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…).

Lucifer Season Four Is a Major Improvement

I was saddened when Lucifer was cancelled, and heartened when Netflix picked it up for a fourth season. Not just because I’m a fan of the show, but because it deserved a better send-off than season three.

The official logo for the TV series LuciferThe last season may have ended on a high note, but boy did it drag in the middle. Petty interpersonal drama and repetitive storylines sucked almost all of the fun out of a show that was always dumb but rarely dull.

So when season four came to Netflix, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I hoped it would improve things, but I was concerned to see the tired writing of season three continue.

I am pleased to report, however, that season four is not just a massive improvement over its predecessor but easily the strongest season of Lucifer to date.

I’m not entirely without complaints. There are some stumbles. Maze going full evil last season is basically just ignored (though maybe that’s for the best), and the ending is a bit of an anticlimax in some ways. The season’s antagonist definitely deserved more of a comeuppance.

But there’s so much to love here. You can tell that lacking the oversight of a mainstream network freed the writers up to be much more creative. Like iZombie, they’re now unafraid to de-emphasize the case of the week, or shake up its formula. It’s still a bit repetitive, but things are not quite so painfully predictable this time around, and the meta-plot is given much more attention.

Season four deals with the aftermath of Chloe discovering that Lucifer has been telling the truth all this time, that he truly is the Devil. As he deals with that, he is reunited with a figure from his past: Eve, the first sinner.

The title character unleashes his demonic strength in season four of LuciferThis could have been another tedious love triangle, and there is some element of that, but mostly this serves as a fascinating of exploration of who Lucifer truly is: an angel, or a demon?

The growth and character development that was so lacking last season is in full force here. Both Lucifer and Chloe evolve a lot over the course of the season, and it makes for a very satisfying arc.

Speaking of Chloe, amazingly she has suddenly metamorphisized into an interesting character. Even Lauren German’s acting seems far better. I don’t know what happened, but I kind of feel bad for all the smack I’ve talked about her in the past. Chloe still isn’t my favourite character on Lucifer, but she does now feel like a real, three-dimensional person who is an asset to the cast.

I was also impressed by how much Amenadiel has evolved. He’s finally worked that stick out of his ass, and he’s become a very likable character.

Linda’s about the same as ever, but she was always perfect just the way she is. Dan and Ella’s stories this season both have potential, but neither of them really gets enough attention or delivers a satisfying pay-off. Ella’s still adorable, though.

All in all, it’s a kickass season.

The good news keeps rolling as Lucifer has already been renewed for a fifth season. This will be the final season, but I think this is about the right time to end it. As I was watching the finale of season four, I was thinking to myself, “This feels like there’s room for about one more season before the story starts getting stale.”

I look forward to it.