Blizzard has achieved another splash hit with Overwatch. It’s success in terms of sales and popularity is clear for anyone to see. While not following the game religiously leading up to release, I’ve had an interest in Overwatch for a while now. Though I don’t own the game for myself yet, I’ve clocked in a few hours of gameplay, plus many more watching others play and discuss Overwatch. So far, the game has been giving me mixed feelings.
The thing about Overwatch that appeals to me the most is the character designs. They have a a Street Fighter-esque feel, being significantly based on common stereotypes of the countries they originate from (e.g. the muscle-bound Russian and the American cowboy), but with a bit more originality. Each character is so wildly different from the next in terms of personality, abilities and design that they all stand out. My personal favourites are Lucio, the Brazilian healing DJ, and Reaper, the death-obsessed offense hero.
But sadly, my love of these characters is what leads us to my first problem with this game; the lack of story. Overwatch does not feature a single player mode (something I’ve mentioned previously), so it lacks the development that characters are often given by story campaigns. This leaves these interesting and unique characters lacking in any kind of development. We don’t get to see Reaper and Soldier 76 clash in an epic late-game showdown. Never are Mei’s feelings about being trapped in ice for so long explored. We barely even know what the payloads we are pushing do.
Blizzard has tried to remedy this by introducing animated shorts, comics, and in-game conversations between characters, but not every player is going to go out of their way to find these. So we’re left with a situation where Blizzard has created all these awesome, interesting characters, but for many players, they will never see any significant character development. This really grinds my gears. There is so much potential with the characters Blizzard has created, but we’re missing out on a chance to see them interact with their world in a player-friendly environment.
Now on the gameplay side, Overwatch hits all the right notes. The shooter genre has been plagued with repetitiveness for too long, and much like Splatoon, Overwatch does a lot to change up the formula. By adding in MOBA aspects such as unlimited ammunition and cooldown-based abilities, Overwatch sets itself apart from other shooters. The gameplay is fun at worst, and addictive at best. Matches absorb you completely into their chaos. Nothing feels better than wiping a team with a well-placed death blossom, or saving your entire team with a clutch sound barrier. Every team member feels important, and good teamwork is extremely satisfying. But what exactly do you earn for your hours of playtime? XP. That’s it.
Other shooters, and even MOBAs, reward players with in-game currency and other unlockables, such as skins and extras. But with Overwatch, all of the game’s extra content is locked behind the terrible lootbox system. This is a topic that has been debated to no end since the game’s release. Every time you level up in Overwatch, you are rewarded with a lootbox. These each contain 4 items from the game’s unlockable collection. Skins, voice lines, sprays, emotes and more vary by character, and by rarity, but all are locked behind lootboxes.
You have no guarantee of getting something you want, and duplicates are an all too present possibility. Due to this, you don’t feel like you’re rewarded for your gameplay. And of course, Blizzard has graciously given you the option to buy lootboxes at your leisure. Sadly, even purchased lootboxes don’t give you better odds of getting everything you want. And the real kicker, the ultimate crime of this system is that it gets worse the better the game gets. For every new character or event that will be released in Overwatch‘s lifetime, the pool of lootbox items gets bigger. This constantly reduces your odds of getting items you care about. I don’t understand why Blizzard thought this was a good idea.
Comparing this system to their MOBA Heroes of The Storm, the systems couldn’t be more different. Heroes rewards you with free skins and in-game money for leveling up specific characters. And the skins you have to buy would easily classify as legendaries in Overwatch. Some are even more detailed than Overwatch‘s legendaries. Plus, when buying skins for heroes you’ve gotten to a high level, each skin bought comes with 2 free palette swaps. In Heroes if you want a new skin for a character, just play them. This is something Overwatch could really use. At least with this system, you are assured to get skins for your favorite character.
In Hearthstone, where card packs are priced very similarly to lootboxes, card packs give you 5 items instead of 4. Even the common cards can be significantly useful, while Overwatch‘s sprays and voice lines are arguably worthless. I’ve genuinely witnessed someone who reached level 50, without getting a single skin for their 3 most played characters, and this is including several purchased lootboxes. And even at this point, they had received less than a thousand coins. That shouldn’t be allowed to happen. If the game was free to play, or was priced like an indie title I can understand, but for some PC players and all console players, it is full priced. It almost seems that Blizzard was trying to make Overwatch‘s micro-transactions extra scummy.
While a few more characters may convince me to finally fully purchase Overwatch, I don’t think a point will ever come when I don’t feel very strong negative feeling towards the game. Hours of fun gameplay will always lead back to the terrible lootbox system, and every time I admire the character design, I’m only reminded of how much a story mode could have added to them. It’s a love/hate dynamic between us that I don’t think will ever get any better. And that’s just sad.