Overwatch is a ”Team-Based Shooter” from Blizzard Entertainment, and I was able to play it last weekend. The open beta ran from May 5th to May 10th, with the release scheduled for May 24th. The game is a 6 vs 6 team-based shooter containing 21 heroes, 12 maps and 3 game modes (as of this writing). The full game was playable during the beta, and you can read my thoughts below.
Before the Game
Overwatch requires the battle.net client to download and play it. The full game was a small 6.2 GB and took about an hour to download on my home connection. It also includes a feature where you can play the game before some assets finish downloading. The extra assets were a small part of the full download, and I did not have the chance to try it.
After opening the game and navigating to the settings, I found that the graphic defaults were set to low. This is good for users who just want to jump in. Overwatch includes low, medium, high, ultra and epic graphics presets. I ran the epic preset between 40 and 55 frames per second with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 Ti. The game’s Pixar-inspired look is beautiful, and distinguishes it from other recent shooter games.
Once I started the game, Overwatch greeted me by suggesting I go through their tutorial. For the tutorial level, I played as Soldier: 76.
Weapon ammo is unlimited, but most weapons need to reload. Each hero only has one primary weapon, and unlimited ammo means you won't have to scavenge dead bodies. Soldier: 76’s weapon is an assault rifle which can also fire a volley of rockets with the right-click. I thought it was interesting that a weapon's primary and alternate fire share an ammo clip. His abilities include a sprint and an area of effect heal, making him a versatile hero overall.
Each hero in Overwatch also has an ultimate ability which must charge before use. A hero’s ultimate ability will charge on its own, but kills and assists are much faster. Soldier 76’s ultimate ability is tactical visor. The ability locks on to the nearest foe, basically guaranteeing bullets will hit. This is helpful, as the lack of a scope can be difficult to get used to. The locked hip-firing gave me a lot of trouble hitting my targets.
After finishing the tutorial, I was able to try out each of the heroes on a firing range. The range included robots which I could practice against while I learned what each class did. The last step was a practice match against bots which was completely one-sided.
Right now there are only three modes and one hybrid mode.
- Escort has one team try to move a payload across the map, while the other must stop them from doing so until time runs out.
- In Assault, the attacking team must capture points while the other team defends them.
- Control is a king of the hill style battle where each team tries to capture the control point for as long as possible. Battles in control mode were three rounds long with each round taking place in a different part of the map.
Each of the 12 maps were designed with a specific mode in mind, and it shows. Each map I saw has plenty of positions for firefights of any range, and the detail in the environments is great. Below is a screenshot of Dorado from Overwatch’s official website.
The 21 heroes are divided into four main roles; offense, defense, support and tank. Offense heroes focus on high mobility and damage, and are great for taking objectives. Heroes in the defense role are good at guarding areas and defending objectives. Supporting heroes heal, shield and buff allies, and debuff enemies. Tanks have a lot of health and are good for protecting allies and disrupting the enemy team.
Even within the four roles, each hero has a unique way of doing their job. Reaper uses his teleportation to get behind enemies, while Tracer’s mobility confuses her opponents. Torbjorn builds a turret, but Bastion is a turret. Each hero is unique in their strengths and weaknesses, and requires strategy to beat.
Overwatch will allow a team to have any mix of heroes, and does not limit the number of a single hero. During hero select, tips such as “too many snipers” will show on screen, but can be ignored. For readability, I won’t talk about each hero, but you can find more information about each of them here.
During hero select, I found that my keyboard would use a ripple effect when I selected a hero. I own a Razer BlackWidow Chroma, and my keyboard lighting changed while playing. Playing as D.Va changed my keyboard to pink (Purple? Magenta?), while playing as Tracer made it orange. Ability and movement keys are colored differently, and ability keys change when cooldowns end. The most interesting lighting I found was Lucio’s, which had a wave effect with the color of his active buff.
Overwatch also contains a very limited highlights feature. During the beta, up to five personal highlight plays were available to view for a short time. Any available highlights were lost when I closed the game. There were no options to export the replays, and doing so required a third-party program. Searching on the battle.net forums suggests a full highlight system is still under construction.
The game even has a loot system. You get loot boxes when leveling up, and can open the boxes from the title screen. The loot boxes don’t need a key, and contain a mix of 4 or 5 items. Customizations like skins, poses, and voice lines as well as currency can be found in the boxes. Each hero has 54 unlockables, and in-game currency can buy items for your favorite hero. There were no micro-transactions, and all unlockables are cosmetic, so no pay-to-win concerns yet.
I found no in-game story besides voice lines and dialogue exchanges between characters. You can find the story in trailers (like this one) and webcomics (found here). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and lets people invest as much or little in the world as they like. This approach reminds me of Riot Games’ League of Legends, and I don't mind the flexibility.