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Overwatch 2 Devs Fear Story Missions Have Been Canceled

In the last few months, Overwatch 2 fans have grown increasingly worried about the state of the hero shooter’s story missions. These missions were a pillar of the sequel’s initial pitch at Blizzcon 2019, the shiny new thing that merited making a new game instead of patching the original one, like most live-service projects. But since Overwatch 2’s October 2022 launch, only one set of missions has been released (in August 2023). Currently, there is no release window for more. For Blizzard, the January Xbox layoffs primarily affected developers working on those missions. What’s more, recent changes to Overwatch 2’s menus suggest story missions are, at the very least, being deprioritized.

Overwatch 2's New Story Missions: Worth The Money?

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Since the 2019 announcement, Overwatch 2 has transformed into something almost unrecognizable from those original promises. What was pitched as a sequel that would exist alongside the first hero shooter became a free-to-play title that completely replaced the first game, leaving the original 6v6 ruleset unplayable. Blizzard gutted the promised PvE modes and outright canceled Hero Mode, which would have added replayable levels and customizable skill trees. Now, there are just three, 30-minute missions available (and those are relegated to the smallest section of Overwatch 2’s game mode screen.) Now, some of the developers fear their years of work won’t see the light of day.

Kotaku chatted with several ex-Blizzard employees (all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution) about the past, present, and future of Overwatch 2’s campaign missions.

The difficulties of developing Overwatch 2’s story mode

According to a former developer, Blizzard’s plan was to release Overwatch 2’s campaign in “multiple content drops over several years,” but the project had been tied up in pipeline issues dating back more than five years. The team was told the intent was to drop three missions around “every 18 months.” They add that while the entire campaign may not be ready to ship yet, every mission is reportedly in some degree of completion at Blizzard. According to that same source, those levels range from fully playable to still in-concept.

Work on the campaign missions was apparently held up in pursuit of a nebulous thing called “Blizzard Quality,” a term used to describe a standard the company aspires to. According to one source, this became a crutch that was frequently used to avoid making calls that would move the development of story missions forward.

“[Blizzard Quality] is a justification to essentially piss about forever and ever redoing the same work over and over,” the source said. “Some executive goes, ‘Hm, but is it Blizzard quality?’ It’s always leadership or game directors, deciding they need to spend the extra time. So honestly, if they could have just made any kind of decisions, the game would have shipped years ago.”

Another source said this reliance on “Blizzard Quality” may have contributed to frequent iterations on the original concept, but that wasn’t the only issue the team faced while trying to work on Overwatch 2’s story missions.

Overwatch’s PvP gameplay just turned out to be very difficult to adapt for PvE. Mostly because of how differentiated and PvP-oriented the hero kits are,” the source told Kotaku via text message.

Sources described internal sentiment around the story missions as “never outright negative” but “increasingly pessimistic.” One source said that as concerns grew about how they were shaping up, leadership (including director Aaron Keller and executive director Jared Neuss) would try to rally the team and in some cases, avoid questions entirely.

“You had designers, programmers, artists, QA, all disciplines, on the team constantly making suggestions and ideas to improve, or trying to do the best we could. But it was all either shot down by a few gatekeepers or just ‘there was no point, there was no time,’” they told Kotaku. “Almost every single team town-hall there were questions about ‘what do we do if it doesn’t succeed? I don’t feel confident that it will perform well. What are we going to do about players being disappointed?’ It was met with either ‘don’t worry about it. It’ll be fine. We have so much confidence in it. Trust us.’”

Sources say that while Overwatch 2 was pitched to fans as a fresh start with new ideas and new content, the game’s competitive suite was always the priority, and the story missions suffered because of it. This lines up with what Blizzard has openly stated, like Keller’s May 2023 announcement that the team was gutting its planned PvE modes to prioritize the live game. But the decision to cancel Hero Mode was reportedly made as late in the development process as December 2022, two months after the game’s early access launch, and six months before the company made the official announcement.

“PvP was understood to be the core of the game’s success,” a source said. “Everybody still cared a lot about PvE, though, and that includes team leadership.”

According to one source, the argument was made internally that the Overwatch 2 team would need to double in size to give both PvP and PvE the resources Blizzard believed they needed, but there was dissent on that front.

“They used to say all the time that we would essentially need two 400-people teams, one for PvP and one for PvE to have the personnel needed,” a source said. “I don’t think that’s true. there were already too many cooks.”

Do the Xbox layoffs spell more trouble for Overwatch 2’s campaign?

So, has development on the story missions halted? One source said Activision Blizzard wanted the first batch of story missions to do “serious numbers” to justify completing the campaign. Another said those missions “did not do well at all,” both financially or in terms of player sentiment.

The January Xbox layoffs affected several members of the Overwatch 2 team, including several developers who worked in narrative, PvE, and events. This doesn’t confirm a cancellation, but it sure doesn’t spark any hope that those missions will see the light of day.

“If they’re gonna make more of that stuff, they just laid off all the people who were working on it,” a source said. “Maybe there’s some other way they could do it, but most of the people laid off from the Overwatch team were working on that pillar.”

The overarching sentiment from the people Kotaku spoke to was that, in spite of development issues, everyone on the Overwatch 2 team wanted the story missions and PvE to stand alongside the competitive game. However, it doesn’t sound like the higher-ups above them felt the same way.

“It really doesn’t seem like, even from a business perspective, that Activision or Microsoft have any faith in the PvE.”

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