Overwatch 2 was released this week after a couple of successful beta tests earlier in the year, plus the original Overwatch is no more. This is an iterative change rather than a huge redesign for Overwatch, which was considered many people’s game of the year back in 2016. Much has changed in the shooter landscape since then with the emergence of high-quality free-to-play games, season passes and Battle Royale, so can Overwatch 2 stay competitive in today’s environment? Let’s find out.
Overwatch 2 has been released, replacing the original Overwatch 1 and minus the promised PVE mode back at the unveiling of the sequel. It’s much more of an iterative change than a complete redesign, which is probably a good thing given Overwatch had massive success. It was the big hit of 2016, and until the content dried up enjoyed a good few years of being the major player in online shooters. It may look the same, and feel similar, but dig under the surface and you’ll find a good amount of changes that freshen up the Overwatch franchise.
At the core, Overwatch 2 is still a hero-based shooter, it’s big and colourful, with fluid-feeling shooting mechanics and great character interactions. At launch, we have 35 characters to play with, and they are all very different and have their own unique personalities and arsenal to master. Overwatch 2 still feels great, and much has changed around this core concept, the fact it feels good, probably means fans are willing to put up with the changes surrounding this core gameplay mechanic. The team-focused, objective gameplay is what made Overwatch stand out from the crowd, however, innovations in other areas of the shooter genre were lurking just around the corner.
One of the big changes to Overwatch is it’s now free-to-play and therefore comes with all the add-ons a free-to-play shooter has. We have a season pass, the online store, and the grind for new characters and cosmetics. There are plenty of benefits to a free-to-play model. For example, this is going to help get players in. Previously the game was $40, and since then the market has moved on with some of the biggest games in the world now free-to-play. Fortnite, Call of Duty Warzone, Destiny 2, and Halo Infinite you can jump into these games and play for free. Destiny 2 is a little limited in what you can play for free, but you can still jump in and have an arena-based shooter experience. All of these games have battle passes or season passes, and all have micro-transaction stores filled with cosmetics. It makes sense for Overwatch to do this, in this day and age putting the game behind a paywall immediately puts the game at a disadvantage in a very crowded market.
The introduction of a free-to-play model is a big change for Overwatch, but it doesn’t really affect gameplay. The biggest change to gameplay for Overwatch 2 has been the move to 5v5, compared to 6v6 previously. While this only represents a small change to the roster of any individual match, going from 12 players on the field to 10, this is a big shift and has far-reaching repercussions for teams. Some long-standing Overwatch teams who used to be made up of 6 players now have to move to 5, meaning one player is going to miss out. More importantly, this has an impact on match dynamics and focus, as well as gameplay rhythm. It does emphasise more individual play, rather than team play, which had been the major focus of Overwatch previously.
Teams are now made up of two DPS, one tank and two support characters. This means fewer tanks in matches. In original Overwatch Winston and Reinhardt were probably the most popular tanks on the field, this change hopefully is going to even things up when it comes to tank selection. This creates an interesting situation when a team only has 5 players, given the tank has to try to be at the point of the vanguard for the attack or drive forward the objective, but then again soaking up damage from the rear. It means a split role, and an increased amount of responsibility for tanks, whereas this role was taken by two players before. On the positive side, this means more exciting matches, on the negative it means more popular tanks are being used more often, meaning less variation.
Originally when Overwatch 2 was unveiled, the PVE component was going to be a huge part of the package. With that gone, there needs to be a material change in the Overwatch 2 experience and the team composition represents a meaningful change to the game, something which has shaken up the meta and refreshed the gameplay. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out as it’s a huge gamble. The games are exciting, but that relative loss of team-focused play and it’s impact is probably not yet known. Given team play was the one differentiator from Overwatch 1, the lack of in the sequel is a risky decision.
Given this team composition rebalancing into 5v5, loads of heroes have been reworked. Orisa represents one of the biggest changes to a hero in the game at the moment. While she used to be an anchor, now she’s much more mobile and able to dish out the damage effectively. She has a javelin spin, where the most damage is caused by charging towards opponents. This is wildly different from how Orisa used to play, given she sat back, and allowed other players to use her as a defensive shield. Orisa’s defensive net or shield has been removed, and other defensive shields have been removed too. There has been a massive reduction in the number of shields that can be deployed, which opens up the gameplay very nicely.
As well as character reworks there are also new heroes being added too, one new character in each class, bringing up the full roster to 35 on launch. Sojourn is the newest DPS hero who has a rapid-fire machine gun, and offers something slightly different to Soldier 76. Kiriko is a fast and nimble healer, able to quickly dash in and out of combat and deal damage with her ninja stars. Junker Queen is a new tank hero, and she’s very effective when it comes to being aggressive on the field. She has an Axe, a knife and a shotgun. All new characters are very well designed and they have all the personality you’d expect from an Overwatch character.
We have a new game mode too with Push, where you have to move a robotic vehicle to a location. The robot spawns roughly in the middle, then each team have to push the objective into the opposing team’s spawn to get the win. It’s similar to Escort mode, but rather than constantly attacking or defending you are constantly trying to get your payload to the opposite side. Similar to real-life tug of war it gives both teams a focus and the momentum can shift and change as the match goes on. It’s good fun and has a bunch of potentials.
Push is a new addition, but things have been removed too. Loot boxes are one of those things, and I think the game is going to be all the better for it. Loot boxes have been replaced with the season pass, much like we see in other free-to-play games. The season pass costs around £10, or 1,000 Overwatch Coins. Each season is nine weeks long and we will have tiers to climb to unlock various cosmetics. There are new voice lines, clothing colour variations etc. It all feels very familiar when it comes to other games like this… Fortnite, Rumbleverse, Fallguys etc.
Each new season we’ll get a new hero, a new map, or maybe both. Blizzard has big plans for the season model with new characters, maps and even new modes coming. Hopefully, they have learnt from the first game and the content won’t go through a massive drought as we had with Overwatch 1, which ultimately led to the decline in the player base of the first game. Given it’s now free to play, and Blizzard has a steady stream of features ready to go or coming down the pipeline, hopefully, that won’t happen again in the short term.
The battle pass is interesting and offers up lots of incentives to play for premium battle pass owners. On the free track, you’ll get rewards on 20 of the levels or every 4 tiers. If you are a new player and go for the free track, then you’ll unlock Kiriko at level 55, and new heroes in the same way in future seasons. New players also have a limited number of heroes to play with, 13 I think, however, if you owned Overwatch 1 then you’ll start with all 35. Everyone who logs in during Season 1 will have access to Sojourn and Junker Queen.
While the PVE mode didn’t make the cut for launch, it is due in 2023. This is going to be story-heavy, filled with Overwatch lore and has the potential to really set it apart from other shooters. Destiny 2 has been doing good story content for a couple of years now, so if they get anywhere near that level of storytelling I’ll be happy.
I can’t finish up this review without mentioning the launch, which has been close to an absolute disaster for Blizzard. Shortly after launch Blizzard has been suffering massive DDOS attacks, and huge queues of players, meaning players either can’t get in or they are being thrown out of matches having to wait hours to get in a play in the first place. While it’s not new for online multiplayer games like this to have rocky launches, this is probably the worst I have experienced in recent memory. I’ve been avoiding the queues so far by playing when north America is asleep in bed, which is early morning here in the UK, but I’ve seen screenshots of queues in the tens of thousands and clips of people being thrown out of matches due to errors. It must be hugely disappointing for Blizzard and players alike, and hopefully, this will get fixed soon.
Overall, Overwatch 2 is lots of fun. It may be missing its long-awaited PVE mode at launch, but it’s also added enough changes to the game to help it feel fresh. The 5v5 mode mixes up the gameplay and the new Push mode is a lot of fun. The new heroes are excellent, and some of the changes to existing characters are interesting, we’ll have to wait and see and play more to see how it pans out. There’s potential in here for Blizzard to have a massive hit once again on their hands if they can play the seasonal content model right. Right now it’s a fun, colourful, team-focused first-person shooter, and if you are a fa of the genre it’s something you should try out.
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4/5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One/Series X/S, PC
Release Date: 4th October 2022