The ‘Overwatch 2’ beta brings fresh content to a stale game

My love of indie games and weird hardware is well documented, but I have to admit it here: The game I’ve sunk the most hours into is Overwatch. I’ve been playing since it came out in 2016, mostly on PlayStation, but I also have accounts on Xbox and PC. I main Mei, D.Va and Moira, with a side of Symmetra and Orisa, and to this day I play competitive mode about three times a week.

I’ve been desperate to get my hands on Overwatch 2, especially since Blizzard has been teasing it for more than two years. This week, the Overwatch 2 beta went live and I finally got to see how this thing plays, complete with the new damage hero, Sojourn, and a fresh 5v5 format.

Let’s call it like it is: Overwatch has grown stale over the past year or so, with minimal updates and an unofficial freeze on new heroes, maps and modes. This isn’t just opinion, either – it got so bad that game director Aaron Keller for the lack of Overwatch content and communication back in March.

The beta is by no means a finished product, but it features all the things Blizzard is trying to tweak, including updates to audio cues, crisper animations and environments, and complete reworks for some longtime heroes. Overwatch 2 looks and sounds great already, and I don’t think it’s just because we’ve been starved for new content for so long. Gunshots and explosions carry more bass and cut off cleanly, while the sound of a headshot breaks through the chaos with a sharp, satisfying ping.

Alongside visual and lighting improvements to existing maps, Overwatch 2 adds a new scoreboard when pressing tab that shows stats for all players in the game, listing out kills, assists, deaths, healing and damage output. I appreciate the transparency, but even with all the data laid bare, I don’t think this will stop toxic players from yelling at their healers every time they lose a round, and even when they win. (Seriously, chill out – we’re playing with literal kids half the time.)

Overwatch 2 introduces four new maps and a new game mode called Push, which replaces Assault in competitive and quick play. That means there are no more Assault maps in standard rotation, and honestly, I’m happy to say goodbye to Hanamura, Temple of Anubis, Volskaya, Paris, and Horizon Lunar Colony. These maps feel static and restrictive, and I particularly enjoy the action built in Toronto and Rome, the new Push environments.

Blizzard

In Push, teams attempt to take control of a large robot and make it move a barricade toward the enemy base; Both Toronto and Rome have multiple stairways, bridges and platforms to scale, with a wide, winding path for the robot to walk down. The maps are filled with idle vehicles, pillars and streetlights, offering cover and stumbling blocks in equal measure. Toronto and Rome feel more alive than the former Assault maps, and the pacing of these Push matches evolves deliciously as the game progresses. In well-balanced matches, ownership of the robot swaps back and forth like tug-of-war while a timer ticks down, and the team that’s pushed the barricade the farthest wins. But even in one-sided rounds, as the robot gets closer and closer to the enemy base, the walk back to battle for the winning team becomes longer and longer, increasing the stakes of each death.

In terms of gameplay, the most notable feature of Overwatch 2 is the shift from 6-player teams to 5, losing one tank role in the process. That means two healers, two damage heroes and one tank per team. I’ll be honest, I barely notice the reduction in player count in any mode, and matches are still packed with plenty of movement, strategy and danger. Playing as a tank doesn’t feel overwhelming, either. Blizzard adjusted the stats of all tank heroes – and Doomfist, who moved from damage to tank – to compensate for the roster change and it seems to be shaking out just fine.

Speaking of heroes, Sojourn is the first new character to hit Overwatch in two years, and she’s a ton of fun to play, if a little basic. Sojourn is another transhumanist hero and her main weapon is a big ol’ gun. Her primary ability is a railgun that fires energy projectiles and it’s similar to Soldier 76’s main weapon; Her secondary option is a single, high-impact shot that hits exactly where it’s fired, no leading required. This shot isn’t automatically available – it charges up when Sojourn lands hits with her primary weapon, and the charge disappears if she stops dealing damage, incentivizing action at all times. Swapping between projectile and hitscan abilities is tricky, and this adds a lovely layer of complexity to Sojourn’s skillset. Otherwise, she’s able to slide a significant distance in any direction and she can throw out an energy orb that pulls enemies in and damages them in a circular area. Her ultimate is fairly lackluster, basically adding a buff to her railgun for a short time. I assume Blizzard will swap out this ability down the line, maybe even before the full game launches. Remember, this is all still a beta and rumor has it Overwatch 2 won’t actually come out until 2023, so I’m banking on a few significant overhauls.

Overwatch 2

Blizzard

In total, 26 existing heroes have been updated for Overwatch 2. Orisa saw some of the most drastic changes: Her shield and gravity orb are gone, replaced by an incredibly satisfying javelin. She can throw the spear straight at enemies for ranged skill shots and a powerful knockback, or spin it in front of her, deflecting incoming projectiles, and damaging and knocking back any enemies she runs into. Her ultimate is much improved, too – instead of offering a buff to the team, Orisa stands in place, pulling in enemies and gathering power before releasing it in a wave of damage. I tend to play every tank like a dive tank, and especially with the spinning javelin and her fortify ability, Orisa is actually up for the challenge.

Not every Overwatch 2 rework is successful, in my book. Mei is one of my mains and she’s been nerfed within an inch of her life – her endothermic blaster doesn’t actually freeze enemies any more, instead slowing them down at a constant rate with no build-up. Her ice wall is weaker and can’t travel as far, her cryo-freeze won’t protect her from Sigma’s gravitic flux, and her ultimate is harder to unlock. Blizzard, why do you hate Mei? I’m asking for a friend. That friend is Mei.

Overall, this feels like the Overwatch revamp we wanted. In beta, Overwatch 2 looks and sounds better than the original, and its new game mode, hero and maps feel great, even with one fewer player per team. Now just buff Mei and get this game to the masses, Blizzard. We’ve waited long enough.

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