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Overwatch 2 is the latest in a long line of terrible game launches – and I’m not even talking about the queues

Console players unable to log in, discriminatory phone number-based sign-in policies, removed features, soulless art… it’s another service game nightmare launch!

“Heroes never die.” That’s Overwatch’s little mantra – a motto you’ve probably heard a million times over if you or one of your teammates has ever been a Mercy main. It sort-of became a de facto rallying cry for the game, too: no matter how many times Blizzard slowed down the drip feed of new content, it always came back. Often with a bang. Like a true hero, Overwatch – or the original Overwatch at least – could never stay down.

That was until its own creator came along to put a bullet in its head. In order for a new hero to rise, the original one had to die. So Blizzard stood above its favourite creation, placed the cold steel to its forehead, and pulled the trigger without a second thought. In theory, what rose from the ashes would be harder, better, faster, stronger… but in reality, it’s been a pale imitation of what came before.

Take a look at Season One of Overwatch 2 in this trailer.
Have you tried the newly-relaunched Overwatch yet? Can you even get a match?

Overwatch 2, let’s face it, has had an appalling launch. If you’ve spent even a fraction of a second online this past week, you’ll have seen stories about the queues. Blizzard notes that a lot of the issue with logging in comes down to DDoS attacks on its servers. Fast-forward 48 hours, though, and little has changed; I have the Xbox version of the game open as I write this, and I have gone from 400 people ahead of me in the queue, to 300, to 800, and now to 1600.

As a Brit, this chaotic queueing is making me actually feel sick. I know it’s not easy to launch a live-service game in this day in age – and GamesRadar published a very good article explaining why a few years back, looking at the likes of Anthem, Apex Legends, and Diablo 3. I empathise, but I have little sympathy; Blizzard is one of the biggest developers in the industry. If it can’t get it right, what chance is there for everyone else?

Then there’s the whole SMS debacle. What started out as a bright idea that would prevent smurfing, griefing, and other esports-related words ending with -ing, locking players to one single phone number without accepting pre-paid phones or VOIP ended up being a proper clusterfuck. As Kotaku rightly pointed out, this is discriminatory and short-sighted. Blizzard has semi-overturned the decision now, but it’s still not ideal – and it still means players cannot get into the game.

Do you reckon Junker Queen ever queues?

And when you do finally get a game, what are you met with? A game that has had, in my opinion, the soul ripped right out of it. Blizzard has siphoned a lot of what made the original fun, unique, and interesting out of the game in order to present us with a ‘more streamlined’ experience… but all that’s done is result in a homogenous game that has more in line with the countless Overwatch clones that the original inspired, rather than the actual thing itself.

Back in 2016, there was no better feeling than zipping around the map as Mercy, say, healing and buffing your teammates and getting some cracking potshots in with your nasty little pistol. Soften up a few targets, fly to safety, heal your Winston, then resurrect your team ahead of a well-timed, intelligent push to victory. Your reward? Your icon would be on fire. You’d be visibly highlighted for your team, with the game saying “hey, check out this guy – they know what they’re up to!”

At least it's not just another OTT military shooter about US Marines.

Being ‘on fire’ was both an incentive and a handy UI tool to tell you who’s contributing to the objective. Blizzard is apparently thinking about ‘reworking’ the fire mechanic, but we’ve not heard anything about that since May 2022. Given that the characters still have lines that note when you’d be on fire, though, it feels like there’s a hidden meter somewhere measuring it, and players just don’t get to see it. Hm.

Whilst being on fire was great, immediate feedback during a live match, it was compounded by the summary screen you’d get after. Heading to the results page and seeing the medals rack up in your favour – even if you’d lost! – was another great piece of game design from Blizzard. It tapped into that ‘just one more match’ mentality; if you got a silver badge for healing here, you can easily get gold next time… right? Right?! At least that summary page – where you can give kudos to that Reinhardt that saved your ass in the mosh pit of Point C, that encourages positivity and team play – is still there.

Kiriko and her cute dog can only help so much.

Between a botched launch (without any of the PvE content we were promised back when the game was announced in 2019), some baffling design decisions, and the fact that many console players still can’t get a game, Overwatch 2 takes the crown for worst launch of 2022 (thus far). I’m not the only person that thinks so, either. There’s still a great game in here, beneath the design changes, the UI rejigs, the confusing battle pass, and the dodgy publisher-side decisions. Overwatch has always been great; even going to 5v5 won’t change that.

But it’s not the first service game – nor will it be the last – to suffer this fate at launch. Look at the likes of Destiny 2, Street Fighter 5, Final Fantasy 14 – three very different games in very different genres that demonstrated it’s possible to launch like a wet fart in a swimming pool and still claw back some respect and decorum. There’s Rainbow Six Siege and Warframe, too.

But can Overwatch 2 reverse this lethargic launch? With critics saying it’s more of a chance for Blizzard to refresh its monetization scheme than it is for the studio to offer something actually new, is there a chance the game could – once again – rise from the ashes and proclaim that, no, actually “heroes never die”? Maybe. But there’s also the very real chance that Overwatch 2 could suffer the same fate as Battlefield 2042, that a bad launch will bury the game for good, no matter how hard it struggles to recoup.

As a long-time Overwatch fan, I really hope Blizzard has got some magic left to work with this disappointing sequel.

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