Nightwave Season Three has ended. No more glass resonance in our neighborhood. No more crystal cred. Just a bit of radio silence 'til Nora gets the intermission ready. I think it's safe to say this series didn't get a universally warm reception. Certainly, it overstayed its welcome. So, what did we like, what would we have changed, and what can future Nightwaves learn?
An Interesting Antagonist
I find Nihil really interesting as an villain, someone so devoted to the idea of conformity that he doesn't even care about moral consistency: He'll glass an Ostron for being selfish and a Corpus for being kind, just because they're going against their respective societies. Or is he really just a sadist looking for excuses? Is he trying to bring back the Orokin Empire or is he content to put the whole system under glass so nothing can ever change? He's evil, he's hammy, he's trying really hard to Hannibal Lecter me from inside the lawn ornament I stuck him in, so maybe he can come back later. Good times. Also, that boss fight was a great time.
I like Radio Space Aunt. Soothing voice, very supportive, provides Nitain, everything you want in a supporting character. We don't get a ton of new information on her, but since she was the one doing all the investigating it was good for the climactic showdown to involve her being in danger, and for the payoff to be finally getting a good look at her. Heck, if they wanted to go the route of having her take over for the Lotus at some point, this would be a good start.
Presented as a Mystery, but not Executed as One
This is the biggest sticking point for me. The season was pitched as a murder mystery: Someone has unearthed the secrets of a particularly horrible Orokin form of execution, and it's up to us to figure out who they are and how to stop them. The only problem is that setup turned out not to matter at all.
Part of the fun of a mystery story is the suspects. You get a list of colourful characters with means, motive and opportunity and you pick at their alibis until you get to the truth. Here we run into the problem that Warframe has a relatively small existing cast. Very few characters could have access to this technology, and those wouldn't recognize Tenno as any kind of legal authority: If it turned out Nef Anyo had stumbled across a "glass a random person in the System" button and had been pressing it for giggles, the most we could have done would be to break it and he'd have just gone back to applying his eyeliner.
The solution would be to make new characters to be the culprits, which is great since it would give us a chance to see a wider view of the system we protect. But whether they were limited by time or budget or didn't want to make things too complicated, we only got one suspect. This meant there was no mystery. Nora just announced who the killer was in the second of five investigation scenes: a character we had never heard of before, and yet the only person in the history of the system it could possibly be. Imagine instead if Nora's revelation had lead us to a "Cult of Nihil," a group of people from diverse backgrounds trying to use his example to bring order to a lawless system, all of whom act horrified by the glassings and insist they could never have done such a thing. Then we learn that these bozos had found Nihil's cephalon and accidentally set him loose in the process of consulting him. We still would have gotten the fun boss fight, but there would have been an actual mystery to solve.
Another aspect of a good mystery is the clues, being given little bits of information that might only make sense in hindsight but that combine to form a full and irrefutable picture. This was also clumsily done. Much has been made of the mechanics of the investigation scenes so I won't dwell on them, save to restate that scouring an empty room looking for something to interact with and then being quizzed on irrelevant details does not an investigation make. We're too busy committing every number and symbol and floof to memory to devote any brainpower to what the characters were doing that got them glassed, leaving it up to Nora to tell us what we learned after the fact.
A Long, Flat Road
The glassed enemies that spawn in were a source of complaints since they first started appearing, for a few reasons. Gameplay-wise, they spawned in fully-alerted which was annoying for stealth players. The way the portals were set up also meant they tended to linger in open worlds, creating the impression they just never stopped spawning. Lore-wise, they didn't make a ton of sense. Why is Nihil randomly glassing groups of dudes and robots and infested? Why does being partially glassed make you invincible? If the cephalites have "less than nothing left" of them, why are we able to save Nora and the others (Or are we? Nora was only partly glassed, and it was a little ambiguous with the other victims)?
I think these issues would have been less of a problem, though, if it hadn't gone on for so very long with no changes. Previous seasons also had elements that invaded normal missions, but these would change and evolve as the story did. Here, the glass resonance worked the same was in January as it did in June, and every time Nora wondered "Who did this to them?" it was a hairline fracture in immersion because she knows who did this to them. She was the one who told us.
I don't know why this season lasted so long. Maybe something about the investigation scenes was problematic to develop. Maybe the team lead made the mistake of announcing they were on schedule and immediately had team members reassigned to more urgent stuff. Maybe the whole thing was completed in July and they've been stalling because they don't know what Season 4 is going to be. It's anyone's guess.
I would submit that, for future seasons, we don't necessarily need gameplay gimmicks. Just tell us a story. Write a little campfire tale, something that sheds light on the universe but that wouldn't really make sense to explore as a Tenno. An Ostron hunter gets trapped on the plains overnight and has a bizarre encounter. The leader of a colony in Grineer territory tries to better his people's situation without drawing to much unwanted attention. A Corpus scientist has his research stolen by a colleague and plots revenge. Then break the story into chunks, make some dioramas, and give us some tangentially-related cosmetics in a new reward list. I know I'm oversimplifying a complex process, but I wonder if needing every season to be a system-spanning super-threat is part of the reason for the delays?
This wound up longer than I'd anticipated, but these points have been percolating all season and I wanted to get them out there. What do you guys think?
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