If you've played many competitive multiplayer shooters, then you've likely spent far too much time celebrating – or, indeed, lamenting – your kill death ratio. Long has this little number been seen as a barometer of your success in online battles, and this in turn helped feed a steady stream of gamers into the Team Deathmatch grinder, while turning off more casual players. Coming to the end of match only to find yourself consistently propping up the scoreboard is really demotivating, and Overwatch – Blizzard's first foray into the shooter genre – wants to try and avoid this by giving gamers a competitive shooter that's extremely accessible, while still having enough tactical depth for those who want it.
On paper, Overwatch seems a little regressive. Rather than sporting a complex levelling and unlock system or a wide variety of game modes, it focuses purely on six-versus-six objectives-based matches, and instead hangs its hat on an interesting roster of 21 characters, as well as some really smart game design. Now, you could be forgiven for thinking that Overwatch is a MOBA, especially if you looked purely at its character line-up and their skill sets, but in reality it's a straight-up shooter, which has way more in common with a title like Team Fortress 2 than any MOBA.
Overwatch also has some similarities to Team Fortress in terms of its art style, with vibrant comic book-esque characters, and colourful renderings of future Earth locations for each of its twelve multiplayer maps. A focus on these sort of stylised visuals – that're less demanding on any system – has worked really well for Blizzard in the past, and once again it does here. Not only does it look great, but it also runs at a consistent 60 frames-per-second, meaning the game is always ultra-responsive even when the action on screen is at its most hectic.
Even though the visual design is a standout, the shining stars in Overwatch are without a doubt its heroes, not to mention their wonderfully varied weapons and abilities. With each character falling into one of four categories – offence, defence, tank and support – they each have a role to play on a team, and whether you like fighting from afar, mixing it up in the middle of the fray, or healing your teammates, each feels very different from one another, and what's more, there's not a single dud amongst them.
With all of the characters available right from the start, it feels odd not to have to slowly unlock them – especially given the prevalence of progression systems in pretty much every game genre these days. The obsessive collectors out there shouldn't worry, though, as there are still roughly 50 cosmetic unlocks for each character – such as skins, voice lines, and victory poses – which can be collected by opening loot boxes awarded each time that you level up. If you're the sort of person with more money than sense, you can also buy these boxes with your hard earned real-world cash, and while the box opening animation is appropriately exciting, it doesn't make up for the fact the random contents might leave you without anything decent despite your investment.
During your first matches, you'll feel the urge to play the same character repeatedly so you can get a feel for their own particular weapons and abilities – especially since the game doesn't really teach you how to play each character. It won't take long before you realise that this isn't actually what Overwatch wants you to do, as not only do different characters tend to work well in specific situations, but they can also counter each other beautifully. Has Tracer been harassing your team using her teleporting abilities? Break out Mei and use her ice beam to stop her time travelling antics. Is Torbjorn's deployable turret making your life hell? Call up Widowmaker and use her rifle to destroy it while well out of range.
The sooner you realise that the character select screen is an armoury packed with weapons at your disposal – and you can switch to any character each time you respawn – you'll enjoy much more success in those situations where your opponents aren't giving you an inch. The interplay between the characters is what ultimately make Overwatch's matches so much fun, and with each one lasting less than ten minutes, it's not only the perfect game to pick up and play when you have a bit of spare time, but it also offers ample opportunity to try out new strategies – especially if you're playing in a coordinated group.
Another nifty aspect of Overwatch is how the game is always giving you positive feedback as a player. Kills and assists have been forgone in favour eliminations, whereby even if you do a small amount of damage to an opponent, you get credit when they eventually get taken down. In addition, there's no scoreboard showing where you rank in your team. Instead, at the end of each match, the game highlights four players taken from either team, pointing out some statistical titbit that celebrates their positive contribution. The crowning glory of this approach, though, is the play of the game video that runs after each match, and should you be fortunate to be recognised in this clip, you can't help but feel extremely pleased with yourself.
While playing Overwatch is an overwhelmingly positive experience, there are the odd disappointments. Chief among these is the price of admission versus the content on offer. With only four game types, and no real single player component, there's not a huge amount here – especially since a planned ranked mode didn't make it into the initial release (it's due out at some point in June). While the game ultimately makes up for this shortcoming in many other areas, the longevity of Overwatch will rest firmly on Blizzard's post-release plans, and while interviews have suggested that any new content drops will be free in the future, there are no concrete plans as to what these will look like at this moment in time – though Blizzard historically has a good track record for supporting its titles.
Blizzard has never been a genre trailblazer when it comes to the games that it develops, but when it does arrive fashionably late on the scene, you can be fairly certain that it's going to deliver something special. With Overwatch, the studio has delivered once again, splicing the heroes of a MOBA straight into a team-based shooter, and while the asking price may feel a little steep at first, it's the selection of characters – that are easy to learn, but difficult to master – as well as its positive recognition system that'll undoubtedly win you over.