No, it’s not Game of Thrones related.
Despite not intending to buy Overwatch at launch…or…probably…ever…I decided to jump in to the recent Open Beta weekend and check it out. At least I could get a feel for whether I might end up buying it or not.
Yeah. About that.
Turns out my misgivings about Overwatch were all justified. Now, I am emphatically NOT saying that Overwatch is a bad game. It is, as are all Blizzard products, highly polished, quite attractive artistically, and smoother than a politician contradicting themselves in the same sentence. But for me, that’s it. It’s all superficial. It has no depth.
The characters are great, there is a nice mix of playstyles, and I had great fun with Tracer and Mei. The different abilities between characters is amazing, and it really does bring the TF2-era team shooter genre forward in showing that it is possible to allow for both defensive and offensive synergies within groups. Granting abilities to allies, like infrared vision, speed boosts, and shields, makes an already hectic experience even more skill-intensive, and while it is simply chaotic to someone like me who is not experienced, I can see how high-echelon play will showcase mind-blowing awareness, timing and judgement.
I liked the MOBA-style abilities that go beyond the fire/alternate fire modes of many shooters. It makes things way more interesting. I’m not sure that Blizzard has nailed the balance issue yet, but I guess they will improve that as time goes on. The abilities go a long way to giving each hero a personality and distinct playstyle, rather than simply being “the healer” or “the tank”.
Overwatch looks amazing, in that trademark Blizzard cartoony aesthetic. The visuals are colourful and easily distinguishable, and the levels are nice and crowded for maximum cat-and-mouse gameplay. The level design also allows for ample creative use of many hero abilities, particularly the movement ones. Widowmaker’s grapple, Pharah’s jetpack, Tracer’s blink, Hanzo’s wall-climbing, there is plenty of opportunity to use these in interesting ways.
Finally, I loved the way that you can earn commendations for your play, through a voting process at the end. Taking a leaf from the FFXIV playbook, Blizzard may hopefully be having a positive effect on community behaviour with this system. I say “hopefully”, because, well, it IS a Blizzard community…combined with an FPS community…yeah, I know, that’s a lot of hope.
There are objective problems I have with Overwatch, and subjective ones. Let’s start with the objective ones. First, the tutorial absolutely sucks. You are forced to go through it as Soldier 76, who has a specific suite of abilities. The tutorial does a decent job of going through those with you, but there are many ways it could be improved. The main problem with it, however, is the fact that you are not told about the fact that heroes may have different uses for each of the buttons introduced. For example, Soldier 76 has a left-click fire, right-click alternate fire, an area heal on E, ultimate on Q, and left-shift is sprint. But as far as I can tell, only Q and left-click are standard across heroes. Tracer’s right-click is her blink ability, which is also keyed to left-shift (i.e. she has no sprint). My friend played a hero with NO right-click ability (Reaper, I think?). This is all cool, but the tutorial does not do anything to make you aware that the controls do different things depending on which hero you are playing. It makes for a more frustrating learning experience in the beginning.
Second, the commendations thing at the end of games is not intuitive at all. I didn’t even realise what was happening when three or four names and stats would come up and eventually one of them would be selected. I thought it was the game awarding bonuses. It took me half a dozen games to figure out what was going on. There needs to be some explanation of the system – even just a popup reminder to cast your vote would be sufficient.
Thirdly, I am incredibly pissed off that you are automatically placed in the in-game voice chat channel, and not only is there no option to leave with a single button, there is no immediately obvious option to leave at all. Now, fortunately for me, I had no bad experiences through voice chat, but holy brainfarts, Blizzard! Are you unfamiliar with the multiplayer FPS community?! You NEED to be able to opt out of in-game voice chat, quickly and easily.
Subjectively, the problems I have with Overwatch are less due to the game itself and more about the genre. I hate hate HATE the fact that you can change heroes mid-game. It is enough to turn me off the genre by itself. I want your hero choice at the start to matter. I want people to be forced to cobble together synergies with their teammates based on the team composition, not just switch to the obviously-more-compatible heroes after one untimely death. This issue is the single most defining feature of my decision to avoid Overwatch. Blizzard simply can’t lure me in without scrapping this mechanic, or at least introducing a permanent mode that is hero-locked.
I am extremely irritated to end a match, go through commendations, and then be automatically queued up with the same people for the next match. I hate feeling rushed into the next game. I want time to relax after my last game, maybe look at my stats, open loot boxes, or just step away for a minute. Yes, I know that you can leave the queue at any time, but again, it is not immediately obvious where that option is, and I would much rather have to press buttons to enter a queue rather than leave one.
Finally, I did not feel any sense of depth from Overwatch. There is nothing that hooks me. No progression, no story or lore, no reason for me to log back in on a regular basis. One or two matches, and I am ready to log out again. It feels like I have experienced all that Overwatch has to offer already. Again, that is a genre problem, not Overwatch specifically. But it means I will not be throwing any money Blizzard’s way for this game.
I find myself wishing they went further towards an FPS-MOBA hybrid, like Battleborn has. Maybe Battleborn is where the future of the genre is at, not a slightly-more-advanced version of the old giants, COD, TF2, and CS:GO.