Overwatch is back! And in case you were worried, no, Blizzard didn't ruin it. Overwatch is, broadly speaking, very good — and has been since its first closed beta late last year. It's a fun, lightning-fast team-based shooter that draws a surprising amount of character inspiration from MOBAs like League of Legends and DOTA 2. What Blizzard released last year, though, was a foundation, something from which to build. Ultimately, as we all know, it came up against a notorious criticism that Billy Idol so presciently articulated in his 1983 hit, Rebel Yell: "Oh yeah little baby / She want more / More, more, more, more, more."
Now it has a little more. The new mode, Control, adds some variety, but it's a pretty typical capture-and-hold-a-series-of-points deal. The new glue holding everything together — a level-based progression system — is easily the most interesting part of the update.
Like much of Overwatch, it's focused more on fun and teamplay than competition. You get the lion's share of XP from matches simply for competing (4.01 XP per second, according to an in-depth Reddit breakdown), an additional 250 XP for finishing a match, and 500 more if your team wins. So a win is only equivalent to what you'd earn for just a few minutes of mid-match participation.
Post-match medals do a little to reward exemplary performances, but again, not a whole lot. You get them for being first, second or third on your team in categories like eliminations and damage, but you only get XP equivalent to a single instance of the best medal you earned. So even if you sweep every category or get one gold and a bunch of silvers, that's still just one helping of 150 XP.
The idea, clearly, is to keep players focused on the team and the match at hand while also staving off some of the frustration that might come with a poor performance. It's very much in line with other clever Overwatch features like post-match highlights and commendations (you can even commend players on the other team), a system that warns you if your team composition is off, and context-based mid-match hints that help you play heroes more effectively. Overwatch strives to be welcoming as hell. Its billowing character roster can be a little intimidating at first, but everything else about the game is a welcome mat with a picture of a teletubby on it.
Oh, and then there's the loot boxes, which you get for levelling up. Look at this shit:
UGH PLEASE BLIZZ YOU GOTTA GIVE ME JUST ONE MORE BOX I NEEEEEED TO FEEL ALIVE AGAIN.
Ahem. The animation is very satisfying, is what I meant to say.
So far, I've unlocked a bunch of sprays, a few avatar images and a couple character skins that were mostly just bland palette swaps. Rarer ones change characters' looks in more overt ways, but I haven't unlocked any of those yet. To be frank, it's not as exciting as, say, unlocking a new gun or hero in other games, but it also ensures that balance isn't getting flung every which way by the uncaring winds of have and have-not. I can dig it.
I am, however, on the fence about just how skewed away from sterling individual play the current system can be. I can have a completely killer game, and it won't move the XP needle much more than if I decided to tank as Mercy, stand still as Tracer or, um, be McCree at all (seriously Blizzard, ya done nerfed him too hard). At the same time, though, if I get an overwhelming number of commendation votes from other players, it's in some ways more rewarding than a few more notches in my XP belt. And you know what? I'm not against a system that skews more in favour of social rewards than tangible ones. I just think it maybe needs to be more elaborate and involved than a glorified series of upvotes.
Still, I really like the inviting, team-oriented atmosphere Overwatch works so hard to foster, and I think it's headed in a good direction overall. It still needs some tweaks to encourage people to communicate and collaborate more and, as ever, More (More, More, More, More, Moooar), but this is a closed beta. Change is inevitable.