Not since my early teenage years has a first person shooter so unanimously captured my imagination in the manner that Overwatch has. On the rare instances that I’ve been dragged away from it over the last couple of days (a man’s gotta eat) I’ve had the constant crave to jump straight back in. My fingers have itched, pulling on phantom triggers. It has dug its claws into me and isn’t letting go.
There are plenty of attributing factors that have made it as such, the main being it’s just fun – colourful, joyous fun. The trend for shooters these days is to pile all focus and resources into making their particular shooting feel the best, and in the process I feel the real essence of fun is lost. Yeah, being on fire and racking up a 25 kill streak is always a great time, but these brooding, grey, grim shooters aren’t inherently fun, you have to make it for yourself. That’s not to say they’re wrong for doing so, that’s just what they are. In stark contrast, Overwatch is immediately impressionable, humourous, gratifying, and just a fun environment to spend an untold amount of hours in. Yeah, death and war is going on all around, but at least it’s nice to look at.
From the snowy tops of the Himalayas to lazy Greek sea-side towns; from Hollywood movie sets, to buzzing futuristic metropolises, and everything else in between, Overwatch looks genuinely amazing. The vibrant, bombastic, Pixar-like worlds, along with each character, are designed with scrupulous detail. Even the music which accompanies every map suits the location perfectly. Some maps are naturally better than others, but the way in which only one game mode is played on each map, of which there is a surprisingly high amount, lends itself really well to allowing choke points and passages to flow wonderfully. Well, apart from bloody Anubis, in which the objectives are near impregnable against any half-decent team.
The roster of 21 characters is the star of the show. Every single one varies massively in size, appearance, abilities, and personality. Their vivid and distinct characteristics are entertaining and it’s easy to be drawn to a one just through their persona alone. There’s so much backstory and interesting lore to every character, too. For instance, D.Va is actually a popular competitive gamer who got drafted into the Korean army to control their mech suits and actually streams her combat to the internet. With a world so full of tales and quirky stories, it’s actually a bit of a shame that there’s no way to access them in the game.
You begin by testing out the different characters and seeing which ones play to your strengths: do you like to get right into the fighting? Prefer to take a back seat and do damage from afar? Do you enjoy providing support for those doing the killing instead? Prefer being fast and nimble? What about being slow and powerful? There is a character to suit all tastes, but the beautiful thing is that it isn’t really about what character suits your personal style of play, it’s about using the character that your team needs most in the moment. Overwatch is about adapting to the scenarios around you and doing what’s best for the team.
Sure, start out as your favourite character, get a feel of the match if all is going well then sweet as. If not, you have to look at why you’re falling behind and mix things up to change the direction of the game. If the payload isn’t getting pushed forward, then change to Reinhardt, as his big shield allows you to soak lots of damage and go to the front line, and get it moving. If you need to make a last ditch defence of an objective, then whip out Törbjorn and lay down a turret which will automatically shoot at enemies. If there’s a Bastion that’s mowing everyone down at a choke point, then become resident sniper Widowmaker and take it out from a safe distance. The scenarios are endless and every character has a way it can be countered. When people play by this method and are actively trying to go for the objective rather than wrack up their personal kill count, refuse to get in on the action, and never change their character, then Overwatch is simply sublime.
The way a match being played in the right spirit unfolds reminds me so much of the ebb and flow of football. Teams can position their defensive line deep and try to withstand the onslaught or they can push high up the map and pin the attackers into their own half. Momentum can change in a blink of an eye, a clever substitution, a tactical master plan or just a hint of luck and the team getting battered can suddenly be in the ascendancy. It’s a tactical game but simple enough that anyone can get a hang of it. You don’t need to win for Overwatch to be fun, a game just needs to be played in the right manner with the vast majority of players playing for the objective and doing their bit for the team.
It can be, however, incredibly frustrating if people are just out to play for themselves. I’m not fussed about losing, if I was I’d have stopped playing video games long ago, but I do care when there’s no chance of winning because players aren’t pulling their weight, aren’t going for the objective, and just want to be the attacking characters to increase their own personal stats. I haven’t experienced as much of this as I did in the beta but it is still noticeable and it boils my blood. I don’t know why I’ve been getting so worked up over it, I guess because I just feel let down by my teammates when I’m constantly sacrificing myself for the cause and they’re dallying at the back doing fuck all.
Overwatch can get to controller-snapping levels of frustrating at other times, too. Once again, it’s the fault of those playing it: there was one match I was playing in which I was on the attacking side, the defensive team literally had four Bastions and a Törbjorn. Despite my best efforts it was completely impossible to counteract and I do fear that, as there’s nothing stopping it, more matches could descend into these types of rage-inducing slaughters.
It’s a really strange one, because I genuinely do adore it and as I type out these words all I want to be doing is zipping about as Tracer or have more memorable moments like having a full on rage mode Winston v Winston brawl and flying off the map with Reinhardt, killing my enemy but also plummeting to my death, but I feel like the real enjoyment of each match is dependent on how those in your match play. It may be seen as unfair to criticise Overwatch for this, but it’s how it has been designed and has had a big effect on my personal experience.
And that’s why playing with friends makes it a much better experience. Even playing with just one other person allows for that bit of coordination that can make matches much more interesting and competitive, as you can deliberate on tactics and methods of attack. It’s a team based shooter and (who’d have thought it?) playing it in a team is miles more fun than playing with strangers who don’t want to communicate. I’ve tried talking to the strangers on the Internet, but never got a response.
I feel like my negative feelings are because I’m playing on PS4 and a console player base just isn’t accustomed to this type of shooter, and I do fear for its longevity away from PC. Not only have multiplayer only games not fared too well long term on consoles recently, but there’s also no real hook for those who like to feel like they’re progressing. Also, since Overwatch relies on its numerous characters to change the dynamic of each match, the actual amount of game modes is quite low. There’s only really three: a capture the point mode, an escort mode, and a mixture of the two. Again, I don’t have a problem with this, but some might find there’s not enough.
But I’m not going to concern myself with that too much because I don’t need some false sense of gratification to feel like Overwatch is a good use of my time; playing it is enough. While I do have concerns over its longevity on consoles and it can be incredibly frustrating at times, Overwatch is an incredible shooter and one of the most fun games I’ve played in years. I’m sure I could go on for another thousand words, delving into even more intricacies and all the other great stuff it does, but I’m just going to go and play it instead.
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Each character is massively different
Brimming with personality
Incredibly fun and designed
Looks and sounds amazing
Quality of matches heavily depends on other players
No access to lore in game