Overwatch: One Year On
Months ago I wrote an editorial about Blizzard in general and their ability to iterate upon established mechanics in order to build something bigger and better than their competitors. They've done this with just about all of their projects. From nailing the RTS genre with games like Warcraft and Starcraft to bringing the MMO genre into the mainstream with World of Warcraft Blizzard has shown they have an understanding of not only the mechanics of various game genres, but also how tease out what the community is looking for to establish and maintain a base away from other games in the genre.
This brings us to Overwatch. Released a year ago today this highly anticipated game was in development for YEARS at Blizzard. The cinematic trailer of Reaper and Widow's attempt to steal the Doomfist gauntlet while Winston and Tracer hold them off was an instant hit. Speculation abounded as to what this new game would hold and then, we got our hands on one of the fastest growing team based shooters in history. Overwatch has been a massive success in its popular appeal, critical reception and financial earnings. I won't go into the instant proliferation of the competitive scene since that pretty much speaks for itself. Instead I'd like to talk about something I've always appreciated about Blizzard's gaming world. The story and characters behind the game.
Unlike their other properties, Overwatch didn't do its character story telling in game, rather through character profiles and histories available online and in produced comics. These became an instant hit online spawning fan theories, filled in histories and more fan art than is reasonable to look at over the course of one weekend. With a wide array of backgrounds histories, talents and weaknesses their stories overlap and build over and with one another to create and interesting and very different science fiction world than those we normally get. Critical to this was the fact that not only does the game not have a single player story mode, there are no limitations as to which characters can be part of teams together.
This all means that the story was there for gamers who are interested, but wasn't part of the game play experience itself. Reaper's history intersects with the stories surrounding Soldier 76, Mercy, Anna, Reinhardt, McCree, Torbjorn, Tracer and Winston, but you'd never get the full story unless you looked for it. Sure there are some fun dialogue lines depending on the map and other heroes on the team, but they serve more as Easter Egg rewards to players who know the history than they reveal anything about said history. Despite this separation between game play and story, you still have a MASSIVE following about the story on the forum and fan art spaces of the net. A good example of this was the fan reaction to the Christmas Comic released by Blizzard that revealed that Tracer is part of the LGBTQ+ community and that Genji and Mercy may have more going on between them than initially thought. It became a trending news story on almost every social media platform with sites writing up articles about the impact of the revelation of Tracer not being heterosexual. Keep in mind, this is a comic about the characters in the game, not based on gameplay or impacting it in ANY way. The object of Tracer's affections herself isn't an in game character nor does she appear to have any sorts of "heroic" defining features. Furthermore no character dialogue in game even alludes to Tracer's sexuality. But the story line of this game is itself so popular that this news spread like wildfire.
This is where we get into the Uprising event. Starting at the end of April and running through early May the Overwatch team released a new/temporary game mode where players would complete map objectives whilst fighting and defending against waves of incoming NPC units. The game mode itself was a tonne of fun to play (I'm a sucker for PvE Horde Modes) and made non-standard heroes in PvP play viable picks for securing map objectives. No matter your team composition, the game mode was also PUNISHINGLY difficult at the upper difficulties and for many people required the use of an in game glitch to successfully complete. The amazing thing about this event wasn't just that it was a fun and different (for Overwatch) game mode the way Halloween's, Christmas's and the Chinese New Year's had been. What caught my attention was that there were two ways to play. The one I talked about above was your team choosing from the full hero roster to complete the map objectives. The main mode was FAR more restrictive. You had to choose between Torbjorn, Reinhardt, Mercy and Tracer to complete the map together. Your team of 4 HAD to consist of these heroes and the reason behind that was simple. This was Tracer's very first mission as a member of Overwatch.
THAT'S RIGHT, THIS WAS A STORY MISSION.
Filled to the brim with new dialogue between these 4 characters along with radio chatter from Soldier 76 and pre-living dead Reaper, the game mode was chock full of new information and confirmation of various fan theories. Personal favourite: Torbjorn apparently makes EVERYTHING his team members use on missions, and it barely works in the funniest ways. The in jokes about Reinhardt running ahead and not supporting his team, or Mercy being overworked were well timed and showcased that Blizzard is VERY aware of their fans, how they play, and how to appeal to the fans within this universe.
I mention all this because through Overwatch we can see a new way of unwrapping game worlds without having to rely on single player. We have a purely multiplayer game with tonnes of character and heart letting people explore a part of its characters histories in a fun way. My only question is, what's next?
There are plenty of bits of Overwatch's world history to explore. With leaks claiming that this year we will see 3 new characters join the roster, what areas of the past be opened up for exploration. Doomfist has been the most anticipated but will we see the forces of Overwatch and their civil war against Blackwatch? What about the original Omnic War? Perhaps there is more to Genji destroying the Shamada Clan than we know thus far? All of these are points in history we can expand upon and play through.
All in all it has been an incredible first year for Overwatch and I cannot wait to see what new spectacles await. Or to find out where our Genji is.