Multiple new heroes
It's been speculated for some time, but Kaplan says new heroes are on the way for 2017. Right off the bat, he caveats the announcement by saying that "we tend to work on more content than we release because we prototype stuff and sometimes it fails, or we don't like it, or we go back to the drawing board."
To illustrate that point, Kaplan gives an interesting insight into the troubled development of Genji, Overwatch's resident ninja. "Genji was a hero that we started almost a year and a half before we released him. We would work on him, we'd try iterations on him, we'd put him on the shelf for a while because he wasn't working out and then we'd come back to him."
WIth that long process in mind, Kaplan teased one hero who he feels is "very promising." While he didn't say anything about who the hero is or how they play, he did say that the prototype is already making its way through the art department—meaning that his team feels confident that they have a solid foundation and can begin fleshing out a personality to match. Hopefully we find out more soon, and hopefully it doesn't come attached with a drawn out and disappointing ARG.
"We have some really fun prototypes," he says in reference to the other heroes who they aren't as confident with. "I hope those see the light of day in 2017." Fingers crossed for a Canadian plant lady.
New maps beyond Oasis
At Blizzcon, Blizzard detailed plans for a new map coming in early 2017 called Oasis. Kaplan reaffirmed that the new map is on schedule. Beyond that, Kaplan mentioned several maps that, like the new heroes, are at different stages of development. But again, there's one that they have a "pretty good level of confidence in" but it still uses a traditional game mode.
Beyond that, I'm personally excited by his mention of several experimental maps that the team is working on. While Kaplan reiterates that they may not ever be released, new game modes would be a welcome addition to Overwatch. The new Overwatch Arcade mode which is currently on the test servers will play a crucial role in developing these new maps. "We're always looking for things that we can try out in the arcade as a new game mode, and our thought process is, if it's really fun as a new game mode, maybe at some point we could introduce it to the core map rotation either in quick play or competitive play. Right now the arcade really affords us that opportunity to experiment and really feel good about trying stuff out without damaging the core competitive game or quick play."
Custom game server browser
A server browser for custom games should be arriving in early 2017. This allows players to create custom games and list them as public so that anyone can join—not just those they have added as friends on Battle.net. "It's been a top requested feature," Kaplan says. He clarifies that the plan is to have a basic version released for early 2017 but there "big plans" to expand upon it later in the year.
Custom communication options
Overwatch's communication wheel lets players quickly select a variety of voice lines to quickly communicate with your team—or taunt an enemy with an emote after killing them. Sometime in 2017 that wheel will be overhauled to let players customize which voice lines and emotes appear on it, giving them access to up four voice lines in addition to four emotes. That way, you can put all those extra voice lines and emotes you've unlocked to use rather than having to choose just one. "You'll also be able to use custom [key] bindings to set a particular button to trigger a particular voice line or emote," Kaplan adds.
Sprays will also get their own wheel where you can select up to four to be used during a match. Only one spray will appear in the environment at a time, but this lets you use different sprays depending on the situation. "Even though it's a small thing, it will make a lot of voice lines, sprays, and emotes more valuable to you," Kaplan says.
Another minor upgrade to communication is an option that "strongly encourages" players who are in a party with their friends to automatically join the team chat rather than stay secluded in their own party chat. Like the new 'stay as group' button introduced recently, this button will automatically place your party into the team chat so they don't have to manually switch to communicate with those they're not grouped with.
Improvements to spectator modes
Blizzard will continue to expand features to make Overwatch more enjoyable to, well, watch. Kaplan mentioned including a "viewer map" while spectating a game which—while it's not exactly clear—I believe means a 2D bird's eye view of the map to better track players as they move around and fight.
Kaplan says they've been also been listening closely to the competitive community—both players and commentators—and have curated a list of their desired changes and requests. He doesn't provide any specifics, but says that Blizzard will begin implementing some of them in 2017.
Adjustments to Sombra
Kaplan also looks back at Overwatch's first year and used that as an opportunity to touch on more immediate changes than those coming in 2017. What might be disappointing to some (Evan ranted about Sombra's low impact on the meta earlier this month), Sombra, the hacker hero who was released last month, won't be receiving any immediate tweaks. Like Ana, Kaplan feels that Sombra is a high-skill hero that players haven't quite adjusted to yet, and Blizzard is hesitant to make changes until players have had more time to figure her out. "The reason we're being so slow with Sombra changes is because we think there's that mastery curve happening again," Kaplan says. "We're starting to see a lot of high-level, high-quality Sombra play. That's not to say that we think she's perfectly balanced right now. We have ideas if we need to bump her up, but we're just being slow and patient so we don't have Ana 2.0 all over again."
Overwatch has already had an exciting first year, so it's great to see Blizzard communicating its plans clearly just two weeks after rolling out the Winter Wonderland event. While this developer update doesn't cross everything off our wishlist for 2017, it's a good start.