Game of the Year 2016 #2: Overwatch

Cassidee Moser: One of the reasons why I love Overwatch so much is the sheer depth it makes available to the player. It's a shooter, but only in the loosest sense. Sure, you can select Solder 76 and run around playing it like it's Call of Duty, but there are so many other options you have to choose from. 

That's also one of the reasons why I think it has taken off as much as it has. In games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Star Wars Battlefront, etc., a lot of the skill is largely twitch or reaction-based. In Overwatch, you don't have to be the fastest, the strongest, the most accurate; you just have to have a fundamental understanding of your character's job and be able to execute on it. 

Incentivizing multiple strategies and accommodating for multiple play styles is a difficult balance to hit, and they've done so in classic refined Blizzard fashion. 

Steve Watts: Yeah, you really hit the nail on the head. There have been lots of multiplayer shooters, but a few things set Overwatch apart. One of them is definitely its sense of balance, not just between classes and team composition, but with tools built explicitly to reward lots of different play-styles. Shooters are usually pretty focused on K/D ratio, and even some class-based shooters haven't really found ways to emphasize the whole-team dynamic. Overwatch does, and that makes everyone feel like they're contributing regardless of their ability to squeeze off precision shots.

The other part, of course, is its sense of personality. These are characters first and foremost, complete with their own stories and motivations and personalities. There's a reason the animated shorts regularly get views in the millions on YouTube while supplementary material in other games is largely ignored. We can connect with these characters and there's a craving in the fan-base to learn more about them.

Josh Hawkins: I think Overwatch really excels for one vital reason. It has that Blizzard polish. This really expands to cover quite a lot of what you guys mentioned above. The team-based heroes, the abilities that correspond to one another, and just overall the feeling that each match is won based on how your team does as a whole, not just how you do. While I like to joke around and say that Overwatch is a blatant copy of Team Fortress 2 (the ideas are the same), it's really not. There's so much more flesh to Overwatch, and the heroes really work off of each other a lot more. 

I think that one of my favorite things about Overwatch, though, is the fact that you have to know your characters. You can't just choose one guy and constantly go in and wreck shit. That's not how it works. Each hero has their own weaknesses and strengths, and if you really learn to use those strengths and weaknesses, you have the potential to always come out on top. It's a game that rewards people for knowledge about who they are playing, not just knowledge about the maps. For me, that's the number one thing that draws me back to the game when I'm looking for an FPS to dig into.

Steve: You're right, Josh. This is what Blizzard does best. The concept has been done before, but Blizzard consistently finds a way to simplify and distill it into a very approachable and sharp version of something that already works. We saw it with Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone, which shook up the MOBA and CCG genres, respectively, for the same reason. Overwatch is already having an impact on multiplayer shooters in the same way.

Speaking of knowing your characters, though, that raises another of Overwatch's particular strengths and, oddly enough, one of its only weaknesses. These are characters more than classes. They all have powers and weapons that are balanced carefully against each other, sure, but they also have personalities that are consistently expressed through their variety of voice lines, victory poses, and so on. It didn't take long for the community to start writing fanfiction and comics, because they have such defined character traits. 

All this plays into the myth-building of the world of Overwatch, which is incredibly intriguing but underserved in the game proper. So far Blizzard seems content to tell its story through supplemental materials like those beautiful digital shorts, but I'm hopeful the long-term plan for the game includes story missions to develop this world. It's such a great premise I want to spend more time in it, experiencing it for myself, instead of only watching it on YouTube.

Joshua: I think that there is definitely a lot of lore and story for Blizzard to work with on Overwatch. I mean, just look at the things that the fans have come up with along the way, and then look at how detailed and beautiful those shorts you mentioned are. There is a lot to the story that we aren't seeing, and I think, to a degree, Blizzard is missing out by not capitalizing on that story. Of course, they could also prefer to let the fans tell the stories, which could explain why they haven't done more shorts than they have. If you haven't noticed, those shorts always give us just enough about the characters to instill more questions within us. This, in turn, pushes some players and fans to create their own stories to help answer those questions, and maybe at this point, Blizzard realizes that by taking that creative control back into their own hands, they'd be essentially killing off one of the greatest fan-fiction communities on the planet.

I think, with a game like Overwatch, with a game that offers such unique characters with so much possibility for back story and everything, that sometimes not telling the whole story can be just as good, if not better, for the community than making sure you answer all their questions. I hope that makes sense. That being said, though, I'd love more Overwatch story. Hell, I'd take a full feature length movie over story missions, if I'm honest. It seems like Blizzard has a solid hold on how to tell a story through video, and if we're honest with ourselves, FPS games can oftentimes struggle to really tell the story the way it's meant to be told.

Cassidee: Overwatch is the one game that came out this year I continue to play regularly. In its very first year, it has only improved through the addition of new characters, new maps, and the various changes and balance tweaks Blizzard has implemented into the gameplay. Add to that the fact that all of the characters have their own distinct identities, the amount of backup and supplementary fiction available, and the possibilities for the game's future, and we have reason to be extremely optimistic about the game Overwatch is and will evolve into. 

For more on team-based shooters and quirky characters, read our official Overwatch review.

2016 Game of the Year Countdown: 

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