Hi! I'm a 30-something gamer, and I'm new to first person shooters. There, I've said it.
When I was in high school, my buddies thought it would be fun to have an all night LAN party. But while all the other kids were happily inserting virtual bullet holes into each other's skulls and groins in Counter Strike, I spent most of the night wishing I was back home controlling my Sims while they take the trash out or go make imaginary poops. When everyone was fragging each other in Doom, I was much happier making sure India's aggressive cultural expansion did not go unchecked in Civilization.
Fast-forward to a couple weeks ago in 2016, when Overwatch became the first FPS I've played in over 10 years. What made Overwatch special for me is that it's the first FPS I've ever actually enjoyed. I mean, I'm not about to bust out my credit card and pick up every Call of Duty I-MXIV: Revenge of the Calls of Duties to round out my collection, or anything, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Overwatch, it done good.
As I was researching this article, I was surprised to find out that the reasons behind why I enjoyed Overwatch so much weren't always obvious. Blizzard has always been great at making their games accessible to a broad audience – remember how popular and far-reaching World of Warcraft was when it first came out? Many of the people I knew from those days have never touched an MMO in their lives, and to this day, they're still playing WoW – and Overwatch is no different.
Turns out, Overwatch employs a number of elements, some of which have been cleverly hidden under the hood, to acclimate new players to the game in order to get 'em hooked. Here are some of the most surprising ways in which Overwatch leverages game to player psychology in order to make itself accessible, welcoming, and fun for new players.
Why Overwatch Is Awesome
Check almost out any screenshot on the web, and you'll immediately be struck at how beautiful Overwatch is. With character and environment designs that invoke bright, colorful pastels and vibrant contrasts, along with interesting and visually attractive designs, Overwatch looks, animates, and plays like a grown-up Pixar movie. But the graphics does more than look pretty – the visuals provide the most obvious cues about what opponents you're up against.
Each character has a unique color palette, silhouette, and animations; no two characters move and look the same. Fast striking characters move nimbly, sometimes appearing as little more than a blur on the screen, whereas tanks shake the earth as they lumber along or roll by. Even players without any past experience with hero shooters will recognize how tough a Reinhardt is, and know to bring out the big guns when taking on the towering, armor-clad knight.
Whereas a Tracer or D.Va's vivid color schemes in orange and hot neon pink, respectively, or Winston's berserking form, do a great job at what they're meant to do: distract their enemies into focusing their attention on them, while the rest of the team scurries past by and powers through the mission.
Clever Audio Tricks
Probably the subtlest and most brilliant way Overwatch gets you in the game is through the clever use of sound. In Overwatch, you're always playing as part of a team against an opposing team.
If you listen carefully for just a few seconds, you might have noticed that the enemy's footfalls are louder, more urgent, their gunshots more resonant, whereas your allies' footfalls and gunfire are quieter and more muffled, even though they might be running right beside you. In this way, the game subtly makes it easier for you to locate your enemies by sound, and to zero in on (or avoid) areas where intense firefights are breaking out.
Another deliberate audio cue lies in the things that different heroes utter when unleashing their Ultimates. Ultimate abilities, especially when used with skill and good timing, is a game-changing ability that's unique to each hero. Ultimates do many things, from resurrecting an entire group of fallen heroes to delivering an explosive payload of high-impact missiles to an area. Such is their utility and power that Ultimates are accompanied by a voice-over line uttered by the hero.
Where this system shines lies in the fact that what your hero says will sound different depending on if said hero is a teammate or your enemy. For instance, when Genji unleashes his Ultimate, his enemies will hear him shout an aggressive phrase in Japanese. But Genji's allies will hear him utter “Let the dragon consume you,” in a much calmer, quieter tone.
This is a brilliant game design decision, as players are more likely to be intimidated by a phrase uttered aggressively in a foreign language, than in their native tongue. It indicates that the designers are keenly aware of player psychology, and has tailored their game to condition players into eliciting the appropriate responses to threats versus non-threats. It's incredibly easy to miss unless you know what to listen for, but instinctively, almost subliminally, our brains pick up on these very subtle cues and respond to them reflexively.
Your characters automatically shout contextual warnings like “They've got turrets over here!” or “Look behind you!”
This small touch is unbelievably helpful and goes a long way to both helping teams coordinate in the thick of battle and adding to the immersion. More importantly, this means that players can effectively play without being saddled with a microphone, headset, and the worst trash-talking banter the internet has to offer.
Overwatch also does something quite possibly unprecedented in the competitive shooter arena: it ditches a feature that's common to competitive FPSes, dynamic server-wide leaderboards. Instead, by pressing TAB, all you see are your personal stats – your kills, supports, healings, and assists that you have amassed so far in the match. By eliminating large-scale leaderboards that show how you rank compared to other members of your team or server, Overwatch has essentially de-fanged the greatest weapon in the online bully's arsenal, rendering it virtually impossible for them to pick on new players who would undoubtedly place at the bottom of the ladder.
This goes a long, long way to making the game even more friendly and accessible to new players. Even better, at the end of every match, the game displays stats for how well each player on both teams did: who took the most damage, dished out the most healing, etc. Players can award a thumbs-up to teammates (or even members of the opposite team!) they thought contributed well to a fun and sporting match for everyone involved.
Another small touch is the selection of character emotes: your characters can wave, sit, show off their fancy gun-spinning skills, salute comrades or worthy opponents, pose heroically, and more... but one emote that's most noticeable in its absence is the taunt. That's right: the closest anyone can get to directly threatening an opponent through an emote is maybe to beckon them towards their (presumably) impending doom. This small, deliberate omission of something that's a staple in virtually any other competitive FPS is a brilliant tactical decision and goes a long way to making Overwatch new-player friendly.
As of this writing, another recent anti-bullying measure that debuted on the test server is that the game has taken to replacing the common chat phrase “gg ez” with other entertaining phrases. After a challenging, well-fought match, it used to be that typing “gg” (“good game”) to your opponents was a show of good sportsmanship. But more recently, “gg ez” has become a corruption of the original, now meaning, “it was easy beating you guys because you suck so hard.” In Overwatch, typing “gg ez” instead displays one of a variety of hilarious phrases, such as “Aw shucks... you guys are the best,” or “It's past my bedtime. Please don't tell my mommy.”
Of course, diehard armchair censorship watchdogs are all over this one, but really, sit back down, guys. Overwatch isn't part of some master plan by Blizzard to ban all the words. They're just taking out the trash. Player reaction to these changes seems to be generally positive, which should come as no surprise, because nobody likes trolls.
The indelible truth of online competitive gaming is that haters, they gonna hate.
Players who fancy themselves 'hardcore' like to bemoan how 'easy' Blizzard games are, but I'd argue that the best games are easy to grasp, but difficult to master. This can certainly be said of Overwatch.
Having a game that's friendly to beginners attracts a far broader audience, many of whom will find themselves hooked into playing for the long term and mastering the nuances of their favorite characters. And Overwatch's many hidden, underlying mechanics make it not only extremely accessible to beginners, but also a surprisingly friendly and welcoming world in which to virtually murder your fellow man, woman, robot or primate.