My Weekend with Overwatch

“Press start to continue.”-D.Va

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(The following is from the stress test weekend held earlier in November, but I decided to wait to publish it, as it is a feature in this month’s WoW Community Magazine.)

When Blizzard unveiled the Overwatch Trailer last year, at first, I thought the cinematics department had decided to just go for it and start completely making movies. I mean, they could. The Blizzard Cinematics department is amazing at making you feel deeply about things that you previously never cared about, hated, or in some cases didn’t even know about. In the case of the Shaohao YouTube shorts and the Warlords series, I thought that they should just make cartoons.

So, when the Overwatch trailer premiered, I thought that was it. Blizzard was giving us a Saturday Morning Cartoon about Superheroes in full 90’s glory. Of course, it was Blizzard style, yet realistic in a way I have never seen them do before. Blizzard doesn’t just provide games anymore though. During Blizzcon, talk of books, comics and more was mentioned by the Developers.

Still, in Overwatch, YOU get to play the cartoon. Experience it yourself. Control the Superheroes.

For months, people clung to bits of information, people even gave nicknames to unnamed heroes, conspiracy theories grew, short videos of gameplay from Blizzard were picked apart and analyzed from every angle. Eventually, small waves of BETA invites happened. There was hope, despair, joy, jealousy, and excitement in the community as they happened. Perhaps every emotion at once.

However, this weekend, a wave of invites for a short stress test went out, and I got my peek into the world of Overwatch.  

 

A quick disclaimer for the tinfoil hat section on Beta Invites:

I understand you, I’ve been thirsty for invites before, but please, be respectfully parched rather than angry or disrespectful. I know these are all common questions, and I can answer any more to satisfy simple curiosity!

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Waiting to start something you really want to try is the hardest thing you’ll ever do.

I understand you, I’ve been thirsty for invites before, but please, be respectfully parched rather than angry or disrespectful. I know these are all common questions, and I can answer any more to satisfy simple curiosity! 

Yes, I opted into the BETA Pool right away. Yes, I have updated my BETA settings a few times so I do not think that hurts anything.  Especially since I just got a new computer, but only after getting the weekend invite, since there’s a WoW BETA starting and the devs may want to know that I am using something very different now. Nor was my invitation part of my participation with any of my content creation and I especially did not get it to write this article.

No, I have not yet pre-ordered, as some FPS games make me experience vertigo or other neurological problems and I wanted to test Overwatch before buying. This weekend was sort of a jackpot for me of experiences, as I’m in love with the concepts but didn’t want to marry it yet before I knew it was safe for me to buy without dropping the money and getting really sick while playing it as account sharing is a no-no.

Basically, I believe I was picked at random.

 

Day Zero:

Like a virus, it seemed, all of my friends were getting BETA Invites. Nothing was appearing in my own email account, yet again. Refreshing my Twitter feed confirmed more, and more. Only when I decided to look at my Account did I discover that I was in. Looking at my launcher confirmed it further.

Overwatch

I’ll admit it. For a tiny bit, I thought I was in-in.

There’s no way to tell that you’re in for a weekend Stress test or just in the BETA forever. The only thing that I could do to get an idea if I was in or not was to go to the forums and see if I could post on them or not. I couldn’t, so I could guess that I was not. Supposedly if you are, you have instant access, but do not as a Stress Test Weekend poster, as you’re relegated to special forums. So, while I felt a maybe 10 second bit of sadness, I felt pretty excited just to be able to play for a small bit. I got all you can stand for a weekend sneak peak at a game that most people really want to play. I’m really grateful for the experience as it helped me realize how I felt about the game.

So, while I’m not the best at analyzing gameplay, or how exactly each hero plays (I frankly just didn’t have enough time to really give you the time for that), let me give you my experiences as someone who doesn’t play this genre of games, in case you’re like me and wondering if Overwatch might be right for you.

Day One:

Training Area

The game takes me through a really easy tutorial. It’s in classic Blizzard style, featuring characters that I already am familiar with by knowing a few things about the property. They slowly introduce you to moving, looking, and then using the controls. It’s the basics of any FPS, but in a bright and cheerful Saturday morning cartoon sort of way. Tracer appears to help you understand following a target as you control Soldier 76.

While I am playing through the tutorial, several times I get messages from friends welcoming me to the BETA.  They tell me to enjoy the awesomeness while I’m there for the short visit. Of note, this is the first time that anyone shows an Overwatch Icon by the name on your friends list while they are playing, rather than just saying “In A Match”. Yes, for weeks my friends were mysteriously in a match while not in a game.

As much as I loved the keyboard controls, I decided to hunt down a controller in my apartment. By hunt, I mean unplug one from elsewhere. I figure a PS4 controller would be perfect for the job. I decided to plug it in and give things another go to see if I liked that better. However, I cannot get my controller to work. The keybindings menu shows the options to use a controller, but it’s likely not fully implemented.

So, I jump into my first game. I am terrible, and I get my ass kicked. So I play against some bots in the practice mode… A lot of “Oh, oh I see.” is said… I tried a few more rounds of A.I. only to discover that Reaper, who moves very fast and is in your face a lot, spawns several times if you have more than one A.I.. It’s a lesson in freaking out about not being fully certain of what you’re doing. For a while because of this, I thought that Reaper was far harder to dispatch than Tracer, if only because of the panic this caused.

There’s several times where it seems like a match starts, and then you are booted back to character select. It’s weird and confusing, however this is a stress test, so I expect strange things to happen. There’s not a ton of explanation at first. The pool is small enough that I start to recognize who is murdering me repeatedly, even while taking breaks, going to go get coffee, pausing to take notes, or make phone calls. However, while I am playing, the wait times for matches are short, the group finder makes suggestions as to what you are missing, and for the most part, you wind up with people making adjustments, with the exception of someone picking the same thing you’re playing and deciding they’re not changing.

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When you die, little tips as to who killed you and why they did pop up on the right of your screen. You also see a reply of how someone killed you, which is sometimes helpful but also sometimes really a play through of the really stupid mistakes you made which makes you admire the other person or mentally bash yourself. I’m honestly not fantastic at this, but the tips of how to avoid mistakes make me want to do better. The tips are actually really great too, suggestions on how to avoid what killed you, or how to properly use abilities. They’re excellent for helping you realize that you want to keep certain people far away, or very close, or what their Ultimate really does.

I do recognize some people I know, and I hope they don’t hate me because I’m awful. Sorry friends, I’m rusty at FPS games.  At first, my accuracy is horrifying, in the single digits.  But I see it rise, my kill count rises and my amount of deaths lower. Having not played an FPS in a long time, it’s relaxing to play with others.

I toy around with D.Va and Widowmaker the most, though I poke at some others. I take Mercy and Mei out a few times, and I can see how Mei is someone people were screaming to have nerfed. D.Va becomes an absoulte favorite, with her cute references to games and tanky-mech abilities. Her ultimate does take a few tries to master, as you can kill yourself with it, but can become a game changer if used right. I can also really see the appeal of a Noir Widowmaker, and honestly, if I were to buy the game I could see myself spending extra for the Origins edition just for her special skin, especially with her voice work. Widowmaker’s Ultimate is a bit disorienting the first few times, however those who play a Demon Hunter in the future and use the ability that allows them to see enemies in PvP will adjust quickly.

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Eventually, I discovered that the short matches I was experiencing were skirmishes to keep players busy while waiting for a team to be formed. Consequently, once your team is formed, you go into the next match again and again together. That doesn’t account for me leaving games completely and still seeing familiar faces.

After another 3 hour break for raiding over on WoW, I come back with a guildie who loves playing Mei. Like all Blizzard games, Overwatch is for certain way more fun with friends. I only play a few rounds with him, as it is getting late, and one of our groups has no healers, but still wins. The team works well together and uses shields, heals that we can find, and of course lots of ice walls and explosions. The next group someone playing a tank class screams about how we need a healer a few times, and we lose. As with every bit of PvP, I’ve always felt that if someone feels we need to do something bad enough to speak up, then they should do it.  Learning what Junkrat’s Riptire sounds like and how to avoid it was a hard lesson in being blown up, but it also pointed to how important sound is in this game both with knowing how the other heroes sound, and how their abilities sound.  

Destruction

One thing that that really impresses me is how interactive the environments are. If you shoot the arcade machines, they would be like shooting an arcade machine in real life. If you shoot the walls, they take bullet damage. If you shoot or do damage to anything else, they show signs of it. The environments are all extremely detailed, with amazing lighting. There’s tiny bits of personal detail in each zone; from the paintings of heroes in the arcade and the arcade machines nodding to other Blizzard games, to everything being placed just so inside of King’s Row to make it feel like you are inside of a city from. In Watchpoint if you shoot the fire extinguishers just so in the spawn room, they’ll spin around in circles and fly around for a time.

 

Day 2:

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After my usual Saturday raid, I am talking through abilities with friends when they ask me “Sell me on Overwatch as someone who does not like FPS games.”  There’s so many talking points there that I don’t even know where to begin.  While I knew that the friend asking likes a variety of games, my first point was that it didn’t feel like a FPS game. It felt way more like a polished version of games you knew, but in a Blizzard style, fun, and easy to get to know, but something you want to master with a ton of variety of choices.

One thing that really surprised me was that one of my friends who did have access to the stress test didn’t even realize that there were actual healers and support characters. When we brought up all the support choices and even Mercy, I kind of hoped the person who felt like they had a lack of choices in the game gives it another go, as they’re a deeply aggressive healer in WoW. If die with them in a raid, you’ve screwed up and deserved your death.

Another complaint that was brought up by people who did get into the weekend Stress test as well was that they wished that the controls were more similar to other Blizzard games, rather than other FPS games, as a lot of spend time jumping from game to game to game. While I thought they were right, if things were mapped like World of Warcraft, and looking and movement were controlled by our mice, we would feel like we were in a traditional FPS game, and the feelings of vertigo and new players feeling overwhelmed would be there. Blizzard made the right call as people who aren’t traditional FPS players really want to try the game.

Watchpoint (1)

I really like the payload map, though it really is very much so the payload map from another very similar game. There’s no real way to tell if you’ve reached the checkpoint, so there’s a lot of buttclenching moments hoping that you’re about to make it, until you do or don’t. Maybe it’s because I am less familiar with the game, however, it’s hard to tell if a team is about to reach a checkpoint.

Having someone else play Mercy really gave me a chance to see how how her healing and damage boosts helped the team. Her heals display all over your screen in a soft gold glow with the healing cross floating upwards at the edges without being overwhelming, and her boost display similarly with different symbols but in blue. The second day in, it was really also fun get to understand who works well together and how. The communication system that’s built into the game is fun and simple to use (though there is a built in voice chat) making random party grouping mostly painless. We were able to remind each other about objectives, communicate, all without being annoying or having to type to use party chat, saving valuable time.

Watchpoint

Reinhardt’s shield is another standout of ways to work together as a team. In tight corners or while pushing an objective, his shield allows others to beat down the opposing team before they get too close. Should they do so, his hammer is deadly, especially his Ultimate ability. While playing D.Va, depending on where we are with the match, I started to slowly learn that jumping behind his shield and helping to gun down oncoming forces, only to rocket boost forward to use my ultimate and jump back to him and suit back up is a deeply tempting way to play. Not always the right way, but deeply tempting (Two “Tanks” are not always welcome). There is also the ability to throw up her shield which knocks back oncoming airborne missiles when his is down.

As with the previous day, while grouped up with my guildie and now a second guildie, there’s very little waiting for a match to start. It’s fast, and there’s very little skirmish time in between. We only play a handful of matches, but that’s because it’s rather late at night.

Kudos

While I didn’t notice it as much the day before, there’s a ratings system. You can rate individual players, and your whole team, but you also can give kudos to the top four players of the game based on varying performance rankings. It’s not just who did the most damage/kills. It’s based upon who did their job, such as taking damage as a Tank. The best part is about giving out those positive kudos is that they add up from game to game, so long as your party stays together. It’s really rewarding, especially if people play a support or defense class, especially if you’re not seeing killstreaks.

I love play of the game, as it shows players what people are doing right, and sometimes the play of the game goes to someone on the losing team.

 

Day 3:

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Early in the day, I test out some heroes in the against A.I. mode. I wish that the A.I. mode allowed you to play a match with just you and several other A.I. bots against several other A.I. bots to learn the game before you were forced out into the world to show everyone how confused you were about a hero that you lacked confidence in; but instead, A.I. mode is like training mode. It allows you to pick how skilled the A.I.’s are, how many there are, and so forth. As mentioned back on Day 1, the first time I set it to hard and 4 Reapers spawned. It’s not the best training arena. Also, you cannot pick any maps besides Hanamura or Watchpoint during this weekend, so working on King’s Row isn’t even an option. I’m not certain how it is on non-stress test weekends.

You might ask why I don’t test out new Heroes that I want to understand how each ability works just as I did with Soldier 76 in the actual Training Mode. That’s a really damn good question. In fact, my first instinct was to go into Training Mode, and learn all of the Heroes, but you cannot do so. They only allow you to replay the basic Training Mode over, and over and over again, and then to step up to the A.I. mode if you wanted to grasp a concept better.

I spend a solid three plus hours on day three playing with a friend while on Skype. I tried a variety of heroes throughout the day against other players, but I still have my favorites especially D.Va. There’s some endlessly fun aspects, especially teaming up Ultimates, figuring out how to take out double Reinhardt’s, blowing up other team’s  Widowmakers, and being in general very impressed with the other team as we stuck with most of the same other players for hours.

Plays of the Game are still interesting, but some of them are amazing because someone took out 5-10 people, however sometimes there’s things like what my friend experienced, where he got Play of the Game because he repaired a turret which was doing damage. What a Play of the Game! I really have come to like the “On Fire” aspect without them showing people’s kill count.   

The whole weekend I ran into one person who was angry at other people. Other people were focused on working together, encouraging, and too busy fighting to type. The built in emotes and chats really help, but not showing kills and damage helps. Seeing most of your team “On Fire” or your team take up all 4 slots of the top four slots is way better than seeing a list of numbers like other games.

D.Va Swapping, Crop to show chat text

During one match in Hanamura, I discovered that if I switch Heroes after D.Va has lost her Mech, and then switch back to her, it is recalled right back to her. Thinking it was a mistake, I tried it a few more times. No, it’s truly how it works. Clearly, or hopefully this is something that should be nerfed to reduce abuse, especially while defending a point. I found several similar bugs, but nothing quite like that by mistake.

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By day 3 I was able to recognize a lot of the character voices and feel a bit more aware of how to react. The quality and the unique tones, delivery, accents and languages used in the game really helped. I also felt less motivated by the tips and felt a bit of snark in some of them. If I were killed by Reinhardt, the tip would inform you that “Reinhardt’s size makes him easier to hit.” Why, thank you snarky tip. Honestly, I can’t even be upset about the snark in the tips, it’s shade of the highest comedic value.

 

Day 4:

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I still have a few more hours of the BETA left. I might play some more, but I’m not going to waste it taking notes or screenshots.

However, for those of you wondering how the experience was: I know that I am about to put in a pre-order for the Origins Edition. The game is simply just that good. Even if I don’t touch the game again until it releases, I know I’ll great time playing it with friends or with strangers.

While I worried about vertigo, the camera was smooth and the lack of head bob was excellent. You feel in control all of the time. Best of all, the gameplay is so fun, and fast paced. After playing for hours my friends and I were in high spirits spitting out a great many words I cannot type or share here about people we wanted to kill, we were was killed by, and wanting them to hold still so I could blow them up (I’m now on a watch list over that sentence). Every mistake, every kill, every amazing play brought another round of laughter. It felt like being kids again.

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However, the reason why this game stands out most of all in it’s BETA is the amount of variety of heroes who all have different cultures, backstories, nationalities, personalities, and a wide variety of male and female (and robot) characters really adds to the appeal of the game. The ability to think creatively and change things on the fly, how unannoying the communication system is, and how much it encourages the teamwork system is really makes me want to play with strangers and friends alike.  

While there needs to be small tweaks here and there to some aspects of the game, the core of the game, the heroes of Overwatch, are the heroes of the game. Add these heroes with everything up with their plans for more lore, skins, maps, and possible future heroes. The entire package makes seem like a game on the path to become a beloved “Classic” Blizzard game.

 

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