Built from the bones of the infamous and enigmatic Project Titan, Overwatch was Blizzard’s first new IP in decades - and three years in, it feels like the wait has been worth it.
Launched in May 2016, Overwatch is a fast-paced, team-based first person shooter where two teams of heroes fight it out over a variety of cosmopolitan locales from Paris to Busan to regional Australia. Each hero varies in appearance, personality and skills on a battlefield where no two matches play out the same way. However, that’s not to say things haven’t changed over time.
With three years of balance and content patches behind it, it’s worth taking stock of everything that’s changed about Overwatch since it first launched. Just how much bigger of a game is it and, if you’re still on the fence about jumping in, should you buy Overwatch?
But before we get to that, it’s worth establishing the ground rules and establishing what was in Overwatch at launch because there’s a lot in the current version that’s easy to take for granted.
At launch, Overwatch had:
No competitive mode
21 playable heroes
12 different maps
No hero limits
The last of these limitations (or lack thereof) would prove to be one of the more significant details separating the Overwatch experience of back then and today.
When the game first launched, there were no limits when it came to team composition. There was nothing to stop a team of six Bastions running against a team of six Hanzos. It was utter chaos and within the first six months, this free-for-all format was retired in favor of the current status quo: one where there can only be one of each hero on either side of a match.
Where can you buy Overwatch?
On PC, Overwatch is only available through the Blizzard store. You won’t be able to find it on Steam, Humble or any other digital distribution platforms. You can also find a retail copy of the PC game through retailers like JB Hi-Fi and Amazon.
If you’re playing on Playstation 4, downloading Overwatch is as simple as launching the Playstation Store, finding Overwatch using the search tool, adding it to your game library (by purchasing it using a credit card or store credit) and then hitting the download button.
If you’re playing on an Xbox One, Xbox One S or Xbox One X, you can download Overwatch by opening up the Microsoft Store, finding it via the home-page or search tool and downloading it to your console.
Unlike the Playstation and PC versions of the game, Overwatch does require an active Xbox Live Gold subscription to play online using Microsoft’s console.
For more info about Overwatch, check out our feature on the game here.
What did Blizzard promise?
Over the course of its development, there was plenty of speculation that Overwatch would be Blizzard’s first free-to-play titles. This proved to not be the case, nor did the developer monetize Overwatch by selling new maps and heroes as is the case with other online games like Call of Duty or League of Legends.
Instead, Overwatch’s monetization is driven by loot-boxes. Early on, Blizzard publicly promised that every player who buys Overwatch will always have access to all the maps and heroes in the game and that the loot boxes involved will only ever contain cosmetics.
Thus far, they’ve kept to this.
What did Blizzard deliver?
The biggest takeaways from the first six months of Overwatch’s live-service updates are the introduction of the core competitive game mode and progression systems and the arrival of the game’s first two new heroes: Ana and Sombra.
The former was a support hero who turned the idea of a sniper on its head by delivering ‘medicine’ to allies from a great distance. The latter, teased in a myriad of easter eggs and covert ARG shenanigans, was a subversive hacker capable of disrupting enemy formations and using stealth to weave in and out of combat.
Late-2016 also saw Blizzard add Overwatch’s first set of post-launch maps in the form of Eichenwalde (a Hybrid map set in Germany) and Ecopoint: Antarctica (a close-quarters elimination map set in the South Pole). The latter arrived alongside the new Arcade mode, which added new ways to play and earn lootboxes beyond just the usual competitive and quick play.
These early post-launch updates for Overwatch also saw the introduction of the seasonal events that are now considered standard, such as Summer Games, Halloween Terror and Winter Wonderland.
With the arrival of the new year, it didn’t take long for Blizzard to add another new map to the game in the form of Oasis. This Control map would be the first of four new maps that’d arrive over the course of the year. Horizon Lunar Colony expanded the game’s roster of Assault maps in June, Chateau Guillard debuted alongside the new Deathmatch mode in August and Junkertown (Escort) arrived in September.
As for new heroes, 2017 saw the arrival of the highly-anticipated brawler Doomfist, the versatile centaur-tank Orisa and the mad scientist Moira.
New seasonal events like Year of the Rooster, Archives and Anniversary were also introduced, as were several quality of life features like a Game Browser and changes to the loot-box system that significantly reduced the number of duplicates players would encounter.
As with the previous year, Blizzard started off 2018 with a new map in the form of the fourth-wall breaking Blizzard World (Hybrid). Totaled up, 2018 brought with it five new maps. In addition to the aforementioned theme park, Blizzard also introduced Ayutthaya (CTF), Rialto (Escort), Petra (Deathmatch) and Busan (Control).
2018 also saw the introduction of the Endorsement System. A way to reward friendly players and discourage toxicity, the Endorsement System is the latest and most forward-facing element of Blizzard’s ongoing efforts to reduce bad player experiences within the Overwatch community.
Of course, the biggest change that came to Overwatch during the year was the arrival of the controversial Brigitte. The powerful new support hero arrive alone but things didn’t stay that way for long. Wrecking Ball was introduced in July while Ashe debuted at Blizzcon 2018.
Equally as important was the reworking that Blizzard gave to both Symmetra and Torbjorn. Reviled by the community in their earlier incarnations, the developer tinkered and retooled each character to offer more immediate value in the game’s new meta.
Almost all of 2017’s seasonal events returned in 2018. The year also introduced the first of several new ‘shorter’ events in the form of D.Va’s Nano-Cola Challenge. This two-week challenge tasked players with jumping in and winning a number of matches in order to secure a unique skin for the character. It wouldn’t be the last.
2019 began with the similar Ana’s Bastet Challenge - which was structured in a similar way as D.Va’s Nano-Cola Challenge but came coupled with some additional lore that shed new light on the game’s established canon.
2019’s first new Map, Paris (Assault), would arrive shortly - in February 2019 - as would the year’s first new hero: Baptiste.
At the time of writing, only one other map has been added to the game since then: Havana (Escort).
2019 also saw Overwatch get one of its more compelling additions in the form of the Replay system and the new Workshop - which allowed players to add their own custom modes and modifiers.
For more on the Workshop, check out our guide to the best Workshop modes.
Three years later, Should You Play Overwatch?
There are pros and cons to jumping into Overwatch in 2019.
On one hand, you’re getting a lot more in terms of content than you did at launch. At the time of writing, the game now boasts:
A competitive mode
30 playable heroes
28 different maps
A variety of Arcade Modes
Custom game types via the Workshop
An endorsement system to offset toxicity
You are getting more for your dollars now than you did then and, as a game, Overwatch is probably a lot more enjoyable and better balanced online gaming experience to boot.
However, on the other side of things, the climb to understanding the game’s current meta (and the potential hostility other players might express on your way to doing so) might act as a compelling counterweight. At the time of writing, there’s no easy way to pick up on the nuances of how you should be playing Overwatch apart from just jumping in. It’s easy enough to play Overwatch but learning to become good at the game can be very sink or swim.
Still, for what it’s worth, Overwatch is still one of the most instantly-enjoyable multiplayer games around and one that’s only gotten cheaper with time. There’s a ton of depth to be mined and a high skill ceiling for those seeking to climb it but also plenty of quick-fire fun to be had regardless.