December 4, 2022

Overwatch 2 is off. After the somewhat clouded announcement, a few years of damn near radio silence interspersed with frequent news of delays, the almost complete material neglect of the base game, the departure of the beloved Papa Jeff, several lawsuits that resulted in the renaming of a central character, a broken release schedulea few closed betas and the death of the original game, the 2016 Game of the Year sequel is finally here.

I’ll say upfront that it’s impossible to write a comprehensive review for a live service game, especially a multiplayer dependent one like Overwatch 2. It will be a very long time after launch before I can form a definitive opinion about this game (opinions I share of course). But I can say, like an original overwatch that hard, Overwatch 2 is exactly what you liked about its predecessor, with a lot more things that you will be ambivalent about or hate.

Back in the pre-launch days of the closed betas, I remember being annoyed at some of the takes I saw of the game on social media. People called it Overwatch 1.5and I couldn’t understand, when I saw the new characters, maps, new game modes, battle pass and new 5v5 team setup, how people couldn’t see how much this overwatch would be different. But then I played it, and I understood.

I am an expired overwatch player. Even though it was and still is my game, I haven’t played consistently for a few years now. And when I sat down to play Overwatch 2for better or for worse, it was as if I had never been away.

Image: Snowstorm

I appreciated that the game hadn’t changed so much that I had to relearn the controls. The same buttons activate a melee attack or your primary fire or your special “ultimate” attack. The different strategies for the multiple game modes also remain unchanged. Even the new Push card type is so reminiscent of the payload game modes that the old strategy of “get on the load, Shinji” works just as well for it as the old Hybrid and Escort pillars.

The original overwatch‘s formula worked, and that formula will serve its successor well. The game’s sound design, in particular, remains unparalleled. When I hear big, clapping footsteps, I know to put my head on a dial because an enemy is close by. And even without seeing the make-up of an enemy team, I know whether they’ll fire a Tracer, or an Ashe, or a Lúcio by the sound of their guns alone. It’s a great little tidbit that I’m glad it remains unchanged.

I appreciated that the game hadn’t changed so much that I had to relearn the controls.

Another part of what made the original overwatch special and continues with OW2 was the characters and the way they emote and interact with each other. A great little clip was shared on social media from Pharah and Mercy talking to each other in which Pharah urges Mercy to fly to her if she is ever in danger. It’s so obviously sweet and sapphic as hell and a lovely little tribute to what may be the most popular ship in the game. (hanziddy punch, no interaction.)

There’s another seriously awesome line where Reaper — a character whose story has themes of horrific death and even more horrific resurrection — says, “They can’t kill me in a way that matters,” referring to one of the best tumblr shit posts of all time. I clucked hyena when I heard it and said to myself, “Yeah, that’s the… overwatch I know.”

Of course not everything is different. The changes Blizzard has added to the game add a layer of complexity, if not a bit of frustration. Free play is a problem for some players, especially in light of Diablo Immortal‘s aggressive monetization model, and doubly so because heroes now have to be earned via EXP on the free battle pass or bought outright in the premium. The new Battle Pass progress feels sluggish, so slow it might be more tempting players to just buy the Premium Battle Pass. It was hard enough to gain Battle Pass experience during the judging period as many of the games were formatted as custom matches that don’t grant EXP. The times the server was populated enough to support queues for Quick Play matches, it seemed like the EXP I received would be difficult for casual players to level up. I remember once seeing that I only earned about 1,300 EXP points for a match my team won, even with various EXP bonuses. I understand that players aren’t supposed to blow through 80 levels of battle passes in a nine-week season too early before it reboots. But I still think it should at least be possible for off-and-on players to end up without chaining themselves to a desk, and right now it doesn’t feel like it is.

But hey, at least you get cool skins every season.
Image: Snowstorm

The reason for my low EXP gain can be explained by my play style. I tend to stick to one hero or role during a match, and – due to my long absence – I’m kind of bad now. Hopefully the EXP I earn will increase as I get better so the battle pass progress doesn’t feel so Sisyphean.

I also have a little bot to pick with Push: the map takes too damn long. Push cards last about 9-10 minutes if you haven’t steamed so thoroughly that the enemy team pushes the bot the full distance. Push is also mechanically indistinguishable from other payload cards. You push something and you stop the other team from pushing. Despite the different maps and their different geography with lots of shortcuts and places for vertical positioning on the ground, it just doesn’t feel new the way it should. There are two other card types that do the same thing, so there was no need for a third. That’s why I climb my soapbox again to announce that Assault was not a bad game type, and we’re worse off now that Push is replacing it.

“To get On the robot, Shinji.”
snow storm

One last complaint: I miss the scorecards after the game. The summary screen that appeared after a match with statistical highlights has been replaced by a leaderboard that you can call up during the match. Your personal stats are kept in a special section under your profile and the system that allows you to vote for the MVP of the match has been replaced by the recommendation system. But I miss the short reports after the action that let me digest the highlights of the match in a few seconds. That information doesn’t really matter to me, but it was nice to see a short summary of what happened in the short seconds before the next match, in a way that I don’t have to search for it. Because I won’t.

Overwatch 2 has a branding problem. The “2” implies something new or different or at least fundamentally distinct from what came before. But as it is, it just isn’t, especially for a numbered sequel to one of the most popular shooters of all time. Playing revived all those old happy feelings I hadn’t experienced since the early days of overwatch, and part of it is because it just feels the same. But it’s too early to say if that’s enough for overwatch to make his comeback.

I also know there is more to come. More that hopefully makes the game feel more like the real sequel it’s supposed to be and not a half measure.

Overwatch 2 launches October 4 on PC, Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch.

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