On Tuesday, Overwatch released their third Archives mission, a story-based PvE event that delves into the history of Overwatch and allows players to play through events from the past. Archives missions tend to build on Overatch’s already extensive lore and are generally well-received by players, to the point where they tend to be the most popular Overwatch events while they’re active. This year’s event, entitled Storm Rising, chronicles the Overwatch strike team’s takedown of Maximilien, the financier for the terrorist organization Talon.
It was…not great.
Blizzard’s first two Archive missions, Uprising and Retribution, were tightly-paced, innovative, and fun, which meant that further Archives events would have a difficult act to follow. Unfortunately, Storm Rising fails to live up to its predecessors, instead feeling short and derivative at best. While reusing gameplay mechanics isn’t an issue – there are only so many ways you can reskin taking a point or moving a payload – Storm Rising fails to deliver new and creative enemies to fight, instead opting to reuse the enemy set from Retribution in very similar setups. The decision to reuse Talon troops as enemies, while it makes sense in the story, strips Storm Rising of much of its potential excitement. Half the fun in Retribution was running into these brand new enemies as they were introduced with short, dramatic cinematics and having to figure out how best to defeat them; Storm Rising assumes you already know these guys and continues on its merry way, putting forth very little effort to make the Talon soldiers seem dangerous or even like much of a threat at all. The lack of new enemies is especially disappointing considering Blizzard had the potential to include a Talon-armored Baptiste among the Talon troops, in much the same way they included Null Sector versions of Bastion and Orisa among the enemy set in Uprising.
Unfortunately, wasted potential seems to be the name of the game in this event. Mechanical issues would be forgivable if the story was solid, because the story is half the fun in an Archives event; sadly, the story of Storm Rising underperforms. Blizzard’s choice of event is odd in and of itself; while previous Archives events detailed large turning points in Overwatch history – Uprising being the story of Tracer’s first mission, and Retribution spelling out the catastrophic public reveal of Blackwatch and the beginning of the end for Overwatch – Storm Rising comes off as a prelude to a much larger event that the player doesn’t get to see (or rather, one that the player has already seen in a much more tightly-paced format. The capture of Maximilien is a turning point for Overwatch, sure, but it’s a small one on the road to the capture of Doomfist, the head of the Talon organization. Sadly, the small-potatoes nature of the event reflects in the gameplay; though dialogue between the characters attempts to create stakes for the player, those same stakes and intensity don’t reflect in the overall gameplay experience, leaving the entire event disjointed, not unlike getting behind the wheel of a sports car and then driving it at 15 mph through a school zone. It doesn’t help that the writing is not up to Blizzard’s usual standards. Fun character lines are mostly absent from gameplay – the writers that gave us Mercy gently ribbing Torbjorn about the structural integrity of the payload and McCree’s undeniably terrible Italian accent didn’t see fit to grace Storm Rising with anything similar. Plot events make little to no sense – lampshading the narrative convenience of a truck of explosives just happening to be in the right place doesn’t make said truck of explosives any less narratively convenient. Adding in a cliffhanger twist at the end in the form of a brief shot of a new character no one’s ever seen before doesn’t make up for anything and is honestly frustrating – it feels like Blizzard knew their story wasn’t up to snuff and added a shiny new toy at the end in the hopes that fans would speculate about Mysterious Edgelord Omnic instead of discussing the relative quality of the event they’d just played through.
(No dice, Blizzard. You want us to be excited about an Omnic character, you give us Zenyatta lore first. Them’s the rules.)
The exceptions to the writing issues, and the shining pinnacles of quality in Storm Rising, come in the form of the two characters given prominence in the story: Sojourn and Maximilien. Maximilien is the perfect high-class slimeball villain, the charismatic mafioso with enough arrogant self-assurance to push a blade away from his face and ask the people who just fought their way through his heavily-armed forces if violence is really necessary here. He’s a terrible person that’s a delight to watch, he steals every scene he’s in, and the greatest flaw in his appearance is that it’s only about two minutes long. Sojourn, by contrast, is never directly seen in action, instead calling the shots as a high-ranking Overwatch operative and the current mission’s commanding officer. While we don’t know much about her yet, we do know that she’s up there with Soldier: 76, Reaper, and Ana as one of Overwatch’s higher-ranking operatives during the organization’s heyday; she has enough clout and experience to command a mission; and she cares about her people. She’s also the first black woman in Overwatch, and if she becomes a playable character (which is likely, given that every other named and voiced Overwatch agent from that time period has become a playable character), she’ll be the first black female hero in Overwatch. Blizzard has finally filled this gaping hole in their representation roster, and I for one could not be happier about it.
All in all, Storm Rising is a disappointment. Writing issues and lackluster gameplay hamstring the event, leaving it unable to live up to its predecessors. The entire thing feels like a rushed homework assignment, as though Blizzard knew their Archives assignment was coming due and threw something together to meet the deadline. I’ll still play it again, likely on a higher difficulty to try to compensate for the lack of inherent stakes; that said, given that the Archives being opened makes previous events available, I’ll likely be playing Uprising and Retribution far more frequently, as Storm Rising turned out to be little more than a drizzle.
Storm Rising is will be available to play until May 6th; additionally, Overwatch is currently free to play until April 28th.
— Katie Cullen