Blizzard Entertainment concluded today’s opening ceremony at BlizzCon 2014 by unveiling its first new franchise in almost two decades. Overwatch, a team-based first person shooter, looks like a cross between Pixar and Team Fortress 2. The game will go into beta in 2015, but is available to play right now at BlizzCon for convention attendees. Blizzard announced the game by releasing a cinematic trailer and another featuring gameplay footage.
At first glance, Overwatch appears to have been influenced by the work Blizzard did on the now cancelled Project Titan MMO. It’s set on Earth nearly sixty years in the future, where robots went crazy and began attacking humanity, leading the nations of the world to develop a strike team of heroes to combat the threat. This team was called the Overwatch.
The heroes vanquished the threat and spent the next thirty years creating a formal agency to protect the world, but was eventually dismantled. But as new threats begin to emerge, the players will bring the group back together.
Players will take up arms as various heroes or “character classes.” Like Heroes of the Storm, the characters will have a versatile set of abilities but will be able to specialize in specific roles like damage-dealing or support. The gameplay video shows off a wide array of moves and weapons, like Tracer’s ability to “blink” and various characters setting up turrets and mines. There will be twelve heroes playable this weekend at BlizzCon, but more are in development.
While Overwatch may seem like a change of pace for Blizzard, the company has found success by taking a genre enjoyed by those within in, and crafting an experience designed to open up that genre to the masses. Game director Jeff Kaplan (formerly the game director on World of Warcraft) noted during the initial presentation and special panel afterwards that Blizzard is working hard to make a first-person shooter that is more accessible than the games we have today.
Specifically, Overwatch will feature less “twitch-based” gameplay, and characters will be able to stay alive longer than in other FPS games where a single headshot can end a round. Blizzard hopes even gamers who don’t traditionally enjoy FPS games will give Overwatch a try, thanks to the ability to take on other roles like healing or tanking.
Character Screenshots: Bastion
Character Screenshots: Zenyatta
Character Screenshots: Winston
Character Screenshots: Widowmaker
Character Screenshots: Tracer
Character Screenshots: Torbjorn
Character Screenshots: Symmetra
Character Screenshots: Reaper
Character Screenshots: Pharah
Character Screenshots: Mercy
Character Screenshots: Hanzo
Gameplay will be 6v6, which was apparently settled on for its ability to allow one player to rise above the rest, but also allows other players to have a bad game without torpedoing the match for the entire team. Maps will feature popular objectives like Payload and Capture Point – but Deathmatch will not be an option. As an added twist, players will be able to switch to an entirely new hero during the same match each time they die.
No specific business model has been decided on yet. Blizzard has recent experience with making free-to-play games like Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone, but additional details on price or skins, leveling or achievements are all still under consideration. The developer will be using the feedback it gets from gamers at BlizzCon this weekend to influence future development.
The game is announced for PC and the gameplay videos posted on the official website for Overwatch give an idea of how the keybinds will work. During the panel discussion after the opening ceremony, Blizzard’s Chris Metzen was asked if Overwatch will come to consoles. Metzen responded that he thought “that would be awesome” but was non-committal about future plans.
Given how Blizzard has already tested the waters on consoles with Diablo III, it seems pretty obvious that Overwatch would be a good fit for a release on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. Seeing the kind of gameplay involved, one has to hope Blizzard will offer controller support on PCs even ahead of a console release.
Map Screenshots: Temple of Anubis
Map Screenshots: Kings Row
Map Screenshots: Hanamura
After all of the speculation and rumors ahead of BlizzCon about what Blizzard might have up its sleeve, it’s somewhat refreshing to see the company give its fans something that was largely unexpected. A team-based FPS was supposed to have died with Titan, so the fact that Blizzard was able to retain at least some elements from that long-in-development project is pretty cool. Warcraft fans may be a bit miffed those Warcraft 4 rumors didn’t come true, but it would appear Blizzard has gotten everyone’s attention regardless.
Overwatch will enter beta on PC in 2015. You can sign up for it here.
Follow Jason Gallagher on Twitter @MuckrakerJG