Overwatch is at a crossroads at this point. With its “sequel” rapidly approaching official release, it’s still up in the air whether or not the changes being implemented to the game are actually going to matter. For someone like me, who’s spent countless hours playing the original version only to be gradually pushed away from it for a variety of reasons, there’s a lot that Overwatch 2 needs to prove before I can see myself jump back into the fray on a regular basis again.
And from what I was able to see in a limited way days before its release, it might. The reason the word sequel is in quotes is the way Overwatch 2 is being delivered today. Following a similar model to Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch 2 is a free to play game with a real world money microtransaction model. Players who already own Overwatch will get benefits going into 2, with game content – the stretch that encompasses the original game’s, including cosmetics – already unlocked from the beginning. All the while, people just coming in will have a fair bit of grinding ahead of them in order to catch up.
But before going into details, it’s worth quickly explaining things if you’re new to Overwatch. Up until last week, when Blizzard implemented the changes that will lead into Overwatch 2’s premiere, you could spend real cash to buy loot boxes. Or, by simply playing the game a lot, it awarded you with the same boxes when leveling up and by achieving wins in arcade mode. And by opening said boxes, you’d get a random assortment of cosmetic items, including new character skins, voice tracks, winning screen poses, you name it. And in case you happened to already own any of them, they would convert to gold coins, and with those, you were supposed to be able to buy more.
Earlier in the previous version’s lifecycle, there was a serious issue with this system, one that I commented on in an article – basically, repeats happened too often and the coins awarded were not nearly enough to buy any of the overpriced cosmetics, not to mention the meaninglessness of the progression as a whole in the game. Blizzard then went and patched the system so there wouldn’t nearly be enough repeats, but that made them even more scarce.
That, along with issues related to how character balancing was going the opposite way of being fun, especially to me, a dedicated player, helped cement the fact that Overwatch was going in a direction opposite of what I considered enjoyable. Characters with auto-reloading shields were becoming all too prominent, making the OG heroes in the game less and less relevant within the game. In the former’s regard, Overwatch 2 tries to address issues by having a similar “task” based system like Blizzard’s other F2P titles, with a season system tied to them.
The new season model that’s going to be in place is set to be more than a mere avenue of delivering cosmetics. Actual game content will be locked behind it, putting an emphasis on the grind in order to unlock actual gameplay changing elements like actual playable characters, levels, and game modes, even. With an eye on the current wave of battle royales, Blizzard turned Overwatch into a service game with Overwatch 2. For me, it’s potentially enough to radically shake up the staleness of the original’s progression model – with levels boiling down to nothing, really – into possibly something worth investing time in the long run.
But a lot of Overwatch 2 is up in the air. It makes writing about it pre-release somewhat tricky. Since the actual playing part of it is locked behind early access, Blizzard’s “test realms”, limiting the online down to a very limited pool of players and not representative of the actual experience folks starting out on launch and beyond will have. The shift from 6v6 to 5v5 is also something that will take some time to show results, whether they will be for better or for worse. Even more, the much anticipated PvE mode is only coming out sometime next year, so a big part of the game won’t be available yet. And thus, I’m saving my detailed impressions for 2023, once I’ve had time to get to see what it’s about.
That said, I can already tell that I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about the new additions to the roster. On one hand, there’s Sojourn, who seems like a grab bag of previous heroes’ powers into one single character, a DPS with a Zarya-ish black hole skill not tied to an ultimate, a more limited Tracer dash, and a pinch of an improved Soldier 76-like assault weapon that clashes with Bastion’s own ultimate. She makes older heroes feel even older than ever, but at the same time is less appealing than the other two new characters.
Junker Queen is the joker of the bunch and seems more like up my alley. She’s a juiced-up Junkrat turned mixed tank class, with some fast skills and flair to throw around and then some. The same goes for Kiriko, who is wedged into a healer/support role who’s got enough going on to turn the tide of battles much in the way Brigitte and her power-up ultimate initially did before she was nerfed to all hell. Kiriko’s instead throws a moving AOE ring that has a similar effect whose biggest improvement is that it’s not tied to any one character. She can toss it in and zap to another part of the field and save someone’s bacon if needed, a big potential game-changer.
“Potential” truly is the keyword behind Overwatch 2. And yes, that’s a big copout to include in a preview since, after all, just saying that something has potential is way too easy of a crutch to lean on. But in the case of Overwatch 2, seeing it in action on a global scale is paramount in order to see if that promise pays out. As it is, from today on out, it’s nothing more than a bomb without a lit fuse, one that’s hopefully going to be a blast. Blizzard’s got a lot to prove, and all eyes are on them to see it through.