The e-sports boom, with millions of fans watching the world’s finest video gamers compete, has taken many longtime industry observers (including me) by surprise. And it has developers scrambling to create the next big e-sports phenomenon.
Blizzard Entertainment is an e-sports powerhouse, with the strategy game “StarCraft,” the MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) “Heroes of the Storm” and even the card game “Hearthstone.” Blizzard’s new “Overwatch” (for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, $59.99) is its entry into the crowded first-person shooter genre, and it’s already making waves.
There’s some back story to “Overwatch,” but you’re free to ignore it. All you need to know is that there are two heavily armed six-person teams, and they’re mad at each other. You may be fighting to control certain points on a map, or escorting a payload from one end of a region to another. The missions aren’t as varied as some other popular online shooters like “Call of Duty,” but the simplicity makes “Overwatch” a bit more welcoming to newcomers.
What makes “Overwatch” stand out is the diversity of its warriors. Some are good at dealing out damage but not at taking it; others are the exact opposite. You can barrel your way into the firefight as the tanklike Roadhog, or hang back and heal your teammates as the angelic Mercy. The cast includes men, women, robots and a talking gorilla, each with a lively personality to match his or her distinctive talents.
“Overwatch” is hardly original; if you enjoy the kill-or-be-killed mayhem of online, team-based shooters like “Halo,” you’ll be right at home. But it looks and feels fresh, thanks to its colorful characters, smartly designed battlegrounds and tightly focused action. The shooter fanatics in my friends list are going nuts over it, and it seems likely to make a big impact in the e-sports arena. Three stars out of four.
“Battleborn” (2K Games, for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, $59.99) has been greeted with much less enthusiasm. Like “Overwatch,” it has a cartoony aesthetic and a robust lineup of playfully animated warriors. (A penguin in a mech suit? Where do I sign up?) But it’s hamstrung by some unfortunate design choices.
The initial drawback is that only a handful of its 26 characters are available from the start. You can unlock more by playing solo or cooperatively through a tedious eight-mission campaign, or by competing in its three multiplayer modes. Each of those has just two maps, though, and playing them over and over in order to unlock the hero you really want gets tiresome.
Developer Gearbox Software is responsible for one of the funniest franchises ever, the “Borderlands” series, but the comedy in “Battleborn” falls flat. And after just a few matches, so does its combat. “Battleborn” came out just a few weeks ago, and I’m already having trouble rounding up enough online players to go a few rounds. Two stars out of four.
Follow Lou Kesten on Twitter @lkesten