Should ‘Overwatch’ Finally Invest in Its Story?

They're sitting on a potential gold mine.
September 4, 2018
10 mins read

When it comes to the popular, team-based, multiplayer, first-person shooter “Overwatch,” a few things remain constant: major updates always shake up (and usually break) the game; players love new skins; and animated shorts for the game always start trending. Given that game is still updated, there’s no shortage of skins and D’va’s animated short topped YouTube’s trending leaderboard, the game is certainly alive and well.

What isn’t so certain is if it can ever return to being the game to talk about. Personally, I’m willing to bet that if a proper expansion to the game’s narrative was added right now, it would catapult the game to a new peak.

There is no clear writing on the wall that game needs to change the direction it is currently following. However, I do feel the path it currently follows will slowly lead to a negative change in the perception of “Overwatch,” and possibly a decrease in players, in the near future. Before I start to explain why I think Blizzard should finally commit to telling the story they’ve been teasing for years, I’ll provide a brief history of my time with the game, because that provides the basis for this article.

I got into the game close to launch and played it casually for quite a bit, before jumping into competitive mode around Season 3. It was my first experience playing a game competitively and I was hooked. It was legitimately the most fun I had with a video game in a long while, and I made it a point to get involved with the community to further enrich my experience.

Even though I often played solo, I stayed up to date with any upcoming changes to the game and the community’s feelings towards them, the progression of the pro league and, of course, the memes. I was there when Ana was first added, and for the crazy ARG that consumed the community for months. I was in love with the game — until I got tired of it around Season 9 and stopped playing.

Fatigue of a game is natural, especially when you play it daily, but this particular fatigue was new to me. I wasn’t tired from playing the game all the time, I was tired of playing a game that was changing. “Overwatch” is constantly getting updated, sometimes in the name of balance, but mostly in the name of fun. The problem, though, is that Blizzard’s concept of “fun” is just “easier to play.”

This has led to a decrease in the skill needed to competitively play the game and has left certain characters fundamentally changed from their original state. One of the most popular heroes in the game, Mercy, was reworked about a year into the game. She once was the healer that provided heals or a damage boost to one ally at a time and could resurrecting her whole team as her ultimate ability, but only if they died close to one another and if she wasn’t picked off first.

It was uncommon to pull off these five-man resurrects, but some people cried foul and Blizzard eventually made Mercy more “fun” to play. Long story short, they changed Mercy’s abilities, essentially taking away some players’ favorite character and breaking the competitive mode for quite some time. The easiest healer to play was now the most effective healer and remained that way for far too long.

Blizzard would continue making changes that would throw the game out of whack. Now every Lucio player can ride walls with ease, Hanzo is even more mobile and his bow can be an assault rifle, Sombra can stay invisible forever and the very existence of Brigette is tilting players everywhere.

That’s not to mention that some characters, such as Reinhardt and Doomfist, remain riddled with bugs. Oh, and good luck staying on the ground for more than five seconds during a match. D.va, Pharah and Mercy are no longer the only characters that fly in the game, thanks to all things that can juggle you in this game now.

I say all this not to the bash the game, but to illustrate a point: “Overwatch” players have come to accept the game’s constant changes, but that doesn’t mean they’ll keep playing. “Overwatch” is at a point where YouTube searches reveal numerous videos complaining about the game in one way or another. Whether it be about its lack of substantial new content, the competitive meta or the state of certain heroes, there is always doom and gloom surrounding the game.

That could be viewed as a testament of the game’s strength, since it can survive constant criticism, but I think it’s more of a testament of how detached the player-base is from the game. Cosmetics can only hold people’s interest for so long, and if Blizzard keeps making “Overwatch” easier for everyone, everyone will get tired of anyone being able to win. That is why I believe now is the time for Blizzard to shift focus and tell the story of “Overwatch.”

Every time an “Overwatch” animated short is released, it trends on YouTube. Every. Single. Time. This says a lot about a game that doesn’t even have proper bios for its characters in-game. Blizzard has cultivated a roster of characters that people from around the world have fallen in love with (and I still consider myself one of those people).

It means fans have actually read the few “Overwatch” comics Blizzard released during the game’s life and crave more substantial lore for the characters they play as. The community reaches peak excitement when a new hero is teased or when current ones receive more background. It is why events like “Uprising” and “Retribution” are better received than events like the “Summer Games” and “Winter Wonderland.”

Fans praised Blizzard for making Tracer, the game’s mascot, canonically gay and for even hinting that Symmetra might be autistic. The hype surrounding Doomfist wasn’t just about the possibility of Terry Crews voicing him, but mainly because Doomfist was teased in the game’s launch trailer. There is clearly money to be made here, and I find it odd that Blizzard doesn’t seem to recognize that.

They keep investing in the game’s eSports scene, but that’s unlikely to pay off if Blizzard insists on making the game a casual experience. Blizzard also must recognize the game is past its prime and every release of a major game stands a chance of taking a lot of disgruntled players away from “Overwatch.”

Not because those games will definitely be better than “Overwatch,” but there’s only so many times you can drastically break the game before players seek a fresh and more stable experience. A proper narrative addition can prevent this from happening, because it’ll be another carrot to keep current players enticed and bring old players back in. A supported story of sorts would provide a constant in the ever-changing game and allow it to survive amongst its competition.

Even though both games are currently in poor standing with fans, the release of “Black Ops 4” and “Battlefield 5” will test “Overwatch’s” mettle. All it takes is a broken meta at the time of another game’s release and some “Overwatch” players will be spending their time elsewhere. It has happened before and will again if “Overwatch” continues in the direction it’s headed.

“Overwatch” is a solid game that boasts a diverse roster filled with one-dimensional characters. If Blizzard wants this game to have a long and prosperous life, it’s time to properly flesh out its characters, since they seem slow to properly flesh out their game.

Christian Nelson, Eastern Michigan University

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Christian Nelson

Eastern Michigan University

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