We've gone hands-on with the PvP side of Blizzard's upcoming shooter sequel and we're a little concerned.
There are few games that are more anticipated than Overwatch 2. Ever since the original stormed onto the scene in 2016, Blizzard's PvP hero shooter franchise has redefined the sub-genre and garnered a massive, dedicated, and incredibly diverse community. But, Overwatch is feeling stale and repetitive, and that's because the game has essentially had its content stream plugged while Blizzard works on the sequel, Overwatch 2, a game that has seen various delays and countless worrying stories (including important developers leaving left and right) circling over its head like vultures lurking over a corpse. Now, you might be thinking that this is quite the concerning simile for a game of Overwatch 2's stature and prospect, but there's a reason why I've used it, as after a chance to get hands-on with the soon to open Closed Alpha, I am concerned about Overwatch 2, and how little this sequel will be developing and expanding this beloved franchise.
Let me be direct right off the bat: I am a huge, huge fan of Overwatch, and have sunk far too many hours into this game since launch. Be it on console or PC, I've challenged myself to climb the ranked ladders, build out a collection of skins, and even follow the competitive scene during the season, but that love for the game has faded over the past couple of years - hence why I have mighty big expectations for this title. The core gameplay is still top notch, and so are the visuals, characters, and map designs. It all still makes for an elite shooter, one that quite frankly probably doesn't even need an entire sequel, but would just benefit from the sorts of live service development that Destiny 2 or Apex Legends, for example, has seen ever since launch. At least that was the case before Blizzard decided that new introductions of content would stop, with the last Hero being added to the title being Echo... over two years ago. Now we need something fresh, and something big.
Granted, there have been other new chunks of content; reworked characters, new maps, new game modes, recycled events, but it all resembles a game that is on its last legs, one that is simply attempting to hobble along until it hands the baton off to the spry young buck that is Overwatch 2. So with this being the case, it feels like we've sacrificed years of what could've been an improved and invigorated Overwatch for this sequel, and therefore if you're a big fan alike myself, you're probably expecting a significant improvement. This sequel is not that.
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If anything Overwatch 2 feels like Overwatch 1.5 or Overwatch HD. The gameplay, as it intends to clearly preserve the core systems that were originally introduced, feels pretty much identical. Sure, each team has one less member, and the game plays a little differently because of that, but this is undeniably still Overwatch, and you can't mistake that. Likewise, the characters play pretty much the exact same, bar Doomfist, Orisa, Bastion and Sombra, who have seen reworks and slight alterations to their abilities and kits to bring them in line with other characters. Truthfully though, this sort of change is nothing we haven't seen before in regular Overwatch updates in the past. And then, there's the maps, which are almost identical as well. A little time has passed, and some places look marginally different, be it a splash of paint here and there, or games taking place at a different time of day (Dorado for example, plays at sunset now and not during the night).
Essentially, what I'm trying to say is that this game doesn't scream a sequel in any sense. Sure, the new Hero Sojourn was playable and she feels interesting, almost like a modern Soldier 76 with a rifle that sacrifices dual-missiles for a charging railgun. Add to this the new maps; Circuit Royal, Midtown, New Queen Street, and Colosseo, with the latter two being tied to the new game mode, Push. They're welcome additions, but they also feel like items that could have been introduced as Overwatch maps and game modes months ago to keep the player base from pulling its hair out after queuing into their five thousandth match of Control on Temple of Anubis.
And this feels the same for the other main new introduction, the ping system, which when you use it in-game makes you question why after almost six years, Overwatch still doesn't have it available. This truly feels like a title where Blizzard has just gathered all of the quality of life improvements and feedback that fans have been asking for, be it better ways to communicate (the ping system), fixes to the frustrating Control game mode (which is simply removing it), and updates to the more critiqued Heroes (Doomfist etc.).
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I will say that the game still plays incredibly well and is optimised and presented in a clean and very hassle-free manner. The visuals are noticeably better, not massively, but noticeably, and there are higher quality environments, more eye-catching reflections, and great attention to detail across each map. But, I can't speak for the new Hero designs as they weren't active on the build I played. What I can say though is that the HUD seems to have taken a step back in its detail, and prioritised a more simplistic style over what was present in Overwatch. It's neither an improvement or worse. Just slightly different. And that's about the extent of what Overwatch 2 seems to be. It's not a leap forward like I expected, or rather wanted, or a massive improvement, it's simply a slight change to the exhausted product that is Overwatch. At least when it comes to PvP.
And that's a really big point to make, because one of the biggest selling points for Overwatch 2 seems to be its story mode that seemingly will offer up PvE experiences akin to the seasonal event modes that occasionally pop up in Overwatch. Blizzard has yet to announce how Overwatch 2 will launch, but considering the fact that Overwatch isn't free-to-play, the sequel going free-to-play seems unlikely. What Blizzard has said is that "current Overwatch players will battle side-by-side with Overwatch 2 players in PvP multiplayer; they'll also be able to play Overwatch 2 heroes and maps," which seems to suggest that you won't even need to buy the sequel to get this new injection of content. If that's the case, the sequel's PvE needs to be revolutionary, or there needs to be a very consumer-friendly upgrade path if Blizzard is going to have the gall to release this as a full-priced product.
It's hard to deny that I'm anything but disappointed with what I've played in this PvP Alpha, so hopefully this rambling of criticism will end up on its head, for Overwatch 2's sake. But I genuinely think Overwatch 2 has a long road ahead of it, if it intends to release to the same acclaim and level of brilliance that the original achieved at its peak.