Review – Overwatch

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Overwatch is an FPS. At reading this, you probably thought “grey”, “shallow”, “tiresome”, “second-hand”, “not fun”… No, not today! Because Overwatch is a multiplayer FPS that kicks the habit and revolutionizes the genre.

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I hadn’t really been paying attention to this game until D.Va artworks started popping on twitter roughly 3 days before release, sign that social media marketing is something legit. Sign also that Overwatch’s design is very powerful. In the mind of the geniuses at Blizzard, no John Doe but heroes, as they are called. The choice of a weapon shifts to the choice of a character who was its own specialization and personality. No more soulless avatars, you’re gonna play fun and charismatic characters like you would do in a good RPG.

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Sure thing is that the developers did their best so that everyone can jump in : from the land of the Rising Sun to the one of the setting sun, there is a character for you among the 21 in Overwatch. McGree the Cow-boy is quick on the trigger, Genji the Ninja can deflect bullets with its sword, Tracer the British agent can rewind time to recover HP, etc. Overwatch is full of all those cliches we’ve grown up with and came to love, but it also gives them actual gameplay application. Although it doesn’t show cutting-edge graphics (textures are average at best), the little animations here makes it incredibly lively. Every character has its own cliche, but super-fun lines which makes the universe of this new IP even more enjoyable. Better still, they sometimes speak in their mother tongue! Genji for example shouts 勇刃の剣を喰らえ! aloud when unsheathing its Dragon Blade. Widowmaker expresses her feelings in French and Mercy in Suiss German. No doubt about it, Overwatch is a ground-breaking FPS and triggers love at first sight.

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In terms of gameplay also, Overwatch establishes a new paradigm. Characters are divided between some roles that remind us more of RPGs than action games : there are attackers, defenders, “tank” characters and support ones. Widowmaker, as a sniper, is a defender because she can protect objectives by taking out enemies in 1 or 2 shots from afar. Tracer, being quick and unpredictable, is perfect to cut through enemy lines. “Tank” characters like Reinhart have a shitload of HP and defensive capabilities to block assaults. They are used to confuse the opponent team and unsettle their strategy. Support characters will simply heal or give a attack boost to their teammates so that they can hold longer on the frontline. The combinations of those roles and the surprising depth in each hero’s gameplay makes the battles extremely tactical and complex. The possibilities are endless and and you learn how to improve your game every time.

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Paradoxically, Overwatch has few battle modes despite being a multiplayer-only title. Maps are quite varied, but are always played in the same way. Liujan Tower is always about taking control of a neutral area, Hanamura is played by defending a set territory and Route 66 will always ask attackers to move the now famous payload. Nothing more on Blizzard’s menu, not even team deathmatch or free-for-all. Too bad. But even as it is, impossible to feel bored while playing because maps feature a remarkable architecture, objectives are wisely placed. Defense maps allow long range warfare while payload maps favor mid-range and close-range engagement : everyone is invited. Balance has proved to be rather excellent during those 2 first weeks, it’s not complicated to perform well and have fun with minimum training. Besides, Overwatch values healing/supporting allies, and automatically saves your best killstreaks. It couldn’t be more user-friendly.

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The heroes all have a range of fancy skills more or less linked to their role : D.Va can deploy a magnetic field to repel attacks, Tracer can teleport so that opponents lose trace of her, widowmaker sets poison traps, Genji throws shurikens, etc. Each character has 2 or 3 special moves classy or/and funny that are just exhilarating to use. Not to mention the ultimate skill, very long to charge but capable to decimate several enemies at once. As for characters, I usually play five of them.

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She’s the sniper of the game, so clearly for me. The scope of her rifle pops out when you push L2, and you can charge your shoot for maximum firepower. On the contrary hip fire is strictly automatic, although just as powerful to finish off a weakened opponent. It’s actually the architecture of some maps that makes her strengh : the Temple of Anubis on the defense side for example has a certain number of high locations from where she stop the attackers’ progression. Widowmaker having a grapnel to reach high ground, she’s nearly the only to be able to get up there.

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Hanzô is a seriously cool character but I sometimes have a hard time playing as him as he can’t zoom in like Widowmaker. He fights with a modest bow, but his arrow deal considerable damage to make up for the lesser precision! His “fire rate” is fairly high, allowing skilled players to do some nice killstreaks at mid-range. He is also widely used for counter-sniping. His ultimate is powerful and multi-purpose, he unleashes two large dragons right in front of him and over a long distance.

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Probably the most interesting character to use. Genji is Hanzô’s brother, and knows the Japanese way of fighting. He throws shurikens as a base attack, but they somewhat lack power to be efficient at short range : like Hanzô, it’s best to fight at mid-range. His R1 ability is absolutely fantastic because he uses his sword to deflect whatever comes at him : your opponent die from their own bullets! But here again, the effect is too weak to make it a real asset. He draws a powerful blade when using his ultimate, but his low HP makes it difficult to achieve a successful assault. I’m fond of this character but his stats are definitely too weak.

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I thought support characters would but tricky to use but it’s actually not the case. Mercy uses a Caduceus that heals by pressing R2 or increases an ally’s damage with R1. It’s very simple since the game shows you the teammates that need healing in priority (they appear in yellow) and it’s really effective in terms of teamplay. When she has to defend herself, she can switch to her blaster.

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The best character, and not just because she’s sexy and wears an Evangelion suit. The young Korean girl pilots a mech that has 500HP : less than other tank characters, but the machine has high mobility and can dodge easily when the shield is charging. Even better, its cannons have no reload or cooldown!!! That makes D.Va a nightmare for attackers since she can fire at will without pausing, even at long range! When her ultimate is charged, D.Va ejects from her mech after pushing the self-destruct button, the blast radius of which will surprise the opposing team. A bit like this…

But it’s not over yet, because D.Va can keep fighting outside her mech with a blaster of respectable power and range, and summon the robot again after a short while.

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Some regrets? Yes. Too many characters benefit from auto-aim, or overpowered weapons like rocket launchers or those bloody turrets. It’s quite annoying because players who stick to complex characters are giving their best and making tremendous efforts. The other drawback is the lack of story mode. True, you can play against AI opponents, but with such a great character design, it’s almost criminal not to offer a narrative. Strangely enough, it has been done through promotional videos before launch, but nothing of the sort in the game itself : to find out more about the characters, you need to check the official site…

As much as you can be critical of those little things, it’s probably just the start for Blizzard’s new IP. And a great one, Overwatch’s impact on the FPS market is huge. Once you start playing it’s impossible to drop the controller. Both the design and the gameplay are revolutionary enough to hook you for a long time. I think it’s safe to say that Overwatch is already the FPS of the year.

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One thought on “Review – Overwatch

  1. I think what really got people in to the game is not so much the genre, but the art work used. So many FPS use the same type of palate. Drab, dark / neutral colours, same type of weapon designs, bland overtly butch male / female designs. Repetitive type of game play.

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