The Overwatch 2 director explains why the big PvE mode has been cancelled

Game director Aaron Keller published a blog apologizing for the apparent sudden cancellation of part of Overlook 2‘s PvE content. The blog also shared some details about the origin of Overexpected PvE, the changing view of content, and why the team decided to do away with it.

Earlier this week, in a livestream for developers who shared the rest of Overlook 2In the 2023 roadmap, Keller and executive producer Jared Neuss made the shock announcement that the highly anticipated Hero Mode – part of the game’s PvE content – had been dropped.

Hero Mode was essentially a single player version of Overexpected. Keller described it as a “game mode where players could upgrade individual heroes through talent trees, providing a deeply replayable version of PvE in Overlook 2.”

Hero talent trees as seen in the 2019 Blizzcon presentation of Overwatch 2
Image: blizzard

Keller explained that the Hero Mode had been in development ever since Overexpected‘s launch in 2016 and that it was apparently part of the team’s vision for Project Titan – the canceled FPS MMO that Overexpected was born.

“When we started Overexpected in 2016, we quickly started talking about what that next iteration might be,” he wrote. “Work started on the PvE portion of the game and we continued to steadily shift more and more of the team to work on those features.”

Keller said that as Hero Mode’s development progressed, the scope simply became too large.

“We tried to do too many things at once and we lost focus,” he wrote. “We had an exciting but mammoth vision and we were constantly pulling resources away from the live game in an effort to make it a reality.”

We tried to do too many things at once and we lost focus

In the early years of Overexpected prime’s existence, the game was regularly updated with holiday-themed content. New game modes and features, such as Deathmatch and the creator’s workshop, kept the game relatively fresh. But around 2019, when Overlook 2 was announced, the game started to feel the effects of Blizzard focusing internally on developing PvE content. Therefore, two years passed between the game’s hero releases, whereas previously they were released every 4-5 months.

As development on Overlook 2 continued, the team made the decision to essentially split the game’s release rather than keep postponing it. The competitive multiplayer portion of the game would come first, landing in October 2022, and the PvE portion would come sometime in 2023.

“After Overwatch 2 launched, we began refining our plans for future seasons,” Keller wrote. “As those plans grew, we tried to find ways to fit all of our aspirations together into a plan we believed in. It did not work. […] So we made the difficult decision to discontinue Hero Missions and started planning for the future.”

Keller then apologized and acknowledged how much the Overexpected community and development team were invested in Hero Mode while taking personal responsibility for its failure.

“This has been difficult for us, but as the director of this project, I have to do my best to make decisions that put the game and community first, even if those decisions are disappointing,” he wrote. “In this case, I had a hard time turning away from a vision that just wasn’t working. And for that I want to apologize to our players and to our team. I’m sorry.”

I struggled to turn away from a vision that just wasn’t working.

The cancellation of the Hero Mode shocked fans. Players expressed their anger and disappointment, with many complaining that the Hero mode was the whole reason for the “2” in Overlook 2. Others anticipated the years of lack of updates Overexpected between the announcement and release of the sequel – a release that was delayed several times – and the original game’s unexpected sunset wasn’t worth it.

I admit my own disappointment. I had been looking forward to having something real new to take me back to a game I’ve kept my distance from since season 3. But the demise of Hero Mode is just another day in game development. Cancellations happen in even the best of circumstances and this game in particular underwent a massive upheaval.

Let’s put it in perspective. First, Jeff Kaplan, Overwatch’s game director and 19-year Blizzard veteran, left the company. A pandemic changed the way everyone worked. Activision Blizzard was and still is in turmoil over sexual harassment lawsuits, the impending acquisition of Microsoft, the company’s efforts to counter worker union efforts, and an unpopular return-to-work mandate. In the midst of all that, Overlook 2 PvE hasn’t even been canceled entirely; we’re just not getting the full vision that we got to see in 2019. Grace, at least to the development team, feels vindicated.

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