Thursday, November 20, 2014

Overwatch Impressions From a Guy Who Loves Blizzard but Dislikes Shooters

Img: Blizzard

I figure the title's the best place for the full disclosure on this one. I have to reach back over ten years to find the last instance where I spent a good deal of time with a first-person shooter. That was Timesplitters 2, and I played the hell out if it. Before that there was Wolfenstein 3-D and Doom, but that's literally the extent of my experience with shooters.

Then, Blizzard announces Overwatch and I immediately wrestle with the dichotomy of my disdain for shooters and my love for Blizzard. Another team-based FPS. Hrmph. And in Blizzard fashion, a playable demo awaited. I've heard people mentioned Team Fortress 2 in the same breath as Overwatch---I can't speak to that. Seriously: I have zero frame of reference when it comes to the present-day state of these kinds of games. So I queued up in a line that turned out to be much, much longer than even Blizzard anticipated---there were Blizzard employees acting as stanchions, since the area they'd initially cordoned off wasn't nearly large enough to hold all of those who wanted to play.

TL;DR: it was a pleasant surprise. Looks like I'll be playing a shooter for the first time in over ten years.

The game is set up with two teams of six, one team having the role of Attacker, the other of Defender. To be forthright, I had little sense of what was going on in this regard. Luckily, my two friends and I were matched up with nine other players, six of whom had already declared themselves a team. Thankfully, the "team" willingly split up and we were guided by a dude who'd obviously been queuing all morning---he assisted us with character selection based on our familiarity with first-person shooters. He suggested a couple of characters to me who did damage, but ones where precise aim wasn't as critical to the success of the character.

I chose Pharah first, an attacker. The precise-aim-not-necessary advice wasn't quite accurate, and I didn't do too well in this match in which we were the attacking team. However, this wasn't because the game played awkwardly; it was 100% operator error. The controls themselves were pretty slick: aim with the mouse, and press the left-button for the main attack. Shift used her "Jump Jet," allowing her to hover or fly. WASD functioned as movement keys and Spacebar caused the character to jump. Her other two abilities, Concussive Blast and the ultimate Barrage were attached to the E and Q keys, respectively.

So you can see player controls are very similar to what you'd find in a mashup of an FPS and a MOBA-style game, and thus should feel relatively familiar to a player with even novice experience in these genres. The game itself is fast-paced, and to someone not used to playing this way, it was absolutely frenetic. I did feel a bit lost and ineffective as Pharah, though she seems like a character who, once you have a handle on, can be absolutely deadly. We ended up winning this match, despite my lack of skill hampering the team.

However, once we assumed the role of defending team, things changed. First of all, I got the impression that the defending teams in these matches have the advantage: during the minute or so countdown prior to the match starting, the attacking team is cooped up in a locked room, waiting for the doors to open. Not so with the defending team. They are free to roam the map and set up their positioning prior to the match's actual start. I don't know if this is a standard attribute of these sorts of games, but I felt it placed the defending team in a better position to be victorious. That, and the fact that the map objective we were tasked with defending sat behind a choke point that happened to be nearby to where our characters spawned after death.

Secondly, I discovered Bastion, who quickly became my favorite character (granted, I only tried three in all). This little robot has the ability to heal itself, remotely deploy mines across the battlefield, and coolest of all, transform into a powerful turret. I camped myself in partially shielded area and ripped through my opponents. We won that match as well, and I even earned Player of the Match which immediately convinced me that Bastion will see a significant nerf in due time.

And you know what? I'm just going to stop this post right here; the fact I'm even writing about a shooter right now---you'll just have to trust me when I say it's gotta be good if I'm taking the time to jot down some thoughts on it. It's a Blizzard game, after all: fresh, engaging, fun, intuitive, and challenging all in one. If you love shooters, or if you've generally stayed away from shooters for most or all of your gaming life, this is a game you need to check out.

Additional gameplay tidbits:

  • Not bound to one hero per match---players have the ability to select a new hero in the spawning area they return to after death
  • Heroes have distinct roles (each with unique abilities): offense, defense, tank and support
  • A full match lasts approximately 15 minutes
  • Many additional heroes and arenas to be added in the future
  • Currently no plans for a solo campaign; story elements to be developed outside of gameplay

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