Could Blizzard learn from themselves for Overwatch?

As I’ve talked about before, I’ve found myself in some kind of insidious trap created by Blizzard. What started out as just an excursion to get a couple of free skins for Overwatch during it’s cross-promotional event with Heroes of the Storm has spiralled out of control. I’m caught in a loop of playing either Heroes of the Storm just so I can get that sweet, sweet gold, or grinding out boxes in Overwatch because that Jazzy Lucio skin isn’t going to unlock itself. Blizzard is by no means a perfect company, but whoever designs their addiction loops needs another raise.

Hell it’s gotten to the point where I’m talking about both games on this blog, basically giving them free press, just because I’m a gamer with poor self control, exactly the kind of guy Blizzard prays on. This is some late stage capitalism stuff: the company doesn’t even need to offer any incentive to get numb-nuts like me to talk about their products. (That being said, if anyone from Blizzard is reading this, I’ll just say that I accept payment in loot boxes. Hit me up.)

Playing these two games side by side got me thinking about something, however. While both are extremely good games in their own rights, I do wonder if Overwatch wouldn’t benefit from having just a little bit more Heroes of the Storm in it. Obviously I don’t mean that it should change any mechanics to be like a MOBA, since one of Overwatch’s strengths lie in the simplicity of its shooter nature. What I’m referring to is how Heroes of the Storm really screws with the conventions of its genre.

Way back in 2015, Blizzard made an announcement for an upcoming character for Heroes of the Storm that nearly made me perform a double take. I hadn’t even touched the game at this time, and indeed this was even before I had even thought about playing a MOBA, but I was still surprised by the mechanics of this new character. Namely, it was a single character being controlled by two different players at the same time. The character’s name was Cho’Gall, a two headed ogre (one head is called Cho, the other’s Gall) who’s main difficulty for the player(s) is that they require some efficient communications to use properly. Two in synch players who communicate will become terrors on the battlefield; two numptys who aren’t communicating will become a giant and ungainly target.

As well as being a hilarious way to make the conflicting nature that having two heads must be like into a playable mechanic, this was a completely unheard of idea. Even now, years after the fact, I can’t think of another MOBA that has such an odd playable character, and indeed such a thing might be difficult to implement in the more complex environments of other MOBAs. Impressively, Cho’Gall isn’t the only character on HotS’ roster to play in an unconventional manner: Abathur is a character that mainly sits back at base but can ‘be’ anywhere on the map at any given moment. Likewise, you can also play as The Lost Vikings, who are a group of three characters that a single player needs to micromanage.

Like Overwatch’s draw of its varied and appealing cast, one of HotS’ points of interest is just how mechanically unusual its characters can be. While not every character is going to be as nutty as these particular cases, the fact that the developers are willing to even take the time to create and balance these oddballs makes it fairly intriguing. If nothing else, I’m looking forward to seeing what kinds of ideas get implemented in the future.

I’m just wondering, however, if Overwatch wouldn’t benefit from introducing some similar concepts into its roster. I understand that the entire cast have some pretty varied play styles between themselves, but I’d be fascinated if Blizzard’s Overwatch team started to go with some really off the wall ideas like the HotS’ team evidently started to do. Overwatch’s nature of being a first person shooter means it has different limitations than a MOBA, and thus it’s definition of an unusual character is going to be different than HotS’ examples, but I reckon there are concepts that they can use.  Hell, I wouldn’t object if they put in their own version of Cho’Gall, where in two players control some kind of singular character (maybe some kind of Omnic?).

Another idea that Overwatch could benefit from emulating is HotS’ variable map objectives. While the end result tends to be the same thing of either attacking the enemies base/buildings/core, or summoning something to help you attack their bases/buildings/core, Blizzard’s take on the MOBA has a lot of different objectives depending on the map. In some cases, you’re collecting skulls so you can summon a massive monstrosity of an undead to march towards the enemy; in other cases, you’re collecting nuclear warheads so you can directly bombard the enemy. While the end result is always the same, the great variety of objectives and locales hides this fact a fair amount.

While Overwatch’s dedication to capturing areas and pushing payloads means that the developers can keep a tight focus on creating maps that allows everyone in the game’s sizable roster to thrive, it’s hard to not feel like the affair becomes a little ‘samey’ after a while. While the wonderfully weird and gloriously unbalanced Arcade does a lot to alleviate this, I think it wouldn’t exactly hurt the game to introduce more variety in the baseline maps. In particular, I wonder if having some kind of map wherein there were multiple objectives that needed simultaneously capturing might be interesting. As it stands both teams are always heading to the same spot, and while this keeps the games going at a rapid and brutal pace, this does mean that your only state in every match is “engaging in a team-fight.” I understand that having multiple different points to go to might be a nightmare in public matches, or any time where your team isn’t communicating, but such a map might also allow for more interesting team composition, or at least serve to break up the other maps.

Of course, maybe all these ideas are just extremely dumb and wouldn’t work at all. Without some serious testing, a character that works in a completely irregular manner could play hell on the game’s already sometimes sensitive balance. Likewise, maybe the game’s strength lies in the how focused the objectives are, and a map with two simultaneous objectives would be the opposite of fun. I don’t claim to know how things would turn out, but I do think that the ideas are, at the very least, interesting to play around with. Knowing how creative Blizzard can get, I look forward to whatever the hell they do come out with.

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