This article may come out sounding mean. It may come out sounding cynical. It may seem like it was written by someone who is grumpy. That may just be because I know that I will be presenting opinions that conflict with what people like to hear, what they expect to hear. Why are expectations important? It is because these expectations form the experiences and opinions that people hold about a title. It is an event most commonly associated with hype, with brand loyalty. These beliefs often have people looking through rose tinted glasses to try and justify their point. People will tell themselves that what they have expected is true, lying to themselves, just to defend a questionable position. This is why, ever since I first worked in games retail 10 years ago, I make a point of isolating myself from hype. I like to look and judge a game based on what is put before me. This are the things that I think people overlooked when judging Overwatch.
Lore and Story
“What!!” I hear you shout. With 2 exclamation marks (you are not crazy enough to use 3!). “This lore is great!” To this I simply say, yes. It is. Overwatch has one of the greatest sets of unique and cool characters in any game around. I love running around as Tracer, flying through the sky as Pharah or simply smashing face with Winston. They each have awesome history as told via the voice lines, actions and in-game cosmetics. The factor that makes me so disappointed with the in-game lore in Overwatch is that it stops there.
Games are avenues for telling stories and creating experiences. In Overwatch we have a huge sprawling world that was in conflict, and is returning to conflict, and we get no sense of that in the game. There is no hint to what caused the conflict, there is no element of what the Overwatch did on their missions. Instead, what we are delivered are stale push the payload maps and capture the points maps.
The Overwatch story would be a fantastic base for a co-operative multiplayer game. Hell, short of that it would make for a fantastic assault mode if they were just willing to take more of an imaginative approach to it. Instead, the lore takes a seat by the door as we are thrust into a bog standard maps with very little reference to the deep story they created. My disappointment, therefore, stems not from what they have, but the potential that they have wasted by failing to explore it further. I am hoping that this is something that we will see more of in the future.
I also know that there are comics and other stories that explore the lore further. However, I the more I read about it, the more I think that the lack of any sort of comprehensive inclusion within the game itself is an oversight. It feels like a squandered opportunity. One which could have made the gameplay much deeper, and much more meaningful. I also suspect that it would have made the lore itself much easier to access. There is not route to it yet at all from in-game.
I like to start big, and this is a section that could contain many, many things. Instead, I am going to focus on some of the elements that have really goaded my goat. Some of these will tie back into what I have said above, the over hype and missed potential. This was promised to be a game that re-imagines the FPS genre, and in many cases it misses the mark.
There are 2. 2. I know that Blizzard stated that most people only ever choose to play one or two modes normally, so what is wrong with no choice? To that I simply say, the modes are boring. They are at best hybrids of pre-existing game types that people can play in virtually any other FPS game. However, few modes are okay as long as there are a range of maps to support them. As Counter-Strike can quite clearly show, 2 game modes can keep people entertained. However, it also has a really solid range of maps to back it up. You may be playing the same thing, but at least you can change where you are playing it. At least you can choose where you are playing it.
While the small range of maps is a problem, it is exacerbated by the players inability to choose the modes and maps they want to play. There are six capture the point maps and three payload maps and three that combine the two. I don’t care about the payload maps, I see no point in pushing a car 300 metres. At least let me choose which of the maps I will play, I would even be happy with the freedom to choose the game mode I want to play. If we could I am certain that we would have fewer people leaving. Many would just choose and stay with their favourite map instead.
There is no reason why these should ever be used. There is never any justification. They are evil and epitomise lazy level design. If you can see a space, you should be able to go there. It breaks immersion and it ruins fluid movement. If you are not supposed to go somewhere, put something in that space. Make it glass, make it a wall. make it a bookcase. Just make it clear that you are not supposed to travel there. We should not have to run into something to discover that a way is blocked off. Yes, this includes the sky. You have characters that fly, so let them soar!
Additionally, the number of times I have slid off platforms to my death, I cannot be bothered counting any more. If there is a horizonalish surface, you should be able to stand on it. There should be friction based on surface angle to determine if you slide off or not. To see a surface that is quite clearly flat, only to be thrown off, it is just infuriating. Why can I not stand on a roof? This is just lazy design and something which is not okay, especially for a game that was touting itself as a revolution in the FPS genre. Blizzard have managed to take a game that had heaps of potential as a shooter with vertical elements. But they chose to reject that opportunity and instead turn it into another regular single/double level shooter. Even BRINK does this better.
This is not what you may first expect. This is when you have elements that appear in the world as solid structures, thing that should impede movement, but instead don’t. This is much less common in the maps but it does happen. If I see a Symmetra or Torbjörn turret, I should not be able to walk through it. I should not be able to walk through my teammates. I should not be able to walk through things that appear solid. I should not be able to shoot through things that appear solid. If a teammate is in the way they should either get shot (with a penalty system in place) or they should block it. It should not, however, be treated as though nothing is there.
Inconsistent Environmental Interactions
This ties into all three of the above. If I see a certain behaviour on one map, it should be the same in any other map. But it is not always the case. For example, on the whole, turrets can be placed on flat surfaces. When there is an area that is clearly flat enough and big enough to hold the turret, you should be able to place it there. At the very least, when on a map a spot is large enough to place a turret, a similar behaviour should be expected across all the other maps.
For any other industry that includes UX (and interaction within an environment is UX) consistent behaviour should be near the top of the list.
Naturally, this is not limited to turrets and things that can be placed. As I mentioned above, there are plenty of locations where the ground pushes back in different ways. While the most common may be the roofs, there are other ledges located on various maps that do the same thing. There are also map decorations that sometimes you can walk through, and sometimes you cannot. Sometimes there are invisible walls, sometimes there are not. Sometimes the sky barrier is at different heights. All these things annoy me anyway, but when they cannot even be consistent across and within maps I cannot help but feel that there was some lazy development happening.
Maybe this is minor, maybe this is not really all that important. Regardless, I can be fairly sure that worlds don’t consist entirely of perfectly horizontal surfaces, very slight inclines, and steps. Anything that is not one of these three you will find that you cannot interact with. There is but a single map which seems to expand on this a little, and that is Route 66. It has 2 types of slight inclines…
Damn, I hate waiting. After finishing a game I do not want to be waiting 5 minutes to start again. You start a game, up to a minute loading, one-minute setup and one minute readying up time. You play your game. It ends. You then get the winners photo op, the play of the game, the commend cards and the personal ability cards and then if you are lucky you can start again, otherwise you will get booted and wait for the server to hook you up into a new game. Sometimes I feel as though I can spend just as much time waiting as I do playing.
Just let me skip the play of the game, I don’t care about it. Just let me skip the commend and the levelling up bits, I don’t care about them. Let us load directly into the map as soon as we pick, just leave the doors shut. I spend so much time not playing Overwatch that sometimes I wonder why I bother starting. I feel as though this is a mechanic designed to reduce the amount of time players have to earn levels. It is a way to make it so that people earn less XP and get less loot, thereby encouraging them to spend money instead.
20… 20…? Blizzard thinks that this okay for a competitive shooter? Under no circumstance is this fine. For reference, CS:GO has 64->128, Team Fortress 2 has 66, Battlefield and CoD have 30 and Unreal Tournament works at 60. This brought me to the realisation that Torbjörn is great for no other reason than he can hit enemies without issue thanks to his turret. It does have the downside that you are no longer able to shoot other people while they are behind walls, though. The number of times I have been shot when I am quite safely behind a wall is more than frustrating. Once again it comes across as lazy.
One word, Hanzo. Hanzo’s arrows are just stupid (though he has been fixed). In general, I like my games to register hits when I hit, not when I am close enough. Unfortunately, the tick rate does not help in these matters, but when a shot clearly misses, it should jolly well miss! Combine this with heroes like McCree and Widowmaker who require pixel perfect shooting and you are sending mixed messages. What you expect to happen, should be what happens. If you shoot someone in the chest, it should not be a headshot. If you miss them, it should not be a hit. This is all there is to it. Get it right!
Number of trash items
This is a feature which I am slightly less inclined to worry or complain about. Free stuff is good. I like getting new icons, voice lines, tags, but most of all skins. But… to be honest, I care not for anything other than the skins. I don’t think that the inclusion of the other things is bad. It is just that I get tired of getting so many equip-ables that are just meaningless to me. If I were to buy a chest or two, it would be for the skins. Seeing that gold or purple token shoot up is kind of exciting, until it comes down as a tag or voice line.
I don’t think that there is much that Blizzard can do to fix this. They could release more skins, but that will just mean that there is more randomness. I would wager that when they come around to putting out new items they will create a new box series. The gold coins are a nice touch, they do reduce the pain of the duplicate, it does not reduce the pain of seeing a duplicate within a chest. Long story short, I don’t object to them, I just would rather there was not so much chaff to sort through.
Overwatch is a good game. Each of the characters is not only unique and cool but very distinct in their abilities. It has managed to successfully get the MOBA style team-based combat into an FPS arena shooter. This is quite a cool achievement. I hope that over time my criticisms above will slowly be fixed or minimised in their impact. I would love to see new modes, I would love to see more heroes. I would love to see this game get a decent tick rate and become competitive. I would also love to see people consider where they stand. It is true of many games that the hype will drive the crowd. Hype will help people ignore or defend bad practices, instead, I hope that people can see a game for what it is. If there is a bad design decision people should be willing to admit that there is an issue. Having a flaw does not make something bad, but it is the first step to improvement. I think that Overwatch has its flaws, but I also think that I will see it overcome them. It is a great game and I think that it will be around for quite some time yet.
I know I will still be playing for many months to come.