After chugging an entire gallon of cold beer in preparation for a truly challenging task, I logged on to my high-end RGB gaming PC on a rainy day last week. I was about to take on the most difficult task Overwatch 2 has ever created, far beyond the skills of most of its players.
In under an hour, I needed to win the heart of a cyborg ninja, a brilliant doctor, and a decidedly non-cherubic archer, while not making a complete idiot of myself in front of two of Overwatch 2's great narrative masterminds.
Loverwatch, a non-canon dating game set in the Overwatch 2 universe, was given an exclusive look for the game's Ultimate Valentine event, which will see players embark on many paths to win the hearts of Mercy and Genji, while being accompanied by a Cupid who insists he is not Hanzo Shimada.
Kyungseo Min and Miranda Moyer, the writers of Overwatch 2, took charge of one part of the story, while Min took charge of Mercy's affection in the same manner I've never imagined.
Loverwatch is a game about love, but not in the way you'd expect. Team Four, the game's acronym, is also a labor of love from Overwatch 2's developers, as well as a massive thanks and kiss to the game's massive fandom during content shortages.
“We’ve always wanted a dating sim,” Min told Dot Esports about Loverwatch's inspiration. “The writers are all aware of the incredible community and the love that the community has for our hero.”
Loverwatch isn't your typical dating simulator. It's not just those who make the effort to follow the genre's tropes, but also those who make it fun of themselves. Fourth walls are ripped out of existence, left and right. Characters are sarcastic in the best way possible about one another and the bizarre situation at hand.
One of the first games that prompted me to laugh out loud is early in the game when you can immediately ask Cupid why there are only two heroes left in this love quest. It was a concern the authors were prepared to deal with; they knew it would be shared across Twitter and other social networks as soon as the game dropped.
Genji and Mercy were chosen for their long-term involvement in the game and the creation of a "culture" around them, according to Moyer. "We could play off of so many memes and in-jokes," she said. "You know, Genji needs healing all the time and Mercy is sick of dealing with the Genji mains all the time."
Mercy and Genji are also extremely different people, which added variety for fans. “Mercy is this brilliant mind, a perfect doctor, angel, etcetera, and Genji is not those things,” Moyer said. “Hanzo is very sassy and he was a fantastic way to help round out the package.”
For my first encounter with Loverwatch, I was drawn to the other Shimada, though I'm a well-known (and extremely loud) Hanzo enthusiast.
Genji is gentle and unruly in his Loverwatch journey. Despite his recent outbursts at the Hanamura arcade, it's clear the youngster who spent too much money is still alive and well in this mode.
"He's kind of like a golden retriever," Moyer said of Genji. "He's very headless, just kind of sweet in a way that I don't think you really see in the game."
Cupid Hanzo advises you to focus on Genji in order to win his affection, but the strategies that entic him to indulge his desires aren't always the most appropriate. Before you go to the fancy restaurant, select a kid's menu, even if the idea seems ridiculous. Trust me, the option provides one of the funniest and humorous scenes in the game.
Mercy's romance ended up being the more pleasant for me, as someone who loves terrible puns and often pretends to be intelligent enough to comprehend the amount of research that Dr. Ziegler regularly undertakes. Mercy also takes a slightly gentle hand to court properly. Just enjoy her terrible coffee.
Everything is fun and games until the third and final dates of both heroes, which are heartwarmingly genuine, according to Moyer. "They're just surrounded by a little silliness."
Loverwatch does not shy away from keeping its "secret ending" hidden from the rest of the game. After seeing Cupid's faux-angry attitude throughout the game, it's still a wonderful ending.
“It just felt right that Cupid would give you props if you are just really good at loving and at 'Cupid-ing,” Min said.
Loverwatch's all-time great characters make it feel like themselves, but with a few extra points, which is harder than it seems. As anyone who's tried to write fan fiction will attest, establishing accurate characterization within the context of a new setting or plot can be tricky. (Don't lie to us. The Venn diagram of readers looking for more information about Loverwatch and those who have written fic appears to be a circle.)
“We tried to pick personalities that would make up a lot of their personality,” Moyer said. Mercy, for example, is apparently a secret collector of healing crystals, and Genji wears hoodies to five-star restaurants. Those facts are just far enough outside the box to add some depth, but they will not make it to Overwatch 2 wiki pages.
Moyer said keeping that core characterization was "a matter of figuring out the ways that we wanted to lean into the more "fun and nice" community-oriented side of them while still keeping them true to who they are."
It's glaringly obvious in the best way possible that this is a treat for Team Four as much as a love letter to the game's fandom, especially for those who may not feel adequately heard in Overwatch 2.
Min, who is irritated during first-person gaming sessions and often fails to enjoy the game as it stands, knows that firsthand. "We wanted to give players something to interact with the Overwatch world and the Overwatch characters in a similar, interactive and gamified way," she said.
Fear not, Loverwatch is more a comedy story than a romance novel for those who are spooked by lovey-dovey cartoon hearts and the looming judgment of Cupid Hanzo. You're infinitely more likely to laugh out loud than you are to savor your romantic failures.
Min explained that she thinks 'fever dream' is the best way to describe it. Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie, the lead narrative designer, helped keep the mode's "tone and vision consistent." While that sounds serious, Min noted that Loverwatch "basically embodies the narrative team Slack channel."
That Slack channel must be bursting with humorous comments and off-the-wall suggestions, given the two themes they picked as personal favorites.
Moyer's favorite is a surprise appearance from Genji's instructor, who is uncomfortable about how much of the spotlight he's allowed to savor every year.
Mercy's romance path is filled with nerd jokes and scientific chuckles that would make most dads groan, thanks to Min. Her favorite is the joke about the periodic table—borrowed from Winston—that leads to a slew of linguistic and scientific chuckles. “I can quit right now as a writer and just be so happy because it was just an assault of puns.”
There is no greater gift in the world than seeing someone enjoy your hard work. Though playing alongside Loverwatch's authors was mostly for myself and Dot Esports' readers, I hope they received a little free serotonin from watching someone deeply embedded in the Overwatch fandom and love for their creation—especially the part where Hanzo urges you to put your "brilliant wit" to rest for a second, you, as the player character, exist solely to bother him into accepting you.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Loverwatch, and I'm sure I'm not the only one: the game was released on February 13 and has already devoted millions of fans, sharing screengrabs of the game's most iconic moments on social media.
Thankfully, the game isn't exactly subdued about the possibility of another romantic adventure gracing everyone's screens, especially if this first round succeeds. Min smiled and replied in the way only a writer could: with a cliffhanger.
“Who can foresee the future if the community provides a terrific response?”