Ever since Wolfenstein 3D and Doom in the early 90s, and Goldeneye 007 in 1997, the First Person Shooter genre has been pushing the boundaries of gaming. From the exploration of vast environments of Doom, to the intense firefights of Call of Duty, it is pretty easy to play a game where you star as a soldier, secret agent, space marine, or just plain action hero in the vein of Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The First Person Shooter entered a golden age in the 2000s, with blockbusters like Halo and Call of Duty dominating the market. They introduced a faster pace of gameplay, eschewing slow crawls through a huge complex looking for medical kits, in favour of shrugging off a few bullets and returning to the action while regenerating while only being able to carry two weapons. While old school shooters like Serious Sam were still around, many gamers embraced the new style of first person shooter.
But like most genres, there is usually a dark age that follows the golden age. While this writer believes that Call of Duty has done the FPS genre a lot of good, with its introduction of persistency with create-a-class and fast-paced map design and intense gun-to-gun gameplay, the franchise, by establishing a monopoly over the genre, has robbed it of its creativity. The majority of first person shooters that have released in the wake of Call of Duty’s million dollar success have taken after the game, sometimes even to the point of being a blatant Call of Duty clone. Wolfenstein 2009 could see seen as simply Call of Duty 2 with demons and ghosts. Halo started adopting CoD-like elements with sprinting in Reach and aiming down the sight in 5, with both games adopting a persistent, MMO-like experience with a create-a-class system of their own.
In summation, if the FPS is not Call of Duty, it’s probably a Call of Duty clone or a first person shooter with Call of Duty elements. Of course, there are a few exceptions like Wolfenstein: New Order, which has introduced a throwback to the old exploration days and scrounging around for health kits of yore, and Titanfall, a game that introduced verticality and mech warfare. However, those exceptions are few and far in between.
As the first person shooter started to die down in the 2010s, another form of competitive game style rose. The Multiplayer Online Battle Arena introduced an interesting kind of multiplayer, combining RPG elements with the fast-pace real time gameplay of other competitive games. Of course, it was different from MMOs like World of Warcraft because each match was static, and the level and gear did not carry on to other matches, but there was an interesting fusion of diversity, spontaneity, and depth that had never been seen before. Blizzard is not known for making first person shooters, so this writer found it incredibly strange when they announced a game called Overwatch at Blizzcon 2014. It was a first person shooter, but one that implemented MOBA elements, such as different characters with different abilities and specialisations and even ultimate abilities.
The art style of Overwatch evokes the memory of Team Fortress 2, another shooter that had equally wacky, cel-shaded graphics and different characters. Hell, Torbjorn, the character whose primarily weapon is the turret he builds, instantly brings the TF2 Engineer to mine. However, after spending a weekend with the stress test beta, not only can this writer say that this game is not only a TF2 clone, but is also a game that just might save the first person shooter.
The game brings diversity to the table. Of course, different classes have always existed, but each character not only has different weapons, but also different abilities. Reinhardt, a hammer wielding tank that can project a shield, plays completely different from Lucio, a music-oriented character that can heal or buff the players around him. This wealth of characters opens up the game to players of different skillsets. While most first person shooters were all about how well the player could react and aim, that skill might help in Overwatch, but a player who is not good with aiming and reaction time might have a better time playing as a tank like Winston or a support like Mercy.
Most games, while they have team modes, rarely encourage players to work together, causing a lot of players to go on their lonesome and ignore the rest of the team and the map – Overwatch puts emphasis on teamwork. Kills and deaths might be shown, but they are not the emphasis on the scoreboard. When picking characters, there are tooltips to suggest to players what to pick depending on team composition, warning players that they might lack in healers or offense, for example. The post-match interface also adds to the teamwork and puts an emphasis on positive reinforcement, allowing players to upvote different players that performed well, rewarding the player if they receive enough votes. It seems that Overwatch has done much to make the game a friendly environment to play in, but of course, as the game is only a beta, it could end up differently once the game is released.
The beta consisted of two objective modes, one where the payload must be escorted by the attacking team through two points, and domination mode, where the attacking team must capture two points. The game is also extremely fast, matches only lasting two minutes if the defending team manages to successfully push back the offensive team from the first point. On one hand, it’s a refreshing change to have a really fast-paced game. It means that the losing team does not have to slog through the match and can move onto a game where they do better, but at the same time, it means that pacing might encourage snowballing and might not be conducive to allowing comebacks.
Of course, having a game end quickly might have to do with the skill of the winning team and/or the ineptitude of the losing team, but this writer is unsure whether or not this is a good or bad thing.
Whatever happens though, as 2015 is dying down, Overwatch is definitely a game to watch over next year.