Hammond doesn’t jump the shark in Overwatch lore
Hammond is a controversial addition to Overwatch, and that makes sense. Winston kind of set the previous benchmark for “weird”, but besides being a gorilla, he’s honestly a pretty straightforward character. Even characters like Junkrat, who are out there in terms of personality and conduct, are just… people. Hammond, AKA Wrecking Ball, is Overwatch’s oddest hero yet. There’s no other way to describe a giant, genetically enhanced hamster in a battle mech. He’s weird… but he’s also hilarious and deeply fun.
The contrast is especially odd when you consider the heroes that have come out after the game’s launch. Ana is an old woman returning from a faked death to protect her loved ones from a coming global war. Sombra is an orphaned hacker chasing down a global conspiracy, cyberpunk style. Doomfist and Moira are terrorists with shadowy ends and dangerous memes. Brigitte is a straight forward, safe bet of a hero — she’s literally a second generation member of the game’s titular organization. Even Orisa, the powerful omnic protector made by a girl genius, seems pretty within the bounds of established normalcy compared to Wrecking Ball.
Wrecking Ball is also a controversial choice for a game that has pushed the ‘representation’ card so hard. There are demographics and groups who eagerly want to see themselves as a hero in the world of Overwatch, and instead we’re getting, well, a hamster.
Despite all these factors, I think Hammond was the perfect choice to prioritize in the world of Overwatch, and I can’t wait for him to arrive. In fact, I wouldn’t change a thing about Hero 28. Is he weird? Yes… but more important, he’s necessary.
Let’s start with a very simple fact: Overwatch is meant to be a utopia.
It’s also a utopia under attack. The major antagonist group, Talon, have made it clear that their mission statement is to push the entire world into a global war. Tracer’s statement: “The world could always use more heroes!” isn’t true unless those heroes have something to fight. Mei states that the world is worth fighting for. Overwatch is a game about a conflict threatening to embroil this amazing, diverse, and beautiful world. Every hero (except arguably Orisa) released post-launch is designed to show the upcoming danger, and so they’re pretty dark in presentation.
Ana is missing an eye, and we know from the map Necropolis that she uses her own sleep darts to force herself to rest. Sombra laughs and jokes, but she’s also so serious about avoiding the global conspiracy on her trail that she grafted technology into her spine and has no friends. Doomfist ripped Tracer’s chronoaccelerator from her back and nearly killed Genji in his attempt to destroy a city. Moira believes in genetic manipulation of subjects and doesn’t really care if they agree. Brigitte fights for Overwatch as an organization, but she’s jaded by the way her father and Reinhardt were treated by Reyes and Morrison.
This is a lot to handle!
Even the two cinematics we got in 2017 (Rise and Shine in August and Honor and Glory in November) are enormously dark. We see the last Crusaders die in the omnic crisis, and Mei’s entire scientific squad perish in cyrostasis. The last two years of Overwatch have had some bright moments, like the anniversary dance emotes or The Plan, but overall the setting has been trending towards the grim.
Overwatch isn’t meant to be grim! It’s meant to be hopeful and optimistic. If you look at the announcement cinematic, where Tracer and Winston face off against Reaper and Widowmaker, and then you look at today’s lore, there’s a pretty sizable difference. All of the lore we’ve gotten has been pretty good, and I wouldn’t dream of retconning or rolling anything back… but sometimes, you just need a palette cleanser.
Cue Hammond. He’s a small, giggly hamster who claps his weird little hamster hands together and chitters as his incredibly deep-voiced mech translates for him. He has a D.Va pose. He’s a hamster named Hammond who conquered Junkertown — and no one in Junkertown knew that Wrecking Ball was a genetically modified hamster from the moon. If none of these things make you smile, that’s fine, but they’ve brought me a genuine amount of joy. That’s what Overwatch is about, on a base level: it’s a shooter where the characters are fun, engaging, and just plain likable. That’s noble, in and of itself.
Even the world outside of Overwatch is oppressively dark these days. The news cycle is rarely happy and there’s a massive amount of tension in the headlines. Does a giant, spinning hamster ball mech piloted by a rude hamster fix any of this? No, but it enhances the escapism of Overwatch, and that’s sorely welcome at the moment.
There will be plenty of time in the future to return to the release schedule of dark characters with brooding pasts. Hammond is a welcome change in tone who brings Overwatch back to the tone depicted in the game’s launch trailer. After all, if a game is going to promise us a cast of ‘adventurers, scientists, oddities’, we need… well, some oddities. Hammond fits the bill perfectly, and the game is so much richer for having him around.