“Overwatch” Beta Review

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Overwatch, an exciting but vapid lesson in political incorrectness and cultural appropriation, recently had a multiplatform beta that was met with much glee. The game, which has absolutely zero story to speak of, is a first-person, class-based shooter that comes off as a curious amalgamation of Super Smash Bros. and League of Legends transmuted into a FPS.

The actual combat is easy and fast-paced, much like the former, but the vast pantheon of different heroes that fall into one of several different classifications relate to the latter, as does several of the game modes, seemingly all of which are 6v6. The game was developed by Blizzard, the Heisenbergs behind the very addictive drug known as WoW.

It’s curious to me that we’re seeing a game like Overwatch on consoles, when its whole vibe seems rather suited to a top-notch Steam release more than anything else. A free, multi-day beta on all platforms was a brilliant marketing plan, as was allowing gamers to purchase the game with the push of a single button while waiting in loading screens for their next fix (which isn’t exactly novel; that’s sort of standard now for demos and betas).

While I enjoyed my free experience with it, there just isn’t much substance to Overwatch. Sure, there are some achievements to be sought after and it will take a great deal of time to master even one character, but the real strength in an experience like this lies in the online multiplayer aspects. Even the best of the Smash Bros. games relied on playing with friends to really make the experience. Otherwise the whole thing just gets really old, really fast.

Also much like Smash Bros., I foresee a sort of subculture vernacular in which everybody has a “main” and a “secondary” character, so on and so forth. To make it even more interesting are the great number of options with 21 characters, and no doubt more to be released in some form of DLC down the road. Whereas in Smash, there are a number of archetypes you have to choose from among the characters, there weren’t really classes or any sense that there was a purpose in working towards a balanced team.

Overwatch makes a point to stress balance and paying attention to these classes and their types. I’m 1000% sure that fans of the game will develop a “main” within each class and fluidly jump between characters within matches based on situational needs.

The four main classes the game features will be familiar to anyone who has ever held a joystick before; they don’t even waste time or energy trying to spice it up: Offense, Defense, Tank, and Support. Within each of those class types are 4 – 6 specific characters, each with a unique (and sometimes downright bizarre) set of abilities. Once you’re familiarized with the controls, you can pretty much play as any character, but navigating the specific abilities and playstyles of each character will take some time to sort out.

Coordinating assaults and communicating as a team are honestly really exciting, and the ability to change characters entirely in between deaths is a welcome feature. Pre-match, the game even makes suggestions about what classes to pick assuming you’ll want to pursue balance on your team. Too many tanks? Not enough support characters? Too bad the many randos just play as the cool offensive characters and ruin everything. In this, the fun factor really relies on playing with people you know and utilizing chat to coordinate strategies.

The really compelling nature of the game is the wide range of character types, with each hero having a supercharged attack that charges over time called Ultimate abilities. There’s a samurai archer named Hanzo that appears to be a favorite for a lot of people, with his Ultimate being an arrow that basically shoots a giant ass dragon that kills anyone in its path. Racial archetypes are everywhere here, especially in characters like Lucio, the black, dreadlocked Support character whose power is … music? He can ride on walls and his tunes buff either speed or health for teammates with an Ultimate that provides overshields for himself and allies.

Cultural oddities also lie with one of my two favorites: Zenyatta, a mindful and zen cyborg monk apparently named after a thoroughbred racehorse (wtf?). The weird, and really cool thing, is that even characters that bring a bow or sword (or spirit balls?) to a zany gun fight can be a viable option to play as.

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Om shanti, throw balls in your face, namaste.

He’s a robot who levitates and has 20 metal spirit balls that orbit around him that he deftly flings at people. They reload with a little prayer animation, which is as detailed as it is really cool. He can charge up to five of these balls with L2. With proper aiming, this charged attack can one-shot almost anyone.

Zenyatta’s special abilities are fancy orbs: one increases damage received by enemies and the other heals teammates. There’s no cooldown on these and they have a respectable amount of tracking involved, so “sticking” targets is rather intuitive. Zen is pretty slow and he can’t really jump, but once he’s involved in the fray, sticking to the outskirts he can be incredibly useful with tossing his buffs and debuffs from afar. But if he is forced into direct confrontation, he can hold his own.

He’s definitely classified as a Support class, with a lean towards offense (each hero has leanings in different directions in addition to their main class). His Ultimate constantly recharges health for himself and nearby compatriots, making him invaluable and temporarily invulnerable for group attacks.

My other favorite was the sexy sniper that looks like Zero Suit Samus named Widowmaker.

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Fashion-wise, she’s rocking the Destiny exotic helmet, ATS/8 ARACHNID, which is an odd choice considering that she isn’t a Gunslinger and therefore doesn’t have Golden Gun. A wasted exotic slot, to be sure.

What she does have going for her is a cool gun that is an assault rifle that transforms into a sniper when scoped. The sniper needs a few moments of charge time to become fully potent, which seems like a fair trade off. She falls within the Defense class type, with sticky poison gas mines and also a grappling hook that allows her to reach high ledges deftly. Her Ultimate reveals the location of all enemies for a time.

These are a few of 21 different heroes available (at the game’s start anyway). The Beta allowed access to all characters. It might be the case that the actual game will set you on a path towards gradually unlocking everyone a la Smash.

I can see Overwatch having serious legs for people that form something akin to clans, or even just scheduled playtimes. If I can convince just a couple friends to play regularly with me, I might even actually buy it when it comes out on May 24.

 

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