Blizzard has a track record of creating and defining entire game genres, but their newest game, Overwatch, might be the first that does both at once. Overwatch might seem to be just a colorful and zany first-person shooter at first but it shakes things up with a variety of abilities and mechanics that seem to have come straight from the MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) genre. The result is a unique experience that many are referring to as a “hero shooter.”
Overwatch will be out on May 24, but if you want to check it out before then there’s a free open beta until May 9. Since the game’s announcement at last year’s Blizzcon, Blizzard has been uncharacteristically tight with its beta invitations. Even when they offered open beta invites for anyone who preordered the game, they ended the promotion soon after with little notice.
The game has 21 playable characters, each with weapons and abilities as unique as their design and personality. There’s a character for just about every style of play you might find in a MOBA or first-person shooter: slow bulky tanks that can shield allies, healers that keep their team alive, builders that can construct turrets and teleporters.
The game has a lot of competitive potential since it focuses heavily on team play and has a lot of nuances that require high levels of skill. For example, each character has a distinctive sound they make when they move around, and each of their abilities is accompanied by a sound effect or witty one-liner. If you pay attention, you can use this to hunt down vulnerable heroes or avoid the ones that can counter you.
The actual gameplay has little to do with the plot, but the game maps are littered with little snippets that fill in the gaps. Characters gradually reveal more of their backstory through banter, and the game universe is further fleshed out by additional content like animated shorts and comics that Blizzard has released to promote the game.
The game also features a progression system that lets players unlock a variety of cosmetic skins, emotes, sprays, and poses. You gain experience based on your performance during a game, and each time your account levels up you receive a loot box. Loot boxes award you something you don’t yet have or give you a small amount of in-game currency that lets you choose what to unlock. It seems like a good way to reward skill and effort and keep players invested in the game.
Overwatch will be available on May 24 for $39.99 for PC, Xbox One, and PS4.