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Overwatch: An Injection of Originality

If you’re going to make a new IP after seventeen years, you might as well do it with a bang.

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It’s no secret that the AAA video game industry is at a standstill. Micro-transactions and bugs fill the latest hot releases, consoles aren’t selling well, accusations of sexism and a lack of diversity, and the number of sequels is at an all-time high. Perhaps the reason behind the sequels can be explained by announcements.

When’s the last time the announcement of a new franchise piqued your interest? Actually, don’t answer that question. This industry is all about generating hype, as evidenced by the massive (and largely pointless with online streaming) trade shows and press events.

Let me rephrase that question.

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When you think of an announcement for a brand new IP, how is it done? There’s always flashing lights, a fancy logo, loud music, and if the company is really into it, a teaser trailer that reveals nothing about the game. Most of the hype is generated around this stunning attempt at grabbing one’s attention through vivid imagery and grand declarations. Explore a huge open world THAT’S NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE, play as the villain and stop the hero IN A STUNNINGLY INNOVATIVE STORY, experience life-like animations THAT HAVE NEVER BEEN SEEN IN A VIDEO GAME UNTIL NOW!

Imagine what it’d be like if a company put as much effort into revealing their game as they do making it. What if they showed off real gameplay, the mechanics of the game instead of talking it up to ridiculous heights? What if they let the game speak for itself?

Well, you don’t have to imagine it because that’s exactly what Blizzard just did. At this year’s BlizzCon, they unveiled their first new IP in seventeen years, Overwatch, a first person online shooter. I’m not a fan of first person shooters or online only games, but Overwatch grabbed my attention and held it.

First, the company released a cinematic trailer that had no gameplay. I understand that’s diametrically opposed to what I just said, but go with me on this. The trailer looked like a Pixar film; that is to say it was amazing. It set the tone for the game, showing off the characters and demonstrating some of the mechanics. Even better, it announced that a beta was coming as soon as 2015, eliminating the two or three year wait some of these games take.

It wasn’t a ten second snippet of a character looking grim with thirty seconds of logo and dramatic music. It’s clear a lot of time and effort went into this trailer, and it’s one meant to grab people’s attention, not just state a thing exists.

Overwatch Cinematic Trailer

Next, they moved on to a gameplay trailer, a six minute video demonstrating the gameplay and showing off each character and their unique abilities. As if that wasn’t enough, they then released individual videos for each character, going into more detail about their abilities and personalities.

Overwatch Gameplay Trailer

Tracer Gameplay Trailer

The most important thing Blizzard did with their reveal was making it playable on the BlizzCon floor. It wasn’t exclusive to the press, it was available for everyone at the convention. That’s how to announce a video game, by letting people play it.

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In an industry that seems to be plagued by stagnation and a fear of change, perhaps the initially positive reception of Overwatch will turn a few heads. First impressions are important after all.

Those who have seen the trailer may have seen something else – color, and a lot of it. In stark contrast to the many dark and gritty shooters, Overwatch’s world is full of color, both in terms of environment and character. The worlds are bright and distinct, lending an air of realism to them, but the visuals are presented as cartoony which shows the game doesn’t take itself too seriously.

What’s most impressive is the cast of characters. Each of them have their own personalities, each have their own abilities, and most tellingly of all they all have their own ethnicities, accents, and genders, none of which are sexualized.

At BlizzCon, a designer working on the game, Chris Metzen was asked about the cast of characters. He had this to say:

“I think we’re clearly in an age where gaming is for everybody. We build games for everybody. We want everyone to come and play. Increasingly, people want to feel represented, from all walks of life, boys and girls, everybody. We feel indebted to do our best to honor that. There’s a lot of room for growth, but specifically with Overwatch, over the past year we’ve been very cognizant of … trying not to over-sexualize the female characters.”

It’s rare to see a AAA video game company take steps to ensure that people from all walks of life feel included, and it’s a welcome change.

Is it too soon to call Overwatch innovative? Maybe, but maybe not. Regardless of the game’s overall quality, Blizzard has shown they’re willing to take a chance trying new things, even in this one announcement. Okay, so Blizzard might have been inspired by Team Fortress 2, but Blizzard has taken it one step further, and originality is nothing if not expanding and furthering proven formulas.

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Josh was a once freelance writer who has gone on to write fiction, including mods for Fallout New Vegas. He never lost his love for writing about video games, and now finds himself doing it every day.