Yes, it’s true: Overwatch is shutting down on Oct. 2. And after a daylong maintenance period, it’ll be forever replaced with Overwatch 2. But this transition from an original game to a sequel is not like going from The Last of Us to The Last of Us Part 2 — one story is not building upon another. Think of Overwatch 2 as an add-on to the original, with a slew of impactful adjustments.
When Overwatch 2 is released on Oct. 4, players will immediately jump into largely the same competitive and casual queues they’re already accustomed to. There are new maps (quite a few of them) but most of the old ones are playable, too. There’s also a new mode called Push, which is basically an iteration on Escort. Instead of escorting a truck through a map, players are fighting for control of a large robot that pushes a barrier to opposing goal lines; whoever gets the robot the farthest wins. Most of the heroes have had their stats tweaked, and some abilities changed. For instance, Blizzard removed a lot of Overwatch’s stun abilities. Mei’s ice gun won’t freeze enemies solid anymore, and Cassidy’s no longer got a flashbang.
Crucially, matches now have five players per team instead of six. While this doesn’t affect the actual mechanics of each character all that much, it absolutely shakes up the overall strategy of each match. More than anything, Overwatch 2 feels much faster than Overwatch. Even though tanks are now harder to destroy, the speed of play feels chaotic — in a good way — when playing a damage-dealing hero. Pair that with the new hero Kiriko’s ultimate ability, which speeds up movement and fire rate, and you’ve got matches that unfold at breakneck speed.
Coming into Overwatch 2 as a lapsed but formerly quite dedicated Overwatch player, the differences don’t necessarily feel large enough to call Overwatch 2 a completely new game. But they do challenge habits that have remained since I last picked up the game in 2018; I may have been a player deeply enamored with Mei’s ice gun, and I relied on it a lot to freeze players solid. Overwatch 2, in that case, means rethinking how I play a character like Mei — and this thought process and those adjustments extend to how I play other heroes, too.
It’s worth noting that, because I’d played Overwatch, I opened up Overwatch 2 during the press access period to find all the heroes already unlocked. New players will start Overwatch 2 with 13 heroes, and unlock the rest by playing a certain number of games. So, for instance, you can unlock Mei after playing 70 games, with progress doubled for winning those games. The last addition is Echo, who is unlockable after 150 games. What’s more, if a new player is grouped up with someone who has already unlocked the whole roster, the roster will be open for the whole squad for the time you’re playing together.
I was initially bummed that new players won’t immediately be able to play as certain heroes, limiting the amount of character-switching that’s sometimes necessary to get through — and win — a round of Overwatch. But I’ve come around to the idea that this does make Overwatch 2 more digestible for a new player, who might find someone like Wrecking Ball challenging to play at first. Also, new players probably won’t be character-switching to counter the enemy team at this stage anyway.
It’s been so long since I played the original Overwatch that it’s hard to determine whether Overwatch 2 is “better” than its predecessor. The updates are nice, and it’s refreshing to learn new maps and new heroes — to hear new voice lines and find frequent lore surprises. But regardless of whether it’s “better” or not, Overwatch 2 is still a blast to play. It’s still exhilarating to land a D.Va bomb exactly where you planned it, or to feel like you’ve gained a superpower when you unleash Hanzo headshots like a pro.
I’m excited to try the still-to-come PvE mode, which could make or break Overwatch 2’s reputation as a true sequel. Until then, its contagious energy will have to do. In its momentum and sheer ferocity, there are still very few games that hit like Overwatch.
Overwatch 2 will be released on Oct. 4 on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch. The game was played on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Blizzard Entertainment. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.