Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Overwatch 2 Is Failing Us As A Live Service

I’m beginning to fall out of love with Overwatch 2. As a fully-fledged sequel it has always been rather complicated. All of its heroes and the majority of its maps are back, while its gameplay fundamentals are mostly untouched aside from a few subtle additions to the formula. Teams are now made up of five heroes with just a single tank, meaning each role has a defined sense of strategic importance. But when you break it all down and take the experience at face value, this is still the game we started playing back in 2016.


To justify its existence, the original release was shut down forever to make way for a free-to-play effort that hoped to redefine the progression system in a way that is still finding its feet, with Blizzard clearly hoping to get a slice of that sweet live service pie. While the sequel has proven popular, there is an ingrained cynicism around its presence that has become impossible to avoid. Ranking up its battle pass isn’t satisfying, while previous doses of serotonin once delivered through loot boxes have been thrown away in favor of an economy that isn’t afraid to make its greedy intentions clear. It sucks, and compared to the likes of Fortnite or Apex Legends, it’s laughably behind the curb when it comes to being worth your time. So – where exactly do we go from here?

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The beautiful thing about live service titles is how they are designed to keep evolving, either by picking up on current trends or working on fixing flaws that the launch failed to address. This doesn’t always work – *cough* Anthem *cough* – but developers with a cohesive vision and a decent budget at the center of their product will eventually emerge from the ashes with something to show for it. I remain convinced this moment will come for Overwatch 2, but right now it feels like a game out of time that is laughably behind when compared to its rivals.

Overwatch 2

Its biggest obstacle is that the core experience remains unchanged when compared to its premium predecessor. We grew so used to earning our cosmetics through loot boxes and seasonal events, with rewards dished out by simply playing enough, alongside a system of currency that allowed us to earn specific skins without dedicating time to the RNG grind. It was toxic in its own right, but it worked and was incredibly popular. That context is important, as is the value we assign to all the rewards we’ve spent years earning and working towards.

You can’t uproot everything that came before and suddenly make us pay for everything, all while expecting us to fall in line and expect other changes we should apparently be thankful for. I’m not saying that Blizzard owes us anything, or that going free-to-play wasn’t the right move, but it didn’t change nearly enough nor account for how the wider zeitgeist would react to a sequel that on the surface seems to be taking us for a ride. Sure, it has a seasonal pass filled with cool rewards to earn, but skins, sprays, emotes, charms, and whatever else are all assigned equal value, taking up a single level alongside heroes non-premium players must now grind for merely to be a part of the conversation. It subverts the status quo in all the worst ways. Overwatch was in need of a refresh, not a reskin with smaller teams and a sour new economy. That’s what we got, and the cracks have been showing for months now.

Ever since the debut of Chapter 2, Fortnite has redefined what it means to be a free to play live service. It might occupy a slightly different genre, but it understood the importance of constantly rewarding the player by completing challenges, unlocking currency, and feeling like they were always pushing forward. For months, it has never felt like I’ve been hitting a wall in that game, while in Overwatch 2 trying to push through the battle pass merely so I can see its end feels like pulling teeth. Once the daily and weekly goals are out of the way you are playing for experience points and nothing else. The moment-to-moment gameplay is fun, and each hero is a blast to learn, but we’ve been conditioned to expect more out of it. This isn’t our fault, it’s the game Blizzard made and every step to assist its evolution has been the wrong one. Right now it’s in freefall and in dire need of a change.

new characters overwatch 2
via Blizzard

While delayed, the second season is on the way and previously outlawed heroes are making a return, giving Blizzard a new starting point to work from that I really hope pays off. It must be aware of all the feedback swirling around the fandom right now, and how many of us are asking for positive change as a game we love so much is intent on pushing us away. I’ll report back in a couple of months, since right now I’m not quite ready to jump back in.

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