When last we heard from Overwatch 2, Activision Blizzard was making noises to suggest we might not see it until 2023; now, however, the publisher has announced plans to 'decouple' Overwatch 2's PvP features from its PvE systems in order to get the team-based shooter sequel into players' hands sooner via a series of betas scheduled to run throughout 2022.
The news comes via Overwatch 2 game director Aaron Keller in a newly released developer video, and his spin, it has to be said, is a little weird, framing the beta phases Blizzard has planned for the rest of the year as some sort of generous bounty for those existing Overwatch players who've been starved of content since the developer opted to focus its attention entirely on Overwatch 2. At one point he even argues the Overwatch 2 beta "represents the most new content we have brought to our game since launch."
"Today's change in approach," he continues, "enables us to deliver frequent PvP content to the live game with the goal of far exceeding Overwatch's previous rate of content release, and making the live games the most vibrant and dynamic PvP experience anywhere."
Despite the odd messaging, the gist is that Blizzard will start giving PC players in select regions the opportunity to try out aspects of Overwatch 2 for a limited time starting in late April. This first closed beta will include the sequel's 5v5 gameplay, its new Push mode, four new maps - Escort map Circuit Royal, Hybrid map Midtown, plus New Queen Screen and Colosseo, both Push maps - and a new ping system. Additionally, it'll feature new hero Sojourn and reworks of four existing heroes: Orisa, Doomfist, Bastion, and Sombra.
"Our goal for this phase is to test our new features, content, and systems before we shift to stress-testing the servers with a wider player base in future Beta tests," Blizzard explains in a post on its website. Signs up for the closed beta (which will follow a closed alpha for the likes of Blizzard employees and Overwatch League pros) are open now.
After admitting Blizzard recognises "we haven't communicated well, haven't kept you up to date, and, honestly, we've let you down when it comes to delivering Overwatch content" at the start of video, Keller concludes by promising more regular communication in the future, saying the developer will be discussing its learning, the changes it's considering, and what it's looking to test next after each beta session has concluded.
As to what all this means for Overwatch 2's full release, that's currently unclear. Keller says public PvP beta testing will follow its round of closed testing "later this year", suggesting the game's actual arrival is still some way off.
Regardless, those interested in checking out some Overwatch 2 can apply to do so via the official website, which currently appears to be under some strain as traffic surges inward. "If you are having trouble signing up," says Activision, "please check back in later today to try again."
Today's news follows a succession of announcements from Activision Blizzard - including word of a new mobile Warcraft experience and a brand-new Blizzard-developed survival game - as the publisher (which was recently acquired by Microsoft for $69BN) attempts to reassert itself following last year's shocking allegations it had fostered a company culture where sexual harassment, assault, and inappropriate behaviour were able to thrive.
Since those claims were made in a State of California lawsuit - one that called Blizzard a "breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women - Activision Blizzard's disastrous attempts to right its public image have only worsened.
CEO Bobby Kotick was subsequently the subject of a damning report claiming he was aware of sexual misconduct within the company "for years", and, more recently, the parents of a former Activision Blizzard employee who died by suicide during a company retreat in 2017 launched a lawsuit suing the publisher for wrongful death, alleging the suicide was the result of sexual harassment by work colleagues.