Overwatch has always struggled with how to integrate the game’s complex storyline with its more standardized hero shooter mechanics. The latest stab at adding a bit more in-game story to the competitive shooter follows in the path of last year’s Uprising event, but instead places the players in the shoes of the game’s mysterious Blackwatch sub-faction, on a mission to take out a crime lord in an Italian villa.
Like Uprising, this year’s Retribution feels like a cautious half-step into the game’s fiction—not quite enough to make a campaign out of, but enough to pique the interest of players grown used to mining every spare bit of Overwatch for any possible lore or background on the world. It’s a sad state of affairs in many ways—clearly the game has a developed world with interesting characters and motivations, but like I wrote about before, doesn’t let us do much with them other than shoot each other.
When Retribution shines, it recalls other co-op shooters with a distinct narrative, like Valve’s Left 4 Dead or even Call of Duty’s ongoing zombie spin-off series. But instead of taking the direction that those games do in confidently putting forth a cooperative campaign, Overwatch drip-feeds its narrative, with (so far) only a single narrative co-op event like Retribution or Uprising a year.
There’s hope, though, in that these co-op missions now have an official name in the game (“Archives”) and Retribution, for what it’s worth, does expand on many of the concepts introduced in Uprising, especially with a fully animated intro sequence and a plethora of character interactions that help flesh out the fiction of Blackwatch, before most of its members fell to Talon allegiance.
In order for the narrative events of Archives to truly make an effect, however, they’re going to have to go further than what they’ve been doing so far. Retribution is short, and on easier difficulties can be breezed through in a matter of minutes. The depth of character and established lore in the game allows for far more than what we’ve seen in Archives events already. Why not a campaign stringing a pitched Overwatch mission together? Why not learn more about duo characters like Junkrat and Roadhog, or Soldier 76 and Reaper? Many of these situations have already been illustrated in the game’s many tie-in comics, but if Overwatch wants to get serious about making its fiction into something that feels real, it’s going to need to do a lot more than a once-a-year narrative co-op level.
Dante Douglas is a writer, poet and game developer. You can find him on Twitter at @videodante.