The stage is set for victory. You and your allies have the enemy cornered as the clock ticks into overtime, and there’s seemingly no way you can fail – or so you think. Suddenly, your slightly damaged healer falls back and says “Come to me for healing!” So your tank does, departing the frontline and getting their wounds patched up. Your other healer is in a corner somewhere, staying out of danger.
That leaves you and the second DPS to deal with –– nope, it’s already over. "Okay, well there’s always next time", you tell yourself, and then that round ends in failure as your DPS stays locked in combat with a tank getting support from Mercy for the entire match.
Is it the the other players’ fault? Well, technically yes, but they’re just doing what they think is best with the limited knowledge Overwatch 2 gives them.
Some online games have a problem with players understanding the objective. Overwatch 2’s problem is helping you understand what your role actually entails, and how to play it.
Part of the issue comes from Overwatch 2’s slightly less confident identity. With the removal of an extra tank comes a heavier emphasis on action as much as possible. Damaging everything in sight seems to take precedence over anything else, but – in reality – that means understanding your role is more important than ever. Blizzard’s current method of teaching players how their role works is to not teach them anything.
That's untenable. The team at Blizzard should look to other role-based multiplayer games for a better model of helping players understand and enjoy their game, and few handle onboarding better than Final Fantasy 14 and its deep, insightful tutorials.
Blizzard’s own tutorial eases you into Overwatch 2 with a practice round featuring the most well-rounded hero – and the easiest to understand if you’ve played other shooters. Welcome, Soldier 76. Armed with false confidence, you head into a match and pick someone else just to shake things up. After all, how different could these heroes be?
Ashe just aims down her barrel and launches herself backwards. Winston leaps into the air and off a cliff. Lucio switches from his healing song to his speed song, which has some less-than-desirable effects if you do it at the wrong time. Sorry team, but at least you died to a good beat! Learning the basic heroes is daunting enough, but the more complex, niche heroes (such as Sombra and Symmetra) are another matter entirely.
Memorizing skills can only take you so far. And while you can (and will) eventually learn how they play, it takes hours of matches against other human players and no shortage of discouragement before it finally clicks. Between work, school, and limited leisure time in general, it’s tempting to just not play the game – which is a shame since there’s a strong case to make for Overwatch 2 as one of the more enjoyable online games (when it respects your time, that is).
Blizzard hopes to teach you the ropes by sending you to a training arena where you can learn each hero’s skills. The concept is solid in theory but far too basic in practice to make itself useful. The enemy robots are comedic more than they are helpful, with their cartoonish screams of pain when you tickle them with Genji’s shuriken and fixed paths they never deviate from.
You can practice your basic aim and see how skills work, but training mode can never prepare you for how battle actually works. Robots might move in and out of Widowmaker’s range, waiting for you to finish them off. Actual humans will stay hidden, ping your location, and have a teammate sneak up from behind and end your career.
I can’t help but think wistfully of Final Fantasy XIV’s tutorials. Square Enix doesn’t let you anywhere near a dungeon until you pass a set of rigorous role trials that go beyond just the bare basics of how to activate your skills. They actually teach you to play the game.
DPS mains learn how to avoid drawing unwanted attention and which enemies to attack so they make the tank’s life easier. The answer isn’t the strongest enemy on the field. Healers learn where to plant themselves, when to stay inactive, and who to target for healing should a problem arise. Even for offense-oriented healers like the Astrologer, less is always more unless you have an escape plan. Attack an enemy too much or stray too far from the tank, and you risk derailing the entire dungeon run because you died.
These tutorials take at least a half hour to complete, but they’re in-depth and throw multiple different scenarios at you. Fail to adapt, and you start from the beginning. As a result, you learn how to set up combos, how to monitor the battlefield and adapt to unexpected developments, and – best of all – what you’re actually supposed to be doing. They helpe you understand, and enjoy, Final Fantasy 14 and all its weird little quirks.
Beyond these trial battles, you also have optional class quests you can take on that dig deeper into how your various Conjurers, Lancers, and Barbarians should behave in battle, helping you take the tutorials’ general knowledge and apply it in more specific circumstances. Despite technically being optional, you have to complete these to unlock new classes and learn some important new skills. Square Enix essentially makes you do them – just on your own time – and you’re better off for it.
Conjurer, for example, is easily the dullest healer class to start with, but since the class quests force you to handle threats of varying degrees on your own, you learn how the Conjurer should function because you have to. You figure out what spell patterns work the best for whittling away at enemies’ health, when to cast the right restorative spell, and how to balance cooldown timers. Best of all, you do this on your own, without stepping into a dungeon and dealing with the pressure of letting your team down.
Blizzard has the foundations of something similar with Hero Challenges, a set of tasks ostensibly designed to familiarze you with a specific hero before you get to unlock them. For now, though, these challenges amount to using the Hero in training mode and playing as them in matches a few times.
The only hero-specific help you get is a set of vague, general tips. “Separate Reinhardt from his team to make taking him down easier!”
Blizzard, he jumped me from behind and beat me to death with a hammer. In what universe is this helpful advice? Some kind of scenario teaching you the best time to use Kiriko’s quickstep, ways Echo and Tracer can harass enemies without getting caught, or convincing players that if they’re at 75% health or higher, they don’t need to demand healing every five seconds, would be far more helpful.
For now, the advice blurbs are all we get, though there are some positive signs Blizzard might be moving in a more helpful direction. Overwatch 2 Season 2 is making adjustments to certain heroes, including Doomfist and Ana, ostensibly to help them fit their roles more effectively.
Doomfist is a DPS with a “tank” label and Ana, a "healer", has but one healing skill. While large-scale changes and tutorials seem unlikely in the near future, at least Blizzard is aware the role situation needs work.
Let's just hope it can solve that problem before it's too late.