Blizzard Entertainment has a laser focus in the games it develops. Virtually all of the games in its 20-plus years have fallen into one of three core franchises: StarCraft, WarCraft, and Diablo (or all three mashed up, in the case of Heroes of the Storm). Any new game outside of those universes is a pretty big deal.
Overwatch is Blizzard’s first new franchise since launching the original StarCraft in 1998. It is a first-person, competitive, team-based shooter. Like Team Fortress 2, it features different characters with drastically different sets of abilities, allowing for creative collaboration between the four broad categories of character: offense, defense, support, and tank. It also draws inspiration for character and map design from popular MOBAs such as League of Legends and DOTA 2, but from a first-person perspective, very much like Gearbox’s upcoming Battleborn. Supposedly the game was salvaged from elements of Blizzard’s cancelled massively-multiplayer follow-up to World of Warcraft, Titan.
Blizzard has released a number of new gameplay videos over the last week or so, featuring complete matches from the perspective of a single character, giving you a much clearer sense of how they will actually operate.
Hanzo, the archer
Hanzo is a Japanese archer who rains down death from a distance as offense. His sonic arrow contains a sonar tracking device, marking your opponents for everyone on your team to more easily hunt down. He also has a nasty fragmenting arrow that ricochets off of walls and obstacles to clear out groups of enemies, especially in enclosed spaces.
McCree, the outlaw
Jesse McCree is a bounty hunter from Santa Fe with a six-shooter on his hip, a robot hand, and “BAMF” on his belt buckle. Like Hanzo, McCree brings the pain on offense. He can place each shot carefully, or fan his six-shooter’s hammer to quickly unload the entire chamber. A combat roll lets him nimbly dodge around the arena, while also reloading his Peacekeeper (a play on the classic Colt Peacemaker revolver that dominated the American west). He also packs flashbang grenades to throw his enemies off.
Mercy, the healer
A renowned Swiss doctor-turned-field-medic, Mercy keeps her teammates feeling spry in a support role. Her primary Caduceus Staff has the dual utility of both healing her allies or increasing the amount of damage they deal. She also has a sidearm for blasting anyone that gets too close, but mostly as a last resort. Those wings aren’t just for show, either, letting her rapidly fly toward allies in need to provide crucial backup.
Zenyatta, the robotic monk
My favorite of the four in terms of backstory and design, Zenyatta is part of an order of self-aware robots that had a spiritual awakening and went to found a monastery deep in the Himalayas. Unlike his more isolationist brethren, Zenyatta sought to bridge the gap between man and machine through joining them as support. His abilities revolve around orbs of energy that he can use as deadly projectiles, link with allies to heal them, or link with enemies to amplify the damage they receive.
Blizzard has not announced a release date, and likely won’t for a while, given the studio’s general policy of releasing games when they’re done instead of rushing to meet deadlines. It is currently scheduled to enter a closed beta later in 2015. It will be released on PC exclusively, with no currently known plans for consoles.