In March 2016, months before Overwatch was launched, Blizzard released the Recall cinematic. It tells the story of scientist gorilla Winston who, realising that the world could use a few more heroes, issues a call to his old teammates in hope of re-assembling the Overwatch team. Three years later, we’ve still not seen the result of that message.
This refusal to push the story forward is a source of frustration for many of Overwatch’s most dedicated fans. But it’s a deliberate move from Blizzard; the team knows exactly where it’s headed – there is a present day story – but steps need to be taken before we get there. If this were the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we’re very much in phase one; Overwatch’s version of first Avengers movie is coming, but we need to establish what came first before we can get to that iconic team-up scene.
The latest issue of the Overwatch story, Storm Rising, is a co-op mission that sees a strike team of Tracer, Winston, Mercy, and Genji attempt to capture and interrogate a VIP who’ll lead them to the world’s big bad: Doomfist. It concludes with a dramatic tease for future chapter, much like the credits stingers that have become a vital component of Marvel movies. As such, it’s no surprise to discover that Blizzard have learned a lot from cinematic universes.
Blizzard is very aware of the need to build momentum and lay groundwork.
“I think we draw inspiration from all of the big universes and how they’re weaved together,” says Michael Chu, Overwatch’s lead writer and master of lore. “Our game doesn’t have this specific, linear narrative. We’ve really looked at how other mediums have told stories through these branching, big universes.”
As previously mentioned, Blizzard is very aware of the need to build momentum and lay groundwork. Almost all of the Overwatch story revealed so far has been set in the past – this year’s Storm Rising takes place six years before Overwatch’s present day, for instance.
“We felt like before we could explore the type of story that we have chosen [for the present day], it required some setup and some exploration, so it felt like the ground was stable before you moved into the into the second part,” explains Chu.
“That said, we feel like that phase is coming to an end,” he teases. “We’ve moved a lot of the pieces that we need to explain into place.”
He notes that the Bastet short story, released alongside a new skin for Ana, was set in Overwatch’s present. “We’re definitely interested in telling more stories that are closer to Recall,” says Chu.
While Chu and the Overwatch team have almost exclusively been telling stories set in Overwatch’s past, they are aware of the community’s desperate wish to learn of stories set in the present day. “We know that people want to find out what happens after the recall,” Chu says. “And as storytellers we are also very excited. We’re chomping at the bit to be able to tell those stories.”
Take one look at the Overwatch timeline, and you’ll see that this year’s Storm Rising event does represent a step towards that much-demanded present: “It’s very intentional that the first story [2017’s Uprising] was eight years ago, [2018’s Retribution was] seven years ago, and this one is six years ago,” says Chu. “We thought that it helped paint a picture of where some of the characters have gone, and where some of the plot threads have gone. And also getting stories out there that we hope to pay off in the future.”
Aside from building closer to the present day, Chu wanted Storm Rising to tell a story that would tie the existing Archives missions together, as well as forge links between these playable events and stories told in other mediums.
“This event leads into the Doomfist origin piece,” Chu explains. The piece in question is a 2D animation that depicts a battle between an Overwatch strike team and Doomfist. “That storyline where [Doomfist] fights Tracer, Winston, and Genji comes directly as a result of Storm Rising. They’re able to get the information from Maximilian that that enables them to track down Doomfist, who is really the prize that they’re looking for the whole time.”
We’re definitely interested in telling more stories that are closer to Recall.
Of course, Omnic VIP Maximillian isn’t the character that everyone’s talking about; that honour is reserved for the unmanned robot that appears at the very end of Storm Rising. “As far as the other mysterious character, they’re a very important Omnic in the universe. Hopefully you’ll find out more about them in the future,” Chu teases.
Inevitably, Overwatch’s lore master has his lips sealed as to if that Omnic is the key to bringing the Overwatch story into the present, or just another link in a years-long chain. The question we’re left with, then, is will the yearly Archives events continue to tick down the calendar, meaning there’s another five years to go before the timeline is pushed forward? Or will Blizzard opt for a time jump?
And beyond even that, what does the present day of Overwatch look like? There is a potential that the reason why Blizzard is taking so long to advance the timeline is because it’s buying time. If the muchly hoped for story campaign is real, then that is likely to be that game that will push the story in new directions, and Blizzard requires the time to develop it. Afterall, how would you rather experience the reunion of the Overwatch team; through a five-minute cinematic, or multi-hour video game? I know which one I’d choose…
Matt Purslow is IGN UK’s News and Entertainment Writer, and owner of a disgusting amount of Overwatch merch. You can follow him on Twitter.