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I’m 70 hours into Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, and the game has firmly sunk its hooks, claws, fangs, and Seltas horns into me. After failing to make it past the steep learning curve in the series’ previous entry – calling it quits the first time I went head-to-head with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate’s unwieldy underwater controls – the franchise’s addictive loop of slaying progressively more challenging monsters and crafting progressively more kickass armor and weapons has finally clicked into place.
And yet, I can’t help but feel a little guilty over how much I’ve fallen for Monster Hunter. Up until now, the only monster-based game that’s held a place in my heart has been Pokémon. I’ve spent 16 years conquering leagues and filling up my Pokédex in every region from Kanto to Kalos. Hundreds of hours have been dedicated to my singular pursuit of becoming the very best. Before they just gave everything out over the Internet, I once drove 45 minutes to the nearest Toys R’ Us to download an Arceus, because that’s the sacrifice I’m willing to make for Pokémon God.
But Monster Hunter is well on its way to passing Pokémon Y as my most-played 3DS game, and I’m beginning to come to a terrible realization:
I like being a Monster Hunter way more than being a Pokémon trainer.
Now, there are a few things to parse in such a serious statement. First, comparing Monster Hunter to Pokémon is an absolute apples-to-oranges situation. One is an action-oriented, tough-as-nails title that has more in common with Dark Souls-style boss gauntlets than traditional RPGs. The other is a classic turn-based affair geared more toward children than the adults who take it way too seriously. But both stem from the same basic setup of striking out and forging your own path to domination over a menagerie of exotic creatures, and both are founded on addictive mechanics meant to consume a considerable portion of your life, so I think the comparison is fair.
There’s also the possibility that this is the kind of fleeting obsession with some shiny new thing that threatens every long-term commitment at one point or another. Thus far, my time with Monster Hunter has been a few sleepless nights spent tackling Tetsucabras for their sweet, sweet armor parts. Meanwhile, my time with the Pokémon franchise is a stone foundation upon which a house of good memories is built. From the monochrome halcyon days of Pokémon Blue to my countless attempts to beat all the Frontier Brains in Emerald and Platinum to the pure joy I felt the first time I saw a Magikarp flopping around in full 3D in Y. You just don’t leave the level 100 Milotic you’ve transferred over four different generations of games for some flash-in-the-pan affair.
But the more I think about it, the more I find myself preferring Monster Hunter‘s set of charms over Pokémon’s staid traditions. For years, I’ve adhered to the belief that the only proper way to engage in battles with exotic and dangerous creatures is through strict, league-regulated turn-based combat. Sure, you can save the world by fighting a time-rending space dragon here and there, but success in Pokémon is primarily measured by going through the motions of beating up on 12 chumps too stupid to realize they’re allowed to use different types of Pokémon, and then facing the one guy/girl/Lady Gaga-wannabe who has figured out they can field more than one type on their team.
The challenges in Monster Hunter are far less rigorously structured. Like the fearsome beasts you’re constantly rodeo riding, success in Monster Hunter is a wild and unruly thing. The game may never stray far from its slay-loot-craft format, but every new encounter is a terrifying and dangerous experience, throwing you against a blubber-bloated ice shark tearing through a frozen tundra one moment, to a desert ship battle with a city-sized sand lizard the next, to fights with dragon after dragon after dragon. So many dragons. The first time I brought down the Shagaru Magala – out of potions and clinging to the last scrap of my health, felling the golden menace by bringing my sword crashing down upon its head as bursts of concentrated Frenzy exploded around me – was more dynamic and exciting than anything I’ve ever achieved in my years as a Pokémon trainer.
Which brings me to the key differentiator between the two series – the difficulty. As already mentioned, Pokémon games are primarily meant for kids, so they’re not designed with any real challenge in mind. But the cutesy exterior hides such a rich and complex battle system that it’s a massive waste for each iteration to spend 40 hours hand holding players through a laughably easy campaign before presenting them with anything that will even remotely test their mettle. When it came time to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Alpha Sapphire, there was no sense of accomplishment, because I had breezed through the whole game with a single overpowered shiny Metagross. Sure, I can take extra steps to make Pokémon harder, but I shouldn’t have to find ways to turn the game into an unbearable grind just to wring some challenge out of it.
Monster Hunter, on the other hand, is naturally rewarding. The single player component is a trial-by-fire series of fights designed to knock you on your ass, so that it’s intensely satisfying every time you’ve snatched victory from the jaws of a lightning-charged wyvern. Gameplay is composed of the tried-and-true tenants of pattern recognition and reflex tests, mechanics that have made blister-fingered warriors out of gamers since the days of Mega Man and Punch-Out!! Throw in variables like harsh weather conditions, frenzied monsters, and constantly shifting terrain, and you have a title that’s constantly keeping you on your toes.
Even though it’s far less action-oriented, Pokémon has all the necessary ingredients to be just as thrilling. Anyone who’s thrown down against an equally matched human opponent knows Pokémon resembles a multilayered game of elemental chess at its very best, but the series continues to squander its assets on overly simplistic gym battles and one-sided fights against the world’s most inept criminal organizations.
While Monster Hunter’s core experience is primarily what has me throwing down my Pokédex, some of its more perfunctory aspects have also won me over. A hunter’s victory swag is about a billion times better than a trainer’s. Crafting intricate armor and weapons out of the skin of your enemies is barbaric, sure, but it’s also a way more awesome indicator of your triumphs than Pokémon’s underwhelming badge system. Lashing immensely powerful creatures to your will and using them to climb the ladder of a professional fighting league isn’t worth it when all you have to show for your efforts are the same things boy scouts get when they learn how to tie a fisherman’s knot.
And then there are the games’ varying philosophies when it comes to fan service. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate’s scheduled buttload of free DLC promises exclusive outfits, quests, nostalgic shout-outs to past titles, and the opportunity for players to hunt while dressed as Nintendo favorites like Link or Samus Aran. Comparatively, Pokémon can’t be bothered to recreate Emerald’s Battle Frontier in the Ruby and Sapphire remakes, leaving out Generation III’s greatest addition to the series in favor of copy and pasting X and Y’s Battle Maison and including a few infuriatingly coy “Coming soon!” signs.
Perhaps most shockingly, I’ve even found Monster Hunter’s approach to multiplayer to be more engrossing. Pokémon sells itself on how it connects you with other players, but the game’s social features have always struck me as purely mercenary. You can either fight your fellow trainers or trade with them. That’s not unifying so much as it’s using others to satisfy your own nefarious agenda. Look no further than the Wonder Trade system to witness the full extent of human selfishness. The ability to randomly swap Pokémon has resulted in a sea of unwanted Zigzagoons and Zubats abandoned in the slim hope that they’ll be exchanged for something better.
Monster Hunter’s emphasis on teaming players up against a common enemy is a far more enriching take on multiplayer. Instead of figuring out how to best take advantage of your hunter compatriots, you’re all united by the common goal of taking down some big, bad mamma jamma together. While combining that level of cooperation with a system that lets you easily join up with a bunch of strangers is usually a recipe for disaster, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate has been some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing with people online. There’s very little room for the usual anonymous asshattery, and I’ve found the legion of players going by One Piece or Naruto-based handles to be nothing but friendly. Slaying stuff is so much better when you have someone to fist pump with afterward.
Of course, Monster Hunter isn’t without its own set of faults. The game demands time and commitment at its most basic level, whereas digging into Pokémon’s more advanced world of EV training and IV breeding is entirely optional. Its camera woes are slightly mitigated by the ability to lock onto bigger enemies, but the targeting system can still present as much of a struggle as the fight themselves. And no amount of helpful tutorials can keep the action from sometimes descending down a rabbit hole of incomprehensible menus.
But ultimately, if for some incomprehensible reason I was forced to choose only one monster-centric series to spend the rest of my life with, I think my loyalty may firmly lie with Monster Hunter. It seems like sacrilege to think it, but it might finally be time for me to hang up my hat in favor of a helmet fashioned out of a dragon’s skull. Monster Hunter's unforgiving allure has shown me a beautiful new way to pulverize fantastical virtual critters, and by the time the next generation of Pokémon inevitably rolls around, I might still be too busy harvesting parts for cat outfits to care.
The internet recently lost its collective shit over a potential live-action Netflix adaptation of The Legend of Zelda. Of course, the internet also recently lost its collective shit over Katy Perry’s goofy dancing sharks, so the bar for things that excite us isn’t set particularly high. But still, if the very thought of a Zelda television series - one that’s being described as just a dumber version of an already existing show - is enough to get the hype train rolling, then I’ve got five way better pitches for potential adaptations that ought to earn me a prime cut of that sweet, sweet Netflix debt.
The kneejerk pitch for a Half-Life television show would be an action-oriented sci-fi conspiracy thriller, like 24 meets Battlestar Galactica. But if there’s one thing the world needs more of, it's workplace comedies, and Half-Life 2’s dystopian Citadel is a prime setting for all manner of Combine office drone shenanigans.
The show could focus on a department run by an overbearing, desperate-to-be-liked regional Combine manager, who tells inappropriate jokes and wants to crush the human resistance in the name of the Combine empire. Then there’s the nerdy office toady, who grates on everyone’s nerves and wants to crush the human resistance in the name of the Combine empire. And of course, you need a pair of thirtysomething destined-to-be soul mates, who find respite from their dead-end jobs in each other, all while wanting to crush the human resistance in the name of the Combine empire.
Like the original The Office, the show is designed to only run for two seasons, and maybe a few bonus episodes.
In the Metroid games, Samus Aran is a badass intergalactic bounty hunter who weilds her plasma weapons with silent stoicism. But years of pigeonholing women into demeaning secondary roles in our fiction has taught us that a female protagonist needs to be saddled with a kid, a man to marry, or some combination thereof, which is why the only way a Metroid television series will work is if it’s basically The Mysteries of Laura in space. In a live-action Metroid adaptation, Samus Aran is your everyday single mom struggling to balance her kids, her love life, and her singular pursuit to eradicate the Space Pirate threat from the galaxy.
The pilot episode will feature Samus trying to escape an exploding Space Pirate frigate so she can make it to her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah in time. She may lose all her power-ups in the ensuing blast, but she’ll learn a lot about what it means to be a family.
Grand Theft Auto
The actual content of a Grand Theft Auto series does not matter in the slightest. Grand Theft Auto games are just pastiches of gangster movie tropes, like the collected works of Martin Scorsese run through a blender, and the inexplicable continued renewal of Ray Donovan has proven that it’s possible to spin that method of storytelling into a successful television model.
Just hire a bunch of character actors willing to slum it for a few years, fill in a crime movie Mad Lib, and slap the Grand Theft Auto name on the final product. To make it even easier, I’ve got the entire plot outlined below. Fill in the blanks, throw a few million dollars at it, and you’ve got yourself a successor to The Sopranos:
An ex-(criminal occupation) has to return to his hometown of (shitty American city) after his (noun) is killed by rivals in the (ethnicity) mafia. He’s inevitably pulled back into a life of crime when his (family member), now running the (adjective) gang he left behind, asks him to kill a (adjective) (noun) in return for helping him on his quest for revenge. Can our (adjective) hero resist the temptation of his old ways, or will he succumb to the same greed, violence, and (powerful emotion) that have claimed his family?
If the success of Birdman and BoJack Horseman has shown us anything, it’s that people love meta comeback stories about washed-up actors. In the videogame world, you don’t get more washed up than Bubsy, the feline with a ‘tude that exemplified everything that was wrong with marketing in the ‘90s.
Bubsy was a platformer star in the mold of Mario and Sonic, but whereas those two characters had charm and mass appeal, Bubsy had the sociopathic narcissism of a serial killer. The cat’s short-lived career was ended by a foray into 3D that’s considered one of the worst games ever, which is exactly why Bubsy would be the perfect subject for a dark dramedy about an out-of-work videogame character clawing to get back into the limelight.
We open on a heroin-addled Bubsy watching the failed pilot for his Saturday morning cartoon show for the umpteenth time. We give him a season-long arc about redeeming himself with a fictional reboot of his franchise for current gen consoles, and use it to explore how he’s spent the past 20 years disappointing his children, his ex-wife, and his armadillo sidekick. We turn his catchphrase of “What could possibly go wrong?” into the thematic crux of the series, a question to which Bubsy’s entire miserable life has been the answer.
We make “Human Being” by Cat Power the theme song, then sit back and watch people waste time arguing about whether it belongs in the category for Best Comedy or Best Drama at the Emmys.
The Walking Dead
While this would technically be an adaptation of a comic book series, the Telltale adventure games based on Robert Kirkman’s popular graphic novels have proven that you can use the horror trappings of a zombie apocalypse to tell powerful, character-driven stories in any medium. Whether based on the actual plot of the comics, or Clementine’s story in the Telltale games, or something wholly original, I believe a Walking Dead television series is one that would strike a chord with a lot of people.
Of course, you’d have to be careful about a show like that, and make sure not to cram it full of two-dimensional archetypes, with only one or two characters in the entire ensemble worth caring about. And you’d have to make sure long stretches of each season weren’t spent on time-filling stupidity, like wasting too many episodes on a farm or prison that are inevitably overrun by zombies and abandoned. You wouldn’t want to have laughably inept villains who swerve from sympathetic to cartoonishly evil depending on the whims of the plot. You’d need a leading man who could do a convincing American accent that didn’t sound like a hillbilly gargling hot gravel. And for the love of God, no matter what you do, make sure you don’t have Chris Hardwick host an inane post-episode talk show dedicated to discussing what people just watched.
Because if a Walking Dead series broken any of those cardinal rules, there’s no way it would be one of the most popular television shows of all time, would there?
So what do you think, sirs? Do any of these deserve some of that President Kevin Spacey money? Let me know if you have anything better, but you all know you'd watch the shit out of that Bubsy show.
If 2014 taught us anything, it’s that Tay Swift’s still got it. If 2014 taught us anything else, it’s that we should never be excited for videogames. The year’s most hyped releases were met with varying degrees of disappointment, apathy, and outright scorn. Some of the fault lies in overzealous studios, who bandied about the word “revolutionary” to describe their giant robot shooters and NSA-inspired conspiracy thrillers, which is a practice we really need to put a moratorium on. “Revolutionary” is word that should be reserved for massive social upheaval. If your game didn’t directly lead to the beheading of at least one tyrannical world leader, then it’s not revolutionary.
Though as much as we’d like to blame public relation carnival barkers and buzzword-laced press packets, the people most at fault are us, the gamers, who year in and year out fall for developers’ sweet lies like the sad suckers we are. We’re not exactly a group known for learning from our mistakes. Whenever met with any kind of let down, we simply dig our heels in deeper and tell ourselves it’ll be better next time, only to fall all that much harder when the next highly anticipated title arrives underwhelming or outright broken. It’s the reason companies still manage to swindle people into buying new consoles at launch, even though everyone knows buying a console at launch is like putting a $400 down payment on having fun in two years.
But this year will be different. After the shit show of broken dreams that was 2014, I’ve shed all lingering traces of hope and have prepared myself for the inevitable disappointment of any game that looks even remotely promising. 2015 is, after all, the year of disappointment. We were promised hover boards and flying cars, and the most we have are phones small enough to carry around in our pockets that are capable of accessing the internet’s infinite wealth of human knowledge at a moment’s notice. Sure, that’s still impressive, but it’s not a fucking hoverboard.
So with that in mind, here are my most anticipated gaming disappointments of 2015.
From a pure gameplay standpoint, Persona 5 will be as good as any other title in the series. Like the Pokémon franchise it shares a few passing similarities with, the Persona games have a formula that’s hard to screw up. You get to play the world’s most inexplicably popular transfer student, who has the uncanny ability to make friends without saying a single word and summon a bevy of erotically-shaped creatures to help you battle against the forces of evil. That blend of social simulation and monster fighting is the kind of stuff that JRPG dreams are made of.
What concerns me about Persona 5 is the huge potential for a disappointing cast. As a series that relies so heavily on forging relationships, Persona games live and die by their characters, and it seems nigh impossible to surpass or even meet the standard set by Persona 4. That game’s Scooby gang of meddling teen detectives is one of my all-time favorite casts, from the ass-kicking Chie to the sexually confused Kanji to the un-bear-able Teddie, and I’m simply not ready to let them go.
Sure, they’ve had seven years in the spotlight, getting to star in their own anime, fighting game, dungeon crawler, live stage show, fighting game sequel, and that upcoming one where you just straight-up watch them dance. But it’s still not enough! What about a Persona 4 cereal? A Persona 4 series of episodic Telltale adventure games? A Marvel-esque cinematic universe? You can hire Scarlett Johansen to play Rise. It’ll be great! There are just so many more convoluted spinoffs to explore!
Basically, I'm bracing myself for Persona 5 to be Persona: The New Class, with a bunch of pale imitations that only make me miss the originals all the more.
The Legend of Zelda Wii U
Everyone is salivating over the idea of an open world Zelda, because “open world” is the bacon of videogames. It’s the ingredient you slap onto every dish imaginable to try and make the meal sound more delicious than it really is.
The thought of a 3D Zelda that captures the roaming, exploration-heavy spirit of series golden child A Link to the Past is certainly enticing, but I have my doubts about the execution. People are expecting Dark Souls Light, with a richly detailed and thoughtfully laid out Hyrule that players have to figure out for themselves. But what we’re most likely going to get is a game that’s 25% dungeons, and 75% traversing picturesque but ultimately meaningless scenery to get to those dungeons.
The actual footage Nintendo released to hype the game hasn’t dissuaded me of these fears. The four minutes the company uses to showcase one of the titles they’re hoping gets the Wii U out of the basement focuses on the fact that it takes five minutes of aimlessly wandering on horseback through vast fields and forests just to get from one point of interest on the map to another, and that you can pick apples. Fucking apple picking. We griped that Skyrim and GTA V gave us massive worlds with not a lot to do in them, and one of Zelda Wii U’s major selling points is that you can pretend to do the kind of weekend activities that yuppie couples do when they’re miserable and bored in their relationship.
The Legend of Zelda Wii U will have all the scope and none of the charm of a genuinely good open world game.
No Man’s Sky
“Infinite” is rarely used in a positive context. When you think of anything in terms of being infinite, it usually only serves to remind you how soul-crushingly insignificant you are, or how meaningless everything is, or how alone we all are, adrift in this endless sea of forever.
Which is why the near limitless breadth of the upcoming planetary exploration game No Man’s Sky fills me with nothing but dread. Whatever mathematical wizardry the developers devised to make the game possible is an unquestionable technical achievement, but stranding players in a world they’ll never see the end of is a cruel joke. I got stressed out collecting all 100 Jiggies in Banjo-Kazooie, and now you want me to discover more than 18 quintillion planets?
Of course, the point of the game isn’t to see everything. The point of No Man’s Sky is to... well, nobody is really sure what the point is yet. Early reports indicate the ultimate goal is to reach the center of the universe by gathering and selling resources, because even in worlds beyond our wildest imaginations we can’t keep things from boiling down to making dat money. But that doesn’t sound like much of an impetus. Nor do such thrilling side activities as studying intergalactic flora and fauna. I don’t need to spend precious time looking at pretend plants. At that point I could just go outside and experience actual nature.
Again, my concern is the focus on size and not content. As the most hyped game of 2015, No Man’s Sky seems destined to fall well short of our lofty expectations. I’m mentally preparing myself for it to be nothing more than a very big fish tank – pretty to look at, but lacking anything to keep you invested in its universe.
Final Fantasy XV
A Final Fantasy game in the guise of a road trip movie actually sounds pretty awesome. All Final Fantasy games are essentially road trip movies anyway, only this one drops all pretentions of airships and chocobos and lets you cruise around the world map in some rich kid’s souped-up sports car.
There will still be airships and chocobos, of course, because this is still a Final Fantasy game, but why would you want to hoof it on some glorified ostrich when you’ve got such a sweet set of wheels?
But count me among those who think the Final Fantasy series is beyond saving. The franchise lost something in the transition from its turn-based roots, and I’m not sure Kingdom Hearts-style gameplay is the answer to its battle system woes. I’ve always disliked the insistence on turning your party members into AI-controlled puppets operating purely on the fight itinerary you’ve planned for them. Because you’re not actually playing as them, the only connection you have to your party in recent Final Fantasy games comes from how much you enjoy their personalities, which is a tall order because the personalities of modern Final Fantasy characters are uniformly terrible.
Final Fantasy XV’s core of brooding J-pop rejects doesn’t look to buck the trend of ripping characters wholesale from the Official Guidebook to Irritating Anime Archetypes. Maybe I’ll be wrong and the plot will commit to its road trip narrative influences and be about four young men’s coming-of-age journey to maturity and emotional growth, but more likely than not there will just be the stoic one, the naïve one, the bad boy, and the one who wants to be an airship pilot. There’s always one who wants to be an airship pilot. It’s the Final Fantasy equivalent of wanting to grow up to be a cowboy.
The whole thing is going to be 300 hours long and I’m going to spend way too much time getting all their ultimate weapons and I’m going to hate every single goddamn second of it.
The Last Guardian
Because 2015 will be another year in which we don’t hear anything about The Last Guardian, and thus another year in which a little part of me dies from not having a big, goofy bird-dog to throw barrels at.
Now, what's everyone else's 2015 title sure to cement the realization that all hope is a lie and everything always ends in disappointment? Feel free to sound off in the comments! Or not. What's the point?
I’m not sure how I feel about Overwatch, Blizzard’s recently announced take on squad-based shooters. On the one hand, Blizzard knows how to craft a compelling IP, and if the playfully corny, Pixar-esque cinematic trailer is any indication, then the company’s spin on Team Fortress will at the very least have plenty of personality. And considering this is their first franchise in seventeen years, it’s exciting to see them tackle a project that isn’t Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo, or some kind of combination thereof.
On the other hand, I’m a hot mess when it comes to tactical shooters. As a gamer raised on consoles, teamwork is a foreign experience for me. The explicit lack of a deathmatch mode means the most I can hope to ever get out of Overwatch is fifteen minutes of miserable failure, all while being yelled at by more experienced strangers for sucking at something I never played before.
But my opinion of the game itself isn’t what matters right now. What matters is getting in there and being the first to establish a hierarchy for Overwatch’s cast of international Super Friends. Because this is the Internet, baby, and there’s nothing we can’t distill down to a few basic components to be ranked in a superficial and meaningless list, and that includes videogames that haven’t even released yet. Hell, especially videogames that haven’t even released yet.
So, using nothing but kneejerk reactions and roughly twenty minutes of actual gameplay footage, I present to you...
Overwatch Characters Ranked from Worst to Best
Allow me, if you will, to imagine the creative process that produced Widowmaker:
Director: [Smoking a cigar] Alright, you bums. We need a gimmick for our sniper character. What d’you got?
Designer #1: Well, I was thinking maybe some kind of cyborg cowboy that –
Designer #2: What about, like, a steampunk –
Designer #3: What if we do a sort of alien hitman who –
Director: No, no, no! What do I pay you people for? We need something that’ll sell! We need something that’ll really grab people by the balls! We need... we need...
Designer #4: ... what if we turned sideboob into a character?
[An awed silence falls over the room. The director’s face lights up like a man who has seen the face of God. His eyes fill with joyous tears.]
Director: You magnificent son of a bitch.
I’m not sure how a character like Reaper gets made in the year 2014. He looks like he escaped straight out of the pages of a middle schooler’s notebook circa 1996. He wears a trench coat with a hood. His face is hidden behind a skull mask. He’s always talking about death. He fucking bleeds shadows.
Countless character concepts were no doubt rejected during the game’s development, so I want to know how Skeletor’s manic depressive cousin managed to crawl out of the discard pile.
Admittedly, the duel shotguns are cool, but I don’t want to give them too much credit because they’re probably powered by darkness, or the terrible poems he wrote when his girlfriend left him, or the tears of everyone who’s ever watched the opening montage of Up.
We’re only on the third entry, but I think we’ve already established that Overwatch’s combatants aren’t the subtlest bunch. But even so, a healer character named Mercy? Who has angel wings and a halo? I’m sorry, but I’ve watched YouTube fail compilations with more nuance than that. Literally, videos of skateboarders falling face first into handrails that have contained more breadth and artistic complexity than ol’ Touched by an Angel over here.
Religious and cultural imagery are incorporated into a few of the other fighters, so obviously Judeo-Christianity has to get its shot in, but the end result is inevitably the most boring, white bread member of the roster.
Pharah is the blue one.
While I’m docking the power armored Kraut originality points for fitting a very typical mold, I do appreciate the selection of a rocket-powered hammer as his weapon of choice. I can get behind any guy who models his fighting style after King Dedede.
Plus, the lion crest on his arm sort of makes him look like a ‘roided up Voltron, so he has that going for him.
Bastion’s a good middle-of-the-pack character not only because the sensitive battlebot represents the tenuous crossroad between humanity and technology, but also the crossroad between a concept I sort of love and sort of hate.
On the plus side, everybody likes a robot with feelings. Wall-E, Johnny Five, R2-D2 and C3PO – there’s nothing audiences eat up more than a heartless machine that thinks it’s people.
But they imbued Bastion with a personality in the laziest way imaginable. It’s like they spent five minutes brainstorming ways for players to connect with the one class that’s just a walking gun, settled on “Eh, he likes nature or some shit,” and called it a day.
If game designers are going to go the sympathetic droid route, they’re going to have to try harder than “doesn’t immediately crush a small bird in its steel death grip,” because a glorified trash compactor already taught the world how to love again.
Tracer is the cheeky one, which you can tell because her personality boils down to “has an English accent and a pixie cut.” And while the game’s trailer saddled her with an insufferable catchphrase, I’m willing to withstand a thousand shrill cries of “The cavalry’s ‘ere!” because Tracer looks so much fun to actually play.
She’s Overwatch’s Scout, focusing on speed and offense. While the Scout favors the savage thrill of bonking people with a baseball bat, Tracer prefers that most exquisitely humiliating of first-person shooter weapons: the sticky grenade. There’s nothing more embarrassing than getting stuck by a sticky grenade. It’s like getting food on your face at a fancy dinner party, only your face explodes as soon as someone points it out to you.
Being able to blink in, slap someone with a pulse bomb, and blink out is a rich, multilayered sort of pleasure that no number of irritating catchphrases can ruin.
The Hunger Games franchise has made bows and arrows cool again, so naturally there’s a member of Overwatch’s coterie of gun-toting mercenaries that’s repping the archaic – yet currently in vogue – instrument of death. Though, Hanzo is the stoic, semi-shirtless badass of the bunch, so maybe he’s just above something as dishonorable as using bullets.
He’s essentially the guy bringing a knife to a gunfight, which is usually frowned upon, but I’ve never bought into the philosophy that the opponent with the primitive stabbing tool is the one at a disadvantage. The one with the knife or bow and arrow or spear is the one you want to run the hell away from, because that dude straight up does not give a fuck. He knows he’s going to murder his enemies no matter what they use against him. And as you can see from his gameplay video, the wall-scampering assassin is a Legolas-level death-dealing machine.
And honestly, what kind of list would this be if the ability to shoot dragons didn’t at least break you into the top five?
Symmetra earns her high ranking because she’s one of Overwatch’s few wholly original creations. While the others on this list fit typical roles or utilize ideas that have already been seen elsewhere, an Indian architect who bends reality and provides portal support can’t be so easily put into a box.
Honestly, I think Overwatch could have avoided a lot of the unfavorable Team Fortress 2 comparisons if more of its characters were like Symmetra. Understandably, a game like this needs its standard classes – its snipers, its heavies, its healers. But Team Fortress 2 already took those roles and turned them into living, breathing personalities. If you’re going to do a squad-based shooter now, then you have to do something different than what Valve did, and Symmetra proves that the capacity for repackaging typical characters into new and compelling creations was there, but not necessarily applied to everyone.
Still, if sideboobs and angsty shadow bros are the price we must pay for the faintest hint of progressiveness and innovation, then at least we got one ass-kicking lady scientist out of the deal.
Zenyatta slightly edges out Symmetra as Overwatch’s most interesting fighter, mostly on the strength of his unique “killer Tibetan monk robot” hook. Sure, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that a self-aware machine that spouts pseudo-Buddhist nonsense would float around slaughtering people with spirit orbs, but maybe Zenyatta’s personal concept of transcendence just involves transcending a phantasmal sphere straight into someone’s skull. And Lord knows I’m in no position to begrudge anyone their beliefs.
But incongruent phisosophies aside, just look at him! He looks so cool! He floats around in an unflappable yoga pose – coasting along purely on what I assume are good vibes – and enlightens the masses by pelting them with balls at dangerously high velocities. If Jehova’s Witnesses adopted that sort of conversion method, I think they’d be a lot more effective at spreading the good news.
If you’ve made it this far and haven’t already realized that this ranking is based upon the most suspect of criteria, then let me make that fact explicit for you: Torbjörn is the second-best Overwatch character because I love his name.
The whole Viking engineer angle certainly boosts his appeal, but really, it’s all about that name. I don’t even know if I’m pronouncing it correctly, but I don’t care, because the way I think I’m pronouncing it is awesome. Torbjörn! It’s like the name of the party animal character in a Scandinavian ‘80s frat movie. He’s the one who chugs the keg the fastest in the keg-chugging contest that saves the Alpha Delta Ragnarök house from expulsion. Torbjörn!
Engineer classes aren’t my thing, but I’ll play this guy just for the privilege of yelling his name every time I score a kill. Torbjörn!
A hyper intelligent primate who can talk isn’t exactly groundbreaking. If I recall correctly, there was already that entire planet full of them. But there’s no questioning the sheer majesty of a bespectacled gorilla in a battlesuit. He’s the perfect blend of sophistication and raw, primal brutality. With those glasses and a yuppie name like Winston, you know he’s as capable of discussing Chaucer over fine wine as he is of ripping out your throat if you make eye contact with him.
Now feel free to offer your own rankings in the comments! So long as you understand that your opinions are inherently wrong, because I established my ranking first, and thereby my word is law.