I'll admit: I wasn't really keeping an eye on the Overwatch 2 launch situation over the past few months. The reason I'd not been keeping an eye it is that, simply put, Activision Blizzard is a nightmare company and I didn't want to waste my time or energy thinking about it. What I had absorbed through osmosis before yesterday was that the game was originally planned to include a split focus on improving the already-stellar competitive multiplayer while also introducing a new suite of cooperative modes in an attempt to bring in new players who might not want to get yelled at over the mic by wannabe pros. In a sense, Overwatch 2 was to be something more similar to Destiny than its predecessor — an all encompassing game for all kinds of players — which is a tall order requiring mountains of effort and money, all of which Activision Blizzard hypothetically had access to (including literally owning Bungie / Destiny while they spun up development). I also knew the game launching yesterday would not be including the cooperative element and would instead be a pared down release, only featuring the newly updated multiplayer with a few additional playable characters and and updated monetization system.
Well, dear reader, I have played Overwatch 2. And honestly, I'm having a good time with it despite the icky feeling I get every time the Blizzard logo pops up on my screen. And every time the game prompts me to get the battle pass. And every time a challenge completion popup tells me I've earned enough in-game currency to maybe buy a cool cosmetic in eight to ten months if I can keep this pace up. I think this switch from a game riddled with loot boxes to a free-to-play game honing in on a seasonal battle pass is really the biggest takeaway here, because it shifts the entire focus of play as much as it does the business model of those making it.
I've done a bit of digging in the more hive-mindy parts of the internet and the prevailing sense in the Overwatch community is that the loot boxes were better than the current monetization path. As of this writing there is literally a post towards the top of the Overwatch subreddit with the title "I miss loot boxes" which is frankly wild as hell. The truth is that loot boxes were predatory and problematic enough to literally get outlawed by multiple governments around the world. It is also simultaneously true that the loot box model rewarded players with cosmetics on a semi-regular (but still infrequent) basis. By moving to a freemium battle pass model, the best rewards possible are now locked behind paid tiers of the pass while smaller, free rewards are scarce and uninteresting.
With loot boxes, the focus of playing Overwatch was getting better and climbing ranks — just continuing to play in this way would occasionally grant you items that may or may not be rewarding. The focus of Overwatch 2 is climbing battle pass tiers, which means players will be railroaded into completing daily / weekly / monthly / event challenges possibly antithetical to their play-styles or desires in an attempt to min-max cosmetic unlocks before they disappear forever. Both models are predatory and troublesome for different reasons, but I guess it’s not so shocking to see people putting on rose-tinted glasses in regards to a monetization system they once hated given the new path is so withholding by comparison. Generally speaking: When a battle pass season launches, players can make a judgement immediately by seeing the reward tiers if it’ll be “worth it” to purchase or not. Loot boxes allowed for the entire item pool to exist in the possibility space of rewards which was more exciting — but also more alluring to those with a hard time avoiding falling into the gambling-adjacent side of the model.
The overarching problem here is that Overwatch 2 needed to prove more to its returning playerbase¹, and the (admittedly still great) multiplayer from 2016 will feel largely unchanged to casual fans. The takeaway, then, is that Overwatch 2 is more a fun dip into a nostalgia pool than it is a game reclaiming its rightful spot at the top of the hero-based shooter genre. Again: I'm having a great time jumping into the solo-queue and exploring all of the characters that have been added since I last played². Changing teams from six players to five is a welcome change, and the more aggressive play is a joy — but it still feels distinctly similar to a game I already decided to leave behind years ago. So all I'm left with is a battle pass asking me to make this game my full-time hobby, but I've picked up a lot of those since 2016. If anything, I'm trying to drop some instead of adding more.
¹ I didn't even get into how Blizzard now makes you link a phone number to your Battlenet account but specifically disallows pre-paid phone plans. I’m sure the intention here was to prevent people from setting up fake accounts for cheating or other nefarious reasons but it is also creating a literal economic barrier to entry for a “free” to play game. Even people who purchased the launch bundle can’t play if they’re on a pre-paid plan. It's literally classist, and is going to cost Blizzard a lot of returning and potential players.
² Even going back to the original release of Overwatch, Pharah has always been my go-to character. She'd had ups and downs in the time I was actively playing the first game, but she absolutely rules in Overwatch 2. I've been trying to experiment more with tanks and supports (I also used to main Lucio), and truly haven't found a hero I dislike playing as yet. Everyone feels awesome, and that's remarkable.