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blizzcon 2014

Hands-On With Blizzard's Overwatch

by Daniel Tack on Nov 08, 2014 at 09:38 AM

At BlizzCon 2014, I had the chance to play Blizzards upcoming team shooter Overwatch. While there’s no doubt there are some core concepts in play that have their roots in other titles, Blizzard has implemented its traditional refinement and polish to those concepts and created a fast, fun, accessible first-person shooter to its genre roster. It’s a daunting task to take aim at the team shooter in today's gaming world, and I’ll admit that when I heard the concept behind it I was skeptical – but a few games worth of play shook any doubt from my mind. If the gameplay trailer didn’t make a believer out of you, a round or two probably will.

Characters in Overwatch seem to be pulled from all kinds of worlds and backgrounds, from the archetypal bad guy Reaper reveling in the demise of his opponents to the wall climbing bow blasting Hanzo and the blinking blip that is Tracer. This is something that you immediately take away after a few games – all the characters play extremely different from one another, they’re not just different skins and guns.

These character’s don’t feel like cookie cutter templates as they each bring with them a selection of skills that complement their personalities and playstyles – when you get a snipe with Widowmaker, it doesn’t feel like a random AWP pop or “huhuhu I no scoped u”, but you can listen to her coy musings as she grapples to higher ground, lays out poison traps to protect key avenues of travel, and hits her ultimate to reveal opposing targets behind cover and walls. It’s important to stress that this polish on the personality makes a significant difference. Each character is more than an assortment of skills and shooting, they feel like real characters in this Overwatch universe (and I must say I’m hoping a few of them make their way into Heroes of the Storm at some point).

Characters are loosely divided by broad roles – offense, defense, tanks, and support. The maps I had a chance to play on during the show were 6v6. It was an intimate and not overbearing match size that seems to make sense considering how fast respawn times are and how quickly you’re back in the thick of the action. Since players on a team can all pick the same character and swap characters freely during a match, it’s easy to grab a Reinhardt to act as the leader if the opposing team decides to field six Widowmakers.

The addition of cooldown oriented special abilities and “ultimate” abilities that need to be charged before shakes up gameplay modes that we’re all used to, like point capture and payload. Instead of simply charging at point B until the opposing team capitulates, you can coordinate and time abilities to make a true team play on the objective, like hiding your team behind Reinhardt’s massive shield for an approach or having Reaper sneak in and activate his ultimate ability to clear out a huddled mass of defenders. When you die, there’s no lengthy kill cam or respawn timer – you’re back in the match in around five seconds. It’s fast, and you’ll probably be trading kills frequently as you fight to win over objectives. As you play, your ultimate ability (bound to Q by default) will charge up. Some characters' ultimates power up quickly, while others take considerable time but often have more potent effects.

The gunplay feels smooth and most characters have interesting ways to move about the game space outside of walking, whether it’s Widowmaker’s grappling hook to find a perfect snipe spot or Reaper’s teleport to prepare for a stealthy barrage of heavy bullets.

At the end of a match, the play of the game cam shows off the biggest play, stats are displayed, and you’re off to another round. Like many of Blizzard's titles before it, accessibility is a huge factor here, while still allowing for a high skill cap. After creating the accessible MMORPG, MOBA, and DCG, all signs point to Overwatch being a shooter that everyone can enjoy – even players not normally interested in the genre.

I’ve got plenty more to say on Overwatch, but I want to get some more games in first.