Overwatch’s Mark-Hitting

There is an interesting post up over at MMOBro asking whether or not Overwatch is missing the mark. The conclusion Tyler comes to is this:

For what it is, Overwatch is a solid game. The core gameplay is strong, the art is fantastic, and the action is plentiful. But it is an incredibly narrow game. It’s a fantastic experience for those who crave intense, high octane competitive play, but very unwelcoming for everyone else.

Having spent the last week playing Overwatch 2-5 hours a day, I am inclined to agree.

Most of the criticisms brought up by Tyler are legit. While single-player campaigns in games like COD and Battlefield are generally superfluous, they are value propositions and used extensively to sell boxes via commercials. Blizzard appears to be treating Overwatch more like a MOBA in the sense that they are crafting a lore-rich story and intricate characters that have nothing at all to do with the game itself. Or maybe the straight Team Fortress 2 comparison is more apt.

Regardless, it does feel a bit jarring to have all these production values without a production.

Overwatch_Tunnel

Probably my favorite place in all the maps.

Also, it is very much true that Overwatch is not a particularly welcoming game. The average Time-To-Kill varies, but it very often can be “Instantly.” Junkrat and Reaper can often kill 3+ people practically out of nowhere with their Ultimates, which is kind of a big deal in 6v6 matches.

Indeed, the team size is small enough that a skilled veteran can often single-handedly lock down a match by themselves or a complete noob on your side can result in a demoralizing, grinding loss in an otherwise even match. I’m not sure what kind of matchmaking Blizzard had active during the Beta (assuming they had anything at all), but it didn’t seem to be working that well. The fact that the teams stay the same from match to match (there is no team shuffling) just encourages people to bail to try and find a different server with the possibility of a better team, which just increases the queues for everyone.

Having said that… this is technically still beta. One of the criticisms from Tyler was:

That in and of itself is not necessarily a problem, but there’s nothing else to the game. Blizzard has repeatedly shot down the idea of offering any other game modes.

This is not entirely true.

In fact, if there is contrary info out there, I’d like to know where, because Kaplan has said this:

Yes. The version you are playing now is what will go live at launch (there will be some bug fixes etc…). We also have Competitive Play, which was a feature that was live in Closed Beta. We removed it from Open Beta because we received a ton of great feedback on how to improve the system. We had a tough choice. It would have been awesome to have the feature in for Open Beta and Launch. But we felt like we could really improve on some things so we opted to have the feature come out shortly after launch. We’re hoping that our efforts in the Closed Beta to try to get things done quickly and at high quality aren’t lost on our community — but we also never want to sacrifice the quality of the game by putting something live that isn’t up to our standards.

We’re also working on a TON of post-launch features and content. It’s going to be a pretty amazing summer…

Indeed, Overwatch has borrowed Hearthstone’s Brawl mechanic in which there is a weekly mode with “crazy” new rules. This past week it was random hero selection upon death, and the ability to switch heroes disabled. Not only was this a brilliant, relatively stress-free way to experience characters you might feel bad for picking in a normal match, if Hearthstone is any indication, it is also a test-bed for future mechanics.

Just think about how much live data Blizzard could pull from any given match, in terms of whether stacking three Roadhogs was effective given X or Y factors. Seems dumb now, but maybe that very thing will inform a future, more robust AI for bots down the road. Or when the Brawl from before was normal Overwatch but 75% shorter cooldowns.

Far-fetched? You be the judge:

Hearthstone_Shadowcaster.jpg

Playtesters and didn’t even know it.

So, in the final before-launch analysis, I conclude that… Overwatch is fun. I wish I was playing it right now. Assuming that Blizzard fixes the matchmaking and horrible DC experiences, it will absolutely become a part of my “I don’t know what to play right now” rotation. You can easily get four matches done in 30 minutes, which starts to make you wonder if Blizzard’s master plan (assuming there is one) is to fill in the holes in WoW’s design with other games. Waiting for dungeon queue? Play some Overwatch. Which is absolutely easier to jump in and out of than Hearthstone or Heroes of the Storm.

However, much in the way that raiding isn’t for everyone, neither is Overwatch. If you are John Q Casual, there isn’t much for you to do (at the moment). The scope of the Battlefield series is such that you could always tag along a squad as a medic or supply guy and generally not be nuisance while rendering material assistance to your team. In Overwatch? You’re a straight liability, even if you are a healer. Especially if you are a healer. Because the better players might assume you’re competent and not pull a healer themselves.

So as I mentioned before, I agree with Tyler. If you’re looking for quick bursts of kinda frustrating, often amusing FPS action, Overwatch is pretty damn good. Just make sure that is what you’re looking for before you throw down $40/$60.

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Posted on May 12, 2016, in Commentary, Impressions and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Someone on my twitter mentioned that OW was ‘shallow’ which I found slightly amusing, before someone else answered “of course it’s shallow, it’s an FPS”. This exchange really hits the mark imo, Overwatch does perfectly what it set out to do which is fast-paced, quick to get into team action. I personally like it and I think Blizzard have done a lot more than others in terms of making it beginner-friendly. And while some ultimates really need another look, I also think the frequent or easy deaths are part of the game; dying just isn’t as big a deal as elsewhere. I’ve been in many beta matches where the opposing team came back strong after a series of deaths. Staying alive is preferable of course but it’s nice to know there’s always a comeback possible after dying to Genji’s dragon. ;)
    What the game does too is force groups to re-think strategy and switch heroes mid-game if they hit a wall. I imagine some players simply aren’t willing or prepared to do so because they prefer to only heal/tank/dps but that’s getting you nowhere in the long run. Generally, this isn’t a genre for pugs anyway, or at least thats not when you see its potential depth unfold.

    The game is steeply priced however, given its narrow focus. The fact that they keep advertising the medium package on their front page doesn’t help either.

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  2. The main difference I sense is that Overwatch is very much more tightly knit 6 vs 6 team-based. This is great for a competitive group that knows each other and can play together as a team, and for those who love the MOBA team synergy style of play.

    Games like TF2 (or the old TFC) on the other hand are more about a drop-in, drop-out experience on public servers. You have 12 or 16 or 24 players a side, or what have you, and you’re ostensibly on the same color team, but you’re not as reliant on working together in coordination. You go in, do your shooty thing with other people zerging alongside you, and pop out when you get tired. John Q Casual can get carried, or play his own private minigame of sniping, or demoman traps or spy backstabbing or engineer turret wars without really caring about what the rest of the team is up to.

    John Q Casual in Overwatch is going to make his team super-frustrated, because now they’re down 1 and always fighting outnumbered.

    Well, let’s give Blizzard time. More iterations of balancing couldn’t hurt. I suspect, in a year or two, we’ll see the price come down a ways (even if only on a special, super-limited time sale) and there may even be more game modes and other things to do then.

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    • That’s a good point about synergy. Aside from the general sort of Medic/Heavy relationship, you do indeed generally go about doing your own thing. Meanwhile, coordinating Ultimates can be the entire difference between a timely victory or embarrassing defeat. Plus, if you don’t have a tank or heals in your group, you will often lose to those that do.

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  3. The choice in business model for OW tells a lot of the story. If Blizz thought this was something akin to TF2, it would be F2P with a cash shop, because that model works when you attract a massive audience and expect said audience to stick around long-term.

    In all of the stuff I’ve seen written about OW, not a single one has written that they see the game has legs ala TF2, and I think Blizz knows that as well. They will sell boxes based on hype and the old Blizzard name, and then OW will become another HotS; an afterthought in a market with far better options.

    Plus just like HS and HotS, balance will constantly be a disaster because for whatever reason, Blizz still thinks updating your game 3-4 times a year is “a TON”, when in reality its a joke compared to market leaders (monthly CoC/BB patchs, LoL feels like it gets patched even more than that, etc).

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    • Going F2P would necessitate an entire redesign of the core Overwatch gameplay, given how you can change heroes mid-match. How would they have handled that? Dirty Bomb is the only other F2P FPS that comes to mind with swappable characters, and they limit it to three specific characters per player. And Dirty Bomb does feel a bit like a cash grab in that sense, even though there are free rotations of some characters ala MOBAs.

      As far as the legs thing goes… maybe. It doesn’t have the hat progression system as in TF2 or weapon progression in BF and others. Indeed, I find it difficulty to imagine Blizzard adding in alternate attacks or whatever into Overwatch. So, yeah, it will have to rely on its gameplay alone to retain players… just like old-school shooters like Counter-Strike. Not that it will ever be as big as Counter-Strike, of course. It certainly won’t be like Titanfall though; Blizzard branding alone ensures that much.

      Update-wise, we’ll see.

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      • You don’t need to sell characters, just skins or other fluff systems, so OW could start with all characters unlocked and it would be fine from that perspective.

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      • Possibly. I suppose the issue at that point would be the expectation that the gameplay experience would be friendly enough for F2P players. Anyone who is actually serious about wanting to win would be forever frustrated by a constant stream of noobs diluting their 6v6 team. Ranked Mode might separate them, but at some point, I actually think the Money filter serves a better purpose in filtering.

        And, hey, haven’t you always said that F2P is an admission from game designers that their game isn’t worth purchasing? ;)

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      • F2P MMOs, yes. Not all games. CoC/BB/LoL, all would be worse with a buy or sub model vs F2P.

        And if LoL can make F2P work, given that its not only 5v5, but also a more difficult game than a FPS to understand and do well in, I think OW would have been fine (assuming Blizz figures out how to make ranked work, so yea, maybe the money wall is indeed needed).

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    • What better options?

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    • Balanced PvP games don’t need monthly rebalancing (see: Chess, Go, Poker, Football, etc.). Much like weekly trips to the emergency room are not a sign of good health, but of the lack thereof, frequent balance patches are not the hallmark of a balanced game, but of its opposite.

      Frequent balance patches have two purposes. First, they can allow a game to remain fun despite being wildly unbalanced. If there are options or strategies that are clearly better than others, but these best choices change all the time, players can stay in the ‘learning phase’ for a longer time (or even constantly). The downside here is that everyone has different learning speeds and available time to play. Whatever tuning frequency you choose, some players will be bored by “stale meta”, while others will be frustrated by having to chase the latest FoTM stuff without being able to fully master it.

      Second, if switching between options/strategies has switching costs, then each balance patch enables the creator to squeeze some extra money out of P2W whales. You’ve paid thousands of dollars to get that level 5 Princess in Clash Royale? Grats, sucker: it’s getting nerfed, start spending money to get a level 5 Sparky instead! It’s like power creep, except that you don’t even have to bother adding actual new overpowered content.

      The second point is less relevant for some of Blizzard’s games: Overwatch unlocks all non-cosmetic options from get-go and Hearthstone lets you dust nerfed cards and craft whatever goodness replaced them (I’ll grant you that the HotS team is just being too lazy and insufficiently greedy).

      As for the first one, I believe that it is addressed by the above referenced “Brawl” modes. The whole point of these modes is to have crazy, new and constantly changing rules at the expense of perfect balance, so they effectively have weekly tuning patches – way more frequent than LoL or CoC. And by separating this fast-paced unbalanced environment into a separate game mode, Blizzard alleviates the frustration of those players who prefer a slower pace of learning and mastery.

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  4. I’d hardly say Ranked Modes are real content, but I don’t climb ladders for fun, so who am I say anything?

    Tavern Brawl may bring the variety I crave, but I really want something more than the objectives currently in the game. I won’t buy without more variety.

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  5. Glad you liked the article.

    To clarify a bit, yes, they have said they have a lot of post-launch content planned, but what that means is somewhat open to interpretation. I read it as meaning new heroes and maps, and MAYBE new competitive modes. When anything other than competitive play is mentioned in regards to Overwatch, Blizzard responds either with silence, or (in the case of story content) a denial.

    Of course, they could always change their minds, but that’s the line right now.

    For my part, I’m left feeling a bit sad about the whole Overwatch business. I was so excited by the game at first, but it’s become clear I’m a liability to my team if I play anything but Mercy, and while I like Mercy, I’m not paying $50 for a game with twenty-one heroes if I can only play one. I was already getting a bit burnt out on Mercy just from the few days of open beta.

    If they ever implement a campaign, I’ll whip out my wallet so fast I’ll probably dislocate my wrist.

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  6. “Assuming that Blizzard fixes the matchmaking and horrible DC experiences, it will absolutely become a part of my “I don’t know what to play right now” rotation. You can easily get four matches done in 30 minutes […]”

    That’s also the feeling I got playing in the beta. Nice game for quick fun, probably a game I’ll put in my rotation in a quieter period between the release of two big games/expansions, but not something I’d like to play extensively and all the time. Unless they come up with some crazy ideas for the special mode, ideas I wouldn’t want to miss. I’m not interested in the competitive ranked game, but special modes could draw me in.

    Being a liability is entirely possible, I’ve probably been one several times as I’m an average FPS player at best. At some point, every player has to know their limit and focus on a handful of roles .

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