The first person shooter market is one of the most saturated within the gaming industry- Call of Duty releases an increasingly generic iteration every two to three years, Battlefield tries to do new things in an attempt to undercut Call of Duty (most recently it was playing as the police, next time they are taking to the trenches of World War One) and most other games in the market become CoD-like to boost sales.
Then Overwatch came along. Overwatch is the latest project from Blizzard Entertainment, who might know as the gaming dynasty behind World of Warcraft, Diablo, StarCraft and Warcraft. In Overwatch, you play as members of The Overwatch, a UN sponsored peacekeeping force who are cast aside and must regain their greatness after a series of setbacks…such as their base of operations being destroyed and allegations of corruption springing up. But here’s why the Overwatch has redefined the first person shooter genre:
1. The characters: The characters in most first person shooters are some variation of the tried and tested format of “man who holds a gun and shoots are people of various nationalities”. At launch, Overwatch has twenty-one characters across four categories (offense, defense, tank and support) and each character is quirky and unique-
Like Tracer, pictured above, who is a fast paced Cockney with teleportation powers. As well as zipping around the map, Tracer certainly has a mouth on her and can be heard spouting numerous quips and jibes in her exaggerated London accent.
Or Soldier: 76, who is a parody of faceless first person shooter protagonists. He plays like a traditional first person shooter, with a high power automatic rifle and a rocket launcher and runs about yelling various military-esque slogans, such as “We are all soldiers now”.
And if you prefer to play a more defensive game, how about Mei, the Chinese climatologist? She runs around the map with an ice gun and a little weather done.
Other characters include a robot who likes birds, a genetically engineering gorilla and a Brazilian DJ.
My point is that unlike most first person shooters, Overwatch’s cast of characters is varied, fun and a refreshing break from “man who shoots people” and “man in a slightly different uniform who also shoots people”
2. The format: Overwatch is a first person shooter with elements of MOBA within it. There is no single-player because you know, this is Blizzard, but the fast-paced team based action and excellent voice acting on all characters is still very enticing (plus there is a vs. bots mode if just want to hone your skills or don’t fancy taking on other players. At launch, Overwatch has four game modes- assault, escort, assault/escort and control. If you’re looking for team deathmatch, basically every game is a TDM and if you want deathmatch/free for all, go back to Call of Duty.
3. Skills and special abilities: As well as their primary attack or ability, every character has two special skills that can be activated at any time during a match, but then can only be activated after a brief cooldown. Characters also have a super ability, which is unlocked through filling your ‘ultimate meter’, which is filled through making kills or doing actions beneficial to the rest of your team. This does away with things like killstreaks, where you only get your special equipment and abilities by making a certain number of kills.
4. Maps: There are 12 maps at launch, each vibrant, colourful and based on a real-world location such as London, Japan, China, Hollywood etc. I don’t know about you but I definitely prefer these to “dingy Russian hellhole” or “really cool but way too small town”.
There are also a number of Blizzard easter eggs dotted around the maps as well if you need a break from healing your team or killing people.
In short, Overwatch has proven that your first person shooter doesn’t need to stick to the Call of Duty criteria and it doesn’t need to be hyper-realistic or super-gritty to be fun. The cast of characters is far beyond what Call of Duty has ever provided and to be honest, the small splatter of story that Blizzard has thrown is much more compelling than “You are Rank X, star soldier man who must SAVE THE WORLD AT ALL COSTS FROM Y” like the most recent Call of Duty games.
I don’t expect the established franchises to suddenly change their MO in the light of Overwatch’s popularity but I think that this is a great example and message to other developers that the Call of Duty format is not the only way to make a great first person shooter.