In the run up to its much-anticipated release next week, Blizzard ran the final big beta test for their upcoming first-person shooter franchise Overwatch. While some features, like competitive play, weren’t in the beta, this is the best chance that everyone is going to have to try the game out before Blizzard sticks it hand out looking for $60 for the game. Fortunately for Blizzard, they put a very strong foot forward by basically letting players have a go at a near-complete version of the game.
If you want a Cole’s Notes about the basics of Overwatch, I previously summarized it in my impressions of last fall’s stress test beta. The fundamentals of the game haven’t changed since I last play it. It’s still a 6v6 hero shooter that let’s you switch heroes on the fly. No new characters were added over the last six months. However, there were a bunch of other additions to the game in the interim.
Some new game modes were added over the last few months. During the last beta I tried, there was quick play (standard unranked PvP) and training. For this beta, those two game modes were joined by a bots (vs. AI) mode and the Weekly Brawl mode. The latter mode is a 6v6 PvP mode that gives you a special challenge to play against. Conveniently, the beta’s Weekly Brawl was Mystery Heroes which would automatically switch heroes on you every time you spawned and you had no say in the matter. I played a lot of that so I could try out all the heroes in the game and actually discovered a few that I really liked playing. The downside is that RNG could instigate a lopsided game like the time that my team had four Soldier: 76s (with me killing it as Lucio) and then got swapped to four support characters. We went from ROFLstomping to ROFLstomped.
Not included in the beta was the Ranked mode. It was included in the closed beta in an April update but removed for the open beta. It also won’t be in the game at launch. It’s not a mode I’m likely to really care about too much but I can see that being a deal breaker for a few people.
Quite a few maps have been added since the fall. The stress test beta had three maps but the open beta had twelve maps and one new game mode. Added to escort/stop the payload and capture/defend the point is a king of the hill mode where both teams attempt to capture and hold a point in a best of three battle. It’s an interesting mode because it almost forces you to change heroes depending on whether you’re trying to capture or hold the point. For example, defending the point puts a premium on defense heroes like Bastion, Mei and Torbjorn while you’re going to want a more push-heavy team comp to force someone off the point.
I still think that the strength of this game from a casual and possibly competitive perspective is the ability to change your character on the fly in the spawning room. There’s no real meta or hard counters to follow because of the team size and the ability to change heroes on the fly. If you couldn’t change heroes, how many Bastions would you see in turret mode ready to mow your team down? You don’t see that because you would throw a Reinhardt or two out front with a Lucio to protect you well enough to barge through a six Bastion comp. The ability to change heroes to adapt to situation will keep each match from feeling the same while keeping everyone on their toes at the same time. It adds a level of strategic depth that I don’t think you really have in other shooters.
The other feature that has been added since the stress test beta is the introduction of hero customization. While all the heroes are unlocked upon purchase, there are skins, spray paint tags, emotes, voiced lines and victory poses that can be unlocked by the player. This is done through earning reward crates by leveling your account up or purchasing these using the in-game currency. In the beta, the currency was only available through the reward crates but I would assume that the full release will award currency for completing matches (and almost certainly in ranked mode). It also opens up the opportunity for Blizzard to introduce microtransactions but since it’s only cosmetic, it’s a pretty tame set of microtransactions all things considered.
Technically, the game is fine. There is a little bit of lag that results in mutual kills. How much of that is the servers and how much is shitty Northern Ontario internet (hi, Shaw), I don’t know. It looks gorgeous thanks to the bright and colourful art style without taxing your hardware noticeably, even when the action gets busy. You can tell that the game was pretty close to ready for release when they held the open beta. Granted, they held it within three weeks of release so they’ve probably already started making physical copies for consoles to ship at that point.
The weird thing about the open beta is that there doesn’t feel like a whole lot happened between the stress test beta in November and May’s open beta. Yes, nine maps and two game modes were added. I’m sure there was a bunch of back-end work done on the engine and servers and game balance that isn’t easily seen when you haven’t played for six months. It also seems par for the course for new Blizzard games. In the case of Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm, the game has been in beta for what feels like forever. As we near release, the hype is dying down because they’ve burned the early adopters out.
That’s not to say that this isn’t a fun game. While Overwatch doesn’t have any comeback mechanics, per se, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have lots of epic moments as everyone gets on the same page in the final moments of a match. And because this isn’t built around deathmatches and scoreboards, it’s not like any game is actually over until it’s over. You keep going until the game is actually done which makes each match worthwhile (as long as you’re not getting stomped and that happens less as you figure things out).
There’s no doubt that Overwatch is ready to go for full release. The biggest lingering question is if the game will have much longevity after the game is released. TF2 is still going in strong after nine years but your standard modern/futuristic military shooters go maybe a year before they’re completely dead. Given that Overwatch doesn’t have paid expansions or DLC, I would imagine it will be regular updates that will keep people coming back. Hopefully Blizzard keeps a steady Splatoon-esque trickle of new content coming to keep people interested.
The Overwatch open beta was played on Windows PC but was also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The game will be available on May 24, 2016, for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Impressions of this game do not necessarily represent the state of the game at release. Your impressions of the game may differ based on platform played on, PC specs and whether changing heroes on the fly is an important feature to you.