10 games Like Overwatch (opens in new tab) because heroes never die
The Blizzard and Nintendo romance is still very much in the honeymoon phase of their relationship. It's only as old as last year, when Diablo 3 (opens in new tab) was announced for Nintendo Switch, and there are still a few questions as to the couple's long term future together, but the mutual affectation the pair have for each other is palpable, and it's easy to see why. As two historic titans of the games industry (though one has about a hundred years over the other) known and revered for their high standards of quality, the pair can be considered respective peers of their time, making a collaboration almost inevitable as the boundaries between console and PC gaming becomes increasingly porous.
All of this is to say that Overwatch (opens in new tab) launching on Switch was almost always going to happen at some point for another, despite seeming an impossibility as recently as a few years ago, when game director Jeff Kaplan flatly ruled out the idea himself. Fast forward to today, and with launch nearing, we spoke to Blizzard's Principal Designer on Overwatch Switch (opens in new tab), Wes Yanagi, about how the port came to be, and what the studio expects from the game's transition to this portable platform.
"The momentum to bring Overwatch to Switch has been churning at Blizzard ever since Nintendo announced the thing," begins Yanagi, looking back on the project's two year development. "Then the console came out, and a lot of people at Blizzard were huge fans of Nintendo, so we began having these conversations about how cool it would be to bring the game to the platform. But it really wasn't until the end of Diablo 3's porting to Switch where we really looked at it and went 'Hey, we might be able to do this thing'."
Blizzard began putting out feelers to both Nintendo and Iron Galaxy – its partnered external developer for Diablo 3's Switch port – to get a sense of their interest in bringing Overwatch to the system, and the response from both parties was naturally enthusiastic. Even before the project got internally greenlit, though, the team had managed to put together a proof-of-concept prototype of the game running on a Switch, and the results immediately revealed that it could be something special, as Yanagi explains.
"That first build was buggy and not completely up to performance standards, but we're all sitting in this playtest lab facing each other with Switches in our hands and just having an amazing time. It let us interact in such a different way compared to how we had been playing Overwatch up till that point, so after that I vividly remember everyone looking at each other with this grin across their face, and we all agreed to make this thing happen."
Hero shooters never die
Nintendo deliberately designed the Switch infrastructure as an accessible platform for developers to work with, but Blizzard approached Overwatch's transition with the same level of focus and attention to detail that it applies to crafting new titles from scratch. This is a competitive multiplayer shooter that's reputed for its polish, visual fidelity, and user accessibility, after all, and losing any of that in the jump to another console would be to undermine the very identity of Overwatch itself.
"We invested a lot of time in heavy optimisation", says Yanagi, "not just in terms of Overwatch's visuals, but all the systems that make up the game as you know and love it. We have our real time physics engine in there, for example, and a really intricate audio system that handles so many different variables, so all of these elements needed to get a runthrough from the various groups that were responsible for them."
That being said, Overwatch isn't completely the same experience on Nintendo's handheld console as its console and PC counterparts, instead making use of the system's Joy-Con controllers with gyroscopic controls that can be enjoyed across all of its characters through a variety of different schemes. In handheld mode, players might tilt the console every now and again to line up a sniper shot as Widowmaker, while Tracer mains will find a whole new way to play when using the detached Joy-Cons as though they were holding her pulse pistols in their own hands. When Overwatch's gyroscopic capabilities were announced, many were quick to write if off as a needless gimmick, but Yanagi is quick to emphasise just how much they widen the parameters for play and add a whole new dimension to the game proper.
"We initially hadn't considered the possibilities of the Switch's gyroscopic features at all when starting the project, but Nintendo encouraged us to investigate it from very early on in development, emphasising how popular it was for Switch players and the amount of games on the platform that used them. So we got it up and running and organised some playtests with a bunch of different people, and the results were honestly eye opening."
According to Yanagi, we actually have Splatoon 2 (opens in new tab) to thank for Overwatch's gyroscopic support, as one internal playtester happened to be a huge fan of Nintendo's online shooter, and quickly demonstrated the variety of playstyles that gyro-aiming could support. "He used the Joy-Cons to play Overwatch in ways we hadn't even considered before, detaching them and then using them to aim as if you were using a Wii Remote. I tried it myself, and I'm at the point now where I don't think I could switch back! To me, that's the closest thing to a mouse and keyboard experience on the console, and I can totally see really good players getting amazing tracking aim, which you would have a difficult time doing with a more traditional controller."
Speaking of predicting player patterns, Overwatch's ever changing meta tends to deviate across platforms, as one character on console might be more viable than that on PC, while each system has its own community of players with their own informal laws and micro-cultures (at least until Blizzard finally implements cross-play across each of the game's different versions, which it's still ruling out for now). Is Yanagi curious as to whether the Switch community will develop its entirely separate hierarchy of heroes, playstyles, and team ups?
"It's going to be... interesting," he muses. "I'm definitely excited to see what happens. I'm assuming it's going to be different, but I honestly don't know. I think what will really appeal to a lot of people is the fact that Switch is going to be a much more social experience, where you can get people in a room together for extended sessions, and that in itself is going to lend a more casual atmosphere to the experience."
What's also unclear is whether Switch players can expect to see any Nintendo themed cosmetics and items sprouting out of Overwatch's loot boxes in the future, or if they'll be able to access timed exclusive skins that are no longer available in the game at present, such as the Pink Mercy skin (opens in new tab) released to support Breast Cancer Research Foundation last year. Yanagi's answer will be disappointing for some, but also makes sense when you consider Blizzard's approach to consumer consistency.
"When you step back and look at our philosophy for the way we deliver content, one of our values is to ensure parity and fairness across all of our platforms, and we think that it wouldn't be right if PC, PS4, or Xbox players couldn't have access to something that was on Switch. As for previously timed exclusives, I think those are things that we're still discussing, but they fall into different categories. For instance, I'm not sure we'd ever re-release a skin from Blizzcon 2017 or something like that, but for others we'll be looking into it." In short, don't expect a Donkey Kong Winston skin anytime soon.
Speaking of Nintendo crossovers, Overwatch Game Director Jeff Kaplan recently revealed which Overwatch character he'd like to see join the fighting roster (opens in new tab) for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (it was Tracer, in case you were wondering). For Yanagi, I wrap up our conversation by flipping the question; which Nintendo character would he like to see join Overwatch as a playable hero? His answer is at once both surprising yet totally sensical: "I think it would be fun to see Wario make it in. He has a kind of Tank/DPS thing going on that would be an interesting fit for the roster!"
For more, check out all the best Switch exclusives (opens in new tab) to play right now, or watch our latest Dialogue Options episode below.