t’s the age-old adage about Blizzard: they take a pre-existing game that’s immensely popular, boil it down to its base elements, and then they refine it and refine it to create a game that has so much polish the disc gleams in the sunlight. For World of Warcraft, it was about recreating Everquest and the feelings of camaraderie and adventure evoked by massively multiplayer online games. For Hearthstone, it was about finding what made collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering so perennial. For Overwatch, it’s about reimagining class-based multiplayer shooters, borne from the ashes of Blizzard’s failed Project Titan.
Best Games Played 2016
These games and awards were decided during the Wardcast’s Best Games Played 2016 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Wardcast in 2016, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.
Team Fortress 2, turning ten years old next October, has proven that the hero shooter has staying power. But TF 2 is deeply rooted to the PC, and its addition to consoles via Valve’s The Orange Box always felt like an afterthought, which was unfortunate for someone like me that had no real interest or affinity for mouse and keyboard shooters but was interested in Team Fortress nonetheless.
But Blizzard, despite also being a stalwart of PC gaming, took a multiplatform approach to Overwatch, showing once again that the studio sees the forest for the trees and can take those pre-existing, wildly successful games and turn them into new, explosive megahits.
Booting up Overwatch for the first time drops you into an introductory tutorial. Starting you off with Soldier: 76, a basic offensive character that’s easy enough to wrap your head around, you familiarize yourself with his arsenal — each character has a default attack or ability combined with a suite of other utilities to help them out in the midst of battle. After a little bit of target practice and shooting some robot enemies, you hop into matchmaking for your first game.
You may naturally start your first match by sticking to the purely offensive characters. Maybe it’s Soldier: 76 — you’re familiar with him from the tutorial after all. But after a few rounds of controlling an average military soldier alongside a talking gorilla, a robot monk, and a time-traveling Brit, you start to think, “hey, they seem fun, maybe I should try them out.”
Perhaps you switch to someone like Phara, an Egyptian soldier with a rocket launcher and jet pack that lets you fly through the air. You feel pretty good with her, able to stay far away from the fray, whilst raining destruction down upon your enemies. But during one game, your jet boosts run out, and you find yourself landing right in front of an enemy Reinhardt — the giant, Germanic knight — who slams his oversized warhammer into you, stopping you dead in your tracks.
So you start picking Reinhardt out of spite, and, actually, it’s pretty fun to play a defensive character! You’re pretty good with his hammer, and his force field shield helps you stay in the game longer. But during one fateful match, when you’re holding your own against an enemy Genji, your shield fails you and you die because there’s no healer in sight because no one ever picks a healer ever.
That’s when you start playing as Lúcio, to ensure there’s at least one healer on the team.
But later on, you see someone use Soldier: 76 in a completely new way — firing his rockets off at just the right moment and planting his healing beacon in just the right spot — and it makes you rethink your entire playstyle, drawing you back to ol’ Jack Morrison.
And this is the loop: constantly discovering new and interesting ways to play as each character, figuring out tricks and countermeasures to other heroes’ abilities. Testing, experimenting, finding your groove. Only a game that feels so frictionless, where every bump and edge feels sanded down to a mirror polish, lets you fall in and out of that adaptive flow state so easily.
And this doesn’t even get into the spit and polish that surrounds the rest of the game — Blizzard has invested heavily in narrative cinematics that have been released alongside Overwatch’s updates, further rewarding players’ investment in the game and its characters. Combine that with the establishment of the Overwatch League — Overwatch’s dedicated eSports confederation — and Blizzard is constructing Overwatch to be a fun and exciting experience to stand the test of time.