Overwatch 2 is finally here, and it comes with a considerable amount of baggage. It’s a game that’s releasing after a two-year character and map drought for the original game, and one that’s launching in the fallout of Activision Blizzard’s ongoing sexual harassment lawsuits.
For these reasons and more, many Overwatch fans have left the game in the past couple of years, and it’s hard to imagine that some will ever return. On the surface, it seems naive to think that three new characters, a new game mode, a few new maps, and some UI improvements are enough to redeem Overwatch, but against all odds, Overwatch 2 is more triumph than tragedy.
The biggest change, other than the shiny ‘2’ in the title, is that the game has shifted from the 6v6 gameplay of the original to 5v5. In making the swap, the devs got rid of the off-tank role and instead opted for a one-tank setup, along with the standard two DPS and two supports. The two-tank synchronicity was one of the best aspects of Overwatch 1, as it felt like you were going into battle with a friend, and win or lose, you’d do it together. While that comradery is missing in Overwatch 2, the result is a game in which all the 35 playable heroes feel impactful, and individually better to play than in Overwatch 1.
Tanks are now brawlier, with almost universally improved kit changes that toe the line between being a power fantasy and feeling slightly overpowered. Reinhardt, for example, is now able to cancel his charge at any time and has two fire strikes instead of one, which gives him a more proactive and chaotic playstyle that fits well with his character.
On the former off-tank side, D.Va’s kit is mostly the same, but with one less tank to contend with on the other team, she is now more of a beefy assassin who can also effectively peel for teammates as opposed to the more reserved stick-with-the-team style character that she was in Overwatch 1. The three new characters, Sojourn, Kirkiko and Junker Queen fit nicely into the Overwatch 2 lineup, and the promise of regularly added heroes is an exciting one.
The DPS and Support characters aren’t all that different from Overwatch 1, except for the notable lack of any stun abilities. Gone are the likes of Cassidy’s flashbang, Mei’s ability to freeze, and Brigette’s stunning shield bash, and the result is a game that feels less frustrating. It doesn’t feel good to consistently lose the ability to control your character and Overwatch 1 fell into the stun trap a few years into its life cycle, and never really recovered.
In tandem with the stun changes, the removal of a tank means that there are far less shields to shoot at which makes the moment-to-moment gameplay more satisfying. There’s something to be said about taking part in a war of attrition and methodically besting two enemy tanks, but I’ll happily take the ability to actually be able to target and destroy an enemy instead.
Each role in Overwatch 2 also has their own passives which add a layer of nuance to the game. Supports automatically regain some of their health after a few seconds of not taking damage, which gives extra agency to patient healers with good positioning. All roles, including supports, also have an ultimate charge transfer ability that saves up to 30% of your current ultimate charge when switching characters.
In practice, this ability actually makes the ability to swap characters to counter opponents not only viable but encouraged. I was able to start a round as Tracer and gain over 30% ult charge in a fight that we lost, largely because of the opponent’s uncontested Pharah. Instead of sticking with Tracer in order to preserve my ultimate charge, I was able to switch to Soldier 76 and spawn with 30% of my ult charge, which ultimately helped me deal with the Pharah and win us the round.
The other passive changes aren’t quite as positive, at least in the early goings. The DPS passive grants 25% increased reload and movement speed for 2.5 seconds immediately after getting an elimination. This increases the ability for teams to carry momentum after getting a kill and given the extra importance that getting a kill has in Overwatch 2’s 5v5 world, the passive feels like overkill. Lastly, the tank passive reduces knockback and makes tanks feel more solid, and while it fits the role, it’s also a bit boring. These passives will no doubt be tweaked due to the game’s live service nature but as of launch, they’re a bit of a mixed bag that’s leaning slightly positive.
Speaking of live service, you’ve probably heard all about Overwatch 2’s shift to free to play status. Gone is the $60 price tag and loot boxes and in their place is a shiny and familiar battle pass system. For $10 USD a season, players can get access to the battle pass which features rewards like skins, voice lines, sprays, victory poses, and even heroes, for playing. Each season lasts for nine weeks and features 80 levels to progress through in order to earn all the cosmetics. Like most battle passes, the majority of the cosmetics are kinda lame, with only a few standouts along the way like the Genji Cyber Demon skin.
I mentioned heroes as part of the battle pass and the new healer Kiriko is positioned all the way at level 55, which by my estimate takes around 40 or so hours to unlock. Players that have played Overwatch 1 get access to Kiriko right away, but going forward they will have to level up to tier 55 in order to unlock future heroes. There is also a limited amount of battle pass prizes on the free track and all heroes going forward will be on it, which means that those opting for a truly free to play Overwatch 2 experience will still be able to play new heroes…eventually.
While some games like Apex Legends have you use in-game currency to buy heroes, they’re not as tied to success as Overwatch heroes are since all Apex players have access to the same weapons. It’s worrying that some players will not be able to access a new hero for weeks, and given Blizzard’s tendency to release overpowered heroes, this inability to play the newest heroes right away could be the difference between winning and losing games.
On the topic of not being able to access heroes, Overwatch 2 takes an interesting, if slightly misguided approach, to easing new players into the game. New accounts are limited to 13 heroes to start, which, according to my calculator, is 37.1% of the game’s current roster, with the rest being gradually unlocked over the course of 100 games. Coming to grips with the abilities and nuances of 35 heroes is understandably intimidating for new players and limiting the starting heroes makes sense.
The issue is that Overwatch 2 doesn’t limit your opponents to people who have the same characters unlocked. Not only does letting some players access to certain heroes give an unfair competitive advantage, but it also undermines the whole easing-in process as players will still be matched up against opponents with characters and abilities that they may not know how to deal with.
Thankfully, all of the maps in Overwatch 2 are available to all players, including three new maps for the new Push game mode, along with an escort and hybrid map. Push is one of the best additions in Overwatch 2, as it involves a tug of war for control of a robot that pushes a marker through the map, with the ultimate goal of reaching your opponent’s spawn point.
Matches are frantic and chaotic and perfectly distill the brawly nature of Overwatch 2’s gameplay. Every kill in Push is important, with matches never truly being over until the last second, and the time limit ensures that the mode doesn’t suffer from the frustration that Overwatch 1’s 2CP permeated on a regular basis.
“It feels strange to say that Overwatch 2 is a great game against all odds…”
From a UI perspective Overwatch 2 is better in almost every way. The hero profiles are revamped, the character selection screen oozes with personality, the maps are shinier and the new character designs look sharp. It feels akin to going from watching an episode of your favourite animated show, to watching a movie based on that same show. It’s just prettier and Overwatch 2 feels more premium and sleek than its predecessor.
Perhaps most importantly, the cursed days of arguing about who has gold eliminations or gold healing are finally over, replaced instead with a good old-fashioned stats sheet that shows each player’s kills, assists, damage, healing, deaths and damage mitigated at all times. I’m skeptical to see if it actually leads to less toxicity in-game, but what I’m sure of is that it’s a useful tool to determine if what you’re doing is actually working.
I was playing Kiriko on Route 66 and after losing a couple of fights I noticed that I was trailing the other three healers in the game by over 1,000 healing. So, I made the swap to Moira and by the time the match ended I had the second most healing. It’s a small change but like many of the ones in Overwatch 2, it makes a big difference.
The one UI change that I’m not thrilled about is the kill marker. In Overwatch 2 the marker is more subtle, which may make for a potentially smoother looking experience but in practice it can lead to moments where you’re unsure of whether you got a kill or not. It’s a strange misstep that some people may not even notice, but it’s been a source of frustration for me so far.
It feels strange to say that Overwatch 2 is a great game against all odds, considering how great Overwatch 1 was for the first few years of its lifespan. Yet given all that has transpired these last two years, it feels apt and genuinely exciting to be able to say that Overwatch 2 is a game worth playing.
The switch to 5v5 breathes new life into Overwatch’s core gameplay and the updated look and feel, combined with the new Push mode and revamped hero abilities, make for a worthy successor to the game that won many people’s hearts back in 2016. Whether it stays a positive story remains to be seen, but for now Overwatch 2 is a joy to play and that’s something that I didn’t think I would be able to say.
This content was originally published here.