Blizzard’s Overwatch had a lot going for it way back when it was originally announced in 2014. The clout behind the WarCraft/StarCraft creators and their intense fandom helped push much of the instant love and admiration for this colorful world and its cartoony characters without missing a beat. Initially touted as a class-based multiplayer competitive shooter, the game quickly drew comparisons to Team Fortress 2 in design, both aesthetically and mechanically. After its release, it was clear these similarities were undeniable, but I began to realize, as did everyone else, there was more to the game than just mindless matching and instant-fragging.
I played Overwatch originally on the PC for a decent chunk after it was first released. As a big TF2 fans – and PC shooters in general – I felt the platform was the best format for me to start with. Launching with 21 characters, the game already felt robust in ways competitive shooters rarely are. Every character had unique abilities drawn from different shooters, MOBAs and even RPGs, going as far to include Soldier 76 which essentially plays as a run-of-the-mill shooter character to get newbies used to the mechanics before venturing off into the quirks and eccentricities of the more varied characters.
Over time I started to play less and less of Overwatch due to other games (and life) things standing in my way. I started hopping back in again shortly after they introduced their first post-release character Ana and fell back in love with it. Their model of releasing free characters to everyone has always been a respectable aspect of the title because they could have easily charged for these additions but ultimately decided against it. However, even after falling in love, at a certain point I stopped playing all together. I moved on. Even still, I would always make sure to have it installed on my PC for those late night choice paralysis debates with myself.
Here we are, a whole 3 years later (an eternity in gaming years), and Blizzard just released their 10th post-release character bringing the total to an impressive roster of 31 characters – all with unique abilities requiring an insane amount of balancing and thought to make sure that everyone plays together in a symbiotic, non-disruptive manner. Next to that, a host of other changes have been made to help make a game that feels new and fresh years after launching. New maps and new modes round out the interactive side while the new Role Queue allows players to select between Tank, Damage and Support before joining a session.
Popular class choices like DPS characters get picked so often they can make matches feel unbalanced, but Blizzard’s attempt to fix this with the queue makes logical sense. Allowing players to jump into a match quicker – as well as extra XP or loot bonuses – by choosing a less populated class makes for solidarity during a match.
In short, Overwatch is a game that’s evolved with the times, able to maintain its original vision as other blockbusters like Fortnite and Apex Legends have battled for supremacy in the world of competitive shooters. Now, against all odds, Overwatch has made its way over to the Nintendo Switch. We were told such a conversion wasn’t possible, that the Switch hardware couldn’t deliver a proper cartoony experience that would please the hardcore faithful – who’ve become very hardcore about their favorite shooter over the years. But as great ports of more realistic shooters like DOOM and Wolfenstein has shown, anything is possible when there’s money to be made.
That’s capitalism for you, and now we’ve got a new crop of “impossible” games like The Witcher 3 and Overwatch ready to make those long road trips and bus rides more interesting by throttling back visual fidelity while offering the accessibility and portability of the platform. It’s a win-win, for the most part.
When compared to its PC and console alternatives the Switch version clearly doesn’t hold up graphically; jagged edges, slight frame dips, texture pop-ins, all show from time to time. You probably expected this going in, so none of these things are surprising. But all things considered, the quality drop never really detracts from the core gameplay, and never made me want to stop playing.
In fact, the gap between my playing the original PC version to playing this on Switch was so long that it wasn’t until I loaded up the PC version (for comparison) did I remember just how good it looked in comparison. This is in (very) large part to the optimization of the game’s unique visual style that lends itself tremendously to being “downgraded” in quality. Even better, performance doesn’t seem to crack under the weight of multiplayer combat.
Going in, I’ve seen a lot of reports of the game running poorly and looking very rough. I was thrilled to find that none of that was true, at least not to the point I’d been led me to believe. There wasn’t a single moment where I felt appalled by the visual downsizing, nor did I feel the desire to play the PC version over the Switch version because of the visuals. The one thing that did cause a few stumbles and groans, however, were the controls, an unavoidable issue given the Switch’s available schemes.
Those with PS4 or Xbox One versions of the game have gotten used to controllers, but I’m more of a mouse and keyboard player and the jump to a controller took some getting used to, especially using the smaller Joy-Cons. Those who prefer their controls even more comfortably familiar can opt for the Pro Controller, but after a few matches I was fully acclimated and settled back into combat.
To give a bit of context to those worried about a jump in quality or controls, I mostly play as Roadhog. I don’t know why I got hooked (no pun intended) early on in my time with Overwatch, but I just play him well. If you haven’t played the game, or him, before, his main draw is a hook that you are able to throw at players to yank them close to you. This move stuns them and gives you a chance to shoot them with your shotgun. I’d say more than half of my time with the game on both PC and Switch has been with Roadhog and during the transition from mouse to controller, I never felt like my skill suffered.
The act of hooking someone has a bit of an auto aim, but the reticle still needs to be relatively close to the enemy in order to make contact and I’d say my ability to do all of that and still get a kill on Switch dropped maybe 5% after making the jump from PC. That may have a lot to do with my degrading of skill over time, but I feel like at its core nothing feels different to the point of alarm vehement disgust.
Overwatch is a multiplayer shooter best experienced online, and those features are present on the Switch version as well. You obviously won’t be able to battle online without a decent a WiFi connection, but Nintendo’s Online service appears to handle the load without any major issues. There were times when I witnessed enemies rubberbanding away from my shots due to lag, but this still happens all the time on the PC. Loading into maps, character switching, and the overall connections to others might be just a hair slower but considering that everyone is dealing with the same latency, I never felt like this was a hindrance to my abilities. As with all online play on Switch and otherwise, Overwatch’s mileage may vary depending on your connection.
My single, yet most passionate, gripe with Overwatch on Switch has less to do with the game itself and more with the interconnectivity between my accounts. Since Overwatch is largely a loot box game with skins, poses, and various other inconsequential unlockables it makes little to no sense that stuff or even your level doesn’t transfer between PCs or Consoles.
I was able to log into Battle.net, but doing so didn’t transfer over any information outside my email. In a perfect world I would be able to literally “switch” between versions of the game as I like, alternating between PC, Switch, or any other version I’ve adapted to, without fear of losing any earned rank or items. Instead, I’ve forced to level up independently from each other, which means a lot of overlap and replaying.
While I can sympathize with Blizzard somewhat for having to keep them seperate, remember this is the same company that – once upon a time – once managed to synchronize accounts for different platforms (Windows and PC) for WarCraft and StarCraft, so we know it’s possible. If I was unlocking more powerful weapons or abilities, I can understand why they’d want to prevent transferring, but when everything is purely cosmetic, it is baffling.
That said, since it ultimately doesn’t matter what color your character costume is, those obsessed with Overwatch on a different platform shouldn’t be dissuaded from picking up the Switch version if they’re looking to play more outside of their main version. Honestly, this is a great supplement to the core experience with the same depth, charm and attention to detail we’ve come to expect from a AAA Blizzard game – just on a less powerful (but more portable) screen. If you intend on pixel counting you’ll likely be disappointed, but Overwatch isn’t about the most pixels and highest framerates; it’s about camaraderie and engaging combat that’s as much fun to play as ever.