Overwatch has finally kicked off its closed beta, and its servers are already densely populated with elated Blizzard fans trying their hand at a brand new, team-based shooter IP. Overwatch is, from the limited time I’ve had with it, really damned good. It’s got the usual issues with balancing and glitches that are exactly the reason why a beta is being conducted, but the underlying mechanics that build it are as solid as you could hope for.
There is one pillar of focus that Overwatch absolutely nails off the bat though. Whether you’re having a personal record breaking round or a shocker of a match with Widowmaker, Overwatch is incredible good at making you feel like you’re still winning. And it’s the best part of the entire experience.
Overwatch is a team game, but it’s hard not to slice a shooter in any way that doesn’t encourage just getting kills. Most of the time that’s the singular focus of an online shooter, and it can get in the way of the basking in the glory of just playing the objective, or playing a specific role down to a tee. Overwatch understands this, and actually lets kills take a backseat to players that just try to do things right most of the time, and it works to create a space that almost always feels rewarding.
It’s no better seen than in the game way of handling executions. Executions are, in essence, kills – but they’re awarded to every single play that was involved in any way. That means you can notch an execution next to your name for just doing a single point of damage, while a separate statistic measures who actually got the last hit. Bringing up the scoreboard details all of this in a small area on the bottom left, while information about your team and enemy characters takes up most of the screen space. Overwatch doesn’t want you to focus on it, and you really shouldn’t.
Aside from kills, the game tracks class and character specific statistics such as damage blocked, objective points taken and healing thrown out. All of these are collected during the match, and than almost randomly displayed at the end. During intermission, four players who ranked top of a specific tier of gameplay are put up for voting, with everyone able to pick who they believed deserved MVP of the match.
It’s pointless and yet engaging – because for the first time the best player is rarely the one with the most kills. It could be the player who made sure his team stayed alive most of the time, or that one guy who always had his shied up for a push. It’s different, and it has noticeably positive effect on every single player. No one feels to need to hammer on about another’s poor performance, because you’re all too busy celebrating and conversing about the ways in which other players did so well. Blizzard has managed to subvert toxic behaviour purely by making everyone feel great about their contribution. And it works.
But by far the most compelling part of Overwatch (and the most genius too) is the Play of the Match. usually when a round ends in a shooter, the final kill is shown, again emphasising and encourage the single-minded nature of attaining that honour for everyone else to see. Overwatch again subverts this, instead picking a particular play that just stood out amongst the rest. These often comprise of incredibly fast multi-kills, but sometimes just zero in on a player who just did something extraordinary with their chosen character.
It creates so much chatter during the game, with most of us last night screaming when we though we had just pulled off a move worthy of the honorary highlight real. It’s the one thing I look forward to the most at the end of a game – win or lose – as players from both sides are treated to a play that is both entertaining and educational at the same time. It’s far better than just looking down the scopes of a rifle as someone pulls off another boring hip-fire kill on an enemy that didn’t even know what was going on.
There’s always a lot going on in Overwatch, and it really is a game that falls apart if your team isn’t at least trying to work together. But it’s also a game that revels in making sure players are having fun above all else, and it’s unobtrusive ways of making new and learning fans feel as though they’re making a positive impact on the game is probably its biggest strength. It’s rare to feel disheartened after a round of Overwatch, which just compels you to play another. And for an online game that needs a strong community, that’s all you really want to do.
Last Updated: October 29, 2015