Overwatch took the gaming world by storm when it launched in 2016, thanks to its well-balanced roster of unique heroes and awesome objective-based, first-person-shooting gameplay. The game’s popularity has maintained over the years thanks to a wealth of new content like characters, maps, cosmetics, and game modes that add awesome foundations. However, once the content for Overwatch dried up, public interest followed shortly after. Overwatch 2 represents the re-emergence of one of the top multiplayer games from the last generation, offering a 5v5 format, a free-to-play structure, and a ton of new content. The result is an action-packed and enjoyable progression of the beloved hero-shooter franchise, but one that feels less revolutionary and more moving than expected.
The core gameplay feels simultaneously familiar and fresh. Capturing an objective with a coordinated attack or activating your Ultimate during a critical last-second push to secure victory is as exciting as ever. The way the heroes interact with each other – both in gameplay and personality – create watercooler moments that I imagine I will bring to my fellow players for years to come. The mechanics and flow of the match remain mostly intact, but developer Blizzard implemented various changes to the original formula to make something that changes how battles go.
The new 5v5 format is probably the most significant change in Overwatch. Now, the traditional team drops into a tank, making its role as a damage damper and utility player more important than ever. With Doomfist now a tank and Orisa revamped for the more crime-minded, you now have a wide range of categories to choose from. Apart from tank play, this 5v5 format opens the door for fast-paced blitz and ensures that each player holds more importance in each match. This change is especially evident in Push, the new game mode where players drive robots to the spawn points of the other team. This mode is fast-paced and can swing faster the other way around, playing entirely in the new 5v5 format.
When you first jump into Overwatch 2, you can expect a ton of new content right out of the gate: three heroes, six maps, one game mode, and over 30 skins. The new heroes and maps are great additions to the already existing lineup; Junker Queen and Sojourn are formidable in battle, but Kiriko, with her ample healing and buffing abilities and deadly Kunai attack, is one of my favorite support heroes to date. When you pair these new characters with reworkings of longtime favorites like Orisa, Doomfist, Zarya, and Bastian, the roster feels refreshing, and the meta is flipped on its head.
Players are appropriately wary whenever a former premium title becomes free-to-play, thanks to the predatory monetization schemes that pervade the category. While players should still approach Overwatch 2’s shift to free-to-play with caution, Blizzard keeps the paywall-locked material cosmetic. The best part is that players no longer have to cross their fingers for anything other than fake cosmetics in their loot boxes.
Now, loot boxes are replaced with an in-game shop and battle pass, which is progressed by completing in-game challenges. These objectives range from winning the game playing as a healer to using a specific character’s Ultimate three times; Some challenges are refreshed daily, others weekly, and others on a seasonal basis, ensuring you always have new goals to strive for. Every time you complete a challenge, you gain experience for the next level.
If you pay $10 (or the equivalent of in-game coins) for the Boosted Premium Battle Pass, progress continues to increase. However, it’s disappointing that you need to reach level 55 of the FREE Battle Pass to unlock that season’s new hero; If you buy premium, the hero joins your roster at level 1. The rest of the rewards are cosmetic, but as many are exclusive to the Premium Pass, non-paying players may find limited satisfaction with this new structure. And with the season lasting nine weeks, those who purchase the Premium Battle Pass at $10 each will eclipse the original Overwatch’s $60 MSRP in just one year.
While I’m certainly wary of this new system going forward, for now, the structure seems like a reasonable alternative to the previous framework. Thanks to a slew of content on the horizon, Blizzard has impressive plans for its resurrected hero shooter, and I love the current challenge system. However, I do appreciate the intentionality in unlocking rewards, which is in contrast to Overwatch 1’s loot box system.
For those who have never played the first Overwatch, there are additional obstacles, such as the need to unlock the original heroes by playing a set number of matches. Blizzard bills this as a way to deter fraudsters as it is now free to start a new account. But it ultimately feels like a punishment for not paying the price for the first game. The silver lining is that the drip-feed approach can engage new players without overwhelming them with too many characters to learn. However, players need to complete up to 130 matches to unlock the full roster. Thankfully, wins double toward that number, and you can use the original heroes in custom games. Plus, if you enjoy Overwatch 2’s moment-to-moment gameplay as much as I do, those unlock requirements are met. Still, I’m glad I didn’t have to finish him as a comeback player.
Overwatch 2 doesn’t flip that formula the way you might expect a long-awaited, numbered sequel. But through various clever tweaks, it’s a well-rounded evolution of the experience I’ve spent more than a thousand hours on since 2016. I may never recreate the magic of those first few years in Overwatch, but Overwatch 2 is a huge step toward restoring trust in the franchise and I think it’ll take another few hundred hours in my favorite team-based shooter. It’s time to put.