Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Overwatch Review

We can be heroes, just for one day.

The 8th generation of console games has been a pretty weird one for me. Not necessarily because it's a bad one (though I do have a lot of issues with it), but because there's nothing that has truly stood out from the rest of the pack. Last generation, the video game industry was dominated by the military first person shooter, motion controls, and the advent of a sustainable online gaming service for all three main consoles. Those were the major trends of the industry for the past decade, and now with this generation three years into its life cycle, it's still hard to peg exactly what has been industry defining.

Oh sure, there are high concept ideas that may become staples of this generation, like the rush for VR regardless of whether it makes logical sense or terribly glitchy Day 1 version of games that cause major fan reaction, but notice that those are on the business end of the industry. There has yet to be a game that has captured the world by storm the same way that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Ocarina of Time, or Halo 2 has. This generation is still trying to find that one game that sets trends, defines consoles, creates gamers, and makes other gamers into diehard fans.

Overwatch may just be that game.

If you know me and the kind of games that I play, you will know that I suck at first persons shooters. I'm just a bit shy of being absolute garbage at them, but I'll play for maybe a round or two, give up after I realize how awful I am, but I'll still have enjoyed myself. So I entered Overwatch as a very, very basic player. I have little experience with the genre, but Overwatch was a simple and easy game for me to pick up and play. Mind you, I played this on a PS4, so if you're a part of the exclusive PC master race, you may ignore this review as you sneer from your golden thrones of QWERTY, judging me for my petty console skills.

The concept alone was enough to make me interested in the game, with a cast of 21 colorful heroes fighting it out, each with their own unique play style and personality. Literally no characters play like each other, and that's great for a novice like me. Going into the game, I had no idea what kind of character I wanted to play. I originally wanted to try as a tank, but failed horribly at that, so I relegated myself to the defensive characters, in particular as Mei, a Chinese arctic researcher who can create ice walls, heal herself in cryostasis, and freeze other characters al la Mr. Freeze.

Anyway, upon booting up the game and going through a fun cutscene with a lot of quirky humor by a super intelligent and socially awkward gorilla named Winston, I quickly got acclimated to the controls with a five minute tutorial. Each character has anywhere between 3-5 moves, with one of them being your standard shots, an alternate shot for some characters, a few special moves, and a super move that can devastate enemies, but needs to be charged. All of these controls are simple and easy to use and are easily relegated to the shoulder buttons. In case you forget what each move does, you can quickly look it up in the middle of combat just to refresh yourself.

With all of that in mind, I dropped into my first match as a defensive Mei. The goal of the mission was to sop the enemy from getting an object into our base, and with two teams of six, the match was fairly even. I mostly blocked enemies with a giant ice wall while picking any that came from the sides, running away to heal if the going got tough, but we were able to win the match after a pretty intense showdown. If you die (which I did a lot), respawn times are usually only a few seconds, so you're able to get right back into the action as soon as possible. Not only that, but the respawn locations changed depending on where the objective was, so if the payload was right n front of our base, we would spawn a few steps away from the door to fight back.

During every match, I couldn't complain at all about the FPS or how smooth the animation was. All of it was perfectly fluid and never lagged for a second. Yes, I did have a few controller problems on my end, but after watching a few other players act kinda weird, I downloaded a patch and was able to play the game just fine.

I just can't get over how unique and energetic this game feels. I'm serious when I say that every character is different and acts differently from one another. There are games where even if you have a diverse group of characters, they still somehow manage to sound the same regardless of how visually distinctive they look. Final Fantasy may have crazy character designs and different combat abilities, but the majority of the characters all act and sound the same. There's very little to distinguish who is who. In Overwatch, I can tell you who Tracer is, who D.Va is, who Junkrat is, and who Mei is just by overhearing their dialogue as I play them. This is informing character strictly through gameplay and visuals and not by having a narrative dumped all over you.

However, if there is one glaring problem I have with Overwatch, it's the lack of any story or content that expands on the characters outside of a few dialogue exchanges here and there. All of these characters have such great personalities and the opening cutscene does a great job at establishing the world, but there's no single player content to be had. Like Evolve and Star Wars: Battlefront, this is a strictly online only affair.

While I would be mad that the game is online only, I'm not as mad as I could have been for two reasons. One, Blizzard is releasing short movies of the characters going on missions or encountering each other, and two, the base game is still just so much fun. While Evolve had a dark world with barely any differentiation between modes, Overwatch has several more maps, though fewer modes. The base modes are assault, escort, assault/escort, and capture. While that might not seem like much, the 21 character classes spice up the game immensely and make each match a wild and crazy ride. You could have a team of all supports, a team with half tanks or half healers, or you could have a well balanced and focused team to fight with. There's also a weekly challenge mode that changes up the battle conditions, so if you want some spice in the game, you can always go there.

The more that I played as Mei, the more I was able to learn her skills and was able t hold my own in several battles. I was able to defend 9,000 points of damage with my ice walls, stayed inside of objective points for 2 minutes and 30 seconds, and I even was able to rack up a good triple kill in the hours I've spent with the game. And once I get bored of playing with Mei, I'll move on over to another character and I'll be able to start learning a new character and spend a boatload of time learning them. Overwatch is a game that I can see myself coming back to time and time again to play a few quick rounds, then go off on my day. Hell, I can even see myself losing hours upon hours just playing the game for fun.

Personally, while I wish there was a single player mode and maybe a smaller mode for friends just to beat the crap out of each other in death matches, I have very few complaints to make about Overwatch. I desperately hope that this game is able to catch on and define the industry in new and exciting ways, because we have a potential trendsetter here.

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