ByTim Gonzales, writer at
Sombra is my spirit animal ∙ twitter @timgonzales ∙ I make trailers for things I enjoy at
Tim Gonzales

There's no doubt that the folks at Blizzard Entertainment are master storytellers and expert world builders. It's what the company is known for.

When Blizzard announced that its next game Overwatch was going to be a first-person shooter (FPS), I was excited, but most of all I was looking forward to the story. I knew the lore was going to be properly epic, based on its portfolio of games I'd previously enjoyed.

What I didn't expect, however, was how Blizzard would go about telling that story.

Blizzard Tries Something Different

Overwatch immediately gives you a sense of a lived-in world. I suppose that's a testament to Blizzard's reputation for being so ardent about the details. It's the richness in the presentation of its characters that sets the tone of its narrative.

Venturing into the unknown can be a catalyst for creativity. Rather than extensively building the mythology of the game beforehand, as had been done with previous works, the minds at Blizzard decided to try something different with their first foray into the FPS genre.

They sought to take a more character-driven approach. The basic premise of the game is that "a group of heroes called Overwatch fought off a world-ending scenario, and at the height of its success in the aftermath of that conflict, Overwatch mysteriously collapsed and its heroes disbanded." It was a simple framework to build on.

But instead of traditionally presenting the story to players upfront or in a linear, on-rails adventure with abundant specificity, Overwatch opts to inform you of its world through the characters you play.

New Innovation In An Old Genre

I feel like I'm taking in the world of Overwatch on a much more profound level than I would in a traditional story mode. Informing players of the story through the characters has turned out to be an organic, fan-oriented process of storytelling.

When I'm playing Overwatch, I'm not some generic everyman soldier or a rehashed character archetype mindlessly going through mission plot points. I'm experiencing the universe firsthand, through the character who I actively chose to be. I'm a character with purpose who matters in the overarching story of Overwatch.

The thing that really makes this bold new direction work are the characters and how Blizzard has expertly crafted each and every one of them. All of the colorful and diverse heroes that make up the entirety of Overwatch's roster are a gateway to a different, expansive corner of the in-game universe, carving out their own piece of the lore and story.

Storytelling That Influences Perspective

One example of this awesome new way of world building I experienced in game happened during an exchange of dialogue between two specific characters. When I chose to play as Zenyatta and another player on my team chose Tracer, the two characters began to talk to one another while waiting around in the spawn area for the match to begin. They briefly touched on past events in the Overwatch timeline.

It seems insignificant at first, but their conversation is a reference to an important and poignant event in the backstory of Overwatch. That dialogue connected my in-game experience to narrative content that extends beyond the game itself. As always with Blizzard, it's about tying the community together with a great multimedia universe.

In the awesome Overwatch animated short Alive, we actually see the events the dialogue referenced. It's pretty intense. In case you haven't seen it yet. Watch it above.

And if you look hard enough around King's Row, you'll notice a giant statue built to honor a character killed in the short.

The Concept Of Overwatch Exists Beyond The Game

Supplementary materials, such as the animated short films and in-game Easter Eggs, really make the world of Overwatch feel that much bigger when you're playing the game. And there's really a lot more to come.

In the last few weeks, a series of comics have been sequentially released that serve to further flesh out several characters from the game.

With Overwatch being so deeply character driven, the amount of narrative content in store for fans is practically limitless. Without having built the lore beforehand, the story is free from any premeditated constraints; it's allowed to breathe and form freely through every character already in the game, or added in post-release. It'll be fun to explore and find any new Easter Eggs that build the story even further.

It seems only fitting that it's Blizzard that would develop a game that manages to shake up how stories are told in the FPS genre. But you might argue that a competitive FPS doesn't need any kind of lore-driven backstory to deliver on a great multiplayer gaming experience.

But based on the many hours I've already put into Overwatch, I'd argue that when care is taken while weaving narrative elements into a competitive FPS organically, and such elements go beyond the game into other mediums, you get something else entirely. Something better.

The story binds a community of passionate players together on all sorts of platforms and in all kinds of experiences. You connect to and invest in the story on a deeper, more emotional level, and as such, you partake in a gaming experience and community that is truly unlike any other.

- Illustrations by Sarah Schnau


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