Review: Overwatch (PS4)
Posted on June 30, 2017
Overwatch is now around a year old, which is enough time for it to get good traction in the gaming community, with around 25 million players across PS4, Xbox One and PC. (I play on PS4.) It commands an enormous amount of loyalty; has a strong community and cosplay base, and is building an excellent eSports scene as well. This is largely because it is a real team-based game which is the most fun to play with friends.
This cinematic trailer gives an idea of the backstory, which isn’t really present in the game itself.
Apart from its cartoony, approachable visual design, Overwatch might just look like any first-person shooter: the player runs around trying to eliminate enemies, and avoiding being eliminated themselves. These battles take place in a limited set of maps, and the action can get very intense and bewildering (even repetitive) to the untrained eye. But it is very different from your standard Battlefield or Call of Duty: it is much more like a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) game than a standard shooter, meaning that the teamwork required to win is absolutely core to the gameplay.
Players select from 24 characters all with a lot of personality and a wide variety of different skills and abilities, from healing to supporting teammates to putting out a lot of damage on opponents. These characters (or ‘heroes’) fall into one of six different categories: Offense, Defense, Tank and Healer. For example, Healers specialise in providing more health to stronger teammates, but can’t go headlong into a battle the way that a Tank can. This means that explicit supportive teamwork is not only preferred, its absolutely necessary to play the game.
The wonderful thing about this is that Overwatch attracts a much more wide and diverse set of players than you will see in a traditional shooter. Because being successful doesn’t simply rely on skilful shooting, teams can make the most of diverse play styles, which means that ‘non-core’ gamers (i.e. those who aren’t traditionally drawn to shooters) can have a great time playing with friends and make a real contribution to the outcome. This also leads to a much less toxic gaming environment more broadly as the focus is on supporting each other and personal improvement over comparisons between each other.
This gameplay trailer shows what actually playing the game is like.
This emerges in really interesting game design choices. For example, at the end of a match of many shooters, players shown a Leaderboard: a detailed list of the achievements and scores of all players in the game, so you can see how well (or how badly) you did in comparison to other players. Overwatch does give detailed stats on your own performance but nothing on other players. Players only receive ‘medals’ (gold, silver, bronze) to see what ranking they achieved in any area compared to the rest of their team. The only comparison is to your previous performance, which forces you to focus on your own game and learn to become better. Points are also awarded for a wide variety of contributions to the team, such as providing healing and blocking damage, as well as causing damage and eliminations to the other team.
Of course, Overwatch is still a shooter at its core, so it may not be appropriate for younger players. However it does not have the realistic action, hyper competitiveness, or potential for toxic interactions that many shooters do, so if the gameplay itself is palatable to parents and guardians, it can be an excellent introduction to the world of online play in positive gaming culture. It is a game best shared: between friends, siblings, parents and their children, and also strangers; it’s a great way to make new friends as well. It has extremely large replayability, which comes through the diversity of characters, opportunity for learning new skills, and the almost infinite combination possible between heroes and players.
One thing is for sure: I’ve been loving it for about 50 hours and I’m nowhere near getting sick of it.