Overwatch: Tank hunters

The new meta in Overwatch is tanks in the backline. It’s a nightmare playing support now, so much so that it’s the meme-of-the-moment, because it’s near impossible to stay alive unless your team understands the threat. Which in quickplay is rare, for obvious reasons (everyone’s a solo hero).

The most common thing now is finding an Orisa hunting the healers, which is so peculiar. Orisa has gone from a shield building defender (ideal to partner with Bastion) to a rampaging spear-throwing damage dealer, despite still being categorised as a tank. New tank Junkerqueen is also a brutal support slayer, rounding out a trio of Australian archetypes that make me cringe with their gruesome finishers and naked bloodlust.

About the only tank who’s still a tank is dear old Reinhardt, thank goodness. Getting a game with him is a small relief as you can stick close and keep him alive – unless he’s also playing offensively in which case he’s charged away defenceless to the other side of the map.

The one-tank change seems to have also freed up other DPS to go support hunting. Sombra in particular is a one-shot Mercy killer now, even more so than Tracer ever was. Symmetra and Junkrat are equally lethal – being killed by Junkrat spam is still one of the most frustrating ways to die. Even Moira and new healer Kiriko, both support, seem to spend a lot of time now murdering their compatriots rather than healing their team.

I still feel like I can swing a match with Mercy, but only if I’m not being hunted by tanks. There’s always been barely any way to get away from a Winston, but now the other tanks are involved it feels like a losing battle. Maybe some kind of defensive buffs are required, but I suspect it will be the opposite – making Mercy et al into attacking machines too so there is no backline to dive into.

Overwatch: Two too little

Overwatch 2 has launched neatly into the post-Shadowlands pre-Dragonflight dwaal, filling the gap perfectly. But it’s really only a sequel in name – the gameplay is very similar, the heroes too – so the only really new things are a fine-but-not-amazing new game mode and the (admittedly rather consequential) removal of a tank from each team.

Despite being so familiar it’s still a riot to play once you settle in. And because it’s a refresh there are short queues for every role, even DPS, meaning it’s easy to squeeze plenty of games in. There’s enough of the joy still there to make it worth playing, although the new monetisation system and shooter over quirky focus means the game is walking a fine line.

Removing a tank has made the entire game far more offensively focused. Unfortunately that also means there seems to be even less teamwork (in Quickplay) than there was a week ago in OW1. This is exacerbated by the changes made to many tank skills and abilities to make them less tanky and more frontline wreckers – each match now feels like the dive compilations of yore are the only way to play. Orisa has gone from being a defensive shield bringer to being a hard-to-kill offensive juggernaut. OW2 puts a lot more pressure on the solo-tank, and because of the increased emphasis on offence most tanks aren’t bothering to tank: instead, they just get into the fight and wreak havoc – just like a DPS.

The game feels faster as a consequence, more chaotic, and getting a non-team team makes it almost impossible to win with any confidence. I cannot imagine what it would be like coming in as a new player – I find it more difficult now to predict what anyone is going to do and I’ve played since launch. No consolidating behind the tanks, far fewer safe zones, and a lot less structure. There seems to be more of an emphasis on solo heroics rather than team play, despite the fact that when you do play as a team the wins are far more achievable. I guess playing Competitive would solve some of that, but I don’t like the pressure that mode brings.

Blizzard also removed the scorecard commendations at the end of a match, which is a shame. Those felt like a fun way to reward good team players, and it was nice to be on the receiving end occasionally. Now it’s a personal rather than shared recognition. And I really miss the ability to give kudos to the enemy team – sometimes you want to congratulate the enemy for superior play. Perhaps the system was being gamed, or it felt too punishing?

I really don’t like the new unlock/xp Battlepass system, which keeps reminding you that you haven’t paid for a season pass. Levelling up and being ‘rewarded’ with a notification that you can’t use the reward without the pass is demoralising. Despite loot boxes being cursed, getting one each time you levelled up in OW1 was generally a fun thing. Blizzard have a right to earn ongoing fees for service, but it’s being pushed too hard. Let it be there, but don’t rub our faces in it.

I’ve played almost exclusively Mercy so far (my DPS and Tank skills having atrophied almost completely), and she plays just the same – reliable, not spectacular, but able to keep a team going in a bad situation. And quietly fun. Unlike showboat Moira whose ultimate still seems crazily overpowered, but maybe that’s just healer-jealousy!

It feels much more like a (significant) patch than a new game. The big unknown is how the promised PvE modes will play. Hopefully they won’t be dropped (it’s been very quiet on that front), and given the intensity of the PvP player base it’s hard to imagine PvE drawing in new players in large numbers. Then again it could turn out to be dipped in the same magic sauce OW1 was when it launched. Here’s hoping.

OW2 is still a fun game, still has some stellar moments of hero interaction (combo-ults or last second saves), but I still miss the OG version where stacked teams of Symmetra or all-tank madness meant each game was totally different, and would adapt majorly during the fight to counter the enemy team. Those days have gone (despite the arcade mode variant) and it really feels like balance is the be-all-and-end-all. Instead of heroes with incredibly diverse skills and crazy specials, it’s now a more traditional shooter where everyone is balanced to a competitive ideal.

And just like OW1, it’s still impossible (for me at least) to get a Play of the Game as Mercy. Reinforcing an under-threat point with a well-timed ultimate whilst downing two of the opposition team isn’t enough – a Bastion that plonked down and mowed down two people got Play instead. Sigh.

Overwatch: The power of two

Today Overwatch introduced the Role Queue, a feature that forces players to queue as one of the three character archtypes: Tank, Support, and DPS. There are two slots of each role available, which means every game will end up with two Tanks, two Supports, and two DPS.

For MMO players that will be a very familiar concept – it’s the holy trinity but in an FPS, something I don’t think many people would have expected to see.

Even the queuing system looks familiar, with rewards for queuing as a particular role based on their current popularity. As usual, Tanks and Healers are scooping up the loot, and DPS have the long queue. Which suits me fine as DPS is not my forte in Overwatch.

Being able to queue as a Support or Tank makes me much more likely to try out Competitive play more, as you can be fairly confident you’ll be able to play one of the characters you know well. I can play two Tanks relatively well (D.va and Orisa) and one moderately (Reinhardt), and Mercy is my favourite Support character (aka Healer).

One odd artefact of this is that the non-healing Supports have been moved to the DPS class. In fact they should probably rename Support to Healing, as that’s all that’s left there now. For example Symmetra (another favourite) and Mei used to be Support, but now have to compete in the far more populated DPS category. And both being low DPS output compared to the more pure damage dealers means there will probably be a fair bit of finger-pointing if they’re chosen. Though apparently Mei-meta is the new hotness – I’m waiting for the Sym-meta for my moment of glory!

It’s a bit of a controversial change in some ways. As Skyline says in that video, one of the pleasures of Overwatch is the fluidity of the teams, and the ability to adjust on the fly. Coming up again a heavy tank team? Double your DPS and see if you can overwhelm them. Switch to a specific character temporarily to counter someone on the other team. Just want to have some fun – play a 6 Healer composition and be unkillable. That will all be much more difficult – if not impossible – with the new system, and while fluid comps will still be on offer in Arcade mode, that’s less appealing than the main game.

And another great feature of Overwatch has always been the strength of character, and how different they all are. With Role Locking there will have to be more consistency across characters to ensure balance. We can already see that some of that happening in the patch notes today with Bridgette being nerfed into more of a Healer than an all round powerhouse:

Developer Comment: The goal of these changes is to make Brigitte more of a primary healer for your team, at the cost of weakening her survivability. Since Brigitte will now be only one of two support heroes for your team, it is important that she can provide enough healing to be valuable in that role.

It will be very interesting to see how this plays out, and whether it boosts or dampens enthusiasm for the game. One wild theory might be that this is being done in order to allow Blizzard to launch Overwatch 2 – dare we hope for Overwatch PVE – at Blizzcon. Overwatch Classic (heh) can be the eSports version, with closely balanced characters and locked roles, and Overwatch 2 can be the one where the creativity can run wild. Unlikely, but then so was Blizzard doing Warcraft Classic.



Blizzcon this year was fairly light on big news, which was kind of expected given the expectation-hosing Blizzard did before the show even begun, and which was disappointing enough for some (like Syp) to say the show should have been cancelled. I guess for a newshound maybe it was a let down, but people on the ground seemed to have enjoyed it, and despite the lack of huge announcements there was plenty to absorb, made easy by the top notch reporting from BlizzardWatch.

The Overwatch news was very thin, with the only real announcement being the reveal of Ashe, who looks like a great addition (and has been immediately adored by the fanbase). I wonder if Blizzard intentionally unveiled a Western themed hero in the same week as Red Dead Redemption 2 dropped? Seems a little too evil genius I think – and an opening weekend of US$750m for RDR2 wipes everything else off the map.

Meanwhile over in Warcraft land, there’s the remastered Warcraft III, which excited a lot of people, and a bunch of ‘coming soons’ for Warcraft itself. None of which were earth-shattering, but there was a general lifting of the mood around WoW as a result, with the feeling that the developers are starting to get in the expansion groove and listening and responding to the fans. Perhaps there’s hope for BfA yet? Plus, Tauren Heritage armour!

The biggest Warcraft news was saved for the Vanilla version, with the launch being set for mid 2019, and perhaps most surprisingly the fact that it will be ‘free’ for existing subscribers. This is a nice bonus if you’re already playing, as it means there’s no cost to trying it out, and I guess Blizzard’s theory is that those who sub just for Vanilla will also end up having a go at ‘real’ WoW. Smart thinking, and probably worth leaving the money (and potential ill will) on the table that would have come from charging extra for current subscribers.

The panel went into a lot of detail about getting the old code and assets working on the new platforms, and the BlizzardWatch liveblog is well worth reading to understand just how tricky it all is – stuff like finding the old source code (on a backup of a backup!), first bug fixes, lighting, art assets, terrain rules, it’s all a fascinating and rare look behind the scenes.

It was also encouraging to read just how strict Blizzard are being about Vanilla. There are plenty of shortcuts that could be added, but most are being denied. Hour long waits for mail, goblin auction houses, and no dungeon finder. It’s going to be pretty close to the real thing, but with a modern engine, and no real shortcuts – unlike the LotRO ‘Legendary’ server which is probably allowing cash shop advantages, something that seems like a mistake at first glance.

Blizzard also going to be staging the content releases, adding raids and dungeons as they were originally available. That’s great news as it allows time for guilds to work through content slowly, which is probably going to be a requirement given the legendary grinds that used to exist. People who tried the limited Blizzcon beta were already remembering just how clunky things were (the hunter dead-zone, dying a lot, ammo, weapon skills, feeding your pet), but there’s also great features like the old talent trees, a greater sense of purpose in planning your upgrades and progression, and the charm in activities like collecting for its own sake in the pre-achievement driven world.

It’s a tremendous experiment (and hopefully experience), and will interesting to see how long it thrives.

Suiting up

It’s been a while since I talked about Overwatch here, which is largely down to not having a PC for 6 months to play it on.

Having a large gap like that in a game like Overwatch is quite challenging, as it’s the type of game where your reflex, reaction, and map awareness skills can drop off quite quickly. And it’s especially hard to come back and adjust to the new heroes, changed loadouts, nerfs, buffs, and the ever present meta.

This POTG was back in the good old 5 rez days. Hard to earn one now as Mercy.

While I was gone Mercy, one of my favourites to play, was further nerfed so that her rez and ultimates were far less effective. Having to stand stock still while you rez someone is no fun in a shooter that’s for certain – anything that makes you stop changes the flow and feel considerably.

And this was from the carwash days. Good times.

And Symmetra, another fave, was completely reworked so that she’s barely recognisable. Her ult has been replaced by a massive zone blocking wall, which may be tactically useful but isn’t as strategic and fun as the old choice between a defensive shield generator and a teleporter. Plus, no carwash! I can kind of fumble my around with her, but it really is like learning a brand new hero.

Then there’s the new heroes like Brigitte – a kind of tank/heal hybrid by the looks – who I’m very interested in, and Wrecking Ball who seems a bit too chaotic for my style of play. With both it’s hard to start playing them once everyone else has already got to grips with how they are most effective – though in Quick Play it’s not that important if you struggle a little for a while.

Activating self destruct sequence – best ult or best ult?

If all that sounds a bit negative, the good news is there’s still D.va to have a riot with. She’s still great, fully mobile, fully over-the-top, and fully fun. And as of about 30 minutes ago, she’s also the star of her very own animated short.

It’s a funny game because you can go on horrendous losing and triumphant winning streaks, often based very much on how in the zone you get – and how lucky you get with random teammates. It can also leave you feeling furious when you’re not playing well – my trusted tactic with that is to always quit playing after a win. Game on!

Developing appreciation

It’s been nice reading the various Developer Appreciation Week posts on the Blaugust blogs, the surge of positivity is very welcome.

The obvious candidate for me is Blizzard. Warcraft has provided endless hours of entertainment, fun, laughter, obsession, joy, sorrow, and accomplishment, and continues to do so even now. Most recently I’ve discovered the cleverness of level scaling in dungeons, which has meant our lowbie guild can all be completely different levels but still play together – something that must have been very hard to implement into the creaking framework of old WoW code, and yet appears seamless to the player.

Overwatch is also a brilliant game, the perfect antidote to the long termedness of an MMO. Jeff Kaplan in particular is a great front man, communicating extremely well and obviously loving what he’s doing, but the entire team have achieved incredible things. The game is constantly evolving and updating, which is all due to the dedication of the dev team no doubt.

On a slightly different note, I’d also shout out to the team that have put out 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Our tabletop group have loved the current version, which managed to simplify the rules somewhat and also introduce a bunch of great new mechanics like Inspiration – basically a free re-roll granted by te DM to a player for particularly clever role playing. It’s a simple idea that escalates the enjoyment instantly without bogging things down. They have also managed to make all the classes feel exceptionally heroic, with every class feeling powerful and different, and the official modules have been entertaining for DM and players both.

Finally I’d call out gaming bloggers again. So many great, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, curious writers who are passing on their love of a game, or many games, to all the readers out there. And through that enthusiasm they in turn highlight what a great job so many of the developers are doing. It’s a virtuous circle, and may it ever grow stronger.

Overwatch’s League of Gentlemen

Blizzard’s Overwatch League is about to begin it’s first ever pre-season, before the real competition kicks off in early 2018, and there is already controversy with teams missing the preliminaries and players suspended for cheating. Just like the real sports that Blizzard wants the OWL to be!

And just like traditional sports, there are city based teams with trainers and managers and owners. At first I was wondering how a game that sells for ~$50 could afford to support all this, but when you see the amount of OW merch available it all starts to make sense. Today they announced a new in game currency would be available to purchase OWL skins for your favourite teams. There’s plenty of cash in them thar hills.

It’s quite incredible the amount of money that is being poured into this endeavour, and shows just how important esports are becoming. The 12 members of each team are provided with “USD $50,000 minimum base salary, healthcare and retirement savings plans, and housing provided during the season”, there’s a Commissioner, and super high quality profiles of top players.

What they don’t have, however, is women.

There are 96 official players (8 teams of 12 players), and they are all men. Given the seriously good push for diversity and representation in the game itself, this is incredibly disappointing. This is a brand new sport, invented from scratch, with no rules and no historical precedent, and yet the inequalities of rusted on sporting tradition seem to have been applied.

There can be no argument about physical differentiation in esports, so not mandating some kind of gender balance or ratio seems like a huge missed opportunity. Imagine the positive change that could be made by Blizzard enforcing a 50/50 or 60/40 ratio of men to women. The competition for those spots would be intense and reveal a whole new tier of skilled players. But without the seeing the chance to play at the highest level, professional female players will surely struggle to be motivated.

The arguments would be made that viewers only want to watch the top 100 players, and if they all happen to be men then so be it. But that is of course a self perpetuating problem, and Blizzard could have made a huge and positive difference to how women view, play, and are encouraged to become professional sportspeople, in a way that is uniquely available to esports. Not to mention the incredibly positive press you would imagine this would generate for Blizzard – and they are one of the few companies powerful enough to shut down the inevitable haters.

It will still be fun to watch, but in the back of my mind will be the feeling that it could have been so much better.

EDIT 6 Dec: As if on cue (the marketing people are doing their work) there is a long profile of OWL in Wired. It addresses the gender issue, and predictably the answer from Blizzard is ‘it’s complicated’. Disappointing to read that “When asked what the Overwatch League was doing to attract more female players, nobody at Blizzard could point to any specific outreach or recruiting efforts.”. Perhaps most damning is this quote from Nate Nanzer (Blizzard’s global director of research and consumer insights):

“There was never a question that I was going to sit and play games with my son,” he said. “But then the other day my daughter asked me, ‘Can I play Overwatch too?’ and I was like, oh shit, I gotta be better about this. I gotta treat it equal.”

If the ‘director if insights’ has only just had this…insight…then it’s no wonder the league is a testosterone festival.

Blizzcon 2017: Everything old is new again

It was pretty great to sit through a replay of the Opening Ceremony and get an actual surprise. The idea of vanilla servers had gone of the boil, so much that even the super obvious ice cream jokes didn’t alert me, so watching the short teaser for Warcraft Classic was jaw dropping. I still get a thrill watching the original cinematic, so finishing on the Dwarf Hunter setting off on his journey was perfect.

It will be interesting to follow how this pans out. There is very little detail, and obviously a lot of questions to be answered, but it is exciting to consider officially starting afresh. I hope they follow Everquest’s lead and take the approach of polling the community for decisions for some things (like expansions timetables or unlocks of features). It sounds like this won’t exist for some time yet – I’d guess late 2018 at best – but the fact Blizzard announced it on their biggest stage makes it seem pretty likely to actually happen:

“One of the things we do know is that by announcing this, we’re in the WoW Classic business forever. Once that starts, there’s a commitment on our end that we’re going to continue maintaining those servers for as long as there is a World of Warcraft.”

Sylvanas is a compelling Warchief
Meanwhile in the current Warcraft timeline the new Battle for Azeroth expansion was announced. This was more predictable, though the pitting of Alliance vs Horde perhaps took some by surprise. Legion has seen the factions work together, and the opening ceremony boasted of the togetherness of the Blizzard community, so renting them asunder in Warcraft was perhaps unexpected. Some clearly hate the idea, while others seem tentatively supportive of a reset to the basic ‘red v blue’ idea of Warcraft.
Looks familiar

I have a strong Horde bias, and don’t mind the idea of there being an ongoing struggle for superiority. Hints of a raid vs the other faction (“shouldn’t we be raiding a member of the opposite faction? he said this slyly!”) sounds very interesting – if they can pull off something like the Broken Shore climax where the two factions are fighting in a single raid toward an ultimate boss, that could be very nice. Overall though the excitement of a new expansion announce seemed quite subdued, so there is work to be done by Blizzard to convince the fans this is the right direction for Warcraft to take.

The main thing I liked about the announcement was the ability to play Highmountain Tauren as a new race.

Moose horns ftw

Also, and maybe it was just me, but was it super weird seeing Anduin dressed as Mordred from John Boorman’s brilliant Excalibur?

“He’s no good, mother”
She’s no good, Greymane

Meanwhile over in Overwatch land, the announcement of a new hero, new map, and new cinematic came as no surprise. Moira looks like a great addition, and it sounds like she plays well too. A channeled heal powered by channeled damage draining is a great mechanic, and her ultimate sounds lethal – or opaf as Jeff Kaplan (who was the best by far of the Blizzard presenters) put it.

I’m not sure where it leaves Mercy though – the constant nerfing of her signature rez may mean she’s relegated to a very secondary role with Moira on the scene. Mind you, watching the Overwatch World Cup finals, it does seem like Mercy changes the small one on one victories and pace of the matches a little too much even with the nerfs, so perhaps the rez rethink really is required. The finals were good to watch, Blizzard has improved the spectator experience a lot with team colours and permanent x-ray, though there is still work to be done to direct the camera work to the right place at the right time.

Meta meta

The new map, Blizzard World, looks like fun in a super meta way, and I guess they’ll sneak it into the lore as it actually appears: a theme park in a fantasy world where Blizzard and their games is a thing. Kind of like the X-Men comics that appeared in Logan. The Reinhardt cinematic was gorgeous and interesting, as it painted him as a bit of a jerk, which took some of the oomph out of the live crowd’s reaction to the unveil. Having the voice actor on the spot was a win though – very discombobulating hearing Reinhardt’s voice coming out of a dapper fellow in a suit.

Overall it was a fun series of reveals and teasers, with the Classic server being the most intriguing, and unfortunately the one we’ll have to wait longest for. Major props to the Wowhead, Blizzard Watch, and Massively OP teams for the coverage – no need for a virtual ticket with those teams on the case.

Overwatch Uprising: it’s over 9 thousand!

Thanks to a handy infographic published by Blizzard, we know that the two week PvE Uprising brawl in Overwatch racked up 145 million games during its stay. That’s a big number. Let’s break down the numbers.

The big picture
First of all we learn that the bad guys won more often than the goodies. That came as a surprise I think, but the reason is revealed a bit further down. Meanwhile:

PC non-master race?
That’s an even bigger number. I almost feel sorry for the robots. But not for the confounded Bastion tanks in the last room – reason one for the Omnic’s racking up 11 million more victories. Next:

The truth is revealed
And there’s reason two. Legendary mode had a staggeringly low win-rate of 0.6%. This is the most interesting graphic of the whole thing, revealing that Blizzard aren’t afraid to completely stomp even their best players. The 50% drop off from Normal to Hard is also worth noting – it was a much more difficult ramp up than say the Normal/Heroic switch in Warcraft. After one success in Hard mode my random group of strangers stuck together to try Expert and we were completely annihilated, so I now understand why players screamed with triumph when they beat Legendary. Like winning ye olde Stranglethorn Fishing comp, but harder. And finally:

If my shaky maths is right, that’s over two billion minutes played. 2,415,405,127 to be precise1. 40 million hours. 1.5 million days. My brain is hurting.

Fair to say Uprising was a success then. Time to go look at some nature. After just one more game.

  1. Actually not precise at all, but close enough. 

Uprising: Overwatch PVE

In a not-quite-surprising but also quite-suprising move, the Overwatch team has introduced a PVE mode called ‘Uprising’ for the latest limited time patch. It’s not-surprising because they’ve done it before (with ‘Junkenstein’s Revenge’), but what is surprising is how they’ve suddenly made an Overwatch PVE game – dare we say an Overwatch MMO1 – seem possible.

Reinhardt and Torb were grizzled from birth.

Uprising is basically an MMO dungeon, rendered in the high-pace high-colour Overwatch universe. If you’ve ever played an MMO you’ll instantly be at home: there’s mini-bosses, routes, timers, tactics, and hard-modes. It even introduces and demands the (accursed?) trinity – tank/healer/DPS – to the game. It’s a nice change of pace to the more chaotic PVP play and has been extremely well received.

Funnily enough it also introduces some of the same problems MMO dungeons have. The first time I played it was several days after launch, and by then it seemed like most players already knew exactly what routes to take, what shortcuts, where the trash would spawn, and when to burn cooldowns. So coming in cold was instantly difficult as the expectation was go-go-go, the bane of MMO dungeon running if you prefer a more measured approach.

Being Blizzard they were obviously expecting this, and have countered it a little by making four difficulty modes similar to the Normal/Heroic/Mythic steps in Warcraft et al, including a final ‘Legendary’ mode that has even hardcore players struggling. Even the first step up from Easy to Hard mode makes it clear that the go-go-go approach won’t work for long, and that a little caution and communication is required.

Purple people eaters.

Which is all very smart stuff if you’re preparing/training/testing your player base to see how a PVE game might work. Jeff Kaplan has hinted at more games in recent interviews, including this quote buried in an article about Overwatch character diversity on Polygon:

We think of Overwatch as being beyond the 6v6 shooter. We think of it as a universe we hope to build many games in some day.

Of course he would say that, and it’s also fairly flimsy ‘evidence’2, but there is obviously the possibility that Titan will raise phoenix-like from the incredible success of Overwatch. Which would make for an amazing story in itself given that title’s fraught history. In Reinhardt’s words, bring it on.

  1. Did someone mention Titan? 
  2. Half Life 3 confirmed.