I spent the weekend at BlizzCon, aka Overwatch-And-Some-Other-Stuff Con, aka Metzcon 2014. I played a demo of the surprising team-based shooter and liked it pretty well — with some reservations — but it was only a small snippet. I asked Blizzard about what the future holds. Here's what they told me.
Will there be a single-player story? — No. While Overwatch has many characters and stories adding sunny splotches of colour to its not-quite-as-interesting levels, Blizzard feels a traditional single-player campaign would get in the way of good multiplayer gameplay. "I don't think we would ever do a single-player campaign, because the way these characters work... they're cool when you combine them together," explained game director Jeff Kaplan. "Some don't play well alone, either. Unless we built a campaign around supporting somebody else, a support character like Mercy probably wouldn't do well."
He pointed out, however, that Overwatch will have a lot of character chatter voice-acting, which will flesh out various plot lines and character relationships on a match-by-match basis. Story elements that exist in-game (for instance, a mysterious door in the Temple of Anubis surrounded by lights and technology) will be elaborated on in stories that take place outside the game. Oh, and that cute Pixar-esque reveal trailer? Probably expect that plot to continue in some form or fashion.
"I can't tell you where it's going," said Kaplan, "but I can tell you we have a great cinematics department and they're fired up to have this new universe at their disposal."
Will Blizzard add more heroes over time, League of Legends-style? — Sounds like that's the plan. "Yeah, [that's something we want to do]," said Kaplan. "We kind of see this as an infinitely expandable universe. Now I doubt it will have, like, 800 heroes. But what we're excited about is that there's no shortage of ideas or space to explore that would risk homogenizing any of our current characters. We don't have characters that do 'X' versus 'X plus one.' If we ever hit a wall where we felt like we were cannibalising and homogenizing, we would definitely back off."
What about character customisation and skins? — Yep, expect those too. Just know that it will be restricted to characters' pretty faces and vibrant murder pajamas rather than their abilities. "We're probably less believers in customising abilities in this game, only because it's a game about heroes," explained Kaplan. "Like, the Reaper does Shadow Walk. I don't think this is a game where you could swap Shadow Walk for, you know, grapple hook or something like that. But we really like character customisation and you've seen it across other games. Probably expect something there."
And of course, thanks to a certain team-based, fortress-centric shooter from a company called, let us say, Salve Voftware, I had to ask: hats?
"I don't think you'll see Team Fortress 2 hats," replied Kaplan. "That's been the big question, but I don't think we're gonna do hats. I don't know how we'd put a hat on the Reaper. Put a hat on the hood?"
Will it be free-to-play? — Blizzard isn't sure yet. Or at least, they're not saying if they're sure yet. Overwatch's structure seems like a shoo-in for a League-of-Legends-esque F2P model where people play for free and spend money on characters or aesthetic customisation stuff, but everyone I asked remained adamantly tight-lipped. Kaplan would only say that, "We want it to be a fair deal. We don't want people to feel ripped off."
Will there be a console version? — Once again, Blizzard's playing coy. "That sounds awesome," said Kaplan, but all we're talking about this weekend is Overwatch on PC."
What will the beta be like? — Think what I played this weekend (12 characters, a few levels, and a couple modes, decently polished though horribly balanced), but with a lot more. "We want to have way more in the beta [than we had at BlizzCon]," said Kaplan, relaying a tale about the near-miracle the dev team employed to pull BlizzCon's Overwatch-shaped rabbit out of their hat, and how much more they will be able to do with more time. The beta is currently set to hit sometime in 2015, so that's at least a few more months.
Will there be robust support for player-made mods? — This is a PC game, after all. Genre stablemate Team Fortress 2 has not only survived, but thrived on mod support during its seeming eternity of wise-cracking carnage, but these sorts of things are always tough with multiplayer-centric games. If you let players tinker around with a game's guts, they can more easily pump out cheats and the like.
Blizzard, however, is no stranger to modding in games, even if their much-ballyhooed StarCraft II Arcade didn't exactly take off the way they wanted it to. "We've really embraced the modding community over the years," said Kaplan. "StarCraft and Warcraft III, the way those engines were built. Something I pushed for on WoW and was a big believer in was the moddable interface. The community that grew out of that was amazing. At this time we don't have any specific things to talk about that players can mod in Overwatch, but I hope fans trust that we've embraced modding. It's still to be seen due to technical challenges, but we definitely like the idea."
Can I please have a sprint button? — Seriously, it's weird pressing shift and having my character do an ability, as opposed to huffing and puffing dutifully onward. Sounds like sprint isn't really in Blizzard's plans, though — except as a possible mobility ability for a not-yet-announced character. Kaplan told me that he likes the current pace of combat, and the big issue he sees is that players often want to sprint when on their way back to the fray after dying. Priority number one, he said, is addressing the inefficiency of getting back to battle in a way that probably doesn't involve sprinting.
Look for more about Overwatch, including how exactly it emerged from Titan and whether ideas from the colossal, convoluted MMO's steaming wreckage might make it into Blizzard's streamlined shooter soon. I'll also have more from BlizzCon for you over the next couple days.