This is the genius of Overwatch. Every character is supremely well balanced, extremely powerful in the right hands, and in the appropriate circumstances, capable of turning the tide of a battle. But none of them are invincible. What’s more, because there are only six of the twenty-four characters on your team at any one time, a crucial aspect Overwatch is knowing when to switch to another character when your current strategy stops working. If you're on the attacking force and you've got two players as snipers, it's probably wise to go with a tank or an assault character. In this manner, both teams are constantly attempting to outwit one another, the reds deploying a Reinhardt to counter the blue’s Bastion, the blues deploying a Tracer to zip behind the shields of the red’s Reinhardt. It’s like a chess game where only a quarter of the pieces are on the board at once, yet at any time the opposing player could swap out a pawn for a bishop, or a knight for a queen.
If you’re concerned that all of this sounds overwhelming, fear not. Overwatch comes equipped with a tutorial, a practice arena, and even the ability to play games against an AI team. So there’s plenty of space for you to get to grips with all the Heroes and their abilities. But I think it’s important to state that you don’t really need to do this. Heroes have a maximum of two weapons and three abilities, and their diversity is such that you’ll quickly find someone you’re comfortable playing as, while easing yourself into the other roles. Overwatch isn’t overly reliant on twitch skills either. A couple of fighters like the Sniper Widowmaker work better with a speedy trigger finger, but even a highly reflex-based character like Tracer can be played effectively by a sausage-fingered slowpoke like myself.
In terms of the shooting itself, Overwatch again holds up well. It isn’t as thunderous as Battlefield, and perhaps lacks the raw snap of Team Fortress 2. But it still feels generally excellent under the fingers. If you want to play Overwatch purely to crack some skulls, an ideal character for such thuggery is Roadhog, a hulking beast of a fighter who is equipped with a slight variant upon Unreal Tournament’s flak cannon. Plus, his secondary ability is a hook which can be used to drag opponents into close range, before dispatching them with a face-full of shrapnel. He’s basically Mortal Kombat’s Scorpion, but with a Flak cannon. In other words, the coolest thing ever. Another crowd-pleaser is Pharrah, who is essentially the rocket-jump personified. Equipped with a powerful missile launcher and the ability to boost herself hundreds of feet into the air, she is one of the most effective assault Heroes, especially in an arena with lots of open space.
As you’d expect from Blizzard, the entire package is incredibly well refined. It looks great, runs superbly, and, from my experience at least, is minimal in terms of server issues. That said, there are a few flaws. While all of the characters are useful, a few are uninteresting. Soldier 76 is particularly dull, a generic cyborg-dude whose special ability is effectively an aimbot. McCree, too, is a fairly bland Wild West stereotype, his endless call-outs of “It’s Hiiiiigh Noon!” are likely to make you tear your own ears off by the third game in his company.
In addition, Overwatch isn’t a game that you’re going to be playing for the sake of progression. There’s a levelling system which unlocks loot crates, but their contents are mostly cosmetic items, new costumes or voice-lines for characters. Frankly though, I’m absolutely fine with this. I’d much rather play a game that relies on tactical variety over unlocks to engender a sense of long-term value. I want to play more Overwatch because it’s fun and unpredictable, and not because I will unlock a better gun if I play another six hours of it.
My only other complaint, and this may sound a strange one, is that I’m concerned that Overwatch lacks a coherent style. It has tons of personality, but a lot of it is a hodgepodge of cultural tropes and stereotypes. This isn’t solely evident in the characters, the maps too are a scattershot array of locales with no discernible connection. London is a dim and dirty maze dotted with red telephone boxes and buses, while Hollywood is a sun-drenched map replete with palm trees and cream-walled film studios. There are Buddhist temples, American desert roads, futuristic military outposts. They're all pretty and well designed, but after a while the colours start to blur.
Overwatch has the opposite problem of DOOM’s multiplayer. Whereas in DOOM all the samey environments and identikit DoomGuy’s blended into a dull brown mess, here there is so much diversity that it never manages to establish a particular theme. This is hardly a disaster, but from an aesthetic perspective Team Fortress 2 remains the high-watermark for infusing a game with character while retaining a consistent style.
That said, I think Overwatch is the better shooter. Its motley colours count against it thematically, but from a tactical perspective there are just so many permutations for players to experiment with. It’s also more accessible than TF2, and brimming with dozens of smaller but equally smart ideas, like dispensing with the need for players to collect ammo, or how the assembly screen warns you when your team is unbalanced, lacking a healer or a sniper. I haven’t played another online shooter where a group of random people have wordlessly worked together so effectively. I think that is a tremendous achievement.