Overwatch 2 Launch Mired with Server Issues, Game Critiques

The first couple of days since the sequel's release have left fans angry, critics confused and many others underwhelmed.

It’s finally here. After three years, “Overwatch 2” is out… sort of.

The sequel to the wildly-popular, 2016 Game of the Year shooter released on Tuesday. But its first couple of days since release have left fans angry, critics confused and many asking: Is this all there is?

The game has encountered server issues since the day it was launched, with Blizzard president Mike Ybarra saying on Tuesday that the company suffered a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack against its servers. But even after tireless hours of work at the company’s Irvine, Calif., office, the game is still struggling. Blizzard is taking the game down altogether on Thursday night to institute a series of fixes in hope of stabilizing its performance.

Much of the critique around “Overwatch 2” doesn’t center on the servers, though. It’s about the game itself and, after almost three years since its BlizzCon 2019 announcement, a seeming lack of content. “Overwatch 2” welcomes just three new characters, one new game mode and just a few new maps.

There are quality-of-life changes to the gameplay, including reducing the team size to five instead of six, that are much appreciated by the diehards. An updated engine and graphics also make the game feel better anecdotally. But that doesn’t excuse three years of development and little progress on reinventing the wheel. “Overwatch 2” is as much a sequel as it is a major seasonal update in any other game.

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When Blizzard announced “Overwatch 2” in November 2019, it focused very specifically on its player-versus-environment (PvE) mode. Blizzard’s communications made it clear that it wanted to welcome in new players to its community and cater to those interested in the “Overwatch” lore and universe, but not the competitive nature of the game itself.

That PvE mode didn’t come out this week, though, and it doesn’t have a date set either. Blizzard’s published a roadmap for updates for the PvP mode that did release and it seems clear it will get a lot more regular love than its predecessor. But again, it feels like the part of the game Blizzard focused on the least, but released first.

Blizzard demoed the PvE mode at BlizzConline 2021 a year ago and it received some positive responsives. The game, which seemingly took influence from the likes of “Left 4 Dead” and other survival shooters, reinvigorated the audience somewhat. Had it been the portion that came out this week, the story here would likely be different.

Blizzard is both simultaneously the king of game delays to an obnoxiously perfectionist degree, while also launching games with significant instabilities in their first few days. For any longtime “World of Warcraft” fan, the server issues that “Overwatch 2” is facing are not at all surprising. Same with the delays. Blizzard has often delayed game titles over and over until they get them right. But it didn’t here.

Unlike “World of Warcraft” though, “Overwatch” doesn’t carry a decade-plus long reputation of being one of the best-in-genre games. In 2016, “Overwatch” garnered a lot of good will because of its unique approach to game design, its deep and intriguing roster of characters and its intense marketing rollout.

But all of that is now gone—it stopped pushing major updates to the original “Overwatch” game some time ago and left diehard players without anything new. It focused exclusively on “Overwatch 2” and the reaction from many is that the sequel is underwhelming.

It’s marketing rollout is also confusing. Anecdotally, on Monday, I saw more coverage about “Overwatch” servers shutting down than I did about its sequel being released the next day. The 2016 release of “Overwatch” became a cultural phenonemon, with billboards and wall murals across the globe, copious amounts of TV ads and even partnerships with Uber for luxury rides themed after some “Overwatch” characters.

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While Blizzard has clearly spent some money on advertising—it’s had TV ads during certain NFL games and it’s paid for advetorial coverage—but its amount of spend versus what it spent six years ago is incredibly apparent. Maybe there’s a blitz coming with the PvE mode release, or maybe it’ll make pushes around season-based releases similar to “Apex Legends.” It’s just stunning to see so little umph put behind it.

“I work for Activision and I don’t know when it’s coming out,” Christina Pollock, a “Call of Duty” programmer, responded to a tweet of mine on Monday pointing out the lack of marketing.

Blizzard sits at a weird crossroads. It feels like the company is being pushed by its corporate executives at Activision to release a game—be it due to the pressure of the impending Microsoft acquisition set for summer 2023, or the billionaires breathing down Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick’s neck to do something about its investment in the Overwatch League.

But like its beta in April, “Overwatch 2” still feels incredibly half-assed. This isn’t the game that’s going to rejuvenate the franchise. At least not in its current state.