Overwatch 2 is kind of an odd beast. It's a sequel—you can tell because of the "2"—but it feels a lot more like an expansion. It's still early in development so a lot of details have yet to be nailed down, but Joanna said in her BlizzCon preview that Overwatch 2's new story mode "looks and feels identical to Overwatch's gameplay," but for the addition of level progression. All the heroes, maps, modes, and cosmetics coming to Overwatch 2 will be playable in the original game, too.
But it's not just a matter of maintaining two games simultaneously: The long-term plan, game director Jeff Kaplan told Kotaku, is to bring them together as one.
"There will be a point where the clients merge," he said. "We think this is important, especially as a competitive experience. The whole idea is to avoid fragmenting the player base and giving anybody a competitive advantage. If we’re playing in the same competitive pool, you’d better not have a better framerate just because you’re on a different version of the engine."
It's ambitious, although the fact that the new game is built on the same engine as the first will presumably make the effort more workable. But it also fits with the idea of Overwatch 2 as an expansion, despite its billing as a sequel. In fact, Kaplan said that work on Overwatch 2 is "100 percent the reason" for the slow pace of updates to Overwatch, which I'm kind of inclined to take as meaning that Overwatch 2 is the update to Overwatch 1.
The plan to merge the clients could arise at least in part from a desire to protect the integrity of the Overwatch League, which is still quite young and surely doesn't need the hassles involved with a jarring transition to a "new" game. But Kaplan said that the priority is to ensure that players don't end up feeling abandoned as Overwatch evolves.
"We’ve all seen when the servers shut down on X, Y, or Z game. It’s always a story," Kaplan said. "I always remember the Halo 2 players who just wouldn’t log out. They kept it up. I thought that was so awesome. I wish I was one of them."
Kaplan said that the launch of Overwatch 2 will enable developers to resume a "live service cadence" with updates and new content, but the original Overwatch will get "some meaningful updates" before it arrives. A release target has not yet been set.