Play of the Fortnight: Overwatch Lore and How it Changes Blizzard Storytelling

Overwatch lore is not something that stands out if you’re not looking for it. The average player could happily hop into a match, battle an eclectic bunch of colorful heroes, and not know anything deeper about the game. But Blizzard is an expert at constructing stories that surround its characters and worlds. How does Blizzard’s team of writers showcase the deepest secrets of a first-person shooter like Overwatch?

In this Play of the Fortnight, let’s talk about the Overwatch story so far. How does Overwatch lore change the way Blizzard tells its stories?


The In-Game Interactions

Play of the Fortnight: Overwatch Lore - McCree and Mei Interact

The one thing any normal player could notice while playing Overwatch is the way the heroes interact with each other and their environment. Some heroes will joke with each other — see Mei’s, “Hey McCree, what time is it?” when she meets McCree. Others will have more serious comments directed at their teammates. You can also encounter it with heroes like Soldier-76 pondering LumeriCo’s activities on Dorado.

Blizzard used this to great effect during the Sombra ARG. While the Sombra ARG had its own problems, it was interesting to hear Reaper spawn into Dorado and ask, “Where’s Sombra when you need her?”

All of these tiny interactions add flavor to Overwatch lore, building it up over time. Blizzard adds new interactions all the time as they bring new heroes and maps to the game.


Overwatch Animated Shorts

Blizzard constructs Overwatch lore in a unique way through the release of high quality animated short movies. This started back when the game was first released. Blizzard has since added to the story by releasing deep and intriguing glimpses into the heroes and their backgrounds. There are shorts focused on existing heroes, and then the Sombra “Infiltration” short was released as an official announcement of the hacker hero’s launch.

Play of the Fortnight: Overwatch Lore - Animated Shorts

The shorts are a wonderfully engaging way to tell a story, and can often be very emotive. For example, The Last Bastion features a strangely emotional look into Bastion’s history, especially considering the tale revolves around a robot who doesn’t speak apart from a few beeps and boops.

IGN spoke with Blizzard’s Jeff Chamberlain about the Overwatch short production process. Due to the time it takes to create one of the animated shorts, we can likely expect to see them fairly infrequently. Chamberlain also told IGN, “There have been times when we’ll write a story and it actually was intended for one thing, like the Pharah comic for instance, was intended to be a short initially and then just because of a bunch of different circumstances, it became a comic.” If you’re interested, you can read the rest of the interview in IGN’s Future of Overwatch’s Storytelling article. It provides a fascinating insight into Blizzard’s thought process on their lore.


Exploring Overwatch Lore in Comic Form

Another way Blizzard tells Overwatch stories is through colorful depictions of heroes in comic book style. Each comic is a beautifully crafted visual tale featuring any number of heroes. This gives Blizzard more freedom for what stories they can tell, as comics are a little easier to produce than the cinematics.

That said, the artwork is gorgeous and incredibly detailed. The writers and artists have designed the comics in a true paneled comic book style. For anyone who enjoys the bubbly dialogue of comics and graphic novels, the Overwatch comics are a great way to learn more about the heroes and the world they live in.


Changes to the In-Game World

Players don’t have to look too far to stay up-to-date with Overwatch lore, either. While the comics and animated shorts are all published online outside the game, there are often major sweeping changes to the game environments too. Without even having to leave the game client, players can see the world around them shift and evolve.

Play of the Fortnight: Overwatch Lore - Numbani Airport

An excellent example of this is with the announcement of upcoming tank hero Orisa. While Blizzard has been teasing her release (though in a significantly less drawn out way when compared to Sombra!) on social media, their PTR release of the new tank brought about a change to the Numbani map; players on the attacking side can see the havoc wrought on the Numbani airport lounge.

These kinds of changes can get players asking questions and doing their own research, even if Overwatch lore isn’t high on their list of priorities.


How Does this Affect Players?

A lot of games will try to shove lore and storytelling directly into the player’s face throughout the game. While Blizzard has always been pretty talented at not overdoing it, even games like World of Warcraft have stories woven into the game that are difficult to avoid, and many players happily skip over them. Sure, they’re there for those who are interested, but even the external lore is often bulky and difficult to consume.

The way Blizzard tells Overwatch’s stories has shown an evolution in the way lore is dealt with in gaming. Not everyone is a lore fanatic, but lore helps to shape a game world and keep designers on track. With a solid world-building ethic, design teams don’t have to ask questions about what a hero might look like or how they will interact with the world. With a good story background, all of these things start to click into place.

Play of the Fortnight: Overwatch Lore - Comics

It certainly helps that the animated shorts and comics are high quality and engaging already, but it’s not just that. Having short, easy to consume media gives players with a thirst for more story content an excellent way to sink their teeth into it without disturbing their gameplay to do so. This is especially important in a shooter like Overwatch, where players taking time out to read a poster or listen to an NPC spin a yarn wouldn’t exactly be conducive to good gameplay experiences.


How Blizzard’s Stories Have Evolved

Overwatch is a great test bed for how Blizzard can get a deep and vibrant lore into a game genre that is normally somewhat devoid of it: multiplayer shooters. Overwatch has no “story mode.” The way the stories are introduced in short, sharp bursts is a great way to showcase what can be done with an FPS that has something to say.

Perhaps Blizzard will start using these methods for its existing and future games. But more importantly, maybe the company will start expanding its storytelling toolkit. Now that it has proven the animated shorts and comics are popular, traditional media might be another step. Riot Games released music albums for League of Legends. Why not a cartoon or physical graphic novel for Overwatch? There certainly has been talk of it before among the community.

One thing is for certain: Blizzard has plenty of stories to tell, and this is just the beginning. I, for one, look forward to what is to come.


Closing Thoughts

Overwatch has presented Blizzard with a unique challenge and thus a unique opportunity when it comes to world-building and lore. Out of this the animated short was born, along with comic book stories, and various ways for the Overwatch lore to intertwine with the game itself without being too intrusive to gameplay.

What are your favorite Overwatch lore moments? Let us know in the comments below!

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About Psyche

Psyche is a loud, obnoxious gamer, streamer and writer from Northern Ireland. She formerly worked in the games industry as a community manager and eventually project manager. When she's not writing about games, or playing them, she's working on her first novel. RPGs, books, a cup of tea, and talking about outer space are the ways to her heart.