It seems a tad ineffectual to talk about the storyline of a team based, only online, multiplayer shooter but here goes. Overwatch takes place in the future and on Earth. Humans and a robot race known as the Omnics exist together – but escalating conflicts between the twos means that the primary producer of the omnics went rogue and began constructing weaponized versions of the Omnics to carry out an uprising. To protect the planet, the United Nations scoured the planet for the most elite soldiers around the world to form a peacekeeper corps, known as Overwatch.
That’s really all there is to the story in Overwatch and given the role the story has in setting the scene for the action and the chaos that ensues throughout the games multitude of matches, it is largely successful. There’s a group of ragtag mercenaries with unique abilities. Their abilities are blur the line between realism and fiction. The locations that you battle in are futuristic and fantastical. The story is functional and does the job in setting this scene. There’s really not much more to say about it.From the get go it’s obvious that Overwatch has had an immense amount of love, care and detail poured into it. I’ve heard the rather lazy comparison (in terms of presentation) that Overwatch is Team Fortress meets Pixar. I think what people are trying to really say here is that Overwatch is Team Fortress but with the intensity of charm and polish that only a developer like Blizzard can provide. The characters themselves are incredibly detailed, the weapons feel great, the environments are a visual feast and best of all no matter which platform you play on the game plays out at a sublime frame rate of 60fps.
This attention to detail is really what sets Overwatch apart from other games – despite not having an explicit mode where a story is told there is a lot of effort put into building and developing the characters of Overwatch. Reaper throws his weapons away with little regard and retrieves new ones instead of reloading, Zenyatta, a spiritually enlightened monk, calmly recites a prayer to reload his celestial energy orbs. Widowmaker steps slowly and seductively to match her (admittedly cliché) femme fatale persona. The craftsmanship in everything about these characters is what sets the apart from the rest.Given the intercontinental, globetrotting nature of Overwatch it was especially important that the games soundtrack had a similar vibe and sound. Thankfully, it does. While sometimes bordering on the culturally cliché side, the soundtrack to Overwatch is well curated – every map has a selection of tracks that perfectly fit the theme of whatever country they’re taking place in. The somewhat cliché nature of the tracks – the likes of Taiko Drums for the level set in Japan and castanets for the level set in Mexico – perfectly fit in with the games over the top cartoonish presentation.
The voice work is similarly inspired, with a dynamic and diverse cast of over 20 characters each hailing from varying backgrounds, there’s a lot of personalities and histories to convey with competent voice work and thankfully Overwatch delivers. Staying true to its own design aesthetic, Overwatch’s voice cast is suitably cartoonish and over the top. There’s a myriad of ridiculous accents here and even better they’re not just relegated to canned responses or battle cries mid combat – the characters engage in banter and bounce off one another prior to matches too.At first glance Overwatch is a typical class based first person shooter. And it is. But it’s what Overwatch does different that really sets it apart from everything else. Solely played in a multiplayer setting, Overwatch plays out as matches that pit teams of six against each other across three different modes. Each player can choose from a pool of over twenty playable characters each with their own unique abilities and weapons to carry out objectives in each match. It all sounds rather pedestrian, but it’s anything but as Blizzard’s take on this done-to-death genre is weirdly refreshing.
Where other games separate their playable characters into classes and then leave it at that with most playing similarly, Overwatch makes sure that no character is the same in any aspect. While the game does separate its characters into categories – Offense, Defense, Tank and Support – these characters still each have their own specific abilities and weapons. What makes Overwatch stand out is that each character is entirely different – no weapons are shared between them and it’s very rare that abilities are shared between the characters too.Perhaps even more remarkable is that these classes are designed and balanced to play off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Having spent quite some time with Overwatch it’s so apparent that Blizzard have put a lot of effort into balancing the classes to make sure they mesh well together. At first most players will jump in and lament about how overpowered a class might be, but when spending time with other classes there’s always a reasonable approach to countering with another. It’s this flexibility in gameplay that really sets Overwatch apart, and as times goes by its more and more exciting to see how the meta game will shift or evolve.
One thing that really stands out about Overwatch is that it’s a shooter that doesn’t spend its time getting its player base worrying about kill counts or kill death ratios. Instead the focus is on building a team and working together towards a shared objective. It’s nothing new – there are objective based modes in every shooter ever – but Overwatch is solely built around the team playing experience. As such, the game rewards support characters for supporting, defense players for defending and obviously offense players for getting kills. The result is a game that everyone can play without issue, no matter what their play style is and one that’s more about a fun time rather than respawning to countless deaths.Such a strong emphasis on the interplay of the characters and their abilities carries over to the composition of your team which can easily make or break a match. Given the objectives that you’ll be faced with, it’s incredibly important to get the right composition of your team. A competent healer might be the difference between your team dying during a final run in the final moments of a match as opposed to just filling it with offense type characters. Thankfully the game gives real time feedback on the composition of your team – encouraging those who might be indecisive to give a new role a try to fill any gaps in the team’s composition.
The crux of Overwatch’s action takes place across twelve different maps with three modes. Each mode is purely objective based – most involve controlling an area be it moving or stationary. Each of the maps is modelled after a real life location, albeit in the future with a cartoonish twist. Perhaps even more commendable is that Blizzard aren’t scared to lock these maps to specific modes – some are playable in different modes but most are designed around a specific mode offering a more focused form of level design. Within each map location there are even three varied locations too – the Greece inspired Ilios will take players to a Santorini inspired cliff side village, an ancient ruin and a presumably 300-inspired Well.The more controversial aspect of Overwatch is the customization system and the unlockables, Every level gained awards players with a loot box which contains a variety of cosmetic items for each of the playable characters. These are completely randomized, which means that you’ll more likely than not get a bunch of gear for a character you might not use that often. These loot boxes can also be bought using real money to speed up the unlocking process – but the randomization of the unlocks means you’ll rarely get what you want. The burn of what is essentially a system of gambling could easily be alleviated by offering tiered boxes with a small portion of guaranteed unlocks but as it stands it’s a system that encourages greater spend for those who get hooked which is morally ambiguous.Overwatch is, without a doubt, a triumph in almost every aspect. It manages to bring a bright and colourful aesthetic to a genre that has previously been reluctant to do so. It introduces multiple play styles into a single game that are balanced against one another in one of the most in-depth meta games I’ve been privy to experience in a long time. It’s varied. It’s more concerned with being sociable and encouraging teamwork than anything else. But the most important thing about Overwatch? It’s just so f*cking fun.
There’s of course some things that Overwatch has yet to prove. The micro-transaction system is definitely one of the worst aspects of the game and one of the worst examples of how to do it given their value proposition. But the other more major concern comes from how much longevity Overwatch will have. And to be blunt – the game we’ve got here feels complete. It’s a fully-fledged product and Blizzard’s track track record of post release support is more or less immaculate – so quite honestly any additions from this point is icing on an already luscious cake.
The Xbox One version of Overwatch was primarily tested for the purpose of this review.