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Overwatch 2 initial review: More shooter, less team

(Pocket-lint) – It’s been six years since the original Overwatch was released – a bolt from the blue that basically tore up what we knew about multiplayer shooters, with unique characters to choose from and endless synergy to work out. Now, the sequel is here.

In some ways, it’s surprising that it took so long for a follow-up to arrive. Owing to development issues at Blizzard, as well, Overwatch 2 will be sliced into portions that will release over time.

Still, we’ve been able to play its ongoing PvP beta and test out how its competitive modes are shaping up. Here’s our initial verdict.

Our quick take

How Overwatch 2 is received by the community will be an interesting one to watch. Currently, it’s a great game in most of the ways that count, with fun team compositions to explore and a range of characters that you’ll be able to learn about. The issue is that everything good about it feels pretty unchanged from the first Overwatch.

Shrinking the team size could be a non-issue if there are some tweaks to the queueing system, as well as further buffs and nerfs to keep balance, but, in the beta, it’s felt a little bit of a mixed bag. And, while learning a new character like Sojourn is fun, it’s not enough to make Overwatch 2 really feel like a whole new game.

With a PvE mode still in the pipeline, it’s far from a terrible outlook for Blizzard’s team shooter, but whether it can justify its status as a sequel is up in the air after its beta.

Overwatch 2 preview: More shooter, less team

For

  • Still looks crisp and great
  • Interesting character designs
  • Moments of bliss
Against

  • Fundamentally doesn’t feel new
  • Long queue times
  • More punishing than before

Tightening things up

Overwatch 2 can, at times, feel a bit like something Blizzard thought it had to make at a certain point. This is not a revolutionary sequel that rips up the playbook, but more of a careful revision with a couple of major changes.

In all honesty, the sum of Overwatch 2’s changes feels like the sort of thing you’d normally read in the seasonal patch notes for something like Destiny 2 or COD: Warzone – or as part of a paid expansion – rather than a new title entirely.

The headline change is that the game has gone from 6v6 in its standard modes to 5v5, shaving away one of its slots for a Tank character (slower-moving, high-health damage sponges). It’s a curious change, and, while there are long stretches when it doesn’t feel too seismic, its impact is starting to be felt.

For one thing, queuing into a role other than Support now means waits of sometimes 15 minutes for a game, with more people than ever fighting over the arguably more interesting (or at least more action-packed) Damage and Tank roles.

Activision BlizzardOverwatch 2 preview: More shooter, less team photo 1

When you do play as either Damage or Support, you may also notice that Overwatch 2 feels less forgiving than the first game. You can be obliterated more quickly than ever if you get mobbed, and losing a second tank to distract enemies might well be playing a part in this.

It’s an interesting problem that feels like Overwatch 2’s own making, and while new maps and at least one new hero (Sojourn) are nice to try out, they’re far from game-changing. Every character from the last game has been reworked to some degree, but these rarely feel like a massive shift in tactical focus.

If that sounds negative, it must all come with a major caveat: with an organised team on your side, Overwatch 2 can very much serve up matches of the highest order of fun.

Vying for a control point in waves of respawns, plotting traps and moves with your team’s powers, and saving your skins at the last second are all possible.

Activision BlizzardOverwatch 2 preview: More shooter, less team photo 3

When these games happen, they’re amazing, and a reminder of the potent formula Overwatch initially offered up. They just don’t feel all that distinct from the game we loved in 2016.

A fresh coat of paint

This sentiment also extends to the game’s visuals. While they are sprightly and crisp, and definitely a step up from Overwatch as it exists today, the step-up isn’t a massive one. Again, this is all incremental stuff.

On the positive side, you get the same lovely, clean environments, distinctive in their colour palettes and with carefully-chosen details littered around to pick up on. It also means the character models are as carefully created as ever, too.

Each playable character has its own look and feel, with vibrant expressions and voice lines to go with them – something that also isn’t new but still stands out as among the most memorable work in any team shooter.

Activision BlizzardOverwatch 2 preview: More shooter, less team photo 5

Part of this sense of déjà vu isn’t Blizzard’s fault, to reiterate. In multiplayer environments, where performance and responsiveness are key, and the visual language should all be in service of players being able to read what’s going on and what they can do about it, graphical whizzbangs are hard to justify.

Then again, though, it’s worth remembering that Blizzard could have made this an Overwatch update delivered in patches over the last couple of years, and instead has turned it into a sequel. So, sadly, the visual changes don’t feel like they do enough.

That might be different when console versions come out, though – compared to PC, the console version looks much more dated, and being able to play in 4K on a PS5 or Xbox Series X would be great.

To recap

Overwatch 2 is shaping up oddly. It still has moments of the highest quality to offer up, but it also feels more like a really big patch for the first game than an all-new title. Its character reworks are interesting but not game-changing, while shrinking the team size hasn’t been a simple win. It might not be the silver bullet Blizzard would have hoped for, but time will tell.

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Writing by Max Freeman-Mills. Editing by Adrian Willings.


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