Diablo 3 and World of Warcraft players spent much of their time either leveling up or trying to get new gear. Developer Blizzard doesn't want that to be the case with their new shooter Overwatch.
Game director Jeff Kaplan told Eurogamer that players won't become more powerful over time in Overwatch:
We don't want the progression system to be burdensome in the fact that it's telling you what to do or how to play. It probably won't be the thing that makes you decide what hero to play - in fact, we would look at that as a mistake. We also won't reward you, in any way, with player power or anything like that. You're not going to get better guns, or have more hit points, or become more powerful. We're going to focus the progression system on cosmetic rewards and we think that will be a lot of fun for people. Ever since we announced the Origins Edition, people have responded really well to the skins. So we're going to look for a way to introduce more customisation through our progression system.
It makes sense that they want to keep the playing field level. The small team size, objective-based play and specialized characters make it clear that Blizzard has eSports aspirations for Overwatch. They want a match's outcome to be determined by a team's strategy and skill rather than the overall time investment they've put into the game.
Speaking of skill, Kaplan suggested that especially talented players could be able to earn rewards that others can't.
I think for the most part, the progression system will be more based on your time investment, than skill necessarily. But I think if we tune it correctly, we can tune it in a way where higher skilled players and players that are performing well can progress faster. I think that would feel pretty good for people.
While Kaplan emphasizes that they're still hashing out the details for Overwatch's progression, we do know that it's not going to be like Heroes of the Storm's. Although HotS doesn't have gear or power levels to earn, players have to spend money (or the game's virtual currency) to unlock new characters. Overwatch players will have access to the game's entire roster at launch and won't need to pay for future characters either.
Overwatch is in development for PS4, Xbox One and PC and should arrive this Spring. Blizzard held a closed beta this fall on PC but it's currently on hiatus for the holidays.