On most platforms, Overwatch is an incredibly polished, complex, and engrossing team-based shooter.
Overwatch on the Nintendo Switch is not even worth the price of admission.
I had hoped, if nothing else, Overwatch coming to the Switch might be a place for a new crowd of people to learn about the various heroes Blizzard has created. To become invested in the fandom and contribute to the artists and other creatives who pay tribute to their favorite characters through art, fanfiction, and everything in between. But after sinking a few hours into the port, I don’t see how anyone is going to be able to see through the mess that comes from putting a game on a system that couldn’t hope to run it.
It’s a shame too, because even while playing through the poorly optimized version of moving payloads, capturing points, and that swelling of pride when I got a Play of the Game, there were points when I had that “oh man, I’m playing Overwatch on a handheld system” moment. But those moments were fleeting in the face of poor performance in every mode and match that failed to recapture the same heights I’d experienced on the PS4.
Overwatch on Switch runs at 30 frames-per-second. In most games that’s not an inherent issue, but in a competitive shooter the loss of precision, especially on a console where you’re using analog sticks instead of a mouse and keyboard, makes half of the heroes a shell of their former selves. Snipers like Ana and Widowmaker take a major hit on this, and others like Soldier: 76 and Genji, who aren’t snipers but very much live or die by your accuracy while playing as them, don’t make their trip to the Switch unscathed.
Meanwhile, mobile characters like Tracer or Lucio are too quick to reliably line up your shots for, so fighting them is an even bigger ordeal than it’s ever been. Shotgun or melee heroes like Reaper, Roadhog, or Reinhardt aren’t quite as affected, but Overwatch fundamentally only works if every hero is operating at their best.
I main Soldier: 76 for the damage role, and have close to 200 hours with him on PS4, but when I was on Switch, plays and maneuvers that would have come naturally to me on my home system felt like an ordeal, and when my gun wasn’t pointed where I wanted it to be, it was all over. Playing the game on Switch felt like playing it with one hand tied behind my back, having to account for hundreds of hours of muscle memory and a game that doesn’t run as smoothly as the one my hands, ears, and eyes are equipped to play.
To its credit, Blizzard did take advantage of some of the Switch’s functionality to try to alleviate this problem, specifically by adding a gyro function and motion controls to help line up shots with a little more precision. There’s a lot of settings to adjust sensitivity, play style, and controller setup, and even when I tried detaching my Joy-Cons I found a little more ease in shooting, but trying to make it work in an organic Overwatch match felt near impossible, not to mention uncomfortable, as holding the Joy-Cons in a way that the game will register can strain the wrist after a while. Even the slightest movement for comfort’s sake can have your hero turned around and away from the fight. It’s a nice attempt at fixing a problem, but it comes with so many of its own issues it doesn’t feel like it’s worth trying.
Frame rate and aiming aside, the Switch still has issues running Overwatch even when the concessions on smoothness have been made.
My very first quick-play match, I came in late. My team’s support player had dipped out so I came in about midway through to replace them. As Baptiste, I walked through the opening sections of the Temple of Anubis map expecting to find my team and our opponents further in duking it out and trying to get control of the capture point. But suddenly, both teams miraculously appeared exactly where I was standing, and it turns out I had walked right into the middle of a battle. The characters involved just weren’t loading properly.
Since I was playing Baptiste I was able to throw down an Immortality Field, save myself and my surrounding teammates and then pivot into the fight, but the damage was done. I couldn’t keep my team alive when I was walking into the line of fire without warning. This was both in character models and in audio, as I heard no sounds of a fight as I approached either.
It’s bizarre playing Overwatch on Switch and watching what looks like a game desperately trying to hold itself together, when if you play the game anywhere else you’ll find something that, on the surface, seems to effortlessly pull off everything it tries to do. It’s not only uncharacteristic of the game itself, but also of Blizzard, a company prides itself on its quality, even going as far as to include the term “Blizzard polish” in its own mission statement.
We’re coming up on the third year of the Switch’s lifetime next year, and we’re still (myself included) asking companies to bring the games we’ve loved on other platforms to the Switch, and that’s because the idea of what the device promises, console-quality games on a handheld, is a dream that has never been pulled off to this degree. The device is clearly capable of it, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and even The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt are on the system and they work.
But maybe Overwatch is just proof that the system isn’t equipped to take on every experience, and maybe that’s something we should all start learning to be at peace with.
Did you enjoy Kenneth’s review of Overwatch? Check out his other work here at Gayming Magazine.