When Blizzard announced earlier this week that it had canceled Overwatch 2 hero missions, a central part of its player vs. environment (PvE) story mode, fans were none too pleased. So director Aaron Keller published a blog post today to ease the concerns and offer more transparency about the development team’s “incredibly difficult decision.”
Hero missions, revealed in 2019, were designed to provide a “deeply repayable” branch of the game based on RPG-like talent trees. Although progression would have been separate from the main game (to avoid giving hero mission players an unfair advantage), it was still part of the hype Blizzard used during the past four years of marketing the title. But the publisher ultimately found that the hero missions were pulling too many development resources away from the live game.
“When we launched Overwatch in 2016, we quickly started talking about what that next iteration could be,” Keller wrote. “Looking back at that moment, it’s now obvious that we weren’t as focused as we should have been on a game that was a runaway hit. Instead, we stayed focused on a plan that was years old.” That years-old plan refers to the development team’s influence from its work on Project Titan, Blizzard’s canceled MMORPG. The creators initially saw Overwatch as a vessel to reintegrate some of the ideas from that scrapped project.
“Work began on the PvE portion of the game and we steadily continued shifting more and more of the team to work on those features.” But, Keller says, “Scope grew. We were trying to do too many things at once and we lost focus. The team built some really great things, including hero talents, new enemy units and early versions of missions, but we were never able to bring together all of the elements needed to ship a polished, cohesive experience.”
Keller says the team’s ambition for hero missions was devouring resources at the expense of the core gameplay. “We had an exciting but gargantuan vision and we were continuously pulling resources away from the live game in an attempt to realize it,” said Keller. “I can’t help but look back on our original ambitions for Overwatch and feel like we used the slogan of ‘crawl, walk, run’ to continue to march forward with a strategy that just wasn’t working.”
The decision to abandon hero missions came down to prioritizing present quality over past promises. “We had announced something audacious,” Keller reflected. “Our players had high expectations for it, but we no longer felt like we could deliver it. We needed to make an incredibly difficult decision, one we knew would disappoint our players, the team, and everyone looking forward to Hero Missions. The Overwatch team understands this deeply — this represented years of work and emotional investment. They are wonderful, incredibly talented people and truly have a passion for our game and the work that they do.”
Overwatch 2’s story missions — minus the canned hero missions — are set to arrive in season six, scheduled for mid-August. PvE aspects include a single-player version with a leaderboard, in-game and out-of-game stories and “new types of co-op content we haven’t yet shared.” Before that content arrives, there’s still season five, set to launch in June.