Overwatch is above all a triumph of style. Even Team Fortress 2, the benchmark to which Overwatch clearly aspires, never quite hit the heights that Blizzard's new shooter has already reached in that department.
Overwatch's artistry is evident in every detail of its design: its fighting game-like roster select screen, the distinct ping that comes with a kill shot, the Player of the Game highlights. Blizzard wields Overwatch's visual cues and sound effects with the experience born of creating some of the most addictive and long-lasting games ever made. They understand the power a great presentation can have in getting people hooked.
Nevertheless, Overwatch in many ways also exists outside Blizzard's traditional comfort zone. Since making it big in the real-time strategy space with WarCraft, Blizzard has been known for its work in the strategy and RPG spaces - genres that are diametrically opposed to the action of first-person shooters. This is virgin territory for them; and even with the pick of some of the best talent the industry has to offer, Overwatch could have easily turned out to be a misstep.
Well, it's a little early to call Overwatch an unqualified success, but the level of hype that it has inspired speaks for itself. In designing their first FPS, Blizzard has brought all of their customary strengths to the table, including their knack for memorable character design, their instinct for positive reinforcement, and their talent for designing smart and balanced online multiplayer. It's thus no surprise that Overwatch has already managed to build up a large and dedicated community.
Overwatch further resembles Blizzard's more recent projects in its rather lightweight design. Like Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone, Overwatch eschews a single-player campaign in favor of a tightly-focused online multiplayer experience. Unlike its predecessors, though, Overwatch actually retails for around $40 - a risky move in an environment where competitors like League of Legends have managed to find significant success as free-to-play releases. It's tempting to draw comparisons with Titanfall and Star Wars Battlefront - two multiplayer shooters that also cost money at retail and ultimately failed to have staying power as mainstream shooters. Indeed, it's certainly possible that Overwatch will fade once the hype subsides and people start to drift away from the multiplayer.
On the flipside, Counterstrike Global Offensive is living proof that a top-quality first-person shooter can continue to command significant audiences even if it's not free-to-play, so it's not like Overwatch is doomed to be a fad. As always, once the novelty fades, it'll be up to the actual gameplay to carry the load.
In that regard, Overwatch has a few things going for it. First, it's moves incredibly quickly, which ensures that even bad matches where one side is getting rolled won't last too long. Matchmaking likewise moves at a brisk pace, making Overwatch a good game to play if you have 20 minutes to kill and want to squeeze in a quick match. These same strengths have helped Call of Duty to remain a top-tier multiplayer shooter for nearly a decade now.
Second, Overwatch has an unusually strong focus on teamplay and a good understanding of how to get even public groups to work together. When selecting a character, Overwatch shows what roles your team is missing, which is usually enough to shame someone into grabbing a tank or a healer. As a result, Overwatch matches have a cohesiveness to them that many other shooters lack. It's truly a thing of beauty when you get an actual push going on an objective with Pharah and Soldier: 76 knocking out defenses, Mercy healing, and Reinhardt tanking up front with his massive shield. Other shooters have classes, but it's rare to see team compositions that mesh so naturally that people can't help falling into their natural roles. It makes me think that Overwatch will be a lot of fun to watch as an eSport.
Finally, despite sporting only four modes with three maps apiece, Overwatch manages to feel varied and interesting. One thing that stands out in particular to me is the way the maps always seem to be moving, whether in defending a payload or assaulting different objectives. Such movement keeps defensive characters like Widowmaker and Bastion from getting too comfortable while offering a variety of different vantage points, which has the side effect of keeping the maps relatively fresh. It also gives Overwatch matches a certain degree of momentum, encouraging team battles and keeping the action humming.
In an interesting and perhaps risky move, Overwatch avoids many of the more traditional shooter modes like Team Deathmatch in favor of ones that encourage teamwork. I was initially skeptical of this approach, but my misgivings have subsided the more I've played Overwatch. In the end, teamwork is Overwatch's defining trait, and it's smart of Blizzard to focus on that strength as much as possible.
With that, I think that Overwatch has a good chance of retaining its momentum and remaining in the public eye, particularly as it begins to pick up additional content. It's already managed to hook several of my friends who aren't even shooter fans, and it feels perfectly calibrated to keep them coming back for a long time to come. In that light, paying its $40 price of admission doesn't seem so bad.
Naturally, I need to spend more time with Overwatch before I give it a final score. I'm having a blast with it now; but it's only been out a few hours (in addition to the open beta), and there's still plenty of time for its weaknesses to become apparent. But for now... wow. It sure seems like Blizzard has another mega hit on their hands.
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