'Overwatch' Gameplay Guide FAQ: Everything you need to know about Blizzard's online game

Blizzard Entertainment

One of the best games you can get on Xbox One, PS4 and PC is Overwatch, Blizzard's multiplayer team shooter. If you're thinking about buying it for that shiny new console you got for Christmas — or want to know just what the big deal is with this game everyone seems to be talking about — we've got you covered.

Here's a big ol' list of Overwatch information, organized by most common questions newcomers have about how the game works.

How do you play Overwatch, and what are the goals of the game?

The main modes of Overwatch pit two teams of six against one another. Usually, this involves one team playing offense while the other plays defense. The offensive team tries to achieve a certain goal — say, maintaining control over an area on the map or escorting a payload across the map — while the defensive team tries to prevent them from accomplishing the task. 

Here's a quick clip of Overwatch gameplay footage to give you an idea of what it looks like in action:

Source: IGN/YouTube

The specific goals of each match are determined by whichever map you're playing. For example, Hanamura is called an assault map, which means the offensive team has to capture two separate objective points.

Watchpoint Gibraltar, however, is an "escort" map, in which the offensive team moves a payload.

As long as the offensive team is near the payload, it will slowly move forward along the track.  Blizzard Entertainment

How long does an Overwatch game last?

The time span for an Overwatch game depends highly on the specific mode and how evenly matched the two teams are, but a single game usually takes anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.

How many Overwatch characters are there, and what are they like?

In total, Overwatch has 23 characters, called heroes, to choose from. Each character falls into one of the following four categories: offense, defense, tank and support.

The offense heroes — Genji, Tracer, Reaper, McCree, Soldier: 76, Sombra and Pharah — have a pretty self-explanatory role. They're best at being offensive. The way each character fulfills that role is a bit different, though. Tracer is quick and speedy, able to get behind enemy lines and distract the other team, while Soldier: 76 is a more straightforward and versatile Call of Duty-style soldier character.

Tracer is small and speedy, which makes it easy for her to get behind enemy lines and surprise the other team.  Blizzard Entertainment

Defense heroes — Mei, Junkrat, Torbjörn, Hanzo, Bastion and Widowmaker — are good at preventing an offensive team from advancing. Widowmaker and Hanzo are snipers, able to pick off enemies approaching an objective point from a distance. Junkrat can lay down traps and lob his bouncing bombs into a chokepoint, making it difficult for an offensive team to push through.

Junkrat (right) can make it difficult for enemies to advance by shooting bombs into crowded areas.  Blizzard Entertainment

Tank heroes — D.Va, Zarya, Winston, Roadhog and Reinhardt — are big targets that can soak up a lot of damage and protect their more vulnerable teammates. Zarya can shield herself and allies with energy bubbles, and Reinhardt's large shield can protect an entire team as it advances.

If an enemy attacks one of Zarya's protective bubbles, it makes her weapon more powerful.  Blizzard Entertainment

Support heroes — Mercy, Lúcio, Symmetra, Ana and Zenyatta — are typically thought of as healers, but like all the other categories, the way each support hero fulfills their role varies a bit. Mercy can heal single targets pretty quickly and reliably, whereas Lúcio can heal every single teammate in his vicinity, but at a much slower rate. Symmetra — the exception to the healer rule — supports her teammates by providing shields and teleporting them to an objective point, preventing them from having to hoof it every time they respawn.

Lúcio's gun pumps out music that heals nearby allies, but he can swap to a song that makes his team move more quickly.  Blizzard Entertainment

These categories are helpful to get an idea of what role each character is best at fulfilling, but the lines between them can be fairly blurry. For example, although Mei is categorized as a defense hero, some of her abilities make her incredibly useful on offensive teams, too. She can shoot icicles that do a ton of damage at long range, and her ice block ability — which makes her temporarily invulnerable and restores some of her health — can help an offensive team dig their heels in on an objective point, something that tank heroes typically excel at.

Similarly, Soldier: 76 is categorized as an offensive hero, but one of his abilities heals allies that stand in its area of effect.

OK, so which Overwatch character should I play?

The depends on a few factors: What are you good at? What games do you like to play? The best thing about Overwatch is that even though it's broadly defined as a multiplayer shooter, the incredibly wide variation in its character roster makes it welcoming for all kinds of players.

Are you good at precisely aiming in games like Halo or Call of Duty? Try Soldier: 76 or Widowmaker. 

Even though Soldier: 76 is an offense hero and Widowmaker is a defense hero, both require precise aiming and strong first-person shooter skills.  Blizzard Entertainment

Do you have less-than-stellar aim, but a lot of experience playing a healer in multiplayer PC games like World of Warcraft? Maybe you should try Mercy first.

Mercy can lock onto targets and heal them without aiming, but she's quite vulnerable, so you have to look to your allies for protection.  Blizzard Entertainment

Are you a big-picture, tactical-minded person who can evaluate the layout of a map and figure out which chokepoints the enemy team is likely to pool up in? Try a defense hero like Mei, Torbjörn or Junkrat.

Mei creates large ice walls, which can split a team up to make individuals more vulnerable, block an extremely powerful attack or trap an enemy in an enclosed area.  Blizzard Entertainment

Really, the best answer is to just play a lot of Overwatch and see which characters feel good to you. You can swap characters when you're eliminated in Quick Play, so feel free to try a different hero if the one you first picked isn't a good fit.

Also keep an eye to team composition. Overwatch is a team-based game, so you should base your hero picks in part on who your teammates are playing. Ideally, you should try to get comfortable with one hero in every single category so that you don't wind up with an uneven team composition, like four offense heroes and two tanks. If you see that team makeup, you should be comfortable swapping to something that will balance it out a bit, like a support hero.

Does Overwatch have a story?

Yes. Even though the gameplay of Overwatch isn't conducive to telling a complicated story, Blizzard puts out all sorts of comics and animated short films on a regular basis to provide backstory for its colorful, sci-fi world. Here's an animated short about the character Bastion, which shows glimpses of the war between humans and Overwatch's race of robots, called Omnics.

Source: YouTube

Blizzard has released six animated shorts so far, which are available for free on the Overwatch YouTube channel.

All this story information is optional and not necessary to enjoy the game, but knowing that Tracer has a girlfriend or learning how Winston got his name might help you feel a bit more invested in Overwatch overall.

Does Overwatch have a single-player mode?

Yes and no. There's no campaign mode with a story or boss battles, but there is a mode that lets you play a regular match of Overwatch against computer-controlled characters.

That said, the mode where you play against AI heroes is pretty lame and not really what Overwatch is made for. The AI mode is good if you want to practice with a new hero without hindering your team, but that's about it.

If you're not comfortable playing against other people or don't have a strong internet connection, Overwatch might not be for you. But if the only thing holding you back is the fact that it's multiplayer, you should still give it a try. It's tough, but not as intimidating as it sounds.

How long does it take to get good at Overwatch?

You'll probably be bad at Overwatch for awhile until you get used to what each character is good at. If you don't know every single character's abilities, you won't know the best strategies to use against them. And, unfortunately, the best way to learn what an enemy character is good at is to be killed by them over and over. That kind of familiarity just takes time.

McCree's ultimate unleashes a barrage of deadly bullets on any enemies in his line of sight, so you should hide behind objects when he uses it.  Blizzard Entertainment

Audio cues that skilled Overwatch players know to pay attention to might just sound like background noise to a novice. For example, someone who's played Overwatch for a long time will know that when an enemy McCree uses his ultimate ability, he'll say, "It's high noon," but when an ally McCree uses his ultimate, he'll say, "Step right up." So, if you hear the former, you should know to hide, but hearing the latter is a good thing!

Is there a lot of add-on downloadable content I need to buy?

No. If you bought Overwatch, you have access to every map, character and mode. The only thing you can spend extra money on are loot boxes, which contain a randomized assortment of cosmetic items, like alternate character appearances, voice lines and emotes.

However, you also earn loot boxes by playing the game. So you never need to spend an additional penny on Overwatch if you don't want to.

Can I play with my friends?

Yes, and you should! Playing Overwatch with a group of friends is a blast, especially when everyone is coordinating and talking over voice chat. That said, all of you have to own Overwatch on the same platform. PS4 players can only play with other PS4 players, and so on.

What if I'm the only person in my group of friends who owns Overwatch?

Not to worry! Even though Overwatch is multiplayer, you can queue up on your own and get automatically matched with other players of a similar skill level. 

Also, Blizzard added a handy "stay as a team" feature to help solo-queuers stick with a random pick-up group that has especially good chemistry.

More Overwatch news, updates, tips and tricks

For more on Overwatch, read Blizzard's response to the outcry over Mei's winter skin, read up on the latest rumors of a Terry Crews-voiced Overwatch character, check out all the updates in patch 2.01, read the fandom's reactions to that Zenyatta Nutcracker skin, uncover the hidden details in the Winter Wonderland event and check out all the other unlockable goodies you can earn for Overwatch's other characters.