Overwatch 2 season 3 kicks off Feb. 7, and will introduce an all-new map to Blizzard’s hero shooter: Antarctic Peninsula. The map should feel both new and familiar to Overwatch players; they’ve been fighting in a slice of that icy continent since 2016, when Blizzard added the Ecopoint: Antarctica arena map to the original Overwatch.
Antarctic Peninsula will expand on that tiny map, and on the game’s lore, by giving players a new battleground that offers hints about Mei’s past in the region, the fate of her former co-workers, and hints of things “even more exciting about the story to come” in Overwatch 2, Blizzard says.
Antarctic Peninsula is a Control-type map, the first new map of that type for Overwatch 2 and the first built expressly with the game’s 5v5 team structure in mind. Like other Control maps (e.g. Busan, Ilios, Nepal), Antarctic Peninsula is spread across three locations. There’s the lab, where Mei and her former team worked; an icebreaker ship, which was sent by the original Overwatch team to rescue Mei and her colleagues, but got stuck in the ice; and an underground tunnel system where the centerpiece is a massive drill that has bored a network of tunnels through the ice.
As players battle in and explore the lab area of Antarctic Peninsula, they’ll get to see what Mei and her colleagues were up to before most of them met a terrible fate. Players will also experience new levels of verticality and new control point layouts, both on the icebreaker and in the sub-level map components, according to Overwatch art director Dion Rogers.
“It’s just super rad to fight inside an abandoned ship as large as an icebreaker,” Rogers said in a group interview this week. “We’ve got cool tunnels and the engine room — you can get a lot of direction from it, because you can see the bow of the ship and you can see where the captain’s chamber is. If you’re working together, you can call out a lot of very key areas where people are. It’s very clear to understand where that might be, especially if you understand the language of boats. We studied icebreakers pretty well to try to integrate this into the level.”
Rogers added, “There’s a lot of protection from flying characters on this particular level. So you’ve got to be careful when you do a peekaboo take strategy — you might catch a rocket from Pharah.”
Level designer Trey Spisak pointed out that the space surrounding the icebreaker’s control point and the point near the drill will feature a layout that players haven’t really seen in previous Control maps. Spisak said that there’s a “narrow roof” above the ship’s control point, “which we haven’t really messed with on a control point [before]” and a platform above the drill’s point, “an additional piece [of the map] you have to control on top the of the standard stuff you’d have to deal with while playing on a control point.”
Spisak also said that Blizzard experimented with having Antarctic Peninsula’s big drill actively drilling and being an environmental hazard, like Oasis’ deadly highway or Busan’s bullet train, but decided against it. “Thematically, we did talk about maybe having the drill do damage… But no, we kind of tried it and thought it wasn’t going to quite work out,” Spisak said. “Those sorts of things don’t work on every map. Some people love the Busan barriers, some people don’t like it. But it’s good to try stuff and always kind of push the boundary.”
Players will have something important to interact with on the game’s new map, though: penguins. Antarctic Peninsula will be rife with penguins, and yes, you can shoot them. “You can shoot the penguins, but you cannot kill them,” Rogers clarified. “It’s similar to some of the other NPCs in the game [like pigeons].” The penguins of Overwatch 2 have incredible bullet-dodging skills, Blizzard says.
Antarctic Peninsula will also help answer some questions about Mei’s past, five long years after the hero’s animated short film, “Rise and Shine.” Lead narrative designer Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie explains, “One of the questions that I’ve heard from the public and I’ve always been excited to answer is, ‘Hey, Mei and her friends/coworkers were frozen for ages. Why did no one ever come to rescue them?’ It’s sort of a sad question, but the answer is that Overwatch tried. One of the things that’s so exciting about this map is you get to see a huge part of the story that we’ve never talked about before or shown. You can see the Overwatch icebreaker ship that tried to come and rescue Mei and our team, but failed. [...] Overwatch disbanded before anyone could ever get back there.”
Jurgens-Fyhrie hinted that there’s also a tease of Overwatch 2’s future hidden in Antarctic Peninsula: “You can see some hints about what Mei and her team were trying to find out there. And maybe there are some sort of secrets. I don’t know, maybe you can find something in the map that will tell you something even more exciting about the story to come.”