After a long wait, a tortured development, a great deal of cutting back on features, and endless controversy, the PvE update for Overwatch 2 has finally arrived. While the repeatable hero missions were cancelled, the Invasion update does still bring with it Overwatch‘s first three story missions, as well as a co-op event and the usual PvP offerings.
There’s so little good will towards Blizzard these days that it’s hard to imagine anything winning back the community’s heart right now. But whatever the gaming community as a whole might think, I have to say: I am immensely happy with the Overwatch‘s first foray into story content.
I will admit that the blowback over the cancellation of hero missions surprised me – not the fact that there was blowback (because it was disappointing news) but the sheer intensity of it. I had no idea people were so attached to the idea of a horde mode — or whatever hero missions were going to be. For me, they were always a side feature, with the story mode being the main attraction of Overwatch 2‘s PvE offerings.
With Invasion, that main attraction finally arrived, albeit in truncated form. And while a mere three missions may not be a massive quantity of content, their quality has blown me away.
The three missions that make up the Invasion storyline excel in virtually every imaginable arena. You know how for years people have talked about how great the animated shorts are, and how much they wish things like that could exist in-game? Now they do.
The in-engine cutscenes provided with the missions are numerous, lengthy, and sumptuous. From exciting action moments to subtle facial expressions, they’re triumphs of the medium and a further testament to the oft-repeated view that whatever else may go wrong, Blizzard’s art and animation departments always hit it out of the park.
The banter between characters was always fun even in Overwatch‘s PvP modes, but the story missions really take it to a new height, with almost too many delightful interactions and funny one-liners to keep track of.
The story itself is compelling, with emotional reunions between the Overwatch team members, intense moments that establish the threat of Null Sector, and intriguing hints at where the story may go in future.
The gameplay is also excellent. Given this is a game designed first and foremost for PvP, I was worried that game mechanics wouldn’t translate well to PvE content, but I found that wasn’t the case at all. I played my first mission as Reinhardt, and wading into robotic hordes with his hammer and energy shield felt so good you’d think he was designed for PvE first.
There’s a much greater variety of enemies than in Overwatch‘s brief previous forays into co-op, and it helps highlight the strengths of different heroes. Ranged characters provide a useful counter to flying foes, while close-range heroes like Reinhardt and Brigitte excel at wading through swarms of weaker robots.
The mission design has some welcome variety, as well. The first is a chase through an invaded city culminating in a boss fight that would be at home in any MMO dungeon, the second is an escort quest but minus the usual annoyances of such things, and the final mission is something of a tower defence scenario where players are assisted by some new turrets designed by Torbjörn.
As a long-time resident of the real-world city, I have to give special praise to the Toronto mission. The attention to detail and authenticity is nothing short of amazing. Much of the mission takes place in a very faithful (if futuristic) recreation of the public transit system, and other familiar Toronto locales are name-checked in signage and radio chatter, including the neighbourhood of Parkdale, where I lived for many of my teen years.
Also, Sojourn uses “eh” correctly! She doesn’t do the exaggerated version of it you always hear when Americans are trying to imitate Canadian slang!
I grew up playing Blizzard games, and I’ve spent a long time talking about that special sense of vibrancy that pervades them. They’re full of goofy tropes and absurd moments, but these are delivered with such earnest passion that these otherwise tired ideas transform into something truly special. So I’ve spent most of the last few years talking about how that magic is gone, how Blizzard’s recent releases feel tired and rote.
But in Overwatch 2‘s story missions, I feel that magic again. The passion and bombast with which these stories are executed makes them more than the sum of their parts, as with the Blizzard games of old.
It’s not just me, either. In one of my first runs through Toronto, another player was gushing in chat about how much fun they were having. And when was the last time you saw a player in a team shooter PUG be positive about anything?
For those craving more story, there is also a fairly substantive lore library available outside of the missions, including text and audio entries running the gamut from character backstories to Winston’s online shopping receipts. Much of this is unlocked automatically, but some entries require you to complete certain missions with certain characters, adding a degree of replay value.
Of course, nothing is perfect, and this is no exception. By far the biggest problem with these missions is the simple fact there’s only three of them. With the ability to play through them as different heroes and their general high quality, they have a decent degree of replay value, but they’re not going to keep people occupied for months on end.
One decision that I question is the fact that each mission has a limited roster of heroes you can play as (the exact roster varies by mission). The intention is to limit people to heroes that were canonically present for each mission, but I don’t see why they couldn’t let people play as other heroes and just play the voice lines from the canon line-ups over the radio.
There are also some mechanics in the missions that require the canon heroes (Torbjörn repairing his turrets, for instance), but again, it didn’t need to be designed that way. While its neat to have those little interactions, it doesn’t seem worth sacrificing the replay value of having access to the full cast.
There’s also the fact that these missions are multiplayer-only, which did have me concerned that they would become unplayable once the initial rush dies down. However, I noticed AI replace any players who drop, so bots might keep the story missions playable even if the population dies. Hopefully it won’t come to that any time soon.
There’s also the price tag to consider. I did balk at the price at first ($20 in my currency), as I’d somehow gotten it in my head the missions would be free initially and paid only if you wanted to keep them permanently, but on reflection the price doesn’t seem unreasonable. The bundle also comes with ~$10 worth of cash shop currency, enough for the current premium battlepass, and playing the missions unlocks the hero Sojourn as well as a legendary skin for her. That, plus the considerable quality of the missions, makes it a decent value in my books.
Hungry PvE players also have access to the free but temporary Underworld co-op mission for the next few weeks. While it’s not as spectacular as the story missions, it’s a decent ride all the same… except that it also has a severely limited hero roster. And in this case, I really can’t see any good reason for that to be the case.
Underworld will have multiple versions with different modifiers roll out over the coming weeks. As of this writing, only the base version is available now, and it’s possible later versions will feature different hero rosters for more variety. But even if so, it would still be much better to just have access to all heroes.
And of course, Underworld is also still just temporary content, so it’s a bit of band-aid at best.
The final problem hurting the replay value of Overwatch 2‘s initial PvE offerings is the developers’ continued insistence on making most daily and weekly challenges not achievable in co-op modes. This means that leveling your battlepass isn’t really viable unless you’re willing to also play PvP or grind to a truly mind-breaking degree.
This has always bothered me, and it makes even less sense now that the game is pushing more towards PvE, albeit at a lesser degree than was originally envisioned. I actually do enjoy even the training versus AI mode that’s always existed, and I’d play it more if I could earn meaningful rewards for it.
It’s especially strange in the context of Blizzard’s games. Heroes of the Storm allowed full progression in its versus-AI games, and while Overwatch‘s AI opponents may not exactly be spectacular, they’re still a lot more challenging than Heroes‘ bots were.
With Underworld and the story missions having access to the full hero roster and challenges changed to function in co-op modes, you’d have the foundations of a functional, if basic, PvE experience within Overwatch 2. With further development over time, it could build into something greater. Unfortunately, right now, that’s not what we have.
This being a free-to-play title, there’s no reason for PvE fans not to just dip in and out as new stuff is released, and personally I’m fine with doing so, but it would definitely be better for the game and for Blizzard if we had more incentive to stick around between updates.
But none of that can take away from the simple fact that Invasion’s story missions are incredibly good. Whether they prove successful from a business perspective, they are definitely a solid win artistically, and while the game reviewer side of me may see the problems here, the gamer side of me is overflowing with joy.
With a potentially long wait before the next missions and all the current resentment towards Blizzard, I think it will continue to be an uphill battle for Overwatch 2 in general and its story in particular, but I hope it continues to forge ahead. These first three missions have decisively proven that Overwatch‘s story is capable of greatness.