Who it’s for: Shooter fans … any shooter fans.
Console: PS4, Xbox One, PC
When I was young, my father taught me to play well with others. Generally, I took this lesson to heart, especially with team sports like football and softball, and later in business where being a team player is so valued.
Not in video games, though.
I grew up in an age when most games pitted one player against another, be it trying to get a little white dot past your opponent’s paddle in “Pong,” racking up a higher score in “Pac-Man” or “Donkey Kong,” or kicking the stuffing out of your best friend with Chun-Li in “Street Fighter II.”
Occasional forays into co-op generally resulted in arguments over taking more than my fair share of treasure or “accidentally” shooting my “teammate” in the back.
What can I say? I’m a lone wolf.
Over the years, I’ve tried team-based shooters like “Team Fortress” but never really found my groove in them. It was just too hard adjusting to other players’ styles and skill levels.
Then I discovered “Overwatch.” This new team-based shooter comes from the amazing minds at Blizzard, a company that seems to do no wrong regardless of the game genre they dive into. “Overwatch” is no exception.
On the surface, it seems simple: Two squads of six players face off against each other in a limited variety of mission types taking place on a limited number of maps.
Most of the time, your squad is either protecting an area, trying to capture an area or escorting something or other through an area.
Sounds pretty bland, doesn’t it?
Perhaps if it wasn’t flawlessly executed or if you didn’t have an enormously diverse roster of characters to choose from. These things make all the difference in the world.
The cartoony and somewhat comic characters in “Overwatch” each have different weapons and abilities, giving players plenty of choices to fit their personal play style.
It’s always good — though not required — to go in with a balanced team: generally having a tank to go in and absorb attacks, a damage dealer to tear up the other side and a support player to keep your team healed and to lay traps.
Each of these roles comes in many flavors, as the 21 characters now available all play quite differently. You’ll choose based on the main weapon, secondary weapon and additional abilities that each sports.
I played about 35 hours of “Overwatch” and only really became familiar with about eight of the characters. I gravitated toward ranged attacks and tanks that could suck up bullets while I practiced my paltry aiming skills.
My favorite was Widowmaker, a female assassin who — along with her amazingly powerful sniper rifle — employs a grappling hook to gain higher ground, a venom mine that sticks to walls and explodes in a cloud of poison when an enemy approaches, and the Infra-Sight that allows her whole team to see enemies behind walls to get the drop on them.
The last is her “Ultimate” ability that must charge throughout the round and be used sparingly, lest the game become too unbalanced.
It did take some time to learn the nuances of Widowmaker (a very popular character) as well as the details of each of the 12 maps. My progression was steady, albeit a little slow, but as shooters were never really my cuppa, I was pleased.
I never felt hopelessly outgunned nor frustrated as I became accustomed to the game.
When I veered off to try other characters like Winston (the giant sentient gorilla from the game’s ads) who can jump and crush enemies, or Roadhog who can usefully self-heal, I never felt like I was completely starting over.
The game’s overall level of polish and balance should act as a template for other companies working on action games. Sure, there’s no single-player campaign or deep story, but what’s here is well-conceived and executed.
Blizzard will add maps and characters and game modes in time, so count on having plenty of content going forward.
Whether you are a seasoned expert or a shooter newbie, “Overwatch” offers a point of entry and a way to improve. It’s the best competitive shooter I’ve seen in a decade and likely will remain so for quite some time.