Overwatch: Hands-on at BlizzCon 2014

Blizzard debuted an all-new IP during yesterday's BlizzCon opening ceremonies. Shortly afterwards, Shacknews went hands-on.

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When Blizzard canceled its Project Titan earlier this year, CEO Mike Morhaime cited one simple reason. It just wasn't fun. A Blizzard game isn't a Blizzard game without fun.

By that criteria, there should be no such issue with Overwatch. The reveal during yesterday's BlizzCon opening ceremonies indicated a project with fun, variety, and passion. Shacknews went hands-on with Blizzard's foray into team-based multiplayer shooters during the big event and came away with positive vibes for this game's future.

Overwatch pits two sides against one another, with each players selecting one of twelve available characters:

  • Tracer (Offense) - A flighty youngster with the ability to use time travel to her advantage. Tracer is one of the game's quickest characters, able to use her Blink ability to avoid enemy fire and teleport behind foes before they can even react. She can also use her Recon skill to travel back a few seconds to restore her health and ammo to that point, offering a sort of a mulligan.
  • Reaper (Offense) - An agent of death, Reaper is one of the few characters with a passive ability to collect fallen souls and restore health. His twin shotguns are crazy powerful, as is his ability to teleport to a select location using his Shadow Step ability. He can also pass through walls with his Wraith Form ability, but cannot fire his weapons while doing so.
  • Widowmaker (Defense) - There aren't a lot of frills to Widowmaker, as she's the game's sniper. While her Widow's Kiss sniper rifle can pluck enemies from afar (even getting me quite a few times), it can also be switched to an automatic at a moment's notice. Widowmaker can protect her position with a Venom Mine or escape danger with the aid of her Grappling Hook.
  • Winston (Tank) - The giant gorilla Winston can withstand loads of punishment, but can also dish it out with his Tesla Cannon. His Jump Pack allows him to deliver a powerful leaping ground pound, while his Shield Projector can protect nearby allies.
  • Pharah (Offense) - Armed with her rocket launcher, Pharah is a fun character to play and an extremely annoying adversary to encounter. Her Jump Jet allows her to take flight, which lets her position herself behind enemies and also fly around obstacles like sentries. She's hard to take down when she's airborn and she can further irritate foes with her Concussive Blast rocket that deals knockback damage.

  • Reinhardt (Tank) - Think of this guy as a futuristic paladin. Reinhardt wields a powerful Rocket Hammer, allowing him to dish out heavy melee blows. His more useful function, however, is on the front line. His Shield puts up a massive broad energy pane that can absorb enemy shots and take substantial damage before breaking. This is a crucial tool to protect teammates, even if it momentarily takes away his hammer.
  • Symmetra (Support) - This character's Photon Projector isn't a very powerful weapon, unless it's charged. However, she's still a force to be reckoned with, thanks to her Sentry Turrets, which can be placed on the ground or along walls. Symmetra can have many of these out at once and they can be killer, as indicated by a whopping 11-kill streak that I racked up during my time with her. She can also help allies with a Photon Shield that momentarily boosts their defense, while deploying a teleporter that leads back to the team's spawn point.
  • Torbjorn (Defense) - If Reinhardt is a future paladin, Torbjorn is a future dwarf. The diminutive defender can use his Rivet Gun to defend himself at close range, but his main function is his Build Turret ability. These turrets hit just as hard as Symmetra's sentries, but Torbjorn has the bonus of being able to upgrade his turrets with his Forge Hammer. If turrets aren't dealt with, they can become massive multi-barreled, rocket-launching monstrosities.
  • Bastion (Defense) - The mechanical Bastion isn't content to build turrets. He is a turret! Bastion can use his Configuration: Siege ability to transform into a stationary turret that can help him hold chokepoints or guard points of interest. He can also use his Self-Repair ability to heal himself in a pinch, but he's vulnerable in this state, so find a safe spot.
  • Hanzo (Offense) - This archer is one of the few players that can use verticality to his advantage. Hanzo has the ability to climb walls, which gives him a fine vantage point for his Storm Bow, which can deal punishment on its own or with Sonic and Scatter Arrow abilities. Hanzo's arrows reach a pretty good distance, making him ideal for someone looking for the marksmanship of a sniper without focusing on defense.
  • Mercy (Support) - This medic doesn't focus on fighting so much, though she can defend herself with her Caduceus Blaster when absolutely necessary. Instead, she uses her Caduceus Staff to heal allies and also boost their damage output. She can also use her Guardian Angel ability to swoop in and save allies that are on the brink of defeat.
  • Zenyatta (Support) - The guru of the team, Zenyatta enters the battlefield with an array of orbs. The Orb of Destruction is his main projectile for offense. The time that I spent playing with him, however, was spent more using the Orb of Harmony and the Orb of Discord. The former can be used to slowly restore ally health, saving them from tight spots. The latter is used to reduce opponent defenses, causing them to take more damage from ally fire. Zenyatta is most useful when staying in the shadows and close to teammates.

The are many familiar elements of previous third-person shooters that can be found in Overwatch. The stylized animation is reminiscent of Team Fortress 2 and Super Monday Night Combat. There's a control point capture and 'Payload' mode that plays very similarly to Valve's team-based shooter, while the map design carries familiar-looking layouts and vertical combat. Maps, like the lotus blossom-filled Hamamura, are suited to each of the characters roles and abilities. There are enough safe spots for snipers to take aim, there are enough open spaces for direct melee combat and shootouts, there are enough walls and corridors for turret placement, and there are enough safe spots for Support classes to do their work.

However, the characters, their roles, and their attacks are uniquely Blizzard. While it would be easy to create a by-the-numbers shooter, Blizzard looks to be borrowing elements of other genres to help make Overwatch a more enticing package. Beyond their team roles, these characters all have special abilities and 'Ultimate' skills that make Overwatch feel more like a MOBA. While control point games felt like a standard game of Team Fortress 2, right down to its opening countdown phase, the MOBA-like abilities gave it an additional degree of complexity. The abilities also lend themselves greatly to teamwork, encouraging additional strategy. This isn't the kind of game to support a 'lone wolf' mentality, with a few exceptions like the high-flying Pharah.

My time with Overwatch was very limited, but I'm anxious to spend more time with it. The combat is solid, but the game stands out for its characters and the manner in which their individual abilities help bolster the team aesthetic. This is only the beginning for Overwatch, but I feel like it's off to a great start.

Those looking to get into the Overwatch beta can jump on Battle.net and sign up. The beta is set to begin in 2015.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty

  • reply
    November 8, 2014 8:00 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Overwatch: Hands-on at BlizzCon 2014

    • reply
      November 8, 2014 8:31 AM

      Please, please, please, please let me into this beta Blizzard!!

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      November 8, 2014 8:33 AM

      how big are matches? can you have a team of gorillas?

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        November 8, 2014 9:00 AM

        Yes. You can have as many of a character as you'd like and you can switch after each death.

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          November 8, 2014 9:14 AM

          but how big? like 16 on 16?

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            November 8, 2014 9:15 AM

            My sessions were 6v6.

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              November 8, 2014 9:23 AM

              bleh. 12 v 12 seems like a good place

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                November 8, 2014 1:15 PM

                6v6 feels like it's going to be "direct unmitigated levels of pure hatred towards the lowest skilled teammate" where as 12v12 allows for a few fuckoff's, newbies or simply less skilled teammates to still play without everyone blaming them for holding back the team.

                Also, it's easier to get a team of 6 on teamspeak or something and absolutely devastate any teams that are not similarly organized, where as 12v12 means a less likely chance of this happening. I guess it will all depend on the matchmaking and how this is handled.

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                  November 8, 2014 2:03 PM

                  I like 12v12 because it allows highlander

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                  November 8, 2014 3:47 PM

                  Yeah, I have always been a good 6th man on a 10 man squad. Don't depend on me as the 6th of 6.

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                November 8, 2014 6:53 PM

                I thought they confirmed 6v6 maximum?

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                November 8, 2014 6:53 PM

                a good place for a clusterfuck, difficulty organizing teams, or empty maps when you don't have the full 24.

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      November 8, 2014 1:35 PM

      Tracer and Pharrah sound pretty fun as an offense style person. Time travel and rockets!

      Reaper seems kind of boring but probably effective.

      So many engineer equivalents though. Lots of Simcity players to contend with. That was pretty bad in TF2, hopefully not ridiculous here.

    • rms
      reply
      November 8, 2014 4:04 PM

      good article, I feel like I know quite a bit about this title after reading it!

    • reply
      November 8, 2014 6:51 PM

      It pleases me great yet also makes me quite sad how often (Super) Monday Night Combat is referenced in Overwatch articles and threads. :(

      • reply
        November 8, 2014 7:09 PM

        Right??? I loved that game but Uber fucked it over hard.....

        • reply
          November 8, 2014 8:47 PM

          Spoiler Alert: I work at Uber.

          :(

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            November 8, 2014 8:59 PM

            I really liked MNC

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              November 8, 2014 9:10 PM

              Me too man. Me too.

              It's funny with all these Overwatch threads. So many people talking about how they *love* MNC but hate SMNC or vice versa. Possibly even more SMNC lovers simply because it was f2p so far, far, far more people tried it than the original.

              For better or worse they were quite different in terms of play. So it's not like I blame folks for liking one over the either. Strictly a matter of preference.

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                November 8, 2014 9:18 PM

                I wonder how many people actually realize how different they play (MNC vs SMNC). Or if they just tried SMNC and assume MNC plays the same. It does occasionally make for confusing discussions on the topic.

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                  November 8, 2014 9:29 PM

                  How are they different? I never played SMNC

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                    November 8, 2014 9:36 PM

                    Here's my extremely unofficial interpretation. Just my view. Other folks at Uber think of it differently.

                    Imagine a line with TF2 at one end and DOTA on the other. Original MNC was one possible answer to the question "what would dota be like as a shooter". It exists somewhere on that line skewed heavily towards TF2. It has DOTA elements such as lanes, creeps, abilities that level up during a game, etc. But it's a fast game with lots of one hit kills so much closer to TF2 than to DOTA.

                    Super MNC slides that point towards DOTA. Not all the way. Not close. Perhaps not even closer to DOTA than TF2. But in that direction. The biggest change is simply that fights last a longer. One hit kills are gone. Death is a much bigger deal. Fights become much more team oriented. There's probably more but that's the gist.

                    They do play quite differently. I like both a lot for different reasons.

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                  November 8, 2014 9:31 PM

                  I think anyone who was an MNC fan. A lot of those people hate SMNC because it is pretty different.

                  I'm not sure how many SMNC fans know. I think the ones who care enough to post about it on the internet do. They've largely taken the time to play the original.

                  It's also worth remembering the SMNC added turbocross at some point. It doesn't play the exact same as vanilla but it is similar-ish. It at least pushes SMNC in the direction of MNC even if it's not at all the way.

                  People still play turbocross btw. Sadly I think super cross is effectively dead due to lack of population. But you still hop in and get a game of turbo pretty quick.

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      November 10, 2014 7:27 AM

      I think I'm waiting to see how well Heroes of the Storm works coming out of alpha and into beta to see if Blizz can really work out team play mechanics. There's been some rough spots in Heroes (artifacts) that make me think they don't yet have a firm grasp on how to make their game fully unique - so I have the same concern about Overwatch. I get that Blizz is trying to keep the entry and learning curve low to appeal to more players, and it kinda works with Heroes. Maybe I'll get into the beta of OW and we'll get to see first-hand if they can figure out how to be unique.