Overwatch is two years old, and so far the story has been slowly advancing. We have all the big building blocks set up—Talon is at a new crest, led by Doomfist in a quest to advance the human race via war and chaos. Overwatch is back, but operating as an illegal organization. Soldier: 76 and Ana are two rogue operatives, trying to get to the bottom of the Reaper, their fallen colleague. The Helix Corporation, led by Pharah, is stepping into the spotlight as a new global power. Russia is led by Katya Volskaya, a brutal leader who is engaged in tactical warfare with Sombra. There’s a lot going on!
There are a lot of antagonists (the United Nations, for instance, might come after Winston and Tracer for breaking the law... but they’re not really bad guys), and then there are straight up villains. Reaper, no matter how tragic his story as Gabriel Reyes may have been, is obviously a villain. Anyone who shouts “DIE, DIE, DIE!” has got to be a villain. Doomfist, for all of his talk about making humanity stronger, is clearly a villain. The Vishkar Corporation and their classist, oppressive projects are also villains.
Two years in, Blizzard has established the bar for writing an effective bad guy, and that’s Moira O’Deorain. Moira is not a good person. Yes, she talks a very good game about science, but she blatantly disregards ethics. The greater good she’s pursuing is very abstract compared to the fact that she’s rolling around with a dude who she experimented on, who is now in eternal torment and wearing a skull mask. You could, in theory, make an argument that Moira’s research may end up being good in the future, but even if you think the ends justify the means, Moira’s means have been shown to be very dangerous indeed.
Moira was shut down by Overwatch (it’s not clear whether she worked for Overwatch, or whether she was shut down by them in their role as a global peacekeeping organization), and joined Blackwatch shortly afterwards. The black ops organization was the perfect place for Moira to carry out her research on human genetics, and Gabriel Reyes made a prime test subject. When Blackwatch was eventually unveiled, Moira got away with her hands clean. She now works for Talon, as they continue to support her goal of human evolution at any cost... but that’s not her day job. She’s part of the scientific collective that founded the city of Oasis. No one in the setting can admit that she’s brilliant and that her work has value.
We’re shown, not told, just how dangerous Moira’s work is through Overwatch’s gameplay. We know she experimented on Reaper, and his abilities include the ability to dissipate into a mist while speeding up, and drain health from his foes from inflicting damage. We also know that these supernatural abilities are powerful enough to make him one of the world’s most feared and respected mercenaries, but they also leave him in constant torment.
Moira has the same abilities, but better. Reaper is the first edition model, and Moira ruthlessly improved on it. Yes, she has a shrivelled and veiny arm... but her fade step is dramatically faster and less obvious, her drain is inflicted by her hand and not two heavy, obvious weapons that need constant reloading, and she also has the power to heal. Moira is one of the most powerful supports in the game, and she figured out how to do it by making Reaper. That’s amazing design — without reading a word of lore, you can learn a lot about Moira and her priorities just by looking at those two kits.
Moira also strikes a really great balance between having understandable, relatable motivations and still being evil and dangerous. Doomfist is super dangerous, and it’s fun to watch him swan about casinos and chuck Talon rivals off bridges in his Masquerade comic... but ultimately, “I want to make humanity stronger, but I think the best way to do that is constant, global war!” isn’t very relatable. That’s just supervillain talk. It’s like Dr. Phil says, everything before “but” is a polite fiction, it’s everything after the but that matters. Doomfist wants to cause a worldwide, violent war and partake liberally in it with his gigantic fist. No one is going to understand that on an empathetic level, and if they do, maybe you should call the police on them.
On the other hand (do you see what I did there?), Moira wants to advance science and work with genetics. At BlizzCon 2017, Jeff Kaplan confirmed that Moira isn’t interested in eugenics or population cleansing; she just wants to pursue the next steps in human evolution. She’s still an awful person and going about it in terrible ways, but that’s a great motivation at face value. Society evidently agrees with Moira; she works a high prestige government job in a utopian city (in a world that’s already pretty utopian, Oasis still stands out as a center of knowledge and civilization) and gets away with it.
In short, there’s just enough of a hook for you to get interested in Moira’s sales pitch before everything goes hideously wrong. That’s what happened in Blackwatch, after all, and the only reason it won’t work in Talon is that they’re already evil. Moira corrupts everything she touches, but her siren song draws good people in regardless.
Finally, Moira’s dialogue drives all of the above home. Not only are her interactions well written, but her voice actress, Genevieve O’Reilly, delivers each line impeccably. The new Anniversary patch gave Moira a set of new lobby interactions, and her content stands out among the rest of the new lines... which is a feat, considering there’s over 40 new interactions! I’ll be linking the audio of these interactions above each quote, because Moira’s voice actress completely sells each and every one of them with this cool, detached manner that veers into sharp sarcasm or mocking innocence, and her delivery is sometimes necessary for context.
For instance, consider this exchange with Mercy:
Mercy: Describing your work as unethical would be a kindness.
Moira: But the true question is whether or not you can deny my discoveries. No, I didn’t think so.
Mercy rolls hard at Moira right out of the gate, insulting her work, and Moira just arches an eyebrow and goes “Am I wrong?” Compared to the bluster of Hanzo or the hysteria of Junkrat, that’s downright chilling. (Also, massive props to Lucie Pohl here for injecting Mercy’s line — which looks tame in text — with massive amounts of contempt and anger.)
She doesn’t even spit fire or talk trash to anyone. Here, she’s in a room with Pharah, who’s essentially a global cop-for-hire.
Moira: Well, I must never worry about my safety when the brave agents of Helix are with us.
Pharah: Don’t be so sure about that.
In text, that’s a compliment. Spoken aloud by Moira, that’s a completely deniable, sly jab.
When Soldier: 76 calls Moira out for her role in Blackwatch and the fall of Overwatch, Moira isn’t hurt, and she replies with a cool, hard truth. For her, it’s nothing personal. She’s not offended; she’s completely unperturbed at being called a disgrace. (Moira’s equally cordial with McCree, who hates her. She greets him with an off-hand “Our courageous cowboy. The years haven’t changed you much, have they, Jesse?”)
Soldier: 76: You were a disgrace to Overwatch. If I had known what Reyes had been planning, I would never have allowed it.
Moira: It seems to me that it was convenient for you not to look too closely into Gabriel’s business.
Moira only loses her cool once, and it’s when a fellow scientist rebuffs her attempts at bonding over science and Overwatch.
Moira: Winston, you were never frustrated at the restrictions Overwatch placed on your research?
Winston: Of course. But sometimes a measure of caution is needed in a scientist. Overwatch had good reason to shut down your research.
Moira: I shouldn’t be surprised at such a narrow opinion coming from a jumped up ape.
The contempt dripping from “jumped up ape” is truly something to behold.
Even when Moira tries to be friendly, she reduces Mei to tears.
Moira: Dr. Zhao. I’m interested in your colleague’s research into the long-terms effects of cyrogenic freezing.
Mei: Well, uh, yes. I’m sure. Maybe. -cries-
These interactions really flesh out the character of Moira, driving home how brutally cold and hurtful she can be when stepped to... but also serving as a reminder that she’s not a monster. She’s fine to strike up a conversation with McCree, she’s polite to Pharah, she tries to find ground with her fellow scientists. She doesn’t roll around Oasis twirling her mustache and cackling as she lowers orphans into an electrified cell. Moira isn’t as involved with the deep emotional feuds, conflicts, and traumas as the rest of the Overwatch cast.
Reinhardt howls “Traitor!” when he charges Reyes. Soldier 76: and Reaper immediately get down to childish, petty insults in the lobby. Ana and Widowmaker engage in deeply personal jabs. And Moira asks her former coworker, McCree, what he’s up to lately. She stands out in a cast of boldly sketched, strongly pronounced characters by being comparatively quite subtle and quiet.
Is that not enough? Are you somehow not convinced? She runs like a Naruto character and wears a cute beret on black ops missions. I don’t know what else you want.