If you're into Overwatch, chances are you've seen at least one of Blizzard's excellent animated shorts by now. If not, you really owe it to yourself to set aside a few minutes and check them out; not only are they entertaining and well-produced, but each short has a visible impact on the map in which they take place. These details really help the levels feel like they have some meaning and history beyond "one time a Junkrat killed four people with his ult here."
The Genji/Hanzo-focused short "Dragons" is set on what players will recognize as the Hanamura map. This is where the Shimada brothers throw down.
The place gets pretty torn up during the fight; in addition to some shredded lanterns and ninja stars stuck in the wall, you can see an arrow meant for Genji's head still stuck in the ground. You can't remove the arrow by shooting it, so for now it's a permanent scar on the otherwise lovely wood paneling.
Then there's the short "Alive," in which Widowmaker successfully pulls off her assassination mission.
Mondatta was one of Zenyatta's allies, a peaceful figure that was championing unity between man and machine. Widowmaker smiled as she gunned him down. Now a martyr, Mondatta greets players on King's Row in giant golden statue form. It's kind of ironic, given what the payload on King's Row contains, but we'll get to that later.
Maybe of the most fun of the shorts, "Recall" stars a lonely Winston twiddling his thumbs until Reaper and his goons come to call.
The short takes place in the attacker's spawn of Watchpoint: Gibraltar, and it's easy to spot Winston's office and the window through which he chucked a hapless merc. True to form, Winston's desk is still covered in jars of peanut butter.
Not content to reference pop culture, Blizzard has also taken to shining a light on themselves. Over in the crew quarters of the Gibraltar map, you can find what appear to be the names of several developers. Programmer Paulo Pinto can be seen above at the left, and Senior Environment Artist Philip Klevestav snuck his way in there in the middle. It's kind of a shame there wasn't room enough for all of Overwatch's development team, since most players won't ever bother to watch the credits for a multiplayer game.
While those callouts are pretty obvious, Blizzard was a little sneakier with the arrivals board at the Numbani airport.
In general it's a pretty expected mix of imaginary places (Dorado, Numbani) combined with real-world locales like New York and Tokyo. But a couple of them stand out in particular; for instance, why would the Cork, Ireland airport be featured over the Dublin airport? Does an Irvine, California airport even exist? The explanation, of course, is that several of these locations correspond to Blizzard offices -- specifically Irvine, Cork, Seoul, Paris, Austin, Shanghai and San Francisco. And of course it totally makes sense that Irvine, the headquarters of a company that likes to take its time, would have the only flight on the list that's delayed.
Overwatch doesn't exactly tell you what you're doing most of the time. Sure, you're told to "attack objective A" or "escort the payload," but uh, what exactly does that mean? The answers aren't found in any kind of narrative-driven campaign, but in details tucked away around the environments. Watchpoint: Gibraltar is probably the easiest one to figure out. The payload is literally labeled "Satellite Drone." If that didn't give it away, there are some other hints dead-center.
As we established earlier, the attacking team on Gibraltar starts in Winston's lab, complete with broken window. You can find all sorts of suits and gadgets laying around, but the important part here is the blackboard. Written in chalk you can find step-by-step instructions for what exactly escorting the payload means -- in this case, it's guiding a satellite drone to a rocket at the end of the level, which will reactivate the members of Overwatch, some of which uh, will already be there helping to escort the payload.
Each escort mission is a little different, however.
On Dorado, the attacking team is tasked with moving a rusty old hovertruck that's hauling a large and mysterious device into a large and mysterious pyramid-shaped building. Some supplementary material on Blizzard's site tells us this building is a power plant supplying clean energy to the city. And judging from the large monitors in one of the side rooms (seen above on the left), the device being escorted in this case is some kind of battery or energy coil.
When it comes to Route 66, the payload is of the regular ol' live ordinance variety -- but how it got there is a bit more interesting.
Attackers on Route 66 begin in a diner that seems to have been a hideout for the Deadlock Gang, McCree's previous posse. Even though their comrade left for Overwatch, they were still up to their old tricks. On the right side of the diner, you can see a detonator and blueprints for what appears to be specially-placed charges designed to blow up a bridge. Sure enough, that part of the level is covered in wrecked train cars. The payload in this case would be the target of this high-stakes heist, likely a bomb of some kind.
Other payloads are a little more transparent about their contents.
On Numbani, you can clearly see what appears to be the Doomfist Gauntlet encased in an indestructible cylinder on the payload. Those who remember the original Overwatch animated short will recognize the device as an object valued by bad guys like Reaper and Widowmaker. There are also plenty of posters of Doomfist around Numbani, hinting at a series of owners for the gauntlet. Hopefully one (or all) of these Doomfist-wielders will be playable at some point.
The most disturbing payload however, has to be the one at King's Row.
There aren't a whole lot of hints in-game about the vehicle you're escorting, but Junkrat does have a pre-game voice line when attacking on the map: "So we're delivering a bomb to scrap some 'bots, and I'M getting paid for it." So you're blowing up robots? Zenyatta doesn't sound like he'd be cool with that. But the developers confirmed in an interview that what you're doing is driving into the home of the local omnic population and nuking them all with an electromagnetic pulse. Ever notice that electric crackle and blue explosion when you win a match on King's Row? That's the EMP.
Rigging a satellite and restoring power to a city seem like admirable missions. But nuking a neighborhood of innocent robots is an act of terror, straight-up, made all the more disturbing by the possible involvement of omnics like Zenyatta and Bastion. Even if you win your assault on King's Row, you still kind of lose.