Overwatch: Genesis is a major stumble for the series’ narrative aims

It’s becoming increasingly challenging to connect with the narrative of Overwatch these days. This comes from someone who is often mocked by their best friend for rewatching old cinematics and shedding tears. However, I must admit that the three-part anime short, Genesis, released for Overwatch 2, failed to evoke much excitement from me. While it was the first time fans got to witness a crucial segment of the series’ history unfold, it felt disjointed from the current state of the game. In the past, I would have eagerly anticipated an Overwatch anime series. But now, after sitting through the 18-minute miniseries, hoping for a more coherent storytelling approach building upon stilted short stories and scattered comic issues, I once again find myself unimpressed.

Animated by Wolf Smoke Studio (known for their work on the Doomfist origin story), Genesis offers a brief glimpse into the events of the Omnic Crisis, presented as an in-world documentary. It delves into key moments that shape the present-day narrative of Overwatch 2, including the war with the God AI Anubis, the formation of the Overwatch organization, the emergence of sentient Omnics, and possibly an explanation for the Iris. These elements are expanded upon from the limited references we had before. While the pseudo-documentary format is quite popular these days, it fails to serve as a compelling method of delivering the story in this case. Just like real documentaries, fake ones should have a strong narrative and enough time to capture the emotional journey of the subjects involved. However, Genesis falls short on both fronts. It introduces several new characters in close proximity to the depicted events, but they primarily serve as expository tools.

The “star” of Genesis, Aurora, represents the heart of the narrative. She is the first android in the game’s future Earth to achieve Singularity-level sentience. Created by Dr. Liao (who also developed the hero Echo), Aurora’s creation sets the stage for most of the miniseries’ events. Ultimately, Aurora becomes the key to humanity’s triumph over the robot uprising. However, the issue arises due to the miniseries’ brevity and the narrative burden placed on a supporting character. There simply isn’t enough time to develop a genuine emotional connection to Aurora, despite the shallow script’s insistence that we should care about her due to the lore. Aurora was initially mentioned in the Symmetra short story “Stone by Stone” in 2020 and received more details in the novel Overwatch 2: Sojourn that came out last year. Prior to watching Genesis, I could barely recall Aurora; I can’t imagine how confusing her introduction would be for someone completely new to Overwatch 2. Her struggles as the sole sentient Omnic, as well as her quest to understand her own existence, could have been an engaging story on its own. Regrettably, she is given minimal interiority and screen time, making her decision to disperse her consciousness to all the other Omnics come across as a poorly developed sacrifice, undermining the intended emotional impact of cherishing one’s finite life.

Overwatch has always drawn inspiration from various sci-fi works across film, comics, and animation, with The Matrix being a prominent influence due to its overarching theme of subjugated beings gaining consciousness and autonomy. While I expected some allusions to The Matrix in Genesis, given Overwatch’s metaphorical exploration of racism with the Omnics (also partially inspired by X-Men), I was surprised to see the miniseries loosely borrow from “The Second Renaissance,” a segment of 2003’s Animatrix anthology. Although Genesis portrays Omnic subjugation and dehumanization with less directness than “The Second Renaissance” does (which even includes an AI character named after a fictional Black individual, robots constructing pyramids, etc.), it still presents their awakening as sentient beings in a more despairing light. It’s disheartening to know that their newfound consciousness will be accompanied by violence and discrimination, like a kind of Robot-era Jim Crow laws.

To sum up, Genesis feels undeniably derivative, and this weakens its impact. Overwatch’s narrative has consistently shone through quick, emotionally poignant moments coupled with admittedly sentimental dialogues. With Genesis, I had hoped to witness the heroes interacting with each other, an aspect we have only glimpsed in brief in-game story cinematics. The miniseries had the potential to be a resounding success if it had adopted a straightforward approach focused on the well-established characters we have grown to love over the years. Instead, viewing such an integral part of Overwatch’s fictional world presented in this manner feels like lifting floorboards only to expose cracks in the foundation. Genesis carries the weight of seven years’ worth of audience expectations, particularly with the anticipated addition of PvE missions to the game. Its underwhelming execution is both frustrating and disheartening, as it appears to be a fragment of the story development from years ago that is being hastily updated to avoid completely leaving that portion behind. Overwatch, as a game and a narrative, has gone through various public shifts over the past tumultuous years. In a cautiously hopeful manner, I trust that the story will find a more stable foundation in the future.