I’m not sure what pulled me back into Overwatch. Correction: It was all Jessica Conditt’s fault. Her incisive overview on the Summer Game Fest, which noted the lack of fresh updates on AAA games – those major games we’re all excited about – got me thinking about which games I’m waiting to play.
One of those is Overwatch 2. Which is coming this year, has a release date and is just wrapping up its public beta. Oh, and it's completely rid of loot boxes. Rejoice!
The fact that the original Overwatch will evolve into its sequel, which will be free-to-play, rewired my brain. Before I knew it, I was back in the game's lobby waiting my turn to play as all of the popular characters (now categorized as Damage players).
I was already used to the notion that your team of heroes had to strike a balance between support (healers), Tank (damage sponges) and Damage (your, er, damage dealers). This dynamic makes for more strategic fights, even in casual match-ups. But it means I often don’t get to play with some of my favorite characters.
In casual games, there seems to be a dearth in Support players, sadly. (Luckily for me, Moria is one of my go-to characters.) Hopefully, Overwatch 2 will redistribute characters across those three categories — not to mention new additions and new skills and supers. Of course, these mandatory squad layouts were one of many major changes and shifts in Overwatch since it first arrived back in 2016.
Once upon a time, the dwarfy Torbjörn had an upgradable turret gun and threw out armor packs, Reaper had to collect little orbs of death to gain health from his kills. Symmetra, one of the relatively late additions to the game, has had her abilities and ultimates reshuffled several times. At one point, she had two ultimate options, while another change nerfed her sentry turret down from six turrets down to three. Outrageous!
The most controversial change was made to everyone’s go-to healer, Mercy. In the early stages of Overwatch, her ultimate attack would revive all KOed heroes in range. It was… rather overpowered. These days, it’s a more sensible single-person revive skill (not ultimate) that can be used more frequently – but some may never get over some of these shakeups. (They should.) [Ed. note: I won't.]
There are big changes afoot in Overwatch 2, too. After weeks of playing the beta, I was relieved that many of my primary characters really haven’t changed at all – at least, not yet. It’s unusual to see Bastion wheeling around as a tank (and I’m now bad at playing as Bastion?), while I’m still acquainting myself with Orisa’s changes, which completely shake up her playstyle (no shield?!). This will take some time. A few new skill effects are also a little hard to decipher visually. (You can check out my colleague Jessica’s deeper thoughts on the beta right here.)
I maintain, despite (or thanks to) the many, many additions, that Overwatch has the most iconic character roster of a game since Street Fighter 2. Still, I don’t like having to really dig for the lore and character backgrounds outside of the game to understand the motivations — or, at least, the sassy asides they say to each other. It’s funny I mention SF2, because the beta feels a little like Super Street Fighter 2, which gave us four new characters, a few more locales, but didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel.
The beta remains limited to standard versus matches, though you will occasionally get to test out the cute robot-tug-of-war matches every now and then. It’s mostly the same Overwatch experience. The two new characters, Junker Queen and Sojourn, are both compelling additions to the roster so far (even if there are still too many Damage characters). The Junker Queen, in particular, seems to offer some intriguing new moves to shake up the competitive meta.
I’m still hoping for more beyond the base game matchups though, whether that’s more cooperative set-pieces or something entirely new and different. Is that too much to ask from what will be a free-to-play game? Hopefully, Overwatch 2 will also better expand on narrative bits and pieces.
The addictive ebb-and-flow of the fights feel the same, but I wonder if Blizzard can continually evolve and expand the experience to keep me hooked this time, just like Roadhog would have wanted.
Correction, 7/21/22 3:05AM ET: Mercy's revive skill changed from an ultimate move to a standard skill move.