Blizzard Entertainment is known for many things…Its great sci-fi fantastic stories and futuristic RTS with Starcraft, Dungeon looting fantasy RPGs with Diablo, the insane large community of World of Warcraft, and even MOBA and Deck-building games with Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone. But a first-person shooter? That was something I didn’t expect seeing, and at least not that soon in my gaming career. Overwatch has already been tried by a couple of selected players in a closed beta on PC, but there was no focus yet on testing the console versions.
So on the 20th of April, Blizzard Entertainment hosted a Media Preview Event in the heart of Dubai, UAE, for a few selected to try the latest PlayStation 4 build of Overwatch. Full disclaimer on that front, the reason I was present at the event is mainly because I was handling the preview event with my company (PLG), but this won’t affect anything that I’ll be writing in this impression piece. So now the important question: how’s Overwatch, and how does it perform on console?
While this is not Blizzard’s first attempt at console games, it is their first that is built from the start for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (While Diablo III came out on console, it was actually a port of the PC version). Blizzard though have a lot to prove, especially to console players with an FPS, in a world where Call of Duty or Halo games have been financially and efficiently taking most of the shooting player community. So will Overwatch have enough to join the big leagues?
If you’re one of the lucky few who managed to try the beta, you’ll surely know that Overwatch it already appealing to many thanks to its quirky aesthetics, accessible gameplay and heartfelt competitive elements. On paper, it’s a Hero-based FPS, to the likes of 2K Games’ upcoming Battleborn, but more like a cracked-up version of Team Fortress 2. On this point, developers were also keen to recall the strong influence of Tekken and Street Fighter, and how it particularly inspired their artists when it came to create their 21 characters.
Overwatch in general relies on Teamplay as one of the main fundamentals of the game. Two teams of 6 players compete to acquire one or more objectives, starting by picking one of the 21 Heroes available in the game. Like a traditional MOBA, Heroes are divided into 4 classes or roles: – Offense, Defense, Tank and Support. Although each “class” has a special role, all heroes can do damage, and there’s no characters that are for example a healer-only. But the little novelty of this game is that it is possible – and urged – to change hero at any time during the match, allowed after a death, for example. The goal is to adapt the composition of your team based on that of the opponents. Because as said above the heroes of the same “class” will not have the same skills and so different strengths and weaknesses. It will sometimes require one specific hero with its dedicated skills to counter another. All this can give highly contested matches full of thrills, because a change in composition can quickly change the game and who ends up winning or losing the round.
I’ll confess that some characters felt a bit more powerful than others – like Bastion – but this will be surely addressed in the final release as Blizzard amass countless numbers and stats from the Closed Betas and upcoming Open Betas. But in general, players are sort of guided in their picks, with a very smart feature during character selection, notifying the 6-man team that their group is either unbalanced, lacking a Support, weak in damage-making, etc. That’s the great MOBA and RPG strategic element of the game, and will also force players to switch and adapt to the situation, trying different characters, instead of sticking to a single one.
The original world shaped by Blizzard in Overwatch is for the first time based on Earth. Blizzard have decided to drop the Heroic Fantasy worlds, while retaining some freedom by creating a futuristic earth. Thus the different maps that will be available in the full release take you to Japan, Egypt, London and many other, using iconic elements of those countries to perfectly give its own theme. While I’ve tried briefly the game on very good PC setup with Ultra settings, it seemed like the PlayStation 4 is closely comparable in terms of graphical quality.
The Blizzard team have obviously chosen to build the console version with a 60 fps target, as any shooter would oblige, even if it sometimes at the expense of resolution. Like many recent AAA, the technical limitations of our “next-gen” consoles are circumvented by “dynamic resolution”, a system that adjust the size of the display according to the amount of objects displayed on the screen. This way, the game runs in 1080p, and can go down a bit when you are in the middle of a fight filled with flares, explosions and heavy effects (Halo 5 is a similar example to this dynamic resolution). In the end, the result is great, and whether you play on PC or consoles, Overwatch is beautiful.
Graphically, Overwatch is nicely rendered on PlayStation 4 (and I assume on Xbox One as well), with a fun artistic touch, close to cel-shading, but more importantly, technically solid at all times. During the media event, myself, journalists and YouTubers didn’t notice a single lag, with a consistent framerate. For a title of this caliber, these are important points that will help appeal to a very demanding audience, and I trust in Blizzard Entertainment, which are known to be perfectionist by nature.
The other great part of Blizzard’s new title is its “easy to learn, hard to master” gameplay mechanics. It seems like a lot of work was made to preserve a perfect PC control scheme and accuracy for consoles. With the DualShock 4 in hand, Overwatch’s control feel responsive and smooth, even after trying the PC version with a typical mouse and keyboard combo. This is of course supplemented by the inevitable “aim-assist”, helping your weapon cross-hair to automatically move to the closest opponent. As you can imagine, this mechanism works with characters such as Soldier 76 (as you’ll see in my recorded PlayStation 4 gameplay video below), but won’t work for sniping-based heroes (like Widowmaker) or other nontraditional weapons. It’s great though to mention that the aim-assist will be a feature you can turn off in the final release, to conserve the more natural feel of a shooter, for those of you that believe are FPS purists.
So what about the controller mapping? Although I only tried it on PlayStation 4, the Blizzard team at the Media Preview event mentioned that the or Xbox One scheme is similar, and as all classic FPS, the right and left triggers are respectively assigned to shoot and aim, jump to A or Cross and reloading to X or Square. In addition, your character’s abilities are assigned to the bumper buttons, while the ultimate is triggered when pressing the Y or Triangle button. While I’m not used personally to the traditional FPS controller scheme, the Blizzard team has promised that it would be possible to change schemes in the full release, so I had to make do during my playtime.
So what’s the final word on Overwatch as of now? From the almost-perfect controller scheme, quality maintained on both PC and consoles, Blizzard Entertainment proves it knows what it’s doing with its first attempt at a FPS. The aim-assist is subtle and effective, while the movement and gameplay will please any shooter game fan. On the technical point of view, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are not ashamed to stand in front of the PC version, thanks to a well calibrated dynamic resolution and constant 60fps. In short, Overwatch is on track to be a fun, beautiful and easy to pick up title, and I’m looking forward to review it fully when the full game is out, with servers being tested to the max, trying out more maps and see the final character balance.
Overwatch launches on the 24th of May 2016 worldwide for Xbox One, PC and PlayStation 4. The impressions were made based on playing a PlayStation 4 build during the Media Preview Event in Dubai on April 20th. The Open Beta starts on May 3rd for those that preordered the game on all platforms, on the 5th of May for everyone else, and ends on May 9th.Note that on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, you’ll need an Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus subscription to take full advantage of the Overwatch’s Beta.