My adoring and devoted game-playing public, who come to me in your droves for up-to-the-minute videogame information and takes so hot you could put a baby’s face on them and call them the sun… or something; I bring you exciting news! I have recently played a little known upstart game called ‘Overwatch’, and we here at Respawn reckon it’s going places.
Seriously though after roughly one thousand years of looking at objective-based online first person shooter Overwatch from the other side of the room and saying to no one in particular, y’know I’d probably quite like that, I have finally played it. On the Free Weekend. For a grand total of one evening.
‘But you hate multiplayer games’, came the marginally irritated reaction when I made the formal announcement to anyone who was listening (my Google Home Mini). True, true, but let’s not be hasty. I enjoyed Team Fortress 2 when that was a thing, and when I could figure out what in the blue hell was going on, and Overwatch has always looked to be cut from the same PBR cloth. Little game dev joke for you there. Furthermore, Overwatch is an immediate arms-length away from the garbage churning blokey mcblokerson faux-military fantasy Call of Duty and its legion of foul-mouthed eight year olds. Probably.
Who Watches the Overwatch… men… and women?
Here is a brief and largely directionless account of my first time in the game.
So, I’m predisposed to wanting to like Overwatch, coupled with an inherent suspicion of all online shooters. What could go wrong. Thanks to Overwatch being large in the Gb department, and my shoddy internet connection that BT continually insist on lying about (they tell me it’s 76Mb and that is a tissue of untruths if ever I heard one) the game downloaded a little bit of itself, and then decided to let me go ahead and start playing before the rest had finished.
To some this is common practise in these modern times of smartpagers and drone toasters, but I’d never actually experienced the feature before this. The idea, of course, is that a good chunk of the core game downloads and lets you loose on it, while a few of the background artefacts are downloaded and added as you go – background artefacts in this instance included the enemy character models.
Being shot by a bunch of floating Gamertags did absolutely nothing for me to be honest.
But being the committed and resilient and lazy person that I am, I stayed on the sofa and played something else until the rest of the game had downloaded.
The hook in Overwatch (and shooters of its ilk), aside from its cartoony art style, is its approach to ‘classes’. Its approach is that there aren’t any. An array of colourful, vocal, characterful ‘Heroes’ with significantly varied abilities, filed into play styles (Offense, Defense, Tank etc), is offered up in their stead.
I’d sort of regarded this element of the game to be a bit unnerving. Fine once you’ve got to grips with one or two of the characters, but spending the first 5 to 10 hours trying to figure out/remember/effectuate-in-any-way several characters’ different abilities, all while enquiring as to whether you may sample the fine texture of every other players’ delicious bullets over and over again sounds like the perfect way to put me off ever playing.
Fortunately, while each character is unique, the game is surprisingly well balanced, meaning as you’re experimenting and learning, even someone with the game-playing proficiency of a wet crisp (me, I mean) can get a few kills and make a difference in the match.
Oh no, I’m enjoying myself.
I did initially feel that playing the larger characters was akin to cheating, both on the giving and receiving end of that experience. Ahem. Barreling through the place looking like Game of Thrones’ The Mountain having just done 3 lines of coke and swinging a hammer the size of Cheswick did seem to present a certain advantage, especially over the handful of characters that appear to made from a thin sheet of styrofoam. And when I chose the excruciatingly named D.Va, who has a mech, two lives and can fucking fly for a bit, my kills went through the roof. Which isn’t something I can ever say ever, unless I’m cheating. She’s now my favourite by the way.
Kills, of course, aren’t the be-all-and-end-all in Overwatch; there’re objectives to complete that govern whether you win or lose. If everyone in your team chooses ‘Tank’ Heroes or you just end up without the necessary balance, at best you’ll struggle. Helpfully on the character-select screen, the game lets you know if you’re missing an integral player-type so you can switch out at the last moment. Again, this improves balance, variation, and generally keeps the game enjoyable and fresh.
Kill All The Stuff
When I somehow made it into a Player of the Game sequence at the end of the match for dutifully, haphazardly using Soldier 76’s ‘Kill All The Stuff’ mode, I became enthralled.
Alongside a load of adjacent character backstory in some TF2 style animated shorts and a gameplay landscape that it seems devs Blizzard are committed to maintaining (largely through new characters and maps) it turns out I like Overwatch pretty much as much as I thought I would. /Revelation.
Have I bought it? Not yet, but as it’s on sale, I probably should.
Loot Boxes: A Debacle in Pence
One last thing. It would be likely unbecoming of me not to mention the Loot Box controversy Overwatch has been embroiled in – paying money for a ‘crate’ of random in-game items. This entirely needs a separate post, but ultimately, I have some sort of in-built resilience to paying for extra content, and cosmetic Loot Boxes are something I certainly wouldn’t have any issue utterly ignoring as it bellowed my name desperately from the other side of the street. Nope. Not today.
Is it gambling? Essentially. And so are Lego Mini-Figures. And those other *One Supplied mystery bag things huge corporations insist on selling to kids. The difference of course is this platform is made for addiction (‘addictive’ gameplay is usually a marketing bullet, right?) and overspending by way of parents’ Paypal details loaded onto the system, alongside affirming and exacerbating a culture of gambling. It’s not right, not by a country mile. I’d just hate for this point to be pushed and all of a sudden kids don’t get to enjoy a game like Overwatch, because Actizzard slap an 18 rating on it, instead of just removing the Loot Boxes. I remember being unable to play games because of the age rating (my parents were on that for a while) and finding it utterly frustrating.
Perhaps that’s a moot point that misses the bigger picture. Either way, I’ll be purchasing Overwatch I think (and anybody else still here on this tiny fence with me – I can recommend it at last), while continuing my 29 year streak of never buying a Loot Box.