Overwatch – Hold that Hype Train

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of Blizzplanet, it’s owner, or any contributor not named “Travis Morrow.”

I have almost a thousand hours dumped into Team Fortress 2. At some point or another I’ve mastered every TF2 role, juggled with rockets and sticky bombs, headshot cloaked spies because I never lost track of you, and won more games as medic than I can count. Some of my fondest memories of the Source engine are blitzing around the map as a scout beating heavies to death with my bat.

Overwatch does not excite me. I want it to. It looks nice, it sounds nice, it plays like a shooter should. It’s fun. It’s fast and exciting and blinking into a fight as Tracer, wreaking havoc, then recalling out lights up some dopamine paths in my head. Pharah feels similar to TF2’s soldier, my personal go to guy, and within seconds of playing I was juggling and jumping like I never stopped. But I don’t know why I should play this and not TF2.

I know it’s early and what we saw at Blizzcon was a vertical slice of the game, not close to completion, but I’m filled with trepidation. What bothers me exactly?

Let’s compare two characters, one from TF2 and one from Overwatch: Medic and Mercy.

The Medic and Mercy both have a medi gun. They attach themselves to someone and recover damage. Mercy can glide to a friendly with a special ability, provided line of sight doesn’t break. Her medi gun, however, is the weaker version of the Medic’s. It heals well enough but it doesn’t do anything if your target is at full health. The healing aspect is purely reactionary. You can’t boost an ally for impending damage or prepare for a fight. You can only react.

It does have a secondary function that the Medic’s doesn’t, however, which is a damage boost. That sounds nice. But switching between the two actions isn’t instant. There’s a delay. A few tenths of a second for the old animation to stop and the new one to begin. That may not be a big deal in, say, an arena fight in WoW (everything has a cast time, except a few panic buttons) or in a MOBA but shooters are fast. Even when they’re slow, they’re the fastest video games out there.

So you’re buffing your Winston, the talking gorilla, when he starts to get pounded by enemy fire. You switch to healing and he’s at half health by the time the healing beam starts. He retreats, you manage to keep him alive and restore him to full, and go back to boosting damage. He goes around the corner and fires two shots, is at half health, and you’re repeating this process until you realize healing is futile. Your heals stop mattering at full health.

The Medic’s don’t. It buffs the target to 150% max health. That’s damn useful. It decays slowly, too, so a quick Medic can buff four or five teammates at once and keep pressure and tempo on his/her team’s side. The Medic knows that the best damage boost is a living, resilient teammate and not an actual damage boost.

What about the flashy stuff: the Medic’s secondary and Mercy’s Ultimate?

The Medic’s provides 8 seconds of invulnerability as long as the Medic is attached to his target. This, combined with the right target, makes an incredible force. Pyros push like no other, heavies devastate enemies foolish enough to get caught nearby, and soldiers and demos ruin defensive embankments. Deployed at the right time, it wins games.

Mercy has a resurrection. On paper, that’s a great idea. A teammate back in the fight, skipping the respawn timer, right in the thick of it. But it has a cast time. A long cast time. Two to three seconds. In an FPS, that’s an eternity. That’s so long as to be pointless. It also requires line of sight. So you’ll have to risk your face to bring a teammate back. That’s a trade that won’t be worth it ninety nine times out of a hundred.

In a WoW arena or MOBA, being down a teammate is rough. It’s awful. Your team is at a significant disadvantage. Because of long respawn timers, or no respawns at all, putting a dead friendly back in the fight is an incredible shift in momentum. In an FPS with shorter respawn timers, faster, near constant combat, resurrection last the power it has in other scenarios. It’s more important to stay in the fight than it is to rejoin it.

If there was a ticket system, like the Battlefield series or Alterac Valley, resurrection would be more useful. Maybe that’s coming. Right now, though, Mercy feels useless.

What does Overwatch do that the others competing in the genre don’t? To be blunt, the table is already crowded – why should it make room for Blizzard? Just because it’s a Blizzard IP? From what I’ve seen, what the game does is, at best, on par with the rest of the genre. Most of it, however, feels uninspired.

The panels don’t acknowledge the giants already in the field or attempt to illuminate what makes this game stand apart. “We moved away from the holy trinity.” I disagree: you split damage into two types – offense and defense – and still have support and tanks. “Our roles aren’t rigid.” Have you fought with Mercy? The Medic from TF2 isn’t a powerhouse, but he can defend himself. Mercy’s pistol is so impotent it might as well not exist.

I want to like this game. I want to celebrate and jump up and down and go crazy that Blizzard is launching a new IP with new characters in a new genre. What I’m seeing, however, looks like Blizzard is doing what so many other studios have tried with MMO – they’re cloning a successful game and giving in a shiny new skin.

Blizzard is a unique company.  It creates new stories, characters, and games in a way that many triple A studios cannot.  I hope Blizzard can take Overwatch to a place that continues that tradition in its final release, but I’m not seeing that yet.

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BlizzCon 2019 Panel Transcripts

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