The opening ceremony of Blizzcon 2014 was filled with talking points. There was Mike Morhimme’s heartfelt speech against the harassment that has made headlines in recent months (which got a well deserved round of applause), the reveal of the next expansions for Hearthstone and StarCraft II, and, of course, Chris Metzen’s yearly dose of infectious enthusiasm. Of course, the real talking point was how, after 17 years, Blizzard was ready to announce a brand new IP, and it goes by the name of Overwatch.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the announcement trailer was actually Pixar’s next film set to the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack (something Metzen joked about on stage, “Well Blizzard, is there a video game associated with this idea?”) and admittedly some may be rubbed the wrong way by Tracer’s mockey accent (look on the bright side - at least she didn’t say “apples and pears”) but what Blizzard showed was that they were ready to give us something new, and it looked like a very exciting concept. And they could have left it at that, but they didn’t. Instead, they not only showed the game in action, but brought 600 PCs for Blizzcon attendees to try out the game first-hand. On top of that, they revealed a number of interest tidbits that we’re going to recap for your convenience.
Overwatch is Blizzard’s upcoming team-based first-person-shooter, with 6v6 objective / stopwatch game modes similar to those found in Team Fortress 2, Brink, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Perhaps the most important thing to note is that Overwatch is effectively the good bits of the cancelled Project Titan, repackaged into what Blizzard considered to be an overall better game for everyone. This is clearly an important aspect, as Game Director Jeffery Kaplan said that the dev team aims to deliver an action-packed shooter that is approachable for players of all skill levels.
To achieve that, Overwatch is filled with a cast of eccentric characters, each with their own unique abilities to compliment differing playstyles that fit into four roles - Offence who deal out the damage, Defence who are responsible for holding areas, Tanks who are there to soak up the punishment, and Support who aid their team in various ways beyond just healing. The different between the roles means that those players who lack the reaction time needed to pull those off headshots in the blink of an eye will still be useful. This is because of what Blizzard describes as non-twitch / or less lethal options. It ends up almost being a mix between Team Fortress 2’s gameplay with Dota 2’s roster in terms of what to expect, but hopefully with a much kinder community.
We live in hope, anyway.
In terms of abilities, the heroes vary greatly aside from their general setup – a weapon, two unique abilities, an ultimate ability, and a way to traverse the map. For example, Tracer, who features heavily in the reveal trailer, can teleport around the map and even rewind back to where she was three seconds prior (even resetting their health to what it was at that point), while her ultimate launches a sticky plasma grenade that does huge damage. Meanwhile, Torbjorn can place and repair turrets, throw down armour packs, and overcharge his ability the rate at which he gains metal scraps and repairs items. Then there is Reaper, who can phase himself out of existence to avoid damage, teleport to any chosen location, and whose ultimate shoots his shotguns out in every direction for much pain.
Of course those are just a few examples of the abilities available, such as Zenyatta’s buff and debuff orbs, or Symmetra’s deployable teleporter, and you can learn more about the twelve heroes revealed so far by heading over to the official website. But here’s the thing – the twelve characters we know of will end up being a fraction of the choices in the full game, and the developers have confirmed that while it will be possible to fill an entire team full of Tracers if they wish, the opposite is also possible, with players able to change their chosen hero upon respawning back in. This in itself allows for reactive gameplay, and I expect that eSports enthusiasts will revel in the ability to change tactics on the fly to suit their needs.
So what about the game modes? Currently we know that deathmatch will not feature in Overwatch in any capacity, but we do have two confirmed game types. Firstly there’s Payload, which tasks attackers with escorting a bomb to its destination by being close by to it, while defenders attempt to stop them until the time runs out. One thing of note from the gameplay demonstation we saw was how overtime would active when the timer ran out, allowing the attacking team a chance to get the payload to the next checkpoint and adding 2 minutes onto the timer. However, they must be near the payload to keep it active, and if they are all wiped out then the defenders win. To me this adds a new dynamic to stopwatch matches, removing the heartache of being just a few inches away from safety.
The second mode is Point Capture, where the attacking side must capture several points in succession within the time limit, all the while the defenders must stop them at all costs. Blizzard have said there will be more modes announced in due time, but I will be interested to see if we see something new. That said, it’s only a matter of time until the inevitable horde mode appears, possibly with highscore rankings on Battle.net. Actually, that sounds like an awesome idea. Do that, Blizzard.
While the reveal trailer presented some backstory, Chris Metzen made it clear that Overwatch won’t contain storytelling in its gameplay. Instead, in a new direction for Blizzard, the narrative will be told outside the game in various methods, although the aim is for the characters and the environments themselves to paint a good enough picture for the player. There was no confirmation as to how the narrative would be presented, but considering how Warcraft has novels, comics, and animated shorts, most of those things are probably safe bets. Plus, who doesn’t want to learn more about a super-smart ape from the moon who goes on hulk-style rampages when angry. Just me? Fine.
It’s impressive that Blizzard brought so many machines to the show floor as they are clearly confident that the game is good enough to show off in its current state. Then again, this is the (refined) remnants of Project Titan, so a lot of work had clearly been put into it already, and with the beta coming next year (no specific timeframe, though) I expect we will be hearing plenty about Overwatch in the near future. As someone who thought Brink was a brilliant idea with flawed execution (and little too po-faced for its own good) and that thinks Team Fortress 2 has become a little too focused on the farming of parts for hats, a return to twitch-based objective gameplay is just what the doctor ordered. Hell, as someone who played RTCW competitively back in the day, this excites me greatly. I can already see myself losing many hours to this, and providing the balance between characters is right, it will only further cement Blizzard’s dominance in the eSports arena.
After all, WoW arenas have the MMO scene covered, Heroes of the Storm the MOBA side, Starcraft for strategy, and Hearthstone for TGCs. All that was missing was a shooter, and providing it can live up to the impressive debut, Overwatch could be the missing piece of the puzzle.
For more information on Overwatch be sure to check out the official website. We'll be hoping to go hands-on with the game in the near future.