It’s been six years since the original Overwatch was released – a bolt from the blue that basically tore up what we knew about multiplayer shooters, with unique characters to choose from and endless synergy to work out. Now, the sequel is here.
In some ways, it’s surprising that it took so long for a follow-up to arrive. Owing to development issues at Blizzard, as well, Overwatch 2 will be sliced into portions that will release over time.
Still, we’ve been able to play its ongoing PvP beta and test out how its competitive modes are shaping up. Here’s our initial verdict.
Tightening things up
Overwatch 2 can, at times, feel a bit like something Blizzard thought it had to make at a certain point. This is not a revolutionary sequel that rips up the playbook, but more of a careful revision with a couple of major changes.
In all honesty, the sum of Overwatch 2’s changes feels like the sort of thing you’d normally read in the seasonal patch notes for something like Destiny 2 or COD: Warzone – or as part of a paid expansion – rather than a new title entirely.
The headline change is that the game has gone from 6v6 in its standard modes to 5v5, shaving away one of its slots for a Tank character (slower-moving, high-health damage sponges). It’s a curious change, and, while there are long stretches when it doesn’t feel too seismic, its impact is starting to be felt.
For one thing, queuing into a role other than Support now means waits of sometimes 15 minutes for a game, with more people than ever fighting over the arguably more interesting (or at least more action-packed) Damage and Tank roles.
When you do play as either Damage or Support, you may also notice that Overwatch 2 feels less forgiving than the first game. You can be obliterated more quickly than ever if you get mobbed, and losing a second tank to distract enemies might well be playing a part in this.
It’s an interesting problem that feels like Overwatch 2’s own making, and while new maps and at least one new hero (Sojourn) are nice to try out, they’re far from game-changing. Every character from the last game has been reworked to some degree, but these rarely feel like a massive shift in tactical focus.
If that sounds negative, it must all come with a major caveat: with an organised team on your side, Overwatch 2 can very much serve up matches of the highest order of fun.
Vying for a control point in waves of respawns, plotting traps and moves with your team’s powers, and saving your skins at the last second are all possible.
When these games happen, they’re amazing, and a reminder of the potent formula Overwatch initially offered up. They just don’t feel all that distinct from the game we loved in 2016.
A fresh coat of paint
This sentiment also extends to the game’s visuals. While they are sprightly and crisp, and definitely a step up from Overwatch as it exists today, the step-up isn’t a massive one. Again, this is all incremental stuff.
On the positive side, you get the same lovely, clean environments, distinctive in their colour palettes and with carefully-chosen details littered around to pick up on. It also means the character models are as carefully created as ever, too.
Each playable character has its own look and feel, with vibrant expressions and voice lines to go with them – something that also isn’t new but still stands out as among the most memorable work in any team shooter.
Part of this sense of déjà vu isn’t Blizzard’s fault, to reiterate. In multiplayer environments, where performance and responsiveness are key, and the visual language should all be in service of players being able to read what’s going on and what they can do about it, graphical whizzbangs are hard to justify.
Then again, though, it’s worth remembering that Blizzard could have made this an Overwatch update delivered in patches over the last couple of years, and instead has turned it into a sequel. So, sadly, the visual changes don’t feel like they do enough.