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Overwatch 2: Everything we know about the unconventional sequel

Overwatch 2
(Image credit: Blizzard)

When is Overwatch 2 coming out? That question is stilled marred in mystery, but after Blizzard gave a behind-the-scenes look at the game during BlizzCon 2021, we have a much better sense at what Overwatch is bring to the table. Interestingly, this new step into the Overwatch universe won't be your average sequel. Some of its new multiplayer modes will actually be coming to Overwatch 1, as will new heroes.

One thing's for sure, and that's that both games will coexist in the future. Whether you're planning on picking up Overwatch 2 or sticking with the first game, you'll be able to play alongside players from both in PvP modes. That said, Overwatch 2 will primarily focus on PvE story missions. Following their successful character cinematics, which have consistently proved to be big hits with the community, expect to see a heavier focus on cool environments and lore in this game. Here's everything we've heard about Overwatch 2 since it was announced at BlizzCon 2021.

When is Overwatch 2's release date?

At BlizzCon 2019, Blizzard said that Overwatch 2 is still early in development and isn't sure when it will release. "I don't know. I have no idea," game director Jeff Kaplan said at the reveal panel. "Like, just let us make it great, that's what we care about more than anything. We don't have a date in mind."

That's still true, but now we know Activision won't be releasing Overwatch 2 or Diablo 4 in 2021. "We expect Blizzard's net booking to grow, given the momentum in World of Warcraft and the other growth initiatives we have in the business," said Activision chief financial officer Dennis Durkin, during a quarterly financial call. "Our outlook does not include Diablo 4 or Overwatch 2 launching in 2021."

So, 2022? The bits of gameplay we saw at BlizzCon 2021 looked promising, so let's hope for that.

Competitive teams will use a build of Overwatch 2 in 2022

We don't know much about the 2022 season of the Overwatch League just yet, but we do know that competitive players will be using an "early build" of Overwatch 2 next year. The season is set to begin sometime in April 2022, meaning that the sequel will be out in the wild, albeit in an extremely limited fashion, in the first half of next year.

What we learned at BlizzCon 2021

Watch the full Overwatch 2 BlizzCon 2021 video here

Overatch 2 didn't get the same opening ceremony treatment that its Blizzard cousins, but that hardly means it didn't have any exciting announcements. We now have a much better sense of how Blizzard is tweaking Overwatch around its sequel. On the PvP side, big change is on the horizon. Tanks will be modified to play more aggressively (Reinhardt's current iteration lets him throw two Firestrikes per cooldown and cancel his charge at will). 

Blizzard also stated its intention to revamp modes as needed. Game director Jeff Kaplan suggested, for instance, that the unpopular two capture point mode may be gone forever in Overwatch 2. It may be replaced by a new mode that Blizzard feels confident in like Push. We didn't hear anything more about the robot-on-robot Push mode at BlizzCon 2021.

What is Overwatch 2, exactly?

Well, it's a sequel to Overwatch, but not in the way that we usually think about sequels. By the sound of it, Overwatch 2 is more like a big expansion that focuses primarily on PvE missions. These missions appear to build off the Overwatch Archive seasonal events from the past few years. The new story missions will likely have more story, dialogue, and cutscenes than the highly repeatable limited-time events. We go over those in greater detail below.

Overwatch 2's PvP will be 5v5 teams with only one tank

During a livestream in May, Blizzard revealed that Overwatch 2 would change team sizes down from six to five. It will also change up team composition, which will be limited to one tank, two DPS, and two support.

"We feel like this is the next step in the way that Overwatch ought to be played," game director Aaron Keller said. "If you think about it, there is a lot going on in an Overwatch map. It is incredibly fast paced. We have always tried to make our combat easy to read and very understandable, and even with all of the work that we've put into that, sometimes it's just hard to track what 11 other players are doing on the battlefield. Removing two of those simplifies everything, and it allows players to understand everything that's happening around them, and to be able to make better choices."

Tanks will also undergo some individual changes for Overwatch 2 aimed at making them "a lot more aggressive," lead hero designer Geoff Goodman said. "They'll be a little more hybrid-y on the gameplay side, and less just wall protection.

Game director Jeff Kaplan has left Blizzard

In April 2021, Jeff Kaplan announced he would be leaving Blizzard. Kaplan's role as game director for Overwatch is being taken over by former assistant director Aaron Keller. 

"While I have no pretenses about filling Jeff’s shoes, I’m excited to step into the game director role and continue to be part of a team that’s putting all of its heart, talent, and focus into the next iteration of Overwatch, and I’m honored to continue serving this incredible community," Keller said. He also noted that development of Overwatch 2 is "continuing at a good pace".

Overwatch 2's announcement cinematic is pure delight

The new 8-minute cinematic feels like a dramatic declaration of a new Overwatch age. It feels different from the disjointed hero cinematics that we've gotten used to over the years, tying together multiple characters into a focused story. Overwatch 2 will have a story that moves forward, and this is the kickoff.

Here's the 2019 Overwatch 2 gameplay trailer

The Overwatch 2 gameplay trailer is a quick rundown of everything coming in the sequel. We get a look at the story, co-op, and the new hero Sojourn. 

Overwatch 2 PvE missions are divided between 'Story' and 'Hero' missions

Overwatch 2 is going all-in on PvE. The game's main campaign, made up of co-operative Story Missions, will see new and old Overwatch heroes teaming up against the Null Sector, the robotic army players fought in the Uprising event from the original game.

According to Blizzard, players will "team up as different sets of heroes and fight to defend the world from the omnic forces of Null Sector, uncover the motives behind the robotic armies’ attacks, and come face-to-face with rising new threats around the globe."

overwatch 2 items

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Story missions will also have item pickups that can slightly modify a hero's playstyle. The three shown were an HP generator, a corrosive grenade, and a barrier shield similar to Winston's. Any hero in the mode can pick these up and use them at will, but they don't carry over between missions.

On the other end of PvE are Hero Missions, missions separate from the story that are designed to be highly replayable. In this mode, players can level up heroes and unlock customization options that modify their abilities. In the gameplay trailer, we see a modified Tracer build that chains her Pulse Bomb explosion to multiple enemies.

As far as we can tell, these ability modifiers are exclusive to PvE and won't have any impact on PvP.

Get ready for skill trees, baby

overwatch 2 skill tree

(Image credit: Blizzard)

To further increase the replayability of Overwatch 2's Hero Missions, each hero will have three distinct skill trees that enable some absolutely bonkers abilites that would never work in PvP. Kaplan used the intriguing example of Junkrat dual-wielding grenade launchers. That sounds incredible. 

The behind-the-scenes video also detailed Soldier 76's "snowplough" build, which gives him the ability to push enemies away from him in a wave. This also pleases me.

Overwatch 2 may not have loot boxes

Overwatch character holding a tennis racket about to hit a glowing purple orb

(Image credit: Blizzard)

In an interview with PCGamesN, game director Jeff Kaplan discussed how the team is exploring other monetization models for Overwatch 2. "Well, we have made a lot of changes to loot boxes and how they work over the years, so we’re definitely open to change. Overwatch 2, in terms of business model, we’re exploring different options that move us away from loot boxes, but I think that will be more for Overwatch 2 than the core game. I would never rule anything out," he siad.

Kaplan also said that he thinks battle passes are a great idea, but wouldn't go as far to say that Overwatch would implement something similar. Still, assuming Blizzard doesn't come up with a different model altogether, battle passes are a pretty good guess.

Watch 2 hours of Overwatch 2 gameplay

Youtuber ohnickel is one of several content creators who were allowed to stream their Overwatch 2 demo from the BlizzCon 2019 floor. The video above is a fairly comprehensive look at a story mission and the new PvP Push mode. 

Overwatch 2 hands-on impressions

Joanna sat down with Overwatch 2 at BlizzCon 2019 and came away feeling like she'd played an expansion rather than a full-on sequel. Read on for hands-on impressions of the story mode and Push PvP mode.

overwatch 2 sojourn

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Sojourn is one of Overwatch 2's multiple new heroes

And she looks cooooooool. We don't know much about Sojourn yet (other than that she's Canadian), but her build and intimidating gun arm suggest that she's a damage-focused hero. In her highlight intro seen in the gameplay trailer, she also slides into a super jump, so mobility might be her thing. In an interview with PlayStation Blog, lead writer Michael Chu said that Sojourn is a "central figure to the Overwatch organization, and a critical character moving forward."

At BlizzCon 2021, we got a better look at her intriguing loadout. Sojourn is the first Overwatch hero to wield an FPS classic: the railgun. It looks incredibly powerful if her shots land, but you'll have to pick your targets carefully. Each shot appears to require an initial charge-up, similar to Widowmaker.

Blizzard is being coy about how many other new heroes we can expect at the launch of Overwatch 2. Fans previously suspected that Echo, the elegant flying robo revealed in the announcement trailer, would be another new hero in Overwatch 2, but turned out to be the last hero added to the original Overwatch.

overwatch 2 push mode

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Overwatch 2's new Push mode is a tug-of-war match

Overwatch 2 is getting a new map type called Push. The premise is as simple as it sounds: Two teams fight over control of a robot that pushes two barriers back and forth across the map. Whichever team pushes farther into the other's territory wins.

Push sounds like a cool twist on traditional payload that might encourage different hero compositions based on which team is pushing farther. During the Overwatch2 BlizzCon panel, assistant game director Aaron Keller described the mode as "really flanky," because players can access various points along the robot's path through different shortcuts and connections.

Overwatch 2 push more diagram showing a path through a level with a red line

(Image credit: Blizzard)

You can see what he means when looking at this overview of the Toronto map. Keller said heroes that wouldn't normally see as much utility on Control or Payload maps (Tracer, Reaper, etc) excel in Push thanks to flanking routes.

Like all PvP content in Overwatch 2, Push maps are also coming to Overwatch 1.

Overwatch 2's new PvP maps are predictably gorgeous

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Monte Carlo

Monte Carlo (Image credit: Blizzard)
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Toronto - Push

Toronto - Push (Image credit: Blizzard)
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Gothenburg

Gothenburg (Image credit: Blizzard)
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(Image credit: Blizzard)
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Rio De Janeiro

Rio De Janeiro (Image credit: Blizzard)

Overwatch 2's website and panel revealed a few new maps coming with the sequel, with the promise of more to come. The first four shown above are Monte Carlo, Toronto, Gothenburg, and Rio De Janeiro. The last one with the big ring in the sky is still a mystery, but I sure like its style.

We know that Toronto is a Push map type, but the rest are unclear. During the Overwatch 2 panel, Monte Carlo was shown with what looks like a payload. Jeff Kaplan also revealed that every mode will receive new maps with Overwatch 2, so there's a lot more to be revealed.

Overwatch 2 customization

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Overwatch 2 PvP is compatible with the original game

Since Overwatch 1 is receiving all of the PvP updates coming in Overwatch 2, the two games will be completely compatible. Overwatch 2 players can party up with Overwatch 1 players like they always have.

This is really cool, but it also raises interesting questions. Will Overwatch 1 receive the same graphical updates promised in Overwatch 2? If not, will players see things a bit differently depending on their version of the game?

No more new heroes will release until Overwatch 2

Overwatch 2 character Echo

(Image credit: Blizzard)

With the release of Echo, Blizzard is continuing to wind down support for the original Overwatch as it prepares for Overwatch 2. No more new heroes will come to the game until Overwatch 2's release, will have multiple new heroes at launch (including Sojourn).

From here on out, we should also expect seasonal events to be simple reruns of past years' content. The one train that doesn't seem to be stopping is the cosmetic department, which is still pumping out top-notch skins for events.

All existing Overwatch cosmetics will carry over to the sequel

For existing players of Overwatch, that's huge news. Going into Overwatch 2, many players will already have an extensive library of skins to equip. This bit of backward compatibility is great to see, but I also wonder if Overwatch 2 skins will come to the old game. Based on the "shared multiplayer environment," it sounds that way.

Lucio's hair glows now?

overwatch 2 lucio

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Listen, I know there's a lot of seemingly more important stuff going on in Overwatch 2, but we need to talk about this. His hair is glowing. It's like glow-in-the-dark Play-Doh noodles. I like it, but is it even hair? Is it a synthetic replacement, or some sort of nylon cover over his real hair? Where do I get some?

Morgan Park

Morgan has been writing for PC Gamer since 2018, first as a freelancer and currently as a staff writer. He has also appeared on Polygon, Kotaku, Fanbyte, and PCGamesN. Before freelancing, he spent most of high school and all of college writing at small gaming sites that didn't pay him. He's very happy to have a real job now. Morgan is a beat writer following the latest and greatest shooters and the communities that play them. He also writes general news, reviews, features, the occasional guide, and bad jokes in Slack. Twist his arm, and he'll even write about a boring strategy game. Please don't, though.