I’ll forever view my 1,400 hours played in Overwatch as a happy accident. I was only recently introduced to first-person shooters when the game dropped in 2016, having first played Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Black Ops 3. Those games quickly became regular pastimes, and in searching for an alternative, I came across Blizzard’s vibrant team-based shooter.
As a long time fan of Super Smash Bros., Overwatch checked many of the requirements I have for multiplayer games. Its diverse cast of characters all played differently, which meant hitting a personal skill ceiling was less likely to deter me from playing the game altogether. Characters like the area of effect healing Lucio or hammer-swinging Reinhardt could still be viable options if my aim felt off with a more traditional shooter.
Likewise, despite Overwatch’s competitive leanings, it shared with Smash Bros. the ability to be equally fun (if not more so) to mess around in unranked and eventually user created modes. In keeping with the game’s inclusive approach to its characters and the voice actors portraying them, Overwatch often felt like a video game sanctuary among its competitive alternatives, ensuring that anyone who picked up a controller could find some way to enjoy what was on offer.
Through all of the game’s changes and updates over the last six years, I’ve genuinely enjoyed booting up Overwatch, though some of that excitement has waned as we inch towards the sequel’s release. At its best, Overwatch perfected the semi-regular trickle of free content updates - characters, maps, modes - that left me, and plenty of others eagerly awaiting more.
Overwatch 2 however, is plagued by fans’ outcry against the game’s revamped design trajectory. Among other changes, this includes a free-to-play model, a shift to five-on-five gameplay, and an overall embrace of some of the more contentious aspects of gaming such as price increases for skins and paid battle passes.
Even with the very public backlash against the game and Blizzard’s parent company Activision, I can’t help but wonder: are we blowing Overwatch 2 out of proportion?
I spent a good few hours playing Overwatch 2 during its beta period earlier this summer. As one of the saps who purchased access through the Watchpoint bundle on PlayStation Network, I felt it imperative to judge my time only based on the game itself, and not the predatory nature of paying $40 dollars to play the beta of an eventually free game.
For the most part, Overwatch 2 felt like the game I knew. Visually and tonally, it fell in line with its predecessor’s cartoony, futuristic style. The five-on-five gameplay wasn’t the shock I assumed it would be, with matches progressing more like a healthy back and forth than a never ending stalemate (the original Overwatch retooled its overtime rules for that very reason). Even my time playing as a healer was met with far fewer “I need healing” requests from my teammates, perhaps due to the switch from two tanks to one per team siphoning my curative skills.
If anything, my biggest qualm was that it was near impossible to play as anything but a healer in role queue, which was to be expected for a time-limited beta. Most of the game felt like a natural extension of everything that worked in the original, from the colorful maps, many of which feature additional paths for navigation or character specific strategies (Widowmaker in Toronto, anyone?) to fun but fair additions with Junker Queen and Sojourn.
The new time of day changes to old maps was also a welcome refresh, with locales like Oasis being cloaked in the shadow of night while King’s Row gets bathed in sunlight.
If it weren’t for the looming shadow of battle passes and seasonal content, I’d argue that there’s nothing to worry about with Overwatch 2.
I’ll preface Overwatch 2’s new (and still undisclosed) payment plan like this - did we really expect anything different? Though Jeff Kaplan tossed out a mention of 50 million players in late 2019, that number is a far cry from the nine million or so estimated to be suiting up in summer 2022 by Active Player. Controversies around Activision Blizzard, including the CEO Bobby Kotick and a culture of misogyny in the self-proclaimed “Cosby Suite” taken with a lack of meaningful updates since spring 2020 have beckoned for Overwatch’s downfall.
Selling the sequel for a flat $69.99 simply doesn’t make sense with a smaller player base, and we’d be silly to think Activision Blizzard would be willing to operate Overwatch 2 at a loss. And while pricing for the retooled monetization strategy - namely eliminating loot boxes in favor of paid player vs. enemy content and skins - hasn’t been openly discussed, it’s safe to say that Overwatch 2 will be heavily reliant on microtransactions to sustain itself.
It’s also safe to say this: you don’t have to pay for anything! Modern day gaming has certainly taken a toll on our wallets, as developers, and more often publishers, try to find ways to squeeze extra funds from the player base. And it’s hard to accept that all of a game’s content can’t be enjoyed without being nickeled and dimed.
But, at least for the time being, Overwatch 2, unlike so many games that thrive on microtransactions, is largely free. The core game, team-based multiplayer, will include all of the maps and characters regardless of how many mythic, color changing skins you buy.
Not too long ago titles like Call of Duty would segment the player base through paid DLC, creating timesinks in matchmaking as servers tried to scrounge together players with the same map packs. Having to buy skins is not ideal, but it’s hardly the same as sitting on a screen while making stir-fry during load times.
And who knows, if enough of us don’t buy skins and battle passes, maybe we can influence the trajectory of the Overwatch 2 experience. Fortnite introduced a no-build mode permanently after a trial run and fan feedback, so who’s to say where Overwatch 2 will end up?
And hey, it’s not like you can’t see the skins while you play anyway.
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