Retro Review: Torchlight + Anthem Revisited

I have at last bowed to the inevitable and installed the Epic Games Store. It joins Steam, Uplay, Origin, and Battle.Net as other game launchers that I have installed just at this moment.

My character in TorchlightThis madness must end.

Like most people, I was drawn to the EGS by its promise of free games. The first I picked up was ARPG Torchlight. I’ve nursed a mild curiosity about the Torchlight franchise for a while, recently intensified by the buzz around the upcoming Torchlight MMO, Frontiers.

Torchlight is a very, very traditional ARPG in pretty much every possible respect. I could describe to you its gameplay or its story, but honestly whatever you’re picturing in your mind is probably accurate.

This is both Torchlight’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

On the one hand, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Torchlight works — it plays well, and it has no major design flaws.

However, it does feel incredibly samey. There’s very little here you haven’t seen in any number of other ARPGs. Torchlight doesn’t even do much to shake up its formula relative to itself. Boss mechanics aren’t really a thing, and if you’ve played one level of Torchlight, you’ve played them all.

I found this sense of repetition grew increasingly oppressive as the game went on. The early levels feel plenty fun, but after a while it just turns into pure grinding. The story is too paper thin to add any texture to the later levels.

Combat in TorchlightThere are a few little things about this game I appreciated. The most notable is that Torchlight is the first game I’ve ever played that offers a choice of death penalties. When you die, you can resurrect at your body for a loss of XP, at the start of the current floor for a small fee of gold, or in town for free. Clever — I like it.

Torchlight’s one nod towards setting itself from the pack seems to be that every class gets a pet that can help it fight, carry loot, and go back to town to sell stuff. Truthfully I found this impacted my experience of the game very little, but I do feel the need to point out that the pet I chose was a ferret with steampunk goggles, and that is definitely The Best.

I also did like how my class — vanquisher — played with positioning. A lot of her abilities can pierce enemies and ricochet off walls, which raises some interesting tactical options. It’s hard to aim, but being able to get the perfect ricochet off and tear through a whole cohort of enemies is pretty satisfying.

Torchlight was a decent ride early on, but by the end I was glad to be done with it. I’m still kind of curious to check out the sequel at some point, but I hope it improves on the first.

Overall rating: 6/10

A return to Antium:

A sign of things to come...In other news, the beginning of Cataclysm pre-events has caused me to start playing Anthem again, albeit on a pretty casual basis.

I’m glad I took a break to prevent burnout, but I’m also glad to be back. This game remains as fun as I remember it, and while the new content is very minimal right now, the lead up to Cataclysm does nonetheless provide some extra spice.

The main feature right now is a number of new free play events, but alongside those are subtler changes to the world. Strange crystal formations have begun to appear all over, and sometimes you can literally see a storm forming on the horizon.

As much as the game definitely needs a big new content update, I kind of like this slow rollout. It makes the world feel very alive. There’s some special about flying around free play and suddenly bumping into new enemy types without any fanfare at all.

The howls those new lightning wolves make are horrifying.

This also gave me the opportunity to check out the new stronghold, The Sunken Cell.

The bad news is I had a hell of a time trying to get a group for it. I did some reading and discovered Sunken Cell is considered an inefficient place to farm due to its puzzles, so I’ll try not to assume anything dire about the game’s population based on this (free play, for the record, is still hopping).

The Sunken Cell stronghold in AnthemThe good news is Sunken Cell is my favourite stronghold so far. It has a very twisted ambiance that I really like, the final boss arena is spectacular, and the story is intriguing, if inconclusive.

Here’s hoping Cataclysm proper keeps up this momentum.

Retro Review: Killjoys, Season Two: Episodes 6-10

Moving on to the second half of Killjoys’ second season. Again, spoilers ahoy.

The logo for Killjoys“I Love Lucy”:

You know, I’m not really a fan of all the pop culture references in episode titles (or the similarly current soundtrack). It would work for a near future sci-fi set on or near Earth, but Killjoys is so far removed from our society in terms of both time and space it might as well be an alternate reality. It just doesn’t fit.

Anyway.

“I Love Lucy” sees Dutch and the team contact an eccentric collector in the hopes of acquiring more of Khlyen’s green plasma (which sounds like a strain of weed, now that I think about it). Of course, shenanigans ensue.

This is another weirdly mixed episode. The first half is what I remember from season one of Killjoys: a painfully predictable string of cliches I’ve seen countless times before. But it does redeem itself a bit later on. I did enjoy seeing Dutch go full Yalla on the guy — a chilling reminder of the darkness of her past — and the whole twist where maybe he’s not such a bad guy after all was an interesting choice.

Overall rating: 6.9/10

“Heart-Shaped Box”:

Dutch and D'avin in KilljoysSo apparently D’avin’s penis can cure level six conditioning.

Did not see that coming.

Following their night together, Sabine is revealed as a level six, but one who has been stripped of her power and conditioning. This becomes an opportunity to study a live level six, though in practice we mostly learn about their state of mind more than anything practical.

The idea here seems to be to tell a tragic story about how Sabine has regained her humanity, only to have it slip away again. And it kind of works, but not entirely. There’s too many holes and hiccups.

For one thing, we as viewers haven’t really been given enough time to care about Sabine. For another, D’avin was way too okay with letting his girlfriend get tortured in the first part of the episode, which rather kills the romance.

But most importantly they just didn’t do enough to try to keep Sabine cured. Really they didn’t do anything. I cannot believe that this is a phrase I am about to type in all seriousness, but they really should have spent more time investigating the fact that D’avin’s penis seems to cure level sixes, even if temporarily.

The cast of KilljoysSeriously, that should have been a bigger deal. I mean, I’m not saying he should bone her every time she starts feeling stabby, but clearly there’s something there. Something about the whole exchange of bodily fluids, presumably — it messes with the plasma. Maybe they could have used some of D’avin’s DNA to try to create an anti-six vaccine.

Oh my gods what I am even writing right now.

Also, Dutch assuming the name in the box is the other her is a huuuuge leap. How does she know?

Overall rating: 7/10 What am I doing with my life.

“Full Metal Monk”:

This episode manages to have all kinds of bad stuff happen and escalate events quite a lot while still feeling like a complete and total waste of time. Impressive.

Dutch and D’avin investigate a trail of breadcrumbs left by Khlyen and find a long-abandoned facility on Arkyn, which once again raises more questions than answers.

Meanwhile, Johnny, abandoned by his teammates, seeks the aid of Pawter to discover the purpose of the wall around Old Town. Which they are only partially successful in.

The cast of KilljoysI’m bothered by how much of a waste of time this episode is — offering so many opportunities for real answers without actually giving any — but I’m even more bothered by Dutch and D’avin’s treatment of Johnny.

They’ve basically abandoned him to his fate for trying to do the right thing. That’s a terrible way to treat your brother/partner, and massively hypocritical when you consider how much time Johnny’s spent bending over backwards to help them with their problems. As established by the last episode, Dutch is half a sociopath at the best of times, but D’avin’s better than that. Or he should be.

Overall rating: 6/10

“Johnny Be Good”:

This season started well, but it’s really losing momentum as it heads toward the end. Sort of the opposite of season one that way.

“Johnny Be Good” starts en media res, as is common these days (maybe too common — I’m getting a bit sick of it), but it reveals an unusual amount, which both spoils a lot of the episode’s tension and makes the whole thing feel very disjointed, especially considering how much is going on.

To make a long story short, the crap hits the fan in Old Town, Dutch and D’avin drop everything to go rogue and defy the company despite berating Johnny for doing the same thing last episode, and we get yet more super vague sinister hints about the level sixes.

The Quad, the setting for KilljoysI was enjoying this mystery for quite a while, but now they’re just heaping question after question on without offering any answers. It’s stopped being intriguing; now it’s just confusing. I’m being strung along, and I hate being strung along.

There better be a damn good explanation for all this, and soon.

There’s also the matter of Pawter’s death to consider. I know it was coming because I’d had it spoiled, and even if I hadn’t it was quite glaringly foreshadowed, but I’m still unhappy. Pawter was the show’s best character — likable, complex, and well-acted — and Killjoys doesn’t have enough strong points to be able to burn those it has.

Overall rating: 5/10

“How to Kill Friends and Influence People” (season finale):

Well, I finally got my answers. This episode feels like it’s about half info-dumps. Would have been far better to portion out the reveals over the whole season, but at least they didn’t just keeping piling on more mystery.

The finale of Killjoys’ second season sees Khlyen show up, the Killjoys deciding to immediately trust him despite past history, him doing a whole lot of exposition, and finally him sacrificing himself to save the Quad. It’s rushed, and there are parts of it that don’t make sense, but at this point that’s about what I expect from this show.

The mysterious Khlyen in KilljoysI really don’t buy Dutch being so traumatized by Khlyen’s death. I can see her doing some mourning, because he was essentially her father, however terrible a parent he may have been, but I can’t see her being so distraught at his sacrifice when up until about twenty minutes previously he was what she hated more than anything else in existence.

To be fair, though, “How to Kill Friends and Influence People” does have its moments. It’s got some extravagantly over the top action sequences, even by Killjoys standards, and that’s a lot of fun. The banter that often feels so forced is actually pretty funny here, and I laughed out loud more than once.

Really, though, the saving grace of this episode is Johnny. Every single scene of his is amazing. Some of them are exciting, some are intense, some are funny, and some are heartfelt, but he absolutely nails every single one. If the rest of the episode could have lived up to the standard he set, it would have been amazing.

As it is, it’s just okay.

Overall rating: 7/10 Nearly all of those points are for Johnny.

So I leave Killjoys’ second season the same way I did the first: unsure if I want to bother watching more. It has its moments, and there’s glimmers of potential here, but the writing is consistently sloppy, the acting often mediocre, and the overall quality level is consistent only in its inconsistency.

Killjoys is okay, but that’s all it is, and it’s increasingly clear that’s all it will ever be.