Thursday, March 10, 2016

Review Day: Overwatch Beta

I've been playing the closed beta of Blizzard's latest game, Overwatch, for about a month now, which is long enough to give it my solid endorsement. Overwatch is a team-based shooter: "team-based" meaning that you'll run into at least one clown daily who thinks too highly of his or her skills, insults the rest of the team for being bad, and then rage-quits in the middle of a match; and "shooter" meaning that your Duck Hunt reflexes are just slightly more important than low network latency.

A team of six players selects "heroes" from an initially overwhelming cast of characters and competes against another team on typical shooter map types like "King of the Hill" and "Escort the Payload". Matches usually last less that 15 minutes so you can manage spouse aggro. Roles are roughly characterized as offense, defense, tank, and support, but there are enough characters available to come up with interesting team compositions. In fact, one defining feature of the game is that you can switch characters during a match, dynamically responding to the other team's composition when things just aren't working.

I haven't really kept pace with multiplayer shooters since that one year in college when everyone else on my hall failed out of school because of Quake. Because of this, my weapon accuracy tends to hover around 25% and I sometimes jump off the environment into unexpected bottomless pits. In spite of this, I'm having lots of fun in Overwatch. Gameplay feels loose enough for new players to get started but tight enough to require some mastery, and rare is the match where you can't effect an amazing last-minute comeback through teamwork. I've focused on 3 heroes so far (Mercy, Mei, and Soldier: 76), but all of them feel surprisingly balanced for a game that's still in beta. This is thanks to an obviously passionate development team that isn't afraid to experiment with balance changes and explain exactly why something was changed.

Overwatch has the unseemly heritage of being Frankensteined together from the detritus of Blizzard's cancelled game, Titan, but this actually gives it much more character and world-building than you might expect to get from a shooty game. The overall design and art direction (exemplified in the Pixar-like cinematic trailer) goes a long way towards making the game feel less anonymous. The weakest part is the cookie-cutter background music which will make you feel as if you're trapped in a Chuck E. Cheese circa 1994, but you'll probably turn down the music to take advantage of the excellent aural cues anyhow. The Blizzard polish makes this a charming, fun package (unlike Starcraft 2 which had such high production values that the end result was sterile and forgettable).

The initial box price ($40) is a little high in this age where Steam has run game prices into the ground like my World of Warcraft alt who cornered the Enchanted Thorium Bar market for three days in 2006, but the addictiveness and replayability feel high. You can buy fun collectibles after the fact, such as extra emotes, catchphrases, and character skins, but thankfully, you can't buy anything that would give you an unfair advantage in a match.

All in all, this is an impressive beta game that has continually improved even in the short time I've played it. I'll be grabbing it at release in May unless development takes a catastrophic turn, such as the addition of an Auction House, the reveal that a main character faked his death and became a secret lumberjack, or anything related to Ubisoft's UPlay service.

Final Grade: Ungraded, but shows immense promise

tagged as reviews, games | permalink | 1 comment


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