Tuesday afternoon, Blizzard’s smash hit Overwatch received a surprise update containing new Halloween-themed content. After the Summer Games update earlier this year was received only warmly compared the response to the main game, this new set of unlockables and gameplay modes needed to dazzle to keep players satisfied. Thankfully, there is a whole lot more treats than tricks to be found within.
First thing’s first, of course Overwatch: Halloween Terror comes with new skins, sprays, player icons, and more to be unlocked via gameplay or microtransactions (during my time with the update, Halloween loot boxes could not be purchased, but the feature should be available now). Of everything that can be unlocked, the new Halloween costume inspired skins are the highlight. Standouts include healer Mercy’s witch costume, Symmetra’s vampiric look, and easily both the edgiest and possibly most video game video game thing of 2016, Reaper’s Headless Horseman garb that comes complete with a collar bigger than his pumpkin head. Absolutely brilliant, these character designs.
Unfortunately that also means I have to talk about Overwatch’s greatest issue – the Loot Box. While many fans were tolerant of the randomly generated reward system because the highly coveted items could be purchased with in-game currency, they were less so when the Summer Games content could not be purchased in the same way, nor would previously stored Loot Boxes provide the timed content. In Halloween Terror, at least some of this seems to been addressed. Halloween content can be purchased with in-game currency, allowing players a more reliable path to the items they want. Many of the most wanted items end up pretty pricey, so many players may still be left to the mercy of the box.
When I first launched the update, I was gifted a box immediately as a taste and found myself picking up one of the new skins. After managing to grind out another box, I found my coveted Reaper skin. At first this gave me the impression that the distribution of items may have been changed from before, but that doesn’t seem to be the case after seeing my wife play. She received several boxes while playing and didn’t see any of the truly rare Halloween drops. It’s also worth pointing out that normal unlockable content still will appear in the specialty boxes. All in all, the Loot Box remains Overwatch’s achilles heel.
That being said, none of that is actually the crux of Halloween Terror, as the update also includes a new brawl that is nothing short of inspired. Remixing several characters into new roles and putting them into a PvE skirmish, “Junkenstien’s Revenge” pits four players against Dr. Jeremiah Junkenstien (Junkrat) and his army of zombie-like omnics attempting to breach a castle foundation. The catch? Players are only allowed four characters to choose from: The Soldier (Solider: 76), The Archer (Hanzo), The Gunslinger (McCree), and The Alchemist (Ana). When settled into their roles, a Vincent Price imitator begins to narrate the seven-minute survival mode. During the tale of the heroes skirmish, other cast members will appear in their Halloween skins: the aforementioned Reaper and Mercy as the The Reaper and The Witch respectively along with Roadhog as Junkenstien’s Monster. Because the mode is dedicated to the script, there isn’t a lot of room for experimentation and instead challenge becomes the name of the game. Long before all the main cast appear, it’s very possible to lose footing and be overwhelmed by the assault. Dying doesn’t net any negative impact still, but if all four players are defeated, the match ends immediately. Synergy between the four characters is key to surviving the clock and the final battle.
While all of that might not sound like too exciting of a mode on paper, it is incredibly fun. The restricted character list will require many to pull out of their comfort zone; after months of simply not getting a chance I was finally forced to play as the newest character Ana and learn her on the fly. Most of my matches actually ended in defeat (I had to drop the difficulty down just to see what happens when you win) but continuing to run the gauntlet taught me more about the patterns the enemies follow and helped me get more prepared for the next time go-around. By the end of my time playing, I had enough understanding of every part of the chain of events that would then allow for stronger strategy. Now, I was playing with random players, and I would imagine this would be far easier to lock down with a party of four and some determination. Additionally, in what might be the most important change, a new information panel exists to show the health of all players and their ultimate status. That’s something that I know I wouldn’t mind seeing in the standard Quick Play modes. I also found the new exclusive dialog between the team worth squeezing in extra rounds just to hear it all.
The reason this all works comes down to the fact that this is a remix of the already abnormal gameplay of Overwatch that feels like the perfectly timed jolt of lightning needed to breathe life back into the lapsing user base. I have to say, this also makes me far more excited for the future content Blizzard plans to release to keep Overwatch alive than Lúcioball mode or the Eichenwald map did. If the team can keep bringing out modes like “Junkenstien’s Revenge,” I feel like we’ll be talking about Overwatch for many Halloweens to come.
Yeah, I still have some work to do.