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My fondness for everyone’s favourite hat simulator is probably common knowledge by now. As a result, I recognize how fruitless an article like this may seem coming from me.
Although, I really do love Overwatch; it’s easily within my top five, maybe top three favourite games in the past year or so. I had been told from various corners of the internet and my social circles (even though circles don’t have corners) that Overwatch was “a spiritual successor to TF2” and, honestly, I think it absurd to not see it. Everything from character personality to gameplay to the cinematic shorts are all reminiscent of Valve’s multiplayer catalyst.
When referring to Overwatch as such, however, it’s only natural that comparisons between the two games be scrutinized, and that’s just what I plan to do in this overthought analysis in which I hope to give both games an equal playing ground.
One last thing; even though we all know the outcome here, what I hope to accomplish is discussion above everything else!
The first component we’ll look at is the characters themselves. Both games sport a cast of impressively interesting characters, with unique traits such as nationalities, dialects, attitudes, quotes, and countless others.
Overwatch obviously has the larger cast of characters, and each one of them is supremely well-done. That being said, I’m not sure if looking at the characters themselves affects the game as much as it would the lore. If it was a movie we were talking about, I’d give Overwatch the overwhelming edge there. Both games have varying characters with their own personalities and quirks, in-game dialogue that reflects situations of the game, and have both made use of comics and animation to further the lore of their respective worlds.
But I think in terms of character depth alone, Overwatch still gets the nod. I haven’t read either of the game’s comics, but the animations I’ve seen for Overwatch boasted a storyline that could potentially grow into something amazing. Team Fortress 2 focuses more on humour than backstory from what I’ve seen, and that’s great, but Overwatch has a much more interesting lore in my eyes. But again, who the characters are in particular serve very little to the overall experience of the game in my eyes, so let’s see what happens next!
Next, I want to discuss how the characters play. Both casts have their own load-outs that make for varying styles of play, some better for certain situations than others and vice versa.
This is where some of my bias will likely shine through. In my article about Team Fortress 2, I stated that the two big things I enjoy in a game is a variety of ways to tackle a situation, and the right balance between mind-numbing combat and engaging strategy.
Overwatch does this as well, and they do a good job it, but I find it still falls short in a few areas. Each hero has their own unique set of skills and abilities, but they’re also restricted to them as a result.
The vast array of characters make for an equally vast array of playstyles, yes, but each kit typically corresponds to a specific playstyle. Reaper, for example, is an excellent choice for ambushes, and has some very unique tools to pull them off. If the player isn’t particularly fond of his dual shotgun weapon choice, however, they would not get the most out of this playstyle, and switching characters for a more desirable weapon would result in the loss of Reaper’s special powers (teleportation and brief invulnerability, in this case) that makes his ambush playstyle so much fun.
Team Fortress 2, meanwhile, has just nine characters that, by default, suit a specific playstyle all their own. The Scout’s speed and extra capping power make him an ideal objective player, while the Sniper often operates best behind the lines of his team, using his supreme aim to take out problematic opponents.
But what TF2 has that Overwatch does not is load-out options. Each character typically has a primary, secondary, and melee weapon at their disposal, and each slot has a plethora of choices. Certain weapons grant buffs like damage boosts at the cost of penalties like ammo deduction. Some weapons will even add their own special effect, like the Heavy’s Natascha mini-gun lowering the movement speed of his targets, or the Demoman’s Loose Cannon grenade launcher that adds a heavy, horizontal knock-back effect.
Some weapons are even completely different from others. The Scout, for example, can sacrifice one of his many pistols for a Bonk! Atomic Punch™, which is a drink that grants him a few seconds of invincibility so that he can bypass dangerous areas. The Pyro can trade in his shotgun for a flare gun, which is a long-range, pistol-type weapon that lets him ignite enemies from afar. The Demoman can even trade in his entire, explosive-centred load-out for a kit that turns him into a fast-running, damage-tanking, melee menace.
The best part is that these weapons can be switched out at any time during respawn, and recent updates have even allowed players to pick up weapons of fallen players (only if said weapon applies to the class they’re playing, of course). This makes each character’s wide array of possible playstyles readily available, although they do have to be unlocked by either logging hours into the game, utilizing the game's crafting system, or paying a small fee to acquire it immediately.
The best way I can describe this particular comparison between Overwatch and TF2 is that, where Overwatch’s character play-styles have several fixed points, Team Fortress 2’s range of play-styles is on a spectrum of sorts. If there’s something you don’t like about a play-style in Overwatch, you either have to accept it or trade in all the abilities you do like in order to satisfy this one need. Team Fortress 2 and its array of weaponry, on the other hand, allows you to change up your load-out for access to new abilities as a means of fine-tuning a character’s base play-style to your liking. Love to ambush players with a gung-ho mini-gun approach, but the regular weapon makes too much noise for surprise attacks? Just switch over to the Tomislav, which makes no sound as you spin it up. Prefer defensive play instead? Equip the Brass Beast, which deals much more damage at the cost of movement speed, which isn’t particularly important on defense. All these options without having to ditch the play-style of the Heavy Weapons Guy!
I also want to touch on Overwatch’s ultimate abilities quickly. In Overwatch, a meter builds up as you play the game. When this meter is full, you can press a button to unleash a devastating attack on your foes or a game-changing boost on your allies. These aren’t a bad inclusion by any means, but I find that it takes away from the strategic aspect that I like. Ultimate’s are, by-and-large, simply not reliable aspects to the game. It’s hard to gauge when you’ll have access to them, and using them at the wrong time can be a huge blow to your team. These abilities that can be so crucial to success are difficult to plan for at the same time, since the meter builds based on damage taken, damage healed, and other factors. It could be said that TF2’s ÜberCharge is also applicable to this criticism, but I would argue that ÜberCharges are significantly easier to plan out and implement into a strategy, since the Medic has the option to focus specifically on building one up.
Now, I’ve mentioned before, in my article on Kirby Super Star Ultra to be exact, that restrictive abilities make games more fun, specifically when referring to the game mode Helper to Hero, where you take control of one of Kirby's possible Helpers, each corresponding to a copy ability in the game, and go through a boss gauntlet.
While this still kind of applies to Overwatch, I don’t find that restrictions work nearly as well in an online multiplayer game.
The difference here is that the focus of Overwatch isn’t on restricting you to a kit that forces you to think; the characters in Overwatch come with their own play-styles that suit situations differently, yet you still have freedom to change your character throughout the game. This is not a factor in Helper to Hero, and so the focus subsequently shifts to how you can utilize one specific arsenal to handle a situation.
Thanks to the multitude of weapons and gadgets, I don’t find TF2 is subject to this, so I believe the character gameplay in Team Fortress 2 trumps that of Overwatch.
Now I want to talk about how the game itself plays. Being a spiritual successor to TF2, Overwatch brings many of the same game modes to the fray, such as capture points, payload, and king-of-the-hill.
This particular part is a little bit tricky to talk about, mainly because the game modes in each game operate more-or-less the same, and any differences are completely subject to personal preference.
Then again, what isn’t these days?
Payload would have to be the game mode that have the most differing counterparts. The gameplay is still fairly similar in both; you escort a payload along a path, reach checkpoints to increase available time, and fight back against the defending team. But the big difference between Overwatch and TF2 is the payload itself.
In Overwatch, the payload takes the form of an exceptionally large vehicle. It can carry team members, provide extremely reliable cover, and some heroes, like Symmetra, can even attach sentries to it. I myself often rely on the payload to play this game mode effectively (I main Lúcio, and so often find myself trying to avoid damage by taking cover behind the payload, passively healing my teammates, and popping out to fire a few rounds at my opponents now and again).
Team Fortress 2’s payload, meanwhile, consists of nothing more than a tiny bomb packed into a mine cart (though a large, ridable payload not unlike the ones found in Overwatch is present in one particular map). It’s not very reliable for cover, and the only benefit it gives (aside from being required to win the game) is that it provides a bit of healing to the pushers.
So which game does it better? Well, me being me, I love Team Fortress 2, and so I’m inclined to give them the nod. Me being me yet again, however, I think it to be borderline criminal to not provide a good reason for my preference.
In Overwatch, even though riding on the payload and rigging it up with sentries and equipment is tons of fun, I often find myself relying on the sheer size and capability of it in order to play the games effectively. Conversely, I find that Team Fortress 2’s payload doesn’t offer that same sort of reassurance, and so I have to complete the objective with little support from the payload apart from its mediocre healing, requiring me to put my cold, hard TF2 skills to the test. For that, I think TF2’s payload mode is better.
As for control points and king-of-the-hill (known as assault and control in Overwatch, respectively), the big difference is the rounds system; TF2’s control points mode plays in rounds (typically of three) whereas Overwatch’s assault mode does not. On the other hand, Team Fortress 2’s king-of-the-hill does not play in rounds, while Overwatch’s control mode does.
Both games do a very, very good job with these game modes, but I’d have to give the edge to TF2 yet again, mainly because I prefer the capture point trope more than king-of-the-hill type game modes. With capture points, you have one team attacking and one team defending during the entire round, allowing you to carry out your ongoing strategy without running into too much trouble, eventually making it all boil down to the skill of the players that determines the outcome, from hard skills like aiming and inputs to cognitive skills like communication and adapting to the opponent’s tactics.
By making capture points have more rounds, this experience goes on for a much longer time, and this is made even more charming with maps such as TF2's Dustbowl (my personal favourite), where the progression of rounds shows it to be one large map, with each section of it serving for a corresponding round.
What’s more, TF2’s capture points mode takes many more forms than Overwatch’s (it’s true that Overwatch has barely been out for a year as opposed to TF2’s ten, but all the same). There's a linear style, where the attacking team must capture points in a set order. There's also pyramid-style, where two specific points must be captured to enable the third and final point for capture. There’s even styles with five capture points, with the final one being easier to capture when the previous four are also captured. TF2’s capture point trope is simply much more extensive than Overwatch’s, which deserves a tip of the hat even without my preference for the game mode.
As for Overwatch’s control mode, I find that the rounds go by extremely quickly, which makes the very presence of rounds arguably required. That said, I don’t really find much difference between these two takes on the king-of-the-hill trope; the change in scenery between rounds in Overwatch is a tad negligible.
One big point I also want to make is that TF2 did all of these long before Overwatch was even around, and it also offers a plethora of other game modes. There’s arena (think perma-death death match rounds), capture the flag (which is exactly what it sounds like), and of course there’s Mann vs. Machine, the co-op mode where you face off against waves of robots with your friends, not to mention the special Halloween events and countless mods that have sprung up over the years. TF2 simply offers far more ways to play than its futuristic counterpart.
TF2 pioneered many of the ideas that Overwatch has adopted, and even though being first doesn’t necessarily make you the best, I think the execution made by both games is equal at best (when not considering my preference for Control Points), and TF2’s exponentially greater number of game modes gives it the edge for me.
Overwatch may have more interesting lore, but the gameplay options offered by Team Fortress 2 makes it untouchable for me.
Am I right? Am I wrong? Tell me what you think!