Editor's note: As you might have surmised by the name, we're bringing back the re-reviews MMORPG has done in the past. As a genre, MMOs and online games by extension continue to evolve, while the games themselves evolve with it. As a result, what might have worked originally may not hold up for new players looking to jump in years later. Take Overwatch for example - a much expanded roster of characters, new maps, new modes, and an ever evolving competitive meta, Overwatch is a different game than it was when it hit in 2016. As such, we're updating our review to better serve the crowd who is looking to get into the experience in 2020. This isn't the only game getting the re-review treatment - you'll see more in the coming weeks, such as Star Wars: The Old Republic and EVE Online, just to name a few.
In 2016 Overwatch brought a brand new hero shooter to the world and with it came a new era in the multiplayer shooter genre. Between the fast action, breadth of choice, and the sheer meme potential, Overwatch quickly became and still is one of the top competitive shooters available. When the game first launched our review was pretty clear: “Blizzard is first to market with Overwatch, its entry into the nascent, but rapidly growing hero shooter and unfortunately for everyone else, Blizzard’s managed to hit the ball out of the park on its first swing.” Now, four years later, has Blizzard turned that one homer into an MVP career? To be clear again: yes, yes it has.
Overwatch’s excellence starts with improving on one of its biggest features: character variety. The original roster of 21 heroes has increased to 32, adding characters that change the meta with every release. Notable additions include the first ever added hero Ana and her healing rifle, 2017’s Doomfist and his powerful cybernetic gauntlet, and 2019’s Sigma with his Hyper Spheres and Experimental Barrier. The time when a new character is added is among the most exciting times to play Overwatch, as we can never predict what’s going to happen for the first week or so of matches.
Match types have also seen growth, but most of that new variety comes outside of the competitive modes. The four core formats, Assault, Control. Escort, and the Assault/Escort Hybrid, are still the main ways to play Overwatch, and they’re still as fun and frenetic as ever. Each one requires a team to work together to win but in different ways, meaning no two Overwatch matches will ever feel the same. They’re just as fun to watch as they are to play too, which explains how the Overwatch League has gained such popularity.
There are other modes outside of those of course, including Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and even the ability to create custom modes through the Overwatch Workshop. New maps have been added to suit these unique modes, sending the map count from 12 at launch to 28 across all modes, each one keeping to the motif of “real-world location, but futuristic.” Germany’s Black Forest, Busan in South Korea, Rialto in Italy, and Paris all now have maps in Overwatch, and each one is expertly crafted for the game modes it holds. The only new map that bucks the “real-world location” trend is BlizzardWorld, but we’d be more than happy with that map coming to life sometime in the future.
Despite these new maps and modes, when we’re talking about core competitive gameplay, the fiercest of battles, the core four modes mentioned earlier are it. That Blizzard was unable to find a fifth format to break into the competitive scene in these four years is somewhat disappointing. A fifth core mode, Push, was finally announced, but it’s coming to Overwatch 2 and that obviously doesn’t help this first game out. Luckily, considering how good those main four formats are, the disappointment of a lack of new modes quickly dissipates.
That’s not to say Blizzard has been sitting on its collective hands, as they’ve put a great deal of work into seasonal events and other ways to keep the fanbase happy. We’re big fans of the Archive events that turn PvP into PvE and flesh out the lore of the world, the Summer Games with Lucioball (the 2020 version of which has just begun), and Junkenstein’s Revenge during the Halloween Terror events. When no events are running Blizzard also adds the most popular community creations from the aforementioned Overwatch Workshop to the Arcade selection, bringing plenty of new ways to experience Overwatch no matter what time of year it is. These have done wonders for the game’s longevity, giving the casual Overwatch player a reason to keep jumping back in even if these modes are fleeting.
With those seasonal events comes new skins and other cosmetics, and we can’t mention cosmetics without talking about the elephant in the Overwatch: microtransactions. Loot boxes are still a part of the experience, with one gained every time a player levels up. They do only contain cosmetic items like skins and sprays, sure, but being cosmetic doesn’t make them any less appealing to the player. The predatory nature of these boxes is still gross, and the fact that they’re still being used even after so much controversy is even more gross. We can only be thankful that Blizzard didn’t have the gall to lock new maps or even new heroes behind these lootboxes...and now we hope we haven’t given them any ideas.
Overwatch remains a clear-cut top choice for anyone looking to pick up a competitive multiplayer shooter. Each hero brings a unique skill set to the table, which is impressive considering there are over 30 of them now. The core game modes are still as engaging as they were at launch, with the supplemental game modes adding variety when it’s needed. The loot box economy is still worrisome, but ultimately avoidable since only cosmetics appear in them. Most importantly, the game is still damn fun four years later, and we’re hoping that fun continues with Overwatch 2...whenever that launches. If there was ever a time to sign up for the Overwatch, that time is now.