Wednesday, 01 June 2016 09:12

Review: Overwatch – is there no genre Blizzard cannot perfect?

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Game developer Blizzard does things its own way, at its own pace. Overwatch shows that the Blizzard coding wizards can do first-person team-based combat, adding this arrow to the rather full quiver of achievement that includes Warcraft, Starcraft, Hearthstone, Diablo and Heroes of the Storm.

In Overwatch, two teams of six “heroes” take on each other with a significant emphasis on teamwork and choosing the right role for the right occasion and combination.

To begin with, things are awfully confusing. Just jumping into the fray Battlefront-style will undoubtedly end in tears and bewilderment. There is a lot happening, and without a bit of knowledge about your characters skills, or that of your teammates or opposition, success in Overwatch will be rare.

So practice a bit first, the 21 heroes are divided broadly into four categories; Tanks can absorb damage whilst dishing it out and holding a location. Attack and Defence classes are relatively self-explanatory while the Support class is there to provide healing, extra armour and other ways of buffing teammates.

The 12 maps, featuring real-world themed locations such as Hollywood and The Temple of Annubis, are tight, multi-laned and provide levels of verticality that can be explored by the more mobile of combatants.

Presentation might be something to get used to – whilst Call Of Duty and Battlefield titles strive for ever-realistic ways of depicting battle graphically, Overwatch takes a colourful anime-light and tongue-in-cheek approach to its visuals.

Each character is playful — even Reaper in his own way  and the game feels much more like a sport than a life-or-death struggle.

The variety is extraordinary – a character such as McCree is a gun-slinging poncho-wearing cigar-chomping cowboy with dangerous damage-causing abilities. Bastion is at times the most annoying of opponents turning as it does into a stationary, powerful, gattling-gun.

Pharah can take to the skies and rain rockets down on opponents, Mia can freeze enemies, or block their progress with an ice-wall, whilst Dacio delivers a healing sound beat to teammates. There is a learning curve, diversification and something for anybody’s taste and playing style.

Right now players have the option of playing against competent AI opponents as well as the normal cunning humans who bound around the map in unpredictable patterns trying to exploit their own and teammates' skills, and avoid the ministrations of those who oppose them. Blizzard plans to bring in ranked Competitive Play in an un-yet released free update.

The modes are relatively few, but extremely well implemented. Take and hold a series of objective points, some of which at times  against a well co-ordinated defensive team  seems an impossible task.

Then there is a mode where one team must coax a vehicle along a set path, desperately attempting to get to a series of checkpoints before a timer runs out. It can be tense on both sides at times as the payload inches towards the finish line. Ambushes get set, get disrupted, heroes co-ordinate flank attacks and try to disorient set defences.

It’s a furious dance of tactics that work well even with “randoms” in online play. And Blizzard does a unique thing at games end. Overwatch only celebrates notable moments in a positive manner.

Gone is the stereotypical leaderboard with kill-death ratios. Instead, a myriad statistics are presented. Eliminations (kills) are important, but so is taking one for the team, absorbing damage, or healing colleagues.

Players earn medals and gain experience, but each couple of levels unlocks a loot box with cosmetic fun for character outfits, emotes, sprays, and so on. Nothing collected can help give you an advantage in combat, other than the possible intimidation value of a rare character skin.

Blizzard make quality games. Whether it is real-time strategy (Warcraft), MMORPG (World Of Warcraft), Loot clicking (Diablo) or even online card games (Hearthstone), Blizzard brings a digital craft to the video-game world that is probably only equalled by the hermit-like Valve Studios.

Overwatch is now added to this legacy. Blizzard have said, “you want us to do a competitive first-person shooter, with style, variety and finesse? Ok then, enjoy”.

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Mike Bantick

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Having failed to grow up Bantick continues to pursue his childish passions for creative writing, interactive entertainment and showing-off through adulthood. In 1994 Bantick began doing radio at Melbourne’s 102.7 3RRRFM, in 1997 transferring to become a core member of the technology show Byte Into It. In 2003 he wrote briefly for the The Age newspaper’s Green Guide, providing video game reviews. In 2004 Bantick wrote the news section of PC GameZone magazine. Since 2006 Bantick has provided gaming and tech lifestyle stories for iTWire.com, including interviews and opinion in the RadioactivIT section.

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