Every game launch at Blizzard is orchestrated like a big event. At Blizzcon 2014, the California-based studio surprises its audience with the revelation of a new license that’s a long way from its usual comfort zone, a team-based FPS worn by a cast of heroes. As always, Blizzard will have done its part for the launch of Overwatch Mobile with almost 6 months of closed beta, several weekends of public testing, an open beta phase, and constant video monitoring of Overwatch Mobile development. Add to that a few high-profile animated short films accompanied by a large-scale communication campaign and you can see why the title’s beta has attracted the interest of some 9.7 million players worldwide. With its mix of charismatic characters and simple, yet effective gameplay, Overwatch Mobile already seems to dictate the rules of a genre in full swing despite some obvious shortcomings.
THE ASHES OF A TITAN in Overwatch Mobile
Overwatch Mobile is a big challenge for Blizzard because in 25 years the studio has never been so far away from its usual productions. Born from the still smouldering ashes of the Titan project, the title enters the closed arena of competitive “Hero shooter”, a category where it is very difficult to win the hearts of the players. Another daunting challenge is to launch a new, multiplatform license in the title. Yet it took just one gameplay trailer to sweep away many doubts about Blizzard’s ability to produce its own original FPS. Not only did players quickly want to get their hands on Overwatch Mobile, but their appetite to learn more about the characters, their stories, their abilities, the best way to play them proved to be very strong in no time at all. With the help of an army of video artists and passionate streamers, Blizzard succeeded in creating a credible new universe with endearing characters, most of them with original gameplay.
But it’s simply not enough to come up with a convincing look and feel that will appeal to players over time. In the FPS world, the gameplay is king and Blizzard knows it. In addition to its successful design based on a futuristic approach to our world fractured by a large-scale conflict between humans and Omniacs, robotic entities with advanced artificial intelligence, the studio demonstrate its talents with a near-immediate grasp of all heroes. The game meets the famous credo dear to Blizzard’s heart for the past few years “Easy to learn, hard to master”. And if some people see it as a simple “heroes and abilities” reinterpretation of a title like Team Fortress 2, Overwatch Mobile quickly demonstrates how original it is by its many specificities.
SIMPLE, BUT VERY EFFECTIVE
Overwatch Mobile greatest strength lies in the simplicity of its concept. It is this same immediate grasp that has allowed titles such as League of Legends and Hearthstone to establish themselves today as references in their genre. Here, two teams of six players compete against each other on a dozen cards spread over three game modes. The player selects a hero at the beginning of the game but is not obliged to keep him or her throughout the match. With a little practice and reading of the situations in progress, it is easy to understand that Overwatch Mobile encourages players to change heroes during the game to adapt to the situation or the composition of the opposing team. No normal match here, all the squad goals are overwatched. The first mode is a point capture where the two formations will each, in turn, have to take possession of two areas of the map; Overwatch Mobile has a theoretical duration of 10 minutes which can nevertheless be extended as long as the attackers contest one of the points by their physical presence. The result is sometimes very exciting endings of games where the attacking team throws itself headlong at the goal to push the overtime gauge at the top of the screen again and again.
The second mode in Overwatch Mobile uses the same structure of attackers and defenders but transposes it here to the principle of payload escort. NPCs or objects closely linked to the game’s background will be transported: the fist of the mythical hero Doomfist on the African map of Numbani or the director and defender of the Hal-Fred Glitchbot Omniacs in Hollywood. Here, the maps are built like a long corridor where the attackers will have to move the convoy forward by staying close to it while the defenders will do everything to stop them. The mode is punctuated by several checkpoints adding each time a little bit of time to the overall score of Overwatch Mobile. Finally, the last mode closer to the King of the hill makes the two teams compete against each other around a common goal to be secured until a gauge reaches 100 %. It regularly happens that a team takes back the point at 99% in extremis and turns the situation to its advantage, which again creates a very high intensity when this type of Overwatch Mobile pits two competent teams against each other.
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