When Blizzard first announced that their next game, and first new original setting in well over a decade, would be a team-based first person shooter the gaming world was very excited. Sure, the game looked a bit cartoonish and the introduction video focused on a pair of kids fighting an oversized gorilla, but this was Blizzard.
The game has been in limited closed beta for a number of months, with some reviewers getting access in order to keep the trickle of information coming, and the one thing we keep hearing over and over again is that Overwatch is a combination of FPS and MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, think League of Legends or DOTA 2). This speaks more to the current state of online gaming and how much League of Legends has come to dominate the competitive scene than it does to Overwatch's gameplay. To a old gamer like myself, who played the original Unreal Tournament and Team Fortress Classic competitively for years, the game is more inspired by UT's Assault and Onslaught modes and TFC's colourful classes than it is LOL's lane management and game momentum. There are elements drawn, and lessons learned, from the last 20 years, of course, but at its core Overwatch is an accessible, fast paced shooter without level ups or character modification and focuses entirely on character combos and team balance.
The beta itself is a little unpolished, with a bare UI and very basic "this is how you move" tutorial, but includes a full set of 21 characters in all four roles; damage, tank, support, and healing. I concentrated primarily on Tracer, a Damage dealing character emphasized in the trailer, and Reinhardt, a tank who seems heavily influenced by Steel from the Superman comic franchise. The matches are short, fast paced and seems more focused on teamwork than individual skill. There are also a few new little features that are very well executed, such as a fairly nice Kill Cam and the ability to rate your favorite team mate at the end of the match (I won my last vote, even though we lost the game). My personal favorite, though, is the Play of the Game at the end of the match, where it shows a short clip of a particularly impressive play.
There are places where it becomes obvious why some reviewers focus on the MOBA-inspired elements, such as granting "eliminations" to everyone who helped take down an enemy and the wildly divergent character abilities compared to shooters like Call of Duty of Battlefield where the goal is to allow every player to be equal to every other player, as long as they play for 300 hours and unlock all the strange little gun clips. But that is mostly where the similarities end, because at its heart Overwatch is a thrilling fast paced gun brawl from start to finish. The levels are small and the corridors tight, forcing players into one another instantly. The defending team is giving a 45 second head start and can spawn-camp the attacking team right out of the gate, literally, requiring a shielded tank to burst his or her team through.
There is no experience granted, nor do teams level up. Other than your Ultimate Ability meter, which charges as you take and deal damage, you are as strong at the end as you are at the start. Nor do respawns take longer as the match progresses, and there is no advantage granted to running away from combat to save your own hide other since you will be back in combat just as quickly with a respawn as you will if you run off and heal.
All in all, the game should very fun for seasoned shooter fans, and seems to run at about the same requirement level and smoothness of any other modern PC shooter, with my Core i7 6700K and three-year old Radeon HD 7970 Ghz Edition keeping pace at 1920x1200 with mostly Ultra settings. I have had no technical issues so far in the four or five hours I have so far spent with the game, and the online play seems smooth and consistent for a game not due for another six months.
Blizzard seems to have developed another impressive title, in an entirely new genre for them, but despite their repeated attempts to get players like me to pre-order the game, PC gamers are becoming wiser and less trusting with their hobby money. Even Blizzard has burned their customers in the past on launch day and it remains to be seen if they can avoid a repeat with a game so heavily dependent on reliable online play.