If you’ve been on the internet this past week, you’ve probably been inundated with story after story about Overwatch, a team-based shooter from Activision-Blizzard that’s blowing away fans and critics. Based on the overwhelming acclaim and massive sales numbers (it actually sold out on Amazon), the game is well on its way to becoming a fixture in the multiplayer FPS scene. With that in mind, here are 12 Things You Need To Know About Overwatch.
It's been 17 years since Blizzard started a new franchise; even the immensely popular Hearthstone is an extension of the Warcraft universe. For a long time, it looked like the next new IP would be "Titan," a superhero MMO in development for seven years at the time it was cancelled. Shortly after Blizzard announced its cancellation, Overwatch appeared, and it's not hard to imaging the latter as an evolution of "Titan." It’s likely the public will never know all the details regarding “Project Titan." We do know, however, that several maps made their way into Overwatch, and at the very least the character of Tracer survived the cancelled title.
Blizzard wanted "Project Titan" to be unlike other superhero-themed MMOs, such as City of Heroes and Champions Online, with new elements like forcing players to alternate between superhero activities and the day-jobs of their secret identities. The project struggled, was completely rebooted, and eventually dissolved, with Blizzard concluding that the game simply wasn’t fun to play. This led to a new design philosophy for Overwatch: above all, everything has to be fun. If reviews are any indication, it seems like the game lives up that philosophy and then some, by cutting out unnecessary chores and leaving only the exciting core behind.
Overwatch is easily the goofiest of Blizzard’s main franchises, and as such there’s a big amount of tongue-in-cheek humor snuck into the game. One map features an arcade with nods to Starcraft and Heroes of the Storm. One of the game’s playable characters, mech pilot D.Va, is a competitive Starcraft 2 player. Swedish cyborg dwarf Torbjörn’s ultimate ability, Molten Core, shares a name with an infamous raid from World of Warcraft (one so famous that it might even appear in a sequel to the Warcraft movie.) The Hollywood map features even more obscure references, with the names of characters from Blizzard’s Lost Vikings appearing as Hollywood Stars.
Overwatch is one of the year’s most-hyped games, and not just because of promising first impressions and its impressive pedigree. Since the game’s reveal in 2014, Blizzard has periodically released trailers, comics, and video shorts that give glimpses into a world torn apart by a cataclysmic war, a new civil rights movement, and clashes between governments, corporate interests, and militias. The story of Overwatch’s creation as a peacekeeping force, its fall from grace, and newfound resurgence in a world that needs it more than ever is far more in-depth than one would expect from a multiplayer shooter. The video shorts produced thus far are Pixar-level quality, and are good watching even for non-gamers.
Widely publicized, truly open betas for games this high-profile are still relatively new to the video gaming world, but that doesn’t in any way diminish what Overwatch accomplished when it compelled 9.7 million participants to try the game. To put that in perspective, The Division’s record-setting beta had 6.4 million players, and Destiny’s had 4.6 million. Overwatch’s world, characters, and polished gameplay have clearly attracted people that normally ignore other multiplayer-heavy shooters, which is especially interesting because...
It’s not surprising that Overwatch would be multiplayer-focused - it is, after all, from the company that made the most successful online RPG in history - but considering their high-quality single-player experiences offered in Diablo, Starcraft, and past Warcraft games, the complete absence of any single player mode aside from tutorials is a bit of a shock. There isn’t even a way to play multiplayer matches offline, as fighting teams of AI players still requires a whole team of other people. As good as the multiplayer is, the game certainly wouldn’t lose anything from some sort of dedicated single-player mode. If it told more of the story alluded to in Blizzard’s incredible trailers and shorts, it would further cement Overwatch as a phenomenal game.
There are many superficial similarities between Overwatch and Battleborn, Gearbox’s character-based shooter released just a few weeks before Blizzard’s: both feature large rosters of cartoonish, over-the-top characters, and both are multiplayer-focused games with an emphasis on teamwork and roles. But there are significant differences between the two games that actually make the comparisons a little unfair. For starters, Battleborn does have some single-player offerings, but its main differentiator is in its inspiration. From the structure of its maps to the low-ranked AI units serving as cannon fodder to the way players slowly level up over the course of a match, Battleborn is clearly trying to blend first-person gameplay with frantic MOBA elements perfected in games like League of Legends. Overwatch is far more similar to Valve’s legendary class-based shooter Team Fortress 2. It takes that game’s concepts (learning a class, wildly differing roles based on attacking, defending, and support, and changing roles constantly to adapt to new situations) and cranks them up to eleven, as more characters means more slight tweaks on the same central ideas.
That parenthetical is important--it’s perfectly understandable to feel uncomfortable with a game asking up to $60 up front, and then asking for more in the form of smaller fees. However, Overwatch isn’t a disaster like Dead Space 3, which integrated its microtransactions into the heart of the gameplay. Instead, it limits its extras to packs of “loot boxes,” which contain rewards like skins, victory poses, and spray tags that are all earnable in-game simply by playing. It doesn’t create separate player bases, it doesn’t result in a “pay to play” or “pay to win” situation, and it doesn’t detract from the fun of the game. Everyone is still on the same level, and they’re going to stay that way, because...
In an era where games are released unfinished to make a profit later and fighting games suffer from player bases where character access is gated off behind DLC, Blizzard’s decision to patch in new matches, modes, and characters for free rather than asking players to pay for the privilege is nothing short of incredible. If Overwatch’s community begins to dwindle, it won’t be because they’re divided between base game players and those with the money to buy extras, because Blizzard’s decision means that anyone who picks up the game will have the same access to modes, maps, and heroes as everyone else. Speaking of heroes...
It cannot be overstated how vibrant, unique, and full of life Overwatch’s roster feels, nor how much its diversity and broadness helps encourage both veteran gamers and those new to shooters to pick up the game. In a genre dominated by gritty, sci-fi realism, and populated mostly by angry white guys shooting at other angry white guys with assault rifles, Overwatch’s multi-ethnic, female-heavy, colorful, and unapologetically fun roster absolutely stands out from the pack. Each character’s animations, visual design, and dialogue all come together to bring them to life, and in the waiting room before games, they’ll engage in dialogue with each other to further emphasize the world that connects them.
There was always going to be some Overwatch porn; any franchise with so much hype and publicity, to say nothing of such a large selection of characters, was going to attract that kind of attention. Rule 34 is certainly in full effect. But to say that the world underestimated the demand for adult content related to the game is an understatement: after the beta’s launch, searches for Overwatch jumped on video sites by over 800%, and Overwatch is still trending on several sites now. Blizzard has responded with a flurry of takedowns on videos that use Overwatch’s assets in them, an uncharacteristic, if understandable, move on the part of a developer that usually takes a light touch when it comes to fan art.
For those intrigued enough to try the game, this is without a doubt the most important thing to know about Overwatch: it really, really, really pays to be a team player. Everything about the game, from the complementary nature of different character’s abilities to the game telling you at the character select screen which roles your team needs for balance. Nothing is more frustrating than doing your job and failing because your team has poor communication and teamwork, but nothing feels better than rolling through a completely unprepared team with a well-coordinated assault of your own. Teamwork is the glue that holds all the elements of Overwatch together, whether you’re a gorilla armed with an electric ray and a jump pack, a cowboy with a bionic arm, or a Russian weightlifter that can shield her allies with energy bubbles.