A few weeks ago I boarded an unusually sparse train from Brighton to the beige capital of the world: London, on my way to Leicester Square for a preview of Blizzard’s upcoming six-on-six squad-based shooter, Overwatch. I was expecting a fun game, but certainly nothing take-notice-special - I was about to be proved wrong on a few counts (the complimentary sandwiches were also exquisite).
So into the flesh and liquid of the day; playing the actual game! I played the Xbox One build, and am very pleased to announce that the game not only looked beautiful, but ran as smooth as Galaxy chocolate (other brands are available). I revelled in the particularly responsive controls - something that is often a concern for more PC-centric games on console. It was evident from the first match that Blizzard really are stamping their mark on the genre here, and the way in which they’re developing and supporting the game across both Xbox One, PS4 and PC simultaneously is commendable.
For those of you in the dark, Overwatch’s characters are boxed into four different classes; offence, defence, support and tank. Each class handles very differently to the other, and getting the balance right within your team will go a long way to ensuring victory (the character selection menu alerts you if your team has too many snipers, or defensive units for instance - a lovely touch that helps you build your strategy) - although the folks at Blizzard did tell us that your whole team can happily play as the same character, if you really want to!
I’m happy to report that every character moved, jumped and fired differently, something I was immensely impressed by.
We've heard developers talk about how individual characters feel unique to control many, many times, but rarely ever is that evident in the actual game. I’m happy to report that every character moved, jumped and fired differently, something I was immensely impressed by. The characters Reaper & McCree both form part of the fast moving offence class, but both felt hugely different to control. Reaper stomps across the terrain wielding two beefy shotguns that are a (pun intended) blast to use. McCree on the other hand skipped across the turf - firing his six-shooter made me feel like a cartoon Clint Eastwood. The difference in feel across characters of the same class was present throughout, as I tried every single one of them during my play session.
Another huge plus for the game is the ability to change characters at any given time, a real perk when the tactical situation of the game changes. During a game of assault (two teams battle over key areas of the map, one team attacking, the other defending) I used the brawn and shield of tank character Reinhardt to protect my team-mates from the onrushing forces of the enemy. Unfortunately we were all wiped out, so respawning as a fast moving character like Tracer proved invaluable, as I could race back to the action asap, to (hopefully) protect the capture points.
The diversity of the characters and settings was another lovely touch, as almost every character hails from a specific part of the future-world. “Bloody hell, guvnor” Tracer is crumpets-and-tea London through and through, with a red phone box strewn King’s Row being her equivalent map. To create so many characters, from so many different locations is a really smart move by Blizzard. Everybody I spoke to at the event had soft spots for certain characters (Junkrat’s constant giggling and Aussie accent, and McCree’s Wild West drawl were my favourites). To actually get personality into characters in this type of game is great work - I particularly loved the silly one liners after every kill, or respawn.
I did have some apprehensive first-impressions from my brief play through though, chiefly the amount of modes on offer. Team-based games obviously aren’t going to offer deathmatches and other individual game modes, but I felt the few on offer at this time were a bit thin. Standard capture games and escort missions were great fun, I’m just concerned that they won’t hold the attention of a huge base of players for a long time. The folks at Blizzard assured me that the game will receive a lot of love post-launch though, with new maps, modes and characters on offer, and the majority of it for no extra cost. Fingers and toes crossed that they come up with some interesting new game modes, as it would be a shame to have a game with so much personality fall short in this regard.
I had one other slight concern; that the game would benefit people playing with friends as opposed to with strangers online, but the folks at Blizzard assured me that this will not be the case. Players who enjoy dropping in for a quick session with people across the world should get just as much enjoyment from the game as pre-existing gaming teams and friends. Something I should note though is the fact that none of my team used their headsets to communicate during the two hour session, and we duly lost every game. Now this may be partly due to the other team having had prior experience with the game (and my shoddy playing), but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Overwatch will be more rewarding with the much maligned headset.
I thoroughly enjoyed getting a hands-on with Overwatch; a smart, funny, beautiful looking game with marvellous performance. Whether I was firing my primary weapon, using my special Overwatch ability, or just staring at the alluring cherry blossom trees, I savoured every minute. Here’s hoping that Blizzard chuck in a few extra modes to go with this bountiful base - if they do, we’re in for a real treat.