To say that the development of Overwatch 2 has been complicated would be an understatement. Even before its announcement at BlizzCon 2019, most events in Overwatch 1 were being recycled, and balance updates took some time. When it was finally announced, Team 4 promised a PvE campaign to go with the PvP which I love, hate and hate to love.
Of course, over time, Overwatch 2 had a lack of updates. Development on PvE kept chugging along, and the first game was still popular. However, it was also left to die with Free-For-All maps and no new heroes. Even the number of new cosmetics added in each rehashed event was less than before, never mind the dire lack of free ones.
“Overwatch 2’s core gameplay is 5v5 with only one Tank, two Damage dealers, and two Supports. Assault Mode, with its endless stalling, is gone, replaced by Push Mode.”
However, behind the scenes, things were less than ideal. Activision-Blizzard was embroiled in scandals and lawsuits which led to numerous departures. The Overwatch team reportedly escaped the brunt of it and didn’t suffer from toxic work culture and sexism. However, it was still revealed to have worked on things that siphoned away resources and ultimately led to nothing (at the behest of one B. Kotick). Last year, following the departure of Jeff Kaplan, Overwatch 2’s PvP was decoupled from PvE with plans for a series of betas and improved communication.
When Overwatch 2 was announced as a free-to-play, early-access title at the Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase last June, it was obvious that it wasn’t done. Heck, it was obvious when reports emerged of the game not even being released this year. This is a live service game where things will change and new content will be added down the line – including the promised PvE missions. Alternatively, it could bomb like so many before it and quietly waste away. It’s a roll of the dice.
This is a review of the current slate of content in Overwatch 2, the core gameplay, and whether the vast array of changes and new features actually make for a fun experience. Those seeking a continuation of the Overwatch story, much less a significant expansion of the lore beyond voice lines and exchanges between characters, will have to wait. It’s not like the first game’s “story” was going anywhere.
Overwatch 2’s core gameplay is 5v5 with only one Tank, two Damage dealers, and two Supports. Assault Mode, with its endless stalling, is gone, replaced by Push Mode. Three new heroes are added, along with six new maps. This may not seem like a lot, but there are several quality-of-life changes and new features like pinging, new accessibility features, and cross-progression and cross-platform play from the get-go.
“Crowd control effects have been toned down, so Mei can no longer freeze with her primary fire, nor can Brigitte stun you with shield-bash.”
Each hero has updated skins, visual effects and sound effects. There are also Role Passives, which further enhance each character, whether it’s the reduced knockback that Tanks now have or the passive health regeneration for Supports. You also retain 30 percent Ult Charge when switching between heroes, which incentivizes changing things up without completely borking your Ult economy (depending on the situation, of course).
Despite the lack of any story, many of the interactions between the heroes are pretty good, backed by some great voice acting. Hearing Reaper complaining to Ana about Soldier 76 pursuing him, Orisa embracing her bloodthirsty nature, or Junkrat showcasing his singing prowess to Lucio, are all pretty great. Some voice lines aren’t nearly as great, like Tracer’s, but overall, there’s a lot to like. Kudos to the voice actors and dialogue writers who continue to breathe life into this universe while the plot stagnates.
Overwatch’s gameplay is unique in the coordination required, not to mention the satisfying controls and feedback. While 5v5 feels more chaotic at first, it’s also faster-paced. Fights now hinge on positioning, knowing where your allies and enemies are, and peeling for Supports. Without a second tank, you’re less likely to be held up at choke points, but the Supports are also more vulnerable. However, it also means you shouldn’t linger when a fight is lost. The risk vs reward of potentially turning a fight or saving your Ultimate to mount a comeback is more pronounced here and adds to the overall fun and stress.
Several heroes have seen changes, like Cassidy’s Flashbang replaced by a Sticky Bomb, Mercy’s Super Jump tech now being part of her kit, and so on. Crowd control effects have been toned down, so Mei can no longer freeze with her primary fire, nor can Brigitte stun you with shield-bash. The remaining CC abilities either require a higher skill ceiling (like Ana’s Sleep Dart has always had) or are more situational (like Orisa’s new Javelin Throw).
“Kiriko is the newest hero, capable of dealing 120 damage per headshot with a kunai throw and burst healing with Ofuda.”
New heroes include Sojourn, Junker Queen and Kiriko – a new Damage dealer, aggressive Tank and Support, respectively. Sojourn’s shtick is dealing damage with her primary assault rifle to accumulate charge for her railgun. She can also boost slide, slow enemies with a Disruption Field and quickly fire multiple railgun shots with her Ultimate Overclock. Her play style is straightforward and fun, even if my aim is complete junk.
Junker Queen is interesting due to the multiple different mechanics at play. She can wound enemies with her throwing knife, which deals damage over time and regenerates health. You could throw a knife into an enemy and then retrieve it, pulling said foe closer for shotgun damage. Or you could throw and recall it when enemies have conveniently lined up, inflict multiple wounds and regenerate more health.
Her Commanding Shout is nowhere near as overwhelming as the closed beta and provides some necessary speed and temporary health. The axe, Carnage, deals hefty damage but has a cooldown, unlike Reinhardt’s hammer. Rampage is a great Ultimate in terms of damage over time and anti-heal properties, but it still needs some follow-up.
Kiriko is the newest hero, capable of dealing 120 damage per headshot with a kunai throw and burst healing with Ofuda. Both of these have travel time, making her ideal from mid-range. However, she can also teleport to nearby allies (even through walls), which is great for repositioning around the battlefield. Throwing Protection Suzu cleanses allies of debuffs and provides temporary invulnerability, though the area is smaller than Baptiste’s Immortality Field. Her Ultimate, Kitsune Rush, is also situational and can either be a fight winner or level the playing field thanks to the increased fire rate, movement speed and reload speed.
“My favorite rework out of them all has to be Orisa. Though average in the beta, she’s been tweaked further and is now a venerable menace.”
Out of the three, Kiriko still needs a bit of work. When she teleports away, there’s no indication of her direction. Switching between the kunai and Ofuda also doesn’t feel as snappy as Moira’s healing and damage, and the Suzu feels like it takes way too long to deploy. Nevertheless, she’s a fun addition to the roster and further diversifies the Support pool.
In addition to hero changes and new additions, four heroes have seen major reworks. Sombra remains invisible while hacking, becoming semi-transparent in the process, and can deal some damage with EMP. Bastion can now move in Turret form, which is essentially a Tank, but it’s for a limited time. You need to be smart about when to pile on the damage. His Ultimate is also decent, though not amazing, and other changes to his primary and secondary weapons, particularly the explosive shot, are good.
Doomfist is a Tank now, and while he can’t really one-shot players anymore, there’s still enough mobility for him to be a nuisance. Now he needs to absorb damage to power Rocket Punch. But do that, and you can send your opponents flying, as I, unfortunately, found out on Ilios that one time.
My favorite rework out of them all has to be Orisa. Though average in the beta, she’s been tweaked further and is now a venerable menace. Nailing enemies with a Javelin Throw and gathering them all together for a max damage Terra Surge is very satisfying. You can also push enemies back with Javelin Spin and maybe get some environmental kills.
“Each map has unique hooks to help them stand out, whether it’s the long corridor and underpasses of Colosseo, the interiors and elevation changes of Esperanča, or the massive overpass and flanking routes of New Queen Street.”
As for the new Push Mode, it’s a very back-and-forth encounter that can snowball quickly if a team knows what to do. Still, using the bot for cover while fighting to keep the advantage, and ensuring your forward spawn remains intact, adds some great strategy. Match times can be pretty long, but there’s nothing quite like closing in on an enemy’s last checkpoint, only to have them turn it around, leaving you scrambling to stop their march.
My initial concern with Push is that its map structure would mean the same symmetrical design regardless of location. Thankfully, each map has unique hooks to help them stand out, whether it’s the long corridor and underpasses of Colosseo, the interiors and elevation changes of Esperanča, or the massive overpass and flanking routes of New Queen Street. Even the new Hybrid maps are fun.
Paraíso feels tighter and more claustrophobic than Midtown, with its alleyways providing for some cheeky kills leading up to the club. Circuit Royal is the new Escort map and also deserves a shout-out for its long sight lines. Each map is gorgeously designed and full of detail, making them great additions to the line-up.
The sound design is also worth mentioning, especially in the weapon sound effects. They’re way meatier and more impactful – Cassidy’s revolver is appropriately explosive, and you’ll never mistake his location while it’s going off. Voice lines that play when you’re down a player are also very useful. Unfortunately, some of the sound mixing leaves a bit to be desired. In some cases, you might not hear an enemy moving around above you, which can be fatal at times. It’s not a deal-breaker but may take longer to fix than your average bug.
“There are no more Medals for you to claim “Gold Damage” when feeding, or post-game Cards showcasing how much damage you’ve dealt, mitigated or healed.”
Other substantial issues surround the UI and visual clutter. The latter is especially egregious when there are lots of Ultimates going off, and elements like Lucio’s healing aura, which drowns your screen in a yellow glow, don’t help. As much as I enjoy Push, the progress bar at the top has a blank bit of space which serves no purpose. This may cause you to think there’s still some distance to go. That is until you lose when the enemy reaches the final checkpoint.
In terms of connection quality, things were bad in the first 12 hours of the launch. The next 2-3 days had server queues on PC, which ranged from long to an average wait. The queues went away following the latest maintenance, but my ping was a bit higher. This has also been addressed, while issues like heroes randomly being locked and cosmetics from Overwatch 1 disappearing have also been fixed. There are still other bugs, like Ashe’s emotes not working properly, the removal of lore information from certain cosmetics, Mei’s Ice Wall freaking out at times, and so on, which need to be addressed. But in terms of overall connectivity and latency, I’ve only had a handful of occasions that felt questionable.
There are also some missing features, which I personally don’t care about but that are worth mentioning. There are no more Medals for you to claim “Gold Damage” when feeding, or post-game Cards showcasing how much damage you’ve dealt, mitigated or healed. The “On Fire” status is also gone, though your character will still strangely proclaim when they’re on fire. Of all of these, I think it would be nice to see the scoreboard at the end of a match, and also be able to endorse an opposing player and not just your team.
For everything good about the gameplay, the progression and monetization deserve to be called out. Loot boxes are gone, which is good, but you no longer earn anything from levelling up. Instead, rewards like Player Icons and Title Cards are doled out as free rewards when completing specific challenges. There’s also the Battle Pass, which doesn’t provide much on the free track. If you want any semblance of unlocks (and there are some decent cosmetics to be had), you have to put down $10 for the Premium Battle Pass, and it doesn’t give the same amount of money back in a premium currency like Fortnite or Call of Duty: Warzone.
“Not being able to earn cosmetics in the base game without spending a lot of money or grinding out Weekly Challenges for months feels bad.”
It also doesn’t help that the price of Legendary skins has increased. Overwatch 1 players can still purchase older cosmetics for Legacy Credits. However, when that runs out, one must spend money on the premium currency, Overwatch Coins. Legendary Skin prices have also been increased, meaning that a single Legendary can cost almost $20. It’s one thing to add new cosmetics to the in-game shop, which is packed with bundles and other microtransactions.
But not being able to earn cosmetics in the base game without spending a lot of money or grinding out Weekly Challenges for months feels bad. Even worse, some Legendary skins for Junker Queen and Kiriko don’t feel like a drastic overhaul, which is what you’d expect when putting down enough money to buy Hollow Knight (with some change left for Vampire Survivors). Maybe this will lead you towards the shop to buy skins from there instead. Maybe you won’t spend a single damn cent on anything, like me.
As for the Challenges, there are plenty of them, from the Dailies and Weeklies to Seasonal, Competitive and One-Time Challenges. I haven’t gone out of my way to pursue any challenges, and don’t have the Premium Battle Pass, so no 20 percent XP boost. I’m currently at Tier 14, and while I like the sheer amount of Challenges available at a given time, winning seven Arcade Mode games in a day or getting 20 Team Kills in a week feels like a chore.
When the dailies are complete, matches dole out a paltry amount of XP afterwards, which gives me bad flashbacks to Halo Infinite’s multiplayer launch. Further refinements are needed for sure. The system isn’t terrible, but it could still be a lot better, and some kind of non-Battle Pass progression to unlock items currently in the game would be great. Also, the amount of Overwatch Coins from completing Weekly Challenges needs to increase.
“In its current early access, Overwatch 2 has a lot going for it. There are a lot of good things, especially for those who care about the core gameplay.”
One thing is certain – having Kiriko locked at Tier 55 needs to change. I received her immediately, thanks to the Overwatch 1 Founder’s Pack. But even if she’s not absurdly broken for me, it’s just better to have her unlocked at rank 15 or 20. Yes, she’s earnable within three to four weeks by probably playing two hours a day, but this is done for no other reason than to encourage spending on the Premium Battle Pass. The fact that she’s the first new Support hero to be added since Baptiste launched in February 2019, and is locked behind a paywall shows that Blizzard is more concerned about Battle Pass sales with the early access launch. Whether that sits right with you or not, it’s pretty lame to me.
I haven’t tried the First Time User Experience, since I’m not a new player and only have so many phone numbers I’m willing to share with Blizzard, nor have I put too much time into Competitive. The latter feels good in terms of matchmaking, responsiveness and queue times. However, I’m still a bit mixed about the ranking system, which updates your Skill Tier after seven wins or 20 losses.
Overwatch 1 wasn’t perfect, but at least after placements, I knew that my Skill Rating went up from winning a match and down from losing. Sure, how much my performance and that of my team’s factored in was a mystery. But that same issue is in Overwatch 2, except now I don’t know how much my victories or losses are affecting my ranking. Longer-term analysis is needed, but it also doesn’t help that each role requires seven wins or 20 losses to be assigned a Skill Tier.
In its current early access, Overwatch 2 has a lot going for it. There are a lot of good things, especially for those who care about the core gameplay. But there are some negatives, whether it’s aspects of monetization, the UI, or progression. This is a new beginning, for better or worse. A lot hinges on the future PvE content, how Blizzard addresses and balancing concerns, whether future Battle Passes offer a decent slate of rewards, the appeal of limited-time events, new heroes and maps, and much more. At this moment, it is fun, and a fresh new experience for me, fabled Blizzard polish be damned. Whether it remains that way is anyone’s guess.
This game was reviewed on PC.