VIDEO GAMING

Game review: Overwatch is as good as it gets

A fantastic design, a seamless blend of shooting and multiplayer online battle arena, and a smooth launch make the polished Overwatch a gamer’s dream

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 June, 2016, 8:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 June, 2016, 8:02pm

Overwatch

Blizzard Entertainment

4.5 stars

Hello, my name is Rory, and I have an Overwatch problem. As I am writing this, it has been about 12 hours since my last game – a loss, thanks to a useless healer bent on only using his offensive orbs.

I am an addict. I could lie and tell you things like I can stop whenever I want or that I saw a human being outside of work this week. But trust in this: Whoever you are, wherever your gaming allegiances lie, Overwatch is what you’ve been looking for. Fantastic design and an even more spectacular launch have vaulted it into top-five multiplayer game consideration in just a few days.

The seamless blend of shooting and multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) mechanics forced its nearest competitor, Battleborn, to immediately lower its price in horror. Everything has changed.

I knew from playing the beta a few weeks ago that I loved the characters, concept and design. But my cynical gamer’s mind thought there was no way the multiplayer launch would go smoothly, or the finished product would be riddled with bugs.

So imagine my surprise when the servers withhold us – millions of us – and the game itself is as close to perfect as possible at launch. I don’t think I have ever seen a release go so smoothly.

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Once we hopped on, we found a carefully crafted mix of our favourite games. The concept is simple: Two groups of six players form a team to battle it out in an objective-based setting, similar to both League of Legends and Team Fortress 2. Most maps centre around a defending team and an attacking team battling key areas.

A diverse team is important. The roles generally break down like this: offensive, sniper, support, builder and tank. Offensive is your basic damage-dealing assault class. Snipers kill from a distance. Supports heal or otherwise aid allies. Builders create defensive structures like turrets or teleporters. Tanks absorb damage and get in the other team’s face.

The character design is where developer Blizzard shows true genius. Each character has clear strengths and weaknesses. A few, such as Bastion and D.Va, are probably a little too strong, but I’m sure they will be adjusted in the next few weeks. I’m only about 30ish hours into Overwatch, but so far, it looks like the heroes are even more balanced than the League of Legends champion pool. Balance is a major reason League has become the biggest game in the world.

One thing that particularly stands out was the care in crafting the support characters. I loathe playing the support role in League, and I don’t enjoy the medic class in Team Fortress. In Overwatch, heroes such as Mercy and Zenyatta shake things up just enough for me to actually consider a healing role if needed.

Adding ultimate abilities – powerful skills that charge slowly for those doing poorly and quickly for those doing well – is what keeps Overwatch from becoming a Team Fortress clone. Each one is a game-changer when used correctly, allowing every champion in every role a chance to turn the tides of a close match.

If Overwatch has a flaw – and that’s a big if – it’s level design. The maps are pretty and different from one another, but several heavily favour the defending team. They have a few extremely hard to reach places that allow a capable builder player to hold off three or four opposing team members at once. An extra door here, a staircase there and this problem is gone.

It will be interesting to see what happens when Blizzard activates the competitive play mode. Overwatch will almost certainly make a splash on the e-sports scene, but the developers will need to maintain the nearly spotless server stability to record to move that along. We will all need time to find our place in the rankings, so that professional sponsors can pluck from the top of the ladder.

Don’t be surprised if e-sports progress is slow. Not only do the professionals need time to form teams, but we mere mortals need time to familiarise ourselves. We can’t recognise great plays if we don’t have a strong understanding of the game.

And don’t expect it to instantly surpass League of Legends. Sure, Overwatch secured the most-watched title on Twitch this week, and many popular League streamers and professional players are wetting their beaks with the new title. But League is a billion-dollar institution.

It’s worth noting, though, that no multiplayer game has ever popped out as smooth and polished as Overwatch. This is as good as it gets.

Tribune News Service