PAX East 2015 Overwatch Hands-On Preview

Our New York City Hearthstone Fireside co-organizer, Mithalas, came along with us to PAX East 2015 to play Overwatch. Mithalas is pretty good with FPS video games, and after I saw him obliterate an enemy team, I asked him to write up something about his Overwatch hands-on gameplay experience:

PAX East 2015 Overwatch Hands-On Preview
From left to right: Mithalas, Lyndsi (Blizzard PR Associate) and Medievaldragon

Mithalas: The annual PAX East convention occurred last weekend, and Blizzard’s main booth in the expo hall featured Overwatch (and only Overwatch). I was lucky enough to get to play it twice – on Friday and Sunday – and had a lot of fun during my brief time with the game.

Overwatch is still in internal alpha, but you wouldn’t know from seeing it. The graphics are bright and crisp, with a unique art style that blends the cartoonishness of Warcraft with a decidedly real-world, non-fantasy setting. It’s a departure for Blizzard, but looks fantastic. The game runs extremely well for an alpha test; while playing I didn’t notice any lag or frame rate issues.

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The heart of the game is in its easy-to-pick-up controls and varied roster of personality-heavy playable characters and environments. Overwatch definitely feels like an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm, as an easy to learn but difficult to master entry point into a typically uninviting genre. As such, each hero has a standard gun controlled with the mouse, two special abilities controlled with the Q and E keys, and an ultimate ability controlled with F. The controls are quite simple and will not pose much of a hurdle for anyone with a modicum of PC gaming experience.

The heroes all have their own unique identity, and each is full of charisma. It’s clear that a lot of love has already gone into fleshing them out, rather than making them primarily vehicles for gameplay. Unfortunately, with the limited play time available, I was only able to try out two of them.

Tracer is somewhat of the mascot character for Overwatch, so she was a natural first choice. She’s the game’s scout character: very quick and evasive, with a small health pool. She has a pair of quick-firing pistols, and can teleport forward a short distance and reverse time for herself. She’s a fun character, but due to her kit, I had a tough time playing as her for my first game. It’s difficult to have much success with such an agile character when the environment layouts are unfamiliar, and her special abilities – in particular the time reversal – lend themselves toward a high skill cap in general. I wouldn’t recommend her as a first choice for trying out the game, so it’s a bit curious that she was chosen to be the game’s flag-bearer.

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Since I was unceremoniously stomped as Tracer, I was slightly more careful about my second hero choice. Plus, with 48 hours between my encounters with the game, I had plenty of time to do some research. While waiting in other lines throughout PAX, I spoke with several people who had done well enough in their Overwatch matches to earn a coveted gold pin – only given to the one player out of twelve who was awarded that match’s “play of the game.” Interestingly, everyone I spoke with used the character Bastion to accomplish the feat. Thus, my second choice was made.

Bastion is a robot powerhouse with a submachine gun, who can transform himself into a stationary gatling gun at will. His range, combined with his ability to shield and repair himself, makes him much easier to start with for new players. Additionally, the overwhelming hail of bullets he’s able to unleash often results in instant kill-streaks, an important factor in the “play of the game” award. As Bastion, I had a ton of fun simply mowing over the other team for the majority of the game. In the end, I earned a shiny gold pin for myself, cementing my place in the hall of Bastion players who took full advantage of an easy to play and potentially overpowered hero in a brand new game.

While I was only able to play as two characters this past weekend, I’m looking forward to trying them all – especially Pharah and her jet pack – when the game enters beta this fall. If the game’s current development progress tells us anything, it’s that Blizzard is having no trouble entering the unfamiliar territory of first-person shooters, as reluctant as it has been to do so in the past. With such a fun and polished alpha underway, the future of Overwatch looks bright indeed.

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Tomas Hernandez is owner of Blizzplanet.com since 2003. I post news about World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard Careers, and the Warcraft film.

Blizzplanet is a leading fansite covering news about upcoming Blizzard Entertainment licensed products. I also post previews and reviews. I have interviewed book writers and Blizzard game developers.

I was previously an employee of the OGaming Network (2003), and IncGamers (2008-2010). I was a guest newsposter for GosuGamers (World of Warcraft) a few years ago and for Diablofans.com (formerly Diablo3.com)

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