Overwatch: Where Will it Go?
Overwatch is trying to break the mold of what a competitive shooter is meant to be. Will it succeed?
Within modern eSports, there are four major genres that most titles fall under: MOBAs, RTSes, fighting games, and shooters. Of those four genres, shooters are arguably the most consistent titles of the bunch. Call of Duty and Counter-Strike rule the eSports side of shooters, and while titles games are undeniably fun, engaging, and exciting, the concept of what makes a competitive shooter has become streamlined.
Cue Overwatch. A team-based shooter at heart, it busts open the mold of what eSports shooters have become and fills it with entirely new ways to play. Boasting a roster of sixteen heroes that is sure to continue expanding, Overwatch is an FPS that rewards creativity and cooperation – and it might be just the thing to turn the genre on its ear.
Overwatch has been preceded by a great many team shooters; Halo, Unreal Tournament, Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Team Fortress all come to mind. However, Overwatch has taken the team-based formula even further, introducing specialized heroes with unique abilities into the mix. At first glance, one could be forgiven for seeing the character archetypes as conspicuously similar to Team Fortress 2. Torbjӧrn builds turrets, not unlike the Engineer, and Mercy is a healer, similar to the Medic. But that is where the similarities end. While Team Fortress 2 has nine classes that which can be customized with weapons and items, the heroes of Overwatch have been designed with a static set of weapons and abilities that create a very specific player experience.
Hero abilities consist of two to three standard abilities and one Ultimate ability, much like one might see in a MOBA title. These abilities help to clarify a specific character’s role. Take Reinhardt, for example. A large man in a suit of armor with a melee-range hammer, he is a tank by trade and his abilities reflect that. His signature ability is a large shield, which soaks up damage in a large area in front of him. His other abilities, Charge and Fire Strike, give him some long range capability, and his ultimate, Earthshatter, knocks down enemies in front of him, stunning them. All of these abilities come together to make Reinhardt a strong disruptor: he prevents damage, zones out enemies with his presence, and generally makes life difficult for his opponents. Like Reinhardt, all heroes fill a specific niche, whether it be offensive, defensive, or supportive in nature.
While heroes are meant to fill roles, many also borrow more specific shooter archetypes. Because of this, FPS players from all different games will be able to easily find a character that feels comfortable to them. During a recent Overwatch Q&A, Hero Designer Geoff Goodman touched on this point, saying that “in some ways, a lot of the heroes are inspired by many other games and FPSes. Widowmaker … could be compared to a number of snipers in previous FPSes, and Pharah might feel very comfortable to players who spent a lot of time playing Tribes.” He went on to explain that the second most recently-announced hero, Soldier: 76, was designed to have a Call of Duty-esque feel. “Because of the popularity of these games (and believe me, we all love CoD as well), we found that a lot of players' first reaction to the game was … they really wanted to start with a character that they could be somewhat familiar with.”
Why It Works
So heroes have specialties and roles, big whoop. Why is that so important anyways? The answer is simple: each hero’s abilities allow them to interact with their opponents and allies in a direct and meaningful way. Most competitive shooters have these team roles to a degree; in CS:GO, for example, one player on a team may be the designated AWPer, supporting the rest of their squad with the threat of a one-shot kill. Overwatch takes that team dynamic several steps further with abilities that mesh both offensively and defensively.
Take this example. Let’s say the opposing team has a particular enemy that’s causing your team problems – previously mentioned tank Reinhardt, for the sake of simplicity. His survivability is making him and his disruptive abilities last too long, and making protecting team objectives a pain. A potential solution would be to use Zenyatta’s Orb of Discord, an ability that causes a defense debuff, to cut down on the amount of damage that Reinhardt can take. Still need more solutions? Combine it with Zarya’s Graviton Surge, an Ultimate ability that pins enemy characters in place, to keep him locked down while your team chunks down his health.
In Overwatch, heroes can be swapped at will after every death. This makes for an exciting wrinkle to competitive play as well. A well-organized team could create set plays for specific maps and situations using unique team compositions, forcing teams to adapt to what they’re up against with new compositions of their own. Instead of a draft pick dictating an entire match as it often does in League of Legends or Dota 2, strategies could change constantly, giving every new push a chance to change the game.
Watching out for Overwatch
With the Overwatch beta scheduled for Fall 10th (whatever that means), it won’t be long before a lucky few get their hands on this highly anticipated title. Whether or not it will be filling stadiums at worldwide events in the future remains to be seen. But Overwatch is opening up some new doors for competitive shooters, and it has the potential to shake up the eSports world in a big way.
The world could always use more heroes. And for shooters, Overwatch may prove to be just that.
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