Overwatch is a massive success story. Blizzard is no stranger to these: Hearthstone, World of Warcraft and Diablo are all key touchstones for their respective genres, but the rapid success of Overwatch, one year old as of this anniversary event, is remarkable even by their standards. Attempting to enter the heavily stuffed market that is online shooters, saturated with Call of Duty, Battlefield and Destiny already, and becoming one of the biggest around already is testament to the game. This makes it difficult to review events like this in a vacuum, and anyone who has tried already tried and dismissed will find little new to recommend it to them here. For the fans though, the Overwatch Anniversary Event is a great addition. For those who have lapsed it is well worth warming up those itchy trigger fingers, and dusting off you mouse or controller and getting dropped back into the most colourful and charismatic AAA shooter available right now.
As is usually the case with Overwatch’s special events, there are gameplay additions to the roster as well as a wealth of cosmetic items to allow further customisation of your characters. In fact the number of loot items is higher than in any other event since they started in 2016 with the Summer Games, for the first time reaching into triple digits at 108. The breadth of this offer is remarkable, and its important to note that Blizzard continues to offer all of these expansions free of charge to play. this is key and is certainly something that’s kept me coming back to Overwatch long after abandoning Call of Duty and other annual online shooters. The model seems to be aping the traditional MOBA approach (excluding the upfront cost for purchasing the game) and with the additional microtransactions providing further funding, it appears to be working fairly well. Included in the 108 are 48 voice lines, 25 sprays, 24 emotes, and 11 legendary skins, which are the real chase unlocks.
These have come in for some criticism from the community however. Unlocking the legendary skins randomly through loot drops is incredibly rare. Due to Chinese gaming regulations we know exactly what rate they appear, and you can expect to find Legendary items in roughly one every 13.5 boxes, and seem to be rarer than skins typically were in previous events. You could also purchase them using real money, but given that you’re still buying individual boxes there’s no guarantee of anything. All in all it is extremely hard to get the skins you want, and you need to have a huge amount of luck if you want to do it naturally. This leaves the incredibly unreliable real money purchase, but the lack of guarantees have left some of the hardcore fans displeased at their inability to get hold of everything. It’s a small complaint to make, but then when a game is as strong and popular as Overwatch there’s bound to be some areas that slip between the cracks.
Gameplay wise the main additions are three new maps, which is comfortably the largest map update the game’s ever had, with every previous one only offering one new area. The downside is that the maps are all only playable in the Arena, rather than the main ranked modes. Each is a small map based off an existing full map with some additional flavour finds. Necropolis has a similar feel to Anubis, despite being set at night, and is Ana’s hideout in her time away from Overwatch. Castillo, is a part of Dorado, and contains the Calaveras bar and Sombra’s hacking den. Finally Black Forest is set on the outskirts of Eichenwalde and is littered with the wreckage of Bastions. They’re all great areas that have been really well designed, and a much-needed addition to expand the arcade mode, which has only been able to offer the Ecopoint Antarctica map since its launch at the end of 2016. It’s a real shame that we’re missing new maps for Ranked Play, but arcade modes desperately needed some greater variation to ensure players remained engaged. What’s more with the recent announcement of the Horizon Lunar Colony map, players have that to look forward to as well.
All of Overwatch’s growth over the past year has cemented its place into the gaming pantheon, and it’s rapidly becoming the go-to FPS for competitive e-sports as well. It’s also been re-released digitally in the Overwatch: Game of the Year edition, and it’s all gone down very well with gamers. On the back of this event, as well as the free weekend at the end of May, it re-entered the UK charts at number 2, which is extraordinary for a game that’s now a year old. So whilst it’s fair to say that Overwatch Anniversary Event isn’t without criticism, and the acquisition of legendary skins is harder than ever, it remains the game that keeps on giving, and so it is with the event. 3 new maps, 108 new unlocks, and no entry fee. What’s not to love.