Blizzard and Overwatch: Must Watch

At Blizzcon, Blizzard announced an FPS called Overwatch. Among  a stunning animated trailer, rumours of it being ex-Titan content, and being a “TF2-killer”, its worth knowing about.

I never really got into Team Fortress 2. I thought I’d let that be known right off the bat. I also never got MOBAs in general, but then Heroes of the Storm came along and suddenly caught my interest. That got the little Battle Arena foot in the door, and one day I just decided to install League of Legends (LoL). Now I play it nearly every day. Seeing early footage of Overwatch makes me want to give Team Fortress 2 another try. Say what you like about Blizzard, but their effect on the games industry is like some great beacon for new gamers to see and be attracted too, as well as veteran gamers picking up something new, because we seem to trust them. People say that about Valve, with Portal and Steam and so on, but I think Blizzard are made up of people who just play games; and fundamentally understand what makes them fun, and it shows in their portfolio.

I had just started playing Magic: The Gathering for about a year before Hearthstone came out. Once more, Blizzard seemed to have taken an old formula, looked critically at it with their Sauron-style eyeball (except its probably icy, because, you know, Blizzard?) cut off the fat, and added a system that was both casual and incredibly hardcore. This is probably the second most important thing about Free-to-Play games. Low barrier to entry, high barrier to master. Gets players on the game, and keeps them there. In LoL, you have to reach level 30 before you can even get ranked. A feat I haven’t achieved in my nearly five months of playing. In World of Tanks (WoT), the tier 1 tanks are like dodgems with peashooters attached, and there are special levels that allow everyone to hide, until they choose to head out to fight. Everyone can get kills, no-one has an advantage. A few months later you’ll get to higher tiers and learn about armour angling, penetration and vision, and different tank roles.

Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, Diablo, World of Warcraft, Starcraft (to some extent) and now Overwatch. All have this difficulty/time curve, which seems so desperately lacking in most games, but so excruxiatingly obvious. Its called Flow, to keep a player challenged but not ffrustrated rewarded but not bored, as they keep playing. Each game has this open-ended quality, thanks to incredibly well-supported multiplayer elements. The biggest gripe I had with Team Fortress 2 is that there wasn’t anything on the big picture. You played, you won/loss, you played again. In the Bartle’s test of gaming personalities, I’m a Killer/Achiever (in equal measure), so I do like fighting for the sake of it, but I need something to show for it! Battlefield and Call of Duty give you unlocks, which is fine, but the ultimate is ranks. I spent nearly 4 years playing Starcraft 2 chasing those ever more impressive rank medals. I reached platinum, twice, once with my long-time 2v2 partner, another in a fluky 3v3 team. I’m set to do it in LoL too. But I’m hoping Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch will provide the satisfaction. In fact if I know Blizzard they’re almost guaranteed to have realised exactly what I’m missing from those genres, and giving it to me on a Free-to-Play platter. In exchange, I’ll have no problem dropping some money for in-game, cosmetic items. That’s how to do F2P by the way, games industry.

Back to Overwatch. The frantic jumping and shooting turned me off at first, but then I learnt that there was no ‘team deathmatch’ mode. There would be no mode where Kill/Death ratios would be tied to your self-worth. Then I learnt characters have just one weapon, and abilities (and an ultra ability) similar to MOBAs. So you would be able to practice and perfect one or two characters, among the twelve they have so far. Also those abilities will tailor them to certain roles (similar to…you know), like tanks, damage dealers and healers. But in true Blizzard style, every character does their role so differently, you couldn’t ‘main a lane’ like in a MOBA. Its going to be a lot of fun finding out which champ- I mean, character I and my friends click with best, and then forming cool combos to take objectives.

Thats another Blizzard trademark ‘feeling’ for me. Forming strategies, and seeing them beat the enemy. I couldn’t make my own item build in LoL, or come up with my own tactical maneuver in WoT, but in SC2 we developed tactics with codenames, to deploy in certain situations. In Hearthstone there are combos with cards that you use and perfect, to take out your opponent, but you because you did it once and you got better as a result. In Diablo you can find the best combinations of abilities with your and your friends characters, i.e. the Wizard freezes them whilst the Crusader smashes them to bits.

That’s really the best achievement of any game, for me. That “I’m learning” feeling, the feeling of getting better at something, visibly. I never got that with TF2, or really with WoT, and sometimes I can’t tell in LoL either. Sometimes in online gaming it feels like smashing your head against a brick wall. Blizzard knows this, and they want to avoid that as much as possible. They want to make it as easy as possible for you to get better, and have fun with your friends whilst doing it. F2P or not, that’s why I signed up for the Overwatch beta today, and you really should too.