Overwatch is one of the best online shooters of the last decade, so it wouldn’t seem hard for a follow-up to maintain that legendary status. After all, Overwatch 2 borrows almost everything, from its maps to its characters, from that 2016 title. However, the Overwatch 2 beta reveals some structural problems that seem baked into its core, and are issues that might not disappear before its full release.
Overwatch’s move to five-on-five has drastically changed the experience and is where many of its shortcomings stem from because of how interconnected the game’s systems are. Having one less tank means that the team’s sole tank now has more to do. To compensate for this added responsibility, Blizzard Entertainment has buffed a lot of the tanks in the game. Zarya can now shoot more bubbles at once. Reinhardt can cancel his shoulder charge and shoot two fireballs. Winston now has a ranged blast. Orisa was completely overhauled, and Doomfist has been changed to fit his new role as a tank.
Buffing and changing tanks is a natural move and means they are more kinetic to play as, but this has led to a few schisms. Having just one tank means that if a team’s tank isn’t doing their job and protecting their allies, then defeat is even more of inevitability. It calls back to the bad days before role lock was implemented and stubborn randoms would ruin almost every casual match by failing to play their role. Putting that much trust on one person is naturally going to lead to these scenarios more often than a typical two-two-two setup.
However, it may be hard to fault tanks for not playing defensively since many of them have been changed into heroes that are made to deal damage rather than soak it up. A lot of the shields have been nerfed and Orisa’s has been removed entirely, while many offensive moves have been buffed, which naturally encourages players to attack more and defend less. People have complained in the past about shooting so many barriers, which Blizzard addressed by dialing them down in previous patches in the original game, but this takes that mentality to an extreme and leads to constant chaos. The pacing is off and the relentless rushdown is just exhausting.
It’s a more generic pacing that is more in line with a twitchy shooter where team fights can end in the blink of an eye. It’s not Call of Duty, but it is inching toward that and is less unique because of it. Current Overwatch has its moments where the action builds and then crescendos, but it’s almost all crescendos here. And that faster tempo means there’s less of an incentive to play as a team. There are still obviously team-based aspects to it, but they’re not as much of a priority anymore since the defensive side of team play has been gutted.
Even though healers have most of Overwatch 2’s new and improved user interface features, they bear the brunt of the game’s problems. One less tank means that they have fewer ways to avoid damage, which is crucial for such a squishy class. And having more offensive-oriented tanks means that there’s one more aggressor to worry about. Fading away as Moira or gliding to a teammate as Mercy are examples of the few abilities that allow for quick escapes, but it’s still too easy to get pounced on and immediately destroyed with this setup.
Blizzard has tried to address this by giving every healer Mercy’s passive that gradually restores health, but it’s a thoughtless bandage that’s being haphazardly wrapped around a larger issue. It’s an uninteresting change that isn’t actively engaging and doesn’t actually stop users from dying as an enemy D.Va plows into them and deletes them within a few seconds. Blizzard has been trying to buff healers in other ways and give them more survivability, but it just seems doomed to fail since it’s built in a game that wants to cater to damage dealers, a direction that was further reinforced by the first new character being a damage hero with rocket legs and a railgun. Sojourn’s skill-based kit is unique and satisfying, and it’s great that Overwatch finally has a Black woman in it, but she serves as a signal of what Blizzard is prioritizing.
This is just a beta (one of many more to come) and Blizzard has plenty of chances to right the ship or find some middle ground between styles before Overwatch 2’s PVP releases. The team has even been patching the beta to address some of these concerns, as seen in Zenyatta’s new super kick. However, these shifts are tampering with the game on a fundamental level and seem designed to inevitably push it further and further from what it was: a team-based hero shooter with an incredible sense of pacing with roles that were all equally important. Change isn’t always bad and some will inevitably adore this new direction, but picking away at something until it turns it into a more generic and frustrating experience is when it’s time to sit back and reassess if adjusting a classic this heavily is worth it.