I lucked out last weekend and got invited into the Overwatch stress test. Overwatch is on my “games that might make me giddy” list so I was willing to sacrifice myself to help stress-test Blizzard’s servers.
For the greater good, you see.
There’s plenty written about the game already so I thought I’d write down where I found the game surprising.Installing the client was dead easy; the Overwatch icon has already appeared on Blizzard’s Battlenet client so just clicked ‘Install’ and a few minutes later I was good to go. It self-configured all the graphics settings quite nicely; I could have done more tweaking but by that point the family were gathered around to see what it was like 🙂
All the characters I played were fun and each had a well-defined role.
I used to be pretty awesome at FPS games but now I’m old and slow. Plus I don’t get the time to spend 3-hours with a custom-client practising rail-shots (yes, really). So I went into the game expecting to either play the more defensive characters or the ones with a close analogue to games I’ve got a lot of history with.
And to a certain extent that was true. I loved Pharah who was basically a Quake 3 marine with her own portable jump-pad. And I quickly got the hang of Mercy as she was pretty close to favourite character in Team Fortress 2.
But there were plenty of odd characters who I clicked with surprisingly quickly.
Symmetra, a support character with no heals but who can defend immobile characters well with her turrets.
Or D-VA, a massively mobile tank with an ultimate that can break defensive positions.
Or Hanzo, a sniper who’s as much about scouting the enemy for his team as getting kills.
All the characters had a difficulty score but even the more complex characters were reasonably easy to understand after a few games.
Mainly because of the next point…
The game goes out of its way to get you up to speed quickly.
Blizzard is really good at providing a smooth entry into their games but I doubted Overwatch would be the same. FPS games tend to have a high skill differential between people that play a lot and people that don’t; this can sometimes ensure any newbies spend their first 10 minutes being head-shot by people they can’t see before quitting in disgust.
But in Overwatch the fast turn-around (you die a lot but you’re only out of the game for a few seconds) becomes an extended tutorial. Every time you get killed you get to watch from the other character’s perspective exactly how they got you. Not only do you learn what you did wrong but you get more insight into how the other heroes work. This helps you get an overall sense of the game really quickly.
Additionally you get a customised tool-tip when you die. This is tailored to your hero, who killed you, where you were and what you were doing. So it might warn you that fighting Pharah with a melee character out in the open is a bad idea or that you should stay close to another particular hero to become even more effective.
They’re only short tid-bits but the knowledge accumulates really quickly.
Strategy and timing
Strangely, elite FPS skills aren’t a hard-and-fast requirement. A lot of the game boils down to when and how you use your ultimate ability.
Obviously if you’re an FPS god who was born with “WSAD” tattooed on your belly, you’re going to get a lot more uses out of your ult (it charges as you do damage, heal successfully or whatever your hero shtick is). But a hero that only gets one use out of their ult but uses it just as the enemy team groups in a choke, or just as the time ticks out on an objective will have a lot more influence on the game than the play who pops their ult whenever it’s up.
Which objective you are pushing or where you’re fighting on the map can have a big influence on who you choose to play; as the level progresses there is no penalty (bar losing any progress you have towards your ultimate) for changing characters. So have a broad skill-set and a good sense of which heros are needed can have a big impact.
The maps stood out
In FPS games, maps are maps. A decent bit of verticality, a good snipe / ambush place or two, some nice variations in enclosed space and you’re golden, right?
While there were only three maps on display for the stress test (apparently there are eight in the beta) they all lent themselves to plenty of interesting strategy.
Most had multiple routes through to the objectives but not all the routes were useable by all the characters. Many of the beefier characters don’t have good movement powers and so have to progress down the main causeway. This makes them very vulnerable to static defences or ambushes (Bastion, I’m looking at you).
Many of the other heroes can find multiple routes and it’s up to them to loop around and take out these static emplacements or get good flanking angles. But on their own they’ll get chewed up in straight-up fights so you want to time the flanks with the main assaults going in.
The maps themselves are beautiful too.
People were nice
I’ve played enough online games to generally keep my head down when playing. The beta is a pretty small sample of online players but so far people are friendly and helpful.
Blizzard seems to be trying to encourage this too. Additions like the end of level score-cards; the game randomly picks a few people to praise and then allows everyone to vote about who did the best.
You don’t have to vote for your own side and as the criteria for inclusion is random there’s no hard feelings.
Plenty of people were picking opponents that killed them repeatedly! (as long as it looked cool…)
No progression can be fun!
I’ve got so used to unlocks, achievements, badges, hats, levels, skill points, XP gain and what-not that it was jarring to play a game without any of that (so far…)
I just kept coming back to it…. because I wanted to play it. Pretty radical I know but also quite rare with online games.
At the end of the beta I really missed it. A good sign for next year when it’s released!