What I Did On My Overwatch Summer Holiday

Since the end of exams, i’ve been solidly sticking to one game: Overwatch. It’s not as pitch-perfect as some games, and the changes it makes to the FPS formula are fairly limited – but it’s tremendous fun and a beautiful game. Instead of a review, here’s a list of Things I Have Done In Overwatch.

  • Dived onto a crowded control point, hit the “self-destruct” button, and ejected. I landed directly in a bear trap, and all I could do was watch as my own mech exploded, killing me and half the enemy team.

Overwatch is a class-based multiplayer shooter, distinguished by the diversity of the abilities the classes use. It’s most often compared to Team Fortress 2, but that’s not quite right – here, the focus is on the special abilities each class has available, rather than their weaponry.

dva2

D.Va is a teenage youtuber in a giant pink mech, and her “Ultimate” – her rarest, most powerful ability- ejects from the mech and detonates it for massive damage over a large area. If you’re quick, you can take out entire teams and dive into cover to survive. I am not quick: I never survive.

  • Teamed up with a turret and a medic to throw up a slow, desperate defence of the point. When my shield broke, I charged forward and started breaking heads with a twelve-foot hammer, trusting in the medic to keep me alive to get back to the turret and rekindle my shield.

My favourite class at the moment is Reinhardt, who carries no ranged weapons, but a massive hammer and an energy shield large enough to protect other players. The shield can only take so much damage before collapsing, and then there’s a few seconds before it begins to slowly recharge. It only charges when deactivated, leading to electrically tense moments: standing with one’s defences lowered as the incoming fire starts to thicken, trying to see how far the shield can build before whoever you’re protecting takes serious damage and you’re forced to activate it again.

reinhart

The best round I’ve ever had, I was accompanied by Overwatch’s seraphic healer Mercy for most of the time, giving me an extra tactic to use – when my shield broke, charge! One of Reinhardt’s abilities is a head-down, rocket-powered charge that allows him to grab enemies and slam them into walls or off cliffs. Even if I didn’t hit anything it was tremendous – it broke up an enemy assault beautifully, leaving them as easy prey for the turret for a few seconds. I died almost immediately, of course – only for Mercy to hit her Ultimate ability and return me to life in the midst of them, shield fully recharged. At that time, there was very little they could do – still under turret fire – to prevent me retreating back to our little turret nook and setting up again. It was some of the most fun i’ve had in a game in ages.

  • Played D.Va as a jump-jet scout, leaping over rooftops to drop into groups of enemies, scatterguns blazing. Her guns are short-ranged but devastating, so it’s a good way to break up enemy pushes and take out key opponents: then hit the jump jets and fly away before the big guns turn round and start fighting back.

D.Va is classified as a Tank, which feels wrong to me: she’s a roamer, best used sweeping in from the side or above. Her shield – one of her secondary abilities – feels almost tacked-on in that regard: it can protect against individual devastating attacks, or cover her in a dive across an open area, but doesn’t last long enough to cover a full-scale push. It also took me a while to get used to: one of the general issues I have with Overwatch is that some of the more sci-fi abilities – Zarya’s laser gun, Symmetra’s orbs, etc – are weightless and unintuitive. It’s difficult to get an instinctive feel of how much damage they’ll do and what shields they’ll go through – as compared to, say, a minigun. I’m still not clear what the rules for Reinhardt’s shields are, and i’ve no idea what i’m blocking with Defense Matrix. Friends have clarified for me: each different kind of shield seems to have its own quasi-arbitrary list of exceptions.

Once D.Va’s mech is killed, she’s speedy and fragile, and forced to hang back and take potshots until her Ultimate builds and she can summon the mech again. I’ve started to be able to reliably land shots with her pistol, which makes her actually viable in this state, but it’s a slightly jarring change of pace: the wildly different situations her and her mech are good in mean that I find I’m often killed before I can retreat to a safe distance. Some people are fantastic with her, though, swooping away from combat to ping away with the pistol until her mech is recharged, and then diving back in, never dying. I’m jealous, but confused: well over half the time the mech is destroyed, whoever killed it has followed up and murdered me within seconds.

  • Used my “Sound Barrier” ultimate to boost my team’s shields, seconds before a rocket barrage: the extra shields saved us from the attack, and we pushed forwards onto the point.

“Ultimates”, the most powerful abilities each character has, vary a lot. Some are truly game-changing (D.Va’s explosion, Mercy’s ability to resurrect her team) whereas some are fairly weak (Sound Barrier only lasts a few seconds, meaning it needs pitch-perfect timing and positioning.) Others are just boring – Mei and Tracer are both overstuffed with unique abilities, but their Ultimates are simply high-powered grenades. Symmetra’s defining feature is her teleporter, and she’s forced to painstakingly charge her ultimate to build it, placing weedy little lasers and taking potshots with her pistols until it’s ready. (More on Symmetra in an upcoming post. I know, I’m excited too.)

lucio-skating-overwatch-header
I’m bad at screenshots of Lucio. This one is from BlizzardWatch.

Lucio, who’s Sound Barrier I’m referring to, is tremendously fun: his general persona reminds me a little of Poochie (“I’m the kung fu hippie from gangster city”) but he throws out buffs in a wide area, making him a viable support even if you feel like blasting with his dubstep gun instead. (Overwatch has gone to real efforts to include classes that are viable even for less skilled players – Winston and Symmetra don’t require you to aim, Soldier 76 doesn’t require you to play tactically, Torbjorn doesn’t require you to play at all, har har har.) I’m not great with his ludicrous wall-running yet, but i’m getting the hang of when to switch his abilities about – it’s certainly not a case of “healing in combat, speed outside.” When you’re already well-protected – or simply more skilled – speed can allow your team a much greater ability to pick their battles. On less-co-ordinated teams, you can boost speed to reach a critical teammate, then switch to health and use the boost– a few seconds of mega-healing – to get them fighting again.

  • Used Lucio’s sonic blast to punt three players off the top of a building, and then tried to figure out how to taunt. Later, this was Play of The Game, and everyone saw me stand still for ten seconds before shouting “Need healing!” instead.

Play Of The Game shows a replay of the “most impressive” thing that happened in any particular round. Sometimes that’s a great push or killstreak, but whatever algorithms are used seem to misfire on occasion – I’ve seen Play Of The Game earned for a single mid-range shot, or, commonly, for a turret automatically cutting down a couple of charging enemies, while the player getting the credit sat around with his thumb up his arse. Determining which events are “POTG” sounds like a fascinating puzzle to solve, so maybe expect a separate post on that soon.

lcuio
You can watch your “Highlights” from the main menu, but only once, and you can’t save them.

They put so much effort into making the characters distinctive, but a lot of it is lost in the Loot Box system. You can equip emotes to your character to taunt, laugh, dance, etc – but you can only get these from Loot Boxes, which are random. Want a better chance of a good emote? Best pay for more loot boxes. Irritatingly, the basic emotes are all dull and characterless – usually “standing proud” or something. Comparing Overwatch to Team Fortress 2 is gauche at this point, but next to the Pyro’s ululations or the medic’s glove-snap, it’s a disappointment to see Lucio – colourful, characterful DJ Lucio, fighting redevelopment with music – rest his gun on his shoulder and grin. That’s… just rubbish.

  • Levelled up enough to open nearly thirty loot boxes, and not got a single legendary or animation for any class I play.

The “Legendary skins” one can unlock are also disappointing to me – so many are born of lazy design choices. There’s

  • The strangely arbitrary (“eh, fuck it. Lets make junkrat a clown and call it a day”, plus several characters who dress in traditional cultural dress of a seemingly randomly-picked culture),
  • The barely different (Tracer in a slightly changed skintight outfit)
  • And the Actually Fairly Racist (the Hispanic reaper becomes a Mariachi singer, the Indian Symmetra gets a midriff-baring “hindu goddess” outfit.)

This same sense of lazy arbitrariness runs through the other unlockable animations too – Blizzard cheerfully changed one of Tracer’s victory poses because it wasn’t in keeping with her character, to a chorus of cries of “censorship” from people who don’t know what censorship is. Others are just as bad though – lazily “sexy” poses for the shy Symmetra, and three kinds of flexing for the musclebound Reinhardt: its easy to see that the controversial Tracer pose came from nothing more than a lack of imagination. The Male Gaze is also clearly visible in many: it’s honestly surprising they considered the Tracer pose a problem at all. This would be disappointing from any company or in any game, but when Overwatch normally shows such imaginative thinking? It’s downright shameful.

Whoops, that was a grumpy note to end on, wasn’t it? In case it’s not clear from this post, I’m enjoying Overwatch a lot. If you want to join me in playing it sometime, I can be found at LeSwordfish#2954, and as always at @leswordfish on twitter.

To sign off, let me show you this fantastic overwatch music video by haveluckgoodfun.

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