Overwatch (Or, “Why the Game of Thrones Article is Still Not Written”)

So… Overwatch has taken over a big chunk of my life.

Basically, for the past 5 weeks, Vance has been doing his best passive aggressive J. Jonah Jameson impression in order to inspire me to write my Game of Thrones Season 6 wrap up article.  There are two reasons that I have been behind.  First and foremost, this season of Game of Thrones was extremely involved, and I have had a hard time adequately writing about its intricacies.  Second, Overwatch has started competitive play and that has been loads of fun.

For the uninitiated, Overwatch is a 6vs6 multiplayer videogame that is a hero-based first person shooter.  But the focus is overwhelmingly on the “hero-based” part of the description, as opposed to the “first person shooter” part.  Overwatch features (as of this writing) 22 different heroes that each fall into one of four categories; Attack, Defense, Tank, and Support.  Attack characters are used for pushing towards an objective.  Defense characters tend to be more suited to holding an objective.  Tanks are huge targets who can soak up a lot of damage.  And Support characters are used for helping out the entire team, by healing or other means.  But the trick that Blizzard (the company that made the game) employs to make all this interesting is making each character incredibly distinct.  I cannot stress this enough; no two characters are alike.  What this accomplishes is a wildly varied experience each time one plays.

Before I get much further, I feel the need to address the central complaint about this game.  There are only a handful of modes within the game, and there is no story mode or offline mode.  With only 12 maps, and each map being designed for a specific match type, there is a case to be made that this game is not really worth 60 dollars.  My counter to that argument is that the sheer breadth of strategies that can be employed by each character add up to a game with near infinite replayability.  Those who make this argument seem to be confused about what the game is actually trying to be.  This game is not Call of Duty.  Instead, it is closer to a team-based Street Fighter, wherein the player attempts to master the skillset of a given character.

And it is those characters that make this, more than likely, the best game of the year.  It starts with how balanced the characters are.  While some have complained that certain characters are overpowered,  I have not found that to be the case in the 100+ hours I have put into the game, simply because I have gotten outplayed at one point or another by every player in the game.  Granted, I could just be bad, but I believe it is more likely that every character is designed to bring something to the table, while also having corresponding weaknesses.  Hanzo, for example, wields a bow and arrow that can do massive damage.  The problem is that he moves slower while aiming the bow.  Plus, his bow has an extremely low rate of fire, and has to be charged up in order to do maximum damage.  However, Hanzo is equipped with Scatter and Sonar arrows.  Scatter arrows are basically death if one is fired at someone in an enclosed area.  Sonar arrows let the whole team know where someone the opposing team is on the map.  It is the different abilities that make each character distinct, and useful.  Mercy can heal or boost a persons damage output, Genji can deflect projectiles back at the person who fired them, Reinhardt can put up a massive shield, and so on.  What this does is redefine “skill” within the context of this game.  One of my friends has spent most of his time playing as Torbjorn, whose primary skill is building turrets that automatically lock on to enemies.  Torbjorn also has a gun that fires a single bullet and can also fire in spread form like a shotgun.  My friend rarely fires his gun though, because he is more concerned with turret placement, and the upkeep of said turret.  Great turret placement, then, becomes a skill as important as good aim within this game.  This is just one example of skill being redefined within this game. What this does is make Overwatch a very open game.  Easy to learn, maybe, but definitely hard to master.

But will you want to master its intricacies?  My guess is yes, because the characters in Overwatch have to be considered one of the greatest casts of characters in videogame history.  Blizzard has given each character such personality, and one of the genius things they have done is design the game so that the opposing team is louder than the player’s team.  I love it when games do stuff like this.  One of my favorite parts of the Left 4 Dead series was hearing the crying of a witch, and feeling the tension that came from not knowing where it is coming from.  Overwatch does this as well, in the form of chants that signal an ultimate has been used.  So, for example, when I hear “Fire in the hole,” or “Nerf This,”  I know I need to be on the lookout for the death that is coming my way.  It is a simple, yet genius way to master tension.

All in all, the game is just fun.  If you have the means to play this game, I highly recommend it.  In all honesty, there are only a handful of games I have played that have been as fun as Overwatch.  I absolutely wish there was a story mode, but for now I will settle for one of the deepest and most engrossing multiplayer experiences ever.

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