To think it has been nearly five years since Overwatch first released back in May 2016 is crazy. If I look back to where I was in 2016, my life doesn't even marginally reflect where I am today, but things change and so do video games, but the question is, by how much? I decided to look at Overwatch again, in a manner that re-evaluates the game that has changed since its 2016 launch, and when I think about the current state of the title, there's both a lot to celebrate, but also a lot that leaves me wanting more.
Starting off is the new content that has come to the game since launch. In its almost five year release span, Overwatch has seen the addition of 11 new Heroes, 23 maps (nine of which are playable as a non-Arcade or Workshop mode), as well as several new game modes, all usually tied to either Arcade or Workshop. There have also been countless events, each tied to a different cultural celebration, plus enough skins to satisfy even the most wild fashionistas. Summarising all this seems like quite a hefty amount of content, but when you really boil it down that equates to around one Hero every five months, with the last new one being Echo who dropped back in April 2020 (yep, eight months ago).
The thing is with Overwatch, due to the influence of a meta game across its Hero pool, a lot of the characters can often feel underwhelming or weak in comparison to others. So really, the 32 available Heroes quickly becomes around 10-14 viable options, a lot of which are base game characters anyway.
Which brings me to balance, and how the team over at Blizzard approaches it. If you have been a long time Overwatch player, you'll know that there have been some long, drawn out metas. Whether we're talking about the fast-paced and generally beloved Dive era, or the more recent sluggish age of GOATS, when something strong is found to be the optimal way to play, it usually stays that way for a long time. That was because, up until recently, patching was not proactive or daring, in fact it was almost like the Overwatch team was terrified to touch their game, in fear of alienating the audience who aligned with whatever metagame reigned supreme. This is no longer the case so much today, and the game is in a much healthier state because of it, but the remnant of a time passed still lingers and some characters really can't seem to shake its shadow (I'm looking at you Orisa).
On a more positive note, one of the areas that really changed the identity of Overwatch is the fantastic addition of the Workshop mode that has grown to become a highlight of the title today. By giving players the tools to explore their own creativity, Workshop has created a new look for Overwatch, one where the shooter gameplay at its core is layered behind daft mini games and unusual mechanics. Whether you queue into a game of Thomas the Tank Engine, a version of Parkour, Ana Paintball or even zombies, Workshop shows the true potential of the Blizzard shooter and its continued support from the developers bodes well for the future.
Another area that holds great importance in the life of Overwatch is ranked, and to a further extent competitive play. When it was first released, you could really tell that Overwatch was pushing to be a premier competitive title, the sort to rival Call of Duty or Counter-Strike. Over the past few years, it seems like Blizzard has been re-evaluating that concept, to the point where the competitive nature is simply a side product to the Overwatch experience. While this is generally a more fitting approach to suit the casual, larger audience, it does leave the ranked experience in a repeating limbo, where players are often left wondering why they need to complete placement matches every couple of months just to play at the same level of rating as they did beforehand.
This then brings us back to the developmental cycle of what's new and coming to Overwatch. If you have been around the Overwatch scene for a couple of years, you'll know that what you get is largely recycled content, albeit aside from the new maps and Heroes who are far and few in between. Since their introduction over the first year of Overwatch's lifetime, the annual events haven't really diverted from expectation, which makes for quite a disappointment when they roll around year after year. Sure, new skins are always great, but playing Mei's Snowball Offensive for the fourth year running becomes dull, rather quickly.
But, all of this aside, what is Overwatch really like? Truthfully, it's still one of the better shooters on the market. Its characters are timeless, its maps creative and engaging, its playerbase jam-packed with passionate returning fans, and as for its gameplay, well, it still stands to the signature high quality we all expect from a Blizzard game. When you really look at it, there is no better time than now to be an Overwatch fan because all signs seem to point toward an imminent future with Overwatch 2 at the helm. At the same time, there is an enormous amount of pressure on the sequel, as we all know it needs to not only excel what Overwatch achieved, but also it needs to become what Overwatch struggled to be, a game with an engaging amount of longevity.
Whether Blizzard nails the Overwatch 2 experience or not is irrelevant, as right now Overwatch is in one of the finest spots it has ever been. There are flaws for sure, and a lot come from unusual developmental choices in the past, but the future is once again bright for this fabulous franchise, and if you haven't had the chance already, now is the perfect time to hone your abilities before Overwatch 2 undoubtedly becomes all the rage when it launches down the line.