes (which can also change combat animations and are visible to all players)
    • A custom “Player of the Game” victory animation which plays for the player with the best play of the game (as rated by the server)
    • Custom dances and taunts
  • Beginners level up faster than experienced players, which paradoxically (but cleverly) gives beginners a much better chance at getting new rare cosmetic upgrades than game veterans
  • In-game currency accumulates if duplicate items are contained in loot boxes, or randomly as the contents of a loot box. In-game currency can be used to unlock cosmetic upgrades directly, but at a high cost.
  • Real money can be used to purchase more loot boxes, but cannot be used to purchase in game money. There is no way to directly purchase a desired upgrade.

Although they make no practical difference to the game, collecting and seeking to display the skins with the custom highlight intros is fiendishly addicting. My favorite clip that Blizzard has released is below.

D.Va selfie intro reel with a custom skin, sourced from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkIE_ILIwtU

© Jeff Rabinowitz, 2020