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.

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TSW: Bittersweet Farewell

Whatever the actual end date turns out to be, it is now clear that The Secret World’s days are numbered. I have decided to say goodbye to the game while I still can, conducting a final tour of some of my favourite parts of the game and finding thematically appropriate ways to retire my many characters.

The Blue Mountain zone in The Secret WorldAnd taking an unhealthy number of screenshots.

This may seem a little premature, given that the servers are still intended to stay up for the immediate future at least, but there’s no point in continuing to invest in a dead game, and frankly at this point I don’t entirely trust Funcom not to just shut the servers off without warning.

Red fades to black:

The order in which I retired characters was dictated more by whim than any particular logic. For whatever reason, I began with my “main alt,” Dorothy the Templar.

I started by repeating issue seven, A Dream to Kill, which I think remains the best thing TSW ever did. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say it may well be the high water mark for video games as an art form.

And the passage of time has done nothing to dull its brilliance. It remains an absolutely masterful experience — surreal, haunting, chilling, and awe-inspiring.

Of course, I’ve had Sleepless Lullaby stuck in my head ever since.

It was also a good reminder of just how badass Carmen Preda is. I realize there’s no end of competition, but she really doesn’t get enough mentions on people’s lists of best TSW characters.

Carmen Preda in The Secret WorldBefore the end of the game was announced, I had been pushing Dorothy towards completing her ability wheel and earning her Panoptic Core, my second on the account. With the aid of an AP booster, issue seven was enough to earn the last few abilities and unlock the Core. Totally pointless to do now, of course, but for some reason to gives me comfort to have finished the project.

As my darkest and most twisted character, it seemed only right her fate be the most bleak. In the end, she shared the fate of Tyler Freeborn, wandering out into the ocean around Solomon Island, to be swallowed by the fog and the waves. To join the Red Sargassum Dream.

No debauchery like end of the world debauchery:

On my Illuminati, I began by repeating one of the missions at Innsmouth Academy. No tour of The Secret World’s best moments would be complete without Innsmouth, and it’s an Illuminati stronghold, so it seemed an appropriate fit.

I also paid a brief visit to New York and talked to Geary briefly, if only to hear her admit defeat to the Dragon one last time.

After that, it was time to retire the character. His end proved far more raucous than Dorothy’s. He went to the Horned God in London, drank the entire menu, and ultimately passed out shirtless on the dance floor.

The flame burns out:

The Kumiho Hotel in The Secret WorldSaying goodbye to Kamala was one of the more difficult parts of all this. By the time I created her, I’d already played the game so much it was hard to get the motivation to actually level her, so she wound up eternally neglected. But her backstory and personality had always been very vivid in my mind, and I loved her look and her outfits. For a character I spent hardly any time playing, she managed to be quite dear to me.

I wanted to introduce her to Ricky Pagan before the end, as I’d always thought they’d be a good pair, but you can’t get to Tokyo without completing the whole story, and she’s nowhere near that. It didn’t seem worth the effort.

In the end, she simply returned home to Seoul, to the hotel where it all started.

It’s funny how even after so long you can still notice new details. I never realized you can see the Kumiho girl in one of the windows. You can even click on her. Turns out her name is Hana.

I brought Kamala to the room — you know the one — and sent her to sleep for the last time.

Ragnarok:

Like Kamala, my “Elf” character, Freydis, is a sad case of wasted potential. I created her just a few months before news of TSW’s end was announced. She’d barely even made it to Kingsmouth.

Traian in The Secret WorldI wanted her to end her days among the snow, and thankfully, that was more doable than a meeting with Ricky Pagan.

It was of course a bit of a challenging journey to reach the Carpathian Fangs as a character who isn’t even ready for the Savage Coast, but it wasn’t as difficult as I feared. There were a few hairy moments involving fleeing from vampires whilst spamming Blood Shield for all I was worth, but she managed to avoid any deaths over the journey.

Actually, she may have gone her entire short life without dying, come to think of it. Feels almost like an oversight in a game like this.

I did make a few stops along the way, mostly involving more screenshot opportunities. I did pause at the Owl and the Eagle to talk to Cern a bit. He’s one of the few true peers Freydis could find.

Her journey ended among the snows of the Carpathians, but before it did, I picked up one of Traian’s missions. She’s too low level to complete it, of course, but I wanted to see the cutscene.

Like Carmen, Traian is a character who doesn’t get enough praise. Who wouldn’t love a sage elder werewolf who sounds like Sean Connery?

Ouroboros:

My main using his Agartha Conduit in The Secret WorldI saved my main for last and used him to tour a few more of TSW’s best moments. I did the Tyler Freeborn arc again, and despite the game’s flagging population, I managed to get a group for The Facility, which remains my favourite of the game’s dungeons.

Also, having been denied the opportunity on Kamala, I headed to Tokyo to do Ricky Pagan’s first mission one more time.

In a game drowning in fantastic characters, I think Ricky might just deserve to be remembered as the best. He manages to be so silly and so entertaining, and yet also so deep and so real. Nowhere else is the sophistication of TSW’s writing on better display.

And when it was all done, like Kamala, my first and most-played character in The Secret World went back to the beginning, and I logged off for perhaps the last time within the Dojang.

* * *

I won’t say that this is definitely the last time I’ll play TSW. I haven’t uninstalled it, and I won’t rule out ducking in again if the mood strikes me or I’m given a good reason.

But I don’t have any firm plans to. There’s no point in continuing to upgrade my gear or hunt down lore. For now, it seems best to have made a clean break.

The Shadowy Forest zone in The Secret WorldObviously there was a lot of sadness around this farewell tour, but I also had a surprising amount of fun. It was really nice to revisit the game’s best moments, and I was reminded of all the little things that made me love TSW so much.

I was particularly struck by how even after nearly five years and being spoiled by Andromeda, this is still an incredibly good-looking game. They hit a very good formula with the art style where things are mostly realistic, but there’s just enough stylization to give it some flavour, to make it a little better than real.

I would definitely recommend doing something like this to anyone who’s upset about TSW’s fate. It’s very cathartic.

Perhaps I’m being fatalistic, but part of me is also starting to wonder if this isn’t for the best. Realistically, what are the odds TSW’s story was ever going to get a proper conclusion, or that said conclusion could ever satisfy the monstrously high expectations we’ve built up over the years?

As it is, content droughts aside, TSW leaves the world with an almost flawless track record. For several years it provided us with amazing experiences and set a new standard (at least in my mind) for what video games can achieve as an art form. We have been gifted with no shortage of great memories that will endure long after the servers go dark, from Nassir to Montag, Maine to the Dreaming Prison, rockabilly to Sleepless Lullaby.

My Templar uses her ultimate ability in The Secret WorldThe Secret World may have died young, but it left a beautiful corpse.