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Overwatch Season 9 Review and Initial Thoughts

by Sven Stumbauer

UC Irvine students play "Overwatch 2" competition games at the Arena at UC Irvine, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service subscription)

It’s been a few weeks since Overwatch Season 9: Champions released, and to say that it flipped the script around the game is a big understatement.

With an overhaul of the game’s competitive system, a new PvE experience, an eldritch-horror-themed battle pass with a mythic skin for Moira at tier 80, and arguably the biggest collective balance change the game has ever seen, there’s a lot to unpack here.

I’m going to do just that, go through every major thing that was added to the game and provide supplementary commentary on these new additions to Overwatch

The Pros: Cosmic Crisis

With the start of season 9 and its theme based on eldritch horrors, the developers created a PvE experience to complement the season’s launch alongside its theme, albeit a non-canon one to Overwatch’s story.

Aptly dubbed "Cosmic Crisis," the story has players crash land in Antarctica, fight Null Sector enemies to repair the ship, and either fly away victorious or be subjugated to the Cosmic Ravager’s wrath. As per most PvE experiences, there are objectives players need to clear, a limited pool of heroes to choose from, varying levels of difficulty from normal to legendary, alongside some goodies that you can unlock, like player titles, voice lines, and name cards.

However, the twist of Cosmic Crisis is that in every game, one of your teammates (or yourself) will have the choice to complete the main mission of repairing the ship, or join the Cosmic Ravager and from then on, fight your former teammates and stop them from escaping with unlimited respawns and a shortened time to respawn as well.

Alongside the base story and the various modifiers that have and will be released in the coming weeks, like the already released modifier ‘Death from Above’ or the upcoming ‘Thunderstorm’ this experience offers replayability and a glimmer of hope for the future of Overwatch PvE.

The Pros: Competitive

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For over a year, players have been complaining about the ranked system overhaul at the release of Overwatch 2, abolishing the SR metric for a system that updates your rank after 5 wins or 15 losses.

With the dawn of season 9 though, this novel system was discarded in favor of the old one (kinda). The instant gratification of rank adjustments after each match was added, but without the use of SR, opting for a percentage bar indicating the player’s progress to the next rank.

Furthermore, the expediting of the process to get your rank, with your projected rank being posted after every one of your ten placement matches is also a nice addition. For top-tier players, the best selling point here though is the new Champion rank.

To give context, higher ranks, particularly Grandmaster, have a high amount of diversity and skill discrepancies overall, with pro players often being placed into lobbies with albeit good, but second-tier players like the popular content creators of the community like Jay3, Flats, and Emongg.

Making this champion rank helps to eliminate this discrepancy, as even ex-Overwatch League pros like Custa initially had difficulty sniffing the rank, let alone Grandmaster. This offers yet another incentive to grind the ladder while relegating Grandmaster to a sort of “weed-out” rank that separates the good from the great.

The Pros: Health changes across the Board

This might be a bit controversial, but overall I believe that the global health changes to each hero were a much-needed balance change for the game.

While people have been complaining that it narrows the skill gap, it's more likely that it will remain the same disparity-wise, just that everybody is bumped up a bit when it comes to the overall floor that players have skill-wise due to the tangible health upgrade.

Furthermore, this change helps players in higher ranks express and even exceed their previous skill ceilings, as an increased health pool means more opportunities to make plays and change the course of team fights.

Pair this with the passive healing that now affects all roles and survivability and player autonomy are increased while also not being too overpowered given the selected damage adjustments like with Doomfist’s punch, and the five-second timer without engaging in combat for the passive regeneration to activate.

The only true complaint here expressed is the instantaneous meta changes and inability for certain characters to thrive, like Roadhog and Zarya while also making Tracer and Sombra borderline must-picks.

However, the counterarguments here are that Roadhog and Zarya were buffed to adjust to the changes very quickly after the update, and in regards to the fanbase, dive metas and characters like Tracer and Sombra are both enjoyable and raise the skill ceiling of competitive play, making both casual and professional Overwatch more enjoyable to play and watch, highlighting these changes as very positive after initial exposure. 

The Cons: ZENYATTA. That’s the Caption.

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Ever since Overwatch 2 was released, and Zenyatta was given several buffs, his Snap Kick, and the persistence of his kit, he has been a force to be reckoned with when played correctly.

With the removal of a tank in Overwatch 2, there is a lessened ability for the remaining tank to peel for a teammate who has Zenyatta’s discord orb on them let alone protect themselves under it as well from the increased damage they take under the effects of the ability.

Furthermore, even though Zenyatta can no longer apply discord orbs to the same target until a window of seven seconds has elapsed, that inadvertently puts more pressure on roles not named tank since they know that they will likely have a quarter of their effective HP removed after discord is first applied onto their tank.

So, you take that trend in the previous few seasons and then give Zenyatta an additional 50 health, with most of that being easily regeneratable shield, and THEN slap the passive healing on him on top of his passive healing as a support, and you get an absolute unit of a character who is tanky, can 1v1 a tank with discord orb on them, and repel any attempts to solo dive him with his snap kick, which deals a heavy amount of knockback and damage.

Even though Blizzard nerfed Zenyatta a few days after the season came out, he is still an immensely strong character who has impacted the game’s meta for the time being, and will probably do so in the future.

The Conclusion

While Overwatch 2 may still have its flaws, and the turning of Zenyatta into an in-game raid boss certainly didn't help, these changes all helped to streamline the flow of the game, and the way it's played, and have made the game a lot more fun to play across all roles. Because of that, if I were to rate this season so far, I would give it a solid 9/10. Very good changes overall but some characters became must-picks with a few of them being very annoying to play against (cough cough, Zenyatta).

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