After years of fans clamoring for it (and Blizzard continuous downplaying the possibility of it happening), Overwatch has finally come to the Nintendo Switch. Unfortunately, the shooter’s jump to the new portable form-factor has left it worse for wear.
For those who need a primer, Overwatch is a fast-paced and hero-based multiplayer shooter that’s set in a colorful and diverse vision of the near future where two teams of charismatic characters fight it out across a series of international locales including Paris, Greece, London, Egypt and even Sydney.
If you’re looking for more info about Overwatch proper, you’re going to be better served reading our guide to getting started with the game here. This review is going to focus on the Switch version of the game specifically.
Refreshingly, the Switch version of Overwatch touts feature parity with the other versions of the game. It features all the same modes, maps and characters plus more than three years’ worth of content updates and gameplay enhancements. It's even got replay support - though this inclusion is let down by the fact that the game doesn't play nice with the Switch's native video capture feature.
There’s also new gyroscopic motion controls but no exclusive Nintendo content as with the Switch version of Diablo 3. Out of sheer curiosity, I attempted to play with these gyro controls a few times but I wouldn’t recommend them. At best, they’re goofy. At worst, they made me feel motion sick.
Annoyingly, the Switch version of Overwatch doesn’t feature cross play and, to add insult to injury, you can’t bring across any already unlocked skins, emotes or sprays from the other versions of the game into this one.
Those might sound like a pretty petty grievances but, even after about two hundred hours playing the PC version, I’m still ages away from having unlocked all the available cosmetics for each character. I’m probably never going to have them all. Having that progress not carry over into the pocket-sized port sucks. It made it hard for me to care about any of the loot boxes I accrued while playing the Switch version in the game.
In some ways, the Switch version of Overwatch has a lot in common with The Witcher 3’s recent port to the handheld. Like the Witcher 3, this new version of Overwatch looks significantly worse than the console and PC versions of the game. The graphics have been stripped back to such a degree that you’re losing out on a lot of the finer details that make the characters in Overwatch the game such a delight to look at.
In contrast, the maps themselves do retain a lot of the same vibe. Even on a smaller screen, they felt really familiar. Kings Row feels like Kings Row, Numbani feels like Numbani. However, the environments do lack the clutter found in the main game counterparts.
Ultimately, it’s the Switch version’s inability to deliver a clean or stable framerate that hurts it far more than any graphical downgrade might. It’s one thing to put Overwatch on the Switch and quite another to do it in a way that draws and sustains a base of regular players.
First and foremost, Overwatch is a multiplayer game. Unless you’re planning to exclusively play against bots, you’ll need a decent - or at least stable - internet connection to actually play Overwatch on the Switch. You’ll also need an active Nintendo Switch Online membership. Last but not least, you’ll need people to play against - which is one of the bigger unknowns around this version of the game.
There's a lot of terms and conditions involved in playing this game and, even in launch week, queue times seemed significantly longer than they are with the PC version of the game. What’s more, half the times I did get into a match, I seemed to end up on a server where the connection quality made the game difficult to endure. The more I played, the more I got used to it but it's still a far from what it feels like it could or should be.
In-game textures looked really muddy and, as a PC player, the Switch controls required some real getting used to. Almost every match of the game I played, it’d take about five-to-ten seconds - sometimes longer - for character models to load in. This sometimes made the Play of the Game highlight that rolls at the end of a match borderline unwatchable.
Taken in concert, the combination of the new controls and technical shortcomings made it feel like I was fighting against the game to do anything.
Fortunately, so was everyone else. As someone who has ground away evening after evening playing ranked on the PC version of the game, there's something appealing to the out-and-out brawl that regular matches of "Overswitch" involved. At times, It feels like controls and limited frame-rate curtail any sort of nuanced maneuvers or tactics. Individual skill and play matters in a way that it doesn't always with the PC versions of the game.
It feels like the Switch version of the game almost has its own meta, shaped by the platform's limitations and quirks - and that's awesome to see. Champions like Bastion and Symmetra are thriving right now and I honestly can't wait to see what competitive mode ends up looking like when it arrives for the handheld.
But the results of this struggle between what I expect from a game of Overwatch and what the Switch could were highly variable depending on the character I was playing. If I’m playing Reinhardt, the experience of playing Overwatch on the Switch can feel like a six - or maybe even a seven - out of ten. If I’m playing Ana or Wrecking Ball, it’s closer to a four.
That being said, there were moments where it worked. Lying in bed and squeezing in a few rounds of quick play on a lazy Saturday morning, despite all the problems with this version of the game, was as delightful as I’d hoped it would be. Jumping into match on a (non-peak hour) train was genuinely magical! It's these kinds of on-the-go Overwatch experiences I’d hoped this version would be able to provide.
Regardless, the Switch version of Overwatch almost never got close to giving me the thrill and joy I still get out of the PC version - even after hundreds of hours of playtime. And I think I’d be OK with that, if there was some sort of carryover in terms of my XP or skin unlocks. Fortnite does it. Why can’t this?
My irritation is compounded here by the fact that time-exclusive unlocks from earlier seasons of competitive play are actually visible in the game but can't be unlocked by Switch players - since those events have already happened. Are they just in the game to taunt players?
Either this version of the game is intended as something that introduces new audiences to Overwatch or its another way for diehard fans to get their fix while away from their computer. Unfortunately, it feels like Blizzard have fumbled somewhat when it comes to both scenarios. It all technically works but it's not a particular great experience on either front.
As someone who has played hundreds of hours, I’m willing to live with this version of the game but I’m not willing to love it. If this was my first exposure to Overwatch, I doubt I'd fall for it in the way I have on PC.
The Bottom Line
I keep playing it but I struggle to make up my mind about whether this version of my favorite shooter is good in spite of the bad or bad despite all all that it gets right. I'm split right down the middle. Even if it is the only version of the game you can take on the go with you, the Nintendo Switch version of Overwatch feels like a disappointment. It's not what it could be and it's not without fun but, on a technical level, it's a near-constant mess.
This might even be the least polished product that Blizzard - a developer universally known for their quality-first mantra of releasing a game “when it’s done”- to have ever shipped. It misses the mark for what it could be and what it probably should be. It's especially frustrating given how right the developer got things with the Switch port of Diablo 3.
Could Blizzard fix all this with a post-release patch? Sure. It doesn’t seem likely but it isn't impossible either. Maybe Nintendo will step up to the plate and release a Switch Pro that can run this version of the game with more stable framerate. I’d love to live in that world but, at the same time, I’m not holding my breath.
Significant compromises have been made in order to get Overwatch running on the Switch and - even as someone who counts myself among them - I don’t know how many fans are going to be willing to live with them.
Overwatch: Legendary Edition is available on the Nintendo Switch now. You can nab it on Amazon here.