When Blizzard announced Overwatch 2 (opens in new tab) in 2019, my eyes squinted and my head tilted a few degrees to the right. We're in the age of service games—a time when "old" games get updated for years after release and challenge the need for sequels at all. Overwatch was among the first to kick off the trend in 2016, and now there's going to be another one? How do you sequelize a game that isn't supposed to end?
Almost three years later, Overwatch 2's whole deal hasn't gotten any clearer. Blizzard has done a bad job of explaining what its next shooter is, and it's already having a big effect on its first PvP beta.
Left with scarce updates for these last three years of waiting, players have naturally filled in the blanks, building up their own expectations for what a game called "Overwatch 2" should look/sound/feel like. Now we have a big slice of Overwatch 2 in our hands, and seemingly nobody is happy with it.
Except, perhaps, for me. I'm having a pretty good time in Overwatch 2's first beta. Sojourn, the single new Overwatch 2 hero currently in the beta, is a fun mix between Soldier: 76 and Widowmaker. Most of the hero tweaks, like Orisa and Bastion, have been successful so far. The controversial (opens in new tab) 5v5 shakeup has been a positive change in my book. The new lighting on old maps is nice. I even dig the new Push mode, which is basically a map-wide tug-of-war between two competing payloads.
By and large, the new stuff itself isn't the issue here. But a "single new hero," "old maps," and "hero tweaks" aren't really the radical new features that come to mind when I think about sequels. On the first day of the beta, I streamed Overwatch 2 for my friends on Discord. As I started a match on Dorado, an iconic Overwatch 1 map that now has a daytime version, one friend quickly interjected: "What is this? Where are the new maps? Why are the old maps here?"
I was a little annoyed by the comment at first. There are a few new maps in the beta, actually, but there are old maps too. To me, this makes sense—I still enjoy the old maps, so I'd be bummed if they were left out of the sequel. As he saw more of the game, he grew more disappointed and I understood why. My friend, who has a normal person job and doesn't keep up as closely with games, had just assumed that a new game meant completely new stuff. Of course he did, this is supposedly a sequel!
It has become increasingly clear that Overwatch 2 isn't a sequel though, at least not in the way that everyone on earth uses the word. It's not just that Overwatch 2 feels similar to Overwatch 1—it is Overwatch 1. To play this beta, you simply have to switch to a different version of Overwatch 1 in Battle.net and download a few gigs of extra content. The menus are functionally identical, but look a bit different. All of my Overwatch 1 settings were automatically the same in Overwatch 2. I own all the same skins. My D.Va's dancing emote is even mapped to the same key I left it on.
It's not like Blizzard has been lying about Overwatch 2, but adding a '2' to the title has certainly misled or at least confused a lot of people. Blizzard has technically been telling us what Overwatch 2 is for a while, explaining in 2019 (opens in new tab) that Overwatch 1 players will play alongside Overwatch 2 players, and that every new addition to Overwatch 2's PvP (heroes, maps, modes) would also come to the original Overwatch.
In every way that matters, though, the Overwatch 2 beta is more like a patch. Or, more accurately, it's an expansion. Remember expansions? Blizzard has made a lot of them for its other games over the years.
When WoW releases a new expansion, players get what they expect—more of the game they're already playing, but with new story, quality-of-life updates, new playable classes, and a new map. Based on what I've played, that sounds a lot like Overwatch 2. It's possible the perception of Overwatch 2's scope will change once we've seen more of its mysterious PvE campaign mode, but until we can play it, it's natural to assume PvP will remain the game's draw.
I can't help but wonder if Blizzard would have saved a long headache if it had simply called Overwatch 2 anything else—Overwatch: Heroes Rise. Overwatch 2.0. Overwatch: Reforged (OK, maybe not that one). Because now, Blizzard faces two big problems:
- A lot of people aren't clear on what Overwatch 2 is and…
- Those who thought '2' meant Overwatch 2 would be a traditional sequel aren't happy
That's why I'm not surprised tweets like this (opens in new tab) have gone viral in past weeks, with replies suggesting Blizzard is simply advancing the time of day on old maps and passing it off as new content. I don't think that is what's actually happening here. The updated old maps aren't a focus of the new game and seem to mainly exist to show off Overwatch 2's improved lighting. That said, if you've been reasonably assuming Overwatch 2 is a completely new, transformative sequel all this time, it's a pretty dunkable video.
Overwatch 2 New Map Lighting Comparison 🌟 📽️Source: https://t.co/9UAo68CzBj pic.twitter.com/tUPFJ7jVaJMay 5, 2022
The lines between expansion and sequel are graying even further now that Blizzard is formally splitting the PvP and PvE portions of Overwatch 2. Blizzard said it made the decision so it can get Overwatch 2 in the hands of players faster, suggesting that the campaign and PvE is taking a lot longer than planned. The studio didn't go as far to say that Overwatch 2's PvP will come out before its PvE, but I'm expecting that announcement any day.
Whatever the new deal is, I wish Blizzard would just say so. Make it clear that this is "Overwatch too," not Overwatch 2. Because I'm already tired of having to be the one to explain it to my friends. "Well yes there's new stuff, but it's also the same game" just doesn't roll off the tongue as a tagline.
I like Overwatch and, Blizzard's terrible messaging be damned, I think I'm going to have a lot of fun in Overwatch 2, too. But I might start calling it Overwatch 2.0, just to set expectations right.