We may be barely 24 hours on from the release of Blizzard’s first new franchise in nearly two decades but sitting down to chat with Michael Chu, game designer and self-proclaimed ‘story guy’ on Overwatch, it’s difficult not to discuss what happens next. And what’s next, it turns out, is bad guys.
Of what’s available now, here are our picks for the best Overwatch characters.
If you look around the Overwatch locker room, it’s hard to find characters that play for the wrong team, but we’re replete with those fighting the good fight. And right at the top of that hero tree you have Tracer and Winston, says Chu.
“I think the thing about Tracer is that she has a personality which is out of the norm for most people. She is incredibly optimistic, she is incredibly bubbly - it’s part of her hero persona. We love her, I think she is very much one of the main characters of the game - they’re all very important to us - but she and Winston really carry the torch of what the game is all about: heroism.”
From there you can move on down. Reinhardt, who fights for what he believes is right even if his perspective on the world might be a little medieval. Vigilante mercenary McCree, BAMF belt buckle and all, who wants justice above all else. Even someone like D.Va - and let’s be honest, D.Va’s persona is ‘asshole kid’ at best - is fighting for the survival of her nation, despite the fact that she’s also streaming combat operations to Twitch to make a fast buck.
Then there are folk like Junkrat and Roadhog. In their initial reveal pitch all those many months ago, before even the first beta phase, they were real nasty pieces of work. Roadhog’s a full-on enforcer/murderer, while Junkrat’s missing a screw or three for his brain-bomb. However, between additional characterisation in-game and their own starring comic, both moved more towards a Chaotic Neutral alignment - in it for the cash, for the glory, for the laughs.
Will they stay there? Chu’s not sure.
“I want to say a week ago I was thinking, ‘You know, Junkrat and Roadhog, they’re sort’ve just chaotic, they’re their own forces of nature, could they actually fulfil a more villainous role?’’I think maybe they could. I think we could definitely use some more villains in the universe but I also think [we could explore] some of the characters that have more villainous tendencies.”
Take one of Roadhog’s best snippets of dialogue. When spawning on the King’s Row map he ruminates on a jewelry heist he and Junkrat took part in, finishing with a heavy sigh and sad line: “I miss that crown.” It’s this sort of thing that’s softened someone who is, at least in parts of the written lore, one of the most violent and sadistic characters the universe has. That said, where is the Crownhog skin, Chu?
“Oh it’s got a name? Well, y’know having a good name for the skin will move it along.” he chuckles, before revealing that line is one of his. “I put that in because I love that artwork of them, Junkrat and Roadhog, stealing the crown jewels. We [try to] take all the bits of story that have already been created for the game and anywhere we can reinforce them, especially when it lines up - we could only have made that line of dialogue if we had a London map to reference what happened in the picture.”
Symmetra too, who was revealed as a bit of a baddie through in-game voice lines about controlling the populace, has had some of her bite taken away in a recent comic. It’s made clear there that not only is she a lackey of the Evil Corp she works for - if a high-ranking one - but she’s starting to waver from the Greater Good party line when a child’s face gets burned half-off.
Chu also brings up Hanzo and his will-he, won’t-he fall to darkness storyline, involving him first murdering his brother, than quitting Overwatch’s Yakusa-standin, the Shimada ninja clan.
“I think a character like Hanzo’s real interesting because he can be a hero and a villain depending on your point of view - I think he can be both at the same time,” he points out. “There are more things to investigate there.”
You might be thinking why is this a problem - in-game, you can have six Winstons make fried latex of six Tracers, who is ‘good’ and who isn’t doesn’t matter there. That’s true, and part of why the game is already so successful, but the wider universe is something that not only are Blizzard invested in, but will continue to bring in players. To do that, the heroes need someone to fight, or they’ll be left in the limelight with nothing to do.
“We have 21 heroes at this point, we would really like to get more of them starring roles,” says Chu of the animated shorts that have proven so popular with all breeds of gamer these past months. “I think that one of the side effects of us having fewer villain characters than heroes is that some of the characters have been exposed disproportionately to the rest of the cast, and I would love to get a chance to shine a light on some more of them.”
Here he’s talking not only of Tracer and Winston’s multiple appearances, but recurring evils Widowmaker and Reaper as well - definitely the best Overwatch can offer when it comes to folks with actual wrongdoing in mind a majority of the time. “Those are the two that are actual bad guys. I would love to build them out more,” he says.
Part of how this is done is via skins, but another way that things can feel more balanced in-game is through the variety of ways that characters are presented. There are canonical efforts, like pre-undeath Reaper as his human self Reyes adding a more light-side version of that character to the mix, but many more pull otherwise good characters towards alternate dimensions where they aren’t so loving.
“Like punk Tracer. I don’t think Tracer had that punk phase, but I could see it, y’know? It could have been,” explains Chu. “There’s this big scale of where these skins fall and we want to have a good mix of all of them. [But] I hope that people aren’t expecting the canonical Devil Mercy story, I think that would be a big departure for her.”
Naturally though, that’s not going to be enough for long. When asked specifically about adding more villains, Chu replies: “I think we’ll definitely continue to explore the villainous side of the Overwatch universe.” These folks are coming, and we may have already seen them in part. For instance Sombra, the rumoured upcoming support-sniper that Reaper refers to in one of his lines.
“I’ve heard of some thing or some person or some code,” is as much as Chu will give away, but the choice of words may be telling.
Thing. Code. This could be Blizzard trying to divert attention… or not. Sombra, like Reaper and Widowmaker, is likely not fully human. Smart community money is on her being a resurrected or otherwise corrupted version of Pharah’s mother, Ana Amari, who is shown in art as a sharpshooter herself.
There’s also the matter of Doomfist, a rarely-mentioned but definitely-present character who’s managed to take central stage despite never appearing. It is their weapon - for the moniker is passed from person to person as they equip it - that was catalyst for the fight we saw in the very first Overwatch cinematic, when the game was revealed at Blizzcon in 2014. It also sits atop the payload in various maps, an item so valuable it’s the centerpiece of a game mode.
What does it all mean? Blizzard are characteristically tight-lipped. Sombra’s coming, that we know for sure, but she needs to be the first in a wave of darker elements. An expansion of Widowmaker’s Talon organisation. An explanation for Reaper’s actions. A new Doomfist. Bad guys with plans. Evil doers with intent. World-conquering threats and planet-destroying weapons - Blizzard’s new world no longer needs more heroes, it needs something to fight against.