Overwatch 2 is an unconventional sequel being built by a studio known for working in untraditional ways. Through 30 years of game creation, Blizzard Entertainment has transformed itself from an outfit known for making fun arcade racing games to the masters of maintaining live servers. But when you hear the team talk about what it is trying to achieve with Overwatch 2, it’s difficult to push past the feeling that it has taken on one of the most ambitious undertakings in company history.
“Our goal is for Overwatch 2 to be the worthy successor to the first game,” says game director Jeff Kaplan, speaking from BlizzCon Online. “We really want Overwatch 2 to feel like the next evolution – a true sequel to the first game. It’s not an add-on, and it’s not just an extension of the original game. It’s an evolution and a replacement to the original game. I think that’s exciting.”
Changing with the times
“One thing that I find really interesting about the PvP in Overwatch 2 is some of the philosophical changes we’re making to the approach”Jeff Kaplan, game director
Much has changed since Overwatch released in May 2016. The landscape of the industry has changed around Blizzard, and aspects of the shooter genre have been irreversibly altered in response to the cadence of Overwatch’s action and the balanced interplay between its cast of beloved hero characters. That makes the prospect of Overwatch 2 exciting, as Kaplan asserts, but it’s also an endeavour with risk built-in.
The maps, modes, and heroes introduced in Overwatch 2 at launch will be available to Overwatch players too. Progression and cosmetic unlocks will be shared between the games. The alterations made to the underlying technology, mechanics, and systems for the sequel will be reflected in the original game too, by necessity. Kaplan says that it is treating Overwatch 2 as an opportunity to evolve, iterate, and refine the fundamentals. “One thing that I find really interesting about the PvP in Overwatch 2 is some of the philosophical changes we’re making to the approach.”
Blizzard believes that a sequel gives the team a permission structure to make big changes, even in the eyes of players who may have invested hundreds (if not thousands) of hours into the Overwatch ecosystem. It means that while PvP will be a shared experience between Overwatch and Overwatch 2 players, every one of them will need to spend time understanding the new meta and learning how to best utilise it. “PvP feels different and new,” adds audio director Scott Lawlor. “The roles are playing differently, and it’s a pretty big departure from where we are on Live [servers].”
Know your role
Combat in Overwatch is a tug-of-war between three archetypal hero types: Tank, Damage, and Support. Blizzard is going back to basics and rethinking how each class handles and functions. “We want to make them more toe-to-toe brawlers, and less characters that stand back and protect other people.”
Eagle-eyed Reinhardt mains may have caught a glimpse of some of the proposed Overwatch 2 changes already. “The changes to Reinhardt that we’re trying right now,” says Kaplan, with an emphasis on the ‘trying’ to stress that these changes may not ship in the live game, “is to embrace more of that instinct that players have when they want to play as a big burly character; they feel aggressive and look like they should be aggressive.”
“Damage dealing heroes have a movement speed bonus, which is great for flanking around the map. Support heroes have automatic healing that kicks in after they haven’t taken damage for a while, similar to Mercy’s passive but at a little bit of a lower rate.”
Refreshed for a new generation
As associate game director Aaron Keller puts it, the Overwatch 2 team wanted to rethink “what happens when a player holds the trigger”, and that meant “nothing was off the table”: VFX, sound, animation, and the design of the characters themselves.
“The shooter genre has evolved a lot since Overwatch 1 came out. We wanted to push the visceral nature of how we do combat. We focused not just on the wonderful sound effects but also on how the gun moves as you shoot, so you can feel every single shot as it leaves the chamber.
Were it not for the steps Blizzard has taken to keep its community together – in a way that isn’t unprecedented, but is certainly unusual – then we might see Overwatch 2 for what it really is: a true sequel that’s pushing to fundamentally overhaul how its combat functions, creating the bedrock of an ecosystem that has a chance of living long into the future.