Too little, too late?
The last two years of my life, Overwatch has been at the forefront of my gaming habits. The team-based hero shooter struck gold when it was released in 2016 and has grown to become one of the most famous brands in the world, one with its own league and LEGO line. When it conquered the market in the way most Blizzard games do, another company was also about to hit gold. In 2017, Nintendo Switch released and soon the developers figured out ways to port their top-class titles to the system.
Early on, things did not look good for a Overwatch port to the system. In 2017, shortly after the release of Switch, Jeff Kaplan referred to the opportunity to get it on the console as "very challenging." But Kaplan wanted it to happen and declared earlier this month that he was asking about the possibility of a port from day one. As with most ports, it requires some sacrifice. Graphics and framerate would need to be scaled back as well as resolution. Whether you think these sacrifices are worth the trouble of creating a port at all is likely to be determined by whether you have played Overwatch on other platforms.
Overwatch (PC, PS4, Switch [reviewed] Xbox One)
Released: May 24, 2016 (PS4, Xbox One, PC) / October 14, 2019 (switch)
MSRP: $ 39.99
Do I have to explain what Overwatch is?
If you have somehow managed to avoid information about this game for the past three years, let me be the first to welcome you from your coma. It is an online hero shooter where the main mode has two teams of six characters – split equally between tank, damage and healer – who complete targets on a multitude of fantastic maps and even Junkertown. There are also other modes available in the arcade, including seasonal events.
If you come to this fresh, undoubtedly of the experiences found on other platforms, it is actually not that bad. The game works more or less in the same way in either docked or handheld mode. Character models have a decent amount of details and I have had no problems connecting to matches. Overwatch also supports domestic voice chat, which is a godsend for this type of team-based game, where communication is an important component of victory. Nor have I had any of the questions I read in other reports about the game. I can't think of a moment with significant button delay when using hit-scan characters.
That is not to say that I have not encountered performance problems, the most widespread of which affect my ability to actually see the other players. At the beginning of a majority of the matches, my teammates and opponents appear only as small glowing balls. This is not a problem that is exclusive to Switch because I have had teammates on my PS4 not register properly on my screen. The difference between the two versions is the time it takes for the game to actually render the character models. On my PS4 it is less than five seconds. On Switch, I've gone up to about 30 seconds in a match fighting against orbs. The problem is almost always worse when I am added to a team in the middle of the fight, rather than starting anew at the beginning of a match, or when I look from the sidelines in spectator mode.
It's a strange compromise and obviously one of the sacrifices Blizzard had to make to get this to run on Switch. The game's failure to register characters is almost always transferred to the Play of the Game, where I regularly watch the recipient rack up a nice kill count without ever seeing the characters as they've gone down. Part of me wonders if the known existence of such an issue before launch prevented Blizzard from adding Switch & # 39; s video record feature to the end product.
Now again, if you come to Overwatch with virgin eyes, these issues may not be dealbreakers. But as a veteran of the game, someone who has logged hundreds of hours in it since he first connected his PS4 Slim to the internet, it's easy to be disappointed by the many missing details from the other versions. While stages contain all the necessary components to keep them even across platforms, they lack a great deal of the character Blizzard designers have carefully implemented in each. There are no banners of any kind here, bars lack glass, and I don't think I've seen a single Pachimari plush in any vending machine. The look of the Switch port compared to what I have been living and breathing on my PS4 reminds me of the late PlayStation 2 era when developers would end up playing games from that system to PSP.
Graphics is one thing, but I think the much more consequential sacrifice Blizzard made with this port is framerate. On all other platforms, Overwatch runs with a silky smooth 60 frames per second. Here it is halved to 30, but it tends to fall below that. Without that fluid, my whole approach to the game changes. I act and react differently, I have to be more considerate when using certain character traits like Moira's Fade, Reaper's Wraith Form or Mercy's Guardian Angel.
It is a sacrifice other ports to Switch have managed to avoid. Games like Rocket League Mortal Kombat 11 and Cuphead managed to draw 60 frames per second. It is also standard in Splatoon 2 although I recognize the difference between a game that is tailor made for the hardware and one that is just trying to keep it glued together. I'm not one who claims it's "60 fps or nothing" because I like and will continue to enjoy the Warframe on the device, but it's hard not to see it as a major downgrade with many years of experience with Overwatch on PS4.
One avenue where the switch version may have an advantage is with the controls. Instead of keeping it kosher with the other console versions, Blizzard has added motion control options here that can give the most dedicated players a decent advantage. I say dedicated because it will take some time to fine-tune the motion detection to your liking. There are three factory presets with pro controls, handheld and standalone Joy-Con, where the latter tries to copy how you would play this game if it was on the Wii. I was not comfortable with any of these presets. But with a little attitude and research into what the pitch, the shaft and the roller shaft are, I was able to get to a point where I was sure using optional movement functions would be a blessing for my team. Specifically, they made me a better McCree than I've ever been on the PS4.
While these controls are fully customizable, it would have been nice for Blizzard to include more preset options. Restricting motion to just the Y axis would be a good addition for starts because it was something I tried to configure but couldn't. There is also only one custom control set which is silly considering that there are three different control schemes available. I encountered a problem where the motion controls would return to a factory setting without my knowledge, but this was a rare occurrence.
If you are the proud owner of a new Switch Lite, you will be happy to know Overwatch is at its best when played in handheld mode. The picture is sharper than on my big screen and many of the missing details are not so noticeable. The handheld mode is also where the motion controls shine brightest with minimal adjustment needed to give me an advantage. It's also the only way I can use voice chat because none of my controllers have headphone ports.
When I first started Overwatch on my switch, I felt cold against it. Three days in and my feelings have really been defrosted a bit, but even as I continue to level up my profile, I can't shake this feeling that releasing this game is a very un-Blizzard move. Say what you want about the company, and there is much to say about it today. Blizzard has generally only released products of a certain high standard. People love Blizzard because its games are generally the best available regardless of the genre. That's why I bought Diablo III on Switch day one. That port managed to keep the high standards of the versions that came before it. The same cannot be said about this switchport, but I am not so sure it will mean the target audience.
To give you an idea of what I mean, let me take you back a decade and some changes. It's 2008 and I'm interested in the upcoming release of Call of Duty: World at War . I have devoured videos of what is published on GameTrailers, although I am realistic about my expectations. As amazing as it looked to me, I know it won't look anywhere near as good on my console as it does in these videos, because during this playing time I hoisted myself to the Wii bandwagon. So the game I stop pre-ordering – the only Wii copy pre-ordered on the specific GameStop – shares only a small resemblance to the videos I watch at the end of the launch. My game has styled face animations, a sharper frame rate and poorer graphics. But I do not care. All that goes through me is that I play Call of Duty on my Wii. Yes, there were superior alternatives out there, but I didn't bother to settle for this smaller version as long as I had fun with it.
I think the same idea will apply to anyone starting up Overwatch for the first time on Switch. Personally, I don't see myself giving up my PS4 account to start over with Nintendo because I will never be able to think of it as anything other than a deteriorating experience. But if I was in the same situation as I was a decade ago, with only one Nintendo console at my disposal, I don't think I would mind the compromises Blizzard made. Again, I probably would have given up waiting for a port now and become totally dependent on Paladin instead, but it is a topic for another conversation.
[This port report is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
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