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Overwatch doesn’t have a great deal of story in the actual game. It’s still extremely popular, but as far as narrative goes, it doesn’t have much outside of the sporadic, lore-filled cutscenes and comics we get a couple times a year. But while the spawn rooms may only seem like tiny playgrounds with plenty of breakables and sometimes a basketball hoop, they are actually a key part of how Overwatch conveys its narrative within the game.
The amount of subtle environmental storytelling is impressive given that the rooms are quite small. Outside of the aforementioned conservatively released comics and animated shorts, the only real obvious bits of narrative you get in the game are the short conversations between the heroes before the match starts.
But if you stand still for a minute in the spawn, and maybe don’t shoot every breakable object and spam emotes, you might spot a few little things about the game that hold a surprising amount of detail. Of course, some maps stand out on their own, such as Busan’s dance mat and Horizon Lunar Colony’s telescope but others forgo interactivity to tell small stories.
Numbani is the most obvious for this. The map itself has always been heavily tied to Doomfist, so the update before Orisa’s launch gave us an early glimpse at his power and destructive tendencies. But there are a lot of other instances of storytelling found in the spawn rooms across every variant of map.
Castillo, for example, is a sleepy little Mexican town. But hidden among the winding streets and picturesque views is Sombra’s lair, and we can learn a lot about her from examining this one room. While she likes to appear as a mischievous, carefree hacker, we can see the amount of work she does.
Nearly every wall and surface is covered in her signature purple technology. There is no space for leisure in this room, and even the kitchen has been overtaken with her work. But mostly notable is the bed, which you might not even notice because it is so unloved. With no sheets and only a singular folded blanket, Sombra clearly cares more about her work than her comfort. This all paints a picture of a woman desperate to complete her work, sacrificing nearly all her basic needs except one. The simple cuddly toy on the bed is the only thing personal about this room; it’s her one companion and only comfort. Examining this room can give you insight into Sombra that isn’t told in any comic or animated short.
The Hollywood map also has plenty of environmental storytelling. The film posters, which can change during timed events, give us a sense of the wider culture of the world. Having survived a nearly apocalyptic robot uprising, humanity now coexists with the omnics they once feared. Two of the posters are for upcoming disaster films, neither of which involve technology as the antagonist, with one further demonstrating D.Va’s cultural impact.
This suggests that some in the Overwatch world strive for unity and existing together. The films aren’t exploiting fears of technology or other cultures, nor do they seem to be glorifying war. They’re films with diverse casts that show the benefits of humans and omnics working together.
Speaking of films, Route 66’s roadside diner was featured heavily in the latest animated short “Reunion.” But even though we’ve all spent some time reading the strange posters on the wall, there are a few other pieces of storytelling that are easy to miss. The denotation charges and assault rifles hidden around the corner are pretty obvious, and are a good job framing the train heist just beyond the window, but there are two other things that suggest this rugged frontier might not be very policed. There are weapons underneath the greeter’s table and bar, suggesting the lawlessness of the area. This is reinforced by the picture of McCree right next to it. It paints a picture of a business and people that take care of themselves, without the need to involve outsiders or authorities.
Shine Your Eyes
Even maps like Oasis lack personality at a first glance but have some unsubtle methods of storytelling for players that aren’t too busy spraying the door a thousand times. Outside of the spawn, it’s not particularly clear what any of the three locations actually are. But the city, according to the lore, is a hub of science and secrets. And you can see this most clearly in its spawn rooms. The most obvious of which is the huge stone tablet and big black blob that are being studied. While nothing gives away what they are, their very appearance begs them to be left alone.
Overwatch does a lot of its worldbuilding in unusual ways from the dialogue between different heroes to the storytelling it does in other media. But Blizzard still wanted to say something within the game environment. A lot of it can be found littered about the maps, but whether you’re moving quickly as Tracer or hiding behind your shield as Reinhardt, all the hints can also be easily missed. So in the spawn rooms, where players have the chance stay still, the environment has the chance to tell you something about its world, characters, and history as long as you aren’t too busy destroying it.