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.

Gaming Round-Up: Adrift

Do you ever find that when you finish a long game that you really love, you have a hard time getting into anything else for a while? That’s been my experience since finishing We Happy Few. I’ve tried a lot of things, but not much is sticking.

My character in Conan Exiles.I did finish the Reign of Terror mod for Grim Dawn, which recreates Diablo II, but to be honest it ended up feeling like a bit of a slog. Even with the updates provided by the Grim Dawn engine, the gameplay hasn’t aged that well, and even the story is a lot more shallow than I remember it being.

I did get to experience the story of the Lord of Destruction expansion for the first time, not having played it back in the day, and I think I liked it a bit better than the base game’s, but even then it wasn’t exactly thrilling.

A few weeks back, both Conan Exiles and Fallout 76 ran simultaneous free trial events, and even though neither is a game I’ve really had on my radar, I decided to give them a shot for curiosity’s sake. We Happy Few did leave me with a bit of a craving for more survival mechanics.

To my great surprise, I actually ended up enjoying Fallout 76 quite a bit. It does have a lot of jankiness — the combat is weak at best, the character models are hideous, and the PC interface is an unmitigated disaster — but even so I was actually rather sad when the trial ended. I’m tempted to pick it up on sale at some time.

I miss my CAMP. I had a lovely spot on a mountain peak between two forested valleys. I was growing a vegetable garden in the back. Player housing can be really fun when it’s a meaningful part of the game and not just a place to decorate once and then forget about.

The view from my CAMP in Fallout 76.Exiles, on the other hand, I didn’t enjoy at all. Whereas F76 was occasionally annoying due to bad design, Conan Exiles feels like it was designed from the ground up to be constantly annoying. I get that they’re going for a savage world where danger is constant, but when even the sheep treat you as KoS, you’ve just lapsed into the realm of unintentional self-parody. To say nothing of the nightmare of inventory management…

And honestly, even if you fixed those problems, it still wouldn’t be a very interesting game. Crafting is somehow even more gameified and mindless than in the average MMO (a bizarre choice for a game that’s almost entirely crafting), and there’s just no point to anything. No story, no meaningful goals.

After that I dipped into a few titles from my backlog. First was Far Cry: Primal. I really like the concept of the game, but the reality of it just didn’t click for me. Too much of a grindfest. I don’t understand why so many single-player games want to be bad MMOs these days.

I did enjoy the animal companions, though.

Next up was some strategy games — Surviving Mars and The Hive — but neither grabbed me. I give The Hive credit for an original concept, but in practice it was a pretty generic RTS, and it just didn’t feel like it was bringing anything new to the table.

Speaking of RTS, though, one highlight that did crop around this time is a game called Nordic Warriors I tried via a demo key given to Massively Overpowered. It’s a single-player game, so I wasn’t able to cover it on MOP, but it did impress.

A battle in the tactical RTS Nordic Warriors.The story of Nordic Warriors is based on Norse mythology, which is always a good way to get my attention, but more importantly, the gameplay is an homage to Bungie’s Myth games from back in the 90s.

Anyone who’s followed this blog for a long time knows I loved Myth back in the day, and there’s just nothing like it even now. Its hyper-realistic real time tactical strategy is a style of gameplay that simply doesn’t exist any more. Anything to bring back that kind of gameplay has my support.

In some ways, Nordic Warriors shows its low budget — the entire development team is just three people — but all things considered it’s an impressive effort at bringing back the Myth experience. I will definitely be picking it up when the full version goes live later this month.

In the meanwhile, that still left me without a game to fill my lonely days. Right now, I’ve gotten back into Elder Scrolls Online. Not for Greymoor, though. It looks like a pretty underwhelming expansion to me, and to be honest I almost forgot it was even a thing. Instead, I’ve finally started on the previous expansion, Elsweyr, which I bought on sale ages ago but never got around to playing.

I won’t lie, I didn’t go into this with a lot of enthusiasm. On paper ESO is my dream MMO, but in practice it tends towards being merely adequate. I think a lot of it is just down both the writing and the combat being fairly mediocre. I like the Khajiit, so I was curious about Elsweyr, but my expectations were low, especially after the disappointment of Summerset.

It’s early days, but while I may not be blown away, I will say it’s growing on me. It already feels better than Summerset, at least. Dragon fights might not be wildly original as public events go, but they’re definitely a lot more exciting than just reskinning Dolmens.

A Khajiit town in the Elsweyr expansion for Elder Scrolls Online.While the meat of the story is still kind of underwhelming, the world-building is interesting. Unlike most of the game, Elsweyr feels genuinely fantastical, and I am enjoying meeting all the strange and bizarre subraces of the Khajiit. And if nothing else, Khajiiti NPCs have vastly more personality than the Altmer.

Something has gone badly wrong if even I find Elves boring.

I’ve also switched to my warden rather than my main for a change of pace, which may be helping a little. She certainly kills things faster; normally I’m not a fan of mowing down mobs without any difficulty, but given ESO’s combat isn’t exactly a delight, I’m more okay with it right now.

I’d like to start a necromancer, but then I’d have to deal with having an untrained mount again. It’s a shame that ESO is so alt-friendly in so many ways, but that one mechanic just feels so punishing if you try to switch to a new character. Weird how MMOs work against their own designs sometimes.

I’m not convinced I’m not going to lose interest and jump onto something else before long, but so far at least I find myself warming up to Elsweyr. Mayhap it may tide me over until Nordic Warriors releases, at least.

Then again, there is also a part of me that’s hankering for some Age of Empires…