Gaming

The Frenzied Overwatch 2 Beta Is a Step in the Right Direction

The move to 5v5 substantially increases the pace of matches and the ability to make big plays.

Blizzard Entertainment

Overwatch 2 released its first beta on Tuesday, April 26, finally bringing new content to the hero-based, team shooter franchise. I've been playing it almost non-stop since then, and I expect to log more than 40 hours before the beta ends on Tuesday, May 17. 

We have a new hero, new maps, a whole new game mode and myriad changes to existing heroes. Opinions on the success of those changes will vary, but as someone who has played Overwatch consistently (and sometimes obsessively) for the past five years, I think they move the game in a good direction. 

The most noticeable difference? The new 5v5 gameplay is fast. Without a second tank in the game to deny angles and protect teammates, players have a lot more chances to make fight-winning plays -- and not just DPS players. Supports are more vulnerable to flanks, but they're also harder to shut down. A Zenyatta on an off-angle can output serious damage, and landing a biotic grenade on your opponents can win fights outright as Ana. A mechanically gifted Lucio? An absolute nightmare.

Tanks may no longer have a partner on the battlefield, but changes to various heroes allows for aggressive, pace-setting play. For instance, Zarya's bubbles are now on a shared charge, giving her the option to build charge much easier by frontlining. And Orisa has been transformed from a static tank who sprays you down at a distance into a terrorizing, stampeding, javelin-wielding warrior. 

If you're used to playing Overwatch as a slower, more positional game, the beta will feel wildly different. Once-familiar maps feel quite different with one fewer tank on the field: Threats seem to emerge from everywhere, and cover is a vital, scarce resource. The game is faster, more frantic and more lethal.

And, honestly, a lot more fun. 

My most frustrating experiences in Overwatch have been in situations where I felt powerless. Maybe an enemy team had a Bastion buried behind two shields. Or my entire team was standing passively behind a choke point. Overwatch can reach points of frustrating stagnation that can only be overcome with precise coordination or strong ultimate combos.

Some people will miss that. If your favorite part of Overwatch is the intricate clockwork of team compositions and ability combinations, the Overwatch 2 beta might be a letdown. Overwatch has always been a hybrid of shooter and multiplayer online battle arena, and if you primarily enjoy the MOBA aspects -- the map positioning, the ability management, the ultimate economies and so on -- Overwatch 2 will probably feel like a step in the wrong direction. 

To be clear, those elements aren't gone, but they do take a back seat to mechanics and aggression in this first beta. In my experience, the team whose tank is more aggressive, whose supports deal higher damage and whose DPS take bigger risks will generally come out on top. There are exceptions -- if the flanking Deadeye doesn't work out, or if supports leave the tank to get run over because they're too busy chasing kills, the "safer" team will win. But I like that the game encourages players to look for those playmaking opportunities.

Make no mistake, there's a lot to adjust to. In addition to big changes like a new hero, a new game mode and one fewer tank, there are smaller nuances that take time to get used to. I played several games as Ana before I realized I no longer need to use my biotic grenade on myself to heal damage from range -- the new support passive would top me up after a second behind cover. Instead, I could save that ability to bail out my tank or put pressure on enemies with an anti-heal. As Sombra, I could use the new ping system to indicate which enemy I was about to hack. Small adjustments like that end up having a significant effect on how games play out. 

But overall, I've been having more fun with the beta than I've had in the past couple years of Overwatch. I do wish the support heroes had gotten something more engaging in this beta -- a more substantial rework, where warranted, or even a brand-new hero. (And it sounds like the developers have heard that feedback.) But I've still had fun playing support, not to mention reworked and untouched DPS heroes alike. Even the tank role, which I have mostly avoided for the past year and a half, felt exciting. I've played heroes that I've virtually never played before, like Zarya or Doomfist, and found myself grinning over how much fun I'm having. 

At first I thought it must be the novelty, surely. I'm having fun because I'm playing a new game, however familiar the pieces of that game may be. And while that's surely an element in my excitement, it's not what drives me to gasp and shout and spontaneously fist-pump in the middle of a match. It's not what makes me tell my friend, mid-match, "Holy shit, this is so much fun." 

Overwatch has always been exciting when the big abilities land -- when a Reinhardt hits a whole team with his earthshatter, or when a Tracer hits a two-for-one pulse bomb. But Overwatch 2, for me, has pumped that same level of excitement back into the smaller moments. It reinvigorates the action of the game -- the thrill of taking a surprise angle, of landing a rushed sleep dart or of running forward with a javelin and a dream, and somehow coming out on top. 

If you live for that kind of glory, based on what I've seen so far, you're going to love Overwatch 2.