Overwatch, Blizzard’s first new IP in 17 years, looks like a game for casuals. Cartoonish, fantastical world. Cheery smiles and cheesy one-liners to match. The selection of 21 bright and colorful characters evoke feelings more in line with an ice cream shop than a battlefield.
So let’s get this out of the way. Overwatch is not a casual game. In fact, its actual demands on players seem to betray the childlike aesthetic. Overwatch by most standards is a “hardcore” title, but its learning curve is democratic. It’s the standard “easy to learn, difficult to master” gameplay common to a modern understanding of good game design.
So Meta, Bro
Once you acquire the basics, suspiciously about the time that you become addicted to the gameplay loops, the game will have you mentally juggling what hero to choose for the map, the team, the game type. Got that? Now use your hero effectively. Should be easy with 21 characters. It only means you have to switch controls, skills/ultimates, approaches to maps, and combat strategies multiple times throughout a match. Don’t forget to swap characters appropriately to synergize (read: team work) and counter enemy strats. What about your main? Oh, sorry those don’t exist in this game.
Alone any of these challenges are easily surmountable. But when you have to consider each factor while trying to get kills and not die, combat becomes frenetic both in-game and in your head as you try to outthink/outplay the opponent. Sure, you’ll get by. Matches aren’t a chaotic mess like Battleborn’s UI, but consistently winning will take more work than getting kills. It’s this juggling of thoughts that makes the game so stupidly enjoyable.
Overwatch’s legs, its replayability, and hooks lies in the dynamic meta game its design fosters. An Overwatch match is a kind of ecosystem of character switching, projectiles, and tug-of-war like thinking game. This ecosystem produces the most satisfying content in the game: countless strategies.
What Blizzard Does Best
There’s still a lot to say about Overwatch’s campy writing (Justice rains from above!!!), its diverse cast, design ecology, and status as artistic achievement and commodity, but we’ll leave that for the full review. On the product level, the game is an excellent union of skill (read: mechanical execution) and strategic thinking. There’s more meat here than meets the eye. And considering this is Blizzard we’re talking about, none of this should come as a surprise.
Overwatch is Blizzard selling what they do best: packaged fun sold online or at participating retailers near you.