Blizzard has finally launched the first beta test for its hotly-anticipated Overwatch 2, the sequel to 2016’s critically acclaimed team-based FPS Overwatch. While it’s not easy to get in, there are a few ways to snag a key. When Blizzard announced the sequel way back in 2019, it promised that the new title would still be playable alongside the original Overwatch.
In fact, the company noted, players will still be able to access the new multiplayer maps and character reworks in the sequel without paying extra. This has led to some people questioning why Blizzard would call this expansion “Overwatch 2” in the first place. After all, if it’s just a sweeping update for the first game that replaces it within the Blizzard launcher, isn’t it just a new patch?
Now that the beta test is here, players are finally getting their hands-on time with the sequel. So, is it a big enough change to merit the all-important numeral after its name, or is it a glorified expansion masquerading as a brand-new release?
What is Overwatch 2?
Blizzard has confirmed that Overwatch 2 will be available for purchase as a standalone game. Players who pay for the sequel will gain access to the new single-player story content and exclusive new skins. Additionally, the sequel will launch with a new hero named Sojourn, a fast-moving damage-class character who can use a rocket-powered slide to cover vast distances.
It’s unclear whether players of the original will be able to play Sojourn and other new heroes the company will add to the game post-launch. Some players have speculated that Sojourn and other new heroes will only be available to players who pay for the sequel. In contrast, others expect Blizzard to add the new playable characters to Overwatch for no additional cost, as they have with other post-launch heroes.
Blizzard has also recently announced that it would decouple Overwatch 2’s PVE (player versus environment) from its PVP (player versus player) segment. This will allow the developer to push new PVP content to players sooner, likely due to the game’s development taking longer than expected. The original Overwatch stopped receiving post-launch support when the entire OW team pivoted to the sequel after Echo’s launch in April 2020. That’s left the original game in limbo for over two years as the fan base eagerly awaits news on new heroes, maps, game modes, and other aspects of the sequel.
Two Games, One PVP Experience
Perhaps the strangest thing about the sequel is that it will inhabit the same PVP sandbox as the original game. This means that players who purchased Overwatch in 2016 will still be able to play alongside people who purchase Overwatch 2 in 2022—that is, assuming Blizzard launches the new game this year.
By decoupling the PVP and PVE releases, the developer is likely gearing up for a swifter launch of the new PVP content than previously expected. This could include new game modes, like Push, alongside a slew of updated maps and new character designs. Fan-favorite characters like Reinhardt, Tracer, and Lucio are receiving eye-catching new skins for the sequel that will depict how much time has passed in the game’s universe since Overwatch’s story opened.
When Blizzard revealed the sequel in 2019, former project director Jeff Kaplan offered no timetable in which players could expect the new game to release. When asked directly about a release date at the panel, Kaplan retorted, “I don’t know. I have no idea. Like, just let us make it great, that’s what we care about more than anything. We don’t have a date in mind.”
Blizzard Entertainment typically takes an attitude of “it’ll come out when it’s ready” with its highly-polished games. The studio has built a reputation for releasing gorgeous, tightly-made games–even if it takes them years to push a finished product out the door.
Lawsuit and Allegations Complicate Pre-Release Hype
Some content creators and community figures have expressed ambivalence or outright hostility towards the new game because of Blizzard’s ongoing lawsuits over alleged sexual harassment in the workplace. Several Blizzard staffers went public with their accusations of abuse in the summer of 2021, leading to the departure of several long-running Blizzard developers.
While much of the controversy centered around the team that worked on the popular MMO RPG World of Warcraft, the lawsuits also impacted the Overwatch team. For instance, the cowboy-themed hero Jesse McCree was named after a former Blizzard developer who was accused of complicity in workplace misconduct. Blizzard changed the hero’s name to Cole Cassidy, attempting to distance its game from the allegations and negative press.
The company is still facing an ongoing lawsuit from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which insists Blizzard has engaged in workplace discrimination against women. “Defendants promote women more slowly and terminate them more quickly than their male counterparts,” the plaintiffs allege in the suit. “Faced with such adverse terms and conditions of employment, many women have been forced to leave the company.”
This negative press impacted Activision-Blizzard’s stock price, with many investors nervously bailing out of the company amid the controversy. In this chaos, tech giant Microsoft offered to buy the company for a price the board of directors couldn’t say no to.
How Will the Microsoft Buyout Affect Overwatch 2?
Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard hasn’t been finalized yet. The buyout will serve important roles for both companies, though. On the one hand, Blizzard needed the cover to help rehabilitate its damaged public image. With Microsoft in charge, it could make the hard decisions regarding personnel changes to help Blizzard distance itself from the harassment allegations.
On the other hand, the acquisition will help Microsoft shore up its stable of exclusive titles for its Xbox ecosystem. Rival console maker Sony has arguably held the edge over Microsoft in terms of first-party exclusives for the past two console generations. Sony’s heavy hitters, like God of War, Ghost of Tsushima, Ratchet and Clank, Spider-Man, and Horizon: Forbidden West, have received critical acclaim and overwhelming commercial success.
It’s easy to see why Microsoft would want to pad out its internal studios with Blizzard’s stable of heavy hitters. Aside from Overwatch, the company also develops massive franchises like World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, Starcraft, and Diablo. Microsoft could have the weight it needs to make its Xbox ecosystem a bigger competitor to Sony’s PlayStation by featuring these massive RPGs and FPS titles as exclusives under the Game Pass banner.
What’s New in Overwatch 2?
For all this talk of Overwatch 2, the main thing players want to know is what it will do differently from its predecessor. The arrival of the beta has answered many of these questions for fans as streamers pile into the new arena game.
The most notable change might sound simple at first: the team sizes have been reduced from six players per side to five players. Instead of teams being comprised of two tanks, two damage dealers, and two supports, the game will now feature only one tank and two of each other class.
This change dramatically alters the way team fights feel on a moment-to-moment basis. The smaller number of tanks in a match means that damage-dealing heroes have more opportunities to single out opposing characters with low health pools in order to blow a hole in the other team’s position.
The tank class, in general, has received numerous balance tweaks for Overwatch 2. Other heroes now generate less ultimate charge while damaging tank-class characters. This makes it harder for damage-dealers to quickly farm their ultimate abilities by plinking lumbering heroes like Reinhardt or Roadhog.
In addition, Blizzard is making changes to make tanks feel more like beefy front-liners who can engage in an aggressive play pattern. For instance, Reinhardt now has two charges of his long-range Firestrike ability per cooldown, and he can even cancel his fast-moving Charge skill mid-flight.
Former shield-based tank Orisa has received a complete rework. Now, instead of deploying a barrier and fortifying a position, Orisa is a javelin-wielding front-liner who will lead the team’s charge.
Additionally, some characters are receiving full reworks to become other classes. For instance, former damage hero Doomfist is now a tank-class character in Overwatch 2. He’s got a defensive move now that replaces his Rising Uppercut, allowing him to stay in the fray for longer.
These changes largely move tank characters from the roll of “damage sponge” to the more engaging “brawler” archetype. In general, Overwatch 2 has a more fast-paced, arena-style gameplay loop that encourages a mobile play pattern.
Fans are excited by the possibilities the sequel holds. While the name “Overwatch 2” might be an odd thing to call a massive content expansion, it’s probably still an accurate representation of the scope of the update. Fans are still eagerly awaiting updates on the expanded single-player content the sequel has in store, as this new slew of missions will introduce more players to the complex backstory that underpins the Overwatch universe.
The first Overwatch 2 beta is live now, and there will likely be plenty more from now until the official PVP release. In the meantime, it’s anyone’s guess when the PVP or PVE sides of the new FPS will actually go on sale in Blizzard’s launcher and game stores around the world.