Overwatch’s new deathmatch mode is incredibly fun, but still needs refinement

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Despite previously stating that Overwatch would “never” get pure deathmatch, Blizzard unveiled that exact mode last week, rolling it out for PC players to test on their Public Test Realm on Friday morning. I’ve been putting in a considerable amount of time into it since then and I’m happy to report that I have had a blast. But as fun and exhilarating as Overwatch’s new flavour of the month is, it definitely still needs a bit of work in a few key areas.

Blizzard has split up the deathmatch options available in Overwatch’s Arcade to Team Deathmatch and Free-For-All Deathmatch. Let’s start with the former, as I have the least to criticize here. That’s simply because as is, it works incredibly well. Two teams of four go head to head on smaller versions of current maps to try to reach a combined 30 kills first. This is the closest to traditional Overwatch gameplay, with its intended synergy of abilities, and as such is every bit as refined as that core experience. You may think that DPS characters would have the advantage in a deathmatch mode, but due to this still being a team game on the same maps you’re used to, characters still compliment each other well.

This includes the support players, who can still heal and buff allies as they normally would. Where things get interesting is with Mercy, easily the most support-y of supports in the game. Her ultimate ability, Ressurect, still revives fallen comrades, but now when it does, the points the enemy team had received from those kills are deducted from their score. This makes Mercy a game-changer of note, with fans already declaring “Battle Mercy” to be a key part of the TDM meta.

Moving over to Free-For-All Deathmatch though – where there are no teams and it’s every player for themselves as they try to reach 20 kills – and suddenly Mercy isn’t key to anything. Despite her pistol packing a huge clip and doing decent damage at a nice range, she pales in comparison to most of the rest of the roster when it comes to pure killing ability. And since the rest of her abilities are all reliant on having team mates to either heal, damage buff or even fly to using Guardian Angel, she’s totally not viable when there are no friendlies around. And yes, this includes her Resurrect, which now cannot be used at all even if you wanted to.

To a slightly lesser extent, the same thing is happening to the rest of the support roster, as Ana also can’t use her Nanoboost ultimate as it is usually used to boost a teammate’s abilities. Zenyatta can at least use his ultimate Transcendence to get himself out of a jam, but technically his Orb of Harmony is now pointless. In fact, the only healer that now has full access to all their abilities is Lucio.

Blizzard’s Overwatch forums have been filled with several cries from fans to address this in some way. If Mercy’s Resurrect could be tweaked for TDM, why not change it for FFA as well? Many are asking why not make it so that Mercy is able to revive herself – a simple prompt during the post-death kill cam would suffice – or that Ana can Nanoboost herself for a short period of time?

Unfortunately, FFA’s problems do not stop at hamstrung support characters. In deathmatch, the point for a kill is awarded to whoever gets the final blow on an enemy. In TDM, you’re all working towards one communal score, so that doesn’t matter so much apart from lootbox rewards being awarded to players placing in the top half of the scoreboard at the end of a match. In FFA though, you will go through epic one-on-one battles, only to have all your efforts usurped by somebody else.

Recently, I was playing Roadhog and engaged in a fight with a Tracer player inside and around one of the buildings in Necropolis. Roadhog’s hook-shoot combo may have been nerfed so that it’s no longer a guaranteed one-shot kill, but his newly buffed Take a Breather ability allows him to absorb an ungodly amount of punishment. And with Tracer’s overwhelming speed, blinking and ability to rewind time to heal herself, this resulted in a back and forth game of cat and mouse that lasted what felt like ages.

Eventually though, the Tracer managed to stick her ultimate Pulse Bomb on me right after I had used Take a Breather, and followed that up with a volley of pinpoint accurate head shots. She had me beat as I was on a sliver of health… and then a Junkrat grenade, deflected by the Genji who was fighting him on the roof of the building – both of whom had no idea my battle with this Tracer was even going on – bounced in through a window and hit me in the back, killing me, and stealing that Tracer’s kill. She must have been livid.

Now “frag stealing” – as it used to be called back in my day – is nothing new to deathmatch modes, but it will undoubtedly irk players of Overwatch, a game that traditionally has always gone out of its way to always make it feel like you’ve made a difference, no matter how small your contribution. Unfortunately, it’s also a game in which a Hanzo firing arrows with hitboxes the size of Boeing 747’s can randomly kill people on the opposite side of the map who he didn’t even know was there, so this could get damn frustrating.

Adding to this frustration is the new FFA specific map Chateau Gillard. With its combination of tight serpentine castle corridors, open courtyards and jump pads, it feels like something straight out of Unreal Tournament, which is great. What is not great is how I’ve already seen the map favouring certain heroes. I’ve been killed far too many times by McCree players stalking the corridors, waiting to hear your steps get closer, flashbang as you step around the corner, hammer-fan, headshot, death, rinse and repeat.

Same goes for Doomfist players also just rocket punching their way through cramped corridors, slamming characters into walls for insta-kills. As a Pharah player, I’m forced to have to fly around the outside of the castle to avoid all of that, but then there aren’t enough targets for me to shoot to actually get kills.

All of the above being said though, this is exactly why the PTR exists. Blizzard can take this feedback and tweak away before it goes out to the commercial servers. Even if they manage to fix these gripes though, I’m fairly certain that deathmatch will never be more than just an Arcade game mode. Blizzard will never treat is a serious competitive option. It a crap load of fun though, and that is why I play Overwatch.

Last Updated: August 15, 2017

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