This year’s BIG BLIZZCON SURPRISE™ was none other than Overwatch: Blizzard’s first new IP in over 16 years. Technically speaking, StarCraft was the last new IP that Blizzard released all the way back in 1998. Overwatch isn’t another game based in some other established Blizzard franchise – it’s an entirely new game in an entirely new genre for the company. This is a Blizzard first-person shooter. Blizzard… An FPS… Be still my beating heart.
Overwatch is an online, team-based multiplayer FPS. In other words: it’s kind of like Team Fortress 2. What makes it more like TF2 (and not, say, arena shooters like Unreal Tournament) is the fact that there are specific characters within the game that fulfil specific roles. Each character, of which Blizzard has so far revealed 12, is fully-fleshed with backstory, personality, allegiances, weapons… you name it.
In fact, from the reveal at BlizzCon it looks like the characters are the biggest appeal with Overwatch. And we all know how well Blizzard creates memorable characters; honestly, when was the last time you played a giant, cyborg gorilla in an online shooter? Exactly.
Blizzard is going out of their way to ensure representation is apparent when it comes to the cast of playable characters. We’ve got strong female leads (a great emphasis was placed on the character Tracer – a chipper British lass capable of manipulating time and teleporting across levels) and diverse ones at that. We’ve got robots, armoured giants, Indian “architechs”, zenned-out gurus from Nepal monasteries, and the aforementioned gorilla who is reminding us a lot of Beast from X-Men. Make sure to check out Laura’s opinion piece on Overwatch‘s push for diversity.
Chris Metzen addressed the topic of diversity head-on during a discussion panel on the game:
“I think we’re clearly in an age where gaming is for everybody. We build games for everybody. We want everyone to come and play. Increasingly, people want to feel represented, from all walks of life, boys and girls, everybody. We feel indebted to do our best to honour that. There’s a lot of room for growth, but specifically with Overwatch, over the past year we’ve been very cognizant of … trying not to over-sexualize the female characters. I don’t know that we’ve over-sexualized the male characters. But it’s something that we’re very sensitive to.”
Each character fulfils a specific role during a match. In total there are four roles that will seem familiar to many of you: offense, defense, attack, and support. To aid in specific roles, characters have a unique weapon, two unique equipment-based abilities, and one ultimate ability. So for example with Widowmaker: she’s armed with her Widow’s Kiss sniper rifle, has access to grappling hook to scale to higher ground, can plant poison gas trip mines, and has an ultimate ability called Infra-sight that allows her (and all her allies) to see targets through walls for a short amount of time.
Blizzard has extensive information about each of the 12 revealed characters over on the game’s official website. You can find the gallery over here if you want to read up on each character’s abilities, their factions, their role on the battlefield and their stories. These characters look destined to entrench themselves into the Blizzard fan zeitgeist; hell, there’s even cosplay of them already.
So it’s a first-person shooter, which as we’ve already mentioned, is new territory for Blizzard. Insofar as gameplay is concerned we’ve got footage of an attack-and-defend style game mode called Point Capture: one team is on offense and the other on defense; attackers need to capture objectives while defenders must protect each objective until the round timer expires. Another game mode called Payload sees an attacking team having to transport a payload to a specific point in the map, while the defending team has to hinder their progress.
The 6-versus-6 online shooter is looking exciting. According to Blizzard CEO and co-founder Mike Morhaime: “Our goal with Overwatch is to create an awesome FPS experience that’s more accessible to a much wider audience while delivering the action and depth that shooter fans love.” It’s also a game and genre that Blizzard has been wanting to do for some time according to Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan. Some of the elements of Blizzard’s cancelled MMO “Titan” have made their way into Overwatch as well, which is interesting.
It’s all rather exciting: a new, character-driven IP; real-world science-fiction settings; fast-paced FPS action; team-based gameplay; giant cyborg gorillas. GIANT. CYBORG. GORILLAS. They could’ve actually just called the game that and been done with it.
So when is it all coming out? That’s the eternal question when it comes to Blizzard games, isn’t it? The good news is that Blizzard is saying it’ll be out “sooner than you think”, which isn’t that helpful but it’s a start. If that’s truly not good enough for you then head over to the game’s main website and sign up for the beta.
You can also check out a huge gallery of screenshots below… in case it wasn’t already totally obvious and massive.
We updated this article with a link to Laura’s opinion piece on Overwatch’s diversity.