Today many eager fans get their eager, loot box hungry paws on ‘Overwatch‘, the much anticipated and already lauded team first person shooter from Blizzard. After years of streaming, announcing and animating Blizzard have teased us. Not just teased us a little but like a parent placing a large Christmas present under the tree in March and then forcing you to sleep, eat and sit next to it for the next nine months occasionally slapping you around the face with it. And we loved every minute, and every cryptic pixel which i shall now name a ‘Cryxel’ obviously. I do not say this from judgement but as a fanboy currently typing this while waiting for my angelic and hopefully winged postman, to grace my doormat with this delicious disc of dreams for me to enjoy. Will this game though live up to our expectations and what are it’s origins and the recipe it’s developers trust so much to excite the jaded taste buds of it’s fans? Is this game more Overdue or Overhyped?
Blizzard have emulated their choice of name by showering and even consuming a large number of the gaming and media community over the years, like a force of entertainment nature. They turn their Midas-tinted hand towards seemingly any genre, and spin the straw of well known, much used game types into unique and captivating wisps of gold. World Of Warcraft gave memories and identity to an entire generation in exchange for stealing most of their years and possibly many an exam result, and now a film looms on the horizon of their blindingly bright future. Starcraft breathed life into the dust of similar RTS games and sci-fi, while shifting Blizzard’s focus on the stealthily growing E-Sports scene. Hearthstone attracts more casual gamers into the sweet embrace of the web they never even saw close around them, and although Heroes Of The Storm may not be shaking the MOBA foundations it arguably sits comfortably in third place behind the resoundingly well established Defense of The Ancients 2 and League Of Legends. In this ballet of creativity it seemed that the ever graceful Blizzard would not miss a step, but their latest flamboyant flourish Overwatch came not only from a trip or stumble but from a very public and painful fall.
In 2007 speculation began on a new game from Blizzard named Titan, now speculation to the internet is always fuel to an already roaring and unforgiving flame, but a new Blizzard IP (intellectual property) is like driving a tanker of nitro glycerin headfirst into the nearest active volcano. Over the next 7 years the game’s team and direction changed over and over again, with all the certainty and confidence of a British weather report cast purely from an underground bunker with no internet. Very little is known about the game although it was stated it would not be a subscription MMORPG so it could co-exist from a distance with World Of Warcraft like amiable siblings over Skype. The game was paused and reshuffled which in football terms is like the board giving their manager their approval on a 10 loss run, not just a kiss of death but a full-on, tongue-heavy, smooch of doom. It was later claimed the game was designed to be set on a futuristic, sci-fi version of earth where you would work mundane jobs in the day and then fight battles at night. Sounds like the life of a gamer to me! in fact maybe too similar for comfort… Even though the game was confirmed to be “Playable” it was cancelled in September 2013.
This should not be taken lightly. The team are not too open about the design and content of Titan, but admirably what they are very vocal about is their mistakes and the hurt that followed. Not only the money and resources since the company giant of Blizzard has enough of these to wave around like some kind of crazed, industry Kraken. It’s more to the fact that 7 years is a long time to get invested in a product. These guys and girls worked and created together, people came and left this fracturing team, babies and ideas were born into this time, these weren’t just years of work but years of peoples lives. And imagine being in a company where your friends and co -workers and enjoying the ripe fruits of their labours, the juice of their Blizzard franchise dripping down their chin every time they speak to you! And imagine you are the people who failed, who killed a Blizzard franchise. The developers speak freely and emotively about how they had just tried to much, the weight of their own desire and self confessed hubris had caused even their Atlas-like shoulders to drop. They claim they had tried to do too much individually and this caused them to have as much direction as the plot of Lost shown in reverse order. Danny O’Dwyer and Gamespot have done a fantastic series with full interviews available below which i would recommend for an in depth look. This should be the end of a sad story but in a normally cynical and dark media world, this team found ray of light and started to bravely dig upwards through the rubble of their shattered egos.
When it switches to the new platform of Overwatch, members of the team suddenly spew forth rainbows and sunbeams to a degree that would be almost sickening if it wasn’t so damn genuine and endearing. And it really is, even my crusty heart begins a slow beat and expands beyond its cobwebs like the Grinch receiving a fruit basket. Blizzard began to bounce ideas around for new IP, they breathed deep into the fading embers of Titan and a pheonix of determined resurgence began to lift its wings. The game should be called Overhaul….but probably not. The basic story is that years before the game is set, robots rose up against humanity because we kinda suck and that’s just what robots do. A war broke out known as the ‘Omnic Crisis’ and Overwatch helped bring peace to the world. Human and robot relations are bursting at the fragile seams and Overwatch headquarters is attacked, people claim Overwatch is unable to protect them because hey let’s just forget that protecting the world is clearly what they’ve just done! The world governments disband Overwatch as a team and outlaw their ‘vigilante’ actions. Now a new threat rises but will our heroes and villains rise with it?
We know that maps and a lot of character ideas such as Tracer were passed down from Titan to Overwatch like a tainted, desperate birthright along with painful, labour lessons learned. It’s like in your will leaving your kids a heavily haunted house, but along with the number for a damn good exorcist. This team had some very real demons to banish through programming. The game is a elegantly simplistic format, two teams of over the top characters shoot and brawl for kills, to hold points or to transport a suspiciously vague ‘payload’. With how much i bleed for that payload it better be vital medical equipment and not cans of monster for sugar deprived e-gamers! So does this diminished scope lead to a disappointing game? Aren’t we getting a rotten, reanimated shambles of a game, constructed by picking parts from the corpse of a dead franchise and held together by magic, tape and good wishes?
With great relief i can say no. This is an addictive, fun ride through a vivid and bright world. I am not a fan of competitive shooters but this game reaches into the pixelated past to bottle the lightning of older from games such as Quake or Unreal tournament. In a day and age where CS:GO try-hards haunt our sweaty nightmares or COD fanboys clamber up money paved mountains for a new set of maps, Overwatch keeps it simple, focused and purely fun. They already promised that characters and maps will be added free of charge to avoid player division, as they seem to be the only game developer to google what the word “Community” actually means. Even on limited maps and game modes the ability to switch characters mid game makes every match feel fresh and different. And even my sleeping dragon of gamer rage has refused to stir as the carefully child-like approach of Overwatch keeps him subdued and peaceful like a hooked up drip of warm cocoa. There is a character to suit every play style like the turret building Torbjorn, the stuck to the sniper scope Widowmaker, powerful healer Mercy and lovable tank Winston. Modern concepts are moulded into the game such as the e-gaming D.Va a truly original and relevant character, taking the interest of its audience and making it heroic. There’s also the living plague that is Genji which is for people that are dead inside and wish to be hated, he’s the ability equivalent of slapping a nuclear bomb on the forehead of road runner and telling him every opposing player made a joke about his mum. The heavily established and complex characters are what set this game apart from similar outings such as Half Life: Team Fortress. Even the recent Battleborn which isn’t really that similar in gameplay was measured to the yet to be released Overwatch in terms of character design.
When Overwatch hit the closed beta people wondered in they would hang themselves with their own admittedly beautiful, velvet rope by giving the game too much exposure so far ahead of the release. Millions watched their favourite streamers live and die on Twitch, and quickly knew the mechanics inside out before ever even clicking a mouse or rage-quitting a Genji-addled match. This has given Blizzard plenty of time to make sure that it keeps the balance of graphical beauty and mechanical function. Also that whatever it’s game does though it does right and on release day they aren’t repairing it on the fly like some kind of frantic, caffeine-infused Magyver. It also played to the games biggest strength, it’s world. Blizzard claim they want to have bright world different where our heroes work together from every country and race but their light is against a brave and stark darkness, robots vs human social issues mirror very real life problems. The animated shorts which blew our minds away like hollow point, creativity bullets give us glimpses into this world and its cast. each animation contains motivations or parts of levels, moves and catchphrases from the characters themselves. before you even play the game you know what relevance the maps hold or the feelings that bind our characters together for better or worse. Maps contain easter eggs advertising characters or their stories, a poster for D.Va before announcement or an advert for Lucio’s upcoming concert. The policy of “Every villain is the hero of their own story” means we have complex characters and the world they live in has little shafts of light flashed upon it intermittently for us to discover like a controlled disco of lore. You watch the tragically brilliant ‘Alive’ and be filled with a real and bubbling hatred for Widowmaker, then read her story about being brainwashed, genetically altered and forced to kill her husband in his sleep. Still think you know her? Overwatch along with its heroes and villains, have layers being peeled away by the developers and fans together, it’s like Blizzard are hosting the biggest game of pass the parcel, and the whole world is invited.
Blizzard, by starting the creative process so early and releasing media products as the game progressed, have controlled and built up anticipation and understanding with skillful pace. One of their creative staff cite the advantage that usually other products follow the game but by bringing our other products before and alongside the game it means they are equally important and contribute to each other. When the open beta began we all frantically drove our mouse cursors towards our already established favourite characters. Owning two t-shirts, a pair of glasses and a mug by the time i hit the beta, i and my wallet were very relieved to find i actually enjoyed the game. At the Overwatch ‘celebration’ screenings around the world before launch night, crowds shouted out catchphrases and proudly wore t-shirts of characters they may never have controlled and may even be distressingly awful at playing as. It doesn’t really matter though. The game may be the most important piece but it is only a piece. With masterful use of media convergence on a single vision, Blizzard have woven a sublime tapestry of creativity to convey their yarn of hope in a “world worth fighting for”. The game itself is the main thread running throughout this work of art but the other products move in and around this to flesh it out and add colour to it’s vibrant narrative.
Overwatch isn’t just a game, it’s fully functioning tale and it’s set on a glorious back drop of real life hope and redemption for a team that had failed. The development team’s experience of fighting to earn back what they felt they had lost translate into their game with a stirring transparency that only adds to the overflowing charm of this already cherished installment into Blizzard lore. before the launch itself this group deserve applause and respect fro their efforts let alone their impressive product. My game experience begins later today and i can’t wait for single bit of it.
Except you Genji. You can leave.
Thank you for reading and below is some of my gameplay from the beta’s ‘Mystery Heroes’ mode. Now if you will excuse me i think i hear the letter box signalling that my watch is about to begin.