I recently returned to gaming after a long unplanned hiatus (read: I got a girlfriend and forgot about video games for the first six months of our relationship). My return has thus far been 90% Overwatch, 8% Ratchet and Clank and about 2% guilt over not playing Rise of the Tomb Raider. It’s not that I don’t want to play other games, it’s just that Overwatch is so damn fun.
A few days after I started playing again, Overwatch released an update for the Year of the Rooster. For a limited period of time (now until February 13th), a number of characters have unlockable skins, voice lines and emotes inspired by Lunar New Year. Fans on tumblr have even provided some fascinating history and culture lessons to explain the background behind some of the designs. While I don’t have a benchmark for accuracy myself, having never celebrated Lunar New Year, I can say that the vibe of Overwatch’s update is fun, beautiful and bold just like the rest of the game. We won’t get into how freaking difficult it is to actually unlock said skins, but as someone who believes in never making micro transactions I won’t complain.
The other new element to come from the Lunar New Year update is an additional Arcade game mode, one that I imagine will find some kind of permanency after the Year of the Rooster celebrations end. The game mode is Capture the Flag, and I’m telling you right now — it’s the worst thing ever.
While I’m usually pretty calm during Quick Play and manage to keep my cool during a match (aside from occasionally screaming “GET ON THE PAYLOAD” at my team a few times, I’ll admit), Capture the Flag has sent me into a whirlwind of frustration. Of the 10+ matches I’ve played so far, one was a win, one was a draw, and the rest have all been losses. I know I’m not one of the world’s best players, but compared to my usual win percentage this is kind of ridiculous. For once I feel that it’s less team dynamics — the usual culprit of an Overwatch loss — and more about the structure of the game, which I would say is quite imbalanced.
The rules of Capture the Flag are simple: protect your team’s flag while stealing your opponent’s flag and returning it to your own base. Overwatch’s version has a best of three limit alongside the time limit; if a team captures the flag three times the game automatically ends. This has only happened once in the 10+ games I’ve played. And yep, you guessed it, it wasn’t my team with the high capture success-rate.
The biggest flaw in the design is the capture time on the flag. When you arrive in the enemy’s base, you must stand on the flag point for several seconds before the flag becomes captured and you can begin your flight back to your own base. This seems reasonable, except for the fact that the enemy base is usually always surrounded by Bastion in turret mode, Tobjorn’s turret, and Symmetra’s lasers, meaning that those few seconds standing in one spot equate to instantaneous death unless you first eliminate every enemy in sight. When there are 3+ turrets blasting you from all angles and a tank charging head-on, that’s easier said than done.
My win and draw both came when I played through this mode as Pharah. With her ability to fly up high above the turrets, she can usually strike down some opponents before landing on the flag. As long as you’ve got a couple of teammates flanking the enemy base this is a definitive way to ensure a capture. Whether you can manage to get all the way back to your base with the flag and actually win a point is another matter.
I say “all the way back”, but the distance between flag bases isn’t really that far, and that’s another issue in and of itself. If you’re dead when the enemy captures your flag, those few seconds of spawn time make it all-but impossible to manage a retrieval, as your opponent can make it across the map almost quicker than Lucio can say “speed boost!”
The main issue is that without a party to discuss some proper team organisation, everyone ends up doing their own thing, even more so than in Quick Play mode. On one recent match I played, my entire team decided to guard the flag, leaving me as Lucio to attempt to breach the enemy base and give us a singular hope of scoring a point. Unfortunately on his own even a speedy Lucio is no match for all those turrets, and we didn’t manage to score.
In an update I’d like to see Overwatch remove the capture time; if you could make a capture just by touching it the flag, the stakes would be a lot higher and players would be less encouraged to defend their base with only turrets, as they’d need to move quickly to attack the flag stealer. This is especially vital considering there is oddly no delivery time at the other end; as soon as your touch your own flag with the enemy’s you get a point. The lack of those crucial three or four seconds is a serous disadvantage. Not only that but this would also increase the numbers of captures happening per game; several matches and their subsequent win amounted to only a single capture in total.
It’s possibly a fantastic game mode for those playing in a party, but as it stands Lunar New Year’s Capture the Flag is hell for the individual player getting thrown in with whoever is online. This is particularly disappointing since Capture the Flag exists in Overwatch’s Arcade section, which by very definition should suit the single player wanting to kill some time between big matches. While I consider this game mode flaws in its present state, I hope that Capture the Flag does indeed stick around. With a few tweaks it could easily be added into the Quick Play section on rotation with the other three modes. Overwatch, I’m looking forward to the next update. For now I’ll keep playing and hope that by some miracle I unlock Reinhardt’s Lunar New Year skin.