REVIEW: Overwatch: Retribution: A Dark Story With Brilliant Gameplay

When I initially looked at the setup for Overwatch: Retribution, Overwatch’s newest Archives event, I was worried. Team composition is incredibly important in Overwatch, and the team comp for Retribution’s story mode is uneven, to put it lightly. I’d seen too many DPS-heavy parties in normal Overwatch play end in disaster to trust that a story-mandated DPS-heavy party wouldn’t do the same, so when the event went live to the public on Tuesday night, I logged in, grabbed my friends, picked the sole support character on the roster, and prepared for disaster.

I needn’t have worried. Retribution is a blast.

Like last year’s Uprising event, Retribution allows players to play through a mission in Overwatch’s history. Unlike Uprising, which depicts a fairly successful if harrowing mission, Retribution essentially goes straight to hell from the get-go. When last we left our heroes, terrorist organization Talon had staged an attack on Overwatch, and Blackwatch, Overwatch’s black ops group, had gone to apprehend the current head of Talon, Antonio, with retroactive storytelling heavily implying that something had gone horribly wrong during the mission. Retribution opens with a beautifully animated cinematic telling the story of the mission: when Blackwatch does find Antonio, he delivers a smug villain speech about how this entire operation was pointless and he’ll be freed within the week. Gabriel, head of the mission, takes a moment to think it through, seems to agree, and then abruptly kills Antonio, turning this mission from a stealth kidnapping into a desperate, violent dash to the extraction point.

That mad dash is where the players come in. Unlike the very defensively oriented Uprising, which required players to hold multiple points and defend an objective, Retribution is offensively oriented and quick, continually pushing players to new locations while throwing wave after wave of Talon troops hell-bent on destroying the players at them. It’s exactly the kind of gameplay a DPS-oriented team needs, and Retribution is perfectly balanced to provide it. Retribution also adds several new types of enemies to the mix: heavy assault units, snipers, and assassins, all of whom have brief introductory cinematics when they first arrive on the map. The assassin in particular has an additional cinematic when she catches you, which, to be completely honest, scared the hell out of me the first time it happened to me. It’s an extra level of immersion, brand new to Overwatch as a whole, in what is already an exciting and engaging event.

In his initial announcement, Jeff, from the Overwatch team, promised Retribution would have a high degree of replayability, and the Overwatch team has delivered on this promise in spades, both in terms of mechanics and story. On the mechanics side, while the event itself follows a certain route on the map, the Talon troops are randomized. They appear from different directions and in different numbers on every playthrough, and their AI is far more intelligent than the AI employed in Overwatch’s training mode. Any enemy that’s smart enough to duck and roll when you shoot at them is an enemy that’s challenging and therefore that much more satisfying to engage and defeat. On the story front, playing through Retribution multiple times and through multiple difficulties unlocks new voice lines and banter between characters. It doesn’t sound like much, but to a fanbase invested in Overwatch’s story and cast, it’s a veritable treasure trove of story information – such as Gabriel explaining who’s next in line for the head of Talon – and character moments – in which we learn that cowboy gunslinger McCree was so bad at pretending to be a waiter that he was fired from his cover job. Retribution never plays through the same way twice; that aspect, coupled with the quick pacing and solid gameplay, make it an event that is just as exciting and entertaining on the fifteenth playthrough as it is on the first.

The Overwatch Archives events, including Retribution and Uprising, are available to play now; the event will end on April 30th.

— Katie Cullen

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