Despite what my love of recent independent titles like Hyper Light Drifter, Firewatch and The Banner Saga 2 might suggest, I have a strong history with games of a more bombastic persuasion. My most played game of all time, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, found a way to capitalize on the combination of my love for multiplayer chaos and my susceptibility to addictive feedback loops. Granted, I would never claim that Modern Warfare 2 is some sort of godlike game, but there was something about its complete lack of balance and downright brilliant map design that tapped into a very specific portion of my mind.
The thing is, playing nearly one-thousand hours of Modern Warfare 2 during my freshman year of college (sorry mom) burned me out on multiplayer games for a long time. Make no mistake, I’ve loved a great deal of multiplayer games over the years, but they always seem to either only stick with me during the first couple of weeks or fade out of my consciousness after I submit a review. Granted, this is partially due to the perils of being a multi-platform gamer with single-platform friends, yet there hasn’t really been a multiplayer game since 2009 that has burrowed into my brain quite like Infinity Ward’s last great game.
Well, until now.
At the time that I’m writing this, I’ve completed 101 matches in Overwatch’s current beta. It’s affected my normally rigorous workout schedule, my level of contact with friends and family and the number of hours of sleep that I’ve gotten. When I booted up Overwatch to pull that statistic from my Career Profile, I had to consciously force myself to exit the application in order to finish this article. Yes, I have a genuine Overwatch problem, and it’s kind of the greatest thing ever.
There’s a number of good explanations as to why Overwatch is such a fantastic game, but none greater than Blizzard’s clear emphasis on making a shooter that feel awesome to play. Every character is immediately readable, meaning that the more that you play, the more knowledge you gain and, thus, the more your strategy evolves. Throughout my time with Overwatch, I have yet to encounter a dropped frame or a moment of lag, despite having every graphics setting maxed out and the servers existing in a beta state. Its shooting is as tight as a Call of Duty or Counter-Strike game, and the sheer number of colors on screen at any given moment finds a way to fill me with glee during even those frustrating moments when your team is getting throttled. Outside of playing Overwatch at the past two PAX Easts, it found a way to completely fly under my radar, and I couldn’t feel dumber for brushing it off. At this moment, the only negative thing that I can say about it is that I do not want to spend a moment playing it on a console, as Overwatch feels far too good with a mouse and keyboard.
With all of that gushing out of the way, I’d like to pinpoint the exact moment where I realized that Overwatch was a special experience, at least for me. While the PC audience is far more knowledgeable about team composition than its console counterparts (as a result of sheer time played), I found myself on a team where the other five players thought it would be a good idea to choose three Tracers and two Reapers. If you don’t know anything about Overwatch, you should know that a balanced team consisting of offense, defense, tanks and supports is going to succeed far more often than one where every player is in one category. Considering that Tracer is the squishiest offensive hero and Reaper is an offensive character that isn’t going to be able to do damage at range, I found myself at a loss. Generally when I’m attacking a central control point, I enjoy picking someone like Junkrat, whose bouncing grenades can cause absolute chaos. Unfortunately, this hero was out of the question, as my more casual teammates would not be able to succeed without a healer. It’s for that very reason that I chose Mercy, who can beam health into any allies that she aims her staff at.
To top all of this off, none of my teammates were communicating whatsoever. Needless to say, I was extremely frustrated and decided to start playing quarterback, directing my teammates through my microphone. After getting one Tracer and one Reaper to switch to Reinhardt, who rocks a giant shield that blocks enemy bullets, I hung in the background, healing everyone possible and positioning them on the control point in a way that I felt would be successful. Granted, my tone was far more authoritative than I would like to admit, and I’m sure that my teammates probably thought I was a huge jerk, but something very funny happened after I started to take control: we won. We had a completely unbalanced team that was doomed from the start, I chose a character whose main role isn’t inflicting damage and somehow I ended up empowering the team as a whole. This was such a different experience from anything that I had ever experienced in a shooter, and despite the initial frustrations, it was the single most satisfying multiplayer match I was a part of (in any game) in the past two or three years.
Perhaps it’ll be a bit easier to collect my thoughts on Overwatch once the beta period is over, thus giving me a bit of time to ruminate on what has been the best surprise of my time here at Hardcore Gamer to date. Right now, I find myself stuck in a mode of childlike wonder that rarely comes along and the last thing I want to do is ruin this through academic over-analysis. I haven’t had a multiplayer experience that has come along and completely enraptured me quite like this in seven years; on top of all of this, any semblance of being jaded as a result of playing too many games has all but vanished as a result of Blizzard’s impeccably polished arena shooter. Since you all probably would like to see a bit of negative criticism in here to balance out the single most glowing article I’ve written this year, however, I’ll leave you with this: I really don’t like the feeling of knowing that I already need to write off hundreds of hours of my life.