Tag Archives: PvP

Is Overwatch Missing the Mark?

Blizzard Entertainment is currently running a free open beta for their hotly anticipated new sci-fi shooter, Overwatch, which is due for release later this month. It’s shaping up to be a strong PvP game… but that’s all it is.

Reinhardt guards a payload in Overwatch

Overwatch consists entirely of competitive 6v6 matches played out over a handful of very similar capture-based game modes. It offers nothing else whatsoever. For a company as large and storied as Blizzard, that seems strangely unambitious, and the closer one looks at the missed opportunities of Overwatch, the more one begins to wonder if the game is missing the mark.

The potential versus the reality:

Overwatch generated a huge buzz when it was first announced at BlizzCon 2014. This was the first new franchise from Blizzard in more than fifteen years, and their first foray into the realm of first person shooters. Its announcement featured a spectacular cinematic trailer that showcased a game world full of color, excitement, and memorable characters.

As details filtered out, we learned that Overwatch depicts a near future world full of fantastic heroes uniting to defend the world from strife and conflict, to uplift the innocent and inspire as well as protect.

Overwatch was shown to feature a cast more diverse than virtually anything else in the gaming world, with a nearly balanced gender ratio and characters hailing from countries on every continent. No one could ever have expected Blizzard of all companies to become a champion of progressive ideals, but suddenly they were setting new standards of inclusiveness.

It was also immediately clear that Overwatch would be backed by lore and history as deep as that of Blizzard’s other franchises. Each of the game’s twenty-one playable characters has a strong backstory that connects to the greater narrative of a world on the brink of being torn apart by the conflicts between human and machine, citizen and corporation.

In short, Overwatch was a game brimming with vigor, optimism, and creativity.

A shot from Overwatch's announcement cinematic, featuring Tracer and Widowmaker

Yet it soon became clear that the reality of the game was very different from the impression given by its bright image and hopeful story. It would consist only of PvP matches completely divorced from the rich lore built for the game. Characters could potentially ally with their mortal enemies to kill their friends — or even themselves.

That in and of itself is not necessarily a problem, but there’s nothing else to the game. Blizzard has repeatedly shot down the idea of offering any other game modes.

It’s also strange that a game that is sold as being so light-hearted and hopeful is in reality quite harsh and unforgiving. Overwatch’s training tools are very sparse, and largely inadequate to the task of preparing those without prior experience in PvP shooters.The game’s mechanic of allowing players to change heroes mid-game also presents an extremely steep learning curve, forcing players to learn a large roster of characters off the bat if they want to play to their full potential.

It’s also a blisteringly fast game, where a split-second’s mistake or hesitation can result in a player’s instant death. There is little forgiveness for the slow or inexperienced.

Overwatch is a game that tries to send the message that all are welcome, yet the game itself has nothing to offer those who are not of a strong competitive mindset.

The missed opportunities:

Overwatch was clearly built to be a PvP game first, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it could have offered a lot more than competitive play.

The Nepal map in Overwatch

From the moment it was announced, players have been asking about the possibility of a single-player campaign to flesh out the clearly rich lore of the Overwatch universe. Yet Blizzard has shot down the idea every time, preferring to tell Overwatch’s story through outside media like comic books and animated shorts. A strange decision indeed for a video game company.

The potential for a fantastic single-player experience definitely exists within Overwatch. As already mentioned, its backstory is clearly strong, and it’s hero-swap mechanic could make for very unique single-player gameplay, encouraging players to use different characters for different situations, perhaps even multiple times in the same mission. This would also have the advantage of helping people learn the characters before stepping into PvP.

Outside the single-player realm, there is still plenty Overwatch could do to appeal to those outside the hardcore PvP crowd. They could implement a co-op mode that would allow players to work together, rather than against each other.

Technically Overwatch does have co-op in the form of its versus AI matches, but it’s a very shallow feature, being merely a carbon copy of the PvP game with AI opponents. It’s clearly intended purely as a training tool, and it doesn’t even accomplish that very well, as the AI is very predictable and only uses about half of the game’s heroes.

Overwatch would benefit tremendously from a mode designed for co-op from the ground up, such as a horde mode. The game’s lore certainly offers many good scenarios to form the premise of such a mode, such as the robotic rebellion known as the Omnic Crisis.

Even for those who do enjoy PvP, Overwatch seems oddly limited. All of its maps boil down to some variation of “go to a point and stand there to capture it,” and it’s a game that becomes very repetitive very quickly, even considering its impressively diverse roster of heroes. It would benefit greatly from the addition of more game modes, such as team death match or a mode without hero-swapping.

The Hanamura map in Overwatch

Some variety is brought to the game with its weekly brawl mode, which shakes up the game with wacky new rules like random hero selection or reduced cooldowns, but even that feels like something of a stopgap solution to Overwatch’s repetitive nature.

Comparing to the competition:

When you start comparing Overwatch to other, similar games, its limited nature becomes even more perplexing.

Take the newly released Battleborn. It’s very similar to Overwatch, being a first person shooter with stylized graphics and a wide roster of unique heroes. However, in addition to three distinct competitive modes, Battleborn also boasts a full-length story campaign that can be played either solo or co-op, and players can unlock much the same perks and rewards via solo or co-op play as they would in PvP. It’s not just a neglected training mode; it’s a fully supported style of play.

One could also look to Call of Duty, the franchise sitting atop the shooter world. Call of Duty has a thriving PvP scene, but every new release also includes a full-length single-player campaign and some sort of co-op option.

Overwatch falls short even when compared to Blizzard’s other games. World of Warcraft has strong support for both PvE and PvP. Hearthstone regularly releases single-player adventures to supplement its competitive aspects. StarCraft II is a pillar of the eSports world, but also boasts a spectacular single-player campaign and extensive co-op support. Diablo III appeals to hardcore min/maxers and casual RPG fans alike.

In the context of that, it seems baffling that Overwatch has chosen to have a laser focus on such a specific type of gamer.

A co-op mission in StarCraft II

StarCraft II offers a robust co-op mode designed from the ground up to support team-based PvE.

Blizzard is the Midas of the gaming world, so it’s hard to imagine that Overwatch will be anything but a success, but one wonders how much more of a success it could have been if it had not focused so exclusively on competitive play.

It’s not a question of if Overwatch will lose players by offering no alternative to PvP, but simply how many. Those players will instead seek out Overwatch’s competition, and while it probably won’t be enough to stop Overwatch from being a hit, it still seems foolhardy for Blizzard to leave all that money on the table.

What might have been:

For what it is, Overwatch is a solid game. The core gameplay is strong, the art is fantastic, and the action is plentiful. But it is an incredibly narrow game. It’s a fantastic experience for those who crave intense, high octane competitive play, but very unwelcoming for everyone else.

One can’t help but wonder why Blizzard has set their sights so low with Overwatch.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact Overwatch is cobbled together from the remnants of Blizzard’s cancelled MMO, the game codenamed Project: Titan. Perhaps the company’s higher-ups were scrambling to recoup what they lost on Titan as quickly as possible, and thus they rushed Overwatch out the door as soon as they could.

If that’s the case, there’s always the chance it could expand to become more feature-complete after launch, but Blizzard has shown no interest in anything like that so far. They seem content with the game’s current, highly limited state.

It’s all very confusing, and for those who were inspired by Overwatch’s colorful and optimistic world when it was announced, very disappointing, as well.


Vendetta Online: EVE’s Unsung Competitor?

EVE Online is a game that generates strong feelings. Some love it, some hate it, but everyone has an opinion. Whatever side you take, it’s clear the game has carved itself a strong niche. It has a very passionate core fanbase and has achieved incredible longevity within the MMO space. With the recent outbreak of World War Bee, EVE is in the headlines more than ever these days.

A planet in the space MMO Vendetta Online

There tends to be a perception that EVE’s lasting popularity is at least in part due to a lack of competition within its particular niche of space-based sci-fi sandboxes.

But that perception is not entirely rooted in reality. Take, for example, Vendetta Online. It’s a relatively obscure MMO, but for the past ten years and more, it’s been quietly chugging along, providing an extensive sci-fi universe for aspiring space ship pilots to explore, exploit, and battle over. It offers many of the same features as EVE, and can even boast some accomplishments EVE lacks.

I decided to take a look at Vendetta and see how it stacks up relative to its more famous cousin.

Earning my wings:

The most immediately obvious difference between EVE and Vendetta is their wildly different control schemes.

EVE has often been criticized for its rather stilted and sometimes arcane controls. It’s a game of menus, and it feels very artificial. It doesn’t deliver on the fantasy of darting through space as an ace pilot.

Vendetta is a completely different beast.

Vendetta Online gives players much more immediate and direct control of their ships and makes piloting a much more realistic affair. Twitch-based controls give players the freedom to dart and weave through all three dimensions.

Combat in the sci-fi sandbox Vendetta Online

To get into more detail, Vendetta offers a choice between two control schemes that can be easily swapped between at any time based on preference or the needs of the moment.

The first, default option is an “aircraft” style mode where much of the piloting is simplified. Point the mouse in the direction you want to go and accelerate (or decelerate). The game handles the rest. This is extremely intuitive and easy to pick up, though it does lack a certain degree of precision and can be slightly awkward in certain circumstances that require a more careful touch.

The second mode is more interesting. It aims for realism by giving players the freedom to move their ship in three dimensions as an actual spaceship would. Vendetta has a near-total adherence to real Newtonian physics. Hope you paid attention in science class.

This mode is obviously a lot more challenging, and it comes with a real learning curve. It’s pretty easy to end up spinning wildly out of control, the stars blurring into a nauseating kaleidoscope around you.

But despite that, I quickly came to prefer the controls in Vendetta Online. Learning curve or no, it offers much greater control and precision, and personally I just found it much more fun. It is so true to life that it just immerses you in the game utterly, and it’s a beautiful thing when you get it right. Even something as simple as gliding into a docking port becomes a thrill. I never imagined a mere control scheme could make such a difference.

I imagine that experienced players with good twitch skills and a strong stomach could pull off some truly spectacular maneuvering, and I expect the high end PvP in Vendetta must be something else.

Dockng at a station in Vendetta Online

Those who are not quite such sci-fi nerds may have a different experience, but I kept hearing Kara Thrace’s voice in my head throughout all my time with Vendetta. If you ever wanted to be Starbuck, this is the game for you.

The one downside is that Vendetta’s realistic control scheme makes looting rather difficult. How you collect loot in this game is to simply fly into it, which sounds perfectly easy, but small loot boxes plus big empty space plus hyper-realistic physics leads to some real frustration. I spent more time than I’d like to admit fluttering about in little spirals desperately trying to impact the loot right before me.

Maybe there’s an easier way, but if so, the game needs to make it clearer.

Like the flight controls, the combat in Vendetta is simple in concept but potentially complex in practice. In essence, you just point and shoot.

But once again, the scale of space and the realistic flight model makes things a bit more interesting. You need to anticipate, firing at where the enemy will be, not where they are. The game helps a little with this with a reticle that attempts to predict enemy movement, but it’s not perfect, so there’s still a fair bit of player skill involved.

I imagine that progressing through the game and unlocking an ever greater variety of ships and weapons would add a significant degree of depth and complexity to the system, as well.

This is a recurring theme in Vendetta: The basics are very simple and easy to grasp, but it’s clear there’s a vast well of complexity waiting to be explored once you get past the fundamentals. This stands in stark contrast to EVE, which also offers incredible complexity but tends to throw you into the deep end and hope you learn to swim.

An escort tutorial in the space sandbox Vendetta Online

One minor complaint I have about the combat is that the game plays a sound whenever one of your shots successfully connects with the enemy. This is a good idea in theory, but the particular sound they use is a rather harsh and obnoxious beep, and it can be rather grating.

The wider universe:

From what I saw during my trial period, Vendetta appears to offer a fairly similar selection of potential activities as EVE Online.

PvP is clearly a major focus in the game. Vendetta players must ally themselves with one of three factions. The enlightened Itani Nation are at war with the militaristic Serco Dominion, and players of both sides can clash over various objectives in deep space.

The third faction is the Union of Independent Territories, or UIT, which is neutral in the conflict. Players of this faction can potentially play both sides of the Itani/Serco conflict, which is a pretty interesting twist on the traditional model of MMO factions.

There are also NPC opponents in the form of renegade machines called the Hive, though I’m not of the impression that PvE makes up a huge part of the Vendetta experience.

There are also missions of various types, including mining, trading, and research. Vendetta has separate leveling paths for each type of activity, which can affect what types of ships you have access to.

Making a jump to another sector in Vendetta Online

I also noticed what appears to be a fairly extensive reputation system, allowing players to make friends (or enemies) of a variety of NPC factions throughout the galaxy.

On the whole, Vendetta Online comes across as a very deep and full-featured sandbox experience, almost overwhelmingly so.

Of course, I doubt it can quite equal the vast and near baffling complexity of EVE Online, nor the scale and viciousness of its politics, but what game can? For some, being a little less complex than EVE can even be seen as a virtue — it’s brutally steep learning curve is legendary. Vendetta clearly has an intense learning curve as well, but it’s at least a slope rather than a cliff. You can, to some extent, ease into the experience.

On the other hand, Vendetta definitely lags behind EVE when it comes to production values. EVE is a beautiful and graphically advanced game, whereas Vendetta’s relatively low budget shows in its visuals.

That’s not to say Vendetta is an ugly game by any stretch of the imagination. Its star fields and planetary vistas are quite nice to look at, and overall the game’s visuals are at least decent on average. But it’s not going to compete with EVE, or any newly released MMO, in that regard.

One other area where Vendetta exceeds EVE Online — and basically every other MMO, for that matter — is the sheer number of different ways to play it offers. Its developers have made it a goal to make Vendetta playable on as many platforms as possible.

Traveling to a jump point in the sci-fi sandbox Vendetta Online

So Vendetta is playable on the PC, of course, but also Macs and Linux machines; on Android, Windows, and iOS mobile devices (including smartphones); in virtual reality on the Oculus Rift; and even on the Ouya.

And all players play and interact within the same game universe, regardless of platform.

That’s pretty damn impressive.

Conclusion:

Vendetta may not have quite the same level of scale or depth as EVE, but it’s a pretty rich sandbox in its own right, and it’s accomplished some impressive things for a relatively obscure title.

A common refrain from many people is that they’d play EVE Online if it provided a more intuitive or realistic flight model, and for those individuals, Vendetta seems an obvious choice.


Black Desert Online’s PvP and PvE Cognitive Dissonance

Black Desert Online is set to launch on March 3rd.  Considering how many people are tuned into Twitch just to watch other people play, it’s pretty clear the game has some hype. And on paper a lot of it sounds really good. There’s a sandbox element for players to level up via “life skills” like fishing and more typical crafting skills. The open world has no fast travel elements and is set up in a way so cities will always be crowded by new and veteran players alike. There’s not even a level cap so theoretically one could constantly progress and level up in Black Desert Online forever.

It has come under fire somewhat for the lack of a typical end game. I don’t like that end game has become synonymous with high level raids. In all honesty, I don’t like the term end game at all. MMORPGs (like any game) should be fun regardless of where one is in progression. Perhaps the heralded MMORPG action combat in Black Desert Online will truly make for an exciting leveling experience regardless of the activity. But the end game right now is squarely designed around guild vs. guild warfare, castle sieges, and territory conquest. And there seems to be some cognitive dissonance when it comes to that end game because grinding PvE is the only way to get there.

black desert online pve grinding

Step 1: Grind all the mobs (PvE)

I have not played Black Desert Online yet, but as I’ve read more about it I was struck by this strange design decision. In order to PvP effectively, one most PvE. And when one is “done” with PvE, primarily PvP remains. And the potentially infinite leveling only compounds this level of cognitive dissonance. Black Desert Online employs a soft level cap of 50, which can be reached in about 20 hours if desired. No problems there. 20 hours is a lengthy tutorial, but there are a lot of skills to pickup and master. After that though, each level will take between 25 to 100+ hours. And the way to get that EXP is through grinding mobs in PvE, even though level 50 is when the heralded PvP is supposed to begin. And it’s important to keep up in levels and gear because otherwise players can become nigh unkillable with too much of a gap. So players who want to legitimately compete in PvP have to engage in an activity other than PvP to do so effectively. It doesn’t really make any sense.

People who enjoy PvE and grinding in Black Desert will be treated to a different problem. While many people may find the combat and leveling experience fun, there is very little to test one’s PvE mettle once the 50 level “tutorial” is finished. Here’s a game where players initially get treated to a care bear experience of an MMORPG with a focus on killing mobs as quickly as possible. And the continuation of that isn’t raids or challenging content as expected, but a handful of world bosses to down from time to time and… lots of PvP. This level of cognitive dissonance in an MMORPG is especially strange because of how hyped up gamers are for Black Desert Online. People who want PvP have to PvE and people who want PvE will eventually run out of combat content without turning to PvP.

Because of the heavy grinding nature of leveling up past 50 and the impact that those levels and silver gains have, it seems like there is a limited long term audience for Black Desert Online. Players need to be dedicated enough to repetitively grind monsters and mobs and in doing so, their reward is to wipe the floor with opponents without reprieve. That’s a recipe for disaster for casual players, the lifeblood of any multiplayer game, as they will find they have no real chance to compete individually. There’s safety in numbers though and one’s choice of guild (which seems almost necessary to join to progress) will certainly play a large role in Black Desert Online. Still, an arms race of those who can grind the most likely won’t be appealing to the masses.

Black Desert Online PvP Siege

Step 2: PvP – your second life

And this mentality of forcing players to engage in both PvE and PvP is fairly unique to Black Desert Online. Other MMORPGs with both PvP and PvE content allow players to focus on either PvE or PvP exclusively. For example, in Wildstar players can gain EXP solely through arena and warzone PvP. And there’s end game challenges for PvE fans to engage in after leveling up.

Mandating players to engage in both PvE and PvP activities as Black Desert Online is doing could be a recipe for disaster. But even if it is a problem, the game still has a lot going for it with top notch combat and a wealth of non-combat activities to engage in. I don’t know that this mix is really going to cause a major issue. But it will take some adjustment because there is going to be a sense of confusion over the relationship between PvE grinding and PvP end game in Black Desert. Regardless, it will be fascinating to watch as casual PvE fans reach the level 50 soft cap and discover what awaits them.

Almost as fascinating as the PvPers who thought they were done grinding after dinging 50.