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April 16, 2018

Overwatch: Retribution: Uprising: Revengeance: Revelations: Subtitle: Sequel

I wonder if anyone will ever notice that I called all of the Offense heroes in Overwatch “Attack” heroes instead.  Whoops!  I mean, I could change that with a few minutes of editing, but you know what?  I think I’ll leave it for posterity -- as a way of proving just how little I know about an entire class of the game.  It’ll be great.

In other news, I’m seriously a fan of Mercy’s new ult.  No doubt it’s a dream come true for the “battle Mercy” types, but since it doesn’t correct my utter inability to aim, I’m out of luck.  For the most part.  But in a pinch, I can fight back if the need arises; I remember when I first activated it and went “WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAH!” as power coursed through me and the bullets brought the pain to three rival players.  It’s a powerful tool, as is the case with all ults -- even though these days, I mostly just use it to take flight and bail the hell out of a situation.  Because that’s my secret: I’m always a huge coward.  Bruce Banner would be proud.

Anyway, let’s talk about Overwatch some more.  And going off of the end of the last post, I’ll ask again: where does Overwatch go from here?

I have some thoughts.  But you may not like them.

--By the end of next month, we’ll have hit the game’s two-year mark.  That’s a substantial amount of time, and that’s made even truer by the support it’s gotten since (and before) release.  So what’s next?  Or, alternatively, is what we have now enough?  Or, as a corollary, what can the devs possibly add to keep people coming back?  I mean yeah, I like the game.  I’ll play it from time to time.  But I’m not fervently passionate about it, as I am about other games.  It seems like these days, the only reason I’ll get back in is if I want to A) get a new Mercy costume, or B) try out a new character, and even then that’s no guarantee for me hunkering down at my computer.  And I get the feeling I’m not the only one who feels that way.

--So I guess in a way, my question has a different bent: is Overwatch sustainable?

--How long?  How long can the game thrive in its current state?  Fortnite and PUBG have made massive waves, no doubt stealing thunder that once belonged to Blizzard’s baby.  So what’s next?  Is the league and the competitive mode enough?  I’m not asking that to be an ass; I’m asking because I legitimately don’t know.  Speaking personally, I have no interest in either of those.  I get nervous enough about pulling my weight in quick play matches; I don’t want that pressure getting to me in what should be recreational.  And since I don’t give a crap about ranks, well…¯\_()_/¯

--The obvious solution -- the one that should have been there on day one -- is a dedicated, well-made campaign mode.  That’s been absent, and it’s to the detriment of the entire franchise.  There have been glimpses of it based on supplementary materials and snippets, but in-game?  These two missions aren’t doing it for me, and now I wonder if A) it’s too late, or B) Blizzard doesn’t have the will or ability to put something substantial together.  (I’m assuming it’s A, because surely the devs have some talent to tap somewhere.)  I thought that the Uprising sequence would give me something to bite into, but it basically boils down to “We tried peace.  Robots attacked anyway.  This is Tracer’s first mission.  Kill more robots.”  Stellar.  Riveting.  Award-winning stuff.

--I don’t know how you beef up the game to give it a deeper, stronger scenario -- something that would help immensely at this stage.  I guess the obvious choice would be something like what Splatoon 2 is doing with its Octo Expansion, which is supposed to expand on the lore -- and I’m absolutely down for that, given how unique and interesting the Inkling world is.  I wouldn’t even mind slapping down $20 for it, or for any Overwatch expansion of a similar make.  Then again, these guys have supposedly made mad cash from loot boxes, soooooooooooooooo it’s not as if they need even more money anytime soon.  I hope.

--It’s actually something that has me torn up inside.  On one hand, I’m actually starting to lose faith in the game’s ability to tell a concrete, quality story.  It seems like a lot of the interesting stuff has already happened, for one thing.  The Omnic Wars, Morrison and Reyes’ falling out, the end of Overwatch, the Shimada brothers’ rivalry, Mei getting frozen, Reinhardt’s battle scars…I guess now we’ve got Reaper, Sombra, Doomfist, and Widowmaker fighting on Talon’s behalf in some capacity, but to what end?  What’s the endgame?  It’s apparently a big enough issue for Winston to bring the gang back together, but what, exactly, is the issue?  It’s big enough for Sombra to blackmail a high-powered suit (who then gets Zarya involved), but where’s that plot thread going?  Where’s the Mondatta assassination thread going?

--It almost seems like Overwatch is getting the problem that fighting games have -- I.e. you have all these different plots and threads going because each new character = a new thread, and none of the other ones get resolved.  At least on a surface level; Street Fighter and Tekken alike have both presented some form of progression from game to game, even if it doesn’t seem like it (by virtue of the space between releases).  So now what’s Overwatch doing?  Instead of pushing forward with its narrative, now we’re…going backwards?  And not even in any meaningful capacity?

--Oh, Christ.  Don’t tell me I have to play on the harder difficulties to get more lore.  Because if so, I’m noping the hell out and running to YouTube.

--Like, if we’re going to keep up the fighting game analogy, Overwatch even manages to lag behind Street Fighter (if you can believe that).  In SFIV, you can count on a prologue for your chosen character, a rival battle to flesh them out a bit, win quotes that flesh them out even more along the way, and an ending cutscene that offers some semblance of closure.  SFV went even further with a dedicated arcade mode in its updated rerelease, and full-on, if brief, character stories in the vanilla release that I’m actually kind of fond of (even if others aren’t).  And I’m still not convinced Capcom is out of the shadow realm bankruptcy zone.  So what’s Blizzard’s excuse?

--I don’t want to have to load up assorted comics, dig through the codex, or pray for the occasional animated short to fill me in.  I need substance.  I need depth.  And right now, I haven’t gotten nearly as much as I’ve wanted.  Like, do I know what I know about Mercy because of the game and a genuine effort to make her a fully-fledged character?  Or is it just because I read her snippet on TV Tropes?

--I’m not saying that there’s nothing there.  As a video game, audiovisual cues pull their weight in the absence of a true story.  So even if I can’t see Mercy’s Arcade Mode ending, there are still her animations, voice clips, and general mannerisms (even if most of those are hidden behind loot boxes, but whatever).  Beyond that, if you have the right characters in a match, she’ll converse with them during the prep phase.  That’s rad.

--But that just leaves me wanting for more.  Like, Mei and Mercy have dialogue that goes over their mutual youthfulness via unnatural means.  Mei looks good because she got frozen years ago, so it’s not as if she chose to be a huggable teddy bear for the foreseeable future.  So what’s Mercy’s deal, given the circumstances?  Is her Valkyrie system really only keeping her young because of inherent regenerative properties?  Or did she purposefully work that in?  I’m not saying she’s wrong for it; it’s just something that adds to her character in an interesting way, showing that underneath her kind-hearted exterior beats a darker heart.  Someone who, for all her pleasantries, can still be vain or petty.  Or even malicious, given how forcefully she yells “GET THEM OFF ME!”

--Also, Witch Mercy continues to be a thing, and it’s probably worthy of an explanation somewhere down the line.

--I want that explanation.  I want more Mercy -- just like plenty of other players probably want more Tracer, or more 76, or more Torbjorn, or more Zarya.  It’s utterly baffling that we could make it this far into the game’s lifespan, with all the resources available to Blizzard -- joined at the hip to Activision, no less -- and yet we’ve had to survive on table scraps.  And sure, you could say the same about Splatoon, but Nintendo has routinely put stories and lore on the backburner in place of gameplay.  And now that’s changing with the upcoming expansion, despite the first game in the series popping in on an underperforming console.  What’s Blizzard’s excuse?

--What really kills me -- besides the fact that this lovable cast is being kneecapped by proxy -- is that the overall spirit of the game is in jeopardy because the concrete is at odds with the abstract.  Overwatch sells itself as a game about heroes -- about optimism, about progress, about building bridges and bonds between disparate peoples and concepts.  Just look at the logo; at once, it looks like 1) a revamp of the infamous peace symbol, 2) hands clasped in prayer, 3) two hands from two different people pressed together, as if in mutual understanding, and 4) two pals giving each other a high five.  There’s a powerful message embedded into the code here.  But is it really being communicated here?

--On one hand, yes.  It’s a game about (and built on) teamwork, so that even one person acting out of line can deal his comrades a crushing loss.  Whether it’s in pro, competitive settings or a bunch of randos queued up in quick play, Overwatch sings out lout how crucial it is to work together, no matter who you are or what circumstances you have.  That’s how it works in theory.  In practice?  Well, that’s the other hand.  Two years on, and the heroes are still a bunch of jagoffs who kill each other endlessly to move a slow truck around, or turn a square from red to blue.  The insults will fly and slam you hard if you so much as glance at the chat box.  Jeff Kaplan himself even had to step in and say “enough with the toxicity”, because it actively kept the devs from making new content-- since they had to play babysitter.

--I don’t know if a dedicated story mode/campaign would help, given that stuff like Reinhardt’s short showed why it’s so important to work as a team, and Winston’s short was about building a road to the future…and yet they’re only headliners for a fleeting moment.  If those didn’t change anything, why would a story?  Why would people even bother, especially when the game has already carved out its niche?

--It makes me wonder -- if not worry -- that it’s too late for Overwatch.  That even if it is good (and it is, IMO), it willingly turned its back on greatness for more gunplay and loot.  That’s…actually really depressing.

--I’m tempted to say “it is what it is”, but that’s even more depressing.  I like the game.  I want other people to like the game.  I want the game to do well.  But at this point, it’s safe to say that it already has -- and now that there’s a foundation, it’s time to build up.  Go to more interesting places.  Go nuts with characters, maps, and scenarios.  Go all in with a campaign, because I will pay for it (and sit through another long-ass update, if need be).

--I don’t want Overwatch to become obsolete, because it would mean betraying Winston and his push for a better world -- one evolved past the normal to reach a zenith well within reach.  PUBG and Fortnite may have the people’s hearts, minds, eyes, and fingers, but nothing can take that spirit of hope away from Overwatch.  Nothing, of course, but Overwatch itself.

That’ll do it for now.  See you next time.

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