EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Bliz­zard En­ter­tain­ment De­vel­oper In-house For­mat PC Ori­gin US Re­lease TBC (beta in 2015)

Ev­ery­thing Bliz­zard has re­leased since Star­Craft all those years ago has been spun off from the 1998 game, 1994’s

War­craft or 1996’s Di­ablo. Some­times se­ries have jumped gen­res, no­tably with World Of War­craft and the more re­cent off­shoot,

Hearth­stone: He­roes Of War­craft, but the new uni­verse of Over­watch feels fresh, even if it sees Bliz­zard aim­ing to do what it does best: take the fa­mil­iar and pol­ish it un­til it glim­mers. In this case, it’s the team-based shooter, with a clean, bright look and an em­pha­sis on wel­com­ing ac­tion that re­sem­bles one game in par­tic­u­lar.

“When I hear Team Fortress 2 com­par­isons, noth­ing could be more flat­ter­ing. TF2 is one of my all-time favourite games,” Jeff Ka­plan,

Over­watch’s di­rec­tor, tells us. “I think, though, that as we saw at Bl­iz­zCon, peo­ple who play the game re­alise that while there’s in­spi­ra­tion from there, it’s very dif­fer­ent. It’s about abil­i­ties, the mo­bil­ity fac­tor, there’s el­e­ments like the tank char­ac­ters with their shields, and the team dy­nam­ics… It’s re­ally its own game.”

That game is a six-a-side shooter set in a near fu­ture where once-re­tired he­roes are re­turn­ing to con­tinue the fight for the world, the cast rang­ing from of­fen­sive spe­cial­ists such as the skull-mask-wear­ing Reaper and cruel sniper Wid­ow­maker to rather more un­usual com­bat­ants such as Win­ston, a go­rilla from the Moon armed with a Tesla can­non. In the first of many de­vi­a­tions from shooter con­ven­tion, the he­roes are built along the lines of MOBA char­ac­ters, with abil­i­ties, rather than guns, defin­ing their playstyle. Thus, Win­ston has a jump pack for get­ting around, while Wid­ow­maker gets a grap­pling hook and Reaper has a mark-and-re­call tele­port for yank­ing him­self out of bat­tle.

Over­watch isn’t a MOBA, though, Ka­plan ex­plains. “In Over­watch, you can switch hero with ev­ery death. Mul­ti­ple peo­ple on the team can be the same hero. Also, the key fea­ture of MOBAs for me is a pro­gres­sion and PvE el­e­ment, with things like min­ions and tow­ers, and we’re not fo­cused on any of that.” In­stead,

Over­watch is in­tended to push the sense of character and hero­ics, Ka­plan re­fer­ring to Bliz­zard’s ap­proach as an at­tempt to be the ‘hero fac­tory’, in that it’s not sim­ply pro­vid­ing char­ac­ters, but in­spir­ing play­ers to be heroic.

It’s also in­tended to ap­peal to ev­ery­one, rather than tar­get­ing hard­core shooter fans. The aes­thetic is part of that, but the ethos runs deeper. The true ge­nius of Team Fortress

2 is that even now, years after re­lease, its au­di­ence pri­mar­ily treats it as a place to have fun, rather than hav­ing shrunk into an in­su­lar shell. And Ka­plan is tak­ing pains to avoid MOBA-like hos­til­ity bleed­ing in here.

“One of the goals of Over­watch is to cre­ate a com­mu­nity where play­ers feel safe and where the game it­self is very ap­proach­able,” he says. “Some­thing we learned as a team while mak­ing raid en­coun­ters for World Of

War­craft in the early days is that the more you place play­ers in a dire sit­u­a­tion and ratchet up the im­por­tance of in­di­vid­ual con­tri­bu­tions and the pres­sure, the more play­ers would turn on each other and make the game un­pleas­ant.”

The catch is that with­out any pres­sure, some­thing equally im­por­tant is lost, and so Bliz­zard’s 6v6 for­mat is a very spe­cific choice. “We ex­plored re­ally big teams early on: the 8v8, the 10v10,” Ka­plan says. “When we hit those team sizes, though, ev­ery­one got lost. The game was just chaos – a death­match, rather than a team ob­jec­tive game. As we tried teams of 4v4 and 3v3, that sense of hos­til­ity that I men­tioned started ap­pear­ing.”

Not be­ing locked into spe­cific char­ac­ters for the whole match is in­tended to help too, though spe­cific abil­i­ties will have their ideal coun­ters. But there will be flex­i­bil­ity: a tur­ret could be taken out with a rocket from out­side its range, you can use ric­o­chet shots to hit it from safety, or you could blink in and place a bomb and then get out again. Map tra­ver­sal is a huge part of this, with Over­watch hark­ing back to the free­dom of early Quake mods full of jet­packs. “Now, when you’re ap­proach­ing part of a map, you’re look­ing at ev­ery part of it and look­ing at com­bi­na­tions. We wanted to give play­ers a lot of agency and choice, and a lot of re­ally fun de­ci­sions. Plus, it’s cool!”

All of that said, Ka­plan points out that six on a team is no magic bul­let. “It’s not [a num­ber] I think you could just plug into

He­roes Of The Storm or Star­Craft or another game, but it was right for Over­watch. The way we’ve got it is that if you are a real dis­as­ter for your team, or hav­ing a real off day, or the door­bell rings, or the cat walks in front of the screen, your team isn’t go­ing to lose be­cause of you. If you are a re­ally great player, though, you can still ex­cel and maybe even swing a medi­ocre team to great­ness.”

Along with be­ing Bliz­zard’s first step into the FPS, Over­watch is also its first game set on a recog­nis­able Earth – even Rock N’Roll Rac­ing, from when Bliz­zard was Sil­i­con & Synapse, was set on other plan­ets. “The choice to be on Earth in the near fu­ture was one that didn’t come eas­ily to the team,” Ka­plan ad­mits, adding that there was brief dis­cus­sion of do­ing some­thing else, like a Star­Craft shooter, or per­haps even bring­ing ex­ist­ing char­ac­ters to­gether for an FPS, as He­roes Of The Storm is do­ing for Bliz­zard’s in-house take on Dota.

“We started to ex­plore the op­tions with our ex­ist­ing fran­chises, but we didn’t want to get into those spa­ces again. Add to that, we thought we could do some­thing dif­fer­ent with Earth – that in­stead of just do­ing the usual postapoc­a­lyp­tic stuff, we could ap­ply our own aes­thetic, tone and vibe. We’d ask our­selves, what would Bliz­zard do with London, with Egypt, with Ja­pan? We’ve ex­plored fan­tasy worlds, and we’re now ex­cited to ex­plore our own.”

Bliz­zard hasn’t yet an­nounced which business model Over­watch will use, though

“We wanted to give play­ers a lot of agency and choice, and a lot of re­ally fun de­ci­sions”

given that it’s in a genre in which F2P has been proven to work, and both Hearth­stone and He­roes Of The Storm have em­braced the model, Over­watch might follow. So far, 12 he­roes have been an­nounced, but more are com­ing, along with ex­pan­sions to the uni­verse both in and out of the game. Movies such as the re­veal trailer are de­signed to build the world with­out putting nar­ra­tive re­stric­tions on play. For that, Bliz­zard’s ap­proach – in the words of Chris Met­zen – is a shrug of “What the hell?” If play­ers want to field two mor­tal en­e­mies on a team or have mul­ti­ple Tes­law­ield­ing apes, that free­dom takes pri­or­ity.

Cer­tainly, early im­pres­sions are pos­i­tive, es­pe­cially with the re­sults al­ready be­ing playable and a beta due next year, as op­posed to sev­eral down the line. It’s likely to be a long beta, how­ever, with Bliz­zard well aware of the chal­lenges ahead. “We know how im­por­tant it is to our fans that we do it right, and how high the ex­pec­ta­tions are,” Ka­plan says. “We re­ally want to make this game with the com­mu­nity and hear what they have to say.”

Sym­me­tra is a light-bend­ing support hero, her tur­rets slow­ing en­e­mies as she shields her al­lies from harm

Jeff Ka­plan, di­rec­tor

Bliz­zard has taken flak for its fe­male char­ac­ters of late, and wants to fix that by be­ing as in­clu­sive as pos­si­ble in Over­watch

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