Overwatch 2 Has Hit 100 Million Players After Making Massive Changes – Should You Join Them?

Like many of you, in 2016 I was sucked into the magical, wacky world of Overwatch and was unable to escape. I had just started to get into gaming again and had never played a multiplayer game before. I still have a fond memory of strolling into GameStop after work one day in May 2016 and asking the cashier “what’s new, my man?”, and him responding with a twinkle in his eye, “Have you heard of Overwatch?” It always makes me nostalgic for a period of time where something as massive as Overwatch could release and I’d have no idea until I stumbled onto it in the store.

Overwatch became a core part of my life. I found a guild organically on the PS4, and soon I found myself logging in every day to play for 6-7 hours. Yes, every day. I sweated my way through comp, became heavily invested in the Overwatch community, decked myself out in Sombra merch, and even traveled to the Overwatch League World Cup in 2019. I switched over to PC at some point, and over the thousands of hours I spent on this game I fell in love with it. And then Overwatch 2 happened.

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Wow! Brigitte has a new haircut! Sequel!

It’s probably no secret to anyone reading that Blizzard massively screwed themselves over with Overwatch 2, perhaps the most epic bag fumble in modern gaming. In 2020, they stopped providing updates to Overwatch and dedicated their development resources to Overwatch 2, which promised a co-op campaign as well as hero missions in which you could level up, make your way through a skill tree, and even gain new abilities. These things would never come to pass. Beloved Overwatch creator Jeff Kaplan left Blizzard shortly before the sexual harassment lawsuits hit the company, and Overwatch 2 was left in limbo.

Overwatch 2 released in October 2022, replacing Overwatch entirely as the first game was taken offline forever. Overwatch 2 was free to play, changed from 6v6 to 5v5, moved over to a new engine, and fully reworked a few of the characters. The promised PvE campaign and hero missions were nowhere to be seen. Blizzard promised six new heroes and six new maps at launch; we got only three new heroes, (Sojourn, Junker Queen, and Kiriko) and two new maps. This head scratching turn of events left many, including myself, asking “Why is this called Overwatch 2?” The answer was in the awful monetization system that went out of its way to make sure the game was never fun to play.

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“It’s Winstonin’ time!”

The biggest and most damning feature of Overwatch 2 was locking new heroes behind the paid battle pass. Do you remember the early new character releases? When Ana appeared out of nowhere and the beta test client crashed the servers for days?  Or when Sombra had that insane 2-month long ARG to reveal?  When Doomfist took over memes? These were miniature events in gaming, and it’s specifically because of the characters that Overwatch had 50 million monthly active players at one point. So you, a reasonable human, might realize that locking them behind a paywall would just make people stop playing the game. You’d be right.

I’ll break down how each of these things worked in Overwatch 1, Overwatch 2 Launch Version, and Overwatch 2 Now. I believe Overwatch 2 has massively improved since launch, and I’ve spent the past month playing every night again and actually finding some joy in it. Not the same joy I felt 7 years ago, certainly, but the feeling is there and it is genuine. Those of you who haven’t played since the first game can perhaps get a better idea of how far the game has come, and perhaps join the 100 million players of Overwatch 2 if it tickles your fancy.

Lifeweaver
Lifeweaver is possibly my least favorite character to play as in the whole game, but at least we finally got our femboy.

 

Gameplay Has Improved, But Might Be Too Balanced

One of the major changes from Overwatch 1 to Overwatch 2 was switching from a 6v6 (2 DPS/2 Tanks/2 Healers) to a 5v5 (2 DPS/1 Tank/2 Healers) PVP format. In addition, sweeping changes were made to all classes. DPS characters all got passive speed boosts so they could return quicker to the fight, since as a first line of defense they were more likely to die. Tanks got a huge amount of health added, with some tanks now at 900 HP, since they were compensating for losing the second tank. Healers were given a self-heal mechanic when not in combat, which was previously something that was exclusive to Mercy. In addition, about half the heroes were majorly reworked, most for the better. While lesser used heroes like Torbjorn, Bastion, and Lucio make more sense to use now, my favorite hero from the first game, Sombra, is pretty miserable to play currently. But all in all, the sweeping gameplay changes have sped up games, increased the action, and heightened team coordination.

If you played during launch, you’ll remember Overwatch 1 was hilariously unbalanced. Widowmaker could one-shot Zenyatta with a body shot. Tracer died from a single burst of most heroes’ secondary fire. Bastion with a Reinhardt shield on the payload (a fun strategy called Protect the President) was literally unkillable. Hanzo’s scatter arrows would one-shot DPS heroes based entirely on RNG without an ounce of skill or strategy involved. Pharah and Mercy (called Pharmacy) in the hands of two semi-competent players was an auto-win card. It was insane, stupid, and hilarious at times. But it was fun as hell, and in approaching a perfect balance Overwatch 2 has lost a lot of its charm.

Mauga
How is there not a crossover skin for Mauga with Maui from Moana?

The heroes have all been reworked so many times that almost none of them retain their original abilities anymore, and the ones that do have had them significantly modified. Yes, the game is more balanced now. In my ~50 hours with Overwatch 2, I’ve had very few steamroll matches one way or the other. Team composition doesn’t matter so much. If you’re good with the hero you picked, your team will be fine. Nearly every teamfight comes down to the last man, most matches end in overtime… so why is it less fun? From an outsider standpoint, I couldn’t tell you. I suppose the charm is lost in that it no longer matters much which hero you pick. Back in Overwatch 1, if you were a Reinhardt main, that was an identity of sorts. It said something about you, how you played, what you loved about games as a whole. I don’t think your favorite heroes say anything anymore.

Kiriko
Kirkio can teleport and heals faster than Mercy, leaving Mercy to be… kind of useless.

 

Game Modes are Plentiful and Fun, But Still No Story Mode or Campaign

It’s no secret that Overwatch 2 promised an episodic campaign, releasing a new 4-player co-op story chapter every few weeks. Each mission would take place on a different map, sometimes introducing new ones, and would be bookended by and opening a closing cutscene as well as feature tons of dialogue between characters during the mission. Campaign missions would be replayable and feature hordes of over a dozen enemy types as well as a boss fight for each chapter. You would level up with EXP based on how well you played, access a skill tree to improve abilities and even unlock new exclusive campaign abilities, and customize your hero to your play style over time. If you want to know what they took from us, you can see the detailed 2021 presentation of Jeff Kaplan’s vision for story mode that never came to pass.

It’s no secret Blizzard has been in sort of a perpetual state of disaster over the last three years. Between the many lawsuits ousting a litany of sexual predators, bad PR, Bobby Kotick’s golden parachute escape, and Microsoft’s acquisition of the once-great studio, there have been an immeasurable number of shakeups in management. Kaplan himself departed in 2021 before the lawsuits were made public (thankfully he was not named in any of them) and quietly disappeared from the gaming world. With him went the vision for the game, and the reason for the sequel to even exist. Assistant Game Director Aaron Keller took the reigns, and it’s pretty apparent he both had no idea what to do with them and was hamstrung at every turn by Blizzard execs who wanted to milk as much money out of players as possible.

Illari
Illari has quickly become my favorite healer on the roster due to her escape abilities.

In 2023, it was announced that the Story Mode and Hero Missions were both canceled, and instead we got a challenge obstacle course. So, we’ve got that going for us. There’s a single set of three story missions called Invasion that launched late last year, a $15 purchase featuring about an hour’s worth of content that is both very good and very not worth $15. They went for a 4-player co-op tower defense approach with these missions, which is fun maybe once or twice, but definitely doesn’t have the replayability that the procedural generation of the Hero Missions would have.

Regardless, there are now tons of player pools to load into depending on what you want to do. In Quick Play you can load into either Open Queue (no role assignments), Role Queue (choose your class loading in for the standard 2/1/2 array), and the old classic Mystery Heroes. Ranked mode (referred to as Comp) features Open Queue and Role Queue as well, though only the most depraved heathens venture into Comp Open Queue. The Arcade is full of great stuff that rotates weekly, including Capture the Flag, Deathmatch, Gauntlet, King of the Hill, and the new Community Crafted Mode that adds new creator-suggested abilities to heroes to totally rebalance the game. Spoiler: that mode is more fun than the real game. I am praying they keep most of these changes in future updates.

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I hate that these seasonal skins cost $20 but boy howdy do I want them.

 

Monetization and Progression is Vastly Improved Since Launch

As I mentioned before, the biggest turn-off for long time fans like myself when Overwatch 2 launched was the shift to the free-to-play model that locked new heroes behind a paywall. In a game where the heroes are the point of the game, where you’re supposed to switch heroes mid-battle to counter your opponents, where you’re supposed to feel a sense of identity with the heroes you love – this decision was nothing short of insane. Each new hero was put behind the $10 seasonal battle pass to play right when they came out. If you were a free player, you would need to play 30-35 hours during their debut season (a span of 9 weeks) to unlock them. That means watching other people play the shiny new hero for hours and hours, just one click away from spending $10 to try them out. After that hero’s season, you would need to win 30 games with that new hero’s class (for instance, to get Ramattra after his season you’d need to win 30 Role Queue games as any Tank), which would take on average 12 hours. Pretty much all of this sucked.

The biggest issue that I saw from longtime players was that the leveling system from Overwatch 1 disappeared, and so did any rewards you got for playing. The only reward was leveling up the battle pass, and if you didn’t have the battle pass then there was nothing to earn, and not even a little number to go up to get the good brain chemicals flowing. The game felt stagnant, and with challenges so easy to beat and with such tiny rewards they were not much consolation. Getting a legendary skin for free was miserable as well – you’d have to complete every daily, weekly, and seasonal challenge every week for nine months to be able to afford a single legendary skin. Or just pay $30! It’ll be easy. What, you need to eat or something? However, things have been majorly adjusted in the nearly 2 years since Overwatch 2 launched.

Ramattra
Ramattra is hands down my favorite new addition to the roster. Buff robot sorcerer? Yes please.

There are three currencies: Coins, Credits, and Prisms. Credits are the currency from Overwatch 1 and carry over to this game. They are earned by leveling up your Battle Pass or Hero Rank and can be exchanged for all skins from Overwatch 1. Prices are now reasonable for these, and you can earn enough for a legendary skin in one season. Coins are earned by leveling up your Premium Battle Pass or Hero Rank, completing challenges, or can be purchased at a rate of $10/1000 Coins. These can be used to buy the next season’s battle pass or purchase new legendary skins. Prisms are a new currency that was added to balance out the recent change that made all heroes free. They are only available for purchase with real money at a rate of $40/50 Prisms, and 50 Prisms will buy you one Mythic skin. There are four new Mythic skins every season, but you can purchase them after the season is over as well. Overall, this is a pretty solid compromise for a free-to-play game, and I think Blizzard has found a happy medium with players. It’s fair enough that I went ahead and purchased the Season 11 Premium Battle Pass, at least.

One thing I really like is the new Hero Ranks, which is a system that is based on how well you specifically play during a battle. Win or lose, there are a dozen stats that are tracked for each hero that result in an EXP gain that levels you up, and when you reach higher levels you’ll begin to earn credits. Hero Ranks are specific to each Hero, so once you’ve got to level 70 with Zenyatta you may be inclined to play more Ana to get her level up as well. This creates a sense of progression that does yield actual rewards if you commit to playing regularly. I’ve played about 15 games with Ramattra in the last few weeks and gotten him up to Level 8, so I’m definitely moving up at a good pace. And the better you are at being Ramattra, which is an index score based on how many players you warlock punch, how much damage you block, how much time you spent guarding the objective, etc, the more you level up. This is a smart system, and having it ignore wins and losses is great.

battle
I love the Push Robot, and I’m tired of pretending I don’t.

Overwatch 2 is now in a far better spot than it has ever been. It’s the best state Overwatch has been in since 2020, to be honest. I’ve spent thousands of hours in this game, and made genuine real life friends through it over the years. I owe a lot to it. I miss it. It’s not the same as it used to be, but I can defiantly say I recommend playing if you enjoyed the first game. Get the Battle Pass if you like, or not if you don’t want to. You won’t miss much, but there’s also a good amount of cosmetics packed in it. Hopefully this equilibrium between consumer friendliness and monetization lasts, and with the huge increase in player count I’m confident it will. Check that notification in your taskbar – Overwatch 2 is now playable.

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