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.

On Pet Classes

Pet classes in RPGs tend to provoke strong reactions. Most people either love pet classes and play them at every opportunity, or hate pet classes and avoid them like the plague.

Fighting the undead in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing IIII’m a strange case in that both of those are true of me. Depending on the game, I either love or hate pet classes.

For example, you’ve probably heard me complain bitterly about pet classes in World of Warcraft. Yes, one of my most played characters is a warlock, but I started her as a leveling challenge to see if I could play a lock without pets, and once Grimoire of Sacrifice became a thing, I’ve used it as much as possible. The pets have always been my least favourite part of being a warlock.

Similarly, pets are one of the bigger reasons I haven’t spent much time playing a hunter, and it’s not entirely a coincidence I started losing interest in my mage around the time they made frost a pet spec.

On the other hand, when it comes to single-player games, I tend to embrace pet classes with open arms. When the Van Helsing games revamped their classes, I went straight for the Constructor and terrorized Borgovia with my army of dismemberbots.

I don’t have a lot of fond memories of the gameplay of Diablo II, but one of them is definitely having a posse of skeletons following my necromancer around. In D3, I never quite managed to click with the witch doctor, but I have done my level best to rekajigger my crusader into a pet class (a “zoosader”). At a maximum, he can be accompanied by three swordsmen, four archers, Kormac, and a demon minion summoned by his sword.

And let us not forget my zombie goons in Lichdom: Battlemage.

My zombie posse in Lichdom: Battlemage“…Zombie goons?”

Then there’s party-based RPGs to consider. We generally seem to separate companion characters from pets, but practically speaking, they’re pretty similar. AI minions who assist you in combat. And I definitely enjoy party-based RPGs — I prefer them to games where you only control a single character. In fact, my most common complaint about them is that the parties aren’t nearly big enough. Dungeon Siege spoiled me with its nine party slots.

So what accounts for this split?

Honestly I’m not entirely sure. I don’t think it’s necessarily one factor as much as a combination of them.

Broadly, it seems to be a difference between single-player games and MMOs.

For one thing, MMOs never really seem to take pets into account when balancing the difficulty in the open world, so while pet classes are at no particular advantage at endgame, they’re brokenly OP when soloing, and since most MMOs tend to make their solo content rather insultingly easy to begin with, it just makes the whole experience a snorefest.

On a related note, most tab target MMOs have incredibly stilted combat with little meaningful interaction between the player and their opponent. You kind of just ignore whatever the enemy is doing and mindlessly drill through your rotation. Having a pet tank hits for you exasperates the issue.

My party in Dragon Age: InquisitionMMOs also usually use an over-the-shoulder camera, which causes pets to take up an obnoxious amount of screen real estate. They mess up screenshots and cause all sorts of problems.

Meanwhile, a lot of the single-player RPGs I favour use an isometric camera, which makes pets far less of an encumbrance.

Perhaps due to less concerns about lag, single-player games also tend to allow you to control much larger numbers of pets, and I definitely prefer a swarm of minions to just one.

It could also have to do with the rigid threat mechanics that tend to exist in a lot of MMOs, but not in single-player games. Most MMO pets have taunt abilities that ensure enemies will focus on them almost 100% of the time. This, again, robs you of any meaningful interaction with your opponent.

In single-player games, pets usually don’t have taunts or threat modifiers. At best they’re a physical barrier between you and the enemy. Even in Dragon Age, where the warrior in your party will likely have taunts, it’s rare for them to hold aggro on every enemy. This means that you still have to look to your own defenses and survival at least a little.

Another divide is that MMO pets tend to require a lot of micro-management, at least in group content, whereas single-player pets and companions are almost always fire and forget. I definitely do not want to have to spend a lot of time baby-sitting my pets — that defeats the purpose as far as I’m concerned.

My Imperial agent and Lana Beniko in Star Wars: The Old Republic's Knights of the Fallen Empire expansionAll that said, I can still find exceptions that muddy the issue even further. I quite like the companion characters in SW:TOR, for instance, and they’re essentially pets. In that case I suspect it’s a combination of the fact they’re meaningful characters within the story and the fact I already dislike the combat in that game, so how much worse can the companions make it?

In ESO, also, I’ve leaned heavily on my Clannfear pet, perhaps because unlike most MMO pets it doesn’t require much management. Then again it’s also worth noting that I have been moving away from using it recently — it doesn’t fit my character’s RP very well, and it bugs out a lot.

It’s definitely a very muddled alchemy that determines whether or not I will appreciate pets. The one thing you can be certain of is that I will always have strong opinions on pet classes one way or another.