After an enormous marketing campaign and an online beta that attracted over 9.7 million players, Overwatch was released globally on 24 May 2016 for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Debuting to an enormous amount of critical praise, the game has continued its seemingly insurmountable rise.
With countless players joining the fray each and every day, Overwatch has taken its initial success and run with it, creating one of the largest and most active gaming communities around. Blizzard, the company behind the game, are certainly no strangers to success, creating Warcraft, Diablo, and Starcraft – three of the most beloved franchises in gaming history. Still, there is arguably no market in gaming more competitive than the online shooter, so it begs the question: how has Overwatch not only maintained its initial hype, but built upon that to become one of the biggest successes in gaming today?
First, Overwatch presentation values are simply sublime. The first-person shooter genre is oft-linked to war simulations, so franchises like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and even Counterstrike have a sandy colour palette, with a focus on military garb in an effort to be more realistic. Overwatch, however, looks more like Splatoon, adopting a massive array of cartoony colours and effects, and such a bold and vibrant colour palette really helps the game stand out.
The driving force behind the game’s success has to be its cast of characters. All of Overwatch’s primary game modes employ a 6v6 format, with each player choosing a unique character. Characters are split into four categories: offence, defence, tank, and support. Each hero possesses a unique weapon and ability that can create game-changing alterations, along with an ‘ultimate’ attack. Ultimates are game-changing powers that can either create massive amounts of damage, provide vital support, or introduce mechanics that can shift an entire battle in your favour. The character roster, which currently includes 24 characters, is extraordinarily diverse not only in race, gender, design, and sexuality, but also in what each character brings to the table.
The real magic of the game lies in teamwork. While characters are strong on their own, working as a team is the only real pathway to consistent success. Possibilities are endless: create a devastating aerial threat with Pharah and Mercy (affectionately referred to as ‘Pharmercy’ by some in the community); send Tracer and Sombra into the heart of the defence to cause severe disruption; team Zenyatta and Reaper to create massive damage; or combine Zarya’s ultimate ability with any offensive ultimate to devastate an entire team. Finding a perfect balance within a team is challenging but hugely rewarding, and Overwatch is at its best when two strong teams pair off against each other.
While the game’s ever-expanding roster of original heroes is Overwatch’s backbone, there are a number of crucial elements that have helped keep the game successful. Playability is at the core of the game’s focus, and any player completely new to the game has just as much of a chance to succeed as a hardened veteran. This is in thanks to Blizzard’s approach to the game. All in-game upgrades are merely aesthetic; a player who has played for 5 minutes or 500 hours has the same tools at their disposal.
Unlike other FPS games, which incentivise success via weapon upgrades to make you stronger than competitors, Overwatch keeps the focus on learning what each character brings to the table and how to make the most out of each map. Great additions to gameplay like unlimited ammo keep the game fun, as you won’t need to spend any time scrambling around for ammunition. Plus, a considerable dose of health packs mean you can keep the focus on your character and working together as a team.
Experienced gamers know just how expensive their passion has become. The trend of selling an incomplete game at full price, then having consumers pay for additional characters, maps, and game modes has become part and parcel of the gaming industry. Expectations have almost shifted to spend nearly double the cover price just to be able to access the entire game. Not so with Overwatch. Before the game’s release, Blizzard ensured that users would never have to pay for additional content. Thankfully, this promise has been kept, with the only micro-transactions being aesthetic bonuses that are easily obtained through playing the game naturally. All additional maps, characters, game modes, and updates have been provided free of charge, enforcing Blizzard’s philosophy that all players should be given the same opportunities.
It is this egalitarian approach that fuels the success of Overwatch. By building a massive, friendly, and fun community with diverse and exciting characters, the game has been made an enduring success. By refusing to nickel and dime their community of passionate players, gamers have in return dedicated their time to the game. As a result, Blizzard may just have one of the most successful franchises of all time on its hands.