“A lot of that is the core storytelling, but a lot of it is also this foundational stuff, like the characters being able to respond to opening doors or downed teammates,” Lawlor continues. These were recorded not only for the heroes featured in current story missions, but for the entire cast of heroes. With these and new mechanical tools, like enemy units with destructible limbs, Overwatch’s devs have what they need to build future missions more quickly than these initial three.
With the weight of building an entirely new set of hero mechanics, talent trees, and upgrades lifted—plus the kit of tools to build story missions now at their disposal—it seems like Blizzard is in a position to move Overwatch’s story forward in a way it hasn’t before. That’s a relief, because at times it can feel stuck in the past.
There’s a moment in the ending cinematic for the first PvE mission when Lucio arrives at Watchpoint: Gibraltar, the headquarters of the newly reformed Overwatch team. He marvels at his surroundings and company like he’s a young Peter Parker getting his first glimpse of the Avengers compound.
But Lucio has been in the Overwatch game since it launched in 2016. Watchpoint: Gibraltar was one of the maps that shipped with the first game. Hell, in the cinematic, Echo and Brigitte are already members of team Overwatch, even though they were both introduced years after the original game came out.
The next two missions feel more forward-looking, though. The second mission introduces Sojourn, a character that was released with the much more recent launch of Overwatch 2, and it teases Ramattra, another new-ish character and exactly the kind of Thanos-style archvillain that the Overwatch universe needs.
There’s also more texture to the missions than big plot points. As an example, in the Ironclad mission, the beefy tank Reinhardt meets Bastion, a peaceful unit of the omnics that fought against Reinhardt in the past. While both of these characters are also well-known to players, the interaction is new, and over the course of the mission, players get to experience Reinhardt coming to terms with fighting alongside a former enemy.
“The cinematic isn’t just a standalone,” cinematic director Jason Hill explains to WIRED. “It gets carried through into the gameplay. Reinhardt deals with Bastion there and starts to realize, ‘Oh, this guy’s not so bad.’” In the past, this kind of character-building was limited to small voice line interactions at the start of a PvP match. But in story missions, they can have a beginning, middle, and end that players participate in, rather than passively listening to.
The pieces are in place, but the natural question is when the story will take its next step. Blizzard hasn’t announced when the next story missions might arrive—in fact, the company has confirmed that there won’t be any new missions for the next two seasons, which puts their earliest arrival firmly in 2024.