Overwatch 2 Review
Multiplayer shooter gets some new heroes and pricing model
Free-to-play games have come a very long way. Just a decade ago, getting something for free – that was also good – was the stuff of dreams. The best you could hope for was demos, or perhaps shareware or freeware games that didn't try to infect your PC. Nowadays, we are almost spoiled for choice, as you can play highly polished and well designed games such as Fortnite, Roblox, Apex Legends, and more without spending a dime. The push to free-to-play even converted some previously-premium games, including the likes of TF2, PUBG, CS: GO, Call of Duty: Warzone, and Destiny 2. Overwatch 2 is the latest franchise to make the jump into the free-to-play model.
The original Overwatch was a breakthrough multiplayer shooter for Blizzard Entertainment in 2016, who had previously not dabbled in the genre. It was a $40 title that found success by combining fun and fairly straightforward gameplay mechanics with colorful visuals and art style, along with a steady stream of content. This hero-based shooter even started up an eSports league, and generally kept fans interested over its lifespan. New heroes would get released over time, and players could earn or buy loot boxes to unlock new cosmetic items. However, a decision was made to move on, and so when Overwatch 2 launched as a new free-to-play game earlier this month, the original Overwatch was taken off the market. This was the first of many decisions that fans of the original game did not like, so your impressions of the sequel will likely depend heavily on your history with the franchise.
Not much has changed for the sequel, which is one of the reasons returning fans may feel a bit coy. While a story-focused single player adventure is promised in the future, at launch Overwatch 2 is a very familiar experience, as a multiplayer hero shooter with a few different modes. The art style saw only minor tweaks and adjustments, so there are no big leaps in visuals or presentation. It's still very colorful and well-drawn, of course, but not much here elicits the feeling of a sequel. The first-person action is rather familiar as well, with smooth shooting, though it still doesn't carry much of a feeling of impact, and slick movement. The combat is still good all around, so a case of don't fix what wasn't broken.
Where we start to get into the differences is the hero roster. The available heroes are still split into three groups – tank, damage, and support – with a number of heroes in each. Pretty much all of the heroes are imports from the previous game, but of course things have been slightly rebalanced and adjusted. D.Va still has her personal robot that does great damage when it explodes; Wrecking Ball hamster is still amusing, and Mercy will try to keep everyone alive. The sequel introduces three new heroes - Sojourn, Junker Queen, and Kiriko, and it is also missing some of the Overwatch 1 heroes, but they could return in the future. Each hero has a few different attacks/abilities, and also an Ultimate that charges over time and depending on how well you play. Many abilities have been tweaked or changed for the sequel, and from our time with the game, nothing seems terribly out of balance, though players will of course have their favorites.
One of the reasons for the hero rebalance is that the sequel is a 5 vs. 5 match format, compared to 6 per team of its predecessor. This is a change that works – it makes the action more cohesive, adds more importance to individual performance, and it's no longer a shield-spam fest that the previous game sometimes felt like. The recommended team balance of one tank, two damage, and two support characters seems well designed. As before, players select their hero class before the game starts, and during the match you can swap to different heroes (within that class) anytime you die.
You'll be taking these heroes into a variety of maps and modes. Just like all of the returning heroes, most of the maps are carried over as well. Around 20 maps are returning, and about 7 are new for the sequel. The returning maps got slight tweaks, but are largely the same. The maps are utilized across a variety of familiar modes as well: CTF, TDM/DM, and Elimination. The objective based modes include Control (fighting over an area), Escort (pushing a cart to a destination), and Push. The latter is the new mode, where two teams fight over control of a robot that is pushing a barricade towards the enemy team's spawn. If a team loses control of the robot, it walks back to the center and then begins pushing the other way, if the opponents are in control. It's like Escort, but with a two-way design; not exactly extremely original, but fine for something new.
With the transition to a free-to-play model, the gameplay may have stayed high quality, but where things get contentious is how the developers plan to handle content. As expected, there is a Battle Pass system and a season system. Players new to the game have to have a phone number on their Battle.Net account, though those who are coming from Overwatch 1 can forgo this requirement. Owners of Overwatch 1 can also get all their skins and many of their characters unlocked from the start. Newcomers will have to unlock new characters by playing; at the outset, you only have a few heroes to choose from in each class, and after that you simply have to play matches to unlock more. To unlock all heroes currently in the game, you have to complete 150 matches – it's quite a grind, but it's not like the heroes you unlock are significantly more powerful. It simply gives you something to strive for, which seems fine. The main criticism however is that the brand new heroes to the sequel are unlocked by the final tier of the Battle Pass instead.
The Battle Pass functions like similar games – you complete a variety of daily, weekly, monthly, and all-time objectives in order to earn points, and move up in the rank. New ranks unlock various cosmetic items – and you have to grind to the end of the Pass in order to unlock the new hero. This is indeed a bit of a poor decision – it prevents players from checking out new heroes for a very, very long time. Comparatively, other shooters such as Battlefield 2042 put their new heroes quite early in the Battle Pass tiers. It will be interesting to see if Blizzard adjusts this strategy in future seasons. Players can purchase a premium pass that instantly unlocks the new hero of the season, as well as some premium cosmetic items, and gives them an XP boost as they play through the season. Again, this is fine design, except for locking the new heroes at the end of the Battle Pass will prove to be contentious.
Overwatch 2 retains much of what made its predecessor a success, so it's no surprise that the game feels and plays well. There were some very rough issues at launch with servers being overloaded, but the problems were cleared up within a week. Now, it's easy to get into games, whether it's competitive or arcade modes, or just quick matchmaking. Most games are fun, and playing with a team that works together creates some enjoyable rounds. Players may drop, but the game does fill those spots most of the time. The multiplayer experience as a whole remains good.
Like any sequel to a multiplayer shooter, the game was going to face some criticisms, doubly so for switching to the free-to-play model. For players who bought and enjoyed its predecessor, it's a tough sell - even though there's nothing to sell, so perhaps a question if it's worth the time investment, and if shutting down the previous game entirely was the right move. The gameplay is very much the same, though the switch to 5 vs. 5 improves the combat and teamplay. With familiar heroes, maps, and mechanics, there's not a whole lot that is fresh and new that makes this feel like a true sequel. On the other hand, newcomers or those who never got into the original will find the game to be a very solid offering. The amount of content is respectable for a F2P game, and the gameplay is very high quality. Unlocking new heroes is a grind and the design of the Battle Pass may not sit well with everyone, but if you don't care about cosmetics, it's fairly smooth sailing. Given that it's a free-to-play game, there's enough quality gameplay and content here to warrant a recommendation.