Overwatch Review: A Master Class in Multiplayer

on May 27, 2016 10:47 AM

Whether you are talking innovative gameplay, character design, or art style, Overwatch is an achievement in multiplayer titles, and one of the front-runners for game of the year. Blizzard Entertainment, coming off a decade-long IP hiatus, has delivered a stunning experience that not only makes players fall in love with the gameplay, but also the world it is couched in. If you are a fan of online shooters, playing Overwatch is an obligation. If you are a novice to the genre — or perhaps a casual observer — this is the game to jump in on.

For those out of the loop (or hiding under a rock, given the internet’s fascination), Overwatch is Blizzard’s online-only, class-based multiplayer first-person shooter. With 21 different Heroes to choose from, players team up with 5 others online to attack, defend, or capture areas across 12 different maps. While the figures themselves may sound scarce, each hero and map offer so much variety in gameplay and style that you would be hard-pressed to notice.

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The first thing to talk about in any online-only game is balance — so are Overwatch‘s characters balanced? The short answer is: “no.” The slightly longer answer is “no, duh!” While most other titles live and die based on your own individual performance, Overwatch primarily focuses on team composition. For instance,  some characters — i.e. Bastion and D. Va — can offer a high DPS (damage per second), they also have readily apparent flaws. So while each character isn’t by any means “balanced,” they are all equally imbalanced with their own benefits, strategies, and weak spots.

Taking that thought further, team balance is one of the greatest and undersold mechanics of Overwatch. While most online-multiplayer games lead players to “main” a particular character and play as them throughout, Overwatch seems to demand that you remain flexible switch characters based on the enemy team’s composition. While your favorite character may be the lumberous Reinhardt, if the other team is sporting Junkrat (who is particularly awful in close combat), it may be far more beneficial to the team to have you run the speedy Tracer to get in quick and gun him down.

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This intricate weighing of flaws and strengths for not only your team, but your opposing team, is a dynamic rarely ever seen in video games. More importantly, the ability to actively change your character at any point mid-match fosters that mechanic, making it paramount to winning at times. As a side note, it will be interesting to see whether high-level Overwatch gameplay will focus on finding a team of characters that are universally-effective, or if it will rely more heavily on switching around to counter your other team’s blindsides.

What truly makes character switching a terrific mechanic in Overwatch is that there is not one Hero you don’t want to play as. With the diverse range of abilities and distinct designs, I couldn’t find one Hero that I didn’t like. Sure, I may not have excelled at each one — I’m a notoriously shoddy sniper, so Widowmaker is out of the question. But grappling across the field and testing out her abilities (even when I was missing every shot) was in itself fun, and makes experimenting with new Heroes and their abilities as much fun as it is rewarding.

The three different game modes are unobjectionable at best, offering some slight variety from mission. Escort tasks your team with either defending or advancing a payload to an end location; Assault has attackers and defenders compete over critical locations on the map; and Control is a best-of-three mode where both teams vie to overtake and defend an area. The game modes alternate based on the map, which often will have an impact on which character you choose. While these modes are great places to start, I hope they are expanded on to offer more variety in the near future with new updates and content.

Speaking of features coming in the future, it was recently announced that Ranked Play would be coming in June — while this is great news, the game doesn’t feel at a loss (presently) without it given that most people are just starting out and learning the characters. Blizzard has mentioned that new characters and maps will be coming for free to all owners of the game, free of charge — a fact that does a lot to curb my dislike of the cosmetic microtransactions.

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The game’s progression system focuses on how well you perform (compared against your career bests) in certain characters’ roles. So while Reaper (an Offense character) will be judged by the amount of kills you make or souls you absorb, your Exp. rewards for playing as Mercy (a Support character) will focus on the amount of healing you manage to do or teammates that you revive. This individualized, Hero-specific post-game ranking helps further the notion that you can be a huge boon to your team, without necessarily racking up huge killstreaks.

One minor gripe I have with the progression system is the reward — Loot Boxes. You gain Loot Boxes (which contain cosmetic modifications from skins to spray paint) for each level you hit. And while Loot Boxes come strong and steady in the beginning, they become harder to come by with each passing level (until you reach level 23, when the Exp. needed to level up stops increasing). After reaching level 100, players can choose to prestige (“promotion” in Overwatch) and start back at level 1. According to one analysis, it takes roughly 80 minutes (in game-time!) on average to earn one Loot Box.

On the other hand, players can also purchase Loot Boxes via microtransactions — an activity that would be far more unsavory if the items within were not solely cosmetic. But even still, these microtransactions fundamentally undercut the only goal in the game so far, beyond aiming for levels and promotions. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong selling Loot Boxes via microtransaction, they should offer some sort of system, achievement, or goal outside of that realm. Or, alternatively, offer a daily mission, quest, or objective (for instance, freeze enemies with Mei for X number of seconds) that could reward Exp. or Loot Boxes — a feature that has worked well in other similar Blizzard games like Hearthstone.

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Touching on the brief amount of negatives, the PlayStation 4 version has some odd design quirks — notably, players aren’t able to leave as a team, making entire groups quit and rejoin each other if one person leaves. This is a slight inconvenience, but one that is odd for such a team-based game.

The bottom line is Overwatch is an amazing starting place for a platform that will undoubtedly operating for years to come. But, just like any other major online game, there are a few stumbling points that will undoubtedly be addressed in the following months. A few small tweaks in quality-of-life improvements, daily objectives, and technical fixes will go a long way for the game.

As it is right now, Overwatch remains an achievement in multiplayer-only games, offering a dynamic, new playstyle with both interesting characters and an interesting world. While it may lack some slight components, there are more than enough Heroes and maps to make the game worthwhile, whether you’re a casual player jumping in for the first time, or a veteran shooter player needing a new experience. More importantly, the gameplay is always fluid and fun — it is hard to find another game in this (or any genre) that is consistently this enjoyable. Overwatch is a master class in the class-based shooting genre and gaming itself.

 /  Editor-in-Chief
Lou Contaldi is the Editor-in-Chief at DualShockers, specializing in both reviews and the business behind gaming. He began writing about tech and video games while getting his Juris Doctor at Hofstra University School of Law. He is maybe the only gaming journo based in Nashville, TN.
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