About Tyler F.M. Edwards

Freelance writer, fantasy novelist, and nerd of the highest order.

Review: Defiance, “I Almost Prayed” (Season Finale)

The final episode of Defiance’s second season is very much a continuation of the previous episode. “I Almost Prayed” begins where “All Things Must Pass” left off, with the Arkfleet waking and using its terraforming technology to devastate the Earth. In minutes, New York suffers the same fate as San Fransisco, the heart of humanity’s waning power extinguished in an instant.

A promotional image for DefianceBut Irisa — or, more accurately, the Kaziri, which controls her — isn’t finished. The entire world is to be cleansed in the Devouring Mother’s flame.

The race is on to stop her. Doc Yewll finds herself pardoned of her crimes as she offers a plan that will stop the Kaziri in its tracks. Unfortunately, her method will also kill Irisa in the process, which is not something Nolan can allow to happen. One rule and all.

Nolan has a competing plan: to use Mordecai to absorb one of the Kaziri’s keys, thus ending its control of Irisa. But his plan is not supported by the Earth Republic, and the order comes to go through with Yewll’s plan.

Surprisingly, Amanda sides with the E-Rep against Nolan, shattering the trust they once had for each other and rather lowering my opinion of her as a person.

Irisa isn’t the only source of trouble, though. Pilar McCawley has decided she’s had enough of Defiance, and especially the Tarrs. She tries to convince Alak and Christie to leave the town and move instead to a commune to the south… which doesn’t exist. She goes to increasingly extreme lengths to get them to agree to her plan, with Quentin assisting because he’s a jackass.

The ruins of New York in Defiance, "I Almost Prayed"Much like the previous episode, “I Almost Prayed” is an epic thrill ride showcasing nearly every member of Defiance’s cast at their best. I even kind of liked Berlin this time around.

Nolan, in particular, hits the ball out of the park this time around, and I was reminded why I like his character so much. Nolan isn’t a saint by any stretch of the imagination, but when the cards are down, he’s someone you can count on to do the right thing, at any cost, and to go to Hell and back for the people he loves.

Something that surprised me about this episode is how funny it was. It’s full of epic, apocalyptic danger, but the writers still find time for plenty of the one-liners and wry humour that are so common in Defiance. They manage to do it in such a way that it doesn’t detract from the tension of the episode, which is a very difficult tightrope to walk.

A lot is resolved in “I Almost Prayed,” but a lot has changed, and there is no shortage of potential for the show’s future.

The destruction of New York is a game-changer — or it should be if the writers are smart. With the heart of the Earth Republic’s government shattered, can they continue to be one of the world’s powers? Might their tenuous grip on the land fail?

Most importantly, what is the Votanis Collective going to do? This seems the perfect moment for them to strike. They’d be stupid not to, frankly. Their greatest enemy is at their weakest point since the end of the Pale Wars.

The cast for Defiance for season twoI do have a few minor issues with “I Almost Prayed.” Most notably, I am disappointed Amanda never found out what a scumbag Pottinger is. It’s a reveal I’ve spent the entire series looking forward to, but now we’ll need to wait at least another year to see it, if we ever do.

I also wish we’d gotten a few more answers about the Kaziri. What was its purpose? Why did it arrive at Earth so long before the rest of the Arkfleet?

Overall, though, “I Almost Prayed” is a strong finale.

And thus Defiance’s second season came to an end. It was a transformative season for the show, a time when Defiance found its legs and went from being a show that was worth watching when there’s nothing better on to one of the better sci-fi series in recent memory.

The most surprising thing to me about this season was that the Earth Republic stayed in power through the entire season. I thought it was going to be an “occupation of New Caprica” kind of thing where they’d be in charge for a few episodes, and then the people of Defiance would rise up and take back their town.

I think it was a good decision, though. It added an extra dimension to the show’s politics, and if nothing else, it was unexpected, and avoiding the formulaic solution is almost always a good thing.

The town of DefianceI do hope the next season — should there be one — sees Defiance throw off its chains, though. With the E-Rep reeling from New York’s loss, there’s never going to be a better time.

It did occur to me to wonder if Berlin’s experience at Camp Reverie was a way of opening her eyes to the dark side of her organization, which may allow her to side with Defiance and thus stay on as a cast member if the town splits ways with the E-Rep.

Although I could also see Defiance needing to stand with the Republic against a newly aggressive Votanis Collective if they decide to seize the moment.

I also wonder what changes the apparent destruction of the Arkbelt might herald. I particularly wonder how it will affect the game, as the Arkbelt is a major visual set piece of the game world, and Arkfalls are a cornerstone of its gameplay. I suppose they’ll probably just wave it off by saying there are still enough wrecked ships left to cause regular Arkfalls.

All this talk of the future brings us to the elephant in the room: the question of whether Defiance will have a third season.

Considering the uphill battle sci-fi television always has and Defiance’s lackluster ratings this season, the odds are not looking good. I’m already preparing myself for a cancellation announcement that feels almost inevitable.

But I hope I’m wrong. Despite its weak start, Defiance has matured into a very good show, and in a world starving for decent sci-fi television, it’s a breath of fresh air.

Time will tell.

Overall rating: 8.9/10

Heroes of the Storm Alpha Thoughts

I’ve been playing around with the technical alpha of Heroes of the Storm for a couple weeks now, so I thought it was time to put together my thoughts so far.

My team prepares to begin a match in the Heroes of the Storm alphaFor the most part, I’m enjoying it a lot, and it has met or exceeded nearly all of my expectations. It is exactly what Blizzard wanted it to be: a simple, casual brawler with a fast pace and no shortage of action.

I don’t want to spend too much time going on about how the map objectives make matches much more dynamic than in other MOBAs, or how the removal of in-match gold and items puts the focus purely on the action. Much has already been written about those things in other previews, and all you really need to know is that those things are as cool as you think they will be.

I’d say my favourite maps so far are Haunted Mines and Blackheart’s Bay. I like how Mines almost turns into a totally different game every time the mines open, and it’s a really beautiful map. For whatever reason, Bay seems to always make for the most action-packed games, and Blackheart himself is pretty funny.

“Argh! Argh! …What? It’s just fun to say.”

My least favourites right now are Garden of Terror and Dragonshire. Those seem to be the most similar to traditional MOBA matches. Although I will say that the announcer for Garden of Terror is hilarious.

On the heroes front, I find the ones I thought I’d like and the ones I actually like are quite different. Going in, I was most excited to play Nova and Tyrande, but in practice, my favourite heroes so far are Illidan, Valla, and Tassadar. Valla, in particular, is very fun, and I’m glad I preordered Reaper of Souls, since it included a free unlock of Valla in the full version of Heroes.

Laying an ambush as Tyrande in the Heroes of the Storm alphaTyrande wasn’t bad to play, but I found her a little finicky, and she didn’t feel very powerful to me. I’ve only been able to give Nova a try during the last week, and I’m still making up my mind about her. She’s fun, but maybe not quite as fun as Valla or Illidan. Although she’s not really that hard of a hero to play, Nova can be high stress because any mistakes you make with her can prove costly.

That said, the sheer cool factor of playing as Nova can’t be denied, which brings me to another major highlight of Heroes: the thrill of being able to play as so many iconic Blizzard characters. I wouldn’t be enjoying this game nearly as much as I am if not for the sheer joy of, “I’m frickin’ Arthas, yo!”

I’m trying to put together a stable of heroes I like to represent all franchises and all roles. Valla and Illidan cover DPS, and Tassadar is my main support, but I’m still searching for a good warrior and specialist. Arthas is a decently fun warrior, so he might be my pick there. I’ve yet to find a specialist that really clicked. Nazeebo is kind of fun, but I’m not terribly passionate about him.

I am starting to see where some of the addictiveness of MOBAs comes from. There’s always a new hero to try.

The thing that most surprised me about Heroes is how much detail and personality the game has. Little touches like the flocks of seagulls that scatter before you on Blackheart’s Bay or the banter between heroes.

Destroying the enemy base on Blackheart's Bay in the Heroes of the Storm alphaI really love how much dialogue there is — didn’t expect that at all. I especially like how some pairings of heroes have unique dialogue based on their backstory. There have been some real nerdgasm moments. The other day, I was playing Arthas and killed Uther the Lightbringer, and I heard Arthas say, “Where is your precious Light now, Uther?”

Awesome.

I’ve also quite enjoyed some of the smack talk between the Brothers Stormrage and the not-so-friendly rivalry between Nova and Kerrigan.

All that said, the game is not without its shortcomings.

Concerns:

Whenever people talk of MOBAs, the issue of player toxicity is front and center. MOBAs have earned a reputation as wretched hives of scum and villainy, the lowest rung of gaming society. My experience has been that they’re not really any worse than many other online games — DotA 2 was no nastier than your average WoW battleground — but that’s still really bad, and it’s a serious concern.

I haven’t run into too much bad behaviour in Heroes so far, but it’s still alpha, and there are very few people playing. Things will undoubtedly get much worse once the floodgates open. Blizzard has taken some efforts to mitigate the potential for toxic behaviour by eliminating mechanics that put players into competition with their own team mates, as well as the ability to chat with the enemy team, but I doubt that will be enough.

Delivering coins on Blackheart's Bay in the Heroes of the Storm alphaEven in these early days, I have run into my share of frothing at the mouth nerd-ragers.

I can’t understand why people take it all so seriously, especially in a game this basic and especially in bloody alpha. We’re supposed to be testing the game, not proving ourselves to be the most gosu gamers around.

The free to play implementation leaves something to be desired, too. It’s not bad enough to ruin the game by any stretch of the imagination — it’s light years ahead of, say, Star Wars: The Old Republic — but it’s definitely a system that puts profit ahead of players.

Heroes uses roughly the same model as League of Legends. You’re expected to pay to unlock heroes permanently, but a random selection of heroes are available to play for free, changing every week, and you can earn an in-game currency (gold, in this case) to unlock heroes without paying real world cash. Gold comes from playing matches, doing daily quests, and from leveling up your account and heroes.

You can also unlock cosmetics like unique hero skins and fancy mounts, and these are only available for cash.

I’m not a huge fan of having to unlock heroes in the first place. I’d prefer DotA 2’s system, where all heroes are free, and you only pay for cosmetics.

That said, having to unlock them with cash or grind is not the end of the world, but the system could be handled better.

My team assembles before a match in the Heroes of the Storm alphaWhat bothers me the most is the huge and seemingly arbitrary disparity in prices between different heroes. It’s very demoralizing when a hero you want is, for no apparent reason, vastly more expensive than other, similar heroes. For example, Chen Stormstout is nearly eight times more expensive than Muradin Bronzebeard.

In what world does that make sense?

For this reason, Nova will likely not join my roster of unlocked heroes in the immediate future. I don’t feel comfortable dropping cash in an alpha, and I don’t see myself having 10,000 gold to burn any time soon.

That said, I’ve been playing for less than a month, and I’ve already managed to unlock four heroes without spending money, so I guess the situation’s not really that bad.

* * *

Despite a few complaints, and the buggy and unreliable nature of alpha, I do find myself enjoying Heroes of the Storm immensely, despite my general distaste for competitive gaming.

If you’re not in the alpha and have any questions, leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to answer them. And if you are in the alpha, share your thoughts.