Aaron Keller's latest Director's Take blog doesn't have the jovial tone that they usually do. The Overwatch 2 game director used the space this week to expand on an announcement made Tuesday that Blizzard has cancelled Overwatch 2's long-awaited PvE "Hero mode." The news came in the last few minutes of a 30-minute livestream, along with the announcement that story missions were still happening as early as Season 6.
The news did not go over well. Confusion swirled as fans and websites alike were under the impression that all PvE was scrapped. Players are angry that Blizzard spent years selling Overwatch 2 on the promise of PvE only to kneecap its development halfway through its first year. Story missions are coming, but the mode that was supposed to make PvE in Overwatch more than a fleeting distraction is never happening.
Keller expanded on the reasoning for cancelling Hero mode in today's blog—essentially, it wasn't close to done or proving to be as fun as the team had hoped, so Blizzard decided to stop taking resources away from Overwatch 2's live content.
"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," Keller said. "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."
The most interesting revelation in the blog is how Overwatch 2 got its PvE focus in the first place. Since Overwatch's launch in 2016, Blizzard has apparently been planning to realize the original vision of the cancelled MMO FPS that Overwatch was born out of, Project Titan.
"The Overwatch team was founded in the wake of a cancelled 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," he said.
"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."
The ambition to return to Project Titan was always back of mind for team Overwatch, so much so that work was already beginning on its PvE future before development of Overwatch 2. Keller now thinks this was a mistake.
"When we launched Overwatch in 2016, we quickly started talking about what that next iteration could be. Looking back at that moment, it's now obvious that we weren’t as focused as we should have been on a game that was a runaway hit."
When Hero mode wasn't panning out as hoped, Keller wishes with hindsight that they'd pivoted earlier to focus on Overwatch's PvP core, the thing that fans already love.
"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."
Keller stops short of saying the Overwatch MMO plans are outright dead, but the scaling down of PvE plans suggests that Blizzard wants to focus on what Overwatch is already good at. New PvE modes are in the works, and Keller promises that the upcoming story missions are "leaps and bounds above what we’ve built for PvE previously," but it sounds like co-op in Overwatch 2 will continue to be what it has always been: a light snack of fun but forgettable side activities.