Overwatch is a game that is way out of Blizzard’s recent comfort zone of Diablo, Starcraft, and Warcraft. The class based shooter that rose from the ashes of the failed MMO Project Titan, feels very similar to Valve’s Team Fortress 2 in all of the best ways possible.
Like TF2, gameplay is centered on team vs. team class based combat that pit unique characters that each fill specific roles across a variety of different objective based game types. Currently we know of two, Payload and Point Capture. At PAX East 2015 I was able to play Point Capture.
There’s already a large amount of playable characters that range from turret building dwarves and a grim reaper like assassin class, each hailing from real world locations. Because archery is so hot right now in video games, I went with the bow wielding warrior from Japan, Hanzo. The characters are full of life and color, and have a distinctive personality that fits their style of play. Again, it feels similar to that Valve shooter which I’ll stop mentioning now before I start to sound like a broken record. You get the point.
In Point Capture, the defense has about a minute to prepare while the offense waits around. The offense needs to push the defense back while advancing from point to point. This first game was quite lopsided. I was able to hang back and fire powerful arrows across critical choke points, while providing recon using one of Hanzo’s powers, Sonic Arrow. My team overwhelmed the human controlled opposition with a healthy mix of long range sniping, smart use of powerful abilities such as turrets and shields, and good old-fashioned heavy fire power up front.
While Hanzo himself was pretty slow as he seems designed to hang back away from danger and deliver powerful strikes, that isn’t the case for all of the characters. Overwatch is fast paced and chaotic. You’d have to go out of your way to find a quiet moment. Everyone seems to be in constant motion and action.
In round two, I picked another character at random that looked fast, so I could zip around like everyone else, and inadvertently stuck myself with another sniper class. I WOULD’VE switched but… Twinfinite’s PAX East team was wrecking it out there, and by the time I died it wasn’t worth switching out.
This time around I was Widowmaker. She played somewhat similar to Hanzo in that she had a long range sniper, but that same weapon could be alt fired fully automatically in case someone got too close (albeit weakly). Unlike Hanzo though, she had a Batman like grappling hook that can be used to quickly evade danger or get up to a nice perch to snipe from.
Overwatch seems to have some class redundancy and crossover as I saw first hand with Hanzo and Widowmaker but it wasn’t a bad thing. They filled similar roles but were also different enough that I could see myself switching between the two to freshen up gameplay. This seems to be similar across the board between frontline fighters and utility classes.
It was really difficult to go through this preview without constantly name dropping Team Fortress 2. It’s obvious Overwatch is inspired by TF2 frantic class based gameplay. Gameplay aside, just like TF2, Blizzard wants you to develop an affinity for each of the heroes, giving them personality that you could see yourself getting attached to. It may even wind up being free to play as well, as its business model is still up in the air.
Overwatch isn’t just another copycat though. It feels like what a 2015 version of TF2 (which is now eight years old if you can believe it) would feel like. Even at an early stage, Overwatch controls smoothly, is visually crisp, and has a ton of personality between its current roster of 14 heroes. There’s allowed to be more than one cartoonish class based team shooter, and Overwatch is well on its way to being the next great one.