Overwatch has launched, and while our full review is a work in progress, we gathered everyone on staff who played last night to write up their first impressions. We all had fun with Blizzard’s inaugural team shooter, though everyone came away with a slightly different take—what chance was there we’d all agree on Bastion? If you’re playing Overwatch too, let us know in the comments how you’re feeling about your first full day with it outside of the beta.
Phil Savage, Deputy Editor
I'm just getting started—a toddler taking his first steps onto the playground. Fortunately, I'm not alone. I'd feared being matched against players with hundreds of hours logged between the closed and open betas, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Only a few matches have been totally one sided. For the most part everyone's still finding their feet.
Overwatch is no MOBA, but it feels more varied than most shooters. Having specific, named characters does make for a steeper learning curve. In TF2, a Heavy is an easily understood class role. In Overwatch, a Zarya isn't. This isn't a complaint, but does mean experience presents an obvious advantage. I'm glad to be starting out now, when the majority of players are new. Fortunately, it doesn't take long to learn the basics of a character, if not their intricacies. Gaining a working knowledge of each character should only take a few hours—less if you spend time in AI training.
I'm getting familiar with the support characters, because—as is always the case with support characters—nobody seems to want to play them. I'm OK with this, because they're mostly good. I particularly love Mercy's flying ability, which lets her zip directly to a nearby player. It's an enjoyable method of motion, and makes sense given her role. Every character feels different, in weapon, ability and movement. There's clearly a lot of depth to the way they interact. It'll be some time before I'm in a position to see the relationships between characters—their hard counters and complimentary supports. For now, I'm simply having a lot of fun meeting them all.
Angus Morrison, Staff Writer
Playing at lunchtime was a mistake. I seem to have wandered from Phil’s playground into the main road, facing off against a stream of beta-honed players who can smell a scrub from 40 paces. Still, I’m always up for a spot of camping, and that makes Bastion my friend.
My sole ‘play of the game’ was 15 seconds of motionless sentry mode spraying while a stream of enemies wandered obligingly into my line of fire. Then I turned into a tank and fell off a roof. It wasn’t skillful, nor elegant, but Overwatch is good at making me feel like I contributed just by showing up. That’s important, because it should stop new players getting disheartened months down the line.
In another game, I practically blushed when everyone commended my Reinhardt play. All I did was stand on the payload while the opposition bounced off like flubber. The systems rewarding non-killy play feel pretty robust, which means Blizz has nailed some earlier criticism.
Evan Lahti, US Editor-in-Chief
I know at this point, but I’m frustrated by Bastion. Look, I get it: turrets are a roadblock. They’re an obstacle for the attackers to strategize around and solve. You have to work together, reconfigure your character composition, drop ults, or communicate to knock out a character who can do heaps of damage at almost any range. It's not about 'balance.'
What annoys me about Bastion is how independent he is. Giving a powerful turret man the ability to self-heal at will, with no significant penalty or cooldown, is an awfully ham-fisted way of creating a tough defensive obstacle. It’s just a boring way of creating sustain. Wouldn’t it be a more interesting constraint if this defensive cannon had to seek out a health pack or a healer now and then in order to stay in the fight? (I say defensive, but last night we played against an attacking team who put a deployed Bastion atop a moving cart and absolutely rolled us.) When the Heavy unwrapped a in TF2, it rooted them in place—there was plenty of risk attached to the health reward, along with a 30-second cooldown.
Guh. Anyway, I am having fun, despite all this complaining. A few of the character abilities are a bit opaque, like D.Va’s kamikaze ultimate, which has an imperceivable range—I’d love to see that visualized. I made the mistake of treating Mei’s freeze gun (sorry, ‘Endothermic Blaster’) like the Pyro’s flamethrower in TF2, but as shown in the clip above I learned last night that you have to use her icicle attack in combination if you want to take out tanks.
My prevailing thought about Overwatch is that its quick matches are simultaneously a boon and a hindrance. Overwatch can and should be its own game, but it will never replicate the feeling of ‘hanging out’ in a server, or a server having its own, small culture and community that grows around it. When you lose, you haven’t lost 30 minutes of your life, but the huge urgency created by the clock means there’s little time for antics and experimentation.
Tyler Wilde, Executive Editor
Am I good at Overwatch or is it just being polite? I'm a pretty big Team Fortress 2 scrub, so like Angus I was a bit surprised to be having any success. The first character I tried, Pharah, ended up being a great match. I love that I can blast out of danger with her Shift ability and be a pain in the ass from above, and her rockets are fast and generous with splash damage. For a first-timer (I never played the beta) I felt like I was keeping up and contributing right away, which is a feat.
Long term, though, I worry some of the accessibility measures may bore me. I didn't like either of the sniper characters, Hanzo and Widowmaker, for instance. Hitting a headshot with the Huntsman bow in TF2 is one of my favorite things, but Hanzo's arrows don't have the same sense of weight and parabolic motion. I just sort of aim close to an enemy and spit them out like a pitching machine, scoring more hits than I deserve. Likewise, Widowmaker’s sniper rifle is very forgiving, and doubles as a fully-automatic close range weapon rather than making her rely on something clunkier when she loses the distance advantage.
Neither character felt like the high precision, high damage, high risk snipers I enjoy playing, and in general, I’m missing the detail work of mastering a weapon. All the guns I’ve used so far deliver fairly broad sprays of damage, and firehosing the other team with Bastion is certainly satisfying, but I like to at least struggle a little to hit what I’m aiming at.
At the same time, the forgiving guns are why I was able to jump in for the first time and immediately feel competent. And I had a lot of fun last night. Evan, James, Tom Marks and I went 5-for-8, and we had a few spectacular moments. At one point, Tom and I unwittingly unleashed our ults simultaneously and wiped the other team—a breakdown in communication that ended up becoming a devastating play of the game. I like gambling with risky plays for the rush of those heroic moments, and it’s the broader things like play style, team composition, and map awareness that seem to contribute to a well-played Overwatch match, while accuracy takes the backseat. That’s fun for now, but I do wonder if I’ll feel unsatisfied in a month if I don’t feel like I’m getting really, really good at one weapon.
James Davenport, Associate Editor
Overwatch feels like a MOBA and shooter mixtape on shuffle. I love that switching characters isn’t a simple change of weaponry, but one of movement speed, health, and abilities. Adapting to a wide variety of playstyles on the fly and feeling a surge of familiarity in the archetypes as I learn them is a ton of fun, but all mixtapes come with an agenda. What does Overwatch want from me? Does it just want me to feel useful and empowered despite FPS skill? Or does it want to be the next step in competitive FPS and character action design? This early on, I haven’t a clue. I just know I’m having fun (as long as Marks isn’t bullying me with Mei).
Character specials stand out the most—some literally emulate popular FPS hacks. When an enemy Widowmaker sniped me through a hedge, after a quick bout of teaching new words to my teammates, the killcam showed she’d deployed her special, which shows all enemy silhouettes on the map despite obstructions. While it’s an extremely powerful tool with proper timing, I couldn’t help but feel it—or most of the skills—detracted from moment to moment tests of skill. They often reduce battles of precision into a battle of devastating button presses, which is fine, I guess. Overwatch is all about the teamplay and denying or gaining ground, I just don’t know how long that kind of competition will hold the attention of a simple Quake-person like myself. That said, for every ‘bullshit’ shouted into the my lucky group’s headsets after a McCree special wiped me out, there was a ‘hell yeah’ for every time I pulled of a poignant Graviton Surge with Zayra. It’s no surprise that post-game chat banter so often pokes fun at character abilities with “hax” and “reported”—Overwatch is a game about embracing OP.
I do worry that my thirst to play more shares the same roots as all of Blizzard’s games: the meticulous, freaky-deaky attention to polish and feedback systems that wiggle their way into my endorphin centers and turn me into a hungry, hungry loot boy. Sometimes, I buy Hearthstone card packs just to feel. I’ve already done the same in Overwatch. That loot chest animation should be illegal and should be banned. See you online.
Chris Thursten, Editor of PC Gamer Pro
As someone who has been playing Overwatch since alpha, it’s interesting watching these impressions come in. Experience makes a big, big difference with this game—I’ve found my feelings go from positive to negative to mixed to positive again, finally settling on the latter at some point in the last few weeks of closed beta. I really do feel like Blizzard are on to something here, but I suspect it’ll take a few months for the scene to mature, and for ranked to arrive, before its nuances fully reveal themselves.
For example: every new player hates Bastion, but at a certain point you stop seeing Bastion altogether because his weaknesses become glaringly obvious, and he has lots of them. You rarely saw him picked in ranked in closed beta. But then you realise that these ‘weaknesses’ are situational, and many of them are specific to the most obvious way of playing Bastion—as a stationary defensive camper. Check out how Cloud9 make use of the character offensively on Temple of Anubis —Surefour’s ‘siege tank’ style of play cracks open the map entirely. The newbie-stomping defensive camper works completely differently in the hands of the best players, completing a full lap of the game’s strategic space in the process. That’s the best sign, in my opinion, that Overwatch is a well-designed competitive game.
I have a few concerns. The game’s uneven skill ceiling has a few notable high points—particularly Widowmaker and McCree—who reward mouse skill with incredible lethality. The way the game supports various playstyles is one of its assets, but I worry about lower-skill-cap characters falling by the wayside as the best players get better and better at the higher-cap ones. Time will tell.
That’s a small concern about a game I otherwise love, though. Overwatch looks great, sounds great, is tightly balanced, and has enough depth that it keeps surprising me after a few hundred hours. I could bait Reinhardts into all day, and probably will.
Tom Marks, Assistant Editor
Mei is bae. Mei is love. Mei is life.