# Random Thoughts – Randocity!

## Are Nielsen Ratings Accurate?

Posted in botch, ratings, television by commorancy on June 9, 2022

This article seeks to show that how Nielsen Media Research chooses its ratings families may alter the accuracy of the Nielsen’s ratings. More than this, this article seeks to uncover just how antiquated and unreliable Nielsen’s household rating system actually is. Let’s explore.

What is Nielsen?

I’ll give a small synopsis here, but Wikipedia does a much better job at describing who and what Nielsen Media Research (one of this company’s many names) is. For all intents and purposes, I will refer to Nielsen Media Research as simply Nielsen for the purpose of this article.

Nielsen is a research group who seeks to identify how viewers, among other avenues of information that they gather, watch Television. During the 70s, this was the primary means by which TV executives learned the ratings fate of their television programs.

How does Nielsen work?

Nielsen still relies on its Nielsen households to provide the vast majority of its television ratings information. It does this by sending out unsolicited mail to households around the country attempting to solicit a household into becoming a Nielsen household. By using this moniker, it means the family who resides at a specific household must do certain things to not only participate in the Nielsen program, but must also provide feedback to Nielsen around its viewing habits.

How does Nielsen collect its ratings information?

According to Nielsen’s own site, it says the following:

To measure TV audiences and derive our viewing metrics (i.e., ratings, reach, frequency), we use proprietary electronic measuring devices and software to capture what content, network or station viewers are watching on each TV and digital devices in the homes of our Nielsen Families. In total, we measure hundreds of networks, hundreds of stations, thousands of programs and millions of viewers. In the U.S., electronic measuring devices and millions of cable/satellite boxes are used to provide local market-level viewing behaviors, enabling the media marketplace to gain a granular view of TV audiences.

What that means is that, as a Nielsen household, they will send you a device and/or require you to install certain software on your existing devices which will “measure” your viewing habits. In other words, they spy on what you’re watching and it reports back to Nielsen what you specifically watched and for how long. For example, Nielsen might install software onto your smart TV device, Roku, TiVO, Apple TV or possibly even your cable TV provider’s supplied box.

Nielsen may even be willing to supply you with their own device, which you will place in-line with your existing TV and devices. It does say “devices and software”, meaning one or both can be used.

Rural vs Urban

Typically, larger urban city areas tend to vote Democrat more often than Republican. These urban areas are also typically more densely populated. On the flip side, rural areas tend to vote Republican more often than Democrat. Why is this information important? It’s important to understand these facts because it can drastically alter the accuracy of Nielsen’s ratings. Let’s understand why.

For participating in being a Nielsen household, you’re given a stipend. In other words, you’re paid for this service. Let’s understand more about this pay. You’re paid around $10 a month to participate. If you remain a Nielsen household for a certain period, around 6 months, Nielsen will pay you a bonus. All told, for 6 months of service, a Nielsen household will receive around$200.

Here’s where the Urban vs Rural comes into play. Rural areas tend to be more depressed economically. Meaning, income is generally less and the need for extra money is, therefore, higher. Urban areas tend to boom more economically meaning the need for extra money is, therefore, lessened.

If a rural household receives a card inviting them to become part of the Nielsen family, explaining all of the “benefits” (including the pay), rural viewers are much more likely to take Nielsen up on their pitch. It seems easy enough to get paid simply for watching TV. On the other hand, urban areas are less likely to take Nielsen up on their offer not only because the pay is so low, but because urban viewers are much more savvy around their privacy.

Who would intentionally invite a company into your household to spy on you, even for money? One might say, well there’s Alexa. Alexa offers benefits to the user far greater than what Nielsen provides. Nielsen provides spying for cash. Alexa offers app features, smart house features, music, calling features, recipe helpers, and the list goes on. Nielsen’s device(s) and software(s) don’t provide those much extended features.

Nielsen’s spying is one tracked and only helps out TV executives. I might add that those TV executives PAY Nielsen to gain access to this information. Which means that if you’re a Nielsen household, you’re getting paid out of money collected from TV executives. In effect, it is the TV executives who effectively sign your Nielsen paycheck that you receive. I digress.

Random Solicitation

Make no mistake, Nielsen solicits households through a random mail selection process. It sends pitch cards out to inform and solicit households to participate. They may even include a crisp $1 bill to entice the household. Nielsen knows that a certain percentage of people will take Nielsen up on their offer to participate in the program. The difficulty is that this selection process relies on random chance for whomever chooses to participate. This goes back to Urban vs Rural argument. Because depressed areas are more “hard up” for cash, they are more likely to take Nielsen up on their offer than Urban areas, who urban viewers are not only likely to be mistrustful of spying using digital devices, these people also don’t necessarily need the small-ish amount of cash that Nielsen is offering… considering the amount of time required to watch TV (and do whatever else Nielsen requires). Yes, Nielsen requires you to watch TV to participate. The whole thing doesn’t work unless you actually watch TV. This ultimately means that it is more likely rural Republican areas of the country are over represented in Nielsen’s households and equally likely Democrat areas to be under-represented in Nielsen’s ratings. While Nielsen has no control over who chooses to accept the “Nielsen Household” solicitation, Nielsen does control the parameters to entice people into the program. Thus, their parameters are skewed toward lower income households, which are likely to be in predominantly rural areas. In other words, depressed rural areas are far more likely to need the extra cash and be willing to jump through Nielsen’s hoops than more affluent urban areas. That’s not to say that there won’t be a percentage of viewers in urban areas as some households in those areas may elect to participate. Disposable Income Urban areas can be a bit more affluent than rural areas. Urban area residents may have more in disposable income, but also because it’s a larger city, it has more entertainment options. This means entertainment options besides watching TV. When you live in a small rural town, entertainment options can be extremely limited even if disposable income is available. Rural townships tend to encourage more TV watching more often than urban areas where night clubs, restaurants, theme parks, opera, live theater events, shopping and large cinemas are common. More entertainment options means less need to watch TV as often.. except for specific shows. Thus, urban viewers are less likely to want to participate in Nielsen’s household program than rural viewers, whose entertainment options may be limited by both what’s available near them and by their disposable income. Extrapolation Here’s the crux of Nielsen’s problems. Based on the over and under represented areas due to Nielsen’s flawed selection process, they attempt to make up for this by extrapolating data. Regardless of how the households may be skewed, Nielsen intends to extrapolate its data anyway. Nielsen estimates that it has around 42,000 households participating in 2022. Though, I’d venture to guess that that number is not completely accurate. I’d suggest Nielsen may have perhaps half that number actively participating at any one time. There might be 42,000 households signed up as a Nielsen household, but likely only a fraction actively participate at any specific moment in time. For example, not every household will watch a specific sporting event when it’s on. Only those who truly enjoy watching a specific football game might be watching a specific game. This could drop that 42,000 households down to under 5,000 viewers. If it’s a local sporting event, it could drop that number down well below 1,000 and maybe even below 200 actively watching. 200 equals 1 million, 5 million, 100 million? How does this affect the ratings? Good question. Only Nielsen really knows. The problem is, as I stated above, Nielsen uses extrapolation. What is extrapolation? Extrapolation is the process of using 1 viewer to represent many viewers. How many is a matter of debate. It is a process that Nielsen has employed for many years, and it is highly inaccurate. It makes the assumption that for every one viewer watching, there will be a specific number also watching. How many are extrapolated is really up to Nielsen. Nielsen must come up with those numbers and herein lies the inaccuracy. Effectively, Nielsen fudges the numbers to appear great (or poor) depending on how it decides to cull the number together. In other words, extrapolation is an exceedingly poor and inaccurate way to determine actual viewership numbers. Yet, here we are. Digital Media Streaming With digital streaming services, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Crackle… more specifically, devices such as DVRs like TiVO and devices like Apple TV, Nielsen’s numbers may be somewhat more accurate when using these devices. However, one thing is certain. Nielsen still doesn’t have 100% accuracy because it doesn’t have 100% of every TV household participating. Again, Nielsen’s numbers may be somewhat more accurate because we now have active digital streaming devices, but Nielsen still employs extrapolation to inflate the data they collect. Nielsen takes the numbers they collect, then guess at how many might be watching based on each single viewer’s behaviors. Why Extrapolation over Interpolation? Interpolation requires two distinct sets of data points in which to fill in the interior data gap between those two sets. Filling in data between two distinct sets of data is a bit more accurate than attempting to guess at data points outside of them. With viewership numbers, it’s only one set of data at a single point in time. Everything that is gleaned from that single set of data is always considered “outside” or “extrapolated” data. There’s nothing in a single data set to interpolate. You have 42,000 households. You have a smaller number watching a TV program at any point in time. That’s all there is. If Nielsen ran two unique and separate sets of 42,000 households of viewers (a total of 84,000 viewers), interpolation would be possible between those to separate sets of 42,000. Nielsen doesn’t utilize this technique, thus making interpolation of its collected data is impossible. How Accurate is Extrapolation? Not very. I’ll point to this StackExchange article to explain the details as to exactly why. In short, the larger the number gets outside of the original sample size, the larger the margin for error… to the point where the error outweighs the value of the extrapolation. One answer provides this quote: [Extrapolation] is a theoretical result, at least for linear regression. Indeed, if one computes the so-called ”prediction error” (see this link, slide 11), one can easily see that the further the independent variable 𝑥 is away from the sample average 𝑥¯ (and for extrapolation one may be far away), the larger the prediction error. In the link that I referred to one can also see that in a graphical way. In a system where there is no other option, such as during the 70s when computers were room-sized devices, extrapolation may have been the only choice. Today, with palm sized internet enabled phones containing compute power orders of magnitudes faster than many of those 70s room-size computers, continuing to use extrapolation honestly makes zero sense… especially when accuracy is exceedingly important and, indeed, required. Extrapolation Examples If 1 Nielsen viewer represents 1,000 viewers extrapolated (1:1,000), then 100 Nielsen households watching suggests 100,000 viewers may actually be watching. If 100 Nielsen viewers watch a program and each household represents 100,000 viewers (1:100,000), then this suggests 10,000,000 viewers may be watching. Just by changing the ratio, Nielsen can alter how many it suggests may be watching. Highly inaccurate and completely beholden to Nielsen making up these ratios. As stated above, the larger the number diverges from the original sample size, the larger the margin of error… possibly making this data worthless. These suggested extrapolated viewership numbers do not actually mean that that many viewers were, in reality, watching. In fact, the real viewership number may be far, far lower than the extrapolated numbers suggest. This is why extrapolation is a bad, bad practice. Extrapolation is always error prone and usually in the wrong way. It makes too many assumptions that are more than likely to be wrong. Unless the person doing the extrapolation has additional data points which logically suggest a specific ratio is at play, then it’s all “best guess” and “worst error”. How many businesses would choose run their corporation on “best guess”? Yet, that’s exactly what TV executives are doing when they “rely” (and I use this term loosely) on Nielsen. Biased Even above the fact that extrapolation has no real place in business, because of its highly inaccurate and “best guess” nature, these numbers can be highly biased. Why? Because of the Urban vs Rural acceptance rates. Unless Nielsen explicitly goes out of their way to take the under vs over represented nature of Nielsen households into account when extrapolating, what Nielsen suggests is even more inaccurate than I even suggest just from the use of extrapolation alone. CNN vs Fox News CNN has tended to be a more liberal and, thus, a Democrat favorable news organization. Though, I’d say CNN tends to be more moderate in its liberal Democrat leanings. Fox News, on the other hand, makes no bones about their viewpoint. Fox News is quite far right and Republican in too much of its of leanings. Fox News is not always as far right as, for example, Alex Jones or other extremist right media. However, some of its leanings can be as far right as some quite far right media. Here’s an image from the Pew Research Center that visually explains what I’m describing: Whether Pew’s research and datapoints are spot on, I’ll leave that for you to decide. I’ve reviewed this chart and believe it to be mostly accurate in terms of each outlet’s political leanings. Though, I personally have found PBS to be somewhat closer to the “Average Respondent” location than this chart purports… which is why even Pew might not have this chart 100% correct. For the purpose of CNN, Fox News and Hannity, I’ve found this chart to be spot on. As you can see in the chart above, Fox News itself is considered a right leaning news organization, but not far off of center at around a 2. However, the Sean Hannity show is considered just as far right as Breitbart at about 6-7. CNN is considered slightly left leaning at around a 1 (less left leaning than Fox News is right leaning at 2). What does all this mean for Nielsen? It means that those who are Republican, which tends to include more rural viewers than urban, those rural viewers tend to be conservative. Because Nielsen is more likely to see participation from rural viewers than urban viewers, due to its enticement practices, this skews Nielsen’s accuracy towards conservative viewership and away from liberal viewership. Nielsen’s enticement practice isn’t the only problem which can lead to this skew, though. Meaning, Fox News viewership numbers as stated by Nielsen may be highly overestimated and inaccurate. Quantifying that more specifically, Fox News viewers may be over-represented where CNN viewers may be severely under-represented. It further means that unless Nielsen actually realizes this liberal vs conservative under vs over representation disparity in its Nielsen households (respectively) and, thus, alters its extrapolated numbers accordingly, then its viewership numbers published for CNN vs Fox News are highly suspect and are likely to be highly inaccurate. Worse, Fox News is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Because this man is in it for the cash that he can milk from the Fox News network, he’s more than willing to pay-for-play. Meaning, if he can get companies to favor Fox News by asking them for favors in exchange for money, he (or one of his underlings) will do it. Murdoch can then make more money because more advertisers will flock to Fox News under the guise of more viewership. Fake viewership is most definitely lucrative. Because Nielsen extrapolates data, this makes faking data extremely easy. Unlike YouTube where Google has no reason to lie about its reported views, Fox News has every reason to lie about its viewership, particularly if it can game other companies into complying with its wishes. Nielsen Itself Nielsen purports to offer objective data. Yet, we know that businesses are helmed by fallible human CEOs who have their own viewpoints and political leanings and who are in it for the money. One only needs to look at Rupert Murdoch and Fox News to understand this problem. Some CEOs also choose to micromanage their company’s products. Meaning, if Nielsen’s current CEO is micromanaging its ratings product, which is also likely to be Nielsen’s highest moneymaking product, then it’s entirely possible that the ratings being reported are biased, particularly in light of the above about Rupert Murdoch (who is also a Republican). Conflict of Interest When money gets involved, common sense goes out the window. What I mean by this statement is that since TV executives / networks pay Nielsen to receive its ratings results periodically, Nielsen is beholden to its customers. The word “beholden” can have many meanings in this “sales” context. Typically in business, “beholden” means the more you pay, the more you get. In the case of Nielsen, it’s possible that paying more to Nielsen potentially means that business may get more / better ratings. That sort of breaks the “objective” context of Nielsen’s data service. It’s called “Conflict of Interest”. In essence, in this case it could represent a pay-for-play solution, a true conflict of interest. There’s honestly no way to know what deals Nielsen has brokered with its clients, or more specifically with Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Network. Most companies who do sales deals keep those details close to the vest and under non-disclosure binding contracts. The only way these deals ever get exposed is during court trials when those contracts can become discovery evidence for a trial. Otherwise, they remain locked in digital filing cabinets between both parties. Even then, such contracts are very unlikely to contain words disclosing any “back room” verbal handshake deals discussed. Those deal details will be documented in a separate system or set of systems describing how to handle that customer’s account. Let me count the ways There are many problems in the Nielsen’s rating services that may lead to highly inaccurate information being released. Let’s explore them: 1. Nielsen’s solicitation of households can easily lead to bias due to its probability of luring in people who are hard up for cash (e.g., rural Republicans) vs those who are not (e.g., urban Democrats). 2. Nielsen’s products and software spy on knowing users about viewership habits. Spying of any variety is usually viewed with skepticism and disdain, especially these days and especially by certain types of people in the population (usually liberal leaning individuals). Rural Republicans are less likely to understand the ramifications of this spying (and more willing to accept it) than urban Democrats (who tend to be more likely to work in tech based businesses and who see this type of spying as too intrusive). 3. Nielsen’s numbers are “fortified” using extrapolation. Fortified is a nice way of saying “padded”. By padding their numbers, Nielsen staff can basically gyrate the numbers any way they want and make any channels viewership numbers look any particular way. Which ties directly into… 4. Nielsen sells its ratings product to TV producers and networks. Because these deals are brokered separately for varying amounts of money, the network who pays the most is likely to see the best results (i.e., pay-for-play). 5. Nielsen moved away from its “on paper” auditing system to the use of digital device auditing. Because Nielsen removed the human factor from this ratings equation (and fired people as a result), it also means that fewer and fewer people can see the numbers to know what they truly are (or at least were before the extrapolation). Fewer people seeing the numbers means higher chances of fabrication. Looking at all of these above, it’s easy to see how Nielsen’s numbers could be seriously inaccurate, possibly even intentionally. I won’t go so far as to say, fake, although that’s entirely possible. However, because Nielsen employs extrapolation, it would be easy for a Nielsen staffer (or even Nielsen’s very CEO) to make up anything they want and justify it based on its “proprietary” extrapolation techniques. Meaning, numbers stated for any network’s viewership could be entirely fabricated by Nielsen, possibly even at a network’s request or possibly even as part of that network’s deal with Nielsen. In fact, fabrication is possible based entirely on number 4 above. A TV network could pay significantly to make sure their network and their programming is always rated the highest, at least until they stop paying for it. With Nielsen’s extrapolation system and when data can get played fast and loose, it’s entirely possible for such a sales scenario to manifest. Why are Nielsen’s Numbers Important? Advertising. That’s the #1 reason. Companies using TV advertising wish to invest their advertising dollars into channels with the highest viewership. The higher, the better. Nielsen’s ratings are, therefore, indicative that a higher ratings share means higher viewership. The problem is, Nielsen’s extrapolation gets in the way of that. Regardless of whether or not cheating or fabrication is involved, the sheer fact that extrapolation is used should be considered a problem. The only thing Nielsen really knows is that of the 42,000 Nielsen households that it has devices in, only a fraction of those households watched a given program or channel at any specific time. Meaning, the real numbers of viewership from Nielsen offers a maximum of 42,000 viewers at any moment in time… no where close to the millions that they claim. Any number higher than 42,000 is always considered fabricated whether extrapolation or any other means is used to inflate that number. That companies like Procter and Gamble rely on those 42,000 Nielsen households to determine whether to invest perhaps millions of dollars in advertising on a channel is suspect. That companies have been doing this since the 70s is a much bigger problem. In the 70s, when there was no other way to really determine TV viewership, Nielsen’s system may have held some measure of value, even though it used extrapolation. However, in 2022 with live always-on internet enabled phone, tablet, computer, game console and other smart TV devices, measuring actual live viewers seems quite feasible directly from each device tuned in. If someone is live streaming CNN over the Internet, for example, it’s not hard to determine and count this at all. If hundreds of people are streaming, that should be easy to count. If millions, it’s also easy. Why extrapolate when you can use real numbers? The days of extrapolation should have long ended, replaced by live viewer tallies from various digital streaming devices, such as phones, computers and Apple TVs. Whether these devices are allowed to phone home to provide that data, that’s on each viewer to decide. If the viewer wishes to opt-in to allowing their viewership metrics to be shared with each TV station, then that’s far more realistic viewership numbers than Nielsen’s extrapolated numbers. If they opt-out, then those stations can’t see the numbers. Opting in and out should be the choice of the viewer. That’s where privacy meets data sharing. Some people simply don’t want any of their private data to be shared with companies… and that’s okay. That then means some level of extrapolation (there’s that word again) must be used to attempt inflate the numbers accordingly. Let’s consider that 42,000 is 0.01273% of 330 million. That’s trying to represent the entire population of TV viewers in the United States from less than 0.01% of people watching. Insane! With always-on digital devices, if 10% opt out, that’s still provides 90% more accurate viewership numbers than relying on Nielsen’s tiny number of households. Which means there’s way less amount of data to attempt to extrapolate. That advertisers don’t get this point is really surprising. Auditing You might think, “Well, isn’t Nielsen audited?” Most companies dealing with numbers are typically audited. Unfortunately, I’ve found that working in a tech business which sees regular audits can still have fabrication. How? Because those who work on the technical side of the house are not those who get audited. Meaning, those systems administrators who maintain the logs and records (i.e. databases) aren’t under the scrutiny that the financial side of the house gets. If it relates to money and sales, auditing of the accounting books is a regular occurrence and must uphold specific standards due to legal requirements. Auditing when it relates to anything else is catch-as-catch-can, particularly when laws don’t exist. Meaning, the auditors must rely on the statements of staffers to be accurate. There’s no way for an auditor to know if something has or hasn’t been fabricated when viewing a log. Worse, if the company employs a proprietary algorithm (read private) to manage its day to day operations, auditors typically are unable to break through its proprietary nature to understand if there’s a problem afoot. In other words, auditors must take what’s told to them at face value. This is why auditing is and can be a highly inaccurate profession. I should also point out that auditing isn’t really intended to uncover treachery and deception. It’s intended to document what a company states about specific questions, whether true or false. Treachery and deception may fall out of an audit, but usually only if legal action is brought against the company. In the case of money, it’s easy to audit records of both the company and third parties to ensure the numbers match. In the case of proprietary data, there’s no such records to perform this sort of matching. What an auditor sees is what they must accept as genuine. The only real way that such deception and fabrication becomes known is if an employee performing such fabrication blows the whistle. An independent auditor likely won’t be able to find it without a whistleblower. Because jobs tend to be “on the line” around such matters, employees are usually told what they can and cannot say to an auditor by their boss. Meaning, the boss might be acutely aware of the fabrication and may instruct their employees not to talk about it, even if directly asked. In fact, employees performing such fabrication of data may intentionally be shielded from audits, instead throwing employees who have no knowledge at the auditors. It’s called, plausible deniability. Overall None of the above is intended to state that Nielsen fabricates numbers maliciously. However, know that extrapolation of data is actually the art of data fabrication. It takes lower numbers and then applies some measure of logic and reasoning that “makes sense” to deduce a larger number. For example, if one person complains of a problem, it’s guaranteed a number of other people have also encountered the same exact problem, but didn’t complain. The art is in deducing how many didn’t complain. That’s extrapolation by using logic and reasoning to deduce the larger number. Extrapolation clearly isn’t without errors. Everyone who deals in extrapolation knows there’s a margin of error, which might be as high as 10% or possibly higher and which grows as the extrapolation data size increases. Are Nielsen’s ratings numbers accurate? Not when you’re talking about 42,000 households attempting to represent the around 122 million households with TVs. This data doesn’t even include digital phones, tablets and computers which are capable of streaming TV… which smartphones alone account for about 7.26 billion devices. Yes, billion. In the United States, the number of smart phone owners is around 301 million. There are more smart phones in existence in the United States (and the rest of the world) than there are TV’s in people’s homes. So, exactly why does Nielsen continue to cling to its extremely outdated business model? Worse, why do advertisers still rely on it? 🤷‍♂️ ↩︎ ## Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Posted in botch, entertainment, movies, reviews, storytelling by commorancy on December 22, 2021 Usually, I write reviews and analysis immediately after I see a film. Well, I have to be honest, I did just see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker recently. You might be wondering why that is? Well, let’s explore. Obligatory Note: This review contains major *spoilers*. Stop reading now if you haven’t seen this film. Rewarding Poor Business Decisions I’m not one to necessarily boycott businesses, but with Star Wars I’ve made an exception. I boycotted seeing the film in the theater and I, likewise, boycotted paying money to see it at any rental venue. The reason I saw it last weekend is because finally a channel has released an on-demand version that’s included with something I already pay for. To be honest, Disney will get a small amount of money from me watching it via on-demand. It’s called the pay-for-play royalty system. That means that every time someone plays it, Disney will derive some amount of money from the playback (probably 10-25¢ at most). I’m okay with that because that’s about what it’s worth. Though, I don’t have to pay directly. I refuse to reward companies for producing crap. I simply won’t do it. I know that this paragraph’s sentiment is entirely brutal… but hey, that’s part of the review. Retroactive Continuity Bonanza Congratulations! You’ve hit the Retcon Bonanza! One thing about applying retroactive continuity (retcon) to a story line is that it’s fairly obvious. See, the thing is, retcon runs all through Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in very blatant and obvious ways. I already knew going into The Rise of Skywalker that it would be chock full of retroactive continuity. So what’s wrong with retconning a story? Let me count the ways. 1. Trite 2. Cliché 3. Poor writing 4. Bad planning 5. Bad storytelling 6. Contrived 7. Unsatisfying Great storytelling sets up little bits and pieces all along the way. Then brings those bits and pieces together at the end in a cohesive way to explain why those seemingly unrelated bits and pieces were included. It’s a standard storytelling practice that shows the writer had planning of forethought when crafting their story. It’s also an immensely satisfying storytelling practice. If you’re an astute observer, you can put these foreshadowing pieces together early to conclude what’s about to occur. If storytellers are too obvious with their clues, it makes guessing the ending too easy. For example, many people were able to easily guess the premise of M. Night Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense, when the ending was all but revealed by four words of dialogue spoken very early in the film. However, this situation also depended heavily on whether you believed the visuals of the film or you chose to believe the spoken words. It also means the writers concocted a poorly conceived clue delivery system. It should have been way more subtle than that. In fact, those words shouldn’t have been uttered until much later in the film. That’s not the case with The Rise of Skywalker, though. With this film, it wasn’t a matter of clumsy clues. It was the fact that no clues were given at all, not in The Force Awakens and not in The Last Jedi where it makes much more sense to leave these clues behind. Emperor Palpatine Palpatine was the primary villain in the first 3 Star Wars films. He was dispatched at the end of Return of the Jedi by being dropped down a power shaft. This villain was firmly dead. However, The Rise of Skywalker latches onto this story context for all that its worth. That, and cloning. The thing is, Attack of the Clones wasn’t really referenced… or more specifically, Kamino. Specifically mentioning this planet somewhere along the way, such as earlier in The Force Awakens would have set up the notion of cloning as a possibility somewhere in the story. For example, if Snoke had been found to be a clone based on DNA testing or something similar after he’d been chopped in half in The Last Jedi, that would have explained what was said by Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker. Yet, no such reference in either of the first two films exists. As an another example, even the simple act of dropping Palpatine’s name in any small kind of way, such as mentioning the similarity to Snoke’s villainy. Even simple name dropping can open whole doors up later and it’s those kinds of clues that avoid retroactive continuity problems. Simple name dropping Palpatine or Kamino or Cloners in any capacity along the way in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi would have been enough to prove the writers were thinking about closure of the story at the beginning of it. Instead, the writers and filmmakers were so self-absorbed in their own self-indulgence that they couldn’t even consider such prior setup in the writing of the first two installments. To be honest, this is really the fault of J.J. Abrams. He had the task of opening the storyline in The Force Awakens, but fails to really give a hint at what’s to come. Hints and clues are what make great stories. It’s called foreshadowing and it’s an incredibly impressive storytelling tactic when it’s done correctly. When it’s not done at all, then it’s called retroactive continuity… or building a new story by making up establishing facts instantly rather than relying on clues laid down earlier. Sure, the original films and the prequels had information that could be leveraged, but not in a way that would be seen as clues for Disney’s trilogy. You don’t just pull crap out of the air and hope people somehow magically get the reference. Proper build-up is essential to a story. Without it, it makes a story fail. Palpatine Again!? When Palpatine is, again, introduced as “the man behind the curtain” in The Rise of Skywalker, it’s groan time… ugh! I’m thinking, “Not again”. Can’t these guys think up anything original? At least there wasn’t yet a third Death Star… at least we’ve made some progress, I guess. Not much, though. Bringing Palpatine back to life without really so much as an explanation is such a bad storytelling idea that it makes the rest of the story feel like garbage. You either believe Palpatine is back or you don’t. The worst thing about Palpatine is that he stands there like a statue and simply taunts people with words. Granted, in Return of the Jedi, he was also fairly catatonic. Though, he did get up and walk around a little. In this film, he’s a literal statue standing in one spot the entire time spouting platitudes. It’s his same old tired self-assured, over-confident, self-righteous Sith rhetoric about eliminating the Jedi. He died for those same clichéd thoughts in The Return of the Jedi. Has he learned nothing? You’d think that after his first death at the hands of Vader, he’d be a little more cautious and wiser the second time around. Yet, *crickets*. The storytellers don’t give Palpatine an ounce of credit as intelligent or thoughtful. The man is made out to be as dumb as brick. Seriously, after Palpatine’s trip down the power conduit, you’d think he’d rethink his over-confident, self-assured, self-righteous threatening demeanor and, instead, try something new. Nope. Snoke You might also want to point to Snoke as an example of that, but then you’d be wrong because Snoke was summarily chopped in half midway through The Last Jedi. That was that for Snoke. It’s one thing to use Snoke as a puppet, but it’s clear that that puppet failed utterly to its own demise. Stupid Villains! Just to make it perfectly clear, none of the above was mentioned anywhere in The Last Jedi. Again, no such clues were left behind for bringing it all together in the end. Nope. No where was it mentioned that Snoke was a puppet of Palpatine, though a clue should have been left somewhere in TLJ if not by Snoke himself. For example, a quick scene where we see Snoke nodding to a shadowy figure in a cloak which fades out followed by Snoke going directly into communication with Ben. That would have been something. Of course, in Star Wars revisionist tendencies, Disney may go back into both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi and retrofit dialog, extra scenes and whatnot to shoehorn these clues…. which is an even worse practice than what they did in the contrived storytelling in The Rise of Skywalker. Revisionism has no place in movies, let alone Star Wars films. To be honest, what George Lucas did with his revisionism was add better FX and reintroduce scenes that he wanted, but those changes didn’t fundamentally alter the storyline and were not introduced to ‘fix’ a story problem for a later film. No, George’s stories were solid from the beginning, so the stories didn’t need ‘fixing’. Disney Hires Crap Writers Part of the problem here is that Disney doesn’t have a clue how to run a live action film business, nor exactly what a good live action script is. Disney comes from an animation background. The stories in Disney’s animated films have been simplistic and intended for children. For some reason, Disney thought they could insinuate themselves into a live action movie business and have those films turn out great. Well, it’s clear, that’s not true. No where is that more apparent than in how the stories for the Disney Trilogy were handled. The first mistake was hiring J.J. Abrams to write these films. Instead, Disney should have hired actual film writers with experience in writing. Before that, they should have hired actual story writers to come up with the overall story arc encompassing the three films prior to embarking on filming them. This would have meant that going into each film there was an outline of the necessary elements needed to craft each film’s story which would support the rest. The director might take some liberties in some areas around portions of the story telling, but the required story elements must be included for the entire story arc to work. This would have also meant that all three films were essentially written up-front. Instead, Disney apparently allowed the writers of each film to craft their own story in pre-production for each film. Basically, the films were made up at the time of each production. This isn’t a recipe for success. In fact, it’s a recipe for failure. It’s exactly why J.J. Abrams Alias and Lost series failed to ultimately work. The stories were “made up” as they went along rather than attempting to at least write an overarching story outline that encompasses the entire season. Each story doesn’t need to be written, but certain specific points must be included in the season to reach the conclusion properly. Without such inserted clues, the conclusion absolutely cannot be satisfying… and so it goes with Lost. Lost‘s conclusion was such an awful mess that not only did it make no sense, what little pieces did try to make sense were awful. It was like watching a train wreck unfold. So then, Disney hires this two-bit hack to pen Star Wars? Here’s a guy who can’t even write two TV series properly and yet Disney hires him for Star Wars? Yeah, I could see this wasn’t going to end well… and so it goes. Endings Speaking of things not ending well, let’s continue with The Rise of Skywalker and its ending. Disney would have been smarter to leave a thread open that could be followed up with a new trilogy. Instead, Disney, and more specifically, J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy were so focused on damage control that they forgot to add intentional cliffhangers leading into a new series of films. However, I believe at the time the film was being created, damage control was the primary means of closure for the The Rise of Skywalker storyline. With that said, the ending is simultaneously satisfying and disappointing. On the surface, it’s a satisfying conclusion to this series of films. Diving deeper, the entire story is incredibly unsatisfying, thus leaving the conclusion disenchanting. The whole shoehorn-this-story-into-a-Palpatine-issue is deeply distasteful. Not only does it ruin the thought that Palpatine is, in fact, dead, it does so in a way that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and simultaneously leaves a gaping hole open as wide as the Grand Canyon. The original Palpatine was shrewd, cunning and incredibly intelligent. Yet, this film treats Palpatine as one of the dumbest villains to have ever graced the Star Wars universe. Granted, the Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker is supposed to be a clone. I suppose one could argue that the cloning process dumbs down its clones unintentionally (or even intentionally). The Kaminoan cloners might have seeded its clones so that they would never become aggressive towards Kamino, thus dumbing them down in other ways. It would make sense for the Kaminoans to protect Kamino from its clones turning on its masters or on the world. This argument could be said of all of the Clone Troopers. Yet, this fact has never been established in canon outright. Palpatine, the original, would have also known and understood this dumbing down limitation of Kamino Clones and probably would have attempted to mitigate it long before it became a problem. Yet, it seems that didn’t happen based on clone Palpatine’s overall dumb self-righteous behavior. This cloned Palpatine is one of the least intelligent villains I’ve yet seen in a Star Wars film, save that perhaps Snoke was likely also a clone considering that Palpatine claims to have “made Snoke” (implying a clone). Whether Palpatine used Kamino to produced the clones or if Palpatine bought and established his own cloning technology separately, it’s not really stated. Watching this film, I assumed that all of the cloning occurred on Kamino… or at least, Kamino cloning technology was utilized by Palpatine even if not cloned directly on Kamino. I know that Palpatine suggested bringing the dead back to life in the prequel Revenge of the Sith (which was lightly referenced in The Rise of Skywalker). Don’t take my word for it. Here’s the conversation from Palpatine himself. This platitude by Palpatine may have been a veiled reference to cloning or to an unseen force power or both, which by the time of this scene, the world of Kamino and its technology had been established by the prequel, Attack of the Clones. Of course, this information wasn’t definitively stated in The Rise of Skywalker or even in Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith. The information in The Rise of Skywalker was all left to the audience to put 2 and 2 together and theorize Palpatine was talking about cloning and/or the conversation above. If you hadn’t watched the prequels before seeing The Rise of Skywalker, you wouldn’t be able to correlate this information, leaving the means by which Palpatine reappears as a mystery that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and isn’t resolved in the narrative. What this all means for the ending is a somewhat convoluted, complex, yet simpleminded ending. In fact, the ending was so simpleminded and single tracked, it was easy to predict the outcome. Is It Over? This is a lingering question that remains. If there’s one clone, there can be many. Did Rey fight the last and final clone? We don’t know. This is the gaping hole the size of the Grand Canyon. If it took Rey to the point of death to kill one single clone, then fighting any more means she probably won’t succeed in killing any others. After all, she won’t have Ben there to give her his remaining life force and bring her back to life again. For the reason of clones, the ending is entirely unsatisfying. Once you open this story door to clones (plural), it’s a never ending cycle. You simply can’t win against potentially thousands of Palpatine clones strewn throughout the Star Wars galaxy. This is why the ending is simultaneously satisfying at face value and completely unsatisfying when you dig deeper. Cheap Cop Out Ultimately, the two main problems in this story stem from relying on the concept of cloning combined with using a duplicate (cloned) Palpatine to carry this story. Out of thousands of better possible ideas, JJ chose these two weakest and most trite ideas over any others? This simply shows just how inept a writer JJ actually is. Though, the “Mary Sue” idea was almost completely squashed by introducing the “Palpatine’s Granddaughter” idea. My problem with the ending of this story is, why did we miss a generation? In fact, the whole “Palpatine having children” storyline could have been a far better story idea to base this final set of films on over what’s included in this mess of a trilogy. Definitely, the “Palpatine having children” story idea is a far, far superior story in establishing the idea of the carrying forward of the Sith vs Jedi conflict over the mess-of-a-story shown in this bankrupt trilogy. This is particularly true if you truly want to hand off this conflict to a new generation of Sith and Jedi. Unfortunately, JJ has already given away the farm. Following the “Palpatine had Children” idea, when did Palpatine procreate and with whom? Why wasn’t it THIS story that begins these final 3 films? If, as a storyteller, you’re going to tease us that Palpatine had children, then we need to know more about this situation. Who was his “wife”? How many children did Palpatine have? Was Rey an only child? Have these children chosen to be dark or light? None of these questions are answered. They’re left open. JJ’s story elements weren’t added to tell us that Palpatine had children. They were useless contrivances included simply to carry The Rise of Skywalker to conclusion. These contrivances are the very definition of retroactive continuity, “Let’s add something random about the past that lets the future proceed in a specific way.” That’s entirely retroactive contrivance If past historical events had been introduced early in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, I’d not be critical of these “convenient” story elements included in The Rise of Skywalker. It would have meant that the writers were thinking ahead to the future film. It also means that the story arc was properly planned. Without these elements in any prior films, it’s included for mere convenient storytelling. It’s also the very definition of a “hack writer“. Palpatine’s Children Before we dive deep into the the “hack writer” concept, let’s explore what we could have had in this final trilogy. Oh, and boy is it a doozy! It’s actually hard to believe that JJ chose not to run with this story idea, which would have made the final trilogy not only completely satisfying, but would have opened the door up to so many more films and TV shows. Disney could have made twice the amount of money off of this (and it would still be going) and the Star Wars brand would be stronger than ever instead of petering out after The Last Jedi ended up like dropping a gallon of water on lit candle. If The Force Awakens had opened, instead, using one of Palpatine’s children as a primary villain with that child obviously dark side leaning, the whole tone and concept of this entire trilogy would have completely changed. Talk about introducing a “new generation”, well this was the way to do it! It would have also changed the entire story concept over these three films. Instead of a Mary Sue story unfolding around Rey, we could have focused on the brashness, harshness and destructiveness of a Palpatine child and in a growing Jedi order to combat that new Palpatine threat. Except, this time it’s not Palpatine. It’s the child of Palpatine and they have a completely new idea on how to squash the Jedi order, not using Palpatine’s old, tired rhetoric… that didn’t work anyway. If Palpatine had had more than one child, which of course we knew nothing about those other children, another child could emerge as a conflict mechanism, both against the Jedi and also against the Sith. This would allow the story to pit both Palpatine children against one another, but at the same time against the Jedi. See, so much potential lost! This could have turned Star Wars a bit darker, more modern, updated, yet still fall within Star Wars ideas and visuals. Instead of the crappy Disney trilogy that we got, which was a bunch of cotton candy fluff, we could have dived deep into a darker, more sinister plot involving Palpatine’s children. Snoke could have still been involved as a puppet of this Palpatine child, but we don’t even have to bring back Palpatine as a clone to accomplish it. We simply need this dark side leaning child to “carry the torch”. So many ideas and so any concepts swirling, it’s amazing JJ didn’t realize that THIS is where the story should have headed… not with his carnival of cotton candy and candied apples. JJ’s trilogy was, in fact, so candy-bar sweet as to get diabetes. No, that’s not where Star Wars needed to go. Star Wars needed to begin with a darker, more sinister villain to launch the story, then slowly emerge (over 3 films) from that darkness with a huge win at the end… a win that perhaps doesn’t even stem from the Jedi. Such a win could then lead into not only more films, but also spin off into a whole bunch of TV series. Disney missed the boat here in an immense way. So much potential completely wasted and lost. Hack Writer A hack writer is a pejorative term for a writer who is paid to write low-quality, rushed articles or books “to order”, often with a short deadline. That’s exactly how J.J. Abrams comes to The Rise of Skywalker. He was most definitely paid to write a rushed low-quality script and the film most definitely reveals that. It also reveals that JJ doesn’t have the creative chops to come up with solid, great story ideas and concepts, such as using a Palpatine child to not only bring Star Wars to a brand new generation of children, but also breed a whole new generation of Sith and Jedi alike. Instead, we got… High Gloss Cotton Candy One of the things that most disturbs me about this film is its high gloss nature. This gloss defines the term putting “lipstick on a pig“. This phrase means taking a low quality, bad product and dressing it up to disguise its fundamental failings. The “gloss” here is the film’s far too quick pacing and the overuse of CG effects, right from the opening. Yes, it’s a pretty film. It also includes throwing random and rapid paced information at the viewer, but not giving the person not enough time to react to that information. If the viewer attempts to think anything through, they’ll miss the next scene of the film. This is intentional. You can’t really go into deep thought and stay focused on the film in front of you. You can only go into deep thought after the film is over, at which point you’ll already be initially “satisfied” (or at least sated) by the film’s intended conclusion. However, thinking the film through, you’ll understand all of the points I’ve made above. That’s the whole point of the “glossy coating” and, thus, to put “lipstick on a pig”. It’s not that the story is the worst story I’ve ever seen in a film, but it’s definitely not a great story by any stretch. It was cobbled together from elements not established in this trilogy. Instead, the story had to fall back on story elements established from the prequels and the original films, but which hadn’t been discussed in this trilogy until the final film. Yes, that’s the very definition of a “Cop Out”. Instead, this trilogy should have relied on itself and its own stories to carry its way through to conclusion. It didn’t need a cloned Palpatine to carry this story. That’s perfectly clear. Here’s one of the primary problems I have with this whole cloned Palpatine issue. How and when did Palpatine become cloned? Is someone else pulling the strings? Was that cloned Palpatine merely a test for Rey? Was it merely the first in a series of tests? Was that clone the only one? So many questions left unanswered. So many questions that needed to be answered for a proper conclusion. Yet, no. These are not “cliffhanger” questions. These are fundamental questions which should have been answered over the course of the Disney trilogy, yet were not. To really underscore the Cop Out problem, we must examine… The Last Jedi The closing shot of the kid in the The Last Jedi shows a force capable child. Yet, The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t even attempt to close that narrative. The ring that Finn and Rose bestow onto that kid meant nothing? The whole almost 30 minute romp through the Casino was pointless? Indeed, it means the whole Rose storyline was more-or-less pointless considering they set up an almost blatant new romantic interest in The Rise of Skywalker in Naomi Ackie’s Jannah character. Yet, neither the romantic storyline between either Rose or Jannah materializes in The Rise of Skywalker. Rose has a few scenes in the Leia camp, but it’s all for naught and is a fairly useless means of closure for this character. Set her up in The Last Jedi to be a romantic interest, then ignore Rose as mere wallpaper in The Rise of Skywalker. The interest around Rose was molded into yet another new character of Jannah. Yes, The Rise of Skywalker trounces all over The Last Jedi in an attempt right-its-wrongs for better or worse. More specifically, The Rise of Skywalker simply chooses to ignore those things it deems as unimportant from the previous film. Examples: the force-capable kid, the Casino romp, Rose and even the ring. Whatever The Rise of Skywalker writers deem as unimportant are left without acknowledgement or conclusion. Indeed, The Rise of Skywalker plays too much fan service and not enough at closing elements already opened in prior films. It wouldn’t have taken much to include a small scene showing that force-capable kid wearing the ring somewhere in The Rise of Skywalker. It doesn’t need to be a long or even important scene, it simply needs to be in there. Maybe a scene between Rey and that kid moving rocks around briefly, as though she or Leia is training him. We don’t need to know more about the kid other than he’s still around and he may or may not become important later, just not in this film. Change of Clothing One of the most obvious and out of place elements is that Rey wears the same outfit and hairstyle throughout much of all three films. At least Leia was given proper costume changes along the way including her film’s iconic opening outfit with buns, her braided pony tail ceremonial outfit at the end of Episode 4, her Hoth ice outfit, her Bespin outfit, her ever important Jabba Bikini and so on. With each new environment, she changes clothing. No, it’s not explained how Leia does this, but she does. Rey, on the other hand, almost never changes clothes. She effectively has two outfits. Her scavenger outfit which she wore in The Force Awakens and again in The Rise of Skywalker. In The Last Jedi, the costumers gave her a new darker outfit and a new hairstyle while on the Luke Skywalker banishment planet, but that was a short stint with that outfit. However, once she leaves, she’s back into yet another version of her scavenger outfit. For battling, I guess that outfit is fine, but you’d think that Leia could have issued her more appropriate resistance clothing along the way. For scavenging on a hot planet, what she was originally wearing was fine. For a resistance member, she should have changed into something more befitting of her new role. Additionally, being a budding Jedi, she should have at least donned more Jedi befitting clothing. Nope, she was placed right back into her scavenger outfit all throughout The Rise of Skywalker, even at the end of the film. This is a small point, but it’s a relevant point to the development of a character. The costumes indicate growth of a character as much as her actions and words. Story After all of this lead up, let’s finally talk about the film’s story as a whole. The story itself is both simplistic and meh. It concludes in a way that leaves a bad taste for Star Wars and for Disney in general. Because hack writers were chosen to not create a cohesive whole, but a chopped up mess of a hack-job over three films which almost have no relation to one another other than characters, it ends up a truly sad affair. It also concludes in this way. However, Disney also felt obligated to conclude this problem child. They did so only because they had started down this road and felt the need to finish it. Personally, I think Disney should have shelved the entire project after The Last Jedi and called it done. The whole thing was too irreparably damaged by that point, at least as a creative project. For Disney, the dollar$igns lingered too much in front of someone’s eyes to give it up.

Let’s talk about the film itself. When we begin The Rise of Skywalker, we’re greeted by the familiar text crawl followed by the familiar and obligatory space pan shot. Before we step into the visuals, let’s talk about this text crawl. The text crawl mentions Palpatine by name and that he’s back, never mind those pesky details of exactly how. Basically, the story opens with retroactive continuity before an actor ever graces the silver screen. We already know the lay of the land before one single actual live action shot. From that crawl alone, we now know exactly what we’re in for in The Rise of Skywalker, but we don’t yet know how it will unfold. Though, giving it two minutes of thought, you can understand where the story is heading, we simply need to see it visually.

How it actually ends up playing out is a series of scenes, the Millenium Falcon, a cameo by a now aging Lando Calrissian and a bunch of throwbacks and nods to the original Star Wars, simply to keep the visual interest high. In other words, visually the film relies almost solely on reminiscing over the original three films by attempting to ignore the failings of The Last Jedi specifically, but also glosses over some of The Force Awakens. The Rise of Skywalker attempts to be the one and only one film that matters in this Disney trilogy. In fact, it tries way too hard at this and ultimately feels hollow and disappointing.

It’s a film that feels whole and solid while you watch it, but like a chocolate Easter Bunny once you bite down and realize it’s hollow, the film ultimately lacks any real reason to exist. For this reason, this is why George Lucas decided not to create films 7, 8 and 9 himself. He realized that once the 6 films were complete, there was nothing left to say.

The Rise of Skywalker proves this fact out in amazing abundance. At the end, we’re left not with the question about how great Rey is, but what the hell just happened? More importantly, what was the point? How exactly does Rey’s existence perpetuate the Star Wars narrative in a positive or useful way? Rey is clearly not a Skywalker. She’s a Palpatine. She’ll always be a Palpatine. She’ll always have the potential for falling into the dark side. Yet, she takes the Skywalker name because, plot.

Was it necessary or important for Rey to be a Skywalker? *shrug* I’ve no idea. There’s nothing that comes after to explain the need for this inexplicable naming. Yet, that’s exactly how the story ends. She’s now Rey Skywalker in name only. She’ll always be Rey Palpatine or whatever her father’s family surname was. We don’t even know if it was her father or mother who was the daughter or son of Emperor Palpatine. For all we know, Palpatine didn’t even have a child. Instead, he may have made a clone of himself who ultimately broke away, got married and had a child. We just don’t have enough backstory to know how this whole Rey situation came about.

We came too late in The Force Awakens to get this backstory. It was also never explained throughout the Disney trilogy. We’re simply left in the dark. Even at the very end of The Rise of Skywalker, we’re still left in the dark about how Rey came to be the granddaughter of Palpatine. Bad storytelling. If you’re planning on including retroactive continuity, you could at least fill in these rather important details so we can better understand how and from where Rey came… or, more specifically, how Emperor Palpatine managed to have kids. We don’t even know if Palpatine’s kids were from the “original” Palpatine or if one of Palpatine’s clones had kids. Yes, I said clones… as in the plural form, meaning “more than one”.

Ben and Rey

One thing that The Rise of Skywalker postulates is that Rey and Ben are a force dyad. The only way that’s possible is if Ben and Rey are twins, or at least from the same parent. That implies that Leia may have given birth to twins (like her mother who also had twins Luke and Leia) and somehow Rey was kidnapped by a Palpatine clone and assumed it to be his own child birthed by, well, whomever was on the ship with Rey whenever she was left on Jakku.

Again, this was not explained in the film, but a force dyad doesn’t make much sense unless they’re siblings or, in some way related… which makes that kiss at the end all the more “ewww”. Again, not explained.

Never Ending Ending

Here’s the ultimate problem that exists and persists after closure of The Rise of Skywalker and it’s a big one! An ending that never ends is what we have left over from The Rise of Skywalker. What exactly do I mean? I mean that because Palpatine is a clone, there were likely many Palpatine clones. If Palpatine were to make one clone, he would make several. Why? To ensure the survival of at least one of the clones, there must be many.

The question remains, how many and where are they? We don’t know. Clearly, Rey seems to have fought a particularly weak clone. Perhaps they’re all weak. The fact that they’re clones, they might not have inherited all of the force strength of the original. Because Rey couldn’t defeat this Palpatine clone all by herself implies that she herself was most likely born of a clone and not the original Palpatine. While that may or may not be a problem, the bigger problem is that the ending of The Rise of Skywalker has no end.

As Rey heads off into the galaxy for future travels, she’ll inevitably encounter more Palpatine clones and she’ll be forced to dispatch each and every one. In fact, it’s highly likely she’ll have to dispatch many Palpatine clones, because like the original Palpatine, even the clones will have the drive to survive and those clones will also hire cloners to clone the clone making yet more Palpatines. Like a virus, this situation perpetuates and never ends. Rey will never run out of an army of Palpatines to defeat.

This is the problem you bring into a story when forcing such concepts as clones as a story element for story closure. Like waking up from a dream sequence as an ending, using clones to close the final story element leaves the story’s ending unsatisfying. There’s nothing at all satisfying about the possibility of hundreds or thousands of Palpatines all infesting the universe waiting to attack the next Jedi that happens along.

See, I didn’t even have to resort to holding up the unmitigated pretentious disaster of a story that was J.J.’s Star Trek to illustrate just how much of a hack writer J.J. Abrams really is. Oops, I guess I just did. Yes indeed, J.J. seems to have the uncanny ability to ruin just about any franchise he touches.

Graphics: 5 out of 5
Story: 1 out of 5
Pacing: 2 out of 5
Overall: 2 out of 5 (wait until it’s available to watch without paying)

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## Game Review: Control

Posted in video game design, video gaming by commorancy on February 12, 2021

505 Studio’s Control is game that seems like it should have been a good game. Unfortunately, it’s an average third person shooter with a lot of problematic game design elements sporting one almost redeeming concept. Let’s explore.

What kind of Game is it?

Control is a game about, well, control of sorts. Not so much the control you might expect, but the control that the game designers want you to come to know. Basically, your player character, Jesse, is thrown into a world of objects dubbed O.o.P. or Objects of Power. These are everyday objects that contain a supernatural force. In this sense, the game ripped off Friday the 13th The Series and Warehouse 13. Both of these TV series revolved everyday objects imbued with a supernatural element that, if harnessed, would typically lead to wanton destruction.

In this same vein, the game world in Control has this same problem. These everyday power objects not only allow people to harness the supernatural forces within, these objects bestow unique abilities upon the bearer. However, in those aforementioned TV series, their objects not only gave the person a supernatural ability, it typically sapped the good out of the person leaving only evil behind. In this video game, this object situation does not similarly exist. The player character remains in full control of their faculties and remains sane and able to ward off any evil that may be part of the object.

As you might surmise, as you progress and find more and more power objects, the player character grows in strength and abilities. That’s how the skill tree opens and progresses. The game is much like other similar superhero games like the Infamous series, The Darkness series and, to a lesser extent, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series. Basically, as you find and gain abilities, your character’s strength grows. It’s obvious that this setup is leading to a final boss level where you’ll have to close out the game using many, if not all of the character’s abilities to defeat that final boss. It’s a fairly standard and cliché setup for a video game.

Story

The story in this game is mostly utilitarian. It primarily exists for the purpose of creating this video game. The story is essentially there to support the character’s gaining of new abilities, not the other way around. The character finds herself in a building called the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC)… it’s this video game’s equivalent of the FBI or CIA… with the added twist of also investigating all things of a supernatural nature. This situation she finds herself in affords her new abilities along the way. Though, she already has one ability that she’s already gained as a result of exposure to a power object when she and her brother were both kids.

Now, Jesse finds herself confronting the very outfit that kidnapped her brother, but at the same time becoming the FBC’s savior because the building has somehow gone completely out of control… which, this story setup is probably predictably obvious.

The first object of power that Jesse finds (well, technically the second) is a gun which now affords her protection. There’s nothing really very special about this object of power other than it’s a gun. I was a little disappointed to find the game developers offering up the weakest of all power objects as the first that she finds. I mean, what’s the point in finding an object of power if it doesn’t somehow confer a new supernatural ability? No, instead we find a gun that’s just a gun. It shoots bullets, but other than that it doesn’t do much in the way of anything else. It’s not even a very powerful weapon. It’s simply a pistol. So far, the game is starting off weak.

Abilities

As the game progresses, Jesse gains more and newer powers and abilities. The difficulty is that this is a slow row to hoe. Meaning, this game is about as slow burn as it gets. Don’t expect to get many abilities very fast at all. They definitely come to Jesse at a very, very slow pace.

Still, her abilities and powers grow as she slowly finds the objects to help her improve her situation with “The Hiss”. As I said above, the building itself has gone out of control. Most of the people in the building are floating catatonic many feet above the ground. These unfortunate people are under the control of what Jesse dubs, “The Hiss”. It’s basically a form of mind control that forces people into this catatonic floating state. Jesse and any who are wearing a Hedron Resonance Amplifier (HRA) can avoid becoming a casualty of “The Hiss”.

As Jesse progresses into the game and into the building, she finds all sorts of departments investigating all sorts of paranormal activities, including ESP, telekinesis, mind control and so on. Unfortunately, the game throws all of this information at you, but Jesse makes no comments on any of it. It’s like she’s simply expecting to see all of this stuff as she makes her way through the Bureau of Control building. Nope, to her it’s not a surprise at all. Yet, to the player, the questions all remain open as the story addresses none of this.

Control Points

As Jesse makes her way through this labyrinthine maze of a building, she finds red circular zones with 3 parabolic dishes aiming at the center. These control points, once “cleansed”, allow Jesse to fast travel to these points in the building. As a game mechanic, fast travel points are convenient. For the game’s story, this whole system feels contrived. Regardless, the control points not only allow Jesse to straighten out screwed up parts of the building through “cleansing”, it allows her to use these points to move around the building more easily… which is needed in this convoluted design of a building.

Puzzles

As with many games of this nature, Jesse’s challenges sometimes involve cryptic puzzles to be solved. This means working out how to solve the puzzle, sometimes using abilities, sometimes not. For example, one puzzle involves getting punchcards into the correct order in each terminal of five total terminals. Once done, the machine dependent on the correct order of cards inserted into the terminals can then be started. Of course, once started, the machine fails leading Jesse to yet another area of the building to get something else.

When Jesse isn’t solving puzzles, she’s fighting enemies, she’s conversing with an NPC or she’s running around in the building. Many of Jesse’s quests involve either fetching something, doing something for someone or attacking enemies or being attacked.

Combat

Since we were just talking about this very topic, let’s expand on it. Combat is part of any first or third person shooter; otherwise, it’s not a shooter. The enemies in this game are The Hiss, a nebulous set of voices that invade a person and can eventually possess that person and have them do things, including fight. All of the enemies in the game are former FBC officers who have been possessed or transformed by The Hiss. The Hiss is a nebulous enemy who lives in an alternate dimension from the game’s 3D human inhabited world. This supernatural force can reach through into the “real” world and control humans. The Hiss doesn’t seem to have any special agenda other than taking up arms against the game’s protagonist… at least, none that the game has let the gamer in on.

In other words, The Hiss is pretty much like The Flood in the Halo series. It’s a nebulous enemy who uses humans to possess and propagate itself into the real world. Unfortunately, like The Flood in Halo, possessing a human corrupts and transfigures the human into unrecognizable creatures that afford only basic life or death instincts… much like The Flood in Halo.

Jesse uses her ever evolving supernatural abilities and supernatural weapons to dispatch these unwanted abominations. That’s where the player comes in.

The combat is fairly straightforward, but with some glaring problems. The game strongly recommends using manual aiming throughout the game. However, in the options panel, there is an aim assist mode. If you enable this mode, the game, again, strongly recommends playing the game through with this mode off making some nebulous statement about being rewarded for doing so.

Okay, so I tried to do this for a few levels. However, what became painfully obvious is that the over sensitive camera movement makes manual aiming in this game next to impossible. Most games suffer from this same design flaw, but this super sensitive movement is way more pronounced in Control than most games I’ve played. This makes manual aiming a chore. I could live with this chore, however, were it not for the next additional glaring flaw.

Enemies in Control have near perfect aim every single shot even when hidden behind obstructions. While my bullets miss enemies when I’m shooting at them with the reticle directly over the top of them, enemy bullets connect almost instantly. Wait, it gets worse.

Enemies can shoot Jesse in the head from behind objects with perfect aim and take nearly 99% of her health, sometimes all of it, in one shot. Yet, Jesse’s shots do maybe 10% damage to an enemy even in the head. The enemy’s perfect aim when combined with being so overpowered make the game a joke to play. This game isn’t supposed to be another Dark Souls, which Dark Souls is intentionally designed with combat so difficult so as to make you throw the controller across the room on occasion.

It’s one thing when game developers attempt to make enemies operate at about the same damage level as the player. It’s another when developers clearly don’t give two shits about this and set the enemies as one-shot player kills, yet can absorb every bullet in the player’s gun and still not die. Worse, enemies can literally appear out of thin air, standing right next to you and then summarily execute Jesse in one hit. It’s so absurd that you have to laugh to keep from throwing the controller at the screen.

As a result, I enabled aim-assist. If the game is going to cheat by making enemies so overpowered they can kill Jesse in one shot, it was only fair that Jesse obtains a similar advantage. There’s nothing worse than seeing the death screen in a game over and over and over. It gets worse again.

Death Mechanic

If Jesse falls in battle, the game reloads Jesse back to the closest save point. Because save points can be quite far away from where you were playing, that forces you to spend time sprinting all the way back to that point again. It’s not only annoying, it’s an incredible time waste. It can sometimes even become a challenge to get back there if it requires using lifts or yet more combat to get back there. Therefore, doing something to help mitigate the death loading screen and being forced back to the load point is well worth it. This is part of the reason I decided to enable aim-assist from the beginning.

While I’m okay with a small death penalty, such as consuming points that could be used towards upgrades, we don’t need multiple different penalties. Penalties such as this game has:

1. Loss of points that can be used towards upgrades
2. Being forced back to closest save point
3. Loss of current battle in progress
4. Confusion over where you end up after respawning

Thankfully, the game doesn’t lose the progress or force you to start everything over from scratch after Jesse dies, but you must determine where you are, figure out where you were and then spend time traversing back over there. You might even run into more Hiss along the way just to get back to where Jesse fell.

It’s not the worst death mechanic in a game, but it’s pretty close to it. Control will lose points for its weak death + respawn mechanic.

Graphics

One shining spot of this game is its world lighting, background objects and atmospherics. It has some of the best atmospherics I’ve seen in a game. It gives the world depth and it serves to give the office space a sense of realism. While the lighting doesn’t work 100% in every situation, there are some lighting conditions that are exceptional. This is one of the shining points in this game, but not the sparkle in this game… that’s coming below. Unfortunately, a lot of game developers put a lot of effort into choosing an engine that offers a substantial level of lighting realism, but then forget to put that same level of effort into the character models.

Speaking of character models, the 3D character models are average in this game, specifically the main character, Jesse. However, even the supporting character models lack. If you want to see character models that look genuinely and stunningly real, you need to look at the Call of Duty series. The character models in Call of Duty are some of the most outstanding and realistic models I’ve yet seen in a game. Sure, even those models look video gamey as all 3D models ultimately do, but they’re probably the closest to using a human model as I’ve seen from a 3D game character. Unfortunately in Control, Jesse (and the rest) aren’t the greatest of 3D models. You can even see that depending on the lighting, the character models can look okay or they can look flat, dull and unconvincing. The hands are particularly bad. It’s like playing a game using Barbie and Ken dolls.

Audio

Unlike many video games which offer the player character no voice, this game does give Jesse, the game’s protagonist, a solid voice. Not only does Jesse have a voice to speak to other characters in the game, this character also has thoughts of her own. It’s a refreshing and welcome change to see a game developer voice the protagonist and give them a backstory that unfolds as we’re traversing through the narrative. Unfortunately, the musical audio portion doesn’t fare as well. The music chosen is not inspiring or powerful. If anything, I’d use the word utilitarian. The music serves its purpose to cue the player into skirmishes, but that’s about as great as it gets. There’s just nothing much inspiring about the music included in this game. There is one exception and that’s discussed below.

Problems

As with most games that have been released in the last two or three years, I find game developers more and more relying on cliché game tropes to carry the story. These tropes make game development easier because most game developers already have toolkits built which can insert these tropes right into the game. Tropes like the press and hold to interact. Tropes like dead enemies dropping health pickups. Tropes like enemies with perfect aim. However, if the tropes were the end of this game’s problems, I might not even mention them. Combined with a bunch of other problems, it just exacerbates Control’s overall problems.

Video games that rely on quests, particularly where the game can carry multiple quests at the same time, have learned to mark not only on the map where the quest destination is, but also mark on the player’s directional HUD system which way to head to get to that destination. Unfortunately, Control does none of this. Not only does it fail to adequately alert the player where on the map is the destination is, it fails to offer a directional HUD or floating marker to lead you in the correct direction.

Instead, the player is forever fumbling his or her way to get to the destination. Sometimes the destination is so obscure and not marked, it’s impossible to find a way to get to it. This problem is compounded by the building’s convoluted and overly complex layout. I realize the building itself is a kind of extra-dimensional structure, able to rearrange itself at will. Regardless, the structure is overly complex requiring traversal of many stairs and small doors to move between and around areas.

Combine this with the fact that doors are level locked, the player has no way to know how to get into an area until you finally and magically hit upon the correct quest that drops the key in your lap.

Map

Yes, the map itself is also a problem. Unlike many games which choose to utilize a separate map screen, this game uses a map overlay. The map overlay obscures the screen itself, yet the screen stays live with the character able to move while the screen map marker moves. This is mostly a negative for the game. It’s great that you can see you’re heading in the correct direction, but because the screen is so overly obscured by the map, trying to traverse the interior of the building can be impossible with the map overlay open.

The only other game that has offered a similar map overly screen was Technomancer. Technomancer‘s game’s map overlay screen, however, chose not to obscure the gamer’s view of the game play field while still allowing the map to be visible. This meant you could leave the map open and traverse the map to your destination. If Control had chosen to allow visibility of the play field at all times, the game play experience with the map open would have been far, far better. As it is now, Control’s kludgy map overlay system is made worse by its failure to be useful other than for quick glances.

This map situation gets much worse. There are times where the map doesn’t even draw in. It’s just a bunch of question marks and words floating in space with no image underlay showing the room layout. You simply have to guess where the hell you are. Even worse, this undrawn map can stay like this for minutes at a time, sometimes eventually drawing in, sometimes not. It’s also weird that the map worked just fine 5 minutes ago, but just a few minutes later it’s not working. I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that a bug this functionally problematic has been allowed to exist in a 505 studio game over a year after release. Though, admittedly this game studio has had a very rough start with Death Stranding… a game that confused a lot of players, was too slow burn and afforded mixed critical reviews. Control also falls into this same boat, but for very different reasons.

Telekenesis (aka Launch)

Yes, this power also falls under a problem area of this game. In a game that allows you to pick up and throw objects, an accurate object targeting system is imperative. Unfortunately, that targeting system fails more often than it succeeds. For example, there’s a point in the game where you’re required to run through an obstacle course in around 60 seconds. As part of this course, you are required to pick up cube structures and throw them into wall plugs to activate them. Far too many times, the game will, instead of picking up the cube which is right under the reticle, it will yank ceiling or wall material down forcing you to send that flying and try again. Sometimes it will fail to grab the cube multiple times in a row using up the precious telekinesis power bar. You only get about 3 tries at this before running out of power and being forced into a slow recharge.

Even with the fastest recharge speed mods, you still have to wait 10-15 (seconds) for the bar to recharge ensuring that you fail the course. I don’t know how many times I had to run through that course before I was able to succeed simply because of this single stupid game design failure.

If you’re developer planning on including short duration timed activities, you need to make damned sure that the mechanics required to complete the course function reliably 100% of the time. Control really failed the gamer with this course. That’s not to say the course cannot be run and succeeded. It will, however, take many trial and error attempts until you can manage to get luck to line up properly with all of the kludgy game mechanics.

Ashtray Maze

Let’s get past all of these pesky problems. What I will say about this particular level is that this level is the payoff for the entire game. It should have been the final thing you do that ends the game. My guess is that this level was designed first. Some developer came up with this level idea which wowed everyone who played it and then a game was wrapped around this one level as a reason for this game to exist.

This puzzle level requires a special object of power to be obtained before it can be run. If you enter into the maze without this object of power, you can only run in circles. Once you have this object of power, the entire level opens up and boy is it impressive. The entire run is so precisely timed to the player that it’s like watching a music video. Yes, even the soundtrack on this level is awesome. As I said, impressive. This level is the sole reason to play Control and, while fleeting, the level is amazing to behold and is the single most impressive thing about this game. After I was done running the level, I was thinking that I want to do it again… it was that impressive.

Unfortunately, one outstanding level can’t redeem a mediocre third person shooter. But, nonetheless, the Ashtray Maze is definitely a must see (and hear) level. It’s too bad the rest of the game couldn’t have been quite so impressive.

Overall

Control is a game not about control, but about being controlled. It’s about, well, nothing much in particular or even too interesting to be honest. This game combines a lot of its not-so-subtle cues from a lot of different games series including Bioshock, Halo, Portal, Assassin’s Creed, Infamous Second Son and Half-Life. In fact, it feels like a mashup of the game series just mentioned. It feels way less original than it should and, thus, it ends up far less impressive overall. However, the developers had a gem of a concept in the Ashtray Maze that they simply squandered away, but which could have been used in many ways all throughout the game to bump up the playability and fun factor of Control.

For example, the silly and repetitive Oceanview Motel sections were not only intensely boring and repetitive, they were completely unnecessary. If those segments had been replaced each with slightly modified runs of the Ashtray Maze, this game could have been much, much better and way more satisifying. I could have done the Ashtray Maze run several times and loved running it every single time. Instead, we got saddled with the trite Oceanview Motel, which is insipid, uninspired, slow and unnecessary. Maybe 505 can learn from these mistakes when crafting the sequel to Control.

One final thing I’ll state is that this game has two endings. This information doesn’t at all spoil the game. However, know that it has a fake out ending and a real one. The fake out ending is still part of the game and there’s a small amount more gameplay (maybe 15-20 minutes) after it, but before you get to the real ending. I’m uncertain why 505 decided to add a fake out ending, particularly so close to the end, but they did. I thought I’d mention it so if you choose to play this game you don’t get caught off-guard thinking that the game ended early and abruptly and put the game away before completing Control.

Graphics: 8.5 out of 10
Sound: 8 out of 10
Game Control: 4 out of 10
Playability: 7 out of 10
Replay value: 1 out of 10
Overall: 4.5 out of 10 (an average third person shooter with only one redeeming level)

## Are Trump’s final Pardons legal?

Posted in analysis, government by commorancy on January 22, 2021

The United States Constitution has very specific language defining how and when the Presidential power of pardons and reprieves can and cannot be used. Let’s explore.

Constitutional Language

From Article II, Section 2, here is the language that defines the President’s powers. Note, styles have been added for clarification purposes.

The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States; he may require the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices, and he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.

U.S. Constitution => Article II => Section 2

At the end of this paragraph, we have an exception to and limitation of the previous power, “grant reprieves and pardons”. Some might argue that this exception covers the entire paragraph describing his powers as a whole, but this exception immediately follows the definition of the President’s aforementioned “grant reprieves and pardons” power. While the exception may cover all of his power in a logical sense after full impeachment AND conviction and having been removed from power, it doesn’t make sense to cover all of his powers while he still holds office after impeachment, but before the trial. He must still remain commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, for example.

Instead, I believe that this specific language, because it appears directly after the “grant reprieves and pardons” language is intended to narrowly apply solely to the power of granting reprieves and pardons, not to the entire paragraph.

Logically, this interpretation makes the most sense because you wouldn’t want a President who is in the process of being impeached to flurry pardon both himself and those who might have been involved, thus nullifying the entire impeachment proceeding. Meaning, the power given to Congress to impeach the President must not be allowed a loophole by the President to avoid impeachment.

Trump’s Pardons and Reprieves

While the language of the constitution is clear on what powers the President has, it has exclusions when specific powers are unavailable to the President as defined just above.

Let’s examine Trump’s flurry of pardons on the way out of office. Because of the way the constitution language is written, it seems that Trump’s final flurry of reprieves and pardons on the way out, but which occurred after his second impeachment on January 13, 2021 may not be constitutionally valid or legal. According to the constitution, the President forfeits the power of reprieves and pardons “in cases of impeachment” or, more specifically, during impeachment proceedings.

One can argue that Trump lost this power during his first impeachment. He did. However, that impeachment ended in acquittal… thus restoring all powers to him that he would have lost between the House’s impeachment, but before the Senate trial concluded in acquittal. If he had made any pardons during that impeachment period in 2019, those would also be constitutionally invalid.

Our Framers’ Logic

The framers of the constitution would have logically understood the impeachment process fully. After all, they designed it. The framers understood that impeachment is a two step process requiring both the House and the Senate to participate. They also understood that because these two houses must work together to complete the process, there could be delays between the time the House approves their impeachment resolution and the time the Senate begins and concludes the impeachment trial.

These same framers also understood that because of the time required to complete the impeachment process in full, the President could use his power of pardons and reprieves to nullify the very reason for the impeachment itself. To avoid this design flaw in the process, the framers included the clause ‘except in cases of impeachment‘ to limit the use of this Presidential power during impeachment proceedings and thus avoid the possibility the President could pardon himself or others and nullify the entire impeachment.

Legal vs Illegal Pardons

The point to all of this is that President Trump, at the time before he left office, was still under impeachment proceedings. This clause in the constitution would then suspend Trump’s power of reprieves and pardons until the impeachment had reached full conclusion: acquittal or conviction.

Because Trump’s impeachment is still ongoing as of this article (and was at the time of his exit from office), any reprieves and pardons he signed after the House passed its Article of Impeachment would be constitutionally illegal and thus, null and void.

If Trump had remained in office after conclusion of the Senate’s impeachment trial AND if the trial resulted in his acquittal, his power of reprieves and pardons would be restored. He could have then reissued those reprieves and pardons to make each of them legal and valid. However, Trump is no longer President as his term has ended. His ability to reissue those reprieves and pardons has ended. This means that all of the reprieves and pardons that Trump issued after January 13th, 2021 are constitutionally invalid and must remain invalid in perpetuity.

President Joe Biden, the now current President, could reinstate those reprieves and pardons on Trump’s behalf if he so chooses, but that would require Joe Biden to agree to reissue those specific reprieves and pardons on behalf of Donald Trump.

↩︎

## Fallout 76: Let’s review Wastelanders

Posted in entertainment, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on April 19, 2020

NPCs are now in the game and so are duping exploits. Let’s review.

[Update for 5/4/2020] It seems that Bethesda has released a hotfix to prevent losing your weapon to an NPC if that NPC kills your character and loots the body. However, all other vending bugs have not yet been patched. We’re still waiting, Bethesda.

[Update for 4/27/2020] Serious Bugs! Bethesda appears to have introduced several new very serious bugs related to player vending in Wastelanders! These bugs can see you lose not only your weapons and armor, they will be taken directly from your stash! You may want to reconsider playing the game until they’ve fixed these showstopper issues. If you need more details or examples, please visit this Reddit thread. Bethesda is aware of these and are in the process of a hotfix for at least Bug 2, but there’s no date set when these fixes may arrive.

Bug 1: Player vending machines appear to be selling random unlisted items from your stash at random prices. This means any legendary weapon, rare armor, ammo or outfit in your Stashbox could be up for grabs for as little as 0 caps. Some buyers report having purchased extremely rare outfits and legendary weapons for 50 caps. Players hadn’t listed these items in their vendor. There is no rhyme or reason why this one is occurring.

Bug 2: Players report having their equipped weapon looted from their dead body by an NPC after character death. This bug seems to occur both in and out of events. If you’re fighting NPCs anywhere in the game and they kill your character, that NPC can apparently loot your body for your equipped weapon before you respawn. This one is a showstopper.

Workaround for bug #1 — Store ALL of your player vending machines in your workshop until this one is resolved. I also suggest storing ALL other player vending items such as Nuka-Cola vending machines, beer kegs, punch bowls or any other vendors that allow players to interact with items from your stash. Display cases should be safe from looting by players, but to be safe it might be worth storing them too.

Alternatively, play in a Private World where no other players can buy from your vendors until this issue is resolved. If you invite friends into your Private World with your vendors out, make sure you trust them fully and explain not to buy anything from your machines.

Workaround for bug #2 — Other than not playing the game, I don’t know of any way to avoid this situation other than making sure your characters don’t die around NPCs.

[Update for 4/22/2020] Bethesda has re-enabled vending and displays after rolling out a hot fix designed to solve the duping problem. However, knowing Bethesda’s track record at performing updates around duping exploits, they likely didn’t solve this problem. I fully expect these items to be disabled again within a week after duping resumes… with yet another patch forthcoming.

We all know that Bethesda’s ability to code a great game isn’t the best. Bethesda’s games are always chock full of bugs, particularly day one releases. Well, Wastelanders has arrived (on April 14th) and like all new releases, it is once again chock full of bugs… some fairly severe, like duping.

Before you run out and attempt to dupe your items, let’s talk about the ramifications of these actions first. I’d also recommend that if you don’t own Fallout 76 that you hold off running out to buy a copy before reading this article.

Duping, Exploits and Consequences

Before I get into the meat of this article, which are my actual thoughts about the Wastelanders addition and general review of the new content, I need to talk about duping and exploits first. This is something that some gamers seem to live for in Bethesda’s games, particularly it seems, when they are playing Fallout 76.

But, “Hold your horses there, Mac”. Don’t run out and begin looking for the duping exploits lest you get your account permanently banned from Bethesda.net. Many players see in-game exploitation as some kind of game within a game. To be fair, I see their point. However, Bethesda doesn’t agree with it.

In fact, Bethesda has made their stance on venturing outside of the bounds of the game to be very much a ban-worthy offense. Not only is it ban-worthy, it’s permaban worthy. What I mean is that if you choose to exploit the in-game world by doing things not intended by Bethesda, expect to see your account banned. I don’t mean a few days of ban here either. These bans are likely to be so severe, you may never get your account back… and, you will lose all Atom you carry, all items you’ve bought in the Atomic shop and lose any remaining portion of Fallout 1st you may have left, in addition to never being able to play the game again.

If Bethesda finds what you’ve done severe enough, they may even contact Sony to have your PSN account banned at the console level. Yes, Bethesda can do this.

This section should be seen as a warning to those of you gamers who wish to tread on the very tenuous ground of duping and exploitation in the Fallout 76 world. If you wish to play a Bethesda online game, you need to keep your character’s feet firmly on the ground and away from all in-game exploits. Anything that feels like cheating in the game world is very likely to get your Bethesda.net account banned!

How Will Bethesda Know?

I know this game is played by a lot of naïve minors under the age of 18. Many may even be under the age of 12. Being of this younger age, it’s easy to fail to understand that there are such things as logs. Bethesda has been logging and monitoring Fallout 76 on their servers for months. They began this monitoring process when the last duping flare-up occurred early in 2019.

Since then, all of this monitoring has improved and, in fact, is likely being actively reviewed and monitored daily through reports and other condensed information. This means that someone at Bethesda has the job of actively looking for players using suspect behavior and/or carrying suspect stacks of items.

If you carry a stack of 1 million pieces of ammo, or a 100k stimpaks or 50k Large Holiday Presents or any unnecessarily large stack of items, your account is likely to be found and flagged for duping. The numbers of items you can reasonably carry range from 1-10000 depending on item. Even then, the 10k amount only applies to ammo where it is feasible you can find that much in the game world. While Bethesda will overlook 10k in ammo, they will NOT overlook 10k or 100k in Large Handmade Holiday Gifts or a million pieces of ammo… particularly if they all have the same object ID.

Once they see a large stack of suspect items, they will begin investigating the account for how it obtained this many of the item. The Bethesda staff person will then find if the account performed duping to obtain that item. Bethesda’s duping detection system isn’t perfect. Even if you didn’t dupe the items, but carry them on your account, your account may still be flagged. If your friend hands you 10k Holiday Gifts, be cautious and open them up quick or drop them. Don’t leave them lying around in your stash or in your character’s inventory. Simply holding onto a large suspect stack of items is enough to have your account banned… even if YOU didn’t dupe them.

I can’t stress the above enough. If you value all of the work you’ve put into Fallout 76 and your Bethesda.net account, then don’t dupe and don’t accept large duped stacks of items.

This is why we can’t have nice things!

When push comes to shove, Bethesda is king at punishing (and retaliating against) exploiters and, by extension, all other users of their games in general. Bethesda has continually proven, at least with Fallout 76, that they don’t really care whose toes they step on to solve gamer exploits in their games. If that means deleting game world items from every Stashbox, regardless of whether it was legitimately obtained or not, so be it.

That means that a small minority of gamers can run amok within Fallout 76 exploiting duping bugs which forces Bethesda to take their ire out on the entire Fallout 76 gaming community as whole. Bethesda will willfully modify their game in negative ways, regardless of whom it affects.

Additionally, with exploiters who Bethesda can identify were specifically participating in the exploits, they will outright ban these gamers from Fallout 76 and, potentially, Bethesda.net on the whole. What this means to exploiters is not only the loss of access to Fallout 76, but it also means loss of access to every game you’ve ever purchased from Bethesda’s store. Yes, this punishment is hard. But, some people need to learn lessons the hard way. Life’s lessons aren’t always wrapped in pretty bows… which is a life lesson in and of itself.

Though, I’m not at all saying that being banned from the game isn’t the right choice to make for Bethesda. If gamers choose not to play the game as written and instead insist on playing outside of those boundaries by exploiting bugs, then you take what’s coming to you. Bethesda’s Terms of Service are crystal clear as follows:

You agree not to access, receive, play or use any Service to:

• Promote, upload, transmit, encourage or take part in any activity involving hacking, cracking, phishing, taking advantage of exploits or cheats and/or distribution of counterfeit software and/or Virtual Currency or virtual items. In an effort to continuously improve the Services, You and other players discovering exploits, cheats, cracks or other inconsistencies are required to report them to ZeniMax;

If you participate in this or any other activity listed in Bethesda’s Terms of Service, Bethesda’s remedies are clearly defined here:

In response to a violation of these Terms of Service, ZeniMax may issue You a warning, suspend or restrict certain features of Your Account (including, but not limited to, user names), selectively modify or remove or revoke Downloadable Content at an Account and/or device level, immediately terminate any and all Accounts that You have established and/or temporarily or permanently ban Your Account, device, and/or machine from accessing, receiving, playing or using all or certain Services.

This means that, yes, you can lose access to a portion or all of your content for the game involved or, indeed, you can lose your entire account at Bethesda. Basically, you will forfeit your access to the software involved and potentially everything else you own from Bethesda. When you exploit Bethesda’s software, eventually you will pay the price and that price is fairly steep.

One additional problem that can arise is that Bethesda can also report your account to PlayStation or Xbox if you have also violated those service’s terms and conditions. Bethesda’s report can see your entire PlayStation or Xbox blocked entirely from online services. Not only can you not use any Bethesda games you own, you could lose your entire Xbox Live or PlayStation Network access for all other games. It all depends on how Bethesda plays it against you. Bethesda can most certainly play hardball if you press the point.

With all of that behind us, let’s move into the meat and potatoes of this review…

With the addition of Wastelanders, the Appalachia wasteland has changed. How has it changed? It now has NPCs all over the place. This addition is a mixed bag, however.

While some of the portions of the game have been somewhat rewritten, the fundamental original game is still under there. The NPCs will help you get a handle a bit quicker because they can aid you in getting your character to where it needs to go. When you first exited Vault 76 before this update, you had to fend for yourself alone without much of any help.

Now there are NPCs to greet you just outside the vault who not only give you various information, they help you get a handle on what’s going on in Appalachia. That’s not to say these helpers outside of the vault are necessary, but now Appalachia doesn’t feel so barren.

The question is, does this addition really help the game out? As I said, that’s mixed bag. Nearly all of the original underlying quests are still in the game including the boring holotapes and terminal text lore. Some quests are somewhat altered with the presence of the new walking, talking NPCs.

Allies

Also with the Wastelanders addition, Bethesda has added on the concept of an ally. Think of this as effectively a named settler. If you’ve played Fallout 4, it’s similar to a companion with the exception that these allies don’t follow you around and aid you in combat. They live at your C.A.M.P. and help protect your camp. They also issue you quests that lead to a final 3 star legendary drop at the end.

Two of these allies include Beckett and Sofia. To entice them to come to your base, you must place down something that they need. Beckett wants a bar stand. Sofia needs a computer console. Once you plop down their requirement in your camp, they will join you there.

However, you can only have 1 ally present in your camp at a time. This also means you can only run one ally quest line at a time. These allies don’t leave your camp. They stay there and interact with whatever you place around them, such as musical instruments. Be careful with musical instruments, though. Sofia can, for example, sit and play the guitar for 20 minutes or longer constantly. That would be okay if they had given Sofia some actual guitar music to play. Instead, just like a player character, the guitar plays snippets and chopped together riffs that, after a while, become annoying as all get out. It’s fun to know that NPCs will play the instruments, but it’s torture to listen to them playing the same thing over and over for 20-30 minutes continuously.

Dialog Choices

With NPCs, comes dialog. Here’s a screenshot of how that looks:

Much of the dialog, as one would expect, is pointless. But, some of it does lead to adding map markers or other interesting actions. With some dialog choices, you can use your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. points which will lead to unlocking other dialog.

New Main Quests

In addition to the long ally quest lines, there are new main quests. This main quest begins at The Wayward, just across from the Overseer’s camp. Pretty much it seems the Overseer’s camp has now been discarded in lieu of beginning the game at The Wayward. The Wayward is a house that doubles as a bar. It’s a new addition to the world, along with many other new locations. Some original locations have also been converted into NPC communities.

If you’re used to how the wasteland looked before Wastelanders, many of the locations have changed. For example, the Isolated Cabin which was inhabited by mongrels has been converted into a settler settlement. These NPCs are generically named ‘Settler’. The dogs may or may not appear with the addition of the settlers. The settlers can be killed, however.

New Bosses

Of course, the addition of Wastelanders wouldn’t be complete without a new boss location to nuke. Instead of nuking Fissure Prime to get the Scorchbeast Queen to appear, there is a new location which now spawns the Wendigo Colossus. Don’t think that this boss looks anything like the long slender Wendigo, however. The Colossus looks like a Grafton Monster with tall skinny legs. This particular monster design was, in fact, far too lazily designed. It seems Bethesda did as little as possible to make a functional workable monster.

This boss also has a new attack. It throws goop at you that sees you literally run away screaming. There’s no way to counter, stop or in any way halt this animation effect. You are forced to let it play out. It’s a stupid effect and it completely gets in the way. I’m sure someone at Bethesda thought it was hilarious, but I find it extremely frustrating and stupid. You fight bosses to fight, not run away screaming. If Bethesda had given us a new perk card, food stuff or chem (i.e., Calmex) to negate this attack for a period of time, I’d be less harsh on Bethesda for this addition. This attack needs to disappear or we need to be given a way to negate the attack. It’s frustrating when you’re attempting to kill this beast and you’re constantly being forced to run away.

Updated Locations

Some locations have been updated and rebuilt to support NPC settlers. One of these is the crashed space station. Here’s a picture:

I’ve included the border because the original space station as it was is seen in the upper left corner. Compare this to the reworked and updated Wastelanders image. I realize the image is kind of drab, but the in-game world had a rainstorm going at the time. I also thought it would be important to show the rain storm look in this review.

This location introduces one of two new factions: Raiders. The other faction is the Settlers. You can view your acceptance level in these factions by checking your social menu.

Negating the Scorchbeast Queen

With the newly added Wendigo Colossus, few people are going to run over and start up the Queen event anymore. Because this is a type of Wendigo, all of the Zealots, Ultracite and Prime perks are useless against this boss. In fact, there really isn’t a Legendary effect that actually works against a Wendigo. You just have to be long and steady with your weapons. This usually means using heavy automatic weapons. Weapons that don’t necessarily do lots of damage per hit, but that cumulatively add up to lots of damage over time.

This is where Bethesda didn’t really plan ahead much. If you’re planning to add an entirely new boss into the game, you also need to add in perk cards and legendary effects to help defeat this boss, just like we had with Zealots and Prime against the Scorched. We have half of the equation with this boss addition, but we don’t have the other half of this in the weapons to help defeat or armor to protect against this boss.

This is where Wastelanders becomes a mixed bag. Yes, we do get a new boss in Wastelanders. No, we don’t get any new legendary effects, perk cards or chems that help us kill that new boss. Don’t think that you can grab your Zealots and have these legendary weapons be more effective against the Wendigo Colossus, like they were against the Scorchbeast Queen. It doesn’t work that way. You’re better off using basic legendary effects like Bloodied or Berzerker’s with a proper character build.

Perk Card Changes and New Weapon

With Wastelanders, a new set of perk cards has been added in support of the new bow and arrow weapon. The perk cards are standard 3 damage multiplier Archer cards in addition to Bow Before Me, an anti-armor card which applies to bows and crossbows. The bow itself is a decently powered weapon at level 50, offering up to 350 damage when sneaking. That’s not bad all things considered. However, it’s an exceedingly slow loading and slow firing weapon. Once a horde of enemies finds you, you better switch to a different weapon or you’ll want to pair it with the Sneak card and hope the enemies don’t find you.

New Power Armor

The newest power armor set is the T-65 power armor. This armor requires collecting gold bullion (yet another new currency). To get this bullion, you’ll need to complete as many of the new main and faction quests as you can. One you complete the main and faction quests, you will be able to visit Regs (another new NPC) who is located at Vault 79 (a new vault) where you can spend your bullion to buy the plans to build this armor.

Whether this armor is effective against the Colossus is as yet unknown. Though, I will say that power armor in Fallout 76 has been, in general, a joke. For example, 5.56 equipped Colonel Gutsy robots can shred your HP in just a few shots in or out of power armor. In fact, I haven’t seen any difference between being in or out of power armor when facing a 5.56 equipped Gutsy or Super Mutant.

Worse, while Fallout 4 offered legendary effects on power armor, these PA legendary pieces have never made it into Fallout 76. Even though regular armor regularly drops with legendary effects, power armor has never had any legendary effects in Fallout 76. This drastically reduces the effectiveness of power armor in Fallout 76. Why am I bringing this up here? Because Wastelanders didn’t fix this problem. It still exists just as it did before Wastelanders.

New Challenges?

Actually, no. Even though the Wastelanders update has added NPCs, no additional combat challenges have been added… such as Kill Blood Eagles with a Combat Rifle (0/1000). While NPCs have been added, Bethesda just didn’t work out these small details that would have added much more value to the game.

Lighting System Changes

Prior to Wastelanders, the lighting in the game was brighter and more dynamic. With the introduction of Wastelanders, the game has taken a questionable backward step toward darker lighting levels (see Whitespring Station image), including the elimination of many areas of ambient lighting. Walking into some buildings which were formerly well lit, we now see portions of the room exceedingly dark with a single bright light in the middle of the room.

The Charleston station, left, is exceedingly dark where before the interior was very bright. This is in the middle of the day in-game time. Even the daylight outdoors lighting model has changed seeing shadows on the ground as much darker. This lighting model change is unusual and unnecessary. The original lighting system actually looked better, particularly inside of buildings. This absence of ambient lighting thus makes many rooms, like the interior of Charleston Station, overly dark.

As you can see above, the before is brighter, lighter and more vibrant. The shadows are less intense. The before was taken about a month ago, perhaps. The After image is darker, less colorful, drab and is more difficult to read the signs. The whites were easier to see in the before.

…. Where does Wastelanders not work so well?

Changes, Not Changes

This is where I find Wastelanders to be basically a facelift, primarily on the surface. The underlying problems from Fallout 76 all remain. The bugs, the problems, the glitching, the crashing, the difficulties, the getting hung up on rocks while running, the getting stuck in a hole, the broken texture maps, the lack of responsiveness from button presses on down to the whole less than stellar way the interface is built and works. None of these basic day-one problems have been addressed. We’re still working on game foundation that wasn’t perfected from the beginning. So now we have NPCs plopped right on top of all of these still existing bugs.

Many people say that Fallout 76 has greatly improved since its launch. I’ve yet to see that. The game is still just as glitchy and broken as it was on release day. Sure, some problems have been addressed, but the majority of the underlying bugs are all still there. Wastelanders did little to solve these fundamental game engine problems. The problem here is that these bugs and glitches are mainly inconvenient. They are typically not showstoppers. However, some are more inconvenient than others.

For example, dead enemies can sometimes despawn moments after death. If you aren’t super quick to grab the loot from the body, you won’t get it. This includes legendary enemies. This is a bug that has existed from launch day.

Another bug is when you fast travel. You can land inside of rocks, under a building wedged, wedged between two walls or in other places that don’t allow you to move. You are forced to travel again.

You can still find enemies sliding around on the ground either standing up in a T position or in a lying or seated position. This glitch has been in the game since day one.

This next one I’ve seen so many times is one I can’t believe hasn’t yet been fixed. When you’re fighting a boss and your character dies, the game forces you to choose a respawn point. The problem here is that on character death, the game immediately recalculates your carry weight far below your in-game carry weight. This forces you to become severely overencumbered immediately after your character dies. This then forces you to respawn back at Vault 76 (all the way across the map).

Once your character has respawned fully and the game has recalculated your carry weight back to normal, you can then travel back to that death location and pick up your dropped loot. In my case, the game wouldn’t even let me respawn back at my Fallout 1st tent! I was forced to fast travel twice. Once to Vault 76, then once again back to my tent. It’s like, shit, just let me travel to my tent first. If I hadn’t had my tent there, I’d have had to pay caps to get back across the map. This problem has existed since day one.

Bugs, bugs and more bugs

These above are but a few examples. There are plenty of others that still plague this mediocre game. That doesn’t mean there aren’t new bugs. Oh, no no no. There are plenty of new bugs in this update. Duping is, as I mentioned above, back with a vengeance. It seems that many gamers were just waiting to pounce all over duping again, and dupe they have. In response, Bethesda has stopped display cases from functioning and halted player vending.

It’s clear that unless you (as a company) are absolutely stellar at programming, you shouldn’t attempt to have an in-game economy. This shows exactly how amateur Bethesda is at producing online games with any semblance of an economy. If you can’t lock down such basic things as duping, you can’t have an in-game economy.

At this point, it’s probably best were Bethesda to dismantle player vending entirely, disable dropping any items from inventory, stop player trading and halt all ability to transfer items from one player to another. If the devs can’t handle keeping these bugs from surfacing and resurfacing, then they must stop the underlying reason why duping continues to exist. If players can’t sell, trade or transfer items from one player to another, there’s little reason to dupe items. Items like Holiday Gifts should be removed from the game entirely and never see a return. Nothing should produce caps upon consuming the item, not even Nuka-Cola drinks. The only things that should give caps are in-game vending bots, cap stashes, dead enemies, containers and quests. Basically, items that cannot possibly be duplicated.

Additionally, vending bots should mark an object ID which has been previously sold as unsellable. This means that should another player show up with that same object ID attempting to sell it, the vendor bot will not only refuse to buy it, it will then confiscate it from the player’s inventory. Vendor bots that buy items never relist an already used ID. Instead, they will always relist the item with a new ID. This means that a duped item can’t be sold by a bot. If you can’t sell a dupe with an added double whammy of losing it, players will think twice not only about duping, but attempting to sell those dupes to vendors. It also means they can’t sell them to players either. This means duping is a dead end.

This is tough way to handle duping, but we’re at the crossroads with this game. If Bethesda can’t prevent duping, then it needs to be stopped using another more permanent method… and that way is to halt all further player-to-player sales and trading. Halting the ability for players to trade goods with one another is the only way to stop duping.

Player Vending is Broken

I’m singling out duping here because it keeps coming back over and over and over. Duping has not gone away and it is, once again, back. It will also keep coming back so long as player-to-player trading remains in the game. Instead of Bethesda playing this never ending game of “catch the duping mouse”, the answer is to simply halt player trading entirely. Only allow players to interact and trade with game controlled vendor bots. It’s long past time for Bethesda to have solved this problem and this is the ONLY solution.

Changing this fundamental aspect of this multiplayer game will have some ramifications. Yes, it will make traders exceedingly angry. At the same time, it will also stop all real money eBay listings, it will halt scammers and it will halt the third party trading marketplaces. This will force players to legitimately earn caps in the game through normal in-game means.

If Bethesda wants to better control these exploits and continue to allow selling, they need to do away with vending machines at each camp and place a vending machine at each train station (see next section for additional thoughts). A vending machine will always re-ID every object it receives to sell. This means there is no possibility a player could receive a dupe from a vendor bot. When a player lists an item, the item is checked for a duped ID. If this object’s ID has already been purchased by a vendor bot once before, the weapon is confiscated and the player is then notified the duped item has been confiscated. A notification should also be sent to someone at Bethesda that a vendor bot has confiscated a duped item and which account presented it.

Player to player vending can be implemented in the following way and should be limited to a centralized system. This system will list the item along with the player’s name. The item (after being validated as not duped) will go up for sale at the player’s specified price. The item remains listed for a period of time (i.e., 3 days) and will remain listed regardless of whether the player is online. After 3 days without purchase, the item is returned to the player’s inventory. If purchased, the caps will be placed into a centralized bank to which the player can withdraw those caps via the vending machine. Players should be limited to no more than 5-10 listings at a time and a max amount of caps in the bank.

Other bugs which were recently added include the rogue turret bug. If one turret is damaged in a workshop, the other turrets in the area begin shooting at friendly camp or workshop items. This is such a stupid bug. I can’t believe it has been allowed to persist across multiple releases in a row. Bethesda is well aware of this issue, yet they choose to do nothing to fix it. In fact, it seems that now a rogue turret in a camp can actually damage other workshop equipment. I shake my head that Bethesda can’t even fix what should be simple bugs, yet they spend massive amounts of time working on add-ons that really don’t add that much value to the game.

At this point and strictly due to duping, I’d personally like to see player-to-player trading end. This won’t be a popular opinion among traders, but it’s definitely needed to stop all of these duplication problems. Trading is not really very useful, it causes bad behavior among players, it invites duping and it doesn’t really solve a problem for the game. Since Fallout 76 is pretty much a single player game with a multiplayer component, there’s no need for player vending at all. It simply gets in the way of the enjoyment of the game. With the advent of Purveyor Murmrgh and the ability to buy 1, 2 and 3 star legendary weapons and armor, player-to-player trading is now unnecessary.

I’m sure a lot of traders will disagree. Were Bethesda to make this change, it would stop the need for most duping. The primary reason most players dupe is to sell weapons to other players for high amounts of caps. The secondary reason is to dupe items that instantly produce caps for the player. Both of these problems need to be stopped. The way to handle it is to stop player-to-player trading and implement a duped ID checking + confiscation system when attempting to sell duped items to vendors. Further, stop giving away items that instantly produce caps upon consuming it. Instead, drop only objects into the player’s inventory. They can then sell the item to a vendor for caps. Keep caps issuance only from vendor bots, from world containers and at the end of quests.

Additionally, items can no longer be dropped into the world. This should also include stopping the drop of junk items upon character death. Further, like many of the newer items, if you attempt to drop any item, you’re then notified the item will be destroyed. With this change, you won’t be able to drop loot bags any more… which of course negates the idea of custom loot bags sold in the Atomic Shop. A small price to pay to get rid of player trading.

Halting all player trading means the player must rely on the game to produce caps and provide the player with weapons and armor. This change is actually in keeping with the way that Fallout 4 worked in single player campaign. Because Fallout 4 doesn’t allow multiplayer, the player had to rely solely on themselves to obtain caps and obtain the best weapons in the game. Moving Fallout 76 to this more stringent and similar model would actually heighten the gameplay, make it more challenging and more in keeping with Fallout 4’s model. No longer can gamers rely on others to give them “the best weapon”, a form of cheating. Instead, they must grind in the normal way, earn their keep individually and spend the money they legitimately earned to buy weapons from the Purveyor or, alternatively, find a legendary enemy and take their chances to get a better weapon or armor.

Moving Fallout 76 to a more-or-less closed single player system with limited multiplayer support, this stops players from wanting to exploit the game in an attempt to gain more caps, better weapons and better armor via cheating. Yes, I do consider player-to-player trading a form of cheating. You didn’t earn that weapon, you bought it. You didn’t earn that armor, you bought it. There’s no difference between pay-to-play with Atomic shop items and player-to-player for-pay trading. It’s all a form of pay-to-win. I’m most definitely for ending all forms of pay-to-win whether by Bethesda or via player trading.

Overall

The addition of NPCs to Fallout 76 is a long time coming. Unfortunately, it’s probably too little, too late. This should have been the way the game was released on day one, not a year and a half later. Will this make Fallout 76 a great game? With NPCs added, it’s better in some ways, but it’s worse in others. This is why it’s a mixed bag.

Can I recommend this update? For curiosity sake, sure. Download it and explore. If you’ve already played Fallout 76 through to completion, it doesn’t change the original game so much that it makes a huge difference. The changes to the original quests are relatively minor… just enough to introduce NPCs so they make sense.

The best part of Wastelanders is the addition of allies. This C.A.M.P. addition is probably the single best part of Wastelanders. You can now have an NPC at your base permanently. Your character can even have a relationship with them. While they cannot become companions that follow you around, they can help defend your base while you’re not there.

On the flip side, because this is a fluid multiplayer game without the ability to create saved game files, your character’s choices are permanent. If you wish to redo a portion of an NPC’s quest, you can’t do that. If you make a mistake which has specific unknown consequences, your only choice is to start a new character and try again on that new character. I might even suggest starting a new character so you can use this character to determine where these quest pitfalls are. You can then play the quests through a second time on your primary character and know the best choices possible while avoiding such pitfalls.

Is Wastelanders a great game? Hardly. Is it better than it was? In some ways, yes. In other ways, it’s much the same as it was. If you’ve already played the game through to completion, it does add on a few quest lines that you can explore. Unfortunately, the quests mostly consist of fetch this thing, kill this person or do this thing for me. For the allies, there are many of these before you get to the end. Though, I’d say that the game’s Wastelanders addition probably adds, at most, a month’s worth of additional play value if you play it through slowly.

↩︎

## Netflix: Lost in Space Season 2

Posted in entertainment, netflix, reviews by commorancy on January 5, 2020

On the whole, I enjoyed season 1 of Lost in Space on Netflix. The premise stayed fairly true to the original Irwin Allen idea. The actors chosen are not bad for a TV series. However, by Season 2, the series veers way off course. Let’s explore.

Spoilers

This review contains spoilers. If you wish to watch this series for yourself, I’d suggest that you stop reading here. The spoilers won’t be huge, but this review must reveal certain plot elements to critically discuss how this series goes so off course.

Additionally, because Netflix has dumped their ability to leave reviews directly on its site, I feel that it is important that someone reviews Netflix original series somewhere. I’ll begin this one as a new series of reviews as I watch various Netflix efforts. The posts will always be prefixed with ‘Netflix:’ when it is a review of a Netflix original series.

Lost, Lost and more Lost

The original premise of Lost in Space is that the Jupiter 2 gets, you guessed it, lost on its maiden voyage. The original 60s series starring June Lockhart and Bill Mumy kept to this premise all throughout the run of the series, changing format only to move the Robinsons around, but not disband the “alone” premise.

However, this Netflix original series sticks to the original plot only for the first season. The second season sees only one episode that holds true to that original plot. In fact, after inexplicably resolving their “stranded” predicament in pretty much “Lost in Space” form, the whole series takes a turn for the worse and it goes downhill from there. Let’s get into it.

Robot Lost

The first problem is that the Robot has disappeared and is lost. This is supposed to be about the family lost, not the robot. However, in an attempt to escape the planet they find themselves on, one with inexplicable lightning events that traverse across the planet at a specific location and in flashing sequence no less…(a location they can see from shore), they shrug it all off as a natural event. Before they can leave, they first need to understand that there’s absolutely nothing natural about that lightning event. Yet, Maureen, the “mother with a head on her shoulders” shrugs it off as “part of the planet”. There’s nothing at all natural about a clock work lightning event on a planet. She, of course, gives some nonsensical explanation citing a location somewhere on Earth that seems to have a similar kind of storm activity. A lame justification at best.

Worse, Maureen then concocts a plan to turn the Jupiter 2 into a sailboat to “sail” out to the lightning storm to recharge the Jupiter 2’s batteries. I guess that’s one way. Yeah, lightning is, at best, unpredictable. Predictable lightning events are even more unpredictable. At worse, it could fry every electrical system on the Jupiter 2. Yet, Maureen mentions nothing of that danger. Instead, she goads John into turning the Jupiter 2 into a sailboat by attaching rigging and a mast. Yeah, its fairly far fetched.

After doing all of this modding to the J2, they push the J2 into the sea and head out to where the lightning occurs. After a few mishaps on the ocean (to be expected), they find the need to let Dr. Smith out of her confinement to help the sailing process. It seems that Dr. Smith is some sort of a jack of all trades. She can do everything and she always does it exceptionally well, even though she also happens to be a ruthless, conniving, cold psychopathic killer. We all must shrug her behavior off and let her become “friends” every time the family needs her. This whole story premise is so badly concocted, I’d have stopped right here. But, I decide to press on and boy does this series go from bad to worse.

The Resolute

After finding an inexplicable structure that rings the planet creating a huge waterfall in the middle of the ocean (yeah, how is that supposed to work exactly?), they find writing on the bottom of this trough and some huge spikes that “they don’t know what they do”. Um, Maureen, are you all right there? Clearly, the spikes attract the lightning. For what reason the builders want to attract lighting isn’t exactly made clear. But, use some logic here, hon.

One thing is clear, the spikes are likely collecting electrical storm energy for capture. More specifically, if the trough is man made to capture the lightning, then it’s crystal clear that someone or something is harnessing that lightning for energy use purposes. Yet, Maureen’s head is clearly not in the game here. It’s like she’s taken a dumb pill or something.

The short of it is, after a few struggles and silly setups, lightning strikes “The Chariot”. That lightning is then miraculously captured by the J2 which then gives it all the power it needs to lift off and fly away immediately. No waiting on charging up couplers or anything.

After getting into space, they locate and land on the Resolute, a floating ring station that allows docking of multiple Jupiter crafts. After a few moments on the Resolute, they find an abandoned child with the rest of the station not having been inhabited for seemingly weeks or months (it’s never made clear). It also seems that those who formerly lived on the Resolute left in a hurry as food is all still sitting out in the mess hall.

While Maureen, John and the rest of the Robinson family wander the empty halls of the Resolute, Dr. Smith does her own nefarious thing of managing to hack her way into the Resolute’s security computers. She then changes her identity to Dr. Smith, implants her wrist with a new RFID sensor that she’s conveniently ripped out of the real Dr. Smith, whom she happens to find on board in suspended sleep (convenient!), which allows her to gain access to higher classified areas. Oh, so she’s implausibly good at medical implantation too? Yeah, so…. let’s skip the rest of the Dr. Smith stuff here. This part is incredibly badly written. Eventually, the family simply uses Smith as a tool to get what they need from the now returning Resolute crew. I can’t even believe that such a conniving person as Dr. Smith would allow themselves to be so easily manipulated by the Robinson family, after having gone to the trouble of “becoming legitimate”. Let’s move on.

Robot Found

Here is where the series takes it biggest sour turn. Inexplicably the abandoned Resolute crew “hear a signal” coming from the Resolute and fly their Jupiter back up to the Resolute to find out what’s going on. In doing so, they find the newly minted Dr. Smith and the Robinson family wandering its halls.

In fact, there’s apparently a rogue robot of some form wandering the halls loose on the Resolute. After a few moments, Maureen concocts a plan to capture the loose robot and she does it so quickly and efficiently that you’d think Maureen is some kind of miracle worker! After her lapse in judgement on how capturing lightning works, I guess she’s trying to make up for that here?

Inexplicably, the rest of the Resolute staff decides its time to return to the Resolute (with no explanation). Now that Jupiter 2 is back, I guess that means “everything is okay” and they can all return to the abandoned Resolute station. Oh, but there’s one catch. The Resolute’s jump engine has been taken by a robot. Sad face. Maureen again concocts a plan to take the jump drive from the Jupiter 2 and place it back into the Resolute so they can get to Alpha Centauri. The only problem is, no Robot as it’s still lost… somewhere.

Without Robot, they can’t use the jump drive. Suffice it to say that after some toiling and a lot of fill time, they discover Robot (and other similar, but hostile, Robots) on the planet just below the Resolute (convenient). They bring Robot back, but he refuses to help because of “family” issues. After doing things for Robot, he decides to help but not before…

Hastings Interferes

Hastings is a security officer over the Resolute, but clearly seems to be in command over the whole thing. Even the captain seems to take orders from Hastings. Additionally, Hastings seems to also be psychotic… willing to strand the vast majority of the “colonists” on the planet below simply to get the Resolute to Alpha Centauri.

Let’s just stop here to understand exactly how badly written this is as a story concept. If this is supposed to be the best and the brightest sent into space, how does a man like Hastings, with clear psychological problems, get a job aboard a critical mission like the Resolute? Wouldn’t mission protocols enforce subduing potentially psychotic individuals to prevent further damage to the mission? How is a person like Hastings left to roam free on the ship to do whatever he pleases?

The captain of the Resolute should have seen to Hastings removal the moment his intentions to abandon 500 people became known. That’s not the mission. Anyone with a brain could easily see Hastings mental faculties have been compromised. Whether that’s from a pathogen or from space sickness, it’s clear that Hastings is not in his right mind. Yet, no one even questions this man’s mental state.

Any organization putting together a space mission would have not only clear mission objectives, but also personnel sanity protocols in place. If a person gets beyond their ability to lead, then someone else needs to assume command of that role. Hastings was clearly compromised. Both he (and anyone loyal to him) should have been relieved and brigged. Yet, Hastings remains free to not only abandon 500 colonists, but also endanger with intent to kill Maureen and John and anyone else who stands in his way. Hastings is not rational. Yet, even after that, no one sees it. No one acts on it. No one even mentions it. The biggest danger to the Resolute is not John and Maureen, it’s Hastings. While Maureen’s stunt to capture ammonia from a gas giant to clear out the water supply of a foreign contaminant borders on insanity, at least her idea was born out of good intent to save ALL colonists. Hastings has no good intentions. Hastings isn’t at all rational and shows all of the signs of space sickness. Being in a position of security, that should have immediately thrown up red flags throughout not only the rest of the Resolute’s crew, but also to John and Maureen. Yet, everyone seems to blindly overlook Hastings’s delusional behavior.

Gone Astray

This season’s story flaws and woes go way deeper than the above. Lost in Space is a show about the Space Family Robinson who, through no fault of their own, become lost and on their own. This show is not about finding other backstabbing humans. They have already enough of a backstabber in their midst with Dr. Smith. They don’t need another one in Hastings. Hastings was an unnecessary antagonist. In fact, everything that transpires between the Robinson family and Hastings could have been handled by Dr. Smith. In fact, all of that story should have been given to Dr. Smith. We’re still trying to come to terms with our trust levels of Smith. Keeping not only the Robinson family on their toes with her treachery (along with the audience), giving this arc to Smith would have cemented her two-faced personality.

That this arc was given to an extraneous character, Hastings, who is effectively wasted and a throw-away, is in fact a pointless exercise. We as an audience learned nothing. The Robinsons also learned nothing. Dr. Smith gained nothing. It’s better to give these kinds of story arcs to characters who will remain with the show season upon season, building their character arc. Giving such deep story arcs to effectively throw-away characters shows just how amateur this show’s writers really are. Think, writers, think. Give important story arcs to the recurring characters, not to characters we don’t know and don’t care about.

If all of what Hastings had done had been given to Dr. Smith, this would have nailed down Smith’s treacherous nature. Instead, we are treated to John and Smith colluding to determine what the Resolute staff is actually planning. Why? What point did this serve? It showed us that Dr. Smith wasn’t beyond manipulation by John Robinson. John also didn’t need to really know the Resolute’s details. However, if John can manipulate a character like Dr. Smith, then John Robinson is way beyond the amateur status of Dr. Smith. Instead, by giving Hastings’s arc to Dr. Smith, this would have shown us that while Dr. Smith appears to be nice and good on the outside, she’s as treacherous as they come… something that the show dearly needs to prove to us.

Instead, we get a watered down Dr. Smith who is about as strong willed as a turtle.

Overall

Season 2 is definitely a sophomore effort in all senses of the word. The writing is convoluted, logically bad and in places asinine. The music is top notch, but that’s not enough to carry the weak and silly plot lines. Molly Parker, as an actress, needs to let go of using her smirk at the wrong times. It seems to clog up the character and makes her seem silly and less serious than she should appear.

Overall, the show was decently okay, but there were plenty of times where I wanted to tune out and go watch something else. Unfortunately, it’s 20 far too long episodes. If you’re really a die-hard Lost in Space fan, then you might like parts of season 2. I was hoping for far better with season 2, but it delivered much, much less than it should have.

In fact, the writers need to ditch the Resolute quick in season 3 and go back to the Robinsons on their own flying around in the Jupiter 2. Let the story focus on the Jupiter 2 rather than a ship we care nothing about. If the Resolute must make a reappearance, it should only be one or, at most, two episodes in length and then move on. Oh, and let’s not lose Robot again, m’kay?

Overall Rating: 2.2 stars out of 5 (with music being the best part of this season)

↩︎

## Game Review: The Outer Worlds

Posted in video game, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on October 29, 2019

[Updated Dec 2019] While I hadn’t specifically heard that Obsidian was building “The Outer Worlds”, I was certain that this studio must have something in the works. I only came to find out about The Outer Worlds a week before its release. Due to other commitments, I hadn’t actually been keeping up with game releases for 2019. Let’s explore this game.

The Engine

Let’s start with the brightest star of this game. Unlike other RPG game studios that will remain nam… oh, that’s never gonna work. Bethesda. Ok, I said it. Bethesda… Happy now? Anyway, as I was saying, unlike other RPG game studios like Bethesda, Obsidian’s engine driving this game is rock stable. By “rock stable”, I mean nary a crash, glitch, frame rate drop or any other odd artifact have I run into while playing this game. The engine delivers a solid, fully functional, fully realized gaming system that seems free of major bugs or defects. Definitely a welcome change in the game development industry. That doesn’t mean this game is “bug free”… oh, no no no, my friends, but it does mean that unlike Bethesda, Obsidian seems to actually employ real game testers and a real QA team who do their jobs correctly. The bugs you are likely to run into are small, super edge cases you’re almost never likely to run into. The bugs you’ll find are also not at all likely to be showstoppers. Inconvenient occasionally, yes, but we can all live with an occasional minor bug.

What that means in this game is a poster child and a shining example to pretty much every other bug laden studio out there. The Outer Worlds proves that, yes, games CAN be written without glitching and crashing every 30 minutes. Obsidian definitely shows us and the industry that this level of software development is, in fact, possible. No, you don’t have to rely on your users to beta test your games and file bug reports. You can, instead, employ actual teams designed to locate, spot and eliminate these bugs before players ever venture into your story or your game world.

However, while this reliability and stability is a shining spot in The Outer Worlds, let’s talk about the features of this game including what it is and what isn’t… and believe me, there’s a lot to talk about here.

Role Playing Game?

While The Outer Worlds does employ a number of role playing elements, it isn’t really a role playing game in the truest sense. In effect, The Outer Worlds is a party/team-based first person shooter. Sure, there’s looting, skill-building and limited workbench activities, but that’s really where the “Role Playing” ends. It has about as much a role playing in the game as the Resident Evil series.

A “role” playing game usually indicates that there are, in fact, multiple role types available. In Skyrim, for example, you could choose your race and your class. These features are typical in role playing systems. In Skyrim, you could make your character a Khajit Magic User or a Breton Warrior. It was up to you how you set up your character. If you set your character up as a warrior, this would increase certain “warrior” attributes up front and decrease others. This meant you had certain types of attacks which were very strong and certain attacks that were very weak. That’s the point in an RPG. Setting up your character to perform a certain way in specific combat situations.

In The Outer Worlds, there are no classes or character types. You are who you are and what you are. In this case, you’re human and you’re a colonist on a failed transport mission. It is now your mission to free your fellow colonists still stuck in the transport. That’s the pretext. The rest of the game is about leveling up your character, learning about the enemies and foes, negotiating with them (yeah, we’ll talk about this shortly) and sometimes killing them.

Anyone classifying this game as a true role playing game doesn’t fundamentally understand what an RPG is. It is, in fact, a first person shooter containing limited RPG elements. I liken it to Mass Effect in this way.

Space Epic

Here’s another area where it’s difficult to quantify this game. It purports to be a space epic, yet it has almost nothing to indicate it even takes place in space. Sure, you’re aboard a “space ship”, but not once do we get to see any space battles, scenes of landing on planets, no cut scenes, nothing to indicate the ship is, in fact, space faring.

All we get is a small galaxy map that when your ship travels, a tiny little sprite representation moves across the map and then, bam, you’re there. No space scenes. No faster than light travel scenes. No cut scenes. No waiting on travel. One second you’re in one location and the next you’re in another.

It’s entirely disappointing that being a space epic, you have absolutely no space flying scenes at all. Not a single one. The only cut scene that indicates space travel is the very first one that opens the story. After that, nothing.

Dialog

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), within The Outer Worlds the dialog abounds… and boy does it ever! If you love having random conversations with random NPCs, this is your game. The amount of dialog in this game is astounding. You can have several multi-minute long conversations about nothing in particular with an NPC that really makes no difference to the outcome of the story. Sure, it might make a difference to your “charisma” with that specific character, but the dialog is shallow and pointless.

For the same reason that Bethesda expects you to spend minutes tooling around listening to pointless holotapes full of “lore”, Obsidian expects you to tool around for minutes in dialog with pointless NPCs. Worse, too much of the dialog is dry and really doesn’t do anything specific.

The only reason to even converse with random NPCs is to, hopefully, receive a new quest so you can get loot and gain more experience. Not that that’s really required as you can get loot and experience simply by joining random skirmishes in the landscape.

If you’re really happy about seeing tons of dialog throughout a game, well then this is your game! For me, there’s a tipping point to too much dialog. Dialog should be equally nestled into a solid gaming experience. Dialog should only be used to advance the story, but never to sidetrack the player into pointless dialog experiences. Unfortunately, The Outer Worlds falls far into the “too much dialog” trap.

Voice Actors

While there are a few solid voice actors in the roster of characters within The Outer Worlds, there are a number of voices that are outright bad. There’s nothing worse than trying to dig through dialog choices when the voice actor is so bad you have to cringe. It only makes the dialog experience worse. If you’re going to rely so heavily on dialog in a game, you should also make darn sure that your voice actors are up to that task.

Visuals

Here’s where this game gets rough. I’m not talking about stability here, I’m talking about lighting, textures and stylistic design. What I mean here is that the game’s visuals are problematic. First, there’s an odd choice of heavily relying on chromatic aberration over the entire screen without the option to turn it off. Not only is this effect hard on the eyes, it’s tiresome to look at constantly, it dulls the image and makes the image muddy. It’s fine to put a screen effect on as long as it can be disabled in a setting. If I don’t want chromatic aberration on the screen, let me turn it off.

Night scenes with low lighting fare even worse with this effect. The textures don’t read, become lower res and generally look bad. This is a rendering issue in the chosen engine. This game isn’t very realistic as it is, but certain lighting conditions look particularly bad. The above Stellar Bay image looks reasonably okay, but clicking to enlarge that image will show off the chromatic aberration problem.

Second, the game adds an odd color hue filter over the screen to not only give the world a color cast, it also dulls the scene by reducing contrast. Instead of the visuals popping because of contrasts, it all remains a similar monotonous contrast range.

Third, the game is chock full of “fake” product placements. In fact, that’s part of the story. These products are strewn all over the world on tables, in containers, in vending machines and so on. You can buy them, you can find them and you can even steal them. There are so many food and drink items in this game, it’s almost confusing what’s available. It’s just the opposite of Fallout, where you basically have only Nuka Cola and Blamco Mac and Cheese. The rest of the food’s labels are so degraded, the maker has been lost. In The Outer Worlds, there are at least 4 different vending machine types selling at least 4 different types of “branded” products. You can find these items strewn all over the world in containers, but you can also buy them.

On the one hand, I appreciate all of the “brand” artwork that was built to make this world seem (and is the key word here) grounded, but too many branded products means overkill… and in this game, there’s plenty of overkill.. but not for the…

Combat

Here’s where the game gets really weak. The combat system in this game is completely last gen. While it does offer a tactical time dilation (TTD — time slowing) gimmick, unfortunately that gimmick just isn’t very useful. It doesn’t increase damage output. It doesn’t help you aim. It doesn’t provide auto-aim. In fact, the only thing it does is slow down movement… and not even for very long. Yes, it might help you target the enemy’s head better, but that’s about where the benefit of TTD ends. It’s a “wannabe” VATs, but fails to work like VATs on just about every level.

As for straight up combat, it’s average. It’s no better than just about any other shooter and it relies heavily on the player’s ability to use the controller to aim. If you’re good with movement and aiming, you’ll do fine in combat. If you aren’t good at aiming, your character will die often and you’ll need to employ other strategies to win. Also, the combat is repetitive, but not in the way you might be thinking. It’s repetitive because the skirmish locations are entirely predictable, coupled with always being manned with the same exact enemies in the same quantities and strength. It’s simply monotonous after the first skirmish.

Perks and Skills

As with any modern first person shooter, the game wouldn’t be complete without some form of leveling system. To that end, the game offers you both perk and skill points. Perks offer your character an ability that enhances your character or your companion(s) in some way. For example, you can apply a perk that increases your carry weight, increases TTD duration, decreases cool downs, allows you to fast travel while overencumbered and so on. There are many perks that can enhance your play experience. However, you are limited to one perk point every few levels. This means these perk points take a very long time to achieve.

The second way to get perk points is by the game finding “flaws”. For example, if you’re hit too many times by energy weapons, the game might find a flaw that makes you more vulnerable to this type of weapon. If you accept the flaw, your character’s damage resistance to that type of weapon will be reduced by up to 25% in exchange for giving you a new “perk” point. Let me say right here that this is absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the worst, most ridiculous game mechanics (and ideas) included in a video game in a very long time. Why the hell would anyone intentionally hobble their hero character simply to get a new perk point? Why would you do it multiple times over and over? Yeah, it’s a very dumb idea. Extra perk points? Fine. But, not at the expense of intentionally hobbling my character.

Skill points, on the other hand, enhance your character’s attributes, such as persuasion, lying and dialog. It can also help your melee skills, your ranged weapon skills and others. However, until level 50, you can only apply skill points by section. This then applies one point per each item in that section. Once skill points reach 50 in a section, you can then apply points individually to specific skills. Skill points are issued at every single level up where perk points are only issued every now and then.

Additionally, you can also find wearable items that can enhance your character’s skills without the need to add points or wait for a level up. For example, a pair of goggles might add +5 to sneak or tech.

Crafting

Here’s another place where the game is extremely light. There is a single workbench in the game. This workbench allows you to modify, break down, repair and enhance existing weapons and armor. This is as far as crafting in this game goes. You can’t actually craft anything in this game, you can only fix, modify, destroy or upgrade existing items that you find. Destroying something only returns components which are needed to repair items, which wear down.

Weapons and Armor both wear down rapidly in this game. Without perks equipped which reduce the speed of damage, you’ll find yourself at a workbench after one or two skirmishes to repair your gear. This means you’ll need to break down lots of stuff to have enough components to perform these repairs. This means grinding and lots and lots of looting. Don’t pass dead enemies or containers by without checking. You’ll need to do this to progress in this game.

Unfortunately, while the planets team with plant life, you can use none the plant life to create potions, foods or healing serums. Expect that you’ll need to loot or buy your health items at vendors. I found this lack of health item crafting a huge miss for this game (and, in general, a miss for a modern RPG style game). There also aren’t specific health containers in this shooter. You’ll have to open buildings and loot kitchens for items. Even then, you will more than likely need to buy health inhalers and such from vending machines… so expect to grind, loot and then sell, sell, sell to get enough bits to buy this stuff. Same for armor.

Assigning Weapons and Health

You can assign weapons to 4 slots and toggle through them one at a time. You can also assign health items to slots which can then be used when you press the “emergency medical inhaler” key. You’ve got to manually remember to go assign these, though. If you forget, you’re going to be doing this in the heat of battle.

Autosave and Character Death

The game offers only a limited Autosave feature, it only saves when you exit certain buildings. There’s no way to trigger an autosave manually. These only trigger under specific limited conditions.

When your character dies, there is no “respawning”. This is a game where character death means “game over”. This means you need to reload a previous save from the saved games area. The game doesn’t automatically reload from that save. Instead, you are forced to stop what you are doing, open the save game area and reload… waiting for the game to reload the whole area again.

This is much more than a mere inconvenience. I also consider this a huge miss in game design. Most modern games are designed with at least minimal respawn capabilities. How hard is it to hold a save location somewhere in reserve, then use it to automatically reload the game after a player character’s death? We’ll come to why this is important shortly.

Quests and Currency

Many game designers seem to think that putting up a huge hurdle to overcome at the beginning of the game is a smart choice. It’s not. However, Obsidian decided to use this idea and run with it. Within the first four main questlines, your character is required to come up with 18,000 bits (in-game credits) to buy two mostly nonsensical items. Let’s understand why this is such a bad idea and such a miss.

In a game where your character is just barely getting its footing with armor and weapons, the game throws two main quests at you basically forcing you to gather 18,000 bits (in addition to the bits you’re going to need to buy weapons, armor and health). Being new to the game, you have to make a choice. Do you hold all of your bits and not spend any so you can get through these quests or do you spend your bits and upgrade your character properly? That the designers forced gamers into making this choice very early in the game, it means that those who want to progress the main quest must leave their characters and companions weak until past these quests.

This type of quest shouldn’t have appeared in this game until at least halfway through when, by sheer volume of questing alone, you will already have amassed that many bits organically rather than being forced to do so. It makes absolutely no sense to throw these “reach for the stars” kinds of quests at the gamer 3 and 4 quests into the game. This is not only a huge miss, it’s a poorly designed quest choice.

Modern Video Game Design

The Outer Worlds seems as if it had begun its design phase back when the Xbox 360 was an active current console. It seems that this game was designed to operate on a lesser console platform like the Xbox 360. A console with lower res graphics, limited audio, lower res textures, lesser speed CPUs, lesser ram and so on.

This game doesn’t in any way seem or feel modern. It feels like The Elder Scrolls Oblivion (or more aptly) Fallout New Vegas in look and feel. These latter games were designed to operate on the Xbox 360’s limited constraints with none of the “modern conveniences” being designed into today’s bigger, bolder and brighter games. The Outer Worlds seems to have been designed using the same creative mindset as Oblivion and New Vegas.

Instead, The Outer Worlds is a lightly designed game with a light operational framework offering few modern conveniences. It’s like thinking you’re buying a Tesla only to find that you really bought a bare bones Toyota Camry. Sure, both are cars, both get you from point A to B, but instead of that cool innovative touch screen LCD computer panel to guide you on your way, you are disappointed to find an antiquated illuminated speedometer with a needle. Not exactly what you were expecting… and, thus, this is The Outer Worlds in a nutshell. That doesn’t make The Outer Worlds bad, but it does make The Outer Worlds a less than modern gaming experience.

Missing Modern Conveniences

Unlike many recent games which have sought to solidify and define both the PS4’s and the Xbox One’s next gen gaming standards, The Outer Worlds seems intent to break many of these existing standards and revert back to older days. For example, on the PS4, this game’s control scheme is upended. Whether this was intentional by Obsidian or simply ignorance, I don’t know. Back when a game like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was published, such button control standards were only just becoming defined.

Today, controller standards are well defined. Placing “back” onto the O button and “interact” on X is as natural as tying your shoelaces. When a developer comes along and moves the Interact function to a button where it doesn’t belong or places jump onto the X button, it seems well out of place. And, out of place it is. Even switching to the alternative predefined controller maps on the PS4 doesn’t completely solve this problem. For example, the more or less useless and single purpose Tactical Time Dilation is oddly placed onto the X button when using the “Modern” or “Legacy” remapping. This odd choice of button placement gives me pause to consider Obsidian’s gaming ideals. Why would they choose to NOT map interact onto X in at least one controller mapping when this is pretty much the industry standard today? It’s a small peeve, but it is a concern for this game.

Another questionable choice is the lack of a manual Quicksave feature. Instead of spending time hopping through multiple layers of menus simply to save a game, you could press “Quicksave” at the top of the Save Game menu. You could then perform a quicksave and be on your way. You don’t need to stop everything you’re doing, then press “Save Game” and go through a bunch of dialog boxes simply to save a game. Additionally, on character death, you are summarily thrown to the “Load Game” screen. You are then forced to navigate through your saved games and load one of them. You have no choice. It’s an odd play. The convenience of Quicksaves in games like these is both readily apparent and a necessary modern convenience. That this convenience is inexplicably missing from this game is, again, an odd play.

For this reason, this is why I continually feel that this game must have be begun its development roots back sometime between 2005 and 2011 when this project was, for some reason, shelved. It seems like this game was then pulled off of a shelf by Obsidian, polished and released in 2019. It feels every bit like a game designed over a decade ago, spit polished to look somewhat modern. Even the liquidy-looking health and TTD UI elements hearken back to games from day’s past, though I can’t recall which exact game used a similar UI element.

As another example, when you press the pause button, the entire screen blacks out to a small menu. This is something that would have been used back in the days of the Xbox 360. Today, game designers use much more modern, sophisticated approaches to drawing a menu screen. For example, most developers use depth of field to blur the game imagery and then place a menu over the top of a blurred and darkened screen. It’s a modern approach to this screen. Not only does it make the game look more polished, it shows that the developers are aware of the importance of continuing to show the game imagery. When you black a screen out, you can’t see at all where your characters are, where the camera is or anything else about the game. You must exit the pause screen to see anything. A blurred version of the screen is much more informative than having nothing at all. It is an innovation and convenience that has helped retain the action of the game. That it’s not here is yet another odd play.

The “Inventory” screen also has its fair share of problems. For example, it doesn’t remember where you were when you last left it. When you enter the inventory screen, it always throws you back into “Inventory”. If you were formerly on the map screen and you exit the screen, then reenter it, you are back on “Inventory”. It doesn’t remember which tab you were on. This is yet another convenience that’s missing. These kinds of UI problems existed in games back in 2006, but haven’t existed in modern games since about 2013 (when the PS4 launched). That this game has reverted back to the days of 2006 seems odd.

Additionally, the use of hand drawn icons in the inventory instead of rendering an actual 3D model is something games back in 2006 would also have used, back when memory was short and showing 3D models in small places wasn’t something that was easy to do. Today, showing 3D models all over the screen is a common and regular occurrence. That Obsidian opted for hand drawn art in the inventory screen seems antiquated and, again, odd. It is also another indicator that this game may have begun its development lifecycle back in 2006.

Innovation (or Lack thereof)

Not using modern conveniences is actually only half the problem in The Outer Worlds. The other half is the lack of adding any modern innovation to the game. Other than TTD (which isn’t very modern nor innovative), that’s the extent of the gimmicks I’ve so far found. For example, there is lack of innovation in the dialog system. It’s straight forward and simplistic. Not only does the game zoom in for a bust shot of the other character, it locks the camera to a fixed position. Games haven’t done this for many years. In most modern games, when you’re taking to an NPC character, you can continue to walk around and talk to them so long as you don’t wander too far off. As long as you remain in the talk circle, you can continue to converse with them without the screen being locked into a fixed position.

Additionally to this, most games now voice the main character as a modern standard. This means that when the main character asks a question, you get to hear the main character say the words audibly. Then, the NPC character responds with their words. This mechanic makes the game more genuine, conversational and realistic. In The Outer Worlds, the protagonist is not voiced at all. In fact, the only thing you get to choose is the text in a menu of dialog. Again, an odd choice. Yes, some people complained that Fallout 4’s main character’s acting and wasn’t great. But, it did add to the experience of the overall game. That this is missing in The Outer Worlds makes it seem like Obsidian cut more than a few corners.

Other innovations that were missed included the use of individual armor pieces (left arm, right arm, left leg, right leg, chest and helmet). Instead, armor is full body and helmet only. Again, oddly not innovative.

Cutting Corners

In fact, let’s jump right into the heart of the issue with this game. The corner cutting in this game is palpable. These cut corners make The Outer Worlds seem less than a modern gaming experience. Indeed, the lack of being able to change much of the appearance of the main character is odd, though you do get limited customization. Worse, there seem to be a total of about 4 to 6 each male and female character models in the game. What this means is that the game uses and reuses these models with all NPCs. In fact, several character models are overused so many times, it’s almost like talking to clones all over this universe. It’s, once again, an odd play. Modern games typically utilize custom models for primary characters to avoid this “clone” problem. Yet, here we are.

Nothing makes a game seem less realistic than continually reusing the same 3D character models over and over on main story characters.

Space Scenes

Let’s talk about space scenes. Earlier, I discussed that this is a space epic. How can this be a space epic when there are no space scenes at all? It’s a space ship, yet the only places of interest are planets? What about space battles? What about other space ships? Again, it seems that Obsidian may have cut corners here to get this game produced. Instead of focusing on space scenes, the game focuses on ground play and combat. In fact, there are pretty much two things that this game heavily relies on… dialog and ground skirmishes. Fetch quests are obviously part of the reason for the ground skirmishes, after all there’s no point in running all over the terrain without a reason. Hence, fetch quests.

Simplistic Quests

With questing, there seem to be even more corners cut. Most of the quests are simplistic at best. Get quest from A, go to B and get thing, return to A and tell of success (ABA). The vast majority the quests given in this game are of the ABA variety. There are very few extra steps, options or things to do along the way (other than skirmish). These are not in any way deep, thoughtful quests. They are, instead, simplistic and straightforward. Even then, when skirmishing, the skirmishes are predictable, simplistic and straightforward.

Is it fun?

Well, that entirely depends on your idea of fun. If running around doing another NPC’s bidding is fun, then maybe. The difficulty with the quests in this game is that they are simplistic, short and somewhat nonsensical. For example, Udom on the Groundbreaker has you run over to a shop just mere steps from where he is sitting and has you spend 8000 of your own bits (in-game currency) to retrieve his “stamp”… a task which I am quite sure he not only has bits to handle, but one that he can walk over himself and resolve. Why is the “hero” the one who has to go gather said bits and spend them on another NPC’s behalf? This is but one example of similarly poorly written quests. Another is getting “auntie-biotics” for a guy. When you exit the shop, a nosy ne’er-do-well eavesdrops on your conversation who also wants these “auntie-biotics” for her own purposes. As cliché a quest setup as I’ve ever seen. And yet, also a very simplistic ABA quest.

Lack of Multiplayer

With all of that said above, the game also doesn’t sport a multiplayer mode. It’s still early in this game’s lifecycle, so there is a possibility for DLC to add this feature (and other multiplayer features). However, in this first release, there is no multiplayer anything this game. It is as single player as a single player game gets.

Overall

For as relatively antiquated as this first person shooter game seems, its rock stable engine helps this one along tremendously. We’ve ALL grown tired of having games crash every few minutes, particularly Bethesda’s games. The Outer Worlds’ stability is definitely a welcome relief from this level of bugginess and is a step in the right direction. Yet, there is so much unfulfilled potential in this antiquated game, it’s really hard to rate this one.

What I will say about The Outer Worlds is to be cautious when considering a purchase. If you like the simplistic nature of earlier Xbox 360 RPGs and significant amounts of dialog, you might like The Outer Worlds. If you’re looking for more complex questing, complex combat situations, unique space combat or a useful crafting system, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

[December 2019 Update]

I have completed this game fully and can, without a doubt, say this is definitely an Xbox 360 throwback game. It is a game that should have existed on a lesser platform with more strict graphics and RAM limitations. In fact, with only slight alterations to support touch, this game would play just fine on an iPad of any size. This is why I firmly believe this game may have begun its development life back when the Xbox 360 was still an active console. It may have even begun its development around the same time as Mass Effect (the first game). As a result of Mass Effect and because of Mass Effect’s similar play style, Obsidian might have shelved this title until 2019 to avoid any unnecessary comparisons to Mass Effect… when it seems that in 2019 it pulled this game from its code vault and began the work to complete it.

While I could be entirely wrong on this, this is the way the whole game feels. Regardless of its origins, it’s definitely a throwback game. It’s definitely not a game I would have expected to see on a Next Gen gaming platform in 2019. It has none of the Next Gen eye candy I would have expected to see in a modern Next Gen game.

Worse, the close of this game is a very  l o n g  montage outro consisting of a bunch of still images which cut from one to the next, narrated by a less than stellar voice over providing a very matter-of-fact and bland reading. The closing narrative strings together what your play through accomplished and how your shipmates fared after the story ended. Ultimately, this outro is a complete and utter letdown for a game that had a throwback-ish, but promising start.

In among the incredibly weak outro, it’s unfortunate that the close of this game is also bittersweet. That may have to do with story choices, but I can’t see how. Ultimately, Halcyon must fall and the beginnings of that fall had nothing whatever to do with game’s hero. The hero may have played a part in ushering along that fall faster, but it would have fallen regardless of the hero’s involvement. Ultimately, Halcyon has to fall based on the final narrative on Tartarus. It’s like the game is trying to blame the hero for all of the colony’s woes, yet the narrative can’t exactly do this because the hero had only just awoken from the Hope but a short time ago.

The story also brings up unnecessary information, such as the loss of communication with Earth and the loss of a large space vessel with many thousands of troops on the way to Earth. There’s no follow-up after the game ends to understand if this claim is even true. Perhaps the game is setting itself up for DLC or possibly for The Outer Worlds 2? This game feels like it was intended to be episodic in nature, but fails to solidify that this game is but one episode in a series. If you’re planning on creating a game as a series, at least disclose that it’s a series somewhere along the way. I believe this information may be left open for DLC because there are still 4 planets left locked on the star chart map. It is assumed these 4 unvisited planets will make their appearance in possibly upcoming DLC. Though, if DLC is coming, where is the season pass?

The additional trouble with the Earth communication loss information (and loss of a ship en route to Earth) is that this information comes solely from Adjutant Akande, a person who has proven herself (and the rest of the Board) to be an unreliable source of information. That Welles believes Akande wholeheartedly means Welles is incredibly gullible or simply woefully stupid. The game has given us no reason to believe the truthfulness of anyone on the Board, let alone Akande. If anything, Akande was, as the hero stated, a psychopath… and she probably was. The rest of the Board wasn’t much better in this regard. They were all at least sociopathic liars, treating the colony as nothing more than nuisances who spend money. The Board even had no trouble putting people of Byzantium to death just because (the retiree quest line). How can you trust a Board of people who are that subversive and uncaring about its very own population?

Worse, when the hero does put an end to the Board, the game summarily ends. There’s no more playing the game. You can’t walk the streets and see what all of your hard work has accomplished. Instead, we’re treated to that still image montage voice over. Obsidian, at least put just a little bit more work into the closing montage. Seriously, how about a cinematic with characters actually moving around and doing things? How about having some of the characters voice their lines? Oh well, it is what it is… a letdown.

Graphics: 5 out of 10 (decent, but chromatic aberration is hard on the eyes)
Gameplay: 6 out of 10 (fair, game is predictable, all planets look the same, no crafting)
Voice Acting: 5 out of 10 (ranges from very good to very bad)
Music: 8 out of 10
Combat: 5 out of 10 (too much of the same thing every time)
Stability: 9.5 out of 10
Story: 5 out of 10
Ending: 1.5 out of 10

Overall: 6 out of 10 (wait for a sale or rent… $60 is too pricey for what amounts to an Xbox 360 throwback with such a lame ending.) ↩︎ ## Star Force Book Series: A Review Posted in entertainment, novels, reviews by commorancy on September 8, 2019 While Audible and Amazon both allow you to review individual books separately, they don’t really offer a way to review a book series as a whole. Let’s explore B.V. Larson’s Star Force book series. SPOILER ALERT: If you wish to read this book series, this review may contain spoilers. Book Style Let’s start by how these books are written. Unlike many books which might jump back and forth between several unfolding story arcs between different characters, this book series is written entirely linear with a single story thread told to us in first person by the protagonist. Unfortunately, this linear unfolding is a bit detrimental to this series of books because there are a number of characters who could have benefited from having their own separate story arc. Seeing these events unfold separately from the main character’s story would have given us deeper depth into this universe and its series of unfolding events. Instead, the author chose to focus entirely on Kyle Riggs, our protagonist of this series, and his specific circumstances, always from Kyle’s point of view. In fact, the book series is almost written as a fictional memoir… as if Kyle is recounting these stories from some distant future rather than being told to us “in the now”. This aspect was neither confirmed nor denied by the author. It’s simply left open. Swarm The Book Swarm starts the series. Kyle’s kids are killed by an unknown UFO when they are summarily nabbed by, then ejected from the UFO. When Kyle himself is nabbed by the same UFO, he is able to solve the riddle and remain alive. This is where the entire series sets its foundation for what comes in every later book… sort of. Unfortunately, there were many missteps in this series along the way. Well, maybe not exactly missteps, but definitely missed opportunities to delve deeper not only into the Kyle’s psyche, but into the psyche of the machines (and ultimately “The Blues”). “The Blues” being the creators of not only the “nano” tech used to create the nano ships that killed Kyle’s kids, but they also created the “macros”. This one race of beings created the entire series of circumstances that set this entire series in motion… and imparts important technology to humanity that allows it to become space faring. Kyle meets most of his important contacts in this first book including Sandra and Crowe. Other characters would make appearances later on and remain throughout the series. Some characters are killed for various sometimes unexplained reasons. Swarm is the foundation book that lays the groundwork for all that comes in the remaining 8 other “Kyle” novels. You might be thinking, “9 total novels? I thought there were 14?” Well, kind of. Beginning with the novel Outcast (book 10), this is the first collaborative novel between B. V. Larson and another author. Usually when I see an extra author name on the cover, the lion’s share of work is likely done by the co-author, not the original series author. This means that beginning at Outcast, I’d consider this the beginning of a new series even though it continues with the same numbering scheme and is under the Star Force label. In fact, because Outcast begins with Cody Riggs, the offspring of Jasmine and Kyle, at a point in the future when he’s “coming of age”, I’d consider this no longer about Kyle Riggs. His story is done and ended at book 9. For me, I consider the series actually complete at book 9. All books after 9 are intended to carry on in this universe, but with an entirely different cast of characters and years later… even though Marvin, the ubiquitous robot, is still at play and so is Kwan. Let’s Get Started With the above story groundwork laid, I can begin this review in earnest. One thing that irks me is when authors abscond with pop culture references in works without really giving due credit to any of the original creators. For example, the transport “Rings” in this novel are almost ripped off entirely from Stargate… and in particular, the Stargate SG1 TV series. Most notably, B. V. Larson’s use of not only the ring itself, but absconding with the idea that ‘Ancients’ created the rings, the exact terms used in Stargate SG1. Whenever I run into such references, I have to shake my head. While I can’t begrudge B. V. Larson being a fan of SG1… hey, I’m a fan of that series too… I can’t really agree with using such blatant copying of ideas right down to the use of the same names. Other such references include Star Wars, with Phobos… a moon-like space station with a “gravity canon”, in similar form to the planet killer weapon of the Death Star. These references are quite immediately apparent. Another pop culture reference includes the nano technology used throughout the book series. While B. V. Larson uses these nanites in specific ways to improve humanity, the technology was actually again ripped from both Stargate SG1 and Terminator 2. However, in SG1, the “nanos”, actually the Replicators, were enemies and could not at all be tamed and used from the betterment of humanity. The liquid metal described by Kyle always resonated with me in the same way as the T-1000 terminator in T2. Kyle Riggs Within this story, Kyle Riggs is our protagonist. He’s the one we are supposed cheer on. In some cases, his actions are worth cheering. In other cases, his actions are questionable and his motives are not explained. In fact, there are many ideas left unexplained in the series and we’ll come to that section of this review a bit later. Kyle Riggs begins this tale as a computer science teacher turned farmer and ends this tale as emperor over the known earth… who then steps down and goes back to farming with his new kid, Cody, in tow. Basically, the book ends where it begins. In many ways, it’s a contrived tale that comes full circle. What happens between book 1 and book 9 simply fills in Kyle’s gap between these two bookends. That’s not to say that everything that happens between book 1 and book 9 is uninteresting, but know that if you delve too deeply into its meanings, you’ll definitely come up short changed. Kyle makes his way from school teacher, to nanoship pilot, to nanotized warrior to colonel of the Star Force fleet. It’s a somewhat slow-ish progression predicated by the fact that we have no other character tales unfolding in the background. We can accept this series of events because we are not told of many other characters seeking similar opportunities in the flying fleet. When such characters do present such as Crowe, Kerr or Miklos, they are summarily and rapidly sidelined by all-too-convenient plot lines. In the beginning of this tale, there were hundreds of nanoships. There had to have been at least one other nanoship pilot capable of performing as well or possibly better than Kyle Riggs. We must, therefore, simply accept what’s happening at face value and not question this series of events at all. That Kyle Riggs was the “smartest” and “brightest” of the bunch was something we simply have to accept to buy into this book series. If you can’t buy this concept, then the books won’t work. Kyle also acts in all sorts of odd ways throughout the run of the novels. At first, he’s a school teacher trapped in a ship fending for his life. He’s steadfastly against what these ships are doing and pro-humanity (and protector of all “biotics”). Later, he converts into a commander over Star Force… which conveniently more or less disappears until they can rebuild. He then changes his tune a bit. He’s still more-or-less pro-human whenever it suits his fancy. He’s brash, impulsive and reckless. He likes to show us that he’s in charge and that he knows what he’s doing. In fact, he tells us that he doesn’t know what he’s doing over and over and over. This part was a little overdone. We get it. He’s unsure of himself, but he does whatever thing that seems most logical to him at the moment in time, which usually turns out okay. He’s an okay protagonist with a bit of a streak of meanness built-in. Granted, he is sour over his loss when the story begins, but he seems to quickly forget all about that. It’s really odd, too. He never properly grieves for his kids, yet he goes way over the top when Sandra dies. The Blues During the run of the novels, there comes a time when “The Blues” deliver Kyle a dire warning. The Blues claim that Kyle and his team violated some fundamental universal law that you don’t create or link anything to the existing “ring” system or if you do, you’ll face the wrath of the “Ancients”. Yet, the entire series ends out Kyle’s saga without having this event occur. Why even bring up large such a story event and then not even follow through with the thread? Worse, the warning from the Blues is entirely illogical. Why? Because the Ancients would go after “The Blues”, not the humans. Why would the Ancients do this? Because “The Blues” gave the technology to the humans that let them hook anything to the ring. The Blues gave humans nanotech and brain boxes. These fundamental tools allowed Kyle, in turn, to create Marvin… who, again in turn, then created technology to hook into the ring system. It is, therefore, the Blues who are at fault for allowing additional things to be hooked into the ring system, not the humans. Without “The Blues”, none of what happened in any of these books would be possible, let alone hooking up to the rings. The Blues are entirely responsible for the mess that occurs after their own meddling with the universe. It is the Blues whom the ancients would wipe, not humanity. As smart as the Blues are, I was entirely surprised they couldn’t logically deduce this outcome. Yet, it doesn’t much matter after Kyle’s second bombardment of The Blues home world. A bombardment, I might add, that while it might be satisfying for Kyle, there’s no confirmation it actually did anything to the Blues. The only way to wipe out the Blues would be to reduce the Blues home world to star dust. We never get confirmation that Kyle’s second bombardment did anything at all. It just all ends with Kyle’s retirement from Star Force. Untold Tales In among what is spun in these books, there are a number of un-closed threads. Let’s explore some of these now: 1. Fate of the Nanoship swarm — When the nanoships leave Earth because they have decided it is no longer of interest to them, they take their captive pilots and disappear. Riggs, however, manages to escape this fate, along with Crowe. Though, we don’t find out about Crowe until a bit later. These, apparently, were the only two nanoships convinced to return to Earth? The rest disappeared into the void and we only hear of them again once more in passing and then they are no longer heard from again. We assume them to all be destroyed, but I got the impression that there were many more nanoships that we never learned of their fate. This thread is left hanging. 2. Crowe — After Crowe becomes “emperor” on Earth by using his nano factories to outnumber and outgun the planet, we are left with only questions. How did this happen? Why did it happen? Yes, Crowe was basically a scoundrel, we never get the full details of how this coup was accomplished or even why. We get a minimal tale from Jasmine, whose own personal agenda isn’t really known even at the very end. Yes, Crowe was a money hungry person, but was he the kind of person who would do what he was alleged to do on Earth? I’m not so sure. I was never even much convinced that he had taken the nano injections as he always seemed a bit too skittish about doing that. Yet, he manages to become Emperor? Out of sight, out of mind. This is a story that should have been told properly. 3. Crowe as a Cyborg — Eventually, Crowe must have become nanotized (or cyborgnized) because he was able to fight a nanotized Riggs and survive. Still, Crowe seemed goldigging, but timid. This isn’t the worst part of Crowe’s tale. When Riggs comes face to face with Crowe to sign the peace accord much later, it turns out that Crowe was a cyborg. Wait.. what? How do we go from mindless automaton robots with limited human portions which mindlessly attack the Riggs pigs ships to thinking, speaking, walking, talking, fighting, rational human looking cyborgs? I’ll let the cyborgs that attack Riggs’s ships slide. Sure, the nanos might be able to create such an abomination with a limited brain box. I can see that. But, replacing a human being entirely with a cyborg? That story line came out of nowhere with entirely no explanation. 4. Crowe escapes? — Assuming Crowe is actually smart enough to invent walking, talking cyborg clones… any cyborg created that appears like Crowe is merely a facsimile of Crowe. Not the real thing. Crowe was way too chicken to actually fight Riggs for real. Yet, at the time when Riggs fights cyborg Crowe, not once does this thought cross the minds of Riggs or, more importantly, Jasmine or even Marvin (who can see many, many steps ahead). Probably one of the biggest oversights in the book series. 5. Marvin’s Progression — Marvin was created by Riggs from a data stream that was transmitted to his ship. He thought this transmission originated from the Centaurs. Later, we come to find that that wasn’t entirely true. In fact, Marvin surmises his own reasons for his existence. You’ll need to read the novels to know who and why it was transmitted, even though it was never confirmed. Anyway, Marvin acts in increasingly odd ways as the story progresses. At first, Marvin acts mostly like a computer. In the end, Marvin acts contrary to a computer… making decisions that are, in fact, questionable and problematic. Though, many of Marvin’s actions are questionable and problematic. I’m not entirely sure why Riggs really kept him around. 6. Sandra — Sandra was Riggs’s love interest for most of the series until B. V. Larson decided it was time to kill her off. I’m not entirely sure the actual reasoning behind her death as nothing was really accomplished, nor did Riggs really mourn her in any meaningful way… unless you count getting drunk for months on end mourning. 7. Cyborgs — This is a story that didn’t get told and also needed to. First, we see the mindless half machine, half flesh cyborgs that come attack Riggs ship and Phobos (the Blues death star). Other than being a somewhat convenient plot device that keeps Tolerance (the Blue aboard Phobos) occupied, the story of these things is never explained. Where they nano constructions? Were they some other tech that Crowe managed to get hold of? Where they something not from Earth? Riggs made a lot of assumptions about these cyborg drones that never got explained. Additionally, when Crowe turns out to be a Cyborg, we have no way of knowing if the Crowe cyborg was the same as or entirely different from what Riggs encountered in space. 8. Macros defeated? — Were the Macros truly defeated? Time and time again, the macros showed themselves to be a resilient robot species. Sure, they may have had a base located on the dead sun that Riggs destroyed. But, why was it assumed that that was the only base that the Macros had? Cody Riggs At the birth of Cody, the series summarily ends seeing Riggs gallivant off to his farm (where the series started) and become a farmer again… never to command a space fleet again. It’s an odd abrupt transition for a character who was methodical about contemplating all of his options. While this section probably should have been under Untold Tales, I found it questionable to bring Cody’s tales into this series as a successor. This tale was about Kyle. When Kyle ended his reign, to me the series was over. Bringing in Cody to carry the torch just doesn’t work… at least not in Outcast. The Outcast book is all over the place and bungling in all of the most inane and trite ways. It tries hard to rekindle what we liked about novels 1-9, but it fails pretty tremendously throughout. While I found each of books 1 through 9 very worthy, even though they are completely told from a single point of view, I found book 10 hard to get through. Book 10 is disjointed. It starts off on the wrong foot by killing Cody’s girlfriend as the first major event… an entirely unnecessary random thing. Yes, it brings in some measure of action right out of the gate, but it’s the wrong action. The opening action in Swarm at least made sense for the circumstances. The opening of Outcast didn’t actually make any sense. While Cody is Kyle’s offspring, why would anyone have put a hit out on a kid who hasn’t yet done anything? If anything, they would want to hit Kyle, not Cody. That would have been a more suspenseful book opener. Let Cody rescue his dad from yet another assassination attempt. There were many ways this Cody series opener could have gone and still involved Jasmine and Kyle in more important ways. Instead, Cody’s first book is all about Cody and his first command… not at all about his family. Ancients While I have discussed this above, I want to reiterate how much this part of the series relies on Stargate for its premise. The “rings” are almost identical in complexity and functionality to Stargate’s gate rings… right down to them having been built by “Ancients” (a term used in both Stargate and in Star Force). In books 1-9, “The Blues” warn Kyle Riggs of impending doom from the “Ancients” which, unfortunately as I said above, never materializes within these books. This to me was a huge miss. If you’re going to tease such a power exists in the universe, you should at least show it to us before Kyle’s retirement. I don’t want to see Cody deal with these ancient aliens. I want to see Kyle do it. It was warned on Kyle’s watch, it should be Kyle who handles it. I’m also generally okay with limited uses of copying from other science fiction as long as you give a nod (in the form of credit) to the material somewhere. Perhaps naming Kyle’s ship “Samantha”. Just give us a nod to the science fiction universe from where you stole your ideas so we both know what you did, can agree to it, smile at the nod and move on. Without a nod like this, it just looks like theft of ideas… and worse, without credit, it simply looks like you can’t come up with your own original ideas. Sure, the transport ring system used in Stargate was an excellent transport device. But, so was the matter transporter in Star Trek. Why didn’t you use that, too? If the use of the word “Ancients” was supposed to be the nod to Stargate, it failed. Don’t use an obscure reference when giving a nod. Nod by giving us a tongue-in-cheek reference to a main character such as Samantha Carter, Daniel Jackson, Teal’c or Jack O’Neil. Don’t use “Ancients” which makes your theft look more like a theft than a nod. Make us understand that the reference is intended towards another pop culture icon series. The use of the word “Ancients” doesn’t read as a proper nod. Overall Books 1 through 9 are decent reads with the exception of a few eye rolling passages here and there, a few logic errors and a few oddities that were included but never followed through. I’d give the whole series a solid 4 out of 5 stars. If you’re into science fiction which relies heavily on concepts introduced by Stargate, then you may like the Star Force book series. If you’re looking for more original and cerebral science fiction content, you’ll want to keep looking. This is not the book series for you. The books in no way blaze a new, distinct trail in the science fiction universe. Instead, it retreads many older formulas in sometimes new, but sometimes tired ways. The story is mostly fresh, but the technology concepts have already been introduced by the likes of Star Trek, Stargate and Terminator. In these series cases, many times it was done better. With that said, I’d call the series quits at book 9. Book 10 effectively starts a brand new series set in the same universe, except with Cody (Kyle’s son) at the helm. Cody is okay, but the author tries way too hard to fit Cody into the same mold as Kyle… to the story’s detriment. The setups in book 10 are contrived, unoriginal and, in many ways, juvenile. As I said above, because Cody is so young, the story just doesn’t read as genuine or fresh. It reads as forced. It also reads as a genre change from mature science fiction to young adult. To me, this genre change almost seems like a slap in the face to the readers. Anyway, why is Cody so gung-ho to follow in Kyle’s footsteps? Why did he want to board a starship and head to the skies? What was the urgent urgency of this decision? This wasn’t set up at all. It seems to me that Kyle and Jasmine would have brought up Cody with ideals of staying on the farm and helping out there… not gallivanting off into the universe on a starship. Cody’s whole premise simply comes out of nowhere with no explanation. One minute Cody is in a barn with Marvin setting stuff on fire and the next minute Cody is aboard a starship heading off to new adventures. It seems to me that Kyle, as headstrong as he is, would have had something to say about that… but where are dad and mom? No where really. Jasmine only makes an inconsequential appearance, long enough to nurse Cody to health. Kyle doesn’t even really make an appearance. Book 10 starts out so weird and progresses to nonsense in short order. My advice is to read books 1 through 9 and call it quits. Leave book 10 and the rest unread. If you really want to know what happens to Cody, sure go ahead. But, know that Cody’s stories don’t in any way tie into Kyle’s stories. They’re all new adventures in all new universes with all new friends and foes. Basically, with these stories, they’ve thrown out the baby with the bathwater to start a new series starring Cody. Start and end with the “Kyle” books and you’re set. Only do the “Cody” books if you really want this additional post-story content. ↩︎ ## Game Review: Fallout 76 Posted in reviews, video game, video game design by commorancy on November 26, 2018 Fallout 76 has arrived and it is entirely a disaster. There is not much to like within Fallout 76, but there’s tons to dislike. I was personally hoping for a bit more than what I got in the game. However, because it’s still an early release, it could get better. Unfortunately, some of it is an outright fail. This one is quite long, so grab a beverage of your choice and let’s explore. Updated as of 12/25/2018 DO NOT BUY THIS GAME! It will cause you more headaches than fun. It’s a pointless exercise that doesn’t in any way lead to fun or enjoyment. Worse, you’ll run into so many bugs that you’ll end up dealing with these more often than actually playing the game. You can read the rest of the review below, but be warned that this game is actually the absolute worst Fallout game that has ever existed. Todd should be ashamed. Fallout 76 Map Let’s get this review started with the Fallout 76 Map: I’ve not yet explored all of the places on this map, but above is what I’ve explored so far. You can click the image to see a larger map. So, yes, there’s plenty to explore in West Virginia. With that said, let’s get into the nitty gritty of what’s good and what’s bad, what’s beautiful and what’s ugly about Fallout 76. And believe me, there’s plenty to talk about. Contents This review has the following sections: The Good Fallout 76 looks and feels like an extension of Fallout 4 with the exception of the multiplayer aspect. When wandering around the wasteland, it looks and feels very much like Boston in Fallout 4. Obviously, the landscape and terrain are different, but the structures and decay and rusting vehicles seems the same. A little too much the same, in fact. Even the enemies are the same including Supermutants and their mutant hounds, rad roaches, ticks, feral ghouls, Eyebots, Protectrons and many more. So, kudos to Bethesda for getting this part the same. Photomode There is a photomode in this game. The photomode does perform well, but unlike Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Origins photomode which, even though the game didn’t run at 4K on the Xbox One S, it did take 4K images… where Fallout 76 firmly takes only 1080p images. I was hoping for the higher res snapshots like Ubisoft’s Origins supported on the Xbox One S. Nope. The exterior lighting and shadows looks reasonably good, but it all depends on the model. Some models, like the tractor above, look fairly good. However, some texture maps used on the sides of buildings are very low res like this Nuka Cola sign. Particle physics in this game, particularly smoke, looks fake and flat and cartoony… nothing like smoke. For example, these smoke stacks look bad, particularly when animated: Photomode’s depth of field only offers far depth of field, not near. Basically, you can’t focus it to offer both near and far depth of field like an actual camera lens works. Instead, everything in the foreground is always perfectly clear, but the background is blurry. I’d also say that the Bokeh doesn’t work that well in photomode. Photomode also supports additional filters and frames to create unique images. As you play and discover locations, you’ll get additional photomode frames and other photomode add-ons. With these frames and filters, you can produce images that look like these: This slideshow requires JavaScript. Personally, the frames and logos are fun enough, but after having used them once, I don’t really want to overuse the frames and effects as it’s like having too much of a good thing. Loading Times Here’s another area where the game works quite well. I’ve found no problems with loading times, even after being killed by a gang of ghouls. I have no complaints at all about loading times. Even loading a game after a crash is decently speedy. Though, it would be nice if it didn’t crash in the first place. Crafting This process works much the same as any other Fallout. You simply need to find the correct ingredients and have a recipe (or plans) to make the item and you’re set. Sometimes you need to luck into finding the recipe or plan before you can make it. Some basic recipes and plans are given to you from the beginning, but the more advanced ones will need to be found through exploration. The crafting that you’ll become intimately familiar in this game is cooking. You’ll end up making a lot of boiled water and a lot of meat steaks (to avoid all of the random diseases). 🔥 The Fail While the look and feel are very much the same as previous Fallout games, the gameplay is a bit off. Some of this is due to the multiplayer aspects, but some of it is due to the way the game has been designed. Missing NPCs In all of the time I’ve been playing, I have yet to see a single NPC in this game. Where Elder Scrolls Online and Fallout 4 both had cities teaming with NPCs, Fallout 76 is quite devoid of them. With the exception of Grahm and his Brahmin, Chally the Moo-Moo (the wandering Supermutant merchant) and a handful of Mr. Gutsy and Protectron robots, there are no human NPCs to be found in any of the the towns (big or small). Only enemies including mostly ghouls or scorched, but sometimes Supermutants are found. It’s a huge miscalculation for a Bethesda RPG. Perhaps they were trying to save money by not having to hire voice talent? Who knows the real motive here? Personally, if I had been the manager over this project and this project idea was thrown my way, I would have tossed it back. I would have asked for alternative ideas involving NPCs in the game. It doesn’t need to be a large number of NPCs, but there should have been at least a few here and there, if only wanderers. Without meaningful interactions with NPCs, a game like this is a very difficult sell. The game would need to have chosen some other means of NPC interaction, if not using “ghosts” in the environment or some found technology that lets the player interact with live holograms of dead characters. There’s just nothing like that here. While there’s no shortage of enemies to fight in Fallout 76, the only conversation you do get to have is with other live players using chat headsets. Even then, it’s simply discussion about problematic game mechanics. Instead, it seems that all quests come to your character by proximity to towns, picking up holo tapes, listening to audio logs, scouring computers, picking up objects or searching recently dead bodies (of which there are plenty to find). There are no one human NPCs here to talk to. With Elder Scrolls Online, I found that there was random camaraderie between actual players, particularly when you’re trying to complete a dungeon… so you implicitly team up to get the job done. So far in Fallout 76, this behavior hasn’t been true. Partly because there’s so few people playing on any one “World” and partly because everyone seems to want to do their own thing. Yes, I do find the lack of NPCs a bit disturbing in this game’s design and it is probably the single biggest overall failing of Fallout 76, making the main quest line fall extremely flat as a result. Fast Travel and Traveling With all Fallout games, you pretty much have to hoof it everywhere on foot. I kind of get used to this in Fallout. I was hoping that Fallout 76 would introduce a horse or motorcycle or even a bicycle (these could easily be repaired). This would let you move a little faster over the terrain and get from place to place a bit faster. Nope, nothing here. Instead, this game relies on location discovery and fast travel, like all previous games. I think it’s about time that the Fallout series added some kind of vehicle besides Power Armor. The difficulty with Fast Travel (like moving your CAMP) is that it costs caps to fast travel. The cost is dependent on how far away from you the location is. If you’re on one side of the map and you want to go to the other, you’ll likely pay 20-30 caps. If it’s the next town over, it might be 1 or 2 caps. If caps were more plentiful in this game, this wouldn’t even be a fail. However, because caps are so hard to find in this game, using even 1 or 2 caps to fast travel one town over adds up when you do it a lot. It really shouldn’t cost anything to fast travel anywhere because that’s the perk of discovery. Yet, here we are. There are two places on the map that are free to fast travel and the first is Vault 76 and the other is your CAMP. You’ll want to place your camp somewhere a little south of the middle of the map so you can fast travel to the lower portions of the map easily. Vault 76 fast travel lets you travel to the upper parts of the map easily. Placing your camp a little south lets you easily cover pretty much the whole map without spending a lot of caps. Once you finish with an area, you may not need to visit it, so you can move your CAMP to be more beneficial to the upper level areas. It also means you don’t have to move your CAMP often. Eating and Diseases Unfortunately, here’s where Fallout 76 takes a turn for the worse. Even though Fallout 4 did require drinking and eating to recover HP, you only needed to do it when your health became low. In Fallout 76, the game designers took this aspect to a whole new Sims-ish level. Now, you have a separate food and water meter from the HP meter. When these begin to drop below an arbitrary threshold, your character is socked with penalties. Sometimes the penalties limit your action points, sometimes it causes you to lose HP. It all depends on how low it is and whether it’s low food or low water or both. As for diseases, these were in Fallout 4, but they usually appeared as a result of being exposed to certain things. Basically, in Fallout 4 it was rare to contract a disease. In Fallout 76, it’s super easy and it’s compounded by the fact that you have to eat so frequently, which means more chances. Because of the excessive amount of unnecessary eating and drinking, you’ll spend inordinate amounts of gaming time running around looking for water, food and ingredients… then cooking it so you don’t get ‘diseased’. That is, instead of actually playing, you know, the actual game for its story or combat (i.e., the parts that actually matter), you’re spending at least 30-50% of your time in search of food and water (parts that are trivial and don’t matter). This is way too much time spent on such trivial tasks. And it gets worse. Because food and water weighs so much, you’re forced to carry it around all of the time which limits how much other stuff you can carry. It’s just a pisser at just how much this whole eating, drinking and disease aspect negatively degrades the game experience. Instead of playing the quests, you’re out running around looking for ingredients to create a Disease Cure potion or you’re out looking for Brahmin or Rad roaches or Bloatflies or water to make meals. And wait, it gets even worse. When you get to a water source, it takes ages (real world time) to dip and collect a single dirty water due to the animation and overall slowness of this process. To collect 20 or 30 of these, you’ll be standing there 3 maybe 4 minutes (maybe more) doing this activity. It also takes 2 Dirty Water containers to create 1 Boiled water along with wood. That means if you pick up 30 dirty water containers, you’ll only get 15 boiled water containers. Unrealistic. You don’t lose 50% of your water to boiling that I recall. Anyway, you’ll also need wood, so you better also pick up a bunch of wood on the way to get to the water source and pick more up on the way back. Bethesda needs to rethink this part of the game. Everything around eating and drinking is so trivial, banal and unnecessary, yet takes an inordinate amount of time away from the gamer when they could be interacting with story elements or taking part in more important events in the game. In fact, I’d be much happier playing this game without the constant food, water and disease interruptions. This isn’t a Sims game. It’s an RPG. It doesn’t need to mimic real world survival aspects to that trivial level. At some point you have to ask, “Does this really enhance or degrade the game experience?” If the answer is that it degrades the game experience, then it needs to be taken out… regardless of how much developer time might have been spent on it. Eating, drinking and diseases heavily degrade the gaming experience and, IMO, should be removed. Or, at least calmed the hell down. For example, require that you eat or drink once a day instead of 5-10 times per day. I’d prefer removal of the disease aspect, or at very least calm it down so that we don’t catch diseases nearly as often… and put way more Disease Cure potions in loot stashes or make these crafting materials much easier to find. There was one stretch of gaming where I spent most of a real world day with “parasites”. Parasites make your food health line drop rapidly. So, the only thing you can do is run around gathering foods and eating or try to locate or create a Disease Cure potion. I finally decided to stop eating food and see if it would go away on its own. It did, but the first thing I accidentally ate after gave me parasites again only to start the whole thing over. I was seriously pissed by that point. Disease Meter Like the HP, AP, Water and Food meters, if Bethesda really plans on keeping the disease aspect at this level in Fallout 76, then the devs needs to add a disease meter. The addition of a meter would allow the gamer to see how far they are from catching a disease (whatever it is), but also how long it will be before the disease wears off. Basically, you can use the Disease Cure potion or you can wait it out. With a disease meter, you know exactly how much longer it will be before the disease is gone… and whether it’s worth spending a Cure Disease potion. Some diseases should wear off faster than others. The meter should also display the name of the disease right on the HUD. Disease Cure Crafting I’ll point out that the Disease Cure potion requires four ingredients and access to a cooking fire… so, you should build your CAMP somewhere close to the necessary ingredients and have also built a cooking area. The ingredients you’ll need for a Disease Cure potion consist of Snaptail Reed, Bloodleaf, Firecap and Water. The difficulty is that all of the ingredients aren’t close together. However, three of them are somewhat close: Bloodleaf, Snaptail Reed and Water can be found along the banks of the river that runs through Flatwoods. The fourth ingredient, Firecap, can be found not far away in the Vault-Tec Agriculture facility just outside Flatwood. It’s in the basement of the building in some soil tables. Unfortunately, it only grows four at a time and it seems rare to find it in there. You’ll need two Firecaps to create one Disease Cure potion. This means that, if all four are present, you can create two potions and then you’ll have to wait for the Firecaps to regenerate (might be hours) or try to find them growing somewhere else. There are other locations for Firecap, but these ingredients are also subject to spoilage. Once you find the ingredients, you better be prepared to drop whatever it is you are doing and go search for Bloodleaf, Snaptail Reed and Water to make some potions before the ingredients spoil. Note that all recipes involving water require Boiled Water. This means you’ll need to boil all your water before trying to create a potion. Food Spoilage Here’s another design blunder. When you go pick flowers or kill some rad roaches for their meat, you’ll find that within a few in-game hours, the meat will have spoiled. In your inventory, the item will go from showing its original food name to “spoiled meat” or “spoiled vegetables” or “spoiled biofluid”. This is a design blunder because food doesn’t spoil that rapidly even in real life. Worse, some items that spoil don’t even spoil in real life, like flowers. You can pick, dry and use flowers for long periods of time. Flowers don’t spoil. Yet, in Fallout 76, they do. What this means is, if you go pick a bunch of flowers or plants or come across some meat, you’ll need to cook it up quickly into whatever prepared dish you have a recipe for. And, you will have to go find these recipes. Prepared foods tend to hold their longevity longer than raw foods, apparently. However, eventually even these prepared foods will spoil. So, if you find meat, expect cook it and eat it quickly. If you eat spoiled food, you’re going to get a disease… which means you’re going to be running around looking for ingredients to make the Disease Cure potion rather than playing the quests. Yet another Bethesda FAIL. Spoilage Meter If Bethesda wants to keep this food spoilage idea in the game, then they need to add a small spoilage meter next to or below the food item in the inventory. I realize there’s a CND meter in this area that may act as the spoilage meter, but I’d prefer this be relabled to SPL instead of CND if it means spoilage. This meter will show just how long it will be before each food item spoils. This means you can better plan which foods or ingredients to eat or use first. If it’s a ganged up item and there are multiples each with different spoilage times, then either normalize all of the ganged up items to the same spoilage time or represent the item that is the quickest to spoil in the meter and use that item first from the multiples. Sleeping Even sleeping in this game isn’t without peril. So, you think you’re going to grab a few quick ZZZs at some random bed in a house. But, then you hop in and almost immediately you’re diseased. I shake my head at this. The only bed you can trust (maybe) is the bed you build in your C.A.M.P. This may be limited to bedrolls on the ground, but don’t count on that throughout the game. C.A.M.P. I will say that CAMP isn’t a 100% fail, but it’s close primarily because it’s mostly pointless. The fact that you can carry it around with you and drop it wherever you want is an improvement over stationary settlements in Fallout 4. This portability is not enough to call this idea a full win. As you exit Vault 76, you’re given a number of supplies to help rebuild the wasteland. One of these is the CAMP device. It is a small camping gadget that you can deploy that lets you build a settlement within a radius of wherever you place it. You can’t place it everywhere, but there are plenty of ground locations that allow placement. Once you place it somewhere, it becomes very much like the building of a settlement in Fallout 4. Instead of being a fixed location like the settlements, CAMP is portable. While the idea of CAMP is okay, it’s more or less a pointless exercise… other than giving you convenient crafting tables and it adds a free fast travel point to wherever you place it, these are its two primary reasons to exist… and that’s not nearly enough. Because the map is fairly sprawling, this portability only helps a tiny bit in terms of travel. Here’s where the CAMP idea breaks down (which is why it’s under this FAIL heading). Wherever you first drop your CAMP is free. If you want to move your CAMP to a new location, you’ll have to pay caps to do this. If you want to move it a second time, it’s going to cost you progressively more caps each time. To move your CAMP, you’re going to pay caps. Why, Bethesda, why? You encouraged us to move our CAMP frequently, yet you’re going to take more and more hard-to-find caps each time? FAIL! Even though the portability aspect of CAMP is a fail, setting up a camp lets you build crafting tables and this is much needed because of the food and water problem. In this game there are 6 crafting table types: Cooking, Armor, Weapons, Tinkerer, Power Armor and Chemistry tables. When you build a camp, you need to build at least one of these tables so you can easily and quickly scrap the junk you find into components. You’ll need the component parts to craft new items and mods and to reduce your junk weight. However, I’d recommend building the full complement of crafting tables so you can easily do everything in one place. You will need to look for plans for some of them. I’d even recommend putting the crafting tables all inside of the structure you build so that the structure is easily portable. The only thing you can’t build inside is a water well. But, you will want a water well so you can easily get to a water source and create boiled water… which critical in this game. Caps, Stimpaks, Disease Cure, etc Here’s another place where Fallout 76 has lost it. Caps (and certain crafting resources) are extremely hard to come by. While there are some sellers where you can sell whatever you happen to find, they’ll only give you 1 or 2 caps no matter what the item is. I’d recommend doing this with random junk you happen to find around the seller. Unfortunately, many other players have caught on to this idea. Because these robots only carry like 200-300 caps, you can quickly drain them of caps. I’ll talk about the multiplayer aspect of this problem below. The good thing is that they’ll buy practically anything. The bad thing is that you’ll only get 1-2 caps for nearly everything including Stimpaks, which are equally as hard to find as caps. It means you need to run around locating tons of junk to sell to these dealers before you can drain their caps. Bugs, Glitches, Bugs and even more Bugs This game is chock full of bugs. From the bugs that crash the entire game client to bugs that kick you out of the server to quest bugs that prevent you from finishing the quest to floating rocks to flashing textures on robots to event bugs that prevent the event from working to bugs that prevent you from even playing the game at all. They’re all here. Here’s a sample of texture glitching: I can’t imagine that this is a fully ready game. For me, it’s still feels very much like a beta version. In fact, it feels very much like Elder Scrolls Online when it was first released. ESO was bug city. Well, Fallout 76 feels very much this same way. Certainly, there are odd cosmetic problems like floating rocks and invisible structures. However, some people have experienced showstopper bugs related to the Power Armor that prevent them from doing anything in the game. Basically, they can’t exit the power armor, they can’t use the power armor and they can’t do anything else including play the game. Bethesda has what they think is a workaround, but apparently it doesn’t always work. Why is it that every game seems to have floating rocks? Bethesda has a lot of work ahead of them to get this game to a better usability. The first thing I would do is fix the major bugs followed by majorly reducing the eating and disease problems. The latter problems only serve to heavily detract from the game and prevent the gamer from making story progress. That’s a fail any way you slice it. Inventory, Carry Weight and Photo Gallery Carry Weight is a problem in every Bethesda game. You’re always given a pittance allotment of weight that you can carry starting at around 120-150. This problem is actually compounded by bad design in Fallout 76. By level 15, I’m able to carry 190… which is not more than what the game gives you from the start. Granted, I haven’t used all of my perks to level up Strength, so I can’t tell you how high it would be if I had done this. I wanted a good mix of perks on my character… particularly the Lead Belly perk, which avoids much of the radiation problems in the game. However, even though I have worked to get Lead Belly to level 3 (maxed out), I found that this perk is limited by the disease factor. Meaning, even though you take no radiation damage by eating food, you can’t willy nilly eat random food because you can still get a disease. You must cook it all first. If there was a perk that made you 100% disease resistant, I’d most certainly level that one up too. The photo gallery is limited to 50 pictures, way too few. When you fill it up, you have to stop whatever it is you’re doing and spend time jumping into the Photo Gallery area to delete some. It’s such a pain in the butt and so unnecessary. In reality, don’t even save them into an in-game gallery. Use the Xbox captures area, tag them there and use them in-game from there. Problem solved as the Xbox Gallery is limited only by system storage. Multiplayer Personally, I’d call multiplayer in this game mostly a fail which is ironic considering Fallout 76’s claim to fame is its multiplayer aspects. Some of this is because of the game design and some of it’s because of the players. Together, the multiplayer part of this game doesn’t work well and it’s actually worse than the multiplayer in Elder Scrolls Online. Resource Collecting The first problem is with collecting resources. Because resources are finite (and some are exceedingly scarce), any player who comes along before you and takes the resources means it won’t be there when you get there. If you need Firecaps and there are only two in the building and another player swept through the location 5 minutes before you, nothing will be there for you to find. This makes playing this game unnecessarily challenging. Resources should remain independent in each player’s game. This means if I enter a building looking for Firecaps, they should always be there in my game and they should be there in everyone else’s game. These resources should be unique and independent of the multiplayer part. I don’t want to have to wait in-game hours for something to respawn simply because another player swept through and took it. That’s entirely a waste of my time. For this reason, I deem this problem a multiplayer fail. Pacifist Mode The second problem is with Pacifist mode. While I cannot accidentally hurt another player with this mode set to on, another player can come and kill my player. No! Yet another fail. Like Grand Theft Auto, pacifist mode should disable not only my ability to hurt other players, it should disable their ability to hurt me. If I want to quest the wasteland without fear of being killed by another player, that should be my choice. There are already enough enemies in this landscape without having to watch my butt around other players… particularly when a Level 63 player comes after my Level 15 player. No. Just. No. Microphone Chat Here’s a third problem. Because Microsoft makes it so difficult to locate a cheap compatible microphone + headset to use on the Xbox One, I find very few people using them when playing Fallout 76 on the Xbox One. Instead, people rely on emotes to convey limited information. While the emotes are fun and all, I don’t know why people can’t go get a cheap$9.99 set of Heydey compatible earbuds at Target so they can chat with other players. Even these \$4.99 Heydey earbuds with mic might work. If not, Target’s return policy works well, so you can always return them.

Also, when you’re in first person view, you cannot see if your microphone is working. When in third person, there’s a small speaker icon that appears over the head of the player speaking, even yourself. If you’re in first person, this icon does not appear on the HUD.

Settlements and Workshops

Here’s the fourth problem. This is a two problems in one, actually. In Fallout 4, settlements were designed to offer refuge and safety for NPCs whom you recruit to the settlement. Unfortunately, because this game seems entirely devoid of NPCs, there’s no one to recruit into your CAMP. Thus, the point in the having a camp in Fallout 76 is lost on Bethesda. Other than having a fast travelable location on the map and a convenient location to craft, there’s really no other reason to have a CAMP. You can invite other players into the camp, but other than interacting with the crafting tables and the ‘My Stash’ boxes, there’s little reason to visit someone else’s camp. It’s not like you could create a Ghoul infested building with full quests attached.

The second half of this problem is when taking over found workshops. In Fallout 4, when you find a workshop, you can establish a settlement there. In Fallout 76, again this is lost on Bethesda and there’s no reason or incentive to claim them. Because there are no NPC’s in the game, the only reason to claim a workshop is to start a multiplayer PvP war. What’s the point in that? Deathmatch went out with Halo 3. Trying to revive this play style in Fallout is, well, antiquated. Can’t we think up better ways to get players to team up in multiplayer mode?

If you do decide to take over a workshop, you’re expected to “fix it up” with your own caps and your own resources. When you do find an unowned workshop, they’re so run down, you’ll have to deplete nearly all of your resources not only fixing the place, but adding defenses. The game also only gives you about 15 minutes to fix it up fully and place defenses. There’s just no way to not only fix up the entire place, but build that amount of defenses in 15 minutes, Bethesda. Bah… FAIL!

Worse, even if you do manage to set up defenses and fix up the workshop, you’ll lose it all after you sign out of the game. Yep, your resources and caps… gone forever. So then, what’s the incentive here? If I’m going to spend nearly my entire inventory I’ve collected over many days in one location and then lose it in a few hours later, why? Why would I ever do that? No, if I’m going to claim a workshop, I better be able to own it for as long as I want or until some other faction of players takes it away from me. Let ownership rule so long as the player signs in at least once every 30 days. If the player fails to sign in for 30 days, then the workshop reverts to unowned.

Considering how unstable the Xbox One client is and how often it randomly crashes, there’s no way I’d ever consider investing in building and defending a workshop. Until Bethesda can get the bugs ironed out of the game clients, there’s no incentive for me to even consider attempting to own a workshop. Why bother with it anyway? It’s not like you can invite settlers into it to help man and defend it.

Also, why not let groups own a workshop together? If a group of folks get together and spends their resources to fix up the place, then it should be jointly owned. This means that even if the first person to establish ownership disappears, the property should revert to the next owner in the group list until there are no more people listed who can own it. A single day’s ownership is worthless. Perpetual ownership until the player or team forfeits the property or it is taken over by a new faction is the way to handle these workshops.

Not only does perpetual ownership encourage owning and fixing up a workshop, it encourages group ownership to prevent the workshop from being lost if a player suddenly disappears. Yet, that’s where we are today. If the first owner disappears and logs out, the property becomes unowned. Bethesda has a lot of redevelopment ahead. Yet another fail.

Worst case, do it like Cyrodiil’s campaigns. Let people own workshops for 30 or 45 days. At the end of the campaign, all ownerships are revoked and people will have to reclaim their workshop if they want it for the next campaign round. Owning a workshop for 24 hours only? This is stupid.

Power Armor

The fifth problem is the power armor. Not only are there bugs around using this armor, some of these bugs are show stoppers. Besides the bugs, the armor is just not that useful in this game. It does add a small amount of extra carrying power, but at the price of carrying around a 10 weight power armor suit + the weight of each armor suit piece in your inventory until you need it. It’s not like we’re given a ton of extra carrying capacity to begin with, but this? Really?

If we’re trying to be realistic with the survival eating and drinking, how is it then possible to carry an entire suit of power armor on your person? This is why it’s a fail. You shouldn’t be able to carry around power armor at all. You’re either in it or you’re out of it. If you want to use it, like Fallout 4, you have to go get it having parked it at a Power Armor crafting station. Carrying it around with you is as stupid as the horse that appears and disappears in Elder Scrolls Online. It’s a stupidly unrealistic addition that makes as much sense in Fallout 76 as eating and drinking every few minutes.

Additionally, the Power Armor has no light without a helmet. If you’re in it and press the light button, nothing happens. No light. At first I thought it was that there was no armor on the suit, but no. It’s a bug with the armor when there is no helmet. Even if you do have a helmet, the light is so basic and dim, the room is still dark even with the light. You do better by using the Pip Boy as a light. The best power armor light is actually the Raider power armor. Basically, the usefulness of wearing power armor comes down to carrying a bit more so you can stop being over-encumbered which allows you to fast travel. That’s the only reason to carry around an extra 10 weight of junk in the inventory. The power armor suit is only moderately better in combat, but is not that effective. In fact, many creatures can seemingly overcome the power armor’s armor and reduce your HP just as fast as wearing no armor.

The secondary trouble I’ve found with wearing power armor is that this seems to be an implicit deathmatch challenge signal to other players. If you’re in power armor, they seem to come after you and kill you… moreso than if you’re not wearing it. I’m not sure what’s going on here, but there seems to be some kind of unwritten rule that wearing power armor = “come kill me”. I don’t like this and so I rarely wear power armor because 1) I don’t want to trip the get stuck bug and 2) I don’t want to constantly fight other players. So, I rarely wear Power Armor so I can mostly quest in peace (such that questing is in this game).

Missing Elements

The final problem is what’s not here. In ESO, there was a Risk based board game scenario where factions could challenge each other by taking over each other’s territory. While I didn’t agree with the ESO implementation of PvP in Cyrodiil, it at least encouraged people to work towards maintaining their castles. Unfortunately, it had the side effect of spending each person’s money and resources to fix up the castles during and after battle. I’d have preferred if the castles could have made their own money and their own resources that could be used against rebuilding rather than forcing the player to dip into their own inventory.

Unfortunately, Fallout 76 has no such PvP element at all… at least that I’ve found. Granted, I haven’t explored the entire map yet. So, there might be other “different” PvP areas I’ve yet to uncover. I doubt it, though.

💋 The Beautiful

This section is devoted to what parts I liked most about Fallout 76. First and foremost, the landscape and the daytime lighting quality is amazing, particularly dawn and dusk. The sun ray aspect is probably the best part of this game and it’s done amazingly well… I’d say that it’s much better than the sun’s rays in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Let’s take a look at some of these images. They’re just stunning against the apocalyptic ruins. Here’s a quick slideshow of some of these:

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Unfortunately, the night lighting isn’t quite so spectacular, but it still provides some stunning visuals nonetheless:

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With that said, I’m also equally disappointed with the far too many of the low res 3D models and the low res image textures within the game. I know this is supposed to be the Beautiful section, but I have to cover both sides, like I did under the Fails area. Let’s look at a few of the problems with this game’s models and textures:

The above images illustrate how badly the texture mapping can go wrong in this game. In fact, even the tree leaves and ground plants are pretty much flat planes. When you get close to an object, the reality and illusion of it breaks down rapidly. For example, the white flowers above show the edges of the texture map when illuminated by the Pip Boy. You can’t see the lines in the thumbnail, but if you look at this image full size and zoom in a little, you can see these thin edge lines. It’s very prominent when playing the game.

This lack of resolution even includes the character models themselves. Up close and personal on the characters, you’ll see the squared off edges of arms and legs of the character model rather than being smoothed out. I understand why they don’t include 3D model smoothing in games as it takes more CPU power. I’m hoping that this will be available on the PS5 and Xbox Next. 3D model edge smoothing would help the character models look far more realistic.

Pip Boy

The Pip Boy, while not much different than Fallout 4, performs its function quite well here. I will say that the 3D model could do with a bit of work, particularly the orange lit button that seems too low res. I’d also prefer to have the map in the Pip Boy rather than having to pop into a separate screen. It made it so much more handy to get to and fast travel via the map when using the Pip Boy. It was also much more immersive than having a separate and pretty colored map. It’s fine if they want to keep the nice pretty colored map, but having a map in the Pip Boy prevents the need of getting out of the Pip Boy to move move to a different screen. It’s all about time savings and this change would help a lot.

Here’s a little trick you can do with the Pip Boy that maybe you didn’t know. You can use the right stick and move the Pip Boy around, like so to get a better look at it:

If you really dislike using the Pip-Boy, there are two alternatives: 1) Hop into Power Armor. It has its own separate heads-up display. 2) If you don’t have Power Armor handy, you can press and hold the two squares (left button below the Xbox button) until it changes. It will give you a HUD that looks like so:

This HUD performs all of the same functionality as the Pip Boy using a different color and without the distraction of it. To switch back, press and hold the two-square button again and the Pip Boy will return. Personally, I prefer the Pip Boy, but I’d like to change the screen color from green to something else. I remember you could do that in earlier Fallout games.

🛑 The Butt Ugly

Daytime and Nighttime

Day and night in this game is weird. It seems that daytime blows by quickly, yet night seems to drone on forever. It could be that there are more nighttime hours than there are daytime hours in the game. This is, frankly, unwanted. I’d prefer to choose day or night and let it stay that way until I change it. Since the clock is mostly unnecessary, each player should be able to choose the time of day setting they would prefer (day, night, dawn or dusk). Let the clock roll by, but let me keep my visuals on daytime. Rainstorms and Radiation storms can still roll through, but let my game remain on my visual choice.

Enemies and Levels

Simultaneously, enemies are both weak and strong at the same time. For example, I’ve run into level 1 Molerats that take at least two shots to kill and my character is level 15. How is that possible? One shot should kill a level 1 molerat. I’ve also run into level 33 enemies who I’ve been able to kill in 5-6 shots. The level system is broken. I shouldn’t even be able to come close to killing a level 33 enemy at level 15… or at least, it should take so many shots that I’d run out of bullets before I finished.

Aiming, Misfires and Collision Detection

This game has some of the worst collision detection I’ve seen in a game of this caliber. When the enemy is up close making hits on me, I can’t even seem to make a point blank shot with a gun… and believe me, I’ve tried. I know that the bullets should be connecting, but the game doesn’t register it. Not only have you lost the ammo, but you’ve wasted health points because the enemy is hitting you. Even worse is that some enemies constantly move around you. If you’re trying to shoot them, they’ll intentionally run behind you… even animals. This AI behavior is stupid and it means you’ll be constantly fumbling to locate them somewhere in your camera view. Combat is already difficult enough without having to constantly swivel to find them

On the flip side, I’ve used my .44 Somerset Special sniper pistol and hit enemies at a distance in the head when I know my aim was way off. I don’t understand this discrepancy in how weapons work here. This problem is even true of even shotguns which are known to have a wide dispersal pattern. Meaning, if there is a ghoul inches from you in Fallout 76, the chance of actually making a hit is very low unless you have exactly perfect aim… when, in fact, the dispersal pattern of an actual shotgun at that range would decimate an enemy as long as it’s aimed in the general direction. Still, in this game when enemies are up close, there’s an unnecessarily high chance of missing. When they’re far away, somehow you can connect shots even when you’re aiming in the ‘general direction’. This is very, very ugly for a shooter.

Instead, up close shooting should be much more accurate than distance shooting. Bethesda’s devs somehow got this one backwards in Fallout 76.

Inventory Storage Maximums

The inventory system on this game is what you’d expect, only worse. Unfortunately, Bethesda keeps adding stupid after stupid into these games. The weights you can carry are way too low for what’s needed to actually play this game. This poorly conceived idea compounds to make a bad situation worse. Once you fill your character’s personal inventory and your stash inventory, you have no other place to store anything. You are forced to drop stuff. You have no choice.

In previous single player games like Skyrim and Fallout 4, you could always store excess stuff in chests or drawers or practically anywhere and go get it whenever you need it. You can’t do that here. Once you’ve filled up your inventory, you’re screwed and there’s nothing you can do about it. As you can see from this video, the way the Stash Box is implemented simply doesn’t work…

Sweep System

Why can’t you drop stuff? This game is constantly sweeping dropped items. The sweep system is so bad and so aggressive that it will sweep away even recently killed enemies before walking over to them to get their loot. It’s particularly bad if you’re a sniper. If you snipe your prey from a distance, don’t expect anything to be there when you arrive. I’ve had so much kill loot stolen from me by the sweep system, I should have stopped playing then. But, I kept toughing it out hoping it would get better. It doesn’t.

This is the fundamental blocker that has made me stop playing. Being over-encumbered is a problem, but nothing’s worse than not being able to drop your stuff off easily and remove that problem or potentially lose it after a character death because of the dropped loot.

Note that the My Stash location holds a maximum weight of 400 … well, actually 399. Once you reach that level, it won’t let you store more. I tire of playing these systems which provide arbitrarily low limits when you really need at least 3 times as much storage space. This is the reason this one falls under The Butt Ugly.

Dropped Loot and Respawning

Upon your character’s eventual death in the wasteland, you will be allowed to respawn. When you do, the map gets a death marker and your character is respawned to the nearest chosen spawn point.

The fail here, and boy is it EVER a fail, is the fact that the game drops loot when you die. What’s the point in this dropping loot? It doesn’t make the game more challenging, it simply makes it a hassle. I absolutely and totally hate this design that’s now being implemented in so many games. Whomever thought that the death marker and dropping your loot upon death was a great idea should be walked to the door after being summarily fired. This is not a design that anyone wants.

Worse, it hangs your loot out to dry whenever you’re out questing. If you’re playing a game that doesn’t allow you to store your items, then maybe it might have a point to exist. Since ALL Bethesda RPGs allow you to store stuff in containers, there’s no point in dropping loot upon death. This just encourages you not to carry loot with you and continually go and drop it off.

The danger with dropped loot is compounded by Bethesda’s absolute crap storage maximums. When you’ve reached the storage maximums of the stash box and of your character, you have to being carrying more stuff with you as you can at least carry over-encumbered. The stash box can’t accept anything else once full.

This means that if actually want to go out questing, you have to carry a shit ton of stuff with you that could potentially be lost under bug conditions (as I’ve described above). It means your loot is being hung out to dry every time you go out questing.

I really don’t want to have to fight with a game’s systems over playing the quests. This game is already cumbersome enough to when attempting to apply stimpaks or change weapons while in battle. Having to fight with stupid bugs that lose stash items is just insane… which is why I’m done with playing this disaster of a game.

Changing Weapons and VATs

Because this is an online game, there is no such thing as pause. This means that while you’re changing your weapon, the enemy is hammering on you. Same for trying to apply Stimpaks or eat food to increase HP. Basically, it’s almost impossible to change weapons, eat food or apply medicine when you’re in combat. In the standalone games, the game pauses while you go into the Pip Boy. It doesn’t work that way here.

Yes, there is a weapon wheel, but it’s just as cumbersome to use as going into the Pip Boy. Because there’s like 15 slots, trying to target just one of the slots perfectly is a challenge, particularly when you’re trying to battle fast moving Ghouls. This part is really trying and needs a drastic redesign by Bethesda. It needs not only a simpler system to get to the most used weapons, it needs a faster way to get to them without blocking the screen. While this is a fail, it’s incredibly butt ugly.

CAMPs randomly disappear

While I believe this to be a current bug which may get resolved in a later version, I have found my CAMP has disappeared twice in the time I’ve been playing. The first time I’d built hillside camp with stilts. It was designed specifically for that hillside. After my camp disappeared, I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to build custom designed hillside hideouts as it’s almost impossible to locate that exact terrain to place the hideout in the same position.

Instead, I’ve opted to create a small cabin that can sit on practically any terrain. It means that it’s easily portable and can be dropped almost anywhere that’s reasonably flat. This helped because my CAMP disappeared a second time and I had to relocate it. Having this small self-contained shack made it easy to rebuild. I’m sure it will disappear again. When your CAMP disappears, the game doesn’t charge you to place it down again. It’s not considered ‘moving’ the CAMP, so there’s no fee involved.

However, the hassle of having to move CAMP around and the fact that it disappears is a highly ugly experience overall. Bethesda is aware that CAMPs are disappearing, but they’ve done nothing yet to solve the problem. Perhaps they can solve this in a later update.

The benefit is that if you want to move your CAMP and you don’t want to pay, this bug would let you move your CAMP somewhere else for free. You just have to wait for the bug to be triggered and have your CAMP disappear from the map.

Game Worlds

Finally, I should mention a miscalculated design decision that Bethesda engineers made for Fallout 76 that has contributed to the failure of this game. When you log into the Fallout 76 world, you are placed onto a individual server. It seems Bethesda’s engineering team made a fateful decision to limit each “World” to a maximum of 24 player slots. It also seems that a “World” is technically a server located in some datacenter. While I understand the need to help scale a game may involve using many servers, it seems the engineers decided to limit the number of players on each server to improve the gaming experience, but at the same time, this design choice limits multiplayer interactions.

This design decision has only served to make the game seem smaller than it is. There are times when I’ve been in some “Worlds” where there might be 4 or 5 other people online. Basically, the server is empty and thus, the game seems empty.

This is butt ugly because it causes two problems. The first problem is that in a game that should be teaming with multiplayer folks, you might only see and interact with only a handful of other players ever. You also don’t know how many people are on other “World” servers in total or whether a friend is on another server. Secondarily, this server boundary problem serves to make it impossible at times to put teams together. There was a time when one person on my team couldn’t get back onto the “World” server because it was full with 24 people. We all had to interrupt our gameplay, drop off of that world server, team up at the main menu, then reload the game by following one of the team into a new “World” server. A tedious hassle, at best. Any situations like these that serve to interrupt playing the game are not only a fail, but an extremely bad design decision. The game should seamlessly handle these issues without any interactions on the part of the player.

The engineers should have also designed the “World” system to allow cross play between “World” servers so that seeing people on the other servers is a seamless experience. This would drastically improve the game showing a teaming world of multiplayers rather than seeing no more than 24 people online. In a game where it is entirely devoid of NPCs, limiting the “World” servers to 24 people only serves to make the game seem even more barren and lifeless. Vault 76 then becomes less about hope of repopulation and more about the deaths of the Vault 76’s dwellers.

Vault 76 and Reclamation Day

I don’t even get the logic of Reclamation day. Unless the vault was running out of provisions to support its inhabitants (possible, but not explained), opening the door to let everyone out was a bad Overseer decision. It would have been better to send out a small scouting party to determine the situation “outside”, then report back. That’s the only logical thing to do before opening the door for everyone. If the scouting party didn’t report in at all or reported in unfavorably, then why open the door? I’m not sure what the Overseer was thinking by opening Vault 76 at that moment in time. Clearly, it was a bad decision as pointed out via the multitudes of holo tapes and the clear world devastation that the Vault 76 inhabitants were ill prepared to handle. Why would you intentionally sacrifice the safety of the vault’s inhabitants to such a hostile world? The story starts off badly and doesn’t get any better, unfortunately.

🚌 Missed Opportunities

With the introduction of Fallout 76, I was expecting a whole lot more to this game, particularly the multiplayer portions and settlement building. For example, with the idea of settlements and settlers, comes the idea of letting players settle and run businesses in the wasteland. Instead of roaming around the wasteland, they could man businesses and buy and sell merchandise they create or find. If the player wants to explore, a robot could step in and man the store with whatever merchandise is there. When the player wants to man the booth personally, they can step in and do so. This would allow for actual haggling in prices between players.

There’s also the idea of building a community. Letting players group together to create structures for settling and for extended quests. The settlements could even grow into thriving cities. That’s the point of what Vault 76’s opening meant… to rebuild. This means that players can not only build residential and business structures, but also build structures that might contain enemies including containers with loot and various other things. It would also let players create water treatment plants to filter out the radiation, set up farms for cultivating crops, building power systems and rebuilding manufacturing to allow for building of Power Armor, cars, and trucks to bring the modern world back.

Letting the players build extensions to the world to make the world more dynamic should be the plan of any multiplayer world. Of course, when just starting out in a new game, you don’t want low level players taking advantage of the modern conveniences and improvements… yet. So, they should be restricted from seeing and participating in these activities until they have either leveled up sufficiently or completed the main quest.

Yet, here we are. Fallout 76 is just a mere shell of what it could have been.

👎 Overall

As it is now, this game gets a thumbs down from me with a rating of 2 stars out of 10. I classify it as a disaster worse than the nukes that decimated West Virginia in this game. While the daytime wasteland is very pretty to look at, there’s so little to see and do that Fallout 76 really feels mostly incomplete. The lack of NPCs makes the whole game seem barren and lifeless. The quests are average, but it doesn’t really make me think that this game is heading in any direction like Fallout 4. Like Elder Scrolls Online, the whole experience feels hollow and without a point. Instead, it seems like you are asked to chase information about already dead Vault 76 characters via holo tapes and computer logs. You never seem to run into any other actual NPC characters from Vault 76 other than multiplayer characters whom are “just there”, but don’t play a part in the narrative.

Fallout 4 did at least have a cohesive story to tell. Fallout 76 feels like a pale imitation of Fallout 4, but doesn’t have the meat or the core.

What’s left then is the main quest line and so far that’s simply chasing holo tape after holo tape or logging into a computer to read notes on a computer screen… and you don’t even need to read them to get quest credit. These audio logs and computer screen entries are, well, uninteresting. Other than the enemies you have to kill to find or get to these quest items, the rest are mostly boring exercises with nothing to engage the gamer into wanting to progress.

This is all made worse by the fact that the game is chock full of bugs and glitches. The overly unnecessary eating, drinking and getting diseases simply interrupts and detracts from questing. The lack of a well designed PvP system, including the poorly designed unowned workshop system, simply makes everything seem pointless. The game’s entire reason to exist is for poignant multiplayer PvP, but then fails to even deliver on that. The biggest event to tackle is killing a Scorchbeast, but even the fun of that deflates once you’ve done it and all you receive at the end is basically nothing or some Scorchbeast meat, you really begin to sense just how hollow and tedious this game really is.

The primary thing I’ve found to hold my interest is scavenging. Even then, that’s actually limited because you find the same things over and over in each container. So then it becomes about dismantling these into component parts for crafting mods and such. Basically, scavenging becomes repetitive fairly quickly. This situation is then made worse by the extremely limited inventory storage amount that you’re given, into which you can store these component items. Once your storage space fills up, the game is pretty much over. There’s really no point in playing once you’re constantly over-encumbered.

What I recommend is the following. Wait 6 months to purchase this game. After 6 months or more of patching, this game might become more playable and usable. This same problem occurred with Elder Scrolls Online. Only time will tell. As it is now, unless you like playing these simplistic and poorly designed thin multiplayer games, you should steer clear and try playing this one 6 months from now, at the earliest. It’s definitely worth giving Fallout 76’s developers plenty of time to attempt to right this listing ship and improve the play value of this game in the process.

I’ve lowered my score from 3.5 to 2 stars because this game is far too much trouble than it’s worth. The problem is with the bugs and glitches. For example, here’s several bugs and glitches in a row that compounded into losing all of my “junk” inventory on my character… none of it was my fault in playing the game poorly and was entirely responsible by poor game design and bugs.

I’m currently at level 27. During combat, game lagged for about 5-10 seconds. It was logn enough for a low level scorched to kill my character. The controls didn’t respond at all during that 5-10 seconds. I couldn’t move or shoot or do anything. My health line before the glitching was at least 75%. The glitching allowed more than that scorched’s fair share of hits on my character (which, of course, I couldn’t see or respond to). After the game unlagged and showed my character dead, I respawned to the same location and within 15 seconds of respawning, the entire game hung and crashed on the Xbox with the signature sound looping. It was not enough time for me to go collect my dropped loot (which I don’t believe in dropped loot in games anyway). I believe this is a stupid tactic that doesn’t belong in any games.

After the game restarted, my dropped loot was gone as was my last death marker. All of my “junk” was lost and I had a lot of stuff on me important to repairing items. Items I couldn’t stash because my stash box is entirely full. At this point, I’ve had it with Fallout 76 and I killed the game. I won’t be playing Fallout 76 anymore and with that, I dropped this score to 2 stars out of 10. It’s a pointless and worthless piece of drek from Bethesda that you’d do best to avoid.

This game is designed as a multiplayer (MMORPG) game. Because of the continuous multiplayer aspect, there is no way to fully rate what your child might be exposed to or with whom they might come into contact. Basically, use your best judgement if considering this game purchase as a gift for a child. As for the themes in this game, they are mostly adult themes. Children too young may not understand the themes contained in Fallout 76.

Requirements

This game requires an always-on and relatively fast (i.e., broadband) Internet connection to function. If you don’t have always-on Internet, you will not be able to play this game.

Updates to this game usually end up in the range of 30GB to 50GB per update. These updates appear at least every few weeks and may come more frequently as Bethesda attempts to squash bugs during the first few months after release. If your Internet connection is metered and/or you only have a small allotment of data, you might want to steer clear of buying this game. Also, once an update has been released, you cannot play the game until you have fully downloaded and installed the latest update.

Update as of 12/25/2018

One month after the release of this review and nothing has actually improved. In fact, with each new successive release, this game is actually worse. In fact, it’s MUCH, MUCH worse with stupid bugs that shouldn’t even exist. At this point, I’ve dropped this game down to 0 stars out of 10. This is unheard of for me, but there is no other way to deal with such a piss poor game.

Releasing patches is supposed to improve the game. But every patch that they’ve dropped has literally made the game worse. In fact, the devs seem to be imposing restrictions on the use of things and fighting abusers rather than fixing bugs. It seems the devs are chasing the players exploiting bugs.

Instead of chasing abuse problems, the developers should spend their time fixing legitimate show-stopper bugs. Bugs that crash or hang the client. Bugs that prevent playing the game. Bugs that are so severe, it would turn anyone off of actually buying the game. If you’re having problems with abusers, ban them from the game and report them to Xbox Live to have them banned from their Xbox account. Make it known that abuse in the world won’t be tolerated and will be reported to Xbox Live.

The devs need to focus in improving the stability and reliability of the world servers, of the quests and of the game client itself. They don’t seem to be doing this. It seems they are focusing on abusers. Fix the bugs now, worry about the abusers later…

Basically, DON’T BUY THIS GAME. If you’ve bought it for a gift, grab it from under the tree and buy the person something else. This game is so bad, it doesn’t deserve any players. This game needs to fail and go away. Let’s make that happen. Vote with your wallet and skip this one.

💯 Score

Graphics: 7 out of 10
Audio: 8 out of 10
Gameplay: 0 out of 10 (way, way too buggy)
Questing: 2 out of 10
Settling: 3 out of 10 (bugs here)
Workshops: 1 out of 10 (pointless)

Overall: 0 out of 10 (Nothing new to see here, way too many bugs)

↩︎

## Game Review: Red Dead Redemption 2

Posted in botch, video gaming by commorancy on October 27, 2018

I was so wanting to like Red Dead Redemption 2 right out of the gate. For Rockstar, this game’s lengthy intro and dragging pace is a total misfire. Let’s explore.

A Horrible, Horrible Intro

The whole slow snow covered mountain terrain opening is an incredible fail for a game series like Red Dead Redemption. It’s so slow as hell and rail based that I just want to toss the disc in the trash. This insipid opening doesn’t inspire me to want to “wait it out” for the “rest” of this game. All I desperately want to do is skip this opening and get through it as fast as possible. Really, why does it require 3 hours to teach me to ride a horse, shoot a gun and fire a bow? Unfortunately, not only is it unskippable, it’s ….

Slow, Slow, S L O W

When following the rail based opening “stories”, even when you do manage to follow the correct path (a feat in and of itself), it’s entirely far too slow of a pace. I could run to the kitchen and make a sandwich in the time it takes to get from point A to B in this game.

The horses run like they’re drugged. Even worse is the forced stamina meter on horses. This isn’t a simulation, it’s an RPG style “Old West” game. We don’t want to water and feed our horses so they can run fast. Then, have to stop and feed them again when they run out of “energy”. That’s akin to making us fill our GTA5 cars up with gas at in-game gas stations. Thankfully, they didn’t make us endure that stupidity in GTA5. Unfortunately, that stupidity is included in RDR2. We also don’t want our horses to run out of energy while running at full gallop. A stupid concept made stupider by the mere inclusion of it in this game.

The game seems like it’s running in slow motion. I’m not sure what’s going on here or why R thought this opening play style would be okay, but it isn’t. At least with GTA, when you got in a car, it was fast. Here, everything moves at a snail’s pace and the rail based gang quests are sheer torture. I just want this part to be over so I can finally get to the meat of the game.

R, let us skip these insanely boring, long and insipid intros. I don’t want to endure this crap. This opening is a horrible misfire for a game in a franchise like Red Dead Redemption. It’s fine if a tutorial opening takes 15-20 minutes. But, when an opening takes 2 hours or more to get past, it’s entirely WAY TOO LONG. Cut it down… seriously.

Failed Intro Setup

I understand what Rockstar was trying to do with this opening. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. It’s fine to see the gang camaraderie being built, but it doesn’t take 2+ hours and snail’s pacing to do it. This dragged-out opening is a horribly unnecessary.

I realize the opening of any game is typically tutorial city, but let me skip most of it. I don’t want to be told how to open a cabinet or how to sit down. I can figure this out on my own. Just show me the screen icon and let me do the rest. I don’t need little black boxes appearing in the corner telling me how to do the most simplistic things. It’s like Rockstar thinks we’ve never ever played a video game in our entire lives. Shit, it’s RDR 2 for crisake. It’s a sequel. We’ve likely already played RDR. I have.

Condescending treatment to gamers by hand-holding even the most basic of actions is as torturous as this far-too-slow-paced intro. Whoever greenlit this intro should be removed from producing future video games. Just get to the game already, Rockstar!

Camera

Batter Batter Batter… swing and miss. And, what a miss this one is for R! Let me start this section by saying there is no “photo mode” at all in this game. Instead, you have to obtain an “old timey” camera from some hack who’s in a bar. Then, you have to equip it from your satchel. Only after you obtain and equip this camera can you actually take pictures in-game. Uh, no. I realize this is supposed to be some kind of immersion tactic, but having characters take photos for quests with an in-game camera should be entirely separate from having a photo mode built into the game for player use and sharing. A photo mode should be available from the moment the first gameplay begins. It shouldn’t be something that’s “found or earned” later in the game.

Rockstar again swung and missed on this one. Rockstar, next time, just add a photo mode into the game as part of the UI for the player to use from the start. If the player character needs a camera to take pictures for a quest, just make it disposable and disappear after the quest is completed.

The reason for having a photo mode is so you can add features like exposure, filters and get bird’s-eye views of the environment. Limiting the photos to the perspective of the character holding the camera is stupid and wasteful. We want to use an actual photo mode, not a character acquired and limited camera.

Lighting and Graphics

I was actually expecting a whole lot more from the RAGE engine here. While Grand Theft Auto wasn’t perfect in rendering realism and didn’t always offer the most realistic results, the lighting did offer realistic moments, particularly with certain cars and with certain building structures under certain daylight lighting conditions. With Red Dead Redemption 2, I was actually expecting at least some improvement in the RAGE engine for 4K rendering. Nope. It seems that Rockstar simply grabbed the same engine used in GTA and plopped it right into Red Dead Redemption 2.

So far with Red Dead Redemption 2, I’m entirely underwhelmed with the indoor lighting model being used. “Wow” is all I can say, and that’s not “wow” in a good way. I am not only underwhelmed by the realism of the character models themselves, but of how the lighting falls on the character models. When a character opens his/her mouth, the teeth read as a child’s attempt at a drawing. It’s bad. B.A.D! Let’s take a look at RAGE’s poor quality indoor lighting:

The wood looks flat and dull. The clothing looks flat and dull. Metal doesn’t look like metal. Glass doesn’t look like glass. The faces just don’t read as skin. The skin on the characters looks shiny and plastic and, at the same time, flat and dull. The teeth look like a child’s drawing. Part of this is poor quality lighting, but part of it is poor quality models and textures. The three main character models in GTA5 (Michael de Santa, Trevor Philips and Franklin Clinton) looked way better than this, likely using the same RAGE engine. The RAGE engine is not aging well at all. Even the “sunlight rays” here look forced and unrealistic. This game looks like something I would have expected to see in 2004, not 2018. Let’s compare this to Ubisoft’s AnvilNext engine which is night and day different:

Wow! What a difference… (click to read Randocity’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey review)

Screenshots vs Camera

And speaking of teeth… trying to get these Red Dead Redemption 2 screenshots is like pulling teeth. I have to attempt to position the gameplay camera just so. I can’t use the “Old Timey” camera for the above in-game shots as there’s no way to get that “Camera” into the proper position using the player character. Using the actual gameplay camera is always hit or miss. If the camera moves a little bit too far or too close to a figure, it pops over the character and you can’t see them.

The point to adding a photo mode is positioning the camera exactly where you want it, to get the best shot. It also allows you to use depth of field. I can’t do that in Red Dead 2 and I’m limited to playing tricks with the camera placement and hope it turns up with a shot using the PS4’s share button. Not to mention, I have to spend time running to the menu to turn off HUD elements (the reason the map and the money is visible in one of the RDR2 screenshots).

R⭑ , get with the program. It’s time to add a real photo mode to RAGE… a photo mode that offers so much more than the player character holding and using an “old timey” camera. It’s fine if the character needs an in-game camera for quest reasons, but it’s time for a real photo mode… which is how I captured all of these Assassin’s Creed Odyssey screenshots above. I should also point out the reason for having photo mode in a game is for the game player, not for the benefit of the in-game character. Adding a photo mode means you’re thinking of the gamer and how they want to use the game to capture and share their gameplay. By not including a photo mode and having such poor quality graphics, it shows that R‘s interest is more in making money and not in advancing their RAGE technology to provide a next gen quality experience.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a huge step backwards for realism in video games.

Meat of the Game

I’m finally past the torturous intro and I’m sad to say that the game itself is absolutely nothing like Red Dead Redemption. Red Dead Redemption was open prairies, tumbleweed and Arizona-like environments. These environments worked tremendously well for “The Old West”. This game is lush green valleys with trees, forests and streams. It’s not so great to set an “Old West” kind of ambiance. Ignoring the wrong environmental settings in which to place an “Old West” kind of game, the game’s pacing is sheer torture to endure. The pacing in Red Dead Redemption was near perfect.

Here, the leisurely slow pace in how the player character moves and walks and how slow the horse runs is totally wrong for this game and is *yawn* b.o.r.i.n.g. Again, this is nothing like Red Dead Redemption. I’m not looking for Lamborghini speeds, here. But, I am looking for a much quicker pace than the la-la-la leisurely pace of this game. In fact, this game’s pacing is so arduous, it makes you want to pop the game out and go do something else at a faster pace. Again, another total Rockstar misfire.

Town Bounties and Game Interference

Just for the sheer heck of it while trying to relieve the boredom with the game’s slow pacing and lame story activities, I decided to have a shoot out in Valentine, the first town you’re supposed to reach in this game. As you progress in dying and getting a higher and higher bounty, the game stupidly pushes your character farther and farther away from the town with each respawn. Game, if you don’t want the character doing this in a town, then just prevent it. Don’t respawn my player character farther away from the town each time. Respawn the character where he fell and let me choose whether to leave or stay. This intentional interference is not only an asinine game design mechanic, it makes me want to break the game disc in half.

I’m merely trying to make the game at least somewhat more interesting and tolerable than the forced slow pacing… but then the game feels the need to frustrate and interfere with my efforts by sending my character farther and farther away from town. On top of that, once you get a bounty, the NPCs that come after you are practically unkillable. I’ve hit them with perhaps 5-10 shots of a shotgun (many times in the head) and they’re still getting up and shooting at me. There is absolutely no way that’s possible. I realize this is a game, but that’s taking the unrealistic nature of this game way too far. It’s not like they’re wearing Kevlar. If I shoot an NPC twice, they need to die. This includes any character, deputy or otherwise. These are not SWAT characters in Los Santos wearing police armor. It’s asinine how the game works this bounty mechanic by protecting the town residents.

If this game is truly supposed to offer RPG style open world play, then I should be able to go into any town and have a gunfight with the entire town if I so choose… and the characters in the town need to die with a realistic amount of bullets. It might make my character wanted, put a bounty on his head, turn him to the “dark side” or whatever, but I should be able to play this game on my own terms without the game interfering with my choice of play. By interfering with my choice of play, the game is specifically telling me that this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing and that I should be following the story path laid out by the game developers. That’s the very definition of a rail based game. That’s NOT an open world make-my-own-choices game.

Now, I do realize this interference is intended, but this interference takes away an important gamer choice… to play the game in any way the gamer chooses. If you’re going to offer guns and bullets, you need to make them count in the game. Bullets can’t act deadly in some situations and act as mere bee stings to other NPCs. Bullet damage must remain consistent against ALL NPCs under ALL conditions unless you implement a visible character level system.

Because of the boring slow pace, the lame story elements (Really? A tavern brawl is the best you can do?), the absolute crap hand-to-hand combat mechanic, the unkillable-NPC-bounty situation, the lackluster lighting, the game’s meddling interference in my choice of play, the poorly created character models and textures, the lack of photo mode and the broken Social Club site, my 2 out of 10 stars firmly stands for this game.

An Utter Disaster

This game is a disaster for Rockstar. I guess every game studio is entitled to a dud. Most times I can give some creative advice on how to improve a game. I’m at such a loss for improving this game’s disastrous design, I can’t even begin to tell Rockstar how to get this hot mess back on track. I think it needs to go back to the drawing board. Oh well, my high hopes for this game have been utterly dashed. It’d be nice to get my money back. This game is crap. Avoid.

Graphics: 5 out of 10
Sound: 7 out of 10
Voice Acting: 2 out of 10
Brawling: 2 out of 10
Gunfights: 5 out of 10
Pacing and Stories: 1 out of 10
Stability: N/A

Overall Rating: 2 out of 10
Recommendation: Don’t buy. Avoid. If you must try it, rent only.

I’d actually rate it lower, but I’m giving it 2 stars for sheer effort. Let’s just forget all about this game and remember the fun we had with Red Dead Redemption.