Every now and again an event happens in gaming that can change the outlook forever. Call of Duty pretty much decided the future for modern day shooters, F2P became a success on mobiles and ensured that its philosophy would enter the world of big budget titles and we accepted that game would come out and need fixing post release. There are many more examples of course, but it shows that the success of something at the right time can have a monumental effect on our hobby.
I personally look at Overwatch and already see the long term effects of its release and whereas you can look back at many events and see them as negatives, this for me is going to have nothing but a huge positive effect on the industry.
Why? I hear you ask. Well that is simple really, it brings us back to the old days, where games came out and you got what you paid for right there and then and rather than trying to separate gamers it brings them together as equals.
I like playing Call of Duty, Battlefield and the likes, but my main issue is, I feel like I cannot compete in them, more often than not sitting around half way to bottom of a leaderboard in any given round. I can’t get my K/D Ratio high enough and even in a game like Battlefield, where you can help in other ways, the biggest reward always comes with being able to kill more than you get killed.
Now don’t get me wrong, it works and it works well, but as someone who has played games for over 30 years, I feel like many aren’t geared to letting me have enjoyment, because I cannot dedicate enough time to levelling up and earning all the new rewards.
So I tried my hand at various Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games and found myself completely out of my depth. These games just don’t feel like they are setup to ease in new players, with various attributes such as Actions Per Minute meaning so much to your overall success.
Now a lot of the issues with MOBA games are down to my own failings, I am happy to admit that. I am not used to the concept and structure of the games and I struggle to feel like I am doing anything useful. Which in-turn makes me leave quickly so as not to hinder my team-mates.
Overwatch is different. It takes a genre that is easy to pick up and play (FPS) and mixes it with the right amount of ingredients from others (MOBA, Class shooters, etc) to create something that is spectacularly balanced for both experienced players and newcomers alike.
There are a ton of characters to use (which I’ll come to in a bit) and none of them have a levelling up system, there are no perks to add, no new weapons, nothing. What you see from the start is what you have for the entirety of the game. Of course Blizzard may add new characters, but they will be free.
This gives the game an immediate balance, as I am not worried that if I pick Mercy, then the player on the opposite team, who may also have picked Mercy, is going to automatically be better than me, because he equipped this item, or that perk. He or she will only be better, because they are better.
Those character choices are vital too, as to do well in a game, you really need a balanced team, which means mixing support, offense, defence, tanks and the variations of those main types too. Snipers, healers, build types, etc. Getting these choices right can make or break a round.
Yet you are not locked in once you make that choice at the start. Go back to your home base, either after dying, or just going back across the map and you can change your character. So find that your team is getting pinned down by a Bastion, well maybe get an extra tank to draw in his fire and allow another player to come in from behind undetected to get the kill so you can move on.
Maybe your team just cannot stay alive, so you can easily switch to a support character and pump them full of extra health, give them shield buffs, etc and allow them to stay in the action longer.
This isn’t a new concept of course, many games rely on your having a balanced team to do well. Yet it often feels there is no reward for being a healer, or being the guy who takes the punishment. Because at the end of the day there is the stinking leaderboard mocking you, sitting nearer the bottom than the top.
So what happens? Players go for what can give the most glory, characters that can get them kills and points, often at the expense of objectives and overall victory. So what does Overwatch do? It removes the leaderboard completely.
Yep, that’s it. No leaderboard, none. Blizzard have realised that by removing the leaderboards, players are more likely to play as a team, even with strangers. So by playing as a Mercy and just keeping the team alive that bit longer, you feel as empowered as the one playing as a Genji, or Solider76 and getting all the kills.
It’s not just the different classes that feel satisfying either. Each and every character feels worthwhile playing as, because each is not just a clone of another in its class with a different skin. Each one honestly feels totally unique.
Learning how to play with each one is a joy, as you learn what subtle nuances they have and how they can affect the balance of any given round. Someone already takes your favourite? No problem, because you will happily try another.
Now I am not saying each one is perfect and that you will have the time of your life no matter who you play as, because it does all depend on you, but each if unique and are very well worth trying out.
The game itself is pretty damn special too. Each game flows really well and never outstay their welcome. So even if you are on the end of a battering, you don’t mind too much, learning from mistakes to take into the next.
The action is generally focused on a small area of a map at any given time, which works spectacularly well, meaning that aside from when you die, needing to walk back to the action, you never feel left out. The design on each map too, means that you can pop in and out of the action and find safe spots to get health back, or take a new position on the enemy and because of the focus, they become pretty easy to learn.
I am also yet to find a map that I haven’t enjoyed, which is a testament to the design team, making sure that everything is designed in such a way to make sure you are enjoying every second of time spent in the game.
Maps too haven’t just been designed to create action, each seems perfectly setup so you can find areas for your current character choice to be at their best, with areas that are clearly better for snipers, compared to tanks, but also allow for healers to traverse an area and dish out that oh so important support.
I mentioned that there is no leaderboard, but there are stats, tons of stats and Blizzard have done a wonderful job with setting these up too. Each character has focus stats, such as the amount of healing done, damage taken for the team, kills made, assists and many, many more.
So at the end of a round, if playing as a healer you aren’t actually concerned with how many kills you made and the game doesn’t even try to throw that in your face. Instead it highlights the important ones to that particular character.
At the end of a round, you can vote on the player of the game and again the options aren’t just based on kills. It can be based on healing done, percentage of objective kills made, what percentage of kill assists you got. How long you spent working an objective and again so many more.
The only shame here, is that Play of the Game, usually boils down to a player that got a nice mini kill-streak going, which for me was a shame when I went on an epic run of healing, buffing, reviving and keeping my team focussed on an objective. But that is a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things.
Overwatch is something special at this moment of time. A game that looks at modern gaming in the face and says “Screw You!!!”. It is a game that remembers what gaming is about, it is inclusive without being condescending and allows for all types of player, at any level to get in and feel like equals.
Often games try to simplify things to their own detriment, making (apologies for this) hardcore gamers feeling shortchanged, or can be overly focussed on those hardcore types, leaving everyone else left out in the cold. Overwatch though strikes a perfect balance and gives everyone something to enjoy.
If this is surpassed as game of the year, then I will be very shocked. If by 2018 we don’t see more games follow this model of balance and enjoyment for all at a single buy in price, well I’ll be equally as shocked.