Heroes Never Die
Overwatch took the world by storm in 2016 when it initially released. The promise of a new genre of game that would come to be named the hero shooter, not the first of its kind by any means, Team Fortress 2 originated the format and showed what the genre could be. But once Overwatch was released, a new precedent had been set for video games in general. And with the Overwatch Anniversary event running right now it is a good time to look back on the lessons we’ve learned. Unfortunately some of the wrong lessons were taken from the game, with things like monetization schemes or lootboxes. Overwatch has become the poster child for the gray line between what is acceptable and what is going too far. It hasn’t all been bad though. A steady stream of content and a regular, albeit predictable schedule, has provided a lot of stability and hope for the game through its tough times. But I’m getting ahead of myself, the Overwatch we see today is drastically different than the game that launched.
When Overwatch launched we were introduced to a healthy rotation of 21 characters all with different abilities and roles, being one of either a support, tank, attack, and defense character. All filled different roles and worked better at certain times and with certain combinations. This crested a very niche system where some heroes such as D.va, Tracer, and Lucio are constantly picked and other characters filled in the rest of the team depending on the power creep.
Now heroes are being built and redesigned to be more versatile and provide a unique set of abilities rather than work in a particular situation. Not only has the game adjusted to what the player base expects from the game, the pace is much quicker than when the game first launched and the steady stream of characters has added depth and diversity to the hero pool, adding more options for new compositions that weren’t previously possible. Overwatch has transformed from a basic game with counters and solid mechanical play to a running math equation that gets harder every time something new is added, but it doesn’t dilute the game or what it wants to be. The core game is still exactly the same, the only difference is that there is more to keep track of now that at the beginning.
The same goes for maps as well, many of the maps from the beginning have largely gone untouched, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and many of the maps added since then have been under much more scrutiny. Horizion Lunar Colony has received a makeover, changing how each point works for both teams, and it looks like Paris may be next, the map right now is very unpopular and statistically out of balance with the rest of the game. ( The developers aim for a 50% win rate between attackers and defenders, and Paris seems to favor defenders more.) This doesn’t mean that there aren’t brilliant maps that came after the release of the game though. Eichenwalde, Busan, and now most recently Havana are all quality maps that are fun to play on and very pretty to look at.
Not everything has been a small issue and easily fixed though. The competitive system from day one has made people very unhappy in its execution, from the mode being delayed to the now 3 year wait for a more structured role que system that the game so desperately needs. There have been some major improvements to the overall game along the way, the recent introduction of the workshop and the advanced game modding tools that come with it breathe a whole new life into the game that wasn’t there before. Replays are still in the testing phase as of writing this article but the inclusion of them after this long is the culmination of the work that the team has been doing behind the scenes that is starting to finally show. Jeff Kaplan, the game’s director has shown quite the turnaround or some ideas, a forced 2-2-2 role que was once labeled as restrictive and against the vision of the Overwatch team, now it is well known that forcing the meta into that style would be a huge help for the team balance wise and for the competitive system. The hard part is just making it reasonable for everyone to play no matter who it is or what they play on.
As far as how much longer this will go, that has yet to be seen. With the success of the Overwatch league and the arrival of many long awaited features into the game as of this year, it is hard to imagine an Overwatch 2 coming any time soon. In fact, there is an argument to be made that the Overwatch that we have now is our Overwatch 2. The game is so drastically different and the developers have learned so much over their time balancing and updating the game that the way they handle hero balancing problems is completely different than how they handled it before. The depth and complication of the issues to each character and why they are successful mean more than the base damage or healing that they do, sometimes it is that simple, but often times not so much. Learning the nuances of the game has been a task for everyone involved but the game has been made better for it. While the game can feel stale sometimes if you play it enough, it is still a high quality game that can be a lot of fun.
If this were a review, Overwatch today would likely get an 8 from me, it is a great game with a lot of potential to still be realized as the final fixes come in and the game can get creative again. The Overwatch league has been a major success and took time and resources from the team to build what it is now. And, with seemingly most of the major hurdles of development behind them, we may even see more content in the coming months. Jeff Kaplan recently discussed in an interview with Stylosa (Unitlost) that the upcoming events after anniversary may be changed up, possibly as soon as next event. This could mean no summer event this year, and what it would be replaced by is anyone’s guess (Please let it be lore based.)