While there was no shortage of video game releases this summer”””No Man’s Sky” and “The Witness” come to mind “” my easy pick for game of the summer is Blizzard’s highly anticipated “Overwatch.”
First-person shooter games have always had a following that is devoted at best and alienating at worst. This fanbase made shooter games unapproachable by more casual audiences who are averse to racial slurs and the ungodly amount of time needed to become even reasonably competent at the difficult games.
“Overwatch,” a six-versus-six team objective shooter, succeeds at overcoming this unpleasant stereotype while crafting a fun, dangerously addictive experience.
The first way the game outstrips its competition is by offering 22 characters, which all require a wide range of play styles and skill sets to master. The characters are extremely multifaceted, each with back stories and ability kits that feel both unique and powerful. One healer can resurrect an entire dead team, while a particular defense character literally transforms into a stationary Gatling gun capable of delivering a storm of punishment to anyone foolish enough to stick around. In short, each character has at least one aspect of their playability that earns respect, if not fear, from the other team.
The characters are divided into four general roles: Offense, Defense, Tank and Support. All four categories support a general type of player. Offense characters are very active, geared towards aggressive or disruptive actions. Defensive characters are more specialized, rewarding players who appreciate tightly focused skill-sets.
Tank characters are rallying points for the team, soaking up damage and generally keeping the enemy’s focus off of the weaker, or “squishier,” characters. Finally, Support characters do exactly what their name implies, healing or buffing or shielding the team to give them that extra edge in a fight””or simply keeping them that much closer from death.
But gameplay is not everything. While knowing the plot is not necessary to enjoy the game, Blizzard put immense effort into “Overwatch”’s extensive plot universe, which adds to the game’s value both through out-of-game video shorts and comic series, as well as through in-game character interaction.
Characters have back stories that include interactions with each other in-game. In the waiting room before a game starts, characters will trade dialogue specific to their particular back stories. These can be friendly, such as a mother-daughter duo exchanging warm greetings. However, they can also go the other direction. For characters Hanzo and Genji, a single comment from one brother to another can be chilling enough: “So this is what has become of you? A pity.” Of course, reading the out-of-game lore and watching the related videos make dialogue touches like this meaningful banter. Blizzard’s large-scale plans for not only the story of “Overwatch” now, but in the future will make it a heftier game to play, full of small touches like the aforementioned pre-game dialogue and post-death one-liners. The game has hundreds of one-liners and interactions between most of the 22 characters, that give some life to what might otherwise be a technically brilliant, but emotionless, game.
To be sure, there are nominally similar games to “Overwatch,” such as Valve’s “Team Fortress 2″ or “Evolve,” sharing some qualities (such as being team-based and class-based shooters) with the game. Admittedly, Blizzard clearly took heavy cues from these games, sometimes going beyond homage to outright copying. But when it comes to video games, a medium tied to technology and building on previous work, I can forgive these faults. In any case, it is the creative character development and commitment to character playability that makes these comparisons fall short.
Last, but certainly not least, “Overwatch” players are generally nice. Of course, this is within the context of competitive video games””everyone hates to lose, and many verbalize their frustration with four-letter words. But the accessibility of “Overwatch” combined with its high skill-cap make it attractive to players of all skill levels, and I’ve found that there are almost as many people willing to shut down the bad sports as there are angry gamers whining about a loss.
“Overwatch” might be the best $40 I’ve ever spent on a video game. It’s worth every penny.