The state of PC gaming
To kick off 2022, we’re taking a look at the major games, genres and platforms that make PC gaming to see where they’re at as we begin a new year.
Overwatch, despite what every tired streamer and burnt out player might lead you to believe, is far from dead. Blizzard’s MOBA-inspired FPS may have lost its relevance against games like Valorant and Apex Legends, but it remains distinct and stalwart in its place as the least traditional shooter out there.
For much of 2019, the game’s identity wavered and Blizzard seemed to have forgotten what made the game so exceptional when it launched in 2016. Its intense emphasis on competitive play and its esports league peeled away the parts of the game that made it approachable for a variety of players. Heroes increased in mechanical complexity and the margin of error in a given match got smaller. Overwatch felt like it was designed to be watched by casuals for thrilling, “pop off” moments, and played by only the most skilled players.
It was so backwards that they finally took a step back in late 2020 and shifted Overwatch towards a game where non-traditional (and more accessible) heroes with hammers and bows are just as crucial as the ones with rifles. Firefights used to be over in an instant with some well-placed headshots, but now fights erupt into brawls and you have time to make tactical decisions. Balance-wise, Overwatch is as close as ever to the Chess-like, team-based game it always promised to be, and a game that no other shooter has emulated successfully.
With wide-reaching balance changes (and, notably, no new heroes released since 2020), the development team were able to restore the game’s rich, team-based play. But then Blizzard was turned inside out. Not long after Overwatch’s game director—and the face of its iconic developer update videos—Jeff Kaplan, left the company in April 2021, Activision Blizzard’s years-long history of workplace harassment and discrimination were widely publicized. Since then, more high profile Blizzard employees have left, the company has been sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, investigated by the SEC, and will be bought by Microsoft for $68.7 billion in 2023.
2022 was going to be an extremely important year for Overwatch before everything with Activision Blizzard happened. Now there are even more questions for how the game and its upcoming sequel have withstood not only a global pandemic but a disaster still unraveling within the company. Little has been said about the sequel, let alone what will happen to the current game after it eventually comes out.
So, how is Overwatch right now?
Overwatch is still really fun. It has its issues; certain overpowered meta heroes have gone relatively untouched in years, like Baptiste’s oppressive grip on the Support category and Sigma’s overwhelming list of abilities. But for most people outside of high rank lobbies, the game maintains satisfying hero-on-hero shootouts and the team-based play that it’s always excelled at. Almost every hero in the game’s roster is not only playable but useful across a variety of maps and team compositions. There are a bevy of modes to play whether you’re looking for goofy fun or competitive grudge matches that demand an adaptive understanding of the game. Queue times aren’t bad either. In 2019, Overwatch introduced Role Queue (which locks players into their chosen roles), and increased the time it takes to get into a match, but not long after we got the While You Wait option that allows you to play deathmatch or hang out in the practice range while looking for a match.
Outside of balance patches and cosmetic-filled events, there hasn’t been any massive new additions to Overwatch since the damage hero Echo released in 2020. Blizzard said at the time that she’d be the last hero before Overwatch 2 released, but that was also back when we thought Overwatch would release in 2021. The game is at somewhat of a standstill, but that doesn’t mean the game has lost what made it special. The complex core of Overwatch, where teams of six clash in colorful whirlwinds of skillshots, abilities, and game-winning ultimates is still intact, and it’s what has kept so many people logging back in every day.
It’s all temporary though. As far as we know, Overwatch 2 will shift the game from its usual six versus six format to five versus five, leaving one tank per team (down from two) and adjusting all heroes to compensate for less armor on the battlefield. It will also remove the unpopular Assault (or 2CP) game mode and replace it with a new one called Push. There are several questions about how all of this will work and how certain heroes will have to change to fit with the new game. Blizzard has teased some changes in its presentations about the sequel, but almost none of it has made it to the current game, so we have no idea if these changes are good yet. Right now, the game’s balance is like trying to read tarot cards to figure out what the future holds.
What’s been happening recently?
- Annual and limited time events continue on schedule. Overwatch’s regular events, like Halloween Terror, and Lunar New Year, have continued to run, offering a bunch of new cosmetics and limited time modes. The developer has also released short stories and comics that come with a skin and other rewards for watching Twitch streams.
- Content creator experimental patches are a new regular occurrence. As part of an effort to keep the game fresh and to utilize its most public-facing fans, Blizzard has started to let well-known content creators suggest balance changes to be implemented in the game’s limited, Experimental mode.
- Blizzard held a meeting with popular content creators to help plan for 2022. In late December 2021, Blizzard held several meetings with content creators to brief them on their plans for 2022. Many lapsed and critical players expressed excitement for what’s to come, which has led many to believe more substantial updates and possibly an Overwatch 2 beta will arrive this year.
- Overwatch League is still on track to play on Overwatch 2, somehow. When Overwatch League’s fifth season starts in April, it will use an “early build of Overwatch 2,” according to a statement made to Dot Esports from a league spokesperson. We know very little about the sequel, and playing at the highest competitive level on an unfinished game seems risky, but we’ve not heard anything different since last year.
Are players happy?
If you look up Overwatch on Reddit or Twitter, you’ll find tons of unhappy people, but if you get into a game, a lot of people seem happy enough to keep queuing for more matches. It’s hard to accurately judge Overwatch’s total player base because so many are divided on what direction the game should go in. Professional Overwatch League players want to see the game at its most competitive, where skill and consistency is rewarded, and casual players (read: most players) want the game to remain spontaneous and asynchronous like how the game launched. But even with all the differing opinions, there are loads of people playing.
If there’s anything that’s true about Overwatch players right now, it’s that all of them deeply care about the game—and that bolsters the criticisms of it. We’ve had all of this time since the game’s debut. Many other games have plucked ideas from it, and did it better in some cases, but no game has really been able to capture the reasons why people come back to Overwatch over and over again. And right now, with very little updates, people keep desperately playing a game that largely refuses to push anything forward until Blizzard can sell us another game.
Long-time players are burnt out, frustrated over the same issues, or exhausted by Blizzard’s refusal to quell much of the toxicity in the game’s text and voice chat. And the new players, which the game still gets from frequent sales and free-to-play periods, enjoy what’s there—although the game could do a much better job at onboarding them. Every day that goes by puts more pressure on what Overwatch 2 will be, and it remains to be seen if it can deliver on that.
When is the next big update happening?
Recently, Overwatch senior community manager Andy Belford said “the current pace of updates isn’t something we’re satisfied with,” on the official forums. As far as we know, 2022 will have more frequent updates of some kind for the game. Whether it’s more event skins, content creator patches, or a surprise Overwatch 2 beta is unclear. With Overwatch 2’s recent delay into 2023, the current game has to make it another year last. The team must have enough planned to warrant the meeting with content creators last year, which is the only promising development of 2022 so far.
Overwatch can’t simply repeat everything it did last year without losing tons of players, especially ones that play for its esports league. This is the year it has to give concrete information about the sequel and hopefully let people play it. The expectations for a modern, live service shooter have changed so much since 2016, and Overwatch, in its current form, is incapable of meeting them. It’ll be a problem if we reach December and don’t even know if we’ll have to pay to play the upcoming game or if it will be free to play in some form, and if it will continue to use a loot box system.
It’s Blizzard’s job to make Overwatch relevant again, and to do that, it needs to reestablish what made every other game snag ideas from it. The game is in a solid place for players to discover it again and dig into its depths, all it needs are reasons to stick around when so many other games are stealing the attention away from it.