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When Overwatch originally jumped onto the scene way back in 2016, it was a seismic shift in the multiplayer gaming landscape. While it was in some ways derivative of past hero shooters, namely Team Fortress 2, in most other ways it was a revelation. The game’s incredible cast of characters, insanely polished gameplay, and patented Blizzard charm led it to countless game of the year awards enroute to becoming one of the best selling games of all time. In fact, its influence still lives on to this day through some of the most popular online shooters, like Apex Legends and Valorant. However, 2016 was a long time ago, and, while the core gameplay is still strong, the “buy-to-own with lootbox” model has started to show its age. On top of that, Overwatch 1 has not received a major content update in over two years, leaving fans thirsty for more.
So in comes Overwatch 2, revealed at Blizzcon in 2019, to breathe some new life into this mammoth franchise. During its reveal Blizzard promised a much more fleshed out PvE offering and a shake up to the award winning PvP formula. Unfortunately for Blizzard, though, right after Blizzcon 2019, we entered a global pandemic, and, on top of that, the horrendous workplace conditions at Activision-Blizzard came to light, causing some serious shake-ups within the game’s development team.
Now, nearly three years since its initial announcement, Overwatch 2 has seen major changes in leadership and in its design. Blizzard has de-coupled the PvP experience from the new PvE experience shown off in 2019 in an effort to get content to the players faster. They also made the game completely free to play with optional cosmetic microtransactions, like many of its contemporaries. This was confusing to a lot of people who already had trouble seeing this as a traditional sequel and not just a DLC even before the PvE elements were cut. Adding to that, it was later revealed that Overwatch 2 would completely absorb Overwatch 1, making the original game as we knew it unplayable. This was worrying to fans as Blizzard took a similar approach with Warcraft 3: Reforged, to not so stellar results.
Now that the game has launched and we have gotten a chance to play, does it earn the right to be a true numbered sequel to one of the past decade’s best games? Or is it simply a misappropriated DLC, masquerading as a sequel? Well, after spending several hours with the beta and managing to get through the launch day server woes, I can confidently say that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Small Changes, Big Results
While the game does have some genuinely great new content, I think it’s best to start with the smaller changes as they are what fundamentally change the game. The most impactful of these has to be the change to a 5v5 format, with two Damage heroes, two Support Heroes, and one Tank hero. This is in contrast to Overwatch 1 being 6v6 and having two of each role. On the surface level, or to the uninitiated, this may seem like a small change, but it has big ripple effects on the moment-to-moment gameplay in Overwatch 2. For starters, it puts a huge emphasis on the Tank player, which in turn provides a more focused task to support players and incentivizes Damage players to make flanking plays on the enemy team’s Tank and Supports. Overall, this leads to a much more action-oriented playstyle and makes each individual player’s impact on the game more significant. It’s a stark contrast to Overwatch 1’s heavy reliance on each team having massive amounts of shields to painstakingly try to siege through.
Overall, this has made the game a lot more fun to play, in my opinion, not just because of the removal of one tank, but because of Blizzard’s commitment to this format. You see the change go deeper than just simply removing one player from each team. Blizzard has implemented roster-wide balance changes to better fit each hero into their respective role, such as giving tank characters bonus health or removing stuns from damage dealers.
They even went as far as giving role-specific passive bonuses to further emphasize how that role is intended to play. For example, Tanks generate less ultimate charge for enemies that attack them and are harder to knock back, allowing them to be more efficient at holding space. Also, Damage dealers gain a 25% bonus to movement speed and reload speed after eliminating another player to make flanking more effective. Finally, Support heroes constantly heal themselves over time, allowing them to stay in the fight while providing their own healing to others.
Around the Globe
Even though every map and hero from Overwatch 1 is present and accounted for in Overwatch 2, there are, of course, some new additions to help justify that number 2 on the box. Circuit Royale (Monte Carlo) has been added to the escort map pool. Midtown (New York) and Paraiso (Rio De Janeiro) have been added to the hybrid map pool. And Queen Street (Toronto) and Colliso (Rome) have been added to work with the game’s entirely new Push mode.
The Push mode is sort of an asymmetrical take on the classic Escort mode. Instead of one team pushing a payload through a map while the other team tries to stop them, Push sees each team trying to “Push” a payload of sorts through the map. The whole thing plays out somewhat like a 5v5 tug of war match, where points are awarded for the distance your team manages to push the payload. This mode works really well with the new 5v5 format, as Tanks naturally try and hold the point while the Supports try and keep them alive. Meanwhile, as the payload moves throughout the map, there are tons of opportunities for Damage heroes to get the jump on their opponents through the map’s several different paths.
The World Could Always Use More Heroes
In terms of new heroes, we have three new faces joining Overwatch, giving us a total of 35 unique characters to play. These three heroes are all extremely fun to play, and I expect them to be mainstays in my rotation long after the new content appeal wears off. Covering all three roles we have Sojourn, the Damage dealer, with an extremely fun and satisfying Assault Rifle – Rail Gun combo. Junker Queen, the Tank, offers some incredible, but recently nerfed, team buffs and bleed damage. And Kiriko, the Support, offers some pretty reliable healing and surprisingly lethal throwable Kunai blades. Making use of Kiriko’s ability to warp to teammates, even through walls, was the most fun I have had playing a support character in all of my time with Overwatch.
Even though all of the older characters received appropriate buffs and nerfs to better place them inside of this new 5v5 format, there is something to be said about characters that were designed from the ground up to work within these new rules. The three newest heroes reaffirm that Blizzard has still got “it” when it comes to designing fun and engaging characters, which has me excited for what’s next in the game’s future seasons.
A little Re-Modeling
As I mentioned at the top of this review, the original Overwatch released ages ago in terms of video game years. Interestingly enough, 2016 was kind of a baton passing year in video games. The long lasting “buy-to-play” model was suddenly becoming eclipsed by free-to-play, as it was not long after the release of the original Overwatch that we saw the likes of Fortnite, Apex Legends, and Valorant burst on to the scene. We even saw Overwatch’s biggest competitors during its launch in Halo, Call of Duty, and Destiny switch to a free-to-play offering. Over time that upfront cost barrier to entry for Overwatch started to become insurmountable, and, perhaps, one could argue that it was the catalyst for this entire sequelization in the first place.
So with a new Overwatch comes a new and more modern business model. The base game is free to play, and anyone who previously owned Overwatch 1 will have access to every Hero from that game, as well as two of the newcomers, Sojourn and Junker Queen. The third new hero, Kiriko, is unlocked either by purchasing the seasonal battle pass (10$ USD), or leveling the free track up to level 55. New Overwatch accounts, as of Oct 4th, will have access to 13 of the original game’s heroes and will unlock the rest simply by playing. This is more in an effort to try and not overwhelm new players with choice, and not a monetization scheme. There is also a store to buy additional cosmetics outright, so the days of lootbox gambling in Overwatch are over. It’s worth noting, as well, that after each season there will be a different free way to unlock heroes from previous seasons, although how that works has not been revealed at the time of writing.
This is very similar to how most of Overwatch’s contemporaries operate their free-to-play model, with some pretty big improvements. For starters, since Overwatch 2 is carrying over nearly everything from Overwatch 1, including all of the skins and cosmetics from the last 6 years, so the game is launching with significantly more content then other free-to-play service-based games. Being that content delivery is oftentimes the biggest struggle for these games in their first year, Overwatch 2 will start with a leg up in that regard.
On top of that, the fact that all heroes will be unlocked for free at launch and new heroes can be unlocked within the seasonal Battle Pass’s free track is very generous. Compared to other games like Apex Legends, the grind for new players to unlock characters beyond the free roster is oftentimes a long one and usually presents the biggest temptation to spend. The Battle Pass in Overwatch 2 is progressed via match XP, as well as daily, weekly, and seasonal challenges, so climbing to level 55 should not take too long, either.
The Full Picture
In addition to all of this you have some great new stat tracking features, cross platform progression, an improved competitive mode, and a robust road map of future content to come. For all intents and purposes, the game has successfully converted itself into a free to play experience. However lets finally address the giant science gorilla in the room: is this a “true” sequel? Personally, I think the game that was revealed to us back in 2019 had aspirations of being just that. However, a lot has happened in these past three years, and ultimately what we got may fall short of some people’s definition of a “true” sequel. While the PvE content is still planned for Overwatch 2, coming as early as 2023, it did not make it in time for launch. Perhaps if it had launched with the PvE campaign, the “2” beside the name would feel less out of place. That being said, I’m not reviewing the game that was revealed at Blizzcon three years ago, I’m reviewing the game as it is, in its current free-to-play state.
Overall, Overwatch 2 is the shot in the arm the original needed to push one of the most successful new IP’s of the last generation into more modern times. While the changes to the core systems are small on their own, they each come together to offer both a drastic switch in strategy for seasoned players and a fun action-oriented experience for everyone else. Additionally, being a free-to-play release with a generous monetization model suddenly opens the door to a whole new audience.
Six years is a long time, and the gaming community’s population has grown exponentially since then. While this might not be a “true” sequel to some, it very well could be a great new experience for someone else. A lot of thought and care has gone into refreshing the Overwatch experience, resulting in a compelling reason to jump back in for old fans and new players alike. Which is great news because, as Tracer once said, the world can always use more heroes.
NOTE: During the launch of Overwatch 2, Blizzard has experienced multiple DDoS attacks, as well as other server issues. While, personally, I was able to log in and play, I know that a large number of players were unable to do so. Many are also suffering through long queues and are unable to merge accounts successfully. In the context of this review, I am willing to give Blizzard the benefit of the doubt in that these issues will be worked out in a timely manner. However, if these problems persist for an extended period of time, then I will update the review to reflect that.