Overwatch 2 Wants To Do Anything But Tell Its Damn Story (Oh Look: Star Wars-Inspired Outfits!)
Overwatch 2’s latest event, Starwatch, might as well be a licensed Star Wars tribute. While it may have missed May the 4th, the new PvP(vE) event is full of legally distinct tributes to the franchise, from an homage to the iconic text crawl in the accompanying comic to characters like Baptiste donning a bounty hunter skin akin to the Mandalorian’s getup. Having played a handful of rounds in the new mode, I thought it was fine. I appreciate that the team at Blizzard probably had a lot of fun remixing its characters, world, and Horizon Lunar Colony map as a tribute to Lucasfilm’s money-making machine. But honestly? I’m left feeling hollow because these little distractions just aren’t what I signed up for when Overwatch 2 was announced. I’m not really interested in these spin-off events anymore. I want an Overwatch story.
Starwatch, along with events like Junkenstein’s Revenge and Yeti Hunter, is more of a retooling of Overwatch 2’s systems for a bit of non-canonical levity. This time it’s a Star Wars tribute, while previous events have included a Halloween horde mode with Reinhardt narrating the whole thing like a spooky ghost story for the off-duty agents. It’s all really cute, and had we not gone seven years without meaningful in-game story development, they’d be really fun detours on the way to seeing Overwatch and Talon come to blows. But after all this time? It just doesn’t hit for me. I want to get excited about Overwatch 2’s events, but despite the sequel essentially acting as a relaunch, it still feels like we’re in the same content drought the original game was in before it went free-to-play and slapped a 2 on the name.
I’d feel better about the state of things if Starwatch didn’t feel like such a meager remix of established mechanics and systems. The event only has one mode, which brings back the long-dormant Horizon Lunar Colony map after Overwatch 2 removed Assault maps from quick play and competitive rotation. Two teams (one of which requires an AI-controlled Doomfist that loves to charge into the enemy backline and feed their ultimate charge) face off and capture four points on the map, all under the guise of feeding into the new fiction Blizzard wrote for the mode. Doomfist leads a group of rebels infiltrating Emperor Sigma’s base to rescue their friend and mech 3CH-0 (it’s Echo. Get it?) from his clutches and live to fight for galactic freedom another day.
It’s pretty light in terms of lore and even the comic Blizzard released alongside the mode doesn’t add much, but the Star Wars parallels are pretty obvious. Doomfist’s group is a bunch of scrappy roguish types who believe in fighting for the greater good, while Sigma’s is cold and willing to do anything to maintain his reign over the galaxy. The interesting thing is how it remixes several of these characters, allowing each character to essentially cosplay in a role they wouldn’t necessarily slot into in the real Overwatch world. Brigitte, one of the kindest members of the cast, is cast as a loyal right hand to Emperor Sigma, where Doomfist, a central villain in Overwatch lore, is leading the rebellion in Starwatch. It lets the voice actors flex a little bit and is interesting to watch play out as a thought experiment.
Beyond that, Starwatch is a lot of what we’ve done for thousands of hours before. It changes up the points the team has to capture from the original map, and has turrets stationed around the field that function like Torbjörn’s, homing in on opposing players as they walk by. There’s also gravity wells that, when destroyed, proc a Graviton Surge effect that groups players together like Zarya’s ultimate ability. But really, the things that make Starwatch unique are things we’ve already had in Overwatch before, which is why it doesn’t feel like the big leap in seasonal content Overwatch 2 needs.
In fairness to everyone involved, Overwatch 2’s PvE story missions are coming, though Blizzard has been cagey on how it will integrate the story into the game’s seasonal model. But given Overwatch’s hard pivot into periodic, service-game-style rollouts, I expect it will be implemented in parts, rather than as a single campaign. It makes sense. Service games live or die by whether or not they’re giving people a reason to log on every now and then, and putting an eight-to-twelve-hour campaign out all at once is not how you extend your game’s shelf life. But when Overwatch 2 launched, it was meant to be a shot in the arm for the game. Instead, events like make it feel like it’s just treading water.
I hope that whenever Blizzard does start releasing story content, events like Starwatch can feel like what they probably feel like to the development team: fun remixes of old ideas that pay tribute to things they like. But right now, I keep watching these retooled modes roll out every season, positioned as new ways of understanding the characters and world of Overwatch, and I realize that I still don’t really know them very well at all. I have ideas of who Soldier: 76 is when I play him, and I dream of what Sombra might find for herself as she hacks through Talon’s database. Hell, I could write you an entire novel on how I think the date Lifeweaver and Baptiste talk about in pre-match dialogue went. But a lot of that is just things I’ve imagined between the lines of dialogue characters say before they start pushing payloads. It’s been almost 10 years since Blizzard first unveiled Overwatch at Blizzcon 2014, and I’m bored of feeling like these heroes are just toys that I slap against each other with nothing but different costumes and non-canonical stories to go along with it.
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