In 2014 at Blizzcon San Diego, Blizzard released an exciting short film for its first original first-person shooter IP ever, Overwatch. Now after more than a year Overwatch has enjoyed a successful release reaching many reviewer’s top 10’s and gardering a cult fallowing from normal players to celebrities. However that got me thinking; originally we never saw any gameplay of Overwatch, just a glorified short film. It was almost like Blizzard marketed the story before the actual game. So I went deeper, asking what part of the trailer hyped people the most, and it hit me: the character.
The World at War
The basic plot of Overwatch is in the future, AI-driven robots called Omnics rebelled against humanity and started a war called the Omnic Crisis. In order to combat the rising conflict, the UN created an elite task force made from the greatest soldiers, heroes, and scientists the world has ever known: Overwatch. It was thanks to Overwatch that the Omnic Crisis was ended and world peace was achieved, or so it seemed. Eventually Overwatch came under scrutiny due to multiple scandals, and after a horrific betrayal, Overwatch was shut down entirely. Now in the wake of a second Omnic Crisis, Overwatch is needed once again to save the world.
Ever since then Overwatch has introduced a roster of 22 unique characters, all with individual appearances and backstories. It’s a multi-ethnic, multi-generational cast featuring characters like the Brazilian pop artist Lucio, the Korean mech pilot D.Va, the crazed Australian bomber Junkrat, and even non human characters like the philosophical omnic Zenyatta, and the super-genius gorilla Winston who was born on the Moon! What makes all these character so interesting to play isn’t only their gameplay but their unique backstories and archetypes they follow.
A Fallen Hero
Take Soldier 76, aka Jack Morrison the former leader of Overwatch: Once a selfless and courageous hero, it was thanks to the shortsightedness and ignorance that many traditional heroes suffer that resulted in him ignoring the corruption and greed that grew right under his nose. The moral of his character is you can’t expect everything to go the way you want. It toppled not only Overwatch, but also his friends, his family, and even his very morals. Now an embittered old man presumed to be dead, he stalks the streets as the ruthless vigilante Soldier 76, still fighting under a sense of justice no matter how cruel he has to be. His is a story of lost ideals and of the downfallen hero, made even more poignant coming from the fact the fall was spurred by his friend Gabriel Reyes.
A Vengeful Dead
Once the leader of the black ops branch of Overwatch, Reyes tried warning Morrison of the risks he was ignoring, only for his best friend to take all the credit that rightfully belonged to him. Reyes, like the classic story of Cain and Abel, grew jealous of his former allies and brought about the collapse of Overwatch, horribly mangling himself in the process. Now more ghost than man, Reyes put on a skull mask and took the moniker Reaper, waging a one-man war against Soldier 76 and Overwatch ever since.
Escaping the Past
While the Omnic Crisis shaped people differently, keep in mind it also affected the so-called “soulless” robots on the other side too. Take Bastion, a former foot soldier from the Omnic Crisis. Having been deactivated in battle Bastion woke up in the middle of a tranquil forest caked in a decades worth of moss and dirt. Having been asleep or so long he’s forgotten all his programing and for all intended purposes he’s a blank slate. Over time Bastion has developed sentience and now only wants to be left alone, content with living in the forest accompanied by a bird companion. However deep within his subroutine his old programing still lurks. All it takes is anything sounding like gunfire and Bastion’s triggered, ready to kill anything that moves. He still has the visions from his time as a foot soldier, the war, the pain, and being a robot every moment is played out in vivid detail. His condition is very reminiscent of PTSD; wanting to move on but haunted by nightmares.
Starting Your Watch…
Overwatch has a rich lore populated by truly memorable characters, characters that reach out to us not only as traditional heroes and villains but also human beings. We have the Egyptian exo-suit-wearing soldier Pharah trying to live up to her mother’s legend, the futuristic cowboy McCree and his rise from outlaw to lawman, as well as the bubbly Tracer and her hope for the future despite Overwatch’s collapse and the downfall of many of her friends. To me that’s one reason for players to be drawn to Overwatch: a greater grasp of who we are as humans.