Detailed and in-depth review of Overwatch

After spending a thousand hours in Team Fortress 2 and more than I'm comfortable to admit in other team-based shooters I've become rather difficult to impress, and since almost all of the recent multiplayer gun-fests have been fairly boring I slowly started getting used to the idea that the genre might not be for me anymore. Thankfully, Overwatch came along and not only managed to meet my lofty expectations, but exceed them to the point where I constantly find myself playing more of it instead of doing any actual work!

The characters are charming, their mechanics deceptively complex, and the gameplay as a whole leaves a lot of room for personal growth and improvement, on top of simply being a bundle of fun. However, while I genuinely do think Overwatch is a great game, it isn't a flawless gift from the heavens as the various Internet forums might lead you to believe. It has its own balance problems, issues with servers and matchmaking, occasionally clunky mechanics, as well as a couple of bugbears when it comes to the design in general, but its nothing that can't be fixed through a couple of patches.

With that said, let's begin with the one element of Overwatch everyone can agree is superb, the presentation!

Video version of this review (16 minutes)

If Team Fortress 2 thought us anything its that beautifully stylized artwork and characters with personalities bigger than life are a golden ticket towards player engagement, as well as long term appeal. Team Fortress 2 has looked great when it first released, and even a decade later it still remains one of the most visually interesting games out there, even though the actual graphical fidelity might be far below the current AAA standard.

The same applies to visual design in Overwatch as is doesn't go overboard with realism or tiny decorations, but instead focuses on clean lines, colorful environments, and a play-area that's devoid of any distractions. On first glance this seems like an excellent way to make the worlds most generic game, but due to the desire to keep things simple the artists had to ensure even the most basic visual elements appeal to the players. This also has the added benefit of making enemy characters stand out from the background, thus making the gameplay mostly about player skill rather than messing with the graphical settings in order to create the perfect abomination that sacrifices aesthetics for visual clarity. Now that would've been a massive shame given how gorgeous some of the maps are, with my number one on the prettiness scale being Hanamura, featured below:

Overwatch Hanamura map

Bright and tranquil, a perfect place for a senseless bloodbath

That isn't where the good design ends, however, as Overwatch has the best use of sound I've ever seen (or rather heard) in an FPS, and I don't say that lightly. Every noise the enemies make is amplified compared to the ones your allies produce, and every time your opponents use an important ability you get a huge audio cue to warn you of the impending doom. The potential problem here is that you can find yourself ducking and covering from a friendly ultimate ability no matter how muted the sound is, simply because you have been conditioned to do so through repeated deaths, and this is an issue that's not easy to avoid.

But avoid it they did, and this is where I tip my imaginary hat to Blizzard because they had managed to not only solve the problem, but make it a cool and unique feature instead. The way they did this is by assigning each hero two sound cues for their ultimate ability, one to play for allies, and the other for enemies. If the hero is on your team you will always get a clear indication spoken in English, but if its an enemy you will hear them shout something in their own native language which somehow sounds even more menacing in the heat of battle. The ones that are from an English speaking country will obviously just have two different voice clips, but even for them these small additions are a great way of building personality.

Another feature of the sound design that I've come to greatly appreciate is that each enemy character has a specific noise they make while they walk around. Roadhog will constantly wheeze and pull his chain, McCree's spurs will jingle as he runs, and Tracer's stampede of light footsteps is quite obvious when you are paying attention. This might sound insignificant now, but when it comes to ambushes you can pinpoint the enemy and their location with 100% certainty simply due to the sound of their footsteps, and that is something that goes a long way towards raising the overall skill ceiling.

Overwatch's Roadhog fighting Tracer

Pro tip: if you're sneaking behind enemy lines don't giggle like a madman

The way their feet drag along the floor isn't the only way the characters are differentiated though, there's plenty of personality and charm to each and every single one of them. While this doesn't do anything in terms of gameplay it makes playing the characters a much more enjoyable experience, because simply wiping out the enemy team isn't nearly as exciting as catching yourself yell "YEAH" in unison with your character!

Then again, this is an FPS we're talking about so its way more important that each character plays in their own specific way rather than just speak in a funny accent, and once again Overwatch manages to impress. Out of all 21 currently available characters I haven't found a single one I despised, and even though I've been playing the game for over 50 hours now I'm still figuring out new tricks and watching myself slowly improve over time. It doesn't matter if you're a tank, a DPS, or a support orientated character, all of them are equally satisfying to play and designed with a certain type of player in mind, so everyone should be able to easily find the set of heroes they enjoy playing, which in the case of my allies mostly revolves around snipers as Widowmaker's booty is far too much for some to resist.

Overwatch Widowmaker is a sniper class with a massive...asset

What were we talking about again?

All of this is then further backed up by some rock-solid FPS mechanics where the shooting feels meaty and impactful, the enemy's health bars drain with satisfying clinking noises, and where the movement never feels unnatural despite some of the characters being slower than a turtle strapped to a sloth. When I first saw Roadhog, the massive fatso that he is, I never expected I could find myself enjoying him, but after buckling down to pressure and finally giving in I found myself strangely drawn to his slow, lumbering movements and overpowering damage. Its hard to explain why exactly this happened, but there's a certain air of brute strength about Roadhog that just makes him such a joy to play, especially with all the deep-throated giggling he does when he skewers people onto his massive hook.

Even though I would love to say everything is fine when it comes to the mechanics there are a couple of areas the designers clearly took shortcuts on, and they mostly relate to wall-climbing. Unless you enjoy Genji as much as I do you probably won't even notice this, but there are numerous areas on each map where you will start sliding around as if you buttered yourself up while tap-dancing on fresh ice. Its not a huge deal as you can learn to avoid these trouble spots, but its an annoying inconsistency that makes playing an already hard hero even more grueling for new players as they have to contend with both the enemy team and the terrain itself trying to kill them.

Genji has issues with wall climbing

This might look like me jumping away to freedom, but in reality its me face-planting into a wall because Genji didn't feel like climbing

Continuing on with the trend of annoying gameplay problems we have the servers Blizzard uses for Overwatch, servers that are completely inept when it comes to fast paced gameplay. You can use your teleport ability, see yourself teleport half way across the map only to get hit by the "world's best sniper shot", which on further inspection via the kill-cam would show you as standing completely still because the sever didn't bother to update your position just yet.

I've been told this is because Overwatch only sends data to players in 20 ticks per second, which compared to CS:GO's 64 is an absurd difference. To put thing simply this means that the server only tells the shooter where the opponent is 20 times per second, a seemingly high number that becomes incredibly inefficient when you add lag compensation to the mix, with the end result being a skill-based shooter where you can often get shot behind walls, fail to escape certain doom even though you clicked your get-out-of-jail-free ability, and find yourself dead in a shootout because your button didn't work.

I'm aware this sounds like the complaining of someone who just lost a match and is looking for excuses, but after being into competitive gaming for the entirety of my life I've become inoculated against losses, they only make me strive to be even better. The issue here is that these deaths don't feel fair, or interactive, or anything at all given that you didn't lose the fight because of your own mistakes, but rather because of factors completely outside of your control. Feeling powerless over your own fate in an FPS game is a big no-no, and that's exactly what the current state of Overwatch servers does to me whenever they act up. The only good thing I can say about this is that at least the competitive format uses 60 tick servers, which while not perfect are good enough at their job to not cause undue frustrations for everyone involved.

Overwatch has problems with bad servers

The glitchy graphics are a result of my game telling me I dashed, and the server telling the game I actually died before I even started

Speaking of competitive play, I'm fairly confident in saying that almost every hero has its place and a situation where they excel, though there are some outliers with a power level so high they have managed to completely crush team diversity, but more on that later. The important thing you should know about Overwatch is that the kill-time is incredibly fast, so if you don't have a healer to keep you topped off and a tank to divert enemy fire you're going to have a bad time when faced with a team that does.

What this means is that each team must consist of a variety of classes and roles, you can't simply stack up on snipers and somehow hope to deathmatch your way to victory. If you tried that you would simply get counter-picked and then locked into your spawn as the defenders would be nigh invincible under Reihnardt's shield. This is both a good, and bad thing. Its good in the sense that it promotes constantly shifting lineups that are designed to counter what the enemy has on the field, but on the bad side it means that there are certain heroes you simply need to have as they are equally useful against everything.

If you're playing a Payload map there is almost no reason not to have a Reinhardt on your team as his shield is the perfect answer to the barrage of gunfire that will follow your slow approach to victory. The other tanks aren't bad, and they have plenty of room to do their magic as well, but nine times out of ten you're going to want a Reinhardt because he's always useful. The same applies to Mercy. All three healers have their own strengths and weaknesses, and even though I prefer playing Lucio I understand the importance of Mercy as her resurrect bringing back five players is so powerful the team without her is almost always at a disadvantage.

While it might not seem like it, this isn't a product of bad balance as there's always going to be top-tier picks, but rather an issue with the lack of "proper" tanks and healers. There are currently four tanks available, but only two of them fulfill the actual role of "tanking", with the other two serving more as beefy brawlers than anything else, hence why you will see Reinhardt in almost every single game. Not because he's overpowered, but because he's the only option that's available! This will get sorted out over the coming months as new heroes enter the fray, but until then be prepared to see the same few heroes as a staple of every single lineup.

Reinhardt pushing the cart with his shield up

Welcome to the Reinhardt express. Our next destination is victory!

With that slight diversion out of the way let's get back to the characters that are actually overpowered, and when I say overpowered I mean oppressively strong in the hands of a competent player. This surprisingly exclusive club contains only two members: McCree, the gun-slinging maniac with an incredibly poor perception of time; and Widowmaker, the bondage wearing sniper with the steadiest hands in the entire world given that she can snipe people while propelling herself through the air at 200 km/h.

So what is the problem with McCree? To put it simply, he does everything far too well. The initial idea behind him was to create a mid-ranged gun-slinger that could slowly whittle the enemy down from a distance while still maintaining the ability to hunt down Tracers, Genjis, and other mobile heroes through the use of the powerful flashbang stun. He is certainly capable of doing that, and I doubt anyone considers those aspects of him an issue, but the problem arises from the fact that McCree has enough damage in his right-click ability "Fan the Hammer" to bring down even the sturdiest of tanks within the span of a single second! It doesn't matter who you are, what you do, or which god you pray to, if you enter a room with McCree in it you are going to die, and there are very few things you can do to prevent that.

The way I would solve this conundrum is by reducing the amount of damage "Fan the Hammer" does to the point where its still an instant kill against medium-sized targets, but no longer a death sentence to tanks who can from then on serve as a counter to McCree's reign of terror. If these changes were implemented he would retain his ability to easily deal with flankers, but without being so overbearingly strong that other characters such as Reaper never get picked despite fulfilling different niches.

McCree from Overwatch casting his ultimate

Its High Noon, and that means everyone dies!

Our second winner in the "please nerf me" lottery is Widowmaker, a sniper modeled after the one from Team Fortress 2, but for some reason without any of the downsides. She has a clip that holds 10 shots, it takes only a second to charge up to 150 body-shot damage, she's able to fire rapidly in order to quickly finish off wounded enemies, and to top it all off, she's also extremely mobile and can climb perches that most enemies can't easily reach.

If you're playing against bad or mediocre Widowmakers you are probably just chuckling at this noob right here who can't deal with a simple sniper, but when you get to the point where the only ones you meet are the ones that will ruin your life and make you as salty as the Dead Sea you will know what I'm talking about. When a Widowmaker is good nobody else in the entire game gets to have fun as it all revolves around her and her alone. Either your counter her the moment she appears on her perch 50 kilometers away from the fight, or you get to watch all of your healers get instantly vaporized before she finally notices you cowering in a corner.

The way I would solve this is by both reducing her clip size (10 shots is way too lenient for a sniper) and increasing the charge time on her rifle, all with the intention of promoting more well-placed shots rather than an entire artillery barrage in the span of three seconds. You might disagree with me now, and believe me when I say I know where you're coming from, but Widowmaker needs to be corrected before Overwatch gets its competitive mode because once people start playing seriously all hell will break lose.

Finally, I just wanted to say that I don't wish nerfs against these two heroes because I hate them. On the contrary, McCree is my favorite character in Overwatch, right alongside Genji and Roadhog, but that doesn't mean he should be exempt from adjustment, especially considering the amount of pain and suffering he and Widowmaker can inflict. Getting destroyed is a part of the learning process in FPS games, but it should never feel like you are being unjustly punished, and that's exactly what these two leave their victims with.

Widowmaker from Overwatch with her ultimate active

Closing Thoughts

Overwatch is a brilliant game, and one that I have found myself so passionate about that I'm constantly looking for opportunities to squeeze in a couple of more games. The flaws I quite harshly pointed out throughout this review haven't been enough to greatly impact my enjoyment, but rather they are problems that I would love to see corrected because I plan to stick with Overwatch for many years to come, and as such I would love to see it become the best game it can possibly be.

Perhaps the most honest thing I can say about Overwatch is that the reason my review ended up releasing a week after the official launch is because I found myself wanting to spend more time playing the game, rather than doing any actual work. If that doesn't tell you enough about it, I don't know what will.