Battlefield 1 Authenticity

Here’s a timely post written about six months ago, which sat in my Drafts folder lacking not only a picture, but also some links.

I started playing the Battlefield 1 single-player campaign on a Friday evening, and finished it the next day, on Saturday night. There were six missions. I recorded 12 videos, averaging about 35 minutes each, for a grand total of about 7 hours of gameplay. Let’s be extremely generous and say I cut out an hour of video, so let’s round it up to 8 hours.

I paid $60 for that.

But I won’t dwell on that. My main reason for getting the game was to examine the historical accuracy of it. World War I is my “favorite” war, so I’ve read a lot about it. I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I could probably answer a lot of trivia questions.

TL;DR – It’s not very accurate and I give it a big fat F. But it was kind of fun to play.

Some spoilers about the single-player stories below.

Storm of Steel

The first mission is sort of an introduction, and dealt with the Harlem Hellfighters. I think. It’s never actually said, and I only recall seeing a single African American. The story is very disjointed, and you’re supposed to die. When you die, you jump to another person’s POV in another part of the battle. In that way you get to see a sort of potpourri of “front line combat.” It was very confusing and I didn’t like it.

It didn’t specify where that mission takes place so I can’t say anything about the historical context of it. (The Hellfighters apparently fought mainly with the French so maybe the mission was in France.) The only thing I can comment on is that your average soldier in WWI did not walk around with fully-automatic rifles and automatic pistols as depicted in the game.

After the very, very brief introduction mission, in which you are largely a spectator, you get to choose the order in which to play the remaining 5 missions. (This is also the point when you yell at your monitor, “Is this all there is???”)

Most of the stories seemed to be set in 1917 or 1918. I imagine they did that because all sides had figured out how to break through trench lines by then, so more diverse technology was available to use in a game. Unfortunately it means that like 90% of the war goes unrepresented in the game.

Overall I thought the storylines were reasonably good, however there was nothing particularly surprising about them. They followed well-trodden war story tropes. If you’ve seen a few war movies in your life, you’ll probably recognize the plot lines.

The Runner

The first war story I played followed a pair of ANZACs in the Dardenelles.

As I came to realize was normal, there was very little historical context given for the Gallipoli story, except in the broadest possible terms. (There was no mention of Winston Churchill’s role.) It wasn’t clear to me exactly where in time and space the events were taking place, but I think it was the Landing at Cape Helles.

The player’s mission was largely a personal one, and didn’t involve any of the larger events of the battle. There was only a casual mention of the British failures in conducting the battle. Mostly this mission involved, well, running–back and forth, delivering messages.

Avanti Savoia!

I’d never heard of Italian Arditi troops before. The only thing I knew about Italy’s role in the war was their collapse at the Battle of Caporetto in 1917, due to some Italian general’s massive incompetence.

After playing the game, I did a bit of research. The Arditi existed, but I don’t think they operated in the way depicted in Battlefield 1.

According to Wikipedia, Arditi were armed with knives and grenades and were employed as shock troops against enemy trench lines. From what I can gather, they would run up to the enemy lines during an artillery bombardment (possibly getting hit by their own shells), wait for the shells to stop falling, then jump in the enemy trenches and try to stab everyone to death. Sometimes it worked, but mostly it didn’t.

The player in the game, however, is dressed head-to-toe in heavy bulletproof steel armor and carries a big machinegun. Even if such an armor design existed (which it probably did, at least in prototype form), I have a very hard time believing it would be practical in a real battle the way it’s shown in the game. All you’d have to do is knock the guy down and he probably wouldn’t be able to get up again. The difficulty of walking around for long periods of time in that outfit, especially attacking up a mountainside, seems too far-fetched for me to believe. That set of armor plus a machine gun must have weighed like a thousand pounds. Also, I think WWI machine guns required more than one person to operate anyway.

Historical inaccuracy aside, it was fun to play. :)

Oh, then there was the moment when a bunch of (presumably) Austro-Hungarian biplanes flew in, shot rockets at a mountainside, and caused a landslide. I’ll have more to say about the depiction of WWI aerial combat later, but this earned a highly skeptical raised eyebrow from me. For one thing, according to Wikipedia, the Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops were very short-handed in 1917. But more importantly, biplanes couldn’t blow up mountains with rockets.

As for the historical context of the Italian story, there was none given. I don’t even recall hearing the name of the place where the fighting took place. I’ll have to double-check. Story-wise, this was probably the least interesting of the bunch for me.

Nothing Is Written

Lawrence of Arabia is another one of those World War I topics that I’m aware of on some level, but haven’t investigated much. The Arabian theater doesn’t interest me as much as the European theater, to be honest.

The mission was fun to play right up until the final battle against the train, which was about as not fun as a game could get. I slogged my way through it, dying over and over again. I probably died more there than anywhere else.

The story was okay I guess. It’s a pretty standard rebels-versus-empire story, only notable because the Arabian protagonist in the game is a woman.

I don’t know about the historical accuracy of this mission. By which I mean I don’t know if that battle train thingy existed or not. If it did, it seems like the best strategy for combating it would be to, you know, stay away from the train tracks.

Through Mud And Blood

Next we go to what was probably my favorite mission of the game, the British tank assault. We play a tank driver who shows up at the front, never having been inside a tank before. Roughly ten seconds after we arrive, we have to get in a British Mark V tank and drive in an important attack on Cambrai. Okaaaaaay. Given what I imagine was the enormous expense of building a tank, it seems like they would give tank drivers some opportunity to practice driving before going out on the battlefield, but let’s give them some dramatic license on that one.

Driving the tank around, over, and through the rubble, shell holes, barbed wire, and trenches in the first part of that mission felt reasonably authentic to me. That was the WWI that I know. I don’t think an actual tank at that time would have been quite so fast and agile, though, and probably wouldn’t have been able to crash through buildings. Tanks in those days were lucky to make it across flat ground, let alone across the cratered, muddy surface of No Man’s Land.

I thought it was kind of funny that they made me wait for the infantry to run ahead before moving up with the tanks. I’m no military strategist but I kind of thought the whole purpose of a tank was to clear the way for the infantry. Especially in World War I.

After getting through the trenches we went behind the German lines and entered what almost looked like a rain forest to me. For some inexplicable reason they make you (the driver) get out and scout a path for the tank. Luckily someone else can drive the tank while you’re doing that, making your entire role on the team redundant.

Still, that part was fun because it reminded me a lot of the Far Cry games. My favorite part of those games was stealthily picking off people in outposts one at a time until you’ve gotten everyone, and basically the same gameplay happened there in the foggy forest.

After leaving the forest your tank breaks down so you have to get parts from a nearby village. Then there’s a final tank battle. There weren’t any “tank battles” in WWI, but let’s pretend there were. (I only found one instance of a tank battle, in the Spring of 1918, in the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, some months before the events of Battlefield 1 took place.)

By the way, it was the First Battle of Cambrai in 1917 which is popularly known as the first successful use of tanks on the battlefield. (It wasn’t the first, but let’s pretend it was.) The Second Battle of Cambrai was just another ho-hum day at the office for tanks.

Friends In High Places

Finally we come to the last mission I played, the one with the planes. I saved it for last because I’ve never been particularly interested in World War I “Flying Aces” and whatnot. Still, it turned out to be kind of fun to dogfight in Battlefield 1. I can’t even remember the last time I played any kind of aerial fighting game. (The last one I can remember was an Amiga game!) I had to switch to using a controller. I had a hard time handling the vertical stick with a mouse. (I blame the fact that I gave up my “invert mouse” habit some years ago.)

As for historical accuracy, I’m pretty sure no WWI flying planes were equipped with forward-firing rockets of the kind depicted in the game. They had machine guns, and they had bombs, usually dropped by somebody tossing them over the side. Even that meager weaponry was only available later in the war. In the early days, the only weaponry a pilot had was a pistol.

One of the most striking parts of the whole game (for me) happened in the middle of this last mission, when you ditch your plane behind enemy lines. You have to make your way (stealthily) through several German trench lines and then No Man’s Land. That was what I expected to see more of in this game. It was pretty creepy to go through that muddy, blown-up hellscape, at night, especially after all that I’ve read about the conditions of the Western Front. Yuck.

Then, back in London, you’re involved in flying fighter defenses against German Zeppelins and massive bombers. While I was playing, I questioned whether such bombing raids ever took place over London, but it turns out they did. Kind of. Another part of the Great War I hadn’t explored much. (It was a big damn war y’all.)

I didn’t care for the resolution (or lack thereof) in that story. It was one of those “you have to decide whether you think the protagonist is a good guy or a bad guy because we’re not going to tell you and it could go either way” kind of deals. Sometimes that works as a storytelling device, but it didn’t work for me here.

And that’s about all I have to say about Battlefield 1.

But as a reminder, don’t buy it at full price if you’re only going to play the single-player campaign. And, uh, don’t buy it at all if you want an authentic WWI simulator.

FrostKeep’s Rend Announced

This post sat in my Drafts folder for nearly two months waiting for me to add that picture…

I’m hearing reports (from my super secret source known as “the Internet”) of a game called Rend revealed at PAX East 2017. Rend is a self-described “hybrid survival game” from FrostKeep Studios, a studio I’ve never heard of, but which supposedly has a good pedigree.

It’s largely being reported as a “survival sandbox” game like ARK or Conan Exiles, but MassivelyOP also compared it to Crowfall and Camelot Unchained. I submit that a better name for this kind of game would be something like “tribal warfare simulator” or “multiplayer online persistent team PvP” (MOPTP pronounced, obviously, “moptop”).

I’ve talked about this before, but I think true survival games are essentially single-player man vs. environment affairs, with the PvP content being an optional bolt-on accessory. Rend doesn’t sound like that kind of survival game.

Rend looks to me like your basic three-faction multiplayer PvP game with what might be generously called survival elements (eg. crafting, base-building). The twist here is that they’ve added some systems to mitigate the gank-or-be-ganked-but-mostly-be-ganked style that currently dominates the existing games and chases away new or casual players. Whether it will work or not remains to be seen. (Personally, I believe that the lengths that people will go to ruin PvP games far outreaches a developer’s capacity to contain them.)

I doubt I would ever play this game seriously because they are implicitly making it difficult to succeed solo. Not to mention that playing multiplayer online games with random strangers is just about the worst experience in the world, at least when you have to interact with them. There is no mention of private servers on their web page.

It’s coming to Steam Early Access in Spring. My standard rules apply: I’ll take a chance on it if it’s on sale for $10 or less, otherwise I’ll have to wait for a consistent groundswell of rave reviews from trusted sources.

13 Reasons Why (Spoilers)

After Two Episodes

I have seen a number of people on Twitter talking positively about the new Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, so I watched the first two episodes last night. I expected it to be a touching drama about a teen suicide, but it appears to be more of a tense psychological thriller, somewhat in the vein of I Know What You Did Last Summer (except that we, the audience, don’t know).

I’m going to start writing down my thoughts about this show. I’m a white guy, and this is a show that seems to be meant for a female audience, so I’m stumbling headlong into a minefield here.

Again, I’ve only seen the first two episodes as of this writing. I will likely watch the rest of it, because the show is getting such good reviews, but I’ll be honest, I’m not super into it. I probably wouldn’t have even watched the second episode if it hadn’t been for the rave reviews. (I had a similar reaction to The Expanse, actually.)

So the basic premise is that there’s a high school girl who committed suicide, but before she died, she recorded a bunch of cassette tapes (yes, actual magnetic cassette tapes, for reasons that so far are not given) and sent them to the people she felt were responsible for her death. That’s not a spoiler because you get that in like the first 5 minutes. (Don’t let the cassette tapes fool you–the story is not set in the 1980s.)

I’ll grant that it’s an interesting idea. There’s a lot of mystery and intrigue and what-the-heck-is-going-on here. (This is why I label it a psychological thriller.)

But I’m really not feeling much of a connection with these characters.

I mean, granted, this is a story about teenagers, and I barely remember what being a teenager was like. And my teenaged years were not even remotely similar to what is happening in this show. So I’m way behind the curve already.

And here’s where I really think I’m going to get into trouble. I feel like I’m supposed to think that suicide girl (aka. Hannah) is a victim and I should feel bad for her. But … I don’t. I mean, I’m sorry she’s dead. But in the first two episodes, she is not shown to be a terribly sympathetic character in my eyes. She’s mostly shown as super manipulative. I kind of … don’t like her. And it’s hard to think of a more sinister, manipulative, passive aggressive move than sending out cassettes to blame people after you’ve committed suicide.

So… help me out here, readers. Am I supposed to sympathize with her? Maybe things will change in future episodes.

So that’s the dead girl. Let’s move on to some others.

I saw that this show is based on a book. I’ve not seen anything about this book, but I’m just going to go out on a limb and guess that it’s a young adult novel. I say that because one of the defining characteristics of the young adult genre is that adults (particularly parents) act like complete morons. (Seriously. It’s a real thing. In middle-grade books, adults are trustworthy, but in young adult books, adults are supposed to be the enemy.)

The adults in this show so far are acting like idiots. “It’s okay honey, I don’t mind you walking around with a huge infected pus-filled gash on your head, I’m sure you’ll let us know if there’s a real problem.” “It’s okay honey, I see that you’re obviously–so, so, so obviously–acting weird and defensive and hiding stuff but we’ll be here if you need us.” Really? Who’s buying this?

(I won’t even go into how young these parents look to me. The teenagers look like they’re about 12 to me, and the parents look like they’re barely out of their 20s. Also, the teenagers appear to have been manufactured in some sort of beautiful person clone factory.)

Now about this kid “Helmet,” who I assume is the protagonist of our story. (I can’t remember his real name. Cory? Chase? Something with a ‘C’ I think.) I have never seen a person stare stupidly at so many things for so long before. I know this is supposed to be serious subject matter, but it’s sooo comical to see this actor staring blankly, consumed by his inner thoughts, when other people are talking. And then he tries to act like nothing is wrong, thereby drawing so much attention to the fact that something is seriously wrong.

I mean, maybe there’s a story reason for this that will become apparent later, but they are selling this kid’s bumbling ineptitude really hard.

After Five Episodes

I’m still watching the show. I’m now interested enough in the central mystery to continue watching even without the urging of the Internet. I would characterize the show as good, but not great. There is still a lot of teenager, teenager, teenager, blah, blah, blah to wade through.

After the first two episodes, they finally started to make Hannah (aka. suicide girl) a more sympathetic character. They started to downplay the super angry voiceover of her cassette tapes and focused more on the behavior of the kids she singled out for “revenge.” The reasons that I didn’t like her at first seem to be because of a “tough guy” facade she created. There’s no doubt Hannah’s been treated badly by her peers.

But. Here’s some dangerous words for a white guy to write: I feel like I could make a case, though, that she was the one who chose to put herself into the situations that could turn out badly for her. A recurring theme in the show is that taking and sharing compromising pictures can ruin a person’s life. Again, I don’t know anything about kids today, but I feel like this is a lesson that everyone should know by now. Certainly if I had kids I would be drilling that lesson every day. It seems like the “taking candy from strangers” lesson of the modern world. I mean, how does Hannah not know to close her frickin’ blinds in her room at night? (I know it’s probably dramatized for effect, but when I’m inside my house, I do think about what people can see from outside the house through the windows, and I don’t even live in a dense neighborhood.)

So I’m not cheering for Hannah quite yet. Yes, she’s had some bad luck. But does it justify her actions? I’m not a big supporter of suicide as a weapon. Maybe she isn’t dead, and it’s a big scam. She’s clearly a smart enough person to pull that off. I feel like I even heard there was some ambiguity about that before I started watching. (I know there is a “season 2” coming.) If she completes her vengeance and then pops up in another city or something (New York, probably), then I might think, “Okay, that was a nifty scheme.” But I might also think, “Wow she put a lot of loved ones through pure hell for her personal revenge fantasy power trip.”

Clay, our protagonist, the bumbling nerd who looks like a teen fashion model, continues to stare blankly at everyone and everything. I swear if he crashes his bike into something or walks out into traffic one more time I’m going to start rooting for a bus to hit him. The gash on his head still looks horribly infected to me. What in god’s name is he putting on it?

There are times when I think, aw this is a tragic re-telling of Romeo and Juliet. (As in that dance, and the “dollar valentine incident.”) Then there are other times when I think, oh man I just want to slap these kids until they stop acting dumb (as in any part where they try to pretend nothing is wrong, or when they feel the need to hide these tapes from the adults who would actually know how to handle it). This is the big problem of watching a show about teenagers when you’re forty-cough-cough.

By the way, nothing like a “dollar valentine” ever occurred at my high school, to my knowledge. I don’t remember any fundraisers of any kind, to be honest. But then I doubt I would have participated anyway. I was not much into “school spirit.”

Speaking of adults, the side-plot about the bullying lawsuit is a pretty interesting subject for me (as an adult viewer), but it’s not getting much attention in the show, other than setting up a big conflict between Clay (who believes bullying occurred) and his mom (who was hired to defend the school and therefore will be trying to prove that bullying did not occur).

I’m a bit too old to weigh in on the whole subject of “bullying” and whether it should or shouldn’t be legally actionable. I have literally no idea what it is like for kids in schools these days. The drama I’m seeing in this show looks completely foreign to me. I can’t say that I ever experienced any inordinate level of bullying. I experienced plenty of embarrassing or humiliating situations, but I never experienced any kind of concentrated persecution, and I never heard of it happening in my school. I don’t remember hearing about anyone committing suicide.

One interesting aspect of the show is that I feel like it is going out of its way to portray events in a multi-sided way–that is, ways that could lead viewers to make differing conclusions about who’s “guilty.” What I mean is, I could easily imagine women watching this show and identifying strongly with the female characters as victims of the male characters’ hostility. But when I watch, I see plenty of things the female characters are doing that are pretty aggressive and hostile and provocative toward the male characters. Which view is right? Probably both.

By the way, I would like to reiterate that there has been no story reason given for the use of cassette tapes. One just has to assume that it’s a quirky weird teenager thing. Or that it’s easier for viewers to see them.

After Thirteen Episodes

Before getting into the meat of this, did anyone else get the feeling like they had seen most of those actors before somewhere? But every time I looked them up on IMDB they were never in anything I would have seen. I’m now completely convinced that actors are stamped out of a factory somewhere, or they digitally alter everyone’s face to look familiar. Either that or maybe all the actors now are children of the actors we used to know in the 80s and 90s. For example, I would swear on a stack of Bibles that Hannah’s mom played by Kate Walsh is the spitting image of Wendie Malick.

Okay back to serious thoughts. Reading back over my notes at earlier points in the show, I’m tempted to delete them, but in the interests of “telling my truth” I’ll leave them.

Because I feel like the show deliberately tried to elicit the exact responses that I wrote about: Initially, I didn’t like Hannah that much. But over time, I started to understand her better. And by the end, my heart just ached for her (and her parents). By the final episode, I was really, really hoping for some kind of magical deus ex machina to swoop in and rescue her, even though there were plenty of instances during the show when they confirmed that yes, she’s really dead, she’s not in hiding somewhere.

I still can’t condone her choice, but I certainly understand how she got there. I’m simultaneously angry at her and sad at her loss.

Again I have to reiterate that I have no idea what high school is like for kids today. What is portrayed in this show is nothing like the high school that I went through. There are similarities of course. The cheerleaders, the jocks, the cool kids, the weirdos, etc. But this show portrays a kind of sinister cabal of puppet masters, including both students and school officials, deliberately covering up major crimes. If anything like that happened in my high school, it was well concealed, because me and my circles were completely oblivious to it. (But to be fair, I was oblivious to a lot of things in my younger days.)

The point I’m trying to make is that I sure hope this fictional Liberty High School is an exaggeration or a statistical anomaly. Because man, what a nightmare.

I’m not sure how I feel about this show continuing into a second season. I could understand one final epilogue episode to deal with the trial and the parents’ reactions to the tapes (and of course Bryce getting arrested and gang-raped in prison), but an entire season? I don’t see that many loose ends to deal with, and starting new story threads seems gratuitous.

I can’t leave without talking a bit more about Clay and his relationship with Hannah and what happened at that party.

To reiterate, I’m a guy, so I obviously can relate more to Clay’s point of view than Hannah’s. I’ve been in situations like that party before where it seems like everything is fine and then suddenly everything is not fine and you’re left reeling and completely unable to process what just happened. Where the other person appears to be giving one kind of signal but they’re saying something completely different, and you just have no clue what to do. So I can completely relate to Clay’s response.

What I loved about the telling of that scene was that they showed two different versions of it. The original version of what actually happened, where everyone went away confused and upset, and then they showed a second version that (I assume) Clay and Tony worked out later that showed what would have been the “right” way to handle the same situation. Or at least, maybe a better way. I think it was important to show that second version to the audience, because it was a really good “teachable moment” in human relationships.

Of course, there’s no guarantee things would have played out any different in the end.

I still think Clay was kind of a goofball. And I swear to God, he did crash his bike again. I mean, seriously. Revoke his license.

There really was an element of Romeo and Juliet in this story, by the way. It played out very differently, but the tragic romance was there, and it’s still just as compelling of a story element as it ever was.

Now I want to talk about that scene between Hannah and the guidance counselor in the last episode, whose name I can’t remember.

I’m not really sure what to say, though.

It’s easy to sit back and think, “What a dick. That guy could have saved Hannah but he blew it.”

But the way the scene played out… it didn’t appear so black and white to me. I felt his side of the conversation was clearly distracted, somewhat insensitive, but … believable. I never felt at any point in this series that the counselor was a “bad guy” trying to harm Hannah by action or inaction. I can imagine that anyone in his position would be forced to say the same thing. Maybe not because they wanted to, but because it’s the unvarnished, ugly truth of the matter.

Again I reiterate what I said somewhere up above, which is that the show seemed to be intentionally portraying events in a way that could be interpreted in multiple ways from multiple viewpoints.

If there was a “bad guy” on the school side, it could only be the principle, played by Steven Weber of Wings fame. (I also remember him perfectly playing Jack Torrance in the television miniseries version of The Shining, which is one of the best Stephen King novel adaptations ever made, incidentally. The Jack Nicholson movie was a great movie but bore little resemblance to the book.) But again, “bad” is a relative term here. It’s literally his job to look after the interests of the school.

In a nutshell, it’s a really good series, but it’s heavy. It very much did turn into a touching drama about a teen suicide, but it took some time to get there. In the first couple of episodes, I actually laughed quite a bit. I feel like the story could have been told in fewer episodes. There were long stretches of time where I was pretty bored and I wished they would get on with the plot.

One more thing, about the music. I don’t know anything about pop music these days. I just sort of assume kids listen to Katy Perry and … you know, ahem, all those other famous names in pop music that I totally know off the top of my head.

But a lot of the music I heard in this show didn’t sound like modern pop music at all. It sounded … well, good. Sort of more like 90s alternative music in a way. It made me wonder if that’s the kind of music kids listen to these days. If so, then good job, kids! You have some musical taste after all.

Okay, one more thing: I don’t remember anything like a Communications class in high school, where you passed notes to each other through paper bags. Is that really a thing? It’s probably a good idea, I guess. The only Communications-like class I ever remember was something like an English Communication, about writing, and I think that might have been a college class.

Okay now I’ll stop rambling. Tough subject matter, but a great, deeply affecting series.

Ashes of Creation – Mandatory Post

Blatantly stolen from their web site.

I feel like I should write something about Ashes of Creation’s successful Kickstarter campaign, although to be honest I don’t have much to say about this game yet. Wilhelm’s post on it is actually a great summary of my thoughts, and I should probably just link there and call it a day.

I’m not on the hype train by a long shot. Not that I see anything particularly wrong with the game, it’s just way, way too early to even think about commenting on it. I’m glad they got their funding, but this game is still years away from being playable. I would be amazed if they have anything but a barely functional alpha by the end of 2018.

I’m not glad and actually just a tiny bit offended at their disregard for the history of the genre in choosing the name Ashes of Creation. I mean, what’s next? Windmills of Wonder? Enduring Quasars?

Yes, it irritates me that they have chosen a name that is abbreviated AoC.

Anyone who has been around this genre even a little bit knows that “AoC” means Age of Conan. What, are we just supposed to forget about that? Is Ashes of Creation going to be so good that it will erase the real AoC from our memory?

I mean, it’s such a simple thing to fix. How about Embers of Creation? Same number of syllables, and not that much different in meaning. Surely at this stage of development they can’t be married to “ashes” in their lore. I don’t see any volcanoes in any of their screenshots or concept art. At least two other MMORPGs–Albion Online and Shards Online–have changed their names during the development process, so it’s not even unprecedented.

It really makes me worry about what else they don’t know about the MMORPG genre. Are they aware, as Syl quite rightly pointed out recently, that we players have grown to loathe tedious inventory systems? The inventory system, and indeed the entire UI, seems to be one of the last, least-thought-about things to go into any RPG. “Just throw a generic drag-and-drop window system from the 1980s in there and it’ll be fine,” seems to be the thinking process. (Notice how there are no images of inventory management in any of the concept art or screenshots or videos.) If somebody wants to reinvent and evolve the genre, how about starting there?

The only inventive thing I’ve seen about Ashes is the “Node” system. I am interested in seeing it, but I’ve seen too many MMORPGs promise we’ll be able to change the game world to fall for it again. I’m not sure they’ve thought through all the potential pitfalls of how players might exploit and ruin it. Letting players change things often has unintended (ie. bad) outcomes. I have a feeling it’s going to change a lot between now and the launch date once they find out that yes, the rumors are true: Some players are jerks.

Remember when we all got excited about Crowfall’s debut some two years ago when they did their Kickstarter? That was cool, but then they kept talking about it like it was a real game, except it’s still not a real game two years later, we still can’t play it, yet they keep talking about game updates like it’s a thing that actually exists. And I know it does exist for certain people, but not for the average Joe Gamer, and I’m kind of sick of hearing about it and I wish they would go away until they are ready to launch the game. There is such a thing as too much transparency when it comes to game development.

I’m not interested in repeating that experience for Ashes of Creation. And yet, I just know that’s what they’re going to do.

So in summary, I’m glad they’re making this game, but it’s hard to get excited about a handful of mocked up videos and screenshots that frankly show very little except the fact that they have successfully installed the Unreal engine SDK and imported some prefabs. It’s too soon to pin all of our hopes and dreams on it.

Mass Effect Andromeda Completed (Spoilers)

Not a Movie Night picture! Instead a random frame of video from early in the game.

I declared myself finished with Mass Effect Andromeda on Saturday, April 29. I finished the Priority missions and basically everything else except the sillier busy work under the Tasks section. ManicTime shows that I played for 99 hours. I reached level 59 in the end, and the save page showed I completed 92% of the game.

Before I get into this I need to reiterate that I enjoyed most of those 99 hours and would never write this much about something I didn’t like overall. Except for possibly the final week when I was starting to suffer from Mass Effect burnout, I couldn’t wait to fire up the game every day and keep going.

So now that I’ve finished the main story and seen the end credits, I feel like I can finally say what I think of the story, because the story is really the main reason to play any Mass Effect game.

It was a disappointment.

It wasn’t terrible. But it wasn’t great or even good, when compared to the previous games.

The Big Bad was a cartoon bad guy. The kett were cartoon enemies. They had zero depth. There was no reason given for any of their evil schemes, except, “hey, we’re ugly and we’re evil, deal with it.” They were thoughtless, remorseless, emotionless genocidal killing machines. Ho hum.

Let’s compare to Mass Effect 1, the best story of the original trilogy, in my opinion. Saren, the Big Bad, had reasons for his evil schemes. It was clear why he thought he was the hero of his own story. In my game, he actually redeemed himself, sort of. Same for his second, the Matron Benodryl (I might be getting that name wrong).

Cut to The Archon. He was doing evil because … well, just for the sake of doing evil, I guess. He wanted to destroy all the worlds in Heleus. Why? Just because, apparently. Why were the kett even in Andromeda? Who knows? I don’t even remember seeing any hints about it from the start all the way to the finish.

Even the Reapers in the first trilogy, whose goal was to wipe out all organic life, had a reason for doing it. One could argue its plausibility, but there was at least a reason given.

The kett and their Exaltation seemed like thinly-disguised Borg, whose only goal was to absorb everything in their path, like locusts. Even locusts have a better reason for their destructiveness–locusts have to eat.

Then there was the Remnant technology. What the heck was that? Who are these mysterious “Jardaan” and why did they build a super convenient network of terraforming machines and deploy them to sit around and wait for the Andromeda Initiative to show up with their Pathfinders to activate them? If and when there is an Andromeda sequel or two, I hope they will delve into that more. Although frankly I’m a little afraid to hear what kind of reasons they come up with.

Many story items seemed arbitrarily shoe-horned in simply to justify open world mechanics. Like, say, the Remnant vaults. And the entire thing about collecting memory fragments, which turned out to be a total bust, in my opinion. When I collected all the memory fragments and reached the end of the Ryder Family Secrets quest line, I eagerly flew back to Nexus to see the final memory. That was going to be my first major story payoff in the game.

It was … nothing.

I expected to learn who the Benefactor was, but didn’t.

I expected to learn more about the nature of SAM and the implants, but didn’t.

I expected to learn why SAM can interface with Remnant technology so easily, but didn’t.

The “big reveal,” if you can call it that, is that mom isn’t dead … she’s frozen in cryosleep. And dad saved Scott so that mom wouldn’t be sad when she was unfrozen. To be fair, it was a surprise, and I didn’t see it coming. And it’s great and heart-warming and all, but it’s not like we can wake her up, because she’s still got the disease. (I don’t remember what it is … cancer I guess?) It’s kind of a weak emotional payoff considering how much time it took to “unlock” those memories. (The Movie Night payoff was better.)

Beyond that, all we got was a lot of fan service and rehashing of events from Mass Effect 3. All of that made me roll my eyes and groan. I thought this was supposed to be a new game with a new story. The “Benefactor” apparently got involved because of concern that the Reapers were going to destroy all life in the Milky Way. That points to the Illusive Man, and if that’s who it turns out the Benefactor is, I’m going to eyeroll super, super hard.

Previous Bioware games have made a big deal about the consequences of the choices you make. As far as I can tell, there were no consequences for any choices made in Andromeda. Nobody died. Nobody got mad. Nobody refused to help. Nobody tried to kill you.

For example: Creating the outpost on Eos, you can choose to make a scientific outpost or a military outpost. It was supposed to be a “statement” of your intentions in Andromeda. I created a scientific outpost, because duh. (I couldn’t even conceive of choosing a military outpost because no part of Ryder’s story or the Andromeda Initiative had been militaristic up to that point, but that’s beside the point.) Cora expressed some doubt about the decision because maybe the outpost would be vulnerable (a legitimate concern). It wasn’t, and nothing bad ever happened to the outpost.

Later, there is some fallout from the decision in the form of a protest on The Nexus from military people who I guess wanted something to do. You couldn’t leave them because for some reason, the protest interrupted the food supply. The leaders wanted to remove them by force. That seemed silly to me. I resolved it by caving in to their demands. Kandros scolded me because he thought there would be more protests from people who wanted things (a legitimate concern), but nobody ever protested again. Waking up more people was supposed to be a strain on the station’s resources (a legitimate concern), but nobody ran out of food or even complained about it ever again.

So … none of those decisions had consequences, except maybe a line of dialog here or there to the effect of, “Hey you shouldn’t have done that.”

Now maybe in the next game there will be some consequences. But it seems a little … I don’t know, arrogant? … to simply assume that we will come back for the next game to see how our choices turned out.

All of that probably makes it sound like I hated every minute of the game. But the characters were pretty good, and that made it fun to hang around them even if the story wasn’t going anywhere. I liked Ryder and the new group of folks. Since the characters were so likable, it didn’t really matter that the story was weak. I really enjoyed riding around in the Nomad listening to the squad mates banter. A lot of characterization came out in those moments.

Oh wait: I liked Ryder except for one minor character flaw: The thing where he occasionally commits cold-blooded murder to solve his problems. Most of the dialog choices basically resulted in the same outcome: Fairly peaceful, agreeable conversations that led to everyone getting along and hugging it out in the end. Except, you know, when you spontaneously shoot people. I still can’t believe it gave you the option to shoot Kalinda in the back so that Peebee would keep that Remnant gizmo. (At least I assume that’s what it was. It just said, “Shoot” and I was appalled.)

One of my favorite pairings was Drack and Peebee. She opened up more to Drack than anyone else, and they seemed to bond in a way that only long-lived species can.

Vetra and Liam was also an interesting pairing. Liam was kind of a jerk to Vetra, calling her “irresponsible” for bringing her kid sister to Andromeda. Vetra was having none of that, though. They sort of worked it out in the end.

Vetra and Peebee were interesting as well. Vetra, of course, is an older sister and Peebee, it turns out, is a younger sister. They had plenty to say on that subject, and they didn’t always agree.

(I changed squad mates a lot to see how they would interact with each other. In terms of combat, it didn’t seem to matter who I brought with me. I tried to cover every combination of pairings but I’m not sure I got them all.)

Narratively, I liked the brother/sister thing with Scott and Sara Ryder. I also thought it was a very clever way to allow the player to choose a male or female protagonist. However, when it got to the part where you had to play as the other sibling, I questioned the gameplay choice. You were suddenly thrust back into a newbie character with terrible weapons where it took 20 head shots to kill a single kett. I understand the reasons for the story, but it was not fun to play that little section.

Another thing that saved the game was that, unlike the original trilogy, the game was as engaging as the story. The combat was fun. The cover mechanics were really intuitive. The weapons had a lot of interesting variety (though I personally used the same weapons for 95% of the game–Mattock assault rifle and Sidewinder pistol).

I didn’t care for the “bullet sponge” effect though. We live in a gaming age where we expect headshots to kill enemies in one shot. Pumping a whole clip into an enemy’s head feels weird.

Still, I can’t complain about the difficulty. I played the entire game on Normal difficulty. The hardest part I remember was the mission of rescuing the Moshae, where I died three or four times at various points. I think I died twice fighting the first Architect on Eos. Other than that, I felt like I was overleveled and blowing through most of the combat.

I did not try multiplayer even a single time.

Overall I enjoyed the game, but after 99 hours I was tired of it and glad for it to be over. I definitely noticed that they “front-loaded” a lot of the content so that it occurred early in the game. There were long stretches of time when nobody said anything new on The Tempest. At a certain point, around Elaaden, I started to feel like I was on a death march to reach the end. I remember especially the search for the Drive Core on Elaaden seemed to go on forever and ever, an endless march from fight to fight across the yellow sands, and I couldn’t think of a single reason why it was important.


I’m writing this little addendum after listening to Totally Legit’s spoilercast on Andromeda. Those guys apparently played a totally different game than I did. :)

To reiterate, I played Scott Ryder, and it sounded like literally everyone else was playing Sara Ryder.

I never once thought Cora was whiny; I thought she was one of the only “responsible adults” on the crew.

I played my Ryder as a responsible adult most of the time too–I usually did the upper-right option or the lower-right option. He ended up sounding like a dork most of the time. But once, I picked the upper-left option at the end of a meeting and Ryder said something like, “And let’s all be kind to each other,” and I just rolled my eyes, as did most of the crew, it seemed.

Here’s what I thought of the crew, in order of meeting them:

Lexi: I liked her, but her part was too small. She was one of the few people on the ship who seemed to have a level head. I loved that scene where she got drunk on The Nexus, and I wish they had done more things like that to give her more personality. Her best moments were in the background conversations with shipmates, and her concern for Drack.

Cora: I didn’t especially like or dislike her. She didn’t really have much of a personality or backstory. She had no flaws other than professionalism. The only notable traits that I remember is that she liked gardening and she had an unhealthy hero worship of one particular asari commando. I brought her on a lot of missions.

Liam: I disliked him almost immediately. He had some humorous moments here and there but overall I feel like he embodied everything that is bad about the younger generation. :) “I know, I’ll leave my loving family and head to Andromeda! See you!” Still, I brought him on a lot of missions. I liked his grenade spam and that melee slam move he did, and I enjoyed trying to mimic his accent.

Vetra: I liked her, and I wish she had gotten more attention, but I never understood why she was on the ship in the first place. She had a nice story with her sister, and she had great interactions with the rest of the crew. I found her to be one of the better squad mates for my style of combat because she tended to use mid-range weapons and that’s usually where I fought most of my battles.

Gil: Meh. I didn’t hate him, but I found him generally off-putting, except when he talked about poker. I didn’t really “get” that whole thing with him and Jill. What was the point of that? I didn’t like Jill that one time we met. There was a guy on The Nexus who was interested in Gil, but that went nowhere.

Suvi: I adored her, but admittedly I was instantly seduced by her accent. Her part was far too small. I thought the “religious scientist” was an interesting choice when religion is largely mocked by kids today (see: Totally Legit podcast :). They didn’t dig nearly far enough into that subject though. It could have been a very meaty character study but it was mostly just a throw-away quirk that had no bearing on anything.

Kallo: No salarian will ever match Mordin from ME2 and ME3, so it’s hard to even rate this guy. I enjoyed his interactions with Suvi on the bridge. He was mostly comic relief, and in that role I suppose he was okay. Otherwise not much to write home about. (Now that I think about it, I wanted to know more about his story of becoming a pilot.)

Peebee: I liked her. She had that sort of irresistible quirky charm. I can strongly relate to that “leave me alone to do my thing” attitude of hers, although she was far more outgoing than I am. She had one of the more complex personalities and backstories with that whole Kalinda thing. Of all the squad-mates she had a tendency to die the most, but I brought her on most Remnant-related missions.

Drack: I liked him a lot. At first I thought he was just Wrex-lite, but he developed into an interesting character on his own, and I especially liked his interactions with Lexi on the Tempest, and Peebee in the Nomad, and Kesh on the station, and Vorn in his loyalty mission. His jumping sounds annoyed me a great deal though.

Jaal: Another meh. He had one of the most interesting voice performances of the crew, in terms of pitch and intonation and inflections and so forth, and I still have no clue what his accent was, if it was anything from Earth at all. He had some hilarious lines during combat (“don’t let them flank you!”) and some of his jumping grunts had me in tears (“hoooeeeeeyaaaah!”). I think he had his best conversations with Liam, and maybe Peebee. But as a character? I didn’t really relate to him. I don’t feel like I learned much about him. I brought him along a lot on Voeld and Havarl but I never felt like he was any good at combat.

I totally sided with Gil in his Kallo argument. I am amazed that anyone could think otherwise. I sympathize with Kallo, but yeah, let the engineer do his job.

I never got any romance options for Suvi, which sucked because she was the only one I was interested in. I had to settle for Cora.

No, they never explained the Architects. They were only there to present a challenging foe I guess–and little or no reward for defeating it. I never got much of a sense that the developers cared about whether any of the story held together under scrutiny. Another thing I wonder: How the hell does a kett race even evolve without any reproductive capabilities?

Also no, they never explained why Alec Ryder chose his son/daughter instead of Cora to become Pathfinder, other than the super amazingly thin reason I mentioned above about not wanting to tell his wife that her child had died.

I’m not planning on playing any DLC for Andromeda, particularly anything relating to The Benefactor and the Quarian Ark, unless it gets stupendous reviews. My general philosophy is that if they setup a story in the base game, fail to include the resolution in the base game, and then try to force you to buy the DLC to see it play out? I will vote with my dollars against that.

One last thing: I never experienced any game-breaking bugs. There were never any quests I couldn’t complete, at least that I know of. (Although I did have to reload in the last mission because mobs weren’t spawning or something… it kept saying “we’ve got to fight through these things!” and I couldn’t find anything to fight. That last fight was actually very confusing in terms of what you were supposed to do.) However a lot of times I would drive up to a place or structure on a planet, fight the people guarding it, and then find no lore or loot or anything and I wondered what the point of it was.

Next up: Dark Souls III, The Ringed City.

Mass Effect Andromeda Halfway (Spoilers)

This post is going to be a brain dump of my thoughts about the Mass Effect Andromeda story at what I’m guessing is around the halfway point. Spoilers, obviously, if you haven’t gotten to and completed Kadara in the Priority missions. I’ll wait until I finish the game before posting this, in case anyone feels compelled to jump into the comments and explain how everything turns out.

Yes, that means I’ve finished the game as I’m posting this. Another post is coming tomorrow with my final thoughts on the game.

By the way, none of my criticisms should be meant to imply that I’m not enjoying the game. Far from it. I’m having a lot of fun with it. I would never in a million years write this many words about a game that I wasn’t enjoying.

One of the best things about Mass Effect 1’s story for me was how focused it was. Shepard’s goals were clear (find Saren), and it was clear how to obtain the goals (follow Saren’s trail), and it was clear what would happen when the goal was met (save the Citadel). The journey had many twists and turns, but the core story was pretty simple.

They got away from that in Mass Effect 2 and 3, but you still had at least a vague idea of the goal in those games: Save the galaxy from the Collectors and the Reapers, respectively.

Andromeda is a whole new ball game, in many ways, both metaphorically and literally. There’s a line that one of the background extras on the Ark Hyperion says near the beginning, something like, “Andromeda is about new beginnings, it’s not about funerals.” I took that as a not-so-subtle message to fans of the Mass Effect games: This is a brand new game, nothing like the old ones, so suck it up and deal with it.

There is no clear goal in the Andromeda main story. I suppose you could say that the goal is to survive the new galaxy, but it’s a really nebulous goal. (Ha! Nebulous. Get it? Astronomy humor!) Granted it makes sense that an open world game would have nebulous goals, because otherwise it wouldn’t be an open world game.

Theoretically, if you ignored the open world and did nothing but follow the Priority missions, you should get a tightly-contained story with a beginning, middle, and end. But when I think about the priority missions I’ve completed, I don’t get any sense of a narrative. Let’s break it down.

We arrive in Andromeda. (When I say “we” I mean a sort of hybrid entity of me the player and Scott Ryder the protagonist.) It’s not spelled out but we know we left the Milky Way after Sovereign attacked The Citadel and after Normandy blew up at the beginning of ME2, because The Citadel attack and Project Lazarus are specifically referenced by background characters (both on Kadara, coincidentally).

We get marooned unexpectedly in The Scourge, a mysterious dark energy cloud which inexplicably causes physical ship damage. (That’s when I knew this game wasn’t written by astrophysicists.) We crash land on Habitat 7, the human “golden world.” It’s a hellscape. We encounter alien kett, who try to kill us. We find a Remnant structure which dad somehow uses to fix the hellscape and push back The Scourge. We break our helmet and choke on the corrosive atmosphere. Dad sacrifices himself to save us, transfers the SAM AI to us, and we become the new Pathfinder.

All of that happens in like the first hour of gameplay.

Now free of The Scourge, we fly the Ark Hyperion to The Nexus, the rendezvous point. (For unknown reasons, we completely abandon Habitat 7 even though we fixed the atmosphere.) None of the other Arks have arrived, so we’re the only Pathfinder. We learn the SAM AI implant is more than it seems. Director Tann tells us to go to Eos to establish an outpost. We trigger a Remnant vault there which magically fixes the atmosphere. The vault tells us there is another Remnant vault on the planet Aya. Apparently Remnant vaults were made to terraform planets. On the way to Aya, we encounter The Archon, the kett boss, who tries to capture and/or kill us for our knowledge of the Remnant. We escape to Aya and meet the angara, another alien species. They are understandably skeptical and demand we prove our loyalty.

Here’s where the plot gets a little fuzzy for me. We rescue the Moshae to gain angaran favor, and then for some reason our next goal is to confront the Archon. (Personally I would think we’d want to avoid the Archon.) We rescue an angaran from Kadara who can tell us exactly where to find the Archon, and then Drack and Peebee both bring up different priorities they think we should pursue. That’s where I am in the main story. (I think I may have gone down Drack’s path a little bit when I went to Elaadan for his loyalty mission, but I’m not entirely sure.)

I thought it would make more sense when I wrote it down, but it doesn’t. It’s kind of all over the place. And it’s confusing to reach a point in a linear story where you can take one of three different paths.

The more I play Andromeda, the more I think of plot holes.

I have yet to see a concrete reason for why the Andromeda Initiative needed or wanted to go to Andromeda, besides, “we felt like it.” In reality, I can’t see how any government would fund it, because it would be throwing money away–it’s a one-way trip so there is literally no way to bring anything beneficial back. So the Initiative had to be privately funded. They have mentioned a “Benefactor” but who is it and why? I haven’t progressed far enough into Ryder Family Secrets to find out. Obviously the Benefactor would have had to come along on the mission to get any benefit from it, so I am expecting to discover the identity of the Benefactor and talk to him/her/it before the end of the game. If I don’t, I’m going to be disappointed. I imagine it’s going to be a big time crime boss running from the law.

My biggest plot problem is with SAM, the AI implant in Ryder’s head. Or arm. Or leg. Or wherever you put AIs in a human body.

I understand why SAM exists from a gameplay perspective: It’s basically the game’s help system, and a flimsy narrative to explain “classes” and “profiles.”

But I can’t help but wonder why Scott Ryder had a SAM implant in the first place. I understand why Alec Ryder, the father, had the SAM implant–because he was chosen/elected/anointed as the Pathfinder and all the Pathfinders have a SAM. I don’t know why all Pathfinders have SAMs, though. Having a SAM implant I suppose is what makes a person a Pathfinder. It turns into a chicken-and-egg conundrum. Can you be a Pathfinder without a SAM?

I understand that Alec did some kind of “transfer” thing to his son before he died. (I have some problems with that death, too–I feel like experienced space explorers would have a backup breathing system in case of that exact situation.) But Scott clearly had a SAM implant before then, even back on the ship. Asking about the SAM implant is one of the very first dialog choices you get in the game. SAM was talking to Scott long before the death of his father.

But then they showed a weird thing where Scott’s blood vessels or synapses or something turned black after the transfer took place. What was that all about? Was that SAM taking over? Are there two different kinds of SAM implants? Like a SAM client implant for anyone, and a SAM server implant just for the Pathfinder? Or is SAM–wait for it–an alien organism infecting the body?? They told us that the SAM hardware actually exists in the SAM Node on The Nexus (or maybe the Hyperion, I forget), so whatever happened during that transfer was pretty special. That whole scene where Scott wakes up in SAM Node was extremely vague. They talked about SAM’s integration with Scott in almost magical terms. They better explain that better before the game ends.

At first I figured the answer was that the Pathfinder-in-waiting would also have a SAM implant in case the head Pathfinder died. But we know from Cora’s dialog that she was supposed to take over as Pathfinder if Alec Ryder died.

Also, when we saved the asari Ark in Cora’s loyalty mission, the asari Pathfinder-in-waiting did not have a SAM implant. It was implanted after she “ascended” to full Pathfinder status.

I can only assume this will be explained later, after I progress farther in the “Ryder Family Secrets” plotline. (I have only reached the point where you investigate Jien Garson’s death.) Maybe Alec Ryder implanted his whole family for some specific reason.

Also, it’s not entirely clear to me whether people can hear SAM’s voice or not. Sometimes it seems like people can, and sometimes they can’t. (It’s like Stewie Griffin on Family Guy.) They’ve referenced a “private channel” which SAM can use. But how does that work? Does it communicate sound directly through Scott’s brain? Or does it communicate through an earpiece? Does Scott carry around a “speaker” so SAM’s voice can be heard by others? I’m pretty sure other squad mates have referenced hearing or talking to SAM.

They need to explain these things in ways that programmers can understand. :)

Now about this “Pathfinder” concept in general.

Again, I’m not very clear on what makes a person a Pathfinder. I’m assuming that the main qualification is having a SAM implant in your brain. But I don’t understand why that makes a person more suited for flying around alien planets than a normal person. In the real world, the process of finding and/or making a place for people to live on a planet would require a huge team, not just one guy with a computer.

I suppose one could surmise that military experience is another prerequisite of being a Pathfinder, based on Alec Ryder’s N7 experience and Cora’s Alliance (I assume?) experience. However Scott Ryder’s military experience is vague at best. The most I remember him saying is that he “guarded a Mass Effect Relay.” I have no idea what that entails, but it doesn’t seem like something that would require a great deal of ground combat, considering that Mass Effect Relays float around in space.

So are Pathfinders a kind of para-military organization? Well, no, because there’s no “organization” to it. There’s the Pathfinder and there’s … nothing else. There are no ranks in the Pathfinder hierarchy. The entire Andromeda Initiative is a civilian operation, one assumes. There’s no real chain of command on The Tempest.

And don’t even get me started on how SAM the AI is somehow the only thing in the universe which can interface with this alien Remnant tech. That makes no sense, unless they are leaving something out which will be explained later.

When we first saw the kett on Habitat 7, my literal first thought was that they looked like Collectors from ME2. We know that the kett, too, arrived in Andromeda on their own “arks.” I’m really hoping that’s not the big reveal at the end.

Near the beginning of the game, there was a reference to a Quarian Ark, but that it had technical difficulties and couldn’t launch on time. I wonder if that means it will show up later in this game, or whether the game developers literally had trouble with fitting quarians into this game, and that’s their excuse for leaving them out.

To end on one final positive note, I absolutely love what Bioware did with the Ryder brother/sister thing. It makes so much sense from a narrative perspective. Want to play a male? You’re Scott Ryder. Want to play a female? You’re Sara Ryder. The one you don’t pick remains in a coma. It makes so much more sense than picking whether the Shepard in your universe is male or female.

More thoughts later, when I find out if the game delivers any of the answers to my questions.

Ed: Yes, I know none of my questions above were answered within the game, and I was disappointed about it.

Rogue One (Spoilers)

I did not see Rogue One in the theater. I regretted that decision for a day or two, then felt good about it. I decided that it was “fan fiction”–a term I don’t use in a particularly positive sense. (Sorry superfans.)

I waited until it came to FIOS VOD. Then I forgot about it. Then I remembered it. I went into the movie with very low expectations. I wasn’t expecting “real” Star Wars. (I am expecting to repeat this behavior for the “Han Solo” movie.)

And the results are now in: Rogue One was “okay” but it wasn’t great.

Honestly I think it would have been better if it hadn’t been a Star Wars movie. It seemed like a weird mashup of Star Wars and World War II genres.

I mean, it wasn’t terrible. It just wasn’t great. It was not as good as The Force Awakens. I got pretty bored with the first two acts, actually. I didn’t feel any sympathy for any of the characters. I don’t even know why Forest Whitaker was in the movie, his part was so meaningless. I have literally no clue why these characters suddenly decided it was important to get the Death Star plans.

(Later I learned that the movie suffered from extensive re-shoots and re-edits, which might explain why the first two acts didn’t make much sense.)

On the plus side, the last act of the movie was a hell of a good action ride. There was some really top notch CGI work there. Actually, if you start the movie at roughly the 1:20 mark, it’s pretty good.

Overall I kept getting confused though because sometimes it looked like a Pacific War movie. The rebel uniforms clearly were inspired by Pacific War marines. Star Wars really doesn’t look right on a tropical beach. Other times, especially early on, it looked like a samurai movie. I mean, was it just me? Why in the holy hell was there a blind samurai in this movie?

The K droid was funny as hell. (I’m sure everyone else has his exact designation memorized but I don’t.) But does every Star Wars movie really need a funny droid? It’s sort of a cliche at this point.

It was a real treat to hear Gold Leader again.

The most memorable scene in the entire movie was nearly the last one: Darth Vader trying to get onto the rebel ship. The scene was completely out of place and unnecessary in the overall movie, but man was it bad ass. That was Darth Vader like we’ve literally never seen him before. (It was almost out of character, it was so different.) It was the embodiment of how we always imagined this evil Sith, but seeing it right there in front of your eyes was frightening as hell. That tiny scene was like a miniature horror movie.

Tarkin looked like a talking wax doll. It was very bizarre and off-putting. (His scenes looked like a Bioware game.) His voice sounded wrong, too. How could they spend so much time trying to get the visuals right and blow the voice? Wax-doll Leia looked a little better but only because she didn’t move or say much.

Rogue One was a good try, I suppose, but it didn’t quite do it for me.