Firewatch follows the story of Henry when he becomes a fire lookout at the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming in 1989.
The story begins with a prologue, documenting part of Henry’s life prior to taking the job, that part being life with his wife Julia. Henry and Julia live a happy life together with their dog. When Julia begins to struggle at work and is then released on permanent medical leave, it is discovered that she has early onset alzheimer’s. Unable to deal with her diagnosis, Henry leaves his wife in the care of her family and takes a summer job as a fire lookout.
Upon arriving at his tower after hiking all day, Henry is introduced to his snarky, no nonsense boss Delilah via walkie talkie. She resides in another tower visible from Henry’s west facing window. When Henry wakes the next day, he is immediately given the task to figure out who is setting off fireworks near Jonesy Lake. When he arrives he finds clothes and beer cans strewn about around a smoking fire. At the lake he sees it is two teenage girls and tells them to cool it with the fireworks. The girls become aggravated by Henry and run off. Now that the fireworks have stopped, Henry hikes back to his tower. It grows dark and as Henry climbs he sees a man in shadow up above him. When reporting the man to Delilah, she snarkily points out that Henry is outside and it is normal for him to see people roaming the forest. Henry returns to his tower, only to find that his typewriter is on the ground by the stairs. He finds that his tower has been vandalized and broken into. Unsure of who could have possible done this, be it the girls or the mysterious figure Henry saw, Delilah tells Henry that she will report the incident.
The next morning, Delilah tells Henry that she has no service to report his vandalized tower and is requiring all fire lookouts to check their designated wires. While walking, Henry overhears Delilah on the radio having a conversation with someone else. The whole thing seems shady. He continues hiking to his wire and finds a bunch of beer cans leading up to it, as well as the wire being completely and deliberately cut. Believing it to be the girls seeking revenge on him, Henry goes out in search of them. Along the way he discovers an old backpack full of ropes and a disposable camera. The bag belongs to Brian Goodwin, a name that stands out to Delilah who says she knew the 12 year old as he came to the Shoshone a few years ago with his father, Ned, against forest rules. Henry soon sees a plumb of smoke and follows it to the girls’ campsite. Their possessions are trashed and they are nowhere to be found. On their tent is a note which is clearly intended for Henry. The girls believe he is the one who trashed their campsite and they vow to report him to the police. Henry insists to Delilah he didn’t do it. She believes him.
Henry spends the next morning boarding up his smashed windows. Things seem to have settled down and Delilah tells Henry that his job is to sit around. A few days pass and it is soon discovered that two girls have been reported missing in the area. It would make sense that they are the same girls who were setting off fireworks a little over a week ago. Delilah and Henry become a bit concerned but try not to worry about it too much since they did nothing wrong. Later, Henry wakes up in the middle of the night to Julia calling him on the radio. Their conversation is brief and Henry is glad to hear his wife’s voice again. How Julia found out where he was is unclear, though later evidence suggests Henry was half asleep.
Many days pass and the story finds Henry a little over a month into his time as a fire lookout. Delilah calls him up and tells him he has to hike to the supply drop to retrieve the supplies for his tower. While walking, Henry and Delilah talk about Henry’s life in Colorado. When Henry arrives at the supply drop, he grabs his box and hikes back to his tower. Another month passes by. Delilah calls Henry at night to see the controlled burn. It glows red in the darkness as the two watch from their towers. Henry names the fire and the two share an intimate moment together. Delilah tells Henry that she doesn’t talk to the other lookouts like she talks to him. They have grown close during their time together talking via walkie talkie.
After a week and a half goes by, Henry decides to go out fishing at Jonesy Lake while also looking for bear tracks per Delilah’s orders. When he arrives he finds a clipboard with transcriptions of conversations between he and Delilah along with something about a Wapiti Station. Freaked out, Henry radios Delilah before hearing a noise nearby. He goes to find out what the noise is and sees another radio on the ground. As he goes to pick it up, someone smacks him on the back of the head and Henry blacks out. When he comes to, the clipboard is gone and there is no sign that someone was there only moments ago. Henry gets up and tells Delilah what happened. She does not know Wapiti Station but knows Wapiti Meadow and suggests Henry go there. He makes his way over and finds a fenced in area that is locked. Delilah tells him to head over to Ruby River near the controlled burn and that the firefighters should have equipment Henry can use to break in.
Delilah brings up the Goodwins again and wonders if this sort of thing happened to them. Henry eventually finds the camp where the firefighters would be but no one is there. There is a piece of paper that mentions a Wapiti research station that Henry picks up, along with the axe the firefighters left behind. While walking, there is a cough on the radio and it is neither Henry nor Delilah. Fearful, Delilah tells Henry to hurry to his tower and stay there. He is not to call her but she will call him.
The next day finds Henry impatient as he awaits Delilah’s call. He decides to call her but is getting no response. Finally, Delilah comes on the radio but she sounds oddly chipper. She tells Henry to look at his Flora of the Shoshone chart for a specific tree and walk to it. The tree she is referring to is Cottonwood. Henry walks there and retrieves a new radio which Delilah dropped off earlier in hopes that whoever is spying on their conversations will no longer be able to intercept their frequencies. She went through a lot to get the radio to him at personal cost to herself. If she asks any of the men she works if the same thing is happening to them, they will assume that as a woman she can’t handle the job and that she needs to be relieved. After mentioning something to the state coordinator, he asks if she is just having lady troubles. With determination, she tells Henry that they must discover what is at that research site. Henry heads over.
Delilah reveals that she filed a report that neither of them spoke to the girls. As if Henry doesn’t have enough to deal with at the moment, he breaks into the research site and tries to find out what is going on. The research site is well hidden, and has a lot of fancy equipment. There is a tent and inside are beds along with rations, notes, and more equipment including a wave receiver. There are more transcripts of their conversations along with little details that Henry had not revealed to Delilah such as things about Julia. Panicking, Delilah suggests they set the place on fire. They both come to agree that this is a bad idea but as Henry leaves they discover that someone did it for them as the research site is in flames.
Late that night, the wave receiver starts beeping. Henry mentions this to Delilah who is no help due to her getting drunk to drown out the stress they have endured the last day and a half. Henry decides to go off alone and figure out what the wave receiver is tracking. He finds a bag, followed by a loud alarm going off. After smashing the alarm, he searches the bag and finds the key to a gate within one of the caves. Henry tells Delilah and she replies that it is good he is safe in his tower. This comes as a bit of a shock and Henry tells her he is not in his tower. He hurries back to find it empty and a cassette tape taped to the door that plays Delilah saying that she wants to “burn the place down,” place in reference to Wapiti Meadow.
In the morning, Delilah says that someone impersonated Henry and called saying they know who caused the Wapiti Meadow fire. Scared and desperate, Henry decides to go to the cave and see if there is anything there that can help them figure out who is doing this and what is going on. Upon entering, someone locks him in and he has no signal to call for help. Instead he must make his way through and hopefully find an exit. Henry climbs through the cave. The only sign of life he sees is a shoe below in a stream of light. When he calls out, there is no answer. Finally, he escapes and tells Delilah what happened. On the other side he finds a hideout that seems to have belonged to Brian Goodwin. It is littered with comic books and games and drawings. Delilah tells Henry how the Goodwins were almost busted when someone reported seeing a kid waving at the planes that dumped water on fires. Delilah lied and said it was just Ned. Luckily, Henry finds some anchors Brian hid so he didn’t have to go climbing with his dad (revealed in a note) that Henry can use to explore the cave more. Henry makes his way back into the cave. While walking, Delilah tells Henry that the teenage girls were found. They landed in jail for taking a tractor. Relieved on that count, Henry reenters the cave.
Deeper in the cave, Henry finds a devastating site. The skeleton of Brian Goodwin lies beneath the same shaft of light that illuminated the shoe Henry saw earlier. It looks like he fell while climbing. Henry makes his way out of the cave and breaks the news to Delilah. Distraught, she blames herself. If she had reported Brian, he would still be alive.
The controlled burn and the fire at Wapiti Station converge on each other and the fire lookouts are being evacuated. Smoke and debris engulfs the forest. The wave received starts beeping and Henry can’t help but follow it to see where it leads. There is another tape left by none other than Ned Goodwin. Ned explains his situation, how Brian didn’t sink his anchor right which resulted in his death, how Ned didn’t want to deal with the cops and figured staying in the forest would be easier than putting his son in the ground. Henry climbs a rope to find Ned’s hideout, along with all of his equipment he used to listen to their conversations. Turns out Ned was a hermit the whole time. Now it is time to leave and Henry has to make his way to Delilah’s tower. He hopes she will be there when he arrives but sadly she evacuated before he could get there. In one last attempt to connect with her, the two talk over the radio for a final time. They say their goodbyes, and Henry leaves on a helicopter.
It is difficult to talk about the small details of Firewatch, being that so much of it depends on the players choices. The player can choose to tell Delilah a lot about Julia or nothing at all. The player can decide to confront Delilah after her shaddy radio call. The player doesn’t even have to board the helicopter. But the bones of Firewatch remain the same. The story remains very strong. At times it can be a bit disjointed, not knowing what genre to fall into. At the end of the day though, the game does a great job capturing human complexities and telling the story of a man running from his problems and learning that he needs to confront them head on instead of stooping himself in problems that don’t matter.