There are very few games that I have liked more than Team Fortress 2. It appeals to everything I like about games, starting with its variety of weapons and cartoon universe and ending with its hat collecting and digital marketplace that triggers the hoarding part of my brain. I've played the game for over 1000 hours, I own three pages of hats for the Pyro, and I loved every minute of it. Over the past year, that love has grown from an active affair to a long distance relationship, and I've seen the game's updates devolve into little more than drops of new hats and an occasional new mode to add onto the growing pile of neglect.
Naturally, this has left a hole in my gaming diet, and it's one that I've been looking to fill for quite some time. More deathmatch focused affairs such as Halo 5: Guardians and Garden Warfare 2 are great, but entering random team games on console is a completely different experience than landing on a server in a PC shooter. So, when asked what my most anticipated game of the coming year is, my immediate answer is the title that I hope fills this void. That game is Overwatch, Blizzard's crack at the Team Fortress formula. Having played a scant few matches at conventions and following along with the game's development, I can say with some confidence that the Warcraft people have cracked the code.
The game is a six versus six class-based shooter where the classes are less defined by characters and more by roles. Instead of every Heavy being a Russian man with a minigun, there are multiple characters that can be slotted in as a damage dealer, each with different weapons and each countering different tactics that the other team might be using. It's a natural evolution, allowing Blizzard to add in more variety as time goes on while still keeping their basic system intact.
Of course, a system like that can easily be abused, and games like Evolve have proven that charging for character DLC in a multiplayer environment is more than a little unpopular. Thankfully, characters and maps will be free in Overwatch, and they will instead make the bulk of their money on the game's entry fee as well as cosmetic upgrades for your heroes. It's a smart decision that keeps everyone on the same page gameplay wise while also rewarding your most dedicated fans.
Really though, enough talk of systems and cosmetics and microtransactions. You can have golden guns and fish tank hats and custom emotes all you want, but the true test for any shooter is in the gameplay. I haven't played as much Overwatch as some people on the Internet, as the beta is still only letting in random swaths of people from the many who signed up. The games I have played on the floor of PAX East and elsewhere have left me hungry for more.
My skills with Team Fortress 2 immediately applied to Overwatch, helped immensely by the game straight up copying the most popular modes from Valve's game. Even so, Overwatch feels like a natural evolution of the class-based shooter genre. It's simplistic in some ways, as most characters are only focused on a single weapon instead of juggling an entire arsenal. That simplicity is broken once you dive into each character's abilities, each on a cooldown and most drastically altering the battlefield on a moment to moment basis. In the few matches I played, I wasn't just relying on my twitch shooter instincts. I was learning each character and countering abilities, suggesting the depth of a fighting game layered on top of excellent gunplay.
Speaking of which, Overwatch is launching with a more varied and exciting arsenal than most games end up with after years of patches and updates. Melee fighters, mech pilots, turret building engineers, medics complete with the confusingly commonplace magic beam of healing—they're all here and ready to go. It will take a long time to pin down the meta of a roster that runs the gamut from Soldier: 76's run and gun action to the baffling zen orbs of Zenyatta. Add on the fact that it is assumed that Blizzard will be adding to the roster over time, and you have a formula for a varied and engaging experience that will last me another thousand hours at least.
I could continue, going on and on about the little destructible details in each map, the various forms of cosmetic digital garbage that I will love collecting, or the incredible fact that one of the characters is a dude with a skull mask dual wielding giant shotguns. However, that would be unprofessional, so I'll instead concede that I couldn't be more excited to dive into the full version of Overwatch and see if it meets my already heightened expectations. It's a tall order, but considering what Blizzard has done in the MMO and RTS space, I truly feel that they're up to the challenge.