In the first part of this review, I said that Overwatch is above all a triumph of style. A lot of that is down to its roster, which is unquestionably one of the Overwatch's greatest strengths.
During our stream earlier this week, Bob asked if any of us knew Overwatch's backstory. I told him that I didn't; and for the most part, I still don't. From my perspective, Overwatch is almost like Super Smash Bros. in the way that it mashes together various archetypes, mixing a cyborg assassin with a spaghetti western cowboy, a mech pilot, and more. Thematically, there aren't a ton of similarities, but it doesn't really matter because they're so much fun.
Scroll through Overwatch's roster select screen, and you're bound to find a character who will immediately speak to you. For me it was Bastion and his little bird, which will no doubt make me the worst person in the world in some people's eyes. As time has gone on, I've also become fond of D.Va and her mech, the rocket knight Pharah, and of course, Tracer, who has become Overwatch's de facto mascot (as well as a sort of controversy, because what isn't controversial these days).
From the very start, Overwatch strives to put its heroes front and center. The moment you boot up the game, you'll find a random character mugging for the camera, enticing you to take them onto the battlefield: Tracer puffing at her hair, Junkrat looking crazy, D.Va doing a fingergun toward the camera. As you rise in level, you can unlock additional emotes and highlight poses, all of which highlight some aspect of the character's personality. It's a delight.
Blizzard has a knack for creating memorable characters, and while the roster isn't a 100 percent win - few people seem to care about Zenyatta - certain fan favorites have already started to emerge. More than anything, they are proof of how much amazing art can elevate an already strong shooter.
Of course, if the shooting wasn't up to snuff, all the high-quality art in the world wouldn't be enough to save Overwatch. Thankfully, Overwatch's cast fits rather nicely with its particular style, each character's personality being evident in their playstyle. Look at a character like Junkrat, for instance, and you instinctively understand that they will spend a lot of time blowing things up.
Beyond that, Overwatch goes out of its way to keep things as simple and accessible as possible. Most characters have a grand of total of two abilities on top of their ultimate, making it easy to figure out what they can do at a glance. The roster is also blocked off into offense, defense, tank, and support categories, making it easy to find the character you want in a pinch.
This is important because character-switching is pretty much the name of the game in Overwatch. Much has been made of Bastion's strength as a defensive character; but as Kotaku rightly pointed out, there are plenty of Bastion counters to be found on Overwatch's roster. Genji, for instance, can simply reflect Bastion's bullets right back at him, while Pharah can float through the air and take out the stationary Bastion with a couple rockets. This sort of give and take ought to make for some interesting play at higher levels.
Blizzard, of course, is intimately familiar with these sorts of balancing principles, having perfected many of them back in the days of StarCraft. It's also easy to see certain RPG tropes in Overwatch, such as the traditional tank-DPS-healer formation, which makes sense in light of its origins as an MMORPG called Project Titan. It's a lot of fun to see the ways these characters can work together in attacking and defending an objective, as when Mike was blocking for me with Reinhardt while I blasted oncoming attackers as Bastion.
Upon reflection, this is all squarely in Blizzard's wheelhouse, which offers a hint on how they've managed to be so successful for so long: it doesn't matter whether they're making an FPS or a strategy game, they know their strengths, and they have certain design principles down to a science. For Overwatch, it all starts with the roster.
Thanks for sticking with me as I continue my review of Overwatch. I'll be wrapping it up on Friday with some final thoughts and a score. Please look forward to it!