Overwatch had a Fantastic Beta. Let's hope the proper game holds up.

The Overwatch beta has left us, and there’s no denying how smoothly it all went. For a beta test, it couldn’t have gone better, I’d say. From my experience, I joined right as the gates opened, and I played quite a bit before they shut again this morning (I live in South Korea). At no point in my time with the game did I experience any form of server overload, major glitch, imbalance or bug, which is more than I can say for most finished products. Perhaps this beta was more for drumming up hype for the eventual release in two weeks, and it accomplished that goal in spades. I mean, I haven’t been so excited to play a modern FPS since the release of Modern Warfare 2 back in late 2009.

To be fair, this game hits a lot of the right spots for me. The art style doesn’t take itself to seriously, with a nice cartoon aesthetic mixed with a bit more realism than something like Team Fortress 2. The action is fast-paced, but not necessarily twitchy. The characters feel vastly different while keeping a nice balance between different roles and abilities. Nothing felt too powerful or too weak to contribute to your team’s goal. It’s all led me to a point where I’d like to actually write out the different things that I love about the beta and what I hope to see come full release and the few months after. By no means am I an expert, though, so feel free to correct or disagree with anything I’m about to say! With that said, let’s get started.

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The Positives

#squadgoals
#squadgoals
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Characer Balance

I want to kick this off with what I think will be the most controversial. Running through the beta, I felt like every character was very well balanced to the rest of the roster. No character lacked some form of counter-play, and I didn’t really feel like something was ever overpowered. Sure, there were times when one or two characters would dominate the meta, but I feel that it’s more because of inexperience than poor balance. Personally, my play evolved drastically over the 5 or 6 days of play.

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In the beginning, I swayed more towards the straightforward champions. Lucio was my default support. For those who don’t know, he’s the music-based support that relies on auras around him. He was simple to understand. You boost in the beginning, switch to your heal song, hit E if people are getting shot, and hit your ultimate ability as a panic button. It was easy to grasp, and I’d regularly grab gold medals at the end of matches, demonstrating that I did the most of those categories for my team. For my tank, it was obviously Reinhardt. He may be the most universally useful character in the game. Put up shield, cover your team, prosper. That was all it took to contribute an obscene amount to every battle. In terms of damage, I’d always run for Mei, which probably doesn’t fit the “easy character” mold. She was an eskimo that fits a kind of Ice Queen role. She had a freezing gun that could also shoot charged icecicles at long range. Her ult froze an area, and she could self-heal by turning into an ice cube. She was versatile, yet still pretty basic so that I could grip her mechanics within a few minutes. However, as the game went on, I learned that it’s actually a good idea to re-pick depending on the opposing team.

Toward the end of the beta, everything had changed. Lucio bored me to tears, so I decided to run Zenyatta instead. He has the lowest health of any character, and his abilities can be a bit difficult to manage at times, but his damage is much higher than you’d expect for a support character. I’d also run Mercy if I felt like my team had competence. Mercy is almost void of offense power, and she relies on good teammates to really contribute anything other than a mass revive. My tank shifted more to Zarya and Roadhog. My damage champions were Genji and McCree, depending on the situation.

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I tell you all of this because throughout my time, I never felt restricted from moving around the champion pool. It wasn’t like Mercy sucked because she had no guns. Zarya wasn’t weak just because her ultimate relies on others helping you. Every character had a place, and every character fulfilled their roles well. Now, some will argue that that doesn’t mean there weren’t characters who fulfilled those roles TOO well. Bastion has the highest potential damage by far because he has a chain gun that just melts enemies. Reinhardt fits in literally EVERY team composition because his shield is just that good. However, even they have some clear counters that can destroy their strategies. It’s the cycle of Overwatch, and you learn to adapt to a situation by switching to better champions. It all clicks really well, and it’s a rewarding experience when you figure out the perfect combination to destroy your enemy.

Level Design

Certainly in all of the talk about Overwatch, someone had to point out just how wonderful every map feels. Each map was named by the fictional location it represented, and each of those locations had an actual real-world flag to go with it. Those flags were perfect indicators of each level’s aesthetic. On the Egyptian map, you could expect to see a lot of sand, and a lot of rock sculptures and housing. I definitely felt a bit like Aladdin running across rooftops and jumping through all of that desert. In Greece, you’d see their trademark white houses with blue accessories. In Hollywood, you were obviously going to be placed around a movie set and accompanying back lot.

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By far, my favorite level. The sakura trees, arcade spawn point and small city were gorgeous.
By far, my favorite level. The sakura trees, arcade spawn point and small city were gorgeous.

Each of these maps were as complex as they were detailed. The maps have a wide variety of heights, and you can attack from almost any angle. As I played through the beta, I’d keep stumbling on small areas that I wasn’t even aware existed. Each one would later serve as a sneaky ambush spot or perhaps a dueling zone for my counterpart on the opposing team. I’m also a fan of Torbjorn, the turret builder, so each spot would be a potentially better placement for my little helper. The more time I spent on each map, the more refined my tactics would become, to the point where I almost had dedicated champions depending on the map (Symmetra has some very specific uses...).

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I can’t talk about the maps without mentioning the fantastic beauty of the Overwatch world. Everything was just so vibrant and bright, with each location demonstrating its own personality. It was always a joy to stop just before the round started and to just look around. Blizzard knows how to be meticulous, and it shows in all the different set pieces on each map. Even the spawn rooms are stuffed with fun little objects to play with and toss around before the action started.

An example spawn room. The blackboard would spin for days if you played D-Va.
An example spawn room. The blackboard would spin for days if you played D-Va.
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My friend was pretty accurate when he pointed out that pretty much everything was interactive. It’s no secret that one of the levels just had a bunch of basketballs with a hoop to shoot them into. It was this level of detail that gives me such fond memories every time I think back on my experience.

Reward System

As you play through Overwatch, you constantly have your own player level. Every time you hit another level, they toss you a loot box, which is packed with 4 different pieces of cosmetic unlocks. These unlocks customize all kinds of things, from the “spray” that you can lay down, to the skins of each character, all the way to the opening sequence of your Play of the Game. In my time, I got up to level 31, which meant I got 30 of those boxes. Between my friends and I, it felt like there was a really nice dispersion of all the different unlocks. We even got a few legendary skins, which is the most expensive thing in the store. For any duplicates you might receive, the game has a currency system in place that turns those duplicates into coins which you can use to buy the cosmetics that you actually want.

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Such as Classy Reinhardt. You know you play him ALL the time. Every map. Forever.
Such as Classy Reinhardt. You know you play him ALL the time. Every map. Forever.

It was actually quite a rewarding system. Each character has a total of 54 unlocks, and the highest amount I had for any single character was 9 at the end of the beta. Sure, some of these unlocks are just color palette changes or singular lines that your character might recite, but the excitement of opening each box kept me coming back immediately after I got a new one.

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The best part was that it was all cosmetic. At no point did anyone unlock some awesome gun that suddenly turned them into a god. It was all just for fun, but it still felt great opening up Legendary loot. To be fair, though, I never did receive a highlight sequence, so perhaps those are rarer than others.

What I Hope For

Rewarding Achievements

As of now, the only thing I unlocked through achievements were special sprays. Sprays are cool and all, but they’re only used to mark which door you’ll be leaving spawn through. After that, I’d say they fall by the wayside for most players (but definitely not this guy). Also, those achievements were mostly tied to a singular feat that you may have accomplished with that character, and it may not show actual mastery. For instance, I was able to unlock Tracer’s pixel spray after having one particularly awesome round versus a team of snipers. Believe me, I suck at Tracer, but it’s not hard to win a bunch of duels when the other person is gimped with an inaccurate assault rifle that can barely hit the air in front of it. I’m hoping that they have some other achievements and unlocks ready to go if you can rack up a certain amount of kills on a character, or perhaps more long-term accomplishments, such as blocking a certain amount of damage in total with Mei’s wall of ice.

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Also, I really hope that those achievement unlocks go farther than just a new spray. Mayhap they unlock the purple skins for each champion or a special victory pose at the end to demonstrate just how awesome you are at spamming grenades from behind Reinhardt. There are all kinds of options here, but as of now, practicing with just one character doesn’t really reap any benefits. If you are an awesome healer, the world should know about it.

In fact, I’d argue that the lack of progression may hold the game back more than anything else. It’s always fun to play, but without the ability to create some tangible goals, there’s the higher potential for burning out.

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Continued Support

This is almost unnecessary, but Blizzard needs to keep supporting this game. It’s opening with a solid 12 maps and 21 characters, which is nothing to get upset about, but to keep the crowds, it needs to keep adding on in a consistent manner. But we are talking about Blizzard here. This isn’t some rookie company with a random stroke of luck in their first game. They know what they’re doing, and they have a proven track record of keeping games popular over long, LONG periods of time (11 years and some change for World of Warcraft YEAH!!!!!). It’s all but guaranteed that this game will stick on their Battle.net launcher for at least a couple years to come. It’s all just a matter of keeping the quality of support on the same level as the base product. They’re releasing a very polished, very balanced game, and if the first champions they release break that balance, it may be a tough fix.

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This is all me just being paranoid, though, as it’s almost guaranteed that future content will also be awesome, and it’s only a matter of balance patches to fix any troubles with champions. I’m just throwing this out there because it technically hasn’t been proven yet.

Competent Ranking System

This is an item that was actually in for the closed beta, but removed for the open beta. Though they had a ranking system, it apparently still had a few troubles, so they didn’t want to divert attention away from the actual gameplay. A smart decision at this point, but it would be surprising if we didn’t see it on the actual release day. I love to be challenged by others around my skill level, so it would be a bit frustrating if they didn’t rank and place us accordingly. Everyone knows a rout on either side is no fun, and keeping the matchmaking balanced will be the key.

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Here it is, existing for someone that wasn’t me.
Here it is, existing for someone that wasn’t me.

In the beta, I had this problem a couple of times. In one of my later matches, my team consisted of a level 9, 10, 12, and 14, while the opposing team’s lowest level was 15. Needless to say, we stood little chance to do anything, and we spent most of the game time running back to die again. I pray that this kind of thing is a rare case, but I have a feeling that this will be the regular experience in Quick Play. That’s why I’m hoping there’s a better mode for those who are putting in their best effort each round.

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Final Thoughts

The open beta did its job. I honestly couldn’t be more excited to play some more when the game actually releases on May 24th. The entire server is being reset, so I get plenty more opportunities to unlock some legendary skins. I suspect that the opening week will be terribly imbalanced as the dedicated players and the casual players get sorted out into proper groups and levels. I also have the feeling that drop rates may be adjusted so that those legendary items will be much harder to obtain solely through levelling.

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I’ve always felt like Blizzard has the proverbial Midas Touch, and it’s only reinforced by Overwatch. As their first shooter ever, it’s polished, fun, exciting and balanced beyond anything we could expect from a failed game idea. This product is practically a miracle in and of itself. It just goes to show how perfect Blizzard’s done as a game company. Here’s to a long, marvelous future for Overwatch, and may we get more quality betas like this out of other companies.

By the way, if you have any criticisms on my writing, feel free to shoot me an email at brianstas@gmail.com! I’m working to improve, so any feedback is good feedback.

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