Borderlands 3’s Visual Upgrade Did Nothing

The first three Borderlands games (including the Pre-Sequel) looked so similar to one another that I’m pretty sure they were made in the same engine. Characters got design updates occasionally and the entire weapon inventory seems to have redesigned between 1 and 2, but anything that didn’t specifically get a redesign looks exactly the same. Borderlands 3, released five years after the Pre-Sequel, is the series’ first major graphical upgrade.

They may as well not have bothered.

Because of the weird min-maxing of my processor and graphics card, I can only play Borderlands 3 on the lowest settings, while the Pre-Sequel and earlier games run no problem. This does bias me against the visual upgrade, but look, Borderlands isn’t a photorealistic series. Not being that is one of the things that set it apart. The graphics don’t necessarily benefit from being better because there’s no real world standard that everyone knows about and can compare it to and which even our strongest graphics engines can’t yet mimic. Borderlands 1 already looked exactly like a Borderlands game, so the only room for improvement is in new character designs, weapon designs, monster designs, and so on, to keep things from getting too stale and repetitive.

Borderlands 3 also has some redesigns, although the problem here is that I mostly don’t like them. For example, here is the Borderlands 2 light runner:

And here’s the Borderlands 3 outrunner:

Borderlands 1 had a vehicle called outrunner but which looks basically identical to the BL2 light runner, so I’m going to refer to the BL1/2 design as the light runner and the BL3 design as the outrunner. There’s nothing about the outrunner design that seems like it would be bad for general audiences, but I personally dislike how it’s now much more lightly armored and has lots of shock absorbers and thin struts exposed. The light runner had a rugged look that helped make Pandora seem like a place where roads and garages were rare and bandit ambushes were common. The outrunner more looks like a dune buggy you’d take for a spin on vacation – an off-road vehicle, for sure, but not one built to keep going in spite of a light sprinkling of small arms fire.

I’ve talked about the three pillars of Star Wars before, and other than the fact that Star Wars hates wheels (everything is either treaded or hovers), the light runner fits right in with the space western scoundrel pillar (I call it “smuggler pillar” in that article because I only later realized that “scoundrel pillar” is a much better name for it), while the outrunner does not. Personally, I really like Star Wars and the biggest appeal of Borderlands for me has always been that it feels a lot like that scoundrel pillar of Star Wars but with guns that make the dakka dakka noises, which is basically the only change I have ever wanted to that aesthetic. Borderlands 3 leaving that behind to do something else is really disappointing to me, although I’m not sure how general audiences would take it.

Also it’s really dumb that in 2019 they’re still so shy about saying the word “fuck” in an M-rated video game full of blood and giblets and dismembered body parts used as scenery doodads, and their heavy use of “slap” as a replacement really draws attention to it.

D&D Half-Races

WotC is getting rid of half-elves and half-orcs. This is good. They claim they’re doing so to fight racism. This is bad.

Mixed race characters are a cool idea and one that makes a ton of sense in the ever-more metropolitan world of D&D. Back in the mists of the 1970s, being an elf or a dwarf could be a character’s defining trait. That was a sufficiently cool defining trait, and one with enough support in foundational work like Lord of the Rings, that it became common. By the 80s, elf and dwarf had moved from being character classes to the new category of race and could have classes of their own. Gary Gygax hated Lord of the Rings and wanted to play Conan and Elric instead, so he added a bunch of passive aggressive restrictions on so-called demi-human characters to try and discourage them, but it didn’t work.

It was perfectly common for humans, elves, and dwarves to be in the same adventuring party as one another, and because players generally assume that adventurers have a normal experience of the world (which is barking mad, but also comes up with regards to things like the value of money and how many class levels a random bartender has), the assumption was that humans, elves, and dwarves hung out together all the time. Elf-only and dwarf-only kingdoms were still a thing, but major cities were assumed to barely have a human majority with significant demi-human populations. Half-elves, originally added because Elrond is a half-elf and D&D nerds were the kinds of people who knew and cared about this kind of deep Tolkien lore, took on new connotations of not being the result of some rare contact between opposite worlds, but of being a naturally common occurrence anywhere human and elf territories (usually allies in the first place) bordered one another. Half-orcs got added in as a half-measure towards people who thought orcs were cool and wanted to be one without actually adding orcs to the adventurer coalition.

By the 90s, when Drizz’t was rising to fame, rogue members of traditionally evil races started gaining traction, and the popularity of WarCraft II and especially III mainstreamed (within the context of fantasy nerd culture, at least) the idea of shades of grey in your standard elves vs. orcs conflict. This made fewer inroads towards actually adding orcs to the adventurer coalition, probably because the source material still depicted orcs as consistently opposed to humans, just also that their own coalition was an equally valid perspective. It’s probably not a coincidence that this coincided with 3e’s explosion of poorly balanced monster races, with the goal of making just about anything sapient playable.

It didn’t catch on, but considering how well the return to that well went in future editions (especially 5e), it’s probably because the weirdest and hardest to balance races were also given the least attention, seen as an afterthought. Trolls were technically playable, but the balance on them was a nightmare. Their abilities were massively overpowered, and they were smacked hard with level adjustments, which totally failed to solve the problem because while the troll’s natural abilities might make them equivalent to a 6th-level Fighter, a troll with one level of Fighter is not equivalent to a 7th-level Fighter. The abilities you get at 7th level are worth way more than the abilities you get at 1st level. The exact breakpoints for when this monster with that class was hideously under- vs. overpowered varied for every single monster and class, but in general, playing a monster with a level adjustment was a sucker’s game. This prevented the population of the generic D&D city from getting any weirder, but only temporarily. People clearly wanted bizarre races, 3e just failed to deliver.

5e remained as reluctant as ever to include orcs in the player coalition, reserving them for expansion content and giving them otherwise unheard of stat penalties, but petulantly holding out on orcs, specifically, didn’t change the fact that dark elves had fully migrated into the player coalition, along with dragonborn and tieflings, mostly breaking down what few barriers remained to what might be considered a “standard” adventurer race. The infrequent nature of expansion material in 5e also led to the general assumption that it was all core. Whereas earlier editions had new books coming out so frequently that to declare that all of them would be allowed was to invite chaos (which is not necessarily a bad idea because some groups like chaos, but most GMs like to worldbuild and don’t like having the party consist exclusively of expansion races from obscure sourcebooks they don’t own, haven’t read, and never even thought about while building the setting), the slow release of 5e books led to the attitude that books like Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything are effectively core – including Volo’s Guide to Monsters and its drastically expanded list of options for player races.

At this point, it’s assumed that most major D&D cities not only have significant populations of elves, dwarves, dragonborn, and tieflings, but that obscure races like tabaxi and tortles are considered unremarkable even if they’re few enough in number to not show up in demographic breakdowns. So-called “monster races” like goblins and orcs are regarded with, at worst, mild suspicion, and are frequently treated as uncommon-but-unremarkable just like the tortles. Major cities are jampacked with all kinds of bizarre creatures. So it’s becoming simultaneously much harder not to notice that elves and orcs are, for some reason, the only races that breed with humans (and non-human races never breed with one another), and also much, much harder to write stat blocks to change that. The solution of cutting the half-elf and half-orc is the best one – the alternative is to write a system for combining any two races that is begging to be powergamed to death. Add a sidebar saying that mixed characters can pick the stats of one ancestry or the other. This is completely reasonable if you want to keep normal sexual reproduction as a trait of most creatures (personally I favor the “humans have babies, everyone else does something weird” approach, but that’s probably never going to be popular).

But this perfectly reasonable ditching of a legacy mechanic that’s long outdated in the modern hyper-cosmopolitan world of the D&D default is not striking a blow agianst racism. In fact, if it’s a purely narrative decision rather than a mechanical one, it’s actually pro-racist. Not Nazi-grade or anything, but removing mixed-race characters as a mechanical option does add slightly more friction to playing them, and while there are no real half-elves to worry about, there are people who use half-elves to evoke the experience of being, like, half-American half-Mexican or something. You can have a D&D backstory that evokes that same experience while mechanically being either a human or an elf, and you could also have a D&D backstory that evokes that experience by being mixed between two human ethnicities, which obviously provides a better parallel, but in fairness it is a fantasy story and sometimes you want to add an element of the fantastical to the experience.

All this to say that removing half-elves and half-orcs isn’t at all a pro-segregation move if you’re doing it for mechanical reasons, that’s just an acknowledgement that you can’t keep up with the number of potential mixes you’ve introduced with all these new ancestries so you’re giving up and people will just have to fluff stuff. But drawing attention to banning mixed races as a culture war move actually does come across as pro-segregation.

Like, OSR projects are sometimes run by normal people and are sometimes run by racists. If I heard about some obscure OSR project but all I knew about it was some mostly-generic title like “Monsters Down Below” or something, I wouldn’t assume they were racists based on that. And if I heard they weren’t including half-elves and half-orcs, I would default to the charitable assumption that it’s because of the mechanical issues that these imply half-dwarves and half-halflings and half-dwarf/half-elves and so forth, and they didn’t want their race section to sprawl with all these fiddly pairings. But if I heard they made a point of banning half-elves and half-orcs to make a statement on real world race issues, I would at that point guess that yeah, these guys are racists who don’t like having mixed-race characters as part of the default good guy coalition.

The only reason this move comes across as racist is because they went out of their way to frame it as a race thing.

Far Cry 4 Is Two Really Good Games Combined Into One Pretty Okay Game

Far Cry 4 is mainly something to give the visual and hands-controlling part of my brain something to focus on while I listen to podcasts and audiobooks. This is something I really like to do, and I’m having a pretty good time with Far Cry 4, although I suspect it would be much less so if I’d played Far Cry 3 on PC. Because I played Far Cry 3 on console, Far Cry 4 is my first time experiencing the full potential of these game mechanics. But Far Cry 4 could’ve been a great game even despite the looming shadow of its predecessor, if it had picked one of the two games it’s trying to be and committed to it.

Continue reading “Far Cry 4 Is Two Really Good Games Combined Into One Pretty Okay Game”

My House Was On Fire

Even having switched to one post weekly, my queue has run empty so I need to write something up. Problem is, I’ve been extremely busy in January trying to pivot away from 5e as fast as possible, so I haven’t played that many video games. Turns out I needn’t have bothered, everything just kinda worked out, but I did bother so now my blogging queue is empty.

I’m less than halfway through Far Cry 3, I’ve played a little bit of Moonlighter but not quite gotten past the first dungeon of five, and I still haven’t quite wrapped up the last side quest I want to bag in Hades before calling it finished. And when I have been playing video games, it’s usually been in a state of absolute exhaustion, a point where I realize I can’t do any more work so the smart thing to do is recover so that I can work at a reasonable pace later – and that’s not a great place to be in when trying to figure out if Moonlighter is any good. I’m kind of generous on games in the first place, but in that state of mind any game will hold my attention for 1-2 hours and then immediately lose it as I feel able to get back to writing and panicky about reaching my deadline.

So these blog updates might end up being a 2022 thing? I dunno, we’ll see how things go.

Glass Onion Was Disappointing

“Maybe Elon Musk is dumb actually” is an idea that is certainly having a moment, as Musk has been live-tweeting his mid-life crisis for the past several years. I wonder when Glass Onion was written, that it happened to come out just as that wave seems to be cresting (but hey, maybe Musk has even more spectacular failures in the queue). Certainly, the fact that “the Elon Musk-alike is very stupid” is meant to be the movie’s twist ending has been kinda spoiled by the fact that this is now a common opinion and one you would expect Rian Johnson in particular to have.

Very early on they set up “maybe the Elon Musk-alike is the killer” and then dismiss it with “no, his motive is too obvious and whoever the killer was struck in-person, and he’s too smart to take such a bone-headed risk.” And the problem is that I immediately realize this is not a thing Rian Johnson believes and so right off the bat I know that yeah, of course he’s the killer, he is absolutely stupid enough to have done it, doubly so since, with him ruled out, the entire middle of the movie is spent detective-ing four other potential culprits instead. I don’t even consider it worth being a spoiler alert. If you saw Glass Onion and you didn’t instantly realize the Musk-alike is the killer as soon as the line dismissing him was spoken, then you weren’t here for the mystery anyway. Two years ago we all might’ve bought that Rian Johnson was actually going for “Musk-alike as corrupt genius,” but not in 2022 (or very early 2023, when I saw it).

But then it falls apart in the ending, because Benoit Blanc is supposed to have this takedown at the end where he lays out how stupid the Musk-alike’s murders were…and, uh, they actually reveal a strong ability to improvise, poisoning his second victim with his own glass by using their pineapple allergy, thus creating a drink that he can drink from with impunity but which the target will die from, thus making it seem like he was the one being targeted and removing himself from suspicion as the culprit. We don’t see his first murder clearly (it’s the inciting incident, already accomplished as the story begins), but apparently he managed to poison the victim’s drink without her noticing. His third murder was simple, straightforward, and except for a stroke of pure dumb luck, effective. Benoit Blanc even praises it as having “panache” before he realizes that the killer was riffing off of an idea that Blanc himself had planted in his head – but if turning off the lights and shooting the target works, it works, regardless of who gave him the idea. If the third victim didn’t happen to have her sister’s diary in her coat pocket to intercept the bullet, the Musk-alike would’ve just won.

The method of his downfall is pretty dumb, anyway. His whole getaway mansion is powered by some new energy source that floods the place with hydrogen gas. It’s supposed to be a “billionaire self-proclaimed genius inventor’s idea is actually disastrously stupid” thing, but it takes serious effort to get the place to catch on fire. Firearms are discharged, a crucial piece of evidence is lit on fire, the lighter used to do it is playfully flicked on and off a couple of different times throughout the movie, and the protagonist (Andy/Helen, not Blanc – he ties the series together, but as a recurring supporting character, not the protagonist) has to get a bonfire going pretty high indoors to set off the chain reaction. Which then fails to inflict meaningful harm on any of the people at ground zero for the explosion. While making homes hyper-vulnerable to arson is certainly a drawback of the technology, it demonstrably isn’t turning homes into deathtraps, because the trap gets sprung and no death ensues. You definitely wouldn’t want this energy powering urban centers where a fire in one building could cause an explosion that chains into other buildings and causes a city-spanning blaze, but vastly reduced energy prices at the tradeoff that someone intentionally setting your house on fire will be able to get the whole house burning in thirty seconds sounds like a pretty good deal to me, on account of the scarcity of mad arsonists.

Not to mention the ending relies on the protagonist engaging in the exact same kind of improvised crime that Blanc just finished calling the Musk-alike an idiot for. There’s definitely a moral distinction to be drawn between arson for the sake of avenging your murdered sister versus murder for the sake of personal gain, but intellectually speaking, “use the materials at hand to accomplish a crime” is pretty much the same.

The “billionaire ‘genius’ is actually stupid” theme gets carried really well earlier. Early on in the movie, the Musk-alike sets up a murder mystery themed party, and brags to Blanc, a professional detective considered the best in the world, that it’s going to be “next level.” Blanc solves it before the “murder” scene even happens, and we later learn that 1) the mystery was written by someone else who 2) did not know Blanc would be at the party, expecting only the Musk-alike’s other “disruptor” friends, none of whom have any kind of background in solving puzzles or mysteries. So, y’know, this mystery writer set up a mystery for some randos and of course Blance walks right through it effortlessly, he’s a professional at the top of his field tackling a mystery designed to be solvable by ordinary people. If the Musk-alike had designed these puzzles and mysteries himself, he would know how hideously mismatched the difficulty of the puzzle was to Blanc’s skills, but since he’s just taking credit for other people’s work, he blithely assumes that since he got a renowned person to design the mystery, it’s probably a fair match for the renowned person who’s showed up to solve it (not to mention, a renowned mystery writer is not the same thing as a highly effective actual criminal, although it’s not clear to me whether or not Rian Johnson, a renowned mystery writer, is copping to this).

The parlor scene for the fake murder was pretty enjoyable, but the parlor scene at the end is a flop. Maybe this could’ve worked, if the Musk-alike had been set up with a sense of real menace, a sense of being an evil genius looming over the gathering with the power to snuff out anyone at any time he chooses, someone removed from suspicion because he projects an aura of such power that if he were the killer, things would surely be much, much worse. When he confronts Benoit Blanc in the glass onion after his murder mystery is ruined, the audience should feel like Blanc is in danger. When he positions Blanc between himself and his “friends” after Duke’s death, it should come across as an act of ruthless calculation, unconcerned with the lives of others, not panicky cowardice. Give Blanc lines about how the Musk-alike has been living here for months, in a building he built, on an island he owns. He could’ve had an entire platoon of security on site if he wanted, could’ve filled the place with cameras, could’ve rigged it up with death traps if he wanted to, using the same design skills that went into the puzzle boxes. The only reason, Blanc muses early on, to have left the island so unsecured is if he knew that none of the guests would dare to try and kill him. After the Musk-alike is seemingly targeted, Blanc starts trying to figure out why the Musk-alike’s predictions were wrong, what information he didn’t know about could’ve changed the situation.

Then he can be revealed at the end to be a moderately clever improviser who stumbled into power by blind luck. The reason why the island isn’t a fortress ready to protect him from a murderer isn’t because he assessed no such precautions were necessary, but because he was too stupid to realize he was in danger until it was too late. I can imagine a version of the ending scene where the big reveal is that, if you ignore his aura of menace and self-aggrandizing narrative, the thing he holds over everyone’s heads to keep them in line isn’t genius. It’s money. He didn’t design his own puzzle boxes or his own mystery, and his murders are accomplished not with elaborate traps or brilliant misdirection, but slightly clever improvisation with a glass of pineapple juice. The “he just used pineapple juice” reveal is supposed to be obviously stupid, but the problem is that it’s cleverer than most people could come up with on short notice. But if it’s bringing him down from “sinister criminal mastermind” to “exactly one clever idea” then it works.

You could even do a thing with the puzzle box where the Chess puzzle is presented as more important than the others, getting an entire layer of the box to itself, the “final boss” puzzle before getting to the invitation. And on the surface the Musk-alike can sell that as “Chess puzzles were always my favorites, I’m a Chess master, bwahaha,” but the actual puzzle (as it is in the movie we get) is mate-in-one. An earlygame mate-in-one where you can recognize which piece is your queen and which is the opponent’s king even though they’re unlabeled. It might even literally be the Scholar’s Mate, I didn’t look closely enough to check. It’s Chess, a game where you famously have to think more moves ahead than your opponent to get an advantage, and the Musk-alike thinks the best way to show off his genius is a mate-in-one puzzle. He didn’t even design the box, of course, so really all he did was say “oh, and make the final puzzle a Chess puzzle because that’s my brand” to the guy who actually made them.

Instead, the movie is a glass onion. An illusion of complexity, sure, but you can see the center clearly from the beginning. And I think Rian Johnson was too busy taking potshots at his Musk-alike character to sell that illusion.

Console Shooters Are Bad

The hottest take of twenty years ago.

I bring it up, though, because Far Cry 3 is one of those games released in the early 2010s that won’t run on my computer even though games both newer and older will. This is probably at least in part due to the bizarre processor/graphics card min/maxing I’ve done, where I bought a really garbage graphics card because I was buying my current PC before the blockchain crash so graphics cards were expensive, and balanced it out with a really beastly processor. That processor has been able to carry quite a few games (for example, Far Cry 2 runs fine, and that’s also a PS3 game), but for some reason it struggles with 2012’s Far Cry 3 where it doesn’t with 2015’s Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. I suspect multicore processors are involved somehow, like, sufficiently old games can run on just one core of my processor, sufficiently new games are optimized for multicore, but at just the right age we get games that one core of my processor can’t handle without backup from a better graphics card, but which can’t use multicore properly. That’s a blind guess, though, I have no idea if Far Cry 3 does or doesn’t take advantage of multicore processors.

Anyway, I solved this problem by finding a used copy of Far Cry 3&4 collection for PS3 and dusting off my console. And man, putting first person shooters on a console is really not a good idea. I’ll still probably get through it, but unfortunately my opinion of the series’ star title will undoubtedly be affected by the fact that I am playing it on a vastly inferior platform. I don’t generally buy into the whole “PC master race” thing, but for first person shooters there really is no competition, here.

Morbid’s Seven Deadly Sins?

Morbid: The Seven Acolytes is a video game where you are a demon hunter sent to slay seven particularly nasty demons, the titular seven acolytes. From Steam acheivements, I can see all their names in advance even though I’ve only killed three of them (although judging by the Steam achievements for reaching new areas I am something like 2/3s to 3/4s of the way through the game – I’m guessing that while the rest of the game has sprinkled in some lesser demons as boss fights, the last area will feature the final three acolytes as the entirety of its boss inventory).

So here is the list in full:

-Lorn the Blind, Lord of Loneliness
-Lady Tristana, Mother Grief
-King Cornelius, the Heir of Regret
-Maestro Bibe, the Anxious Prodigy
-Vulgus Calia, the Mass of Terror
-Bile Toad Putrus, the Spawn of Disgust
-Inquisitor Odius, the Scholar of Hate

Each one mentions a character trait of some sort, which come together to form a sort of seven deadly sins, though they have little in common with the Catholic set. Some of them don’t even seem to be sins, particularly, like loneliness, grief, and anxiety, but rather just negative emotions that you could have.

But the plot thickens: In the game’s lore, demons need a host, and therefore each of the seven acolytes is a possessed mortal. Demons don’t seem to be limited to just one host, though, as there seem to be only three demons active in the region (if not the world). The traits associated with these three are fear, sadness, and anger. Seven is also the total number of combinations you can have of three unique elements, assuming order doesn’t matter, i.e. you can have fear by itself, anger by itself, and a fear/anger hybrid, but fear/anger and anger/fear are considered the same combination. Does this match up?

Using Hate as the combination of all three is pretty safe, particularly since the ordering of the achievements (on top of the evocativeness of the word itself) suggest the Scholar of Hate is the final acolyte. Grief may well be possessed only by the Sadness demon, and Terror is probably pure Fear, but none of the seven scolytes seem to be keyed exclusively to Anger except maybe Hate, if we remove that from the crossroad of all three. Disgust works pretty well as Fear/Anger. Now we start matching up traits based entirely on process of elimination, though, and it falls apart a bit. Anxiety as Fear/Sadness isn’t terrible, and likewise Loneliness as Sadness/Anger is maybe justifiable, but that leaves Regret as either pure Anger or, if we say Hate is pure Anger, it’s the culmination of all three. And the Heir of Regret is only like halfway through the game.

There’s enough going on here that I do wonder if this is supposed to be an Ultima virtues thing but evil and it just wasn’t communicated well – while the game’s visuals are good, its writing is often clunky, so this isn’t too much of a reach. I might just be seeing patterns in chaos, though.

The Dwarves Has A Good Opening

In the RPG The Dwarves, the dwarven people are defenders of a legendary fortress against forces of darkness: Orcs, ogres, dark elves (here called “alfar”), and so on. The fortress guards the entrance to a land unironically called “Girdlegard,” so that’s about the level of writing we’re dealing with here.

But despite the stilted dialogue, the Dwarves has a mechanically sound opening. The premise of the game is that you are Tungdil, a dwarf raised by humans, which means you have a stereotyped idea of what dwarves are, which you nevertheless try to embody. As a result of some orcs causing a ruckus, you venture out on a quest in which you meet more dwarves. Perfectly solid character idea, don’t know if they’ll stick the landing but there’s definitely good ideas in here. Just one problem: The opening conceit necessitates you do a lot of wandering around a human settlement trading barbs with bullies, talking to old mentor figures, and musing on how weird it is that someone you’ve known since she was a baby is now the human equivalent to about your age, and will die before you’re even middle aged. Then you spend a lot of time trekking across the countryside, confronting bigotry against dwarves and finding signs that orcs have begun invading the lands and watching from a hidden spot nearby as armies of them marshal. Then, finally, you get attacked by an orc patrol, bailed out by two dwarven warriors, and the regular RPG stuff of gallivanting around the countryside fighitng monsters and completing quests can begin.

That slow build up is good for the story, but it has the Yes, Your Grace problem that I want to play your damn video game. Now, the Dwarves has the advantage of being an RPG, so wandering around a settlement talking to people actually is one of the primary gameplay loops, but also there’s combat, and we won’t be getting to that for like thirty minutes.

So the Dwarves starts you off with a prologue where you’re playing as a pair of legendary dwarves defending Girdlegard (snicker) against orcs and stuff. They’re overpowered, so you can tear through dozens of the suckers even without having any idea what you’re doing, and at the end they both get stabbed to death by a dark elf who reveals that he can use their reanimated corpses to open up the gates and seize the fortress. The line-by-line problems with the writing aside, this is a really good opening: It gives us control of people who’re already good at what the game is about and lets us go to town for a while, while also establishing the threat that our protagonist doesn’t yet know about, thus giving the plot immediate stakes even though our hero is being sent on what looks like a long distance milk run.

Have You Not Heard Of Me?

I’ve made it to the third Spyro game, which opens with Bianca, a sorceresses’ apprentice, stealing dragon eggs and Spyro chasing after her (Bianca is cute but the sorceress is ugly, so I assume the apprentice is getting a redemption arc). The opening cutscene dumps Spyro in the hub world, and I ran him around gathering gems for a minute before the apprentice showed up to warn me to just turn around and go home or her sorcerous armies would surely destroy me.

But, like, have you not heard of me? Spyro? The Dragon? Defeated the gnorc hordes across six worlds, killed Ripto in an aerial battle over an exploding volcano? Not ringing any bells? The third game’s Forgotten Realms (not those ones) are apparently pretty remote from the Dragon Realms where the first game takes place, and the second game takes place in Avalar, which is accessible only by portal and presumably is either extremely far away (making direct travel an impractical option) or a different world altogether, so my issue here isn’t that Bianca doesn’t recognize Spyro. It’s that Spyro doesn’t respond to her threats at all, leaving the impression that they should be taken at face value. But what makes Bianca and the Sorceress different from the last two supervillains?

Spyro 1 gets a free pass on this because Spyro is still totally unproven at the start of that one, so it makes sense that Gnasty Gnorc isn’t necessarily too bothered that, having successfully imprisoned all 80-ish other dragons in the world, he missed the spunky twelve-year old. Spyro 2 handled this better, though. The main villain Ripto is thrilled to arrive in a world without dragons, apparently the only creatures strong enough to defeat him, so the locals summon a dragon to fight back against him. Ripto doesn’t confront Spyro early on the way Bianca does (neither did Gnasty Gnorc, actually), but implicitly he takes Spyro seriously as a threat because he’s been set up to consider dragons worthy adversaries in general.

Now, Spyro 3 was not originally released as the third installment in a single remastered set. It was the third installment of an episodic platformer series, so this wasn’t necessarily the third Spyro game someone had played. Making too many references to previous adventures might’ve turned people off from playing the game as a standalone. But if Bianca’s going to show up to talk smack, and if she isn’t supposed to come across as in way over her head, she should be able to make some kind of show of force that establishes her as a threat to Spyro. Maybe she could do some kind of magic that gets the better of Spyro in the opening cutscene when she steals the dragon eggs (as it is, she and her minions steal them while everyone is asleep). This establishes for returning players that her powers are either stronger than Gnorc’s or Ripto’s, or just different from theirs, and either way that Spyro isn’t an easy favorite in the fight despite his track record, and for new players it’s just setting up the villain and the premise (i.e. dragon eggs got stolen) without making any direct reference to previous games.

Or alternatively, just don’t have Bianca show up to talk smack at all, but I assume this is phase 1 of a tsundere routine, so the game needs to have Bianca showing up and being very antagonistic to facilitate that.