Overwatch 2 review – a free-to-play shooter for the rest of us

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The Guardian

If Overwatch 2 were a movie, it would probably be called a reboot or a reimagining rather than a sequel. This is the same team-based sci-fi shooter we’ve been playing since 2016, with mostly the same characters battling it out with familiar moves. The biggest change is economic: Overwatch has now gone free-to-play, meaning you can download it on to your PC or console and start blasting without paying a penny.

The game has been refitted to work with that infamous talisman of the free-to-play shooter: the Fortnite-style battle pass. If you want to customise your costume and weapons – or play as Kiriko, one of the three new characters – you’ll either need to play a lot of the game, completing daily challenges and working your way through the tiers before the season ends … or just buy the Battle Pass. Some cosmetic items will only be available if you pay for a subscription or buy them directly from the shop. You don’t need them, but if you’re a completist about weapon charms and rare costumes, you might find your cursor inching toward the “buy credits” button.

Overwatch 2. Photograph: Activision Blizzard

With new characters likely to arrive on a regular basis, it’s doubtless going to be tough for casual players to keep levelling up without eventually paying up. Blizzard has also said that it plans to rebalance the game every season to make it feel continually new. This is all going to be galling for Overwatch veterans who liked the fact that they paid once for the game, learned their characters, and then competed on a level playing field – but that’s so 2010s. This is the economic reality of online gaming in the 2020s.

There is good new stuff here. The fresh characters are an interesting bunch. With her automatic weapon and fast slide move, Sojourn feels like an import from Warzone or Apex Legends, while Junker Queen is a close-range behemoth with a shotgun and a throwing knife that drags enemies towards her – a supremely pleasing move when you get it right. Kiriko is the star, an anime-infused support character who can climb walls, teleport and summon a fox spirit that increases the speed of the whole team. She’s a great option for those who like to patrol the periphery of the battle zone, zipping in to save allies or take out enemies with critical hits.

All of the mainstay characters have been variously tweaked, buffed and nerfed to add tactical variety. Many felt that the original game was becoming too heavily reliant on characters with defensive shields who would soak up damage like giant muscular sponges. So now, Brigitte’s shield no longer stuns enemies and Orisa’s has been completely reworked into a new move set, which includes a useful javelin that can be lobbed at enemies to knock them off their feet.

Overwatch 2. Photograph: Activision Blizzard

Meanwhile, support characters now heal automatically, which makes them more attractive to play with, and newbie favourite Bastion no longer turns into a stationary turret but instead calls in an artillery strike. On the whole, these are really interesting remixes that breathe new life into familiar playstyles. Added to the fact that matches are now 5v5 rather than 6v6, action feels more rangy, dynamic and varied, with lots of fluid interplay between backline defenders and trigger-happy attackers. With one less tank on each squad, everyone has to work harder and move more. So far I’ve definitely seen fewer matches descend into static brawls with rival phalanxes lost in a bewildering mass of explosions, shields and stuns.

There’s a new mode to play, too. In Push, two teams fight to control a droid who will push a coloured barrier across the map. Think of it as tug-of-proxy-war. It’s incredibly fast and frantic, with teams splitting into ragtag defensive and offensive units as the action careers across the landscape. In well matched sessions, the last few seconds can be truly nail-biting.

The new maps provide picturesque remixes of the standard Overwatch architecture of winding alleys, narrow staircases and open arenas. Esperança is a Portuguese town with sloping streets and deadly piazzas, while New Queen Street is a futuristic vision of Toronto with its coffee stores, distant skyscrapers and snow-covered maple trees. They’re not wildly different to what we already have, but they’re pretty enough, with plenty of verticality for sniping and sneaking about.

Six years after the initial release of Overwatch, this follow-up/sequel/reboot/whatever you want to call it refreshes almost every element of what players loved about the original. Even with 35 playable characters, each one still feels unique, and the promise, later down the line, of a story-led campaign mode will hopefully keep fans engaged in the game’s lively but until now largely inconsequential lore.

Despite the shift to a season battle pass, Overwatch 2 retains is character, its charm and its individuality. It is the pop-culture, day-glo, neon-scorched riposte to dingy military shooters, and its concentration on empowering team-minded players and tactics makes every match feel like an unexpectedly violent buddy comedy. It is what it has always been: the shooter for the rest of us, but now there’s more of it and it’s kinda sorta free. Happy hunting.

Overwatch 2 is available now on PC, PS4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S (version tested)

October 6, 2022 at 04:28PM Keith Stuart

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