Overwatch: The Kotaku Review

Overwatch: The Kotaku Review

Overwatch has technically only been out for a week, but it’s already a phenomenon. Even people who have never played Overwatch are getting sucked into its orbit through fan fiction, cosplay, memes and porn. That’s because Overwatch is not really a game as much as it’s an event.

Normally, hype tells you nothing concrete about a game, but the hype around Overwatch has become a key part of the experience. The excitement around the game acts as a testament to Blizzard’s dedication to craft, refinement and iconic character design.

Everything about Overwatch is character-driven. The game technically has a story — there was once an international task force of heroes who banded together to restore peace under a banner called ‘Overwatch’ — but the game itself is pretty divorced from that lore. If you’ve never watched any of the (excellent) shorts on YouTube or read any of the comics, you could play Overwatch without ever really knowing what it’s about. The specifics don’t matter that much. You’re here for these guys:

At first, new players are likely to gravitate toward whatever characters look cool as they pursue each match’s objective of capturing a point or moving cargo from point A to point B. With time, however, everyone learns the importance of building a team with complementary skills. It helps that Blizzard actually holds your hands with small details such as gently suggesting improvements toward team composition when you select a character.

There are four types of heroes in Overwatch: tank (the guys who lead an attack and soak up damage), offence (the guys who bring the heat in an attack), defence (the guys who protect areas of interest) and support (the guys who don’t get enough credit for buffing the team). Winston the gorilla, for example, can leap right into an enemy frontline, where he’ll then pop a shield that can herd teammates forward. Tracer, Overwatch’s peppy mascot, is a quick little bugger who can whiz around at mach speed, making her a perfect weapon for dealing damage against a slower enemy. Bastion, on the other hand, is a bulky robot who can turn into a stationary turret, making him great option for fending off heroes. Lucio is a DJ with a sonic amplifier that plays tunes that can either heal or speed up allies. This is just a small slice of the overall roster, but Overwatch lets you take on a variety of different roles through characters who feel unique to play.

Every match of Overwatch also has a certain feel and progression to it, depending on what your objective is. If you’re defending against attackers, you start matches by setting up around the map. You get one minute before the gates open and attackers are allowed on the field, though usually it only takes thirty seconds to get ready. This means every Overwatch match starts with a healthy dose of anxiety hanging in the air, and it’s especially palpable if you’re on the attacking team. Initially, attackers can’t do anything except peer into the map through slits on closed doors. Sometimes, you’ll see an enemy staring back menacingly, perhaps even taunting you with emotes. Maybe you’ll flex back.

Though no action can take place during this minute, it is emblematic of the genuine sense of camaraderie you can find throughout Overwatch. Players try their best to grab each other’s attention during this phase of the game, despite being unable to kill each other. This is sometimes done by plastering character-specific tags in the form of “sprays” on walls, but mostly it’s by bouncing around excitedly. Characters endearingly repeat lines over and over again, as if someone is tugging on their pull strings.

Once the match officially starts, the central tension is push and pull. Attackers do their best to make headway on the objective, and defenders try to stop them at all costs. Initially, it feels as if defenders have the upper hand: they have time to set up choke points, after all, and attackers are literally pushed against a wall. But because attackers can keep spawning right away, and any dead defenders have to trek back to the point, eventually most attackers gain a window to move forward, even if it’s just a small one. That’s where the real fun begins.

In any other game, this might be the point where the match becomes a lone wolf free-for-all. Blizzard, however, has designed Overwatch from the ground up to be objective oriented. There is no scoreboard you can pull up midmatch keeping track of how many kills you get, no kill/death ratio to really obsess over. Kills are almost meaningless really, given that the game awards you a “kill” even if you don’t do the bulk of the damage or land the killing blow — the game seems to track any damage contribution, no matter how small. It’s easy to rack up kills if you want, especially given that skills refresh rather rapidly, but pure kills won’t win you the game.

For years, so many class-based shooters have touted the necessity of teamwork and cooperation without significantly altering a framework that made that utopian ideal impossible. Overwatch actually does some work in this regard, and the result feels tremendous.

Heroes also have something called an “ultimate ability”, which the game slowly charges as you play, regardless of whether or not you’re winning or landing kills (though they help). These are devastating abilities that can change the tide of a battle if timed correctly. Lucio, for example, can give all of his teammates a temporary shield, while Winston can go into a Primal Rage mode that boosts his health and attack strength. Because ultimates are not strictly tied to skill, players always have the ability to majorly contribute to a match.

Blizzard also assigns the most value to capturing points or pushing the payload (which, by the way, can also heal you if you’re nearby, for extra motivation). Anyone who contributes in some way toward the objective tends to get participation points, which are tallied up at the end so the game can award experience points. With enough XP, you unlock a loot box, which holds a random assortment of cosmetic upgrades, such as as skins and victory poses. You can also buy loot boxes at $2.95 for two, though it helps to be patient instead.

Players who are new to Overwatch might have to undergo some deprogramming, because it is a game that actually expects you to work as a team, a prospect that becomes harsher as a match progresses. In Overwatch, sometimes the objective changes mid-match. Once an attacker successfully captures a point, the game will suddenly open up more of the map, and players will then be tasked with pushing a payload forward to win. A map that once featured a wide open space might suddenly become become a long, narrow hallway, for example, forcing you to completely reconsider your tactics for securing the new objective. You might start a match as Reinhardt to make the initial push, then swap to Mercy to keep your teammates alive at the point, only to then pick up Mei so you can freeze enemies at close quarters. This on-the-fly swapping can be difficult to get used to, but it is one of the core pillars that make up Overwatch.

Some heroes are easier to learn than others, but even when I’m waffling around with a character I don’t fully understand, it always becomes an opportunity to gain a deeper appreciation of Overwatch’s many mechanics. As an example: for the longest time, I played Overwatch stuck to the ground… only to have a new world open up to me when I picked up more aerial characters like Pharah (who can jet into the sky) and Genji (who can climb walls). The character swaps in this case changed the game entirely and pushed me to think about new ways to play. Even after dozens of hours in Overwatch, playing constantly feels like a learning experience.

Overwatch’s sound design is also stellar. Characters will bark out things you can’t immediately see, like when an enemy is behind you, or when a turret lies ahead. You can tell different characters apart based completely on their footsteps, which means that, if you’re observant enough, you can catch an enemy sneaking up behind you. Your character will gasp when you are low on health. Details like these are not sweeping, genre-redefining tweaks, but together they form enough changes to make Overwatch feel like a revelation — and it exists in a genre that nobody thought needed innovations in the first place.

Once a match is over, Overwatch spends a couple of minutes handing out kudos to star players. First, every match has a “play of the game”, where Overwatch highlights a moment where someone kicked a lot of arse; the most arse, if you will. At least, that’s the idea, but it doesn’t quite work that way. Presently Overwatch’s algorithm highlights too many boring plays where nothing extraordinary happens, such as Bastion standing in one place mowing down a line of clueless enemies. Meanwhile, clutch moments made possible by support characters often go ignored. I’m sure that designing an automated system to recognise a wide swath good moments is probably a difficult task, and it helps that the play of the game at the end isn’t really a big deal. All the same, I’m glad to hear Blizzard is working on improving it. Hilariously, in its current broken state, the play of the game is inspiring so many amazing jokes on social media that I don’t really care if it ever gets fixed.

Once the play of the game is done, Overwatch tallies up a bunch of metrics and uses them to highlight four players to the rest of the lobby. Characters awarded this proverbial gold star often aren’t there solely because they got the most kills, however. Overwatch also gives props for things like healing, freezing enemies and playing the objective. Players are then prompted to “like” their favourite match contributors, and everyone can see who got voted the most. I’m of two minds when it comes to this feature. On the one hand, I’m happy that Blizzard is providing more opportunities to recognise players who might not be tearing up the battlefield with kills. At the same time, I dislike the popularity contest aspect of it, because it’s not really team-spirited. Maybe I’m just salty about all the times I played fantastic rounds as a healer only to not get voted a single time by my peers. What the hell, guys?

I just spent hundreds of words explaining the ebb and flow of a match, but the funny thing is, Overwatch matches are pretty short. Often, they only last around five minutes, which means you can fit in a bunch of matches even with a busy schedule. This, in combination with Overwatch‘s dedication to accessibility through its easy-to-pick-up mechanics, is inspiring people to play Overwatch even if they’re not typically interested in multiplayer shooters. You don’t have to be good at headshots to succeed in Overwatch, after all; you just have to stick together and help out when you can. You’ll fit right in with the fandom as long as you like the characters, which are honestly the best part of the whole thing.

I love every single character in Overwatch. Even the seemingly generic heroes, like Soldier: 76, have a certain charm that is brought to life with funny dialogue, ace animations and thoughtful gameplay mechanics. I’m also delighted by how diverse the cast is — this is a rare time when I can see my skin colour and body type represented in a game of this size and calibre in a way that is undeniably awesome. I’ve found myself gushing about the characters constantly since the beta, sometimes even (obnoxiously) repeating catchphrases in real life. The way I get excited over Overwatch characters is the closest I’ll ever come to being a little girl who sees a new Disney princess that actually looks like her for the first time, I figure.

Overwatch is often compared to The Incredibles thanks to its cartoonish Pixar look and because it also has a story that deals with “retired” superheroes, but I think the most apt comparison is actually Toy Story. Overwatch heroes are basically giant action figures. I can easily picture myself as a six year old, begging my mum to buy me a Reaper action figure, because I really need another toy to mash repeatedly against my worn McCree figurine. Don’t ask me if they’re going to be kissing or fighting each other. It’s probably both.

The thing about Overwatch is, playing the actual game feels like such a small part of the overall experience. Don’t get me wrong, Overwatch is an outstanding shooter, and Blizzard deserves recognition for making it. But it is the Overwatch fandom and its love for the characters that has formed a world so many of us will get lost in well after the game is turned off.


  • I’m sorry, but Patricia must be playing with crummy people. I often play support and Mercy the most because I’m trying to get her 2 achievements. Everyone has been most appreciative of the healer. Often when I put the healing stream on people, they will make their character say thanks.

    • I’m struggling to get the group health plan achievement because it seems either my team is too good and don’t take enough damage / heal themselves etc, or they are too bad and I can’t keep up with the damage and end up dying. Any tips?

      I think the group rez will be pretty easy as you really just need to be lucky on a control point or something.

      • I got that without meaning too. It’s only 200 over 4 heroes within a few seconds isn’t it? Just swap heal targets quickly and you’ll get it.

          • Yeah, okay i just looked it up. It’s 200 health for 5 players without dying. The key being to not die really.

      • I got group health plan last night. My suggestion is wait until you’re defending a poi. If you’re lucky, your group will stay in the general vicinity of the point, allowing you to use guardian angel.
        If someone goes lone wolf and ends up critical, don’t follow them. You need to do it without dying. There will be opportunities to heal them later. It doesn’t matter if they die, as long as you stay alive.
        It may also be worth telling your teammates tat you’re trying to get the achievement. They may be less likely to run off.

        As for huge rez. I revived 3 people. I got play of the game, won the match and was commended. I was one off the achievement.

    • I agree. Most of the time it’s the healer that gets the kudos at the end of a match when I play.

    • Supports rarely get the most up votes but almost always a couple.
      More so than in the beta supports are definitely appreciated by most players.

    • Got the two achievements for Mercy in the first game I played her. She is my main 😉 Very rewarding feeling keeping the team alive, especially when overtime kicks in!

    • With 30 hours playing Mercy, I’d say its about 50/50 whether you get a trash team or a team that knows whats up. Probably how its meant to work I suppose to keep you at 1:1 WL.

    • I think when I got healed by a Mercy (it might have been you lol) earlier this week, my character said thanks without me prompting it to, but it didn’t show up in the left-hand chat stream. I said thanks again just to be sure they got the message.

  • So, what kind of game is it actually? Is it an FPS, RTS, MOBA, turn based? I’m assuming it’s multi-player? Online or offline? Single player campaign?

    As a review, it’s lacking some crucial detail… It sure sounds like a charming experience, but no Idea if I actually want to play it from the details given…

    • It’s a first person shooter/action game that’s multiplayer only with no single player content. It has broad shooter/MOBA/tower defence aspects and I would liken the character roster/utility to that of a fighting game like Street Fighter in that it has a huge, varied cast who’s abilities make them very unique.

      • The closest thing to overwatch is team fortress 2. Overwatch is much deeper though. I hated TF2, but love overwatch because even if you’re dying, you still feel like you’re part of the team

        • The reason I think TF2 is a poor comparison is because I’m not really a fan of class based shooters, I didn’t like TF2 all that much but I loved Overwatch. A heavy in TF2 is a heavy and a medic is a medic but in Overwatch the playstyles is dictated by the characters, not the classes and the characters within each class play nothing like each other – consider the support class: Symetra constructs turrets and teleporters while Lucio wall rides around the map, buffing/healing anyone within radius. Basically it’s a character based shooter as opposed to a class based shooter, which dramatically changes the feel.

          • I get that, but it is the closest to TF2 in comparison to a game. Otherwise I would also say it’s close to splatoon, but it’s weapons that change the class, not the character. I can’t say it’s like COD or BF

    • just give it a go, I had the same thoughts prior and i’m glad I did. This game is bloody addictive and fun – no matter if you lose or win, it’s always fun.

      I never followed the hype or actively tried to get info about the game before it was out, just decided to give the open beta weekend a go as I was bored of Division – Now i’m hooked

      • I’m not going to drop $90 on a game I don’t even know the gameplay style of!

        I’m not too keen on online only games, sounds like this is the case here, like Battlefield and Call of Duty multi player. Think I’ll give it a miss.

        • Where did you get $90? it’s no where near that price lol.

          It’s nothing like the games you mentioned, No doubt blizzard will have a free play weekend at some stage, maybe give it a go then.

          It’s a little like TF2 however it’s objective base which rewards team gameplay.
          There are melee and ranged characters which are complete different play styles from each other.

          It’s already paid for itself in entertainment within the first weekend. $69 would buy me 4 – 5 beers during a night out and that would not even cover the uber home .

          $69 for countless hours of entertainment is pretty good.

          Would like to add that the community in Overwatch has been really friendly so far which was unexpected.

          • That for the “collectors edition” which gives you a few skins and some cosmetic things.

            Normal one is $69

          • Blizz has done a great job of frightening people away from this game by the way they’ve presented their pricing. There IS a cheaper version at $69.95 on the blizzard server but you’ve got to look a bit closer to find it. The “Origins” edition that is $89.95 comes with a bunch of cosmetic items for Overwatch and virtually every other Blizzard game.

            FWIW, I think they’d be better taking you to a specific Overwatch store page and THEN showing you the different prices you can pay.

        • Go to YouTube and watch some of the many, many Overwatch streams.

          You’ll very quickly get an idea of the game, the characters and the players, and whether the investment is worth it for you.

  • I would say the “only two game modes” is a positive aspect. Because each map is built around a specific gametype and only ever hosts that gametype, there’s no need to have numerous playlists like “death match”, “objective” and “control” which is usually the thing that dilutes the population. Here’s nothing more annoying in a multiplayer game than wanting play a certain gametype or style and the population is too low to find you a decent match. So, to me at least, Overwatch’s single playlist is great.

    • Yeh I think the limited game types are fine. Most of the time when I play a shooter I end up playing the same mode every time anyway.

      I think my main complaints with the game would be that the loot system is a bit shit, I’d rather just get currency for every game played like a MOBA. Apart from that there are some ults that just absolutely fire me up and turn the tide of certain maps too easily eg reaper. ‘DIE DIE DIE’ = ‘FFFUCK FFFFFUCK FFFFFFFFFUCK’

  • It is a high quality polished game that Blizzard always delivers… and its their first new IP this century. (Lost vikings was their last new IP) but suffers the same problem of all Blizz games for such a long development and beta period… its content is a bit weak. Its surprising that Blizzards quality is getting it 90%+ reviews but if this was any other FPS new release it would be trounced due to lack of gameplay.

    Blizzard needs to deliver regular updates to keep players interested.

    Also I hate randon loot boxes cismetics for microtransactions… its pseudo gambling were you get ripped off more times that you feel rewarded. I prefer to buy skins directly.

    • The problem with criticizing the gambling boxes is that people instantly jump to “You just want everything unlocked off the bat” because people can only see black and white.

      Some of us would just like to unlock a single legendary skin of our choosing within the first 100 hours of play. So far I have just under 300 coins at level 30 with about 40 hours played so at the current rate it would take me another 70+ hours to just get my very first legendary skin of my choosing.

      Not to mention that as you level up loot boxes take longer and longer to get.

      I have given up on the game for now, Its quite unsatisfying to play as most of the time you die to ults that you cant really protect against and each level you get feels meaningless.

      Not to mention the tickrate is utter garbage and dying behind corners feels worse than the BF4 launch.

      • Trust me, by the time you hit level 100 you will probably have unlocked all the legendaries you actually want.
        By 100 in beta, i had 1000 gold sitting there.

        • 1000 gold is one legendary skin!

          Im sure I will get a legendary skin for at least one character before level 100 but my point was you don’t get to choose your first skin until around level 100 which is crazy for a full priced game.

          This is the kind of stuff you let developers get away with when the entire game is free to play from the get go like with Planetside 2.

          • Drop rates for legendaries are very low. I’m on level 29 and have two legendary drops, maybe 5-6 purples and the rest blue/white. I’m guessing the legendary rate is about 5%. Given that there are 4 legendaries per character and 21 characters… you’ll be there for a while to unlock everything. Even with currency, you’ll only get about 30 coins on an average drop (3 whites x 5 and 1 blue x 15) meaning that to buy a legendary at 1000 you’ll need to level more than 30 times once you’ve got all the common and rare items. I’ve got 560 coins (250 from an epic drop) at level 29.

          • Yes, so I had 1000 gold spare that I didnt have anything I wanted to spend on anything on top of practically a legendary on every hero.

            I also purchased numerous legendary skins for 1,000 gold each at various times during the 1-100 levelling.

          • I should add, there is a pity timer built in. On live it took me 25 levels until my first legendary. On average it will be one every 10 levels.

          • I’m pretty unlucky then. Only 1 legendary for a character I don’t even play (Antique skin for Bastion)

  • So, how does this game get a pass on Content to Price when other games get smashed for things like “no single player” “few game modes”?

    • A lot of people give Blizzard a pass because they are Blizzard.

      Criticizing this game on the Blizzard forums is a worse offence to some people than kicking their dog.

    • Because it’s fun? 😛

      I dont know, its a good question. I think the difference here is that there is a lot of variety apart from the game modes? All characters play differently and require learning. Each map is specifically designed per game mode, and each one again requires different strategies. The lack of game modes is kind of a misrepresentation I feel. In contrast to something like Star Wars Battlefront where you had a much of game modes, but it ended up being the same shit on 1 of 4 maps. Because there are 15 ish maps in Overwatch that are all different, and cycle each game, you never really get bored because it’s a different game mode each time.

    • Content to price works out for me, I haven’t touched Total Warhammer or Witcher 3 DLC thanks to this game and I love me some Witcher and TW.

  • It’s a testament to the amazing world and characters that Blizzard have created that I’m considering picking up this game (considering I have a vehement dislike for virtually everything MP-only).

    I don’t know why they didn’t include a campaign – I would’ve been all over it Day 1.

    • I hardly ever play multiplayer. Mass Effect 3 and Rocket League were my first real forays into multiplayer. Overwatch is just so so good. It gives you just enough lore for you to insert your own backstory and just enough character background to make it interesting.

  • Quite possibly goty for me. The game is easy to pick up to squeeze in half hour of matches or to keep playing for a few hours.

    With the loot crates, I would have preferred if you could buy the epic skins, like with heroes. Love how the abilities change to the theme.

    Only gripe atm….is teams stacking 6 torbjorn etc on defence and spamming turrets….that gets old. Hoping ranked allows no character changes midmatch and no stacking of characters.

    • If everyone were forced to stick to the same characters, then you defeat a core gameplay mechanic of Overwatch.

      If people stack 6 Tjorb, stack 6 counters.

      • Genjis and Widowmakers are good against Torbjorn turrets. Hanzo’s ult is also effective. Mei’s ice wall will even prevent the turret from detecting heroes on the other side of the wall as far as I can recall.

        Ooh, and Pharah!

        • Junkrats also destroy them very easily from safe positions, and Reinhardt shield can cover people pretty well. I think the 6 Torb spam is a problem for the lower skill games, where people don’t swap to counter.

  • You can see your stat (kill stat, kill streak, damage done, healing done, etc) midgame by pressing tab button in PC.

    Also you can see what your team and enemy roster is using tab button.

  • Really tempted by this game but the current costs is so prohibitive to purchasing.

    Blizzard are going to be releasing new characters & maps for free, so that adds to the interest but may wait to see how much ongoing community support it gets before I purchase.

    • That is a very sensible decision. If they haven’t fixed the low tickrate and added in 21:9 monitor support in the next month or two it will give you a good indicator of the level of support they intend for this game.

    • I couldn’t pull the pin based on the Australian pricing. I felt the value proposition wasn’t that great.

      The mircrotransactions squicked me out on release night. The echo chamber insists they announced them before release but I can find nothing. Gambling for real money on loot is little squick for me. I think I prefer regular greed. At least I know what I’m getting. I played heavily during open beta and I knew full well how many items per hero and how many of those were low cost filler ‘white’ items like voice lines, wall sprays and player icons all designed to weigh the dice in favour of Blizzard.

  • Critics are way too soft on this game, in general. Yes, it’s beautifully well-presented and has a great selection of characters (I love me some Overwatch porn), but the content is thin, the balance is bothersome, and the price is HORRIBLY bloated.

    Anyone remember that TF2 (basically the same game, in the broad sense that Battlefield is basically the same game as Modern Warfare) came in the Orange Box bundled with Portal and Half Life 2: Episode 2 (AND the original Half Life 2 and Episode 1 as a bonus) and ended up going fully free-to-play before adding microtransactions? Overwatch wants $90 for a game with barely any more content, no user workshop, AND microtransactions and will NEVER go free-to-play, (because it’s Blizzard, who still think it’s OK to charge a monthly subscription fee for their generic fantasy MMO just because it’s the biggest name on the market).

    I played the game during the free beta and it was kinda fun, but only kinda. I found it frustrating as often as I found it enjoyable, and once the beta was over I didn’t feel the SLIGHTEST compulsion to actually buy it and continue. My only real interest in the game is seeing the hot girls hubbahubba in SFM porn (the same way my only interest in WoW is draenei, goblin and gnome porn).

    Maybe I’m just jaded, but I genuinely can’t see why everyone is raving over this game. It’s not THAT great and it has major flaws that no-one can be bothered acknowledging.

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