The new Overwatch 2 hero Ramattra is a badass tank with a powerful, terrifying Nemesis form, and deep links to the overall lore of the universe. He’s the leader of Null Sector, a former Shambali monk, and an antagonist to the newly reformed Overwatch organization. His inclusion also further develops omnic lore, one of the central pillars of Overwatch as a universe. Unfortunately, that lore started as a loaded discrimination and civil rights metaphor, and every new addition to the story confuses things further.
Ramattra is a complicated character, and if his story is handled well, it could add needed nuance to the omnic struggle. If the story doesn’t land, it cheapens the entire world.
Overwatch tells a near-future story with an alternative history where humanity has harnessed the power of genetic manipulation, powerful mechanical constructs, and artificial intelligence. One corporation, Omnica, built massive, AI-controlled factories to mass produce robots. Omnica went down for corporate fraud, but the factories remained dormant until the “god program” AIs (powerful AIs able to corrupt lesser ones) within awoke, went rogue, and kickstarted a war with humanity. These god AIs turned omnics into mindless killing machines, and the Overwatch organization was formed in response.
Nearly every major plot thread in Overwatch relates to the aftermath of this great war, also known as the Omnic Crisis. Omnics are discriminated against in places like Russia, England, and Australia. Blizzard has tried to create a diverse utopia in the world of Overwatch, and the humans in the game reflect this. The heroes come from all over the world. Two of the game’s most popular and visible heroes, Tracer and Soldier: 76, are both gay. Symmetra is autistic. These heroes are welcomed by their people, no matter who they are, but omnics don’t receive that warm welcome in the Overwatch universe. Omnic rights are a controversial civic issue in the game’s world.
The discrimination omnics face isn’t particularly subtle — King’s Row is festooned with graffiti that says “Machines have NO rights.” Can you guess what the morally correct side of this conflict is? Ramattra, in this context, works as a character. He’s the Magneto to Zenyatta’s Professor X, an extremist who believes violence is the path forward for his people. He is an interesting addition to the canon, because he defies the binary of good omnic versus “mindless murder machine.” He’s an omnic who is an antagonist while also maintaining his own free will.
The question becomes whether Blizzard has the chops to tell this kind of story, with any kind of nuance. The omnic debate in the Overwatch universe mirrors real-world arguments and sentiments, but it’s an awkward comparison. In real life, oppressed people can’t turn into battle tanks. Blizzard has also faced pushback for its depictions of marginalized characters; particularly, Black writers have discussed the depiction of Black women in Overwatch and how Blizzard has struggled to add Black women characters to the game’s roster. At the same time, Blizzard is still facing gender-discrimination lawsuits and allegations. Is this the game and the developer that needs to tackle the question of a massive civil rights movement and the uprising of an oppressed class?
Blizzard portrays Overwatch’s cast as having mixed opinions on omnics. The Junker Queen wears omnic faces as trophies on her person, which is a clear sign as to her views. In the comic Searching, Zarya is almost comically portrayed as anti-omnic. She turns down free samples with a harsh “Not from you, robot.” Later, she tells a hacker that “I would rather die than understand a robot.”
There are times when Blizzard is able to tell a story about omnics that works — The Last Bastion is a gorgeous cinematic that depicts Bastion as a sympathetic innocent discovering his place in a healing world.
But every time Overwatch lore tries to dig into omnic rights issue with any degree of nuance, it becomes ham-handed. Zarya hates omnics until she meets one nice hacker, and then she is forced to re-examine her beliefs. If a good character needs to kill omnics, then the plot morally justifies it by having such omnics be controlled, feral AI in service to the omniums. It allows Blizzard to both have sympathetic omnics serving as the lore’s punching bag and have a hero mow down dozens of omnics in a cinematic without raising any moral concerns.
Ramattra’s lore will be rolled out through hundreds of voice interactions with his fellow heroes, especially his counterpart Zenyatta. But his story is far more ambitious than nearly everyone else in the cast, and it’s playing with heavy concepts with deep roots in real world history. It’s a risky gambit, and if it doesn’t succeed, it’ll be another mark chalked up against Blizzard’s once shining utopia.