I have spent an immense amount of time playing the Overwatch Open Beta these last few days, far more than I thought I would as well. It is pretty much what everyone has been saying about it too. The simplified style of combat, the incredibly polish, and of course the vague familiarity that reminds you of tf2 but somehow they’ve made it feel far more approachable than the standard shooter.
That is of course the core design focus of Blizzard – accessibility and while I see many throwing that around like an insult, I’ve done it a few times as well, you can’t deny how easy they make it look to create games that are so elegantly simple. Many try this approach, and many fail as making something simple and approachable, while keeping it fun is not that easy.
It is a house of cards, with mechanics balanced on top of each other with a fine touch, a simple miscalculation and it all comes crashing down. I think we saw that with the development of Hearthstone over the years. Overwatch is seemingly the same as well, simple mechanics balanced precariously to be approachable and fun.
I think the first point was the interesting Sci-fi aesthetic as it just feels more welcoming than the average super serious military porn that usually comes along. That isn’t something that interest me any more, and many see that kind of theme and immediately walk away. It also allows them to do so much more with the combat as well which helps the game immensely too. There are a staple of characters, each with a specific role and they all seemingly have their own difficulty as well as a certain skill ceiling. There is probably a character that would appeal to most interests and game play styles there just because they were able to broaden the action away from pure gun play.
I tried a few class and then fell into the large tank called Reinhardt. My aim has always been a little less accurate than the average person that plays these games and being able to go melee, and still help the team is great. After playing for a while I am learning more and more about it, practising play and enjoying this character even more. Having these styles of play let’s me feel more comfortable, and the more comfortable I get the more I delve into the other characters and discover new ways of playing I love as well.
This helps the feeling of differentiation too as you are able to swap in and out the characters based on the map, the objective and even the enemy composition. Each match feels a little different, different enough that I don’t get that bored over long periods of play. It also helps long term interest as you slowly learn the mechanics of each character and their mechanics, and how to execute them with precision.
The other thing to point out is of course the Blizzard Polish. Every single Part of this game is polished to near perfection. The character design is great with a diverse cast of different backgrounds and personalities, even if a little stereotypical. The skills feel tactile and fun to use while being incredible smooth and responsive, the art style gorgeous. The map dedesign and attention to detail is incredible too, and they even have an overall account progression system based on cosmetics that keeps me wanting more yet doesn’t impact upon play like the usual shooter systems.
Is it the be all, end all of all shooters though…. Probably not. As of right now I’m not sure of its staying power as this market is reasonable fickle and multiplayer only games are extremely subject to that. Although, if anyone can get a sizeable stable population it’s going to be Blizzard and that’s the first step to success in my mind.
The other part that worries me is just how stagnant the maps and objectives feel after a time. They can be reasonably large and have a decent enough number of ways to traverse around them, especially the escort ones but for some reason after a time the maps and objective play modes become a little boring. The escort missions as well can get particularly tiresome at times as you have become so used to that same formulae and how most players tend to attack those.
The matches still feel fun but I think that’s a testament to the characters and combat rather than the maps themselves. I don’t think it’s about adding new maps either as they do have a decent collection now, it’s just that there is something that doesn’t feel right with their capture and defend game play. There needs to be more variation there, different modes to enjoy beyond this reused and recycled formulae.
The characters definitely need a balance pass as well as some seem overly strong during certain objectives and in certain matches. Some are just great all round characters that will be seen in near every match, like Widowmaker, while others will be rarely seen at all. They do some to be changing some element there but they do seem as slow as they usually are with change.
Overall it is a well designed, crafted, and produced game in every aspect and they certainly deserve credit for that. An arena game built for the masses that is accessible yet has surprising depth. Most of all, it is just fun.