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Overwatch's two failed progression systems explained

Blizzard will try again when the game's beta returns next year

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Blizzard Entertainment's hero-based shooter Overwatch is getting an overhauled progression system early next year, when the game's closed beta is expected to return. Details on that new system are still being kept mostly under wraps, but game director Jeff Kaplan explains Blizzard's two earlier scrapped attempts at progression in a new video.

The first stab at implementing a progression system, a means to reward players for playing and leveling up in Overwatch, was similar to World of Warcraft or Heroes of the Storm, Kaplan said. As players racked up experience points, they'd unlock different abilities. In the case of the hero Reaper, one of his abilities would change dramatically once players reached a certain level.

"One of the examples we had is when [Reaper] went into wraith form, he would heal to full," Kaplan said. He admitted that Blizzard's implementation was "super powerful and broken and unbalanced," so it was scrapped. Adapting systems that work in games like Heroes of the Storm for something like Overwatch doesn't always work, Kaplan said, because the latter is dealing with a larger pool of characters at once.

Blizzard's second attempt at progression rewards was purely cosmetic, Kaplan said. As players leveled up heroes, they'd unlock new cosmetic items for their character to wear. Kaplan said Blizzard tested the system in Overwatch's internal alpha "and immediately it went south on us very quickly." Players wouldn't switch to new character mid-match to help balance the overall team, he said, because players were hungry to unlock the next cosmetic reward.

"We realized the system was encouraging the wrong behavior," he said. "In a game that's about fluid team composition and hero-swapping, a system that overly rewarded you sticking to one character was bad..."

That said, Blizzard "came up with a lot of really compelling cosmetic stuff," Kaplan added, so expect to see it in the final game.

When Overwatch's closed beta returns in mid-to-late January, Blizzard will introduce a new progression system. Kaplan described Overwatch's new progression as "light, cosmetic and almost [like] the game thanking you for your time in it" without skewing the way the game plays.

Overwatch is bound for PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.

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