Blizzard is known for World of Warcraft and their suite of RTS games. They’re gaining on Magic: The Gathering with Hearthstone, and have grabbed a large chunk of the MOBA world with Heroes of The Storm. While those titles all seem to belong in the same Blizzard universe of titles, Overwatch is the company’s first foray into first person shooters. Do they pull it off? Yes. Yes, they do. With aplomb. Overwatch is utterly fantastic.
Overwatch (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Like most of Blizzard’s games, Overwatch has a bright, clean style that wouldn’t be out of place in a Pixar or Disney movie. It’s a style that’s decidedly their own, and while only one of the characters from Overwatch has made it to Heroes of The Storm, it’s clear that Blizzard will have no problem mixing and matching these characters between their games. The collected heroes tap into general cultural cliches (Russians/Egyptians/Perky Butt Girls), but they are a welcome addition to the Blizzard cast of characters. The levels themselves are gorgeous. Textures are smooth and beautiful, and while they aren’t distracting, they certainly are a character in their own right. Even the starting areas are dense with little easter eggs and pretty things to destroy or scuff up. Every inch of this game is entertaining.
Had Battleborn not released just weeks prior to Overwatch, I’d say this is a complete breath of fresh air. Yes, we’ve all played Team Fortress 2, but MOBA-style hero on hero battles that are well-balanced and require real skill and retain pick up and play fun have to be tough to pull off. This is executed perfectly (although unlike Battleborn, Overwatch doesn’t have minion NPCs like an actual MOBA). Overwatch delivers the best sense of “we’re a team, in this together” since Left 4 Dead or TF2. If you’re heading into the game solo, depending on the hero you choose, Blizzard delivers a perfectly fine shooter experience (with Soldier 76, for example) and it feels as good as anything out there. Overwatch is also able to deliver a lot of fun with a cast that shows off melee combat, a difficult but satisfying character that uses a bow and arrow, a frost gun that slowly freezes enemies and builds ice walls (my favorite) and a variety of healers with a variety of mechanics. It’s like everything you’ve ever played in a way you’ve never played it before.
Blizzard doesn’t release something if it’s not finished. This game, although it’s clearly going to last forever, is finished. It’s tight, clean and sexy. A breath of fresh air. It’s like drinking cucumber water — refreshing and satisfying, but very little is different from water on a molecular level. Yes, this is “just another shooter,” but that’s like going to Barnes and Noble and picking up a paperback to declare it as “just another book.” This is shooter gameplay perfected and a satisfying competitive experience. When you play, it’s not all twitches, you’re making decisions, and affecting the outcome of the game with your choices. You’re not just reacting, this game makes you think.
Blizzard has already announced that they’ll be supporting the game post-launch; it will be updated with free heroes and maps. Besides, Blizzard doesn’t really abandon its games. Diablo III is still going (kinda) strong four years later. The game is so dense that even if you’re a casual player, you’ll get dozens of hours out of it. Me? The hooks are in deep, and I’m slowly making my way through the 21 characters and finding something interesting and fun about each one. There are weekly Brawl Arcade modes, that randomize different aspects about the game (randomized Heroes after each death or 200 percent health and on and on) that will keep things fresh if you wanna just hop in and out for a fun time. Simply put: the game is going to be around for a long time.
You can spend extra money on the game, yes. Overwatch is basically going the way of card trading games, or Madden Ultimate Team with their microtransaction model in which you can buy Loot Boxes. Normally, Loot Boxes unlock after every level you gain, but you can spend $2 per box, or $19.99 for 24 boxes, then satisfyingly crack open your boxes to earn spray paint logos, new voices for your characters, skins or victory poses, for example.
The game is as perfect as a game can get in 2016. The only knock against it is the fact that you can potentially speed up the unlocking of aesthetic items through real-money purchases. Other than that, at a $40 entry fee, the game is hours upon hours of fun. This is one of those games that will have you forcing the controller (or mouse and keyboard) into a loved one’s hands so they can feel the greatness. This is the first game since Rocket League that will have you scrolling through message boards, watching replays of awesome plays. This is the game I’ve been waiting for. It’s probably the game you’ve been waiting for. Overwatch is my Game of the Year. Nothing will be able to top this in 2016.
Verdict: Clear Your Calendar