Missing the Point: Where are we at with Overwatch?

June 19, 2018

 I have never been a fan of first person shooters. Growing up I was never drawn into the Call of Duty/Halo hype, and even when I started playing games again I was never particularly wanted to buy or play any first person shooters. I would try and make up some pageant answer here about 'how I don't agree with the violence they perpetuate' etc. but there's two problems with that; 1) I don't believe that video games cause violent behaviour (another debate for another time) and 2) I never played FPSs because they intimidated the hell out of me. It's not even for lack of trying; in real life I have pretty good hand-eye co-ordination, but when it comes to games I struggled to get a sense of my space so would always end up getting killed almost instantly. I also just generally have pretty poor depth perception which, of course, doesn't translate well when it comes to aiming weapons. Another thing I always found was that FPS communities never seemed that welcoming to beginner players - either you were good or you didn't play, that's how it always felt. It was the guilt of constantly ruining the campaigns or missions that really put me off trying as I felt I'd never achieve the level of the other players. My final excuse is that gritty gun violence mounted on a monochromatic brown/grey background got old real fast and to my knowledge at the time that's all FPSs were. I couldn't think of any reason as to why I'd ever attempt these kinds of games, let alone develop a bond with them.

 

Reece decided to buy Overwatch about two months after its initial release as it was a pretty hot topic amongst his friends. Neither of us had done any research on it and was very much the "game of the moment" as he put it. Reece had his time with first person shooters, but once his generation was over he kind of lost interest; looking for something new and refreshing, Overwatch was very much a draw as it looked bright and colourful with an array of different characters. That's what I would say was the main attraction point for myself as well was the diverse range of characters, each with their own personalities, backstories and abilities. Through doing my own research (and asking Reece a thousand and one questions as he played) I suddenly knew so much about this game that I had never even attempted. It took me a while to become brave enough to pick up the controller and have a go myself and the first few attempts were far from successful. Again, the intimidation I felt from playing online in a style of game I was unfamiliar with once again filled me with that guilt of not being good enough. I'd perhaps play one or two games, laugh off my lack of skill, and then put it down and wouldn't even look at it again for days on end. I so desperately wanted to play this game for myself but I just couldn't get to grips with it at all. 

 

I'm very lucky that Reece is such a patient teacher because in all honesty I would have gotten nowhere without him. He sat me down, made me pick out a few characters that I liked the look of, and took me through their basic mechanics on training courses/AI enemies etc. It took its time but after a while I felt like I was starting to get it. I was actually quite surprised at how much easier it was to pick up than I was expecting and I really feel like this has something to do with the range of characters available, as they each have different skill levels and modes of attack. Yes, as a FPS game it is still very much gun violence galore, but Overwatch does it in a way that you're not running around trying to find spare parts for your AK-47 in a bleak desert because REALISM. Some characters have guns, some characters have lasers, and some characters have sonic boom blasters that play some funky beats as you skate around the objective point you're supposed to be on. It's daft and it's crazy, but at least it's fun. Soon enough I found myself actively searching for the characters that I got on best with and working with the classes I preferred. Reece mainly played support/healing characters, so I feel like I was slightly more biased to playing that type, but eventually I started to find my own groove. I was very much drawn to support/defence based characters initially - I enjoy defence and always take that supporting role in my real life as well (such as when I play sport,) so of course this felt natural to me. I also liked working with slightly slower characters as well as it gave me time to process the action, hence why I steered away from offence for the longest time. Offensive characters terrified me slightly as I felt like that would be where I'd really fuck up; my brain was not built for speed or precision so initially this was a no-go zone. Nobody ever wanted to play support anyway, so I was always happy to pick up the pieces. I stuck to my guns (and at time, lasers) and really started getting into this wacky, colourful game. My initial list of favourites were: Mei, a scientist with ice powers (defence,) Symmetra, a light bending architect (support) and Ana, an ex-special services healing sniper (support.)

 Overwatch celebrated its 2nd anniversary this year and I feel like there has been some serious development, both on my own part and as the game on a whole. Although I have not massively levelled up within the game itself, I feel as if my game sense has greatly improved. Video games have been proven to improve cognitive function and, whilst I'm not gonna sit here and act like I'm a lot smarter than everyone else now because I've played a fair few matches, I really feel like my brains processing power is a lot faster. I'm less intimidated by those speedy characters and have played offensively more than enough times, even so much as to say I have developed my favourites from within that category. This has also improved my aim; I'm still not yet sniper quality, but occasionally I'm able to one-shot a Pharah out of the sky with my ice cannon, which is possibly the most satisfying thing ever. My sense of space has also gotten a lot better. That's not to say that I don't get killed frequently but compared to when I started I get killed slightly less frequently, and to be honest that's all I can really ask for. One of the main things that has really built my confidence in this game is having a little community that I can sometimes play with. Pretty much all of Reece's friends have this game and are often online; they're also always willing to play with me. Even from when I was quite a low level they'd invite me into their games with significantly higher level players and, though I'd always be the first and most frequently to die, it taught me a lot. They've always been very supportive and their guidance helped me a lot, and by guidance I of course mean 'chatting garbage whilst playing Overwatch in the background,' but even that helped me to get out of my head and just enjoy playing the game in front of me; the main thing I needed to learn with this type of game right from the beginning. 

 

When it comes to the game itself a lot has changed over its 2 year lifespan but it's still managed to maintain its signature Overwatch zest. Firstly, Blizzard has introduced six new characters since the games released, five of them being female (yay!) 3 are support, 2 are offence and 1 is tank; though it feels like categories such as defence has been ignored, take into account that a lot of these new characters (as well as the old ones) often have hybrid abilities meaning that they are not subjected to one category. For example, the newest addition to the roster (and my new favourite) Brigitte is technically a healing/tank character due to her heavy-duty structure mixed with her support abilities. It feels as if this is something Blizzard has really tried to implement when releasing new characters as it fills much needed gaps and as well, to my knowledge, they're going to continue to release new characters in a similar style so I'm very excited to see where they go with them. This kind of new content keeps up a level of excitement with the game and makes me want to come back and play. From what I gather of games of this type, things can get boring very quickly - the fact that Call of Duty hurriedly releases new titles every year feels to me like a desperate attempt to stay relevant and keep fans wanting to play. Now Overwatch is far from perfect, but to me I much prefer the 'make do and mend' attitude they appear to have, by holding events and tournaments, releasing new characters and just generally updating the game to keep it interesting. All of this is done for free as well, which to me seems a lot more ethical and considerate and means I'll be a lot more excited for things to come. It's a thin line however and unless Overwatch are willing to constantly keep up this endless barge of updates and new content for all of time, people may slowly start dropping off the radar. Granted, the games dedicated fans are in no way as fickle as that, but at the end of the day people always like new stuff. I just don't want to see Overwatch go the same way as others of its type and have to release soulless copies every year just to stay relevant. 

 

Despite all those free updates and such, Overwatch still has loot boxes. Now I'm not going to sit here and pretend that I know what the whole loot box controversy is about in detail (I'll bother Reece for answers later) but from what I can gather it's to do with the fact that purchasing/opening loot boxes can have similar addictive properties to gambling and can cause people to blow all of their money in one go, and not necessarily even get the items that they want. As with many games, Overwatch loot boxes are cosmetic only, and work on a reward system that technically doesn't require any purchase. The problem arrises when Overwatch hold these 'limited time events' (e.g. Christmas/Halloween) with special legendary skins that have a very low probability of appearing in boxes. This means you've got two options; 1) you play the game incessantly, levelling up and gaining as many loot boxes as you can, or 2) you spend your money on a bundle of them and hope that you get what you want. Now I'll hold my hand up and say that I am very guilty of spending some money here and there in an attempt to get some limited edition skins, but even after you get what you want it leaves you with a feeling of 'what was the point of all that?' Nowadays I don't bother with actually purchasing them and just am happy to get some when I do - if anything it makes me want to play more as it means my hard work is rewarded. Loot boxes are and always will be a tricky subject in gaming, but on the brighter side of this it felt like Blizzard listened to its feedback. They made it less likely that duplicates will appear in their boxes, as well as bringing back previous event skins when the same annual event rolls back around again. It's the best of a bad situation really, but at the end of the day you're there for the game and that's it. Well, at least that's what I tell myself when I can't get that special summertime Sombra skin... 

 Overwatch is great and has taught me so much about gaming as a whole. It's not without it's faults of course, but this doesn't stop it from being an enjoyable game to play. I'm really looking forward to seeing what new characters they're going to introduce, or how they're going to update the older ones (I've still yet to try the new Symmetra update!) Overall I found it to be a very useful game that has introduced me to a genre that I was always too scared to even attempt. In all honesty I can't see myself giving up on this game, at least for the near distant future. 

 

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