Tracer from Overwatch being as cute as ever

I spent over a thousand hours with Team Fortress 2, but as it grew progressively more ridiculous and characters started strapping bottles of questionable liquids and live weasels to themselves I slowly realized that the once stylish and charming game I knew had been replaced with something... else.

Ever since then I was looking for another team based shooter that I could sink an equal amount of time into, but unfortunately, not a single one of them could recapture the emotions Team Fortress 2 first inspired within me, until I heard of Blizzard's newest IP in many, many years.

From even the earliest announcement it promised everything I could've ever wanted: stylish visuals, characters oozing with personality, and most importantly, team orientated combat with plenty of opportunities to mix up your strategies and approaches. Now that I've spent over 20 hours playing in the Open Beta, the question is, does Overwatch manage to live up to the piranha-like frenzy of excitement it succeeded in creating so far?

 

Video version of this review (10 minutes)

To put it bluntly, the answer is a definite... maybe. In many ways Overwatch has managed to surpass my expectations, and I honestly can't say I was ever bored throughout my 20 hours, but the map design, and the somewhat cheap nature of a couple of heroes left me feeling frustrated far too frequently. Thankfully, these are issues that can be fixed, but doing so will take a rather long time, hence my uncertainty. 

As with Team Fortress 2 back in the day, Overwatch features a cast of characters that are unique both in their appearance, and playstyle. While this might not sound like a big deal, the ability to accurately tell who is who at a even a single glance is immensely important to a class-based shooter, since mistaking a sniper with a close-ranged combatant will more likely than not end with you scheduling a visit with the respawn screen.

Overwatch visual design is superb

Despite this being a blurry in-action screenshot of a battle happening 'kilometers' away, you can easily tell who is who!

That's not where the good visual design ends, however, as all of the classes in Overwatch are capable of telling you how durable they are purely from how bulky they are. For example the slim and agile Tracer has about as little health as you would expect, the normal looking Soldier 76 has a standard health pool, and Roadhog, the massive fatso that he is, has an obscene amount of health.  

All of this, combined with some extremely smooth shooting mechanics, means that Overwatch always feels good to play, and that no matter what type of a player you are, you won't be confused despite each character having 3-4 unique spells, their own weapons, and ultimate ability.

Overwatch puts a big focus on player size and health

When you bump into this beefcake, you know you're in trouble!

However, while the beautiful aesthetic and clean design are represented in the maps as well, a fair few of them suffer from some of the worst gameplay choices one can find in a FPS game, especially one that features this short of a time to kill. By this I mean three things: brutal choke-points, lack of flanking routes, and distant spawn points. 

Some maps such as Hollywood, or the Temple of Anubis, feature a choke-point where your only way forward is to go through a rather narrow gap in the wall that's usually cowered by numerous turrets, traps, and the defenders themselves. There is no defense that's impossible to crack, and the same applies here, but its almost never fun to actually do so given that the majority of classes are flat-out useless in these sort of engagements simply because they either don't have long-ranged options, or just have too little HP to survive for very long under sustained fire.

Overwatch features some nasty choke-points in its map design

That's your only way in... good luck

This is where the second issue comes in, the lack of flanking routes. In Team Fortress 2 an entrenched team can always be poked from the side, and their fortifications slowly whittled down, but in Overwatch the use flanking routes is completely inconsistent. Some maps, including the aforementioned Temple of Anubis (besides the early choke-point) have excellent side-routes that can really be used to bring down the hurt upon the defending team, but others have only a couple of winding paths that somehow always end up returning back to the attacker's spawn point... 

The final, and most aggravating issue, is that some maps have spawn points so far back it feels like virtual torture to play any of the slower heroes. I personally didn't witness this during the first few days since my favorite heroes happen to be Tracer, Genji, and Soldier 76, all of which have impressive movement abilities, but once I started branching out towards the tank side of the character roster I realized how painful it can be to run back.

While I would love to offer a simple solution for this problem, there just isn't one since its a complex issue that needs to juggle both the overall balance, as well as player enjoyment. The one thing I would do, which would help in multiple ways, is to copy Team Fortress 2 and make it so players respawn in waves. This way everyone will have someone else to run besides, cutting down on the feeling of helplessness, while also removing that awkward moment when you arrive to the battlefield alone, realize there's only 6 enemies there, and that they're all preparing an explosive welcoming party just for you!

Overwatch allows Bastion to ride on trains

Hello Bastion, my old friend...

Much like the maps, the characters also have some issues, though these can be fixed relatively easy. For the most part I would say that no single character is brokenly overpowered, and that they can all be countered fairly reliably, but some like Bastion or McCree are just not fun to play against, even if they were perfectly balanced. 

This is because they rely on cheap kills that require almost no skill, strategy, or even timing to actually accomplish. For example, Widowmaker can be the most annoying character to face off against if the player behind her is any good, as her efficiency relies purely on aiming and excellent positioning. These are two things that are hard to do when half of the characters can fly, teleport, or dash around like mad, and all would love nothing more than getting revenge against your spandex-wearing ass. 

On the other hand, all McCree has to do is press E, after which control will be taken away from your character and he'll just pump a metric ton of lead in to you. Its not without its counters, all you need to do is stay far away from him, but its never enjoyable to watch your character go from 100% to 0% without being able to do a single thing in return, just because you accidentally walked anywhere near him. 

Overwatch's McCree has the most annoying spell in the game, Flashbang

Shhh little healer, sleep now

The same applies to Bastion who is capable of producing so much damage that even Reinhardt and his massive shield are completely helpless against it. As Team Fortress 2 has proven with the Heavy, this is perfectly fine as long as there's some sort of a penalty that stops you from becoming death, destroy of worlds. Unfortunately, Bastion not only has no penalty but he's just as accurate as a sniper, has no wind-up, and is capable of turning around on a dime so even flanking him with Tracer is borderline suicide. 

Once again, there are multiple ways to counter him, Genji, Junkrat, or Pharah being the prime examples, but he's not fun to play against since an otherwise exciting match instantly devolves into a game of "hunt the Bastion" in which contestants either kill Bastion, or he kills all of them within seconds, and no one wins a prize! No other character, not even the defence specialist Junkrat, is capable of making a team of 6 players fear to peek around a corner because a stationary turret might just insta-kill them. 

I am not proposing nerfs against either of these two heroes, but rather a slight redesign to both improve their almost non-existent skill-floor, and to make them an actually enjoyable character to fight, rather than an obstacle you just die against if do such heinous acts as walking forward, or entering rooms. With McCree I would make his Flashbang do more damage but only slow/blind enemies, while I would keep Bastion's insane damage against everyone, but at the penalty of a slow turning speed so that flanking maneuvers are actually efficient against him, and not free kill.

Overwatch Genji using reflect

Reflecting Bastion's bullets right back into his rusty face, a priceless moment!

I've mostly been talking about the bad elements in Overwatch, and this isn't because I hate the game, but rather because it has impressed me so much I would want nothing more than to see it improved upon. While McCree and Bastion might be two annoying douchebags, there's plenty of other exciting heroes to play, my favorite among the lot being Genji, a cybernetic ninja that seems completely underpowered to new players, but actually harbours immense potential in the hands of a skilled one. 

I'm not going to pretend I'm some amazing FPS player, but after spending a good few hours with Genji and Tracer I've come to realize how fun Overwatch can truly be once everything comes together. When you have a sufficient amount of experienced players in a game flanking attacks suddenly become a lot more than a passing distraction, killing the enemy healer does more than annoy one player, and the fight for objectives becomes more than a simple steam-roll in either direction. In short, when you have two almost-equal teams facing off against each-other Overwatch becomes one of the most enjoyable games I've played in recent years, and I don't take that statement lightly.

To top it all off, the Play of the Game system, when not showcasing someone staring at a wall while their turret racks up kills, is one of the best additions to an FPS game I've ever seen as it allows each match to end on a high note, rather than a whimper. It doesn't matter if you, your alies, or your enemies get chosen, its almost always guaranteed to be something worth celebrating, and possibly even a learning experienced for everyone involved. It definitely needs some improvements, especially when it comes to how often it prioritizes ultimate abilities, but even with that considered I hope this is a feature many more games will copy, as its just that good!

Overwatch's Tracer posing for the play of the game screen

Its always nice being appreciated

Closing Thoughts

Ever since Team Fortress 2 took a turn towards absurdsville I was looking for a brand new multiplayer FPS to occupy my time, and after years of failed attempts it seems that my hunt might just see its conclusion in the near future with Overwatch. 

However, while I do believe Overwatch is an excellent game even in its current state, it suffers from some rather glaring issues that will need to be corrected as soon as possible if Blizzard wishes for it to be as long lasting as all of us hope it will be. 

Whatever the case may be, I look forward to finding out, and most importantly, playing some more once Overwatch finally releases on the 24th.

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