Way back in 2016, when the first Overwatch hero-shooter game splashed on the scene, it was an online-only, cartoony, brightly colored, teamwork-in-the-heat-of-a-firefight game that felt particularly geared for the teen market. It didn’t have a story. It didn’t allow you to play against computer-controlled enemies. And it was a blood-free shooter hit.
Overwatch 2 comes packing a lot of that same familiar snap along with visual upgrades and crisper, more detailed effects and game mechanics. There are also big changes that fall somewhere between an expansion to the first game and new sequel. One of those adjustments is the fact that the game is now a completely free-to-play title that replaces the original game entirely.
(It should be noted that, while technically free, this game earns its money through in-game merchandizing in the form of advanced “Battle Passes” that offer additional experiences, heroes and weapons.)
Another change: Play has shifted from six-versus-six battles to five-versus-five. Teams feature two damage-focused heroes, two support/healing characters and only one defensive tank. That may not sound particularly different, but with fewer defensive characters to hide behind, it makes play faster and more aggressive—which was the gamemaker’s obvious intention.
That change adds a certain freshness to the battling mix, but it can also be more punishing to newer players. And even though the healer heroes now receive an upgraded personal regeneration ability, the increased speed makes their support role a bit more difficult, too.
Overwatch 2 offers six new maps to the collection of old ones, all featuring creative designs, winding streets and tight chokepoints. And the roster of 35 old and new heroes—each with their own specialty weapons and unique skills that must be learned and mastered—are all available to former Overwatch players who merged their old and new accounts at launch. A new “First Time User Experience,” a system based on played matches that unlocks characters one by one, helps ease newbies into the learning and playing challenge.
As with the previous game, players can join groups of others online in a variety of competitive modes, including some new ones.
For example, the “Escort” challenge assigns a team to accompany a payload along a set track and past checkpoints while fighting a defending team. “Control” pits two teams against each other over ownership of a single capture point. A new multiplayer mode called “Push” challenges teams to fight for control of a central robot and move it in one direction or another. The team that pushes the robot into the opposing base or pushes the robot the furthest wins. A quick-play challenge called “Mystery Heroes” mixes things up by randomly assigning you a character (that you may or may not have ever played) before tossing you into play. And the list goes on.
Even though Overwatch doesn’t come with a story mode, there is still a very colorful character-focused appeal to the play. The visuals are strikingly upgraded. The game also introduces players to those characters in impressive, short, fully voiced videos that show the heroes facing off with villains in death-defying ways.
On the gameplay side, the cartoony play is mess-free and “feels” more friendly to young gamers than many other trigger-pullers.
This is a shooter featuring various guns, explosive blasts, swords, lasers, robotic suits, exploding traps and the like. When characters fall in battle, a red skull pops up over their collapsed form. And if your character falls, you’re sent back to a respawn room. The newly pumped-up action can be very frenetic, attacks coming from every direction, and at times fairly difficult to keep up with.
One character smokes, and some female heroes wear form-fitting outfits. And while the game itself doesn’t include bad language, there is the potential for rough-edged exclamations from other teammates during the online team play.
The new in-game merchandizing side of the Battle Pass structure can feel frustrating at times for players who don’t have the money (or grinding time) to make it past the pay wall content and character barriers.
Overwatch 2 sparkles with updated graphics and new characters and challenges. But in-game monetizing can be frustrating.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.