I’ve been lucky enough to play a lot of video games recently. I always enjoy the medium, and I tend to have a couple go-to comfort games that I’ll play repeatedly. But in the last month or so, I wanted to try and expand my horizons. If you frequent sites like Tumblr or Reddit, you may have heard of a nice little game by the name of Overwatch. Spoiler alert: it’s a good one.
Through my experience and discussions, Overwatch is great for both people who can’t get enough of shooters and people who were previously turned away from the genre. It’s not overly gore-y (I barely saw any blood during my play, and I’m not 100% sure that the blood I did see wasn’t just red special effects), it’s not an exercise in toxic masculinity, and it’s just fun. That sounds vague, I understand, but the brightness and fast pace will give you that feeling. Each character is brimming with personality, from their voice clips to their movements, appearance, and victory poses.
Mechanically, Overwatch is a first-person shooter. If this isn’t normally your thing, I would still consider this game, as there is a lot to enjoy that differs from what is bogging down the genre now. From what I understand, it’s not so much the point-and-shooting in itself that people dislike, but more the incredibly high skill walls and gritty dudebro culture surrounding such games. Those aren’t present here. For instance, Overwatch is very bright and colorful, in stark contrast to the drab and gloomy tone that seems to be prevalent in games currently, especially the shooter category. Additionally, the characters are chatty and jokey in game, rather than universally brooding and dark. (The character Reaper is really dark and broody, in a Spawn-fanboy sort of way, and it comes off as purposely silly, rather than a statement of how bleak the Overwatch world is.)
Departures from the standard are what make Overwatch so enjoyable. For me, quality was never a question. The game’s publisher, Blizzard Entertainment of World of Warcraft fame, is known for making solid games. But the expectations were still high: these are seasoned professionals, after all. The demos/beta tests got people interested, but the visuals and character diversity got people hooked. In 2016, we have so many good games and shooters that you’re going to have to do something a little bit different to get ahead; you have to make people feel welcome.
One of the first things you notice about Overwatch is that they have zero problem having a female mascot both clearly and prominently displayed on the box art and in the promotional material. She isn’t in the overly-used “gruff white dude with a gun walking towards the camera” pose, but she is in an action-oriented, though slightly sexualized, pose. (Baby steps.) These small details make it clear that this game is not built to be a “No Gurlz Allowed” zone to the same degree that much of contemporary gaming is. Character design does a lot for Overwatch this way. Besides all the genders, there is a better push for more body types. Zarya has a body builder physique, and Mei doesn’t have to fit the thin mold—it’s better, but we’ve still got a way to go.
Overwatch does gender diversity right, and they also get race right. There are more than just generic white/Black/Asian archetypes in that they actually respect the idea that there are more places on Earth than Africa, America, and Asia. (And none of those places are monolithic.) Plus, there are actually women of color instead of just the men-of-color-and-white-women diversity which has been happening recently. And while it is awesome that Blizzard nailed the diversity aspects, it wouldn’t be fun if the character designs weren’t fun. But they are! Every character is unique in not just motif, but also size, shape, and color palette. There’s humans, robots, more eldritch/alien “people”, and animals. At the same time, they all felt consistent within the same universe. It’s great!
Skill level is catered to a lot. When you boot up the game, you get taken to a tutorial that features Soldier 76, a character that feels most like contemporary shooters. He is “generic” in a tongue-in-cheek way that makes him feel unique: he’s essentially a space marine in the vein of Master Chief, but he’s the only character with this motif in Overwatch, so he still stands out. The tutorial walks you through each sort of control you’ll need to do in a controlled, slow, and safe way. You learn how to view things, how to walk around and jump, then how to use your weapons. You can take as long as you like with no chance of failure. You then go to a practice range to play around with the new skills you’ve learned or try other characters. From there, you participate in a practice match against the computer AI. This is when you can win or lose, but it’s just the computer, so there’s no pressure. If you’re a seasoned vet at games, you can choose to bypass all of this, or if you need practice, you can return to any of it.
Accessibility is not missed either. On the basic level, you can change audio and visual settings to your preference or necessity. In the control sense, you can edit every button input to be something that works for you. Maybe you aren’t great at using the keyboard keys the way they want you to, maybe you’re a pro that has some optimal way of playing, or maybe you have a disability that doesn’t let you pull off certain maneuvers. This can all be changed, which is very important to any demographic of player. Furthermore, there is a nice bunch of colorblind options available that you can select. I don’t personally have much experience with this, but there are a few selectable presets as well as levels that can be changed to your needs. Again, if you don’t need this but just have a visual preference, you can utilize this as well.
I would be remiss not to talk a bit more about how the game plays. In addition to being a shooter, it is class- and character-based. Class-based means that there are different subsets that each character falls into that focus on attacking, defending, or supporting teammates. Character-based means that they each have their own specific weapon sets, strengths, weaknesses, and abilities that don’t transfer to others. It really makes every character feel useful in specific situations. This also gives players of varying degrees of skill the ability to be utilized in matches. For instance, I have awful aim, so I can pick a character that just heals teammates. Some players are less team-oriented, but are amazing at aiming, so they can pick a character that uses sniper rifles or a bow and arrow. Also, you aren’t locked to a specific character per match. You can swap when you die or return to the safe zones. Everyone can help the team.
Since the game is purely a multiplayer affair, matches are simply battles against other players. Matches consist of either escorting a moving vehicle to a predetermined location or holding down areas for a certain amount of time (or stopping either of those objectives). There isn’t much of an in-game story attached to them. So far, the only play modes are quick matches with people of a similar skill/experience level, custom setups with friends, practice matches vs. the computer, and an arcade mode that is basically quick match with goofier additions. There is no story/single-player mode, which is pretty disappointing especially given how much personality the characters and game world seem to have. While the meat and potatoes is definitely the multiplayer mode—it’s where people will probably spend most of their time—some more cutscenes and scenarios would be lovely.
Overall, Overwatch is a very fun game. It does feel a bit sparse after long play sessions, and I wish there were more modes to keep my focus shifting. But, the gameplay is fun, so a break of a few hours or a day or so is enough to entice me to come back. There are unlockable costumes and other little trinkets and such, but they are fairly random or behind a pay wall (yuck). Luckily, none of it is even remotely necessary to play, enjoy, or win at the game. But still, it is annoying to have a carrot dangled in front of you even if you don’t care much for carrots. That aside, I highly recommend the game even if this isn’t normally your cup of tea. If I were to give it a hard score, I’d have to go with 8/10 for now: extremely well-made and fun, but with a few flaws that keep it from being perfect. Maybe with some patches for modes and story, it could go up to that coveted ten! But for now, it’s a great game that I highly recommend.