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:
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.
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.
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.
Two years ago, I talked about countering toxicity via intentional game design. The example was Hearthstone, which continues to be relatively accessible and innocuous. Blizzard accomplished this by limiting non-friend player interaction to a handful of emotes. Granted, a whole new implicit language of BM (bad manners) has developed in the meantime, but there is both a timer attached to the emotes and, crucially, the ability to disable them from your opponent.
I bring this up for two reasons.
The first is that Supercell finally came out and addressed the rampant trolling emote spam that takes place in Clash Royale. And by rampant, I mean I get surprised when I do not see gloating emotes during a game. Supercell’s response? Trolling helps their bottom line:
The same principle – evoking strong emotions – is at the heart of why we’re not planning to implement a mute option. Emotes are loved by some and hated by others – even within the Clash Royale team! We believe these strong emotions are integral to the core of the game.
Clash Royale is not a single player game and shouldn’t feel like one. Emotes are an important reminder that you’re facing another human being – maybe they’re a nice guy, maybe they’re not – but there’s a person at the other end of the Arena and not a robot. You can communicate with them and they can respond, regardless of language or cultural barriers.
Given advancements in AI, it’s possible we’re already playing against robots.
Now, Supercell didn’t come out and say that this helps their bottom line, but… it does. Get spammed with emotes, get tilted, lose, then you buy a bunch of gems to unlock more shit. Or win against impossible odds, feel good, buy some gems. It’s all the same. Which is fine, whatever. But I still fail to see how adding the option, buried in the menus somewhere, to mute emotes automatically isn’t possible or would affect one goddamn thing other than the trolls.
The second reason I brought up Hearthstone is because, as I’ve mentioned before, Overwatch makes me salty. And what makes it worse is the direct communication feature between teams. Again, what possible good exists in letting Team A talk to Team B? Because what I mostly see is stuff like this:
Honestly, this is downright mild in comparison to the “die in a fire” and worse from the earlier days of gaming. Or probably current days of gaming if you’re a woman and have a microphone.
But the more time passes, the less value I see in having much in the way of communication at all in these sort of games. In MMOs? Yes, of course, there is a need to build social bonds and such. Nobody is building anything with emotes in Clash Royale other than ulcers and kidney stones. Nor with chatting in Overwatch, really. So… why have them in these games? Habit alone?
Unless, of course, your business model is based on exploitative psychology.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Since I “saved” the $50 from not buying the 50-pack deal in Hearthstone, I turned around and pre-purchased Overwatch. In fact, I just got off a four-hour semi-open Beta session with some ex-WoW buddies as I write this. All the maps are open this time around, so things are pretty interesting.
Even more interesting though, was the trailer for Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War 3:
I can’t even really begin to elucidate why the 40k setting grips me so. All I know is that spent 200+ hours playing Dark Crusade, and I’ve been missing that feeling since… well, Dark Crusade. Dawn of War 2 took the series away from RTS and more into a tactical direction, which is not something that it really needed. Now? It’s going back. It’s going home.
Exciting times, my friends.
Plus, you know, there will be information about the next Battlefield game this Friday. Battlefield Hardline was such an epic failure, that only a proper BF5 (or even BF 2142 sequel) could wipe away. If we see something like that and all this grimdark 40k business? I won’t know what to do with myself. Other than actually look forward to game releases again.
My private server escapades were interrupted this past weekend by the Overwatch beta weekend.
Unlike last time, a lot of my internet friends got in as well, so we queued up over the course of about four hours. The results were… interesting.
My first impression was one of queues. I’m not sure if it was the after-effects of the DDoS attacks or if the stress test was actually delivering stress, but queuing into matches with more than one person increased the delay significantly. At one point, our group of 5 had to wait for almost ten full minutes. Was there seriously not a single loose straggler trying to get into a game? Was Blizzard trying to match premades with premades?
Regardless, if there is one thing in particular that can kill games like this, it will be queues.
My second impression is one of… I don’t know. Difficulty? It wasn’t just about facing people who were clearly in the Closed beta portion for months. It was about teams that are not scrambled after each match, meaning if you were steamrolled in the prior one, you will face the same lineup and get steamrolled again. Unless you drop game inbetween matches and then get hit with queues again.
Then there was the Route 66 map, which is one of the worse I have ever played in a shooter. Not only is the map bad, if you get wiped on defense, attackers basically win the game instantly as it takes ages to run all the way back. [Edit: Appears that the payload speed has been decreased by 10% on this map.] In a game where you can be one-shot without much recourse, this sort of thing is bonkers.
Nepal is equally bad, now that I think about it. The game mode here is pseudo King of the Hill, where you have to capture a point by standing in it. But once captured, you continue to get points until the enemy captures it, without having to stand in the area. Which basically means you cap the point, then set up firing lines and spam the capture area with explosions, etc. It’s not impossible to recapture points and win, but the game mode never really feels all that fun. Especially one of the three maps Nepal is divided into, that has the capture point in an open area with zero cover with bottomless pits surrounding it.
So, basically, I had significantly less fun this time around with Overwatch than the previous time. It’s still fun overall, just less so. Considering my options for FPS goodness is squeezing blood from Battlefield 4 or wading into a decade of congealed veterans (CS, TF2, etc), I might end up getting Overwatch anyway. Hopefully at a discount.