Category Archives: Overwatch

Overwatch Accretion

About a year and half ago, I was excited about Overwatch in large part because it was new. I enjoy FPS games in general, and have spent countless hours over the years playing the Battlefield series. There were several titles though, such as Team Fortress 2, that I either tried and dropped or didn’t bother trying at all because of accretion:

ac·cre·tion
əˈkrēSH(ə)n
noun
the process of growth or increase, typically by the gradual accumulation of additional layers or matter.

That’s the dictionary definition, but I used it this way: “the older a game gets, the less space exists for the ‘skill middle class,’ and the less the developers seem to care about catering to said group.”

For example, getting into Counter-Strike or Team Fortress 2 these days, as a brand new player, would be an exercise in futility. Not only would you be useless to your team generally, your opponents are most likely extremely skilled veterans, and you are likely to die to mechanics/map secrets you don’t even understand yet. It is a frustrating situation for everyone involved, compounded twenty-fold considering the bile and vitriol that exists just below the thin skin of faceless internet gamers.

After this weekend in Overwatch, I can sadly report that the accretion is getting real there too.

The last time I talked about Overwatch was more than a year ago – ironically around the Summer Games, which are currently ongoing – and I stopped playing towards the end of the second competitive season. Competitive Mode was a necessary addition to the game overall, but I found it has actively made the Quick Play experience worse. First, naturally competitive players got their taste of what it’s like playing with people who actually want to win the objectives, which makes the Quick Play environment feel worse in comparison. Second, new players generally avoided Competitive Mode until they got more practice, lest they tank their ranking when it matters. And finally, the toxic tryhards that couldn’t try hard enough to be successful in Competitive Mode find themselves surrounded by other toxic tryhards and complete noobs in Quick Play all day long.

“Cream rises to the top.” Sure does. But once you remove that, everyone else is stuck drinking the creamless sediment that sunk to the bottom of the glass.

In short, the experience was awful. I stopped playing Overwatch before Ana was even released, so I’m four whole characters and countless patches behind the metagame curve. Team needs a tank? Okay, let me play… Orisa. That probably wasn’t the best pick for the team composition even if I had never played her before, but nobody else cared about team composition anyway (Hanzo and Windowmaker on a point control maps? Sure!), so why not?

Because it results in an embarrassing loss. I’m frustrated because I’m still trying to figure out the correct use of my abilities, but my team is also just bad players… unless they are just trying to figure out their characters… and oh my god just end it now. In another match, I decided to go back to my old standby, Zarya, to get a win. Things were good… until they weren’t, when I realized that the healer Ana spent more time sniping instead of healing. So here I was bringing my A-game with a hero I’m actually good at (but don’t want to play anymore) and everyone else is dicking around.

Wait a minute… now I’m the tryhard.

So, yeah, it sucks playing Overwatch now. If you never stopped playing, or exclusively play in Competitive Mode, perhaps it’s the same as its always been. Coming back from a break though, queuing solo in Quick Play? I’m not even sure I would ever recommend the game to anyone now. I would much rather be playing any iteration of the Battlefield series, where noobs can exist without constituting a full 16% of the team (6v6), or 100% of the teams chance for success should they occupy a critical role, e.g. tank or healer.

The accretion problem is real, my friends, and I’m not sure what the devs can do to counteract it. Overwatch does have Arcade Modes available, and something like “Mystery Heroes” where people get forced to play random classes can help. But these modes are not entirely satisfying on their own, and generally don’t help you develop the map awareness/strategies necessary to win “real” games.

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Rio My Dinero

Well, the mystery of how Overwatch is going to make money in the future has been revealed:

The new skins, sprays, and so forth come from limited-time-only Summer Games loot crates. Players will receive a free crate upon logging in, but here’s the rub: Summer Games items cannot be purchased with your stockpile of credits, nor can Summer Games items be found in standard loot crates.

In other words, Blizzard has just created a set of new skins for all the characters, and are locking them behind limited-time paywall lootboxes. Specifically want the new Tracer skin? Good luck. You cannot specifically purchase a skin, nor can you craft one with in-game currency.

This particular pivot boggles my mind. Blizzard went from one of the most fair, egalitarian business models I have seen in videogames… to pretty much the worst possible one. Sure, they are just characters skins and “don’t matter.” At the same time, if any of these particular skins did matter to you, then, well, get fucked, I guess.

If this is indicative of Blizzard’s future direction with Overwatch, I just got a lot less interested.

[Fake Edit]: Jeff Kaplan has come out and specified that you can choose to receive a Summer Games lootbox when you earn a lootbox normally, e.g. when gaining levels. Good luck grinding that shit out in three weeks though. Making the in-game currency useless for these time-limited events is still a travesty.

Yep, Still Playing It

Overwatch continues to consume all the gaming oxygen in my room. Just the other day, I found myself with 15 minutes to spare while cooking dinner, and I was like “hey, that’s at least one round, maybe two.” And so I did.

One of the things that I have enjoyed about the game that doesn’t seem to get much coverage are the little touches. For example, maybe you noticed that when Reaper “reloads” his shotguns, he tosses them to the ground. Maybe you even noticed Junkrat’s detonator existing in the world as a physical object too, after he tosses it post-explosion.

But have you noticed that Junkrat’s “Hello” emote changes when he is holding the detonator?

Then there are the subtle voice quips during pre-match setup. Everyone has probably heard all the various interactions between the characters: Reaper and McCree, Lucio and Reinhardt, and so on. But have you ever noticed what characters say on maps like Gibraltar? The map is designed such that attackers are pushing the payload – which is a satellite – to a launch pad, to essentially recreate the Overwatch group. Defenders are, of course, trying to stop that from a gameplay perspective. And they stay in character doing so.

Just the other night on defense, I heard Soldier 76 say “Restarting Overwatch… what’s the point?” Mercy says something like “Overwatch was shut down for a reason.” These are characters that, from a lore standpoint, actually want Overwatch to be rebuilt. But… they’re defending. And so the dissonance is both recognized and resolved.

It is an incredible attention to detail that doesn’t “matter,” but is welcome just the same.

OverLottery

One of the more interesting complaints I’ve heard about Overwatch is that of its microtransactions. Specifically, the only ones it has: loot boxes. It’s true, you can indeed purchase loot boxes:

OverwatchLoot.jpg

At least it doesn’t say “Best Value.”

I find the complaint interesting because Blizzard has opted for the Hearthstone model when it comes to loot. Specifically, the items you receive are random, but duplicate items are converted to a currency that you can in turn use to purchase your exact desire. If said desire is a Legendary skin – which, let’s face it, is pretty much what everyone wants – it costs a maximum of 1000 currency.

I just hit level 30 50 the other night, which means I have opened a total of 30 50 loot boxes. After level 20, the XP required to get to the next level stays the same at 22,000 XP, and there is no level cap. There are a smattering of bonuses depending on match performance, but the biggest award is typically based on time spent in the match. Generally speaking, then, I’d say that you can average around 2200 XP per match, which takes ~10 minutes apiece, so… 1.5 hours of gameplay per box.

Given the above… how egregious are Overwatch’s loot boxes, really? One faction might suggest any microtransactions at all in a B2P game is too many. Another faction wants the ability to just purchase the skins they want. Another more bizarre faction laments the random nature of the loot boxes and what that means in terms of how long it takes to collect all the things.

And I get it. Sorta. But just like in Hearthstone, this is by far the most fair random loot box scheme that is likely possible. Most other games would be 100% fine with giving you useless duplicates, making it possible you never received anything you wanted. I’m not sure a middle way – such as loot boxes + the option to buy game currency – would really work economically, but I suppose that would be more fair.

In any case, of all the things one might criticize Overwatch about, I do not believe the loot boxes deserve to number among them.

OverDungeon

I was reading a recent article from Murphy regarding MMOs needing to be more social, and he gave a few different approaches. This part in particular stuck out to me:

Final Fantasy XIV’s commendations are a great start, but I think those could be turned up to 11. Promote adding strangers to your friends list or repeat grouping with others. Create a more prominent reputation system so players are more aware of how the server views them.

When trying to visualize how MMOs could do the above, my mind wandered to Overwatch’s end-of-game cards. Those cards are not a perfect system by any means, but it is always nice on those rare occasions to be recognized for your contribution.

OverwatchCard

He really was annoying as hell the whole game.

Of course, that screenshot also demonstrates the other side of being “social.” Read the chat box.

Then it finally struck me why Overwatch makes me so damn salty: this is a group-based game. Of course, right? But think about it. Imagine every failed dungeon run you’ve had, where the Rogue kept drawing aggro trying to Sap, where the Mage refused to Sheep, where the Hunter had on Aspect of the Pack the entire goddamn time, and so on.

That is Overwatch.

Every time you start a map and four people immediately pick DPS classes. Every time you feel obligated to pick a tank/healer character, for the Nth time that night. Every time you take on that literally thankless mantle and those same DPS derp it up the whole match, leaving you to die. When your teammates waste their Ultimate abilities killing one guy they chased into a room a thousand feet away from the payload. When no one is willing to change characters to counter the enemy’s composition, and you can’t because that means there won’t be a tank/healer anymore.

That is Overwatch.

In larger games like Battlefield 4, things sometimes hinge on the outcome of small engagements, but mostly it is an aggregate struggle across a 20 minute fight. Overwatch is much more intimate, like a 6-player dungeon. And whereas I could content myself with a high Support score in BF4 (revives score just as high as kills), Overwatch provides no such relief. The only scoreboard you have access to is your own. If you are lucky, you might get that card at the end of the match, but it’s fairly irrelevant by that time. And moreover, it’s a cold comfort when you lose.

For the record, I do believe a commendation system would be useful in MMOs, Overwatch, and basically any game. On the other hand, just like in real life, reputation is a function of the size of your social circle. If there are a million people cycling through the LFD queue, the 500 or so you’ll encounter is a rounding error. If you want to queue with the good players again, you’re going to have to do more than give them a commendation; you’re going to have to give them a friend request.

Changes Overwatch Needs

The (early) verdict is in: most everyone loves Overwatch. It’s currently at 94 Metacritic.

OverwatchScore

That’s… really high.

Part of me wants to reject that score right out of hand. 94? Overwatch is currently tied with Skyrim, Mass Effect 2, and Bioshock Infinite, while being  a full point higher than Witcher 3 and Minecraft. Indeed, the nagging feeling I have currently is that Overwatch is almost exactly a Bioshock Infinite situation: a very pretty game everyone loves despite it being terrible.

Well… maybe not quite. Overwatch is actually really fun to play. Until it isn’t. I’ve come up with a few small changes that would make the experience a bit better for me and anyone.

1) Fix the disconnects

Overwatch drops a lot more games than it really has any reason to. While to an extent you can possibly blame it on Day 1 release issues, the disconnects have been appearing en masse since the Beta. One minute you’re playing, next minute it’s asking you to sign back into Overwatch, including entering your Authenticator. Which is weird, considering that I haven’t actually had to sign into a Blizzard game since getting the new Battle.net launcher.

OverwatchDisconnect

Guess I didn’t want to play anyway.

The injury to the insult is that being disconnected in this fashion drops you from the match entirely. In a group? Not anymore. There is essentially no way back into the match you just dropped from, even if you were disconnected for less than a minute. Since Overwatch matches can last less than five minutes, I suppose it’s not too terrible a loss, but it’s still annoying as hell.

2) Indicate Role Willingness

One of the more awkward moments of an Overwatch match is the beginning, during character selection, when everyone waits to see what everyone else picks. Except for those Hanzo/Tracer players, who just don’t give a damn. Meanwhile, I wait down the clock, seeing if anyone else is going to pick a Tank or Healer character, so I can best support my (PUG) team. I don’t mind either role, but if someone else takes them, I’m picking Mei or Junkrat so I can enjoy myself.

But that’s the rub. If there is someone else who actually cares about winning, we end up running out the clock together. I’m comfortable in any role, but maybe they only want to play a tank or DPS and not a healer. If I pull the trigger on tank, they are essentially going to give up and go DPS. Or we can go double-tank and just lose with no healer. I could perhaps switch once they pick something, but if we’re on Defense, there won’t be much time to get set up before the match begins.

All of this can be resolved by a WoW-esque role-check before the team is even formed. “Queue as Offence/Defense characters.” “Queue as Tank/Offense.” “Queue as All.” Perhaps show a little emblem beneath our names on the character select screen. While it is possible to, you know, just type this all out in the convenient team chat text box, I don’t feel like it should be necessary. Plus, this would set Overwatch up in the future to have better matchmaking (creating teams with at least two people who indicate a willingness to be tank/heals) or even just filling teams out.

3) Team Shuffling

It needs to happen. Or if it already does, it needs to be more apparent. I understand that the current two-map setup would make it weird – attacking on a Payload (etc) map follows defending on the same with the other team – but there is currently very little reason to keep playing with a shitty team. In fact, if you experience a blow-out, there is no reason to stay, period. Dropping out “works” for you as an individual, but that solution just ends up forcing both teams to break apart if enough people do.

The downsides are legitimate. Two evenly matched teams might want to keep facing each other in various rematches, for example. But how likely are you to face evenly matched teams in PUGs? I’m not advocating shuffling people who queue in groups, obviously. The other downside is making it a bit more difficult to get to know/friend-request a particularly skillful teammate. Here too though, I feel like shuffling doesn’t really change that, assuming you can get to know people in 7-minute matches in the first place.

4) Current objective timers in Death Cam mode

Why in god’s name would any designer feel like it’s useful or necessary to include historical objective timers in your post-death replay? I know you can disable Death Cam altogether, but my point is that the objective timer should be, you know, the actual timer at all, er, times.

I should not have to choose between no Death Cam and Current Objective timer. Seeing yourself getting sniped at the last possible second is already frustrating, without knowing whether someone else saved the day after your death until you’re already back in the game.

5) Bastion maximum bullet count in Sentry mode reduced.

Yeah, Bastion is “easy” to counter and we should probably stop complaining about him. Here’s the thing though: when your solution to a stationary enemy killing your team within two seconds is changing your character, something is up. Sure, change characters when the enemy team is turtling up, or picked four tanks, or they all went Hanzo. But if the existence of a single character on the enemy team dictates your own team comp… then maybe you need to admit an issue. Nobody is swapping characters when they notice a Reinhardt or Tracer or Mei on the other team.

Plus, this is a team-based game. Who goes Genji/Windowmaker/etc? You? What if you are the team’s only tank/healer? Maybe your team just deserves to lose then, I guess.

Also, that Kotaku writer actually suggested Reinhardt to block the incoming stream of bullets, as if Bastion couldn’t chew through his entire 2000 HP shield in less than four seconds. The Wiki states Bastion deals 4-15 damage in Sentry mode and spits ~30 rps, but that’s fairly laughable. Assuming it’s correct though, and assuming 15 damage apiece, that means 1800 damage is thrown down in four seconds, shield is broken a second later, and Reinhardt is dead on the floor a second after that.

Meanwhile, Bastion still has another second to put out 80-300 damage before he has to reload.

So, my solution? Reduce Bastion’s maximum ammo size in Sentry mode from 200 to 150. He will still murder everyone as soon as they walk through the door, and skilled players will still be all but untouchable with judicial use of selecting targets and/or frequently moving and/or you know, reloading. But if those damage/rps numbers are correct, Reinhardt can at least provide some coverage versus Bastion solo, at least long enough to throw out a Fire Strike.

6) Increase tick rate to 60 Hz.

Overwatch has a tick rate of 20 Hz by default. If you haven’t ever heard of tick rates in FPS games and/or the importance thereof, this is a good primer. Battlefield 4 had this same situation at release, with it updating at 20 Hz and resulting in an excessive number of headshots around corners. When the tick rate is increased, the game feels even smoother, and you start seeing Death Cam footage that resembles what you actually did right before getting owned.

The head-scratching part of this is the fact that Blizzard already introduced 60 Hz tick rates into Overwatch. In Custom Games. Which is great, I suppose, for the people wanting to run tournaments or something. But there is zero downside to the average player to go to 60 Hz and every possible upside. It just needs to happen.

In any case, that is that.