Returning To: Overwatch

With the first competitive season of Overwatch coming to a close, I thought it was high time I returned to my initial thoughts of the game. One of the major concerns in the media at release was whether an online-only game was worth paying full retail price for – could something without single player depth truly provide meaningful entertainment for consumers?

In my opinion yes, I’m still enjoying Overwatch just as much as I did in my first game in the beta. I had to take a little break from the game due to the frustrations of SoloQ in a team game (more a little later) but have returned to a game that still holds a surprising amount of delight. The novelty still hasn’t worn off for me: The gun play is tight, balanced around proactive and reactive abilities; the maps are bright, colourful and distinct; and all of the characters are charming in their own way. Every map starts with the characters chatting to each other, telling jokes or referencing stories, and it’s hard not to fall a little bit in love with that. Strangely, most of my frustrations about playing solo seem to have gone away on my return. I don’t know that’s because I’m in a higher MMR bracket, or the changes Blizzard made to the “team tips” but the vast majority of the games I play have a balanced team! No longer am I resigned to only playing Lucio, and as a result I’m starting to understand much more of the game from an offensive point of view.

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Blizzard has produced a steady stream of new content to keep players engaged with the game since release. The first was “competitive mode”, a fully ranked made that openly tracks skill levels against the rest of the player pool. When it works competitive mode is the very best of what Overwatch has to offer. The inherent nature of it encourages players to try harder, as a result people are more willing to fill roles the team need (I love Lucio, but please don’t make me be him every game) and there’s more communication and team work to ensure a win. But unfortunately ranked mode isn’t perfect. Your rank is far too elastic in the initial stages of the season – every win and loss essentially accounts to gaining or losing a rank respectively. As a result it’s far too easy to either have a win streak and inflate your rank, or lose a few games and snowball to a rating not reflective of your skill. This process gets worse when you account for the lack of “tied game” in this mode; you either win, or you lose. Now this would be fine if there was a gameplay mechanic that decided a winner, but right now it’s decided on a coin toss. This feels cheap in what is supposed to be the “serious” part of Overwatch. Essentially I love what Blizzard is trying to do with this mode, and they’ve pledged to fix it in later patches, but in it’s current state Competitive feels like a misstep.

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“Repetition improves the skilled”

The other major piece of free content was a whole new character – Ana, a healer sniper! Despite not particularly enjoying sniping, I love the flexibility of Ana’s kit. Her rifle can either leave a damage over time effect on an enemy player, or can be used to shoot an ally back to full health; i love the subversion of typical FPS tropes in having to shoot a friend in the face to save them. Ana also has a grenade that either increases the healing an ally receives or blocks all healing an enemy receives. As a result Ana’s kit is entirely built around constant decision making within limited time scales – the opportunity cost of healing an ally, is potentially killing an enemy. I also completely adore Ana’s design. I’m a big believer in inclusion in video games and this character is unlike anything in mainstream gaming. Ana is an: elderly, disabled, Egyptian woman who speaks actual arabic with the correct accent. She is a mother but is not solely defined as such. When I write it all out that like it does seem like an inclusion of lots of “PC-ness”, an attempt to appease “cultural marxists” (I hate myself for using this term). But this is far from what Ana is. She isn’t forced into this world but rather exists organically within it. Her design doesn’t mark her as different, it just adds to the texture and vibrancy of this world. Overwatch’s first post-release character is a remarkably confident statement about the direction the game will continue to go in terms of design and art style.

So do I stand by my initial positive review of Overwatch? Absolutely. At it’s very core this is well designed and tight first person shooter. But on top of this skeleton is a design that oozes character and charm, across every map and line of dialogue. This is a game world that wants you to like it, and it’s incredibly hard to not be sucked in. I grew up in South-East London but I’m yet to be grated by Tracer, the sole English character, speaking in a faux-cockney accent – what started as an ironic appreciation has grown into a genuine love! If you were put off by Overwatch because of its price point and/or lack of content, I suggest it might be time for you to see what the fuss is all about. Blizzard has made such a pledge about post-release content (not all of it successful admittedly) that you can be confident about getting your moneys worth; this isn’t a yearly Call of Duty-esque, throwaway experience but rather a game you’ll be enjoying for years to come.

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