After hours of alpha playtesting Overwatch 2, it finally clicked. I’m a 3,000-hour Overwatch player — fascinated, really — and I’ve spent a few games analyzing what’s going on in the long-awaited sequel to the Blizzard hero shooter. By removing two players from the game, one tank per team, and adopting a new 5v5 format, Overwatch breaks the fast-forward button of how its dynamic FPS team fights work. The only way to keep up with the rhythm is to play at the same rhythm.
To me, the most boring heroes in Overwatch are the ones with guns. Sniper rifles, railguns, and shotguns don’t match the thrill of climbing up a wall to avoid Reinhardt’s Earthshatter stun like Genji, or the shock of hitting an approaching opponent with a precision arrow headshot like Hanzo. Overwatch is the most satisfying shooter if you want to defeat your enemies with movement-based abilities and weapons; that’s why fighting game heroes like Doomfist can survive the chaos of a firefight. Many of its most acrobatic heroes require precise timing based on a keen observation of enemy abilities and behavior. It’s a game that often rewards patience and tactical consideration as well as sheer aiming skills.
all for one
In Overwatch 2, I kept getting crushed playing Genji, one of the most mobile heroes in the game. I’m not sure what I’m missing, especially after spending so much time in the original to perfect my playstyle. Can removing the tank make it different? I decided to try an experiment and play like I was eating brownies in the oven and there was absolutely no time to waste. Every time I saw the enemy Baptiste standing behind his line throwing healing grenades, I would throw a shuriken at him, charge him straight for a one-on-one duel. Every time I win the engagement, charge for my Dragonblade ult and get more and more kills. Without a second tank to support Baptiste, there would be less chance of someone interrupting the fight. In a few clashes between the two teams I used this strategy, my team ended up winning. Every tank, including Doomfist – who is new to the role – is built to get into battle quickly and pounce on weak targets. Stacking them together is turning themselves into easy prey. The threat to mobility from the redesigned tanks, and their inability to consistently protect teammates, forces you to separate yourself from the rest. You want the tank to have to decide a single target to attack, and you want that decision to be a punishable mistake, which you can then turn into a victory.
In the original Overwatch, it wasn’t smart to brazenly charge into the enemy’s back row — it was reckless. You rarely want to force a duel, even if it’s the support hero you theoretically want to kill first. Unless it’s already imminent and you have no choice, this level of aggression will usually get you killed, simply because you have to expend a lot of resources to start the fight first. A good enemy team would notice my cooldown and punish me by sending a tank that I couldn’t escape.
In Overwatch 2, this type of adventure game needs to happen more often. Every battle is sped up compared to the original game. The sequel’s flow is similar to the “dive” metadata that surfaced in the early days of Overwatch. In the dive, both teams of mobile tanks and damage dealers will scramble to eliminate the opposing team’s support players first. Every battle is certain. There are no survivors after the engagement, but as a result, they respawn and fight again within seconds. The fast-paced dive meta defined Overwatch in the early days, as it was the most efficient way to start a fight and end it quickly.
The problem with diving, and the problem with Overwatch 2 sticking to this fast playstyle, is that when you slow down, you lose the breadth of strategy available. That’s why tanks and support characters exist: heroes that only heal others or absorb a lot of damage mean you can’t just rely on targeted kills to win. While other hero shooters like Valorant, Apex Legends, and Rainbow Six Siege put more emphasis on gunplay, Overwatch makes room for unconventional forms of FPS skills and heroes that rely on them. By removing a full tank from each team, Overwatch 2 is getting closer to every other FPS.
change of identity
Overwatch 2 is showing signs of more traditional shooters, with a slowdown in the final charge – again, this may be tweaked in the future. During alpha, it’s not uncommon for a character like Zenyatta to finish a round with only one overtake. Because ults are now almost entirely deducted from damage to smaller, slimy targets (shooting tanks have slower builds), it motivates everyone on the team to go for quick kills.
This homogenization of player goals, especially for average players, results in a game where everyone is fragmented to find their own goals. In the games I’ve played, teams that come together and stay together, which are the most effective ranges for many supports and tank skills, are almost always at a disadvantage than teams that spread out and risk kills. This works well in many of the games I’ve played, which speaks volumes about the priorities inherent in Overwatch 2’s design.
Overwatch 2’s success lies in finding a way to squeeze the enemy team from all directions, and only congregate to push or capture the objective. Tanks, partly because they have few shields, are more for distraction than for opening a path to the enemy team. And due to the increased rate at which you damage heroes, you end up doing the same thing, albeit more carefully due to your lower health. Using Doomfist as a tank is not significantly different from using him as a DPS. I don’t have to think about where exactly my team is, as long as they’re usually nearby.
A lot of skills, like D.Va’s bullet-eating defense matrix, are best used selfishly rather than protecting and enabling my teammates. Because of the various abilities in the game, like Ana’s healing grenade or Mei’s ice wall, Overwatch 2 doesn’t encourage you to surround each other, but instead wants you to want everyone on the same page, attacking the same thing. This often happens with two players missing from the combo, but the frame team battles around lone wolves doing their own thing rather than a clash of groups – it’s a lot of fun to play.
Matches of different skill levels – and better matchups than the alphas I played – might reinforce this in the final game (low-skilled players tend to feel safe in numbers), but Blizzard gives most of the hero kills Force requires extensive balance changes to prevent it from being considered the most efficient form of play. As we’ve seen with other popular play styles, like having two shield tanks or an Orisa and a Roadhog, it can easily infiltrate the most casual of games.
The DNA of the original Overwatch isn’t all gone in Overwatch 2, but it’s been minimized to the point that when certain non-target heroes and strategies don’t fit the game’s new rhythm of team combat, they start to fall behind. Numeric tweaks can fix that, which I guess is most of the work going into beta outside of the new hero version. But Overwatch 2 makes me question whether condensing the game into this slimmer form is worth all the trouble.
Overwatch 2 has fallen behind its competitors in many ways, regardless of its particular brand of first-person shooter. It’s finally getting its first black heroine in Sojourn, it’s finally getting a proper PvE mode, and it’ll probably have a battle pass too. Back in 2016, Overwatch was the game everyone else copied. It was unlike anything in the FPS genre at the time, and in many ways it still isn’t. It has a few things that need updating, but I’m not sure the basic ebb and flow of its gameplay is one of them. Now, in trying to chase the speed of its competition by removing one of its most important hero types from each team, it’s diluting what makes it so compelling in the first place.