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Overwatch Gets Hearthstone-style Brawl Mode

Short bursts of the wild and weird

I've spent most of the week trying to work out what time it is and whether this bowl of cereal constitutes night breakfast, actual breakfast or lunch breakfast. I've given up on that and am now enjoying "Overwatch patch notes breakfast". Blizzard have taken a leaf out of Hearthstone's book (a card out of their deck?) and have introduced Weekly Brawl! mode to the beta of their multiplayer shooter.

It's an Overwatch [official site] mode which changes weekly to offer a different challenge than that of the main game. Some of the modes will be more about the challenge aspect – a random hero selected for you each time you spawn so you'll need to figure out the characters and make them work – and some are closer to novelty – ALL SOLDIER: 76 ALL THE TIME.

According to the official notes from the patch:

"We love the Tavern Brawl system in Hearthstone and are excited to bring a similar style of play into Overwatch. However, even though we think Weekly Brawls can add a lot of fun to the game, the feature is still a work in progress and something we consider more of an experiment for now. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy testing the sample Weekly Brawls we’ve set up and look forward to your feedback!"

From the sounds of things you'll still be playing 6v6, it's more about doing interesting or different things with the hero pool and finding creative ways to get people out of their comfort zone. For example, one of the examples mentions Support hero only lineups which might be cool for getting players to try a new role. I've also decided that I'm going to lobby for a Lúcio-only roller derby mode.

At the moment the mode is actually changing daily for the purposes of testing so I stuck my head in to see what was on offer at the moment.

It's a mode called Super Shimada Bros which lets you play as either Genji or Hanzo Shimada. In the game's lore they're brothers who have a violent falling out after their father dies. If you're interested the row is basically about Genji being a playboy layabout ninja and Hanzo being all "Why can't you work harder for our family's illegal business empire?"

Genji is left nearly dead but then gets rebuilt by Overwatch as a cyborg and finally gets some direction in life. Hanzo would have probably be pleased about that except the direction is "working harder against our family's illegal business empire". Also Hanzo thinks he has killed his brother so he rejects the family's illegal business empire anyway. Genji does a bunch of meditation to reconcile himself to being a cyborg, Hanzo sort of roams the world trying to restore his honour through, like, freelance archery and warrior-ing.

This whole backstory makes the mode feel like a weird kind of family therapy with a dozen Hanzos and Genjis alternately trying to kill and save one another.

In terms of whether it was actually fun, the answer is "sort of". I like it when games try new ideas and I'd not played Genji before so it definitely got me playing something new. But it also became pretty one-note and I found myself really missing the other characters, both in terms of wanting to switch to heroes that countered particular behaviours but also because with only two characters in play the sound palette for the game felt weirdly sparse.

Having spoken to developers who work on games with multiple modes I know that it can really split your player base and, if the mode is a niche one, you can end up with long wait times and needing to spend time maintaining modes with few players or leave them in a bit of a sorry state. It's why Riot retired Dominion mode a few weeks ago. In their words: "alternative game modes work better in short cycles rather than as standalone queues". If memory serves, Josh Menke of Activision also mentioned the benefits of alternate modes on a rotation rather than as permanent fixtures during his GDC talk on matchmaking, skill and ranking systems.

Brawl, both here and in Hearthstone, is one way of switching up the content without falling foul of those other issues.


So, yes, Overwatch is still in beta but in case you have access to it at the moment you might also be pleased to learn Blizzard have also been tweaking the Play Of The Game system by adding some new categories and refining how the match highlights are determined.

For example, the sharpshooter category looks at things like whether you got a headshot, whether you were far away or in motion when you attacked, or whether you hit an airborne target. Lifesaver looks at situations where one player saves another from death, like killing the character who has you pinned down. Shutdown tries to look at whether the player who has been killed was in the middle of doing something impactful. If the game predicts that they were about to do something important the person who killed them gets a bunch of points int he shutdown category.

Long story short: hopefully we wont have to sit through so many effing Bastion/Torbjörn/Junkrat highlights where you just have to sit and watch a turret picking people off or Junkrat flinging explosives out on the offchance of a kill for a minute.

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