When they haven't been attending boardgame conventions or tending to their spawn, both Pip and Graham have been rather taken with Blizzard's character-switchy FPS, Overwatch. But what is it about the game that's drawn them in and will it last? Find out as they chat their way through their experiences. (Bonus questions include: "Are Play Of The Games utter cobblers?" and "Lore, *HUNGH*, what is it good for?")
Graham: Pip, I have a confession. I don't character switch.
Pip: I'm torn between posting a gif of someone clutching their pearls and confessing that I don't do it much either.
I mean, I get the theory and I will if it's absolutely necessary/I feel like I'm getting nowhere with a character. But broadly I find that I gravitate towards characters that other people play less and so there's a need to stay in that role. I just played a game this lunchtime and there were no healers when everyone else had picked their characters so I went with Lucio and stayed as him through both attack and defence. Same happens with tanks. I'll be Zarya the whole time because otherwise we don't have the role covered. I'm not particularly sore about it because I love both roles, but the difficulty often comes when we have no healers and no tanks so I start bouncing between characters trying to work out what's going to get us a win if possible.
I like knowing that I can switch, because I've been in those situations where you realise you've picked a bad character for a team composition in a MOBA and you're likely about to lose 45 minutes to a drawn-out defeat but sometimes that's more of an academic thing because the reality is you'll be healing or tanking for the whole thing. Is that why you stick or are you too busy camping out as Bastion?
Graham: I do like camping out as Bastion. But a lot of the time it's that I don't know who to switch to. I should stress: I have probably played the game for substantially less than you. But it's also related to the nature of the game. For example, in TF2 I could join a server with a match in progress and within 60 seconds know, "my team needs this class", switch to that class, and feel the difference as I affected the match. With Overwatch I join and think either "I have no idea what we need" or "What we need is for someone to deal with Reinhardt and his dumb shield but I don't know who counters that and I'm having a nice time as D.va so fuck it I'm sticking as D.va."
This is partly down to TF2 having nine classes and Overwatch having 21, but also a big part of it is that in TF2 the classes exist to respond to the level design in some way. "We need an engineer to shut off that chokepoint," for example. Whereas in Overwatch the characters are responding - by which I mean, countering or designed to cope with - other characters, rather than necessary stages of the environment.
D.va is cool, though. I think she's my favourite character so far - who is yours?
Pip: I'm really into Zarya, although it's become a running joke that I will never get Play Of The Game as her – I have a habit of getting off good ultimates that trap multiple enemies and then a burst damage character like Reaper or Pharah finishes them off and claims the glory.
She's so great, though. Lots of barriers, lots of beefiness and I like her character's lore. Before I get onto that I'm just going to say that if you're having Reinhardt problems there are a few things that go through the shield like Winston's lightning gun and one of Symmetra's attacks – her photon orb things, if memory serves. It's also often a case of attacking from multiple angles because he can't shield from more than one direction. You can also use things like Junkrat's grenades to chuck damage over the shield, Tracer to nip round behind and so on.
It's interesting because the game kind of sets out the idea that there are maybe five broad classes – offence, defence, support, tank and builder, but there's sufficient variation between each character within that that I don't think it's super useful in guiding people between options – certainly not when you first start. I'm also still not quite on board with the builder thing. The game tells you if you don't have a builder on the team (a character who can place structures and leave them about) and it implies that's a sufficiently important enough role that you need to fill it but I really don't think it is.
Graham: I think I will never get Play Of The Game on account of how much I suck. I've played D.va more than anyone, for example, and for the longest time I thought one of her abilities was a partial self-heal. Turns out it's a shield! I was running away from battle and into quiet corners, pressing a button I thought was healing me (but which was really just pointing a shield at a wall), then running back in. And I read every word of our Overwatch character guide.
What's worse is that I got a nine kill streak doing this, and since I learned my mistake I've been nothing but useless with the character.
This speaks to my stupidity, but also the same thing you're talking about: I don't think the game does a great job a lot of the time at explaining how things work. The contextual popup tips are sometimes useful (and sometimes patronising), but a lot of the time I'm learning by playing and it's not always a super satisfying game to learn by playing. Because often it's "learning by being repeatedly killed by some weird looking dude whose powers I had no way of knowing until he killed me with them and sometimes not even then."
See also: D.va's ultimate, which is a self-destruct. I have self-destructed myself out of curiosity over what D.va's ultimate is, and then forgotten before doing it again. It's not a great way to discover her mech doesn't, I don't know, shoot special rockets or something.
Pip: You get a tip when you die to someone that tells you something about countering them so I assume that's intended to maybe lead you to think about potential heroes in that sense, but mostly it comes across as patronising, I agree. There's also a more general problem with regard to information. If you play like me and go into quick play matches and just use the F1 info to remind yourself of abilities it usually skips some info out to make it more manageable.
Like, if you try to learn Zarya that way you won't know that there's an interaction between her shield barrier bubble things and the amount of damage her particle gun does as a result. So there's this thing where you're more effective if you're absorbing damage as you shoot and that changes when you might want to deploy those barrier shield bubbles but just pressing F1 you won't know that because it's too complex for the insta-tips.
I'm also super aware that I'm bad against any competent Mei player because all of the characters I enjoy playing and have a natural facility for are countered by her. If I want to be a good all-rounder I'll need to broaden my repertoire, whereas in a MOBA I can stick with my comfort zone and it's more… permissible?
I guess I feel like that's stuff I'm used to learning or coming up against from other games so it doesn't stick out to me but you can definitely argue that it's not a great solution to the problem.
Graham: I think one of the post-death tips I got said something like, "Hey, remember to move around a lot to make yourself harder to hit." Which was a bit mean, I thought. Like if it had said, "Hey, why not try aiming at the enemies?"
I guess I appreciate the effort they've gone to with that stuff at least. I think it's really easy to do more harm than good when trying to create those kinds of systems, but I still would rather an imperfect implementation than not have it at all. The larger issue I have is that some of the visual effects are less clear. I get that I'm supposed to learn audio cues and the opening frames of particle effects and whatnot to work out what's about to happen, but in the meantime there's sometimes just no way for me to know I'm about to be bounced fifty feet away from an objective. And then not knowing which enemy of the three that were dashing around that did it.
Do you feel similarly about Play Of The Game? You've written about your issues with it elsewhere, and I agree, but do you think it would be better - assuming they can't get it to work better - if the feature didn't exist at all?
Pip: I think there's a middle ground to be found. I like the voting bit where you can pick someone who did amazing healing or shielding or got an amazing kill count and just give them the online equivalent of a pat on the back. That tends to feel nice and more team-oriented in what it rewards.
I think with Play Of The Game I'd be happy for it to stay, but I don't think it's necessary for every match because some matches are just dull, or at least not hugely tense. I'd maybe like it if the algorithm could be tuned to search for truly awesome/rare/weird moments and only kicked in when a match had one of those. But the biggest change I'd like to see is for it to hero more than one person because the game struggles with that ongoing-problem where people want to play the headshotty, high kill characters as that's where you tend to feel the prestige lies or the sense that you're affecting the outcome of the game.
I feel like if it was better at saying "this set up and then the slam dunk were equal parts of this amazing play" then the supporting plays would get some time in the limelight. I don't know if it would *solve* the problem but I think it would help. Especially given what you said earlier about TF2 and how you felt like you picking a thing made a difference and how that contrasts with your experience here a lot of the time.
Is that a shared sentiment or do you have a different idea for POTG?
Graham: We're in total agreement - including dropping the feature from matches that are bland.
In my experience so far, people are reluctant to play as the support/healy classes. How much of that do you think is to do with the 'wrapping' - including the unlikelihood of appearing in POTG, as you describe - and how much do you think that's down to the design of the class themselves? I'm not familiar with all of them, but I just don't think Mercy is very much fun, for example. Whereas I liked the Medic in Team Fortress 2 and solely play a Medic in games like Battlefield, for example.
Pip: Hmm. I think Overwatch does some cool things on that front – first and foremost that it doesn't easily show you kills versus assists so the pop-up notification includes you in the kill even if you only got off a bit of damage or whatnot. That's a good thing.
With regard to Mercy, I'd say that I didn't like her until I played one of the special modes called – I think – Justice Rains From Above where you can only play Pharah or Mercy. Because of the way the mode reduces cooldowns you're basically in the air the whole time, zooming after Pharahs and tensely switching from healing to damage amps. I really warmed to her at that point and pick her up every now and again because I like it when you play her well. Also a well-placed revive is delicious and can turn an enemy celebration into a wake as someone beefy and annoying comes back from the dead.
I don't play Symmetra, although I should start. Mostly it's because other people I play with regularly like her so if one of us is going to pick her then it might as well be the person who knows what they're doing. I think screwing people over with her sentries would be a lot of fun but fun in that personal satisfaction way rather than a laugh riot that other people applaud – particularly as those kills might happen unseen as you're all elsewhere.
For Zenyatta I have a friend who really likes him because of the accuracy requirement and the fact he's so fragile. It's kind of a chance to show you're really good at something. But I guess all of those require a certain type of person to enjoy them, like, they're more... subtle things? Smaller emotions and more to do with personal challenge, at any rate.
Lucio's more of an all-rounder. Mobility. Kill potential. Wall-running. AND a healy thing.
I don't play TF2 so what's the experience of being a medic like in that? What's different?
Graham: The Medic has a healing beam that's similar in style to Mercy's, but without the damage-boosting alternate fire. Instead you charge up the weapon by healing people until you unlock the equivalent of an ultimate: the ability to turn an ally completely invincible for 8 seconds. It creates these moments of high drama and tension where you build and build and then activate this really powerful ability that, if you used it at the right moment and on the right person, might let you suddenly push through a deadlock.
Maybe I just haven't played her enough but Mercy doesn't seem to have anything equivalent. You're slightly more active moment to moment as you decide whether to left-click heal or right-click damage boost, but I don't find that decision particularly interest. Her ultimate, which lets you revive fallen allies, is obviously useful but not particularly exciting. I just found that most of my games as her were kind of nothing-y, where I was obviously being helpful - and my name would appear at the end, for people to give commendations, which was nice - but the experience wasn't tense or exciting or memorable.
You mentioned Zenyatta, which seems like a good time to bring up lore. Do you like the lore? I sorta think it's 99% dumb lazy garbage - but then, it's so colourful and some of the characters seem so happy to be there that I find myself charmed by it anyway. In other words: people keep describing it as "Pixar Shooter" which seems wrong to me because it is so clearly "Dreamworks Animation Shooter." Kung Fu Panda and Shrek and Shark Tale if they were spun off into a videogame universe.
Pip: I did not do the required Kung Fu Panda reading so I will take your word for it on that front!
In terms of the lore, there are specific stories I like. Zarya's is one of them – she was about to compete in the world bodybuilding/weightlifting championships but cancelled to help save the world. But there's a whole load of other stuff I really can't bring myself to care about. The whole entire omnic crisis and the formation and dissolution of the Overwatch organisation, for example. I may also have laughed out loud when the whole "smashing someone's face in with a burning pinata but also being an inspiration to a young girl on a grocery run" short film happened.
Mostly my approach is to know it to the extent it informs a character – Mei's climatology work goes with her ice theme, for example. But I couldn't tell you the finer points of her story, just that she's a pain in the butt to play against and really good for area control.
Graham: I played as Mei for the first time earlier today and I do not think I was a pain in the anything to play against.
Despite niggles and incompetence, I'm enjoying Overwatch way more than I thought I would. It's a good game to drop in and out of for quick sessions, which is what I needed right now, and despite my criticisms of the ways in which it fails in comparison to other games, there are still lots of classes with no equivalents elsewhere that I'm enjoying a great deal. D.va is the example I've given above, but I also like Bastion, Tracer, Pharah and a few others. They're satisfying enough that I feel like putting the effort in to get good at them or at least get-a-basic-understanding-of-the-abilities.
To wrap up, how do you feel about Overwatch overall?
Pip: Good lord – reading your list of characters I feel like we're at opposite ends of the playstyle spectrum!
But to answer your question: I really like it – there's tight design there and I do really love the length of matches and the flexibility. I'm burnt out on MOBAs at the moment so this is a welcome respite. I do have criticisms but they're things I've noticed and had time to chew over because I've spent more than a hundred hours in the game and keep going back to it.
I think the one thing I'm most wary of at the moment is it getting too serious in terms of my fellow players. I like it because it's a space where I can generally let off a bit of steam and just play something, dipping in and out. It really sours it when other players get salty or even just when it feels like a game might take on that SRS BSNS flavour that started to spoil some of my Dota 2 experiences.
Luckily most people seem really chipper (or at least neutral) when they play as far as my experience goes so I hope that continues!