Overwatch Storm Rising: Another Monotonous Step on the Overwatch Treadmill

Image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment
Image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment /

Overwatch Storm Rising would be more of a disappointment if my expectations weren't already low enough that they can only be picked up by deep-sea geological equipment.

Don't get me wrong: it's undoubtedly a thoroughly underwhelming experience. It's just that over the past three years, you can only get let down so many times before you just give up.

First, the good: I guess the storm is visually appealing. Not that you'll be looking much at it, as you're carted from a lifelessly dull Havana street into a grey uninspired warehouse before finally reaching the bit which actually looks interesting and unique with a seaside fort as the storm sweeps in, but since it has zero gameplay impact it might as well have been a clouds drifting on a parallax scrolling background and oh look, how embarrassing, this event is so uninspired that we've already dipped into the bad.

Here's the thing: for all that Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan is chuffed with the technical achievement of the new storm engine, it feels like wasted effort when Overwatch is a game, not animation software. If it doesn't affect gameplay, then graphical improvements are naught but tassels and a fresh paint job on an '87 Cadillac Allante with three wonky tires and a crunching gearbox.

And the base problem is that the gameplay of Storm Rising is like Nike Flyknit shoes: that is to say, very much recycled.

It's the same AI opponents from 2018's Retribution event with not a single new unit to spice up the roster of foes. Not only that, but the difficulty has been knocked down a few notches, so there's no pleasure or catharsis from completing a tough challenge either.

The lack of imagination can be felt in the general lack of aplomb. Enemies just appear without ceremony; in last year's Retribution, each new enemy received a special cutscene to highlight and show off. This year's Storm Rising, they just drop in and start shooting in tacit acknowledgement that you've already seen this.

In 2009, Valve Software released Left 4 Dead 2 which had the "Hard Rain" level in which an incoming rainstorm traps players in a sugar cane field, visibility reduced to near-zero, and surrounded by deadly enemies sensitive to sound and movement. Having to stumble blindly through thick vegetation knowing that a misstep could result in death was terrifying, imposing and thrilling fun.

Meanwhile, the titular storm in the single co-op story campaign of the year which serves as the solitary major update that does something beyond jamming in more cosmetics or re-skinned game modes... looks pretty. Wow. How engaging.

Image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment
Image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment / MinuteMedia

Still more engaging than the pitiful story offered up to a starving fanbase craving any advancement in the plot whatsoever. Instead, Storm Rising features the team of Tracer, Genji, Winston and Mercy still during the pre-fall days of Overwatch capturing Maximilien, who matters because he's Talon and that should be considered plenty of reason for players to feel invested even though functionally both he and Talon don't DO anything.

The grand reveal at the end of the Storm Rising event is a cutscene in which Doomfist meets with a mysterious new Omnic character... who no doubt will be referenced as associated with Talon in some way and then do nothing for another year. Maybe he'll become a playable character in 2023, joining the line of Echo, Athena, Sojourn, Maximilien, Liao, Emily, and whoever else from the ever-growing list of supplementary characters who are given distinctive visual design but do about as much as a coffee table on Paris.

I'm sick of it. The banal dialogue in which characters just mouth exposition at each other or explain what they're doing as they're doing it in every violation of "Show don't tell."

The empty action in which stuff explodes but nothing changes, the meaningless intrigue which looks like it'll never pay off, the entire empty world of Overwatch which was set up in the first cinematic as a world of heroes and villains returning to a glorious idealistic future but just feels like a bag of gummy worms for its multicolored eye candy but provides zero substance.

In a world where competing games operate on biweekly or shorter schedule to pump out content, the glacial "progress" of Overwatch is exhausting whatever it can as Blizzard blunderes from gaffe to scandal to outrage to mockery.

Overwatch isn't a game with a fascinating broad universe of possibility any more. Overwatch is a 90-year-old arthritic clutching their walker atop a treadmill: a step every other month that ends up going nowhere.