Overwatch’s Story Is a Failure

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.

A shot from the Overwatch short Rise and ShineI 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.

A shot from Overwatch's The Last Bastion shortDon’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.

Overwatch's latest character, DoomfistI’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.


Diablo III: All Must Serve the Cycle

From the start, I’ve felt very torn about the addition of the necromancer to Diablo III.

The opening cutscene for the necromancer in Diablo IIIOn the one hand, I’m a big fan of necromancers in general and Diablo necromancers in particular. I think it’s a fresh take on the archetype to present them not as power-hungry madmen, but spiritual people devoted to maintaining the balance of nature.

But on the other hand, I remain deeply unhappy that Blizzard has abandoned D3’s story unfinished, and it’s hard to get excited about doing all the same stuff over again, even with a new class.

In the end, it is the WoW Token that broke the deadlock. Thanks to it, I was able to get the necromancer effectively free. At that point there was no good reason not to give it a shot.

On the whole, it’s a fun class. It took me a few days to find a build I really like, but that’s to be expected, and experimentation can be enjoyable in its own right.

Much to my own surprise, I wound up favouring a melee-heavy build, with Death Nova and Grim Scythe as my core attacks. I had initially planned to go for as many pets as possible, but it created too much screen clutter, so I ended up using “only” eight pets: the obligatory skeletons and a bone golem. Plus my follower and some demonic suicide bombers summoned by a ring I found.

Corpse Explosion FTWIf I were to describe the necromancer in a word, I’d go with “visceral.” Not only does it feel far more physical than any other spellcaster, it feels more physical than even the melee classes. It’s all reverberating explosions, bone-snapping crunches, and wet splashes of gore.

If you’re a fan of ultra-violence, this is the class for you. It is spectacularly gorey. The necromancer’s finest moments come as the entire screen is filled with erupting blood and the constant rain of body parts. It gave me a lot of warm, fuzzy flashbacks to the Myth franchise.

Good times.

On the downside, the necromancer’s resource, essence, has a “feast/famine” feel that can rather derail the flow of play sometimes. Resources that don’t automatically regenerate just never feel right in Diablo III for some reason.

My biggest complaint with the class, though, is how lifeless (no pun intended) they feel as a person.

It’s been a while, I admit, but I seem to recall the D2 necromancer having a fair bit of personality. I recall him seeming curious and passionate.

My posse.The D3 necro is not like that. She speaks in a soulless monotone the vast majority of the time and generally avoids displaying anything resembling warmth, personality, or humanity.

I’m used to playing the cocky, reckless wizard and the wry yet warm crusader. Compared to them, the necromancer is like watching grass grow.

And really, it’s just not that exciting to be playing through all the same stuff yet again.

I love the campaign in Diablo III, and revisiting it reminded me why. Say what you will about Blizzard’s story-telling, but they got it right this time, and I vehemently reject any claims to the contrary. D3’s story is epic, powerful, exciting, and brimming with colourful and three-dimensional characters.

But I’ve already done it so many times. I love chocolate ice cream, but if I had chocolate ice cream for every meal for a year, I’d be begging for something, anything else by the end. I’d also probably end up with diabetes, but that’s neither here nor there.

As it is, my necromancer is currently languishing in the early days of act five, and I’m not sure she’s going to progress much beyond that.

Of course, the necromancer wasn’t the only thing included in patch 2.6. There’s also the new adventure mode zones, Shrouded Moors and Temple of the Firstborn.

The new Shrouded Moors zone in Diablo IIII went into these with very low expectations, but if you ignore the adventure mode trappings and just play through them as linear story content, you’ll actually get a solid, atmospheric, and satisfyingly complete story. This is in stark contrast to the deliberately obtuse Greyhollow Island and the utterly pointless Ruins of Sescheron.

The presence of Obvious-Traitor McSinister-Guy is a bit much, but otherwise it’s a good ride. And the environmental art is gorgeous.

Sadly, it only takes about thirty or forty minutes at the outside to finish, and it has no meaningful replay value. In the end, it’s only a reminder of the kind of great story-telling Diablo III could be doing if they actually put any effort in.