I’m finding myself playing less and less Overwatch these days, and while part of it is the new workload from preparing for my Master’s program in game development later this year, another part of it is me getting pretty tired of a mechanic that seems to have been Blizzard’s answer to too many balance problems.
I don’t think there’s a single element of Overwatch that’s been buffed as many times as the barriers have. When the game was first announced, there were only two barriers among the initial twelve characters, and Winston’s sucked. Now, it’s perfectly possible (heck, downright common) for the defensive chokepoint to contain no less than 3 shields at any one time, be they Barrier Fields, Barrier Projectors, Protective Barriers, Photon Barriers, Defense Matrices, or ice walls. The problem with barriers is that they aren’t fun to shoot at. Most of them work on cooldown, so all that damage you’re pumping out feels wasted unless the entire push is successful, because your enemies are gonna be dropping new barriers in a few seconds whether you wore down the previous ones or not. It’s particularly annoying watching new players trying to deal with BarrierWatch. One DPS keeps holding back, waiting for the cooldown barriers to despawn before they’ll engage the enemy and start being useful, the other is diligently shooting nothing but the shields, earning a guaranteed gold damage medal but doing nothing to help the team. It’s frustrating that somehow both of their intuitions are wrong.
Now, I’m not fully sure what could be done about this, because individually each barrier is pretty balanced, and competent players can certainly outplay a barrier-heavy team through cooperation and dedicated focus fire. Honestly, I think the main thing the game needs is more anti-barrier mechanics. When Sombra came out, I thought her EMP ultimate would be the solution, but its been half a year and I rarely see teams using her to punch through barriers, instead usually relying on her blocking enemy ultimates from countering an upcoming push. I’ve heard theories on the Overwatch subreddit that Doomfist will be a melee-oriented heavy hitter, possibly even a direct counter to barriers, and I certainly wouldn’t complain if Blizzard took the character in this direction.
It’s just not fun. Killing people is fun, and barriers are currently just a little too effective at preventing people from killing each other. It’s a large part of the reason I gave up shoutcasting Overwatch and don’t bother to watch competitive matches. So much of the air time is wasted on both teams whittling away each other’s barriers. Whenever I try to look past it, I can’t help but remember that the mechanic doesn’t even exist in TF2…