Sunday, 17 January 2021

Sam Esmail adds to BATTLESTAR GALACTICA 3.0 confusion

Producer Sam Esmail has taken part in a video interview with Collider about the upcoming new Battlestar Galactica TV show, on which he is working as an executive producer.

This new project has been described by Esmail as a continuation, or at least set in the same universe, as Ronald D. Moore's Battlestar Galactica, the second version of the franchise which ran from 2003-09 and spawned two spin-off projects (prequel series Caprica and prequel TV movie Blood & Chrome). He reiterates in the new interview that he spoke to Moore (currently helming both Starz's Outlander and Apple+'s For All Mankind) and got his blessing for the project.

However, the new show's actual head writer and showrunner Michael Lesslie, has previously indicated that the new show will be a fresh reboot/remake of the original premise, something which NBC's publicity seems to have agreed with.

Although there is scope for further exploration of Moore's BSG iteration, it would probably not involve the titular Galactica starship herself and might involve a fairly deep dive of the mythology behind the show. It is unclear if NBC would be interested in a reboot of the show which did not involve the "classic" elements of the series, such as Viper fighters, Cylons and characters such as Adama, Apollo, Starbuck and Baltar.

NBC's parent company, Universal, are also simultaneously developing a totally fresh, ground-up movie version of Battlestar Galactica with X-Men movie ruiner Simon Kinberg and Planet of the Apes reboot mastermind Dylan Clark and it's unclear if they would want two versions of the same story airing simultaneously. It's also unclear if they'd want two different universes/takes on the same story going on at the same time, maybe feeling that might get confusing. However, it's not unprecedented, with both Netflix and Constantin Films developing two different takes on the Resident Evil franchise in different continuities, with both projects now greenlit and in pre-production.

The third TV iteration of Battlestar Galactica is currently in the planning stages and is due to debut on Peacock, NBC's new streaming service, in 2022 or 2023. Esmail hopes to start shooting the series this year, but notes that may not be possible due to various delays stemming from the global pandemic.

JOHN WICK writer tapped to develop DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS TV series

Hasbro and their inhouse studio, eOne, have tapped John Wick writer Derek Kolstad to develop a Dungeons and Dragons TV series proposal for them.

Hasbro are eyeing transferring the popular Dungeons and Dragons fantasy multiverse to the screen in the form of a mixed media approach consisting of video games, films and TV shows. A number of video games are on the way, including Dark Alliance and Baldur's Gate III (both tapped for a late 2021 release), whilst Paramount and eOne are in negotiations with Chris Pine for him to star in a feature film slated to begin shooting later this year in the Titanic Studios in Belfast (where Game of Thrones was previously based).

Hasbro began developing a TV series a couple of months ago and are apparently looking for multiple pitches, with a view to putting several projects in development simultaneously.

Kolstad is best known for his work on all three John Wick movies. He has also written several episodes of the imminent MCU TV show, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and is working on the script for the long-gestating Just Cause movie.

The multimedia approach for Dungeons and Dragons is a lot more appropriate than for most properties. D&D, despite its reputation for standard fantasy tropes, actually spans a multitude of very different worlds, including the more traditional Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance settings, the post-apocalyptic Dark Sun world, the dark horror of Ravenloft, the surreal multidimensional Planescape universe and the steampunk setting of Eberron.

Friday, 15 January 2021

RIP Storm Constantine

Word has sadly broken that British fantasy author Storm Constantine has died at the age of 64, after a long illness.

Born in 1956 in Salford, England, Constantine attended art college and was the manager of several bands. She began writing stories as a child, developing a strong interest in Egyptian, Greek and Roman mythology, as well as the Tarot. In the late 1970s she began developing a fantasy series revolving around a new, hermaphrodite post-human species that would arise to replace humanity. This idea evolved into the Wraeththu Chronicles, a trilogy starting with The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit (1987).

The series was highly successful, sparking a prolific period lasting into the late 1990s and consisting of the Artemis and Grigori series. However, although she maintained strong sales in the USA, Constantine found sales in the UK dipping and publishers losing interest in her work. In 2003 she founded Immanion Press as a way of keeping her work in print and publishing new work, such as a Wraeththu sequel trilogy. She also published work by other authors, including numerous works related to paganism, myth and mythology. An immense fan of fellow fantasy/horror author Tanith Lee, she republished some of Lee's back catalogue as well. She also founded and edited the Visionary Tongue magazine in the 1990s.

During her career, she published one novella, nine short story collections and twenty-five novels (one in collaboration with Michael Moorcock), as well as collaborating on the Wraeththu roleplaying game.

Her work was notable for breaking new ground in the treatment of gender and sexuality in fantasy fiction, as well as being an author unafraid to embrace fanfiction. Many fans who wrote fiction set in her worlds were encouraged to submit to official anthologies she published, and she encouraged them to seek professional careers in the field. She will be missed.

Amazon Prime releases concept art for the WHEEL OF TIME TV series

To celebrate today's 31st birthday of the Wheel of Time fantasy series, Amazon have shared some concept art for the upcoming TV series.

Showrunner Rafe Judkins introduced a slew of artwork showing how the TV show will be bringing the late Robert Jordan's vision to life.

In the first image (above), two characters - possibly Rand and Mat - are in a narrow valley staring down at a settlement below. This doesn't seem immediately like anything from the books but could be during their long journey overland from Shadar Logoth to Caemlyn..

The second image is more readily identifiable as the village of Emond's Field, possibly during the Winternight celebrations. In the first Wheel of Time novel, The Eye of the World, the actual Winternight celebration takes place off-page. Actually seeing it, and the tumultuous events that follow, is a reasonable change from the page.

The third image is likely of the Tinker caravan, where Perrin and Egwene seek refuge after the events at Shadar Logoth.

This image seems to feature our main group of characters travelling through a forest towards a distant tower. This is most likely just before the group arrive in the ruined city of Shadar Logoth.

The final image is likely of the ruined, eerie city itself just before trouble erupts.

The first season of Wheel of Time has concluded shooting, although there has been some confusion over whether the season wrapped on schedule or was forced to wrap early due to greater COVID restrictions in the Czech Republic, with a few scenes left to shoot. This has an impact on the show's airdate. Assuming they have everything they need, Season 1 of The Wheel of Time could potentially air in the next few months, otherwise they'll have to wait until they can pick up those last shots (which possibly won't happen until they shoot a second season).

More news, of course, as we get it.

Thursday, 14 January 2021

Brian McClellan's POWDER MAGE TRILOGY optioned for television by STARGATE producer

Joseph Mallozzi, the former producer of the StarGate TV franchise and more recently Dark Matter and Utopia Falls, has optioned Brian McClellan's well-received Power Mage epic fantasy series for TV.

Mallozzi is teaming with Canadian company No Equal Entertainment and Frantic Films. No broadcaster or streamer is yet attached.

The Powder Mage Trilogy consists of the novels Promise of Blood (2013), The Crimson Campaign (2014) and The Autumn Republic (2015) and revolves around a world where the gods have returned after a long absence to find time and technology has moved on without them and the people have developed 18th Century levels of technology, including gunpowder and campaign. The story revolves around "powder mages" who can combined the powers of gunpowder and sorcery in an unusual way. The series has gained some positive critical notices and sold almost a million copies since it was published. A sequel trilogy followed in 2017-19.

As usual, this is a speculative option by a producer company, not a greenlight by a big streamer or network, so it's a long way from going on-screen, but it's another sign that the fantasy genre remains hot and many TV and film studios are interested in developing new properties.

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Lucasfilm ends EA-exclusive deal for STAR WARS games, announces new title from the makers of THE DIVISION

The new Lucasfilm Games brand is kicking off its existence with a slew of announcements. On Monday Lucasfilm announced the new brand existed, yesterday they confirmed a collaboration with Bethesda and MachineGames on an Indiana Jones title and today they've confirmed a collaboration with Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment on a new Star Wars title, which also means the end of Electronic Arts' exclusive licence to develop Star Wars games.

Lucasfilm previously developed a large number of Star Wars games either inhouse through Lucasfilm Games (rebranded LucasArts in 1990) or through partnerships with external studios, including BioWare, Raven Software and Totally Games. In 2012 the company was taken over by Disney, who shuttered LucasArts the following year and signed an exclusive deal with Electronic Arts to develop multiple Star Wars games (apart from various Star Wars Lego games, produced under a pre-existing licence with Warner Brothers). EA promised an ambitious slate of many games, bringing the full firepower of their multiple studios to bear on the franchise. However, eight years later they've only actually released four games: Battlefront (2015), Battlefront II (2017, both from DICE), Jedi: Fallen Order (2019, from Respawn Entertainment) and Squadrons (2020, from EA Motive). Battlefront II was harshly criticised for trying to nickel-and-dime customers through the use of "loot boxes" which were condemned by some governments as encouraging children to take part in gambling with real money, which resulted in one of the game's developers achieving the unenviable record of having the single most-downvoted comment in the history of Reddit.

EA have also cancelled many more games, starting with First Assault and 1313, which they'd inherited from Lucasfilm; an Uncharted-style action adventure from Amy Hennig; an open-world game set on Tatooine from Visceral Games; and a single-player-focused Battlefront spin-off, similar to the Bad Company and Hardline spin-offs from the Battlefield franchise. In addition, they had apparently considered working on a new Knights of the Old Republic game at BioWare (either a sequel or reboot), but had decided not to proceed.

EA's strategy, although criticised, has resulted in financial success: more than 40 million copies of their Star Wars games have been sold in the last five years, and Fallen Order and Squadrons had a strong critical reception. According to rumours of varying reliability, Respawn are working on Fallen Order II and DICE have been working on Battlefront III as a bigger and more epic title, not connected to a film release, whilst EA are still evaluating Squadrons' performance to see if a sequel is warranted.

EA's exclusivity period ends in 2023, but it appears this solely applies to release dates, not development. The Ubisoft project is only just spooling up and will be very unlikely to be released before 2024 or 2025.

The new game is being worked on by Swedish developers Massive Entertainment, who made the phenomenal strategy games Ground Control, Ground Control II and World in Conflict. They were bought out by Ubisoft and subsequently provided development support on Assassin's Creed and Far Cry titles before releasing the highly popular online action-RPG The Division in 2016. They followed that up with The Division 2 in 2019. The two games have sold more than 20 million copies. Reportedly they have almost concluded development of a game to tie in with James Cameron's Avatar sequels, but they have faced several delays because of the movie's delays.

Reportedly, the new Star Wars game will be an open-world title with action roleplaying elements, very much like The Division. Lucasfilm and Ubisoft have not confirmed it will be a multiplayer-focused game, but given the pedigree of the people involved, that sounds likely. 

This may be just the beginning of the opening of the floodgates for a whole ton of new Star Wars games from different studios. Some of these prospects are tantalising. Could Blackbird and Gearbox get a licence to make a new Star Wars space-strategy game? How about a hardcore Star Wars action game from FromSoftware? The possibilities are intriguing.

Official summary for Amazon Prime's LORD OF THE RINGS show leaks

The One Ring has secured a copy of the official summary for Amazon Prime's Lord of the Rings TV show, which I have been unofficially referring to hitherto as The Second Age (although its final title remains unconfirmed).

The One Ring's early reporting on the new project was spotty - insisting that the show was about "Young Aragorn" long after that idea had been rejected - but their recent reporting has been more reliable, revealing several pieces of information before it was confirmed by Amazon, so this appears to be reliable.

The synopsis leaves out a lot of information - such as the show's actual name, since just calling it The Lord of the Rings will be confusing - but it does confirm a lot of the information that's been released over the past year and a half or so. The show will indeed be set in the Second Age of Middle-earth and will deal with the island kingdom of Númenor, the elven kingdom of Lindon and the first rise to power of the Dark Lord Sauron.

Not confirmed in this summary, but now overwhelmingly likely, is that the series will deal with the forging of the Rings of Power by Sauron some 5,000 years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The series as a whole, which Amazon envisages as spanning five seasons, may cover a period of many centuries or even millennia, spanning the long-running conflict between Sauron and the elves of Middle-earth, aided by their redoubtable ally of Númenor, a great island-empire in the western ocean and forerunner to the later kingdom of Gondor.

Lord of the Rings: The Second Age (tbc) is currently filming in New Zealand, with the production based in Auckland. Filming took a break over Christmas and the New Year but is due to resume shortly. It is unclear when the show will premiere, but with production expected to run for several months (having been underway since September, with the first two episodes shot back in February-March) and extensive post-production being required, it may be that the series will not debut until 2022.

More news as it emerges.

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

WOLFENSTEIN developers creating an INDIANA JONES video game for Bethesda

Further to the announcement yesterday that Lucasfilm were resurrecting the Lucasfilm Games brand, they have now confirmed their first brand-new project. A new Indiana Jones game is being developed by Bethesda, via their MachineGames Studios. Elder Scrolls and Fallout head honcho Todd Howard is attached as a producer.

MachineGames is a Swedish developer founded in 2009 by several former employees of the well-regarded Starbreeze Studios. MachineGames was acquired by Bethesda in late 2010. Their games have been Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014), Wolfenstein: The Old Blood (2015), Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (2017), Wolfenstein: Youngblood (2019) and Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot (2019).

The new Indiana Jones game will have an original story and won't be related to the fifth Indiana Jones movie, which starts shooting imminently with James Mangold directing and Harrison Ford returning to the role. That film is aiming for a July 2022 release, although that date being pushed back is possible.

With Bethesda being owned by Microsoft, it's possible this new game will be exclusive to PC and X-Box, but that has not yet been clarified.

Howard is also currently leading development of two single-player CRPGs at Bethesda Game Studios, Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI, the sequel to the bestselling Skyrim.

Lucasfilm Games returns from the dead

In surprising news, Lucasfilm have resurrected their defunct gaming division, Lucasfilm Games (known from 1990 as LucasArts). The division was shuttered in 2013 when Lucasfilm and Electronic Arts negotiated a ten-year agreement for EA to develop and publish video games based on Lucasfilm properties, particularly Star Wars titles. But now it's back.

Lucasfilm/LucasArts Games developed dozens of titles between 1983 and 2013, including: Maniac Mansion, Zak McKraken and the Alien Mindbenders, LoomThe Secret of Monkey Island, Monkey Island II: LeChuck's Revenge, The Curse of Monkey Island, Escape from Monkey Island, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Sam and Max Hit the Road, Day of the TentacleGrim Fandango, Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, Their Finest Hour, Night Shift, The Dig, Full Throttle and Outlaws. Their Star Wars games included beloved classics such as X-Wing, TIE Fighter, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, X-Wing: Alliance, Dark Forces, Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, Shadows of the Empire, Rebellion, Rogue SquadronRepublic Commando, The Force Unleashed and The Force Unleashed II.

At the time of LucasArts' dissolution, they were developing an ambitious game called Star Wars: 1313, set in the underbelly of Coruscant and featuring ambitious gameplay and narrative ideas.

The Lucasfilm Games "sizzle" video above heavily leans on the recent EA-published games Battlefront (2015), Battlefront II (2017), Jedi: Fallen Order (2019) and Squadrons (2020). This suggests that, for now, Lucasfilm Games is a brand that will be applied to further Star Wars titles as they are developed. However, it may also indicate more ambitious future gaming plans, including setting up new development teams in-house.

EA's handling of the Star Wars licence has been mixed. Battlefront and Battlefront II were heavily-criticised for nickel-and-diming players through shady reward schemes (although the two games have sold more than 30 million copies, a very healthy figure in the current market). However, Fallen Order and Squadrons have had a much warmer critical reception. It has been rumoured that EA are currently developing Battlefront III and Fallen Order II, with an option to fast-track Squadrons II should the game's sales be satisfactory.

Many more games have been cancelled in development. An attempt at BioWare to get Knights of the Old Republic III underway was apparently also shot down by EA management, to the irritation of fans.

EA's licence to publish Star Wars games reportedly expires in 2023, so it'll be interesting to see if they re-sign with Disney or Disney are putting plans in place to develop games internally once again.

More tantalising is the idea that Lucasfilm might also be considering reopening their vaults and developing new games from their immense stash of long on-hiatus IPs, such as the Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion series.

It'll be interesting to see where this goes.

Monday, 11 January 2021

SFF author David Weber recovering from COVID

Good news has emerged: science fiction and fantasy author David Weber has been released from hospital after being admitted for treatment for COVID-19, as related by his friend and colleague Harry Turtledove.

Weber, 68, is the author of the popular Honor Harrington and Safehold series. He was hospitalised last month after contracting the virus, leading to an outpouring of well-wishing on social media. His wife, Sharon, was not hospitalised. I'm sure everyone wishes him a speedy recovery.

This is good news, especially coming after the sad news that SF author Ben Bova had passed away from COVID-related complications in December.

Saturday, 9 January 2021

New STAR WARS official timeline seems to formally confirm that the OLD REPUBLIC era is no longer canon

Disney has released a new timeline for the Star Wars universe, with a list of the material they regard as canon. The list seemingly confirms that the extremely popular "Old Republic Era," the only era from the pre-Disney period whose canonical status was still in some doubt, is definitely no longer canon.

The timeline divides the Star Wars timeline into six distinct eras:
  • The High Republic (c. 400-200 Before the Battle of Yavin): a period extending from roughly 400 to 200 years before the events of The Phantom Menace, during which time the Galactic Republic and the Jedi Order are at the height of their power. The era includes the High Republic line of comics and novels, and the forthcoming TV series The Acolyte.
  • Fall of the Jedi (32-19 BBY): This period depicts the fall of the Old Republic and the Jedi Order over a period of more than a decade. This period includes the Prequel Trilogy (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith) as well as the Clone Wars animated series.
  • Reign of the Empire (19-5 BBY): This period depicts the Galactic Empire at the height of its power, with Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader in unquestioned command of the galaxy. This period includes the forthcoming animated series The Bad Batch, the film Solo: A Star Wars Story and the Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi.
  • Age of Rebellion (5 BBY-4 After Battle of Yavin): This period depicts the Galactic Civil War between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, culminating in the Battle of Endor. The Original Trilogy (Star Wars, aka A New Hope; The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) takes place in this era, along with the spin-off film Rogue One, the live-action show Andor and the animated series Rebels.
  • The New Republic (4 ABY-29 ABY): This period depicts the reorganisation of the Rebel Alliance into the New Republic and its attempts to bring peace and order to the galaxy. The Mandalorian and forthcoming spin-off shows The Book of Boba FettRangers of the New Republic and presumably Ahsoka take place in this time period.
  • Rise of the First Order (29-35 ABY): This period depicts the conflict between the First Order, a successor-state to the Empire, and the New Republic and, after the Republic's at least partial collapse following the Starkiller Incident, the Resistance. This period concludes with the Battle of Exegol. The Sequel Trilogy (The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker) take place in this era, along with the animated series Resistance.
The new timeline leaves off a number of projects whose time frames have not yet been confirmed, including the Lando TV series and and the Rogue Squadron film.

Notably missing from the timeline is the "Old Republic" era. This era ranges from 3956 BBY to 3630 BBY and depicts a vast, complex struggle between the Galactic Republic and various opponents, including several "Sith Empires," at a time when the Sith were numerous and not restricted by their later Rule of Two. The era was popularised by the popular video game Knights of the Old Republic (2003) and expanded by Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (2004) and multiplayer game The Old Republic (2011).

Technically, as these games predate the takeover of Lucasfilm by Disney, it was believed that they were non-canon and automatically relegated to "Legends" status. However, the situation became confused because The Old Republic has remained an ongoing concern in the Disney era and the Star Wars Story Group, the body charged with maintaining the new canon, has been vetting and approving Old Republic story material since 2012. With the events of both older games integral to The Old Republic and all three games referring to comic books set in the same time period, this left the possibility that the entire era would remain in canon, especially given its separation from the rest of the Star Wars universe by more than three and a half thousand years.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that Darth Revan, a major character from this era, was brought into canon by being referenced in official material accompanying the release of The Rise of Skywalker (he was also slated to appear as a vision in an episode of The Clone Wars, but this was cut at the last minute).

Of course, Disney may be simply hedging their bets by not featuring the Old Republic era on this timeline, but it does seem they are finally committing to the events of The Old Republic era not being canonical, which is an interesting choice for a game they are still charging money for (albeit not as much as they once did).

Intriguingly, there were rumours between a year and two years ago that Lucasfilm was considering both a new Knights of the Old Republic video game set in the era (possibly a ground-up reworking of the original game) and a film, with Laeta Kalogridis tapped to write. Nothing has come of those rumours since then.

Friday, 8 January 2021

Star Trek: Discovery - Season 3

The USS Discovery has been propelled forwards to the 32nd Century as part of a move to hide important technical data that threatens their timeline. Upon arrival they discover that the galaxy is in ruins, the result of a disaster known as "the Burn" which made dilithium inert and thus destroying every ship with an active warp core at the time. The Federation has fallen from more than 350 member civilisations to a bare handful, and is facing a threat from a competing alliance known as the Emerald Chain, which believes in money, slavery and advancement through struggle, concepts the Federation left behind a millennia earlier. As the crew of the Discovery try to settle into this bleak new world, they realise their Spore Drive gives them the ability to do what no-one else has done before: to discover the origin of the Burn and help restore the Federation to its former glory.

The first two seasons of Star Trek: Discovery were an exercise in frustration: superb actors, occasionally really good ideas and tremendous production values constantly being let down by spotty plotting, nonsensical scripts and character arcs that we are often told are happening but of which we see little to no evidence on-screen.

Season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery is, unfortunately, more of the same, although it does emerge as probably the series' strongest season by a nose. It has a terrific setup, with the Discovery and its crew emerging into a genuine brave new world and having to find out what is going on, and some superb new production design, with the Federation and non-Federation starships of the 32nd Century being a battery of impressive, intriguing ideas, such as ships made of programmable matter which can switch size and shape in an instant which feel like they've come out of an Iain M. Banks novel.

Early episodes in the season include some of Discovery's best, bolstered by promising new additions to the cast such as David Ajala as Cleveland Booker and Blu del Barrio as Adira Tal. There's some genuinely interesting worldbuilding and it turns out that removing Discovery's previously grating tendency to contradict well-established Star Trek canon allows the show to breathe freer and more enjoyably. We even get some moments of genuine character development, such as Saru hosting a dinner for his bridge crew in which we get to see how what's happened has impacted on them. Such a scene would be de rigueur on an episode of The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine, but Discovery has so rarely bothered with such scenes that seeing one is genuinely surprising, and welcome.

By the latter half of the season, though, the show is starting to slip backwards to type. We get a lengthy new visit to the Mirror Universe which no-one asked for or wanted, and achieves little rather than making us remember that Michelle Yeoh's character is a mass, mass-murderer who still hasn't faced justice or redemption. The show then beams her off into her own spin-off series through the most contrived means possible. The three-part season finale is a morass of murky, confused CGI, confused character motivations that seem to contradict themselves from one scene to the next and wholly unearned praise and promotions. It does prove superior to the previous season finales though, particularly when the reason for the Burn is revealed not to be completely nonsensical and a few strong ideas are treated well (such as the notion of someone who's spent their entire life on the holodeck and doesn't understand what reality is).

The series does advance a few previous annoying tics and makes them even more grating: characters burst into tears several times an episode, often for no discernible reason; the audience is asked again to care about the departure of a regular bridge crewman despite that crewman receiving virtually no prior character development and mainly being a glorified extra (Commander Nhan what now?); some regular crewmembers vanish inexplicably mid-season without a trace (where did Lt. Nilsson go?); and some brand new crewmembers suddenly show up out of nowhere and are treated as if they've always been there (who is Lt. Ina and where did she come from?).

This season also features possibly the single most inexplicable shot in the 55-year history of the entire Star Trek franchise, when a battle takes place in a turbolift and it's revealed that the turbolifts are moving around some kind of weird, other-dimensional space which is considerably larger than the entirety of Discovery itself. Previous seasons had individual shots which were like this (including one on the Enterprise in Discovery Season 2) but they could be dismissed as one-off oddities, but this was a whole, extended action sequence taking place in this utterly surreal space. I have absolutely no idea what the hell was going on in this sequence or where it was taking place, since it clearly could not be on the ship (crewmen even point at a schematic of the turbolift system in the episode and it shows ordinary narrow tubes, as you'd expect).

An additional character oddity is Sonequa Martin-Green whispering half her lines for dramatic emphasis, something I don't remember her doing in previous seasons but now does continuously, which required constant volume adjustments because everyone else is speaking perfectly normally. As an acting choice that contradicts previous characterisation, this is the weirdest I've seen on television since Littlefinger started speaking with a Batman voice in Season 3 of Game of Thrones.

Against that, Season 3 of Discovery does a fair few things right. Doug Jones' spell as captain is superb, with him investing Saru with real feeling, warmth and a continuing sense of otherworldliness. He is easily the best actor and best character on the show, and the season's focus on him is a great choice. The accomplished Anthony Rapp also has much more to do with Stamets after a low-key second season. Despite the whispering issue, Martin-Green is at her best this season and is helped by Burnham having more of a discernible, actual character arc which makes a virtue of her previous terrible choices. The revisiting of old races like the Trill and the Romulan-Vulcan alliance is well-handled. Osyraa is the best enemy the show has thrown up so far, a relatively petty empire-building villain who has unexpected depths, and makes for a reasonable bad guy (especially when she turns out to have a few laudable qualities). The season also arguably achieves its goal of really putting the Federation against the wall and interrogating its values and finding that they still hold true. The weakened Federation rejecting a chance for peace that comes with too many caveats and concessions to a mass-murderer is a politically weak move but a morally strong one, and is laudable.

The result is, yet again, a season (***½) which has a lot of strengths which make the show watchable, and a lot of grating weaknesses. After three seasons Discovery should be a lot better than this, and it's a shame it isn't. It also doesn't help that Discovery has serious competition: The Mandalorian and The Expanse are comprehensively, across-the-board much better shows, and even Discovery's own animated spin-off, Lower Decks, is cleverer and has a lot better writing. But the show is at least showing signs of progress (albeit haltingly slowly) and getting better. The show airs on CBS All Access in the United States and Netflix in most overseas territories.

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Cyberpunk 2077

In 2023, the Fourth Corporate War ended when a group of terrorists led by charismatic rock star Johnny Silverhand smuggled a thermonuclear device into Arasaka Tower in Night City, California, and destroyed it. Silverhand vanished during the attack and was never seen again. Fifty-four years later, this minor historical detail becomes crucially important to mercenary V when they are offered a contract to steal an advanced biochip from Arasaka Corporation. What seems to be a normal gig turns into a gruelling nightmare of high-stakes international geo-politics, existential confusion and corporate intrigue. A clock is ticking and V now has to build up a network of allies so they can save themselves and survive what is coming.

Cyberpunk 2077 has a lot of Things in it. These Things include: Sentient Waymo; a hyperactive anime girl band whose signature song could become the next "Gangnam Style" if it didn't have a swear in the title; a soundtrack of near non-stop bangers; iguanas; cats; characters you actually want to hang out with in real life; giant holographic fish; wonderful dialogue; superb stealth; Hideo Kojima playing himself; a shotgun that sets people on fire; decidedly non-cringey romances; the red bike from Akira; Keanu Actual Reeves; GLaDOS from Portal; several YouTube streamers; hard moral choices; really cringey first-person sex scenes; a rocket launcher which is also your arm; a sentient gun; Half-Life gags that dated before the game even came out; mysteriously teleporting cops; a vending machine who becomes your friend; lots and lots of freezers you can hide bodies in; inventive hacking; city blocks from Judge Dredd; cars that drive like bricks; and a slew of bugs (mostly minor, very occasionally major).

The number of Things in Cyberpunk 2077 is so overwhelming that it's hard to fully appreciate them all in one go. Cyberpunk 2077 is a towering achievement, a story-driven, open-world RPG with a gripping central narrative and a lot of player choice in how you achieve objectives. It's also - rather infamously by now - a janky game which, in order to hit its punishingly optimistic release date, has had to not so much cut corners as sear them from existence with industrial-strength flamethrowers. There are moments in this game that are polished beyond brilliance, with storytelling and character beats that, even more than the developers' previous game, The Witcher 3, contemptuously rewrite your expectations of what video games are capable of in terms of storytelling and characterisation. Five seconds later you'll be driving down the street wondering why cars are fading in and out of existence two hundred yards away and why the police only chased you (on foot!) for three yards after you accidentally ran someone over before eerily dematerialising.

Cyberpunk 2077 is a game that started life (way back in 2012) as an RPG but over the course of its development metamorphosed into something else: The Metagame, The Ubergame, the game that would include all other games within itself. CDPR decided that as well as an RPG, it also had to be an immersive sim like the Deus Ex and Dishonored series; a first-person stealth version of recent cult hits Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun and Desperados III; an apocalyptic collect 'em up which at times feels like a Fallout title; and an open-world, icon-hoovering action game with driving, like Grand Theft Auto V or (maybe more appropriately, given the hacking angle) the Watch_Dogs series.

At some point CDPR must have realised that the game was never going to achieve all of these goals simultaneously, but rather than manage expectations it decided to expand them. In the last two-and-a-half years of development, they released no less than 72 videos, ranging from expansive trailers to detailed behind-the-scenes development videos about the music, weapons, the involvement of Keanu Reeves and the work needed to translate the game into other languages. CDPR decided to pour petrol on the flames of hype rather than try to keep them under control. The result is a game that delights and frustrates in turn, sometimes in the same minute of gameplay.

Most importantly, Cyberpunk 2077 emerges as a good game. It's very nearly a great game, a classic ranking alongside CDPR's previous title, but the sheer volume of jank in the game and the evidently cut or compromised features reduces its impact.

Cyberpunk 2077 casts you as "V", a mercenary working in and around Night City, California. You can't choose V's name, but you can choose their gender, sexuality, appearance and background before being set loose in the city. At any time you'll have a series of main story missions to follow, which push forward the overall narrative, and a number of side-missions, mostly phoned in to you by various "fixers" who work all over the city (who also have side-jobs begging you to buy really rubbish used cars for some reason). You also get side-jobs from characters you meet in the main story missions. These side-jobs can extend into lengthy, multi-hour quest chains of their own, sometimes ending in romances or at least winning the loyalty of the character in question. On top of these, there's also a truly startling number of map icons, depicting crimes in progress (V is a subcontractor for the police, for reasons that are hazily explained), yet more side-missions, shops and sites of interest. Cyberpunk 2077 easily has a hundred hours of content in the base game, easily a lot more if you experiment with different builds and different quest choices, and more still if you're happy just travelling around looking at things.

Cyberpunk 2077 is gorgeous. Night City is one of the most gawp-worthy settings for a video game, ever, and your screenshot key (enhanced by a comprehensive photo mode) may burn out from overuse during the course of the game. If you grew up watching Blade Runner, reading Neuromancer, watching Akira or playing Syndicate, you've probably fantasised about a game that put you right in the middle of a cyberpunk city and let you just walk around sampling the sights. This year's cult hit Cloudpunk got a huge amount of mileage of that on a budget comfortably less than 1% of Cyberpunk 2077, and unsurprisingly this game takes it to a whole new level. Whether its watching the sun rise over town-sized solar collectors, the rain falling between city apartment blocks taller than the Sears Tower or homeless folk living on the toxic beaches of Pacifica, the game throws more memorable images at you per hour than most some major franchises have managed in countless iterations. Those on more powerful hardware with ray-tracing and 4K resolutions will get the best out of the game, but even those on modest hardware will appreciate the art direction and atmosphere.

The story and its attendant characters are the main draw here. V's journey through Night City's criminal underworld and corporate entanglements is engrossing. The major characters you meet - fellow merc Jackie Welles, ripperdoc Viktor Vector, braindance expert Judy Alvarez, Nomad Panam Palmer, racing driver turned barmaid Claire, Tarot expert Misty, fixer Rogue, grumpy modern samurai Takemura and, of course, the ghostly Johnny Silverhand - are fleshed-out individuals with complex motivations and intriguing backstories. Like The Witcher 3 before it, CDPR has created some wonderfully real characters you enjoy spending time with (unlike, say, almost every Bethesda game ever, with an honourable exception made for Nick Valentine), with characterisation that exceeds BioWare at their long-ago best. There are a few characters who aren't as well fleshed-out and whose stories aren't as well-done - effective arch-villains Yorinobu Araska and Adam Smasher get very little screentime, whilst a fascinating story about a mayoral candidate who's being mentally manipulated seems to peter out - but for the most part the stories and characters are excellent, with real, emotionally satisfying moments and a surprising amount of heart. Cyberpunk 2077 can be an at times cynical and brutal game, but it also has a lot of warmth in its character relationships and humour. The only weakness with the story is that your choice of opening background feels less significant than it really should, and it may have been better to have just given you one set background.

The story and characters are also surprisingly powerful in the matters of representation: the game's marketing was deliberately "edgy," with a marketing campaign that seemed intent on making the game appear transphobic (until the marketing person responsible for that was fired). The game itself is decidedly much more LGBTQ+ friendly, with straight and gay romantic relationships available and your character able to present as non-gender-specific (albeit with somewhat limited parameters, with your pronouns dependent on your choice of voice actor). Gay, straight and trans characters are present in the narrative (contrary to some reviewers, who erroneously claimed there are no trans characters in the game, which just goes to show how many reviewers didn't bother to play the full game) and presented as people, with no fuss at all made about gender or sexuality. The only iffy area in the game is some of its advertising, which feels exploitative and tawdry, but given the nature of the game's corporations, that's almost certainly deliberate.

Mechanically, the game tries to give players a lot of choice in how to advance their character, perhaps with the developers feeling that The Witcher 3 rolled back too many RPG systems in favour of being more of an action RPG. Cyberpunk 2077 has a level-based system where you can choose to upgrade stats and skills, but also an advance-by-doing system where skills can also be upgraded by simply using those skills. You can also pick up shards (datafiles) which update skills directly. It's a complex and interesting system, but one that feels like it was designed to allow skill points to be spread more evenly. If you decide to focus on stealth and hacking and pour most of your skill points into those skill trees, you can quickly become a ghost-like superhacker who can wipe out entire platoons of enemies from afar by hacking into their systems and setting them literally on fire, or short-circuiting them, or creating a localised computer virus that can do tremendous damage to entire groups with one hack (by the end of the game you can literally kill entire gangs of 5-10 enemies with hacking attacks long before they can locate you). You also have elaborate systems for armour, implants, cyberdecks and weapons mods which can dramatically increase your damage output and reduce incoming damage. This is all very cool but can get quite over-powered, and enemies cease being a serious threat by around the halfway point of the game, unless you crank the difficulty way up.

The open world is an area where Cyberpunk 2077 falters, surprisingly. Night City is gorgeous and it's fun to travel around the city and its environs, but you'll quickly discover that the city simulation aspect of the game is illusory. Pedestrians and cars fade into and out of view rather artificially (shades of the early 2000s Grand Theft Auto games on the PlayStation 2), it's almost pitifully easy to evade the police (especially since they can't chase after you in police cars!) and the randomly-encountered hostile gang members and street crimes can be dealt with with almost contemptuous ease. Shopping at street vendors and shops opens a rather functional menu screen for buying food, clothes and equipment, despite elaborate animations existing in missions for eating at food stalls, which would have been more fun to do at will. There's also a bizarrely limited number of ways for pedestrians to react to you. Pulling out a gun or causing an explosion will root everyone to the spot rather than more sensibly running away, and passing civilians whom you save from criminals will almost never express any kind of gratitude or talk to you, usually instead sauntering off (or even responding with the same automated "f--k off!" response most passers-by give you when you try to talk to them). Ten years ago, you might have gotten away with these kind of limited reactions but with not just Grand Theft Auto V but also the Watch_Dogs series (each game of which has had a lower budget than Cyberpunk 2077) and even forgotten classic Sleeping Dogs having much more realistic, immersive open city features, Night City feels a lot more disappointing. The lack of a functioning metro system (despite featuring in trailers) and the presence of flying cars and aircraft but not being able to use them feel like weird limitations as well.

This isn't helped by the fact that most cars in the game feel too heavy and unwieldy, with ridiculous turning circles and poor design (the driving model is highly reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto IV's underwhelming performance, in fact, and not GTAV's much smoother experience). Only a couple of cars, like a Batmobile-like sports car variant you find in a tunnel and Silverhand's Porsche 911 you inherit through a later mission, are really worthwhile. Much better are the motorbikes, which allow you to cut through alleys and side-streets and across the Badlands in a more dynamic manner.

Fortunately then, the game's systems in use feel very satisfying. Combat can be chunky and visceral, with a nice mixture of options. You can blow people away with a rocket launcher arm implant, get close and personal with shotguns, or stand off with sniper rifles (which are more like railguns given their propensity for popping heads like helium balloons). You can even attach a silencer to a pistol for more a violent approach to stealth. Stealth itself is reasonably solid, although a little flaky at first until you get the skill which slows down time when you're spotted, giving you an opportunity to slip back into hiding. Stealth feels more like a first-person version of recent isometric games like Desperados III, although without vision cones so you have to be more careful in how you approach enemies. Stealth takedowns are fun and you can actually move bodies and hide them in containers (unlike Watch_Dogs 2, which allowed you to knock people out and...just leave them where they fell, for other people to find), making it a very viable strategy. Hacking computer systems to turn off cameras or make turrets friendly is also enjoyable, and taking out an entire enemy squad of guards by turning their own weapons against them may make you sit back and twirl your moustache (metaphorical or real) whilst cackling in satisfaction.

In several missions, this combination of systems turns Cyberpunk 2077 into a worthy follow-up to Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Mankind Divided, with you infiltrating elaborately-designed locations, hacking computer systems, stealth-knocking out guards of even ghosting your way through entire missions. The main game quest locations are the best for these, with slipping out of a massive hotel after an important mission goes south being one of my favourite stealth experiences in any game ever, and infiltrating a huge Arasaka compound later on not being far behind. There are also several side-missions with comparable design strengths, and the game even manages to enhance stealth by taking away one of Deus Ex's more contrived standbys, the surprisingly common handy human-sized air vents that no-one ever thinks to look in. However, the overall number of excellently-designed mission environments is relatively low, and the more optional activities, like crime-fighting, afford far less challenge to those inclined to go with stealth or hacking options, leaving you rather over-powered in those circumstances. But whilst the illusion lasts, it's a powerfully satisfying one.

It's also impossible to talk about the game without talking about its music. The original soundtrack itself is solid, if a bit underwhelming (Deus Ex: Human Revolution's soundtrack remains unmatched in this area), but the enormous battery of artists and original songs assembled for the game is incredible. Lots of other games have had as many, if not more, licensed songs, but for original tracks assembled specifically for a video game, Cyberpunk 2077 is likely unmatched, and most of them are impressive bangers, often presented in multiple versions. The music is one area this game has definitely not skimped on.

Cyberpunk 2077 (****) is an accomplished game in many key areas. Its story and characters are among the very best-in-class with some of the most outstanding story beats and quiet character moments in a video game that I've ever experienced; its RPG systems are adequate to very good; it has great combat and stealth; and its design, graphics, music and atmosphere are fantastic. Ranged against that is that its open world design is flaky as hell, and key game systems like driving, police, traffic AI and pedestrian reactions feel like they need major revisions, not to mention lingering bugs (see below) which need to stamped out fast.

Also, whilst the PC version of the game is (mostly) excellent, CDPR deserve all the criticism that've gotten for trying to release barely-functional versions of the game on X-Box One and PlayStation 4 and hiding the state they were in from reviewers. CDPR have spent thirteen years building up a formidable reputation for player friendliness and integrity and that reputation is now in the gutter, and they're going to have to work very hard to get it back again.

Cyberpunk 2077 is available now on PC, Stadia, X-Box One and X-Box Series X. The PlayStation 4 and 5 versions are on hold pending further patches.

Technical Note: I played the game on a relatively middling gaming PC (nVidia 2060 graphics card, 16 GB RAM) and experienced exactly one (1) crash. I did experience minor but relatively common graphical bugs, like flickering as new textures loaded in and occasional objects left hanging in mid-air (loot, cigarettes, weapons). Once or twice, especially in the Badlands, vehicles spawned upside down. Towards the end of the game, as I wrapped up more and more side-jobs and activities, graphical bugs seemed to increase, with street textures failing to load until I was already driving over them. These problems were rare; numerous gaming sessions failed to produce a single bug of note. This year alone, I experienced far more crashes, graphical problems and bugs in both Horizon Zero Dawn and Red Dead Redemption 2. For this review I completed the main story, every side-quest and every optional activity, which took 95 hours. I will revise the review in future should CDPR make substantial improvements to the game in the coming months.

Monday, 4 January 2021

Bethesda tease new ELDER SCROLLS video game project

Bethesda have posted an image hinting at new developments in their Elder Scrolls line of fantasy RPGs.

The Elder Scrolls is a bestselling series of video games, comprising the main games Arena (1994), Daggerfall (1997), Morrowind (2002), Oblivion (2006) and Skyrim (2011); and the spin-offs Battlespire (1997), Redguard (1998) and The Elder Scrolls Online (2014). The last main series title, Skyrim, is one of the biggest-selling games of the last decade, with over 30 million copies and sold and being ported to multiple platforms. With this year making the ten-year anniversary of the last game in the series, fans are increasingly antsy over when a sequel will be released.

Bethesda released their last big single-player CRPG, Fallout 4, in 2015, whilst a secondary team at the company developed a controversial multiplayer spin-off, Fallout 76, which was released in 2018. Bethesda also confirmed in 2018 that they are working on two new single-player games, a new IP title called Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI, although they cautioned that the latter game was in a very early stage of development. Bethesda have repeatedly said that Starfield is their current main project and will precede The Elder Scrolls VI by several years.

For this reason, it is highly unlikely that the image Bethesda has posted has anything to do with Elder Scrolls VI, or if it does, it will be fairly obliquely, since Elder Scrolls VI is likely still many years away.

More likely is that the image refers to recent and possible future plans for The Elder Scrolls Online. The map has a candle located over the city of Solitude in Skyrim Province, a key setting for the recent Dark Heart of Skyrim expansion; other candles located near a set of coins, which were given away as collectibles for the recent Greymoor expansion for The Elder Scrolls Online (set in Skyrim), and a candle burning in the province of Hammerfell. We know the next expansion for Online is The Gates of Oblivion, and will tie in with the other-dimensional realm of Oblivion as well as possible new content in the Imperial Province of Cyrodiil (probably non-coincidentally tying in with the 15-year anniversary of the release of Oblivion), although intriguingly the map is oriented so Cyrodiil (south-east of Skyrim and east of Hammerfell) is not a focal point.

The candle burning in Hammerfell though may be a nod at The Elder Scrolls VI, as that province has been long-rumoured to be the main setting for the game. Hammerfell is the home of the Redguard, an important faction in the Empire, and a likely flashpoint between the Empire and the rival force known as the Dominion, whose machinations drove much of the main plot of Skyrim. This would also explain the game's long-rumoured working title, Redfall (although recently a freelancer who worked on Skyrim and may be working on Elder Scrolls VI has said that this is not the title, implying Bethesda secured the IP for another project).

I suspect we won't learn much more about The Elder Scrolls VI for a long, long time. In the meantime Bethesda are hard at work on their new IP, Starfield, reportedly a large-scale science fiction game set in the distant future and which will allow players to visit different planets. Bethesda Vice-President Pete Hines has hinted that we will get more news about Starfield this year, which excited some fans who noted that Bethesda's last two games have been formally announced and had release dates set within only four months, which has helped them avoid the problem of "overhype" which has beleaguered some other recent releases.

Friday, 1 January 2021

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Season 5

2373. The Federation is facing its greatest crisis for centuries. Its alliance with the Klingon Empire is in tatters following the Klingons' invasion of Cardassia and open hostilities have erupted along their border. The Dominion is orchestrating events from behind the scenes. The Founders have stripped Odo's powers of transformation, leaving him a helpless "solid." With the Dominion preparing to strike, it falls again to the crew of Deep Space Nine to try to save the Federation and the entire Alpha Quadrant.

The fifth season of Deep Space Nine is effectively about getting back on track. The DS9 production team's intent for the prior year had been to put the Federation and the Dominion on a collision course to test how the Federation's ideals would hold up against a determined, equal opponent. The studio's desire to "shake things up" had rattled that premise and seen them bring in the Klingons in force, which had taken them away from where the story was meant to go. But in the fifth season Ira Steven Behr and his team decided to "make it a virtue," by using the Klingon/Federation conflict as a way of getting back to the Dominion.

The result is a run of episodes that almost rivals that of the exceptional fourth season. There isn't anything here quite as strong as The Visitor, but at times it comes damn close. Trials and Tribble-ations is the comedy highlight of the show - and possibly the entire franchise - with the DS9 crew travelling back to the events of the original series episodes The Trouble with Tribbles and interacting with Kirk, Spock and company via vintage clips (and the technology used to combine them, Forrest Gump-style, has held up very well over the past twenty-five years). It's brilliantly funny and constantly inventive. It is rivalled in these stakes by In the Cards, one of Star Trek's greatest comedic tour-de-forces and possibly the single most underrated episode in the entire Star Trek canon, as Jake and Nog attempt to procure a vintage baseball card for Sisko which results into them blundering into high-stakes political negotiations for the future of the quadrant.

Elsewhere the season has a plethora of very strong episodes. Season opener Apocalypse Rising starts to undo the damage of the Klingon arc, whilst The Ship is a great "under siege" story. Looking for par'Mach in All the Wrong Places is Cyrano de Bergerac in space and is terrific fun, whilst Nor the Battle to the Strong is the first time that Deep Space Nine plays its "war is hell" card, trying to undo the antiseptic attitude to war and conflict that had built up over the course of The Next Generation. The Assignment is a phenomenal episode where Keiko is taken over by a Pah-Wraith (the enemies of the Bajoran Prophets) and forces O'Brien to sabotage the station. It's a great episode that shows how criminally underused Rosalind Chao was as a performer over the course of the series.

The dangling Maquis plot threads are tied off in a fine duology of episodes, For the Uniform and Blaze of Glory, where Sisko and former Starfleet officer turned traitor Eddington go head-to-head in a Les Misérables-inspired story of obsession. This would be a bit more believable if Sisko had mentioned Eddington once in the dozens of episodes since his last appearance, but the actors sell it well.

Odo gets some good material in Things Past (which tries to challenge the idea of him getting out of the Cardassian occupation with his hands clean, which always seemed a stretch), The Ascent and A Simple Investigation, although the latter is undercut by Odo's first romance happening after he becomes a changeling again, rather than whilst still a solid. Ties of Blood and Water tests the limits of Quark's morality and he is horrified to find how his exposure to the Federation's ideals has limited his ruthless business edge. Soldiers of the Empire is a Klingon-centric, fun action romp, although it's let down a bit by the characters not quite gelling as well as they might (and you never really doubt that Martok is going to come through, which removes some of the tension). Doctor Bashir, I Presume is a great comedic piece, but also important for re-setting Dr. Bashir's character and explaining some nagging issues with his character over the years.

The season is let down a little by some subpar episodes. The Darkness and the Light tries to be a tense story of cat and mouse with an old enemy tracking down and eliminating Kira's resistance cell, but it sizzles out with no sense of tension. Let Her Who is Without Sin is one of DS9's vanishingly few outright awful episodes, with Worf inadvertently joining forces with some crazed (but also very beige) terrorists for reasons that are unconvincing at best. Empok Nor, which sees Garak turned into a serial killer by some kind of gas, is fairly boring. Garak is a powerful and fantastic character when allowed to play his shades of grey, turning him into a one-note villain is pointless. The Begotten is okay, but a little underwhelming (and it relies a bit too much on Rene Auberjonois acting emotionally against a piece of goo, which to be fair he just about sells). Children of Time has a very solid SF premise, but the morality of the ending is never really addressed in the series.

Where the fifth season shines, though, is the move to greater serialisation and the bringing in of bigger set-piece episodes. In Purgatory's Shadow and By Inferno's Light is as fine a two-parter as Star Trek has ever made, a huge, epic story operating on many different levels and nailing each of them superbly (with Andrew Robinson's outstanding performance as Garak a highlight). Grand politics, terrific action set pieces, characters confronting and overcoming their demons and Worf's tendency to punch things being made into a powerful storyline on its own. This is DS9 firing on all cylinders. The same can be said of the season finale, Call to Arms, which finally unleashes the dogs of war in a story featuring a huge space battle, tremendous character work and the biggest cliffhanger the franchise has ever done bar only The Best of Both Worlds.

The fifth season of Deep Space Nine (****½) is firing on all thrusters, and is only let down a little by a few more iffy episodes than the fourth year. The season 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 fifth season as part of a wider review of the third through fifth seasons twelve years ago. That review can be read here.