Last week, Blizzard Entertainment, the video gaming powerhouse responsible for the massively popular "World of Warcraft" and "Diablo" series — and the one singlehandedly responsible for sucking more of my teenage life-force than any first bad breakup could have ever hoped to (nice try, Becky) — released an entry into a new franchise, the company's first in nearly 20 years.
"Overwatch" seems like a bit of an odd fit for the company at first glance. It's a team-based multiplayer shooter, in the same vein of Valve's massively popular "Team Fortress 2," which is a genre new to Blizzard and a bit removed from the company's core background in RPG and strategy titles.
There are also elements of the explosively popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), as each playable character has his or her own set of unique abilities — and one ultimate ability that gradually charges as a match goes on. Each also has a suggested "role" on the team — offensive, defensive, tank and support.
All of this has been delivered with the expected level of polish from a Blizzard game. Matches are quick and frenetic, characters' abilities and roles mesh well with each other, promoting actual teamwork (an impressive feat in any multiplayer shooter), and each map has enough alternate routes and alcoves to prevent matches from getting predictable.
"Overwatch" is polished, functional and fun. The gameplay is quick and addictive, and without the frustratingly immense barrier to entry that other online shooters and MOBAs come packaged with. Most reviewers echo the sentiment, as the PC version has clocked up a score of 91 on Metacritic.
But while the game has succeeded in many ways, it's also fallen short (at least in its current state) in some very familiar areas for online shooters — and had the game not come bearing the "Blizzard" trademark, its flaws upon release might not have been so easily accepted.
The most glaring is the current lack of a ranked mode of play. Players can hop into a quick match, but there's no leaderboard or way of discerning who the top players are beyond those you're immediately interacting with. It's a pretty standard inclusion for multiplayer-only games. Blizzard said it plans on releasing a mode to address this in the coming weeks, but lacking the option at launch gives "Overwatch" an air of incompletion, especially when considering the game's $40 price tag (or $60 for console versions).
Barring an absence of ranked games (I'd almost certainly get instantaneously smoked by a 12-year-old if I tried to joining them, anyway) and my usual disinterest in the shooter genre, my time with "Overwatch" has been surprisingly positive. The art is playful and fun, the barrier to entry is low, and the variety of all the character types adds in an extra level of personal identity in choosing how to play. I'm thinking it'll be a go-to timewaster for at least several months to come.
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