It’s been three years since the last time Blizzard has made me excited about anything Overwatch-related, but the time that changes has finally come. After the behind-the-scenes look we’ve gotten of Overwatch 2 at Blizzcon 2021, it’s impossible for me to feel any other way. From fascinating new systems to some very cool ideas, what was shown has sold the game in ways the team intended to but didn’t quite achieve with the initial reveal in 2019. The whole presentation is worth watching if you have any interest in Overwatch 2 whatsoever, but we’re happy to summarize the most noteworthy things from the panel and a lengthy new interview IGN had with Jeff Kaplan.
First, let’s go over the new systems and technology being used for Overwatch 2′s creation. Perhaps the most exciting one for me is the Choreo Tool that was shown in the presentation. Overwatch 2 is a huge undertaking for the team, but some new systems are allowing them to achieve the storytelling potential they want. The Choreo Tool is one of those systems. It lets the developers coordinate different events to happen at the same time and create moments in missions that interact with the environment.
The Choreo Tool makes it so that, if the team has an idea, they can mock it up fairly quickly. For example, when a developer had the idea to give Widowmaker a captivating intro on a map, another developer was able to come in and make additions on the fly in order to play test it. Something that would’ve normally taken the team weeks ultimately was completed in a matter of days. It’s great to know the team can implement their ideas with far more ease thanks to this tool.
Then there is the incredible convolution reverb system. Overwatch is a game with exceptional sound design. Despite all the chaos a match can contain, it’s easy to keep track of everything happening because of its sound design — and the team is turning it up a notch in Overwatch 2. Convolution reverb has allowed the team to capture the acoustics of different environments and transfer them into various sounds. For example, shooting a gun in the big warehouse on Route 66 sounds vastly different from shooting it in the tight tunnels, small rooms, and open sections of that map. It won’t change your gameplay, but it’s a testament to the level of detail the game will have.
Another testament to that detail — and one that will actually affect your gameplay — is what the team is calling a “weapon 2.0 sound pass.” It’s a significant overhaul to the weapons system. Guns will feel different, and through sound, you’ll apparently be able to feel a gun’s ammo running out as you get lower on the clip. The team is trying to amplify these sounds to better encapsulate the gameplay. This pass also involves the addition of a new camera system that will make the screen shake when you fire a gun. This way, you will feel a weapon’s recoil and have to adjust accordingly. There will be individual modifications according to class, too: tanks will have a knockback resistant passive; DPS will have a mobility increase, and healers will have regenerative healing.
There are also new enemy units. The team has strived to make combat engaging by creating a variety of foes. Some will engage in combat, while some — like what the team internally calls “objective units” — won’t attack the player; instead, they’ll try to affect the completion of your objective through other means. Enemies will be reactive to the damage they take, communicating damage states through different animations. New enemy types will also be introduced. And, finally, there are the amazing new “chain hit reactions.” When you fire at a group of enemies, sometimes the ones you hit will fall back and hit the rest of the group. At 24:38, you can even see a fascinating snippet of McCree firing a shot into a field of enemies and setting off a chain reaction that kills every omnic.
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As for the story and character-focused content, there’s plenty to be excited about, too.
First are the new maps the team was ready to showcase. While there will be plenty of new locations, the team was eager to introduce Rome and New York. They look stunning and, fortunately, don’t run the risk of suffering from the team’s embarrassing fumble with trying to create a map based on Mexico.
It won’t be just new maps, though. Old maps will be seen in ways the community has never seen before in Hero Missions. For example, an area in King’s Row that is normally gated has been opened in Hero Mission for Overwatch 2. This has required the team to add a lot more art and level design to previous maps so that they will feel fresh in the sequel. The team has also created a dynamic environmental weather system. You can start off a mission with a perfectly clear sky, and midway through the mission, a storm can appear and change your playstyle and exploration.
Hero Missions have been defined as separate from story missions. Hero Missions are created for co-op PvE (Player vs Environment) experiences in which you’ll level up your heroes, who will have skill trees for dynamic builds. The team is careful about not making these missions feel like a grind, so they’re using backend technology to bring the cast’s personality, and some light story material, to them.
Unlike in the story missions, you can play whichever heroes you want in the Hero Missions. “In a story mission it doesn’t make sense that Widowmaker and Tracer are together because they’re enemies and they shouldn’t be fighting side-by-side… unless we constructed some bizarre story where that happens,” says game director Jeff Kaplan in the IGN interview.
“In the story missions, currently the plan is that some of the story missions are a mandated set of four characters,” he elaborates. “That was like our Rio demo at BlizzCon 2019, where you had to play Tracer, Mei, Reinhardt, or Lucio. Other missions are much more open and allow for some hero choice, but only heroes that make sense contextually for that story.”
Interestingly, when asked about whether story missions can be played solo or offline, or if Overwatch 2 is still an online team game in that regard, Kaplan responded that it’s both.
“It is definitively an online cooperative story experience. That’s what we think is cool and unique and innovative about it,” he explains. “You don’t traditionally play story or campaign games with other people, and we think that’s going to make it feel very distinctly Overwatch or Overwatch 2. With that said, we are working on friendly AI and, if we can get it to a point that we’re satisfied with, we’re okay with the AI existing in some cases. An easy example is if somebody goes linkdead or something, we don’t want to ruin the experience for the other three players.” Working on that AI involves a lot of technical hurdles for the team, and he’s not sure if “it will get to a point where it’s good enough that we think you would have a great experience playing just by yourself.” However, it’s something the team is open to and that they will push on throughout development.
Ultimately, Kaplan says it’s unlikely that there will be a cohesive campaign that manages to fit all 32 of the currently existing heroes. Nonetheless, the team hopes to incorporate as many heroes as possible, including the new ones coming in Overwatch 2. Like Sojourn, who got some gameplay in the presentation. She’s a character modeled around a particular weapon, similarly to Pharah and her rocket launcher and Widowmaker and her sniper rifle. Sojourn is an expert in the railgun, so she’ll be fun for those who like to practice their aim. It would’ve been great if it didn’t take so long for a franchise that is touted as being global to have a black woman in it, though.