Overwatch: A Storm is Brewing
They can’t take any Moira this.
Blizzard has seemingly answered my prayers. When Overwatch’s newest hero, the support character Baptiste, was announced, I got excited for an intriguing new support and accompanying changes to the meta-game but lamented the lack of new substantial story-based content the game had received. Well, praise be, we have new story content! One of Overwatch’s best recurring modes are the Archives events, 4-player co-op modes that explore events from the game’s surprisingly rich universe as well as providing new skins available in special Archives loot boxes. Whilst I do worry about the issue of event-specific skins incentivising players to pour money into these boxes, the story mode usually is a ton of fun. Easily replayable and providing a tough challenge on legendary difficulties, we see a similar story in the newest event, ‘Storm Rising’.
This event takes a tone similar to the Uprising event, going back 6 years to an Overwatch operation in which a classic team of good guys in Tracer, Genji, Winston and Mercy head to Cuba to capture the Talon omnic Maximilien, a character well known in various Overwatch comics as the money man at Talon, owning numerous businesses in the world which funnels funds to their operations. The event leads to a battle with Talon forces, the same as those encountered in last year’s Retribution story, holding off waves in the Don Rumbotico rum warehouse and exploring this new map.
As far as a PvE event goes in a multiplayer game, ‘Storm Rising’ is a nice piece of story which has a few problems. Playing as the four heroes like a return to the original state of the game, a simpler time when the Overwatch League was a fantasy and Bowsette memes hadn’t invaded our lives. Oh, there were also no GOATS (triple-tank and triple support) comps invading the meta-game like a swarm of zombies on the servers. The level is a fun map which has since appeared on the PC’s preview PTR server as an escort map in the vein of Junkertown with long sight lines on the first point and a great sea-fort which could prove tricky for attackers given the large amount of cover for the defence and potentially difficult retakes (having to get the payload back after dying) for the attackers should they need to get back on the payload. The level does have a fun tone and exemplifies one of the most unique aspects that Overwatch has such a fun cast of characters done only in the context of small dialogue lines and limited story events. Whilst Blizzard don’t choose to do story in only this way, expanding the universe with online comics, playing does allow the mode to expand the characters to a broader player-base. Of course the enigmatic heroes have some humorous voice lines and even some sweet blossoming romance between Genji and Mercy is explored. Additional characters provide some cool lore and directions for the story to take. Maximilien is a classic Talon benefactor, a slimy businessman keen to escape and negotiate to save his metal skin. Added to this cast is a new character involved in Overwatch operations, a high ranking leader known as Sojourn who could provide another new playable character down the line for the game. This sounds like a treat, unfortunately, it’s not what Overwatch needs. In fact, it’s symptomatic of a greater issue.
Whilst the character and map is fun, that doesn’t explain the anger on the Overwatch forums that players have been venting (which can be viewed here for those interested in their ramblings). It’s hard not to disagree with the fanbase. The ultimate sadness of the ‘Storm Rising’ event is that for all the positives, a deeply frustrating gameplay experience hangs over the mission. The enemy types are the exact same from the last event, with no variation and little effort to refresh the gameplay experience. The gameplay structure also feels very lazy. The map splits into three uninspired sections that are intricately designed visually, but sadly feel repetitive by the end of the mission. Compared to Retribution’s expansion of the Rialto map into a far more polished level with intricate detail, this feels average. This lack of innovation in the gameplay has not gone unnoticed by the Overwatch community who feel the event is uninspired and lacking the necessary changes from previous events. Blizzard’s attempt here to give their fans a cool event if anything has backfired due to a clear lack of inspiration. It pains me so much to say that ‘Storm Rising’ feels like just another event and just a time that Blizzard have ticked another box on the checklist of things we need to push out. A bit more dev time may have helped to give the mission a clearer identity, but alas, it instead is an admittedly fun, but stale rebranding of something we’ve already seen. Almost like the game itself, which still has chronic problems when it comes to ranked matchmaking and a frustrating meta component that seems to make heroes disappear from patch to patch.
This feels like a point at which Overwatch and Blizzard need to look at the game and make a serious decision about the direction of the game going forward through 2019. The disconnect is glaringly obvious between the pro scene and the rest of the community, a huge disconnect which seems to almost confuse Blizzard. Patches that are made to service more entertaining games in the Overwatch League have very little bearing on the rest of the player base because obviously not everyone plays at the level of the Vancouver Titans. The GOATS composition, which Blizzard tried to contain in the last patch by nerfing characters such as Lucio and Zenyatta, is rife in the Overwatch League because of the team-play and coordination that it requires in order for it to even function, let alone win team fights. At lower ranks of play, where the coordination isn’t as great and the play isn’t as tactical, these comps aren’t used as much, leaving a large amount of the player base feeling disenfranchised by an attempt by Blizzard to focus too much on one selection of players compared to the game’s base audience. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching the Overwatch League. As a more casual esports fan, it’s presentation and action is a fantastic spectacle and it provides tremendous viewing. Its teams all have broad appeal and since the recent patch, stage 2 has seen a few more heroes come back into pro-play. But when the devs feel so compelled to market their game towards the esports product, the risk becomes losing the wider audience of the game to cater to the highest levels of play. Not everyone can dedicate 700 hours to Overwatch pro-play, even the people who play regularly aren’t necessarily going to go pro whether that be by choice or circumstance.
Blizzard needs to consider making substantial change to Overwatch that satisfies the regular player base. Whether that be people logging in for an hour to play some quick play, people who grab mates to rank up in competitive or people who are looking to get to Master rank, these are the people Blizzard are not servicing. Storm Rising has shown, for all its positives, a sense of complacency creeping into the dev team with a lack of true game-changing innovation in the gameplay. Maybe 2019 will change this and I hope Blizzard shows us some cool new stuff which Jeff Kaplan, game director of Overwatch has teased for 2019 in the form of new social features which could genuinely shake things up as opposed to a sort of laissez-faire approach to changing the ranked experience. He has also teased new characters in addition to said social features, but the diminishing returns have quickly sunk in. Every new character feels more business as usual than an excitement meant to send the community into a fever pitch. With so many great multiplayer experiences popping up with battle royale games, Apex Legends being an example of a polished competitor that encourages team play with a great ping system, there’s a real danger that the dev team could lose the very audience that got them to the position they’re in now. I hope that real change is made, because right now, storms are rising and are ahead for Blizzard.
Just not the ones they wanted.