Blizzard is anything but traditional when it comes to Overwatch, its multiplayer FPS juggernaut. Deathmatch takes a backseat to objective modes, team composition rules over individual glory, and each map’s design always feels a bit off-kilter. You could probably argue that the entirety of Overwatch‘s life has been a learning experience for the team on what works in a team shooter and what doesn’t. They’ve struggled to stray far beyond their base payload and capture point gameplay, and even FPS stalwarts like Capture The Flag haven’t fit in with their roster of heroes. With Overwatch 2 on the horizon, Blizzard has reintroduced a fast-paced flag mode called CTF Blitz, and it accomplishes everything other alternate modes lacked. If this is what we can expect from Blizzard’s sequel, let’s start the hype train.
CTF Blitz is Overwatch‘s best new mode
The first implementation of Capture The Flag in Overwatch was pretty traditional. It had big maps and some stabs at balancing out troublesome heroes. Each team had its own base to defend along with large courtyards players traverse as they try to score. In a game like Unreal Tournament or Halo, this setup produces amazing results. In a game like Overwatch, it was exactly the opposite.
Despite the dev’s best efforts, players quickly settled into using a small fraction of the roster, as slower characters just couldn’t cut it. Turret producers like Symetra and Torbjörn sat in the base on defense like an Engineer on 2Fort. If your team knew what it was doing, it could steamroll most of the player base, and two competent teams would battle it out to endless stalemates. The mode has its fans, but it was clearly a case of Overwatch trying to fit what people expect from FPS.
This year’s CTF Blitz feels like Blizzard going with the flow. Maps are carved up sections of existing arenas, including some of the same small battlefields used for King of the Hill. Flags are on the opposite end of a common chokepoint, like Oasis City Center or the Illios Ruins. You need to rack up a good number of captures before you win the round, so there’s a chance for a team to rally, change team composition, and come back from the brink. There are always opponents just around the corner, which makes each confrontation tense and important. It puts less focus on the flag itself, but it feels much more like Overwatch, and that’s for the best.
Overwatch 2 and alternate game modes
Blizzard has always seen more success adapting unique elements of the game it created than trying to mold existing stereotypes to its design. The success of Lucioball and (to a lesser extent) Mei’s Snowball Offensive showcase this beautifully. When Overwatch is leaning into what makes it unique, it shines. So, when Blizzard took another stab at Capture The Flag, they were wise to look at what people like to do in-game and replicate that experience. You don’t have to choose a new character just because you’re playing CTF. There are still some that shine more than others, but almost everyone on the roster has a function. On top of that, in a game full of team fights and rallying around capture points, a close-knit map centered around a single arena just makes sense.
With Overwatch 2 just around the corner, this shift in design feels significant. We already know that the sequel will have one new mode, a symmetrical spin on Team Fortress 2‘s Payload Race called Push. From gameplay I’ve seen, it seems to exhibit the same philosophy that CTF Blitz brings to the table. By throwing both teams at a single objective, you have them playing offense and defense, making any character a viable choice if you have the right skillset. With a lot of the bonus modes added to Overwatch over the years, you couldn’t really say the same. These objectives were so far removed from the core gameplay loops that they lost sight of the game’s unique identity. In a crowded shooter market, that’s the last thing you want to do.
Evolving the formula in Overwatch 2
From what we heard at Blizzcon, we don’t know when Overwatch 2 will hit store shelves. Blizzard claims that its early in development, which means that a lot could change before we get to play. However, since Overwatch is still getting updates, we have a tiny window into the team’s mindset as they craft sequel content. The addition of CTF Blitz shows a firm understanding of what I want out of the game going forward, and it gives me hope that this controlled chaos can go forward into modes like Push and Overwatch 2‘s upcoming story missions. It finally feels like they’re leaning into how weird their hero shooter really is and inventing new ways for players to have fun without completely throwing out the book.
Considering how mediocre some of Overwatch‘s past story content has been, I hope this burst of energy continues there as well. While the Archives’ missions have improved over time, the sequel has a full campaign, and there needs to be a drastic improvement to make those missions feel like a vital component of the final product. I wasn’t feeling completely confident that would happen until this year’s event and the premiere of CTF Blitz. After many amazingly close rounds, Overwatch feels like a whole new game all over again, and that’s the energy I’m looking for.