A Beginner’s Guide to Overwatch

on May 24, 2016 10:00 AM

As a multiplayer title that spans across the globe with a cast of over 20 wildly different characters, developer Blizzard Entertainment’s upcoming title Overwatch is the studio’s first major new IP in quite some time, and as the game’s recent open beta has shown, it’s one that players should certainly watch for in the coming months. (…yes, pun intended)

Originally in development as an MMORPG called Titan, Blizzard has radically altered the title into what players have been able to experience with Overwatch within the last year, as a class-based team first-person shooter with tons of depth, strategy, and equal amounts of character and charm.

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Since its first reveal at BlizzCon 2014, Overwatch has been steadily in development at the studio and takes a remarkably different approach from what players have expected from the company behind DiabloStarCraft, and WarCraft. Taking a break from the world of strategy, RPG, and MMO titles altogether, a team-based FPS might be far from what is expected from a company that has long dominated the worlds of MMOs, eSports, and competitive gaming. Yet, Blizzard’s approach with Overwatch shows it’s a title that offers plenty of accessibility for players that want to jump in to its frantic shooting action, but with plenty of depth and layers for those that long to conquer it.

Whether you’re experienced from the game’s open betas or looking to jump in for the first time with the game’s release this week, the latest edition of our A Beginner’s Guide… series is going to take a look at all things Overwatch, and how you can begin your watch with Blizzard’s latest title.

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Begin Your Watch

For the uninitiated, Overwatch is a class-based first-person shooter where players take on the role of various “Heroes” of the international task force known as “Overwatch.” Under the employ of the United Nations in a near-future Earth following the global “Omnic Crisis,” each of the heroes of Overwatch come with their own wildly different abilities and talents to utilize.

In a series of objective-based game modes such as escorting a payload, capturing points on the map, and more, Overwatch emphasizes that players understand each of their hero’s abilities and puts teamwork front and center in every match. Compared to Call of DutyHalo, or other competitive shooters, Overwatch relies heavily on a well-composed team of characters that are split up between a variety of classes that are divided up in four categories: Offense, Defense, Tank, and Support.

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Since its reveal in 2014, Overwatch has been playable in a variety of forms through closed beta periods throughout the last year, concluding with an open beta that ran at the beginning of May for several days. The game’s final release is scheduled for May 24th, 2016 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC – the first simultaneous release on both PC and consoles for Blizzard in the company’s history. Following release, the game will be supported by new content such as additional maps and characters, which Blizzard says will be free to players in various updates.

Overwatch will be available in two editions for PC players for the regular edition of the game ($39.99) and the Origins Edition ($59.99), which includes the base game and a variety of Overwatch-themed bonuses for several of Blizzard’s other titles, such as World of WarCraftStarCraft II, and Hearthstone. The Origins Edition will be the only version of Overwatch available on PS4 and Xbox One.

Pick a Hero, Any Hero

With its bright, colorful visuals and fast-paced gameplay, Overwatch is a title that should appeal to FPS fans with a love of old-school shooters with a bit of modern flavor. But for all the action and visual flair that Blizzard provides, the real core of Overwatch and understanding how the game plays and works is by getting deep into the game’s lineup of “Heroes,” which you’ll certainly get to know very well through dozens of matches.

Overwatch features a lineup of 21 different Heroes that are (roughly) divided up between the classes of Offense, Defense, Tank, and Support. Within those classes are roughly 4-6 characters that each fulfill a relative purpose on the team, but offer their own radically different play styles, ability sets, and characteristics that all make them useful for the greater purpose of the team.

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Taking some cues from the world of MOBAs (much like Blizzard’s own Heroes of the Storm), Overwatch is brimming with personality and character (both in the literal and metaphorical sense). Whether you’re playing as the sassy Tracer, the stern Hanzo, or the lovable Winston, Overwatch is all about experimentation and playing with each of the different Heroes and settling in to their very specific role on a team, and figuring out the best way to combine their abilities with other team members.

At 21 characters deep, there is a ton of variety and experimentation that can be found in Overwatch‘s roster: to the extent that it may be a little overwhelming at first to newcomers of the game. However, even in my first couple rounds with the game it’s remarkably well-tuned to make playing a Hero fairly easy at first (with an overlay that’s easily accessible mid-game to remind you of their abilities and skills), but mastering their individual talents will prove to be a lengthy (but rewarding) experience.

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Know Your Role

Each of the Heroes feature their own level of complexity in learning and understanding their various abilities and traits, but the real key to success is learning their role within the team of Overwatch.

As mentioned previously, the different classes of Overwatch each play their part in assembling a team of players that can work together and utilize their abilities in effective ways. The four different class ranks – Offense, Defense, Tank, and Support, each help to identify that particular Hero’s role within the team, and how their abilities can be used most effectively.

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The Offense track features characters that are mostly focused on being aggressive and taking out members of the enemy team. In this track, players have the roster of Genji, McCree, Pharah, Reaper, Soldier: 76, and Tracer to choose from.

The main weakness of the Offense characters are their low health and susceptibility to taking damage pretty quickly. However, the tradeoff is that players get access to some of the most mobile characters in the game with plenty of opportunity to single out enemies and take them out quickly. These abilities range from Genji being able to climb high walls, Pharah getting a rocket boost jump, and Tracer getting the ability to “Recall”, where she can rewind time several seconds to her previous position and recover her health.

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In the Defense track, Bastion, Hanzo, Junkrat, Mei, Torbjorn, and Widowmaker each excel at providing various abilities to assist the team on a defensive level, at the expense of slower movement speed and not being the type of characters you want to jump into a shootout head-on.

However, with Overwatch‘s game modes being heavily focused on Objectives, Defense characters are critical to ensuring that your team can effectively hold down an area, and the class gives plenty of options for doing so effectively. Hanzo’s bow provides the team not only with sniper capabilities but also can shoot arrows that temporarily reveal enemies on the map to other players. Widowmaker is also a deadly sniper character not only with her combo sniper/assault rifle for damage near and far, but also carries a grappling hook to quickly dart around the map or escape danger quickly.

Torbjorn serves as the game’s Engineer character with the ability to craft turrets and other stationary defensive items, while Junkrat can set deadly traps to contain enemies for a short time while using explosives to deal tons of splash damage to enemies. As a Pyro-like character, Mei is also useful at dealing with enemies at close range thanks to her freeze gun, which can temporarily freeze enemies and allow other players to go in for the kill.

Basion in particular is a character that players looking to either get defensive or to build a pretty dominant team should get comfortable with. As a sentient robot, Bastion has the ability to switch between a mobile form and his turret form that, while making him immobile and susceptible to attack, allows a team to really hold down an area effectively. In the right hands, Bastion can be a devastating addition to any team with the right Support characters to ensure he stays alive.

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On the other end of the spectrum, the Tank characters are all about having massive amounts of health and being the primary force of destruction for teams. Whether you play as D.Va, Reinhardt, Roadhog, Winston, or Zarya, playing as a Tank ensures you’ll draw tons of enemy fire, but gain a huge health bar and plenty of attack power.

Aside from being able to dish out heavy amounts of damage, the Tank characters of Overwatch also have a few tricks up their sleeves to make them characters you don’t want to mess with up close. In particular, Roadhog has a grappling hook-like chain that can pull players in from afar (excellent for dealing with snipers or hard to reach enemies), while Winston’s jump attack and Reinhardt’s dash allow them to quickly (and brutally) close the gap between them and enemy players.

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Finally, the Support class is perhaps the most crucial to establishing a well-balanced, effective team by providing numerous options for healing and buffing/debuffing team members and guiding them to victory. While not as glamorous or capable of getting kills as easily as the other classes, Support characters are still essential in keeping a team alive (or providing them with valuable attack/speed boosts), and every team should at least carry one Support character at all times.

On the Support track, players have some pretty varied options between Lucio, Mercy, Symmetra, and Zenyatta in providing their team with plenty of healing or buffs. Mercy acts as one of the game’s main healing characters, with a staff that can provide either health or an attack boost to whichever character she is partnered with (along with an Ultimate that can revive a fallen team member).

The other members of the Support class primarily focus on providing buffs to their team members, such as Symmetra’s focus on giving players added defensive capabilities and temporary hit points. Lucio also pairs well in any offensive/defensive-focused team by healing team members and also giving plenty of boosts to the team’s speed, at the cost of low hit points. Zenyatta can also provide support to team members with his incredibly accurate healing and attack orbs, but must maintain sight of his targets to be truly effective.

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Work Together, Not Apart

With so many options to choose from, assembling a well-balanced team in Overwatch can be just as much of a commitment as it is to learning the ins and outs of a particular character. However, with just the right dose of experimentation and combination, learning how to effectively combine the powers of certain characters and create a team that’s powerful on nearly all fronts is just as important as specializing in a particular role, and key to Overwatch‘s focus on teamwork and collaboration.

The exact right composition of a team is going to depend heavily on the characters/classes that you and your friends specialize in, so picking a definitive team lineup is certainly going to be impossible (and likely to change over time as the game receives balancing and updates).

However, in general creating a team that’s well-balanced between the Offense/Defense/Tank/Support classes is one that may provide the edge over a team that’s a little more focused onto side, with a nice balance of one Support, one Tank, and a mix between Offense and Defense seeming like the ideal team build. Of course, right from the beginning of a match Overwatch provides various prompts and alerts as you and your team members pick your Heroes, notifying if you’re missing a component of your team, have too few members of a team, etc.

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While it’s natural to want to a team that can accommodate all sides of a match in Overwatch, the other dynamic to consider as well are the various ways that Heroes’ abilities can compliment one another and be most effective. How those combinations will play out will certainly change through updates to the game in the coming months, but even from the game’s beta periods there are already some potent combos that pair certain Heroes well together.

Some of these combinations are a bit broader in scale, such as Mercy providing a perfect compliment to damage-dealing characters like Winston, Roadhog, and other Tanks to ensure they’re kept alive and boost their attack power. Others, however, can instead offer more specific circumstances but provide great benefits depending on the Heroes chosen and the situations they find themselves out on the battlefield.

In particular, I found Mei and Hanzo to be a great pair in the right hands. With both of their Ultimates combined, Mei players can freeze a handful of enemies in place to setup for Hanzo’s Ultimate, with his powerful ghost dragon ability able to quickly defeat enemies more effectively if they’re clustered together (or in tight corridors). As we mentioned earlier, Bastion provides a powerhouse addition to any team with his turret form, making him an excellent companion to the Defense or Support characters to ensure he is kept alive and safe from the enemy team (while mowing them down simultaneously).

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Get a Lay of the Land

The core of Overwatch‘s gameplay comes down to the Heroes and their various abilities, though on a broader level the various maps and locales of the game (like any multiplayer title) have plenty of their own strategy and depth to uncover, and may hold the key to a big victory.

Compared to the fantastical and extraordinary characters of Overwatch, the game’s locations and maps are all based around various locations throughout the world to give a fantastic (but still somewhat surreal) feel to the Overwatch team’s international adventures. From the busy streets of Hollywood to the nooks and crannies of Volskaya Industries, each of the maps provide their own unique strategies that, with the right amount of time and exploration, can reveal plenty of opportunity for new tactics.

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In particular, the key things to look out for on the maps are choke points and high ground that can be used by a variety of classes. When it comes to modes like escorting the payload or capturing points, learning the various choke points of where you can tie up enemies from advancing can be a crucial strategy to give you just the right time to complete an objective or defend a point. This is an especially key tactic when combined with characters like Bastion or the Defense class characters, and learning the best positions where traps and abilities can be most potent.

Hanzo, Widowmaker, and many of the other long-range characters especially benefit from taking advantage of the high ground areas and platforms that other characters may not be able to access as easily and can use to their advantage. While making for obvious and prime sniping positions to take out players, they also serve as incredibly useful escape routes for characters to use to their advantage, such as Reaper or Pharah.

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Get the Inside Scoop

While it may not have quite the same level of focus on a narrative as past games like Diablo or StarCraftOverwatch still has plenty going on in the background as players take on their role within the “Overwatch” team and battle to make the world a better place.

Most of the fun that players will have in Overwatch will be devoting numerous hours into its online modes and competing against others, but right out of the gate Blizzard has shown that the characters of Overwatch have plenty of…well, character, that you can uncover from the supplementary media the company has been producing in tandem with the game’s release.

Whether you’re a fan of the gun-toting McCree or the blazing Tracer, Blizzard has already been diving deep into the backgrounds, personalities, and more behind the many faces of Overwatch that you can start reading along with the game, including a series of digital comics dedicated to specific characters, and the series of excellent animated shorts that feature near feature-film quality animation work from Blizzard:

Are You With Us?

With a competitive focus like the best of modern shooters and MOBAs, while emphasizing character and charm like the classic Team Fortress 2, Blizzard’s Overwatch will have plenty to prove in the coming months to develop and maintain a steady community ready to embrace its fast-paced gameplay and layers of depth and strategy.

Coming from a background of putting plenty of time into team-based shooters like Team Fortress 2Overwatch should feel right at home to players that enjoy having a specific role and character they can specialize in: in my time with the game, each of the 21 Heroes give their own unique flavor for players to enjoy and strategize with.

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However, even in the growing (and sometimes complex) world of competitive games being a bit unfriendly to newcomers, Overwatch is a fast-paced and fun experience that doesn’t leave newcomers in the dust. Overwatch is certainly the type of title that will offer an experience that’s easy to pick up but difficult to master with its large and varied cast, but hopefully with the game’s release this week you can get ready with some of our tips here, and get ready to begin your watch in the month’s ahead with Blizzard’s latest.

Overwatch is available now for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

 /  Features Editor
Ryan is the Features Editor at DualShockers, with over five years' experience in the world of video games culture and writing. He holds a BA in English & Cinema from Binghamton University, and lives in New York City.
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