The Overwatch Open Beta
Overwatch is the latest game from Blizzard Entertainment, an objective based multiplayer FPS with a selection of characters and roles to play. Even though the multiplayer FPS scene is getting a little crowded of late, this is not Blizzard’s first foray into an established genre. World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, and Heroes of the Storm all sought to refine their respective genres with Blizzard’s trademark attention to details, and each of those games have proven themselves to be a resounding success. Can Blizzard’s latest offering continue the trend? The open beta (yes, another one) took place last weekend, and I dived in with some chums to sample what was on offer.
Unlike many of the recent betas in gaming, this one offered up all the characters (21) and maps (12 across 4 game modes) that will be in the game at release, along with most of the modes and options. Notable exceptions were the lack of a competitive ranked mode, and some tweaks to be made after recent closed beta feedback. Its worth mentioning that unlike the vast majority of multiplayer team games out there right now, Overwatch is not free to play, with the more standard pay up front model. Considering both Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm have been free to play, with in game purchases to unlock heroes, cosmetics and other effects, its an unexpected move. All characters in Overwatch are unlocked from the start, and you can acquire cosmetics through play. While its likely there will be paid DLC in the future, and there are already some cosmetics you can purchase at additional cost, its unknown what form this DLC will take.
From the outset, anyone familiar with Team Fortress 2 will feel at home here, as you have a range of characters to play, each of which has their own unique weapon, distinct personality and a small array of abilities to use (on satisfyingly short cooldowns, with even each characters ultimate ability being available within a relatively short space of time). When you first log in you’re placed into a simple training area with one of the game’s slightly less interesting characters. Quickly blasting through that, the game nudges you towards practicing in the firing range with other characters or testing yourself against bots. Jumping into a game is quick, as are the games themselves, with a round rarely lasting over 15 minutes. This short length is perhaps one of the best things about Overwatch. Games rarely feel like a slog, and while stalemates do happen, a little bit of good positioning and teamwork from either side can swing the game.
The thing is, win or lose, the base gameplay is fast, engrossing, and above all, fun. On top of that, its sprinkled with Blizzard’s trademark entertaining touches. I played both on my own and with a team, and the matches flow from one to the next brilliantly. After each game a replay of the ‘play of the game’ is shown, usually a multikill of some kind. You then immediately get a chance to commend from a selection of players, with each commend awarding experience. After this the game automatically rejoins you and your group into a new game, but you can browse the menus and open any dropped loot crates during this time. For me, the time spent was a whirlwind of that kind of fun that makes you forget the passage of time, until you look at the clock and realise how long you’ve been playing. It also feels decently rewarding.
As mentioned before, most cosmetics can be gained as you play. Playing awards you experience, and as you gain levels you aquire loot crates, which give a random array of emotes, skins, voices overs and other visual and audio effects. These drop quite often, and duplicates give you in game currency, which you can spend to acquire those that you don’t quite have yet. Each character will have 50+ customisations at release, so there certainly wont be any lack of them. Its just as well too, because for my money, Overwatch is certainly fun enough, but what I cant say is whether or not it will have enough staying power to keep people interested past release. There’s a distinct lack of complexity, with no in game talents to choose, items to buy, or any option to change equipment on a player. These choices are usually part of what keeps people coming back for more, and stripping it back may allow for a tighter game, but it could be a problem in the long term.
Of course one way to keep interest in the game would be in its competitive scene. While its unknown whether Blizzard are going to push Overwatch as an ESports title, there are plans for a competitive ranked mode. Considering how well Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm has done in building a competitive community, its quite likely that there will be an aim to get an Overwatch championship in the works in time for the next Blizzcon in November. No doubt the major ESports organisations will be keeping a very close eye on proceedings and how casual competitions are run.
With all the above said, I had a whale of a time with Overwatch, and everyone I played with agreed. Not doubt its critics will say the gameplay is shallow and lacks the complexity of its rivals, but somewhat shallow yet fun gameplay is practically Blizzards trademark these days, and by the looks of things they may well have just succeeded in making yet another game that will bring in a massive audience of players and viewers.