Overwatch is the best multiplayer-shooter we've ever played. Yes, we're aware that those are some big words, but we've thought hard about it, and the conclusion is clear. There are certainly other games that we've had almost as much fun with - the old Quake games, for example, or Call of Duty 4 and especially Team Fortress 2 - but Overwatch takes the title. Partly because Blizzard has polished their game to a degree that would make many other studio green with envy, and partly because the developers have learned from all the experiences the genre as a whole has had since the first Quake let people play over the Internet in 1996.
So yes, Overwatch is, without a doubt, the best multiplayer shooter we've ever had our hands on. We would be playing it right now, at this very moment, if not for things like work and writing this review had claimed our time.
"But wait," you might ask, "the game was released yesterday, how can you guys already have a review ready?"
And that's a fair question. But the answer is that we have poured hundreds of hours into the closed beta that started late last year. And in all respects, that actually counts, because the finished Overwatch is identical to the beta as it looked in its final weeks.
From the very first phase of when the closed beta went live, we said, partly joking (but also just partly), that Overwatch was 2015's best game. The game is our clear GOTY candidate for 2016, and we can't see any titles on the horizon that could knock it off the throne.
Before we dive into why Overwatch, in our opinion, is so bloody good, it would be appropriate with a brief review of what Overwatch actually is.
As we said, it's a multiplayer shooter. Two teams of six players (never less, never more) fight over some kind of goal. Depending on the map it can be a car with a bomb that needs to be escorted to a certain place, or an area on the map that needs to be conquered. Players choose a character from a cast of 21 heroes, each with different abilities, strengths and weaknesses.
Reinhardt is, for example, an enormous German in armor that can protect his teammates behind an energy shield, and beat his enemies in the head with a rocket-powered hammer. Tracer is a small and quick little lady that can teleport over short distances and turn the clock back three seconds if she gets in trouble. McCree is a genuine cowboy who shoots his enemies from afar with a very precise six-shooter, or who empties his magazine in enemy faces at close range after having paralyzed them with a flash bang. And so on, and so on.
You can switch characters as often as you want during a fight, and there are no restrictions on how many people are playing each character is allowed on a team. Nor can you level the characters up during the match, so he or she will get stronger. Overwatch is not a MOBA like League of Legends, or even Battleborn. It is a pure shooter.
It is the massive character roster that is Overwatch's advantage. The game stretches so wide that there has to be something and someone who matches every taste and style of play. Old school Quake-players will love Pharah for her rocket launcher and jetpack. Fans of more mundane shooters can amuse themselves with Soldier: 76 and his assault rifle. If you're miserable at aiming you can choose Reinhardt or the space gorilla Winston, whose weapons hits all enemies within the right distance and field of view. If you prefer to be a healer (and be the backbone of the team by keeping everyone alive) you can choose characters like Mercy and Lucio, while Torbjörn builds autocannons and Symmetra gives team players shields and places small turrets.
None of the characters are bad, they all have their niche and situations where they are strong. The cyborg ninja Genji is for example perfect for flanking slow opponents and is very hard to hit. On the other hand he is chewed up into pieces in mere seconds by Winston, whose lightning-weapon will toast Genji without even having to aim at him. But then Winston will surely suffer defeat if Reaper comes close with his shotguns. But these are miserable from afar.
In other words, the game turns into some kind of Rock, Paper, Scissor, Spock, Lizard where all the heroes are strong in certain situations and poor in others. So the road to victory is largely paved with team combinations that suit the situation and the will to swap characters when the current plan is not working.
Visually the character design is also fantastic. Blizzard has learned things from both Team Fortress 2 and partly World of Warcraft. Each of the 21 heroes has their own unique expression, covering everything from silhouette to posture and shape, so you're never unsure about who you just saw even if you just catch a glimpse of them halfway through a doorway. And the rest of the game looks stunning too. Even if you knock all the graphics settings way down the game still looks great, thanks to a beautiful, cartoonish art direction that blends fine details with large areas.
With our GeForce GTX 960 the game is constantly booming away with over 100 fps with all settings set to medium, and if you have a 980, you can count on 120-140 fps with all settings set to high. At the other end of the scale, there is also good news, because many older systems will be able to pull off 60 frames per second with the settings turned all the way down.
But even though Overwatch looks terrific, the graphics are far from the game's most impressive technical aspect. There can really be a world of difference between different PCs when it comes to shooters. You often hear picky players complain that the controls feel loose and spongy, or that the mouse controls seems weirdly wavering.
But that is not the case with Overwatch. Here, the controls are on point and respond exactly when and as you'd expect. It's one of those things that's hard to put into words because there is really just two ways it can work. Either it feels right, or it's crap. Overwatch feels right. Just like all the other games that are derived from id Software's classic Quake games (including Counter-Strike, Team Fortress 2, a whole generation of Call of Duty games, and of course Quake itself). The controls, and the mouse in particular, even seem to be just slightly sharper than in the recently released Doom, which was actually pretty strong in this regard as well.
There are no server issues either. Blizzard's otherwise almost perfect reputation got some serious scratches when Diablo 3 was released and was unplayable at launch. There aren't any of these issues with Overwatch. The game has been running smoothly since launch, and we have only once experienced lag that disrupted the experience.
However, a small comment should be mentioned regarding a design choice the developers made when they built the structure for communication between the player and server. Several times you will experience being shot by people you really thought could not see you because you just ran around a corner. That's how it looked on your screen, but on the opponent's screen, he shot you before you made it around the corner. When these kinds of disagreements arise, the game will consistently decide that he who shot is right. You will get to be on both sides of this dilemma, but there are certainly some who will get frustrated with it anyway.
Which leads us to one of the best things about Overwatch: minimising frustrations. The game is drenched in design decisions that help to minimise the frustrations of losing, the bad players, the assholes on your team, and much more. First of all the battles rarely go beyond 10 minutes, so a defeat is quickly forgotten, and you are quickly back in the heat of battle. In addition to that, there's no shared scoreboard. There is no-one but you that can see how many kills you have, so no-one can curse you out for not shooting enough or dying too much. In turn, your statistics are equipped with a small medal system that tells you whether you are among the top three players on the team in regards of elimination, kills near the goal area of the map, how much you may have healed, and so on. That's plenty to motivate you, but just sufficiently vague so you can't scream at your teammates for being idiots.
The game's three and a half game types pretty much explain themselves, and you never really experience being totally in doubt about what you have to do, or how best to contribute to the victory. Of course, there are situations where a superior team puts up a defence you just can't break through. And there will be matches where a well-coordinated team tramples their hopeless opponents. But as mentioned that is quickly forgotten because you are practically already heading into a new match. We think our fastest defeat so far was about two minutes. So unlike in, for example, League of Legends or Dota 2, where a heartbreaking defeat may take 20 long, hard minutes, in Overwatch you barely have enough time to sulk.
Do all these things thus mean that Overwatch is the perfect shooter? No. There are certain things you miss. For example, there is currently no way to compare yourself with other players. There are no leaderboards or divisions or anything that says something about your level compared to the rest of the world. The beta had at one point a Ranked Play option, but it was removed because neither players or developers were happy with it. Blizzard promises to give the Ranked Play recipe another stir sometime this summer, but we know nothing about what it's going to look like.
And then there's also the fact that Overwatch has nothing to offer solo players. If you don't like multiplayer games and competing against other players, then stay away. There isn't even a slight glimmer of a campaign or even some kind of co-op activity similar to Horde mode. You can play against the AI in training, but it is so bad that it makes no sense. Overwatch is only for people who like multiplayer.
Thankfully, we do. Especially when the overall experience is so thorough and polished as it is in Overwatch. We said it in the beginning, and now we say it again: Overwatch is the best multiplayer shooter we've ever played. And as soon as we have typed the last letter in this review, we will fire up the game once again.