Overwatch 2 being a free-to-play live-service is the right call. Since the original game launched in 2016, we’ve seen games like Fortnite, Apex Legends, Destiny 2, Genshin Impact, Warframe, and myriad others emerge and redefine what it means to progress in a multiplayer landscape. Battle passes are a thing now, while the loot boxes that Blizzard once helped bring into the mainstream are frowned upon outside the freemium mobile space.
But with the release of Overwatch 2 and its debut season less than two weeks away, we now have a concrete picture of how the experience will play out, as well as how much it differs from what came before. This isn’t a premium product anymore, but instead a free game that anyone can download, jump into, and have a reasonably good time without spending a penny. There’s a free version of the battle pass too, albeit with far fewer rewards and a focus on grinding things out over a prolonged period of time, but it’s there, and that kinda rules.
On the surface, the game is making all the right decisions. Both versions of the battle pass are packed with skins, sprays, charms, and a variety of content that outweighs anything its predecessor had in its first few months. Seasonal events are established, and an existing roster of heroes we’ve already fallen in love with have a generous roster of cosmetics and lore to build upon. I’m already invested, and for Blizzard that is half the battle right now.
But for those not planning to pick up the premium battle pass or aren’t already cemented in the Overwatch ecosystem, some new heroes are locked behind progression in ways that actively discourages the experimentation this game is all about. Kiriko – the new fox girl support hero who I am totally not simping for already – is available immediately to premium battle pass holders or existing players of the original Overwatch, while everyone else must grind to Level 55 in order to unlock her. That’s a big time investment for a hero in a hero shooter.
To me, this doesn’t feel like a reward for players who decide against spending any money, but a forced incentive to cough up the dough or get lost. Why wouldn’t you pick up the battle pass if it meant a new hero immediately and a selection of other rewards for the time you’re going to be investing anyway? Blizzard likely sees this as good business, but I really hope this isn’t how each season is going to play out, with new heroes being held hostage by the premium side of things instead of providing a way for us to test them out or toy with the wider roster without restriction. Only time will tell, and Overwatch 2 still needs to find its feet.
Overwatch was the game I played constantly at university, and playing around with its existing roster while delving into each new hero was a big part of its appeal. My flatmates and I would fall in love with specific roles, or gravitate towards certain heroes because their aesthetic called out to us. I’m a filthy weeb and also very gay, so my mains ended up being D.Va, Mercy, and Lucio, with venturing into DPS territory rarely.
For that reason I know that Kiriko is right up my street, and I’ll be playing her with a passion when launch rolls around, but knowing that potential to experiment is no longer possible unless I decide to grind my life away or make an investment kinda sucks, and takes away the free cadence of content I’d grown used to with the first game. This may be the price to pay for no loot boxes and a modernised progression system, but this feels like a teething pain instead of the game Overwatch 2 really wants to be. Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong and the payoff will be worthwhile, but right now I’m not so sure.
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