Review: Dark Matter, “Welcome to the Revolution” + PvE Survival Sandboxes

One of the things I love about Dark Matter is that it’s incredibly consistent. Maybe not every episode will blow your mind, but it’s always solid. In its entire run, there’s been just one bad episode: that fembot mess from season one.

A promotional image for Dark Matter season threeThat is, only one bad episode, until now. I fear it’s time to add another to the list.

“Welcome to the Revolution” has a lot of cool ideas, and some scenes are very good, but it’s trying to do way too much, and the end result is confusing, half-baked, and downright damaging to the series going forward.

While attempting to meet up with Tabor, their handler, the crew of the Raza once again finds themselves embroiled in corporate intrigue, as the local miners foment rebellion against their corporate overlords.

It’s a story that’s eerily — and I believe intentionally — similar to the series premiere, but this time it’s far less black and white. The corporate soldiers aren’t all brutal tyrants, and the rebels aren’t entirely guiltless, either. At times they seem more villainous than their oppressors, in fact.

And that part I liked. They managed to cram a lot of moral complexity into just one episode, and it once again shows that the Raza crew’s efforts to reinvent themselves as heroes will never be easy or simple. Again, being better is so much harder.

Things get even more interesting when a late twist ties the conflict into bigger plot arcs from Dark Matter’s past, but unfortunately, that’s also when things start to go off the rails.

Five (Jodelle Ferland) and Six (Roger Cross) in Dark Matter“Welcome to the Machine” is a complicated story, and there’s not nearly enough time to do it all justice. This needed to be a two-parter at least. But it isn’t, and so it feels rushed and unfinished, and the resolution honestly just doesn’t make sense given past context (this is a very hard episode to review without violating my spoiler policy).

Ultimately, the goal of “Welcome to the Machine” seems to have been to provide another cast shake-up, and that’s the worst thing about it. The show has now lost one of its best characters, who has always been essential to its core themes, not to mention arguably its most talented actor.

In exchange, the cast seems to have picked up two new characters. One has already proven himself finger-nails-on-a-chalkboard irritating, and the other could potentially be interesting but has yet to do much or display any real personality.

This is not a good trade.

In general I am now growing frustrated with the extent to which Dark Matter hemorrhages cast members. I was never the biggest One fan, so I didn’t mind his death (though it’s disappointing that mystery was never solved), and the senselessness of Devon’s end was sort of the whole point of it, but Nyx and the latest loss are just examples of wasting potential. The show is worse for their loss.

These losses are beginning to undermine the core themes of Dark Matter. It’s about the crew, about the unique family they’ve created with each other. The more those bonds are broken, the more the show loses its heart and soul.

Left to right: Alex Mallari Jr. (Four), Roger Cross (Six), Anthony Lemke (Three), and Melissa O'Neill (Two)This has to stop.

Overall rating: 5.2/10

New articles:

In other news, I’ve had some more articles published on MMO Bro.

First, I imagine the possibility of a purely PvE survival sandbox, and how it could perhaps be superior to the PvP focused games currently dominating the genre.

Interestingly I wrote this article before the Fortnite reveals at E3, but Fortnite seems pretty close to the PvE survival sandbox I was imagining (though smaller in scale than my hypotheticals). There’s still a lot of unanswered questions about Fortnite, but I gotta say the trailer made it look really fun, and it’s now on my radar.

My main concern is that it seems like a game that’s really meant to be played with friends, but I don’t have a lot of gamer friends. It doesn’t seem like a good game for PUGing, and it’s not clear to me if playing solo is even an option, let alone an enjoyable playstyle.

But I’m definitely going to keep an eye on it.

Also at MMO Bro, I list off six ways World of Warcraft still has the rest of the MMO world beat. WoW is really showing its age these days, but there are a few specific areas it’s still trouncing the competition.

Gaming: The Unblogables

Over the years, I’ve mostly been consistent about blogging on every game I’ve played, but there are exceptions. Usually games that I didn’t play for very long. I don’t have enough to say about each one to fill a whole post, but I thought it might be interesting to collect them together into one quick list. Today, the unblogables will come to light (all right).

The Inn of the Prancing Pony in Lord of the Rings OnlineThis isn’t necessarily an exhaustive list of games I’ve played but not blogged about, but these are the more noteworthy ones.

WildStar

I played WildStar during its open beta, and I actually wrote up a fairly extensive impressions piece for a paying client. Unfortunately, due to circumstances outside my control, the article never saw the light of day.

The fact that I never returned to WildStar after the beta should give you some idea of what I thought of it. I did like the housing, at least. Every MMO on the market should be rushing to steal WildStar’s housing system wholesale.

The combat was also pretty fun solo, though it turned into an incomprehensible rainbow spew in a group setting. And the environment art grew on me — like playing a Dr. Seuss MMO — but I never did learn to like the character models.

Overall, though, I found the glacial pacing, grindy gameplay, and obnoxious forced humour were enough to turn me off the game pretty fast.

I regret that my article never saw the light of day, because I feel like I was one of the few who predicted WildStar’s collapse early on (if anything I underestimated how badly it would crash and burn). But now I can’t prove that, so my opportunity to gloat has been denied.

A space mission in WildStarI could just see that this was a game that didn’t know who its audience was. It has a deep backstory, but Twitter-style word count limits on quest text. Its constant humour and silliness screams casual game, but the actual gameplay is a brutally grindy homage to the days when MMOs were more like second jobs.

Skyrim

I can definitely see how Skyrim could be an amazing experience for a certain kind of gamer.

I’m not that kind of gamer.

Really my gripe is that it’s mislabeled. It gets classified as an action RPG, but it’s not. It strikes me as more of an exploration sandbox/kleptomania simulator. And again, that’s fine, and they do it well enough, but it’s just not what I’m looking for in a game. The phrase “a mile wide and an inch deep” does come to mind.

EVE Online

I thought it’d be the infamously cruel and ruthless community that drove me away from EVE — I did love how the very first thing the tutorial tells you is “don’t trust the other players” — but actually it was the clunky UI and stiff gameplay that I couldn’t get over. After a couple hours, it was just making my brain hurt, and not in a fun TSW kind of way.

Lord of the Rings Online

A screenshot from Lord of the Rings OnlineAs a big fan of both Lord of the Rings and MMOs, LotRO seems like a game I should love. But when I finally got around to trying it, I barely lasted an hour.

It’s the same old story: It’s a WoW clone, through and through. When I want to play WoW, I’ll just play WoW.

And more importantly, if there’s one setting that doesn’t belong in that mould, it’s Lord of the Rings. In a Lord of the Rings game, I do not want to be doing meaningless kill ten rats quests for faceless NPCs. I do not want to be an overpowered god who can one-shot any foe with a dirty look. I want to feel the texture of the world’s history and challenge myself against epic foes.

Give me The Secret World: Middle-Earth Edition, and we’ll talk. I’d also settle for Elder Scrolls Online: Middle-Earth Edition.

I also found it a profoundly unappealing game from a visual perspective. I know Lord of the Rings Online is considered one of the most beautiful MMOs out there, but for the life of me, I’ll never understand why. It’s not just that it hasn’t aged well (although it definitely hasn’t aged well), but the fundamental art style is just unpleasant. Everything is muddy and dull and bland and just… ugh.

Ironically, the character models — the one aspect of the graphics that does usually garner complaints — was one aspect of the graphics I didn’t mind. They’re not great, but they’ll do.

MY Elven hunter in Lord of the Rings OnlineI will grant that getting to visit the Inn of the Prancing Pony was really neat, and I am often tempted to give it another try. Maybe I’d like it better with a different class (I was a hunter), but the only other one that strongly appeals to me on paper is warden, and you have to pay for that.

Pay-gating classes is a really good way to make sure I won’t play your game.

I suppose if any LotRO players out there want to suggest a (free) class they think I might like, I’ll take it under advisement. Despite how my above ranting may come across, it’s a game I want to like.

Viking: Battle for Asgard

This was some no-name title I picked up dirt cheap on a Steam sale just because Vikings.

I actually made it pretty far in the game before I called it quits. It’s very mindless and has no real plot, but the combat was delightfully brutal, and it was enjoyable in a simplistic sort of way. I was also impressed by some of the huge battles you can participate in; it’s surprisingly rare to find games where you can participate in large scale battles as one of the boots on the ground.

The main problem was for some reason the developers decided to stick a bunch of mandatory stealth missions throughout the game. They felt totally out of place compared to the rest of the game, they were very frustrating, and after a while I just couldn’t be bothered anymore.

A screenshot from Viking: Battle for AsgardThe Witcher

I didn’t like the combat.

That’s pretty much all there is to say. I gave up after about an hour because the core gameplay was just too unpleasant for me.

I know everyone’s over the moon about Wild Hunt these days, but having seen Moiren stream some of it, I’m not getting what the fuss is about. Seems like a very standard open world fantasy game to me. It certainly doesn’t look bad or anything, but I also feel confident that I’m not missing much.

Transistor

I think the surest sign video games are now being taken seriously as an art form is that, as in all art forms, there are now emperor’s new clothes situations where incomprehensible titles are praised simply for being incomprehensible. Enter Transistor.

They just sort of dump you into the game with little to no explanation of the controls, the game mechanics, the story, the characters, the setting, or much of anything else. You’re just left to fumble blindly and hope for the best. I feel like it might have been an interesting story if I’d had the faintest clue what was going on, but I didn’t.

Art from TransistorAs frustrating as that was, it was losing abilities upon death that soured me on the game permanently. That’s a strong contender for the worst design decision I’ve ever seen in a game. It’s the traditional RPG formula in reverse: Every time you fail, it gets progressively harder. It makes for the most unbelievably miserable experience.

I did like the artwork. I’ll give it that.