Since its debut in 2016, Overwatch has become one of Blizzard’s most recognizable and prolific games. Focusing on PvP engagements with a cast of charismatic heroes and villains, Overwatch’s team-based first-person shooter gameplay has become a fun and accessible favorite among Blizzard’s litany of dense role-playing games and real-time strategy experiences. In the lead up to Blizzcon 2019, there were rumblings that a sequel to the live-service shooter was in the works, and it all turned out to be true, with game director Jeff Kaplan taking to the Blizzcon stage to reveal Overwatch 2. Moving forward in the series’ timeline, the familiar crew of globe-trotting heroes will battle the forces of Null Sector in the sequel, while also preparing for their confrontation with the anti-heroes of Black Talon.

What makes Overwatch 2 a proper sequel to the original is that it will expand the franchise’s scope with a fleshed-out PvE experience and dedicated story missions. These co-op focused engagements pit you and a squad of other players against AI enemies. Shifting towards a more Destiny-style experience, you’ll also be able to level up and customize aspects of your favorite heroes as they contend with the twists and turns of the evolving story. The biggest, and likely most welcome change that this new experience will bring, is that this new pillar of Overwatch will allow for the characters to show off more of their backstories and growing relationships with the other heroes.

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Overwatch has been the hero shooter for many years, so seeing its shift towards more PvE gameplay might be something of an adjustment for longtime fans. But according to Overwatch 2’s lead producer Matthew Hawley and lead combat designer Geoff Goodman, it was a long time coming, and it’s all about taking steps to move the franchise forward.

“It needed a change. Obviously, we’ve been really seeing new heroes and new maps and arcade, all these great features throughout time, but we’ve always had this big idea and we wanted to do this big, much larger game that couldn’t quite be contained in the normal little patch cycle,” said Goodman. “It was great initially when we had some of the cooperative stuff we released as live releases with special events, and seeing the response there was just like, ‘Okay good people are on board. This is really cool because this is what we really wanted to do,’ and just seeing the response here today has been amazing, so we’re really, really excited.”

Overwatch 2 is about reframing its larger story in ways that the original’s PvP focus could not. The prospect of PvE engagements isn’t entirely a new thing in Overwatch. The limited-time events known Archives were essentially Overwatch’s story missions and brought a squad of players together to fight off waves of enemies in narrative-driven adventures. As it turns out, these limited-timed events in the original game were just a sampling of what was to come with Overwatch 2. In the sequel, these have been evolved into new narrative-driven missions and stand-alone co-op engagements, which have a squad of players fight through levels full of enemies and mini-bosses. Overwatch 2’s PvE also features a more in-depth character customization system, allowing you to select different perks and modifiers for the roster–it seems like Overwatch 2 is becoming a more fleshed out and varied game.

At Blizzcon, we got to play a story mission set in Rio De Janeiro. While this map is a well-known place for PvP engagements, on this occasion, it’s also hosting a fleshed-out story mission involving Tracer, Reinhardt, Mei, and Lucio, as they face off against minions from Null Sector, a growing extremist group bent on causing chaos in the world. As you’re fighting through the stage, bashing, slashing, and shooting different AI robots, you’ll hear banter from the various characters.

The standout moment from the level was the climax, which had our team work together to destroy a reactor inside Null Sector’s ship. While we were battling waves of monsters, we used our character’s various skills to defend ourselves, and the new gadgets found in the mission allowed us to toss special grenades and activate turrets. It gave me similar vibes to Left 4 Dead, which focused on passive, in the moment storytelling to show off character moments and changes in the environment. However, a significant difference with Overwatch 2 is that these familiar heroes will evolve and grow over time.

When playing in the PvE mode, you’ll be able to develop and modify your character’s skills. Playing as Reinhardt, I chose an ability called Frenzy, which caused his hammer swings to increase in speed after consecutive hits. For anyone who knows a particular character intimately, these changes are immediately noticeable. During PvE, these skills were immensely helpful against the waves of AI enemies we fought, but I couldn’t help but think about what these new powers and modifiers could mean for PvP gameplay. This was a discussion that the developers have had for some time as it turns out. However, the developers stressed that the new skills and hero ability customization would be for the co-op missions only.

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Though it’s a sequel that will offer new experiences, players who want to hold off on getting into Overwatch 2 can still play the first game, as it will receive new updates alongside the sequel. According to the developers, Overwatch 1 players will get to play with Overwatch 2 owners on the same PvP maps and see all the new multiplayer levels with free updates. New heroes in Overwatch 2 will also release for Overwatch 1 as well, which will make PvP gameplay mostly comparable between the two. However, if you want to see where Overwatch’s new story and co-op missions go, you’ll have to take the plunge and purchase the sequel.

“There’s a lot of meat to Overwatch 2, but we thought it was really important that something like the new PvP mode Push and that all the multiple new maps that we’re adding for each of the core game modes, will be available to fans who have been so loyal to us,” said Hawley. “Overwatch 1 players can still play with Overwatch 2 players, even if they’re not into all that other stuff. They’ll still be able to get to play all of the competitive content add into Overwatch 2.”

At its core, Overwatch 2 was still very much the Overwatch you’re familiar with, albeit with a new look for many of its heroes and some new locales to explore. The demo at Blizzcon 2019 showed off a lot of what made me enjoy Overwatch–those fun and exciting moments that we often see dramatized in Blizzard’s trailers. Though we saw brief glimpses of those character moments in the familiar PvP engagements, the characters get to shine more in the new PvE mode, which I really dug. I could see myself spending a lot of time in the new missions, which will show off more backstories and new plot threads with the various heroes.

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Overwatch has always been about offering fun and active engagements with a crew of charismatic characters, and getting to see those characters in new forms of combat encounters–that still rely on team-work–was exciting. Blizzard is beginning to explore more of what makes Overwatch’s world and characters so compelling, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the franchise goes from here. Now, all we need to figure out is when we’ll play it.

For more on all things Blizzcon 2019, including our hands-on with Diablo IV and comments from the Blizzard president J. Allen Brack, be sure to check out GameSpot for more on the show.

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