‘Overwatch’ Review

Platforms PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One Genre First-Person Shooter

Publisher Blizzard Entertainment Developer Blizzard Entertainment

 Platform Played PC

Every design decision in Overwatch can be complimented in one of three ways, smart, balanced or simplistic. Overwatch is Blizzard’s first entry into the first-person shooter genre, reviving the rare sub-genre of the team-based shooter. Overwatch is a blast to play, its smart map design, balanced characters, and simplistic abilities system and map objectives combine to produce a phenomenal, high quality shooter experience.

Overwatch is a multiplayer first-person shooter pitting two teams of six against each other in objective based gameplay. You’ll be capturing points or pushing payloads to designated places. It’s simple to understand what you have to do, and there is only ever one objective at a time. It’s a smart choice because it forces all players to meet at a single location, centralising the action. The overtime system provides constantly intense matches as teams exhaust all options to rally for a late victory. There are no lucky victories in Overwatch, you have to force your opponents off the objective to win. It’s such a smart idea, and leads to exciting matches.

Another smart design choice is the maps. Each map is only played with one game mode. Therefore, each map is extremely balanced because it has been perfected for its particular game mode. Neither side has an advantage because of the smart map design. Maps aren’t linear, most are still multi-tiered with multiple entrances and exits to areas, perfect for pesky sniper characters to pick off enemies, but also preventing teams from setting up impenetrable choke points. The maps are also varied in their visual aesthetic, making each one immediately recognisable after a couple of hours. It’s just smart, fair map design. While it might add to replay-ability to have all 12 maps suiting every mode, it’s hard to deny the balance achieved from Overwatch’s map system.

However, Overwatch would be nothing without the 21 playable characters on offer. The characters fulfil all three of Overwatch’s characteristics: smart, balanced and simplistic. Each character fits into one of four roles, attacker, defender, tank or support, but each character also plays completely differently to every other character. Take the two sniper defenders, for example, Hanzo and Widowmaker. Hanzo uses a bow and arrow, whereas Widowmaker uses a sniper rifle that can be used as an assault rifle. Widowmaker is better able to escape tricky situations with her grappling hook and spider mine abilities, whereas Hanzo is best at medium to long range with a higher fire rate on his bow compared to the sniper rifle.

Each character has its own strengths and weaknesses, and being able to utilise them differentiates great players from everyone else. No character feels unbalanced. Some characters are definitely harder to counter than others, but every character does have weaknesses. Bastion, the walking sentry, has a Gatling gun that tears through enemy teams, but Reinhardt’s barrier shield can protect his team, or the ninja Genji can deflect bullets back to Bastion with his sword. That’s another thing about Overwatch: I couldn’t imagine a first person shooter where a ninja and a giant gorilla exist in the same space, but Overwatch’s meticulously balanced character design and abilities make it work wonderfully.

Each character has three abilities, a primary fire and sometimes an alternate fire. The abilities are all simple to understand to pick up and play, but there’s also plenty of room for depth. Take one of my favourite characters, Zarya. Zarya’s two abilities are shielding herself or an ally for a few seconds, and gaining increased attack damage when the shields negate damage. On the one hand, you can use these abilities to protect your team mates, but on the other hand you can use it as an offensive weapon, engaging the other team and turning the tables on them with a now powered up grenade launcher. The synergy between the different characters is terrific too. Zarya’s third ability is her ultimate – it has a longer cooldown than the other abilities – which draws all nearby enemies into the same spot and holds them there for a few seconds. Powerful attacking characters like Pharah and Tracer can take advantage of this and deal massive amounts of damage to the stationary enemies.

Overwatch gets the little things right too. There are small details on maps that add to the lore of the universe, such as graffiti against the integration of machines in society. Or the unique details on character’s weapons like the small flap on Junkrat’s grenade launcher, or the character’s spoken interactions with each other. I also enjoyed the audio cues in the game, with enemy characters creating louder noise than team mates so if you’re paying attention you can hear enemies sneaking up on you or activating their ultimate abilities.

Further, Overwatch emphasises teamwork over individual efforts during matches. Kills and assists are combined into the one statistic, called eliminations, so even if you don’t land the final blow your participation is still acknowledged. You can also only ever see your statistics and never other players, unless it is nominated in the end of match voting screen where players vote on the best individual performance for things such as most eliminations, most shielding or most objective time. There’s also a play of the game, which is cool but it mostly just highlights the play that scored the highest multi-kill.

Overwatch doesn’t revolutionise the first-person shooter, but it does everything brilliantly. The map design is smart and carefully thought out; the 21 characters are meticulously balanced, all have unique personalities and playstyles; and the game encourages teamwork while awarding personal achievements. Overwatch just feels so great to play. In a genre of realistic military shooters with loadout systems and individual based gameplay, it’s fantastic to see Overwatch’s design choices pay dividends.

The Good

  • Smart map design that doesn’t favour any character or side
  • All 21 characters are extremely balanced, have unique playstyles and synergise well with each other
  • Simplistic gameplay that also has depth
  • Statistic tracking emphasises team work and personal achievements

The Bad

  • Only having a few game modes could diminish longevity

The Score: 9.3