Thursday, February 23, 2023

Micro Review [Video Game]: Overwatch 2 by Blizzard Entertainment

Don’t call it a sequel.

The original Overwatch holds a very special place in my heart. There were nights spent with strangers working together to achieve our common goals: to increase our skill rating and have a good time choosing characters that had strong synergy. Overwatch was unique when it was released, melding the gameplay of a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) with the perspective of a first-person shooter, all while bringing the game to the mainstream. Each match contained twelve players divided into two teams attempting to achieve one of four main objectives; push the payload/defend the payload (Escort mode), capture and hold an area/defend an area from attackers (Assault/Control modes). Some maps had a mix of these objectives as well (Hybrid maps), creating variety. For instance, King’s Row (my favorite map) begins as a standard control point, then becomes an escort map. The game was endlessly fun, and still accessible despite the difficulty level of traditional first-person shooters. There were characters like Mercy and D.Va who were easy to use and not too difficult to master, yet still contributed to the team in a meaningful way. But why am I still talking about the original Overwatch when this is a review for the sequel? Well, it’s not much of a sequel at all.

was a premium game released at full price. The game had micro-transactions, but they were done tastefully (or as tastefully as one could implement those devilish things) by allowing players to unlock all of the game’s skins by simply spending time playing matches. Overwatch 2 is a free-to-play game that now introduces a battle pass system, like current popular games; Apex Legends and Fortnite. I wanted to wait a few battle pass seasons before giving Overwatch 2 a fair review. I can now confidently say that Overwatch 2 is a few steps sideways and a few steps back from what Overwatch originally brought to the multiplayer space.

Thankfully all of the battle pass items, like the loot box system before it, are cosmetic. None of the items are necessary to get ahead of other players. No pay-to-win mechanics. Unfortunately, all those high-quality skins that were once obtainable by playing the game are near impossible to get without forking out a lot of money. I’m not cosmetic crazy, but for those of you who are; this game will get expensive. I would advise not going to the store unless you have a lot of self-control. Luckily, they have not locked new characters behind a paywall. You can earn them through the battle pass for the season they were released (though you do have to play quite a bit to unlock them if you don’t want to pay).

All this talk about cosmetics, but what about the gameplay? What’s changed? What has warranted the addition of a “2” next to the Overwatch logo? In my opinion, absolutely nothing. Instead of twelve-player matches, the player count has been reduced to ten. Two tank, two damage, and two support characters was the original go-to for a balanced match, but now the folks at Blizzard have cut one tank from each match (at least as far as Competitive and QuickPlay go). By only allowing one tank, the developers saw fit to buff all of the tank characters to give them solo-tank capabilities. In doing so, not only did they remove the fun main tank/off-tank synergy, but they created annoying monsters that, if constantly healed, can make the enemy tank an utter annoyance. While this is great for a team with more communication and synergy, it can render some characters (and tanks) completely useless in most situations. I find that the players I’ve encountered have been split on this decision, I’m decisively on the “do not like” side.

In addition to the reduction of tanks, the developers saw fit to remove the Assault mode from QuickPlay and Competitive (the two most played matchmaking modes). Instead, they've replaced it with a mode called Push, where each team fights to move a robot closer to the enemy spawn. The robot moves along slowly, and pushing it far gives your team a spawn advantage. If the enemy defeats your team, then it is their turn to return the robot and try to push it into your spawn. Reclaiming the robot will make it move quickly to the furthest point your team had previously pushed. The game is won by whichever team pushes the robot to the opposing team’s spawn or, when time runs out, whoever pushed the furthest. Three Push maps have been released since the inception of Overwatch 2, of which I like only one (Esperança). The other two make me groan when I see them on the screen. While I do believe Assault mode had its issues, I feel that Push is just as—if not more—frustrating than the mode that they removed.

The original Overwatch roster consisted of twenty-one characters. All of which were unique and useful in certain scenarios. Some, like Solider 76 and Mercy, could be used almost all the time, while others, like Torbjorn and Symmetra, were situational (but still useful!). When the sun set on Overwatch, the character total had climbed up to a whopping thirty-two characters! Impressive, but also quite the balancing match. The meta would change all the time, bringing old heroes back into the limelight. But can you guess how many new characters launched with the sequel? Three (in addition to the original roster). That's it. And one of them (Soujorn) was completely overpowered at launch, making her a nightmare to play against in the hands of a slightly skilled player.

Despite all this, Overwatch 2 still retains much of what made Overwatch special. The quirky characters still exchange clever dialogue that expands the lore of the game, the payload and control maps are still fun to play, and the feeling of getting in with the right team at the right time is still a blast. It’s too bad that much of the community has become toxic, throwing matches on a whim because they don’t want to lose or switch characters for the good of the team. The gameplay is still tight and the roster of memorable characters has such a variety of tactics that learning a new one feels like picking up a new game. Though it is easy to fall into playing the same character repeatedly.

Part of Overwatch 2’s appeal is finding the correct character to solve your team’s current ails, then countering when the opponent tries to counter you. It’s a game of chess that relies not only on the player’s knowledge of the game mechanics but on their mechanical skills as well. Simply switching to Mercy won’t save your team if you aren't versed in using her skillset (even if she is one of the simplest characters to use). One must also know how quickly Mercy flies to an ally, how long her resurrection ability takes to pull off, and how close she can get to the action without risking herself. Game sense and awareness are just as important in this sequel as they were in the original.

Trying different characters is always a blast. Some may not be to one’s liking, but that’s okay, there are another thirty-plus to test! The character pool is divided into three tiers; tank, support, and damage. While all these characters maintain the same movement speed and have the same control layout (for the most part), their abilities and purpose set them apart. These differences are even greater when moving between the different character roles. Reinhardt (tank) and Ana (healer) may both have multiple abilities and an ultimate, but their functions are entirely different. That’s the beauty of Overwatch 2; whenever you feel bored with a character, switching to another almost makes it feel like an entirely different game. That’s something most other multiplayer games don’t do well.

In addition to the primary modes, the Arcade mode has been expanded to allow more freedom with friends. Unique user-created matches and game types are much easier to get into for those who prefer that type of multiplayer interaction. The few modes they've added over the season have been fun if only momentary distractions. Allowing players the ability to join a user-created match for a brief time while waiting on matchmaking is a welcome treat for those who have long queue times (I’m looking at you, tank and damage players).

Considering not much has changed, the developers gave the game a little facelift, cleaning up character models and putting in a bit more detail. Better shading and lighting never hurt, but Overwatch already looked great, so the update—while welcome—wasn’t wholly necessary. All the old and new maps are vibrant, even the ones that I don't enjoy playing. Blizzard knows how to make enticing visuals for their multiplayer maps. And while the music is still great, for some reason the developers continue to play very loud intro music on some of the home screens. I don't know who thinks this is a good idea, but they should immediately stop in the next update.

Though much of my review of Overwatch 2 hits a lot of negative points, it's not because it's a bad game. It's still a good game. Just one that took things from an amazing game. While Overwatch 2 remains unique, the transition from a premium to a free-to-play game has not made the game worthy of a “2”. It is not a sequel, but an update that blunts some of what made the original game so great. We were promised co-op modes that would expand the lore, where we could level up our favorite heroes and learn abilities exclusive to the cooperative experience. Instead, we got a game with a little bit of new content, a little bit of cut content, and a whole lot of microtransactions. Overwatch was amazing when it launched, and it was fantastic for quite some time after that, but eventually, it fell from grace amid the studio’s turmoil. Overwatch 2 does its best to inject some life into the franchise, and it does, even if it doesn't meet the heights of its predecessor. Being free-to-play opens the game up to a host of new players. And, given time, I hope to see Blizzard expand upon what they've built, even if Overwatch 2 stumbled out of the gate a bit.

The Math

Objective Assessment: 7/10

Bonus: +1 for updated visuals. +1 unique new characters. +1 for beautifully crafted maps.

Penalties: -1 for removing Assault mode and reducing games by one tank per match. -1 balancing issues with characters and maps. -1 for obnoxiously loud intro music every season (yes, I hate it that much).

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10

Posted by: Joe DelFranco - Fiction writer and lover of most things video games. On most days you can find him writing at his favorite spot in the little state of Rhode Island.