Overwatch was launched in 2016 and within a few short months had set a new gold standard for arena style shooters. It had a vast array of play styles to suit each player, tight controls that could be remapped to whatever suited you best, interesting locations and lore that created a more in depth feeling than other arena shooters. But most of all was its variety of characters, each one massively unique with their own quirks and personalities that made them more than just a blank soldier like other shooters of the time. It felt more involved as you were playing as someone who was unique, all with vibrant colour schemes that were easily distinguishable and popped out on the map when playing, and mastering said character was even more satisfying. Blizzard did a great job of bringing these characters to life, especially through the use of their near Pixar level cinematics uploaded on Youtube. New characters were added to the game every few months too, usually with a new cinematic which was always an exciting time. The game had a huge following and you’d be hard pressed not to see several characters cosplayed at gaming events across the world. This was furthered by the abundance of player skins that were easily earnable for each character in game. Loot Boxes are often criticised – and for good reason – however Overwatch 1 had a good balance of how they were used. You’d earn a loot box for every level you’d progress, which could easily be done within a day, while events around the year and arcade modes gave you the chance to earn more loot boxes or special skins for Halloween, Christmas and Summer games to name a few. Even then you could use your credits (also earned through loot crates) to just buy what cosmetic you wanted. They didn’t contain buffs, cheap pay to win tactics and were easy to earn and get the cosmetics you wanted – a good compromise in the loot box world. This meant each character had a lot of skins, so if you wanted to cosplay as your favourite character, you had a lot of choice on who you could dress up as.
It was a good time and possibly why Overwatch 2 took so long to be released, because the reality was that Overwatch didn’t exactly need a sequel in a way. Much like other games with a solid core gameplay you can’t really drastically stray too far from the original formula because then you change what the game is. Something like Fifa has continued to have yearly releases (although maybe not for much longer) despite the main gameplay being unable to change. Overwatch did have changes over its lifetime like map changes, UI changes and hero buffs and nerfs, sometimes changing their abilities outright but remained the same game. However, at some point, a sequel is needed to drastically overhaul the game, even when none is really needed, and that’s where Overwatch 2 is at.
At its core Overwatch 2 is literally Overwatch 1. There have been hero changes as every single one has had a reskin for OW2, while others have had abilities added or removed, but of course these can be edited as the game progresses. Maps wise we see a couple of new ones with the return of all the older maps with nearly no changes, the day maps are at night now, and the night maps are in the day. There is a new game mode which runs as a ‘tug of war’, with the return of previous game modes. The most major change is that instead of 6v6 it’s now 5v5, changing up the formula from the original game. While before it was 2 of each class (tank, damage and support) it’s now 2 damage and 2 support, with 1 tank character. This doesn’t change things up too much, but it is annoying to have less people in the game now. This is more a problem on the character balancing themselves. It’s very obvious that most people want to play damage as they have the more shooty and effective heroes, a fair few people want to play tank but very few want to play as support, and in the main game mode you are stuck to whatever role you are assigned to. You get to pick before the game, but if you pick damage, you’re normally going to have to wait 4-5 minutes to get into the game. There is an ‘all roles’ select that will put you as any of the roles, but it’s essentially pointless because you’re going to end up as support. Well, how did we get to this? Overwatch was built on its great range of characters so surely it’s not as one sided for damage characters as it seems right? This was an issue before, but nowhere near as bad (They did implement as priority pass before which is oddly missing from OW2). So why is it such a problem now?
Overwatch 2 is free to play, and this is a move that has clearly been motivated by money, that has had some pretty bad ramifications for the game.
How does this effect the role que though? As previously stated, the higher number of people wanting to play as damage characters against support and tank was always an issue, but people into Overwatch switch around to mix things up and the player base was smaller meaning it was not a huge que to get into damage if you wanted. With the game going free to play they’ve no doubt increased their player numbers by a huge amount, and of course these players don’t want to play as a bullet sponge or a healer, they want to play as the cyborg ninja, the jet pack rocket lady or the edgy shotgun guy, meaning a larger imbalance of player roles than before.
This free to play model has affected more than just the role que though.
Overwatch is game that works on teamwork, each character plays their role to win the objective. It is not a game about getting eliminations, but of course most other games like this are about getting eliminations, so most new players (who again are going to pick damage) will essentially abandon the objective to try and get some eliminations, and this has gone from a minor annoyance to a genuine issue I’m having in game. This isn’t like Call of Duty when a decently skilled player can run around the map and get some eliminations or a well thrown grenade can take out a chunk of the team. No, if you run ahead, normally away from the objective, a team with even the tiniest but of teamwork is going to crush you, and every time you run off to try again, you’re essentially running into a meat grinder. Obviously, this goes both ways as the number of games I’ve won by sitting on the objective with little to resistance because the enemy team is concentrated on the wrong things is pretty sad. But I’m nearly tearing my hair out when I see a character leave the objective we’re all guarding because they don’t know how to play. Look, this might sound like gatekeeping, but the influx of new players who are treating this as ‘free Call of Duty’ are pretty much ruining the game for those who’ve been playing for years. But there is one place I do feel bad for new players, and this is probably the biggest offence of all – The Shop.
With OW2 now free to play they had to make their money the same way most other free to play games do, micro transactions and a Battle Pass. Now I’m not totally against Battle Pass systems, they keep games fresh with new content every 2-3 months and give you things to work towards. OW2 has new daily, weekly, seasonal and event challenges to help you blast out the pass quicker too. However this new BP system meant the older system of loot boxes was removed, and now the ONLY way to get skins and cosmetics is through the BP, or the in-game shop. Luckily for OW veterans all the skins and content you earned over the last few years on OW1 carries over, which is great because some of the older skins are now only obtainable via Overwatch Coins, and some of them are stupid prices. There are 2 ways to get these coins. The first is weekly challenges, completing all within a week will net you 60 coins. Great, how much for Soldier 76 Halloween Slasher skin? It’s 1680 coins (apparently on discount too). So that means it would take you 28 weeks to get the coins to get said skin. It’s also worth noting the Battle Pass does not reward you with OW coins, and are only available through weekly challenges, so you’ve got to make sure you keep coming back online to get those coins. What’s the other way to get OW coins? You guessed it – cash. Pricing falls in line with other free to play games, £8.39 for 1000 coins, which covers the Battle Pass and sure, it’s a very popular game that’s gone free to play but goddam the prices of some of these skins are crazy. Kiriko is a new support character for the game and has a pretty cool Final Fantasy looking Witch skin, it’s 2600, which is around £20 and that’s insulting. In fact, it was found out recently that it was cheaper to buy a real life pachimari charm, than one in game, costing $5 in real life compared to $7 for your digital charm. This means that all brand-new players are stuck with the base skins, while people returning players could have an abundance of skins and emotes to pick from. I myself probably have 70-80% of skins for most heroes, and I feel bad for new players who have to spend a decent chunk of money to get what I got so easily.
When it comes to free to play games these micro transactions are always subject of debate, and on a financial level changing to a free to play model makes a lot of sense. Overwatch is one of the biggest names out there no doubt due to its diverse and interesting array of characters, so it would make sense to capitalise on people’s wallets if they really want a skin. But it’s also just sad. That witch skin for Kiriko is pretty cool, would I pay for it? No. But it also means I’ll never own it because they will probably never put it in a Battle Pass to not annoy those who actually paid for it. This also means that all new heroes released with OW2 are going to be stuck with whatever the Battlepass gives me because I probably won’t buy any skins for them, which is a shame as I’m really digging my Australian Mad Max Junker Queen. If earning coins was easier (like it was in the original game) I’d have less of a problem. But of course, they’d then make less money from people willing to drop the money.
The overarching problem with all this though is that it makes the game feel hollow. Looking at that store with all the prices and “20% off!” prices just strips the game of any soul it once had. The store itself is the major problem but smaller things I noticed started to bug me. There’s no ‘on fire’ when your character is slaying and gives you a sense of power (Characters would exclaim “I’m on fire!” and your character portrait would light up to you and other players, oddly the voice lines are still there, but there’s no visual que anymore), there’s no hero portrait boarder showing your level and rank, there’s no way to endorse the enemy team for friendly play, there’s no end of match ‘best of’ cards (Would show you most eliminations, best healing, longest killstreak etc) and the removal of the loot box system and replacing it with a single battle pass level just isn’t as rewarding.
Overwatch 2 isn’t so much a sequel, but more of a revamp of the original game because there’s been little to no changes to the core gameplay – but it really didn’t need any. However it’s a revamp with the sole intent to make more money with micro transactions and it’s such a shame that one of the last decades major titles would go down this route, and it perfectly reminds of something Zero Punctuation said a couple of years ago (Regarding Assassins Creed Origins, but very relevant today) – “I don’t like the feeling that the game is fighting with me to stop me getting what I want out of it; actually, maybe I am mad at you, Assassin’s Creed Origins! I’m so sick of all this; I’m sick of playing AAA games that feel like they exist not because a creator had a vision and an idea that excited them, but because quarterly income projections needed to be met” and that’s what OW2 has essentially become, a tool so that quarterly income projections could be met, and that sucks.