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Review: Overwatch 2

Overwatch 2 retains the core gameplay and characters that fans love, but it loses some of the spirit that made Overwatch 1 so popular.
Overwatch 2 is chaotic. There are very few moments of calm. Overwatch 2 is full of action. The pace is faster, louder and more frequent. There is an instant of peace between the moment you select your hero and when the barriers open, allowing you and your team to go out onto the battlefield.

As I watched Hana Song (aka D.Va), shift her weight to one side of her mecha before giving a sweet “annyeong” to a teammate I completely forgot that I was playing Overwatch 2. Overwatch has seen a lot of changes since its 2016 release. It all felt surreal in those small, surreal moments.

Overwatch 1 was 700 hours of work. I wanted Overwatch 2 to bring the series’ progress forward, but also keep the original identity intact. This identity is what made me a huge fan of Overwatch 1. Overwatch 2 does this in a number of ways. It introduces new characters who feel at home among the veteran roster, makes the leap to 5v5 and adds an engaging Push mode. The game retains the same art and compelling battle flow, core gameplay, and great artistry. These are just tweaks and enhancements to a game that feels familiar. This can make the new Overwatch feel less like an update than what the “2” indicates. Overwatch 2 can sometimes feel disconnected from the charm and principles of the original.

The new 5v5 combat is one of the most important changes in Overwatch 2. Overwatch had six heroes per team, with two each for damage, support and two tanks. Overwatch 2 removes one of those tanks. This reduces each team’s size and alters the dynamics of battles. Side scraps are rare as only one tank absorbs damage. It becomes crucial that all members of the team support and attack the opposing team to make it difficult for them to win. This can sometimes be frustrating as certain tanks excel at staying put and taking down damage (Reinhardt), while others are more adept at hunting down and dishing out the blame (Roadhog).

You could have two tanks and you could include both of them on your team. This eliminates the need to have a tank that can do both. The change can make matches more focused and faster, which means that cooperation and coordination are essential. Your every action, or inaction, will feel a lot more powerful. This also makes it more important to understand how different heroes complement each other and create a team. It is intense, but it is also extremely fun. Every secured victory is a significant triumph.

The newest mode in Overwatch 2 is Push. It adds to the game’s emphasis on engaging and intense matches. Push is where each team must reach the middle of the map. There, a robot and two barriers await them. Once a team has secured their robot, it starts pushing the barrier of the opposing team. The winner is the team that covers the most ground at match’s end. The push-and-pull battle felt like a tug-of war where the tide could turn at any time. Overwatch 2 is the best game I have ever played.

It is understandable that Blizzard will go to great lengths to stop cheating and eradicate toxicity in Overwatch. It is now mandatory for players to register a phone number and it has been eliminated one of Overwatch’s most prized features, the Medals. Instead of seeing the Play of the Game reel at the end of every game, you will see your individual experience bar filling up. You can check your stats against your opponents and teammates at any moment by pressing a button. This makes it seem like medal elimination is pointless. The satisfaction of winning a medal or being “on fire” during matches was what motivated me. It also helped me recognize when my opponents and teammates were showing serious skill. This was also a factor in how I awarded commendations. Although it’s subtle, I felt it.

It’s not the biggest change to Overwatch’s reward system. Overwatch 2’s shift to free-play brings with it a controversial feature: the battle pass. Overwatch 2 will now offer cosmetic upgrades to players through its battle pass, which can last for nine weeks. The battle passes are available in both free and premium versions. The premium version costs 1,000 Overwatch Coins ($10 USD).

Overwatch 2 PvP Beta main menu

Although I believe that random loot boxes are predatory and prey upon people’s willingness for essentially gambling for any prizes, it is difficult for me to determine how consumer-friendly these battle passes are. Blizzard attempts to discredit the idea that purchasing a premium battle pass is necessary by claiming that all new heroes, which are released every other season, will always be free. These heroes will be available immediately to anyone who has paid for the premium battle pass. Those who have not will need to upgrade to tier 55 in order to unlock them.

I found that the battle pass did not level up quickly in my time with the game. Despite me being able to perform well in matches and even completing some of the new challenges, it was slow. Players will have to wait for the premium pass to unlock levels. This is unfair considering that Blizzard has chosen to keep new characters out Competitive PvP for the first few weeks. It is possible to earn currency by purchasing the battle pass, which reduces the cost for a future premium upgrade. This could be a smart way to go if you plan to play a lot. Parts of this seem to be at odds with Overwatch’s original spirit, which was known for not putting heroes behind paywalls and keeping the playing field level.

A quick look at season two, three and four also shows that a lot of effort has been put into themed seasons with exclusive cosmetics. The more expensive of these are locked behind paywalls. The loot boxes had some degree of equality, as you could get any item from them. However, the new model requires players to pay money for a premium battle pass or purchase an item if they want to look good.

It is important to note that Overwatch 2 users who have not played the original Overwatch will need to complete 100 matches before they can use all the characters. This decision I find bizarre even though I understand its intentions. This is part of the First Time User Experience. It’s meant to help new players get used to the game and prevent smurf accounts becoming an issue. The idea that players must log in between 10 and 20 hours to prove their worth in order to unlock other heroes seems a bit absurd and insulting. This doesn’t fit with the spirit of Overwatch. Overwatch encouraged players to experiment and explore to find the best solution for them. However, this ethos seems disingenuous considering that most of the roster is already locked.

However, this is not the only problem at launch. Although Overwatch 2 was a difficult game to play before launch, it became a bit more enjoyable once the game went live. Sometimes, I would spend hours logging into Overwatch 2 only to be kicked off after a match. I’m not even mentioning the many problems that others reported to me, such as accidentally buying skins or data transfer issues and problems around Overwatch 2’s SMS requirements. This forray was particularly jarring, as many live service games start with bumpy beginnings. These issues have been addressed by Blizzard. The server queue times have decreased significantly and the SMS requirement has been dropped by the majority of players. On at least three occasions, servers were briefly closed for maintenance. There has been noticeable improvement after each update.

Overwatch 2 hero Junker Queen

It is notable that Overwatch 2 did not include PvE when it launched. This is a significant oversight considering that this was the key feature that made Overwatch 2 stand out from its predecessor. It’s disappointing that the sequel will not have PvE at launch. Instead, it feels more like an update packaged in a new chapter. PvE would have given Overwatch a much-needed identity and heart. Although it might sound cynical, it is just as true as it sounds. Overwatch 2 transforms the franchise from a genre-defining shooter into a trend-chasing title. This includes the removal of Winston’s inspirational opening speech that speaks to the heart of Overwatch. It also introduces a sleek, almost overly-polished menu and a battle pass. It has become less unique and more like other video games than a sci-fi, superhero comic. While Overwatch 2’s gameplay is excellent and Overwatch 2’s graphics are impressive in their own right, it does so at the expense of Overwatch 2’s unique aesthetics and intriguing world.

Overwatch 2 is blessed with a significant silver lining in its characters. The subtle changes made to older characters, both in cosmetics and in terms of abilities, have been beneficial. They give them the gentle refresh they need without affecting their original design. It might be difficult to adjust to not having certain key abilities (I confess, I miss Orisa’s barrier), but the push to make tanks more effective at dealing damage and less dependent on shields makes it a blast to play them and adds to Overwatch’s aggressive nature.

Characters like Cassidy and Sombra now hit harder. Heroes with freeze and stun attacks are no longer able to bring down the game. Instead, they have abilities that allow them to keep the game running and increase damage. Despite all the changes, the roster seems fairly balanced. This is a remarkable feat considering there are 30+ characters. We can be thankful that this will continue to be true as we are a new live service title. There will be growing pains as players become more used to frequent changes and their favorite characters being unavailable at times, but it could lead to a game that is healthier and lasts longer.

I cannot praise each of the new heroes enough. They are all extremely well-designed and very versatile. Junker Queen’s ability to weaken enemy forces gives Sojourn a support edge. Kiriko is a unique support hero. She can not only pass through walls to heal teammates but can also deal serious damage with her Kunai. This makes her an excellent pick for those who are used to playing DPS but want to switch to a support role. Finally, I got to see two heroes heading to Overwatch 2 in the upcoming seasons. While both of these heroes are subject to change, they were well-designed and will bring new elements to Overwatch 2. I am excited to see how they integrate with the rest.

Overwatch 2 is a great update to multiplayer games with exciting skirmishes between heroes. It stumbles as both a standalone entity and a sequel. While the core gameplay has been updated, it still suffers from friction. Blizzard will have more feedback from players, which means that things can be changed or added to the game. This gives the studio a solid foundation on which to build. Overwatch 2 has a lot to offer and the addictive multiplayer dynamics fans love can be enjoyed again and again. If Overwatch 1 taught me anything, it was to dream bigger about games and that there’s still much to do.

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