Overwatch is one of the best games of the year. It’s got a massive fandom, even in surprising places. (You know, like porn.) It’s fantastic, but if you’re not a hardcore gamer, the prospect of investing your time in a big, multiplayer shooter–especially one with as many players as Overwatch–is overwhelming. Frankly, you might be wondering: Where do I start?
Fortunately, WIRED is here to help. Below is our beginner’s guide for starting your life as an Overwatch obsessive–or at least someone who knows their way around.
OK, So What’s All the Fuss About?
Overwatch is an online, competitive multiplayer shooter developed by Blizzard Entertainment, the same folks who have made Starcraft, World of Warcraft, and Hearthstone, among others. They’re known for building shiny, compulsively playable online games, and this one is no different. A team-based shooter starring a roster of 23 playable characters, with more being added each month, Overwatch emphasizes team coordination, character mastery, and situational awareness more than shooter skill, which makes it a great entry point for players who would never step foot in something like Counter-Strike.
In the core game modes, players face off in six-versus-six matches, in one of four game types:
- Escort: One team escorts a payload–essentially a fancy mobile cart–from one part of the map to the other, while the other team tries to stop them. The payload moves whenver the escorting team is within close range of it, unless an enemy is blocking the path. If you stick to the payload, it also heals you slowly over time. This game type is on a timer, but pushing the payload to certain checkpoints buys the escorting team more time.
- Assault: This is a pretty straightforward mode of territory control. Defending team must protect a fixed square on the map while the attacking team tries to take it. Most assault maps have two points that the attackers must try to take control of before the timer runs out.
- Control: In gaming parlance, you’d call this mode King of the Hill. It’s like Assault, except there’s only one control point and everyone’s fighting over it. First team to control the point for a set amount of time wins the round; best of three takes it (best of five in competitive, which we’ll get to in a second).
- Hybrid: Like the name implies, this type is half Assault, half Escort. Once the attacking team takes the point–if they take it–it turns into a payload and the rest of the match continues like in Escort.
There are a couple ways to play the core game: Quick Play and Competitive. Quick Play is the standard mode of playing matches, and where you’ll probably spend most of your time, especially early on. You jump in, get matched with a team, and do your thing.
Competitive is a bit more complicated. You can’t access Competitive until you reach level 25 playing in other game modes, and then to play in each season of Competitive (each one lasts a couple of months; they’re in the third season now) you’ll have to play 10 qualifying matches. Play those, and you’ll get ranked according to your skill and your win-loss record. Then you can enter Competitive proper, playing with similarly ranked players for a chance at special in-game prizes and sweet, sweet prestige.
Pick Your Platform
Overwatch is playable on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. For a lot of people, this isn’t going to be any type of choice at all; whatever you have, that’s where you’re getting your payload on. But if you by chance have multiple consoles, or a console and a decent PC, then you have some choices to make. Overwatch isn’t terribly demanding of PC technology, and it’s the native home of Blizzard’s games, making it a natural choice. But, anecdotally, the PC scene is more competitive and a little bit more hostile to new players than the consoles. If you’re interested in the deepest, most active scene, playing on PC is the move. If you’re looking for something more casual, and you have the option, go console.
Playing With Character
One of the most important and distinctive elements of Overwatch is its vast roster of colorful characters to choose from. Unlike in most shooters, where each playable avatar has a similar set of abilities, each hero in Overwatch has their own set of skills and weapons to master. Tracer is a British dandy who can briefly travel through time. D.Va is an eSports star with a killer mecha. Winston is a gorilla. Mastering characters and being able to switch between them on the fly is essential to playing Overwatch. It’s important to learn who the heroes are, what they’re capable of, and some ways to counter them.
That sounds pretty daunting, but here’s what it comes down to: Pick a character you like, play with them, figure out their skill set. Then, when you’re feeling more comfortable, try another. While doing so, pay attention to how the rest of your team plays and who they play as. What team configurations work? What characters seem fun? Who keeps killing you the most? Do this, and after a while, you’ll start to feel like you have a handle on the roster. It’ll come faster than you think.
Also, Blizzard splits the heroes into roughly four groups. These divisions aren’t perfect, and different characters in each division can still play radically different roles from one another in the down and dirty of a match. But it’s a good guideline as you begin to learn.
- Offense: These characters are designed to do damage to other players. Pretty simple stuff. There are currently more offense heroes than any other in the game, and they include Genji, McCree, Pharah, Reaper, Solder 76, Tracer, and Sombra.
- Defense: These heroes are best suited for helping you control space and hold specific map locations. Bastion and Torbjorn have the ability to set up (or, in Bastion’s case, become) stationary turrets to help defend locales. They include Bastion, Hanzo, Junkrat, Mei, Torbjorn, and Widowmaker.
- Tanks: For shooter players, tanks might be the most unfamiliar element of the game. These are heroes designed to protect other heroes, drawing attention from the enemy and putting up barriers. If you’re not a tank, you’ll want to stick behind and support them, using them as mobile cover to do your duty. They include Reinhardt, D.Va, Winston, Roadhog, and Zarya.
- Support: With the exception of Symmetra, who does complicated things with shields, turrets, and teleporters, support heroes are healers. You’re going to need them. They include Lucio, Ana, Mercy, Symmetra, and Zenyatta.
Where Do I Start?
If you’re into Call of Duty: Try Solder 76. He seems deliberately designed as a point of entry for new players familiar with less colorful modern shooters, with abilities that are cribbed pretty closely from Call of Duty and its ilk. Soldier 76 has infinite sprint to help you move around the map nimbly, and his fully automatic assault rifle is excellent at mid- and short-range. He recently got a buff that increases his gun’s damage, so now is a really good time to jump in as Soldier 76. Stay with your team, hanging out at mid-range behind your tanks, and shoot at anyone who exposes themselves. Your secondary attack is a nice set of rockets that you can use to punish anyone who gets too close.
If you haven’t played an first-person shooter since Quake: Try Pharah. Like Soldier, her moves seem to deliberately echo ideas from shooters past, this time with mechanics from the days of Quake, like the reliable rocket launcher primary weapon and a flight ability that mimics rocket jumping. Pharah is a damage hero with the ability to get at enemies from surprising angles. Find an approach to hover where your enemies aren’t paying attention, drop some rockets, and then reposition. Your secondary fire is a concussive blast that can knock an enemy away from their team (or off the map), and your ultimate is a massive missile barrage. Just remember not to spend too much time in the air–Pharah’s biggest weakness is that she’s fragile and tends to expose herself to enemy fire.
If you haven’t played an first-person shooter since, Oh God, What’s Happening, I Thought You Said I Didn’t Need to be an Expert for This?: Try Reaper. His goth kid aesthetic and straightforward tactics make him a bit of a joke in the community, but he might be the easiest character to learn for a beginner. His kit is simple: He can teleport short distances, briefly turn into a spirit to move without being vulnerable to harm, and he has two shotguns. You see where this is going. Get in close, break some faces, and get out. For someone who isn’t used to team-based shooters, one of the most difficult concepts to learn is how to move and keep up with your team. Reaper is one of the few characters who can be efficacious on their own in the event that you do lose track of your position on the map. Just try not to get surrounded, and make your way back to your team when you’re done with the stuff-breaking.
Getting More Advanced
Once you’ve gotten used to a few characters, you might feel the itch to try to improve and get deeper into the game. Once you’ve gotten there, Competitive is worth trying. It promises tougher, more intense play, and if you can consistently get good matches you’ll undoubtedly see your skills improve. It’s also worth checking out streamers and YouTubers to learn from; a lot of pro players regularly stream on Twitch, and the YouTube channel Cynical Nerds (though not actively making Overwatch content anymore) has excellent and still mostly accurate guides for most heroes and maps.
Finally, Some Tips
- Pay special attention to supports: Ana, Lucio, Mercy, and Zenyatta are Overwatch’s healers. Learn their silhouettes and voice lines so you can keep track of them on your team and the enemy’s. Stick close to your healers, protect them, and go near them when you need healing. And, of course, target enemy healers every chance you get. And if your healer asks for you to do something over mic or chat, you should probably do it.
- Speaking of healers, learn to play one as soon as you feel able to. It’ll make your more dysfunctional pick-up games run a lot more smoothly if you can jump into a healing position when no one else will. Lucio is arguably the easiest to learn and one of the most versatile. Don’t be that person who complains about no one picking a healer and instead be the one who picks a healer when no one else will. You might not get much gratitude, but they’ll know. They’ll know.
- Talk to other players! Use your mic and the in-game macros to communicate. Call out enemy positions, ask for healing, and try to coordinate with your team. You’ll play better and maybe make some friends. Understandably, this may be threatening or awkward, it’s weird talking to strangers. But it might be more rewarding and enjoyable than you think.
- Have fun. If you get frustrated, or if the game just isn’t for you, go do something else. Come back when or if you’re ready. Overwatch isn’t going anywhere.