The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2: Viewpoint Museum, Superior Gear and a Reflection on the Open Beta

“Being a victim is more palatable than having to recognize the intrinsic contradictions of one’s own governing philosophy.” ―Tom Clancy

The Division 2′s open beta ran three weeks after the private beta, adding one new mission and raising the level cap; since the private beta, the open beta has shown that the game has become a bit more stable and responsive. After speedily making my way through the first two campaign missions, and utilising the experience bonuses to quickly hit the minimum level needed to take on Viewpoint Museum, I finally arrived at the new level. The journey here was a quick one, but upon revisiting Washington D.C. in the open beta, I found that the new setting isn’t a bad one after all – the empty streets of Washington D.C. no longer feel quite so sterile, and there are more activities to do while one is moving around on the map. Handling has also been improved since the private beta; my character feels more responsive, and I no longer stagger whenever my armour is depleted. However, some bugs in the movement system still persist: I find myself getting stuck after interacting with doors and keypads, and there was one instance where I was unable to move after attempting to open a supply drop. Beyond minor grievances with movement, which can be the difference between life and death, The Division 2′s open beta shows that the title is largely ready for launch. Even on my older computer, I was able to maintain a smooth sixty frames per second, dipping down to fifty in more intense moments, and on the whole, the gunplay feels much more satisfying at lower levels than they did for equivalent levels in The Division.

After completing Viewpoint Museum, I went back into the Dark Zone to quickly hit the maximum Dark Zone level: normalisation of gear has made the Dark Zone a lot fairer, and while I was clearing landmarks on my own, a pair of players decided they wished to go rogue against me. Equipped with a good knowledge of my preferred skills, how my weapons handled and familiarity with the mechanics as a result of the private beta, I ended up squaring off against both agents head-on and managed to defeat them. PvP combat never really was my cup of tea in The Division, but The Division 2′s normalised Dark Zone provide a rather interesting environment to fight in: all players have an equal chance here. This particular Dark Zone is a bit small, but there are other Dark Zones, including at least one where players go in with their regular stats, allowing individuals to experience the Dark Zone as they please. Besides destroying rogue agents, I also successfully completed through the Jefferson Trade Centre Invaded mission, solo, with the demolitionist specialisation. It turns out that the M32 MSGL is an absolute terror, and upon encountering the named elites, I was shocked to learn that the grenades could bring down these enemies in one shot. Again, experience with the private beta meant that I had no difficulty melting my way through the Black Task on my own. With this particular experience under my belt, I spent the remainder of my time on improving my loadout and finishing off all of the different projects to upgrade the Theatre Settlement.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While LMGs in The Division became obsolete very quickly, I found that at all points in The Division 2, from the story missions to the endgame, LMGs were versatile, viable weapons that could hit reasonably hard and put down sustained amounts of damage downrange, making them especially useful against crowds and heavily armoured enemies. I spent most of Friday evening working my way back to the point where I could complete this mission: my progress from the private beta did not save, and I took advantage of this to run a new character.

  • The Viewpoint Museum is based off the Newseum, a museum that showcases a history of journalism. The locations of Washington D.C. are faithfully replicated, and looking at a map of Washington D.C., it is quite impressive as to how accurate The Division 2‘s D.C. are to the real-world equivalent. In the beta, much of the map remains locked, and in the full game, I imagine that players will be able to visit Capital One Arena, home of the Washington Capitals.

  • It seemed curious to be fighting a building about the history of journalism, with the intent of shutting down the True Sons’ propaganda broadcast: the True Sons are probably most similar to the LMB, being well-trained and well-organised. They were formed by a former JTF officer who was disillusioned with how things were handled following the Dollar Flu crisis, and are probably the most lethal enemy players will face until the Black Tusk arrive.

  • Despite Ubisoft’s reassurances that The Division 2 is not directed at conveying a political message about the current state of government in the United States, and the fact that the game is ultimately about showing how people can come together to survive and overcome adversity, some game journalists have insisted on pushing their own narrative. Arguing that The Division is symbolic of using force to take back a fallen system, journalists claim that it is “[disrespectful to] the intelligence of the players” to claim that the game is apolitical because of its symbolism. The page quote is one of Tom Clancy’s very own remarks, speaking succinctly to my own thoughts on the presence of virtue signalling and the excesses that accompany it.

  • While all people are entitled to their opinion, it is disrespectful to suppose that the creator’s intent is irrelevant when considering the merits of a game and its messages. It typifies games journalists of a certain type to insert their discourse into something meant to entertain players: this issue has been especially prevalent since an incident some five years ago that threw the practises of gaming journalists into the open, although I personally find the discourse that such journalists raise to be largely irrelevant to my own perspectives of a game. Simply put, gameplay mechanics and progression matter much more to me than political messages.

  • I ended up running an M249B throughout most of The Division 2: the hordes of enemies that storm the player means that for most mid-range engagements, my assault rifle would run dry after three enemies, and being caught in the open with an empty chamber spells certain death. Throughout The Division 2, I switched between the different kinds of weapons, and found that the weapons’ different performances are much more pronounced than they were in The Division: every weapon has a role to play now, and so, it is useful to carry a range of weapons now.

  • The final stage of taking back the Viewpoint Museum involves disabling EMP jammers on the rooftop, while simultaneously engaging True Sons. The EMP will prevent players from using their skills and also introduce a considerable amount of visual disruption on the screen, so it is imperative to take the jammers down right away. Once this is done, players will square off against the named elite that appears.

  • During the course of The Division 2‘s open beta, I found that enemies of all difficulties, from basic enemies right up to the named elites, all were relatively straightforwards to engage at all levels. When I first played The Division, enemies with yellow health bars were always intimidating to fight, and that The Division 2‘s enemies never invoked a sense of fear in me the same way the toughest enemies of The Division did suggest that I’ve since become more familiar with the mechanics of The Division. With this being said, the First Wave agents that were the bosses of Legendary missions were absolutely monstrosities to fight, and could easily wipe the careless teams out wholesale. I imagine that these enemies will be present for The Division 2‘s equivalent of legendary missions, such as raids.

  • Having completed the Viewpoint Museum with minimal difficulty, I had now caught up with the open beta’s experiences and soon turned my attention towards maxing out my Dark Zone rank for a second time. The Dark Zone available in The Division 2‘s open beta was about the same size as one of the sectors in The Division‘s Dark Zone, but despite this, seemed to offer plenty of opportunity for exploration. Randomly roving bands of enemies are absent, as most enemies seem concentrated around the landmarks.

  • During my run in the Dark Zone, I never bothered extracting any items since the gains from a successful extraction seems outweighed by the risk of losing it. However, I did have two separate instances where other players turned rogue in my face, hoping to score a quick kill, and I ended up pasting them on the pavement: this fellow here opened fire on me, and I happened to have my M249B out: its large ammunition pool mean that while he was stuck reloading, I could continue to lay down fire, eventually downing him.

  • I brought down another rogue agent using a superior CTAR-21: during the course of the open beta, I found two superior items in my travels, and their performance gave me a very minute edge over would-be assailants. The sum of my experiences in The Division 2‘s Dark Zone meant that it would be worthwhile to buy the game just to cause trouble for the agents that would turn rogue: normalised gear means that winning a firefight with other players boils down to better spatial awareness, weapon control and skill management. Against individual rogues, they simply stand no chance.

  • I decided to give the endgame Invaded mission another go, and this time, rolled with the demolitions expert loadout. This specialisation gave me access to the M32 MSGL, a six-shot grenade launcher. There’s a special way of improving one’s odds of acquiring signature weapon ammunition: with the marksman, it was nailing headshots, and with the demolitions expert, it’s using explosives or weak-point kills. I had no shortage of 40 mm grenades during my second solo run, and this time, with improved map knowledge, I made it through the first corridor without too much trouble.

  • I decided to save the 40 mm grenades for a named elite, and I was horrified with its effects. Unlike the TAC-50, which requires a direct line of sight and is better suited for long-range operations, the M32 MSGL’s indirect fire capabilities means that it is capable of being used against enemies in cover. I fired off one grenade in the ISAC Terminal room, and killed the named elite in one round, preventing the shutdown of the ISAC Terminal in record time. I subsequently used the grenades to annihilate hordes of enemies: the grenades appear to be capable of doing up to 500 thousand points of damage.

  • The biggest disadvantage about being a solo player is simply the risk of being flanked is increased by several fold: blindly charging into a new area without being mindful of enemy placement is the surest way to death, and I’m sure that many games journalists of late don’t know this simple, but effective trick to staying alive longer. When I entered this room, I had no idea where the enemies would spawn from, and so, threw my auto-turret into the center. The turret is very effective at whittling down health of enemies, and can be set to lock onto drones, as well: any complaints that the skills are ineffective are a consequence of not experimenting and doing some reading on what the different specialisations have.

  • I feel that for gaming journalism to be more relevant, organisations would need to encourage their staff to cultivate a more satisfactory understanding of game mechanics, as opposed to tangential matters that do not impact gameplay. For me, I had no trouble blasting my way through the Black Tusks at this point: the M249B was my go-to weapon during this run, and I was very impressed with how LMGs from The Division 2 handle: assault rifles no longer deal bonus armour damage, and extended mags have a unique set of drawbacks that force players to be mindful of how they mod their weapons. As such, for their impressive ability to suppress enemies and sustain fire, they are excellent for solo players to control large numbers of enemies.

  • When the named elite appeared, I lured him into a narrow corridor and equipped the M32 MSGL: I was fully expecting a challenging fight ahead, as the elite here has an RPG of some sort that can one-shot players from full health, but I was left speechless after absolutely shredding the elite with a single shot. This brought my second end-game run to an end, and I leave finding the demolitions specialisation one that could be very entertaining for close-quarters maps.

  • Exploration found the starting area to be revisitable, and here, I pass through the area The Division 2‘s beta began in. Compared to three weeks ago, the weather back home has remained bitterly cold, and we’ve broken some records now. Besides being the fourth coldest February in the city’s history, we’ve had more than four straight weeks where the temperatures have not broken above 0ºC. To stave off nearly a month of non-stop cold, I stepped out to an Irish Pub on Friday for some hearty Irish classics: a piping-hot Steak and Guinness pie with large chunks of beef and root vegetables proved more than sufficient for warding off the cold.

  • Having said this, it looks like temperatures will finally warm up at least a little in the upcoming while. Despite being nowhere near as warm as the atmosphere conveyed in The Division 2, anything above zero is considered balmy for me. The Division 2, being set in the summer, definitely gives off a sense of warmth, even mugginess: the lighting has vastly improved over The Division, and here, I stopped to admire the volumetric lighting streaming between the trees while pushing to complete more of the activities for the settlement projects.

  • Unlike the private beta, I had a bit more spare time available over the weekend to complete the settlement projects in full. The Division 2 offers plenty to do, and it’s clear that the game has taken the lessons of The Division to keep things engaging for players en route to the endgame, as well as during the endgame itself. With this post on The Division 2 at a close, readers left wondering about my writings in March won’t need to worry: I do have a few more posts on games upcoming, but coming up next will be a lengthy post on CLANNAD ~After Story~ as Ushio’s arc concludes, and then a reflection of why I felt the ending in ~After Story~ was one that was appropriate for the story.

  • This is my final loadout from the open beta: I ended up collecting quite a number of specialised assault rifles during my run, as well. On the whole, my final loadout for The Division 2‘s open beta proved to be rather more impressive than the one I had after The Division‘s open beta: this particular arsenal will be moot, given that all progress will reset once the game goes live, but I’m still very pleased to have found a superior CTAR-21 and backpack during my run. All of this was accomplished without using any exploits or tricks; I was able to find everything just from normal gameplay.

Overall, I spent around eight hours in The Division 2′s open beta. During this time, I acquired more specialised gear than I had expected, and even managed to find two pieces of superior gear. My experiences in The Division‘s beta and the final game showed that the superior items would appear much later in the game than they did in the beta: it wasn’t until level twenty where I began seeing purple drops. This open beta was exceptionally fun and also illuminating in that it helped me reached a more informed decision on where I stand with The Division 2. On one hand, Washington D.C. has proven itself to be a distinct and engaging setting to fight in. New mechanics show that The Division 2 has definitely applied the lessons learnt from The Division to create a more compelling experience. Crafting and inventory management has seen vast improvements over its predecessor, and this time, shooting is much more satisfying even when one has not reached the endgame. While some issues remain with the movement system, The Division 2 has made considerable strides since its private beta. All of this is very positive for the game, and I expect that fans of The Division will definitely enjoy this one upon its launch. However, having said this, I do not see myself pre-ordering The Division 2 or purchasing it shortly after release for two reasons – I already have a considerable backlog of other titles that I’d like to go through, along with quite enough to do in the foreseeable future. It does not appear in my best interest to buy a title at launch, only for it to accumulate dust in my library. Instead, what will likely happen is that into the future, once I’ve made enough headway in my backlog, I will pick up The Division 2. In all honesty, this does seem like a game that merits purchase at launch price, and I think that anyone familiar with The Division will do well to grab this one.

Tirailleur: Reflections on the Battlefield V Campaign

“When the French army liberated Paris, they pulled back all the black troops. They replaced them with more…familiar faces. But I know what we did. And at what cost. And I’m proud of it.” —Deme Cisse

Deme Cisse is a Senegalese veteran who fought under Idrissa in a Tirailleur company. After arriving in France and deemed unfit to serve on the frontlines, they are asked to destroy German anti-air emplacements and capture a German position. Fighting against better-armed German soldiers, the Tirailleurs manage to succeed, and emboldened by their success, Deme rallies the other Tirailleurs into pressing ahead, arguing that they’ve done more than the regular French forces has thus far. The Tirailleurs press into German-held ground and attempt to take out additional German anti-air guns, but several Tirailleurs are captured in the process. As they destroy the last of the guns, a wounded German soldier taunts the Tirailleurs, saying that they are surrounded. In order to deceive the Germans, Deme recommends pushing ahead and capturing a château under German control. After clearing a village out, the Tirailleurs head for the château and defeat the German forces guarding it. However, a Tiger I appears and opens fire on the Tirailleurs. Idrissa manages to approach the tank and disable it with a grenade, but dies in the process. When Deme breaks into the château, he finds wounded Germans everywhere. The French captain arrives and congratulates the Tirailleurs, asking for a photograph, but the Tirailleurs are removed from the photograph later. Even though history failed to record and recognise their considerable contributions to the war, Deme remarks that he knows what they’ve done. In the course of World War Two, a total of two hundred thousand Senegalese Tirailleurs fought for France, and in 2010, France would award full military pensions to the surviving thirty thousand veterans. Twenty-eight Senegalese Tirailleurs would be granted French citizenship in 2017 by former French president Francois Hollande, indicating that their heroics had not only been remembered, but also celebrated.

The Senegalese Tirailleurs were light infantry recruited from Senegal; formed in 1857 by Louis Faidherbe, the Tirailleurs were meant to act as soldiers to offset the limited number of soldiers in French colonies. They would serve in both World War One and World War Two, but for the most part, their contributions have remained quite unknown. This is the theme that the Tirailleur war story portrays – while every soldier has a story to tell, not every soldier’s story is recorded into the annals of history. Seeing things from the eyes of a Tirailleur brings to light the sorts of challenges and struggles they had while fighting in France; from the distain of the regular French Army to the power their enemy has brought to bear, the Tirailleurs fought an exceedingly difficult battle in France, and did so with distinction. Against all expectation, Deme and his brothers-in-arms manage to accomplish what was thought to be suicidal. A French captain is impressed with their actions, but the social climate meant their actions would be skated over and go uncredited. In spite of this, Deme believes that his actions were not in vain, and that regardless of what the world may otherwise be told, he remembers what he did and knows that their actions counted for something. When I played through the Tirailleur war story, I immediately found a relatable story – I recall a personal story during high school where I single-handedly finished the yearbook when all of the IB students pulled out, and one of the IB students was given recognition for finishing the project. My personal belief is that I will do what is necessary to get things done, and people have taken advantage of my work ethic for their own ends. I had joined the Yearbook Club to make yearbooks, and strove to finish it simply because it would be a a record of classmates’ memories, which I could be proud of. The day the yearbooks arrived from the print shop, I was called out of class to help the yearbook advisor unpack the yearbooks, and seeing the finished product was something that made me far happier than receiving a medal could. Deme similarly knows what he accomplished counts for something, and even if others may not recognise his achievements, he still knows and can be proud of it.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Deme starts Tirailleur with the Chauchat LMG; this distinct-looking weapon made an appearance in Battlefield 1 as a support weapon that I found to be quite difficult to use at my preferred ranges as a result of its low fire rate. From a design perspective, the Chauchat was an innovative weapon that can also be thought of as a precursor to modern battle rifles, although its unusual magazine meant it was susceptible to jams.

  • Tirailleur has the second-nicest environments in Battlefield V‘s war stories: the autumn forests and orange foliage look amazing amongst the shafts of volumetric lighting. The aspen groves in my area cover the ground in leaves of yellow during the autumn, and during this time of year, I find it to be especially pleasant for walks. While still quite warm, later summer and early autumn days are not as hot as mid-summer, and nowhere nearly as cold as a Real Canadian Winter™, making it perfect for being outside.

  • The Chauchat’s low rate of fire works to its advantage, but I eventually switch over to other weapons to improve my adaptability. After clearing out a German position, I find an FG-42 among the host of semi-automatic rifles. The FG-42 remains a solid choice for mid-range engagements even with its iron sights, and in the campaign, the lack of options for changing out the weapon sights means that I’m more ineffective with semi-automatic or bolt action weapons.

  • Deme passes over a ridge and into a gully below lined with concrete Drachenzähne (Dragon’s Teeth), designed to slow down armour. These constructs were employed widely by both Allied and Axis powers, and their construction means that many installations are still intact. The wide open spaces here means that having a good long-range weapon becomes an asset: I picked up a scoped M.95 Gewehr and used it to pick off enemies, but ammunition scarcity forced me to push on ahead.

  • A multiplayer map similar to this area of Tirailleur could be a solid choice for the breakthrough and frontlines game modes: we’re nearly four months into Battlefield V‘s launch, and while new weapons and vehicles have been steadily introduced, what’s really missing from the classic Battlefield experience are new maps. Battlefield V does feel distinctly minimal with its launch content, and while I’ve yet to hit the maximum rank for my medic and recon classes, I have reached level fifty now. The limited map selection and absence of American, Russian and Japanese forces is especially noticeable.

  • I am continuing to hope that Russians, Americans and Japanese soldiers, weapons and vehicles will make it into the game over the next two years; it is still early in the game, and should Battlefield V prove too dull, there are a host of other games I can play through in the meantime. With this being said, the Tides of War weekly assignments have given me incentive to return and play the game: DICE has applied the Road to Battlefield lessons of old and managed to return me to the game, but what will really drive my excitement is new maps and iconic experiences like Normandy and Iwo Jima.

  • While it was disappointing to learn that the Tides of War won’t bring any new war stories into Battlefield V, I do understand that campaign missions can be quite labour-intensive to implement. Besides event programming and voice acting, levels must also be designed to accommodate a single-player experience. With this being said, I am not of the mind that future Battlefield titles should skip out on a campaign: I’ve never been a fan of pure multiplayer games, and a quick glance at my library shows that Battlefield is about the only series that I actively play multiplayer for.

  • For me, a good game is an interactive, immersive experience. I play games for the same reason that I read books: to lose myself in another world and take in the sights and sounds developers, engineers, writers and actors/actresses have crafted into a virtual world to create a realm that merits exploration. Single-player games are immeasurably enjoyable for this reason, and for me, is what defines gaming. As such, it is fortunate that developers and publishers continue with single-player games that promote experiences: titles like DOOM and Deus Ex are examples of recent single player games with solid value.

  • Once I reach the final point in Tirailleur’s first act, I managed to clear it out and found an MG-42. This is the last weapon unlocked for the support class, and it is a beast of a weapon with its firing rate. I’ve managed to unlock it and have made use of it, finding it an excellent defensive weapon. The only downside about the weapon is that even with all specialisations, one cannot accurately run a Strike Witches loadout: the drum magazines are not available for the weapon as it is for the MG-34. However, the MG-42 is a fine weapon: with up to 250 rounds and a distinct overheating animation where the player will swap out a barrel, the weapon is a joy to use.

  • While Tirailleur’s first act involves going loud, the second act requires more stealth elements. Deme is equipped with the De Lisle Commando Carbine, an excellent suppressed weapon that can be used to engage enemies at range. I find that stealth in Battlefield campaigns is out of place and strictly speaking, quite unnecessary: Battlefield is about shooting stuff, after all, and to go through a campaign while avoiding firefights, however realistic it might be, feels contrary to the point of a first person shooter.

  • I’ve heard that the medic class will be getting a new class of weapons quite soon, and moreover, that this class of weapons will be suited for a longer-range playstyle that will allow medics to engage distant foes on maps where close quarters is in shorter supply. This is most welcome: having options is what gives players the sense that they are always ready to deal with whatever comes their way, and for the longest time, the medic was constrained to close quarters.

  • Here, Deme must sneak past groups of German soldiers to rejoin his unit, before they can continue taking out anti-air emplacements deep in enemy territory. I ended up giving up on stealth halfway through and proceeded to blast everything in sight: this is a recurring trend in video games, and I’m sure numerous other players have seen this happen. I am certain that there is probably a handful of flanking routes I could take to avoid detection, and this, along with an epic melee weapon, could merit a revisitation in the future.

  • Once the fortified German positions are reached, it’s time to go weapons hot and blow up anything that moves. While I’ve hung onto the M.95 Gewehr for ranged combat, there’s no point in having two single-action weapons. German soldiers here will drop MP-40s, and I gratefully swapped out the De Lisle for one. The MP-40 is an excellent submachine gun all around, and in the multiplayer, I’ve enjoyed extensive use of the weapon in close quarters, where the medics excel.

  • It’s been some three months since I actually completed the Tirailleur mission: these screenshots were taken on the evening of December 3, and attesting to how busy I’ve been, it’s only now that I have found the time to write about my experiences. Fortunately, my recollection of these missions are excellent – for instance, I still remember that it was a cold evening early in December when I pushed through this mission. I had reached the end of the second act when I got an email with some documents I needed to fill out.

  • Overlooking the village, Deme must disable all of the weapons down below before his fellow Tirailleurs can advance. I was somewhat successful with a stealth approach and managed to disable one of the weapons without being detected. In retrospect, it was probably a better idea to keep the De Lisle, and here, I stopped to admire the scenery before continuing with the mission; it’s a beautiful morning, and all is quiet, but things are about to go loud very quickly.

  • The story I recount above with the Yearbook Club is an older one, and a few evenings ago, I found the yearbook in question. In it, I see a younger self standing in the middle of the Yearbook club surrounded by people I was sure were only present in the beginning, since I hardly saw more than a third of the people actually doing club activities. I was on excellent terms with the club advisor, and do remember spending many club meetings where it was just us. Hence, I was surprised that the individual who won the Yearbook award was someone who I recalled as being largely absent from club activities after classes.

  • For me, the real happiness was seeing how nice the printed yearbooks looked. I knew that I had put my best into making the books, and that’s what counts. With this being said, the school eventually did catch wind of my role in making sure the yearbooks came out alright, and on the night of the awards, I received an unengraved medal under the Yearbook Club category, which suggests to me that a last-minute decision was made. Here, I push up the hill towards the château: it is heavily guarded, and with other the Tirailleurs, I fended off the defending German forces, making use of a Panzerfaust I found to soften up enemy positions.

  • After reaching the top of the road and punching through the château’s main gates, I cleared the area of remaining Germans. A Tiger I appears and wrecks havoc, but is destroyed. In the aftermath, the Tirailleurs secure the château, exceeding all expectations. With this final act done, I’ve finished all of the war stories that were available at Battlefield V‘s launch, and the last remaining war story deals with the German perspective, so I’ll be writing from the perspective of a Tiger I commander.

  • When I last wrote about Battlefield V, I remarked that the StuG IV Tides of War assignment was not worth my time. I ended up eating my words and somehow managed to achieve it the day before DICE decided to modify the assignment to only require five kills rather than twenty. With this modification, however, players were left in limbo and unable to unlock the tank if they had more than five kills but less than nineteen. Perseverance had paid off for me: and thanks to how much time I spent in the gunner seat, I was already rank three for the tank by the time I got it. The assignments for the past two weeks have been more reasonable, and I managed to earn this week’s weapon, the Ross Mk III, in 90 minutes of gameplay.

  • This leaves plenty of time in the upcoming days for going through The Division 2‘s open beta, which runs from March 1 to March 4. Today is also the last day of February: we leave the shortest month of the year behind, and I note that of the nine posts I wrote, six of them dealt with gaming. First and foremost, I should thank my readers for putting up with this. In March, I will be writing more about anime again – Non Non Biyori Vacation is out now, and I am looking forwards to schooling Anime News Network’s pathetic excuse of a review soon. I will also be writing about Penguin Highway and wrapping up my CLANNAD ~After Story~ revisitations. Readers, however, should be aware that I’m going through Ace Combat 7 at a smart pace. As well, I still have one more campaign mission for Battlefield V and at least one reflection of The Division 2‘s open beta. Hence, March will have its share of gaming posts, as well.

Great accomplishments going uncredited, or else being credited to other individuals is an unfortunately common occurrence. Because there is a bit of a personal story attached to this, I found that from a thematic perspective, Tirailleur is probably the strongest war story, underlying what Battlefield V‘s war stories were meant to accomplish – deliberately choosing to explore obscure and remote operations fought by individuals who never got much recognition shows the extent that World War Two impacted the world. In particular, Tirailleur’s dealing with credit (or a lack thereof) where it is due is a powerful reminder that there are numerous aspects of World War Two where heroics and sacrifice are untold simply because of how vast the conflict is. In conjunction with a vividly designed autumn level filled with oranges and reds of foliage, Tirailleur presents to players a solid experience that is probably the most consistent with older Battlefield campaign missions, as players are made to accomplish tasks in a bombastic manner involving good aim and good positioning. While the AI in Battlefield V‘s war stories leave much to be desired, the campaigns do offer a more relaxed, cinematic experience compared to the more chaotic and unpredictable nature of multiplayer. With this post in the books, I only have one more war story to cover, following a tank commander in the final days of World War Two as Allied forces close in on Berlin.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Angel Beats!, On accepting and making the most of the hand life has dealt

“It was more than mere chance that brought Merry and Pippin to Fangorn. A great power has been sleeping here for many long years. The coming of Merry and Pippin will be like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains.” –Gandalf, The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers

Yuzuru Otonashi awakens to find himself in a strange world without recollections of his self, and encounters a girl aiming a bolt-action rifle at the student council president. After attempting to talk to the student council president and being impaled, Yuzuru comes to in the infirmary. He decides to join the Shinda Sekai Sensen (SSS, Afterlife Battlefront) and learn more about the world he’s in. As he bonds with SSS members Yuri Nakamura and Hideki Hinata, he discovers that the afterlife is a world for individuals who’d died in the real world and were given a second chance to experience an ordinary high school life. Fearing disappearance, the SSS constantly strive to undermine student council president Kanade Tachibana. Along the way, Yuzuru begins to piece together his own past as he participates in the SSS’ operations, realising that he was once a medical student candidate who died on his way to the admissions exam in a train accident. Between the various antics of the SSS and helping his fellow students out, Yuzuru comes to realise that individuals disappear when they’ve found fulfilment, and that Kanade is acting with the aim of helping the others out but because of her poor communication skills, became misunderstood. Yuzuru eventually helps the others make peace with their pasts and “graduate”, falling in love with Kanade, who reveals that his final act in donating his organs helped save her life. Immensely grateful she found the individual who’d given her live, Kanade is also able to move on. Running during the spring 2010 anime season, Angel Beats! is counted as being a remarkably moving and well-written anime despite its short length, striking a masterful balance between comedy and tragedy that, in conjunction with a memorable cast and solid world-building, created a captivating, compelling story that drew viewers in.

At its core, Angel Beats! is about acceptance of one’s reality and making peace with the past, specifically, how the right people can help one see things from another perspective and how a new angle can help one come to terms with their past. Each of the characters in the afterlife had suffered a past grievance while they were alive, or else held onto emotions that were sufficiently important that they did not dispel in death. Yuri’s siblings were killed during a break-in, Masami Iwasawa died with the anger of being unable to sing, Hideki regrets his failure as a baseball player, and Ayato struggled to find his own way in life, having been forced to become a potter after his brother died. Yuzuru was dissatisfied with dying before he could make a new future for himself in a situation outside of his control. Their misfortunes make them resentful of life, and initially, the SSS is motivated by a desire to take revenge on a god that would allow them to suffer in this manner. However, when Yuzuru appears, his new perspective on things slowly leads the SSS to realise that Kanade is not an agent of whatever gods there might be, and that in their time with one another, they’ve come to accomplish those things in the afterlife that they’d yearned to accomplish in life. Friendship, and the perspective it brought, helps each of Yuzuru, Yuri, Hideki and Ayato face their pasts, come to terms with it and realise that while things had been bad, they’d also come to appreciate the second chance they were given. With the SSS, Yuri has become a dependable, reliable leader that she had regretted failing when she let her siblings down. Ayato finds new purpose in life when he meets Yuzuru, and Hideki develops a close friendship with Yuzuru that must’ve been absent from his life following that failed baseball game. Yuzuru himself learns that he once wanted to go to medical school to help others, and while his actions in the afterlife are not medical school, he has, in a manner of speaking, been given an opportunity to help others now. The friendship and camaraderie in the SSS allows Yuzuru to open up and begin exploring his environment; he begins to wonder why the SSS is so intent on fighting Kanade.

Because of his intrinsic kindness and concern for those around him, Yuzuru is a major catalyst in setting the SSS along a path of reconciliation with Kanade. Despite befriending the SSS’ members quickly, Yuzuru is quick to question on the worth of their various operations, and sense of empathy leads him to believe that Kanade is an individual, rather than an agent of the system. After seeing Kanade’s quiet look of sadness when one of their operations deprives her of her favourite meal, he begins seeing her as more of a human, and makes active efforts to speak with her. While the SSS are bewildered with this behaviour, they also begin agreeing Yuzuru’s speculation that disappearing simply means accepting one’s past. By helping Yui make peace with her past and her subsequent disappearance, the SSS slowly begin to realise that Yuzuru has a point, and each member considers their own fulfilment in the afterlife. Yuzuru brought to the SSS a new set of eyes and new ideas; under Yuri’s leadership, their goals had simply been to wreck havoc and avoid disappearing. The SSS had become set in these ways and would have remained in limbo for eternity, but with Yuzuru’s arrival, things begin changing. Sometimes, it takes disruption to shake a system from the status quo, and the right individual in the right place can have a profound affect on things. With his natural desire to help others, Yuzuru’s actions create a profound change amongst the SSS; he manages to convince the members that life is about moving on rather than dwelling on the past, and as the other members begin accepting their pasts, he, Yuri and Kanade also form a close friendship. During their graduation ceremony, Yuri accepts Kanade as a friend and wonders why they’d not been able to support one another sooner. By contributing to helping the whole of the SSS graduate, Yuzuru’s arrival is meant to show that individuals with a strong sense of empathy and willingness to help others, as well as a steadfast commitment to their convictions, can bring about positive change in a system that has otherwise been entrenched in its ways.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As the first entry in “Masterpiece Anime Showcase” series, I will establish the format posts of this style will take: they will be much larger than conventional posts, featuring a lengthier discussion and more screenshots. Even with this expanded format, it is difficult to concisely fit everything into such a space, and I’ve found that the screenshots I do end up picking will not fully convey everything there is about a series. “Masterpiece Anime Showcase” posts differ from Terrible Anime Challenge posts in that they deal with the series where, expectations going in notwithstanding, the end result was sufficient to change my world-views to some extent. Posts of this series will also feature more reminiscence.

  • The unusual setup in Angel Beats! works entirely in its favour, and after the first episode, where Yuzuru meets the SSS, I found myself immediately hooked. I still remember the days when I first picked Angel Beats! up: it was during the cold of the winter semester, and I was slowly pushing my way through a biochemistry, cell and molecular biology and fundamentals of bioinformatics course. Here, Yuzuru is formally introduced to the SSS – shorthand for Shinda Sekai Sensen, the SSS exist to wage war against the God for injustices they’d suffered in their lives.

  • Most of the SSS’ activities involve fighting one Tenshi (Angel), as the SSS’ leader, Yuri, believes her to be an emissary of God or similar. In their fight, they also hope to stave off disappearing, not understanding where vanished individuals go. Operation Tornado is one such activity: while various members of the SSS keep Tenshi busy with various firearms, the band Girls Dead Monster (Girl DeMo) perform a lively concert that distract the students. The acquisition of meal tickets is the end result, and it’s certainly a lively operation. The visuals of Angel Beats! are phenomenal, and the meal tickets resemble little more than glowing orbs of light, creating a surreal atmosphere.

  • While I have reviewed Angel Beats! previously, it was in a much shorter format at my old site. In this post, I will not be focusing on the various firearms the SSS use: their choice seems to be motivated largely by aesthetics rather than performance, and at any rate Tenshi’s own Guard Skills allow her to nullify the effects of firearms. During most confrontations, Tenshi prefers using her abilities in a defensive manner and never attacks unless actively provoked, hinting at her nature.

  • Yuri Nakamura is the leader of the SSS, coordinating operations and occasionally stepping onto the field herself, where she displays exceptional combat prowess with both melee weapons and firearms. Calculating, forward thinking but also sensitive and protective of those around her, Yuri is a natural leader whose charisma and care inspire others to fight for her. However, she is also prone to moments of immaturity, and in Angel Beats!, the colourful character dynamics do much in contributing to the viewer’s concern for the characters.

  • During an operation to visit the Guild and resupply on munitions, much of the SSS are wiped out by various anti-Tenshi traps that were engaged after her presence was detected in the tunnels. Yuzuru’s tenacity allows him to reach the Guild, and along the way, Yuri reveals that in life, she was the eldest sister amongst siblings who were killed during a break-and-enter. Regretting her inability to keep her siblings safe, she longs to rebel against God for having allowed such a cruel turn of events to occur.

  • Yuzuru’s first descent into the Guild with Yuri shows that despite his unfamiliarity with the world, he quickly comes to care about those around him, as well. While some characters immediately have a bone to pick with Yuzuru, such as Noda and Fujimaki, Yuzuru gets along with most of the SSS’ members, and in time, comes to befriend Hideki. Here, he fights Tenshi alongside Yuri, armed with a Glock 17 – this polymer-framed, short recoiled semi-automatic pistol is of German origin that has become quite popular for its light weight. The police services of my home city use the Glock 17 as their sidearm of choice.

  • Despite lacking any augmentation, Yuri is capable of going toe-to-toe with Tenshi, whose powers are conferred by a software known as the Angel Player system. Combat with superhuman entities, firearms, coordinated operations and a desire to rebel against God coexist in Angel Beats! with everyday life at school, concerts and time spent with friends. This setup is quite unusual by all standards, but it exemplifies P.A. Works’ ability to weave in multi-faceted narratives: Tari TariSakura Quest and The World in Colours later would go on to use a similar setup to great effect. Being able to weave in multiple hobbies and eccentricities keeps the worlds in anime fresh, and even though the later anime are more constrained within the laws of reality, remain very entertaining precisely because of this approach.

  • Masami is the first of the SSS to disappear: a talented musician, Masami is the lead singer of Girls DeMo and resembles Girls und Panzer‘s Maho Nishizumi to a limited extent. Known for her spirited, high-energy songs, Yuri wonders if a ballad might be appropriate for their operations, and later, while breaking from practise, Masami encounters Yuzuru. She explains to him that she came from a dysfunctional family and found music as an escape, but during an altercation, she was struck in the head and was no longer able to play music. After telling this story to Yuzuru and performing her final song, she appears to have found solace and disappears.

  • The balcony overlooking the school grounds is a quiet location: the photorealism of this moment belies the fact that Angel Beats! is nearly a decade old. Between the reflections on the granite floor, reflection of sunlight along the railing or the shadows from clouds covering the forest in the distance, this location vividly remains in my memory as an example of how well-rendered Angel Beats! is. I vaguely remember similar weather conditions at the train station the day I was leaving Shanghai after visiting the Expo 2010: I visited Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou in 2010 with an iPod filled with Lia’s music, including “My Soul, Your Beats”. As our tour group travelled along the highways cutting across the plains of the Yangtze River delta, these songs played in the background. Besides checking out the Canadian Pavilion, I also purchased limited edition commemorative medallions from the event. Other highlights of this trip to China included visiting the Forbidden City, walking the Great Wall of China, a delicious dinner at a Hangzhou hotel while a thunderstorm raged outside, and various boat rides on the West Lake, Grand Canal of Suzhou and the Yangtze River in Pudong by night.

  • After coming home from that vacation, I returned to summer research at my old lab and forgot about Angel Beats!, but was compelled to check it out two years later. The music of the series is solid and was a motivating factor in leading me to give the anime a go. Here, the SSS capitalise on a distraction Girls DeMo has created via their concert to search Tenshi’s room. They find nothing out of the ordinary, but Yuri’s enlisted Takeyama’s help, and he quickly breaks into Tenshi’s computer, learning that she’s using software to create superhuman abilities. Yuri wonders why God’s emissary would need to develop her own powers, one of the earlier signs that Yuri’s impression of the world may not be entirely correct.

  • When she is introduced, Yui is presented as an energetic and somewhat irritating girl who loves Masami’s performance. Despite Yui’s ditzy nature, she is a capable singer in her own right. Yui immediately grates on Hideki, who does not hesitate to kick her ass whenever she crosses a line. In spite of this rocky start, and their continued clashes throughout Angel Beats!, both Yui and Hideki mature as the series progresses.

  • Hideki’s story is that he was involved in a traffic accident that claimed his life, and his biggest regret is that his failure to catch a loose baseball cost his team a major game. During an operation involving baseball, Hideki wonders if he should make a catch, as finding fulfillment in the afterlife may lead to his disappearance. Before he can make his decision, Yui collides with him, and an irate Hideki wrestles with Yui subsequently.

  • Tenshi’s real name is Kanade Tachibana, and she’s shown as a quiet student who goes about her business unless otherwise interfered with. In order to test the limits of their world, Yuri proposes messing with Kanade’s examination results, and she is subsequently made to stand down as the Student Council President. Kanade is voiced by Kana Hanazawa, whom readers will best know as The Garden of Word‘s very own Yukari Yukino, Manaka Mukaido of Nagi no Asukara (which, incidentally, is also slated to be featured in Masterpiece Anime Showcase) and Shirase Kobuchizawa from A Place Further Than The Universe.

  • After Kanade’s complete lack of resistance to the SSS’ latest iteration of Operation Tornado, Yuzuru wonders if Kanade is really just an ordinary student unrelated to whatever gods Yuri imagine to be an integral part of the afterlife. He tries the mapo duofu (麻婆豆腐) a Sichuan dish legendary for its spiciness and whose name takes after its pockmarked appearance. Yuzuru is overwhelmed with its flavour the same way Adam Richman was stopped by some of the spicy challenges, but after the heat wears off, he finds the taste to be pleasant. In his mind’s eye, he sees a solitary Kanade eating this dish on her own and begins to feel that their operations have taken away this simple happiness from her after her removal from the student council.

  • The SSS’ members walk through one of the bridges connecting the school grounds to the surrounding areas. While often unmentioned on account of being overshadowed by the emotional aspects of Angel Beats!, the architecture of the high school’s facilities in the afterlife are stunning: unlike conventional high schools, this facility is a mixture of older classrooms, a spacious gym and an ultra-modern canteen/gathering space. The vastness of the complex facilitates the diversity of events that the SSS experience, and its size is likely deliberate, mirroring the scope of the SSS’ members’ backgrounds and their interests.

  • After Kanade is removed from the student council, Yuri decides to determine if there’s another agent that might be acting on behalf of God or equivalent. She asks the SSS’ members to be deliberately disruptive in class. Slaying Mahjong and generally being pains in the lower backside (per the approach Yui takes, when she asks to go to the bathroom every half-minute) seems to have little effect, but when Kanade and Yuzuru go to have a morning meal together, Ayato appears and orders the two locked up.

  • It turns out that Ayato has hypnotic powers that he abuses to harm the non-SSS students, and when the SSS confronts him, he utilises his powers to subjugate the non-SSS students. The end result is that the SSS are brought to their knees. After escaping their imprisonment, Yuzuru confronts Ayato, who is about to hypnotise Yuri, and learns of Ayato’s past: Ayato was born into a family of potters and was not as skilled as his brother, but when his brother died, Ayato was made to continue despite his ineptitude. With his main regret being unable to follow his own path, Yururu listens to his story and in the process of being the first to properly acknowledge him, earns his respect.

  • While aloof and arrogant, to the point of using his powers on any SSS member who displeases him, Ayato will stand down whenever Yuzuru forces him to. Angel Beats! succeeded in humanising its characters by giving them detailed stories, as well as a chance to bounce off the established cast, and audiences invariably will find Ayato’s dynamics with Hideki to be a riot. While the characters largely refer to one another by surname in Angel Beats!, I’ve taken to referring to all characters by their given names simply because that’s consistent with the approach I’ve taken for all of my other posts.

  • Spending more time in the afterlife and trying to make sense of everything, in conjunction with his own past allows Yuzuru to do what none of the other SSS could. His own story is one of tragedy: after his younger sister perishes from illness, he resolved to become a medical doctor with the aim of saving others from disease and injury. After the effort it took him to reach this point, the train he was riding en route to his examination was caught in a tunnel, and despite his best efforts to coordinate with the survivors, Yuzuru ended up dying moments before rescuers could reach him. His final act was to sign his organ donor card with the aim of saving at least one more life before his death.

  • Whereas Angel Beats! had been engaging up until now, after learning of Yuzuru’s own story and aspirations of becoming a medical doctor, which once paralleled my own ambitions, I immediately saw Angel Beats! in a new light: this was an anime that could capture genuine feelings and motivations to create life-like characters, and the lessons learnt were very relevant. That same summer, I was set to take the MCAT, and as such, drew a very personal connection with Angel Beats!. Here, Yuzuru and Kanade share a conversation in the school gardens: amidst the weather of a beautiful day, Yuzuru convinces Kanade to join him and the others for a cookout.

  • Seeing Kanade with the others reinforces that beyond her Guard Skills, she’s really just an ordinary girl who happens to be quite reserved and studious. However, another Kanade appears shortly after and attacks the original. By playing with the Angel Player system, the SSS have inadvertently introduced irregularities into the system. Here, I remark that because I am approaching Angel Beats! from a reminiscence perspective, there are some minute details I am unlikely to cover: this will apply to the other Masterpiece Anime Showcase titles I write for: it’s been many years since I’ve last watched these series, so I’m not likely to remember every nook and cranny there is to each show.

  • This is a sight that audiences are unlikely to have speculated about seeing early on into Angel Beats!’ run: the members of the SSS have gathered to see if Kanade is doing okay after her fight with a red-eyed clone. The gradually changing dynamics of Angel Beats! illustrate that the right person in the right place at the right time can set in motion events that have far reaching consequences – this is what motivates the page quote, which is sourced from Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers. Merry and Pippin might initially look to be Hobbits who’d gotten entangled in something of great complexity, but their actions ultimately play a major role during the War of the Ring: Merry helps Éowyn slay the Witch King of Angmar, while Pippin prevents the death of Faramir.

  • Kanade is taken deep into the Guild shortly after by other clones, and the SSS decide to rescue her, knowing that they need the original Kanade to limit the clones’ ability to replicate. Since the facility has been abandoned, all of the traps have been disabled, and like the first incursion in, the entire group, save Yuzuru and Yuri, make it. Incursions into the Guild are a source of humour: death in Angel Beats!‘ afterlife is only temporary, and watching characters melodramatically react to deaths is especially hilarious knowing everyone is going to return, alive and well, much later.

  • After Kanade is recovered from the ruins of the Guild, Yuzuru recalls the remainder of his memories in a dream. Once she makes a full recovery, she and Ayato return to their old positions in the student council. While the remainder of the SSS assume that they’ve returned to their old status quo, Yuzuru realises that the afterlife exists in order for people to be given a second chance and find fulfilment where they had previously been denied.

  • With Kanade in his corner now, Yuzuru decides to help Yui find her fulfilment first. Kanade’s mannerisms and demeanour strongly resemble  GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu, and attest to Kana Hanazawa’s skill as a voice actress: her delivery of Kanade’s voice with a quiet, polite quality is quite far removed from the mature, but hesitant manner of The Garden of Words‘ Yukari Yukino, or the spirited and easily-embarrassed Shirase of A Place Further Than The Universe.

  • Yui’s boundless energy turns out to have been a consequence of her original life: she was paralysed and thus, unable to move. Hence, in the afterlife, she bounces off the ceilings. Yui had also developed a longing to do the various things she’s seen on TV, Yui has Yuzuru help Yui do a German suplex, score a goal in soccer against five other players and hitting a home run. She manages to accomplish both the suplex and soccer goal, but is unsuccessful with the homerun. In spite of this, she is quite satisfied, and reveals one other wish – to become married.

  • While Yuzuru is unable to fulfil her request, Hideki steps in and decides to take up Yui’s proposal, arguing that no matter what separated them, they would be happy together even in spite of her paralysis. Fully happy that she’d found fulfilment again, and no longer bearing past regret, Yui disappears. While Hideki’s kokuhaku seemingly comes out of the blue, this turn of events is not too unexpected – Angel Beats! has shown Hideki as being the first to react to Yui’s antics, and she seems to make him her victim more frequently than anyone else. Despite the dramatic contrasts in their personalities, the two do get along fine, and hearing Yui’s story allows Hideki to understand her.

  • Having demonstrated that his hypothesis is true, Yuzuru prepares to pass this information to Yuri, but mysterious Shadows begin appearing and attacking the SSS. These shadows seemingly transform people into the non-player characters, and when Takamatsu (the healthy fellow who is often seen without his shirt) is taken, Yuri decides that the phenomenon must be dealt with swiftly. However, she also invites Yuzuru to present his discoveries to the SSS.

  • The other members of the SSS are initially hostile towards Yuzuru’s explanation, that the world was meant to be for making peace with their pasts and disappearing was a desirable goal. When Hideki and Ayato share their experiences as well, the other members begin to see Yuzuru’s perspective. There are a great many members in the SSS, as seen in this screenshot, and given the nature of Angel Beats!, it would stand to reason that every character here has their own stories to tell. The next morning, members of the SSS and the Guild decide that Yuzuru’s way of thinking is commendable, and realising that they’ve come to find the life they’d sought in the afterlife, peacefully pass on. Several members of Girl DeMo personally thank Yuzuru for having brought the change into their lives and helping them gain both closure and understanding.

  • Yuri decides that in order to combat the shadows manifesting in their world, she must strike at their source. In the hours before her operation, she prepares a KRISS Vector personal defense weapon. With its futuristic appearance, the Vector is often featured in video games and film: the weapon has a high firing rate and a rail for mounting optics: Yuri appears to use a reflex sight of some sort. I’ve utilised this weapon in The Division and Far Cry 4: it’s an entertaining weapon, but beyond its cool design, is outperformed by other weapons in their respective games.

  • When she runs out of ammunition for the Vector, Yuri picks up an M4A1 carbine modified with the Close Quarters Battle Receiver. Classified as the Mk 18 Mod 0, the M4A1 Yuri carries is set up with an EOTech holographic sight, foregrip and beta-C drum magazine. This assault rifle is intended to provide operators with a weapon rivalling a PDW for compactness while at the same time, firing intermediate rounds. However, the combined toll of exhaustion from fighting the shadows, coupled with her own dejection, leads her to wonder if this endeavour is worth it. She dozes off and dreams of life as an ordinary student, but before she can succumb, Yuzuru and the others arrive. They eliminate the rest of the shadows, and Yuri pushes on ahead, eventually learning that school computers are powering the Angel software.

  • A mysterious male student questions Yuri on her intentions and, like the Matrix’s Architect, the individual here explains that love has introduced an imbalance in the system, and the shadows are a result of this systematic anomaly. He eventually offers Yuri the option of becoming the new God of this world, but Yuri rejects this, feeling that in light of all of her experiences, becoming God would stand contrary to her own beliefs. Like Neo, who rejects the Architect’s terms,  Yuri destroys the computers, and the individual vanishes. She later slips into a dream and is reunited briefly with her siblings, who tell her that they’d never hated her for what happened and ask her to move on.

  • When Yuri comes to, she’s in the infirmary. The others inform her that the SSS have taken Yuzuru’s remarks to heart, and after understanding that this world gave them a chance to find their second chance and overcome the regrets they’d carried with them into the afterlife, have parted ways. Hideki, Ayato, Kanade and Yuzuru are the only remaining members now, and the others wonder what Yuri experienced earlier. I admit that Yuri is probably my favourite of the SSS’ members, and her hot-bloodedness adds to her appeal.

  • We’re now entering the twenty-fifth day of the deep-freeze over my province: it’s a far cry from the warm and inviting weather of Angel Beats!, and after a brief warm-up, the temperatures have plummeted back to a low of -30ºC. Last night, I stepped out to dinner with a long-time friend from university: over a flavourful and fresh Vietnamese short rib and spring roll vermicelli, we caught up on all sorts of things since we last hung out in December. It’s not lost on me that we’re into the end of February now: the flow of time is relentless, and on the horizon are the Captain Marvel and the long-awaited Avengers: Endgame movies.

  • It is certainly true that, were it not for their initial misunderstanding, Yuri and Kanade would’ve been friends. The two regret not sorting out their differences and coming to terms with one another sooner, but it is better late than never. The graduation ceremony of Angel Beats! is one of the most poignant moments in any anime I’ve seen – the joy of watching this cast come so far brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it, and the graduation represents the culmination of everyone’s learnings.

  • Graduation from the afterlife means having come to accept that, with the second chance given to them, each of Yuzuru, Hideki, Yuri, Ayato and Kanade have come to use the afterlife to find fulfilment. Regardless of how unfair the real world had been to each, the very existence of a world that gave them this opportunity to experience the things they were deprived of seems to indicate that on the whole, the universe is at least benevolent enough to recognise where individuals were wronged and give them a chance to approach it from a different perspective. In the end, the system can be seen as being more fair than initially expected, and Yuzuru’s arrival was precisely the catalyst that helped the SSS realise this.

  • P.A. Works’ phenomenal attention to detail is most apparent in the graduation ceremony, where the reflections of lighting and items are visible in the highly polished wooden floor of the gymnasium. It has been quite some time since I’ve attended any sort of graduation, with the last being my own some two years previously. Even though I’ve been out of school for some time, my memories of being a student remain fresh in my mind, and I remember that, after finishing Angel Beats!, I would go on to finish the winter semester of my third year in a satisfactory manner.

  • Kanade’s own reason for staying in the afterlife was so she could properly thank the person who’d given her life: when her heart failed, it turns out that Yuzuru ended up donating his heart to her. This forms the basis for Angel Beats!‘ title: it refers to the heartbeat of an angel, here, referring to Kanade. After all they’d been through, Yuzuru has fallen in love with Kanade, and the two share an embrace before Kanade disappears, having fulfilled her own desire to give thanks to Yuzuru for his selfless actions.

  • LiSA’s Ichiban no Takaramono is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard for an anime bar none, and I typically avoid listening to it, or the Yui version, because the song brings tears to my eyes. The original version speaks of falling in love and parting ways, and even though I’d not experienced that myself when I first heard it, the songs were very moving. These days, having gone through just this, the songs remain a powerful reminder of what good music can accomplish. With this, my reflection of Angel Beats! comes to an end. It’s been nearly seven years since I first watched Angel Beats!, and even now, the anime remains a veritable masterpiece in my books, bringing to memories so many things that happened in the spring some seven years previously. I intend to continue with the Masterpiece Anime Showcase this year: upcoming titles I will be writing about include Nagi no Asukara and Your Lie in April.

When I first watched Angel Beats!, I was closing up my third year of university and preparing for an MCAT. My original interest in Angel Beats! was motivated by an interest in seeing the series that had utilised Lia’s “My Heart, Your Beats”, which one of my friends had recommended to me two summer previously. I’d taken the music with me on a trip to the Shanghai-Suzhou-Hangzhou area during the Shanghai 2010 Expo, and subsequently, decided to give Angel Beats! a go. Upon watching it, found myself thoroughly impressed with the considerable depths the characters were presented in. In particular, seemingly antagonistic characters were humanised and came to cooperate with the protagonists, humanising the characters and improving how one relates to them. The large cast of unique, noteworthy characters creates an environment where a variety of scenarios can be explored: from the development of firearms, to performing live music, or even antics associated with exam season, the sheer number of people and their backgrounds in Angel Beats! allows the series to build a multi-faceted world that covers a great deal. This approach was used in Tari Tari, Sakura Quest and The World in Colours to great effect in P.A. Works’ subsequent productions. The joys of such diversity creates a very compelling group of individuals whose time together is marked by discovery and comedy: they become much more relatable for this. The strong characters of Angel Beats! also create the anime’s singular flaw: thirteen episodes is far too short of a time to adequately explore everyone’s stories. TK, to Shiina and Matsushita are just a handful of characters who could’ve had exceptional stories, but these remain untold. Beyond its short length, the characters, in conjunction with a phenomenal and emotional soundtrack, clean and crisp artwork and solid animation, result in an anime that is exceptional. Yuzuru’s journey in the afterlife and the revelation that was was a medical student hopeful also provided me with a source of motivation: I myself was gearing up for the MCAT, and the examination seemed overwhelming. Seeing Yuzuru’s commitment to doing what was right gave me the resolve to push through the summer and study for the exam; Angel Beats! ended up helping me approach the MCAT with a new perspective, and for having a tangible impact on how I approached things, I have no trouble in counting it a masterpiece. Even in the absence of such an impact on other viewers, Angel Beats! remains a standout anime in its execution, and it is something that all individuals interested in anime would find enjoyable.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown- First Impressions

“Technology’s always changing. If you don’t keep up with it, it’ll leave your ass behind” —Avril Mead’s grandfather

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown marks the first time the world and lore of Strangereal has been available to PC players. With it comes all of the flight mechanics, colourful characters and impressive settings that accompany Strangereal, brought to life in Unreal Engine 4, which represents a return to the Ace Combat universe for many longtime fans. For me, it means the opportunity to get into the cockpit of a fighter jet and take to the skies of an immensely detailed world that I’ve longed to explore since the days of the PlayStation 2 and Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War. However, before I can experience the realm of superweapons and tunnel flights that I’ve come to expect as standard fare in Ace Combat, there is the journey of actually reaching this point. In Skies Unknown, players take the perspective of Trigger, an Osean pilot who is assigned to the 508th Tactical Fighter Squadron (Mage Squadron). On his first flight with Mage, Trigger downs several Erusean bombers attacking the Fort Grays island base, and later encounters Erusean MQ-99 drones during a ground attack mission. With the Eruseans becoming more belligerent and threatening an international space elevator, Osea decides to secure the mega-structure. While securing airspace in support for an operation to defend the space elevator, Trigger encounters the Arsenal Bird and its payload of MQ-101 drones. A mysterious aircraft appears and shoots down several Osean fighters before vanishing. Trigger is later tasked with rescuing former President Vincent Harling, who is stranded at the space elevator since hostilities began. During the operation, a stray missile hits the Osprey VTOL Harling is on, and Trigger is suspected of murdering the former president. He is court-martialled and sent to Spare Squadron as a prisoner. When Eursean forces appear at the 444th Airbase, a fake facility, Trigger sorties along with Spare Squadron, earning unexpected praise from other prisoners for single-handedly shooting down enemy bombers.

With this, I’m now five missions into Skies Unknown, and the first thing that comes to mind is just how smoothly the game handles. In particular, the controls for Skies Unknown are very smooth for PC, far out-stripping what was present in Assault Horizon. I had gotten my wings flying in Assault Horizons with a keyboard-only setup, and while the controls were tricky, they had been manageable. Here in Skies Unknown, the keyboard-only controls handle very well, and I can precisely manoeuvre my aircraft with confidence. The flight system of Skies Unknown on PC is evidently a step above Assault Horizon, and so, I had no trouble flying with the Expert configuration. Besides improved handling, Skies Unknown does away with the Dogfight Mode, which ultimately ended up being a crutch that, while exhilarating for the first few times I used it, quickly became a chore that took the thrill out of dogfighting. One of the key frustrations about Assault Horizon was that some opponents were impossible to shoot down without Dogfight Mode, forcing players to depend on this element to complete missions. In Skies Unknown, this particular aspect is gone, as is the notion of regenerating health: players are able to engage all enemies with only their wit and must be mindful of damage, bringing skill back into dogfights in a big way. Every successful kill is immensely satisfying, and after the first quarter of the game, it is clear that Skies Unknown is definitely the Ace Combat experience players have waited for: it is the first true Ace Combat game for PC, featuring both classic gameplay mechanics and the Strangereal universe, and at this point, having had some experience with the flight mechanics of Skies Unknown, I look forwards to delving deeper into the story.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Whereas Assault Horizon dropped players right into things with a mission over Miami, Florida, in the cockpit of the bleeding-edge F-22 Raptor, Skies Unknown puts players behind the F-16 Fighting Falcon, and the first thing to do is get in the air and head towards a flight of Erusean bombers. The F-16 is the default aircraft, and is characterised by good all-around performance, with high manoeuvrability, as well as options for both anti-air and anti-ground special weapons.

  • The F-16 is known for its negative stability: aircraft with positive stability will naturally return to level flight if no control input is given, and its fly-by-wire system is designed so that the aircraft can match the pilot’s inputs. As a result, the aircraft has impressive manoeuvrability, but is also stable where it needs to be. After taking off into the skies, the reflection of the ocean and tropical heat can be seen in the surroundings. The first target is a TU-95, a Russian turbo-prop strategic bomber. These bombers have been around since 1952 and are still operational.

  • I’ve heard that traditionally, Ace Combat games typically feature a bomber interception mission as its starting mission to warm players up to the flight controls. Shooting down the slow-moving bombers is very straightforwards, and when players get the feel for things, a wave of MiG-21s appear. Being able to engage distant targets, then turn away and engage a second target, is one of the most satisfying features of Skies Unknown, and while Ace Combat veterans will be very familiar with this trick, this was new for me: Assault Horizon forced me to focus on most targets until I were certain they were down.

  • While the absence of Dogfight Mode means no more seeing the charred husks of destroyed aircraft, the visual effects of Skies Unknown are very impressive. This fireball resulted from me blasting a MiG at close range. The primary missiles of Ace Combat have limited tracking ability, being able to lock onto both surface and air targets. American and Japanese aircraft run missiles resembling the AIM-9 Sidewinder, while Russian aircraft use R-60 missiles.

  • Missiles are solid general purpose weapons, but they aren’t always effective. Coupled with the fact that ammunition for them is finite, and despite the prodigious payloads even small aircraft have, they shouldn’t be thrown around. Instead, there are some conditions during which the aircraft’s integral cannons will come in handy; even the base gun is fairly effective at destroying aircraft with a few well-placed bursts, and in close-quarters dogfights, guns can be useful when enemy combatants are moving too quickly for missiles to get a lock.

  • The second mission in Skies Unknown entails a combination of anti-ground and anti-air combat. Ground targets present their own challenges despite being stationary: because one is flying by so quickly, if one overshoots their target, then they must turn around and hit them again. Flying at slower speeds helps one get a good lock before firing, and there are some aircraft with dedicated anti-ground special weaponry that can lock onto multiple surface targets, or else deal massive area-of-effect damage. At this stage in the game, I don’t have access to those parts or aircraft yet.

  • In most missions, critical targets will be given a special designation and appear in red outlines on the minimap. Eliminating these targets allow the mission to proceed to the next stage; I’m still a novice when it comes to Ace Combat, so I’ve not bothered to go for score and time bonuses during my first run. Instead, my goal will be to go through the game and get an idea of what each mission entails, unlock the F-22 Raptor, then go back and get all of the ace kills, as well as unlock the Wyvern. Once I have enough of the aircraft tree unlocked, I’ll then attempt the S-rank and challenges for the game.

  • After the surface targets are eliminated, the Erusean forces begin deploying MQ-99 drones. Unlike human pilots, drones are immune to high G-forces and so, can turn much more sharply than human pilots. Players are introduced to high-G turns here, which are superbly useful for making tight turns for getting behind drones. While powerful, they also drastically reduce one’s airspeed, and dropping below a certain speed, one will stall. Fighting drones for the first time proved challenging, but eventually, I managed to beat them.

  • After completing an in-air refuelling, players head towards a group of enemy fighters, flying over a rainforest that resembles the Amazon. Skies Unknown introduced clouds as tangible entities that can impact gameplay: flying through them interferes with missile tracking, allowing one to evade missile locks at the expense of reducing their own locking effectiveness. As well, staying in clouds for extended periods can cause icing and expose players to turbulence, affecting stability and manoeuvrability.

  • The biggest surprise encountered during the third mission is the Arsenal Bird, an airborne aircraft carrier that houses the MQ-101 drones. Superior to the 99s in every way, these unmanned carriers also carry laser weapons and the Helios missile, which can disrupt or damage multiple aircraft. When the Arsenal Bird appears, the targetting HUD lights up with enemies, and players are overwhelmed with the amount of firepower there is in the air.

  • Players will be tasked with destroying the Arsenal Bird, although at this point in the campaign, it is much too early to be destroying the Arsenal Bird. I managed to deal some damage to it, but the Arsenal Bird then deploys an energy shield, and the mission switches over to destroying the UAVs, which have begun decimating allied forces. During the confusion, an unknown aircraft will appear and shoot down two allied pilots. The mission ends when all of the UAVs have been destroyed.

  • I believe this mission was the one showcased during the E3 and the subsequent demos some years back: Skies Unknown was first announced during 2015, and was set to release during 2017. My curiosity in Skies Unknown were piqued by my experiences in Assault Horizon, and Infinity was a PS4-exclusive: upon hearing that Strangereal was coming to PC, I found myself interested to see what the game would be like. However, developmental delays pushed the release date to 2018, and then 2019.

  • When Skies Unknown launched, reviews for the game were largely positive, with players praising the game’s return to classic mechanics and style seen in earlier titles. The PC version came out after the console versions, and while still fun, the game is a console port whose lack of easy support for flight sticks was its biggest shortcoming. I can see the frustration amongst those who have sophisticated flight stick setups, but for me, Skies Unknown remains very enjoyable: I don’t even have a controller and fly using the keyboard.

  • The fourth mission involves flying through a tight radar net to reach the orbital elevator, marked by large red circles on one’s minimap. There was a similar mission in Assault Horizon where one had to pilot a strategic bomber through radar, but the radar beams were projected onto screen-space, making them easy to avoid. This mission was a test of how the keyboard setup worked, and when I came out of the other end in one try, I knew that the keyboard setup I’m currently running with would be sufficient.

  • After clearing out the anti-air emplacements around the orbital elevator’s base, players fly towards the city and engage trucks carrying launchers for the MQ-99 drones. Any UAVs that have launched must also be shot down: they will move towards the orbital elevator and open fire on the rescue forces if left unchecked. Being made to deal with multiple targets at once and multi-task is a staple of Ace Combat games, and provides the sort of challenge that engages players.

  • Some of the combat in the fourth mission is set over Selatapura, a Usean city that experienced economic hardships during the events of Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies, but since underwent massive development. It turns out that Selatapura is roughly Strangereal’s equivalent of Singapore, being a major port city, and those with linguistic background in Malay and Sanskrit note that Selata is “South” from the Malay seletan, and pura is city from Sanskrit. Details like these show the extent of the creativity from the Bandai Namco studios in world-building.

  • During the course of this mission, a few UAVs did end up getting past me, forcing me to peel away from striking the launchers on the ground and turn my attention to the stray drones that’d begun making a beeline for the space elevator. I’ve found that at distance, drones can be downed with missiles or picked off with gunfire, but owing to their mobility, dogfighting with them is very tricky. If one can pull out of endlessly circling their opponent and make some distance, engaging and destroying enemy aircraft becomes a bit easier.

  • On the topic of guns, one of very few the pet peeves I have with the Ace Combat series is that is that the guns on planes are referred to as “machine guns”. The term “machine gun” specifically refers to small-arms calibre weapons (i.e. smaller than 20mm), and automatic weapon firing rounds with a diameter of 20mm or greater is referred to as an autocannon. By definition, the M61 Vulcan, which fires 20mm rounds, is a cannon, not a machine gun. I imagine this terminology stuck from the days when aircraft fired .50-calibre rounds, which are 12.7mm in diameter, hence their being referred to as such in Ace Combat.

  • Skies Unknown has been seen by some as Ace Combat with Gundam 00 elements for the orbital elevators, and one of my friends remarked on his surprise at the Arsenal Bird’s “GN Field”. While there are no super-powerful Gundams in Ace Combat, players do get access to increasingly powerful and iconic aircraft as they progress through the game. Players can unlock the Wyvern, and later DLC could add the Falken and Nosferatu to the lineup. If I do get the DLC, I’ll likely do so when it’s on sale: I’ve seen that it’s supposed to add three new missions, as well, in addition to iconic aircraft that are as legendary as Gundams in the Ace Combat universe.

  • Enemy planes traditionally carried countermeasures against missiles in earlier iterations of Ace Combat, but as of Assault Horizon, countermeasures finally became available for player use, and in Skies Unknown, aircraft do not abuse them the same way powerful targets did in Assault Horizon – this was the biggest frustration in Assault Horizon, forcing players to enter Dogfight Mode to destroy tougher enemies. Flares in Skies Unknown can instantly break all missile locks, but are in very short supply, and I only use them in cases where I am absolutely focused on a target and do not wish to evade: missiles show up on the minimap and usually can be dodged with a high-G turn.

  • Special weapons provide a powerful means of quickly and efficiently dealing with particularly tough foes, or large numbers of foes at once. The F-16 is equipped with four active radar-guided missiles that lock onto a maximum of targets at medium range. I’ve been using these to deal with a large number of airborne foes when they’re a ways away. The supply of special weapons is very limited, and while upgrades allow for more to be carried, it’s nonetheless a good idea to save them for tricky spots.

  • The story in Skies Unknown is fairly engaging, as is the chatter players experience in the background. While engaging drones, friendly forces will suggest firing missiles at the orbital elevator’s main pillar, which would cause the drones’ programming to kick in and defend the elevator, drawing them off Harling’s VTOL. Unfortunately, a stray missile will hit the VTOL and kill Harling. Since Trigger is the closest to Harling at the time of his being shot down, he will be held accountable as Harling’s murderer and spend the next several missions with a penal unit stationed at the 444th.

  • Located along a quiet coast , the 444th Air Base is far removed from other Osean population centres and military installations. Despite its remoteness, the location is beautiful: the blue skies look amazing, offering a calm airspace to fly about in. The peace won’t last, however, as Erusean aircraft begin appearing with the aim of destroying the base. While prohibited from using weapons, the ferocity of the Erusean attack forces AWACS Bandog to give clearance to engage.

  • As the AWACS officier, Bandog is one of the more colourful ones, frequently insulting the other pilots in the air. His dialogue is hilarious, and while be belittles everyone in Spare Squadron, Trigger’s combat efficiency earns Bandog’s begrudging respect over the course of his time in Spare Squadron, even as he badmouths everyone else.

  • We’re now more than halfway through February, and this Family Day Long Weekend’s been a bit more of a quieter one on account of the snowfall in the area. Both Saturday and Sunday were characterised by extremely slippery roads. To close off the Chinese New Year festivities, we went out into a frigid evening for a dinner with family, where we had Poon choi (盆菜, a Cantonese dish with a variety of ingredients, such as prawns, abalone, chicken, pork, duck, oysters and vegetables). The warm and flavourful experience was a much needed respite from the winter cold. Also on the menu was ginger-onion lobster on a bed of noodles, pea shoots and sweet and sour pork.

  • While yesterday remained cold and snowy, the weather today’s been much more agreeable, being both warmer and sunny. Back in Skies Unknown, I continue flying against the Erusean bombers, who’ve really become convinced that the 444th is a legitimate airbase. After being transferred to Spare Squadron, players gain access to the F-104C and MiG-21. I ended up picking the MiG-21 for its gun pods. Flying a weaker aircraft seemed appropriate given the story, and the MiG-21’s biggest strength is its mobility.

  • Initially, I was struggling with this mission because the last three bombers approached from a higher altitude than before, and leaving too many aircraft in the air meant I was constantly being painted. It was here that I became more familiar with the minimap; I learned to differentiate between missiles that were about to hit me and missiles that were going to miss. When multiple missiles are coming from all directions, I deploy countermeasures.

  • While Spare Squadron has no interest in preserving the facilities, the mission will fail if bombers deal too much damage. Bandog will bitterly (and hilariously) tell the other pilots to shut up, and the comedy of the moment made it worth losing out on the mission. However, I figured something out and managed to down all of the bombers targetting the base. in the end to finish the mission, and here, blast one of the bombers, which detonate spectacularly.

  • The deep blue skies of this fifth mission looks absolutely stunning, although it’s hard to feel a sense of tranquility when there are targets to shoot down and enemy missiles to evade. Unlike Assault HorizonSkies Unknown comes with both a free mission mode for replaying completed campaign missions as well as a free flight mode. The latter is absent from Assault Horizon, likely because some missions wouldn’t have accommodated for free flight, but now that this mode is back, one can conceivably fly around fantastic settings without mission objectives to worry about.

  • With this post, I’m done the first quarter of Skies Unknown and will be pushing ahead in the campaign. My plan is to first beat the campaign, then go back and unlock the Wyvern and beat all of the aces. Finally, I’ll go for the S-ranks as time permits. There’s plenty to do in Skies Unknown, and one of the things I do wish to do is unlocking the entire aircraft tree. In the meantime, I think that with this post on Ace Combat, I’ve finished off one more gaming post. I’m not too sure when I’ll have a chance to look at Penguin Highway, but the ten-year anniversary of CLANNAD ~After Story~‘s Ushio arc is imminent, and I will need to take a look at that.

When I first went through Assault Horizon, I experimented with a range of controls and it took a while to find a setup that worked for me. I ended up deciding on the keyboard-only approach and stuck with it for the remainder of the campaign. Here in Skies Unknown, I similarly took a good half-hour to configure the keyboard controls so that everything would be intuitive and familiar: once this initial setup was completed, I began flying through the first mission. While Assault Horizon might be the game many wish to forget, I personally found the game modestly enjoyable despite its dependence on Dogfight Mode, taking players to a wide range of locations, from Dubai, to Moscow and Miami. For me, Assault Horizon was my entry into the series: I learned to fly here, and those experiences have translated over into Skies Unknown. Having had a quarter of the game under my belt, I am thoroughly enjoying Skies Unknown, and while the days of watching cannon-riddled wreckage from enemy fighters fly past my jet are gone, Skies Unknown has plenty going for it – it was a particular thrill to see the Arsenal Bird appear for the first time and then deploy its microwave shield. Such fanciful technologies were noticeably absent in Assault Horizon, and having high-tech gear in the game, both to fight against and equip, is immensely exciting: I personally cannot wait to equip and fire the Tactical Laser for the first time on PC, and in order to do that, I’ll need to push further into the campaign and earn the in-game currency needed to unlock new aircraft.

Nordlys: Reflections on the Battlefield V Campaign

“I’ve always found your country to be beautiful…and unsettling. When I came here as a child, they told me stories of creatures and monsters in the woods” —Lieutenant Weber

Lieutenant Weber interrogates Astrid Bjørnstad about the location of resistance fighters. Outside, in the snowy and frigid forests of Norway, Solveig Fia Bjørnstad prepares to infiltrate Vemork Hydroelectric Plant and cripple the German effort to produce heavy water, a component in the refinement of fissable materials for nuclear weapons. Sneaking through the valleys and forests by night, Solveig rescues Astrid and recovers a document. The two are captured, and Astrid pushes Solveig off a bridge to ensure she can continue the mission. Solveig fights hypothermia to reach a dead drop, and before succumbing to the elements, managing to find a cabin and eliminating the lone German soldier inside. The next morning, she reads a letter from Astrid, and makes her way to a portside town where Germans are storing their heavy water shipments. Her actions alert Germans to her presence, and they evacuate with the last remaining shipment. Solveig gives chase, but a U-Boat appears. Astrid attempts to destroy the heavy water with a stick grenade, sinking the U-Boat in the process and the Germans surround Solveig, leaving her to an unknown fate. Nordlys (Norwegian for “Northern Lights”) details the Norwegian heavy water sabotage operations conducted by saboteurs between 1940 and 1943 to prevent the Germans from acquiring the heavy water needed to manufacture nuclear weapons. While modern perspectives find that the heavy water produced at Vemork Hydroelectric Plant had a very low purity and would have unlikely been useful, the bravery of the resistance members involved in the sabotage are recorded. The prospect of Nazi Germany in possession of nuclear weapons was a sobering one, and the Allies made an active effort to cripple the German heavy water programme. By February 1943, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and Norwegian operatives managed to destroy the production facility. In conjunction with Allied bombing raids, the Germans ceased operations at the site, and the Norwegian heavy water sabotage programme is presently counted as one of the most successful sabotage operations during the Second World War.

Prominently a stealth mission, Nordlys is also perhaps the most visually spectacular, beautiful War Story available in Battlefield V. The bite of a winter’s night is offset by the presence of hauntingly stunning Aurora Borealis adjourning the skies. Slipping through the woods like a ghost, it is easy to see how Norway can seem unsettling: the land is remote, desolate but beautiful, and it attests to the sense of unease both sides of the war would have faced in their efforts to come out victorious. While the Germans may view the Norwegian resistance as monsters in the forests, their own determination to create a technological terror is also akin to opening Pandora’s Box. Even though players see things from Solveig’s perspective and conclude that she’s no monster, creating this sense of uncertainty adds to the sense that in war, both sides have their fears and objectives. Battlefield V mentions that humanising one’s enemies is a surest way to lose the war, , and similar to Battlefield 1, suggests that if we could humanise our enemies, war might not be as vicious or commonplace. Compared to the likes of the Normandy Beach landings or the operation to capture Berlin, heroics such as those undertaken by Norwegian resistance members have largely been forgotten. By taking players into the frozen landscapes of Norway, Battlefield V‘s War Stories both serve to remind players that bravery can definitely take all forms, are motivated by reasons distinct to different individuals and that World War Two was a global conflict, leaving even the most isolated parts of the world untouched. From a game-play perspective, this means fighting a war somewhere faraway from the familiar operations, allowing players to explore locales that most World War Two games don’t visit and seeing how powerful the Frostbite Engine is.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Stealth is ostensibly encouraged in Nordlys – Solveig is equipped with throwing knives that are one-hit kills and totally silent, but have massive drop and thus, take some skill to use. There are numerous paths in the first act, allowing Solveig to sneak past patrols undetected, although there are also some seemingly contradictory challenges. As with Under no Flag, these challenges are designed to encourage multiple playthroughs, and when I return, I will doubtlessly be on easy difficulty to blow through things faster.

  • Players who sneak under the bridge using the lower deck will be rewarded with a suppressed M1911. Suppressed weapons are unavailable in the multiplayer at present: earlier Battlefield titles gave suppressed weapons unique attributes to mix up gameplay, but this has gone away since Battlefield 1. In the campaign, however, they remain useful, and the M1911 allows me to run the James Bond loadout, giving me one more option for dealing with lone guards.

  • While the forests of the True North Strong™ are about majesty and beauty for me, the taiga of the Nordic countries and Siberia are a bit more haunting. Despite the knowledge that I am playing as one of the “monsters in the woods”, the cold, lonely forests of Norway seem quite uninviting here, and passing through a German camp, the fires add an inviting warmth to an otherwise cold-feeling level.

  • The Aurora Borealis in Nordlys are perhaps the most impressive I’ve seen in any video game, even besting those seen in The Eldar Scrolls V: Skyrim. It’s been nearly six years since I picked up Skyrim on a sale, and while I had a great deal of fun in the game, my library has since expanded considerably, so I was finding less time to go through Skyrim. However, I did unlock the Clear Skies Dragon Shout, which allowed me to spawn Aurora Borealis at will during the night. The graphics of Battlefield V are even more impressive, and as I make my way to the hydroelectric plant, the beauty of the aurora are apparent.

  • Aurora are commonly green, a consequence of solar particles interacting with oxygen molecules at an altitude of 240 kilometres. Blue and red aurora come from interactions with nitrogen molecules at different altitudes. Here, I make my way into the facility: having blown the stealth challenge, I decided to go loud for the remainder of the mission. Solveig encounters numerous weapons during the mission, and I went with a combination of single-action rifles, the suppressed M1911 and the FG-42 en route to the plant.

  • In reality, the Vemork Hydroelectric Plant is located outside of Rjukan in Norway, was opened in 1911 and was the world’s largest power plant, producing an output of 108 MW. It produced heavy water from 1934 until 1971, after which it was closed. A new power plant replaced it, and the old site became a museum in 1988, detailing the Norwegian Heavy Water Sabotage programme. When Solveig is running through it, heavy water production is going full force.

  • Sneaking through an empty building, with a suppressed pistol, by night, during the winter, reminds me of 007 Nightfire‘s The Exchange. Since Nightfire, shooters have come a very long way, although Nightfire holds a special place in my books for being the first FPS I’d owned: during Christmas, I used to play various 007 games on my cousin’s Nintendo 64 and GameCube, coming to associate Christmas with the atmospherics in a James Bond shooter. I would tend to say that of the James Bond shooters, Nightfire is probably the most polished, with an engaging campaign and fun multiplayer.

  • One of my longstanding dreams is to travel to historic World War Two sites in Europe: the Vemork Hydroelectric Plant is probably far removed from what might be considered accessible, so I’m probably not to walk through the same halls that Solveig have walked through. There’s a charm about Germany and Austria, so I’m thinking that in the future, my first vacation to Europe will be riding a train through the mountains of Austria and visiting timber-framed German villages. My German is completely gone now – despite having taken German during all three years of my high school, I’ve not once used the language since university.

  • In fact, I would tend to think that I am more proficient now in Japanese than I am in German. If I should choose to visit, I think revisiting some of the basics would be useful. Back in Battlefield V, I managed to reach Astrid, and knowing that the remainder of the mission is a protracted firefight, I found myself a Bren gun. This is Perrine’s weapon of choice in Strike Witches, and is suited for use against the hordes of German soldiers that appear: the single-action rifles are a bit too slow for close quarters. In the multiplayer, the Bren’s biggest disadvantage is its magazine, which is highly obstructive: I’ve not run the Bren with any frequency.

  • The FG-42 is another solid weapon: of the light machine guns, the KE-7, Bren and FG-42 handle most like assault rifles. During the days of the beta, the FG-42, when fully upgraded, was considered the best LMG available. At present, it’s a reliable firearm that is balanced and satisfying to use, and I usually roll with either the Nydar Sight or 3x optics: iron sights have never really worked well for me in Battlefield, so I avoid them where possible.

  • The darkest part of the Nordlys mission is the second act, where Selvig must deliver a dead drop during a raging blizzard. She has access to the M30 Drilling, but there is no option to use the rifle barrel as far as I am aware: I’ve not found any rifle cartridges, and in the campaign, the M30 seems to be a double barreled shotgun only. Hypothermia is a part of the game mechanics here, and Solveig must stop to warm up by the fires periodically to avoid freezing to death. This is an element that was last seen in Battlefield: Bad Company 2’s Snowblind mission, which sees Marlowe separated from his squad, following with his making his way down the mountain during a massive blizzard.

  • On the topic of bitterly cold, snowy weather, a cold wave has struck my area. At the time of writing, it’s been sixteen straight days of -20ºC (-4ºF), with windchills reaching upwards of -40ºC (-40ºF) and yesterday evening, a fierce snowfall hit the area, reducing visibility and making roads dangerous. It grows tiresome to have to go out to weather so cold it bites at any exposed skin, but forecasts show that the cold might be reaching an end.

  • Skiing is a part of several sections in Nordlys, and Solveig can use this to quickly surprise enemies. One challenge entails killing an enemy with a throwing knife while skiing, and to cheese this assignment, I simply equipped the skiis and then threw a knife at an enemy. After the long dark of the night, return of light into Nordlys’ final act was very welcome, and the Norwegian village here looks like it comes fresh out of a Christmas card.

  • Like Under no Flag and Bad Company 2‘s Sangre del Toro mission, the final act of Nordlys gives players the freedom to visit three sites and destroy their targets in any order. Stealth is again a part of the gameplay, but at this point, since players will be causing explosions anyways, I figured that there was little point to staying quiet.

  • During my original playthrough, I was intending to complete the challenge of disabling all alarms, but I might’ve missed one, as the challenge didn’t unlock. On the topic of unlocking things, Battlefield V‘s latest Tides of War assignment is unfeasible owing to how strict the conditions are, making it an unreasonable use of time to try and unlock the Stug IV. I will likely end up buying the tank with company coin later – it is not worth the frustration to try and get the remaining kills: I spent two consecutive hours without any progress, and that time is better spent doing something else.

  • Nowhere else in Battlefield V‘s War Stories are the skies this clear and this deep a blue: Nordlys has definitely captured the feeling of a winter’s morning with its skies. At this time of year back home, the days have begun lengthening again, and the skies are brighter by mid-day. During the shortest days of the year during late December and early January, the sun is very low in the sky, and there is a faint hint of gold in sunlight even when it’s noon.

  • I would suppose that, since I’m in Norway, this is the closest players have to experiencing Les Stroud’s Survivorman Ten Days specials, which aired in 2012. For the Norway special, Stroud started in a remote backcountry road in a broken-down vehicle, then attempts to make his way to more hospitable surroundings. He finds hunters’ cabins and deer remains, making deer soup while a blizzard rages away. Afterwards, his decision to descend the mountains into the valley below leads him to find homes along the coasts of a fjord. I remember that episode best for having a chilling time lapse while Stroud describes the dreams he has while sleeping after his first meal in a while, having watched it in between studying for the MCAT.

  • Here, as I make my way to a cliffside bunker where heavy water shipments are held, I walk along a highway adjacent to the water’s edge. This area reminds me of the roads along the lakes of Interior BC; a few months ago, I was out here for the salmon run; the skies were deep blue and trees were turning yellow as autumn was setting in. I imagine that, in the deep winter, some of these highways would be quite difficult to traverse, as they are covered in snow.

  • I’ve heard a non-trivial amount of controversy surrounding DICE’s decision to use Solveig in place of a male commando unit in Nordlys floating around on the ‘net. For me, playing as Solveig did not change my gameplay experience in any way, so I’ve got no complaints whatsoever. It seems that, following the culture war surrounding games and games journalism in 2014, the community has become only more vociferous at perceived “threats” to games: my own thoughts are that, so as long as game mechanics do not become negatively affected (i.e. as long as we’re not stuck playing games made in the Twine Engine, or by those who only have the vaguest ideas about how Unreal 3 works), I’m not terribly worried.

  • Back in Nordlys, I reach the end of a mission, where a mid-day snowstorm transforms the skies into the sort of miserable grey that has dominated the weather in my area for the past few days. There’s some cover here amongst the equipment, and it is prudent to make use of it while returning fire on the German soldiers. The mission ends here, and while Solveig’s fate is unknown, what is known is that the resistance’s efforts will have a tangible effect on Norway. I will be writing about the Tirailleur mission for Battlefield V, but before then, Ace Combat 7 is the next game I will be writing about. My experiences in it are nothing but positive, and I do wish to do this talk justice.

Granted, the War Stories of Battlefield V, in skipping the best-known campaigns of World War Two, have left players largely disappointed that DICE did not showcase a proper Normandy Landing or capture of Iwo Jima in Frostbite: such a mission would have almost certainly blown away all contemporary World War Two games and allow players to experience famous moments with the latest technological developments. For me, the campaign is a secondary aspect to Battlefield V; previous titles also had campaigns, but the bread-and-butter of the games are largely in their multiplayer components. Having said this, I do enjoy the quiet that campaigns offer to players, allowing one to explore stories and places that are otherwise absent in multiplayer. Missions such as Nordlys showcase how modern game engines can be used in conjunction with solid cinematics and voice-acting to create a captivating, immersive atmosphere that, while perhaps lacking the spectacle of multiplayer, act as an enjoyable experience for those looking to experience a story in an interactive, visual format. The sense of dread, uncertainty and doubt, intermingled with the beautiful landscapes and skies of Norway were very compelling, and despite my lack of prowess with stealth missions, Nordlys is my favourite War Story in Battlefield V. Given the time, I would very much like to go back and do a full exploration of the level to collect all of the hidden letters and finish the challenges, which would also unlock Solveig’s knife for use in multiplayer.