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Category: Games

OverWatch: The Review

So OverWatch has been out for a week now, and after loving the Beta, does the full release live up to the hype?


Before moving to MMOs, I was originally an FPS player online. I played Duke Nukem 3D, Quake 2, Counter Strike, Unreal Tournaments of many varieties etc.

My main love of all time in online FPSs Quake 3, and I played it at all levels, including international online tournaments, organising and running entire leagues for Rocket Arena 3 and so on.

Then, shortly after I eventually quit playing Q3, Valve software released Team Fortress 2. TF2 for some, is the most direct ancestor for OverWatch, and in many ways they are right. However where TF2 has a very long list of differing game modes (King of the Hill, CTF, Arena, Team DM and so on), OverWatch really only has 2: Quick Play (basically LFG, either solo or as a group), and Arcade.

Quick Play is a quick queue system that pits you in and against teams of roughly similar skill levels. You can either queue solo, or if you’re grouped with up to 5 other friends you can queue up as a group.

Arcade mode is similar to the Tavern Brawl in Hearthstone. Different modifiers are applied to everyone playing that week. For example, this week?

  • All players have 200% Health.
  • Ultimates charge 150% quicker.
  • Abilities come off cooldown 75% faster.
  • Maps are limited to: Dorado, Hollywood, King’s Row, Numbani, Route 66 & Watchpoint: Gibraltar.

It’s a fun twist on the more vanilla Quick Play mode, and keeps the game both interesting and varied. Even though the base game is very fun in and of itself.


Character Roster

roster

The roster consists of 21 “Heroes”, all of which are very varied in terms of aesthetics, skillset and movement.

From the nimble Tracer, who has become the face of the game, to the lithe assassin Widowmaker. From the eco-warrior Mei (Mei is BAE, Mei is life!), to the crazy Aussie Junkrat and his collection of explosives, to the Hardcore German tank that is Reinhardt, to the cybernetic monk of Zenyatta.

The roster is incredibly varied, and players will find themselves gravitating to a handful of favourites, depending on the situation.

Character switching is not only encouraged during a match, it’s both expected and necessary.  Having trouble with a certain opposition character consistently laying waste to your team?

Well you’re in luck, because each character has a hard counter to them, characters that they’re either vulnerable to in terms of mechanics (Junkrat and his bouncing bombs or Tracer and her blink ability vs Bastion’s stationary OP Turret form for example), or they just can’t play well against (Symmetra’s & Mei’s short range weapons or Reinhardt’s slow movement speed vs Widowmaker’s Sniper Rifle).


Sound Design

ScreenShot_16-05-09_20-30-58-000The sound design in OverWatch is more important than you realise. You will hear opposition players footsteps and weapon’s fire more prominently than those of your team mates.

Audio queues are also essential when it comes to avoiding enemy Ultimates. Each character’s Ultimate is accompanied by an audio line:

  • McCree: It’s High Noon… (Headshots for everyone!)
  • Reaper: DIE! DIE! DIE! (Super Saiyan Ultra-Mega Death Blossom!)
  • Junkrat: FIRE IN THE HOLE! (Most terrifying rolling tyre ever!)
  • Widowmaker: No-one hides from my sight (Team-wide wall hacks!)

So you know if you hear McCree telling you the time, and you don’t have a McCree on your team, feel free to lose your head over it, because you probably will.

Probably. That is unless you can counter it – yes, each ultimate can generally be countered fairly easily.

If you’re playing as Mei, you can counter quite a lot of the area effect ultimates very easily.

Oh, it’s High Noon again is it McCree? Here, have an ice-wall in your face thus blocking your line of sight to everyone on your screen!

Junkrat chasing you with his Tire of Death? Ice-block!

Ultimates like Widowmaker’s wall-hack-like Recon Visor can’t really be countered, but it’s not something that can damage anyone, players still need to make the effort to reach the enemy and engage.


Art

ScreenShot_16-05-03_20-17-16-000The character and environmental art in OverWatch is just plainly gorgeous. From the cartoonish design of the characters and their many, many skins, to the varied aesthetic beauty of each of the game’s 12 maps.

The overall design hangs together brilliantly. It’s bright, bold and unlike so many online shooters these days, colourful and cleanly realised.

The design of the characters themselves heralds a cast that is very diverse on grounds of race and gender.

The females in the game aren’t overtly sexualised (aside from Widowmaker, but that’s sort of her visual MO), with none of the female characters wearing anything remotely resembling armour-kinis or indeed slutmogs, which are so popular in WoW.

And the racial diversity in the game is refreshing to see as well, with the cast seemingly picked from each of the major nations & continents around the world.

From the short & stout Swedish Torbjorn, to the lithe French Assassin Widowmaker, to the well built and very beautiful Russian Zarya, to the Brazilian healer Lucio, right through to the Asian quartet of characters in Genji, Hanzo, D.Va and Mei.

All of the characters in the game are thoroughly likeable, well realised and none of them are ridiculous cringe-inducing caricatures of their race or region.


Gameplay

ScreenShot_16-05-10_00-37-24-000The gameplay in OverWatch, as mentioned above, takes place in one of two game modes: Quick Play or Brawl (Or Arcade as it’s known now on Live).

Gameplay consists of several types of maps. Either payload based maps where you need to take control of a point on the map to get a payload moving, or simply straight up area capture objectives.

The variety comes in the strategic interplay of opposing characters and team make-ups. As mentioned earlier, each character has other characters that can counter their abilities, and character swapping is both encouraged and expected in order to achieve the objective.

Games themselves can range from free for all carnage to very tight, chess-like tense affairs, where even the slightest wrong move can mean losing.

The characters’ abilities themselves layer on another level of complexity and enjoyment, and again players will find themselves gravitating to a handful of favourites that they find enjoyable and fun to play.

For me? That tends to be:

  • Mei
  • Junkrat
  • Widowmaker
  • Soldier 76
  • Torbjorn
  • Lucio
  • Tracer

Generally in that order. Mei is for me the most fun character. In the right hands she can be completely OP. Her main ability is her cryo-gun, that she can use to slow and temporarily freeze her foes. When they’re frozen solid for a second, she can then use her gun’s secondary fire to shoot an icicle and finish off the opponent.

Headshots in OverWatch always deal critical/double damage. So when Mei finds her enemy frozen, a quick right-click to their head and good night Vienna!

Unless it’s a tank, as another variance on the character roster are their base health and armour levels.

Tracer has the smallest health-pool in the game at a measly 150 HPs, but she can quickly regain any recently lost health by rewinding back to where her health and location were 3 seconds ago.

Reinhardt on the other hand has 500 HPs, but also 500 Armour points, and a shield that has 2000 HPs! Roadhog, another tank, has 600 HPs, more than Reinhardt, but no armour. He does however have a 300hp heal he can use on an 8 second cooldown.

The average health pool is around 200 without armour though.

In general though, before playing it I had an idea in my head about how the game was going to play. I was used to the Kill:Death ratio of other on-line shooters, so when I began playing in Beta, I was initially disappointed by the apparently lacking scoreboard in OverWatch.

However, after this, I began to get a clearer picture of the vision that Blizzard have for the game. Individual players are only important as what they can contribute to the overall team effort.

Sure, there’s the Play of the Game mechanic after each fight, but that’s purely as a reward to highlight good play.

Unless you’re Bastion. Just hold down fire, spray bullets & win.

Pfft.

Overall though, I’m glad Blizzard went this route, because the game-play is just so much better for that decision.


Music

ScreenShot_16-05-10_17-37-54-000The music in the game is as varied as the roster and maps. Each map has its own musical motif, from the light Greek music of Ilios, to the Japanese themed Hanamura motif.

I’d encourage you to either turn the volume down of the music though for game-play reasons, just a tad, so you can hear the enemy’s movements that much better.

And of course there’s the OverWatch title theme that I love to bits.

Sadly the soundtrack is only available with the frankly grossly over-priced £100 Collector’s Edition. Neither the standard edition nor the Origins Edition, regardless of physical or digital, come with the music included seperately.

This is a major let-down, and continues Blizzard’s previous lack of soundtracks in Digital CE’s for World of Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo. Come on Blizzard, it’s not that hard to supply an included zip file with the soundtracks as MP3s, so why not do it?

In order to get the soundtrack, I’d have to pay an extra £55 over and above the £45 cost of the Origins Edition to pick up the aforementioned overpriced £100 physical CE.

Happily though, this is the only complaint I have about the game, as I’m neither surprised, nor really disappointed by the next feature:


Loot Boxes & Micro-transactions

CjLiz_NWEAAVF8nLoot Boxes are awarded to players each time they level up in the game. Loot boxes contain any and all of the cosmetic items you can use to customise your characters:

  • Skins
  • Emotes
  • Victory Poses
  • Voice Lines
  • Sprays
  • Highlight Intros
  • Player Icons

Each character has a base version of each of the first 6 items above, and further customisation is achieved through unlocking further options by use of currency.

Now currency is another thing that drops from Loot Boxes, and is a method of, over time, guaranteeing that you can unlock that evasive skin or Intro etc that you’ve been dying to get your hands on.

So, Micro-transactions then?

When the game went live, players were given an option in-game to buy varying quantities of Loot Boxes directly, without earning them through levelling up. In the UK, those prices are:

  • 2 Boxes: £1.59 (80p per box)
  • 5: £3.99 (80p)
  • 11: £7.99 (72p)
  • 24: £15.99 (66p)
  • 50: £31.99 (64p)

So as you can see, buying the bigger bundles ultimately is better value per box.

Again, these purchased boxes contain exactly the same sort of items you get from the level-up boxes.

Given that all of the items are cosmetic, and in light of the fact that Blizzard have stated any further map or characters added to the game will be given away free?

Honestly, these don’t really bother me that much.

Duplicate items reward you with a small chunk of currency to put towards that favourite rainy-day item.

As for me, I bought 5 boxes for £4 during the week, and I was lucky enough to get one of Mei’s Legendary skins, her Fire-fighter skin, which given that it’s a legendary, would normally cost 1000 currency points:


Pricing

There are three different editions of the game on offer.

  • Standard Edition: £29.99
  • Origins Edition: £44.99
  • Physical Collector’s Edition: £99.99

The Origins Edition comes with 5 Skins that can’t be bought in-game, and extras for other Blizzard games, like a baby Winston battle pet for WoW players, banners and icons for StarCraft players and so on.

The Physical CE comes with the above, the soundtrack as mentioned previously, and a statue of Soldier: 76.

Personally I would’ve thought Tracer or Winston would’ve made a more obvious choice for the statue, but they decided to go with 76 instead.


Final Thoughts

ScreenShot_16-05-10_17-54-42-000I think it’s very clear that I absolutely adore this game, for all of the above reasons.

I love the characters, the music, the art style, the abilities, the game-play and the cosmetic variety on offer to players.

If you’ve never picked up an on-line shooter before? If you’ve ever felt too intimidated by the on-line keyboard warriors shouting down their mics calling everyone around them scrubs and noobs? If you’ve ever been turned off by the pure kill:death ratio focus of other on-line shooters, or prefer playing healer and support style roles?

I’d thoroughly recommend you give OverWatch a go. It’s fun, the focus is on team-play and supporting your team-mates and winning the objective based game-play as a team.

Individual skill, or lack thereof, is of less importance, thus allowing less skilled players an easy inroad to enjoy the game.

Rewound: Life is Strange (Review)

Life is Strange, an episodic game by Don’t Nod Entertainment, was originally released in instalments over the course of six months between January and October of 2015.


headerI bought the first episode of Life is Strange a few days after it was released, having read good reviews on Steam and other websites. After playing through it I was thoroughly impressed. Enough so that upon finishing episode 1, I stumped up for the remaining 4 episodes there and then.

Now, a year later, having waited for the other 4 episodes to be released, and having the time on my hands to devote to playing it, did the series live up to the promise of that initial episode?

Story Premise

Max, and her wall of selfies…

18 year old Max (Maxine) Caulfield, returns to her home town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon, having moved away 5 years previously with her parents as a 13 yr old. She returns to enlist as a photography student in the prestigious Blackwell Academy in order to be tutored by renowned photographer, Mark Jefferson.

Before she moved away, she spent most of her childhood with her best friend, a girl named Chloe Price, and the two were absolutely inseparable.

Shortly after the death of Chloe’s father, Max had to move and never kept in touch. Something she had felt guilty about over all those years. Returning to Arcadia Bay and not contacting Chloe had only compounded those feelings.

The story proper begins in Blackwell Academy. While photographing a butterfly in the female toilets for a school project, a guy enters, muttering to himself like a madman. Max decides to stay out of sight and wait until he leaves before she comes out of hiding.

It turns out to be a drug deal gone bad, and the guy, a rich kid bully named Nathan, owes money to a drug dealer. However the transaction goes bad, tempers flare and the drug dealer’s collector gets shot and killed in the resulting argument by Nathan.

Shocked to her core, Max immediately finds herself back in class 5 minutes prior to the events described above. She discovers she can prevent the shooting by being able to suddenly rewind time itself, and this then becomes the main game-play mechanic throughout the 5 episodes…

2015-01-31_00009
Simple solution to Chaos Theory: Kill all butterflies!

It’s not a huge spoiler to reveal that the person shot in the toilets was an unrecognisable Chloe, who has since completely changed how she looks from when Max last knew her. Max and her reconnect shortly afterwards, and they begin to rebuild their old bond of friendship.

At this point the game begins to assume its main story arc, that of investigating the disappearance of a girl named Rachel Amber, who had been best friends with Chloe in the years Max was gone, and secondarily trying to prevent a cataclysmic tornado that will wipe out the town killing everyone in it…

The Butterfly Effect

Muhammad Ali was wrong, them butterflies hit like a truck…

Over the course of the journey, it becomes apparent that meddling with time has serious consequences. Not just on a personal level, with Max suffering increasingly severe headaches and nosebleeds as a result of her use of her power, but reflecting the game’s chaos theory motif, the apparent butterfly effect of her actions also begins to impact the larger world around her.

To the point where the constant use of her time-altering powers may actually be causing the increasingly freakish events that begin to unfold within Arcadia.

Was the wait worth it?

Bear in mind I played the first episode in February of last year, but I left it until all 5 episodes had been released in order to play my way through the entire season in rapid succession. In a way similar to how you may binge watch an entire season of a show like Netflix’s Daredevil or Jessica Jones, I binge played all remaining 4 episodes of LiS within the span of a couple of days, nearly a full year after the release of episode 1.

Hell yes it was worth it!

Playing it this way meant that certain cliffhangers, such as the death of a major character at the end of episode 4 (no names), were quickly dealt with and resolved within an hour or so by carrying straight on into the next episode, rather than having to wait an agonising 9 weeks or so until it was released to find out what happened next.

Other Characters & Back Story

The incidental characters, their stories, situations and choices all helped sculpt a rich back story to the main story, and the cataclysmic choices being faced by the main characters.

Do I save this character’s life? Do I let this character get the shit beaten out of them? Do I rat out this character to his wife about his activities? All these minutiae helped carve out a fuller, richer storyline and helped build the history and backstories of the main characters themselves.

These are all set against the backdrop of the two main story threads mentioned above: Investigating the disappearance of Rachel and trying to find a way to prevent the destruction soon to be wrought by the monster tornado.

A sense of loss

The game wasn’t without it’s problems, sure, but as with life, strange or otherwise, it’s not about the destination, it’s all about the journey.

After I finished playing I felt one thing in the main: empty.

In exactly the same way as you do when you finish a really great novel that you’ve thoroughly enjoyed and devoured the many pages of within very few sittings?

The world that the characters inhabit becomes your whole world for that short period of time, and the characters become like friends that you’ve known for years.

Their relationships, their troubles and situations become as intimate to you as your own, and when it’s finally all over? And you realise that you’ve come to the end of your journey, that your time with these characters, these friends, is at an end?

It’s like a small death, a sense of mourning for what’s been lost, but feeling richer nonetheless for having spent time with them.

That’s how much of an impact these characters, Max & Chloe, had had on me over the course of the 14 or so hours it took me to finish all 5 episodes.

life-is-strange-episode-1-0016
Pricefield

Art & Sound design

The aesthetic of the game is very artsy, in keeping with the entire theme of photography and artwork that features heavily throughout the course of the entire game.

Characters and environments aren’t photo-realistic, and are reminiscent of the art-style of Team Fortress 2, certainly in the environmental design. Textures throughout appear more painterly in style, and it works really well. Check out the beard art on the photography teacher, Mark Jefferson as an example:

Mr Jefferson, photographer extraordinaire
Mr Jefferson, loves taking photos…

Sadly lip-syncing of characters, something becoming increasingly more common in games for purposes of realism, is poor throughout, and during one conversation in the final hour, breaks completely. Max’s lips fail to move at all when talking, but once done with the conversation in question, it immediately rectifies itself and the previous lip-syncing, bad as it was, resumes.

The soundtrack too deserves a mention. It’s light and subtle where it needs to be, and its hipster style is fitting with the somewhat angst-ridden theme of millennials in over their heads.

Endings

At this point, there needs to be some discussion of the endings. There are slight spoilers for the end of the game without content first, which I’ll hide behind a spoiler tag, then full and complete spoilers including the content of the endings within a second spoiler tag, so if you don’t want to know anything about what happens at the end of the final episode, skip over the next bit.

[su_spoiler title=”Slight spoilers lie within…”]The ending though, was flawed in that ultimately, none of the choices you’ve made over the course of the 5 episodes had any impact on the ending you saw.

Reminiscent of Mass Effect 3’s “Pick an ending” debacle, this was the sole and major let down about the game as a whole. That none of my choices over the past 14 hours, none of the people I’d saved, helped out, rescued, brought together or seen die, that none of these choices, at the very end, had any bearing on what happened right at the death?

A major disappointment, but not one large enough to ruin the entire experience, unlike that of ME3…[/su_spoiler]

[su_spoiler title=”Full spoilers for the game’s ending lie within, so be warned!”]Ultimately, the game boils down to a straight up choice:

  • Sacrifice the town of Arcadia Bay to be with Chloe, either as her friend or lover, depending on how you play the game.
  • Sacrifice Chloe, and save Arcadia Bay and everyone in it, by going back in time and allowing Chloe to be shot by Nathan, thereby negating your involvement in any further time-altering shenanigans and preventing the strange series of events that culminated in the tornado.

Disappointingly, none of the choices you’ve made over the course of all 5 episodes can change either choice.

You either throw away all the work you did trying to improve the lives of the residents of Arcadia Bay, and presumably allow them all to be killed by the tornado, or throw away all the work you’ve done over the previous 5 episodes constantly trying to save Chloe’s life, time and time again, and allow her to die.

Patently, given the design of the ending sequences, the developers fully expect you to follow your head, and sacrifice Chloe, as that ending gets a fuller sequence showing her funeral, the characters that you’d saved and had an impact on.

If, like me, you follow your heart instead, the ending received upon saving Chloe and sacrificing the town is considerably more perfunctory, simply showing you riding through the wreckage of Arcadia Bay with Chloe, and driving out of town onto a new life together.

No repercussions or emotional fallout from having condemned hundreds of people, including Chloe’s mother and stepfather or your friends and schoolmates to a horrific and violent death.

Nor any recriminations from Chloe herself for sacrificing the many for the one, which, I’ll re-iterate, included Chloe’s own mother.

Disappointing, there’s no doubt about it. It could have, and should have been handled better by the developers.

Ideally I would’ve liked my previous decisions throughout the game, or even just the final episode to have had some sort of impact on the ending sequences, if not on the final choice itself. If you save Chloe, you see nothing of the Arcadia Bay residents at all, and it focuses the short ending entirely on their drive through and out of town.

[/su_spoiler]

Wrapping up

Flawed as it was, however, the ending was merely a coda on an otherwise excellent game and story experience.

Would I recommend that you pick it up and play it?

Most definitely.

It’s an excellent game, with characters, main and incidental, that I came to care about deeply over the course of my play time. Their characterisation was spot on. Both main characters were flawed, genuine and more human than the “heroes” in most other games.

Sadly, and ironically, my time with them is done, and I am feeling left emotionally raw. This is clearly an experience that will remain with me for some time still to come.


A second season has been confirmed, but according to the developer is likely to feature a different cast of characters, which saddens me, as I’d like nothing more than to spend more time in the shoes of Max Caulfield, Time Warrior…

Stand by me? Always, and forever…