Shooters don’t need to have stories. Elaborate campaigns aren’t a necessity. It is easy to enjoy something like Team Fortress 2 or Call of Duty without them. But when you have a game with elaborate and colorful characters, some sort of framework for people who want to know more is nice. That’s where Blizzard is at with Overwatch and in 2017, the company has been killing it with telling stories without actually forcing people who just want to go “pew pew” and “bang bang” to deal with all that extra fluff.
What brings this sudden appreciation up? Glad you asked! We recently received a one-two punch of new Overwatch material, and quite a bit of it was character-centric. A Junkertown map is coming to the game and was accompanied by two videos building up its lore and position in the game’s world. One of those starred Junkrat and Roadhog, the somewhat villainous scavengers. The other video was a lengthy animation showing how Mei went from researcher, to popsicle, to only survivor of an incident at a frozen research station. In each case, these are supplemental materials we didn’t necessarily need, but having them makes the game richer for people who want more.
Blizzard could have gotten away with only saying there’s a new Escort map set in Australia and hint at some kind of Mei skins. Because you know we’ve got to get a Mei skin based on her cute animation outfit. Instead, the company went above and beyond. It made Junkertown feel alive, complete with narration from its “queen” and a brief cartoon explaining why this particular Escort mission is evening happening. We already know Mei’s general backstory, so we didn’t necessary need to see what happened to her, but getting that insight and learning what a strong (and adorable) survivor she is happens to be quite wonderful.
But these videos are all only just the beginning. Let’s start with a deeper look at the Junkertown map. Whenever a new map or event comes to Overwatch, that means new lines of dialogue and secrets. The one video already goes over location, letting us see what an omnium used to look like and how people who are scavengers live. Since this is already established as a Junkrat and Roadhog area, that means we could hear lots of dialogue between them and other characters. It’s an opportunity to increase our understanding of Overwatch’s world and characters through a new place. We haven’t seen too many less-than-pristine locations in the series yet, and this gives people who don’t care about backstories a new series of strategies to explore and enjoy and those who do a chance to see how another group of people lives.
With Mei, we get an increased focus on an established heroine. When it comes to Overwatch, many people might pick a character based on the role they play. They won’t deviate from the norm unless they have to because of a game mode or certain event. By fleshing her out and showing her in different outfits (all of which I hope eventually become character skins), she becomes more appealing to a wider audience. Those who love her get to see that heart wrenching moment when she wakes up and learns she is the only survivor of a devastating accident, she’s been asleep for nine years instead of a far shorter period of time, and that the situation that forced her into cryostasis hasn’t been fixed.
Blizzard is killing it when it comes to Overwatch storytelling. Instead of forcing tales down our throat as we play or making a campaign that tries to do too much, it lets us enjoy ourselves. We can play through the matches and events we want. Then, those who want to learn more can. They can pay closer attention on maps, watch the supplemental animations, and enjoy plotlines through other methods. It’s a great way of giving everyone exactly what they want from one of the best shooters currently on the market.