With eSports blossoming into a big, beautiful bellflower of potential, everyone is looking to stick their seeds in this fertile soil. Taking cues from the MOBA space, the First Person Shooter has been bombarded with entries looking to be the next big spectacle. Gearbox's Battleborn takes the most influence from games like Dota 2 or League of Legends, incorporating minions, lanes, items, and objectives to add strategic elements to what is a heavily tactical experience. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 opted for a character-based shooter approach to their multiplayer, trading the DIY kit building of faceless SAS/USMC/Terrorists for the flavorful (and more competitively predictable and fun to watch) static cast of partially mechanized super soldiers. There is no bigger proof that the bug has bitten than the biggest FPS in the world making their game more "spectator friendly."
With so many people looking to get a piece of that pie, it seems strange for Blizzard to enter the fray at all. When you look at Blizzard's track record when it comes to entering a genre, understanding what makes it tick, and interpreting it in the form of a new and refreshing game, it makes perfect sense. Overwatch, Blizzard's contribution to the FPS genre, is no different. With a vorpal blade, Blizzard has trimmed the fat from the first person shooter, and what’s left is the perfect cut of mechanics, character, and replay-ability.
The most noticeable feature of this modern shooter is how old school Overwatch is. The floaty jumps, inviting arenas, and twitchy action harken back to the days of Quake, though considerably less demanding than the id Software gunner. In fact, playing Overwatch almost feels like playing a history lesson. There is so much of the genre's history slapped into one package. Like Blizzard has done with Hearthstone or Heroes of the Storm, they've found standout qualities of its genre counterparts and put them in one place - the team synergy focus of Counter-Strike, the crazy and dynamic aggression of Resistance or Titanfall, the character of Team Fortress 2 or Borderlands. Admittedly, there would be no Overwatch without the 30+ years of running and gunning before it.
But to concentrate it all into a product that is so consistently fun and engaging is a feat only Blizzard could do. Much of this has everything to do with the characters themselves. There are 21 heroes in Overwatch split across four classes, and not a single one feels like the next. Many of them have projectiles, but each has its own way of firing and visual flairs. Some shun guns all together, like the mighty Reinhardt, who brings a massive hammer to a gun fight. Their ability kits are also pretty varied; some heroes don't even use as many buttons as others. Some heroes can dash and teleport around, some erect giant walls, and some sit stalwart and stoic as front liners. Everyone has a role, and everyone feels good in it.
Game modes are few, but it feels like it’s for the better. Every game and every map feels perfectly balanced, and the few options included offer a smattering of playstyles and strategies. Escort has one team bringing a payload from one point on the map to another while the other defends against it. Another is a simple capture and hold. Then, there's a third mode that blends the two. Besides the wrinkles thrown in thanks to map architecture, there's team composition to worry about - especially since the character you're playing can be swapped during rounds just by hitting home base. If you think your team needs more heavy, concentrated firepower, switch to Pharah. If you need more healing, switch to Mercy. If you want to be a jerk, convince your whole team to be Bastion. This sort of flexibility was overwhelming at first. Ultimately, it's helped me further understand how these characters are supposed to be played and what situations they are optimized for. Sticking to a single character and trying to make them work in every scenario can be a tough habit to break, but this new sort of freedom is more than welcome.
How this game, so deeply rooted in the past, can teach players so much is also astounding and a very key part to why this game is so fun. In the 20ish hours I’ve played between the Beta and the retail release, I can’t ever say that I wasn’t learning something new - new synergies between characters, new interactions between abilities, etc. No character feels useless, even if they feel non-optimal. There’s always an application to discover or a new vantage point to exploit.
By removing things the genre has become known for over the years – killstreak abilities, customizable weapons – Blizzard has drawn a line directly to the heart of what makes the FPS the most popular and most compelling genre in the industry. They’ve distilled the best of the medium, as they’ve done for many years in other corners of the industry, and they've created a uniquely fun experience that will remain trendy and relevant for a long time.
Stay up on your tips and tricks for your favorite characters by heading over to our Overwatch Wiki. Let us know how you're doing out there in the zone on Facebook and Twitter. If you still have yet to grab Overwatch and start playing, you can pick it up here on Amazon.
Jarrett shares his love of video games and geek culture through feature articles on Gamepedia. He prides himself on his deep attraction to Japanese beat-em ups and his god-like Bushido Blade talents.