My first 80-or-so hours with Overwatch were in the standard, classic Quick Play mode. That’s where I fell in love with it (against all odds) and forged my basic skills with the game. Ever since the introduction of the broader Arcade Mode back in November, though, I’ve been playing differently. I’ve discarded aspirations of excelling in competitive play and instead spend the bulk of my time in the mode that brings together much of what makes Overwatch my favorite multiplayer game literally ever: Mystery Heroes.
Fear is the Fun Killer
Like I said, I spent close to a hundred hours in Quick Play, spending tons of time healing and tanking for my teams and having a great time doing it. As Senior Gaming Editor Joey Davidson will tell you, though, getting me to try a new character is like pulling teeth out of a sentient gorilla’s mouth. Each class has a certain set of demands and stresses with it, and each character has their own specializations. While Quick Play isn’t competitive in the same literal sense as the official Competitive mode, it is still competitive, and I found myself unwilling to risk my team’s victory so that I could see if I could master McCree’s six-shooter and Hanzo’s bow-and-arrow.
In Quick Play, I had a few characters I stuck to – Mercy, Lucio, D.va, Zarya, and Pharah, mostly – and viewed the other characters as these sort of alien things. Characters like Junkrat and Roadhog were these characters that existed primarily to annoy me, and weren’t valid play choices. Obviously, that’s a load of crap. Blizzard has spent countless hours balancing each and every hero to make sure they’re fun to play and not overly powerful or weak.
Here’s how Mystery Heroes works – just in case it isn’t obvious from the name. Regardless of which character you pick on the character selection screen, your actual hero choice is randomized, and you can’t switch heroes until you die or jump off a cliff. You don’t know who you’ll be playing five minutes from now, and you don’t know who anyone else will be playing. This has introduced all kinds of positive aspects with it in the stereotypically negative online gaming space.
First and foremost, it diffuses the social element of the game quite a bit. There’s still some negativity, sure. And you’ll still run across racists, misogynists, and trolls. It happens. Those people are going to be there regardless, and they’re going to get reported enough that it affects their ability to play eventually. But in the Quick Play and Competitive modes, there’s all kinds of other trash talk. Some players think they know who you should play as. Other players don’t care what the rest of the team is doing and just treat the game like it’s a single-player title. If you pick a high-damage character but can’t make good on it, you get yelled at. If you pick a character requiring a high level of skill, you get accused of being a tryhard. If you pick whichever character is on the outs with the community, you can hear the eyerolls coming from the other players. Another Widowmaker? Really?
In Mystery Heroes, no one has any control over who they’re playing or how the team is composed. People still get into fights in the game chat, and if one team absolutely rolls over another, some words are exchanged, but it’s much less personal and much less frequent. We all know the mode is silly randomness, and very few people take it seriously.
Life needs a little Mystery
So now we’re playing in this more relaxed atmosphere. That’s already a good thing. It also unleashed me from my attachment to certain heroes. Without the option to pick D.va, I can’t get mad when someone else ends up with her. Do I like playing as McCree? No, not really. But that’s my lot, and I have to make-do with it.
As a result, I’ve gained experience with almost every character in the game. In Quick Play, I absolutely refused to play as Junkrat or Roadhog. As someone who loves to play healers, they were the bane of my existence. Now I have a good idea of how they play and how their weapons work. I can make do with them. I love playing as Winston. My aim as Widowmaker and McCree is slowly improving.
Thanks to that experience, I can better handle playing against those characters, too. I have an idea of what to watch out for and what to expect from their players. It doesn’t mean I don’t still get tripped up, but I’m surprised more by my opponent’s skill and less by the character itself. I understand the game better, I play it better, and I get less stressed when I end up on a character I’m not as experienced with.
A level playing field
And finally, it levels the playing field. The game’s “meta” that dictates which team composition is best, which characters are crucial, and which are to be left out, is meaningless. You might start with an unworkable team composition and have a perfect one five minutes later. Only to go back to a poor comp once the opposing team unleashes a stack of ultimate powers on you all at once. Most Overwatch players are good at just a few characters, okay with a couple others, and inexperienced with the rest. Mystery Heroes, in short, evens the playing field. Even on a skilled team, many of the players are playing with characters they have little experience with.
Of course, team work still has meaning, and there have been times where I’ve steamrolled an opponent with my teammates and times where I’ve been the subject of a proper beatdown. But it’s less about specific strategies and interactions and more about experience and flexibility.
When I log into Overwatch, I go for Mystery Heroes almost without fail. And each time I do, I’m reminded why. I’m having more fun and losing less of my mind. Mystery Heroes, right now, is the best thing about Overwatch. If you haven’t checked it out, come on in. The water’s nice.