Saturday, 16 January 2077

Support The Wertzone on Patreon

STICKIED POST

After much debate (and some requests) I have signed up with crowdfunding service Patreon to better support future blogging efforts. You can find my Patreon page here and more information after the jump.




Friday, 27 November 2020

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Season 2

2370. The Federation's attempts to help the planet Bajor recover from Cardassian occupation are strained when civil war threatens the planet and religious turmoil surrounds the election of a new spiritual leader. Whilst Commander Sisko and his crew attempt to navigate through tricky waters, a new Federation-Cardassian treaty has left colony worlds of each power in earth other's space, resulting in the rise of new tensions and a freedom fighting group, the Maquis. Meanwhile, the exploration of the Gamma Quadrant beyond the wormhole proceeds apace and the Ferengi become the first power to forge trading alliances with worlds there...only to learn of the existence of something called "the Dominion," which is not happy about the influx of new traffic into their space.

The first season of Deep Space Nine was reasonably entertaining, if not the most exciting collection of episodes in the franchise's history. The writers didn't seem entirely sure on the new show's tone and direction to start with and relied a little too heavily on bringing in Next Generation characters and ideas. Towards the end of the season, however, they decided to focus more on their own characters and premise, resulting in several excellent episodes (especially Duet).

Season 2 opens with the same confidence in their own skills on full display. For the first time ever in Star Trek's history, the season launches with a three-part story that delves deep into Bajoran politics and conflicts. It's a great story that uses the show's recurring cast - Dukat, Winn, Bareil - to best effect, but it's also a solid worldbuilding exercise for Bajor and has some great action beats (even if an atmospheric dogfight between Bajoran fighters is a little too ambitious for the effects technology at this point). It also has a very impressive main guest star in Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon), who makes for a formidable antagonist.

The season has more than a few great episodes: Cardassians, The Wire, The Collaborator and Tribunal feature solid stories about the Occupation and its aftermath, providing great acting opportunities for the regular and recurring cast. Particularly, Andrew Robinson's Garak goes to incredible strengths and becomes arguably the best actor on the show, although he's given a run for his money by the likes of Marc Alaimo, Louise Fletcher, Nana Visitor and Rene Auberjonois.

Also outstanding is Sanctuary, where the Bajorans have to grapple with ethics and morality when they are asked to help a race which has suffered as much as they have. Whispers is an excellent character piece, focused entirely on O'Brien as the world around him goes strange and he has no idea what's going on. Armageddon Game is a great show about politics and perception, furthering the Bashir/O'Brien bromance in the process. Profit and Loss is a great Quark show, depicting more sides to the character than previously seen (as well as Garak). Blood Oath is an exceptional episode bringing back three key Klingon characters and actors from the original series in an action piece that also demonstrates Dax's involvement with the Klingon Empire (foreshadowing the later arrival of Worf). The Maquis is a great two-parter about how signing a peace of paper doesn't magically solve problems on the ground. Crossover begins the show's long-running flirtation with the Mirror Universe, featuring some great alternate roles for the actors to inhabit (Nana Visitor in particular).

The outstanding, best episode of the season is Necessary Evil, a lengthy flashback episode to the station's days under Cardassian occupation, where rejected scientific curiosity Odo is forced against his will by Gul Dukat to conduct a murder investigation. It's a moody, terrifically-written piece which sees the station's sets adjusted in a manner that makes them hellish and sees amazing performances by everyone involved. It also explains why Odo was allowed to retain his job on the station and why more than a few Bajorans (particularly Kira) are prepared to stand up for him despite him being, on the surface, a collaborator or at least an enabler of the Cardassian regime.

Rules of Acquisition is a solid Ferengi episode and marks the beginning of Deep Space Nine's long-running project to redeem the species. The "lol, misogyny" aspect of their Next Generation appearances starts its long road to being discarded here, and it's amusing to note in retrospect that it's one of Star Trek's most underrated races which first becomes aware of the Dominion, who will come to dominate almost the rest of the show's run. 

Other episodes have strong central ideas but don't really take off: Invasive Procedures wants to be a deep-rooted Trill drama about stealing Dax's symbiont, but can't really do the idea justice. Melora wants to say something about disability, but because the main character's disability is self-chosen and temporary, it doesn't really track. Second Sight wants to be a love story for Sisko, but goes off in a very weird "Star Trek hallucination...or is it?" direction that becomes a bit tedious. The Alternate starts off as a welcome piece of backstory exploration for Odo, as we meet the Bajoran scientist who raised him, but the episode refuses to make him really culpable for the pain he inflicted on Odo in his experiments and then goes off on a completely wild monster hunt tangent that feels incongruous at best. Paradise is a very interesting "back to basics" story about a Federation colony that has reverted to a hunter-gatherer level, but what seems to be an idyllic existence is rapidly exposed as a tyranny. This feels like DS9's first brush with dealing with oppression and bigotry (especially the scene of forcing Sisko into a punishment box), but it never really gets to grips with what it wants to say, especially compared to later episodes like Far Beyond the Stars.

There are a few more episodes that fit into the "okay" category: Rivals has promising ideas about a rival to Quark from the same species as TNG's Guinan who uses his powers for personal gain, but gets mixed up with alien devices that alter the laws of probability (possibly inspired by The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy). The episode is entertaining, but doesn't make the most of either possibility. Shadowplay is a nice mystery story about a village whose people are disappearing one-by-one. The resolution is quite good and there a nice subplot about Odo bonding with a young child, but it's not the most dynamic of episodes. Playing God has the DS9 crew confront one of the most serious threats in the entire history of Star Trek and resolving it in one of the most bafflingly off-hand ways possible.

The season ends on a very strong note. The Jem'Hadar properly introduces the Dominion and two of its three main powers, the Vorta and Jem'Hadar. It also has an outstanding space battle as DS9's runabouts and the Galaxy-class USS Odyssey join forces to take on a Jem'Hadar attack fleet, with decidedly mixed results. Amongst the explosions, the episode is also terrific for Quark taking Sisko and his stereotypical view of the Ferengi to task (the moment that Sisko realises is right and he has developed almost racist views of the Ferengi is quite impressive, well-handled by Avery Brooks and Armin Shimerman). The only downside to the episode is that the Dominion's position - they don't want people pouring into their space and colonising planets without their permission - seems quite reasonable and the Federation's response, that they're going to keep exploring the Gamma Quadrant regardless, feels off.

The second season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (****) shows significant improvement over the first season. The show is still not operating at the height of its potential but it's making solid progress to getting there. The series is available on DVD in the USA and UK, as well as on CBS All Access in the States and Netflix in the UK.

Note: I previously reviewed DS9's second season as part of a wider review of the first two seasons twelve years ago. That review can be read here.

Thursday, 26 November 2020

Gale Force Nine Games sues Wizards of the Coast

Gale Force Nine Games has sued Wizards of the Coast for breach of contract, following Wizards' attempt to terminate a previously-agreed contract a year early.

Gale Force Nine and Wizards of the Coast entered into four-year agreement in 2017 for GFN to provide overseas and foreign translations for WotC's Dungeons and Dragons RPG products in several overseas markets. GFN worked with localisation staff in each territory to produce a translated version of each product, which WotC then approved and was then published.

This contract was originally due to expire in February 2021 but was extended to the end of December 2021.

In May 2020, WotC contacted GFN to ask to terminate the contract one year earlier than planned. However, GFN had already begun work on projects due to be published after that period but which had been previously agreed upon, at considerable expense. Some discussions were held on a way of reconciling the issue, but when WotC proved inflexible GFN simply informed them they would abide by the original terms of the contract. However, since then WotC have refused to issue approval for completed products in line with the 2017 contract.

Once GFN made clear its intention to enforce the contract, WotC informed GFN they were in breach of contract by publishing two sub-par works in overseas markets, one in South Korea and one in France. However, GFN notes that both products had been authorised and passed the approval process. WotC also believed that the French translated work had been used in a copyright-infringing manner, but had declined to pursue legal action against the company involved. 

Gale Force Nine are seeking damages of $950,000 from WotC for their failure to fulfil their contractual obligations.

This is the second major lawsuit that Wizards have found themselves receiving in as many months. Last month, Dragonlance authors Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman sued Wizards for $10 million for breach of contract after summarily suspending work on a new Dragonlance novel trilogy.

Joss Whedon steps down as showrunner of HBO's THE NEVERS

Joss Whedon has stepped down as showrunner of HBO's upcoming historical fantasy series The Nevers. Whedon cites the workload and schedule conflicts brought about by delays to filming caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.


Whedon made his name in the 1990s as a writer on Roseanne and working on Hollywood movies including Toy Story, Twister and Alien: Resurrection, as well as his own original property Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Frustrated with how his scripts were constantly being changed by other people, he jumped at the chance to revamp Buffy as a TV series. The series aired between 1997 and 2003 and spawned a nearly-as-successful spin-off, Angel, which aired from 1999 to 2003. Whedon also produced the TV shows Firefly (2002) and Dollhouse (2009-10), along with a Firefly feature film spin-off, Serenity (2005), which marked his feature film writing/directing debut. Whedon also wrote and directed The Avengers (2012) and The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) for Marvel and Disney, as well as helping develop and launch the TV series Agents of SHIELD (2013-20). He also took over production of the film Justice League (2017) when director Zack Snyder had to step down following a family tragedy. The Nevers would have marked the first TV show he had completely helmed from start to finish in more than a decade.

Although Whedon cites other reasons for leaving, many commentators will be sceptical of his claims. In 2017, Whedon's ex-wife accused him of cheating on her with at least one and possibly more actresses in some of the shows he worked on, although specific accusations were not made. The news rocked Whedon's fanbase, which had previously praised him for his depiction of female empowerment in his work (although other critics had long held some of Whedon's writing to be problematic, particularly in Dollhouse and his alleged sidelining and then firing of actress Charisma Carpenter from Angel for becoming pregnant). The largest Whedon fansite shut down and his fans have been divided ever since.

In 2020 Whedon was accused of bullying and unacceptable behaviour on the set of Justice League by actor Ray Fisher. Initially Fisher's comments were not substantiated by other actors, but then Jason Momoa stepped forwards to back Fisher. Warner Brothers launched an investigation of Whedon's behaviour during production. Warner Brothers own HBO, meaning that this investigation would certainly have a bearing on Whedon's involvement on The Nevers.

The Nevers began shooting in July 2019 and completed production of five episodes prior to being shut down by the pandemic in March 2020. Filming resumed in September and was completed at the end of October. However, post-production and editing has only been partially completed.

Whedon's long-term writing and producing partners Jane Espenson and Douglas Petrie are also working on the show, along with Game of Thrones producer Bernadette Caulfield. It is assumed they will take over showrunner duties during the post-production phase and new plans will be made if HBO decides to renew the show for a second season.

Currently The Nevers is tentatively planned to air in the summer of 2021.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

AD 2552. The Pillar of Autumn, a United Nations Space Command capital ship, is fleeing the fall of the human colony world of Reach to the Covenant, a hostile alliance of alien races. The Pillar has tracked Covenant intelligence leading to a remote star system. Upon arrival they find a massive ring, ten thousand kilometres across, with a habitable biosphere. Crippled in combat, the Pillar sets down on the object and it's up to the only specially-trained Spartan soldier on board, the Master Chief, to discern the origins of Halo and why the Covenant hold it in such reverence.

Halo: Combat Evolved was originally released in 2001 as the signature game of the original Microsoft X-Box game console, as well as the first game in the expansive Halo franchise, which has expanded to seven main-series games, three major spin-offs and numerous novels and comic books, as well as an upcoming TV series. It's always been an interesting anomaly that such an enormously popular franchise has expanded from such mixed beginnings.

This Anniversary Edition of Halo was released in 2011 to celebrate the franchise's tenth anniversary and was re-released in 2020 as part of the Halo Master Chief Collection on PC. Remasters of this kind are always controversial, since they sometimes alter and adjust the original game's level design and aesthetic. To be frank, in the case of Halo, I was looking forwards to some changes to the game's design, which have not only aged well, but were pretty poor going even in 2001. Alas, the remaster has stuck extremely close to the original game design, replicating its flaws as well as its strengths.

On the plus side of things, Halo has some very nice environments. The first third or so of the ten-hour game features entertaining outdoors combat on islands, in valleys and on grasslands, sometimes featuring vehicles with multiple crewing points and some pretty solid friendly AI. This is easily the best part of the game and, combined with the game's robustly entertaining multiplayer mode and some very strong multiplayer maps, is where the game's reputation mostly comes from. The graphics for this part of the game have been updated nicely, particularly the vast vistas showing Halo's interior structure rising up in the distance and then up overhead. Combat is reasonably solid and the Covenant enemies are reasonably intelligent and challenging (even if the monkey-like, comedic Grunts are far more irritating than genuinely threatening, but the Elites and Jackals make up for them).

In terms of the campaign mode, this enjoyable part of the game is sadly brief. After the opening levels you have to descend into the bowels of Halo and the game never really recovers after this point. The subterranean levels are mind-bogglingly repetitive on a scale that, over the years, I'd come to believe I had exaggerated in my mind. Replaying the game I discovered that no only had I not exaggerated them, I'd undersold them. You spend hour after hour making your way through identical rooms to flip a switch, then backtrack through these identical open rooms to the area you just unlocked, which consists of another series of rooms identical to the ones you just passed through. When this Groundhog Day section ends you find yourself in a large, temple-like structure having to do the same thing again, this time through much bigger rooms and with approximately four trillion, considerably less intelligent and interesting enemies chasing you: the Flood. The Flood are a not-very-well-disguised (and very much less entertaining) version of the Xen aliens from Half-Life, using small creatures to "zombify" enemies and turn them against one another, and are simply tedious to fight, since they just run at you and never use the more advanced tactics and AI of the Covenant enemies.

It's always been a mystery as to why Bungie made almost two-thirds of the game so repetitive and tedious as to at times feel almost miserable. The original X-Box had severe memory limitations, but that didn't stop them making the opening third or so of the game much more varied and entertaining. I suspect time was to blame and faced with critical deadlines, they just designed two areas and copy-pasted them to make larger areas. This is not unusual in gaming, but it's interesting that Dragon Age II - a later game that had the same problem but made up for it with a reasonable well-executed main storyline with a larger cast of more interesting characters - was criticised for it when Halo seems to have been given a pass for it.

A counter-argument is, of course, that Halo's campaign is really there as practice and warm-up for the multiplayer mode, which remains robustly entertaining (although perhaps a bit pointless; Halo 3, 4 and Reach have stronger multiplayer combat). Halo's story is pretty barebones in this first game and it was really only with Halo 2 that the storyline and characters started being fleshed out in much greater detail, giving rise to the popularity of the franchise.

As it stands, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary (**½) is best experienced as a historical curiosity. It's not completely unplayable and the remaster adds a nice sheen to the graphics and some cool new backdrops, but doesn't solve the original game's severe problems with level design. It's certainly not aged half as well as Half-Life, the recent Black Mesa remaster of which is much stronger.

The game is available now on X-Box One and PC as part of The Master Chief Collection, which also includes a remastered version of Halo 2 and graphically-updated versions of Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, Halo: Reach and Halo 4.

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

THE EXPANSE renewed for sixth and final season

Amazon Studios has renewed The Expanse for a sixth and final season, in a highly surprising move.

The Expanse aired for three seasons on SyFy before being cancelled by the network. The show's production company, Alcon, struck a deal with Amazon to pick up the show. The fourth season, which aired in December 2019, was the seventh-most-popular streaming show of 2019 according to some reports, behind Stranger Things, The Boys, The Crown and The Mandalorian, among others.

The fifth and now-penultimate season will start airing on 16 December this year. Season 6 will start shooting in January for a late 2021 or early 2022 debut.

The news will come as a shock to fans of the series. The novel series the TV show is based on consists of nine volumes, with Book 5 adapting the fifth volume, Nemesis Games, and the sixth likely to adapt Babylon's Ashes. The final three books - Persepolis Rising, Tiamat's Wrath and Leviathan Falls - will presumably not be adapted at all.

Alcon and Amazon's statements make it sound like the cancellation is pretty final, with no chance of moving to another network or streamer (to be fair, it's unclear if anyone else would be interested).

What will happen with the un-adapted books is unclear. There is a significant time jump between Babylon's Ashes and Persepolis Rising, leading to the possibility of the story being rounded off in TV movies or maybe a sequel mini-series at a later date, perhaps giving some time for the actors to age up a bit. Another possibility - compressing events of Books 6-9 into the final season - seems extremely unlikely given how much story and how many characters they'd have to go through.

Some previews for Season 5 suggest that the protomolecule/gate-builders storyline, which is pretty much benched in the fifth and sixth books, will continue to be a major subplot in the TV show, suggesting that perhaps that storyline will be brought up and moved to a conclusion in Season 6, so as not to leave any loose ends dangling.

Amazon and Alcon have also confirmed that castmember Cas Anvar, who plays Alex Kamal, will not return for the final season. Over the summer, sexual misconduct allegations surfaced against Anvar for his behaviour at a series of conventions several years before The Expanse began. The remaining cast and crew will return. It is not yet clear if the role of Alex will be recast or the character dropped between seasons.

Monday, 23 November 2020

Hugo Awards add a video game category for 2021

For the first time, a Hugo Award for Best Video Game will be awarded at WorldCon 2021 (DisCon III), to be held in Washington D.C.


Organising committees have the ability to authorise a discretionary category at the Hugo Awards without going through the normal, multi-year process for adding a new permanent category to the awards. A video game category has been debated several times before but has never gained enough groundswell of support to be added full-time. It looks like DisCon will be using this opportunity to trial the idea to see how many people vote for it and support the notion going forwards.

Many, if not most, video games fall into the science fiction or fantasy. Seven years ago, I made a post about video games that engage with their SFF themes in a bit more detail (it's probably about time I did a follow-up). With video games having been commercially available for forty-five years, and having been more popular than either the film or music mediums for more than twenty years, it is probably past time this move was made. I suspect far more people voting in the Hugos have played an eligible video game in any given year than have read a semiprozine or read a novelette, for example.

Assuming normal rules of eligibility, the following video games would be among those eligible for the award in 2021:
  • Cyberpunk 2077 (assuming it hits its 10 December release date)
  • The Last of Us, Part II
  • Hades
  • Final Fantasy VII Remake
  • Ori and the Will of the Wisps
  • Half-Life: Alyx
  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  • Kentucky Route Zero (both the final part of the game and the game as a whole)
  • Doom Eternal
  • Cloudpunk
  • XCOM: Chimera Squad
  • Gears Tactics
  • A Total War Saga: Troy
  • Wasteland 3
  • Iron Harvest
  • Marvel's Avengers
  • Genshin Impact
  • Star Wars: Squadrons
  • Watch_Dogs: Legion
  • Assassin's Creed: Valhalla
  • Destiny 2: Beyond Light
  • World of WarCraft: Shadowlands
  • Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
  • Immortals Fenyx Rising
  • Spider-Man: Miles Morales
It is unclear if a game would count if it was re-released or remastered. For example, Final Fantasy VII Remake would count under the award's own rule of being a "significant modification" of the original game, not to mention the fact that it is also an alternate-universe retelling of the original game (i.e. the events of the original game and the remake actually coexist within the storytelling universe as different entities). However, it is unclear if FFVII Remake would be eligible for just 2021 or 2022 as well, since the PC version and possibly X-Box and PlayStation 5 versions of the game will not be released until next year. In addition, it is unclear if, say, Horizon Zero Dawn would be eligible: the game was originally released on PlayStation 4 in 2017, but on PC in 2020 and a potential PlayStation 5-specific version in 2021. It's also unclear if this year's relatively mild graphical remaster of Spider-Man (originally released in 2018) would make it eligible again.

These rules I suspect will be clarified relatively shortly.

Sunday, 22 November 2020

HBO greenlights LAST OF US TV series

HBO has greenlit a live-action TV series based on the Last of Us video game series.


HBO announced they had put the project into development back in March, with Chernobyl writer-showrunner Craig Mazin developing the series alongside Neil Druckmann, the senior writer on the game series. Mazin will run the new show whilst Druckmann will advise, produce and write, his duties at Naughty Dog Studios permitting.

The game and TV series are both set in a post-apocalyptic world where a toxic fungus has infected millions of people and turned them into violent monsters. The storyline follows Joel, a middle-aged survivor, who finds himself protecting a young girl named Ellie.

The original Last of Us (2013) was a huge hit. Developed by Naughty Dog Studios, who also developed the Uncharted series (a film version of which is currently shooting), the game sold over 13 million copies. The Last of Us, Part II was released in June this year and has already sold over 4 million copies to date. The sequel seemed to end the storyline fairly definitively, but Naughty Dog are reportedly considering a third game (which maybe a prequel or spin-off rather than a straight sequel) due to the success of the first two games.

Video game adaptations were once seen as a fool's errand in both television and film circles, but a growing number of successful transitions have made HBO - never shy to take on a challenge - keener to try out the idea. Showtime are also deep in production on a TV series based on the Halo series of video games.

The Last of Us will likely enter production in 2021 for a 2022 premiere.

Cloudpunk

Rania has moved from the countryside to the sprawling city of Nivalis and has taken a job working for Cloudpunk, a not-quite-legal delivery company. As her first night begins, she is directed to deliver packages and goods. She meets some unusual people and gradually discovers the secret of the ancient city's failing computer systems, and is put in the uncomfortable position of having to make choices that will impact on people all over the city. It's going to be a long night.


Cloudpunk is an indie game created by the Berlin-based studio Ion Lands. It's a highly impressive piece of work with a distinct visual style that is constantly engaging and attractive, although the depth of the gameplay is perhaps not quite as compelling.

The game is set in an open world city, which is the true star of the game. Nivalis sprawls for many kilometres, divided into discrete zones, and flying your hovercar around the city never gets old. You can loop through immense streams of traffic like Coruscant in the Star Wars movies, or abandon the sky roads and make your own way along, over and under the city. The city is divided into roads and neighbourhoods which you can visit and explore on foot. Setting down at a car park (you can't just land anywhere), you disembark and can explore in either a first-person or third-person perspective.

The game's aesthetic is somewhat blocky - the game is built using voxels rather than standard polygons - and up-close in the foot sections it looks a bit like someone's fused Blade Runner with Minecraft. This highly stylised aesthetic is not something I'm usually a fan of, but Cloudpunk makes it work well and I came to enjoy exploring the low-fi back alleys of the city. The streets are packed with people, although there's only a few you can interact with (represented by faces on your map). These random people met by chance can open up new storylines or even missions, so it's worthwhile talking to everyone you can. There's also loot and collectibles lying around, such as used batteries, punchcards and old magazines. These can be sold for cash, used to repair broken equipment (such as elevators, opening up new areas) or can be given to specific collectors in return for story advancement or achievements.

There are a few things to spend money on, such as repairs (you'll spend your first few minutes likely flying into walls, a lot, before you get a handle on the game's somewhat stiff flight controls) and fuel, as well as a small number of upgrades for your hovercar and your apartment.

These side-activities are fine, but for the most part ignorable. The game's main storyline is its key appeal and this is quite compelling. Over the course of one arduous night - played out in approximate realtime, since even a completionist run of the game will only take you around ten hours - Rania learns something of the history of the city, gets embroiled in a film noir story involving a hardbitten private detective searching for a missing girl, inadvertently attracts the attention of the cops, indulges in some light corporate espionage and fraud and helps an android recover her missing memory files, which have been scattered all over town. Along the way, Rania makes some friends: a snobbish married android couple, a robot detective who only speaks in third-person gumshoe narration and a deranged butler are only a few of the characters she picks up in her cab. Her main points of contact are her call handler at work, who directs her from behind the scenes, and her sentient AI companion, Camus, who used to be in a synthetic dog body but is now plugged into her car, resulting in an existential crisis.

This is all good fun, though perhaps a little grating (Camus's schtick - a car-dog! - is fun for about an hour and then starts getting repetitive) in the long run. The writing is fine, but the voice acting is highly variable. Rania and Control, who fortunately have the bulk of the dialogue, are decent, as is the detective, but a lot of the rest are forgettable to amateurish.

The core gameplay loop is reasonably enjoyable. Control contacts you with a mission, which usually involves picking something up and taking it somewhere else. This involves exploring a new area on foot and the game's natural pace of advancement means you can do several things simultaneously, such as tracking down loot and collectables in the same neighbourhood where a mission is unfolding. This approach avoids repetition by both giving you better upgrades, so driving between locations becomes easier and faster as the game unfolds, and also varying events in the story, such as some later missions being timed, or taking you off the grid to old or sealed-off parts of the city. Some missions also have multiple outcomes, with Rania being able to make a choice that will determine what happens later on. For example, I befriended an ageing speed racer who wanted to keep racing, despite it becoming dangerous. Rania has the ability to sabotage his next race and encourage him to retire, or help him keep driving. The former saves his life but makes him angry and resentful; the latter sees him die, but doing something he loved and this encourages his friends to later help Rania out of a tight jam. There's probably not enough of these choices to make a full replay of the game worthwhile to see the other outcomes, but maybe enough to make you check out a YouTube playthrough.

After about nine hours the game does start to wear a little thin, but it's around that time the main story starts wrapping up. After a reasonably good ending, you're still able to explore the open world and pick up any remaining loot and track down a last few people with interesting things to say, but the game wraps up well. I do think any sequel will require more gameplay ideas to keep things fresh, though. In the meantime the developers are promising adding new stories, missions, characters and features (such as street racing) which should make revisiting the game a few months down the line interesting.

As it stands, Cloudpunk (****) is a fun, tight and focused adventure game in a beautifully-realised cyberpunk city with some fun characters. The gameplay perhaps doesn't vary too much, but it doesn't outstay it's welcome and it's refreshing to play a game which doesn't rely on violence or action set pieces to get the player's attention. The game is available now on PC, X-Box One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.

Saturday, 21 November 2020

Character Chronicle: Ahsoka Tano

Ahsoka Tano is – arguably – the most popular Star Wars character to have never appeared in a live action iteration of the franchise, with only a few possible rivals (chiefly Grand Admiral Thrawn). With rumours of her impending arrival in The Mandalorian, though, I thought it might be instructive to revisit the history of the character for those unfamiliar with the various animated series.

Self-evidently, spoilers for Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels follow.


Ahsoka Tano is a member of the Togruta species, a humanoid race hailing from the planet Shili. They are mostly humanoid with varying skin shades, and a highly distinguishable head crest known as a lekku, similar to those of Twi’leks. The lekku aids in communication. Ahsoka is the second Togruta to appear in the franchise, after Jedi Master Shaak Ti appeared briefly in Attack of the Clones and was killed in Revenge of the Sith

Born in 36 BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin), Ahsoka displayed Force proficiency almost from birth and was identified at the age of three by Jedi Master Plo Koon, who took her to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, where she underwent vigorous training. In 22 BBY, at the age of 14, she was assigned as padawan to Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker, shortly after the Battle of Geonosis marked the beginning of the Clone Wars between the Galactic Republic and the Confederacy of Independent Systems (the Separatists). Grand Master Yoda assigned Ahsoka to Anakin in the belief that it would temper his recklessness and encourage maturity, whilst Ahsoka would do well to learn from one of the most skilled Jedi warriors in the order.

Ahsoka would serve alongside Anakin and, often, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi throughout the three years of the Clone Wars. Anakin was initially resentful of her presence, having expressed to Yoda a desire not to have a padawan, believing they would distract him and hold him back. However, Ahsoka soon proved her worth during the Battle of Christophsis, saving Anakin’s life and helping ensure victory over the Separatist forces.

As well as fighting alongside fellow Jedi, Ahsoka served alongside and sometimes commanded the 501st Legion of the Grand Army of the Republic, a unit of Clone Troopers under the command of CT-7567, colloquially known as “Rex.” Rex and Ahsoka struck up an easy friendship and alliance, respecting one another’s skills in battle and saving one another’s lives many times.

Ahsoka served in many battles and on many fronts during the war, but developed a rapport with the planet Mandalore. She first visited the planet to support Duchess Satine’s rule from an internal coup led by another member of the government. She also acted as a mentor and inspiration to the Duchess’s heir, her nephew Korkie Kryze. Ahsoka had several more engagements with the Mandalorians, first fighting the militant group known as Death Watch which wished to return Mandalore to a culture of violence but later alongside them when they became the only hope of defeating the Separatist hold on the planet. During these battles Ahsoka became an ally of Bo-Katan Kryze, Duchess Satine’s sister, after an initially hostile relationship. With Ahsoka’s help, Bo-Katan rallied the Mandalorians and defeated both Separatist plots and an attempt by former Sith Darth Maul to conquer the planet, although Satine was killed in the process. Maul was defeated and Bo-Katan became Regent of Mandalore for her nephew, Korkie. Bo-Katan also became the wielder of the famed Darksaber, a weapon of impressive power.

After her first mission to Mandalore, Ahsoka visited the planet Mortis alongside Obi-Wan and Anakin, a world which would have a profound affect on her destiny. On this planet, which was strongly touched by the Force, Ahsoka had a vision of her future self, who warned her that Anakin was touched by the Dark Side and his corruption would destroy her if she remained at his side. Ahsoka was dubious of this warning, believing it might be a hallucination or itself a manifestation of the Dark Side, and resolved to remain Anakin’s true and loyal friend. During these events Ahsoka was infected with the Dark Side and apparently killed, but she was saved by Anakin at great cost.

The war continued to rage and Ahsoka continued to serve on the front lines. In the battle for Onderon, she worked alongside Steela and Saw Gerrera in establishing a viable resistance force and helping guide it to victory. However, Ahsoka was unable to save Steela’s life during a battle and she was killed. Saw blamed Ahsoka for his sister’s death and this was one of several incidents that made Saw bitter and increasingly ruthless in his war against the Separatists and, later, the Empire.

In 20 BBY, as the end of the war approached, Ahsoka’s position in the Jedi Order was endangered when she was framed for a bombing in the Jedi Temple that killed six Jedi. The attack had been orchestrated by Ahsoka’s erstwhile friend, Barriss Offee, who believed the Jedi had become militant and authoritarian during the conflict. Offee then planted evidence framing Ahsoka. Ahsoka was imprisoned by the Jedi Order, despite her longstanding record of service. Shocked at her treatment, Ahsoka freed herself and attempted to clear her name, working alongside her former nemesis Asajj Ventress to this end. Ahsoka was captured again and put on trial, but Anakin was successful in identifying and exposing Offee as the real culprit.

Despite her exoneration, Ahsoka was badly shaken by how easily everyone had believed that she could be a traitor. The Council suggested that this had been a final trial to prove her worthiness to become a Jedi and offered her the title of Jedi Knight and a formal place in the order. To their shock, Ahsoka rejected the offer. Their lack of faith in her had led to her faith in the Jedi Order being similarly eroded. She quit the Order and departed Coruscant. Yoda may have intervened to ask her to stay, but during one confused vision of a possible future he had seen Ahsoka dying in the halls of the Jedi Temple, possibly a reason why he let her go so easily. Ahsoka’s absence increased Anakin’s feelings of isolation and resentment during the closing months of the war.

Ahsoka became embroiled in various escapades during the closing part of the war before being recruited by Bo-Katan to help free Mandalore from Darth Maul. This operation was completed successfully and Maul taken into custody. Ahsoka escorted Maul back to Coruscant on a Star Destroyer with a detachment of Clone Troopers commanded by her old friend Rex. However, she was struck by a powerful vision of Chancellor Palpatine battling Jedi Master Mace Windu, and witnessing Windu’s death at Anakin’s hands moments later. Ahsoka tried to confide in Rex about her vision, but at that moment Palpatine activated his famed “Order 66,” a command driven by a biological inhibitor chip in the brain of every clone. This forced the Clone Troopers to turn on and kill the Jedi. Ahsoka, forewarned by Rex as he managed to briefly fight the command, was able to evade the initial attack. She freed Darth Maul as a diversion and was able to take Rex prisoner in combat. Through a combination of the Force and surgery, she identified and removed Rex’s inhibitor chip. Unfortunately, Rex was able to confirm that almost every single Clone in the entire Republic had such a chip and had turned against the Jedi in their millions.

Working together, Rex and Ahsoka crashed the Star Destroyer into a remote moon. They survived by escaping in a Y-wing, but most of the crew were killed. Horrified at the death and destruction that had been unleashed, Ahsoka abandoned her lightsabres at the crash site. Some months later, they were discovered by Darth Vader, as Anakin Skywalker was now known, and he assumed she had perished as a result.

Ahsoka spent the next eight years in hiding on the Outer Rim, moving from world to world. However, witnessing the brutality of the newly-proclaimed Galactic Empire led her into contact with various resistance cells and eventually Senator Bail Organa of Alderaan, who was planning (alongside Senator Mon Mothma of Chandrila) to fight against the Empire. Ahsoka was reluctant to return to front-line combat, so Senator Organa decided to employ her as his chief intelligence agent. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of groups had sprung up across the galaxy in opposition to the Empire, fighting isolated, secluded campaigns on backwater planets with little hope of victory. Ahsoka decided to contact these groups and start spreading resources between them, using the code-name “Fulcrum.” Although it was Organa and Mothma’s diplomacy that sowed the seeds of the Alliance to Restore the Republic, it was Ahsoka Tano’s hard work that made it a reality.

Another seven years passed and Ahsoka became particularly intrigued by the hard work of the crew of the starship Ghost, who were fighting the Imperial occupation on the planet Lothal. Ahsoka provided intelligence and support to the Ghost crew for more than a year before meeting them in person. Ahsoka believed that Hera Syndulla, the group’s leader, had the potential to be a much greater leader and her recommendations saw Hera rise high in the Rebel Alliance’s ranks, eventually (much later) gaining the rank of General. Ahsoka also helped former padawan Kanan Jarrus and his own protégé Ezra Bridger learn more in the ways of the Force.


Ahsoka’s work with Kanan and Ezra led them to an ancient temple the planet Malachor, but also attracted the attention of Darth Vader. Vader and Ahsoka engaged in combat. Ahsoka had come to believe that Vader might really be Anakin, but Vader claimed that he had killed Anakin. During a ferocious duel, Ahsoka destroyed part of Vader’s helmet, exposing enough of his face to make her realise he really was Anakin. The two continued to fight as the temple collapsed. Later, only Vader emerged alive, leading the Rebels to believe that Ahsoka had perished. However, Vader himself was not sure what had happened. Ahsoka had badly damaged the floor of the temple and when he struck a killing blow, the floor collapsed. He could find absolutely no trace of Ahsoka afterwards, and had no choice but to believe she had perished, but could not be sure.

In reality, Ahsoka had been rescued through a most bizarre manner. Two years further down the line, Ezra had located a mysterious dimension accessible through the Force, the World Between Worlds, which stood outside of time and space. At great risk, Ezra had opened a portal to the moment of Ahsoka and Vader’s duel and rescued her, pulling her into this place between dimensions. Ahsoka realised the tremendous danger this realm represented, with the ability to undo events and upset the flow of time and destiny. Ahsoka helped Ezra return to his own time and convinced him not to try to undo the death of his mentor Kanan.

Ahsoka’s activities after this time are unclear; she may have remained within the World Between Worlds for a time or returned to her own time and laid low to avoid attracting the attention of Vader. It appears that Ahsoka initially believed she had cheated fate and death and was unwilling to do anything to change events. As a result, she did not take part in the Galactic Civil War and kept her head down during the events of that conflict. However, five years after the Battle of Yavin, two after the Battle of Endor, she returned to Lothal and made contact with Sabine Wren, one of the other Ghost crewmembers. Ezra Bridger had disappeared in battle with Grand Admiral Thrawn, his command Star Destroyer vanishing into the Unknown Regions of the Galaxy. She and Sabine agreed to join forces to travel into the Unknown Regions in search of them. 

  • 36 BBY: Born on Shili.
  • 33 BBY: Found by Jedi Master Plo Kloon and taken to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. Begins training.
  • 22 BBY: Assigned as padawan to Anakin Skywalker at the outbreak of the Clone Wars. Also serves as a commanding officer over the 501st Legion of the Grand Army of the Republic, meeting CT-7567 “Rex” and becoming his close friend and ally (The Clone Wars).
  • 20 BBY: Framed for murder and treason, banished from the Jedi Order and forced to go on the run. She clears her name and is exonerated, but feels betrayed by the Jedi Order and refuses to return. As a private citizen, she fights alongside Bo-Katan Kryze in the liberation of Mandalore. Shortly after the battle, she is betrayed by Rex during the execution of Order 66. She saves Rex from his inhibitor trip and they escape. Anakin, now Darth Vader, believes her dead in a Star Destroyer crash (The Clone Wars).
  • 12 BBY: After eight years in hiding on the Outer Rim, Ahsoka joins Senator Bail Organa’s nascent Alliance to Restore the Republic. She becomes an intelligence specialist coordinating the activities of dozens of autonomous cells, codenamed “Fulcrum.”
  • 5 BBY: Ahsoka begins working with the Lothal rebels, principally the crew of the Ghost (Rebels).
  • 3 BBY: Ahsoka battles Darth Vader on Malachor, confirming he is her former master, Anakin Skywalker. Ahsoka vanishes during the battle, Vader believing her dead. In reality, she is rescued by Ezra Bridger from two years in the future, using the time-warping power of the “World Between Worlds.” Fearing her survival has changed history, Ahsoka lies low for a long time (Rebels).
  • 3 ABY: Destruction of the Second Death Star at the Battle of Endor and death of Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader (Return of the Jedi).
  • 5 ABY: Ahsoka and Sabine Wren join forces to search for the missing Ezra Bridger in the Unknown Regions of the Galaxy (Rebels).
  • 9 ABY: Adopted Mandalorian Child of the Watch Din Djarin encounters Bo-Katan Kryze during his search for the Jedi. Bo-Katan directs him to find Ahsoka Tano, whom she believes is currently located on the planet Corvus (The Mandalorian).


Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs.