Overwatch was announced at BlizzCon in 2014. It rose from the ashes of a longtime Blizzard MMO project called Titan, which had been in development for years and years only to meet the reaping scythe of cancellation. But Overwatch character Soldier 76 even predates that.
Soldier 76 is Overwatch’s trusty Shoot Man. He’s a gruff gunner whose abilities aren’t quite as outlandish as other members of Overwatch’s cast. At times, it almost feels like he’s meant to poke fun at today’s crop of grimly serious murder bro FPS main characters. As it turns out, though, Soldier 76 was originally a comic book concept dreamed up by Blizzard lore master Chris Metzen more than a decade ago. He made his first official appearance in July 2004 as part of a comics anthology called Digital Webbing Presents #16.
“The story is about a weathered American soldier returning home after many years to find his homeland fractured by the second American Civil War,” Metzen said at the time. “Ultimately, he must make peace with the ghosts of his past before he chooses sides and restores the American Dream.”
Here’s what he looked like back in the day:
Metzen also posted art and a full story teaser for the character on Sons of the Storm (via Reddit), a site some Blizzard employees used as a repository for non-Blizzard projects in Ye Olde Earlye’e 2000s. There, he went into a lot more detail with his conception of Soldier 76 at the time:
“Essentially, the character – S:76 – is an old super soldier (there was a whole series of them - though the term ‘super soldier’ will likely NEVER be used). These guys had special micro-chips implanted in their brain stems that regulate their autonomic systems – giving them sporadic boosts of speed, endurance, aggression and strength. Anyway, 76 was left behind on a botched assassination mission over thirty years ago. Wounded and alone he has wandered the seedy back-alleys of South America as an amnesiac ever since. The government has presumed him dead all these years.”
“While he was away – America devolved into a war-zone. The nation (for a number of reasons – rampant domestic terrorism being a biggie) lost all sense of itself as the Second American Civil War erupted between the Federal controlled east and a loose conflagration of western states. The country is in chaos. Race riots and worse are erupting in every major population center. Things are not good.”
“As fate would have it, our hero finds his way home to a very different America than he knew. Still suffering from amnesia, he must attempt to come to terms with his shadowed past in order to chose the right side to fight for.”
The Soldier 76 of now is a bit different, but he kept his sweet coat and color scheme (and thankfully lost the goofy-ass mask). In Overwatch, he’s an American supersoldier fighting to shed light on the truth behind the Overwatch organization’s fall. According to the game’s website, he burst onto the scene by “targeting financial institutions, shadowy corporations, and secure Overwatch facilities.” At this point, however, we don’t know the particulars of his backstory. I would not be shocked if they end up mirroring Metzen’s first draft a fair amount, albeit perhaps with less... Trump-y overtones.
So there’s your history lesson for the day. Soldier 76 technically launched before World of Warcraft. Perhaps next we’ll learn he’s also a time traveler, a founding father of America, his own father, and, of course, yours.