Once upon a time, it would’ve been a cold day in hell before we’d see a Blizzard game on a Nintendo console. The traditionally PC-centric company broke its nearly twenty-year hiatus from Nintendo when it released Diablo III last year, and after making that port a reality, tongues got wagging about what else the company could bring over to the Switch. Overwatch was a name thrown around plenty, as the optimistic hero shooter seemed to be a great fit for the Nintendo audience, and evidently Blizzard was pleased enough with Diablo’s performance that it saw fit to bring over its popular FPS to the Switch. As you’d probably guess, this is far from the optimal way of playing Overwatch due to some performance issues, but the flexibility offered by having it on a smaller device is nonetheless a compelling reason to jump in on this port.
For those of you out of the loop, Overwatch both does and doesn’t have a story included. In other media, such as comics and short films posted online, there’s some impressively-detailed lore surrounding this futuristic world, though this story isn’t very much explored in-game. Rather it’s all there as a backdrop that frequently shines through via character voice lines and oodles of easter eggs packed away in each of the maps. The basic gist of the story is that there was a textbook revolution by evil AI called the Omnic Crisis, which was quelled by an international organization called Overwatch, staffed by myriad quasi-superhero figures. After the revolution, ensuing events saw Overwatch disbanded and outlawed, as its members were scattered across the earth, but ‘recent’ terrorist acts by an organization called Talon and the threat of a second Omnic Crisis have spurred the former heroes to take up arms again and save the world.
It’s all very fascinating stuff if you keep up with the ongoing story, and while technically all multiplayer matches are ‘non-canon’, the excellent character design ensures that each hero feels distinct. Blizzard has done a fantastic job of crafting a nuanced and complex story that sees a few dozen characters so finely integrated into each other’s histories, but it’s especially noticeable how no two heroes play the same. This is a game where you can both play as a bog-standard soldier-type hero with a rifle or as a grinning hamster piloting a giant ball-shaped mech. There’s a hero for virtually any playstyle you can come up with, and they’re sure to have an interesting and possibly bittersweet story about how they acquired the powers or technology that give them their edge in the fight.
As a hero shooter, Overwatch places a much higher emphasis on team-based play. This isn’t a game that’s all about maxing out the K/D, but one in which individual success is measured by how well you were able to play your role. Each hero has a specific kit of abilities that are governed by cooldowns; knowing how to read the terrain and when to deploy certain skills will make the difference between victory and defeat. For example, D.Va is a flexible tank hero who specializes in flying around and either protecting individual heroes or erasing flanking attackers. She also has an ultimate ability that allows her to detonate her mech and cause a nuclear blast. The blast can be easily dodged on most maps or blocked by another tank, but if you wait to use it until the enemy team is all together and can’t easily find cover, you can eliminate three or four at a time.
Coordinating attacks and balancing roles is key to victory then, something which may come as a hard lesson for some. Like it or not, playing the healer hero Moira like she’s a DPS character will not only lead to you having a bad time, but everyone else on your team, too, because they won’t be getting the benefit of the heals she’s capable of putting out. Six-player teams are large enough that they help to mitigate any shortcomings offered up by a player not adequately fulfilling their role, but they’re also small enough that everyone’s individual effort certainly counts. Depending on how seriously you take the game, this reliance on others’ performance can prove to be quite frustrating at times, but we rather enjoy the more diverse type of play being offered here. Victories and defeats both often feel well-earned, and there’s something about overcoming a stiff enemy team by sheer teamwork that’s simply unparalleled.
Along with an impressively diverse array of map lineups, Overwatch also has several objectives to fulfil in its main mode to keep games from becoming too stale. These rotate between assault, control, escort, and a hybrid of the three, each of which offer up unique challenges depending on who you’re playing. Lucio, for example, is an area of effect healer who really shines in control missions, where he can camp out on the point and heal his whole team as they fend off the enemy. In addition to these main modes, Overwatch also has a collection of side modes in the 'Arcade', where you can play a rotating selection of more unbalanced and experimental game types, along with seasonal content. Considering the deep bench of characters and the diversity of game modes, there’s quite a lot to do in Overwatch. This is easily a game that you can lose hundreds of hours to, once you ‘get it’.
Part of this is driven, too, by the loot box system that lies at the heart of progression. At the end of every match, you’re granted XP based on how well you performed, and once you level up, you’re granted a loot box that’ll give you four random cosmetic items for any heroes. These can be voice lines, skins, wall sprays, or taunts, and though none of them have any benefit to your performance, the collectable nature of this set up creates a need to collect everything you can for your main heroes.
If you want something specific, you can buy it directly for coins, which are granted for duplicate items or occasionally in lieu of an item. Naturally, it takes quite a while to get enough coins to buy the rarest gear, but this can be cut back more if you want to kick some money Blizzard’s way and buy loot boxes with real-world money. Though some will no doubt still cry foul at the inclusion of loot boxes, we feel that Blizzard doesn’t force them on you in any ways that feel overbearing. New boxes come by every few games, and the contents of them don’t really matter to begin with; it’s all just for fashion. Even so, this adds even more to Overwatch’s replayability, as there’s always an air of excitement around getting new boxes and chasing certain items for your favourite heroes.
Now, this being a Switch port, many are no doubt wondering how Overwatch holds up on the humble hardware. The reality is that it’s somewhat middling. The drop to 30FPS is definitely felt, along with the simpler textures and character models, but Blizzard overall did a pretty solid job of keeping the experience consistent and smooth. Loading in at the beginning of a match takes some time, as character models are briefly replaced by floating orbs, but we otherwise didn’t see anything that majorly affects the way you play. That being said, the drop to 30FPS combined with the limited travel on the Switch’s sticks makes aiming a little more difficult – though this is greatly mitigated by the fantastic motion controls.
The long and short of it is that this is a difficult release to recommend if you intend on playing the game solely in docked mode. Performance is fine, but considering that you could easily pick it up on other platforms for your TV and get a better experience, it’s tough to recommend from that angle. However, playing it in handheld mode proves to be a delightful experience due to how easily accessible it becomes. You can play it in a coffee shop. You can play it while 'sort of' watching a show on Netflix. You can play it on your toilet. As long as there’s Wi-Fi you can play Overwatch anywhere, and though it may not be an optimal way to play if you want to get competitive with it, it’s pretty tough to beat that level of easy access.
One other complaint that bears mentioning (which veterans will want to pay attention to) is that you must start over with a clean account when playing Overwatch on Switch. So, those of you that have been playing since the beginning on other platforms and have amassed quite a collection of loot will sadly have to start back over from square one. Indeed, this is a pretty deal-breaking aspect for some who were considering double-dipping, but we’d still say that it’s worth picking up for the portability alone.
At its heart, Overwatch on the Switch was always going to be a bit of a tough sell. Those who somehow haven’t played it yet could easily buy a better-performing version on other platforms, while those who have played it to death may be put off by the weaker performance and the lack of shared progression. Even so, having the capability to play a match of Overwatch while using the restroom is 2019 living at its absolute finest, and the kind of flexibility offered up by the Switch’s portability is not something to be understated. We’d give Overwatch a recommendation, but with the caveat that you should consider first why you’re buying it. If you intend on playing it plenty when undocked, we can’t recommend it enough, but if you intend on mostly playing on the TV, consider first buying it elsewhere.