The last leader we have to meet is Dr. Kvasir. He’s a weird scientist guy from the previous game. The main gimmick with this guy is that he makes me… extremely uncomfortable. As with the previous entries, it’s really hard for me to express just how disturbing the whole thing is without spending thousands of words describing it moment-by-moment. Here’s the scene on YouTube if you want the full effect. For the rest of you, you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Theater of the Macabre
As established in the previous game, Kvasir is paralyzed from the waist down. His lab is littered with dismembered limbs that he picks up and plays with from time to time. He rides around a horribly deformed creatureHe apparently named it “legs”. that wears a diaper and blows snot bubbles. He abuses it, despite its docile nature and obvious intellectual disability. I don’t know why the good guys are allied with a hundred year old man that abuses the disabled and plays with dead body parts.
I mean, I get why they’re allied with him within the story: He’s a smarty-pants guy and they need his science powers to beat the Authority. I don’t get why the writer chose this as a character concept. They could have made Kvasir any way they wanted, and they chose this.
I’m not against this idea in theory. The good guys don’t need to be nice people, especially in a game called RAGE with a faux-punk aesthetic. I’m fine with the idea that we have to ally with someone disturbing / creepy / sketchy. My problem is that the game presents this scene and nobody reacts to it. What is the player supposed to be feeling, here? Are we supposed to be squicked out? Offended? Amused? Morbidly curious, like someone leering at old-timey circus freaks? Intrigued? Walker doesn’t seem to notice. Is this supposed to be comedy? Camp? Body horror? Drama?
I want to make it clear that I’m not offended or upset at the writer. It’s just weird that this setup doesn’t serve any purpose in the story and nobody reacts to it. A lot of time and effort was spent modeling and animating these two, and in the end I’m not even sure what the writer is trying to say or what the story intends us to feel.
I suppose this might be an example of story collapse. If this strange scene appeared in a smarter story, then I’d assume it existed for a purpose and I’d start analyzing and reading things into it in order to figure out what the story had to say. But in this random patchwork story of fumbled messages and missed opportunities, I just naturally assume this scene is just another pointless exhibition of weirdness and disturbing camp that doesn’t serve the plot or the characters.
Credit Where It’s Due
I guess I need to give someone on this team some sort of credit here. While I really dislike the scenes with Chaz and Desdemonya Cold, and Kvasir, I’ll admit that the designer has a flair for creating gross and disturbing imagery. It’s a million miles from the aggression-fueled power fantasy the series was designed around, it’s a billion miles from the wacky comedy the marketing campaign sold us, and it doesn’t fit the tone of the gameplay or the overall premise of the story, but the point stands that being able to consistently evoke an emotion takes a certain degree of skill. I mostly dislike the work of H. R. Giger, but I’d never suggest the guy is lacking in talent. Being able to make someone feel something is indeed a skill, even if it’s something I don’t want to feel.
In any case, I wonder how these scenes came about. Was this squick-fest something the writer pushed for, or was the original script intended to be goofy before the art team took it in the direction of campy gross-out body horror schlock?
Anyway, if Walker would just react to this somehow, then that would give us some conflict / drama / jokes / questions to work with. Instead, Walker ignores the overwhelming imagery we’re being shown and instead acts out of character.
Walker is apparently annoyed that Kvasir wants her to go out and murder a bunch of bandits / mutants to obtain the next MacGuffin. This feels weird since I got the impression that Walker enjoyed her job as a freelance murder dispenser. Like, isn’t that what she signed up for? Wasn’t that the whole point of her desire to become a Ranger? Isn’t this exactly what she wanted? What did she think was going to happen here? Does she expect someone else to go out and do the shooting?
Her character is paper thin. She’s basically just a single attribute: Aggression. I feel like if your protagonist only has one trait, you kind of need to be faithful to that trait.
One Good Joke
I know I’ve been really hard on this writer. As a gesture of goodwill, let me point out that there’s a joke here that I really like.
Eventually Kvasir sends Walker to an Old World base to recover some old tech for reasons that aren’t worth getting into. Walker can’t get in the front door because she lacks security clearance, even though this security system is pre-apocalypse and everyone who ever had clearance is dead.
Kvasir hacks the computer system. Rather than messing around with elevating her security clearance every time you come to a new door, Kvasir just uses the brute-force solution of elevating her to the rank of “Madam President”. It’s fun when the facility reacts to your presence as a presidential visit. Even better, this rank sticks with you once the mission is over. If you visit other Old World installations after this mission, the security systems will still welcome you as Madam President.
It’s not much, but it’s a cute gag that works. I think the game would have really benefited from more of this and less of… whatever Kvasir and Desdemonya Cold are supposed to be.
Skip to the End
There are several missions I haven’t covered, but most of them suffer from the same problems I’ve been going on about: The story has no tension, the protagonist has no agency, the dialog has no wit or drama, there’s no sense of raising stakes or a building threat, and the dialog is in desperate need of an editing pass. Rather than bloat this series out to 20 entries by tediously cataloging every shortcoming, let’s just fast-forward through the rest of the story and jump to the end.
Eventually Kvasir announces he needs the DNA of General Cross. So Walker assaults an Authority base, plows through waves of mooks and a couple of bosses, and eventually reaches the Big Bad himself. She kills him and cuts off his head.
As she’s finishing the job, a freshly-baked General Cross pops out of the nearby clone-o-tronMy word. I don’t think the game gives this device a name.. The idea is that THIS is the problem we need to solve. The Authority leadership are immortal because they have machines that will crank out new copies if you ever kill one of them.
I get that this is supposed to be our big “oh no” moment in Act III. I guess it works, but for the purposes of establishing stakes I would have put this moment / reveal way sooner in the story. Sergeant Prowley’s hologram warned us that Cross was immortal, but at the time I took that to mean “ageless” or perhaps “so strong he can only be killed by the player character”. This is one of the more interesting ideas in the game, and revealing it sooner would have shown that this isn’t a problem that Walker can solve by shooting shit. We spent the whole game working on Project Dagger, but the game didn’t really give us a lot of motivation for doing so. Until now, it wasn’t clear why we couldn’t just fix this problem by shooting Cross a whole bunch of times.
In short: This is a fun reveal, but establishing stakes and giving the player clear motivation are more important. Don’t make the first 90% of your story feel aimless just so you can give the audience a tiny surprise just before the end.
With that out of the way, it’s time for…
Disclosure: Due to a longstanding, egregious, game-breaking, well-documented bug that Bethesda has never made the slightest effort to fix – despite the fact that it’s a game-killing problem with no known solution or workaround – I was unable to capture footage for this part of the game. I have played through it. But my second playthrough is where I was gathering the footage for this series, and that playthrough is forever trapped on the threshold of the endgame with no hope of progressing. So some of these screenshots are swiped from random Let’s Plays on YouTube.
Over the course of the game, Walker has gathered up a tank, some DNA, secured a supercomputer, and done a bunch of other stuff to get things ready for Project Dagger. Once you’re done with these chores, Kvasir gives you a weapon designed to stop General Cross for good. Let’s skip over the next twenty minutes of mook murders and jump right to the final showdown.
You beat General Cross, and then inject him with the “nanotrite virus” that Kvasir cooked up. This will prevent General Cross from respawning.
How does damaging THIS body do anything to stop the creation of a fresh new one? How does this work? Is the new body going to somehow be infected with the same virus?
I’m not saying that you can’t make a story where infecting someone with a virus will prevent them from being cloned. This technology is all random nonsense and it works however the writer says it works. However, the writer never established this rule ahead of time, and it doesn’t make any sense as presented. In fact, it reminds me of the deliberately nonsensical plot of Dangerseque 3, where the heroes had to recover a serum for Cutesy Buttons to prevent her from being kidnapped. The cause and effect are completely disconnected. That’s not really what you want at the end of your empowerment shooter.
There’s also the additional plot twist that the virus is also deadly to the player. Cross somehow knows this, and so he somehow coughs out a cloud of infection particles which your character somehow inhales because they’re still bantering with Cross for some reason. (This is the spoiler I alluded to in my video earlier this week.)
This is portrayed as a betrayal on the part of Kvasir. Like, supposedly he sent you here with this nanotrite virus, knowing that you would die when it was deployed. It’s fine to have a plot twist where the extremely sketchy Kvasir turns out to not have your best interests at heart. The problem is that:
- This wasn’t foreshadowed. Foreshadowing is the key to making a plot twist work. You don’t need to tell the player what is going to happen, you just need to create a sense of uncertainty. Create a mystery, and then the reveal will feel like a payoff instead of an ass-pull.
- This doesn’t make any sense or flow naturally, as I detailed above.
- This doesn’t really create a sense of betrayal because it feels so arbitrary. Based on what we’re shown, all you needed was to stab the virus into Cross and then walk away before he coughed on you. It’s not like the player’s death serves Kvasir. There’s no reason for him to want you dead, and it seems like it should be pretty easy to finish this fight without getting infected yourself.
- All of the above problems break the intended sense of betrayal. Did Kvasir knowingly send me off to my death without warning, or did Kvasir just absent-mindedly forget to explain how to properly use this thing? Or is this whole situation Walker’s fault for hanging around talking instead of walking away?
It doesn’t feel like Walker was betrayed. It feels like the good guys were uncoordinated and disorganized. A betrayal requires intent, and this story didn’t set that up.
First, we’d need to give Kvasir some sort of motivation. We can have him dislike Walker and Rangers in general. Perhaps he finds Ranger methodology distasteful. You could set it up like so:
(Walker has just gotten back from one of her missions for Kvasir.)
Walker: (Proud.) I took care of those Authority goons that were in the way. The supercomputer is all yours now.
Kvasir: (Unimpressed.) Yes, yes. You went in and shot everyone, I’m sure. A very Old World style solution. Hopefully the day will come when we don’t have to rely on such… brute-force methods.
Have him do this a couple of different times so the player notices the pattern. Then we’ll be in a good spot to set up this betrayal…
(Walker has just brought Kvasir the head of General Cross and now Kvasir is whipping up the nanotrite virus.)
Walker: (Sudden realization.) So that’s why you needed his DNA. Now you can make the virus target him specifically.
Kvasir: (Stammering, caught off-guard.) Uh… yes. That would be a perfectly reasonable expectation.
(So now the player is thinking, “What did he mean by THAT?)
Kvasir: (Awkward pause.) Very clever… for a Ranger.
(We’ve dropped the seed of this backstab. Now we just need to cover it with dirt and wait for it to grow. So we misdirect the audience by having Walker unwittingly change the subject..)
Walker: What’s your problem with Rangers? We’ve done a pretty good job of keeping the peace so far.
Kvasir: (Still hunched over his console.) Is that what you call it? To me it looks like you go around shooting everyone that gets in your way.
Walker: What do you expect us to do? Let Cross walk all over us?
Kvasir: No, no. I expect you to deliver this to General Cross (hands her the techno-syringe of the virus) and let me handle the rest.
If this was an RPG, this wouldn’t be enough of a justification for an end-game backstab. We’ve given Kvasir a reason to dislike Walker. He apparently finds traditional warfare to be an ugly solution and perhaps he sees it as something that should be made obsolete by… something else. In a full-blown story-based game, we’d have to explain or hint at what that “something else” might be. Perhaps we’d hint that he imagines the Wasteland rebuilt into some sort of Technocracy, with super-geniuses like himself in charge. He’s been living in this remote corner of the map all these years, and from a distance he thinks all problems look straightforward and simple. He thinks if he was in charge – and if people would just listen to him for once – he’d be able to fix everything without conflicts spiraling out of control and causing violence.
That sort of complexEr, by the standards of THIS genre, anyway. motivation is a good thing, but it’s not strictly necessary in a broad action story. I’d certainly push for it if I was the writer, but if the designer wants to keep these cutscenes shortAlthough the intro of this game demonstrated that this designer doesn’t seem to value brevity the way they should. then we could skip these fancy moves and leave “something else” unexplainedAnd of course, you could always take the lazy way and hint at this stuff in a datapad..
In any case, these nine lines of dialogI realize some people like puns, but I think it would be better to spend those lines of dialog SETTING UP THE BIG TWIST AT THE END OF THE GAME rather than having a trying-too-hard pun-off between these two characters. would be enough to set up this endgame backstab so it would feel like a proper betrayal, which would get the audience emotionally invested.
So Walker has defeated Cross for good, but now she’s stuck at the center of the Authority base and she’s infected with the Contrivance Virus. Next week we’ll talk about how she gets out of this and then wrap this series up.
 He apparently named it “legs”.
 My word. I don’t think the game gives this device a name.
 Er, by the standards of THIS genre, anyway.
 Although the intro of this game demonstrated that this designer doesn’t seem to value brevity the way they should.
 And of course, you could always take the lazy way and hint at this stuff in a datapad.
 I realize some people like puns, but I think it would be better to spend those lines of dialog SETTING UP THE BIG TWIST AT THE END OF THE GAME rather than having a trying-too-hard pun-off between these two characters.
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