I played the heck out of the Overwatch beta, as did my wife and my friends. We were really enjoying the experience, and now that it’s ended (and left a gaping whole in my heart) all we can do is sit back and reflect for the next few weeks while we wait for the game to come out.

Because the game was fun.

Fun in a way that first person shooters almost try not to be, and it really showed. People were always on line, you could get into games lightning fast at any hour (I might have stayed up a few solemn nights just to get a few more games in) so there were definitely people playing the game for all it was worth.

It’s in the style of Team Fortress 2, Valve’s class shooter that’s really dominated that realm of the genre for several years. It knew some minor professional play, but once it became free to play, casual gamers could easily pick up the game and drop a few bucks on hats and weapons and have a good time. It’s almost impossible to not compare the two; the newcomer against the reigning champ. Which is the better game? How do we define it?

A game by definition should be fun. At the end of the day, even if it’s punishing or sad or hard, it should be an enjoyable experience that you want to continue. I’ve spent a lot of hours on TF2, but never as much as I wanted to spend playing Overwatch. I personally think Overwatch is the better game, but they’re both so similar. What about Overwatch makes it that much more fun?

All the Colors of the Wind

I think there are two main components that set Overwatch above its predecessor. To preface, the game utilizes a new and mind-blowing concept.

The game is diverse.

I know, take a moment and just let that sink in. It’s really pretty incredible right. And it’s not just diverse in the cast, it has a diverse play style as well

TF (Team Fortress 2) had nine playable characters, each with their own role. That’s fine, and it gave you a lot of easy ways to play the game. Players gravitated toward the few play styles they enjoyed the most and would stick to them. On some maps, I love to snipe. On others that I want to win, I play Engineer. When I want to have fun and don’t care, I play Pyro. That’s pretty much it, and that’s enough to get you through a few hours of play time, changing up every few stages.

But the characters in TF are not diverse. There is one POC. Just one. That’s nothing to be proud of. It comes from an earlier time, but that shit matters these days. People want to see themselves in the characters, they want to project themselves onto characters. Having a model that looks a like you makes you want to come back to the game because you feel like you have a stake in what’s happening; that shit is important. All of TF is male of varying degrees of white; from Germany to Boston, the most diverse characters is the black Scotsman. Not bad, but it’s only one. And no, Pyro isn’t a POC. It’s nice to think that, but there’s nothing confirming it, and Valve wouldn’t want to upset anyone by saying he was Latino or some other nationality that wasn’t just white bread or mayo.

But for Overwatch, there’s so much diversity. There are people from all over the world, each with different faces and body types. Of the 21 playable characters, 9 are POC’s and 8 are female. It’s not a totally even split, but it’s a heck of a lot better than 0 females and 1 POC for TF. People can see themselves in all kinds of different people, and there struggles are culturally relevant since they come from Earth, rather than some fantasy world like Azeroth or something similar.

And on the note of diversity, with all of those characters, there are so many different ways to play when a role requires it. If you’re team needs more damage in TF, you have maybe two choices from the things you like to play. In Overwatch, getting comfortable with a lot of different characters isn’t hard, almost all of them are fun to play in their own right, which makes playing any map exciting and interesting since there are so many ways to assist your team with something they need using different characters.

Variety is the Spice of Games

Levels are a big difference in both games. I understand what TF is doing, there’s a clear theme with the level design with the whole desert “Los Alamos” thing going. You’re supposed to feel removed from society; you’re far away where no one can find you, which gives you leave to commit the kind of violence the game demands. It would be silly to blow up people and burn through ranks with civilians around, so you’re free to rocket jump and lay down turrets all day without fear of the consequences.

But after you play this game mode or that, things start to feel a little samey. Weather you’re playing payload, KOH, or Attack/Defense, things start to blend together after a few hours when all of the stages have the same color pallet. Despite feeling the isolation of just you and a team of weird people trying to kill each other, that doesn’t protect from the fact that the levels start to blend together. There are some notable exceptions of some deep woods areas and some other custom levels, but they don’t do enough different to break up the monotony too much.

Overwatch does the same thing where they assign a match to a certain game type. But even though they copy that aspect, the levels are so varied that you don’t mind gettin stuck in a certain play mode. The destinations are varied and have their own energy. On top of that, although the locations are fictionalized, the countries where they come from are real, and you can recognize the symbols of civilization around you in the different areas you travel. You can be in places like London, Egypt, Africa, and many others that all have their own feel and color pallet. It adds to the theme that Overwatch puts forward; you’re a globetrotting hero running around the world fighting evil, or at least, fighting other people. It really helps to break up the action and get you into that “one more game” frame of mind to see what you get next.

It’s All About the Soul

At their heart, both games just have fundamentally different feelings attached to them, even though they’re essentially the same game in a lot of respects. The narratives that each are pushing forward serve the game, but it makes a big difference on how the game is received by the audience.

With TF, everything is cynical. The game is making fun of itself all of the time, remarking on how silly it is for these men to be blowing themselves up out in the middle of nowhere, for next to no reason other than someone told them too. The intelligence you steal deosn’t have any ramifications, most of the time it’s blank. Capturing a base doesn’t move anything, it’s all meaningless. Everything is nihilist, and even if they characters have some notion of the circumstances, it doesn’t prevent them from continuing to fight. It’s designed like a Saturday Morning Cartoon, everything needs to return to the status quo by the time the next game starts. The experiment that the men are apart of in TF has long since ended, yet they continue to fight with one another since no one ever told them to stop. Thus, it feels okay to blow people into pieces or cut them down, because none of it really matters. There are no stakes other than to win the game.

Overwatch has the opposite opinion on narrative, and it really shapes how the game feels to the players. You’re a hero fighting evils across the world. Not only that, the places you go are places that we recognize, at least to some extent, so it makes the player want to defend those places even more. Any time you want to call the player a hero, something resonates deep within them (or maybe that’s just me). I really feel something when I’m playing Overwatch, like there are some kind of stakes for how well I do. The characters feel less like throwaway people to project on and more like superheroes, with powers and abilities that help them do what others can’t. It makes winning feel that much more triumphant and makes losing really make you want to try again to do better the next time.

The only problem with Overwatch’s narrative now is that it’s not clear what exactly the evil is that the heroes are assembling for. It’s true that there’s a Talon Organization with two canon members so far, but most everyone else are considered the good guys, who then fight against each other each game. It’s still fun, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense who exactly is being stopped by the heroes.

Overachieving

There’s no doubt that Overwatch is going to be huge when it drops next week. As far as TF is concerned, although it’s been fun for several years, the class based shooter may finally be on the decline with some healthy competition now stepping up. I’ve always like the world building that TF tried for when making their cinematics and character intros, but after watching the emotional roller coaster that was the Dragons cinematic for Overwatch, they’re really raising on the bar on what’s to come.

It’s only $40 at the cheapest. Pick up Overwatch. 

The World needs heroes.

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