There’s good news for fans of the original Overwatch at BlizzCon: The new competitive mode, Push, already plays like a great new addition to Overwatch 2, and that mode will also come to the first game.
But I’m less convinced that Overwatch 2’s story missions are going to be worth spending considerable time with, based on hands-on experience with the Rio de Janeiro mission that’s playable at BlizzCon 2019.
To focus on the positive, Push is a new PvP game type that Blizzard calls a core multiplayer mode. That means it will be playable in quick play and competitive matches of Overwatch, and Push will be played in Overwatch League games. Push is akin to Escort games of Overwatch, in that teams need to escort a walking robot as it pushes a metal barrier as far as possible. Push maps are symmetrical, and each team has its own barrier for the robot to push.
But Push differs from Escort in key ways. The robot that players need to escort across maps doesn’t heal teams, and there’s greater danger in leaving the robot unguarded than the payload of Escort maps. Push is also ideal for tie breaking; there’s almost no chance of a game of Push ending in a draw, and end-of-game fights will require each team to aggressively fight toward the robot to settle who wins.
Blizzard says that Push maps are designed with flanking in mind, and not on controlling choke points. That was evident in a couple of Push games I played on the new Overwatch 2 map, Toronto. Sneaky Reapers and Pharahs forced my team to keep a close eye on our surroundings. Even still, a Roadhog on the enemy team, and later, an Ashe and Bob, managed to sneak up behind us as we moved our robot through the winding streets of Toronto.
Even better, the robot has a cute personality that Escort’s payloads simply can’t match.
Overwatch 2’s biggest new feature, four-player co-op story missions, didn’t do much to sell me on Blizzard’s sequel, however.
If you’ve played the original Overwatch’s Archive missions, you’ll have a good sense of how Overwatch 2’s story missions are structured. The demo mission at BlizzCon drops Mei, Reinhardt, and Tracer into the war-torn streets of Rio de Janeiro, where a Null Sector attack has flooded the city with deadly robots of all shapes and sizes. After joining up with Lucio, they clear wave after wave of ’bot. The quartet infiltrates a Null Sector ship, battles even more mechanized mobs, then tackles a big boss machine while also trying to smash an overheating reactor core.
I played that Rio mission once as Mei and again as Reinhardt. In these co-op missions, the heroes of Overwatch play with some slight variations of their usual PvP abilities. Mei’s blaster freezes enemies faster and they stay frozen longer. Reinhardt builds his ultimate ability meter simply by absorbing damage with his shield, and he can move faster while his shield’s up.
Every hero in Overwatch 2’s missions will also have special talents. Mei, for example, can instantly freeze nearby enemies after healing up in her Cryo-freeze ability. Or enemies that she freezes will shatter upon death, dealing damage to nearby enemies. Things can get a little wackier too — one of Mei’s other talents is turning into an icy bowling ball when using Cryo-freeze, allowing her to roll around and damage her foes. And Reinhardt can earn a talent that turns his Earthshatter ult into a 360-degree wave that knocks down everything around him.
Unfortunately, few of these intriguing new abilities were playable at BlizzCon, and the Rio de Janeiro mission played too much like the serviceable Archives missions that have appeared in Overwatch for the past three years. I somewhat begrudgingly play these each year during their three-week availability as I grind out arcade wins and cosmetics, but I’ve rarely found them compelling.
Blizzard is attempting to add a bit of variety with items from supply drops. At a few points during the Rio mission, crates dropped in that contain special items: a corrosive grenade, a mini turret, a healing station, and a protective barrier fence. These items can add a bit of strategic variety to the mission, but they have incredibly long cooldown periods.
The appeal of Overwatch for me is the interaction of six heroes battling another six heroes, and the variety and strategy that comes from those matchups. Playing with a set of locked-in heroes, for 20-minute stretches against AI-controlled opponents hasn’t been a draw for me in Archives, and the same is so far true for Overwatch 2. Perhaps Blizzard will add a compelling rewards system to Overwatch 2’s hero-focused and story-based missions that will warrant returning to them again and again, but it’s not clear what they’ll entice players with. For now, the current implementation isn’t doing much for me.
Without being able to try new talents — some of which admittedly sound super interesting! — or the promised progression coming to Overwatch 2 at BlizzCon, it’s too early to tell if the PvE side of Blizzard’s sequel will be worth the wait.