The Switch turns Overwatch into a great second-screen game

Overwatch has finally made its way to the Nintendo Switch, fulfilling the endless requests from me that Blizzard port its popular team shooter to Nintendo’s portable console.

It’s not the first mainstream shooter to make the jump to the Switch: Bethesda has ported Doom and a few Wolfenstein games, and of course there’s Nintendo’s own Splatoon series and the ubiquitous Fortnite. But as an exclusively online, multiplayer-based competitive team shooter, Overwatch might be the least likely fit for the Switch, at least on paper.

I’ve spent the last day or two playing the Switch port, and at first glance, that impression is correct. As a way to play Overwatch seriously, the Switch port is bad. There’s no other way to put it. If you’re playing it hooked up to a TV, you’ll be better off on a PS4 or Xbox One, with their far more powerful processors and graphics cards (or better yet, an actual gaming PC). And while portable mode has plenty of benefits, which I’ll get into in a moment, performance there isn’t much better.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s perfectly playable, and Overwatch’s cartoonish art style works great even with the lower fidelity graphics (as opposed to, say, the Witcher 3 port), but “it has basic functionality” should be a low bar to clear. I haven’t had quite as many performance issues as other reviewers have reported, although I still have seen some character models that were late to pop into a skirmish match and some lag, especially when whipping the camera around quickly. I spend almost all of my time playing as Zenyatta or Reinhardt, characters that don’t rely quite as much on pinpoint accuracy and fast gunplay as, say, Soldier 76 or McCree. My brief tests as those characters were far less enjoyable to play on the Switch, though.

Another issue is the lack of voice chat. Not that Overwatch doesn’t support it — it does, and even does so without using Nintendo’s convoluted and terrible app system, so all you need is a regular 3.5mm headset with a microphone. But Switch players seem even more averse to using mics than even Xbox and PS4 players — I never saw a single other mic user in any of my games with random matchmaking, making it tough to coordinate (a critical part of Overwatch strategy). Unless you specifically seek out fellow mic users in advance (Overwatch helps by offering an in-game group finder), you’ll likely be stuck playing silently.

And yet, despite all that, I’ve really enjoyed my time playing Overwatch on the Switch for the same reasons that the Switch is always so great: it removes so much of the day-to-day friction of dealing with a modern console and TV setup that even with these rough edges, it’s still really enjoyable to play.

It’s similar to Fortnite on mobile or the Switch. Is it the best way to play the game if you’re serious about Fortnite? Almost certainly not. The graphics are worse, the controls are rough, and the entire experience is clearly not designed for the platform as the ideal form. But because of the Switch’s self-contained form factor, Overwatch on the Switch offers something that no other platform can: freedom from a TV or monitor.

It’s Overwatch that I can play while binge-watching the latest Netflix show or while watching an afternoon of football in the background. It’s Overwatch that I can knock out a quick round of before bed, or when I’m away from my apartment visiting my parents for an extended weekend. It’s Overwatch that doesn’t require fighting my roommates for the TV, then waiting for an Xbox to boot up, run a system update, and finally connect to a server. Now, in fairness, none of these benefits really apply if you dock the Switch, but as I noted before, if you’re playing Overwatch on a TV screen, there are already better options.

Is it the best version of Overwatch? No. But the Switch port reduces the barriers to playing enough that I can see myself playing it far more often than the Xbox or PC versions. The very fact that it’s on the Switch makes it that much more available to play at the drop of a hat.

Even the gyroscopic aiming — the bigger addition from vanilla Overwatch on other consoles — is actually good, especially when you’re playing in the Switch’s handheld mode. I was expecting to hate it, but after a few rounds it just kind of clicked. I never really got to the point where I was swinging the console around in wide arcs to look around or move (the right Joy-Con joystick is still the best method for that), but it helped a lot in more subtle aiming. The fact that you’re also playing against other Switch players who are stuck with the same controls makes it a more level playing field, too.

One of my biggest gripes that is solvable is the lack of any cross-platform progression. I’ve spent years unlocking character skins, emotes, and other cosmetics on my Xbox, and it’s frustrating to not have my rare Zenyatta styles available on the Switch. It’s even more disheartening to realize that I’m looking at Blizzard’s RNG-based slog of random loot boxes to even have a chance of getting my favorite skins again. I get that cross-platform anything between modern consoles is still a relatively new concept, but major titles like Destiny 2 and Fortnite have figured out how to manage it. It’d be nice if Blizzard — which almost certainly has the resources and clout to pull off a similar system — could figure it out, too.

Some of these issues are fixable. Some are inherent to the Switch. But ultimately the appeal of being able to play Overwatch whenever and wherever I want mostly makes up for the problems. It’s exactly what you’d expect from an Overwatch port on the Switch — with all the good and bad that go with that.

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