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Polygon’s 2016 Games of the Year #3: Overwatch

It’s no surprise that Overwatch landed in our top three games of 2016. Since the playable beta launched this spring, it exploded onto the scene and so far has amassed more than 20 million players and counting. But why is it such a big deal? What makes it so good?

It might seem intimidating at first because of its popularity and ever-growing pro community, but Overwatch is perhaps Blizzard’s most accessible online multiplayer game to date. There’s no level grinding, no upgrades for weapons, armor or even abilities. You only get one set of tools with each character — from there, it’s up to you how to master them. It’s a class-based shooter that encourages you to change characters mid-match as you would a weapon in any other game.

The refreshing thing about Overwatch is how it incorporates these class differences to make every single player on your team actually matter. With the countless hours I’ve already sunk into the game, I can say that no two matches are alike. You can play for four hours straight and never be bored; based on the map alone, your character choice will change. Attacking? Defending? Capturing a point? Oh shit, Ilios? Ideally, all of these factors will impact your decision and having a well-balanced team (except for that attack Widowmaker).

In other online PvP modes like Destiny’s Crucible, it’s easy to blame the gun you’ve equipped or the set of armor you have on. But in Overwatch, there’s nothing and no one to blame except yourself. Now, ignore how bleak that sounds for a second and imagine the white-hot satisfaction coursing through your veins as you see a “15 player kill streak!” pop up on your screen with modest fanfare. It’s good. It’s very good. You feel unstoppable.

I personally love the cooperative element that Overwatch demands of its players, even if I can be rather ... competitive. The absolute best feeling is solo-queuing with five other strangers and somehow managing to immediately hit it off in combat. It’s even more rare and rewarding when you’re playing on console since no one can really use the chat function. True human connection requires no words (just a lot of teabagging and “Thanks!” sprays).

Overwatch is also one of the year’s biggest cultural touchstones, spawning one of the most dedicated and creative fanbases out there. Despite being an online multiplayer with no campaign mode, it does have a story — though not all of it revealed just yet. Blizzard provides just enough lore and character background to hook people and keep them interested. It’s ingenious; fans are absolutely starving for any official piece of canon they can get their hands on. Every now and then, Blizzard will throw us a juicy morsel and the community will swarm over it like angry bees. I haven’t really seen many other games release extra content with the sole purpose of generating hype through world-building like that. Overwatch’s animated shorts, for example, are Pixar-level quality in graphics and emotion. What usually ensues after each release is yet another wave of fan art, fanfiction, cosplay and of course, memes.

Overwatch has crept into nearly every corner of the internet, and it doesn’t seem like it will stop any time soon. The subreddit has over 700,000 subscribers alone. So as I sit here selfishly hoping that more of my friends will start playing, I, for one, will continue to welcome the countless “play of the game” memes polluting Twitter and pictures of dogs dressed up as D.Va.

Polygon is counting down our favorite games of 2016. For more on the process behind how we choose our top 10, read this guide to our voting process.