Blizzard just announced that the new (and widely leaked) ninja character Kiriko will be free for all Overwatch 2 players who already own a copy of the original Overwatch. While that seems like cause to celebrate, the controversial, free-to-play sequel’s move to lock access to most future characters behind a battle pass system has been less well received. In new comments being reported today, Blizzard leaders explained why they think the new system will ultimately prove acceptable.
“What we actually see in the data is that a majority of players in Overwatch have a majority of their play time on two or fewer heroes.” Jon Spector, a VP of Overwatch, told assorted press during a media call. “And you can get to 99.9% of play time for a majority of our players with 12 or fewer heroes.”
So that’s the official line on why Blizzard feels justified transitioning from the original Overwatch‘s model of giving every character to all players to a system that locks new heroes away behind a battle pass: Original Overwatch players didn’t play enough different characters, so they probably won’t miss them.
But there’s a bit of mixed messaging going on. The characters are still the core of how Blizzard is monetizing the new game. Overwatch‘s general manager Walter Kong told the press at an event that, “Heroes are the single most engaging content that we have in the game…We want to be able to continually invest in this live game service. From the perspective of the business, this isn’t free.”
To be sure, there will be some starter freebies for both new and returning players. The new heroes Sojourn and Junker Queen will be free unlocks for all season one players, and the ninja support character Kiriko will be free to players who own the original Overwatch. But new players who want to try Kiriko will either have to pay $10 for the premium battle pass or grind the free one all the way up to level 55. At least they’ll still be able to play all 32 characters from the original roster.
Kiriko is a healer who can deal decent critical damage and support her allies in the midst of a shootout, and she’s been described as a “battle healer” for Genji mains. This hints at a major change in how Blizzard will be designing new heroes, in that it’s actively trying to prevent situations in which any one character can act as a “hard counter” to another.
“We’re trying to take some of those really hard rock, paper, scissors interactions out of the game, and [replace] them with more player choice,” game director Aaron Keller told Polygon. “We’ve buffed our support heroes to make them more survivable.”
While learning how dependent Overwatch is on counters generally sounds like a positive move, locking an ever-increasing proportion of the hero roster behind battle pass tiers, free or premium alike, feels like a step backward for player choice.
Overwatch 2 will be released on October 4 this year.