Amidst other pop culture phenomenons, industry trends, and recent bad PR, Overwatch for Switch couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Hit hero shooter Overwatch from Blizzard Entertainment is now available to play on the Nintendo Switch. Perhaps a year or even two years ago, that sentence would have been much more exciting. In 2019, that sentence comes with a number of different connotations now. Not only does this Switch port feel late and behind the competition, but recent news makes this feel like the worst possible time to have anything associated with Blizzard.
To the game’s credit, it plays fairly well. It is fully-featured, and despite graphical sacrifices, it is the exact game you’ve played before. And therein lies the problem, because essentially everyone I know who is constantly tuned into the video game news cycle has already played Overwatch. In fact, essentially all of those people have since moved on from it. While there may have been early fervor for such a port when the Switch was first finding its legs, all of that excitement has since turned into half-hearted responses of “oh, okay.”
Despite all of the cynicism I’m bound to express, I do want to state my overall appreciation for motion and tilt controls on Nintendo console shooters, and they are implemented fairly well in Overwatch. It’s easy to bash motion controls since their heyday in the Wii era, and it took a long time for us to get rid of the “waggle” derogatory term. I’ve always been an advocate for that control scheme—we’ve come a long way since the first Red Steel.
Like Splatoon, Fortnite, and the Panic Button-developed ports of Doom and Wolfenstein II, aiming is enhanced with tilt controls, and they can be adjusted (or turned off completely) to your comfort. For the most part, the customization options are fairly comprehensive, the same way they are on other editions of the game, but now with the added options of motion sensitivity. If motion makes sense for some heroes more than others, you can adjust control options for each individual hero character.
Personally, based on my time with the Splatoon games, I like using tilt for the Y-axis and the analog stick for the X-axis (horizontal). I didn’t find any options for straight-up turning off X-axis (or roll or yaw, depending on how you turn your Switch), but keeping motion on for that axis allowed me to finetune my aiming with characters like Widowmaker, Ana, and Ashe. But one alternate method of utilizing the motion controls is by using the split Joy-Con controllers in TV mode and pointing the right Joy-Con at the screen to aim, almost as if you were using a Wii remote.
Without an IR sensor and a sensor bar, it’s all mere imitation, but it sort of worked. I’ve been playing the Conduit games on Wii lately (don’t ask why) and the way those games control only goes to show the problem with trying to replicate that on the Switch. Without any dead zone to reset to, turning and walking is a bit awkward, and wrapping your head around using both tilt controls and the analog stick isn’t worth the trouble. Plus, you’d probably look like a moron playing like that.
It isn’t fair to bash the graphical fidelity of Overwatch on Switch, because overall, it looks as colorful and clean as it should. Some textures and details on the characters are a bit muddled, but this game avoids the blurry mess of the Bethesda game ports. But to those who might be moving from PS4, Xbox One, or PC to Switch may be taken aback by the frame rate getting chopped in half from 60 to 30 FPS. Not a dealbreaker, but it isn’t a good look compared to the similar game of Paladins, which shares a 60 FPS rate with its other counterparts.
And I won’t pretend that I understand the technical differences between Overwatch and Paladins—with Blizzard being the larger company, I’d assume that there’s more going on under the hood with the former game. I just have to wonder what the audience who wants to play this game on Switch truly prioritizes: resolution or frame rate. The game looks fairly crisp, but I wonder if players could have taken a visual hit to make the game run smoother.
It’s difficult to win in this scenario—Nintendo fans rightfully complained that a number of triple-A titles missed out on their console of choice, with publishers making the excuse that there wasn’t an audience for their title there, or that it was too difficult on a technical basis. Now graphical behemoths like The Witcher 3 are actually coming to Switch, there are complaints about their visuals, and questions raised on who this is for. It’s a paradox that I don’t see Overwatch solving.
And since I mentioned both Fortnite and Paladins, it’s worth mentioning that those two titles have been prime examples of the recent trend in the industry towards cross-play and cross-progression. And with the eternally-popular Minecraft and Rocket League also recognizing that trend, the also-popular Overwatch appears weirdly left behind and outdated. With a non-statement statement regarding the matter, I’m not expecting any movement towards that soon, and that disappoints me.
A big sell of Overwatch is its cosmetics, and players of the game have long invested in their collections on other platforms for years now. Granted, this is a problem that existed before the Switch version; anyone who wanted to play on both PC and PS4 would have to start anew on one of the platforms. Still, with Battle.net connecting to all of your console accounts, it’s disheartening to see that not much is coming from it.
Perhaps whatever architecture or systems that Blizzard started with doesn’t necessarily allow for cross-progression to technically happen; as far as we know, Apex Legends has the same problem too. To me, it shows the need for future-proofing games like Overwatch. But working on such a feature could have resulted in yet another dilemma; what if prioritizing cross-platform features resulted in a further delay for Overwatch on Switch, potentially outdating the game even more? It makes me ponder on what sort of challenges and obstacles development had to result in such a late release.
And wow, did this release sure come at an interesting time. If you at least glance at the news from time to time, you’d know that Blizzard is in the midst of trying (and failing) to put out a PR fire. After suspending an esports player and firing two shoutcasters for the former’s declaration of support for the pro-democracy Hong Kong protests, the news cycle has only gotten worse for Blizzard. This very port of Overwatch on Switch was due for a big launch event this week, but it was canceled just two days before; the announcement came from a carefully-worded tweet from Nintendo NYC.
It’s only snowballing as we go forward, with Blizzard making a highly-criticized statement and enacting another such ban in the Hearthstone competitive scene for similar political reasons just recently. I doubt any blame should go to Jeff Kaplan and the Overwatch team, and Blizzard employees have internally expressed their dissent in plenty of ways. Still, the timing of this highly-publicized release (I’ve noticed ads for this port taking up half of some websites) couldn’t be any worse.
I certainly hope that whomever this port is for will enjoy it as much as many of us enjoyed the game when it first came out years ago. For now, I’m comfortable with perhaps not touching Overwatch for the foreseeable future, for the reasons of myself wanting to invest time in other games and also in protest of Blizzard’s decisions in the wake of the Hong Kong protests. Perhaps there’s another timeline where Overwatch came out on Switch at a different time to much acclaim, but we can only dream of that world where heroes truly never die.