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Overwatch: Blizzard’s Shooter Mixes the Best of FPS and MOBA – Hands-On Preview from PAX East 2015

by Kyle Hanson

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Blizzard looks to dominate yet another gaming genre with the introduction of Overwatch, a first-person shooter that pulls elements from other games to create a unique take on the somewhat tired genre. Featuring a colorful world filled with interesting characters, Overwatch seems to offer a different take on shooter action, that many are very interested in. Coming from Blizzard also means that it has a lot of very big expectations hanging over its head, so does it live up to the hype? From what I saw at PAX East 2015, yes it does.

I got my hands on the game pretty early in the weekend, but I gave myself some time to digest the gameplay before writing this up. To be honest, I’ve never been a die hard Blizzard fan. Don’t get me wrong, I love the company and their games, but I’ve skipped more of them than I’ve played and when a new one is announced I usually assume that I’ll check it out later on. Overwatch had largely remained off my radar until I saw the massive booth in the middle of the PAX East 2015 show floor. I knew that I had to try it, which was a good plan considering how much fun I ended up having with my demo.

Over the course of 10-15 minutes I played through two rounds of Overwatch. Both were on the desert map featured in pretty much all of the available videos, named Temple of Anubis. We were playing Point Capture, one of the two game modes revealed so far, the other being Payload. In Point Capture you and your team have to capture a single point on the map, while the opposing team tries to defend it. If you are able to take control of this point a new one appears, and you repeat the process. During the demo at least, there were only the two capture spots and then the game ended.

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At the beginning of the game, or whenever they respawn, players are able to choose between an interesting cast of characters. Fourteen were available in total, including the twelve originals and the two that were unveiled at the convention. The differences between these characters aren’t just cosmetic, they each offer MOBA-style roles and abilities. The key to victory is communicating with your team and making sure that your roster covers the right play styles to counteract the other team. Of course, with the insanity of the PAX East show floor this is nearly impossible, but we tried anyway.

Overwatch looks to be a fine entry in the class-based shooter genre

I went for a more aggressive approach with my character selections. Starting off with Winston, the giant space ape who can shoot and pummel his opponents into the dirt. Most of Winston’s attacks are shorter range, but this is countered by his extreme mobility. Getting across the map was extremely simple thanks to Winston’s leap maneuver, which propelled him into the air before slamming down, causing damage to anything in the way. I could use this in combat obviously, but it was actually more helpful by simply getting me across the map and to the objective faster than most characters.

The map we were playing on certainly enhanced the MOBA feel of Overwatch, featuring multiple lanes that could focus combat and keep players segmented. However, I could easily circumvent this by leaping atop the nearby buildings, scoping out the surroundings, and jumping into the fray as I saw fit. Of course, other characters share this ability, so it’s not like I was the only one up there, but for this demo it seemed like a heavy advantage for my team thanks to our overall lack of experience with the game.

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On defense we found ourselves right up next to the enemies’ spawn location. There is a shield protecting them so that they can prepare for battle before diving into combat, so we weren’t spawn camping. However, we were clearly dominating the match practically from the first shot. I took this opportunity to test out some of my abilities, leaping on top of local architecture, before picking a target and jumping onto their head. Once I landed they were usually a little dazed, trying to figure out who hit them, and from where. I would stick nearby, taking cover within my deployable shield when necessary, and try to hit them in their blind spot with my close range lightning gun whenever possible. If I had done enough damage I would unlock my “ultimate” ability, which had me unleashing the inner ape, running around, literally pummeling anything in the way.

This was certainly a winning strategy, although it resulted in a few too many deaths for me to reach the top of the scoreboard. I could usually take out a single player if they were by themselves, and could get a couple if they somehow didn’t notice the literal 800 pound gorilla standing next to them, but two or more aware players spelled my doom almost every time. Hanging back was clearly the better overall strategy, allowing me to pick up health packs and coordinate with my team on multiple occasions. Whatever strategy I used wasn’t really important though as we defended the first point and ended the match victorious with little effort.

The next round we swapped roles, becoming the attacker. I took this as a chance to test out another character, switching to Torbjen, the dwarven engineer. Once again I found myself utilizing close range combat, which does fit my play style well so I decided to stick with it for the round. Torbjen plays a pretty heavy support role, being able to drop armor upgrades, and a deployable turret. One of the added benefits of the cordoned off spawning area is that you can buff your team a bit before they charge out the gate. I found myself dropping armor upgrades right at our team’s HQ as soon as I respawned, which seemed to help a little bit.

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The turret was an even better bonus especially in a mode like Point Capture. Whenever our team was able to push ahead far enough, I could drop the turret within range of the objective. It usually didn’t last too long, but it definitely distracted the enemy long enough for us to gain some more ground. This also allowed me to get in close enough without drawing enemy fire to use my small shotgun type weapons. Using this strategy we nabbed the first point fairly quickly, but the second would require a bit more work. This point wasn’t as open as the last, instead being housed in a temple structure that the enemy could fortify. Multiple entrances allowed for a lot of blindsiding, and both team used this to their advantage.

Whether it’s true or not, I like to think that I swung this one in our favor. By this point in the game I had switched back to Winston, the trusty gorilla (I liked him better). Using my leap ability, I jumped behind the opposing team. I entered the facility via a side door and began zapping anything in sight. Just as things began looking bad I deployed my shield, giving me a moment’s respite, and noticed that my ultimate was fully charged. Hitting the key felt like chucking up a last second basketball shot. I came out of my shield just as two enemies began to target me. I was able to do some damage, but they triumphed over me at the last second. Luckily, my antics had bought my team enough time to storm the temple. I died as I watched them fire the final shots into my enemy’s back, and I didn’t even have the time to respawn before “Victory” splashed across the screen.

The experience of playing Overwatch was like enjoying a fast paced shooter and a strategic, class based MOBA all in one. Map control was key, but there were still a ton of bullets firing around. If you wanted to go slow and work as a team you would likely have been even more successful than my team, but running and gunning was still fun and effective. The world and its characters look fantastic, though the limited field of view will likely turn some people away, especially if Blizzard decides to not make a slider available, as they seem to indicate. Still, Overwatch looks to be a fine entry in the class-based shooter genre that has been making a comeback as of late. Fans of the genre or Blizzard itself should definitely keep an eye on this one.

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