Overwatch 2 Beta Impressions: Headed in a Good Direction - Preview
, posted on 07 May 2022 / 2,809 Views
To be totally honest, Overwatch has been in a pretty bad state for the last few years. Ever since the release of Sigma, the game received less and less notable content, with the final hero (Echo) arriving eight months after Sigma, in April 2020. Long gone were the days of having a new character every three months and a new map the month after that. Various other forms of content have been added to the game since then, including skins, maps, and also game modes, but none of that was what the community desired most - a new character to play as.
The content cycle was, of course, broken by the development of Overwatch 2, which was originally announced in November 2019 and had its first closed beta just last month. But is it really a fully-fledged new game and has it been worth the wait?
To answer that, the important thing to consider is what exactly defines a sequel. If you go neck-deep into the toxic pits of the Overwatch community you'll find that most would have you believe Overwatch 2 is nothing more than a glorified add-on pack that we would have gotten over time anyway if Overwatch had stuck to its usual content cycle. Even though most sequels are built on top of their predecessors, and many re-use legacy assets originally created for older entries in the franchise, maybe they're right. After all, just because it was the normal thing to do decades ago doesn't mean that's the way things need to be done today. However, we do at least get to carry over our progression from Overwatch to Overwatch 2, where some titles (like Dead or Alive 6, for example) will have you buying the same skins from an earlier entry all over again.
As far as doing what a basic sequel should do - updating the visuals, refining the gameplay, shaking up the roster, and changing rules/logic around how some of the systems within the game work - Overwatch 2 makes the grade. Things that no longer work, like Orisa with her barrier, have been shaken up; where other franchises can casually toss out characters in favor of new faces, Overwatch 2 has retained its characters in order to respect players' progression and unlocks. Not only has Orisa been fundamentally changed, but so have Bastion, Sombra, and even Doomfist, who's now been moved to the tank class. This is all in an effort to bring the roster in line with the game's new five-versus-five vision, which is being done for the sake of giving more weight to each individual player in how the match plays out.
Beyond that, each weapon's audio has been redone, using not only real weapons but real weapons in various environments, which not only makes fired bullets sound realistic but also causes them to vibrate and muffle through corridors and buildings. Every weapon in Overwatch 2 sounds threatening, which makes each landed shot feel much more satisfying.
There are also other minor changes that will likely go unnoticed by most players, including new voice lines and small balance changes, like Brigitte's Whip Shot going a little farther than it used to, or D.Va being able to melee without canceling her Boosters. Even the slightly more noticeable changes, like the new character designs (none of which were available in the beta), can seem a little underwhelming because they carry over the exact same color scheme as the designs from Overwatch, and from a casual perspective they can look the same. Tracer, Sombra, Reaper, and Widow Maker are particularly underwhelming; it's difficult to spot the differences between their original and new designs.
Although Overwatch 2 looks similar to the original, it plays much better. Old and sometimes oppressive strategies, like pirate ship formations on a moving payload, aren't a thing anymore, because Bastion and Orisa don't function the same way. Double barrier teams don't exist either, because there isn't that second tank waiting for his ally's barrier to burn down, which also means fights end faster. Additionally, the Assault game mode and the associated maps have been removed from competitive and unranked games, so Hanamura, Temple of Anubis, and Volskaya Industries have joined Horizon Lunar Colony and Paris, in that they're only selectable in custom games.
Also gone are the medals, and for good reason. They were never a great indication of a player's contribution during a match (for instance, getting a gold medal for damage output means nothing if nobody was dying, and the healers on the enemy team were gaining ultimate charge). Now, instead, you can see everyone's eliminations, damage, deaths, and healing at all times, which is a better indication of what's actually going on in the match.
Despite having no faith in Overwatch 2 being a good game initially, the changes being made are fantastic. Although I personally would have liked for the game to have retained the six-versus-six format. For the game to remain in that way, there would have to be more thoughtful changes to reduce how well some tanks synergize with one another so that your team doesn't tilt for having D.Va and Roadhog, such as lowering Zarya's projected barrier to 100HP when used on another tank, so that her synergy with Reinhardt isn't as strong, but she could still use it on him to stop Roadhog's Chain Hook, for example.
As for the double barrier compositions in the old six-versus-six format, there could have been a mechanic added to the game that discouraged the use of two barriers, like a shared barrier resource, so that enemy fire would damage both barriers independent of which one was being fired upon. So for example, regardless of where Winston's barrier was, if Reinhardt blocked over 700 damage then Winston's barrier would be reduced to 0HP. This would solve one of the major advantages double barriers have over abilities that absorb damage in six-versus-six.
Similar changes to mitigate abusive tank strategies are being put in place for Overwatch 2 though. For example, Echo's Duplication ultimate caps at 300HP, which means copying a tank is especially bad because she'll have a large hurtbox without the HP to sustain herself.
As a tank player, Overwatch 2 feels great. There isn't that other tank to strategize with or throw the game because he doesn't like the character you decided to use. Playing healer is also pretty fun as long as you take cover and stick to the high ground. On a personal level, whenever I play a damage character I'm usually in for a rough ride, because the only one I can use competently is Symmetra; she's situational and isn't very good on Push or Escort maps.
Speaking of the new Push game mode, it's quite a satisfying replacement for the old Assault mode. In it, teams fight for control of a large robot in the map's center, with barricades on each side. As the name suggests, the team with control of the robot will have their barricade pushed further and further from the map's center, and the team that pushes their barricade to the maximum distance (or farthest, depending on time) is declared the winner. While the mode is still being balanced, I think it's much better than the old Assault mode, which could potentially end after just two team fights if you were able to properly stagger an enemy player.
Seeing significant changes finally coming to Overwatch again has made the game feel fresh and new. While I never participated in the beta for the original Overwatch in 2015, I have played through all of the game's ups and downs since its formal release, even going through the effort of collecting all of the mini-event skins and their associated Twitch-drop sprays. I think this new direction the series is headed in is fantastic, because the gameplay balance is finally starting to come together. It's not what I would have wanted in an ideal world, but there's honestly more than one way to balance the game, so I'm comfortable with that. It seems as though Blizzard is really focussed on eliminating the things players found the most frustrating about Overwatch. There's even a pinging system for those who don't want to engage with others over the microphone - which is great, but takes some getting used to. It's quite informative to know where enemy players are and who exactly is on the enemy team, and now even those without a microphone can contribute such information.
Finally, I think it's important to outline what exactly Overwatch 2 is and isn't in terms of its transition from the original game. Overwatch 2 is split between its PvP and PvE modes, and everyone who owns the original Overwatch will automatically own the PvP portion of Overwatch 2, with all of their skins, sprays, etc. carrying over as long as they're on the same console. While there is currently cross-play in Overwatch (excluding ranked games on PC), there isn't much of a reason to link your Battle.net account with your console account, as there's currently no cross-progression.
Although everything surrounding Overwatch 2 is absolutely confusing, the game itself is headed in a good direction, at least from the perspective of this Overwatch enthusiast. More casual players and those who disliked the original are highly unlikely to be converted by Overwatch 2 though - at least not by its PvP aspect. That said, if you stopped playing the game years ago, perhaps before the release of Baptiste for instance, then maybe there will be enough changes to satisfy you by the time the game eventually launches, and it's not like it will cost you anything extra to jump back into the PvP.