Ever since Overwatch hit, I’ve been curious about its world but not necessarily interested in playing it. I played the closed beta briefly but just couldn’t get into the experience, largely because I didn’t really understand its key selling point; co-operation. That’s my own fault really, I didn’t put enough time into it when I had the chance, but this past weekend saw Blizzard provide some free time on Xbox One and PS4, a perfect opportunity to reacquaint myself with the franchise that everyone keeps harping on about. I’m glad I did.
It does help that I’ve been watching a lot of Let’s Play videos of people pulling of crazy stunts or mad kill streaks, but it was also about trying to fully grasp the concept. I probably wasn’t convinced on Blizzard’s new IP largely because I wasn’t sure which character suited my play style the most. So before the free weekend, I decided to read up on all of the available members of the Overwatch cast. What I found wasn’t all that surprising, people had their favourites and many suited the tank/healer/defender concept that’s common in many modern multiplayer titles, but it didn’t occur to me to read up on their personal bios and actually get to know who these heroes are.
That’s the second reason why I wasn’t sold on it at first. A wholly multiplayer game isn’t something that really responds well with me. I like the idea of going off on my own or exploring with a friend, but not having to compete with other players while doing so. It’s why I’ve played a lot of co-op in Destiny but have barely touched the Crucible content in the process. Or why I quickly left the likes of Star Wars: Battlefront behind, a game I was keen to play but found lacking in content for the lone warrior.
But back to the roster. Blizzard have certainly put together a strong lineup of heroes to follow and become a fan of, both in broad design strokes and interesting back stories. At first I thought it was a real shame that we couldn’t get to know them within the game itself, exploring a world whilst seeing their stories play out in a more traditional sense. The likes of Tracer, Widowmaker and Winston are entertaining and fascinating in their own right, but the fact that I wasn’t really playing as them, just using their abilities to my advantage … that put me off. I wanted to know more, to understand their backstories and get into their heads. Which is where Blizzard’s animated shorts come in.
Blizzard are known for their high quality cut scenes. Diablo III has some of my all time favourites, and the World of Warcraft trailers are always stunning. So to take that concept and give these heroes a sense of meaning and purpose through some slightly longer animated shorts was a smart move. I missed these at first, but I’m glad I went back to watch them all. This was the backstory I was looking for, just not where I expected to find it, but it was effective enough to sell me on why I should get to know them and what their purpose was in this colourful and energetic world.
And then the free weekend hit. I decided to get to know Soldier 76 first. Considered one of the easier characters to play as for beginners, Solider 76 feels like the kind of hero that was specifically designed for those players coming from a Call of Duty kind of background. Armed with a battle rifle, mini rockets and the super ability to target everyone in front of him for an almost unbeatable level of accuracy, I found myself appreciating the combat side of the game a lot more once I finally found someone to ease me into the contest. I made the mistake during the beta to try the flashy characters, ones I wasn’t really adept at but went with since everyone else seemed to. This time, I went with a hero that suited what I needed; someone to at least get me into the contest and make me feel like I’m contributing.
And that I did. Within the first few rounds, I’d been able to rack up a decent amount of gold medal performances, a few kill streaks and helped a few teams get some wins. Surviving long enough to actually create some kind of defensive or offensive tactics, whilst figuring out the little nooks of each map helped me immensely, suddenly I was smiling in delight as I helped to capture points instead of cursing aloud every time an enemy Widowmaker sniped me from a distance.
Better still, I was learning how to really play the game. Overwatch isn’t about kills or deaths, it’s how you contribute to your team and the main objectives. Sure, I might have been murdered over and over again at times, but my aim was less about how I did and more about how many times I stopped a team from pushing forward into our area, or how much further I pushed the objective forward along the tracks. My entire mindset on a first person shooter flipped, and it helped that no matter how I did in-game, the results screen always rewarded me with medals on various elements of my performance. The emphasis on contribution, on team play, is the priority right down to what medals you receive and how other players vote at the end of the game. And hey, it’s always nice to be rewarded even when you might lost the game overall, but even I admitted surprise when I found myself pulling off some amazing stats.
In the end, I’m glad I decided to give Overwatch another shot. I understand now what it all means, the true strengths and weaknesses of each character and what it feels like to make that play that can change the entire outcome of a match. It’s a sport, in the truest sense of the word, as even the smallest move and make the biggest impact, as I discovered in the best possible way here. Call me converted if you want, but I’ll be playing a lot more of Overwatch going forward. The only gripe I have left is how much content Blizzard will bring down the development pipeline, but they’ve certainly grabbed my attention with one of the better and more enjoyable experiences of the year.
So I’d say the free weekend was a rousing success, but what about you? Did you try it for the first time over the weekend? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.
Mark Isaacson is the editor of PN2. Go say hi on Twitter @Mark_D_Isaacson