The Teasing Lore of Overwatch

The end of April also marked the end of Overwatch’s latest seasonal event; Retribution. This event was a part of the recently named Archive series of events. A number of times a year, to coincide with particular real world celebrations, Overwatch holds time limited events which introduce new cosmetic items and game modes for its players. Archives are different.

The Archive events are unique because rather celebrate any real world occasion, they’re a focus on a piece of the game’s own lore and backstory in the form of co-operative gameplay style event. In this case, Retribution was the tale of when Overwatch’s black ops unit lost their anonymity and Gabriel Reyes started down the slippery slope that would turn him into “The Reaper”.

Retribution represents a combination of two things a fair number of Overwatch fans are very vocal about wanting out of the game. Those being a larger representation of the game’s lore and backstory within the game itself, and also a way to play the game with these characters that isn’t competitive in nature. These events are the only time players get to have that experience, and they only come for a few weeks a year.

Despite being nearly two years old, Overwatch is still an incredibly popular game. Despite it primarily being an online only, competitive shooter, it has drawn in fans from all over who aren’t normally attracted to this kind of game at all. These people who are drawn to the game want a way to play it which isn’t so cut throat competitive in nature. But why are they drawn to it at all.

A huge contributing factor towards this love of the game is its art design and the level of polish. The original teaser for the game made it look like something that may have come out of Pixar. Each character has a unique look and style, finished off with this bright cartoon design aesthetic that makes it all look really inviting. Blizzard obviously took a great deal of time and care to make each of these individuals unique right down to the minute detail.

Coupled with this, each character’s look and personality works incredibly cohesively with the abilities they have at their disposal and their play style. There are Youtube videos online detailing character design right down to their gait and even their breathing patterns, all that contribute to the individuality of that single character in game.

The incredible degree of care and throughout that has gone into each and every character’s design, coupled with the highly polished art style, it’s not difficult to see why people would be attracted to these characters. Fan bases gravitated towards the game and its character almost immediately. There are huge amounts of fan art, comics, “ships” between characters and other fan inserted details about characters generated by the fan base.

This is something even Blizzard have embraced. The Gremlin D.Va and grumpy dad Solider 76 concepts were inventions of the fanbase that have found their way into the game itself through emotes and sprays. But while one corner of the fan base seems happy to write their Hanzo/McCree fan fiction, another aspect thirst for more access to the game’s actual backstory in game.

Blizzard have put out a ton of supplementary content to flesh out the characters, their backstories and the history of the world they inhabit. These have come in the form of their webcomic series and their animated shorts. We do gain insight of characters though sprays and voice lines added during events too. But many still want a single player campaign or spinoff game to flesh all of this out.

The question I’d pose to these people though is what incentive do Blizzard have to actually do this. I personally believe that Blizzard’s ‘lore bible’ for Overwatch is more a series of rough outlines and bullet points rather than a deep and complex tomb. They’ve made it obvious with their reference to fan created concepts that they’re happy to make changes on the fly and alter things if they think they can get away with it.

It’s in Blizzard’s best interests to keep their game’s lore as vague as possible, dripping it out, little by little over time. The more of a sweeping narrative they create, the more they paint themselves into a corner in the future if they want to add a particular character or event. As much as I believe they’d do a fantastic job if they ever bothered to make a single player campaign based in the Overwatch story, they’ve got no real incentive to do so.

Ultimately, Overwatch is a competitive online shooter with its feet well in the Esports pool. Blizzard spend a lot of their time balancing, and then rebalancing their game to keep it fresh, relevant and interesting. The Overwatch League is a huge priority for them and always will be. The time it stops being such will be a time where Overwatch itself has become irrelevant enough that this whole debate becomes pointless.

I could see Blizzard making a story light spin off game, I’d say they’d have a crack at the likes of the Digital Collectable Card Game craze that many other franchises are trying out, but considering they started the craze with Hearthstone, I don’t seem them going in that direction again.

In the end, I think the reason Overwatch’s story, characters and lore are so enticing is because there is so little of it. The game is approaching two years old and we still only have a basic outline understanding of the world’s grander story and how all of the characters figure into it. While we know the basic story of the rise and fall of Overwatch, that does’t tie up the involvement of characters like Zenyatta, Symmetra and Zarya.

Personally, I’m happy going in and playing Overwatch every few weeks/months as a well made, fun shooter. But the Archive events in particular will be a piece of content I always look forward to, because as good as Overwatch and its more creative fanbase are, I gots to get me that lore!

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