With a couple compromises, it’s still one of the best multiplayer shooters ever made.
There are few games I have played as much as Overwatch on PC. After getting hooked by the open beta before launch, I began playing during its early pre-release on May 23, 2016, and would go on to play it constantly until the one-two punch of Breath of the Wild and Persona 5 finally pulled me away from the multiplayer first-person shooter. With so much time invested in the PC version, it was tough for me to imagine much reason to start over on Switch, and while I can’t really see the benefit in choosing Nintendo’s platform over my PC for Overwatch, I think people that have no other options will be very satisfied to finally be able to play one of my favorite games ever made.
Overwatch is a competitive team-based hero shooter with a wide variety of playable characters, maps, and game modes. In a standard match, your objective will be different based on the map you end up with, varying between pushing a payload across a set path, capturing control points, or a hybrid of the two. The different characters—called “heroes”—have completely different weapons, abilities, and properties. Pharah wields a jetpack and a rocket launcher, letting her stay out of danger and deal out splash damage. Roadhog can grab opponents with a hook and pull them towards him, leaving them exposed and vulnerable. Mercy has a staff that can either heal her teammates or boost their damage, and she’s able to reposition herself quickly by flying towards allies. There are currently 30 heroes (with one being added roughly every four months), and no two heroes feel like they fill the same niche. No matter what your playstyle is, you’ll find someone here.
On Switch, Overwatch runs shockingly well. It is locked at a maximum of 30fps with a 900p docked resolution, and while this is easily the weakest console version of the game, it runs well enough that I never felt like it affected my gameplay any more than my own difficulty adjusting to playing on a controller instead of a mouse and keyboard. The biggest Switch-specific change is the Splatoon-style motion controls, and I don’t think they’re very good. A crucial part of Splatoon’s motion controls is the ability to recenter the camera with the press of a button. Overwatch has this ability, but in addition to the fact that it only vertically recenters the camera, it’s also not mapped to any button by default because every button on the controller is already occupied by something else. This leaves the motion controls being unwieldy, as you can’t reset your controller’s physical position in your hand without also spinning your character’s point of view around with it.
Built from the ground up to appeal to both casual and competitive players, Overwatch has undergone a number of updates, reworks, and balance changes over the course of the game’s life to respond to player feedback. Since the Switch version is synced up day-and-date to the latest patch on PC, Nintendo fans will be able to jump in right away with all the benefits of three years of updates. This is mostly good, though I must admit I don’t like all of the changes Overwatch has gone through over the years.
The biggest point of contention I have is with one of the newest changes: the enforcement of role queue. Heroes are split up into three classes—damage-dealers, tanks, and supports—and a recent patch made it so that there had to be exactly two heroes of each class in a match at a time. Before searching for a match in Quick Play or Competitive you’ll choose which role (or roles) you’d prefer to play and be queued up accordingly. I was excited to see this change come to Competitive play, where team composition is paramount and players can be very insistent on the roles they want to play.
However, it doesn’t really work for the more casual Quick Play because lobbies will be completely closed after a match, forcing you to sit through the matchmaking queue again. At launch, you would continue playing matches with the same lobby of players, even playing the same map twice after swapping the attackers and defenders. Role queue can break up the rhythm of going from one match to another in a bad way, and it also unfortunately showcases how over-represented the damage class is. At time of writing, 16 heroes—more than half the cast—are designated as damage heroes, so if you queue up for any other class, you’ll be pretty limited in choices for what heroes you’re able to play. The original unrestricted mode of play, Classic Quick Play, is still available as a side mode in the arcade, but queue times can get pretty long there due to the split player base.
Every two months, Overwatch will feature an event with unique game modes and unlockable cosmetic items. There are six events, and the Switch release coincides with this year’s Halloween Terror event, featuring a PvE mode where players defend a castle from zombie robots. Other events include the holiday Winter Wonderland with Mei’s Snowball Fight (the best mode in the game), the story-driven Archives event that delves into the history of the Overwatch team, and the annual Anniversary that combines all events at once.
The events are a fun way to entice players to keep coming back to Overwatch, and while I love the fun variety they bring to the table, they unfortunately put the game’s infamous loot box system at the centerpiece of their festivities. On the whole, Overwatch is pretty generous with its loot boxes, giving ample opportunity to earn them for free by playing the game, but unlocking cosmetics is completely dependent on the whims of randomly-generated rewards. The loot box system in Overwatch is undoubtedly one of the most benevolent implementations of the system, but it was undeniably responsible for the proliferation of gacha-style mechanics over the past few years, and it is uncomfortable revisiting this version of them now in 2019.
It’s tough to recommend Overwatch on Switch to anyone that could play it on another platform. The portability factor of the console is totally neutered by the game because there’s no offline single-player whatsoever; you’re not even allowed to get to the main menu without an internet connection. Despite that, it’s still a personal favorite of mine. The structure of the game, with its changes to matchmaking and further exploitation of loot boxes, feels worse nowadays than it did three years ago, but the core, fast-paced experience of actually playing the game remains as fun as it’s ever been. Overwatch is an absolute must-play for fans of multiplayer shooters, and while the Switch version makes a number of compromises, it does not compromise how incredible Overwatch is.