Why I'm excited about Blizzard's new title: Overwatch
For anyone who wasn't able to follow coverage of Blizzcon this year, there was an announcement that took many people by surprise. Blizzard is rolling out their first new, original title in many, many years. They announced Overwatch, a team-based multiplayer shooter, which many people are likening to Team Fortress 2. But prettier.
Blizzard began by announcing 12 playable characters, with promises of many more to come. Gameplay clips from the convention's demo seem to indicate objective based matches, securing resources, holding a strategic point, things of that nature. Each playable character seems to have a pretty straightforward theme. Tracer, for example, is an offensive character who has the ability to move from point to point in the blink of an eye. The core of her playstyle revolves around high mobility.
I've already seen a number of people online dismissing it as a copy of TF2 or complaining that it doesn't really do anything new or exciting. I will admit that the concept seems quite simple, especially when compared to their other behemoth titles like World of Warcraft. However, neither complexity nor simplicity alone indicates the quality of a game, and considering the relatively convoluted worlds and styles found in many big games like Destiny, the idea of a straightforward game is quite appealing to me. And I think it counts for something that most of the opinions that I could find from people who actually played the demo were quite favorable. It was simple, but the variety of character styles and environments made for a fun game. Though I haven't yet played it, I was highly impressed by the amount of care and detail that made it into this initial announcement.
What impressed me most of all though, was Blizzard's frank commentary on the inclusion of women and people of color. The video game industry as a whole, and Blizzard in particular, have a checkered history in terms of their portrayal of women. Having played World of Warcraft since shortly after launch, I've been disappointed on this front on a number of occasions. (Examples: Gross NPC's, this year's problematic April Fool's joke, and the prevalence of bikini chain mail, just to name a very few.) However, Chris Metzen made a number of encouraging statements on the topic in regard to Overwatch. Describing Blizzard's views on the subject, in a press conference Metzen said, “I think we're clear we're in an age where gaming is for everybody. We build games for everybody. We want everybody to come and play. Increasingly people want to feel represented from all walks of life, everywhere in the world. Boys and girls—everybody. We feel indebted to do our best to honor that.” This is a breath of fresh air from a company like Blizzard, particularly considering how controversial such talk had become with Gamergate hanging over the entire industry. It was also refreshing to hear him admit that, “there's a lot of room for growth.” While the cast of Overwatch includes a number of women from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, they are all slim and curvaceous. Some of them are still wearing the equivalent of cat suits.
In the push for healthier representation of women and people of color, I think that what Blizzard has done with Overwatch is a big step in the right direction. I applaud them for their work, and especially for talking about their struggles so openly. While I think that Metzen is right and that there is much more room to improve, I do think that Blizzard deserves a pat on the back for attempting to confront the issue head on. It would be easy to view this shift as a small, cosmetic one, but I tend to take the view that each step towards progress is a meaningful one.
Personally, I'm quite excited to see more of this game. I encourage anyone interested to sign up for a beta invite. I already submitted mine. Good luck to everyone trying to get in!
Also, if you play World of Warcraft, consider keeping an eye out for their upcoming vanity pet, Argi, a cute ram-like animal. He'll go on sale for $10 in the Blizzard store on December 3rd. All proceeds will be donated the American Red Cross to support their efforts in dealing with the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Find out more here.