Back-to-back Call Of Duty releases make it easy to forget the power of a good sequel. The classic adage, ‘an oldie but a goodie,’ is often accurate, with Team Fortress 2, the perfect example of a sequel, over fifteen years from its release.
Where it started
I must have been eleven or twelve when I first played Team Fortress 2. We’d gone to CEX and perused the shelves when I spotted a copy of The Orange Box for Xbox 360. I desperately wanted to play Portal and begged my parents for it.
That day, I walked out clutching the case, excited to get home and play. Almost a decade later, I’ve never actually beaten a Portal game.
Intrigued, I clicked the TF2 button on a whim and found an unexpectedly enjoyable game. I’d load up a game of 2Fort using the matchmaking system that, in hindsight, left a lot to be desired. And then I’d camp the enemy spawn as Sniper, game after game, day after day.
There were no microtransactions: just me, my Xbox, and a scoped-in sniper rifle aimed at the BLU team.
Halloween 2014, we got a new computer. We made a Steam account, meant to be shared between my brother and me, that I quickly took over.
And, well, here we are today.
Two is better than one
In 2016, I started playing Overwatch. Fell in love with it, even if I had to play it on a console because the computer couldn’t quite run the game at more than a single frame a minute. I was part of the fandom; often, it was all I could think about. I would play day in and day out for a solid two or so years.
And then the love faded, and I was back to square one.
I picked it up, on and off, in 2021. But the lawsuit against Activision-Blizzard made me uninstall it. I felt like there was metaphorical blood on my hands for supporting the game.
But for this article, I tried again. I installed Overwatch 2 and wanted to know if it could be better.
I wish I could say it was.
Becoming the product
Team Fortress 2 stands on its own as a game. You don’t need to play or own the original to enjoy it. And Valve hadn’t sacrificed the original game at the altar of greed to ensure its success. To this day, there are active players in the original game, much like other successful games. Guild Wars 2 thrives, but never to the detriment of the original Guild Wars. I’ve played and love both deeply, but I recognize they serve their own purposes.
Overwatch 2 isn’t like that. The first game was unceremoniously slaughtered, with vague promises of the second game being even better. PvE content to fill the gaping hole in the lore and a better everything!
Instead, I’ve seen a game where you are the product. Grind this battle pass to get new items, and complete these challenges for new heroes. Or, how about you spend just a little cash to get them instantly? It’s not pay-to-win if you can technically earn them through other means, right?
A battle pass can work in some games. Take Apex Legends, for example. The battle passes there are unobtrusive and make sense, something Overwatch 2 lacks. They’ve removed the level system, a tangible way to look at your progress, and replaced it with a money (and time) sink, expecting it to be okay.
However, as much as people like to claim TF2 is ‘pay-to-win,’ I’d disagree. Sure, I could go and buy one of every weapon for money. I could trade scrap for it. But those weapons also drop at random through the weekly system. A friend with a few duplicates could trade them with me. I don’t feel disadvantaged just because I don’t want to spend real money.
In fact, the prices are reasonable enough that I don’t feel bad for doing so once in a while.
But I don’t need them. A stock loadout is just as good.
Is Overwatch 2 even a sequel?
I don’t think it is. If the original game was still around, I find it doubtful that people would have moved on to the second game. The mechanics feel worse, the games feel less rewarding, and the UI is confusing. I tracked my reactions to six games and found each game less enjoyable than the last.
I would queue with a friend. Pick Moira, damage and heal, and get a player of the game. And then I’d get flamed a lot of the time. Battlepass progress didn’t show at the end of a game, so I had to go through menus to feel like I’d earned something.
It didn’t spark joy. I just felt deflated as the game queued me for another match.
Even the system doesn’t feel as seamless these days. Playing tank with the changes in team sizes was dreadful. Suddenly I had to protect four other people on my own; no on/off tank options for me.
The game feels like stress incarnate. And as Blizzard stepped away from the promises they made about PvE, I think there’s a good reason they killed off the first game.
Overwatch 2 isn’t a sequel. It’s wearing the bloody corpse of its predecessor, prancing around and begging you to pay just a little bit more for a competitive edge.
Apex Legends doesn’t feel this way, perhaps because of the reduced roster of characters and its level system. The two systems can coexist, so I wonder why they aren’t still here. Then again, to criticise these systems, we first have to ignore the bastardization of previous characters—turning beloved mains into grating shells of themselves.
Is there a reason to play Overwatch over Team Fortress 2?
I struggled to find one.
I started this article before TF2’s summer update was released – and, as much as I love the game, I feel Valve’s communication there was flawed – and finished it after sinking hours into some of the new maps. Compared to some of the new modes in Overwatch 2, these don’t feel gimmicky. They fit right into TF2’s universe.
Escort a seal to the ocean, and feed her fish so your team wins. I ordered a seal plush after my second match on the map after cooing relentlessly at Silvia as she hopped her way to freedom. We laughed and had fun. Some games were filled with bots, but it didn’t bother me as much. I still got a good experience at the end of the match.
Overwatch 2 feels punishing. Five characters, often in tight maps, and if you’re a healer, you have no second tank to cover you. The new maps feel claustrophobic and convoluted. The lore has been torn limb from limb, and there is no PvE.
I hate to say it, but Overwatch 2 feels like a coverup for the going-ons behind the scenes at Activision-Blizzard. A diversion, a call to feel angry at the nickel-and-diming instead of the deeply ingrained mistreatment covered up by a facade of tolerance (*genuine support for marginalized groups not included) instead of the blood on their hands.
It’s funny that a game with no female playable characters feels more accepting than one that prides itself on its diversity. That lore with no sense or seriousness behind it is more compelling than a retconned tangle.
Team Fortress 2 is a sequel. Overwatch 2 is, in comparison, a damn shame. And I’m okay with that.
Because, if you’ll excuse me, I have to lead a seal to the ocean again.