Blizzard Entertainment is promising to take its ever-popular team-based shooter to the next level, but is the studio doing enough with Overwatch 2 to justify a whole new game? That's the question on everybody's mind following its reveal earlier this month, and it's a perception problem the game will no doubt struggle to overcome in the months to come too.
The biggest new feature coming to Overwatch 2 is PvE (Player versus Environment) battles. For the first time in Overwatch, the sequel will allow you to fight through missions against the computer, in addition to the shooter's beloved online multiplayer battles. These PvE battles will take the form of new Hero Missions and Story Missions. Hero Missions will allow you to 'level up' the full roster of heroes to unlock special talents and customise your characters, in what Blizzard has described as "endlessly replayable" missions.
In Story Missions, for the first time, Overwatch players will get a full story mode, playing through a co-op narrative campaign against the computer, rather than against each other. I was able to get my hands on an early Story Mission to get a sense of the new style of gameplay, and the initial chapter left me impressed.
Overwatch goes single-player
The premise for this mission was revealed with a swish cinematic announcement trailer at Blizzcon 2019. In the emotional short, we see the currently-split Overwatch team reuniting, under leader Winston. We're also introduced to new playable character, and the long-overdue first black female hero, Sojourn – although we haven't had a chance to see how she plays just yet.
I also got the chance to play an early PvE mission set in Rio de Janeiro. Hordes of killer Omnic robots are descending to the streets of Rio from a spacecraft hovering in the sky and our taskforce, a pre-fixed co-op team made up of returning heroes Lucio, Tracer, Mei and Reinhardt, must take down the robots – and eventually blow up the ship from whence they came - to save the city. We do it through battling a series of robot attacks, stitched together with characterful cut scenes set in Lucio's Brazil-based HQ.
Each member of our co-op team must choose one of the four heroes, and we play as Reinhardt, smashing our way through the legions of deadly automatons. Using our juggernaut power and massive energy shield to defend the team feels suitably well balanced. Though, when you have a favourite hero to play as your main, this aspect of being hamstrung into a set hero selection in the story mode could feel restrictive in the long-run. Still, rocket-propelling Reinhardt right through the robot horde sure does feel good.
Going hands-on with the Story Mission demo feels as natural as D.Va to a D-pad. Given the game's rich cast of heroes and settings, and wealth of lore in extra comic books and shorts, you find yourself wondering: how did Overwatch never have this mide before? It's certainly a welcome addition to the Overwatch universe and something I'm eager to see Blizzard expand upon in the coming months.
The new mode fits with the tone in a way that's as seamless as the new trousers Tracer is sporting – another new feature for the sequel. Not trousers, necessarily (though Genji has finally put some on) but an updated, visual redesign on all the heroes which looks sleek and glossy – and while no release date has been confirmed yet, the heroes are looking fittingly upscaled and next-gen ready, should they need to answer the PS5 and Xbox Project Scarlett call.
Of course, it's the online multiplayer that has led more than 50 million of us to play the original Overwatch, and with the reveal of its sequel also came the announcement of a new PvP competitive mode: Push.
The more traditional team-based online multiplayer mode is the first new “core” mode since Overwatch was released back in 2016, and will be available in Quickplay, Ranked and as part of the Overwatch League, and it's not hard to see why - you can expect to be spending a lot of time playing this when it finally drops. In this Capture The Flag-esque mode, each team competes to have a robot 'push' a large block across the map, to their opponent's side, in a sort of reverse Tug Of War. When you stand near said robot, it will push the block in the direction of the competing team. The further you get your block across the map, the more points you score.
Because of this, you find yourself fighting across a variety of areas of the map, which makes for plenty of dynamic, changing gameplay and just as much verbal abuse, depending on your team mates. Either way, it's as frantic and fun as any Overwatch mode before it.
In an almost unheard-of, player-friendly move, Blizzard has said that players of the first Overwatch game, will also receive updates – for free! – of the yet-to-be-announced new heroes and maps which Overwatch 2 will introduce. And even more excitingly for current players, Overwatch and its sequel will exist in a shared competitive world online, so players of both games will be able to play each other. It's brilliant news for original Overwatch players – but it has left many wondering whether it'll be worth fans investing in the new sequel, as well. Taking all the new content for original Overwatch players into account, as well as the cross-play between games, there is a chance Overwatch 2 could wind up feeling more like an expansion than a full new game.
The question of whether Overwatch 2 will offer an entirely new experience – one worthy of a fully-priced sequel – and how the full extent of its new PvP and PvE modes will take shape is still a ways off from being answered. Blizzard is yet to reveal all that much substance, although what it has shown has us confident the studio is at least running the right track.
As it is, Overwatch 2's Story Missions so far appear to offer a welcome, enriching addition to the world players have invested themselves in since the shooter's release three years ago, and evidently will continue to for years to come. It may not look all that much like a game changer now, but Overwatch 2 is building upon the foundations of one of the best team-based shooters of the generation – perhaps a little familiarity is to be expected, if not embraced entirely.