The Overwatch 2 beta has given us a look at the long-awaited shooter and… at first, it doesn’t seem like much has changed. It includes a lot of the same maps, there’s one new character and a new mode. It almost appears like a small update except for the move from 6v6 teams to 5v5.
Now, this is only a beta and it doesn’t include everything coming in the full game. There will be more new maps, characters, and graphical upgrades, as well as an extensive PvE mode – something completely absent from the original game. But, it can still be a letdown at first glance.
That is until you play it for yourself.
I’ve played Overwatch for over 1500 hours and there's nothing else quite like it. It’s an unusual marriage of MOBA and first-person shooter; if you imagine a line with Call of Duty on one side and Dota 2 on the other, Overwatch exists somewhere in the middle. While the player perspective is in the first person, with guns and melee weapons, many of the abilities and ultimates are ripped from popular hero arena games. Overwatch has always walked a complicated tight rope between the two.
Decluttering the battlefield
Overwatch 2 is a hard reset of the core game, putting the focus back on brawling alongside your team. In the Overwatch 2 beta, it's about getting into the thick of the action, having fun, and trying to kill the other team.
Blizzard didn’t achieve this with big new features, but with a set of clever tweaks. It’s slowed Ultimate recharge rates, which has the knock-on effect of players not using them against each other in complex rock, paper, scissor duels. Before it would be common to coordinate with your team to build a stack of Ultimates to combo, but now, it takes so long to build them up, a team would be wasting time by doing that. Characters like Brigitte and Mei have also lost their slows and stuns, Orisa’s shield is gone, and the smaller teams mean there are fewer tanks in each game. All of these factors make Overwatch 2 a cleaner game, stripping it of elements that had become annoying chores in the original.
To see how chaotic Overwatch had become, check out this 2019 clip (though, be wary if you suffer from epilepsy):
Epilepsywatch pic.twitter.com/mWMYzVwWk3August 26, 2019
Overwatch 2 has lost some of the team synergies, where you would see a cascade of Ultimates and abilities on show but the payoff is that it's resurfaced the more Call of Duty shooter side of Overwatch, where you can excel as an individual. Overwatch 2 is still a team game with set roles but there’s no longer a sense a match is unwinnable because you're saddled with a bad team. And, now that teams are smaller, kills are more impactful and you can personally affect fights more. If you go on a flank as Soldier 76 and get two kills, for instance, your team has a significant advantage in the fight.
While some players will lament the loss of the unique teamwork Overwatch boasted, I feel empowered to go out and win games on my own.
Strangely, even with fewer players on the field, matches are more frantic. Getting charged down by a speed-boosted Orisa spinning her new spear in your face is like facing down a speeding bull, especially as you know there are fewer teammates available to support you. There’s an energy to games that's been missing for years. I’m no longer shooting ineffectually at shields or spending idle seconds stunned, I’m swinging hammers, shooting players, and getting into my enemies’ faces. That is all backed up by impressive audio and visual overhauls that add tremendous depth to the experience.
Overwatch is going the right way
By 2022, Overwatch felt like it had been ‘figured out’: there were agreed rules on when you should use something, or when to wait. It was hard to make plays on your own, and games felt stagnant and predictable.
Overwatch 2 is more direct and less frustrating. Blizzard’s dragging the game away from the Dota 2 side of things and closer to modern shooters. It’s about trying to find kills, rather than two teams posturing at each other until a sufficient amount of abilities have been used up before actually starting the fight.
While I’ll miss aspects of the focus on team synergy, Overwatch 2 is more accessible and more fun. The move to 5v5 is absolutely the right direction for the series, and Overwatch hasn’t felt this good in years.
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Patrick Dane is TechRadar Gaming's Guides Editor. With nearly a decade in the games press, he's been a consistent voice in the industry. He's written for a plethora of major publications and travelled the world doing it. He also has a deep passion for games as a service and their potential to tell evolving stories. To wit, he has over 2000 hours in Destiny 2, over 1000 in Overwatch and is now deeply into Valorant.