The Moment: The Sheer Emptiness of Overwatch

by Steven Petite


The scene: the majestic remains of the Shimada Castle in Japan’s Hanamura suburb. Tight lanes and streets are decorated with the occasional lonely vehicle. Numerous open buildings feature spacious rooms at their core, a luxurious staple of Japanese architecture called the “moya.” Rooftops are visually dominating, eaves extending past walls held together by lintels and study posts. The concaving pagoda surfaces can be utilized in combat when trekking along the residential streets. The Japanese borrowed the ideas for some of their architecture from Chinese culture. The great philosopher and founder of Taoism, Laozi, believed that emptiness was the purest of aesthetics, the ideal place for imagination to excel.

But all this isn’t about imagination. It’s about strategy. My team just finished a victorious assault near a temple in the heart of Hanamura. I played mostly as Tracer, the adventurer hailing from London, blinking and flashing my way through time and space. Since Tracer moves rapidly, and alters time to some extent, I’ve found her skill set to be an accurate representation on how I feel about Overwatch.

Overwatch was a success before it was even released. Around nine million people played the open beta of a game that has been playable since last year. With those kind of numbers, it shouldn’t be surprising that Overwatch is as popular as it is right now. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that it is a worldwide phenomenon less than two weeks after its retail release. It’s a Blizzard game, and Blizzard has a near flawless track record for creating massive hits even though they keep their interests laser-focused to the extent they release few games. Still, for an original IP to make waves of this magnitude in an industry fixated on longstanding franchises (umpteenth sequels and remakes) is ridiculously rare and undeniably impressive.

Just as Tracer misses pockets of time flashing across the map, I feel like I am missing something here. Overwatch is a good game, but I can’t help but saying, “What’s all the fuss about?” Read any games media right now and I assure you there will be at least one, and likely several articles/videos about Overwatch. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read someone writes some glittering version of “best multiplayer game ever.” I cannot disagree more with these statements.

Overwatch has 21 heroes, 12 maps, and three game variants (hybrid doesn’t count as a fourth). All three modes are slightly different from one another. Basically they are all versions of tower defense. The game runs smoothly. It’s gorgeous. And the heroes are diverse enough to warrant switching and swapping: you feel the need to try them all.

Yet to me, Overwatch is a spruced up version of Valve’s Team Fortress — but with MOBA elements infused into its DNA. It might be a bold statement, but Overwatch adds nothing new to multiplayer shooters. And yet, I feel weird writing that, because this fanbase and enthusiast press is already fervently declaring Overwatch to be the next big thing. To some extent, I’d agree with calling Overwatch the next big thing—on PC. While it is mightily popular on PS4 and Xbox One right now, I have a strong feeling that it won’t have the staying power of games like Destiny. I’d even go as far to say that there will be more active players on Ubisoft’s The Division on consoles by the end of the year. Console gamers don’t tend to devote all of their playing time to one game, whereas PC gamers are still playing Counter Strike and, well, Team Fortress 2. Consoles gamers will in all likelihood head back to Call of Duty and Battlefield this Fall.

Maybe it’s just the way I treat big game releases. I think nearly everything is overhyped, over-praised, and susceptible to the “[insert genre] to end all [reiterate genre]” spiel. But if Overwatch really is the multiplayer shooter to end all multiplayer shooters then it will be the first gaming phenomenon that I truly cannot understand.

I’ve played dozens of matches in Overwatch—many more than I actually desired to—and I feel like it doesn’t live up to the hype. I see a competent shooter with vibrant colors and interesting characters, but its gameplay doesn’t stand out. Multiplayer shooters maintain longevity with addictive gameplay, but I’m probably never going to boot up the game again. I don’t expect to have withdrawals like I’ve experienced with other multiplayer shooters like Gears of War, Halo, and yes, Team Fortress 2. Blizzard addicted me to Diablo, but they failed to hook me here.

Oddly enough, I would put Overwatch in the same category as the latest Battlefront game. Both are visually stunning, competent shooters that are sorely lacking in meat. The dialog, for instance, features the same cliches we’ve been hearing since history’s very first fighting games were released. (“I play to win!”) But where people complained about paying $60 for Battlefront, barely anyone is blinking an eye at the $60 price tag of Overwatch ($40 on PC).

Good, not great. That’s my takeaway from my time in Overwatch. There are too many great games out there and too little time to justify spending long intervals in something that is merely good. Perhaps as Laozi mused, I lack the imagination to understand what makes Overwatch this masterpiece that so many say it is. Just as Tracer can not truly appreciate her ornate surroundings when her abilities are in effect, I’m unable to see what makes Overwatch great to so many others. Me? I’m just going to move on to another game.

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