Overwatch's latest PvE mode is a compelling case for a full story campaign in the future

Years ago, most of us might have balked at the thought of an exclusively multiplayer AAA shooter. In fact, many of us did, heavily criticising games like Titanfall and Star Wars Battlefront for their lack of meaningful single player content or, in the case of the former, any single player content at all. Then Overwatch came out, and proved that story campaigns weren’t a necessity if your online experience is rich and robust enough to keep players coming back for weeks, months, and even years. 

Overwatch is now about to celebrate its second anniversary, and is still very much enjoying success in an evolving gaming culture it helped to create, where it's the exclusively single player experiences that are now considered as the risky ventures, while online only titles like Rainbow Six: Siege and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds continue to thrive. There is still, however, a not insignificant demand for Blizzard to take a break from fine-tuning Overwatch’s sublime PvP and instead expand the game with something a little less competitive. 

As a game built from the ground up for multiplayer, Overwatch will always be a PvP experience at its core, but Blizzard’s reputation for polish and production values has established a fine foundation for PvE content, as evidenced by the limited time modes that appear in the game every so often. The case for a story campaign gets stronger when you consider how much lore Blizzard has yet to tap into in the Overwatch universe, and what the studio could narratively accomplish when players aren’t too busy shooting each other to actually pay attention. 

Success story

But is there really any possibility of a PvE campaign, or something similar, for Overwatch somewhere down the road? Let’s weigh up the evidence first, starting with a recent Eurogamer interview with Jeff Kaplan, in which he directly addressed whether Blizzard would ever consider creating a full campaign mode for Overwatch.

“We would love to and that's very compelling to us when we think about it, but that's probably like making a brand new game for us. That's a significant amount of work. I'm not sure our fans realise that it would constitute a brand new game. Whether or not we should be making that game? I think that's a great question and that's something we'll continue to take feedback and talk with one another about.”

Reading between the lines there, it sounds like Blizzard isn’t actively working on a full PvE expansion for Overwatch at present, but Kaplan hints that the team has certainly discussed the idea, and may even have a few ideas in the pipeline for such a project, all ready to go for future development.

Whether this has anything to do with the fact that the studio was recently spotted hiring interns with “knowledge and understanding of the Overwatch universe” for work on an unannounced project last year is unclear, but it certainly feeds into the narrative that bigger things are in store for the company’s newest title. 

For me, though, the biggest confirmation that an Overwatch campaign seems like a very real possibility for the future comes in the form of Retribution, the latest co-op PvE mode that players can enjoy as part of Blizzard’s lore-focused ‘Archives’ event of the same name, currently live across all platforms for free in the the game itself.

If you didn’t know any better, you could easily mistake Retribution as just one mission from an entire Overwatch campaign. It’s easily one of the best things Blizzard has done for the game since Competitive Mode, with a strong sense of tone, perceptive level design, and a refreshing PvE variant of the game’s deftly balanced hero interplay.

Unlike previous PvE modes, where four players are either fending off waves of enemies or completing objectives ripped straight from Overwatch’s multiplayer modes, Retribution has a sense of distinct purpose and narrative flow, as Reaper, McCree, Genji, and Moira progress through the streets of Venice in order to escape a botched infiltration mission, taking out whoever decides to get in their way. 

Blizzard has stated that the level was inspired by Valve’s Left 4 Dead series, and you can absolutely tell, as Retribution runs at a snappy pace, segmented by mini boss fights and a final stand climax against an endless horde that can threaten to dismantle the entire mission at the last second. It’s fast, fun, and far more replayable than last year’s Uprising mode, suggesting that Blizzard is slowly learning how to adapt Overwatch to alternative play scenarios.

World of lorecraft 

Kaplan’s not wrong though. Creating an Overwatch campaign wouldn’t be an easy task for the studio, or at least not as straightforward as perhaps we’d like to imagine it would be. Where would it be set, for one thing? It’s easy to hop between pinpointed windows in Overwatch’s timeline for limited events and cinematic cutscenes, but where and when do you set a longer, more cohesive story which needs to contextualise the ability to play as multiple heroes, all with their own motivations, backstories, and character arcs? 

"If you didn’t know any better, you could easily mistake Retribution as just one mission from an entire Overwatch campaign."

That question is just one of the many that immediately comes to mind when considering the prospect of an Overwatch PvE game, but Blizzard has never been a studio to steer away from a challenge. In fact, for all his backpedaling, you get the impression that Kaplan and many others at Blizzard are theoretically eager to make more PvE experiences, especially considering how much the studio has clearly enjoyed making this one. 

So no, an Overwatch campaign isn’t officially on the table as of yet, but it’s also no longer a quixotic pipe dream for Blizzard, who originally intended the game as a multiplayer experience and nothing more. Considering how many hours worth of quality entertainment, fresh updates, and new content that players have enjoyed from the game since launch, the least we can do is give the studio the time and space it needs before finally making a start on the inevitable. 

Alex Avard

I'm GamesRadar's Features Writer, which makes me responsible for gracing the internet with as many of my words as possible, including reviews, previews, interviews, and more. Lucky internet!