Blizzard Entertainment has always been big on expansions.
The legacy expansions of the holy trinity are almost better known than their base games. Brood War, Lord of Destruction, and The Frozen Throne are all engrained in the histories of StarCraft, Diablo and Warcraft, and even they weren’t the first in line, with expansions such as Hellfire for the first Diablo game preceding them
Expansions are a very Blizzard thing to do, and with Overwatch growing in popularity one would think it too will get the expansion treatment.
Whether an expansion would even be a good route to take for Overwatch is another question.
So far all post-launch content has been free, with only a few skins being restricted to owners of the Collector’s Edition. DLC or extra content for multiplayer games which segregate the community are generally considered a bad idea as the player base becomes diluted and the illusion of a lower population tends to drive players away. This is why paid map packs are almost nonexistent in the current market, whereas they were very common in the past decade.
In Diablo 3, much of the content of the expansion, Reaper of Souls, was accessible to players who didn’t buy it. This mostly encompassed the gameplay changes and features, whereas the expansion bought you the new class, region, storyline act and level cap. Someone who didn’t have the expansion can still play together with someone who does, but only in vanilla regions. The person with the expansion can theoretically play as the new class, Crusader, and pair with the player who doesn’t own the expansion.
Should this hypothetical expansion of Overwatch have multiplayer content, a similar route could be taken.
Both groups of people – those who own the expansion and those who don’t – could play vanilla content together. However, what kind of content would there be in a paid expansion?
Overwatch gets heroes, maps and even game modes in periodic free updates anyway. With the whole monetization controversy going on, if Blizzard suddenly said the new heroes and maps need to be bought, the community would get its collective jimmies in a colossal twist.
Something that might work would be a significantly different way of playing, with new game modes, mechanics and maps all combined.
A multiplayer campaign, if you will, taking players through PvE encounters across entirely new maps with entirely new missions and mechanics, alongside narrative content to flesh out the storyline of Overwatch. Hero selections would be limited to fit the storyline, in a similar way to Uprising and Halloween Terror.
Alternately, for a PvP experience, a story-based multiplayer campaign where the members of Overwatch and Talon are separated. Both sides get their own branching campaign, and the way the story progresses depends on which side wins each match. Players would be given two campaigns in one, essentially, with a significant amount of replayability. Since the expansion content would be a whole other mode, and wouldn’t mesh with regular content, it wouldn’t separate the community too visibly.
The other possible route to take is singleplayer.
Overwatch currently has no singleplayer mode, nor any genuine narrative content. The entirety of the game’s lore is fleshed out by online info sheets, comics, short films and the like, with the game itself only containing easter eggs and nods to events in the storyline. The Uprising event was a temporary PvE co-op game mode that shined some light on the events that happened before the game itself.
Technically, Overwatch the game isn’t even canon.
Adapting Overwatch to be a fully single player solo experience would be a pretty major undertaking considering the whole game has been geared and balanced to be multiplayer. That said, building off the foundation of some of the co-op events would make this task a tad less complicated.
Regular NPC baddies would be used to fill out missions with actual heroes acting as bosses. Based on the storyline, the different missions would be played as different heroes, showing the players multiple perspectives of the plot.
If an Overwatch expansion would contain any narrative content at all, it should look forward instead of back, like the Uprising event did. The Omnic Crisis has been pretty well explored in additional media, however the actual story of contemporary Overwatch hasn’t moved forward at all, beyond Doomfist getting out of prison. Furthering the conflict between Talon and the now renegade Overwatch organization is the logical way forward.
All that said, the current format of a steady stream of free, small DLC updates is significantly different from how Blizzard usually operates, so chances are the expansion format won’t be introduced to Overwatch. We know that early 2018 will be filled with free updates bringing new events and items to the game, so no change to the status quo is to be expected.