I am the video game industry’s target audience. I am a man in my late twenties with disposable income and a non-existent attention span. I’d get bored at my own funeral; my corpse would probably pull out a phone and start idly scrolling through Twitter as my children were reading their eulogies. If there’s a new game coming out, I promptly drop the last one only to pick up the new one, so I must attempt to complete whatever new release I’m plowing through as soon as possible before I risk getting distracted. Yet, I cannot stop playing Overwatch.
Playing Overwatch has become a daily ritual that has forcibly inserted itself into my life. My existence can now be firmly separated into two distinct eras — before Overwatch, and after Overwatch. The latter era is slightly pudgier from the lack of exercise.
These cold winter months have been spent huddled around my desktop monitor as though it were a log fire, but a log fire that I angrily shout “fuck off” into every now and again. Since Halo 2 on the original Xbox, I can’t remember a competitive multiplayer game that has wrapped its tendrils around me with such great efficiency.
There is something unmistakably different about Blizzard’s FPS compared to its peers, even though it borrows from other games such as Valve’s Team Fortress 2, and it is these unique qualities that combine to form a game I am hopelessly obsessed with. In order to justify why I’ve been spending so much of my spare time playing Overwatch, I thought I’d break down the specifics of how this game manages to be so bloody addictive.
You’re never really “good” at Overwatch
You may think you’re “good” at Overwatch, but suddenly you find yourself in a match where your preferred heroes have each been reserved, and you’re therefore tasked with stepping out of your comfort zone. Overwatch is a game in which you send reach level 100 but only invest your time into two heroes, leaving you fundamentally useless when in a match where neither of them is required.
You can be good at playing as a particular hero or heroes in Overwatch, but the end goal of being good at the game in its entirety is the dangling carrot ahead of every player. I’ve now sunk a myriad number of hours into the game, but task me with assuming the role of an attacking hero and I’ll bring your team down with me.
I’m currently looking to add McCree to my stable of heroes I can actually play, but the jump from predominantly playing as a tank (Orisa) or support (my favorite boopy son, Lucio) is jarring. Rather than plop down a shield to defend me or use my speedy boots to wall-ride to safety, McCree introduces a variety of variables that haven’t been present in my game thus far. Now my accuracy has to be pinpoint, my play style more reserved to accommodate for his lower pool of health, and my abilities managed more carefully to ensure I always have a backup plan when suddenly swarmed by the enemy.
Switching to McCree has completely changed Overwatch for me, giving me brand new challenges to overcome even after playing this game regularly since May 2016. I’ve shifted from a player who can tip the balance in the favor of my team, to one who will cause the chat to be inundated with messages reading “shitty mcree.” Still, there’s only one way to learn in Overwatch, and that isn’t by following the guidance of those who tell me to kill myself.
I need ALL of the skins and NO, I won’t pay for them
Overwatch is a fast-paced game trapped in a slow-burning leveling system, wrapped in skins that take so long to unlock that getting a hold of them has become my own personal Everest.
Blizzard has made the act of unlocking skins without purchasing loot boxes a drag, with the obvious intention being to get you to force more money into its randomized microtransaction system. If like me you don’t want to throw down more cash, then getting more skins for your heroes of choice is a lengthy process.
Every time a new event rolls around, I am forced to live with the disappointment after missing out on a Cthulhu Zenyatta, or David Bowie Moira, or witch Mercy. Waiting until you level up to get a new loot box is a thankless and mostly unsuccessful process, in which you’ll be inundated with boring sprays and victory poses but will miss out on everything you actually want. It’s like the game knows which heroes you’re never going to use and when you do eventually unlock a legendary skin, it’ll be for Symmetra.
Much in the same way that old games kept you coming back in order to unlock new characters, playing Overwatch without shoving cash into it has made me desperate to level up in order to be in with a chance of increasing my wardrobe of legendary skins. Then there’s the pursuit of the gold portrait, a distant goal that is probably more trouble to get than it’s worth. I have yet to be involved in a match with a gold portrait player where they haven’t been on the receiving end of an inordinate amount of flack from both their teammates and the opposition. “Gold portrait and you still suck,” they type, and suddenly all those hours they’ve invested into the game probably don’t seem worth it.
Even though I have major reservations about the concept of loot boxes altogether, Blizzard has done an admittedly impressive job of making its skins seem infinitely more valuable than they are. Even the game’s golden guns, a gaudy modification to your existing weaponry only obtainable through playing the game’s competitive mode for literally months, are presented as a Holy Grail; I must get Lucio’s golden Sonic Amplifier and show off how much I love my boopy son, so I must put in countless hours playing alongside salty teammates, who can never accept that the burden of defeat may lie on their shoulders after getting bronze hero damage with Soldier 76.
I can’t envisage a time where I’ll ever actually stop playing Overwatch. It’s a game that feels as though it was built from the ground-up to satisfy me, to make me keep coming back and playing it. It feels like Blizzard infiltrated my thoughts, and deciphered the exact buttons to press to ensure that I can’t go so much as a day without being drawn back to it. Now please, Blizzard, just give me that Cthulhu Zen skin.