Less than a month before its October 4th launch, Blizzard is revealing even more details about the game, clarifying some rumors, and showing off the latest hero, Kiriko.
Since it was teased at Blizzcon in 2018, Overwatch 2 has been this great monolith of a game, a target Blizzard and its fans have been slowly journeying toward. In the recent months, and as a part of Blizzard’s commitment to better communicate its progress on Overwatch 2, we’ve learned quite a bit about the game. We’ve seen new heroes, new maps, a new progression system, and a fundamental shift in how the game will be played. But there are other, equally fundamental parts of Overwatch 2 that have only been revealed via leaks and substantiated by somewhat vague tweets.
Last week, due to a snafu with the description of the Overwatch 2 Watchpoint Pack, fans inadvertently learned that heroes in Overwatch 2 would be gated behind battle pass progression. Later, Overwatch commercial lead Jon Spector, confirmed that yes, heroes will no longer be automatically granted to players as they had been in Overwatch prime, but would be attainable via both the premium and free versions of the battle pass. Spector didn’t offer further clarification to the flurry of questions that followed, but in an interview with The Verge, those questions and more were answered.
The primary question on a lot of players’ minds was why? Why change how heroes are attained? The answer is pretty simple: this shit ain’t free.
“When we looked at making this transition to free to play, one of the great goals we had was to be able to give [original] Overwatch players what they wanted, which was just continuous delivery of content,” said Overwatch general manager Walter Kong. “Our core development team has roughly tripled in size since the launch of Overwatch and we have many more folks working on the game on partner teams, and we want to be able to continually invest in this live game service. So from the perspective of the business, this isn’t free.”
With Overwatch 2 going free-to-play, the initial investment Overwatch prime fans put into the game no longer exists for the sequel. But making games costs money, and making a good game that improves over its predecessor requires a substantial commitment. A commitment that Overwatch 2 developers decided could be best monetized via a battle pass model.
“The heroes are the single most engaging content that we have in the game,” Kong continued. “And as we designed this model, it seemed to be a very strong fit, to put those heroes into our new engagement systems.”
It’s a trade it seems. Blizzard is telling its players that they no longer have to pay for this game, but to make up for that, it has to implement a way to keep people playing. Locking heroes to battle pass progression keeps players on the grind in hopes that they occasionally toss a few dollars in here and there to make that grind easier or to buy some other new premium shiny. That’s the price of business and it feels like a fair trade. So what then does that mean for the way the game is played?
Right now, a match on the competitive ladder is highly dependent on team compositions, what the pros refer to as “the meta.” Whatever hero is in the current meta, is the one that gets played and more often than not, the meta hero is the newest one. Take a look at any random Overwatch League match in the last three weeks and you’ll see Junker Queen front and center. Locking the newest heroes behind a progression gate could stymie the folks who want to be on the bleeding edge of whatever metas come out of Overwatch 2. The developers know this is a huge stumbling block for players, but they’re reasonably confident the new hero system won’t impact the competitive ladder the way players now fear.
“When you look at the data of how often people switch heroes and how many heroes they typically play at one time, the majority of our players play a relatively small number of heroes,” said game director Aaron Keller. “And when they do switch to heroes, we believe it’s because they’re switching to a hero that they’re familiar with, a hero that they’re effective with, or a hero that they are having fun with.” It seems then the complaint that players might lose their competitive edge because they don’t have the latest hero, isn’t indicative of how players actually play.
In our interview, the developers also talked about how new heroes will not immediately be available on the competitive ladder for several weeks as they tweak and tune them so they’re not overpowered. They hope that the delay from arrival to availability gives players time to earn the hero. They’re also changing how they design heroes such that matches aren’t so dependent on whichever hero is the most powerful.
“One of the big differences with 5v5 combat is that we’ve tuned a lot of the heroes in the game, and made changes to reduce the amount of hard counters that Overwatch has,” Keller said. “We want the game to be a little bit more organic, we want people to have more impact, but we also want them to have more freedom in what hero they’re choosing for any particular situation.”
Overwatch right now is extremely dependent on hero composition. If a Tracer is harassing your team, someone switches to Brigitte and locks her down. That kind of pick and counter pick style of play has been the core of the game for these last six years. But that’s not going to be the way of the world anymore.
“Going forward, what we’ve done is we’re trying to take some of those really hard rock-paper-scissors interactions out of the game, and replacing them with more player choice,” Keller said.
Player choice is always great. It will hopefully mean greater hero diversity across the board. There are certain heroes (an attack Torbjorn for instance) that never see serious playtime because of their perceived non-viability. There’s hope that the changes the team has made will mean the top tiers of competitive Overwatch aren’t just mirror match after mirror match. At the same time, Overwatch’s heroes and the way their various abilities interact are what make the game unique. In the quest to make Overwatch 2 appealing to the maximum number of players, the developers could, inadvertently, lose the spirit of what made Overwatch so different from its contemporaries.
The developers acknowledged that Overwatch 2 is introducing so many changes that may be alienating for long-time players. But so did Overwatch prime. (Day one Mercy mains, let me hear you make some noise!) These changes haven’t been made arbitrarily but because, the developers said, they were simply giving the players what they want.
“This whole change over the past year with releasing Overwatch to the way that we’re doing is to respond to this desire from our players to be able to put out more content in the game,” said Keller. “I hope that players can recognize that the thing that they’ve been asking for more than anything else is the thing that we have focused on as a team more than anything else.”
Content is king and the battle pass system seems like it addresses the biggest complaint about Overwatch prime. And though the developers have finally addressed some of the concerns players had, the true test comes on October 4th when we, at long last, will be able to play Overwatch 2.