Blizzard's first foray into the first-person shooter became 2016's most popular new game. Born out of the long, storied development of the now-cancelled MMO Project Titan, Overwatch took the Blizzard formula and applied it to first person shooters. Diverse abilities, accessible gameplay, colorful characters, and a heaping dose of charm helped the six-versus-six shooter skyrocket to more than 20 million players and earned it game of the year at The Game Awards.
In the months since release, Overwatch has continued to evolve in some significant ways. Along with the modes in the Arcade, Overwatch got two seasonal events in 2016, and a third is coming this week. Two new heroes joined Overwatch's roster of (now) 23 playable characters in 2016—the healing sniper Ana and the stealth hacker Sombra—and new maps and gametypes have brought variety for regular players.
Of course, there's a lot of room for Blizzard to iterate on Overwatch's winning formula. Here are five things we want to see from the game in 2017:
New heroes that can shift the meta
It should go without saying that in a character-based shooter, the first thing people want is more characters. Thus far, Overwatch has received new heroes at a glacial rate compared to, say, the early years of League of Legends, but Blizzard seems to be taking more of a 'quality over quantity' approach to its hero design. However, this slow pace has allowed the meta to stagnate for long periods. While group composition does vary considerably across low and high skill levels, there are a handful of characters that feel essential to almost every team comp.
So far Blizzard has tackled this problem the usual way: doling out nerfs and buffs, and minor or major character reworks. When McCree was dominant, his damage was nerfed (then buffed when he was unused, then scaled back again). Ana has now lost the speed boost on her ultimate ability, and Zarya now generates significantly less charge than before. These tweaks have made other DPS and support characters viable in the tweaked characters' steads, but none have really made Reinhardt feel any less like a must-pick.
As Blizzard designs the next hero or two to join Overwatch, the biggest thing I want is more options for me and my team. If does indeed become the next tank hero, as has been rumored based upon in-game teases and standard internet speculation, I hope he's the sort of tank that can viably be picked instead of Reinhardt, not just in addition to.
New game modes, not just new maps
Blizzard has done an OK job at doling out new places for heroes to shoot each other and escort payloads in its seven-month lifespan. Thus far, one new map for competitive and quick play has been added—the hybrid assault/escort map Eichenwalde—with a second currently being tested on the PTR: the king-of-the-hill control map Oasis. But while these two maps add a much-needed variety to the well-treaded Hollywood or Route 66, they have yet to change the game in any significant way.
The most exciting new map to come to Overwatch so far has been Ecopoint: Antarctica. It's not that the map is particularly great, but it plays host to the new Arcade mode's 1v1 mystery duel and 3v3 elimination. These arena-style game modes are one of the most exciting things to come to Overwatch yet, offering a significantly different gameplay experience than the objective-based 6v6 games we're used to.
Don't get me wrong, I definitely want more 6v6 objective maps for quick and competitive play. The important thing is that I hope Blizzard expands from just Assault (two capture point), Escort (payload), Hybrid (one capture point + payload), and Control (king-of-the-hill). It would be nice to see a 'reverse-hybrid' map, where players must first push a payload, and then capture a point. Or maybe some kind of multi-point map, where there are two or three points that must be attacked or defended at once. Blizzard has said that multi-point maps were considered at one point in Overwatch's development—maybe revisiting that idea is what's needed to bust up the tank-deathball metagame.
New character skins is an easy ask, as it's all but guaranteed that Blizzard will continue doling out a pile of cosmetics via holiday events every few months. The Summer Games and Halloween Terror events each brought a handful of new character skins, and we can expect the same in 2017. While I do want to more alternate costumes for our beloved heroes, I'm more interested in Blizzard adding alternate weapon skins.
Blizzard opened the door to weapon skins with the golden weapons you can purchase with competitive points, but the area has remained otherwise untapped. I'd like to see weapon skins added as collectible items—ranging in complexity from simple recolors to Legendary-quality overhauls—that can be mixed and matched with the hero skin of your choice.
Multiple ultimate abilities for more characters
It was recently announced that the often-neglected Symmetra would be getting an overhaul. Among the changes, the most exciting is the introduction of an alternate ultimate ability. When the new Symmetra gets to her ult, players can choose from her existing teleporter, or a new shield generator. A character's ultimate ability is a significant part of what makes them worth playing, and the fact that Symmetra's teleporter was mostly useless on the second half of defense maps seriously hampered her overall contribution to a team. Giving her a second ability—one that's actually useful in those situations—seriously increases her overall viability as a character. But more importantly, it opens the door for Blizzard to add additional ults to other characters.
Ultimates are a major part of Overwatch—a well-timed Death Blossom or Deadeye can change the momentum of a battle significantly, and many matches revolve around building ult charge until a Graviton Surge or Sound Barrier can be used to break through a choke point. Getting to use your ultimate is one of the most exciting parts of an Overwatch match, and giving more characters a second ability to choose from would add some much-needed variety to the existing pool of strategies players are using.
Multi-person play of the games
Zarya players, tell me if this sounds familiar. You just hit maximum charge and the enemy Reinhardt's shield just broke. You lob your Graviton Surge into the enemy team, pulling in all six players. You start launching particle bombs into the cluster, but before they explode, you hear an all-too-familiar sound: "Rocket barrage, incoming!" Sure, your screen fills up with eliminations, but you already know that Play of the Game is going to Pharah.
The Play of the Game system is one of the most exciting aspects of Overwatch, rewarding big plays and reminding players of that big awesome moment that happened a few minutes before. But it's an imperfect system. To start with, POTGs are determined by an algorithm, and the algorithm doesn't always get it right. How many times have you finished a match certain that a massive D.Va explosion would be highlighted, only to have that bastard Bastion steal the spotlight? But even more frustrating is the characters with more utility-focused ultimates, like Zarya and Ana. They set up big plays, but less often get the glory for themselves.
To fix this, I'd love to see Blizzard implement some sort of multi-person Play of the Game feature. I'm sure there's some large technical challenges in developing an algorithm that would recognize a proper two (or more) person play, but how awesome would it be to see an Ana sleep an enemy and toss out her ultimate, then have the camera swap over to Reinhardt for his Nano Boosted killing spree. Even better, what if there were character-specific tag-team Highlight Intros? I mean, that would only be 253 unique intro videos to make. You can do that, right Blizzard?