Re-posts: My Overview on The Overwatch Beta (May 2016)
Hello! This is a super old article of mine when I first tried Overwatch. Of course, the game is massively different today in many aspects, regardless, I believe that this opinion piece from another era is worth preserving as an interesting piece of a personal history.
It was the 5th of May and the Onlywatch curse has finally been lifted. The fabled WarCraft, StarCraft, Diablo creator, Blizzard had granted the open beta pass to the poor and insignificant plebs after the long and cruel confinement to the spectators' zone during the closed beta. Eagerly, I set up my Battlenet launcher early, skipped two meals and dove head first into the freshly downloaded Overwatch beta to finally taste the upcoming Esports potential class-based shooter and a trending meme in the gaming world. With over 5 hours of pure cumulative quick playing, trying hard as Reinhardt, Widowmaker loafing and cursing at the screen, here are some of my speculations.
The Fun Factor
The Junk Rat spam fiesta on Gibraltar, the Widowmaker sniping on King’s Row building top, the Reinhardt spearheading towards the capture point on Ilios, Greece, and many more memorable destructive moments. Much like any E-sports in the market, Overwatch is a suitable platform for the just-right mixture to condense your half an hour intense fight into highlights so fun that you’d re-watch over and over again whilst shoving them into your friends’ social media feeds repeatedly. Churning out a close win over a sneaky Genji or Reaper as a rooftop camping Widowmaker by juke dancing, dropping down from the vantage point and immediately slinging back up again to secure an elimination against all odds is as sweet as the enemy’s tears.
My way to enjoy Overwatch is not the conventional Overwatch MOBA-esque way to enjoy the battle, I must say but explore the chemistry between the characters’ strength and weakness can be your day to day escape for quite a while if you have somewhat interest in exciting odd shots. I myself am not a fan of the popular Ultimate ability style frag sweeping. I personally, don’t like how a player can sit back, do some spam damage and leisurely destroy the whole enemy team with a preset ability. Yes, it does involve you in the moment, team strategy and timing to get things done but coming from an old-timer original Counter-Strike 1.6 and current Team Fortress 2 player background, the adrenaline-inducing clutch play rocket shot placement or each make or break swing of your melee weapon that can spirit your enemies away into their spawn room wasn’t all you and you know it. You pulled the trigger and launched an A.I. aiming system (tactically looking at you, 76) or simply swarm an entire corridor with a couple of deadly phantom dragons and for some players, deep down inside they might not feel entirely satisfied with the ‘assisted’ spectacle.
To conclude, even though the fun factor is still pretty much a subjective and personally unique concept. Heck, a friend of mine bought the Euro Truck Simulator to seriously play because she is seriously interested in driving an 8-wheeler cargo truck to Berlin and grinding virtual laborious job pay to buy more trucks. To me however, unless Blizzard maintains the game fresh with viable meta updates, very cool looking comics and cosmetic goodies, the skill ceiling will get cluttered with 500 hours players soon enough, people will run out of shiny loots to distract themselves with, and Overwatch will get dull even quicker than playing The Sims with cheat codes.
Its almost as if the players become a part of some Pixar or Disney’s latest animated sci-fi picture namely, the Big Hero 6 universe. The general designs and arts such as character’ armor and clothes, the variety of architectures in maps scattered around the globe in a cartoonish technologically advanced futuristic mix with some contemporary remnants world deserve nothing lesser than the word awesome. The weapons and tools are well made to be perceived as something future Earth might actually have in store yet somehow stay stereotypically aligned with the national characteristics of each hero. For example, Hanzo is a Japanese Warrior who is also part cyborg that slings high tech arrows as his primary and Tracer, an obvious version of Amelia Earhart, the legendary British record breaker pilot but instead of going around the planet, Tracer went through time and back, accidentally equipping herself with an ability to briefly maneuver in time with these cool gadgets strapped on her chest. Everything is brilliantly put on your display, which is a great thing, that is if you play this game for the sightseeing element.
Some visual effects such as when a Mercy heals you or when too many things simply gone off at the same time are borderline light pollution and in my opinion, more of an obstruction to your eyes than aesthetics. The dev team did anticipate this, however, from my time on support duty as Mercy, I noticed that key information such as your teammates' whereabouts and their health condition are constantly being shown as some kind of a passive crutch for players with no game sense. Yes, it does help you see through the barrage of rays of heavenly light but I don’t think that such a helpful feature shouldn’t always hold the players’ hands around the battlefield.
Which brings us to...
Buckle up and let us venture downward to the downside of your potential $40 purchase. I was able to confirm the many rumors myself that Overwatch regrettably lacks the mechanical skill ceiling in the open beta testing. I for one and many FPS enthusiasts were let down by the fact that most of the “big plays” would and should, according to Blizzard be determined by when and where you push the “Q” button and unleash a game changer ultimate ability which also conveniently, only takes around a minute to build up depending on your damage output. Sure, a nice team combined play or a well placed Pharah rocket barrage can get you a handful of frags and a pretty “Play of The Game” highlight afterward but the first-person perspective satisfaction is absent from when you control your character to look in the vague direction of your opponents and watch the destruction automatically laid down upon them. In contrast, there exists a critical hit area on every character or basically, headshots if you don’t include poking the Bastion turret form in his butt side (which has a blue box-shaped spot anyone can easily spot) but according to how the fights usually break out, unless you play as Widowmaker, precisely placed critical hits won’t help your team much in comparison to spam and again, abilities.
The character movement, in general, is quite slow and dull with a few exceptions like Tracer, Lucio and Widowmaker which have their own unique abilities to move around quicker but sure enough, similar to any other special button press in this game, everything requires an amount of cooldown time. Fortunately, its not a long wait but it does effectively disable you from skillfully chaining slingshots and force you to waddle around for 11 seconds before going Tarzan again and to be clear, I don’t include Reinhardt and D.VA’s charging abilities here because they’re more of an attacking ability than maneuverability and Reaper is someone who skips the whole moving around part altogether and uses Shadow Step to creep around instead. The fact that Overwatch applied the cooldown mechanics to almost everything fun you can do is a gigantic offer breaker for me both before and after playing the game myself.
The Multiplayer Experience
The matchmaking system works smoothly most of the time and would give the players a nice fair and balance between both teams’ player experience. I did get unlucky enough a couple of times to be shoved into a slot of a rage quitter in the middle of a one-sided stomp fest or the server just died and I had to wait for another match. However, since It is officially an uncompleted beta as of now, I’m willing to let this problem slide as a small side note from a beta player to the developers. On the other hand, thank Blizzard for letting us browse highlights, cosmetics and other goodies in the main menu whilst the game search for a suitable match. It's not big but still, a nice touch to the user experience nevertheless.
In a normally functioning Overwatch match in Asia region servers, my randomly placed teammates who mostly are from Korea or China don’t communicate much despite the obvious in-game voice chat feature that repeatedly tells you how to chat with your team and my attempts to share strategic information but since coordination isn’t rare, my guess is that half the party being on some sort of a third-party software together aka. Skype. I’d say that approximately 70% of the time your haphazardly formed squad will care about the objectives and will be decently capable of carrying them out.
With the scene filled to the brim by the “user interface for dummies” such as main paths clearly highlighted in a bright blue line, silhouette of the payload, various reminder lines from the characters, A and B icons to mark the correct capture points with beeping noise indicating an ongoing capture and brilliantly lit bold texts on the top-middle of your screen every time you respawn just obnoxiously patronizing the players, it really is more difficult to not understand what you should be doing than getting lost trying to find someone to shoot at.
I personally don’t like that such a competitive setting has to be riddled with guidelines in case I’m too video game illiterate to compete against better gamers by myself because I believe that a multiplayer PvP FPS should challenge and punish the players even for little mistakes like forgetting to stand in the capture zone when they really need to fight against the clock in Lijiang tower or Nepal but hey, at this point, I say let Blizzard try this out.
I love how there’s a “Team Tip” in the pre-game character selection screen, advising how an offensive roster shouldn’t be filled with Widowmakers and how the defensive team is lacking a Support, a Tank or a Builder. The players are encouraged a lot to contribute to working as a team and the classic who-is-going-to-play-support controversy is effectively dealt with through the post-match reputation system which allows each player of both teams to give a commendation point to four notable playmakers of the game, sure enough the person who kept everyone alive throughout the battle is most likely to earn credit and respect when it’s due. In the end, the Overwatch online experience was successfully held up in a good light, away from cancerous issues or people being plain dumb at video games with the help of ubiquitous nudging, hinting, and pointing arrows.
To Buy or NOT to Buy
Now as Overwatch is a $40 one-time full buy game, that means you don’t need to spend actual money for anything more. Cosmetic stuff like skins, highlight intros, and voice lines are surprisingly grind-based and randomly dropped loot box exclusives with an exception of the Noire Widowmaker skin that is only available through the game pre-purchase.
My final verdict, from a thrifty gaming lifestyle, collecting cheap old yet good games via steam sales seasons and humble bundle, I say no buy. Not because Overwatch isn’t a product of quality made by a team of talented developers under a prestigious company but because of its simplified hybrid concept between MOBA and class-based first-person shooter. The game isn’t very well conceptualized.
The shooter aspect’s mechanical skill is not rewarded enough. The MOBA aspect consisted of careful slow-paced character building became abrupt team fights from the beginning ’til the end with only a handful of possibilities to turn around a game’s tide such as combined ultimate abilities using and changing the team’s character composition. Conclusively, Overwatch, in my opinion, is a dumbed-down version of all the esports buzz around town since a decade ago with a pinch of Team Fortress 2 class system, a hefty chunk MOBA team play, and Pixar aesthetic, a forced meme that tries hard to put itself into the relevancy of the growing mass of competitive gamers. Blizzard basically put an entire functional movie plot, picturesque world-building, and quality animated shorts into Overwatch alongside with fast-ending quick play games and low skill ceiling, low skill floor gameplay. I understand Overwatch’s attraction because attractiveness in all aspects is plainly it’s the best quality but a $40 payment is absolutely not an investment I want to put into what I view as a short-time entertainment.