What’s New: Horizon Zero Dawn and Umbrella Academy Disappoint, while Cursed and Iron Harvest Impress

I once again apologize for my slowed posting schedule. I just haven’t had the spoons lately. But there’s a bit of a lull right now, so let’s do a quick run through what I’ve been up to lately.

A Rusviet mech in Iron Harvest 1920.I recently finished playing through the PC port of Horizon Zero Dawn. I was excited to finally check out such a well-regarded game, but unfortunately I found myself rather underwhelmed. The setting is very unique, but it’s a depressingly ordinary game otherwise. It plays like any other open world RPG from recent history, excessive boring side quests and all, and it doesn’t really do anything to set itself apart from the pack aside from having a unique aesthetic.

I never thought I’d say this about anything, but it should have been more like Pokemon. Taming machines and using them to assist you should have been the core gimmick of the game, not a wonky side feature that wasn’t good for much other than acquiring mounts.

I also think Aloy was a missed opportunity of a character. As someone who actually grew up isolated from the world with no one but a father figure to talk to, I can assure you Aloy should be much, much more socially awkward. I’m perfectly willing to accept that Aloy is the ultimate badass when it comes to hunting, tracking, and fighting — that makes sense given her backstory — but she ought to be a hot mess when it comes to interacting with people.

She could have been a unique character that someone like me could as a role-model, but instead they made her a generic wise-cracking action hero. She just doesn’t feel like a real person.

Also on the subject of things not living up to their hype, I recently finished the second season of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy. Now, I was never the biggest fan of this show, but even so, I expected a lore more from the second season.

The cast of the Umbrella Academ.Basically, it’s just season one all over again. It’s the same plot, with only cosmetic differences. There’s no significant character growth compared to the first season, there’s no significant surprises, and what new characters and plot threads are added are mostly irrelevant and forgotten by the end.

It bothers me how this is a show about a team of superheroes that seems to go out of its way to avoid ever showing them working as a team. I get that they’re supposed to be a dysfunctional bunch, but there are ways to show that don’t involve scattering everyone to the four winds.

It’s the same problem the Netflix seasons of Arrested Development had. The show’s greatest strength is its cast and how they play off each other. Why are you doing everything you can to not let that happen?

Meanwhile, I’ve also been working my way through the latest season of Lucifer. It’s also felt like a bit of a letdown, but mostly just because the last season was so damn good. Season five has been solid so far; season four just set a really high bar, so it’s hard to live up to.

On a brighter note, one thing that has impressed me on Netflix recently is Cursed. I went in with pretty low expectations, and the first few episodes didn’t exactly blow me away, but since then it’s really drawn me in. I’ve got a few episodes left in the season, and I’m trying to savour them. It’s been a good ride.

Katherine Langford as Nimue, the Wolf Blood Witch, in Cursed.It’s kind of by the numbers fantasy, but I think that’s what I like about it. It feels like the classic high fantasy adventures I grew up loving. It’s not hiding the magic off in a corner or focusing on petty politics. It’s true, proper high fantasy, with magic and wonder around every corner.

I’ve also been thinking about how Cursed is a fantastic example of how to do dark story-telling the right way. These days too much media goes too far and just wallows in awfulness. Everything is bleak, visually and emotionally.

Cursed isn’t like that. It’s definitely a brutal story, and it doesn’t pull any punches. It’s a story about genocide, and it’s got the gorey battle scenes and horrifying villains to match.

But there’s good to be found, too. The heroes of the story, while not perfect, are actual heroes. Nimue and her companions are largely brave, decent people doing their best to fight against evil. They’re worth cheering for.

Even the visuals of the show reflect this balance. The battles may entail no shortage of blood and guts, but there’s also a lot of genuine beauty seen in things like the forests of the Fey. It’s not a world where everything is brown and ugly. It’s a world of beauty and wonders.

This is how you do it. Despicable villains, but lovable heroes. Moments of brutality, and moments of peace. Ugliness, but also beauty.

Gustaf Skarsgard as Merlin in Cursed.My only major complaint at this point is that the inevitable flirtation between the leads feels painfully forced, but otherwise Cursed has thus far proved an excellent series. Let’s hope the last few episodes keep up that momentum.

Moving back to the world of gaming, something else that I’ve enjoyed recently is Iron Harvest 1920. I gave my thoughts on the beta over at Massively OP, and now I’m playing the full version of the game and continuing to enjoy it.

I will say that it’s not the most relaxing game. Even on the lowest difficulty setting, it keeps you on your toes. But the story is quite good, and it feels genuinely fresh. While it’s familiar in many ways, I haven’t played an RTS game exactly like this before. It’s got an emphasis on positioning and mobility that you normally would only find in an RPG or shooter. Would recommend.

And that’s about it for now. I should return to slaving in the RPG mines. Stay tuned for some fun news on that front in the coming weeks (hopefully…).