Not So Massively: Overwatch 2 is what Overwatch should have been from the start

    
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Hold your breath and count to ten, fall apart, start again.

Much to my own surprise, the announcement that most excited me at BlizzCon this year was not from any of the franchises I usually care about. It was Overwatch 2.

Overwatch is a game I’ve had a lot of criticism for over the years. Blizzard created such a beautiful and rich world for it, but then it squandered it on another arena shooter. With the additions made by OW2, though, the game looks set to finally become what it should have been from the start.

That’s not a diss, mind you. I’m not too keen on continuing to beat people up for their mistakes once the mistakes have been corrected. It’s not like there’s any shortage of games to play, so I lost nothing by Overwatch waiting so long to add the content I want. (And a whole lot of team shooter fans got something they liked too.)

But for me, that’s specifically, a campaign and co-op play. I’m someone who isn’t a big fan of competitive play — especially in fast-paced shooters, which I’m terrible at — so Overwatch‘s current PvP-only focus, especially given the game’s MMORPG origins, left me cold. But now that actual PvE is on the way, my interest has been reignited.

It’s frustrating that all of Overwatch‘s story has been out of game so far, but all of the cinematics released have been pretty amazing, so I have no reason to believe an in-game campaign won’t be of a comparable quality. It should be a good ride!

My one concern right now is that it looks like the campaign will be playable only in four person teams.┬áIf there’s one thing we learned from Star Wars: The Old Republic, it’s that the combination of a strong narrative focus and group gameplay (especially in pick-up groups) is, at best, an imperfect marriage. I can foresee a lot of powerful story moments being ruined by people spamming chat with bad jokes or nagging you to skip the cutscenes.

Is it too much to hope that Blizzard might add a solo story mode? Maybe by giving the option to let AI control your three teammates? If not, I hope there’s at least a way to opt out of all chat, a la Heroes of the Storm. There’s a time for social play, but it shouldn’t be forced in a story mode.

Where I welcome the team play is in Hero Missions, which will be OW2‘s repeatable co-op content. Whereas the campaign will restrict hero choice based on the story of each mission, Hero Missions will allow us to play as anyone we want, and they will have variable objectives for each map, making for a semi-randomized and highly replayable experience. Hero Missions also add a leveling system and unique talents for each character, adding a layer of progression.

This all sounds like a copy of StarCraft II‘s co-op missions, and that is a very good thing. As I’ve written before, SC2‘s co-op is an absolute gem, providing almost infinite replay value. Perhaps not surprisingly, this content is now SC2‘s most popular game mode. If OW2‘s Hero Missions can recapture some of that magic, this is something I can see myself sinking many, many hours into, and I imagine the same is true for many other people.

The addition of a leveling system and talents for all heroes just further adds to the potential goldmine of replayability. Part of what keeps me coming back to SC2 co-op is the variety of commanders; leveling new ones keeps the mode fresh. With so many heroes already in Overwatch and more on the way, that’s a lot of leveling to keep any player occupied.

I think Blizzard also deserves some praise for implementing Overwatch 2 as what is effectively a standalone expansion rather than a traditional sequel. The studio is perhaps a bit too eager to congratulate itself for “redefining a sequel,” but it remains a good deal for all players. Existing Overwatch players can move into the new game without losing any progression, and those of us who didn’t care about PvP can jump straight to the content we care about without wasting money on the original. Everybody wins.

Finally, on a more personal note I must say that I am more than a little tickled that OW2 is bringing with it some Canadian representation in the form of a Toronto map and the new hero, Sojourn. We don’t see my home country represented in a lot of popular culture, so it’s exciting for me.

While there are some valid criticisms to be made of the fact it’s taken this long for Blizzard to add a black woman to the Overwatch cast, I will say that I love the fact that the first Canadian character is a person of color. Multiculturalism is such a huge part of the Canadian identity; it is perhaps our country’s greatest strength. Sojourn represents so many real people I see every day; she’s a worthy face for Canada in the Overwatch universe.

The Toronto map is also showing off the diversity that makes my home the amazing place that it is. It’s a small thing, but I kind of wanted to cheer upon seeing a Jamaican restaurant in one screenshot of the new map. As a Torontonian (and a lover of Caribbean cuisine), I think that says “home” to me even more so than the CN Tower or Nathan Philips Square.

Canada gets stereotyped a lot in American culture, and while that stereotyping does tend to be relatively harmless (there are worse fates than being stereotyped as clean and polite), I am glad that Blizzard seems to be making an effort to represent what Canada is really like, rather than leaning on tired cliches of lumberjacks and hockey players.

Considering the popular fan theory that Pharah’s father is a First Nations Canadian, Sojourn might not even be the last Canuck to join the cast…

There are a lot of things about Overwatch 2 that you could justifiably argue should have come long before now, but nevertheless what it’s promising is tantalizing. Blizzard has made a lot of mistakes lately, and it deserves to take heat for that, but this one looks like a win.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.
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