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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Overwatch: Hands-on at BlizzCon 2014


By on 1:58 PM

When Blizzard canceled its Project Titan earlier this year, CEO Mike Morhaime cited one simple reason. It just wasn't fun. A Blizzard game isn't a Blizzard game without fun.
By that criteria, there should be no such issue with Overwatch. The reveal during yesterday's BlizzCon opening ceremonies indicated a project with fun, variety, and passion. Shacknews went hands-on with Blizzard's foray into team-based multiplayer shooters during the big event and came away with positive vibes for this game's future.
Overwatch pits two sides against one another, with each players selecting one of twelve available characters:
  • Tracer (Offense) - A flighty youngster with the ability to use time travel to her advantage. Tracer is one of the game's quickest characters, able to use her Blink ability to avoid enemy fire and teleport behind foes before they can even react. She can also use her Recon skill to travel back a few seconds to restore her health and ammo to that point, offering a sort of a mulligan.
  • Reaper (Offense) - An agent of death, Reaper is one of the few characters with a passive ability to collect fallen souls and restore health. His twin shotguns are crazy powerful, as is his ability to teleport to a select location using his Shadow Step ability. He can also pass through walls with his Wraith Form ability, but cannot fire his weapons while doing so.
  • Widowmaker (Defense) - There aren't a lot of frills to Widowmaker, as she's the game's sniper. While her Widow's Kiss sniper rifle can pluck enemies from afar (even getting me quite a few times), it can also be switched to an automatic at a moment's notice. Widowmaker can protect her position with a Venom Mine or escape danger with the aid of her Grappling Hook.
  • Winston (Tank) - The giant gorilla Winston can withstand loads of punishment, but can also dish it out with his Tesla Cannon. His Jump Pack allows him to deliver a powerful leaping ground pound, while his Shield Projector can protect nearby allies.
  • Pharah (Offense) - Armed with her rocket launcher, Pharah is a fun character to play and an extremely annoying adversary to encounter. Her Jump Jet allows her to take flight, which lets her position herself behind enemies and also fly around obstacles like sentries. She's hard to take down when she's airborn and she can further irritate foes with her Concussive Blast rocket that deals knockback damage.
  • Reinhardt (Tank) - Think of this guy as a futuristic paladin. Reinhardt wields a powerful Rocket Hammer, allowing him to dish out heavy melee blows. His more useful function, however, is on the front line. His Shield puts up a massive broad energy pane that can absorb enemy shots and take substantial damage before breaking. This is a crucial tool to protect teammates, even if it momentarily takes away his hammer.
  • Symmetra (Support) - This character's Photon Projector isn't a very powerful weapon, unless it's charged. However, she's still a force to be reckoned with, thanks to her Sentry Turrets, which can be placed on the ground or along walls. Symmetra can have many of these out at once and they can be killer, as indicated by a whopping 11-kill streak that I racked up during my time with her. She can also help allies with a Photon Shield that momentarily boosts their defense, while deploying a teleporter that leads back to the team's spawn point.
  • Torbjorn (Defense) - If Reinhardt is a future paladin, Torbjorn is a future dwarf. The diminutive defender can use his Rivet Gun to defend himself at close range, but his main function is his Build Turret ability. These turrets hit just as hard as Symmetra's sentries, but Torbjorn has the bonus of being able to upgrade his turrets with his Forge Hammer. If turrets aren't dealt with, they can become massive multi-barreled, rocket-launching monstrosities.
  • Bastion (Defense) - The mechanical Bastion isn't content to build turrets. He is a turret! Bastion can use his Configuration: Siege ability to transform into a stationary turret that can help him hold chokepoints or guard points of interest. He can also use his Self-Repair ability to heal himself in a pinch, but he's vulnerable in this state, so find a safe spot.
  • Hanzo (Offense) - This archer is one of the few players that can use verticality to his advantage. Hanzo has the ability to climb walls, which gives him a fine vantage point for his Storm Bow, which can deal punishment on its own or with Sonic and Scatter Arrow abilities. Hanzo's arrows reach a pretty good distance, making him ideal for someone looking for the marksmanship of a sniper without focusing on defense.
  • Mercy (Support) - This medic doesn't focus on fighting so much, though she can defend herself with her Caduceus Blaster when absolutely necessary. Instead, she uses her Caduceus Staff to heal allies and also boost their damage output. She can also use her Guardian Angel ability to swoop in and save allies that are on the brink of defeat.
  • Zenyatta (Support) - The guru of the team, Zenyatta enters the battlefield with an array of orbs. The Orb of Destruction is his main projectile for offense. The time that I spent playing with him, however, was spent more using the Orb of Harmony and the Orb of Discord. The former can be used to slowly restore ally health, saving them from tight spots. The latter is used to reduce opponent defenses, causing them to take more damage from ally fire. Zenyatta is most useful when staying in the shadows and close to teammates.
The are many familiar elements of previous third-person shooters that can be found in Overwatch. The stylized animation is reminiscent of Team Fortress 2 and Super Monday Night Combat. There's a control point capture and 'Payload' mode that plays very similarly to Valve's team-based shooter, while the map design carries familiar-looking layouts and vertical combat. Maps, like the lotus blossom-filled Hamamura, are suited to each of the characters roles and abilities. There are enough safe spots for snipers to take aim, there are enough open spaces for direct melee combat and shootouts, there are enough walls and corridors for turret placement, and there are enough safe spots for Support classes to do their work.
However, the characters, their roles, and their attacks are uniquely Blizzard. While it would be easy to create a by-the-numbers shooter, Blizzard looks to be borrowing elements of other genres to help make Overwatch a more enticing package. Beyond their team roles, these characters all have special abilities and 'Ultimate' skills that make Overwatch feel more like a MOBA. While control point games felt like a standard game of Team Fortress 2, right down to its opening countdown phase, the MOBA-like abilities gave it an additional degree of complexity. The abilities also lend themselves greatly to teamwork, encouraging additional strategy. This isn't the kind of game to support a 'lone wolf' mentality, with a few exceptions like the high-flying Pharah.
My time with Overwatch was very limited, but I'm anxious to spend more time with it. The combat is solid, but the game stands out for its characters and the manner in which their individual abilities help bolster the team aesthetic. This is only the beginning for Overwatch, but I feel like it's off to a great start.
Those looking to get into the Overwatch beta can jump on Battle.net and sign up. The beta is set to begin in 2015.

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