I had a whole separate piece prepared for today but in the fifteen or so years that I’ve been aware of and enjoying Blizzard games I’ve never once seen them announce a new game that hasn’t been set in one of their three major universes. So when Blizzard announced Overwatch on Friday, I felt that I had to take the opportunity to weigh in, being such a rabid Blizzard fan-boy. So if you’ll indulge me…
My first thoughts…
I did not go to or order the live feed of Blizzcon this year and I was busy working while the opening ceremony happened so it wasn’t until later that evening that I even remembered to check and see if any big news had come out. I hopped online and about pooped my drawers upon hearing that Blizzard had, against all odds, actually announced a new game! I watched both the cinematic and gameplay trailers. I’m not going to lie, my initial gut reaction was, ‘why does this need to exist?’ At first glance, the game looks as though Team Fortress 2 and Dota 2 had a baby in the art style of The Incredibles. Now, I love me some TF2 and I enjoy the occasional Dota 2 bot match, but I wasn’t jumping up and down for some chimeric melding of those two games. It also felt really odd to be watching Blizzard unveil a first person shooter. That has never been their bag. Plus it’s a 6v6 PvP-only multiplayer shooter which is really not my bag. I felt disappointed.
Whether or not the game looked like it was for me, there’s little doubt that it’s art style is very pretty. It looks great, and more than that, it looks like it plays great. There is little doubt that Blizzard will, like all their products, polish this thing to the 9’s and release a slick, fun game that someone somewhere will enjoy the heck out of, and it’s nice to see that Blizzard is branching out in terms of genres. If this game does well it’s not a huge stretch to think that they might make more action oriented games. Perhaps someday Starcraft: Ghost might actually be back on the table. So even though I’m not personally dying to play Overwatch, if it paves the way for something I do want to play, then I’m all for it.
The other thing that struck me almost immediately was how much this looked like a free-to-play type of game. The main reason for this is Blizzards emphasis on the game featuring “heroes”, not “classes”. If you look at Dota 2 that’s exactly what they’re going for. Dota 2 could have the exact same gameplay and only have a few classes with a bunch of ability sets to choose from, but then you’d lose the personality of having all of those different heroes. Why is that important? Because you can buy cosmetic items for each and every one of them. Overwatch features the exact same style; replace classes with heroes that have personality, back story, and unique visuals. It makes a lot of sense to release this game as free-to-play, pushing it in front of as wide an audience as possible and then say, “Hey guys, do you like playing Reaper? Well here’s a cool new helmet for him.” The upside to this is that if I’m right and Overwatch is free to play, you can give it a try with zero investment, and for a game that I’m not all that sure about yet, that sounds just perfect for me.
Maybe it does make sense for it to be a thing.
A little over a month ago Blizzard announced that it’s long-in-production MMO, Project Titan, had officially been cancelled. While I was bummed by that news I wasn’t terribly surprised. When Overwatch was announced it started to click with me just how much Blizzard would have been poaching it’s own players with Project Titan. In addition to whatever technical hurdles derailed the project I have to wonder if part of the reason that Titan was shelved was simply because it made very little sense to create another MMO when WoW is still arguably Blizzard’s strongest product. It also got me thinking that maybe the same reasoning holds true as to why Warcraft 4 isn’t a thing. Why make Warcraft and Starcraft when they’re both the same thing? Turning Warcaft into an MMO was a great way for Blizzard to poach players from games like Everquest while still giving RTS players something in the Starcraft series. In the same way, why make another MMO when you can poach players from games like Team Fortress 2 and Dota 2. Between Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm you start to get the impression that Blizzard is really going after that Valve free-to-play community. Maybe it’s some vendetta over the Dota 2 name, maybe it’s just business, maybe I’m way off base. I don’t know. All I know is that in the last two years Blizzard has gone out of it’s way to unveil new products that are very different from what people traditionally view as a “Blizzard game”.
Finally, if you look at exactly what Overwatch is, it’s not a huge leap to assume that this universe could someday be home to an MMO. I could absolutely see the game we’re now calling Overwatch being, for Blizzard, nothing more than a way to cut their teeth in the FPS space and work out the bugs to then parlay the game into some large-scale sweeping MMO. They release a free-to-play game with some relatively simple mechanics, see how it’s received, work out all the kinks, then just add on some features and make a bunch of co-op PvE content and all the sudden you have another Destiny. I’m not saying that’s a good or a bad thing, but it seems completely feasible for it to be a thing.
In the meantime, assuming the game is free-to-play, it looks fun enough to mess around with. I’ve loved TF2 for a long time, but I haven’t poured much time into it recently. It’s beginning to give me the same feeling WoW has; how much more of the same exact thing do I actually want to play? If Overwatch is good, it could hook me and many others in. From there I suppose we’ll see if Blizzard has the chops for games that don’t contain the letters RPG in them.