Overwatch: An Anniversary Reflection

I initially started penning this piece upon the advent of the Anniversary Event, as I wished to offer a reaction, of sorts, to the Event as a whole. However, as particular circumstances unfolded over the ensuring weeks, and given that such a perfunctory piece couldn’t possibly encapsulate my nebulous feelings as a whole, I considered it would be more erroneous to continue doing so. After all, not only can Overwatch commemorate one year since it was released worldwide, but I can also gladly commemorate spending an entire year with it in my life. A whole year of falling head over heels in love with such a colourful, joyous splendour, and a whole year of guaranteeing I wouldn’t earn any marks higher than credit in university. A whole year of whooping in delight at successful team kills, and a whole year of screaming at inept teammates to get on the objective.

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“How’s uni going?”

It’s difficult to encapsulate just how I feel, or, indeed, how far the game has come, because in between the closed beta, the open beta, the Public Test Region (PTR) and the official release, the game has evolved so much. Remember when D.Va’s Defense Matrix couldn’t absorb more than a fart, and her Self-Destruct Ultimate killed her if she was in the vicinity? Or when McCree wasn’t utilised as a sniper, of sorts, on Attack? What about when Zenyatta”s entire health pool was 150 HP? Or when Symmetra was Overwatch’s least-played hero and she had to put shields on heroes individually? How about when Mercy could be killed midway through her Resurrection?

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Here’s a quick reminder.

Of course, heroes haven’t been the only thing that have metamorphosed over the past year, as ultimates, mechanics, maps and memes have been tweaked and refined since their introduction. Furthermore, the addition of seasonal events lured both veteran and new players to play with increasing frequency over its duration, as well as enabling Blizzard to experiment with new game modes. From Lucioball to Junkenstein’s Revenge, players have been able to earn have fun trying new modes, level up, try playing heroes they would otherwise normally avoid, and earn sprays.

Ah, sprays.

Who knew that simple wall art could ever be the bane of a gamer’s existence?

Blizzard has a minimum standard, in that each regular loot box will contain at least one rare (or better) item, and each event loot box will contain at least one event-themed item. Of course, what Blizzard considers minimum standards and what I consider minimum standards differ wildly, as I consider their standards to be laughable at best, and downright vexing at worst. Any event themed item also encompasses sprays, and, aggravatingly, the normal rule regarding at least one rare item per loot box seems to fly out the window over the duration of an event. In addition, sprays are categorised as common items by default, which leaves a measly 5 credits of compensation for any inevitable duplicates that will proliferate loot boxes. As of writing, there are 827 sprays in the game, and despite event-exclusive ones being locked for purchase once the event ends, the problem left unattenuated stands to get worse.

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Silver linings.

Although the Anniversary Event was an event that promised a grand means by which to celebrate the game, I can’t help but feel underwhelmed by what transpired. For one thing, unlike any other prior events, the Overwatch Anniversary offered a reconditioned game versus Arcade game mode as opposed to a completely new one. Despite including three new maps alongside this fix, such as a new Dorado map, Necropolis in Egypt, and Black Forest in Germany, as a whole, such additions seemed underwhelming. That is not to infer that they were by any means lacklustre, but in spite of their pulchritude and providing a welcome change to Ecopoint: Antarctica, in spirit, they all feel familiar. Necropolis and Black Forest offer some new environmental hazards in the form of a pit and a cliff edge, respectively, but fundamentally they retain comparable balances of vertical area and ground cover. Furthermore, their only connection to the spirit of the Anniversary Event was a tenuous one; that of the coincidence of being released during it.

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Castillo is gorgeous, but leaves Sombra as mysterious as ever.

For another, Overwatch Anniversary didn’t rectify any of the prior event problems revolving around exclusive loot box contents. The prices of items were still tripled, in contrast to the compensation of any duplicate items unlocked remaining the same. Then, of course, of course, for the final weekend of the event, any XP earned was doubled, and, for a time, changed everything about they way I perceived the event as a whole.

Except…in retrospect, it actually didn’t.

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FFS.

Which brings us right back to loot boxes. Admittedly, I appreciate new skins and emotes as much as any, but in all seriousness, the potential to earn new loot boxes faster didn’t actually alleviate any of the impediments hampering the already-flawed system. It presented an opportunity in which to earn more in-game currency, certainly, but when events cause the price of Legendary skins to skyrocket to even more exorbitant levels, such a factor is more normalising than it is advantageous. The playing field is simply levelled as opposed to improved. After all, assuming you didn’t unlock any legendaries (which is certainly possible) via loot boxes earned from levelling up, regardless of the faster speed in which they would have been granted, it would still have cost 33 000 credits to buy all 11 event-exclusive ones. Furthermore, just after the Uprising event, it was estimated that in order to obtain every possible unlockable item in the game, 1,465 loot boxes would need to be purchased, which, if done all at once, would total $1,172 (USD) 1. The incentive to simply purchase more never disappeared: only worsened. From making them the sole in-game perquisite from levelling up, Blizzard have condensed the psychology behind loot boxes to a lucrative tee.

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How can something so innocuous looking be so evil?

However, not all of the Anniversary event was mismanaged. Approximately a week into the event, a teaser regarding Winston’s former home, Horizon Lunar Colony, emerged on Overwatch social media pages. Screenshots detailed conversations between scientists, discussing the behaviour of Winston’s fellow gorillas, and hinting at their impending insurrection. A particular image, featuring a map of the moon base, monitoring the movements of the remaining chimps, and revealing that Winston was not the only primate to be missing from the area, was enough to incite fervour. Speculation was rife that over the course of the Anniversary Event that Hammond, the other missing “specimen”, would be announced as Overwatch’s 25th playable hero. However, barely two days had passed before Blizzard quelled some of the hype, revealing that a new map, Horizon Lunar Colony was available to play on the PTR.

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Also not found: any leftover peanut butter.

Horizon Lunar Colony is admittedly an intriguing choice for a new map, though, admittedly, Blizzard have proven they’re not people with penchants for predictability. Even though there have been some very shrewd individuals who have deduced any future characters, maps and modes from data mines from the PTR, nobody could have augured why they were added to Overwatch in that order. Eichenwalde wasn’t riding a wave of extraordinary Reinhardt fan favour (although The Last Bastion’s release coincided), nor was Orisa the answer to Numbani’s sudden security breach that many were anticipating. Whilst Winston has seen a lot of recent selection due to a resurgence of dive compositions in the aftermath of Ana’s nerf, his narrative isn’t one that many would have said needed a pressing resolution, if one at all. When it came to potential maps, there was a bit more inclination towards finding out Australia’s fate through a map, or a Vishkar Corporation one in India, or Paris to detail Widowmaker’s mariticide and submission to Talon. Although Blizzard also teased a potential new hero, Hammond, and his connection to Winston through their mutual experiences inspires more fascination, it poses more questions than it does offer answers.

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Speaking of posing more questions…

Thankfully, what Horizon Lunar Colony does offer is a fresh and challenging of two capture point assault maps , with an environmental mechanic that feels substantially less-shoehorned in comparison to Oasis. Despite being set almost entirely indoors, the place feels cavernous, with its dual levels and high ceilings creating manifold strategies by which to attack and defend. It’s a map with both impact and scope, as it begets awe from the glimpses it offers of Earth and the lunar surface, yet trepidation from its eerie stillness and the evident carnage that has unfolded. Unlike other capture point assault maps in Overwatch that evince stasis, Horizon Lunar Colony has gravitas, in that the passage of time has had clear impact, particularly in how powerless the player is in being unable to undo or prevent the catastrophe that underpins the map. Its sole outside area, if anything, emphasises this insignificance, for whilst the lack of gravity is a jollifying mechanic, sound is non existent in the vacuum of space, and leaving the plateau of the colony kills the player; a threshold symbolising a point of no return. It’s testament to the design and story departments that they can create such a smooth amalgamation of elements, and make them investing.

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That telescope in Recall? Players can use it!

Continuing with the theme of investment, whilst the nature of Overwatch itself does not encourage direct engagement with the wider narrative of its characters, it’s disappointing that a large amount of the maps have not had their connection to the heroes made more explicit. To some, the inclination to see more about the heroes is a flawed concept, given how the non-canonical nature of the game can enable a team consisting of enemies Tracer and Widowmaker, alongside Omnic Bastion and robot-hating Zarya. To others (including yours truly), the comics and cinematic shorts provide scant compensation for the plethora of questions that have been left unanswered; ideas that, perhaps, may never have been an issue had Blizzard not introduced them in the first place. Players may never have considered Ana as anything more than a formidable combat veteran had Blizzard not revealed that she was also a guilt-ridden trauma victim, a living relic of Overwatch as an organisation, a near-peerless sniper (until Widowmaker bested her), and a mother. Such traits may have been ephemeral and reductive, had their existence not been construed as pieces of a larger puzzle in the franchise.

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Just what did Overwatch accomplish before its downfall?

Then there’s the inconsistent nature in which some characters and regions have been accentuated in comparison to others. Tracer, and Winston, and, to a lesser extent, Reaper and Widowmaker, have had the lion’s share of coverage in animated shorts, comics, events and, in the case of the former, playable maps of their home turf. The latter, despite their prominence as villains, lack a map representing both their home countries and their characters, which is rather egregious given how they have both been constructed as complex individuals with convoluted motivations. Conversely, Zarya has a Russian map in Volskaya Industries, but aside from being a victim of the Omnic crisis, and a renowned Omnic despiser and champion weightlifter, there’s little else that can be said about her backstory. Despite revealing her to be on good terms with Russian hero and furtive Omnic ally, Katya Volskaya, Zarya’s cameo at the end of Sombra’s debut short Infiltration was so brief and amorphous that it was practically negligible. Similarly, Nepal, despite having sentimental value for Zenyatta, outside the vagaries alluded to in his dialogue when in the spawn area at the start of a match, there’s little else to capitalise on in his characterisation. The likes of Ilios and Oasis don’t even have a hero hailing from their countries, and though the former is noted for being a target of Talon theft, such a detail is only divulged if players stand near the helm of the spawn ship and listen to Athena.

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Odds are we haven’t seen the end of new factions and allegiances in the Overwatch lore.

However, the ineradicable satisfaction and intrinsic motivation that can be derived from mastery of a mere fraction of Overwatch’s heroes cannot be understated. Although loot boxes serve as the only conspicuous reward for advancing a level in the game, they are far from the sole payoff. After all, the reimbursement for the input of time and effort in Overwatch is inevitable improvement, and although that seems a given in any game with a modicum of strategy, the internal payoff is more substantial. Medals in matches embody this, to a degree, as notwithstanding their transient nature, they manifest as a standard to strive towards, and improve upon. Despite being circumstantial, and determined also by role, medals are but one of the cues that augment the inherent desire to improve through fostering competition. Furthermore, despite problems with inconsistent SR gain and loss between matches, Competitive Play is a mode designed to reward perseverance and improvement, as players will ultimately rise to the rank they deserve. Ultimately, there is only so much satisfaction to be derived from the practice range and playing against AI bots, and only so much that they can teach.

 

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And nothing beats those quad kills.

Although I’ve previously alluded to how aggravating it is from a characterisation perspective, one of Overwatch’s undeniable strengths is also how refreshingly accessible it is in that players don’t need to understand the character to understand how to play them. Whilst in many instances, certain mechanics subvert characterisation (violence-hating Mercy can just as readily draw a pistol and dispatch foes), there is also no how readily identifiable, visually and audially, each character is. No two characters sound and feel the same, or even compose themselves in a way where they could be confused at a distance. Despite the differences in the complexity of hero abilities, and the various skill ceilings, it is a boon that no prior knowledge of Mei’s ordeal in Antarctic cryostasis is necessitated in order to utilise her effectively. Players don’t require knowing who the Junkers are, or the nuances behind his relationship to Junkrat, to play Roadhog. Furthermore, you certainly don’t need to understand his attempted murder of his brother, Genji, and his ongoing family feud to hate Hanzo. You can just do that regardless.

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Speaking of hating things…

After all the fixes, buffs and nerfs made over the course of a year, there is still much to be fixed in Overwatch. Deliberate early leavers in Competitive Play do not receive as sufficient a penalty as they deserve, loot boxes are still miserly and exploitative, and Uprising was sadly the only event to bear any canonical significance. Nonetheless, the dedication Blizzard have shown to honing each facet of gameplay to a pinnacle stands for much in a market where content can be deliberately cut, withheld, or too insufficient to be in a releasable state. All of these niggling factors ultimately do not mitigate what stands as an exemplary, diverting and polished gaming experience. Consequently, I have come to adore Overwatch for umpteen reasons, including it introducing me to a plethora of great games from forward-thinking, global developer, acquainting me with some truly fantastic people, and for cultivating one of my greatest joys in life.

Oh, Overwatch.

Happy 1st Anniversary, Darling.

Happy 1st Anniversary, everyone!

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Except you, Genji. Fuck you.

Agree? Disagree? What have you enjoyed or not enjoyed about Overwatch over the past year? Let me know in the comments, and like, share and follow if you enjoyed. Thank you for reading, and I apologise most profusely if I’ve tea-bagged you in a match. X! 

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