Aaron Keller, the game director, recently made a surprising admission via a blog post — an apology for the abrupt discontinuation of a significant chunk of Overwatch 2’s Player Versus Environment (PvE) content.
The blog gave insights into Overwatch’s PvE inception, its evolving concept, and the rationale behind the team’s decision to abandon it.
Just earlier this week, in a developer livestream that delved into the remainder of Overwatch 2’s 2023 roadmap, Keller along with executive producer Jared Neuss, delivered a bombshell.
They announced the unexpected termination of the eagerly awaited Hero Mode — a key element of the game’s PvE content.
Hero Mode: A Journey Cut Short
Hero Mode was essentially Overwatch’s single-player version. It was characterized by Keller as a “game mode that facilitated players to elevate individual heroes through skill trees, offering an infinitely replayable PvE experience in Overwatch 2.”
According to Keller, Hero Mode had been in the works since the inception of Overwatch in 2016. It was initially conceived as part of the team’s vision for Project Titan — the canceled FPS MMO which was the progenitor of Overwatch.
Vision Turned Challenge
“When Overwatch was launched in 2016, the team immediately began discussions about what its successor might look like,” Keller penned. “Work kicked off on the PvE segment of the game and progressively more and more of the team started shifting their attention to these new features.”
As work progressed on Hero Mode, the scale became overwhelming.
Keller admitted, “We were spreading ourselves too thin and lost sight of our focus — our grand vision was both thrilling and behemoth, leading us to divert resources from the ongoing game in an attempt to bring it to fruition.”
The Impact on Overwatch Prime
In the early years of Overwatch Prime, it was kept fresh with regular updates featuring holiday-themed content, new game modes, and features like Deathmatch and the creator’s workshop.
But around 2019, when Overwatch 2 was announced, the impact of Blizzard’s internal focus on developing PvE content became apparent.
It led to a two-year gap between hero releases, which had previously been occurring every 4-5 months.
Two-Part Release Strategy
As the development of Overwatch 2 progressed, the team made a strategic decision to split the game’s release to prevent further delays. The competitive multiplayer part was launched first, in October 2022, with the PvE component expected sometime in 2023.
“Following the launch of Overwatch 2, we began fine-tuning our plans for future seasons. As these plans expanded, we struggled to align all our ambitions into a cohesive plan we could stand behind.
We couldn’t. […] Consequently, we made the tough call to eliminate Hero Missions and started strategizing for what lies ahead.”Aaron Keller
A Director’s Regret
Keller extended an apology, recognizing the investment both the Overwatch community and the development team had in Hero Mode and accepting personal accountability for its downfall.
“This has been a tough journey for us. As the project’s director, my foremost duty is to make decisions that prioritize the game and our community — even when they are disheartening. In this instance, I faltered in pivoting away from a vision that wasn’t materializing. For that, I owe an apology to our players and our team. I’m sorry.”Aaron Keller
The abrupt cancellation of Hero Mode stunned fans. The reaction was an outpouring of frustration and disappointment, with many voicing that Hero Mode was the primary reason for the “2” in Overwatch 2.
Lamentation and Discontent
Many were discontent with the lengthy gap in updates for Overwatch between its sequel’s announcement and release — a release that experienced numerous setbacks. The sudden phasing out of the original game seemed unjustifiable to them.
Even I must express my disappointment. The prospect of something truly innovative was what I was looking forward to, something that could reignite my passion for a game I had distanced myself from since season 3. However, the downfall of Hero Mode is just another day in the life of game development.
Cancellations can occur even under the most favorable circumstances, and this game, in particular, experienced colossal disruption.
Challenges Amidst Development
To put things into context, several challenging events unfolded. First, Jeff Kaplan, Overwatch’s game director and a 19-year veteran at Blizzard, parted ways with the company.
The global pandemic introduced a shift in everyone’s work routine.
Activision Blizzard was and remains embroiled in the chaos of sexual harassment lawsuits, Microsoft’s impending acquisition, efforts to counteract employee unionization efforts, and an unpopular return-to-work directive.
Grace for the Developers
Despite these challenges, it’s important to note that Overwatch 2 PvE isn’t entirely scrapped; we’re just not getting the full-fledged vision that was promised back in 2019.
Given these circumstances, it seems only fair to extend some grace to the development team.
After all, they’re working amidst a storm of challenges to deliver the best gaming experience possible.