Overwatch Beta Preview
In early May, Blizzard Entertainment offered any gamer who was interested in their upcoming first-person shooter Overwatch a chance to test the game out. An open beta ran from May 5th until May 10th in an attempt to not only give players an opportunity to become hooked, but also continue testing their systems.
Overwatch will be Blizzard’s first attempt at a first-person shooter, diverting efforts slightly away from the Diablo, StarCraft, and WarCraft series. Overwatch is a team-based shooter, pitting teams of 6 against one another tasked with varying escort, assault, and control-based objectives. The game has a Team Fortress 2 feel in both the objectives and the different classes players can choose from. In Overwatch, there are 21 playable heroes and each is categorized into four different roles: offense, defense, tank and support.
I was lucky enough to gain early access to the open beta via a code my friend sent me. On the first night of early access, my friends gathered online and formed a full party of 6. After a few delays while fine-tuning the in-game voice chat, we hopped into matchmaking.
Overall, matchmaking during the beta was extremely hit or miss. One night, my group of 5 spent more time in Skirmish mode waiting for a full set of 12 players than in actual matches playing for objectives. A great deal of my time during the beta was spent searching for additional players or migrating to different lobbies.
However, once we were matched into a game, I quickly realized that this game would be a needed addition to my library. Each of the 21 heroes play and feel tremendously different from one another. Every hero serves a unique role within teams, which creates a vast array of possible team compositions, and exploring these new combinations of heroes is a rewarding experience.
From the outset, Overwatch does not leave new players to fend for themselves. A training mode teaches fresh faces the basics of the game while a Versus AI mode lets them stretch their legs and experiment without facing experienced opponents. As players choose heroes, a handy message box tells you if your team is being composed in a balanced way or if the team is missing, for example, a tank.
The player interface is also intuitive, based on each hero, and is specialized for the role you are serving. Players have the option of pressing F1 at any point to get a basic overview of the abilities their chosen hero has at their disposal. When playing the somewhat unpopular support role, recognizing exactly which of your teammates need healing is a breeze, based on the color of their icons and the “Critical” message that appears near them when they are on the brink of death.
Overwatch is an uncharacteristically bright game for Blizzard, with rich, beautiful locales serving for the maps. Every map is smartly constructed, with multiple entry points to hotly contested areas. The music and sound effects used are fitting for this new brand and can effectively be utilized to help navigate your way in a match. Enemy footsteps are louder than your teammates, tipping you off to a pesky Reaper trying to flank you.
Unfortunately, numerous technical issues plagued my time during the Overwatch beta. Some of these issues were caused by the players themselves while others were typical early access hiccups. There were occasions when numerous players on either team decided to quit and, if enough players did so, the game bumped everyone remaining back into searching-for-a-new-game limbo. On one map, my team was close to delivering the payload and winning the match, but several members of the opposing team quit, robbing us of both victory and experience for the match.
Another problem that continually popped up during the beta allowed a match to continue on with one team down 1-2 players. Hitting tab would bring up the team compositions and inform you that those missing players were being searched for, but they were never placed throughout the round. This is a frustrating situation to be in when your team is not being given an equal opportunity to compete.
Despite the technical setbacks, the Overwatch beta felt very close to a finished game. After scoring a few unlockable skins in loot boxes that I earned, I found myself wishing the game was already released so I did not have to lose my cosmetic items after the beta. The gameplay feels balanced and polished to that welcome Blizzard shine, creating an excellent addition from the beloved developer.
Overwatch will be released on May 24th for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.