What’s New: Warrior Nun, Theros, Agents of Mayhem, and More

I find myself with a number of topics I wish to discuss — many of which I’d have devoted full posts to back in the day — but I am once again knee deep in my latest project for Dungeon in a Box, and I just don’t have the spoons, so I’m afraid you’re going to have to get the Coles Notes version.

Kinzie "Safeword" Kensington in Agents of Mayhem.Firstly, the last of the birthday presents I bought for myself have arrived. Among other things, I bought myself a bunch of D&D rulebooks, including the newest entry, Mythic Odysseys of Theros.

I was interested in Theros because of the Greek mythology inspiration, but it’s turned out to be far more compelling than I expected, even for reasons beyond the mythological angle. It’s a fascinating setting with tonnes of cool ideas and fresh takes on all kinds of standard fantasy concepts. The fluid line between thought and reality in Theros, in particular, is really exciting. I need more RPG writing projects like I need a bullet in the head, but I’m more than a little tempted to write an adventure or two in Theros — I already like it much better than Forgotten Realms in many ways.

Meanwhile, I’ve watched through season one of Netflix’s new series, Warrior Nun. Between the goofy name and the less than inspiring trailer, I probably never would have bothered with this show, save for the fact it’s brought to us by Simon Barry. Simon Barry also created Continuum, which is one of the best TV series I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch, so anything he’s attached has got to be worth a try.

It’s not Continuum, but I did enjoy Warrior Nun.

Here’s the thing: In most ways, this could be considered a pretty mediocre show. The plots are serviceable, but not remarkable, as are most of the characters. The series is almost entirely carried by the strength of its lead character, Ava, and the actress who plays her, Alba Baptista.

The incredible Alba Baptista as Ava in Netflix's Warrior Nun.Ava is delightful. The “ordinary person thrust into the role of hero” concept is a very common trope, but rarely is it executed effectively. It’s very hard to make a character both heroic and convincing as a normal, relatable person, but Ava nails that balance. From her dorky sense of humour to the palpable sense of joy she has at discovering what is to her a whole new world, she is incredibly relatable and overwhelmingly lovable, even when she’s thrown into the most outlandish of situations.

The are some other positives to Warrior Nun — most notably the character of Sister Beatrice, who is the only cast member who can share a screen with Ava and not be totally eclipsed — but let’s not mince words: Ava is what makes this show worth watching. I haven’t loved any fictional character this much in a long time.

Also on the subject of Netflix, I watched the Charlize Theron film The Old Guard recently. It was okay; a pretty by the numbers action flick, but it works. Don’t expect anything more than a popcorn flick, and you won’t be disappointed.

Speaking of disappointment, though, I also tried Netflix’s Snowpiercer series. I’d heard some friends raving about it, so I decided to give it a try, and… man, it does not live up to the hype.

Snowpiercer is a cartoonishly unsubtle parody of grimdark, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian tropes. It’s so over the top it’s impossible to take it seriously.

A shot from Netflix's Snowpiercer series.I realized I have the same problem with Snowpiercer I do with Star Trek: Discovery. They’re both really dumb shows that think they’re really smart. Being dumb on its own isn’t a dealbreaker; it’s the lack of self-awareness that ruins it. Lucifer is also a very dumb show, but Lucifer knows it’s dumb. It’s all presented with a wink and a nod; everyone is in on the joke.

With Snowpiercer (and to a slightly lesser extent Discovery), there is no self-awareness of how absolutely cartoonish and absurd the series is. It’s all presented with such deadly seriousness. With a few tweaks, it could work as a dark comedy, Tarantino style, but instead it’s a joyless, bleak slog.

On the gaming front, I’ve been working my way through a backlog newly bolstered by the last Steam sale. I recently finished an action RPG called Shadows: Awakening. It was decent, but could have been better. The setting and characters were interesting, but the plot never quite clicked the way it seems like it should have.

Gameplay-wise, it’s main gimmick is its unusual character-swapping mechanic. Essentially, it’s a party-based game, but you can only have one member of the party on the field at the time, so you’re constantly switching between them.

It’s a cool idea, and overall I liked it, but it could have been even better. I would have liked to have seen each character feel more complete and be a viable fighter on their own, making the choice of when to swap more about the tactical needs of the moment. As it is, the limited toolkit and long cooldowns of each character made it feel like the optimal way to play was often to simply cycle through all your characters, spamming all their abilities on cooldown.

Princess Evia delving Kogog'Aak in Shadows: AwakeningI’ve now moved on to open world shooter Agents of Mayhem. The reviews were lukewarm, so my expectations weren’t terribly high, but I’ve found it extremely addictive. It’s pure junk food gaming — thin plot, dumb jokes, mindless action, and an endless firehose of loot and rewards — but damn it, it works. It’s fun. It can be a bit repetitive, to be sure, but I don’t think it’s exceptionally bad offender on that front relative to similar games, and the moment to moment gameplay is so enjoyable it doesn’t really matter.

I didn’t realize it going it, but Agents of Mayhem actually has largely the same character-swapping mechanic as Shadows: Awakening, though I feel it works a bit better in this case.

I’m mostly playing Kinzie “Safeword” Kensington, a hacker focused on debuffing and mind-controlling enemies (apparently a carry-over from the Saints Row franchise, which I’ve never played). She’s full of personality, and her mind control ultimate is hilarious. I’m mainly backing her up with Braddock, a tanky ex-marine with a versatile toolkit, and Oni, a Yakuza assassin with an aura that debuffs nearby enemies.

I like the gameplay and aesthetics of Rama (a DoT-heavy archer) and Lazarus (an even more DoT-heavy nanite-wielder), but they’re both too squishy, and I like Daisy’s aesthetics, but she’s a bit of a one-trick pony mechanically, so they don’t see as much play. The other characters don’t really interest me much, though I will grant Hollywood’s ultimate is pretty fun.

As for what’s next after Agents of Mayhem, I still have plenty of other options in my backlog, but I’m also considering springing for Horizon Zero Dawn when it launches on Steam next month. What I saw of the gameplay during the brief time Moiren streamed it didn’t entirely blow me away, but the setting and aesthetic seems so unique I think I still want to check it out.

Combat in Agents of Mayhem.Finally, as I’m writing this I’ve just finished off the final season of Alice Isn’t Dead, the mystery/thriller podcast from the creators of Welcome to Night Vale. The ending felt a bit too sudden and a bit too simple, but overall I think the final season was probably the best. The way they shook up the formula really added new life to the show, I think.

Review: We Happy Few

We Happy Few is a stealth/survival game taking place in a dystopic alternate version of 1960s England. In this reality, the Germans occupied Britain during the Second World War, and though the occupation only last a few years, the British were compelled to do terrible things in that time.

The title screen for We Happy Few.To cope with their shared trauma, residents of the village of Wellington Wells turned to Joy, a powerful drug that causes users to forget anything unpleasant, leaving them in a state of mindless euphoria. Being sad is now a crime, and “Downers” are exiled into the wilderness, or disappeared entirely.

That premise intrigued me from the moment I heard it, but stealth has never been my cup of tea, so I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy We Happy Few or not. I opted to wait until it went on a deep discount on Steam before buying it.

I kind of regret that now. We Happy Few is an amazing game, and I would have happily paid full price if I’d known it would be this good.

WHF’s reliance on stealth was an issue early on. However, the saving grace is that stealth in this game is not mandatory in the sense that being caught will cause a fail state. You just have to fight more if you’re bad at sneaking (like I am). I had to restart the game on a lower difficulty to survive the many, many fights I kept getting myself into, but once I did that I was able to start making real progress and truly enjoying the game.

The combat in WHF is a bit simplistic, but it’s enjoyable enough, and it gets the job done. I was also really surprised by how immersive and enjoyable I found the game’s survival and exploration mechanics to be. We Happy Few stands as one of the very few open world single-player games that I feel actually justifies its open world, rather than using it as a crutch to pad out the game.

The world seen through the lens of Joy in We Happy Few.I was especially impressed by the quality of the side quests in this game. Side quests are usually something I endure more than savour, but in WHF nearly every side quest was interesting or entertaining on at least some level.

My favourite involved a cult of lunatics worshiping a supposedly divine yam. The premise is great, but the execution was better. I was amazed by how elaborate the quest was. They even repurposed a lot of actual pagan prayers for use by the yam cult.

The amount of effort and research poured into such a silly and ultimately irrelevant side quest is a testament to the passion and devotion of We Happy Few’s developers.

For more of my thoughts on We Happy Few’s open world and survival mechanics, stay tuned to Massively Overpowered for an upcoming MMO Burnout column on the topic.

But while I did largely enjoy the game mechanics and exploration content of We Happy Few, it’s the main story and the themes it raises where this game really shines.

I’m not normally a fan of dystopic fiction, for a variety of reasons. However, We Happy Few aces two things that dystopic stories tend to ignore.

The bucolic splendour of the Garden District in We Happy Few.One is that this is a fairly appealing dystopia. The Joy-fueled haze experienced by the citizens of Wellington Wells may not be quite so brilliantly seductive as the selective memory editing of Remember Me, a similarly powerful dystopic game, but it isn’t too hard to imagine a world where people have been seduced by the promise of eternal happiness. It’s more believable than the openly horrific settings of other dystopias.

The other is that We Happy Few acknowledges something a lot of similar stories ignore: dystopias don’t work.

We Happy Few is less a story of plucky heroes rising up to throw off their shackles as it is that of a broken system collapsing under its own faulty premise. Absolutely every aspect of life in Wellington Wells is falling apart; Joy is poisoning the entire town, literally and figuratively.

There’s this terrible lie that pervades our culture — including our fiction — that evil may be unpleasant, but it gets things done. Efficiency and decency are seen as opposite ends of a spectrum, where one has to be sacrificed in the name of the other.

But that’s not true. We’re told that torture may be wrong, but it yields useful information (it doesn’t). We’re told that strongmen may not be lovable, but they get things done (they don’t).

In reality, oppressive authoritarian regimes are almost invariably riddled with corruption, incompetence, and inefficiency. Justice, equality, and liberal policies almost always lead to better results across all sectors of society.

Townspeople in We Happy Few.And We Happy Few understands this. Wellington Wells isn’t run by evil geniuses. In so much as it has any leadership at all, it’s run by cowards and idiots.

I will also say that a lot of themes of this game resonate with me on a very personal level, having spent much of my life on a rollercoaster of various sedatives and antidepressants, most of which just made things worse for me.

While I acknowledge that drugs do help some people, the way medication is often sold as a cure-all is deeply disturbing to me.

Something that really struck a chord with me is the fact that Joy comes in various tasty flavours — chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, blackberry… I was reminded of a time many years ago where my doctor gave me some free samples of an antipressant. They were chewable and had a delicious mint flavour.

I don’t even think I want to know what they put into those things to make them taste so good. I don’t even like mint, normally.

I’m not shaming people who take antidepressants. If any of them actually worked for me, I’d take them happily. But I think we can all agree something has broken in our system when doctors hand out candy-sweet happy pills to anyone willing to ask for them.

The Jacobean Club is looking a bit worse for wear in We Happy Few.It also struck me that although the core theme of We Happy Few could boil down to “things suck, and there aren’t any easy answers,” I still managed to find it a fairly uplifting game.

One of the many things I’ve dabbled in to try to treat my mental health issues is dialectical behaviour therapy, and WHF is a great lesson in two of DBT’s core principles: validation and radical acceptance. Sometimes you just have to acknowledge that yes, things suck, and it’s okay to feel bad.

Sometimes trying to cheer up — or having others try to cheer you up — isn’t helpful. It can even make things worse. Sometimes you just need to face the fact that things are bad, and there can be a certain relief in that.

I can poke a few holes in We Happy Few’s story here or there — it’s a bit slow-paced, and it doesn’t answer as many questions as I’d like — but its strength far exceeds its weaknesses.

If there’s one place WHF stumbles, it’s the DLC. Even then, none of it is actually bad; it’s just not as good as the main game. The first two DLCs — They Came from Below and Lightbearer — are just jokey side-quests, though they do feature some clever game mechanics.

The final DLC, We All Fall Down, returns to the main story and is all around a lot more enjoyable, though even then it suffers a bit from feeling somewhat disconnected from the events of base game.

Confronting the doctors in We Happy Few.Despite somewhat underwhelming DLC, though, We Happy Few is the most I’ve enjoyed a video game in quite a while.

Overall rating: 9/10