The Overwatch 2 Beta just isn't the hero we needed

In 2016, Blizzard released Overwatch, a new twist on the hero shooter genre that took the world by storm, and in the years since, the game has remained consistently popular among players on all platforms. However, as the coming of a sequel has taken longer than originally expected, Overwatch has unfortunately fallen into a rut of stagnation while other live service shooters have continued to receive new characters, maps, events, and constant updates.

Finally, and thankfully, Overwatch 2 will be arriving this October. Or, at least, part of it will be. While the game’s much-touted “Player vs Environment” single-player portion has been pushed back to a 2023 launch, the multiplayer half of the game will arrive in early access on October 4th–and when it does, it’ll completely replace the original Overwatch as a free-to-play experience open to all.

Now, months before that launch, Blizzard has kicked off a new beta test for Overwatch 2 across both consoles and PC. EGM editors Mollie L Patterson and Josh Harmon both got the chance to join the beta and get an early look at the new generation of Overwatch, and here is the conversation they had about their experiences.

Image credit: Blizzard

Mollie L Patterson
After Blizzard recently announced that Overwatch 2 would finally be launching—well, launching in “early access,” and then only for its multiplayer mode—this October, the company recently kicked off a new beta test for the game that we’ve both had a chance to take part in. Before we get to our thoughts on the future of the franchise, however, I think it’d be good to be clear on our personal pasts with it. Before I detail my history with the original Overwatch, what has been your experience with it up until now?

Josh Harmon
I think like a lot of people at the time, I got big into Overwatch when it first came out and then just gradually drifted away. There was definitely a period of a few months after it launched in May 2016 that it was my absolute go-to game. I probably played at least a few matches every day. I unlocked gold weapons for a few of my mains (Junkrat and Lúcio, don’t @ me, never @ me), got to the point where I think I was pretty decent, and even climbed the ranks in the competitive mode. If I remember correctly, I got decently high up, though not into the top tier. I also remember checking some third-party stat tracker and finding out I was one of the top 100 or top 1000 Lúcios in the world—something high enough that I was proud of it at the time.

But as you can probably guess from how hazy my recollections have become, I fell off at some point, and I fell off hard. I’m not sure when I started to play less, but I can say for sure that I was pretty much done with the game by the summer of 2017. Doomfist was the last new hero added while I was still playing with any regularity. I’m not sure if I ever even touched Moira or Ashe, and I was definitely out by the time Hammond showed up. So, the short version is, I had a torrid love affair with the game, and then woke up one day and realized whatever love I had was dead. No big dramatic moment—there wasn’t a balance patch or some big change to the meta that turned me off. I just lost interest. What about you?

I really had no intention of playing or even caring about Overwatch leading up to its release, but because a number of people around the office were looking forward to it, I ended up checking it out and got hooked. It was the one shooter that would end up pulling me away from Titanfall 2—which may seem like a random thing to point out, but it’ll be of relevance once we get deeper into this discussion.

I was huge into the game. Played it every day at times, would watch the Overwatch League religiously, bought figures and other goods, and even to this day, my icon here in Slack is still Mercy. I loved the game early on, but as time went on, I started not liking some of the decisions that Blizzard was making with the game, decisions that felt similar to things I’d disliked about what the company did to World of Warcraft. Yes, those early days were chaos, but they were fun chaos. And then, there were lockdowns on who you could pick when, some characters were getting nerfed to feel more “balanced,” and we were getting new characters that more and more I just didn’t like. As stupid as this sounds, everything came to a head for me with Hammond, as he directly violated a “canonical” element to the game the dev team itself had established. It wasn’t too much after that that Apex Legends hit, and I almost never looked back.

I’ve tried going back to Overwatch at various points since then, and it’s honestly been hard, which I think kinda leads into talking about Overwatch 2: How we were feeling going into it, how excited (or not) we were, and—as harsh as this may sound—if we even cared. Because, I think if we’re being completely honest and not purposely just trying to be mean, the way Blizzard has handled the lead up to Overwatch 2 has, at times, made it hard to care.

Image credit: Blizzard

It does sound harsh, but I think it’s fair to say that the whole rollout of Overwatch 2 has been a little… botched. First it was a sequel, with a big PvE element that would be the main focus. But for a long time, there wasn’t a ton of detail on what would be new in terms of PvP to help it stand out. Then we learned a little bit more—hero reworks, new heroes, at least one new mode, and new maps—but it still sounded more like an expansion than anything else. And now, today, Overwatch 2 is going to be a free-to-play game launching into early access later this year, without PvE, and it’ll completely replace Overwatch, so it’s… kind of not a sequel after all? Sure, it’s more than you’d expect from a single new season of a live service game, but my impression, going into actually playing the beta for the first time, was that it’s basically like Blizzard saved up a bunch of the live-service seasons they could’ve been making all this time and lumped them in one big dump.

And because of all that, I didn’t really feel like Overwatch 2 was a big enough deal to get me excited about coming back to Overwatch after all my time away. Even with some new bells and whistles, it was still, at the core, going to be the same game I got bored with and moved on from. That might also sound harsh, but so far, I’m not sure I was wrong. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

Where was your head at when you first booted up the beta?

Like you hit on, it feels like Overwatch 2 has no real identity of its own, and I don’t think that’s fully Blizzard’s fault. It feels like a game where too many people wanted it to be too many things, and now it’s not really anything. I’m sure we’ll get into gameplay conversation in a moment, so I won’t go too deep here, but I actually had a few concerns about Overwatch 2 that now no longer exist—but that’s in part because what I played just comes off so much like a new patch for the original game. I mean, I know it’s not, and I’m smart enough to be able to tell that we see a lot of small- to medium-sized changes here. But everything that’s been done just doesn’t amount to enough. This isn’t Overwatch 2. I’m not even sure it’s Overwatch 1.5. And it just feels like such a mistake to launch this game without the single-player portion, because I worry that’ll take a lot of the wind out of its sails.

I know a lot of people are going to think I’m completely stupid for saying this, and I probably am, but part of me can’t shake the thought that Blizzard should have gone the fighting game route with Overwatch 2. Just throw all of the characters away, and start fresh. Bring back 1/3rd of the old cast, but make them play genuinely different. Rethink them for 2022, don’t just tweak their 2016 selves. Add some new characters in. Completely change the meta. Then, in the months ahead, bring old characters back, also greatly reworked. Give them totally fresh designs, not just very minor visual tweaks. Make me excited to see what Reinhardt or D.Va or Mercy are going to be when they return. Again, I know it’s crazy, but I want something that feels like a new generation of Overwatch, not just a new coat of paint on a six-year-old game.

That’s an interesting idea, and I’m sure there would’ve been riots, but I think the sad truth is Blizzard can’t do that because the game is so tied to Overwatch League at this point, right? They want it to be a sport, and while you can tweak the rules of a sport each season, you can’t just tell a bunch of professional basketball players that you’re getting rid of dribbling and the ball is now filled with helium, or whatever the equivalent would be for ditching most of the roster. The thing about fighting games is that the older ones coexist alongside the newer ones, which gives the pros the ability to still compete with what they’re familiar with while they learn something new. And the competitive fighting game scene, as neat as it is, isn’t tied down by the level of corporate investment and ludicrously expensive team ownership that OWL is. There can’t be two Overwatches at once, or the business side of the league would be in shambles.

It’s a real shame, because Blizzard is full of super creative designers, but they have to work within a narrow box now. I think of the two new characters we got to try out in the beta, Sojourn, really shows this, and she’s probably the highlight of my time with Overwatch 2 so far. For our readers who might not be aware, there are two main things that set her apart. First, shooting people with her assault rifle charges up a railgun shot that does more damage and can be devastating if you land a headshot at 100 percent. But second, and kind of more important for what I’m getting at, is that her active ability is a slide that lets her charge forward, and if she jumps before it’s over, she gets a massive leap. It’s a ton of fun, it’s situationally very useful, and it shows that Blizzard can be responsive to how multiplayer shooters have evolved since 2016. I don’t think Sojourn gets made in a world without Apex, which, while it may not be quite as involved on the movement front as Titanfall 2, does have a great deal more speed and physicality to its characters that makes it fun to just move around.

But the thing is, Overwatch 2 lets Blizzard do that with one character. The other new addition, Junker Queen, feels a lot more like a standard Overwatch character. She can shout to buff herself and nearby teammates—yawn—she can throw a knife that can pull people closer to her, and she has a shotgun. I didn’t hate playing her, but I did quickly come to see her as a less distinctive Roadhog. The numbers might be different, but there’s nothing about her rhythm of play that struck me as unique among th eroster. And that’s a real shame, because I think I might love a version of Overwatch where a bunch of new characters all had big, flashy, Sojourn-style movement abilities, and then other stuff layered on top to separate them from one another.

I’m (Road)hogging the chat, though, so let me turn it back to you. What did you think about the new characters in the beta?

Image credit: Blizzard

I was honestly a bit disappointed with Junker Queen, but that’s in part because she just doesn’t fit a play style that I enjoy. The other part, though, is that I think she has the same problem Doomfist had: She’s a character that was built up lore-wise for a decent amount of time, so it’s easy for your expectations to then clash with reality. For her, I don’t feel like her kit necessarily fits the character I expected to see when she’d finally arrive. But, again, I’m totally willing to admit that she’s just a bad fit for me, and not a bad fit for the game.

On the other hand, I agree with you on Sojourn. She’s absolutely the more interesting of the two new characters. She does feel a little “Soldier: 76 2.0” at times, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s long overdue that Overwatch finally gets a black woman on the roster, and she’s fun to play, both for her attack options and her movement.

However—I just can’t not bring Apex Legends up, especially because you’re right, Sojourn feels directly influenced by that game. And that’s not a crazy thing to say, given that even what is arguably the biggest game in existence right now, Fortnite, has been influenced by Apex on multiple occasions. Going from Overwatch to Respawn’s hero shooter, and then back to Overwatch, I know they’re not at all the same experience, but man it’s just so hard to not want more of Apex to seep into Overwatch.

Part of the reason I’ve had so much trouble going back to the original game in recent years is that it just now feels so slow, and that’s still the case with Overwatch 2. Dying and making that run—or, should I say, brisk walk—back from respawn can feel like torture. Still not being able to just get up small ledges is brutal. Being a healer who isn’t Lúcio and trying to get away from danger when your team refuses to keep an eye on you is utter frustration. Sojourn having her slide doesn’t make me want to play her as much as it makes me want the entire roster to also have that slide. Same with Soldier: 76 and his sprint button.

Again, again, I know. I know why Blizzard wouldn’t want to completely rework the game. I know why they have to worry about things like Overwatch League, even though I hate the fact that such efforts may now tie the team’s hands in how ambitious they can be. But in a world where even Fortnite isn’t afraid to introduce sizable reworking of its gameplay, including adding running and sliding and climbing up ledges, we’re living in an era where movement options in games such as these are now more important than ever. And I just desperately wish Overwatch 2 could have been more modernized in that regard, because there’s still a core here that I do find interesting and fun and enjoyable.

Enough with what I wish Overwatch 2 was, though—let’s talk about what it is. Since we talked about the new characters, do you have any strong feelings about returning characters as they now exist? I genuinely like where Sombra is now, and I’m having more fun with her than I did before. I don’t know that I like what they’ve done to Mercy’s Guardian Angel move, but I’ve gotten used to it. I absolutely do not like Bastion in his revised form. Those were three big stand-outs to me.

I’m gonna be honest here: I didn’t even know they updated Sombra. I did mess around with the new Bastion, and he’s… fine. I appreciate that you no longer run around a corner and get decimated by a turret Bastion, though I feel like I remember them nerfing that a bit before I stopped playing. Mc— uh, Cassidy’s rework, which just replaces his flashbang with a sticky grenade, is so minor to me it’s hilarious. I never played much Orisa, so I can’t vouch for how differently she plays, but I can safely say she seems like a beast now from the standpoint of having to fight her. I had to just look up everyone else that got changes, and some of them were so minor I didn’t even notice, like Reinhardt having more charges of Fire Strike and better steering. It seems like a lot of changes to make changes, rather than things that adjust the core of how the heroes or the game as a whole plays.

Listen, I know a lot of these tweaks are probably going to be really helpful to balance the game at multiple levels, and to take some frustrating pain points—e.g., being frozen by Mei—away. But this is very much tinkering around the edges, which doesn’t do anything to address my biggest pain points with the game. Like you mentioned, it can be slow. And because there’s so much balance toward the competitive team composition, whether or not your team is playing smartly together is the single biggest factor in terms of whether or not you have fun in a given match. This is not a shooter where you can have a great round and feel like a hero carrying your team, especially not if the other team is working together.  And there’s certainly a place for games like that—but I don’t know if there’s a place for another game like that in my rotation. These days I definitely prefer things where there’s a balance between teamwork and individual skill, not games where I’m going to get pasted in two seconds over and over again if my team can’t make a coordinated push.

But despite some modes and options that gear more toward silly fun, Blizzard has clearly cast its lot in favor of a very structured, team-centric shooter. It’s gone so far that the default matchmaking option is now set around a specific team composition—one tank, two DPS, two healers. And I’m not exaggerating at all when I say that, in my time with the beta, it always took 10 minutes to find a match unless I wanted to be a healer. I’m sorry, but that’s not sustainable, even if you let me goof off shooting other players while I’m matchmaking. Once you told me that there’s a second matchmaking mode with no limitations on team comp, I was able to get into matches way faster, but I also noticed that the quality of play dropped off considerably. Turns out siloing off all the most impatient players into a separate community doesn’t help find the right balance either.

I feel like we’ve gone on a while now, and if we’re not saying something nice, maybe we shouldn’t be saying 5,000 words. So I’ll pass it back to you and let you start to wrap things up. What’s your biggest takeaway from the Overwatch 2 beta? Is there anything that could persuade you to get into the game at launch?

Image credit: Blizzard

I was worried going into Overwatch 2 knowing that the original game would just be Thanos snapped later this year, because I didn’t want to have the only Overwatch experience out there being one with the smaller 5v5 setup and locked role queues. After playing the beta, I don’t know that I’ll care about the loss of 6v6, and at least as of now, we’ve still got an option where you can just pick whatever team comp you want. So, I think I’ll be able to enjoy this new era of Overwatch more than I initially expected.

That said, I don’t know that Overwatch 2 will pull me back into the game on a more serious level, because it addresses few of the complaints about the franchise I have at this point. Overwatch and I might just not be compatible anymore, and that’s okay. The bigger concern is what the general population is going to think, and I just don’t know how that’s going to go after playing the beta. Some of the core fans who have been playing the entire game are going to have a refreshed game to jump into this fall, but is that going to be enough to attract a new audience? Initially, you might say yes due to the move to free-to-play, but there’s a lot of such options out there at this point, many of which are offering more than an experience that feels similar to what we’ve had for six years now. And, without that PVE content there alongside the launch—whatever you want to call it—I think it’s going to dilute the excitement for what needs to be a strong move into the future of the franchise.

So—I just don’t know. I don’t know that there is any singular thing actually wrong with Overwatch 2, but so much of it just feels so unexciting to me at this point. And with so many other options out there for my gaming time, one of the worst things a game can be is unexciting.

I think that’s a good way to put it. Overwatch 2 isn’t bad. It’s doing what it wants to do pretty well. But what it wants to do might not be a good fit for where the genre is now, and certainly not for where I am now. I’m going to keep an open mind, and I might even try to get back into the game when it launches this October. But at this point, I don’t think a minor makeover and a few new tricks are enough to reignite the spark we once had. But hey, there’s always Overwatch 3

Stay tuned to EGM for much more coverage of Overwatch 2 in the coming days.

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