Overwatch 2 review: A more polished Overwatch experience with room to grow
Overwatch 2 is more of the same but with smart changes to its core gameplay. Still, new players may balk at the grind ahead despite the move to free-to-play.
It’s perhaps fitting that Overwatch 2, upon presenting its main menu, often begins with a stirring rendition of the main Overwatch theme I’ve been humming on and off for six years. All of the piece’s consummate parts are clearer, from rousing strings to bombastic percussion, and there are small details I didn’t notice before either because they weren’t there, or they’ve been polished to a shine. It’s an apt opening because it sets out the game’s stall early – this is Overwatch, but not quite as you remember it.
It’d be fair to say that throughout the game’s convoluted marketing reveals, that’s not always been the message – does Overwatch 2 deserve to truly be called a sequel? Is it more akin to an expansion pack? And yet, after around a week with it, it feels like the game that spawned a dozen hero shooter contemporaries is likely to do similarly again. Overwatch 2 is a polished, impressive package that, while not without its own missteps, follows the path laid down by its predecessor by adapting to the modern FPS landscape with aplomb.
Overwatch 2 key details:
- Developer: Blizzard
- Price: Free-to-play
- Release date: October 4
- Platforms: Xbox, PlayStation & PC (Switch version coming in the future)
Overwatch 2 trailer:
“Looks good… real good”
If you’ve played the first Overwatch, or seen its dizzying array of characters or artwork, merchandise, and trailers, you’ll know just how striking its colorful, buoyant art style is. A match often feels like watching two teams of superheroes duking it out in a Pixar or Dreamworks animation, and while that’s drawn plenty of plaudits it does mean that, yes, Overwatch 2 doesn’t fix what isn’t broken.
Instead of revamping such an iconic style, Blizzard has tweaked what’s already there (a definite theme). Shadows look smoother, textures are sharper, and darker maps like King’s Row feel much more in line with the brighter palettes of Ilios or Hollywood.
The trouble is that it’s not easy to spot those differences without jumping back into Overwatch for comparison, and as of Overwatch 2’s arrival, you simply won’t be able to. While I spent plenty of time on PC ahead of launch, I’m very pleased to say that the game looks just as phenomenal on PS5.
One more Push
While every Overwatch map makes a return, there are fresh battlegrounds to explore and they’re just as thoughtfully crafted as ever. As you’d expect, they all feel like facsimiles of their real-world counterparts, and each is instantly recognizable.
The Favelas of Rio are as colorful as anything in the first game, while subtle details like petals floating in the water of the India map help make them feel closer to reality than ever. It’s the New York map that remains a standout though, with above-ground train lines, newspaper kiosks, and a fun Fire Truck payload vehicle, too.
New mode Push adds its own maps, too, as players work to escort a large robot to their opponent’s base to win the match. In many ways, it feels like what I’d always wanted Payload to be, and earning an additional spawn point because you’ve pushed far enough allows for much quicker pushes and counters. It can be absolutely electrifying, and more than once in my time playing I felt all was lost before a series of Ultimates and clever plays turned the tide of battle.
These new arrivals, plus the original lineup of maps, show that Blizzard hasn’t lost any of its level design prowess over the last six years. The magic of Overwatch has always been that you can pick any character you like and have a very different experience, and the maps, old and new, continue to cater to that – whether you’re looking for a place to detonate D.Va’s mech like it’s 2016, or are trying to find a spot for Junker Queen to close the gap.
A new Queen, a new meta
That brings us nicely to the roster, and there is a trio of new heroes that fit into roles I didn’t know needed expanding, all while adding to the series’ deep lore through fun one-liners and quips. Take Kiriko, for example, the most recently revealed character for Overwatch 2. She blurs Genji’s mobility with healing and the ability to teleport to an ally to become a more nimble healer than seemed possible in 2016.
Sojourn similarly feels like a hodgepodge of existing ideas, but that’s not meant as an insult – she’s consistently fun to use, with a railgun that charges a hitscan alt-fire. She can slide and cancel into an extended jump, too, which allows her to literally climb to new heights.
Finally, Junker Queen has my heart. If she’s not calling others “drongos”, she’s splitting heads with her axe or throwable knife. She’s a tank who feels like she blurs the line with DPS, and rallying around her is key to a successful push.
Expect to spend plenty of time rallying around tanks, too, because in Overwatch 2 the new meta means you only have one of them thanks to the new 5v5 setup.
Firstly, and to be clear, the full ramifications of this switch aren’t likely to be felt until everyone is playing after launch. Still, matches remain chaotic, but they feel less frustrating as a result of the switch – at least at this early stage.
Overwatch 1 matches had tended to become battles of attrition, with shield after shield being put up and taking far too long to cut through. The removal of one tank mitigates this somewhat, but it also makes tanks even more important than they were because they’re now expected to form a central rallying point. Matches I’ve played, even at this stage, have often been dictated by the skill of the tank player.
I’m no OWL player, though, so the rubber is likely to meet the road when more talented players than myself get to grips. It’ll be fascinating to watch over the coming months, since Overwatch esports have been running off a prior build of the game.
The Gorilla Scientist in the room
So, what of new players? Well, there are likely to be a lot of them, with the game going free-to-play like many other FPS titles. Since the first game launched, Fortnite took over the world, and its battle pass system has permeated everything from Call of Duty to FIFA ever since.
Naturally, Overwatch 2 adopts a similar model, but many of the new mechanisms are already proving unpopular. For one, players will need to unlock many of the heroes in the game through the First Time User Experience, which will offer a limited array of characters and modes to start off with. It’ll only apply to brand-new players, and may well be a great way to ease newcomers into a roster of almost forty wildly different personalities and playstyles, but it’s something to be mindful of if you’re jumping in at launch.
New heroes will also be tied to both free and premium battle passes, so you can unlock them whether you pay or not, but it’s worth noting that progression to unlock every single character at launch will take 100 matches.
It’s perhaps a sign of the times, and I do think I’d have liked to have been eased into the first game a little more, but those jumping in with no prior experience are in for a grind. The trouble with comparing it to something like Rainbow Six: Siege is that Overwatch is all about the heroes – Siege’s operators are, in a lot of scenarios, secondary to gunplay. On the other hand, Overwatch 2’s heroes are the bedrock upon which the game is built, meaning Blizzard risks newcomers bouncing out when nothing sticks.
It’s also worth remembering that, while many games launch and grow over time, Overwatch 2 will add a whole new PvE component — a first for the franchise outside of limited-time events. We’ll naturally reassess when that arrives.
The Verdict – 8.5/10
Overwatch as a franchise has always felt like a child taking toys out of a box to hurriedly show you what’s next, breathless through excitement before switching to another. In that sense, Overwatch 2 is a bigger toy box, with a few more action figures and incredible new dioramas to pose them in.
It’s definitely a variation on a theme rather than something wholly new, at least until the PvE component arrives in 2023, but what’s here has reignited my love for a world, its characters, and their stories in a way I didn’t know I’d missed. Whether it’ll be enough for the competitive crowd, though, remains to be seen.
Reviewed on PC