5 Lessons Overwatch Can Still Learn From Team Fortress 2

Games Lists Overwatch
5 Lessons Overwatch Can Still Learn From Team Fortress 2

There’s a sad reality of growing up as a videogame enthusiast—you tend to drift away from playing the newest AAA games at the time of their release. I know that’s certainly been the case for me—where 10 years ago I would have been out getting games on the days of their release, today I’m more likely to wile away the hours playing classic indie games and waiting for newer titles to go on sale. But Overwatch has been a pleasant exception.

For the first time in quite a while, I’ve actually fallen in love with a brand new game in Overwatch, and it’s even more notable in the fact that I rarely play modern first-person shooters. Not since Team Fortress 2 have I gotten so interested in a shooter, and it’s hardly a mystery to see why: The two games share a huge amount of the same DNA. Anyone who’s played TF2 in the least bit can sit down with Overwatch and immediately see that it’s this game’s single biggest influence. Combined with elements swiped from the popularity of traditional MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) games and their FPS spin-offs, Overwatch can’t be claimed as a particularly innovative concept, but it does feature great balance and fun, deceptively deep combat.

And yet, there are still elements I loved about the Team Fortress 2 experience in particular that are notably missing from the experience one gets with Overwatch. This new class-based shooter is deliriously fun in its combat, but also feels inherently shallow at times. It can occasionally be frustrating, because some of these issues feel like they would be easily correctable … if only Blizzard would look back on some of the aspects that make TF2 so great. There’s a whole lot of reasons that tons of people are still playing TF2 today, and if Overwatch can implement some of these features in the future, they can make an already good game even better. So here are five TF2 lessons that Overwatch can still implement.

1. More varied game modes

This is the single biggest change that Overwatch could use to diversify the play experience. Currently, there are only three modes for Overwatch games—Escort, Assault and Control. I’d argue the best mode is the one that comes directly from TF2 in Escort—they literally use the term “payload,” which is apparently not copyrighted. Assault and Control, on the other hand, have a tendency to suffer from a lack of variation and games that often wrap up very, very quickly. Both modes (and Overwatch in general) are almost entirely focused on bringing groups of heroes together into very specific, tightly contested points that need to be captured. That’s all well and good, except for the fact that a single capture, or two of them, are the objective around which the entire round hinges.

In TF2, on the other hand, a standard Control Point game is a much more fluid tug of war. There are more control points, and those that get captured by one side can be recaptured by another to swing the tide back in the opposite direction. Games don’t simply involve one side attacking and one side defending—both sides are attacking and defending simultaneously, which makes for great strategic choices and an incentive for players to think about the big picture. It also makes for games that are potentially longer and more epic in scope—such as a near defeat that rallies into a sustained drive that captures all of the enemies’ control points. It’s an experience you more or less can’t have in Overwatch, as each game comes down to “can we capture before time runs out” or “can we keep defending until time runs out.” Either way, you’re at the mercy of the clock.

And yes, I understand that as in MOBA games, the point of Overwatch is really supposed to be teamwork and team battles. Going commando is usually a pretty bad idea in Overwatch, but it’s not as if the team concept was much different in TF2. Just look at the healer character of Mercy, with a formula more or less copied directly from TF2’s Medic. One is meant to play alongside your team in TF2 as well (granted, often a larger team), but the difference is that there are simply more things for a team to do and focus on at once.

The game modes of Overwatch aren’t broken, but what I’d really like to see is simply more of them; including ones in the style of TF2 that might open up new strategic possibilities. Just take Capture the Flag as an example—how fun would it be to streak into a base as Tracer and attempt to swipe the briefcase? What new uses would we be pioneering for each character, and how different would team composition look in this setting? And there are more—just look at all of game modes that have come to TF2 over the years. Obviously, Overwatch is just getting on its feet, but there’s obvious room for growth here. I hope new modes arrive sooner rather than later, before the current ones start to feel stale to players.

overwatch tf2 briefcase.jpg

2. Bigger maps, more pathways

This point builds off #1, and is especially made possible by different game modes that would allow control points to be captured in variable order (i.e., points A or B can either be captured in any order before C). But in short—the maps of Overwatch, while having some nice details and bits of personality, don’t really allow for much in the way of branching pathways. There are naturally multiple routes to objectives, but most are predominantly cosmetic or diversions that simply take you in a different direction for a few seconds before rejoining the main track. It’s kind of surprising, given the vast degree of differences in mobility between the heroes, that they can’t exploit that mobility with a little bit more freedom.

Rather, what I’d like to see on some new maps are paths that can truly diverge at times, forcing the attackers and defenders to split their teams, as one would see in a MOBA. Once again, one would think this would lead to the formulation of whole new strategies, if two groups are simultaneously going after Objective A and Objective B—especially if the two objective points have significantly different layouts. At the same time, it also would inspire new defensive strategy from smaller defensive teams. In general, these types of maps would simply offer more diversity of play. It’s not as if I’m advocating for all maps to be redesigned, but why not add more of them that play differently than the originals? Isn’t it better to force the players to keep evolving and changing, rather than simply fall into ruts and best practices on how heroes are supposed to be used?

overwatch tf2 map overview (Custom).jpg

3. Dedicated servers continuously playing specific stages

Call me spoiled by memories of playing TF2 and games like it, but when I found out I couldn’t simply join a random game playing a specific stage in Overwatch, I thought “This can’t possibly be true, right?” It still feels like I must be missing something—can I really be playing a AAA shooter in 2016 where I have no ability to actually choose a stage to play on or play the same stage repeatedly? Is there a secret menu somewhere on the launch screen hiding this feature?

Yes, one can create a custom game and play a selected stage … assuming one has 11 friends on Battle.net ready to go, or wants to play against the middling AI. But seriously, how hard would this be to implement? Is Blizzard really so proud of its randomized matchmaking abilities in Battle.net that they don’t think any players want to be able to control the stages they play? Is it a crime to want to practice attacking Hanamura, or defending Temple of Anubis? These seem like extremely basic requests. And beyond that, you can’t even choose a game mode! Want to play Payload/Escort? Well, you better hope you randomly end up in that type of game … and even if you do, you’ll probably be back to playing Assault or Control again immediately afterward.

If you had told me before I started playing Overwatch that it was impossible to choose to join a game on a specific stage, I wouldn’t have believed you. I can’t understand why Blizzard doesn’t want players to have a choice on this one.

4. Varied movement speed, heft

This one isn’t a big deal, but it’s something one notices after playing Overwatch for a while with a variety of characters/hero types: Almost all of them have more or less the exact same base movement speed/jumps.

I’m not saying that characters feel the same—if anything, Overwatch does a great job of making them all pretty distinct, with a few exceptions. But this is just one more area where more variation could be used/should be expected. It’s also something one would see in TF2, which had significantly different movement rates for almost every class—just look at the numbers here.

Now compare to Overwatch, where every class besides Lucio, Genji and Tracer has the exact same base speed. Yes, many of them also have abilities that allow them to jump, skip, grapple or otherwise move faster for limited bursts, but why does a tank still otherwise move at the same speed as a squishy offensive class? Why does Reinhardt, a giant hulk wearing 2,000 lbs of armor, or the morbidly obese globe known as Roadhog, have the same base movement speed as Hanzo, a fleet-footed archer wearing nothing but silk? Shouldn’t Reinhardt logically be at least a little bit slower, especially if he also has a charge move that briefly gives him the fastest movement speed in the game?

overwatch tf2 roadhog (Custom).jpg

And by the way, the “increased” base speeds for Tracer/Genji can hardly be said to be increased at all—they’re roughly 8.3% faster than the other base movements, an increase so small that most players have probably never even noticed. An apt TF2 comparison would be the Scout vs. The Heavy, with the Scout coming in at 77.9% faster in just his base speed. Yes, a character like Tracer primarily derives her extra speed from strategic use of the Blink ability, but what about Genji? If you want this character to be somewhat faster, shouldn’t it be in a more meaningful, noticeable way?

5. A Pyro equivalent

This is just a final, personal request, given that I always loved TF2’s Pyro. Who do I need to kill to get a damage-over-time-dealing, fire-based Overwatch character? I’m willing to do what it takes.

Jim Vorel is Paste’s staff writer, and you can usually find him buffing his whole team as Lucio, because he’s just nice that way. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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