Know Your Lore: Overwatch and the Omnic Crisis
Overwatch is a little different from Blizzard’s standard fare. Rather than taking place on an imaginary world at some nebulous point in time, Overwatch is set on Earth, in the not-too-distant future — which makes it a little easier to relate to. While the game doesn’t have a ton of lore surrounding it, that’s almost a blessing in disguise — but we’ll talk about that later. Because although the game is pretty much an FPS with no campaign or story to explain why we’re all fighting over various checkpoints in locations all over the world, Overwatch does have some distinct lore moments. And what it has to say about the future of our world is pretty interesting.
The world definitely needed heroes, and maybe it still does.
The game itself is set 60 years in the future, but the story really starts a mere 30 years down the road. It’s a future brimming with technological advancements — teleportation technology, flying cars, laser guns, and clear steps forward in robotics. Mankind developed artificial intelligence — real artificial intelligence, creating sentient robots for the purpose of bolstering manufacturing and creating economic equality worldwide. These robots, called omnics, and their facilities, called omniums, were incredibly common all over the world. People existed side by side with omnics, and while it wasn’t exactly utopia, it was peaceful.
Unfortunately, that peace didn’t last. For some reason, the ominums went rogue, and began churning out armies of militarized omnics that promptly began a global effort to overthrow the human race. Uprisings sprouted up all over the world — because the omniums themselves were scattered all over the world. And despite mankind’s technological prowess, there was very little the individual nations of the world could do against such a large-scale threat. Understandable, considering the omnics likely had access to every piece of technology the human race had.
Desperate to fight back, the United Nations came together to try and find some kind of solution. Gabrielle Adawe, secretary-general of the UN, formed a team of the world’s best soldiers and best technology, creating an elite strike unit that was hopefully capable of bringing down the threat. This team, called Overwatch, was filled with soldiers from all over the world. The appointed leader was a military veteran and member of the soldier enhancement program — a man from Los Angeles named Gabriel Reyes. His second was another member of the same soldier enhancement program and a close friend: John “Jack” Morrison.
The team itself was fairly small to begin with — of course there were Reyes and Morrison, but also in the ranks were Gérard Lacroix, armorer Torbjörn Lindholm, Reinhardt Wilhelm, Ana Amari, and Liao. There were others that were brought in over time, but these seven were considered the founders of Overwatch. And they performed exactly as hoped — together, the team took down the force behind the omnic uprising and saved the world.
The result was utter adoration. The world fell in love with Overwatch, and the team transformed into an international peacekeeping force that delved into exploration and discovery. New agents were recruited, and the organization’s goals expanded to include more than just keeping the peace. Overwatch delved into space exploration, medical research and advancements, and climatology, keeping careful watch over the Earth’s ecosystem.
And through it all, they also kept a close eye on maintaining the peace, taking down terrorist organizations and keeping a watchful eye on the world. But even though Overwatch was beloved, it didn’t mean the organization wasn’t without its own problems. Although Reyes was given command of Overwatch, it was Morrison who shaped the overall structure of the team and turned it into an effective fighting force, bringing out the best in those around him and enabling them to end the Omnic Crisis. His service didn’t go unrecognized, and after the Omnic Crisis was ended, Morrison was promoted to Overwatch’s first official commander.
This…didn’t go well, not internally. Reyes was upset that he was overlooked for the command position, and consequentially the friendship between the Reyes and Morrison evaporated, leading to conflict within the team. Some sided with Reyes, others with Morrison, and the tension was tearing Overwatch apart from within. On top of that, the organization was under fire from a series of shocking allegations accusing Overwatch of negligence, corruption and mismanagement, weapons proliferation, human rights abuses, and more. Protests broke out as more and more people began losing trust in the organization and its agents.
The UN launched a series of investigations into the claims, but before they could come to any conclusions, tragedy struck — Overwatch’s Swiss headquarters were destroyed in an apparent accident that claimed the lives of both Morrison and Reyes. Although the UN claimed that there was no foul play involved, some wondered if their constant bickering finally led to an explosive conclusion. Between the deaths and the investigation, Overwatch crumpled.
Twenty years after Morrison was officially appointed its leader, Overwatch was officially disbanded. Its agents, once shining heroes, were now viewed with suspicion and derision by the media and by the world. Most people around the world don’t know exactly what happened to the Swiss headquarters — all they believe is what they hear in the media, and the media isn’t particularly kind. Still, there are those that look at Overwatch with fond memories, even though the organization fell apart in disgrace.
“You know, the world could always use more heroes.”
Despite Overwatch’s downfall, there were still former agents that had fond memories of the organization and what made it work so well in the first place. Heroism, sacrifice, nobility, peace… the world grew a little darker the day Overwatch died, and without anyone to watch over it, the bright hope of the future only continued to dim. It was Winston — a super-intelligent genetically engineered gorilla who also happened to be a brilliant scientist — who saw what the world had come to, and decided to try and reform the team…without the UN or anyone else involved. He traveled to Watchpoint: Gibraltar, an old Overwatch outpost, and launched a satellite drone that restored Overwatch’s old communications network.
Today, Overwatch exists as an independent organization of heroes — some new, some old, some even emerging from retirement. They’re all doing what they do best: trying to make the world a better place. Whether or not they’ll succeed is still anyone’s guess. But if Winston and the rest of the team have their way, the dark days following Overwatch’s fall will fade to distant memory, and the world will return to a place of exploration, discovery, and hope for a brighter tomorrow.
What’s interesting about the story of Overwatch is that the crux of it takes place in the past, and has little to do with the actual game. As an FPS title, Overwatch itself doesn’t really need a story to carry it. You go in, you fight some guys, you win or lose, and you have fun. But the world of Overwatch is a pretty fascinating place, and I’m not talking about the current future as it exists in game, I’m talking about the world in which the Overwatch organization was brought into existence. That thirty year period of time has been glossed over for the most part, with very few details about how Overwatch won the Omnic Crisis, what happened after it was over, any details about that golden age of peace, exploration, and scientific advancement, or what happened to finally bring Overwatch to an end.
That’s where all the lore is at. And any graphic novels, books, comics, short films, or other additional media can be safely crafted out of that thirty-year period without actually affecting the existence or established “canon” of the game. As a global organization with so many members, the story opportunities are almost endless here, so it’s going to be interesting to see whether Blizzard takes advantage of that wide-open world and crafts some licensed media to go along with it, or leave it as it stands.
That small glimpse of Earth’s history in the Overwatch cinematic trailer was a breath of fresh air. We’ve seen what kind of world Blizzard can craft from a wholly fictional landscape — we’ve seen the kinds of universes Blizzard can create from scratch. But we haven’t seen their take on the future of our world, and I’m interested in what kind of potential story could come out of Blizzard turning that epic, sprawling, and ultimately optimistic vein of storytelling on us. I hope we get to see it.
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