The Overwatch 2 Beta is Threatening My Productivity

Back in February I wrote a piece on my multiplayer addiction of choice, Overwatch. Make no mistake, although titled a ‘lament’, I deeply enjoy the game and, despite its reoccurring pockets of player-base toxicity, still regularly play with the same group of friends. At the end of the article, I made the (admittedly) desperate claim that just maybe I’d still be playing Overwatch by the time the long-awaited second instalment released and, to my surprise, this has somewhat been the case. The beta has arrived. It’s here right now, three weeks of 5v5, solo tank, no 2CP (capture point) goodness. Like most of Overwatch 2’s current online population, neither I nor my three friends received our beta access via email (even though we signed up within five minutes of it going live). Instead, on April 27th, we all sat down and watched four hours’ worth of popular Overwatch streamers play the game on Twitch in order to gain access to the exclusive, time-limited taster session. My streamer of choice was ML7 the Romanian Ana main, and the boys opted for a mix of Emongg, KarQ, Seagull, Fitzy and Aarge. Drops for the beta were only active for eight hours total, so we all started at 6PM GMT to ensure we could play together by 10PM. Anticipation was high as we waited for the bar to slowly reach one hundred per cent completion and, while watching the stream in the background, I opted to work through some transcription editing. By the time 10PM rolled around we were all downloaded and ready to go in less than ten minutes. Honestly, I was incredibly impressed at the fact the servers didn’t completely explode, since a lot of the streamers with beta drops active were receiving well over 20k viewers (with some even reaching 100k+). We were in.

Rein is even more beastly with Overwatch 2′s gameplay changes.

Someone not intimately familiar with the first game would be forgiven for thinking Overwatch 2 looks exactly the same. There are a few new maps, one new game mode and, currently, one new character (as well as the removal of a few older, much-maligned 2CP maps). It’s the seemingly small, mechanical changes that have had a large impact on the wider experience. Overwatch 2 is now, exclusively, a 5v5 game, as opposed to the 6v6 set-up of the original. Previously, quick-play and competitive team composition was two tanks, two damage dealers and two healers – now, one tank has been removed. This was a conscious design decision on Blizzard’s end to increase the overall speed and flow of the game, an attempt to remove the dreaded ‘double shield’ meta that has dominated proceedings for a number of years now. Double shield is a play style that involves two tanks (pretty much Orisa and Sigma), setting up their respective barriers in order to soak up damage and allow teams to hold valuable choke points. As damage dealing characters it is not fun to spend most of your time firing at shields, which offer no ult charge and little tactical advantage when they can be reapplied so quickly. Overwatch 2 having one tank means that this defensive playstyle is now almost wholly unviable and teams, both on defence and offence, are expected to play more aggressively. The whole game becomes much faster, much more reliant on big ults and proper management of ability cooldowns. Indeed, the new character, Sojourn, plays like a super-mobile, high-ground hogging tank buster. Her weapon, when hitting a target, charges an alt-fire railgun that can one-shot weaker heroes and score serious damage on larger opponents. The best part? The railgun charges upon hitting shields and can fully penetrate them as well. That delicate balance between game sense (awareness of your surroundings, what the enemy may have charged/at their disposal) and mechanical skill is still present, but the beta leans slightly towards the latter. You will die very quickly in Overwatch 2 if you refuse to position yourself properly, or overly rely on your single tank and, while this is frustrating at first, it does wonders for the pacing of each round. While the first Overwatch can often descend into a sluggish tug-of-war between two teams and their souped-up defences, the sequel skews much harder towards snappy decision making, with frenetic fights that can be decided in seconds, or run on for minutes on end; large scale, chaotic brawls that are tremendous fun.

Melo showing of Sojourn’s capabilties.

The other mechanical change that manages to mix things up is the removal of most of the games CC, or crowd control. Crowd control is exactly what it says on the tin, abilities that serve to interrupt other abilities or help dictate the flow of encounters in general. Examples of this are Cole Cassidy’s flashbang grenade and Brigitte’s shield bash, both of which can put other players at a temporary standstill and knock them out of attempted ults. These can be very frustrating to deal with and playing certain tanks (like Reinhardt) can feel like an exercise in futility – the player relegated to a big stumbling target that is constantly being knocked about and stunned. Using your ultimate ability in Overwatch is fun and rewarding, as is blocking, or successfully countering a team’s ultimate ability, but that enjoyment is soured when it turns into a back and forth of cc’ing each other out of any and all attempts. Overwatch 2 has, for the most part, completely removed CC, leaving only (from what I can currently tell) Ana’s sleep dart and Roadhog’s hook (which is an integral part of his hero design to begin with). Again, much like deleting an entire player from the equation, this means the game has a newfound emphasis on speed and aggression. You can, for lack of a better term, get crazy with it. Feel free to pop those ultimate abilities more frequently and with greater risk; sure, there’s still a chance of getting interrupted by something, but it’s going to require a lot more skill and positioning on your opponent’s part.

New York looking a lot better than it does in real life.

While these mechanical changes make for a very different experience in the eyes of hardcore Overwatch fans, the game, aesthetically (and specifically in beta form) has not really changed a whole lot. The selectable character icons show off some of the upcoming character redesigns, but for now, we are stuck with their original incarnations – only time will tell if this is a blessing or a curse. The original Overwatch maps, however, have undergone slight design changes. Most areas are now sporting a completely different time of day, the majority now being bathed in the orange glow of the evening sun. Honestly, I really don’t like it. The stand-out, bright and colourful anime-meets-Pixar look of the game is somewhat sullied by the new dull, samey lighting. A lot of the intense detail has been washed out by the completely unnecessary time of day alterations. The bright and fun daytime area, Route 66, is now set at night for reasons unknown. I no longer feel like I’m in the video game equivalent of Disney World’s Frontierland and, if I am, it’s after the park has closed and there are a group of strange men shooting at me. Conversely, King’s Row has moved from night to evening, the distinct atmosphere of a fictional London after dark now wholly absent. Luckily, the four new maps available in the demo are all brilliant, flush with excellent detail and unique design. Circuit Royal is, undoubtedly, the best Overwatch has ever looked, and the futuristic Monaco skyline is absolutely breathtaking. The snowy Toronto, which is a map based around the new game mode Push, is also stand-out – the shock, winter whites truly setting it apart from every single other area in the game. Push, by the way, is really good; I didn’t find a place to naturally fit it into my thoughts earlier, but it adds another layer of unique strategy to the hero-shooter experience and dares to ask the question ‘what if the payload was a sentient robot that went both ways?’.

NotAlexander capping the big guy (robot).

Finally, I feel it is worth mentioning that the beta for Overwatch 2 has removed the medal system, replacing it with a generic scoreboard that allows players to view everyone’s (including the enemy team’s) damage, healing and eliminations. Oddly enough, this was also present in the beta for the first game but was removed for the final product due to toxicity. In my piece on the first Overwatch, I talked a little about how the bronze, silver and gold medals encouraged personal glory and didn’t do a whole lot to encourage team play, lamenting over the fact that I couldn’t fathom an alternative that would motivate players to work together. Once again, I fail to see how the scoreboard will do more than incite aggressive individuals to question their teammate’s performance, especially when all the information is present on a communal tab for all to witness. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see until the full game releases to know if medals will be reintroduced. Post-game cards highlighting individual match achievements (most damage, most healing, etc.) are also absent – the game booting you back to the menu screen after the play of the game highlight has finished. The scoreboard, removing those glittering circular prizes, at least makes it a little harder to immediately parse if someone is doing poorly (or allowing you to rest on your laurels by assuming you are doing particularly well), so both systems do have their own advantages, but we’re still a long way off anything that’s going to get your Widowmaker to get on the point during overtime.

Snowy Toronto.

With essentially two weeks left to experience all I can of the timed beta, I feel my productivity slowly slipping between my fingers. The addiction and late nights are back in full swing, the screaming at all hours continues. Will the Overwatch 2 beta change enough to convince people who weren’t fans of the first? Probably not, but there is just enough nuance different to ensure veterans are finding new, fun ways to reexperience older content. The base game of Overwatch has been successfully recontextualised and revitalised into something exciting. The biggest downside is the thought of having to slump back to the first game after this brief demo has concluded, tail between my legs (only to have it bashed off by an overzealous Brigitte). Now we have collectively had a taste of Overwatch 2, it can’t come soon enough. Wake me up when 2022 is over.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: