Now that we’ve had a little while to live with Overwatch and ponder the latest gaming sensation that has taken over the internet it’s about time to assess it without the hype of Blizzard’s marketing machine, its game of the year-tier metascores, and fifteen-foot tall action figures. And I think a lot of gamers may be thinking the same thing at this point: is that it?
Overwatch, if nothing else, may represent the best pure PvP multiplayer experience of the year so far, but even that fantastic gameplay comes with a lot of flaws; too many to justify the scores, at the very least, when compared to its more complete competitor, Battleborn. In fact, in a lot of ways, it seems like half a game, even when sitting next to a title that even the developers admit was incomplete upon release. Street Fighter V, I’m looking at you. When that one came out, I questioned whether this was going to be the new industry standard, and with Overwatch‘s massive success to prove you don’t need to put a lot in to make a blockbuster, we’re sure to be seeing more of this.
It’s a known fact that Overwatch was cobbled together partially from elements of Blizzard’s scrapped MMO project, Titan -which spent seven years in development before being cancelled just prior to the announcement of Overwatch– in order to recoup the cost of Titan’s failure. And it shows. As much fun as it is, there are a lot of very unusual elements and mistakes in this game that make me feel like it wasn’t given the proper time and attention to be all it can be. Here are five examples.
Basically, Overwatch has only two game modes: Escort and King of the Hill. These two objectives are mixed up a bit, but basically, you capture and/or hold a given area or you escort or stall a payload vehicle. That’s it. And no, I don’t count the Weekly Brawl (which seems to serve no purpose other than diminishing the number of selectable heroes) as another mode so much as a bad idea that eliminates the game’s greatest strengths. Compare this to…..oh, every AAA shooter ever. Imagine a Halo or Call of Duty game launching with only two game types. Even Street Fighter V has it handily beat on this front.
I was actually shocked when I bought the game and it was literally the exact thing I played during the beta test. There may be an extra map or two, but the entire game was pretty much the beta.. And Blizzard is currently working on a ranked mode as well. The fact that they couldn’t manage this before release is probably the most blatant possible evidence that this game was released unfinished. I’ve played massive single player RPGs that launched with ranked multiplayer.
It’s not super hard to come up with fun stuff for gamers to do. The cast of Overwatch is awesome. We’d do anything with these characters and call it fun. But two basic modes of play is weak sauce to justify a full retail price tag. How lazy do you have to be to limit your games to “stand by this vehicle” or “stand in this square”? Capture the Flag could be really fun and strategic with this lot. Just saying. Say what you want about Battleborn, but each of its multiplayer modes are deeper by miles and there are more of them in addition to a serious single-player/co-op campaign.
While adding brilliant features like highlight videos made Overwatch stand out from the crowd with stylish flair, it alternates between treating its players like they’re firing up babby’s first shooter and pro-tier memorization. Right off the bat, the tutorial insults you by teaching you how to walk and move your reticule and shoot and push buttons and stuff. If you need to be told how to do these things in a hardcore online-only PvP shooter, you’re going to have a bad time.
And once you’re in the game, it doesn’t bother telling you about little things like, oh, the game types. I actually didn’t understand how the Payload objective worked for a good long while; I just busied myself shooting folk and eventually found out that the vehicle moves when you stand next to it. Seems like that may have been good information to mention while they were teaching me how to walk. And maybe some brief character tutorials for intimidated beginners?
You pretty much have to memorize which game type goes with which map if you want to choose your hero accordingly. Some characters excel on certain maps/objectives more than others, but Overwatch only tells you where you’re going, not what your objective will be once you get there so to choose accordingly, you either have to memorize the objective of each map or hurry up and rechoose your hero while you’re still in the spawn point. Either way is an unnecessary pain in the ass. Also, the inability to mute your audio-griefer teammates on the fly is crazy in this day and age.
And then there’s the lack of anything beyond hero loot. There’s a meh intro cinematic (Youtube has already done better) and almost no in-game lore or reason to keep playing aside from maybe someday earning a really cool skin or highlight intro by luck of the draw. But instead uses the scarcity of in-game currency to fleece players with microtransactions, as if we didn’t already pay full price for half a game. Come on, man; give us something. Even some unlockable fan art a la Blazblue would have been nice, but once again, Overwatch leaves gamers are left with nothing but the barest of bare bones.
I noticed this in the beta and didn’t solve it until a few days after I bought it, but this game gave me the nastiest lag I’ve seen since Call of Duty 2. As in the second Call of Duty. Ever. Over ten years ago. Blizzard was quite unhelpful, suggesting that maybe people need better internet service or to check their RAM, but I have overpriced broadband that can typically have Netflix and/or Hulu running while I game online with no issues and am playing on a console. This was an Overwatch thing.
After scanning several message boards and articles filled with an equal measure of complaints and non-help, I found one gracious soul who suggested that the game was too demanding for wi-fi and to try a wired connection. I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me so I’ll just blame it on the fact that EVERY OTHER GAME I OWN PLAYS FINE OVER WI-FI.
But yes, the correct answer to fix the insane lag occasionally rendering my game borderline unplayable was to stretch an ethernet cable across the room and plug it into the router like we’re back in the nineties. Remember the nineties? Cool times, man. Crappy internet, but cool times. To any aspiring game developers out there, do us a solid: please optimize your games properly before you release them so we don’t have to use ancient technology to play modern day multiplayer.
What story? Something, something super team of super heroes doing super things, world needs us, blah blah. Why are they all killing each other over cars and small colored squares and how is it saving the world? And since when are video game stories told in cutscenes on Youtube instead of, you know, in the game?
No, Overwatch does not have a story, and that’s okay because it only needs to kick ass and chew bubblegum. Then run out of bubblegum. Maybe that’s three things. Still, it would be fine if it didn’t pretend to have a story that is clearly being made up as it goes along and relates not at all to anything that happens in the actual game. Ideally, you make a story first and then design a game around the story, not try to come up with a story after the game is finished.
Battleborn barely has a story either, but the characters -which are even more numerous and diverse- are all so much more well developed with a lot of their backstories becoming apparent from their in-game chatter, including opponent-specific trash talk. I max leveled characters and was still hearing new lines of dialogue after ten hours or more of playtime with them. They also have unlockable audio and text lore to flesh them out.
These are inexpensive and simple things to put in a game if you’re willing to put in the effort. How many times have you heard “it’s high noon” or “our world is worth fighting for” by the end of your first week playing Overwatch? I don’t even want to know. Come on, man, flesh these characters out a little! The little pre-round mini conversations are a nice start, but that’s all they are: a start.
It’s not like bugs are a new thing in video games, but I’ve seldom run across so many in such a small first person shooter. And some are so glaring that I wonder if they weren’t deliberate choices. Overwatch may look like a million bucks, but it’s just plain janky at times. And I won’t even mention the massive hitboxes that allow you to be head-shotted from around a corner without even being visible to your enemies. Whoops, I just did.
The biggest thing that sticks in my craw is having to select my character twice. Often when you select your hero, the game will drop you onto the map with the message “waiting for players” for a few seconds or so and then bring you back to reselect your character. Or sometimes the screen just blinks before forcing you to reselect. It’s not like it’s game breaking, but it does make the game feel cheap and glitchy.
Speaking of glitches, the fact that the text from your last match stays on your screen until your next match is pretty awful, particularly for a game that warrants screen shot and vid sharing as much as this one does. When you go to save your highlights after a particularly nice session, every character change and other in-match message displayed at the end of your last game will be immortalized along with them because they never go away until you shut the game down or start another match. Removing text from the screen is so utterly basic it makes me think this was a deliberate choice, but if it is I can’t think of a single function it serves.
And then there’s the interaction wheel. It’s a cool idea; letting players exchange greetings and slogans and emotes, if only to pass the time in the pre-game lobby. Unfortunately, it’s occasionally a crapshoot as to whether it will actually do what you want it to do. You can select your emote and end up thanking somebody or announcing that your ultimate is charging (isn’t is always?) or try to say a line after killing somebody and end up performing a lengthy emote while the enemy team casually wanders over to you and blows you away. And a decent portion of the time the command just fails to register so nothing happens at all.
It’s a bit crazy that the positive reaction to Overwatch has been so over-the-top when so many games that have launched with more content and smoother experiences have been derided for much lesser offenses of the same nature. For an afterthought of a scrapped MMO project it’s an amazing game, but with all of the unnecessary little annoyances, rough edges, and the astounding difficulty of obtaining in-game currency, it’s hard for me to be as positive on the whole as the rest of the gaming community seems to be. Fun game? Absolutely. Addicting as crack? Slightly more so. Game of the Year? Only if it’s a really slow year. Sorry. Maybe the sequel will deliver a more finished product, but for the time being: hype denied.