2016 has come to a close and while the new year ahead has plenty of games for us to look forward to, the beginning of the year is also the perfect time to reflect on the games that made the previous year so exceptional, with 2016 being no exceptional.
Earlier this year, DualShockers revealed our 2016 Game of the Year Awards from both our readers and staff, including the overall GOTY (which was Final Fantasy XV this year for both readers and staff), Biggest Shocker!, and many more.
However, now that the awards have been given out and games have been chosen, this week we’re diving into the staff’s selections for their top Game of the Year pick and favorite game of 2016. In this installment, Features Editor Ryan Meitzler makes the case for Blizzard’s vibrant and fast-paced online shooter, Overwatch. You can also catch up on the previous features in our series on Darkest Dungeon, Firewatch, and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End for our Game of the Year titles.
More than I can remember in recent years, 2016 had me overwhelmed with great games to enjoy all throughout the year. Picking one game out of the dozens I played this year is no easy task, and even more than in the past year or two. 2016’s class of games were an embarrassment of riches when it came to diverse genres, awesome gameplay, and truly unique, exciting new experiences.
Early in the year, Firewatch immersed me in one of my absolute favorite stories of the year in the American wilderness, while Far Cry Primal took me back to a more brutal time period. In the spring and summer, DOOM brought me into a roaring rendition of Hell that I will never forget, and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End concluded an epic adventure that came once in a generation. For the fall and early winter, Gears of War 4 brought high-octane action, Dishonored 2 gave me contemplative stealth action, and Watch Dogs 2 provided open-world action in a vast, colorful setting of San Francisco.
While I had several experiences to get me through months at a time throughout the year, Overwatch is the title that I kept coming back to all year long. Even in a year where shooters reigned supreme — between it, DOOM, Titanfall 2, Battlefield 1, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, and so many others — Overwatch surpassed not only my expectations of the experience it would offer as a competitive shooter, but genuinely came as a surprise in becoming my favorite gaming experience of the entire year.
Overwatch didn’t even really register on my radar until a few months before its release. I’m someone that generally sticks to playing mostly single-player titles: if I do pickup a multiplayer game, it’s usually for only a few months at most before I either move on to something else or gradually lose my interest. However, the videos I’d watched and previews I’d read prior to Overwatch‘s release grabbed my curiosity: once I had my hands on the game’s open beta right before launch, I was officially hooked and it had my attention.
Competitive multiplayer shooters are not only competitive these days in the sense of proving their ability to offer engaging multiplayer experiences, but even more so for proving that they will have lasting communities built around them to last for at least a few months (or hopefully years). Against multiplayer mainstays like Counter-Strike, Dota 2, League of Legends, the latest editions of Call of Duty or Battlefield, and more, the chances of a lasting community around a new multiplayer title grow slimmer each year: thankfully, Overwatch seems to have proven the opposite in so many ways with a bustling and vibrant community, whether it’s been in-game or on the game’s subreddit.
As Blizzard’s first foray into a first-person shooter — and built from the remains of its long-gestating MMORPG Project Titan — Overwatch is both classically “Blizzard” and yet an entirely new and fresh experience from the company’s previous franchises: especially as the first company’s first new franchise since StarCraft debuted in 1998. With that kind of history and development behind it, Overwatch is as much a title that honors the numerous games and genres that influenced it, while forging ahead a path as one of the most exciting and fresh multiplayer titles I’ve played in quite some time. Coming from the house that built games like Warcraft, Diablo, and StarCraft this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, though (in my eyes) Overwatch‘s key attribute comes down to one thing: accessibility.
More than any other game I can think of in the past few years like it, Overwatch is one of the most welcoming and inclusive competitive games I’ve ever been able to enjoy and play regularly. Compared to many other competitive gaming experiences that require players to sink dozens (or hundreds) of hours into the game to grasp its nuances and strategies, Overwatch truly embraces its ability to not only get players started with the core concepts easily, but how it allows players of all abilities and skill levels to contribute and play their part in the team.
Much like Team Fortress 2 — one of Blizzard’s most obvious influences on the title — Overwatch is a team-oriented game: extra emphasis on that “team-oriented” part. No matter what the skill levels are of players on the team, Blizzard’s smart direction and design of Overwatch emphasizes the need for players to work together and collaborate incredibly well, and along the way makes each match feel like a learning experience when it comes down to playing as each of the game’s Heroes and mastering their skills and particular roles.
That philosophy not only extends from the game’s design and multiplayer, but also deep into the themes and characters of Overwatch itself. The game’s shining optimism and diverse character designs run deep throughout the experience. More than anything, Overwatch brims with character and charm – Blizzard somehow took a talking gorilla, a sassy time-bender, a shotgun-toting reaper (who has made for a hilarious parody Twitter account), and so many other weird, wonderful characters and made them all feel a part of this shared universe and established world.
While the game does lack single-player offerings when it comes down to a campaign or story mode…I’m not entirely sure that Overwatch even needs it. That may be an unpopular opinion in the day of age of multiplayer-only games, yet I’ve gotten far more out of the game’s universe and world-building from simply playing the game rather than going through a single-player campaign or experience that may have distracted from the game’s excellent multiplayer experience and characters, if it had one.
Where I could see myself enjoying a 5-6 hour single-player campaign with a loose story of some sort, I’ve had far more enjoyment from seeing the world of Overwatch unfold so organically. In every match that I’ve played, I’ve discovered some new bit of the world I hadn’t uncovered before, whether it’s a poster hanging in the Hollywood map, or a piece of dialogue between characters that opens up key bits of information about their relationships and bonds. More than pretty much any other multiplayer game I’ve experienced (save for maybe Team Fortress 2), Overwatch‘s world and characters are incredibly likable, compelling, and engaging even without a campaign to establish them all, and it’s all the more reason why Blizzard’s design have kept me coming back to the game throughout the year.
I could probably go on for way longer about my love for Overwatch. Its characters like Tracer, Winston, Mei, D.Va, and so many others are all instantly memorable and iconic, with the entire roster of characters being fun to play and filled with endless quirks and characteristics. Its visual design is lively, fun, and unique as players are engaged in fast-paced action across the world. And, of course, its gameplay loop of cooperation and teamwork has had me endlessly hooked since launch, with every match leading to rewards and honing my skills, whether they end in success or failure.
But for the sake of brevity, Overwatch is my Game of the Year choice for the fact that it showed me the power of inclusion and community when it comes to gaming. While it’s still a heavily competitive shooter at heart, Overwatch‘s ease of access for players has made it both appealing and fun to play, but without sacrificing depth and playability when it comes to mastering each of the game’s Heroes. Though they don’t happen all the time, each time I’ve gotten a “Play of the Game” has put a smile on my face just like the first time I started playing, and I’m eager to see just how long Overwatch has me hooked for.