As a fan of Overwatch, it’s fair to say I approached Overwatch 2 warily, unsure of the proposed changes and wanting to be convinced. On first impressions? Yeah, it’s more Overwatch and that’s not a bad thing, but it means it also feels more like Overwatch 1.5 instead of a full blown sequel.
But how do you correctly create a sequel to a massively successful live service game, anyway? The original game saw people spend hours (or money) collecting various outfits, emotes and other golden weapons to show off, and you can bet your bottom dollar people don’t want to lose that.
The switch to free to play was logical and the carry over of everything necessary. I’ve spoke to dozens of people who passingly mentioned they wouldn’t bother playing if they lost their progress, so Blizzard clearly made the right call here.
The first major change up comes in the form of switching from 6v6 matches to 5v5. Depending on which mode you are playing, this drastically changes up the formats of the match. If you are playing in the role-based queue, you are now only allowed one tank, two support and two assault characters. Long gone are days where players will turtle behind a double wall of tanks and shields and you now actually have to make a push to finish your objective, which makes for a faster paced of play – no one wants to spend ages firing pea shooters into brick walls, it’s just not exciting.
This has meant that some of the tanks have had to be reworked. Orisa is one of those that’s had a complete overhaul, now giving her a Javelin which she can throw at enemies with some serious force. She can also spin the Javelin and charge forward proving her with much needed momentum. This, coupled with the fact that she no longer has her barrier has properly transitioned her from a stationary wall to a mobile damage dealer, which is kind of scary. This front foot style was one I relished when finding myself in this role.
The main issue with this is that the only tank now suited to slow-moving payload objectives is Reinhardt. Generally you need a main tank to hold the payload while everyone else cuts about and fights the other team, but tanks now have a split role between attack and defence. Attacking with the payload is definitely harder, but maybe we just need time to adapt.
It’s not just the tanks that have had a rework. Stun abilities have been significantly reduced in Overwatch 2, with Brigitte having her stun removed from her Shield Bash, and Cassidy losing his Flashbang. Bastion is a new beast these days as well, losing his ability to become a stationary turret and instead just transforming into a tank, an ability that used to be tied to his ultimate.
Amongst the old guard, we now have three new heroes to mess around with. The excellent Sojourn manages to feel more Call of Duty than Soldier 76 and I took to her immediately, with her super slide and super jump combo giving her a freedom of movement only seen in a few characters on the roster. Shoot enough times with her primary fire and you charge her secondary fire which is a powerful rail gun. Charge up her ultimate ability, and she can fire that bad boy without needing to charge for a set period of time. It’s pretty lethal.
New aggressive tank Junker Queen also enters the fray, dragging opponents in with her knife and then shotgunning them when up close. She feels a little like Roadhog in a sense, but her would/adrenaline rush abilities do enough to set her apart, forcing you to keep attacking so you can heal as you deal damage.
Last but certainly not least, we have Kiriko, a ninja support character who can heal and buff her allies. She also loves Foxes! With her ability to climb walls and teleport, she’s like the love child of Genji and Mercy – I’m sure there’s already some slash fiction out there…
The new characters don’t really shake up the meta too much, with people using the usual suspects and the new folk in equal measure. While some character strengths and distinctiveness has been chipped away, I think that’s a testimony to how balanced the roster actually is.
In addition to the new characters, there’s also a new mode called Push, a game of tug-of-war where you fight over control of a robot that moves a barrier back and forth. Neither team is really attacking or defending so it really is a constant back and forth, which is pretty cool. The moment-to-moment of this mode is really tense, especially when someone is losing. Just like real tug-of-war, once you are losing, it’s pretty hard to come back from it, so managing to pull this off feels epic. The maps for this mode also seem very well designed, with some tricky choke points that require some serious team effort to overcome.
Sadly, with the addition of Push, came the loss of the Assault game mode, which also means we had to say goodbye to some of my favourite maps – Temple of Anubis, Volskya Industries, and Hanamura. I would love to have these maps to pop up elsewhere or maybe even get reworked to fit other game modes, but that will have to wait.
One of the biggest changes in Overwatch 2 with its transition to free to play is the inclusion of the Battle Pass. This is now standard for free to play games, and I think it’s fun to have something clear to work towards the more you play. The premium track is reasonably priced, but does not follow the convention of including Overwatch Coins within it to make it self-sustaining for those that play the game. That alone seriously hurts the value it offers and engagement.
This leads to my grievance with how skins are now unlocked, and particularly legacy skins. These used to be relatively easy to earn through playing, but can now only be earnt through weekly challenges and at such a low rate that you can only earn enough for one skin every year, or to earn an upgraded Battle Pass after two seasons, and that’s with incessant play and overcoming any unbalanced challenges Blizzard includes. The balance is off and, unless you pay, there’s a real grind to get to dress up your characters in cool clothes.
Aside from this, it would seem Blizzard has a good plan in store for content, with themed seasons, promises of a more regular stream of new heroes, maps, and modes to get fans excited. Speaking of new players, it’s worth mentioning that in order to unlock all the characters on the roster, you’ll need to play a hundred matches. I don’t think this is a bad approach considering the size of the roster. Sometimes, rosters this large can be overwhelming, so it’s good that they’ve done it this way.
Additionally, new characters are locked into the Battle Pass as well, compared to simply being available for all as in previous games. So long as further additions aren’t overpowered, I think we’ll be OK. The last thing we want Overwatch to turn into is a pay to win meta. At least new heroes are kept out of competitive play, to guard against this imbalance.
Finally, we do have to address the elephant in the room. At time of writing, the game is a nightmare to actually play. Overwatch 2 has been battered by DDoS attacks and so has left players with nothing to do but find another game to play. Additionally, account merging hasn’t been bulletproof and had some teething issues, though Blizzard have worked to ensure progression isn’t lost. Still, it’s a real shame that the launch has been so messy, because Overwatch 2 is genuinely still very good.