Overview of OVERWATCH

Blizzard Entertainment is kind of a big deal in gaming right now. If you haven’t heard of them, odds are you’ve heard of one of their major franchises: Warcraft, Starcraft, or Diablo. For most of Blizzard’s career, these were their only franchises, but they have expanded their gaming arsenal in the past couple of years. Starting with Hearthstone, a trading card game with a World of Warcraft theme, then moving into Heart of the Storm, a multiplayer arena battle game involving a mash-up of characters from Blizzard games, set to release sometime this year. While neither of these truly extends beyond the universes of the original three franchises, Blizzard’s most recently-added game, Overwatch, does.

The cinematic doesn’t tell us anything about the story behind the game (and also seems to indicate that everyone in the game is a lousy shot, which I doubt is what they were going for…), but it does give a good indication of the theme and feel of the game. It’s colorful and cartooney, which I find quite refreshing; I’m tired of the “doom and gloom” feel in video games. And that British woman teleporting everywhere in the video? She looks like an awesome character!

That woman, Tracer, steals the spotlight whenever she’s onscreen in the cinematic. Overflowing with energy and charm, Tracer also shows herself to be caring and intelligent, with a firm grasp of feminine gentleness to boot. She’s immediately likeable, and not just because she looks like a badass with her cool teleporting abilities and fantastic athletic skills, but because of her personality. A game with her as the main character, or, at the very least, one of the main characters? Shut up and take my money!

Okay, maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Tracer may be fun and exciting, but good characters don’t guarantee a good game. Who cares how awesome the characters in the game are if the gameplay itself is terrible?

Well, that certainly doesn’t look terrible! It’s fast-paced, unrealistic style and colorful and cartooney artwork reminds me of the Timesplitters trilogy of games, the games which I consider as my introduction to the first-person shooter genre (technically, I did play Dark Forces first, but that always felt more Star Wars than FPS to me). It won’t interest everyone, I understand; I remember introducing some Halo players to Timesplitters once, and they were taken aback by how fast the game was (conversely, I’ve found games like Halo and Call of Duty too slow). “There’s no tactics; it’s just run and shoot,” they complained. Well, only if you play it that way, of course. Tactics still win the day, but you need faster reflexes to pull them off in a game like Timesplitters. That’s what Overwatch looks like to me, and I’m excited to see a FPS that hearkens back to the games that basically defined the genre for me.

The different character abilities intrigue me, too. One character with a grappling hook, another who can climb walls with his bare hands, another who teleports (#teamTracer!), one who can summon turrets while a different character transforms into turrets… these differences extend the replayability of the game, whether in a story or arcade mode.

Overall, I’m looking forward to this game. No FPS has gotten my attention in years, but the fast-paced style and excellent character-based story potential have certainly grabbed me…

Wait… what’s that, Blizzard? There’s no story mode?! That sucks. So much potential there just wasted. Ah, well at least the gameplay looks fun, and the characters have flavor lines that they say during combat, so I suppose it would still be worth getting the game to play against the AI…

WHAT?! No solo mode?! Online PvP matches ONLY?! Congrats, Blizzard: you wrecked it; you just wrecked it! You have squandered a beautiful opportunity for a great game in a genre that could use some new blood by artificially limiting yourselves. If you didn’t want to work on a story mode right now, all you needed to do was add an offline mode where the player could face off against AI. That would appeal to a larger group of people, AND add money-making opportunities for you. You could sell expansion packs with online/offline arenas, new characters or skins, and eventually story mode levels! The offline crowd would buy the story content, while the PvP enthusiasts would be more interested in the arenas and new characters.

But nope. The potential longevity of the game that comes with a story and offline play has been sacrificed for… I’m not sure what, actually. “Online PvP only” doesn’t benefit PvP players, because now there’s no AI to practice against. This means that new players will have to learn the ropes against more experienced players, very likely getting slaughtered in the process, which will slow their improvement as players and hurt their teams in the process, possibly discouraging them and causing them to leave the game.

Then there’s the issue of time or internet constraints. Sometimes you just don’t have the time to sign up and wait for a PvP match to form or play out, but you’d still like to play the game. And sometimes internet connections fail, such as during inclement weather. I know mine does. You may still want to play the game, but you can’t, because “online PvP only.” I already get this issue in Starcraft, which, while it has both a story mode and matches against the AI, requires a login before you can access offline play. After that the game can be played without an internet connection, but the requirement to be connected to the internet first in order to play without the internet is annoying. It would be worse in Overwatch, because you can’t even do that!

I still hope Blizzard will include an offline mode before releasing the game, whether story or arcade doesn’t matter to me (preferably both), but I highly doubt they will. Blizzard is not in the habit, particularly recently (*cough* World of Warcraft *cough*), of deviating from their initial path with a game. Maybe Overwatch will tank in alpha or beta, which is supposed to come later this year, and Blizzard will be forced to rethink their PvP-only policy for the game. If that happens, I’ll put this game back onto my wish list. Hey, I can dream, right?

Hmm, that’s ironic: hoping a game fails so that it can succeed…

About Ross Windsor

Ross Windsor is a film and gaming enthusiast, and an alumnus of Christendom College who graduated with a theology degree. He is currently designing a fantasy RPG system, while simultaneously researching and developing a board game and film scripts based on Arthurian legends.
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