The Infinite Zenith

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Battlefield V: The Fourth Tides of War Chapter and a Reflection One Year After The Open Beta

“Recovery begins from the darkest moment.” –John Major

The fourth Tides of War Chapter, Defying the Odds, will likely be consigned to history as one of the more questionable moments during Battlefield V‘s life cycle, being characterised by the introduction of new performance bugs, communications failure regarding the inclusion of new content and the inability to deliver the content that was originally highlighted. When Defying the Odds was announced, the trailer was met with excitement: this trailer possessed all of the characteristics of a proper Battlefield trailer, showing off new maps and new potential weapons, including the Welrod pistol, a suppressed M1911 and the M1 Bazooka. As the fourth chapter wore on, however, performance issues and lag became a problem for players. Only one map was released on time, with the others being delayed as a result of critical bugs or incomplete testing. There was a seven-week gap where no new weapons were released as weekly rewards for completing assignments. Battlefield V looked to be in a very rough spot, and with so   many broken promises littering this chapter, community reception to DICE’s efforts were at an all-time low. However, in the last few weeks of chapter four, DICE managed to push out an update that turned things around. Performance improvements were made, while VP and general manager, Oskar Gabrielson, publicly made an apology regarding the state of the game. With the latest patch, Battlefield V handles smoothly again, and ping is no longer an issue. The final two Tides of War unlocks are weapons that add some variety to the game, and of the maps added to the game, they provide beautiful new environments to play in. In particular, Marita is the star of Defying the Odds, being an infantry-only map set under a swift sunrise in a Greek village along the Kalamas River on the Greek-Albanian border. Battlefield V thus leaves the fourth Tides of War chapter on a slightly more steady footing than it did entering, and at present, expectations are on DICE to make the fifth chapter, on the Pacific Theatre, a success.

While DICE and Battlefield V have languished in the past chapter, constant efforts towards improving the game have left some minor but noticeable changes that bolster the experience. Most important of these improvements are the performance issues: lessening the stutter that resulted from completing assignments and streamlining the ping of servers results in more consistent gameplay. When ping is high, shooting becomes inconsistent, and one feels as though they’ve died to a single shot from other players where they might struggle to get a kill even at close range after dumping a magazine into a stationary target. Despite remaining somewhat of an issue, DICE has done much to address this, and it’s only on high-latency servers where such experiences remain. On a good server, the gameplay and weapons handing is smooth, allowing me to pull off some genuinely impressive feats such as clearing an entire room out of enemies despite not getting the drop on them or even top the scoreboards in some matches. When Battlefield V is working as it should, the new content and updates are very enjoyable. From the details of the new maps, to subtle animations (such as the crates opening and closing to indicate whether or not players could interact with them, an improved vaulting system that only plays the vaulting animation if a player is close to an object or the varied reloads from different weapons), Battlefield V still remains a solid game that has come quite a long ways from its open beta a year previously. Other improvements include minor changes to strengthen submachine guns, making the medics more effective than before, increasing damage to bolt-action rifles and increasing the recoil patterns on medium machine guns to discourage bipod camping, a problematic play-style that stands contrary to what Battlefield V is about. In general, things are more consistent now, and I expect DICE to continue to smooth out the gameplay mechanics of the game as they add new content to the game.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Marita is the next full-fledged map to join Battlefield V. Set in a cliff-side village by an autumn’s morning, the map is brightly lit and colourful, being made to represent the Battle of Greece in 1941 when Axis forces invaded Greece and captured Athens after eight months. While resulting in an Axis victory, the diversion of German soldiers into Greece proved costly in their conquest of Africa.

  • From a visuals perspective, Marita is a beautiful map and also well-suited for infantry-only conquest. There’s a drivable tractor on the map, and use of fortifications allow for one to make use of creative flanking routes to get to the different capture points: in the village on the western edge of the map, wooden planks connecting the houses can be built, and in one of the canyons, a small footbridge can be constructed to shorten the distance it takes to travel from point delta to bravo.

  • During one match of breakthrough, I was defending and made use of the MG 42 while concealed from shrubbery to score a Killfrenzy (five kills, each within four seconds of one another in Halo 2 terms). Owing to the bipod mechanics of Battlefield V, the MG 42 and other medium machine guns are intended primarily for locking down choke-points, and so, I’ve not had much of an opportunity to use the MG 42 as Gertrude Barkhorn or any of the other Witches. With this being said, the kill-streaks and multi-kill feats I’ve accomplished in Battlefield V are rather more numerous than they were when the In The Name of The Tsar DLC came out primarily because Battlefield V‘s weapon mechanics are more consistent.

  • The usage of MMGs is highly contentious in Battlefield V, as it takes no skill to find a spot and then use these weapons to hose down enemy players en masse; the Killfrenzy I got is evidence of this, and while I typically employ a highly mobile play-style precisely because there’s no point in camping if one means to be useful to their team, there are some players who value their KDR over teamplay and have no qualms about equipping an MMG and camp somewhere to pad their personal stats. This is why the first of the chapter four unlocks, the S2-200 (a German machine gun) was not particularly appealing to me.

  • Having reached rank twenty for the assault class long ago, I’d unlocked the Gewehr 1-5 but never really bothered with it until recently: as it turns out, the Gewehr 1-5 is a solid weapon for medium range engagements thanks to its thirty round magazine, and after trying the weapon out, it became clear as to why this is the ultimate unlock for the assault class. With a high accuracy and large magazine size, no other semi-automatic rifle comes close in medium ranges, making this a choice weapon for maps with more open spaces and longer sight lines.

  • The latest update to Battlefield V brought improvements to the submachine guns. These weapons have seen improved accuracy of late, and are now even more effective than they were previously. Medics are predominantly close-quarters players, and therefore, it makes sense to give them weapons that excel at ranges under thirty metres: when the alpha for Battlefield V first ran, medics were equipped with the semi-automatic rifles that now are found in the assault class, and while this made them lethal at medium ranges, it meant that like Battlefield 1, they would be less effective close up, where they would be most likely seen resupplying and reviving teammates.

  • While ping usually accounts for frustrating moments in Battlefield V, there are some players whose inexplicable ability to consistently take more damage than other players or fire their weapons without recoil suggest that they are employing unethical means to play. Cheating remains a major problem in Battlefield V, and I encounter subtle cheaters in at least one in ten games that I join. These are the players who use tools to give them minor assists, such as eliminating recoil on their weapons, have more health than usual or spot enemies in their area, without appearing as a blatant cheater on the scoreboards.

  • Ever since building a new desk and revitalising my home office setup, I’ve been running a dual-monitor setup and finally have proper space for a mouse-pad. I actually run with a generic Velocity mouse that was intended for common computing rather than gaming, but with a mouse-pad, I’ve been able to lower the sensitivity settings down by nearly a factor of half. The end result is that I have much more confidence in aiming at the mid-ranges. This corresponds with an increase in performance and all-around enjoyment of the game.

  • Having lower sensitivity means I’ve been willing to return to weapons that did not work so well for me earlier, and I’ve been playing around with weapons like the StG-44, using them to a much greater effect than earlier. While still sporting more recoil than its alpha or open beta incarnation, the StG-44 of Battlefield V is a powerful and effective weapon once the right specialisations are applied to it. It is the weapon of choice for Waltrude Krupinski from the 502nd Joint Fighter Wing, although Battlefield V lacks a proper weapons attachment system and therefore, it is not possible to equip the Sturmpistol under-barrel launcher for firing smaller rounds.

  • Looking through Battlefield V‘s history, the game has seen a total of three full-fledged maps after launch (Panzerstorm, Mercury and Marita), plus three more small-scale maps for squad conquest and team death-match. Here, I get a kill on Lofoten Islands in team death-match: the areas on Lofoten Islands differ between this mode and conquest, offering a small degree of variety. The latest maps to Battlefield V, Lofoten Islands and Provence, only feature these small scale game modes, although one hopes that they will be expanded out to accommodate for conquest.

  • It’s really a shame that Lofoten Islands and Provence are constrained to the smaller game modes; the scenery around the map is quite beautiful, and is the only place in Battlefield V where one can fight among the temperate mountains and pristine waters of Norway. I get a lucky grenade kill on one of the piers overlooking one of the islands, and can imagine that the map would be an interesting place to have naval combat.

  • I’ve yet to get any Killtaculars with primary weapons owing to their limited ammunition capacity and the general time to kill, but my proficiency with the weapons, coupled with improved map knowledge and the benefits of having a mouse-pad means that double kills are more common now, with the occasional lucky triple kill thrown in. Multi-kills in Battlefield V are comparatively rarer because it’s unlike to be running into large numbers of players outside of capture points or vehicles, and this is something I feel Battlefield V did improve over Battlefield 1: in the latter, I was able to get Killionaires from abusing the Ilya Muromets’ strategic bomber package.

  • Al-Sudan is a desert map modelled after one of the regions from the Under No Flag campaign map and was originally slated to come out in June, but technical difficulties resulting in artefact problems, meant that the full conquest mode is not yet available on the map. The map is supposed to be ready later this month, which is a shame: the evening lighting and design of the map is actually rather inviting, and I would love to see combat extend to the watery areas seen here in the distance.

  • Squad conquest on Lofoten Islands is actually surprisingly fun: the map is best suited for close quarters engagements, but there are some watch towers and open sight-lines that make it possible to be successful in sniping. By this point in Battlefield V, I’ve reached rank twenty for each and every class. I’ve found that the default archetypes each class start with are more than enough for my usual play-style, and was hoping that DICE would introduce new archetypes for each class to specialise their roles further. With this in mind, until DICE figures out the performance issues in full and then have a proper vision for their content release, new archetypes aren’t too high on my wishlist of things I’d like to see in Battlefield V.

  • The penultimate chapter reward is the Panzerbüchse 39, an anti-materiel rifle that serves a similar function to the Boys Anti-tank Rifle. Unlike the Boys AT Rifle, the Panzerbüchse 39 has a slightly lower firing rate, a faster muzzle velocity and reduced screen obstruction thanks to a slightly smaller compartment for carrying additional rounds. Beyond this, it requires a bipod to be at its most effective and is not the weapon of choice for highly mobile, objective-oriented players, but where the environment allows for it, the Panzerbüchse 39 is an entertaining weapon to use, allowing one to one-shot most infantry. The AT rifles are also moderately effective against light vehicles and while next to useless against tanks, can nonetheless be used to interrupt a repair cycle.

  • More so than any other iteration of Battlefield, the community of Battlefield V is easily the most unfriendly and hostile I’ve encountered. Aside from the inordinate number of cheaters, there are plenty of players who are more interested in padding their KDR and refuse to play the objective, resorting to camping for kills. When other players put anything into the text chat providing updates on enemy movements, or asking for revives or ammo, they are met with a face-full of toxic, hate-filled memes. The most gratuitous examples are found when one calls out an obvious cheater: for some reason, even players on the receiving end will stop to defend the cheaters.

  • The behaviours in the community are baffling, and for this reason, I run with the text chat completely off. DICE has implemented a text filter that censors all expletives and insults, to the point where something as simple as “sucks” is blanked out. This behaviour is something I was worried about creeping into games: I’ve heard that the team working on Battlefield V is not the same team that worked in previous titles. Shifts in role and management is allegedly why the game has been so shaky of late, and while I hope this is the case (over time, a team could improve as they grow into the role with the right leadership and individual mindset), there’s always the lingering doubt that certain trends may be making their way into large triple-A titles. These trends became most pronounced five years previously with the occurrence of a certain culture war that was ostensibly about “ethics in video games journalism”, misrepresented as a massive intimidation campaign against certain indie developers and their supporters.

  • I’ve long stayed neutral in this particular debate, having long felt that what’s most important in games was gameplay and immersion. That the individual at the center of the culture war came back at the five year anniversary to make new baseless accusations, coupled with the increasing trends towards political correctness in video games in general is not a good sign for the industry’s future, to say nothing about their persistence. For now, I’ll resolve to simply enjoy the titles that are available, and here, I land another instant-kill on an unfortunate player with the Panzerbüchse 39 and iron sights: lucky kills with the weapon led me to being branded as being devoid of skill, but it actually does take skill to use this weapon effectively in a mobile play-style: finding a spot, taking a few shots and then moving on.

  • Provence was originally advertised as a map with lavender fields of the sort that explored in Kelowna with a small village adjacent, but the iteration that made it into Battlefield V is focused around the village itself. None of the famed lavender fields of Provence make it into the playable area, and instead, the narrow streets become the main fighting areas. With this being said, Provence itself is a decent enough map for squad conquest, with some sight-lines for sniping and plenty of tighter spaces for frenzied combat.

  • There are enough flanking options in Provence such that capture points must be defended with diligence if one is to keep them from falling into enemy hands. I’ve gotten the Thompson up to rank ten now: it’s easily my favourite of the submachine guns for close quarters engagement, and the weapon is surprisingly reliable for picking off enemies that are slightly further out. It is now my go-to weapon for the medic class, and with the recent patches reducing recoil for the submachine guns, this set of weapons have only improved in efficacy.

  • On the southern edge of Provence, the distant landscapes bring to mind the sort of area that Perrine might visit while restoring Gallia of Strike Witches. This open space has plenty of possibility for larger game modes like conquest or break-through, and since there’s no water component, it means that extending the map should be, at least in theory, more straightforward than extending Lofoten Islands, where boats would have to be introduced. This would add a whole new dynamic to Battlefield V and make naval combat a possibility.

  • If such a thing were possible with the next chapter, then being able to operate the Fubuki-class and Fletcher-class would bring back the destroyer-on-destroyer combat of Battlefield 1, but this time, on the open waters of the Pacific. Squad reinforcements might then entail being able to operate the Iowa and Yamato, which would bring Kantai Collection properly into Battlefield V, the way it was meant to be played. Of course, such an undertaking would be massive, and given DICE’s recent performance, I think that the Pacific content would be quite successful if DICE would introduce the new weapons, maps and vehicles without breaking anything.

  • The final unlock for the fourth chapter is the Breda M1935 PG, the first burst-fire weapon in Battlefield V and the world’s first burst-fire weapon. The weapon was designed in Italy in 1931 and is gas-operated. The Italian version of the rifle is chambered for the 6.5×52mm Mannlicher–Carcano round, has a twenty-round box magazine and fires in four-round bursts. It is immensely powerful in the right hands in burst mode, and in single-fire mode, allows the weapon to act as a higher-capacity semi-automatic rifle that allows it to be more accurate at range.

  • Getting used to the recoil pattern on the Breda PG takes a while: it tends towards the upper right, and so, if one can manage the recoil well, the weapon can become a death machine. By pushing down on the mouse and aiming at the chest, one can fire three rounds into an opponent and then finish off with a headshot using the recoil. The Breda PG thus becomes a monster of a weapon in the right hands, being able to mow through two or three people with ease. However, the recoil pattern is also large and takes time to get used to: one cannot simply pick up this weapon and use it to wipe entire squads with it.

  • While Provence ends up being perhaps not quite as inspiring to play on, overall, the map’s layout isn’t terrible, as there are enough flanking routes to keep Squad Conquest interesting: defenders must always be mindful of other routes their opponents may take, while attackers can surprise their enemies  by using an undefended path to reach a capture point. Some parts of the map also bring to mind the atmosphere seen in Sora no Woto‘s Seize. Despite Seize being modelled off the Spanish architecture of Cuenca, the overall colour palette and setting would not look too out of place as being somewhere that Kanata and the 1121st could hang out.

  • Overall, I’d say that the Breda PG is probably the best addition to Battlefield V‘s latest Tides of War chapter, offering a new play-style for the assault class. In the streets of Provence, the weapon proved to be superbly enjoyable, and I’ve actually gotten it up to rank four already, making it possible for me to specialise the weapon. I’ve gone for the right tree, since it would extend my efficacy at range: while the Breda PG is less suited for close-quarters combat, it can hold its own under some cases, and making it more effective for its intended role seems the way to go.

  • While I leave the fourth chapter with mixed feelings (I enjoyed the new maps and weapons, but less so the performance issues and persistent instances of cheating), Battlefield V‘s ultimate fate will lie with how well DICE can deliver the Pacific Theatre content. I’ve heard rumours that amphibious warfare could be coming alongside boats: in conjunction with the maps and weapons announced, the Pacific Theatre is a very exciting time for DICE, who could salvage Battlefield V yet. This is, of course, dependent on a timely delivery of content, no introduction of performance-degrading bugs and a proper, clear communication of what players can expect.

  • If DICE can pull this off, it will be reason enough to stay and experience Strike Witches in the Frostbite Engine: we’re nearly a year into the game’s life, and insofar, I’ve only been able to run with a handful of the loadouts seen in Strike Witches and Girls und Panzer. There is further incentive for DICE to ensure a smooth delivery of new content: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is releasing in October, and with a return to the modern era, the footage of the game I’ve seen so far looks very promising. I’ve never been big on the Call of Duty multiplayer experience before, having stuck exclusively to their campaigns, but the game is catching my eye so far, and Battlefield V will have to work pretty hard to persuade me that it remains the superior experience.

  • It suddenly strikes me that I don’t have more screenshots of Al Sudan, so I’ll feature a pair of kills from the Breda PG, with the one here being on a player who focused more on KDR than team play. A glance at the calendar shows we’re a bit more than halfway through September now, which means that it’s also been a year since I accepted the assignment to fix issues that a Denver-based company had with their mobile application. This project was originally slated to span a maximum of six weeks but, thanks to the irresponsibility and incompetence of the Winnipeg team, ran for a total of twelve weeks and saw me fly out to Winnipeg to personally drive the backend development necessary for the mobile app to work.

  • The outcomes of this was far reaching and while I’m immensely glad to have finished that project to precisely what was agreed to, I admit that the experience, however instructive it was for me, also was most unpleasant. A year since then, the learnings from that project continue to guide how I design mobile apps, and a year later, Battlefield V has proven to be quite enduring despite its numerous limitations. I’m definitely looking forwards to the Pacific Theatre and will be writing about that one in great detail. In the meantime, Operation Underground is supposed to launch either later this month or early next month, and I will naturally be writing about this update and the new stuff it brings. Until then, we’re also nearing the end of the summer for anime, and that means I’ll need to do a pair of talks on Sounan Desu Ka? and Dumbbell wa nan Kilo Moteru? now that their finales have ended.

With DICE managing to salvage the fourth Tides of War chapter and bringing back some enjoyment into the game amidst the disappointment, the biggest thing on Battlefield V‘s horizon in the future is the Pacific Theatre. Folks have found information in the game files to indicate that Iwo Jima and Wake Island will definitely be featured with this next chapter, alongside the legendary M1 Garand and Browning Automatic Rifle. The M1919, M3 Submachine Gun and Type 99 Arisaka are also supposed to be included, as well. Being able to fight on the shores of an iconic location will be exciting, and Battlefield veterans will also enjoy returning to a classic Battlefield map in Wake Island. Two other maps have been found, but their locations have not been confirmed yet. This is a strong start to what I’ve been looking forwards to the most in Battlefield V, and it is possible that I’ll be able to run the Charlotte Yeager and Francesca Luccini loadouts in Battlefield V. The content is likely to come out in November, and in the meantime, Operation Underground is set to release later this month, alongside with several new assignments to keep players busy. Said to be a re-imagining of the Operation Metro map from Battlefield 3, Operation Underground will portray Operation Varsity, which happened towards the end of World War II. I’m quite familiar with Operation Metro, having spent hundreds of hours in Battlefield 3 either here in the tunnels or in Noshahr Canals, so I’m rather looking forwards to seeing how the new map will be designed to simultaneously accommodate the close-quarter mayhem of the original while at the same time, removing the frustrations of explosives spam and choke-points that would almost certainly be impassible thanks to the way medium machine guns handle in Battlefield V.

Metro Exodus: The Race For Life in The Dead City by Autumn and Route to the Good End

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” –Albert Einstein

Anna’s condition has worsened, and it turns out the only place that might hold the key to saving Anna is Novosibirsk. Formerly the third-most populous city in Russia, Novosibirsk was hit with a neutron bomb and became eight times more irradiated than Moscow. The city subsequently suffered from a conflict between civilians and OSKOM, the miltiary forces, resulting in the riots that decimated Novosibirsk’s population. Feeling that Anna is his and Artyom’s responsibility, Miller decides to enter the city with Artyom to search for a special medicine known as Renergan-F. Donning heavy protective gear, the two enter Novosibirsk’s metro system and after fighting off hordes of mutants, encounters a boy named Kiril. Kiril explains that his father left in search of a suitable location to move to and amongst the maps Kiril’s father had studied, Miller learns that Lake Baikal is radiation free. Artyom continues towards the Scientific Centre for Clinical and Experimental Medicine, where Renergan-F was developed. After traversing the partially-flooded metro tunnels, he reaches the institute, manages to recover a create and prepares to return to the Aurora, but is attacked by Blind Ones, gorilla-like mutants resembling Metro 2033‘s Librarians. Artyom is critically injured, and Miller uses his anti-radiation drug to save Artyom, dying in the drive back to the Aurora. In the aftermath, Anna is saved from respiratory failure using Renergan-F, and the Spartans donate enough blood to save Artyom’s life. Upon arriving in Lake Baikal, the Spartans hold a service to honour Miller, and Artyom is made leader of the Spartans. This is Metro Exodus‘ good end, the outcome that players earn for their patience, willingness to help those in need and keep an eye for solutions that reduce bloodshed Artyom earns a good ending by acting as people would in good times, with a mind of empathy and compassion even during difficult situations. While my playthrough was characterised by knocking out enemies, sneaking around them and exploring where possible, I saw no shortage of opportunity to put my firearms to good use – Metro Exodus might encourage stealth over going loud, but the game also offers plenty situations where the weapons and attachments that Artyom finds can be put to good use.

The final act of Metro Exodus, titled The Dead City, is precisely where Artyom can (and must) go guns blazing in order to be successful. More so than any other part of Metro Exodus, save the beginning, this final segment handles and feels most like earlier Metro games, placing Artyom in the confines of an underground subway system filled with numerous perils. When faced with resilient and violent mutants, the arsenal that Artyom has amassed from earlier missions finally come into play here. I ultimately ran the Bulldog equipped with a reflex sight, green laser sight, a standard thirty-round magazine, standard barrel and the heavy stock plus grip as my primary: this assault rifle proved to be well-suited for picking off numerous enemies at medium range and offered a satisfactory balance between damage per shot and rate of fire, performing solidly in the underground tunnels. As a secondary, the Shambler I ran with was equipped with a heavy stock, duckbill choke, a closed collimator sight and a box magazine, bringing the weapon’s performance up to that of the Saiga 12K. With a good balance of stopping power at close and medium range, I was more than ready to handle the underground tunnels of Novosibirsk: Metro Exodus‘ final act manages to bring back the same metro feel as that seen in its predecessors: in addition to offering a solid new experience with the large open areas of previous chapters, Metro Exodus shows that the series has not forgotten its roots. In particular, Novosibirsk’s partially-submerged subway tunnels and its worms evoked a similar sense of disgust and terror in me as the biomass level of Metro 2033 had – in conjunction with the simian mutants that resembled Metro 2033‘s, this is a particularly strong testament to the solid atmospherics within Metro Exodus, and so, as I pushed through the grim, terrifying tunnels of Novosibirsk, I recalled elements from earlier games that made them so enjoyable. This time, armed with a better understanding of what to expect, I opted to go with practical weapons, rather than exotic weapons as I did previously, and therefore, even in the face of the mutant simians, I was more than able to blast my way to the next area.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I know this is two Metro Exodus posts in a row, but I was progressing through the game at a breakneck speed after the Taiga, and so, we’ve come to it at last, the final act of Metro Exodus. In Novosibirsk, there are no human opponents to fight, only mutants, and so, the time has finally come to explore Artyom’s full arsenal. In reality, Novosibirsk is the third-largest city in all of Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg occupy the position of first and second), and is also the largest city in Siberia. With a population of 1.6 million, Novosibirsk is located on the banks of the Ob River and is a major center in Asian Russia. In Metro Exodus, neutron bombs irradiated Novosibirsk far worse than Moscow, and the city was hit with a civil war of sorts that wiped out the human population.

  • With radiation so intense that even the special lead-lined armour Miller and Artyom use, it is not possible to stay outside for even short periods before radiation poisoning kicks in. Fortunately, in the tunnels below, radiation levels are slightly lower, and gas masks aren’t required for some sections. Whereas Artyom had to use metal and chemical resources to craft filters earlier, the last segments of Metro Exodus returns to the approaches seen in earlier titles, where Artyom could simply pick up gas mask filters from the environment.

  • There will be a few engagements with hordes of mutants in Novosibirsk’s metro tunnels. After beating back waves of mutants, Artyom and Miller encounter a small boy in the tunnels and eventually corner him. After a brief but tense moment, the boy identifies himself as Kiril, whose father departed a few months earlier to search for habitable land after their supply of anti-radiation medication neared depletion. It turns out that Novosibirsk is indeed the place where a powerful countermeasure for radiation was developed, although the journey to this medical institute is treacherous.

  • In Kiril’s hideout, Miller and Kiril share a conversation about Kiril’s father and his objectives. Miller decides to split up, feeling that the leads Kiril’s father had are worth pursuing, and decides to give Artyom his customised Tikhar rifle. Up until now, the Tikhar had been a pneumatic rifle that was unparalleled when it came to stealth combat and whose greatest strength was that ammunition could always be readily crafted, giving Artyom options in combat even when conventional ammunition had been depleted. However, one must constantly be aware of the air pressure levels in the Tikhar, and repeated use of the weapon would render it ineffectual.

  • Once Artyom acquires the electromagnetic accelerator attachment for the Tikhar, the weapon turns into the Volt Driver from previous titles: it is Metro Exodus‘ ultimate weapon. I’ve never actually used this weapon up until now, having never gone through the DLC for Metro 2033 or Metro: Last Light. Here in Metro Exodus, I utilised the weapon to great effect; the weapon can one-shot most enemies, has a high rate of fire and accuracy, and since it uses the same steel balls as the Tikhar, ammunition for the weapon is common.

  • Once Artyom is fully kitted out, nothing in Novosibirsk’s metro tunnels will stand a chance: the tunnels, formerly a suspenseful environment, turns into a shooting gallery where mutants fall to superior firepower. This is the point in the game where one can really enjoy the shooting mechanics of Metro Exodus without worrying about moral points: the narrow, linear tunnels do not provide much in the way of stealth, and the environments here definitely bring back memories of Metro: Last Light.

  • After Artyom reaches a submerged section of the Novosibirsk metro and acquires a boat, exploring one of the side tunnels will also yield a special twenty-round box magazine for the Shambler. Up until now, I’d run with the ten-round magazine that allowed the weapon to handle as the Saiga 12K of Metro: Last Light did, allowing the Shambler to have a decent balance between weapon stability and magazine size. The box magazine doubles one’s capacity at the expense of reload time and stability, but given the sheer number of mutants, this is an agreeable upgrade to find.

  • The submerged metro segments of Novosibirsk rival the biomass in terms of revulsion factor: the area is covered in mutated tubifex growth and populated by different leech-like worms. The smallest worms will attach themselves to Artyom whenever he falls into the water, dealing some damage to him. Medium sized worms will spit acid at Artyom from a distance and when killed, can be looted for chemicals. Finally, large worms several metres long can be encountered. They also spit acid and can knock Artyom from his boat: they are massive enough to hunt Nosalise mutants, but with the Tikhar, they can be felled in a few shots.

  • These sections of Metro Exodus particularly impressed me: it was a creative way to make the tunnels more interesting and also was a clever callback to the Biomass level in Metro 2033: with uneven, slimy and nauseating organic matter covering all surfaces, unease mingles with excitement. The visual fidelity in Metro Exodus is apparent: after killing the medium and large worms, inspection of their carcasses shows just how much detail went into their assets. Unlike my experiences with the Biomass level of Metro 2033, where I had carried specialised weapons for long-range combat, this time, better knowledge allowed me to carry more versatile weapons.

  • In this large hangar-like section, Artyom must locate a boat in order to cross into the next section. The trick is to locate a doorway off to the side, which leads into a series of hallways infested with worms. The medium worms are rather weak, and spending shotgun shells on worms in general is a waste of ammunition. The Bulldog really shines here: one or two bullets will deal with them. Since the larger worms will spit massive globs of acid and small worms at the player that injure and disorient, I prefer engaging them from a distance with the Tikhar. Ten shots will be more than enough to put one away.

  • Between the damage sustained from fighting worms and falling into the water, which causes leeches to bind to the player for some damage, my gas mask became damaged. A patch I applied to temporarily stem the loss of air can be seen on-screen here. There is a workbench located in the hallways, and I was therefore able to repair my gas mask without difficulty. While guides suggest that the small leeches that stick to Artyom’s mask are merely cosmetic, rather like the small spiders that crawl over his arms and face when one walks through a web, they seem to cause small amounts of damage.

  • Once the flooded hangar is cleared, Artyom proceeds into a heavily irradiated tunnel and develops acute radiation sickness, seeing visions of Anna. He applies a dose of the anti-radiation medication to ward off the debilitating effects and pushes on to the surface on his way to the institute. Hallucinations and blurriness will impact Artyom for the remainder of Metro Exodus: the games have always introduced visual disorientation towards the climax, and these elements make a return in Metro Exodus. Unlike its predecessors, however, Metro Exodus is much more restrained when it comes to these effects.

  • Artyom will succumb to a few visions detailing the fate of what happened during the final hours in Novosibirsk: with tensions running high, the armed forces fired on civilians with their main battle tank. Visions in earlier Metro titles were explained as being the psycho-kinetic powers that the Dark Ones were using to reach Artyom. Dark Ones only appear in Metro Exodus as Easter eggs, and are never directly mentioned: the visions Artyom has might be attributable to them, or else will need alternate explanation.

  • After a short journey across the surface, Artyom finally reaches the research institute. This site is immensely unnerving with its icicled-interior, and things are made more tricky by the appearance of another anomaly that stalks Artyom. This anomaly differs from the one I encountered in the Volga, being able to physically manipulate objects in the environment. Despite dealing no direct damage to Artyom, getting too close is still damaging because it seems to emit radiation.

  • Because of the close-quarters environments at the institute, I decided to switch the green laser over to the Tikhar and also swapped out the longer range IRNV optics for the reflex sight, turning the weapon into a powerful short-range solution for whatever I would encounter. The near-absence of enemies was terrifying, and I soon learnt why there are no other mutants in the institute.

  • Once I reached a rooftop, I found myself face-to-face with a “Blind One”, a gorilla-like mutant that possesses limited sentience and telepathic powers. Despite lacking vision, their sense of hearing and smell are exceptional, allowing them to trace Artyom. Like the Librarians of Metro 2033, they will attack when provoked and therefore, can be avoided. There is much speculation as to what the Blind Ones’ origins are, and while I’ve read that they can communicate with Artyom in a limited way, I never experienced this for myself.

  • I thus resorted to my classic method of blowing any Blind One I encountered apart with what has now become an impressive arsenal: while guides suggest that sneaking past the Blind Ones is preferred because of their durability, I’ve found that a Molotov Cocktail and full magazine of ammunition from the rail-gun equipped Tikhar is enough to bring one down with relative ease. Alternatively, if one has enough shotgun shells, they can also just use the Shambler to great effect; having a box magazine extends the amount of damage over time Artyom can do without reloading. Individually, the Blind Ones are actually straightforwards to avoid or fight, but there does come a point where Artyom will encounter two.

  • In the blackest depths of the institute, Artyom will finally locate a crate containing Renergan-F. Once he recovers it, a Blind One will attack him, and both fall out of a fire escape. The Blind One is subsequently impaled by an icicle, and then Miller arrives. Miller himself is suffering from radiation poisoning as well, and he uses his anti-radiation dose on Artyom to save him, at the cost of his own life. Seeing this go down meant I had no regrets about blasting each and every Blind One I encountered.

  • The last segment of Metro Exodus is a long drive back to the Aurora, and once this is done, the game’s outcome is presented to the player. I watched as the Spartans donated blood to Artyom, and while he drifts in and out of consciousness, Miller speaks with him about how Artyom’s persistence has given everyone a new future. He walks off into the sunset, and Artyom is able to survive the ordeal. I’ve actually wondered what the bad ending was like and found it to be much more pessimistic; while Miller compliments that Artyom had done his job well as a soldier, and the remaining Spartans do live their lives out in happiness on the shores of Lake Baikal, Artyom and Miller are consigned to spend eternity in a purgatory for their actions, leaving Anna alone in the world.

  • I would have very much loved to explore Lake Baikal, but the area is entirely peaceful and would not have been exciting from a gameplay perspective. With this in mind, it feels great to have gotten the good ending: I’ve long wondered about the strict requirements of earning a good end to Metro games, and with Metro Exodus, I’ve found my answer. Overall, I am very glad to have taken the plunge and picked up the game. Even if it was for the Epic platform rather than Steam, this does not diminish how enjoyable Metro Exodus is in any way. With Metro Exodus now in the books, I will be going through Star Wars Battlefront II, which was on sale for 85 percent off some ways ago. I’ve heard that the game is due for a major update that will add “Instant Action”, making it the perfect single player arcade experience for days when I wish to relive classic moments in Star Wars.

Metro Exodus marks the first time I’d ever gotten a good end in the series: in Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light, I ended up with the bad endings. However, two games and six years later, I believe that additional life experience and patience allowed me to appreciate the message that the Metro series was trying to communicate to its players. Morality and goodness stems from the patience to assess a situation, whereas immorality and suffering follows from a desire to immediately wade into a problem and then argue that the ends justify the means. This is what I was missing from my play-throughs of earlier Metro titles, and with this newfound appreciation, I am most impressed with how Metro manages to work in such a far-reaching, profound message into each of its three games. Besides these overarching themes of morality, Metro Exodus also shows players the resilience of the human spirit: while the societies that Artyom encounters at the Volga, Yamantau, Caspian desert and taiga forest are crude and barbaric, that a society has reformed at all following the war shows the human determination to survive and make the most of things. Being able to explore different parts of the Russian countryside and wilderness, and seeing all of these little details shows a world that has managed to adapt, while at the same time, gives a glimpse into what life might be like in the furthest reaches of the world. In addition, Metro Exodus also presents the idea that an open-mindedness is needed to bring about positive change; Artyom’s determination to explore the world outside of Moscow, ultimately gave the Spartans a new home and hope. Sometimes, taking a risk is necessary, and while the choice to do so is fraught with danger, the outcomes can be worth it. With the latest instalment of Metro now in my books, I’ve heard that there could be a sequel where Artyom returns to Moscow to bring back other survivors for a better life on the pristine and idyllic life on the shores of Lake Baikal.

Metro Exodus: Hidden Summer Camps of the Taiga

“In a forest of a hundred thousand trees, no two leaves are alike. And no two journeys along the same path are alike.” –Paulo Coelho

The Spartans celebrate Stepan and Katya’s marriage on the Aurora, which has left the desert. When Anna collapses midway through the ceremony, Katya, who has medical knowledge, looks over her and feels that it might be the case that Anna simply needs better air. Analysis of the satellite imagery reveals a valley in Burabay National Park that appears suitable for settlement. While the Spartans are optimistic about this area, they decide to send Artyom and Alyosha to scout out the area so as not to frighten any locals in the area. However, Alyosha and Artyom are swept away by an avalanche, only to be rescued by a forest-dweller. Artyom learns that the forest valley is populated by two factions that splintered long ago, and seeking to link up with Alyosha, Artyom sneaks through several of the pioneer and pirate camps with nothing more than a makeshift crossbow known as the Helsing after his backpack is lost. He is eventually captured, and escapes when a massive mutant bear appears. Recovering his backpack, Artyom navigates around the pioneer and pirate camps, clears out a bandit camp on his own and then, after a harrowing fight with the mutant bear the locals refer to as the Master of the Forest, meets Olga, the pioneer who rescued him. She explains the history of the area and its two factions. Artyom then sneaks into a pirate camp and recovers a boat, encounters an eccentric admiral and makes his way to the dam through an underground passage. At the dam, Artyom links up with Alyosha and prepares to return to the Aurora. It turns out that Olga and Alyosha had struck up a friendship and reciprocated one another’s feelings: Alyosha promises to return for her, and advises her to move her people out, since the dam’s structure has weakened and could collapse, flooding the forest valley with radioactive water. The two return to the Aurora and set course for Novosibirsk as Anna’s condition worsens, in search of a medication that would cure her of her illness.

The biggest surprise of the Taiga region is the loss of Artyom’s equipment; after falling into the river, Artoym’s backpack is washed away, and with it, all of the upgraded gear accrued over the course of Metro Exodus. From the green laser sight I had recovered, to the upgraded Shambler, everything is lost, forcing players to adopt a more stealthy, patient approach towards dealing with the forest’s human inhabitants. As Artyom progresses through the valley, listening in on conversations finds that most of the forest’s peoples are not hostile and can be left alone. An eye for path-finding, and occasionally knocking out the stray sentinel in Artyom’s path will allow him to quickly clear areas without raising an alarm, and a few of the weapons can also be recovered: with the Bulldog and Shambler gone, players have a chance to return to the revolver and Ashot again. With the Helsing as a stealth option, I kitted the Ashot out with my usual two-barrel setup for close quarters, and the revolver became a mid-range intermediate solution after I fitted it with an eight-round double-action cylinder, standard barrel and a 4x scope. The change in play-style brings a new feel to Metro Exodus, and while the taiga might not have the same potential for exploration, it nonetheless is a beautiful region worth taking the time to go through. The only major combat I experienced here in the forests were at a bandit camp, through a spider-infested tunnel and then against the bear itself. In my first encounter, I depleted my entire stock of shotgun shells and pistol rounds to send it packing, while on my second fight, I utilised the Helsing’s explosive bolts to whittle down its health. Having gone through the taiga with the intent of doing as little harm as possible, I was met with respect from Olga, and Alyosha decides to return later to the area.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While the Caspian was a lifeless desert devoid of life (albeit one where its inhabitants adapted to the surroundings, and where looking closer revealed various points of interest), the taiga is a forested area rich in flora and fauna. Deciduous and coniferous trees cover hillsides that give way to pristine bodies of water while glacially-capped peaks tower above in the distance. It is unsurprising that the area looked so promising to settle in: the taiga seems like an idyllic place to be.

  • I would have loved to stick around in the area and explore, but as the daylight disappears, the priority is to reach Alyosha as soon as possible. Artyom’s backpack disappeared after the railcar was washed into the lake by an avalanche, and initially, all players will have available to them is the Helsing crossbow in its most basic configuration, allowing it to fire a highly-damaging bolt at a very low rate of fire, one at a time. When confronted with the Helsing-wielding forest dwellers, Artyom can be felled in as little as two shots, making stealth a much more critical path to take.

  • After making my way through a village and surviving an encounter with the mutated bear that the forest dwellers refer to as the Master of the Forest, night had fallen. As soon as players locate a IRNV scope for the Helsing, night is actually the preferred way to complete the Taiga with minimal risk of detection from the forest dwellers, but lacking a good close-quarter solution means that encounters with wildlife would be much trickier.

  • I ended up finding a small cave west of the passage leading into the pioneer camp and rested there until dawn. While daylight increases my risk of being caught, an entire post’s worth of screenshots by night would have been very boring – the taiga is at its best during the day, and exploring around then gives the best opportunity for screenshots. By this point in time, I’ve found a three-round magazine for the Helsing, along with different optics and even a compound bow attachment that increases damage.

  • The shores by the lake here is one example of how stunning Metro Exodus looks – the developers have evidently put in a great deal of work into the environments, from the scraps of wood floating and algae on the water, to the mists rising up from the lake by morning, everything in the taiga feels idyllic. In fact, the area resembles some regions of Skyrim and Half-Life 2 Episode 2, as well as the mountains near my city. This Labour Day long weekend, suboptimal weather precluded a trip out there, and I ended up doing some window shopping at a local mall instead before settling down to a satay lobster noodle soup, which was a fine way to ward off the cold weather.

  • I ended up covertly moving through the entirety of the pioneer camp without once alerting anyone to my presence, but I did knock out a few pioneers who stood between me and my destination. Knocking people out is silent and quick, allowing me to take their entire inventory, and because it is non-lethal, doesn’t impact one’s morality any. It is superior to the lethal takedown, and in fact, renders it completely unnecessary to kill anyone all, since knocked-out enemies stay down indefinitely. Future iterations of Metro may do well to balance this by adding a timer so that downed enemies can regain consciousness and then alert their allies, forcing players to be both stealthy and efficient.

  • For the effort of not firing a single shot while in the pioneer camp, my screen flashed white briefly, indicating I’d done something good. The pioneers and bandits are said to be students who were out camping when the nuclear war broke out, and then continued to grow up in the forest once civilisation was destroyed. The pioneers in particular are named after the Young Pioneers (or in full, “Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization”), which were a youth organisation similar to North American scouts and sought to teach young people social cooperation in summer camps.

  • The game Everlasting Summer deals with a Young Pioneer camp, and I might write about my experiences with this exceptional visual novel if there is a wish for it. Here, I arrive at a bandit camp: unlike the pioneers or pirates, going loud in a bandit camp has no impact on morality. I thus put the Helsing to good use here, silently eliminating bandits until my presence was noticed. I promptly switched over to the revolver for increased firepower. The bandits have access to a Valve rifle here, but because ammunition for this was scarce compared to the revolver, my makeshift pocket sniper became the best solution here.

  • I’d actually been itching for a chance to use the pocket sniper configuration of the revolver for the longest time since the Volga, and in the bandit camp, the weapon proved its worth. Readers may have noticed that I almost always run with the same loadouts in each region, and this is because while Metro Exodus may allow for some pretty unusual setups, I found that particular weapon configurations simply worked best for me in a given situation.

  • TheRadBrad had gone through the bandit camp by night and therefore was able to avoid most of the combat by sneaking past the enemies, but in the bandit camp, there’s a captured pioneer that Artyom can rescue only by single-handedly eliminating the entire camp on his own. While having a Kalashnikov or Bulldog here would have simplified things, the revolver and Ashot managed things more than adequately.

  • The church tower in the distance is where Artyom is set to rendezvous with Alyosha, but there’s still a pirate camp between Artyom and the objective. With the day growing late, I decided to find a campfire and rest up, again, so I could carry on with the mission by day. The skies here look very life-like, and one of the nuances about Metro Exodus is the hyperrealistic skyboxes that dynamically change over the course of a day. Dynamic weather means that no two moments are going to be identical, and this adds life to the game.

  • Having spent the night rested, I reawaken to find the pink-orange light of a taiga dawn. I’ve managed to find a lull in the moment and refitted the reflex sight to the Ashot, although quite honestly, the light weight and solid handling of this weapon means that it can be fired from the hip with reasonable accuracy. I thus carried this into battle with me, along with the revolver and Helsing arrows – the quiet of the church yard I enter was unnerving, and I soon had my answer as to why this was the case.

  • It turns out this is where Artyom will have a chance to square off against the Master of the Forest, a massive mutant bear. This bear is tougher than any mutant bear I’d ever fought in previous Metro titles, being able to barrel through obstacles without any trouble and shrugging off an entire arsenal’s worth of damage without flinching. I managed to drive the bear off here, but it turns out there’s a smarter way to fight: Artyom can simply use the Molotov cocktail to distract the bear and then unfurl the rope ladder. Subsequently, Artyom buy himself enough time to escape with a second Molotov cocktail, and upon ascending the ladder, the bear will leave.

  • In my case, I lacked any Molotov cocktails, so after expending my entire stock of shotgun shells and a fair number of arrows, I drove off the bear by force of arms, leading Olga to comment on Artyom’s skill after they meet. It turns out she was the one who saved him and Alyosha from the derailment earlier, and if Artyom takes the time to listen, Alyosha will explain the entire history of the valley and its inhabitants. There’s a work bench here, allowing players to craft up any ammunition and consumables that were spent during the bear fight. While most guides recommend against crafting ammunition, those who take the time to explore will have enough raw materials to constantly top off their consumables. In fact, I would counter-state that one should craft with an eye on the following priorities – medical syringes should always come first, followed by cleaning one’s weapons and repairing one’s mask.

  • Then, ammunition for the shotgun can be crafted: pistol and intermediate rounds are reasonably common. Throwables can be found in the environment and are costly to make, while one to three minutes of material gas mask filters can be made if one still has resources available. They aren’t needed too often in open areas, and one can get by as long as they have more than nine minutes’ worth of filters. Here, I approach the dam, and to the right of the image, a faint cyan glow can be seen emanating from behind the dam, hinting at the state of the world in reservoir.

  • Owing to the terrain and sightlines, it is very difficult to sneak past the pirate camp without raising the alarm, so to tilt the situation slightly in my favour, I moved through the area by nightfall and managed to secure a boat without any difficulty. In the process, I also acquired a Kalashnikov rifle, giving me slightly improved firepower for medium range encounters. Once the boat is secured, players will encounter the Admiral, an insane fellow who keeps company of the corpses of those he once commanded. The Admiral is no threat to Artyom and will have some interesting stories to tell: I listened for a while and accepted his tea, then proceeded on with making my way to the dam.

  • I’m sure that the sights up here would’ve been beautiful by day, but since I chose the night, I got to see a full moon casting a cold blue light on the valley below. The next segments were among my least favourite of the taiga: I entered an underground passage with a spider infestation, and was troubled with radiation pockets that interfered with my flashlight. Armed with only my lighter, I had to lure the spiders towards light, and then engage them there.

  • There’s a generator hidden in the underground complex, and once Artyom activates it, the lights come on. This provides Artyom with a modicum of peace from the spiders: they are still difficult to fight, and careless shot placement will invariably lead to an unnecessary expenditure of ammunition. Exploring the installation will find a reasonable amount of ammunition, which will help in the area ahead.

  • After nearly two thirds of the game has passed, we finally come to the area that was showcased during the 2017 E3 demo. I deliberately outfitted my crossbow with the same setup that was seen in E3 and proceeded down the slope. The area has seen numerous changes since E3, and the animations seen then are gone, but beyond this, the Metro Exodus that we get to experience is more polished and detailed than the E3 version. It suddenly strikes me that two years have passed since I first heard about Metro Exodus, and it is humbling to finally be standing here in the same spot that was showcased shortly after I returned from my trip to Japan.

  • Artyom will encounter the bear a final time after reaching a bridge leading to the church, and must defeat it to continue on back to the Aurora. The best way to do so is to open the fight by securing all of the Molotov cocktails, and then using one to create space while unloading as much shotgun ammunition as possible. When depleted, I switched over to the Helsing’s explosive bolts. After enough damage is done, the bear will charge at Artyom and then slip over the cliff’s edge. Olga will arrive and tell her people to stand down, sharing a farewell with Alyosha before allowing the two safe passage. It turns out that Alyosha had met Olga earlier and the two fell in love: Alyosha recounts his experiences to Artyom as they move through the village here. Once the two part ways, Alyosha promises to come back for her, and then joins Artyom in zip-lining across the abyss back to the Aurora.

Entering the final quarter of Metro Exodus, I am two for three in terms of keeping the Spartans with me, and there is only one more section left in the game to go through. Of the different regions of Metro Exodus, the taiga definitely is the most breathtaking, with its forests, lakes and mountains. However, the area’s biggest threat is the radioactive waters behind the dam: when I exited the underground tunnels and came to the point overlooking a small village that was shown in the E3 demo of Metro Exodus back in 2017, the faint glow was visible even during the day. It turns out that the location in the E3 demo was in the taiga, and armed with the crossbow with a reflex sight, I trudged down the hill towards the church, much as the demo did. While the demo had more animations and more enemies to fight in the area, Metro Exodus‘ retail version sees improved visuals and a more atmospheric experience in fighting the bear. I’ve heard that it’s uncommon for a game’s E3 demo version to be dramatically surpassed by the retail version (The Division and Rainbow Six Siege are examples of two games that saw graphical downgrades in the retail build), and given the overwhelmingly positive experiences I’ve had in Metro Exodus after three-quarters of the game, I can honestly say that the decision to pick this up was worthwhile. The next chapter appears to be the final segment in Metro Exodus, and it looks to be a return into the old, claustrophobic gameplay that characterised previous Metro titles. Having spent three quarters of the game outside, I’m curious to see how the new mechanics of Metro Exodus will play out back in the narrow confines of underground tunnels.

Air: A Reflection At Summer’s End

“Isn’t that a romantic thought? That your true self is in the sky!” —Misuzu Kamio

Yukito Kunisaki is a wanderer with an unusual talent: the ability to use limited magic in animating a puppet. He travels from town to town with the aim of supporting himself, while at once seeking out a “Girl in the Sky”, a function he inherited from his late mother. Upon arriving in the coastal town of Kami, and after failing to impress the local children, he falls asleep on the seawall, only to encounter Misuzu Kamino. Enticed by her offer of a free meal, Yukito soon becomes friends with her and manages to convince Haruko Kamio, Misuzu’s foster mother, to allow Yukito to sleep in the garden shed. Yukito also meets Kano Kirishima and Minagi Tohno, coming to learn of a legend from a thousand summers previously. Borne of a curse from the Heian period, when the ancient winged being Kannabi no Mikoto (Kanna) escapes from captivity with the help of Ryūya, a member of her guard, and the Force-sensitive Uraha. While their escape was successful, priests soon caught up to them and cursed Kanna to eternally die and resurrect whenever she discovered love. It turns out that Misuzu was the latest reincarnated form of Kanna, and so, after kindling a friendship with Yukito, she fell in love with him. Misuzu’s story is later recounted from the perspective of a crow named Sora, and it turns out following Yukito’s mysterious departure, Haruko and Misuzu spend more time together as mother and child up until Misuzu’s death. This is Air, the first of the Key adaptations and the second series the Kyoto Animation produced: dating back to 2005, Air nonetheless has a timeless feel to it thanks to Kyoto Animation’s technical prowess, which was apparent even this early in their career, as well as the unusual and riveting story from the source materials itself.

From a narrative standpoint, Air is predominantly about how even if love is a transient state, the treasured moments that two individuals spend together are well worth the pains because they create a unique bond. This love is represented in Air both in terms of familial love, as well as romantic love. Despite their short time together, Yukito grows to care greatly for Misuzu not merely because of her being the individual he was fated to seek out, but because of her kindness. Similarly, in accompanying her and showing her friendship, Misuzu comes to love Yukito. While their time is cut short, their emotions and experiences remain genuine. Following the Summer arc, the bonds between Misuzu and Haruko are developed: having long regarded Misuzu coldly for fear that she would forget her, Haruko decides to make up for the lost time. While building a bond with Misuzu does end up causing Haruko great pain when Misuzu does eventually die of the curse, the pain is offset by Haruko having creating priceless memories and making the most of Misuzu’s remaining days. Then, no matter how short-lived love might be in some cases, it by no way diminishes its authenticity when it does manifest, and that the cost of love is far outweighed by the worth of having had the experience. This imagery is vividly presented in Air, augmented by extensive use of the summer season as a visual backdrop: like love, summer is a beautiful season occasionally marked with inclement weather, and is finite in length. However, it is in this brief period where things are truly magical, and while summers inevitably end, the memories they wrought remain with one forever.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Misuzu Kamio is Air‘s heroine. She is very similar to CLANNAD‘s Nagisa Furukawa and Kanon‘s Nayuki Minase in terms of personality, being kind and gentle, with a somewhat immature predisposition at times. While Yukito initially grows tired of her seemingly boundless optimism, her persistence in befriending him leads him to come around. Misuzu was voiced by Tomoko Kawakami, who passed away in 2011 and also played Aria‘s Athena Glory, The Girl from the Illusionary World of CLANNAD and Sayuri Kuruta of Kanon.

  • Air is set in the coastal town of Kami, in the Hyōgo Prefecture. The choice of location, a quiet town with a small population with a lack of activity, creates a deliberate sense of solitude that forces focus to be on Yukito and Misuzu. Anime taking this approach tend to feel very lonely and melancholy, creating a sense of yearning and wistfulness, and for me, there’s an appeal to series with this particular aesthetic.

  • Yukito comes from a line of sorcerers with the ability to manipulate objects to a limited extent. While is puppeteering skills are initially weak, his time with Misuzu helps him appreciate what his audience seeks from his plays, and over the course of Air, he is able to impress audiences to a greater extent. Of the male protagonists in a Key adaptation, Yukito has the least development of everyone in comparison to Yuuichi and Tomoya, since he’s supposed to represent the player character.

  • A short walk in Kami leads one out of town into the rural areas. The gentle quiet of the countryside amplifies the feeling of isolation, although Yukito is not without good company. He encounters Kano, an unusual girl who wears a ribbon around her wrist to seal her “magic”. It turns out that after coming into contact with a cursed feather, Kano manifested an unusual condition, and the ribbon was meant as a means to help her cope.

  • Aside from setting the standard for Kyoto Animation’s visuals, Air also would set the precedence for the quality of music that would go into its works. Air‘s soundtrack is a timeless collection of vocal pieces from Lia, which capture the empty majesty of the sky, and Jun Maeda’s incidental pieces serve to both set the mood of a moment, as well as convey additional aspects of a character. In particular, Misuzu’s theme, Natsukage, has become a favourite of mine: if there was a single song that captures how the summer feels, then this would be it.

  • Out of the gates, Air makes extensive use of supernatural elements to capture the idea that human emotions, both good and bad, sometimes defy known understanding and therefore can only be captured by means of magic. This is a recurring theme in Jun Maeda’s works – the way things works out in reality sometimes can appear to be the work of a higher power. In Air, the lack of contemporary implements such as phones give the setting a timeless feel, making it feel more plausible for magic to exist as a natural part of the world.

  • Hijiri Kirishima is Kano’s older sister, and after running into Yukito, decides to offer him work. In Kami, Yukito also runs into Minagi and Michiru; the former shares many unusual conversations with Yukito, while the latter is fond of pranking him. While the characters initially appear disconnected, they are all related to an ancient story from a thousand years earlier. Elements of reincarnation and rebirth are present in Air, although it is presented as a curse rather than a blessing.

  • While initially appearing dull and lifeless, Yukito’s background from a family of sorcerers and his connection to the “Girl in the Sky”, coupled with a kind disposition despite his cold appearance, means that he’s an integral part of the story. Over time, he grows to care for Misuzu even as her condition fails: the curse of a thousand years means that when she discovers love, her health and memories fade and condemn her to death.

  • The wide open skies above Kami are deliberately presented as vast: Air itself makes extensive use of imagery associated with birds, flight and feathers to signify a longing to soar into the expansive sky and explore. Society’s rejection is then a refusal to explore what could be, and how despite a laggard society’s effort to suppress curiosity, it will always linger. I imagine this to be a secondary theme in Air, and admit that it took me three revisitations to really get a handle on what the series was about: unlike Kanon and CLANNADAir is a bit more abstract in its presentation.

  • The mysteries in Air are indicative of the notion of curses being extremely long-lived, to the point where for future generations, they simply become something that they adapt to. Yukito and the others are not fully aware of the story, but bits and pieces of it are told over time, filling in the mystery. The feathers will occasionally manifest, and these snow-white feathers of purity speak of bygone times, of something unspoilt and untarnished.

  • Misuzu holds the rather romantic belief that one’s self exists in the skies above, unfettered by worldly concerns and untroubled by the comings and goings of the world. A long time ago, I had a friend who shared similarly romantic beliefs, and although time resulted in our drifting apart, these thoughts remain behind. One wonders what it would be like to have the sort of freedom a bird might, and it attests to humanity’s incredible resourcefulness that we’ve both been able to soar into the air as a bird might with aircraft, as well as replicate the experience with microprocessors and LED screens.

  • Minagi’s story was perhaps the most rushed in Air; after events of her past, Minagi’s own mother forgot about her existence, but Yukito ultimately helps to set things right when he speaks with the irreverent Michiru and determines on how to reach a solution. With things settled, Minagi departs for an unknown destination, and Misuzu collapses unexpectedly, setting in motion the final events of Air.

  • The origins of the thousand-year-old curse is found in the Heian Period, which spanned from 794 AD to 1185 AD. This period was characterised by a substantial Chinese and Buddhist influence, and is known for its artwork. It turns out that long ago, there were winged beings of great power, and society’s fear of them led to their extinction. Samurai Ryūya and Force-sensitive Uraha strive to protect Kanna from the pursuers after they manage to fulfill Kanna’s wish of locating her mother, and eventually, after Kanna is cursed and killed, Ryūya and Uraha conceive a child together with the aim of breaking this curse.

  • The third segment of Air follows things from the perspective of a crow named Sora. Here, Misuzu stands outside on a hot summer’s day. The alternative perspective offers new insight into Misuzu’s world, and that despite her lack of friends, her world is one of optimism and making the most of things. Her appearance in this moment here is the anthropomorphism of what I’ve come to long for in the summer: an encounter with someone like Misuzu or Nagisa in a verdant field and endless skies. Of course, this is just a dream, and given the geographical setting of where I am, such a dream is unlikely to come to fruition.

  • Following Yukito’s disappearance, Haruko resolves to look after Misuzu, whose health worsens by the day. Eventually, Misuzu’s father comes to pick her up, and while the old Haruko would have no objections, over the past while, she’d come to bond with Misuzu and sees her as a daughter. Misuzu’s father reluctantly allows Haruko to look after her for a few more days. With her hair short, Misuzu resembles Kanon‘s Ayu Tsukimiya. Having covered two of Key’s biggest titles, my sights are now set on writing about Kanon: I watched it after finishing CLANNAD and felt it have less of an impact, but the series remains exceptional, worthy of being counted as a masterpiece.

  • While I’ve referred to the town of Air as Kami, the real Kami actually does not have a hill overlooking the sea and is quite flat. Contrasting her initial cold treatment of Misuzu, Haruko comes around and begins regarding her as a proper daughter. Despite their short time together, the memories they share become priceless: each of the three arcs of Air appear to be unified by the idea of how transient and fragile relationships can be, but still have great importance and worth nonetheless. Air covers numerous other themes, as well, but at a very basic, broad level, the theme I’ve found Air to be most forward with is thus.

  • In this post, partially a reflection of Air and partially me reflecting on the last day of August, I’ve featured moments that predominantly have the blues and greens of summer. Air, however, also makes use of other times of day: like KanonCLANNAD and virtually the rest of Kyoto Animation’s works, the colouring and time of day become critical in conveying a certain mood. Intense saturation during the evenings, for example, indicate emotional distress or troubling times.

  • Misuzu’s death is inevitable, and one of the most difficult moments was watching her struggle to stand and walk over to Haruko. Misuzu eventually dies on the beaches she loved, in Haruko’s arms. While the curse appears to claim yet another life, the combination of time, Yukito’s befriending of Misuzu and willingness to return as a crow to retain the lost memories, and Haruko’s accepting of Misuzu as her own daughter, the sum of these actions allows the curse to lift. In this case, Air is really about showing how compassion and kindness has a nontrivial impact in ending even something as powerful as a curse.

  • In the end, the children at the end don’t have any significance to the story. Air is regarded as being somewhat difficult to understand, but in spite of this, still retains a moving story. With Air done, I will be turning my sights towards Kanon at some point. We now enter September, and I’ll be doing reflections on both Sounan Desu Ka? and Dumbbell nan Kilo Motteru once their finales air. Beyond this, I am pushing through Metro Exodus at a high rate and will be looking to finish before mid-month, so there will be posts on this. Finally, Battlefield V will be getting a post, as well: while the game has seen numerous setbacks, there are still a few things to consider, especially as I pass the one-year anniversary of Battlefield V‘s open beta.

Whereas I’ve actually finished Air some years ago, I encountered considerable difficulty until a recent re-watch of the series that led me to consolidate what I had to say about things. Being the earliest of Kyoto Animation’s Key adaptations, Air bears all of the hallmarks of later series, featuring exceptional presentation of the different stories, and initially, I appreciated Air purely for its technical aspects. The story itself came across as being more challenging to follow, but after revisiting the series and its persistent use of endless blue skies along a quiet coastal town as a backdrop made it explicitly clear that the summer was very much a core aspect of Air. Besides representing a season of life, exploration and possibility, summer also ends more abruptly and noticeably than any other season. It is the season whose presence is most strongly felt, and whose temporal nature is most apparent. As Air is set in the summer, it stood to reason that the choice of season was almost certainly to augment the themes in Air. This connection, on closer inspection, seems very natural: the love portrayed in Air, while transient and short, is very poignant, moving and powerful precisely because it is not endless. Thus, Air seems to also indicate to viewers that the ending of summer is not something to dread or despise, since the finite nature of summer gives more value to the memories created during its course. This is appropriate, given that August now draws to a close, and while winter may approach with a tedious inevitability, there is always the consolation that the days will grow warm again.

Metro Exodus: Spring Storms in the Caspian Desert

“What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.” –Antoine de Saint

Upon arriving at the Yamantau complex, Artyom and the other Spartans discover that the Russian government had not survived, and instead, the facility’s maintenance crew became cannibals. Fighting their way back out of the underground installation, Miller manages to retrieve a map that indicates the presence of a satellite facility near the Caspian Sea with Giul’s help. Amidst the ruins of the old facility, Artyom finds a photo of Giul’s family and returns it to her. The area had since become an arid desert dominated by bandits: after reaching a lighthouse, Artyom manages to recover the satellite imagery and turns his attention towards securing water and fuel for the Aurora while taking care to minimise casualties to the slaves in the area. After these resources are acquired, Artyom decides to help Giul eliminate the Baron, a local despot who controls the populace in the area. Inspection of the maps leads Miller to conclude that the Taiga in the east has promise, and with adequate supplies, the Spartans set off towards the Taiga in search of more hospitable conditions. Anna, meanwhile, has developed a cough and feels that the forest air would do her some good. Thus, I cross the halfway point to Metro Exodus: following a claustrophobic, close-quarters battle in the confines of the Yamantau bunkers and rescuing Anna, I thus entered the second open area of Metro Exodus. This desert initially appeared to be a dreary, unexciting location composed of sand and rock: upon arrival in the Caspian Desert, there was nothing but the brown desert under a blue sky. However, once Artyom makes it to a derelict building and comes face-to-face with a bandit, he gains access to a van, which dramatically changes the way one can explore the map.

While the Volga had Artyom confined to a rowboat for travelling across water, the wide expanse of desert in the Caspian means that having a motor vehicle is indispensable – Artyom can now cut across the desert quickly enough to reach his destinations, and this in turn encourages exploration. There are, of course, areas that cannot be accessed in a vehicle, but on the whole, being in a vehicle offers players a speedy means of travelling across the map quickly and protection from the mutants. No longer bogged down by slow movement, one now has incentive to explore the ruins of abandoned settlements and ruined ships made into makeshift shelters. For their troubles, players who explore are rewarded with better equipment and options; I did not explore the Volga as extensively as I would have liked owing to the ever-present danger of attack from bandits and mutant fauna, but having a vehicle in the Caspian meant I had the means to safely explore the map to locate an improved helmet, motion sensor, a box magazine for the Shambler shotgun, long-range optics for the Valve sniper rifle and even a high-visibility green laser, amongst other things. The process of exploration also allowed me to marvel at the details and features of the seemingly-unremarkable desert: exposed fields of oil will spontaneously combust and put on an impressive light show, while the cliffs often conceal secret areas worth exploring. The Caspian thus demonstrates what is possible with a bit of exploration in Metro: Exodus, and more so than even the Volga, those who are patient enough to listen to characters talk will learn a great deal about the world following a nuclear war.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Desert landscapes typically bore me: this is why my interest in Borderlands waned, and why the desert maps of any given Battlefield title are among my least favourite maps. Metro Exodus‘ Caspian level initially started out this way, and I saw the area as something to get done. I started the level with the Kalashnikov buffed up with the long barrel and extended magazine, plus 4x optics, turning it into a makeshift RPK. Long range encounters in the Metro series are actually rarer, and thanks to the morality system, the opportunity to use longer-range weapons against human opponents is lessened.

  • Upon reaching a semi-abandoned structure, Artyom gets into a short fist fight with Saul and manages to steal his keys, which goes to a nice van that makes travel in the Caspian much easier, to the point where my dislike of the desert immediately vanished. Artyom can choose to knock Saul out or kill him: this does have an impact on what happens next, and it should not be surprising that leaving Saul alive is the preferable choice.

  • Regardless of the choice players make, Saul will drop the Shambler shotgun. In its initial configuration, it has three rounds and is only effective under ten metres; with a longer reload time than that of the Ashot, the Shambler is useless and remains thus even when a six-round chamber is found, since reloading will take even longer. Until one gets access to the ten-round box magazine and better barrels, the Ashot remains the superior close-quarters choice.

  • The Caspian is also where Artyom picks up the Bulldog, a bullpup rifle superior to the Kalashnikov in every way except for being a rather fickle weapon that needs plenty of cleaning to perform well. With high accuracy, heavy-hitting round and a slower rate of fire, it is a solid all-around weapon for medium range engagements. In exchange for its performance, it is quite rare and only can be found in the Caspian level.

  • After reaching the lighthouse and helping Giul fend off the slavers, she guides him into an underground complex to look for the maps. This desolate complex has a spider infestation, and like previous instalments of Metro, use of the flashlight is essential to combating these mutants – the spiders will flip over in an attempt to escape the light, exposing their vulnerable undersides to fire. Their shells are tough enough to resist several shotgun shells, so fighting them directly is usually an ineffective use of ammunition.

  • Metro Exodus manages to cleverly incorporate underground and dark areas into its open worlds. In general, I feel at ease when on the surface, where the sight-lines are good and lighting is bright. By comparison, the underground areas always strike a sense of fear into me: most weapons available in Metro are best used against human opponents, and are much less effective against mutants, but most of the time where one must go loud, it will be against mutants, and compounding the challenge is the typical lack of light.

  • Proceeding deep into the underground complex, Artyom comes across a mission control-like room. Going into the passage on the right will lead Artyom into the map room, and it is down a hallway here that Giul’s family photo can be found. If players opt to retrieve this, Giul will give Artyom a canteen that he later gifts to Nastya. It’s a simple gesture, but acts of kindness are both essential to Metro as a whole and a good chance to see what results from kindness.

  • The map room will feature maps all the way up to 2019, and after digging through the maps, Artyom locates a reasonably recent collection that he brings back with him. The next phase is particularly challenging: while the lift is being recalled, the power goes out, and the spiders will come out in force. Liberal application of buckshot and Molotov cocktails will keep the creatures at bay, and after what seemed an eternity, the lift finally arrives, allowing Artyom and the players to leave this wretched, if cool-looking, facility.

  • Back on the surface, I enjoyed a quiet night sky: the day/night cycles and weather system creates a very dynamic environment for Artyom to explore. Playing for long periods will result in the time of day shifting naturally, although players can also locate a safe house and rest there until the desired time frame. The process also automatically heals any damage a player sustained, so I typically rest up so I don’t need to consume any medical kits.

  • While I did not bother looking for equipment and weapon upgrades in the Volga and therefore, missed out on several useful gear pieces, I did end up taking the time to explore the Caspian. Besides an improved helmet and night vision goggles, which came in very handy towards the latter part of the Caspian missions, I also located a green laser sight for my rifle. I’ve long been envious of NPCs with these vivid, high-visibility lasers purely for the cool factor, and it’s great that one can be picked up for player use – the one I found is located immediately north of the Aurora in a ravine where Artyom can also locate a suppressor for the shotguns.

  • One of the biggest joys about Metro Exodus is watching the sunrise and sunsets: during my run of the Caspian, knowing that I had access to a motor vehicle meant that exploration was much more time effective. I thus set about driving to various corners of the map and explored an old air base, which provided an upgrade to my night vision goggles. This comes in very handy later in the Caspian, making it a valuable upgrade.

  • I initially had trouble getting to the safehouse at the top of the control tower: the building at the air base is infested with mutants. I’ve noticed that against the humanoid mutants, buckshot is superbly effective: in earlier installments of Metro, the shotguns actually felt quite under-powered for the task at hand, and I found that the Shambler would burn through ammunition in firefights. For more armoured mutants, careful shot placement is more critical.

  • While the Caspian Sea in Metro Exodus has retreated and dried even further than its contemporary extent, there is some coast left in the level, and the increasing salinity creates a rather unique landscape. In addition, oil-spewing geysers pepper the region, and these will occasionally ignite. If Artyom happens to be nearby, he’ll be critically injured. It turns out that most of the enemies in Metro Exodus are weak against fire, making the molotov cocktails the most useful throwable item in the game only next to the cans that can be used for distraction.

  • I spent an inordinate amount of time between the main mission objectives of recovering the satellite imagery and securing water for the Aurora: once I had finished scouring the map for upgrades and equipment, I continued on with the mission. Going through the tunnels, the main enemies are mutants, and so, a good shotgun here is invaluable. The Bulldog is also a suitable secondary weapon, being accurate enough to land headshots on more distant foes.

  • As Artyom exits the underground segments, the Tikhar becomes the preferred weapon to equip. I’m not too sure how the morality system works here, so I figured it would be preferable to employ stealth measures and sneak around the map, rather than enter loud. The underground caverns here remind me of a dream I had long ago, where I stumbled upon a full-fledged archaic city under the desert.

  • I was so engrossed with the objective of securing the water that I neglected to free the slaves here, and it turns out this oversight cost me the good ending to the Caspian mission. The length of the Caspian is quite taxing, and the conditions for securing a good ending here are rather more stringent than they were in the Volga. However, good ending or not, with the water secured, the crew of the Aurora are safe for the time being and focus turns towards securing more fuel for the train.

  • My last objective was therefore to storm the Baron’s headquarters. The leader of the bandits in the Caspian, the Baron is a despot who argues to have given order to the area. Artyom can meet a double of the Baron, alone on the coast and listen to his story, and while killing this false Baron won’t impact the story any, I chose to spare him because that’s the right thing to do. En route to the Baron’s fortress, I cleared out a derelict shipyard and acquired a 6x optic for the Valve, and utilised it to do some true long range sharp-shooting, clearing away the bandits with headshots. This sniper rifle makes a return from the previous Metro titles and starts out as a single-shot bolt action rifle similar to the Martini Henry.

  • With the right upgrades, the Valve can become either a powerful long-range single-action rifle with a straight-pull bolt or a semi-automatic rifle with a large magazine that excels at making follow-up shots. The number of base weapons of Metro Exodus are far fewer than those of its predecessors, but owing to how extensive the customisation system is, and how dramatic of an impact these can have on a weapon, the overall variety in Metro Exodus is exponentially more impressive than that of Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light.

  • My overall actions in the Caspian meant that when I reached the Baron, he offered to do an exchange with me, but the outcome is preordained: a firefight will break out between Artyom and the Baron’s forces. Armed with the Bullfrog, I steamrolled through the bandits, even the heavier ones equipped with man-portable Gatling guns. The Gatling gun is different than the one from Metro: Last Light and can be picked up, making use of the same ammunition as the Kalashnikov and Bulldog, but between its high rate of fire and low accuracy, the weapon is actually ill-suited for most situations despite its raw stopping power.

  • Once the Baron is defeated, Damir stayed behind to help his homeland in my ending, and I progressed to the next part of Metro Exodus. Anna’s cough worsens, and while the Spartans think the desert air is the root cause, something far more sinister is at play here. Folks who’ve gone through Metro Exodus may have noticed that I skipped over providing screenshots of the Yamantau Complex, and the reason for this is because there’s only so many things I can do to make static underground images exciting. During this segment of the game, a good shotgun and automatic weapon is invaluable, and using lethal force on the cannibals won’t impact one’s morality. It’s fun from a gameplay perspective, but I imagine it’d be a bit duller to look at than say, images of the desert landscapes.

I ultimately did not gain enough moral points to retain Damir, who decided to remain behind with Giul and make a better life for the slaves: one must actively free slaves in the area and avoid killing them in order for Damir to be convinced that things will recover. As such, having seen success in the Volga with morality, I suddenly found myself losing a member of the Spartan order despite my efforts to go through the Caspian without leaving a trail of blood in my wake. The morality system of Metro has always been a surprisingly involved one despite its simple design, leaving me to wonder what constitutes as good and evil; on all of my previously play-throughs of the earlier titles, I ended up with the bad endings because patience for stealthy gameplay always evaporated. This leads me to wonder if Metro is attempting to tell players that impatience is one of the paths down to evil – if one is willing to take shortcuts and then argue that the ends justify the means, then one must pay the price for it. Supposing that this is the case, then it would certainly be true that this would be the central theme of the Metro series as a whole: patience towards others is one of the central tenants of being able to approach a problem and solve it in a manner that benefits the most number of people while simultaneously minimising harm to others. This is an unexpectedly, and pleasantly deep theme to Metro considering the simplicity of the moral system’s implementation, and as I move into Metro Exodus‘ next segment, I will take these learnings and adopt a more observant, patient approach towards solving my problems.