The recent release of Splatoon 3 spawned an interesting discussion over what justifies a sequel. Considering that Splatoon 2 is still playable on the Switch and maintains a healthy player base, its follow-up was viewed by some as an unnecessary iteration that failed to meaningfully innovate. Blizzard’s recent release of Overwatch 2 reminds us quite a bit of that situation; what we have here is a sequel that made some subtle tweaks to the gameplay without really changing or adding anything (beyond a notable switch to free-to-play here), only in this case you can’t go back and play the predecessor if you preferred it. Overwatch 2 manages to provide an enjoyable competitive FPS experience that can be a real thrill to engage in, but it’s also chock full of reminders of how much it missed the mark.
Though Overwatch 2 certainly could be classified as an FPS, its heavy focus on teamwork and maximizing the utility of each character’s abilities imbues the gameplay with plenty of MOBA elements. Characters are sorted into either the healer, tank, or DPS roles, but even those of the same type often play radically differently.
Lucio the healer, for example, is constantly putting out a healing aura in a circle around him, and the effect of this aura can be boosted or switched to a speed aura. He’s thus more effective in control point maps, where he can stay near the point surrounded by team members and continuously be healing all of them at once while they hold off the other team. Compare this to Zenyatta, a healer who has a much more passive playstyle focused on placing a healing orb on any teammates in line of sight and a discord orb to raise damage dealt to any given enemy in line of sight. Zen can’t heal a whole team nearly as effectively as Lucio, but the notably increased damage output his discord orb offers gives his team an advantage that Lucio can’t offer.
Though everyone is powerful and fills an important niche, every character is intentionally designed to have large gaps in their capabilities, which means that team composition and cooperation is paramount to winning matches in Overwatch 2. If your team doesn’t have a tank or runs with three healers, you’re probably going to have a bad time as you won’t be able to mount a very effective counteroffensive. Further, the objective—whether that be defending a point or escorting a payload—is more important than individual performance. A DPS member who constantly bails on the payload to go kick butt elsewhere may have the most kills in the game, but this means nothing if the tank and healers on the payload keep dying because they couldn’t out-damage the opposition. Cooperation is especially important in Overwatch 2 given that the teams have been reduced to 5v5 for this entry, placing a lot more importance on each team member’s contributions.
Aside from the new ‘Push’ game mode, which pretty much feels like Payload with extra steps, most game modes from the first Overwatch have made a return here. For the vanilla ranked and unranked modes, you’ll usually get either Control Point or Payload, but going into the arcade allows you to play modes like Deathmatch or Capture the Flag for more variety.
There’s also a community hub where you can join servers for games that have custom rules; we played one bizarre game that was focused on racking up kills to turn your character into a giant and, eventually, a star. Having plenty of game modes to try and characters with distinct playstyles gives tons of gameplay variety. It takes dozens of hours just to master all the nuances of one character’s playstyle across various matchups; those of you who are looking for something with a high skill ceiling could sink hundreds if not thousands of hours into Overwatch 2 if it really gets its hooks in you.
All of this is well and good, but perhaps the biggest drawback to here is that almost all of the above could be said for its predecessor. Plainly put, Overwatch 2 is somewhat different from its predecessor, but not necessarily better. It’s the removal of small things that were in the original that really adds up. For example, there used to be a ‘fire meter’ below your character’s health that would indicate when you were performing especially well in a match. Not only would it paint a huge target on the back of the highest performers in a match, but it also was a nice pat on the back for being exceptional. Now it’s been removed.
In another example, medals used to be given out at the end of a match spotlighting important contributions from select members of each team, such as time on the payload or total amount of health healed. It summed up the key movers on either side, and you could vote for members of either team to recognize their accomplishments. Now, there’s just the Play of the Game afterward; no other recognition is given after a match. Things like this weren’t necessarily critical components of the previous Overwatch, but their removal without any replacement makes Overwatch 2 feel distinctly lesser in some regards.
Then there’s the Battle Pass. Instead of the loot box system from the last game, Overwatch 2 cosmetics are now primarily doled out by progressing a Battle Pass by completing matches and daily and weekly challenges. It’s a fine enough system for what it is, but we have to say that it feels notably more predatory than the former loot box system. The most important issue here is that new heroes are no longer freely available to all players—you have to get to level 55 on your Battle Pass to unlock whoever was added this season. Completed matches give out paltry EXP on their own, which means the bulk of your EXP will likely have to come from daily and weekly challenges that effectively require you to play Overwatch 2 every day. If you don’t want to grind for weeks on end, you can simply buy the premium Battle Pass to skip the work and unlock the hero right away. We’re not yet sure what happens if you don’t manage to unlock the new character before the season ends, but we sincerely doubt that Blizzard will simply opt to make the hero available to everyone.
Another issue is that you can’t really target a given character’s specific cosmetics anymore; you just have to be content with whatever’s next on the track. The former loot box system always gave out credits for any duplicate cosmetics you received and often gave out currency as its own reward, which allowed players to save over time for skins or sprays that they wanted for a given character. Now, no credits are given out for any tier of the Battle Pass and you can only earn a maximum of 60 credits per week if you’re grinding all your challenges, which means that the only way you can get the cosmetics you want is to either wait for them to maybe show up on the Battle Pass for a season, play the game nonstop for months on end, or shell out the cash.
This increased focus on nickel-and-diming the player will likely prove to be the most divisive aspect of Overwatch 2. Not only are specific cosmetics now more difficult to acquire, but the gameplay itself is being affected by gating new heroes behind either a paywall or a substantial time investment. The original game was celebrated for its focus on an even and fair player experience—everyone had the same access to the same heroes and it didn’t take all too long to save up for cosmetics you wanted—but Overwatch 2 is unmistakably more restricted on both these fronts and puts more pressure on the player to open their wallet. This is to be expected, it is a free-to-play game after all, but the end player experience feels less intrinsically satisfying as a result because you’re simply being given fewer rewards for doing the same things you did in the original Overwatch.
It also needs to be said that there are quite a few kinks to be worked out with connectivity. Part of this has been due to a DDOS attack during the launch period, but even after that was sorted, it still took about 30 minutes just to log in, and there were many instances where we were kicked and had to start the whole process over. Beyond this, the account system needs substantial work. None of our skins or cosmetics from the previous release transferred over and about half of the heroes were locked for us while the challenges to unlock them were glitched out and unavailable. A lot of this can probably be chalked up to the technical woes of launching a massive new online game, but it’s still disappointing given the size of this project and the considerable resources at the developer’s disposal. You might want to wait a month or two for Blizzard to get its act together and smooth over the roughest parts of the experience before you give it a go.
For the Switch version specifically, performance is understandably lesser than the substantially more powerful hardware the game is also available on, but it actually plays impressively smoothly despite the setbacks. You’re only able to play at 30 FPS, and we only noted a few instances where there were minor frame drops. Further, the visuals don’t look as fuzzy or low-res as many other ‘miracle ports’ on Switch; though muddier textures abound, the visuals look remarkably sharp in action.
Of course, we also feel a hat tip is warranted for the implementation of gyro aiming, which adds a welcome level of fine control that in some ways makes this feel preferable to the other console versions. Overwatch 2 demands precision and quick reflexes that you often can’t fully apply when just using sticks; motion controls offer up a nearly mouse-like level of accuracy that feels great. This Switch edition may not be the most impressive version of Overwatch 2, then, but it’s nonetheless a worthwhile and well-made port that feels like it adequately fits on the Switch hardware.
At least at launch, Overwatch 2 seems a little light on ‘new’ content, too. Three new heroes, a few new maps, a new game mode, and some tweaks to existing heroes are really all that this new release has to boast of, and none of these things feel like they couldn’t have simply been added to the original Overwatch just like the many other heroes, maps, and modes that came over the years of that original run. The whole point of there even being a ‘2’ here was the promised full-scale co-op component that would delve deep into the rich lore of the Overwatch universe, but this content has vaguely been announced as coming sometime next year. The point being, despite a very solid foundation, Overwatch 2 struggles to justify its own existence; the small tweaks to some heroes and the new content are welcome, but we have yet to see anything that warrants this separate release.
Overwatch 2 is a lot of things, but a proper sequel to the original Overwatch is not one of them. Although a few new maps and heroes are welcome, and the gameplay itself remains just as enjoyably intense as it always was, there is nothing here that feels innovative or notable enough to justify that ‘2’ in the title. At this stage, Overwatch 2 feels more like a few updates Blizzard could have pushed to the original release. Couple this with the heightened focus on monetization and the absence at launch of the promised co-op story content, and you’re left with an experience that feels like it falls short of the potential it had. As a live service free-to-play game, perhaps time will eventually see this new release grow in fresh and unexpected ways to eventually prove itself a worthy sequel, but the game we have at launch feels just ‘fine’. At any rate, it costs you nothing but time to try, and it is just about as fun in a match as it always has been. As long as you’re not too bothered by what it could have been, we’d recommend giving Overwatch 2 a shot.