Blizzard and Overwatch have proven that the shooter genre is due for an evolution. And the colossal support fans are showing the game could change the future of the shooter genre.
The Overwatch beta has attracted more players than either The Division of Destiny. The gargantuan support that we’re all showing Overwatch is making game developers step back and re-evaluate shooters. And ultimately, this is all going to change the future of shooters.
Overwatch offers a new take on the multiplayer shooter. To start with, Overwatch has an absolutely beautiful world. It’s crammed packed full of characters, robots, people, and celestial beings, and it gets all the basics of the genre right. But it also pushes the shooter genre in new directions.
For starters, unlike most shooters, the characters in Overwatch are truly astounding. There’s 21 characters so far, and there will be more coming after the launch in 3 weeks.
And damn if Blizzard hasn’t done some amazing work on those characters.
For newcomers, let me explain.
The 21 characters are divided into four unique classes: tank, support, offence, and defence. Seems basic, right? But even within those subcategories every character is unique.
Choosing your character in Overwatch isn’t a simple case of “which class do I feel like playing?” Instead you have to actually think about what the strengths and weakness of each character are. This is a real step forward in character design in the shooter genre. And it’s just one of the reasons why the Overwatch beta is proving so darned popular.
Take Overwatch’s defence class, for instance. Character Henzo, for instance, comes with different strengths and weaknesses. His strengths are his archery, which helps to push targets back and also helps to defends objectives. But then there’s Henzo’s weaknesses. He sucks at close-range combat because you have to wait for ages between arrows.
I’ll give another example: Bastion. Bastion also has strengths and weaknesses. You can use him as a turret and kill anyone who gets in your line of sight. But if he gets caught with his pants down in sentry mode he’s going to get murdered.
This is a major evolution in character design in shooters. With most shooters you just choose your favourite character or class and then stick to them, because, let’s face it, character design in most shooters is limited. But in Overwatch choosing the right character is vital, because every character truly changes the game. You’re far more likely to switch character in Overwatch than in other shooters, and that adds a new depth that you rarely see in the genre.
So straight off the bat, Blizzard is changing the shooter genre by making characters so much more important in Overwatch than they are in other games in the genre.
Talking about Overwatch’s characters, they’re also far more recognisable and iconic than characters in other shooters. And this has a huge impact on gameplay.
When you see a character approaching you’re able to quickly notice who they are, and that enables you to adopt the right strategy to deal with them.
Obviously, when you head into battle against another character, the strategy you take will depend on your character’s strengths and weaknesses versus your enemy’s strengths and weaknesses. So by being able to spot the enemy character easily you’re given time to adopt a strategy.
This, in turn, makes strategy far more important (and better) in Overwatch than in most other games in the genre.
This heightened sense of strategy is realised through teamwork and the user interface. For instance, when you’re at the character select screen the game will actually notify you of the character types are missing in your current team.
One time I was playing the game notified me that our team didn’t have a builder—this was for a defending team. Obviously, having no builder would have been a major mess-up in this fight. The notification made it easy to spot and correct the error.
This also hints at another awesome aspect of Overwatch: accessibility.
Overwatch is so easy to start playing. I actually had a non-gamer friend come and try out the game and she found it easy to pick it up (which is great because it means we can all play with non-serious gamers, or even with people who hardly play games ever, and that can only be a good thing).
The control scheme for Overwatch is incredibly simple, with most of the moves and attacks requiring just one button press. But at the same time, there are more advanced combos and techniques to use that do require some skill—but they’re more like bonuses than absolutely necessary.
This is a case of perfect balancing. Because the ideal situation in all games is that they hit two targets. Firstly, they should be easy to pick up so that anyone can start playing and have fun. That way tons of people get into the game (not just the hardcore, but casual gamers too). But at the same time, games should reward skilful players—otherwise what’s the point in getting good at a game?
Overwatch achieves both these things. It’s very easy to start playing and tons of fun even if you’re not very talented. But at the same time, if you’re good at it you will be rewarded for your skills. So everyone is satisfied: newbs, veterans, casual players, hardcore players. Everyone wins.
While innovating the shooter genre, Overwatch also gets the basics right, like the maps and the game modes.
The beta only features two game modes. And some people will be surprised that there is no team deathmatch. Instead you get two objective-based games that are an absolute blast to play, and they both allow you to rack-up tons of kills.
As well as the objective games you get a mode where you have to defend certain objectives in order to get points.
Neither of these modes are exactly mind-bending in innovation, but they are both hugely enjoyable, and they offer different experiences. Naturally, we’ll be seeing more game modes when Overwatch is released in 3 weeks, and we’re pretty confident that those game modes will be excellent.
So, so far Overwatch has proven accessible, fun, rewarding, strategic, and deep. But probably the best thing about Overwatch is how beautiful it is.
Every map in Overwatch is gorgeous. They’re bright and vibrant and match the characters. And Blizzard has done a good job of making each map unique. They range from a Japanese map, Hanamura, which is full of cherry blossoms, to the brown mountains of Route 66. These locales are all varied and unique, and they all look absolutely stunning.
Not only do the maps look good but they play great too, offering different types of spaces to fight in. There are claustrophobic indoor spaces that are great for short range fights, and there are open spaces too that are great for long-range characters. Blizzard definitely put a lot of time into perfecting these maps. They’re varied, fun, and they’re well balanced so that each character has a fair chance of winning.
So, not only does Overwatch innovate, it also gets the basics right.
When it’s all said and done, Overwatch feels like a real step forward. It’s hugely accessible, tons of fun, and masterfully designed.
This is the type of game that will make even non-gamers look at it and think “Huh. Maybe I should give this a shot”. That’s mostly thanks to a combination of beauty and accessibility. It looks stunning, making you want to play, and it’s easy to get into, so newcomers can start playing.
But at the same time there is a depth of strategy and complexity that will please hardcore gamers too.
All in all, this is a masterpiece in game design. Blizzard have truly pulled out the stops here. We could be witnessing the future of the shooter genre. And it looks damn good.
Overwatch Screenshot of characters and gameplay