Overwatch has only been out for a month, and it’s already a phenomenon.
The online first-person shooter, developed by Blizzard Entertainment of World of Warcraft fame, is that rare video game that has managed to find its way into the pop culture mainstream. Even non-gamers will likely have considered shelling out 80 bucks for a game with no single-player campaign, which in itself is a small victory. But where Overwatch really succeeds is its accessibility: this is truly a game that almost anyone can enjoy.
Much of what makes the game so approachable to gamers both diehard and casual is its delightfully diverse cast of 21 different characters, or “heroes,” each with a unique set of weapons and playstyles. Though ostensibly separated into four distinct classes, no two characters are alike: each one has its own strengths and weaknesses, meaning that players from a variety of different backgrounds are sure to find at least a few heroes whose playstyle gels with theirs.
It doesn’t hurt that each hero is also insanely likeable, to the point where Overwatch has already inspired more fanart and fanfiction in one month than most games accumulate in years. There’s the game’s mascot Tracer, a peppy Brit who can teleport and go backwards in time; Reaper, a sullen, ghostly shooter with a gruff vocal delivery; and D.Va, a Korean gamer who pilots a pink mech straight out of the Gundam series and even pokes fun at the game’s mechanics. (During her final move, which can destroy near every enemy in sight, she boasts: “Nerf this!”)
The other 18 heroes are all equally magnetic and near-perfectly balanced. The fact that Overwatch allows you to switch between them mid-game allows players to constantly update their strategies. This also gives the game a sense of endless replayability: even though there’s only three different modes, no two matches feel alike.
All of this complexity can seem pretty intimidating to casual gamers, especially those who aren’t used to online multiplayers like Call of Duty or Halo. But where those games emphasize individual achievements, Overwatch instead encourages players to do something almost unheard of in modern games: work together.
Helpfully, the game’s character selection screen includes gentle hints on how to build a balanced team that will lead you to victory, all of whom must work in tandem rather than going it alone. Teams that are well-balanced with cohesive game plans tend to be more successful, while lone wolves are quickly picked off.
Where a lot of modern online games trumpet team building and collaboration, Blizzard has truly built it into the DNA of their newest title: players who help their team the most will get a shoutout at the end of the match, and their teammates can vote to give standout players special rewards. This also means that players who contribute by blocking damage or healing get as much attention as the heavy hitters.
It’s this emphasis on positive feedback and team dynamics that makes Overwatch the kind of game that players of all backgrounds and skill levels can enjoy. And it’s the same reason that I’ve barely been able to put it down since I first picked it up.