Over­watch

PC (con­soles TBC)

EDGE - - HYPE - Pub­lisher De­vel­oper For­mat Ori­gin Release Bliz­zard In-house PC (con­soles TBC) US TBA

The hy­brid ori­gins of Bliz­zard’s new com­pet­i­tive shooter be­come ap­par­ent the first time you press Q. This is how you ac­cess your char­ac­ter’s Ul­ti­mate abil­ity, named af­ter and equiv­a­lent to the gamechang­ing su­per­pow­ers com­mon to RPGderived MOBAs. In this case, your Ul­ti­mate closes out a tightly de­signed loop of weapons, abil­i­ties and move­ment meth­ods that de­fine the (so far) 18 he­roes in the game.

Sniper Wid­ow­maker is a straight­for­ward ex­am­ple. She wields a sub­ma­chine gun that trans­forms into a long-range ri­fle when you hold down the right mouse but­ton to scope. Via the Shift key, she can grap­ple up to ledges and over­looks, en­abling her to re­po­si­tion in ver­ti­cal spa­ces not ac­ces­si­ble to most other char­ac­ters. This is mit­i­gated by a cooldown. Press E and she can plant a Venom Mine, an ex­plo­sive that leaves a lin­ger­ing dam­age-over­time ef­fect and also acts as an early warn­ing sys­tem. Over­watch’s maps are lin­ear but of­fer sev­eral flank­ing routes to the at­tack­ing team: while you are scop­ing out one of them, a Venom Mine can en­sure that you’re not at­tacked from an­other an­gle.

The one-shot lethal­ity of Win­dow maker’s ri­fle (un­usual in this game) makes in­for­ma­tion es­pe­cially im­por­tant to her. A good player will only need a glimpse of a foe’s cra­nium to blow it off, but get­ting that glimpse is a process with a lot of room for fi­nesse. This is why her Ul­ti­mate rep­re­sents a game-al­ter­ing shift: press Q and she drops her vi­sor, grant­ing sonar vi­sion to her­self and her al­lies for a pe­riod of time. Sud­denly, those flank­ing en­e­mies are ex­posed through walls. Hud­dled de­fend­ers and their choke­points are re­vealed.

Making good on that in­for­ma­tion means work­ing to­gether. Wid­ow­maker is great when tak­ing on sin­gle tar­gets, but weak against groups and en­trenched po­si­tions. Just as her Ul­ti­mate rounds out her skillset, it syn­er­gises with those of other char­ac­ters – a nat­u­ral in­cen­tive to work to­gether. If Wid­ow­maker’s Ul­ti­mate re­veals a clus­tered group of en­e­mies, for ex­am­ple, that might act as a cue for Hanzo to use his. He is an archer in­tended to lock down de­fen­sive po­si­tions, but press Q and he un­leashes a mas­sive spi­ralling pair of spirit dragons that pass through walls and dev­as­tate what­ever is on the other side.

Pharah, mean­while, is an Egyp­tian pri­vate se­cu­rity con­trac­tor in a fly­ing suit that is part Sa­mus Aran’s ar­mour, part Gun­dam. Ca­pa­ble of lim­ited flight nor­mally, her Ul­ti­mate locks her in place at the point of ac­ti­va­tion, haloed by a swarm of rock­ets that then pound away at what­ever you point them at. This needs to be aimed care­fully, so Wid­ow­maker’s sonar in­for­ma­tion can be key. Pharah is vul­ner­a­ble

while she’s up there, too, so she might ben­e­fit from a shield sent her way in var­i­ous man­ners by sup­port char­ac­ters such as Sym­me­tra or Zey­nata – and so on, across a broad ros­ter.

This com­plex sys­tem of syn­er­gies and in­ter­de­pen­den­cies is what is most MOBA-like about Over­watch, but all of it is mod­er­ated by the fact that this is also, res­o­lutely, a shooter. There’s no lev­el­ling up, no gold, ex­pe­ri­ence or items, and your abil­ity to use your pow­ers ef­fec­tively de­pends on your spa­tial aware­ness and aim. Those all-im­por­tant Ul­ti­mates don’t have a fixed cooldown; they charge up as you take, deal and heal dam­age, making their use con­tin­gent on par­tic­i­pa­tion in the match.

You are also en­cour­aged to switch char­ac­ter mid-mis­sion a la Team Fortress 2 or Wolfen­stein: Enemy Ter­ri­tory. Over­watch’s maps share a lot of com­mon ground with those games. A given match con­sists of two rounds, with teams tak­ing turns as ei­ther at­tack­ers or de­fend­ers. At­tack­ers must cap­ture a suc­ces­sion of de­fen­si­ble po­si­tions be­fore the time runs out. On some maps, th­ese points are static. Oth­ers shake up the for­mula by hav­ing the at­tack­ers es­cort a mov­ing cap­ture point as in TF2’ s Pay­load.

It is risky for the de­fend­ers to hold the line right on the cap­ture point it­self, and the maps are de­signed to of­fer nat­u­ral de­fen­sive choke­points in the mid­field area. This helps mul­ti­ple runs at the same lo­ca­tion to feel dif­fer­ent based on teams’ choice of char­ac­ters and po­si­tion­ing. At its best, Over­watch is a game of it­er­a­tion: strate­gies are tried against your op­po­nent, changed and tried again, with ev­ery vari­able in play brought to bear. Ul­ti­mate abil­i­ties and mo­ments of clutch skill punc­tu­ate a game that is as much about small de­ci­sions as it is about big mo­ments.

Given that switch­ing ap­proach is a cru­cial as­pect of play, ev­ery char­ac­ter in the game will be avail­able to ev­ery player. Bliz­zard re­mains silent on the sub­ject of Over­watch’s pay­ment model, but if it is free-to-play then in­di­vid­ual he­roes won’t be part of the mi­cro­trans­ac­tion scheme. But cos­metic items wouldn’t be un­ex­pected, nor would a busi­ness plan akin to Counter-Strike: Global Of­fen­sive: a bud­get one-off fee sup­ported by op­tional ex­tras.

This is a game that would be served well by a low bar­rier to en­try, be­cause it is un­usu­ally ac­ces­si­ble, par­tic­u­larly for an en­try in this genre. While the in­creased em­pha­sis on team­work and spe­cial pow­ers may be off­putting to fans of hy­per­lethal death­match, it plays to Over­watch’s strengths as an en­try point to the genre. This is ac­cen­tu­ated by the game’s vis­ual de­sign, which feels both in keep­ing with Bliz­zard’s es­tab­lished style and, some­how, new. De­tailed maps sug­gest the near-fu­ture su­per­hero fic­tion: tow­er­ing mecha stalk snow­bound Rus­sian streets; fly­ing cars idle in the streets of fu­tur­is­tic African cities.

Credit is due also to the char­ac­ter de­sign. This is a more ma­ture-look­ing game than Bliz­zard has pro­duced in the past, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to the pre­sen­ta­tion of women:

Over­watch in­cludes a range of body types, eth­nic­i­ties, and roles. Wid­ow­maker is one of the weaker ex­am­ples here – she’s a sul­try, pur­ple-skinned French as­sas­sin – but oth­ers are stronger. Zarya is a mus­cle-bound Rus­sian heavy wield­ing a gi­ant plasma can­non, and Pharah is gen­uinely in­tim­i­dat­ing to en­counter on the battlefield. Swiss medic Mercy might fit into the fe­male healer stereo­type, but she’s joined in the role by the ro­botic Zey­nata and Lu­cio, a Brazil­ian DJ on laser roller­skates.

Over­watch’s ac­ces­si­bil­ity goes deeper than its ex­cel­lent con­text-sen­si­tive tooltips.

This is Bliz­zard’s most ex­cit­ing new com­pet­i­tive game in years be­cause it’s nei­ther a straight shooter nor an­other MOBA. While it’s definitely the re­sult of syn­the­sis, our time with it re­veals a highly ca­pa­ble merg­ing of th­ese fa­mil­iar el­e­ments. It’s far more el­e­gantly de­signed than any other ob­jec­tive-based team FPS this side of Des­tiny, sham­ing the later Bat­tle­fields when it comes to pro­vid­ing a mean­ing­ful strate­gic chal­lenge to each in­di­vid­ual player. It’s refreshing to play a shooter that pro­vides mo­ments of in­di­vid­ual glory with such reg­u­lar­ity and trans­parency – all it takes is a tap of the Q key to change the face of the game.

This is a game of it­er­a­tion: strate­gies are tried against your foe, changed, tried again

Break­ing Rein­hardt’s shield is of­ten im­por­tant in or­der to get at his team, but also en­cour­ages play­ers to waste abil­i­ties on it that might be bet­ter used on softer tar­gets. For this rea­son, he’s a nat­u­ral front­line fighter

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