This is it: Overwatch 2! Yes, in a way! This week, Blizzard released the multiplayer beta for Heroes of the Storm 2, allowing players to test out the game’s competitive modes for the first time.
There is no doubt that Overwatch 2 is still very much Overwatch, despite the 5v5 format change and the contentious new scoreboard. It’s possible to argue that the actual Overwatch 2 will arrive with the game’s complete PVE campaign, which will include cooperative narrative missions pitting our heroes against the Omnic hordes.
It’s still the most enigmatic aspect of the game. Furthermore, Overwatch has a poor track record when it comes to generating compelling storylines that last for an extended period of time.
Footage from the past
Despite this, it has a large cast that will be remembered. Overwatch is, after all, the ultimate hero shooter. It’s not the first game to have a large cast of eccentric characters (thanks, TF2 and every MOBA), but it does represent a turning point in the evolution of shooters. Overwatch has made it almost mandatory for games like Battlefield and Call of Duty to feature distinct characters with their own names, kits, and backstories.
There was a lot of effort put into developing the characters, and the presentation was flawless.”
It’s not difficult to understand why. With Pixar-quality short films that introduced us to a diverse cast of heroes and villains, the Overwatch cast was a huge hit at the time. Characters were created via their personalities, silhouettes, and thematically-defined playstyles in a way that was flawless.
Fans of these characters were insatiable. It was exciting to see where Blizzard would take this ensemble of esports mech pilots, time-traveling sprinters and crazy Irish scientists, and hyper-intelligent gorillas in the future.
Blizzard, on the other hand, failed to move them forwards.
As you can see, the Overwatch universe has a rich narrative. Backstories, however, are nearly always included in the game’s “Archive” missions, character trailers, and in-game “Archive” PVE missions. It was not until Overwatch 2’s 2019 Zero Hour announcement that the game’s initial reveal trailer from 2014 was shown.
This was enjoyable and acceptable in 2016. Fan artists and fanfic writers were able to feed off of the context provided by the brief chirps of conversation between teammates or rivals in the warm-up rooms. Relationships, on the other hand, remained static. Neither the characters nor the world’s condition ever changed (something not helped by the fact that Overwatch matches have no bearing on the setting whatsoever).
Because of this, Overwatch has been more static over time. The world hasn’t changed much in six years, despite the introduction of new characters.
As a fan of games like Apex Legends, I frequently wonder why Overwatch doesn’t have a story. As a post-Overwatch Titanfall, Apex attempted to bring colourful personalities into the dark military sci-fi environment of the franchise when it was released in 2019. Unlike Overwatch, the setting of Apex doesn’t remain static, which was a problem at launch since the original cast frequently felt constrained by the Blomkamp-esque universe of past games.
Every season advances the plot in some manner, whether it’s a moment that defines a character or politicians warping cities across time and space. Each season. A new cast member may radically alter the dynamic of an established character, whether it’s Valk putting a wrench in the works for Bangalore and Loba’s burgeoning romance or Ash showing a venomous side to cheerful space mum Horizon.
Motives that define a character are often clarified or complicated in unexpected ways. Pathfinder’s founders were identified last year, and Jackson, Bangalore’s long-dead brother, will join Newcastle as a hero next season. Making characters seem like real individuals rather than merely gaming tropes requires a willingness to challenge the current quo.
Overwatch hero fanatics may expect to receive what they pay for in terms of gameplay.
Half-jokingly, I say Apex is my favourite soap opera because it lets me keep up with my favourite characters and their stories as they develop over time. As a fan of an Overwatch hero, on the other hand, you can expect to see what you see, with the occasional tidbit of background.
Additionally, Apex’s use of the present tense makes its depiction more valuable. Queer characters such as Loba or Valkyrie are depicted in-game and in cinematics, and we see their relationships to other cast members change as a result of their sexuality. Overwatch, on the other hand, reveals that Tracer and Soldier 76 are gay in obscure comics involving characters who never appear on screen in their own right.
The time in the future will be ideal.
In the end, Blizzard has the ideal chance to turn things around with Overwatch 2. Co-op missions, which will likely grow in number over the game’s lifespan, have the potential to reinvigorate Overwatch’s sluggish fanbase. I have long held that Blizzard’s 6v6 team shooter was an awkward fit for the world they were trying to build.
Certainly, mission set-ups will tell us where the battle against the omnics is in terms of specificity. Nonetheless, I’d want to see Blizzard utilise the game’s roster to ratchet up tensions and relationships. Examine the knight/squire interaction between Reinhardt and Brigitte, or what it means for Cole Cassidy and Ashe to finally be working together after all this time. As well as allowing characters’ relationships develop and rivalries erupt as well as old rivals turn into unexpected allies throughout the plot.
In the previous six years, Overwatch has created a complex environment. However, live service tales have gone a long way in the last few years, with even Fortnite’s continuous Funko Pop narrative attracting fans. All Blizzard has to learn from the games that followed Overwatch is how to build anything with its sci-fi superhero setting.