Overwatch 2 game director Aaron Keller has provided more insight into why developer Blizzard decided to can a long-promised PvE mode that has been in development since 2019. In a newly released blog, Keller says the discussion going around about “how we’re canceling PvE outright…isn’t accurate” before getting into details about the game’s origins, development process, and future.
Back in 2019, then-director Jeff Kaplan stepped onto the BlizzCon stage and promised an extensive Overwatch 2 PvE experience with skill trees and customizable hero abilities, offered as a buyable add-on to the original game. It would have a shared multiplayer universe with the OG title, that way players who didn’t want to shell out extra for the PvE sequel wouldn’t get left in the dust. Over time, it became clear that we weren’t getting what was promised, as Kaplan left Blizzard, Keller took over, and Overwatch 2 became a standalone sequel that would replace Overwatch 1 entirely.
Overwatch 2 game director on PvE
But on May 16, Blizzard confirmed that the expansive PvE mode would never happen and that the company was instead focusing on shoring up its PvP mode. Keller’s blog makes it clear that Story Missions (“fast-paced, co-op gameplay” that are “leaps and bounds above what we’ve built for PvE previously”) are still happening, and he’ll have more details “in the coming weeks.” But the Hero Missions (“an in-development game mode that allowed players to upgrade individual heroes through talent trees, providing a deeply replayable version of PvE in Overwatch 2”) make up the mode Blizzard is “no longer moving forward with.”
“The Overwatch team was founded in the wake of a canceled game at Blizzard called Project Titan. That game had many facets, but at its heart, it was an FPS MMO. The Overwatch team, especially at its inception, considered itself an MMO development team. As we transitioned away from that original concept and started creating Overwatch, we included plans to one day return to that scope. We had a crawl, walk, run plan. Overwatch was the crawl, a dedicated version of PvE was the walk, and an MMO was the run. It was built into the DNA of the team early on, and some of us considered that final game a true realization of the original vision of Project Titan.”
After Overwatch launched, however, Keller alleges the team wasn’t “as focused as we should have been on a game that was a runaway hit” and instead tried to continue to build off of a “years old” Project Titan ideology: “Things rarely go as planned in game development. We struggled to find our footing with the Hero Mission experience early on. 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.”
According to Keller, the team kept trying to employ the “crawl, walk, run” plan, but the “audacious” and “gargantuan” PvE mode was “continuously pulling resources away from the live game.” He confirms that there were years of dev work and “emotional investment” put into the Hero Missions mode, and the team “tried to find ways to make all of our ambitions fit together in a plan that we believed in.”
Keller also attempts to clear up why the team waited so long into 2023 (which was when this mode was promised) before announcing they weren’t going forward with it. “Lastly, people have wondered why this announcement came at this time. After Overwatch 2 had launched, we started refining our plans for future seasons.” The team realized they couldn’t keep pulling focus towards the promised PvE mode “as plans grew,” so they decided to abandon Hero MIssions altogether. “The decision was the start of a long process, not the final piece of it,” Keller writes. Instead of Hero Missions, the team is focusing its efforts on the live service game—which is, ostensibly, Overwatch’s bread and butter.
“This has been hard for us, but as the director on this project, I have to do my best to make decisions that put the game and the community first, even when those decisions are disappointing. In this case, I had trouble pivoting away from a vision that just wasn’t working. And for that I would like to apologize to our players and to our team. I’m sorry.”
He ends the blog post with some flowery language about Overwatch being born from the ashes of Project Titan and how “something beautiful” came from it. “This is another moment of change. And the future of Overwatch will be born out of it.”
I’m not sure I’m as hopeful as Keller is about the future of Overwatch 2, but I’m always happy to be proven wrong.