In a vacuum, Genesis: An Overwatch Mini-Series is great. The three-part anime is lovingly animated and well-acted, and finally expands upon the origins of Overwatch in a way that goes beyond voice lines and passing mentions in comics or short stories. But each time I finished one of the episodes, I was hit with the painful reminder that we had to wait seven years for an animated Overwatch series, and wondered just how the hell we got to this point.
Genesis recounts the story of the original Omnic Crisis, a synthetic uprising that led to the founding of the Overwatch team. The relationship between humanity and Omnics has clear allegories to modern civil rights movements, which has historically made Overwatch’s politics seem real messy because its heroes were specifically gathered to combat this. Genesis revisits this relationship, but sticks mostly to the easy parts of those parallels without digging into the nuts and bolts of how two disparate groups intermingle.
In the events of Genesis, the Omnics are just robots that have been controlled by an outside force. In the end, they achieve sentience and can integrate into society. But we know from other Overwatch lore that there’s still prejudice against Omnics and discord between the synthetics themselves about how to move forward. But it’s unclear just how, if at all, future Overwatch stories will reckon with that.
Even now, Overwatch’s inability to reckon with its titular team’s origins as essentially cops on a worldwide scale fighting against a group of people fighting for their freedom feels like a blind spot in its own hopeful vision of the world. Sure, there’s nuance to that, as the villainous organization Talon is manipulating the Omnics to once again take up arms against humanity, but from the outset, Overwatch was founded to put down an Omnic uprising. Genesis is presented as a documentary primarily from a human perspective. It illustrates the end of the Omnic Crisis as a historic moment of unity for everyone, but as antagonist and Omnic leader Ramattra would likely tell you, it feels like a rose-colored vision of these things. This isn’t uncommon in stories of oppression, as ultimately, history is written by those who win the war. Go to any American school and you’ll hear a greatly sanitized version of events like the country’s colonization and violence against indigenous people. Ask any racist pushing against the Black Lives Matter movement and they’ll likely claim that the Civil Rights Movement only worked when it was “civil.” Is that what’s happening here in Genesis, or is it just Overwatch not quite committing to its own story?
That’s up to interpretation until we see new story content in Overwatch 2’s story missions.
And that’s what also makes Genesis frustrating as a piece of Overwatch lore: This was something Overwatch needed seven years ago. Overwatch 2’s story missions that launch next month promise forward momentum for the narrative, which has moved at a glacial pace in the last seven years. But how are we just now watching an animated series on the inciting incident of the entire Overwatch universe in 2023 when the original game launched in 2016?
Because we had to wait so long for something like this, Genesis’ failures are even more disappointing. There’s some lovingly animated moments that show an obvious care given to the source material, like when Dr. Mina Liao, the progenitor of the Omnic race, creates Aurora, the first Omnic. There’s a beautiful moment when she begins to cry, just for Aurora to reach out her robotic hand and wipe away the tear. There’s a gravitas to some parts of Genesis that respects these events’ place in Overwatch’s story, presented with gorgeous animation and cinematography, but it’s met with other instances where things feel rushed or underserved. That ultimately makes Genesis feel like a wasted opportunity to actually give those moments their due.
I especially felt this when it came to the founding members of Overwatch, who get a bit of screentime, but no dialogue. As cool as it is to see fan favorites like Soldier: 76, Reinhardt, Reaper, and Ana in their prime, they feel like props used as table-setting for a story we’ve already known for more than half a decade. The documentary framing gives us a lot of information, but not a lot of exploration. At the risk of sounding too dismissive, it feels like a glorified trailer, even when you watch all three episodes back-to-back.
I don’t want my larger feelings of frustration with Overwatch 2 to bleed into my feelings on Genesis, but broadly, I’m having a hard time mustering the enthusiasm for Overwatch I once had. Before Blizzard gutted the PvE content, I was a pretty big believer in what the sequel was meant to be: a fresh start that would put the franchise on better footing as a live service game with a free-to-play business model that would better fund future updates, and a platform for Blizzard to move the story forward through in-game content, rather than in extended media. That initial pitch was strong, but piece by piece, it’s come crashing down.
With the game itself not being what was promised and the Overwatch League apparently in its own mess as Activision Blizzard seems to be stripping it for parts, it’s not terribly surprising that engagement with the game has dropped since it launched in October. But watching something like Genesis just underlines that it’s a damn shame how Overwatch has turned out. Genesis is another example of this series positing that its world can be better and is worth fighting for, but right now, it just bums me out. All these disparate pieces of this world, from the CG animated shorts, the comics, the novels, short stories, and now Genesis paint a picture of a hopeful band of heroes uniting and overcoming forces that would disrupt the world’s peace and prosperity. But that’s all it ever feels like. A picture. Not something I can touch or walk through.
Genesis is good. It’s just late. Too late, it feels like. And broadly, Overwatch is still good. It’s just made a lot of promises it can’t seem to keep. I want to believe in it again. Maybe in a year or two, I will. But not even a lovingly crafted animated mini-series can reignite the fire in me right now.