Blizzard Entertainment has had three bread and butter franchises since their founding in 1991 as Silicon & Synapse—Starcraft, Warcraft, and Diablo. They later expanded into other games involving characters from these franchises, such as Heroes of the Storm, World of Warcraft, and Hearthstone. However, at BlizzCon 2014, they decided to head into uncharted territory—a first-person shooter—for their next original franchise, calling the game Overwatch. The game will be released on May 24 worldwide, but I was lucky enough to gain closed beta access to the game.
The plot and setting of Overwatch takes place on a fictional Earth following the Omnic Crisis, in which Omnic artificial intelligence threatened to take over the world. An international task force called Overwatch was founded by the United Nations to protect humanity and end the Omnic Crisis. However, Overwatch’s role as peacekeepers came under fire as accusations of corruption and sedition came up against members of the organization, turning the people against the heroes who saved them. Overwatch disbanded, although some still question whether or not it was disbanded by those who wanted to see them gone.
Teams are organized into groups of six, and 21 heroes will be available at launch. These heroes are then further split into four different roles: offense, defense, tank, and support. There are six offensive heroes, six defensive heroes, five tank heroes, and four support heroes, with more heroes rumored to be added as the game is patched. Offensive heroes can serve in both attack and defense roles, while defense heroes serve as heroes who try to guard choke points on the map. Tank heroes are intended to absorb damage, while support heroes either heal damage taken, buff their team and debuff the other team, or even increase a team’s mobility. Each hero has their own special abilities, and an ultimate ability that can change the tide of the game according to their role. In addition, you can swap heroes throughout the game after respawning in your respective spawn room. This can also change the tide of the battle.
There are three types of maps. The first type is an assault map, where the attacking team is tasked to capture two target points on the map, while the defensive team needs to stop them. The target points can be contested by either team. The escort maps involve moving a payload to a destination. The payload is on a fixed track; an attacking team can move it forward while a defensive team can push it back. This can also be contested as well to prevent the payload from moving. The third type of map is a control map, where both teams fight over control of a point on the map in a “King of the Hill” style fight. These are played in a best-of-three format, with each sub-portion of the map being different in terms of layout. For those who need a proper introduction to FPS games, there is also a tutorial mode, practice vs. AI mode, and practice range mode.
Due to Activision Blizzard acquiring Major League Gaming (MLG) in January 2016 for USD 46 million, Activision Blizzard intends to make Overwatch one of the main games in the eSports scene. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick intended to create “the ESPN of eSports” through this purchase. “MLG’s ability to create premium content and its proven broadcast technology platform—including its live streaming capabilities—strengthens our strategic position in competitive gaming,” he said. Pre-purchasing Overwatch nets you a free hero in Heroes of the Storm—offensive hero Tracer, and it is possible that more Overwatch heroes will cross over into the game.
Overall, Blizzard’s attempt at an original franchise in a genre they were unfamiliar with may be a sign that Blizzard will expand into other genres as well. However, given the conservative nature of their management, it may be a while before it does that again. It is worth a buy if you are a fan of Blizzard games or are curious if you want to see what they do with the FPS genre. As one of the heroes, Tracer, says, “The world could always use more heroes.”
Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE May 2016 Issue
Words by Jose Alvarez
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment | Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment | Platform(s): PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One