Overwatch 2 can be hard to place among the wide range of FPS titles on the market. . Mechanically, it offers a refined multiplayer artistry worthy of the legacy of Starcraft 2. As an arena shooter, it provides tantalizing layers of complexity wrapped in an aesthetic of superheroic futurism. There’s a lot to love.
However, if you look at the backstory behind the game for even a moment, the conceit of Overwatch 2’s gripping multiplayer matches begins to unravel. Sinister Moira and angelic Mercy despise one another, while the infamous Reaper almost murdered dear, sweet Winston that one time. How are these people happy to work together on the same team?
Overwatch has buckets of rich, detailed lore, but so little permeates the main game. Instead, Blizzard brings these distinctive characters to life in gorgeous short films, comics, and rare PVE events. If you dip your toe into the plotlines surrounding the game’s characters, you’ll see that more than a few questions are raised.
Wildly improbable team-ups in Overwatch 2 are par for the course, as are heartbreaking matchups. The other day, while playing as Brigitte, I dispatched an enemy Reinhardt, forcing my favorite support hero to murder her surrogate father in cold blood. It felt deeply weird to hear Brigitte cheerily quip: “Got you this time, Reinhardt!” after pummeling her mentor into the ground.
This is because Overwatch 2 operates like fanfiction. It takes the characters from short films and comics and places them in improbable, weird, and sometimes downright unsettling situations. Overwatch is like a collection of action figures being set up in fights by an irreverent child. This varied ensemble cast of characters deserves far better.
It wasn’t always like this. The original Overwatch boasted a small range of story-driven co-op missions released throughout the game’s 6-year lifespan. The Storm Rising, Retribution, and Uprising updates allowed you to jump into key missions from Overwatch’s lore, turning the game into a coop shooter where players would fight waves of NPCs while completing objectives, not unlike Left 4 Dead, Back 4 Blood or gothic coop shooter Darktide.
Uprising saw players delve into the past and fight through a famous mission where Tracer, Torbjorn, Reinhardt, and Mercy were dispatched to London to help fight Null Sector – a group of robot terrorists. The mission was a treat for Overwatch fans, giving us a glimpse into these characters’ pasts. Seeing Tracer as a freshly recruited Overwatch rookie was a particular highlight, alongside a younger Reinhardt. Though taking only 15 minutes to complete, the mission offered a rewarding glimpse into Overwatch’s past, every line of dialogue laden with juicy character details.
Storm Rising and Retribution offered similar narrative-rich coop experiences, with Retribution even allowing players to take on the role of morally gray Blackwatch operatives.
Initially, a PvE mode was promised to coincide with Overwatch 2’s release in 2022. However, this was not to be, as the release of PvE content was pushed back to 2023. Overwatch 2 is poorer for its absence. Even though they were small, self-contained missions, the PvE content in Overwatch went a long way to making the game more than just fanfiction by highlighting and celebrating the existence of Overwatch’s cohesive narrative.
In an interview with NME, Overwatch 2 director Aaron Keller promised that once released, the new mode will “go into a lot more depth with not just the characters in the universe, but all the big events happening inside of it” (via GamesRadar). It’s clear, then, that the developers are aware that the story mode is both sorely needed and conspicuous by its absence.
I will admit, Overwatch 2’s broad and ever-growing roster must make the prospect of crafting a PvE campaign highly daunting to Blizzard. However, this doesn’t mean the characters can’t be provided with a shared narrative context through a well-told PvE storyline.
For instance: every one of Overwatch 2’s characters has been affected by the Omnic Crisis, a worldwide robot uprising that caused untold devastation across the globe. Blizzard can catch a lot of narrative fish by focusing on wide-scale, larger-than-life events by casting an appropriately wide net.
However, any sort of Overwatch PvE campaign is a tall order to say the least and no matter what Blizzard do, it may struggle to accommodate all of its characters. That said, when it comes to story content, something is better than nothing.
Overwatch 2’s PvP matches are fun, well-paced affairs that have kept me going back for more, but they are, at their core, fanfiction; bereft of context or bearing on Overwatch’s wider plot. Overwatch is a captivating setting, and the developers owe it to themselves and the fans to give these characters and their stories the treatment they deserve.