This year’s Gamescom saw the release of some more of Overwatch’s animated clips. This has provided an opportune moment to voice a thought that has been growing in my mind for some time.
As much as it pains me to say it, Blizzard’s attempts to tell the story of Overwatch are a complete failure.
I have wanted to like Overwatch from the moment it was announced. I am and always have been the eternal Blizzard fanboy. I love their art style and their personality and their larger than life flair. More than that, Overwatch’s idealism and diversity speaks to my ideals and beliefs in a very powerful way.
I have been frustrated from the start by Blizzard’s refusal to include any in-game story content in Overwatch. It’s the reason I still haven’t bought the game, despite my usual “shut up and take my money” attitude to most everything Blizzard does.
I have instead dutifully consumed Overwatch’s out of game story, its online comics and animated shorts. For a time, I thought maybe it was for the best that all of the story took the form of tie-in media, as it allowed me to get all that I wanted from Overwatch without having to spend a dime.
But as time has gone on, I’ve realized that none of this — not the comics or the shorts — has really proven satisfying. They’ve only left me wanting more — much more.
The thing is, a ten minute video clip once a year and a ten page digital comic every six months aren’t a story. They’re marketing.
Don’t get me wrong. Some of those shorts have been good. Very good. The Bastion one is a bloody masterpiece. But there just isn’t enough content here to tell a meaningful story. There is no space for true character development, or anything resembling a story arc.
We’re well over a year past Overwatch’s launch, and we’re still awaiting answers to some incredibly basic questions about the characters and the world. Why doesn’t Mercy age? Who was Pharah’s dad? What is Talon actually trying to achieve?
Nor has there been any forward momentum to the story. We’re still just hovering, frozen in time, at the moment Winston reactivated Overwatch. If this were a movie, we’d still be in the first five minutes.
It’s time to face facts. Blizzard is trying to sell all this as some bold new experiment in multimedia story-telling, but it’s not. It’s a half-assed attempt at a story that is accomplishing nothing of any value.
Maybe one day Blizzard will put out an Overwatch game with an actual story, or some meaty novels, or a movie, or anything. On that day, I will rejoice.
But unless and until that happens, Overwatch’s half-hearted attempts at story-telling are just a waste of time, at least from an artistic perspective. I’m sure they’ve very successful as marketing, but again, that’s all they are. Marketing.
I’m disappointed that all the massive potential of Overwatch’s universe is being left to rot on the vine, but what really worries me is that Blizzard as a whole may become enamored of this low-effort style of “story.” Already we’ve seen StarCraft abandon in-game story in favour of some incredibly brief digital comics, and Diablo seems to have thrown in the towel on story altogether, without even bothering to finish the current arc.
Only World of Warcraft, for all its flaws, still gives me hope. While I have some mixed feelings on the specific story-telling decisions of Legion, I can’t deny it’s by far and away the most story-driven expansion to date.
I hope this is just a lull and that Blizzard will start putting out more story-heavy games again soon, as they have for the last twenty years. Because if Overwatch is a sign of what is to come for the company, us Blizzard fans who are also story fans won’t be Blizzard fans much longer.