Overwatch 2 Aims to Fix the First Game's Biggest Flaw
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Overwatch 2 is shifting to a free-to-play model with battle passes and new content every season. Players will get a new hero or map every nine weeks, with the developers committing to updates in perpetuity.
Why it matters
Though the changes in Overwatch 2 might seem small on the surface, they fix the original game's biggest flaw: an inability to support long-term updates. The changes are also powered by substantial under-the-hood upgrades that should mean fans don't have to suffer a content drought ever again.
Sign-ups for the second Overwatch 2 beta are now open for PC and console players, and the game is scheduled to launch in early access on Oct. 4.
Overwatch 2 was announced with a bang (and some controversy) at BlizzCon in 2019, but that announcement was followed by two years of virtual silence. Overwatch players were given the hope of a new game but waited for months with no news about how the game was progressing. The original game stopped releasing new heroes and competitive maps, making Overwatch 2 feel more and more like a false promise -- something that would get infinitely delayed, whether that was due to a global pandemic, a workplace allegedly drowning in harassment or churn in the executive ranks.
But now we're finally getting a steady stream of information about Overwatch 2 and how it compares to its predecessor. In a reveal event on June 16, we got the most detailed look ever at the future of Overwatch, and fans should be hopeful about the shooter's return to glory. The devs spoke about the game's transition to a live-service model, detailing how that'll allow them to continue delivering new content to the game for years to come.
Do I wish those changes had happened sooner and without a multiyear content drought? Yes, absolutely. But the changes also seem like exactly the right direction for the game -- fixes to the problems that so plagued Overwatch in its later years.
Here's why fans should finally be hopeful about Overwatch 2, including plans for the first two PvP seasons, the end of loot boxes and the introduction of a new tank hero that I'll be one-tricking for the foreseeable future: Junker Queen.
Overwatch 2 release date
Overwatch 2 is scheduled to release in early access on Oct. 4. It'll be available on PC, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. Players who buy the game before 11 a.m. PT on June 23 will also get the Founders Pack, which includes skins for Sombra and Doomfist, as well as an exclusive player icon and an as-yet-unannounced gift.
Can't wait that long? Overwatch 2 is getting a second beta on Tuesday, June 28, at 11 a.m. PT. The beta is scheduled to run through July 18 at 11:59 p.m. PT. Players will be able to play as Junker Queen and play on the new map, Rio -- home to the support hero Lucio. You can sign up on the Overwatch 2 beta site. If you really want guaranteed access to the beta and don't mind putting down some money, you can purchase the Watchpoint Pack for $40 and unlock exclusive skins for Cassidy and Soldier 76 as well as the premium battle pass for season 1, another exclusive player icon and some in-game currency.
Overwatch 2 content roadmap
The Overwatch 2 developers announced a slew of changes to the game at Thursday's event. Outside of the move to 5v5, which majorly shakes up the pace of the game, no individual change feels like a titanic shift. However, the sum of the changes should make for a gaming experience that blends familiar free-to-play structures with Overwatch's unique, vibrant gameplay.
Here's what we know so far:
PvP will get new seasons every nine weeks, with a new hero or map added at the start of each season. The devs said the goal is to give each season its own distinct feel, which may include major balance patches. They're aiming for 3-4 new heroes per year.
No more loot boxes: Each season will have its own battle pass, which will include various cosmetics, including new skins for characters.
The ranked system is changing. The skill rating, or SR, system is being replaced with a new system designed to give players a better sense of progression, including multiple tiers within each rank.
Players will get new tools to help them improve, including a new post-match report designed to tell you more about how you're performing.
The game is adding mythic skins -- a tier above legendary skins that'll allow players to customize each skin. Mythic skins also come with unique in-game cosmetic effects.
The new details about season plans might stealthily be the biggest news from Thursday's event. In the live game, seasons start and end pretty arbitrarily, with nothing to distinguish one from the next. Getting a new hero or map (or both) along with major balance changes every nine weeks will finally give each season of Overwatch its own identity and, most importantly, will give players a reason to keep playing season after season.
Ahead of the reveal event, I asked Overwatch 2's game director, Aaron Keller, what will help the game stand out from other free-to-play titles that follow similar seasonal releases. His answer: Overwatch is special. "I think what made the original game stand out -- I think that magic is still a part of Overwatch 2," he said. Keller also thinks the game will continue to draw fans in with its fast-paced gameplay, unique heroes and a long line of exciting releases once the game launches.
As someone who's been playing the game for five years now, I can't help but agree.
Overwatch VP and Commercial Lead Jon Spector added that the biggest opportunity for Overwatch has been that players want more: "They want more heroes and they want more maps and they want to try new game modes and they want to see the story continue and progress." The free-to-play model will allow the team to continually add new content to the game in a way that the original game couldn't sustain over the years. A one-time purchase doesn't do that anymore, which is why games like Destiny 2, Apex Legends, Valorant and many others have embraced the free-to-play, pay-for-cosmetics structure.
Getting rid of loot boxes is also a welcome change and helps separate Overwatch from the more maligned aspects of the recent Diablo Immortal launch. But we'll still have to wait for details about the overall business model for Overwatch 2.
Overwatch 2 new hero: Junker Queen
Almost five years after she first appeared on posters in the Junkertown escort map, the queen of Junkertown will be a playable character in Overwatch 2. The newest tank hero is ready to rush into battle and deal some damage. Her abilities will allow her to speed forward, wound enemies, and even drag them near her. Everything we've seen so far screams aggressive, in-your-face playstyle.
Blizzard also debuted the game's first cinematic since 2019's Overwatch 2 announcement trailer. The new cinematic focused on the Junker Queen and her rise to power.
We've also seen hints at another hero in the works, likely a support hero. The release date trailer showed a brief flash of a blue fox spirit leading a team forward toward spectral gates.
Overwatch 2 desperately needs more supports. When Junker Queen arrives in the next beta, tank players will have 10 heroes to choose from, both damage players will pick from a roster of 17 heroes, and two supports will split themselves between just seven heroes -- about half as many hero options per player as the other roles.
I asked Geoff Goodman, lead hero designer for Overwatch 2, about that imbalance. He said the team was aware of the issue, that Overwatch had trended toward tanks and supports over time in new hero releases but that the team is now discussing the possibility of speeding up that process. That could potentially mean back-to-back support hero releases. "We want to add more supports," he said, "and we have some coming post-release."
Overwatch 2 PvE
The announcement video didn't say much about the PvE side of Overwatch 2, but the devs did say that the PvE events will start in 2023 as part of the live service. That's as much as we know right now, but the developers said they'll reveal more information ahead of launch.