Overwatch: The MOBA for the masses?

When most people hear of or talk about MOBAs, the game in question is often League of Legends, DOTA 2, or Heroes of the Storm – the main three juggernauts of the genre. In fact, you’d be forgiven if you had no idea that games like Heroes of Newerth, SMITE, or the upcoming Paragon from EPIC Games even exist. However, the same people that brought us Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard Entertainment, are back at it again with another new game, Overwatch a MOBA-inspired "hero shooter" which is chock full of new characters and ideas. 

For a company that’s enjoyed so much success with one of the most successful and popular games in history, World of Warcraft, learning how to make something different took a while. The existing formulas of World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Starcraft were great, but it was time to try something a bit different if they were going to stay relevant. So from the ashes of Titan, the next MMO in development by the king of the genre, rose Overwatch, an uncharacteristically fast-paced, action-packed first-person shooter that builds on some of the elements that make MOBAs so popular. 

A Hero For Every Style Of Play

Just like anything Blizzard touches, Overwatch oozes polish. From the opening menu and tutorial levels, to the gameplay of every match, it’s clear that the game’s design is top-notch. This attention to detail is even more important due to the fact that Overwatch is branching its MOBA-shooter hybrid design beyond just the PC market that is was born on, and is also launching on consoles as well.

On its face, Overwatch is a simple game. Each time a match starts, you pick from one of 21 different heroes to control. Standard first-person shooters like Call of Duty or Battlefield task you with creating a custom class and designing your loadout by picking weapons and gear. Other than different fire rates and damage, most guns are essentially the same.

In Overwatch, all 21 heroes are broken down into 4 different categories: Offense, Defense, Tank, and Support. The focus of the Offense and Defense hero types is pretty self-explanatory, but there is plenty of variation between each hero even within the same category. For example, Solider 76 and Pharah are both Offensive-based heroes, but the former uses an assault rifle and sprints around like someone ripped out of a traditional FPS, while Pharah shoots rockets and wears metal body armor with a jetpack attached.

Similarly, on the Support side of the equation, are heroes like Mercy and Zenyatta. Mercy resembles an angelic cyborg and takes on a relatively traditional cleric-type role in combat. She can buff allies to do more damage, or heal them, and can even resurrect downed teammates just when they think they’re done. Zenyatta on the other hand can shoot orbs that either heal teammates or cause enemies to take damage more quickly.

One of my personal favorite characters happened to be Genji, who is, for all intents and purposes, a fast and agile ninja. His basic attack consisted of throwing shurikens, while his other powers were focused on dashing forward to strike or deflecting projectiles with his katana. Every hero also has an ultimate ability that requires a long charge that can only be boosted by getting kills and generally playing well. In the case of Genji, he utilizes his Dragonblade power, which allows him to kill anyone in range of his katana strikes. Combined with his speed and ability to double jump and climb walls, Genji was versatile and fun in all situations.

Gameplay Variety: Take Your Pick

Beyond the 21 different heroes, there are 4 different game modes, each of which have three primary maps. The quickest and easiest way to jump into the action is to launch yourself into the fast match setups, which can range from Assault, Escort, Hybrid, or Control game modes.

For assault games, attacking and defending teams must attack or defend capture points around the map. One of my favorite matches I experienced during this most recent Open Beta took place in an Assault match on the Hanamura map. I was playing as Pharah on the defending team and the last capture point was inside of the main building at the back of the map. Out front was a small covered gazebo-type building with a healing item inside. I positioned myself on the top of this building to secure a good vantage point and relentlessly bombarded the main entrance to the area with rockets to keep the enemy team at bay.

Eventually, someone selected Widowmaker and was able to snipe me from a distance, so I switched things up and picked a defensive hero to lure them in before I switched back to Pharah again to prevent them from reaching our final point. Since you can switch heroes any time you’re set to respawn, strategies often shift and move depending on what’s happening.

Escort missions task one team with moving a payload to the other side of the map. At the start, the defending team gets some time to start setting up defenses. Once the round is complete, the teams switch sides. The Control game mode task each team with fighting over a series of objectives in a best-of-three format. There’s no attacking or defending going on since both teams battle over the same objectives simultaneously. The Hybrid game mode combines both the Assault and Escort game modes together into one playlist.

While there are some concerns over hero balance, as is the case with any MOBA-style game, Overwatch is off to an incredible start. The momentum leading up to launch could not be much more intense as the most recent Open Beta period saw record-breaking numbers. Progression mostly consists of unlocking new skins and other small cosmetic alterations, so it remains to be seen if that’s really enough to sustain the game for a long period of time, but ideally the buy-to-play model will prove more appealing to players as a happy medium between the free-to-play or pay-to-play models of Hearthstone or World of Warcraft, respectively.

Overwatch releases on May 24 for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Check out a trailer here.