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Overwatch: is it time for a new map?

22 Feb

Better yet, how about something a little different…

Screenshot-3---Capture-The-Rooster

“Clever level design can lift unused heroes to new heights. Where many Overwatch players seem happy to have a new hero once every three months, the arrival of a new map between these vacant periods could comfortably satiate the need for something more.”

Regardless of how good the gunplay is in a first person shooter, the maps that its players play on are an incredibly important part of ensuring the overall experience is enjoyable. Poorly designed locations that lack a cohesive theme, layering or verticality, can often result in play feeling dull and lifeless. Well designed maps not only transform a game, but they often remain memorable for years to come.

Overwatch has 21 maps in total if we’re to also include seasonal variants and Arena. 14 of those are set across Assault, Escort, Hybrid and Control and the last to be released, Oasis, was in January 2017. I’d consider it a relatively large number in total but there’s also an imbalance right now, with Hybrid and Control having four a piece and Assault and Escort only three.

There’s no suggestion that Overwatch has to have an equal number of maps across its game modes, but it’s fair to say that Assault and Escort have a great deal of potential. Although they’re incredibly simple in design, there’s an immediacy to the playstyle they offer that’s moreish. Volskaya is a particular favorite of mine simply because the nuances of its design create a challenging ebb and flow of combat. Its mix of bottle necks, open spaces, flanking routes and mobile platforms – wrapped up in a beautiful snow setting – allow it to stand out.

To be entirely fair to Overwatch, all of its maps are strong. I’d argue however that the lineup of Control maps are the weakest simply because it’s a game mode with so few transitions. Fundamentally, success or failure on all of them revolves entirely around one set area and everything on the outside is largely irrelevant.

The addition of any new map to Overwatch can massively affect the meta and while it might not push change as far as the arrival of a new hero, clever level design can lift unused heroes to new heights. Where many Overwatch players seem happy to have a new hero once every three months, the arrival of a new map between these vacant periods could comfortably satiate the need for something ‘more’.

Screenshot-2---Volskaya-Industries

With Overwatch drawing its map inspirations from the real world, albeit a future one, it did get me thinking about how Blizzard could improve on their existing game modes, but also what map could be next. Considering we’ve already been to most ecosystems and world locations that have a clear theme, there’s inevitably a risk of overlap. It’s when looking back over past first person shooters then, that my favorite ever map sprang to mind: AS-Convoy from Unreal Tournament.

The map in question see players fight across a series of moving vehicles and as it hurtles forwards, players have to undertake a variety of objectives, whether attacking or defending. Objectives include opening the transport panel to create a closer spawn point for the attackers, opening the rear door of the convoy to allow a plane to perform a bombing run or bomb the doors for access to the repair vessel.

With the Convoy constantly in motion, combined with its multiple objectives, there’s an unquestionable excitement to the entire map. There’s not only the risk of falling from the moving cars and the transport carrier, but the dynamics of the map changing in real time – depending on the success of the attackers or defenders – makes for nervy and exciting play.

Even after all these years I’ve still yet to play anything that comes close to AS-Convoy and in many ways it would be amazing to see something similar in Overwatch. With all existing maps largely static, anything with motion to this degree would instantly stand out, especially as an Assault map.

Screenshot-1---Oasis

Choosing a setting for something of this kind would be rather difficult, but I did wonder whether the Orient Express could be a possibility. Although Overwatch is set some time in 2070, I suspect retention of key landmarks is very much the norm and considering Hollywood and Route 66 still exist, it seems sensible to suggest the Orient Express – an iconic train – absolutely could.

“Dynamic maps that change direction based on the success of the attacking or defending team could drastically alter the design approach to Assault and Escort, to the point where they’d not only have more originality, but potentially greater longevity.”

My thought surrounding the train and this map is that it would be more akin to the Snowpiercer but on a much grander, futuristic scale. Glass carriages, multiple floors, wide balconies and open decks as well as a variety of holds would make up the train. These layers would add verticality, close quarter play and variety. Not only this, but as the train sped along – levitating above the rails below – hover vehicles would pursue the train and regularly change formations. These would provide hazards for the player but would also grant further width to the map as players would be able to freely move across them.

I suspect an initial reservation may be the prospect of repeated deaths for anyone who lacks shore footing when playing from a first person perspective, but this would largely be balanced by the fact everyone would spawn on solid ground and access to the Orient Express would be guaranteed. Using the flanking routes on the outside of the train (technically the surrounding vehicles) would be high risk, high reward paths. Despite these risks, there would still be some reliable paths to pass over.

The lore surrounding the map would see the differing Overwatch factions all attempting to intercept and/or protect a dignitary on board the train. Widowmaker would be attempting to assassinate, while heroes such as Winston and Tracer would be hoping to extract the target. Roadhog and Junkrat would simply be along for the gold bullion in the hold.

overwatch_year_of_the_rooster (23)

In many ways the map would play out like the multi-stages offered by those in Brink or Powerstone 2. It would undoubtedly be technical and no doubt a challenge for Blizzard to implement something of this scale, but many of the objectives of the map would be Capture Points that resulted in a significant change to the map.

If Blizzard is to continue as it is by simply implementing fixed location maps of a traditional nature, irrespective of game mode, I suspect things may get stale quickly and the desire from players to have more maps delivered at pace would grow louder. Ensuring that new maps retain their simplicity, but with greater layers to their delivery (such as my hopes above), would not only keep things interesting, but add life to game modes that are already growing stale.

The reaction to Capture the Rooster, another traditional game mode that uses existing maps, perfectly highlights the player base’s desire for something new. Dynamic maps that change direction based on the success of the attacking or defending team could drastically alter the design approach to Assault and Escort, to the point where they’d not only have more originality, but potentially greater longevity. They effectively become an evolving game tug of war where the maps are constantly changing: to me, that sounds a very good thing.

What would you like to see from new Overwatch maps? Would you like more dynamic alternatives? Are you happy with what we already have, as long as a new setting is provided? Let me know.

Overwatch season 3 has just ended, with season 4 opening in a week

22 Feb

The third competitive season of Overwatch has drawn to a close.

overwatch

With the season now over, it’s a good time to jump on and collect the spoils of your work, although you’ll have needed a top 500 rank to get the really good sprays and icons.

Season 4 is due to begin in a week, on February 28. Blizzard has not talked about whether they have new plans for this season, after seasons 2 and 3 saw fairly significant shake-ups to the ranking system. It’ll be interesting to see if the same thing happens again or if Blizzard feels that they have settled into a groove.

We’re also wondering if we’ll see a new hero for season 4. Blizzard just dropped an interview with a fictional scientist within the Overwatch world that may contain some hints, who we’re told probably isn’t going to be Doomfist.

One popular theory at the moment, based on an unverified ‘leak’, is that the next hero will be an omnic tank named Anchora.

In any case, hopefully we can get our rankings up in Overwatch’s fourth competitive season next week.

Overwatch Sales Reach New Milestone in China

17 Feb

Last year, just over two months after release, Overwatch became the fastest selling PC game in China. This year, it has achieved a new milestone. According to analyst Daniel Ahmad from Niko Partners, Overwatch has successfully sold over five million copies in the country since release. The figure takes into account sales conducted through both […]

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“Year of the Mammoth” Holds Exciting Changes for Hearthstone

17 Feb

Blizzard has outlined its plans for Hearthstone this year, revealing a ton of new changes that will keep the free-to-play card game fresh and exciting. The “Year of the Mammoth” will officially commence with the upcoming first expansion pack of 2017, which is rumored to be called Lost Secrets of Un’Goro. At the same time, […]

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Overwatch Season 4 Begins Soon

16 Feb

The current ranked season of Overwatch is scheduled to conclude later this month, giving the community less than two weeks to grind any further milestones. Posting on the official forums, Blizzard announced that season three is scheduled to end on February 21. The new season will then commence just a week after on February 28, […]

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New Hearthstone Ranked Floors Bring Safe Havens for Anxious Players

15 Feb

A highly requested feature will be rolled out for the competitive Hearthstone ranked ladder later this month, Blizzard announced. In its efforts to refine the Ranked Play experience, the developer is taking steps to curb or at lease reduce the amount of anxiety that players face while climbing the many rungs of the competitive ladder. […]

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Small-Time Buccaneer Goes Smaller in Upcoming Hearthstone Update

15 Feb

Blizzard is fulfilling its promise of addressing the frustrating current meta of Shaman and Pirate decks in the upcoming Hearthstone update. Posting on the official forums, community manager Zaerhinon revealed that both Small-Time Buccaneer and Spirit Claws are being nerfed later this month. The two cards are extremely popular right now and significant inclusions of […]

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Blizzard Slams Korean PC Bangs to Curb Overwatch Cheaters

15 Feb

This week, Blizzard is enforcing new restrictions on Korean PC bangs (gaming cafes) to prevent the bane of rampant cheating in Overwatch. Beginning February 17, a Korean Battle.net account will be required by every player in order to log into Overwatch from any local cafe. While creating a Battle.net account is free, the requirement of […]

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This upcoming Hearthstone patch will tweak the ranking system and nerf two overused cards

15 Feb

Some tweaks are coming to Hearthstone in the near future, which will both put a floor on how far down the rankings you can drop and nerf two cards that are being overused in the meta.

hearthstone-welcome-bundle

The next patch will, as outlined on Battle.net, add ranking floors at levels 5, 10, and 15, similar to the existing floors at 20 and Legend. This means that once you hit rank 5, for instance, you won’t be able to drop back to rank 4, and thus the climb to rank 10 (and then 15, then 20) will perhaps seem more achievable.

Meanwhile, two very popular cards are getting nerfed. Small-time Buccaneer is getting its health reduced from 2 to 1, because “the combination of Small Time Buccaneer and Patches the Pirate has been showing up too often in the meta”. Spirit Claws will now cost 2 mana instead of 1, with Blizzard acknowledging that the card was a little too powerful for such a low cost.

These changes are being promised in an update that will arrive towards the end of February.

Audio medic Lucio is now available in Heroes of the Storm

15 Feb

Lucio has arrived in Heroes of the Storm, along with his signature abilities.

Just like in Overwatch, he can buff speed or heal nearby characters, and can attack with all the same abilities. In Heroes of the Storm he doesn’t need to reload, and one of his heroic abilities, Reverse Amp, nerfs enemies while buffing allies within range.

A new event, For Azeroth, has also commenced, and will run until March 15. The event is detailed on the game’s site, but the long and short of it is that complete 15 Heroes of the Storm matches with a friend, both of you playing as Warcraft Heroes, before the event concludes, you’ll unlock some in-game items. In World of Warcraft, you’ll get a Primal Flamesaber Mount, and in Heroes of the Storm you’ll get a 10-day Stimpack and a Flames of Judgement Charger Mount.

Various other changes have been made as well, as detailed in the full patch notes.

Several of the characters are getting slight tweaks, although the changes made to Murky are by far the most significant. If you’re an avid player, it’s worth giving the notes a look.

Overwatch Bastion Redesign; New Ironclad Passive Makes Him Almost Immortal

13 Feb

Last week, the Overwatch Public Test Region (PTR) received a new update that included a major redesign for Bastion in all of his configurations. Most importantly, the transformer now boasts a new passive called Ironclad which reduces all incoming damage by 35 percent in both Sentry and Tank configurations. While Blizzard removed his bonus armor, […]

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Voice Actress Hints Upcoming Overwatch Animated Series

11 Feb

Blizzard has apparently begun work on an Overwatch animated series, revealed earlier today by one of the game’s leading voice actresses. Charlet Chung, the voice behind D.Va, took to Twitter to confirm that she has been recording lines for the yet-to-be named animated series. She called it a major milestone for her career and the […]

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Overwatch Still Not Done With Roadhog, More Changes Inbound

10 Feb

Blizzard is still not content with the current form of Roadhog in Overwatch. Further changes are being finalized to release for the sturdy tank soon. Posting on the official forums, principal designer Geoff Goodman revealed that the bullet-spread from the Scrap Gun is being decreased. This should have Roadhog blasting targets in close-quarters with ease […]

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Overwatch Still Not Done With Roadhog, More Changes Inbound

10 Feb

Blizzard is still not content with the current form of Roadhog in Overwatch. Further changes are being finalized to release for the sturdy tank soon. Posting on the official forums, principal designer Geoff Goodman revealed that the bullet-spread from the Scrap Gun is being decreased. This should have Roadhog blasting targets in close-quarters with ease […]

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Overwatch Still Not Done With Roadhog, More Changes Inbound

10 Feb

Blizzard is still not content with the current form of Roadhog in Overwatch. Further changes are being finalized to release for the sturdy tank soon. Posting on the official forums, principal designer Geoff Goodman revealed that the bullet-spread from the Scrap Gun is being decreased. This should have Roadhog blasting targets in close-quarters with ease […]

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Overwatch Highlight Saving Feature Still in Development, No ETA in Sight

8 Feb

It’s been eight months since Blizzard announced that it was working on an in-game Overwatch highlight saving feature for the community. Earlier today, game director Jeff Kaplan jumped into a related thread on the official forums to confirm that Blizzard is still working on the said feature. He further added that while “significant progress” has […]

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Latest Overwatch PTR Patch Adds Server Browser, New Game Mode and More

8 Feb

Blizzard Entertainment has rolled out a new Overwatch PTR patch that brings a lot of changes to the heroes, along with a new feature, “Server Browser”. According to Overwatch PTR patch notes, the “server browser” is an extension of OVerwatch’s custom game mode. “The Server Browser allows you to adjust the settings on various maps, […]

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Overwatch’s ‘capture the flag’ mode will live on beyond the Year of the Rooster event

8 Feb

Overwatch’s latest seasonal mode will be sticking around once the event has ended.

In the latest developer update, Blizzard’s Jeff Kaplan details the upcoming server browser, and how this will allow capture the flag to live on as a custom game mode. The mode is currently available to try out on the Public Test Realm.

“There’s a lot of times where players want to try different things, and play the game in different ways”, Kaplan says, “and it’s not really viable for us to put up a matchmaking system where we can feed everyone into everybody’s different custom games”. The server browser will come alongside a big update to custom games, including the ability to gain experience within them.

CTF will work across twelve maps, including the three already available in the current Capture the Rooster map. Presumably, these nine new maps will be pulled from the three different zones of the game’s capture maps, Nepal, Ilios, and Oasis.

The mode will be customisable, so different rules can be set depending on player preference. Hero abilities can be toggled on or off, the rules for grabbing the flag can be altered, characters allowed can be changed – and this will be true of all maps and modes, so you can speed up payloads or disable specific character abilities if you want.

These changes will be the focus of the game’s next major patch, although an exact date was not given.

Why are new Overwatch heroes so slow to arrive?

6 Feb

With heroes arriving near quarterly, why is Overwatch slow to deliver when its competitors aren’t?

Overwatch_Sombra

Overwatch is a unique team based shooter. Unlike others in the genre it’s largely pure, in the sense that it doesn’t rely on itemisation, customised loadouts or active items to add depth to the gameplay. Nor does it provide in-game progression that improves the strength of your particular character or hero as you play a match. The vintage Team Fortress 2 uses both a class system and itemisation in the form of unique, gameplay altering weaponry. Overwatch does away with all this. Instead, it utilises a hero selection system to undertake the heavy lifting of tactical variables. The expectation being that players should and are regularly encouraged to rotate heroes – on the fly – to outsmart their opponents. It’s a live version of rock, paper, scissors where some heroes intentionally hard counter others.

“Ana’s impact was undeniable and these moments of balance disruption are healthy for the game. Unfortunately for Overwatch, they’re also few and far between; the arrival of Sombra came four months after.”

With 23 heroes in total and two of those having arrived post-launch, all perform fairly unique roles. Understanding each heroes purpose, their strengths and limitations is often key to success. Stubbornly remaining on Widowmaker, despite playing on a small map with no clear sightlines, would, as one example, be doing the game and your team a great disservice. Interpreting the ebb and flow of combat, which heroes shine where, a maps stages and its game modes are what determine its meta.

It’s through the introduction of a new hero or balance tweaks on Blizzard’s part that then disrupts the status quo. The arrival of Ana shook up the meta enormously as her kit brought an incredibly strong ultimate ability in Nano Boost, which bolstered damage, movement speed and reduced the damage her team received. Its impact was undeniable and instantly spawned a meme; in the right hands she was unquestionably first pick, first ban material. While subsequent patches have addressed her strength, these moments of balance disruption are healthy for the game. Unfortunately for Overwatch, they’re also few and far between; the arrival of Sombra came four months after Ana.

overwatch_doomfist

My question then, despite the nuances existing in Overwatch’s core gameplay, is whether or not the game and its meta is stagnating as a result of such lengthy gaps between hero delivery and importantly, why does such delivery take so long?

If I can turn my attention to MOBAs for just a second, they typically release a new hero every 4 weeks. The Morrigan was just released in SMITE, hot on the heels of Nike. Heroes of the Storm released 16 new heroes across 12 months last year, while Paragon continues to deliver on a 3 week schedule; Aurora having arrived last week.

Although these games are played from a top-down or third person perspective, the quality in their heroes (or gods) is undeniable and for the most part, they mirror the design principles of Overwatch with limited action sets comprising of a handful of skills and an Ultimate ability. Even Paladins, the controversial competitor to Overwatch, continues to deliver apace having recently released the brilliantly designed Torvald, not long after Tyra the Untamed.

All of these companies aren’t just releasing heroes timely but they’re also consistently delivering balance patches that have lasting impacts on the playability of their titles. If we look at Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm studio, the recent arrival of Ragnaros saw near immediate remedies to his kit on the strength of it being “overtuned”, while Samuro – albeit delicately handled due to the quiet Christmas period – was still brought into line within seven days. In contrast, Ana’s Nano Boost (and Biotic Grenade to some extent) were only addressed four months after her release; even now she remains first pick material.

Overwatch_Ana

Upon Sombra’s release she was the polar opposite, arriving with a relatively weak kit and alongside a variety of other heroes is resigned to spend her days outside of the competitive environment. Recent tournaments saw her drafted less than 2% of the time, while Ana was sat at draft rate greater than 85%. Unsurprisingly the staple of Lucio, Reinhardt, Winston, Roadhog, D.Va, Zarya and Tracer still make up the majority of placements: little has changed since launch in that regard.

Why, then, are the heroes and the balance of Overwatch handled with kid gloves and what is preventing Blizzard delivering heroes to time frames all their competitors – and their own studios – seem to be capable of? I think the answer is two fold and partially linked to its fanbase and its financial model.

The limited roster of Overwatch combined with the exceptional marketing Blizzard has undertaken of its heroes has personalised them more than any other multiplayer title I’ve ever played. Where a hero in a MOBA is typically a set of abilities and little else, Overwatch has personality: it is its heroes. Many players across PC and console will have few cares for the wider balance of the game and play X, Y or Z hero simply for that personality, play style or both. Any tinkering around the edges that Blizzard undertakes will leave them largely indifferent unless the impact is extensive. At the same time, there will be those – like me – who are fiercely protective of their favorites and keep a close eye on how they’re adjusted.

This leaves Blizzard in a difficult position as the game is both commercially casual (for want of a better term) and competitive, and while it has yet to reach the lofty heights of League of Legends or DOTA2, there is a varied player base here that Blizzard will want to appease. Balancing purely towards the highest level play, which most MOBAs aim for, is likely to ruffle many a feather. I know how annoyed I was when Zenyatta saw some adjustments to his kit early on in his life and for a time, they lost my activity.

overwatch_year_of_the_rooster (25)

“To release a new hero sporadically, many months apart, likely results in a clambering from new and old players, especially if it coincides with a viral marketing campaign. It’s a level of anticipation and press coverage a predictable release schedule simply cannot buy.”

My second thought on the matter is the financial model Blizzard has chosen for Overwatch. As a Buy to Play title with microtransactions linked solely to loot boxes, they’re squarely at odds (see what I did there?) with the MOBA genre. Where a Free to Play title offering purchasable skins and monthly heroes proves eye-wateringly lucrative (League of Legends earned $1.6 billion in revenue for 2015). Overwatch isn’t necessarily capable of recreating this. I must stress there’s no doubt Blizzard has earned a frightening amount of revenue since the launch of Overwatch, having amassed 25 million players across all platforms. However, such growth is unsustainable in the long term to the point where reliance on loot boxes alone risks an eventual loss of player retention. The seasonal supply of skins cannot possibly meet the inevitable player demand (or consumption).

This is where, I believe, the protracted release schedule of heroes comes in. Should Blizzard release a new Hero every month I’m not entirely convinced this would yield tangible results; those already playing would simply lap up the content, grateful of the “free stuff”. To release a new hero sporadically though, many months apart, likely results in a clambering from new and old players, especially if it coincides with a viral marketing campaign. The Sombra ARG, which was at times exhausting and equally frustrating, had the internet abuzz for months. It’s a level of anticipation and press coverage a predictable release schedule simply cannot buy.

That, as far as Blizzard are concerned, is worthwhile. For the rest of us however, the anticipation surrounding a new hero release is an agonising wait and one that at times, sees the game and its balance stagnate. I’d settle for a new Hero every two months as the middle ground, wouldn’t you?

Hearthstone Shaman and Pirate Decks Face Nerfs This Month

4 Feb

The current stale, and rather frustrating, meta of Hearthstone Shaman and Pirate decks is finally being addressed by Blizzard later this month. It’s not uncommon to see a community of players, especially the professional tier, take refuge in the strongest offering a game. However, it does become bothersome when the popularity soars to a point […]

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