Overwatch's next major PvE event is now live. As a part of the Overwatch Archives series, Retribution takes cues from last year's Uprising event, pitting four players against an onslaught of AI-controlled enemies in a narrative-focused mission. Detailing one of the last missions conducted by Blackwatch, Retribution is set eight years before the events of the main game, focusing on a doomed operation with McCree, Genji, Moira, and Gabriel Reyes--who would eventually become Reaper.
"Right now the plan is to not have [Retribution] available after [the timed event]," said Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan during a press Q&A. "We are constantly revisiting those types of decisions with some stuff that we've done--capture the flag is a good example. In our previous event for Year of the Dog, where we introduced a brand-new map for it, we figured it was evergreen and kept it into the system. So right now the plan is to only have it available for the event for about three weeks."
Blizzard's experiments with PvE events have been something that fans have appreciated. Despite being a game with a strong focus on character presentation, style, and personality, the focus remains on its 6v6 multiplayer gameplay--which leaves little room for dedicated storytelling. Still, the developers at Blizzard relish the opportunity to try something different and experiment with new types of gameplay within the infrastructure of its multiplayer design.
"It's a 6v6 PvP game at its core, but throughout development we've had these little exercises that we do--like making the capture the flag mode, Uprising last year, and now Retribution this year--where we really get to explore what kind of gameplay we can have fun with and expand upon what Overwatch is," said senior VFX artist Rachel Day, who's previously worked on Diablo III and Starcraft 2. "So making stuff like this PvE content is really just a chance for us to dig in and find other ways for these characters to be fun, the gameplay to be fun, and I think we really succeeded with it. I hope people are really looking forward to it."
For the developers, making these events works as a way to steadily venture further into Overwatch's in-game universe--to define aspects of the characters, along with the space they inhabit. While the comics and short films they release online add extra flavor to the overall narrative, the game usually has the final say--and the developers are still trying to figure out just how to express that. Speaking with senior game producer Matthew Hawley, he explained that Overwatch is still very much in its infancy when compared to other Blizzard IPs, and that the hero shooter is still defining itself.
"I think for me, as someone who tends to be more drawn to co-op or story-driven games, and as someone who loves the potential of what the Overwatch universe can be--I think of Overwatch as our Warcraft 1 in terms of what was the story of Warcraft back in the original game, and it was just Orcs and Humans," said Matthew Hawley. "We've sort of dipped our toe in the water with the 6v6 shooter and found that the characters and heroes were very relatable to people, and that's why we started out doing the story missions like Uprising and Retribution to figure out how to get people who aren't into the PvP something to offer that tell the stories that we want to tell."
During the media summit, the developers were clear in stating that fan reactions have been a strong indicator of their successes, and they understand there's a yearning to have more unusual events and scenarios presented in the game. Still, Overwatch's game director and de facto face of the series, Kaplan, elaborated further on why Overwatch is going to remain solely PvP oriented game, for the time being.
"I think it's important to talk about why [it's a timed event]," he said. "I don't think players always understand why we don't want players to have access to it all year, and maybe this is just developer insecurity, but let me give you the reason why we don't these events to be available all the time. I honestly believe there's a big difference between creating PvE highly-replayable content that you're expecting somebody to get hundreds of thousands of hours of gameplay out of versus something that you think can be sustained for a couple weeks. I think what would happen if we put Uprising and Retribution just permanently in the game is that players would find that they needed more out of it. Like a progression system on top of it, or scoring, or items, or players asking when the next mission is. They would want more content [beyond Uprising and Retribution]."
Despite how firm Blizzard is on sticking with keeping the focus on multiplayer gameplay, the developers weren't opposed entirely to a story mode. With concerns about its present offerings--the Uprising, Retribution, and the Junkenstein events--not being deep enough, Blizzard may someday implement one that fans can sink their teeth into and won't leave them wanting more. But in their present state, the developers are content with only keeping it around for a limited time.
"At its core, Overwatch is a PvP game, so it's fun for us to explore PvE," stated Kaplan. "But as we've all worked on Diablo, Starcraft, Warcraft, we've worked on a number of PvE games and know what player instincts are gonna be," he continued. "So if you said this was a year-round evergreen experience, we want to make sure it holds up to that before putting it out there for that length."