A lucky group of players got to show off some of Overwatch 2’s new features in the middle of the action-packed Overwatch League Grand Finals match, in which the Shanghai Dragons claimed a sweeping victory over the Atlanta Reign.
Ten players previously eliminated in the playoff bracket got to team up and play an exhibition match for league viewers. They fought it out on one of the sequel’s new modes, Push, in which an adorable robot moves a barricade to a point on the map as players defend him.
The match included tons of information about maps in Overwatch 2, updated hero abilities, and how professionals will use all these shiny new features when the fifth season of the Overwatch League launches on an early build of the game.
If it was too much to absorb at once, we’ve compiled a few of the most important points fans and competitive enthusiasts can take away from the exhibition match.
Massive environment improvements
Many Overwatch 2 sneak peeks over the past year have focused on the enhanced beauty and interactivity of the game’s new maps, but the exhibition match showed us the more functional, competitive improvements developers have made.
Pros fought it out on Rome, an extensive Push map full of corridors, stairs, and long sightlines. While the map is stunning to look at, one thing that stood out from a competitive standpoint was the significant lack of “choke” points that are nearly ubiquitous in Overwatch’s current iteration.
Think about maps like Hanamura and certain points of King’s Row and Havana, for example. At certain parts, there is only one defined way for a team to attack and push ahead, like Hanamura’s entry gates. On Overwatch 2‘s Rome, none of these points appeared to exist. Caster Matt “Mr. X” Morello noted during the cast that “no hard offense or defense” sides exist.
As players encouraged T.W.O., the mode’s robotic companion, to push his barricades through winding streets, they took fights seemingly everywhere. Players emerged from tunnels to trade blows on stairwells or split up and rolled into a set of archways to cut off the enemy team. It was clear from the footage we saw that the era of obnoxious, fortified choke points appears to be over.
More understandable UI and gameplay
While Overwatch seems intuitive for those who have been around for years, parts of the game can be downright confusing for new players. Various additions to the user interface (UI) of the game, as well as new map and sound cues, should allow players to pick up Overwatch 2 more quickly.
On the Push map, progress can be tracked using a bar at the top of the screen, much like in base Overwatch. This tracker, however, clearly shows the direction the “payload” is being pushed and who is in the lead. Checkpoints are evenly spaced out instead of placed at random spots on the map, making the mode feel more intuitive.
We got a lot of looks at individual UI screens of players that have updated images and notifications. If a player is being healed or damage boosted by Mercy, for example, an icon will show her status and her location relative to the receiving player. Elimination notifications are smaller in the center of the screen to detract less from gameplay.
Sound design is also crafted for a more player-friendly experience. When a teammate is eliminated, a chime now plays, an effect taken directly from elimination arcade modes and PvE events in base Overwatch. This allows you to tell, without even looking at the kill feed, how quickly the fight may be lost. It’s a small change that will immensely help new players.
“For me, it felt like every character was a DPS,” said Los Angeles Gladiators tank Indy “SPACE” Halpern during the Watchpoint pre-show. After seeing the exhibition match, that assessment seems to be correct.
Every hero, from supports to tanks, appeared to dive directly into the fight in Overwatch 2. In base Overwatch, many heroes tend to hang back for fear of elimination; in this iteration, players like Jung “Closer” Won-sik of the Washington Justice turned Mercy into a devastating dealer of both healing and death. Even sneaky Sombras consistently ended up on the payload fighting it out instead of gingerly trying to eliminate supports in backlines.
Fights also happened more consistently and more chaotically, at least in the Push mode we saw. “We were just going at it, respawn after respawn,” SPACE said. “[We had] nonstop battles.”
Tuning not included
When mere mortals and developers showed off PvP modes during a February livestream, some of the new hero reworks seemed balanced and fair for everyone involved. Now that professionals have taken a crack at some heroes, it’s immediately obvious that intensive tuning needs to be done before Overwatch League starts up again in April.
SPACE and his tank opponent, Kim “Mag” Tae-sung of the Justice, pushed Reinhardt’s new abilities to the absolute limit. Dual Fire Strikes allowed them to snipe players across the map and the ability to steer Reinhardt’s Charge turned them into unstoppable freight trains.
Even game director Aaron Keller noticed and said “the tanks were even more effective than I was expecting them to be” during halftime.
Similar issues seemed to exist with DPS heroes. Kevin “Kevster” Persson of the Gladiators, a talented Sombra player in the base game, demolished teams with her new EMP ultimate. At one point, Kevster dropped his ultimate and targetted MAG as Reinhardt, who was then chunked down in under a second. Obviously, that’s not ideal for the future of the Overwatch League.
Luckily for professionals (and the rest of us waiting for any updates we can get), developers have ample time to continue reworking heroes and fine-tuning abilities. No release dates were mentioned during the Overwatch 2 exhibition match, but Keller confirmed all 32 base game heroes would be available for players when April 2022 rolls around.