The Overwatch beta has finally returned, satiating the palates of many Blizzard fans and FPS addicts alike.  After nearly a month-and-a-half of downtime, the servers went live with a massive influx of new content based on popular demand from players and careful planning from developers. The highly anticipated team-based shooter came back with a new game mode, new maps, Versus A.I., a more detailed statistics page, skins, and a desperately needed player progression system.

Drawing from the popular FPS game mode commonly known as “King of the Hill,” “Control” pits two teams in a best-of-three battle for control of various objective areas. All combat centers around these areas, with players struggling to maintain a dominate foothold on the capture point until they reach 100% control. After the first objective has been captured by a team, the second objective point opens and so on. Once a team has effectively secured two of the three objective points, the game is over.

 Image ©2016 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.

Image ©2016 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.

Control offers many great opportunities for exploring different team compositions. Teams may find that a high damage build will allow them to wrestle control from the opposing team, while using heroes with strong zoning and defensive capabilities to maintain the point until it is captured. Additionally, with players crowding one area, each hero type is able to explore high-intensity game play. Heroes such as Pharah or Hanzo may find great success with their AOE ultimates, but tanks such as Reinhart, Winston, and D. Va are able to defend and zone these tight spaces. The two Control maps, Nepal and Lijang Tower, both offer great vantage points for ranged assassins, such as Junkrat and Widowmaker, to pick off defenseless heroes in the fray. Every match in Overwatch is dynamically evolving, so the possibilities are endless.

 Image ©2016 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.

Image ©2016 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.

Speaking of the maps, the Blizzard art department has delivered once again with a high level of polish and finesse. Every map in Overwatch features vibrant colors, rich lore, advantageous spots for every type of character, and many fun Easter eggs for the keen eye. As is the case with all of Blizzard’s IPs, Overwatch finds a good balance between the functionality and aesthetic of its visual components. With the addition of unlockable skins and sprays, Overwatch brings a high visual standard while allowing for player-invested uniqueness to bring more life into the game.

Before the beta servers went down, the Overwatch hype seemed limitless. The game was universally praised for its addictive and high-quality gameplay; however, there was a serious demand for some sort of player progression system. This was a tricky problem to solve on Blizzard’s end. Unlike Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone where player progression is directly tied into the characters, cards, or skins you unlock, the gameplay of Overwatch hinges on having access to all of the available characters. Blizzard had already committed to the pricing model in which players pay a flat fee for the game title and receive all future content patches and heroes for free. The onus was on the developers to create a player progression system that is meaningful and fits within their pricing model without being disingenuous. What they created seems to fit the bill.

The progression system in Overwatch, rather than leveling up individual heroes, centers on earning experience through gameplay and leveling up the player’s account. This allows the player flexibility in playing whatever hero they need/want and rewards them even if their team loses a match. Players earn more experience if they win a match or perform well enough to receive commendations at the end. Experience is obtainable in Quick Play and the new Play vs A.I. mode; however, Quick Match will offer more experience. Every time a player reaches a new account level, they will receive a Loot Box. Opening a Loot Box feels much like the sensation of opening a card pack in Hearthstone, where sight, sound, and anticipation come together with great reward. These Loot Boxes contain common, rare, epic, and legendary player icons, skins, emotes, sprays, voice lines, victory poses, and highlight intros. Boxes may also contain credits which allow you to directly purchase the items you want.

 Image ©2016 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.

Image ©2016 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.

This system focuses on one thing, which is the center of Overwatch’s theme: thanking players for playing the game. Ultimately, Overwatch is about fun and playing with friends. While the game has a highly-anticipated eSports scene, casual players will have a very hard time not having fun in Overwatch. The short game times allow players to quickly recover from a loss and the leveling system rewards them for their time spent. As has been the case with Blizzard’s recent titles, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, and Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls, Overwatch continues the trend of elegantly simple design opening doors towards complexity for the hardcore gamer, while maintaining approach-ability for casual players. Blizzard has removed all of the unnecessary bells and whistles in the interest of making a truly solid game, and Overwatch has delivered on that promise.