Hands on With Blizzard's Overwatch, First Impressions
The biggest news to hit BlizzCon 2014 was the reveal of a new IP, Overwatch. The gaps in the schedule revealed two new panels specifically for the new game and a very early alpha demo for convention goers to play on the show floor.
As soon as the Opening Ceremony ended, the neverending line for hands-on experience began. Those who waited their turn discovered their wait wasn't long, since the line was constantly moving.
While waiting for our turn at the demo, screens were scattered along the line for our viewing pleasure. It was showing off the individual heroes and their unique abilities. But due to the speed of the line, players didn't get to see all the characters or all of their skills.
Before too long, six of us were seated in front of the gamestations and choosing our heroes for the first match. I went in blind, since I was unable to stick around for the entire first panel that broke down each character.
Our first match was in Defense and I picked Widowmaker as my first hero. The demo was designed to be an easy introduction for new players. Arrows pointed the way towards ours objectives to defend from fellow convention goers.
I died with Widowmaker a couple times, unable to figure out which ability did what. By the second death, I noticed that F1 showed off her skills.
I couldn't figure out how the opponent Widowmaker was moving from side-to-side. So I pushed a few more buttons to discover strafe was the A and D keys, keys I don't commonly use in World of Warcraft for movement (keyboard turning is bad).
After respawning, the game allowed players to switch heroes to better help their team. I noticed no one was playing Support, so chose Mercy as my second hero. As I healed our tanks and boosted the defenders, we managed to win our first match at the second objective point.
The demo was set up for a second match to take place, and this time we were on the Offense. Because I had been so successful with Mercy, I picked her for a second time. But my teammate didn't watch the roster, so there were two Mercies on the field.
To give them a chance to play something new, I switched over to another Support character, Symmetra. This round was filled with a few glitches, as the opponent Widowmaker found out how to snipe through walls.
But out opponents were unable to keep track of all of us, and I managed to sneak in and set up teleports to get the team in faster, with a few turrets for protection. As we approached the final objective, the teleport helped those who had fallen to push back and win the second match.
Widowmaker is for those who actively play shooters, and it requires a high level of skill to play her successfully. She is obviously a sniper with infra-sight to find the locations of her enemies and take them out quickly.
Unlike most snipers, you cannot "no-scope" for a kill. Regular shots slowly wittles down an opponent's health, but her second ability, "Widow's Kiss", switches to scope view for better accuracy. Obviously, a headshot is an instant kill. However, due to her sniper ability, players can forget they are part of a team and tunnel their vision to each killing blow.
In the beginning, I played adequately with her. I took a shot, then I moved to a different location. I believe it was during that time that my opponent realized what she was capable of and became a monster against us.
But I struggled with her due to my inexperience with shooters on PC. The keybinds were too unfamiliar for me to use her abilities and move her well. Strafing is a big advantage for her as you can look down the scope, take the shot, and move back out of sight.
When she is on the battlefield, teammates will want to rally around her to keep the enemy from picking her off. She has a heads-up-display when allies get low to give them a quick heal stream, but she can boost attack power with her second stream ability.
She came to me naturally as I charged towards my allies and instantly began to heal them back up to full. As we moved to our defense point, I positioned myself near the tank to keep his health up while boosting our attackers to repel the offensive opponents.
At one point, a couple of my teammates had died and I took the opportunity to revive them before they respawned. This helped us get back on the objective quickly.
Symmetra brought a different arsenal to aid teammates on the battle field, and she's a great start for first-time players. While she is meagerly able to defend herself, she's better suited for defensive ambush or pushing beyond enemy lines.
It was her abilities that caused me to swap from being a second Mercy to Symmetra, as I could see how I would best benefit my team. While she wasn't very strong offensively, I used her shield to extend the durability of tanks and damage dealers.
Once we had pushed to the final objective to capture in the second match, I was able to gauge where the enemies were moving and snuck a teleport into a small nook for my team to quickly get back after respawn. It was thanks to her ultimate ability that we were able to win the second match.
While most of the roles can be very universal depending on play, the only role that can't is Support. They have very little offensive abilities to protect themselves, so the team has to rally around them for defense.
Nor can Support benefit for their own abilities. If they could have, then Symmetra's shield would have extended her life a bit longer, while Mercy could have done a quick self-heal as she rushes towards tank shields.
Since there was no in-game voice chat yet, working in tandem proved very difficult. The awareness was down for those who weren't Support and it felt like few players pulled off any combinations. For a future game that focuses more on teamwork than individuality, a voice function will be a requirement.
Personally, I would enjoy seeing a heads-up-display when near a fellow player, similar to Dynasty Warriors when two players have their special maxed. Ultimate moves would then work together for either hero to make an amazing combo, each one unique to who is paired up.
Overall, for an early alpha look, Overwatch was nicely polished. There were a few issues with grappling hooks and line-of-sight sniping. But it was the right amount of time for a match, the number of players wasn't over or underwhelming, and keeping objectives simple was a nice breath of fresh air.