My first response to the Overwatch Beta was that it “was no Splatoon”. I had a bit of an impish intent, hoping to get a rise out of someone with it. However, upon further play and reflection, I’ve come to realize that my comparison was more than just preference. In some ways, Overwatch truly is no Splatoon.
Naturally the two games are targeting different audiences. Overwatch is definitely looking to appeal to a more dedicated gaming fanbase. If anything, Overwatch has more in common with Super Smash Bros. in that both offer a roster of characters both easy to adjust to and requiring dedicated time to truly learn the benefits of. In this regard, Splatoon is only related by shooter genre.
Both games, however, are all about working with your team to complete an objective against an opposing team. What makes Splatoon more appealing is not actually the mechanics, but the map design.
I’ve explained in the past that Splatoon’s mechanic encourages the player to explore every corner of the map. Routes that can benefit the player in a ranked competition or provide a safe passage to flee are learned by simply spraying ink everywhere. Every side passage in Splatoon serves a purpose, and allows players of varying skill levels to have a chance to help their team.
Overwatch has a lot of maps, and enough familiarity will help teach any player alternate routes, but few seem to really help most players. Most characters are slow and unable to truly jump, so the only paths for them to take are bottlenecks. Yes, there are a variety of side passages, but many of these will loop back around to where the player started rather than taking them to the conflict from another angle.
Note that these are not the only options on these maps, and a lot certainly relies on having the right characters on your team. Some are more mobile than others, and what is an impenetrable wall to many may be nothing more than a ladder up to a new height for, say, Genji.
If I wanted, I could sit here and theorize and discuss character builds, team structures, and strategies to explain away why this flaw in Overwatch is merely part of the game. It is, after all, about constructing and transforming a varied team to work against the opponent. Suddenly unable to make real progress with your starting character? Switch to one that can exploit their current tactic.
The real flaw is that this is not taught organically. I am only more certain that Splatoon is masterfully designed due to how easy it is to learn proper tactics through sheer play. There is no moment wasted exploring a side passage, as spraying it with ink means greater points. These routes will be remembered, even if the player is actively thinking in terms of strategy.
I will credit Overwatch with keeping player comparisons to a minimum. While matches will end with showcasing notable “plays”, or highlights, and will even have a voting mechanic for a select four players in a round with different levels of contribution, there is no stat screen reporting number of kills and number of deaths. Not one that ranks you beside other players.
This ensures that Overwatch will give credit to certain players for their contributions, but being part of a team is overall emphasized. Even if only one player gets a highlight, it’s a victory for the members of that entire team to see one of their own get recognized. The post-round votes are then often divided by players voting to reward members of their own team against rewarding the opposing team.
Overwatch is certainly a lot of fun, but it’s not a game I want to play without friends. Fortunately it looks like many of my friends will be purchasing it, which means if I am to get it myself then I’ll have a lot of people to play with. But if Nintendo announces another Splatfest for Splatoon, I don’t need my friends to go in with me. That game is enjoyable even when playing with strangers simply because, no matter the game, it is built towards rewarding a good experience for any player.
If I’m playing Reinhardt in Overwatch and the situation calls for a Genji, I either have to rely on my teammates to notice or switch to a character I may not be good at.
Overwatch is enjoyable because I can play it with friends. Splatoon is simply fun.