Every time a new Overwatch short comes out, I generally go through the same emotional cycle. First, I’m excited, because new animation, hero lore, backgrounds, etc. But then it dawns on me that there’s still not much to do with these heroes other than get them to shoot each other. All the brilliant worldbuilding of the animated shorts is somewhat lost in the actual gameplay.
Overwatch is two games, really. It’s the player-vs-player shootout matches reminiscent of genre-pioneers like Team Fortress 2 and earlier Quake, replete with tense moments, quick character interactions and interesting levels. It’s also the more story-based Overwatch metagame. It’s not exactly a secret at this point that there are many fans of Overwatch-The-Story that barely, if ever, touch Overwatch-The-Game.
In a way, this is a strength of Blizzard’s design. Criticisms of the games’ design (and some questionablecharacter choices) aside, it’s clear that the game has a large number of fans mostly in it for the non-shooter aspects of the Overwatch universe. And this is well and good, honestly—it’s not that different from fandoms surrounding a TV show or a book. Overwatch-The-Game is more window-dressing on the story than it is a part of the story itself.
But this is also frustrating. The world that we get glimpses of in the cinematics simply isn’t the world of the game. Mei isn’t an adorable scientist, she’s a ruthless killer willing to freeze her own allies if it means moving a payload toward an objective. Overwatch (the in-game entity, sworn to protect humankind) has no quibbles with teaming up with murderous rogue agents like Reaper in order to capture a point.
And this isn’t bad in and of itself, but it feels wildly out of character. There’s a story that could have been told with these characters, but instead—infuriatingly—we don’t get that as players. What we get is shooting. Again, the shooting isn’t the problem, but it is so incongruous with the world presented to viewers in the cinematics that the product Overwatch feels incomplete.
In a sense, what I’m saying here is we should get a story mode, but that’s even too simplistic. A story mode would be great, but frankly each of these characters presented by Blizzard has enough passive characterization to warrant their own game. For an ensemble cast, I just sure wish we could do anything with them other than smash them against each other like a bunch of action figures. Blizzard created a very interesting world—I’d like to not destroy it for once.
Dante Douglas is a writer, poet and game developer. You can find him on Twitter at @videodante.