Overwatch’s new seasonal event is the automated cosplay and porn generator’s first stab at a time-honored first-person shooter tradition: capture the flag. So, how does it fare? The short answer is, not great.
Let me preface this by saying Overwatch’s Chinese New Year-themed “capture the rooster” brawl isn’t terrible. I’ve played for about two hours now, and I’ve had a thoroughly alright time. The mode uses pre-existing map Lijang Tower in inventive new ways, with flag placements that force encounters far outside the usual control points. If you’ve played CTF in any other game before, you know the drill: each team has a flag stationed on one side of the map. The goal is to grab the enemy flag and run it back to your base without dying and dropping it with your stupid, dead butter fingers.
Here’s some footage of the new mode from Riley’s stream earlier today.
Overwatch nails the basics. When your team swipes a flag, the sprint back to your territory is tense. Your team’s best bet is to form a sort of defensive egg around the flag carrier, but inevitably you’ll get picked off one-by-one. There are few things more thrilling than a good chase, and Overwatch CTF has that.
But those moments are exceedingly rare. What usually happens is one of two things: 1) both teams turtle up, rightly favoring defensively sound heroes like Symmetra, Mei, Bastion, and Torbjorn, and nobody ever manages a single successful flag capture, let alone three, or 2) one team absolutely stomps the other, racking up three flag captures with ease because their defense is good and the other team’s is not.
In either case, Overwatch CTF is not particularly satisfying. I can’t count the number of times I saw players say stuff like, “Oh boy, time for another draw” before matches even started. I actually found a really good group, and we ended up sticking together between matches, using voice chat, and generally coordinating to the fullest extent of our abilities. But even we couldn’t pierce many teams’ “brave but ultimately powerless turtle” formations. We’d keep them on their back foot, but we couldn’t actually snag the flag.
So even though we were “winning” the entire time, matches still usually ended in draws. Lots of work, tiny reward. As a result, there’s not a huge incentive to play well when you can be mediocre and still force a draw. The best Overwatch games have a nail-biting push-and-pull to them, and the CTF matches I’ve played sorely lack that.
Maybe things will change as people figure out more interesting team comps and strategies, but I’m not really counting on it. While I appreciate that Blizzard made Lijang Tower feel new with this mode, the map clearly wasn’t designed with CTF in mind. Broad swathes of each map segment go unused, and flag stations are usually confined. The possibility space for potential tactics is narrow.
But then, this is an event brawl, not the debut of an entire new way to play Overwatch. If all it ends up being good for is some quick, dumb fun, that’s fine. Still, I guess I was hoping for a little more from Overwatch’s first foray into CTF. There’s always next time, I suppose.