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What I don't want to say about Overwatch

Commentary: There's a lot of hype around Blizzard's new team shooter, but don't fear -- I come not to bury Overwatch but to praise it.


I promised myself I wouldn't use "instant classic" when describing Overwatch, but I'm struggling to come up with a better phrase for how I feel about the new team-based hero shooter from Blizzard. It just seems to fit something that feels comfortably familiar and totally fresh.

The equally trite, equally contradictory "casual competitive shooter" is what next comes to mind. Even though that describes the game perfectly well, it still feels light-years away from the essence of it, no matter how well it seems to take aim at both a newbie playerbase and more serious aficionados.

The concept is easy enough to explain. You choose from 21 characters, with more promised in future, all with their own unique abilities and weapons. Then you team up with other players and compete over control points or escort missions. Nothing revolutionary. If the game was taking cues from anything, it was Valve's Team Fortress 2, and I've got no shortage of experience pushing carts and collecting hats over there.

"Overwatch is the new TF2". That's the next thing I don't want to say. Like TF2, the new shooter offers a range of unique classes. The whole game is built around objective-based multiplayer matches. The same general strategic advice applies. But really, for all the shared DNA, calling one the better version of the other does both games a disservice when they were released nine years apart.


Let's talk about design. But let's not say that Overwatch is "the Hearthstone of shooters". Blizzard's digital card game redefined its genre, but the careful design favours accessibility and randomness rather than Overwatch's incredibly polished action.

Matches in Overwatch run south of the 10-minute mark, and in a stroke of genius, they'll be over much sooner if you're getting creamed by the other team (or if you're the ones doing the creaming). Characters don't have more than a handful of abilities, making it much easier to pick up and play than other loadout systems while maintaining the same variety. Maps are varied, complex and encourage exploration. Everything down to characters calling each other out during matches go into the mad alchemy of Overwatch.

It also doesn't hurt that pretty much everyone I know is either playing it or complaining that they aren't playing it right at this very instant. After spending a prodigious amount of time playing the beta and precious little since the official release on May 24, Overwatch reminds me of the kind of game I haven't played in years.


It reminds me of getting our undergeared asses handed back to us in World of Warcraft's Karazhan. It reminds me of trading the one memory card around as we tried to top each other's best downhill efforts in SSX Tricky. It reminds me of spending hour after hour on whatever crappy old TV we had, playing splitscreen Goldeneye until it sent us blind.

It reminds me of that reckless, heedless throwing yourself into a game.

I'm now down to one more word that I really don't want to use. It's a word that gets thrown around a lot, in a hedged, half-shrugged way to talk about forgettable games. But Blizzard, conjuring up a perfect storm of playability, nostalgia and design, have given us a game that is definitively, in the most platonic sense of the word, "fun".

So I guess I can settle for saying that.