It took me several months to get into it (busy with other things, previously), but I’m finally playing Saga’s Darkest Dawn campaign. I must say, it’s quite fun – it’s refreshing to be playing something close to the original Wing Commander experience, yet still be new to me (in the sense that I don’t know what to expect, taking each mission one at a time). Here are a few thoughts I have on the game so far, I’ve only just finished the liberation of Cairo. (I haven’t been keeping up-to-date with the other discussions on the project since its release and I also know very little of the behind-the-scenes politics, so consider this an outsider’s opinion from a random WC fan.) What works well: Capital ships! I suppose this is one of the strengths of the underlying engine. I know the original Wing Commanders focused on fighter pilots and, in particular, making a hero of the player character, but big fleet actions give a greater sense of the immense scale of the war. I think Prophecy and Secret Ops were leaning towards this direction, but this takes it a step further. Only slight downside to this, sometimes I find friendly ships tear through the enemy too fast and I only have a small part to play in the overall battle (which makes sense from a ‘realistic’ point-of-view). For example, liberation of Cairo: I only took down a couple of Zartoths and the heavy carrier, the numerous other Confed wings + the incoming capital ship missiles made short work of the escort capital ships and their fighters. Voices: The voice actresses for Commander Sweeney and Lieutenant Hasselbeck are pleasant to hear, in my opinion, and not just because of the ‘novelty’ of having a female voice – their characters are well presented, too. But, really, for the most part I found the voice casting to be really well done, especially the senior officers. Captain Moran sounds suitably aged (even if he had a couple of odd pronunciations here and there) and the squadron commanders’ voices also sounded strong and mature, befitting veteran pilots. The voice actor for Ramius even sounds like he has a news reader background, with some of the unusual emphasis he puts on his words. Compilation of the lines was also done well, everything seems to flow, which can’t have been easy when (I presume) the lines were recorded individually, without knowing how the other characters would sound. I only have one major complaint about the voices, which I’ll mention later. Ties to Wing Commander III: It’s really fun having Darkest Dawn as a window into another part of the Confederation war effort, yet still maintaining links to WC3 via references to the TCS Victory and her battle group. Having a role in the support of the Behemoth as well as assisting the Victory’s incursion into Alcor reminds me, as the player, of Chris Blair’s efforts and how everyone holds but a small role in the grander scheme of things. Briefing videos: Every briefing seems to have a unique animation which must have taken a lot of time and effort. Having a clear view of the squadron commanders helps me relate to their various personalities by having a visual cue to go by. Lip synchronisation also seems to be done very well. Characters: There could be an argument that there are too many characters, but for the core group of fellow pilots that Sandman meets, at least, tend to be memorable because of their wildly different and fun personalities. Some are less pleasant to deal with than others, of course, but you can't have everyone getting along with the player character, I suppose. What doesn’t work so well: No mission branching: Mission branching, in my humble opinion, is one of the defining aspects of Wing Commander and the linear mission structure in Saga is a bit of a let-down in this regard. However, I do realise this may be a limitation of the engine, or a time/resource limitation on the developers’ part, or both, so I can understand this shortcoming. Scripted losses (spoiler!): Two events (thus far) really annoyed me – firstly, the destruction of Fort Crockett and, second, the loss of virtually all of the Kinney battle group. I realise the need to present major losses to the player as a means of driving the dramatic tension of the story, but the inability to do anything about it leaves me, as the player, dissatisfied with the inability affect the outcome. Of course, I imagine such helplessness like that would happen often in a real war situation, but from a game-player point-of-view, it feels like missed opportunities. Those ‘what-if’ questions of what might have happened if the player had managed to save either of those major assets could be a useful branching point in the mission structure. But, again, I understand the time constraints being an impediment to this option. Game-play balances: Always a hard thing to achieve, but I’m probably just not used to the underlying game engine. I feel as though I’m always running out of gun power (not something I usually experience in the original WC games) and often find myself shifting power to guns just to help bring down the heavier fighters and capital ships. Also because of not being used to the engine, I found myself missing a lot of my shots in the Arrow and Hellcat… but once I was in the Thunderbolt I was raking in the kills compared with my wingmen (at least in those smaller-scale missions where there was only myself and a wingman). I suppose my flying/playing style favours the heavier ships anyway. Afterburners: Another game-play note – the shaking with every afterburner initiation is very annoying. Probably deliberately so, I don't know if it's a pre-defined part of the underlying engine. Not something we encounter in WC, but if it’s meant as a special effect of sorts, it really gets in the way – why not tone down the shaking a bit? If it’s a deliberate mechanism to discourage use of afterburners… well, I honestly don’t see much use in that. Just as well that I tend to use the afterburners sparingly in WC anyway. Miscommunication (spoiler): There was one mission involving the destruction of all Kilrathi encountered in order to preserve the secrecy of a mission. At one of the nav points in this mission, the player is required to destroy two transports fleeing to a nearby jump-point and a wingman orders the player to attack the second transport while he focuses on the nearer one. When I did as instructed, I failed the mission because said wingman failed to disable the transport he said he would attack. What the heck? This was a rather frustrating experience and I’m not sure what the intention was behind this particular piece of dialogue. Bio-weapons (spoiler!): I’m not sure what the intention was for this mission, but the encounter with the Savannah derelict left me confused and in disbelief about being ordered to destroy it. If I understood the dialogue correctly (perhaps I didn't), the Kilrathi unleashed this bio-weapon which killed all but the ten crew who managed to get into bio-hazard suits... but they didn’t want to risk said weapon contaminating the Kilrathi? I suppose I can believe the altruism in not allowing the enemy to suffer the same fate as they dealt to the humans aboard the ship, but it didn’t make sense to me to blow up the cruiser. The crew couldn’t activate self-destruct and there was mention of a bio-hazard clean-up crew incoming, wasn’t there? I also had the feeling of Sandman, as the junior officer, being the one ordered to make the kill so they’d have someone to use as a scape-goat if the higher-ups disagreed with the decision to destroy the cruiser. Overall, a puzzling and frustrating part of the story for me. In-game fiction: Early on, especially in the prologue, there were huge chunks of text to read through to further the story. I don’t really mind this – in fact, furthering the story is one of the main things keeping me playing a given game – but the issue I had here was the very poor choice of font. I understand this may be another engine limitation, but the font and the use of all-capitals made it very difficult for me to read the wall of text presented and almost made me give up and skip it at times. I’m glad I persevered, because it helped explain certain pieces of dialogue, but I really wish it could have been presented in a more eye-friendly format. Sandman’s voice (sorry!): Really, I’m not making a personal attack on the voice actor for Lieutenant Markham, only his performance. I cringe a bit every time the player character says something – perhaps it’s a deliberate design decision (in the sense that the character is supposed to be a ‘newbie’), but Sandman really sounds like a very young, immature teenager which is in stark contrast to all the pilots around him – including fellow rookie pilots. I recall some people being bothered by Steven Petrarca’s Casey, but me, not so much. But Sandman... in this regard, at least, I can see why Greywolf would want to get stuck into the poor lad – he really does sound like an excessively young, all-too-inexperienced pilot who will probably just get killed in the next few sorties anyway. Accent variety: Again on the voices, I noticed a lack of variety in the accents of the characters. To me, another nice aspect of WC (especially in the early games and the movie) is its international nature and having nearly everyone sound the same was a bit of a downer. Of course, I understand you make the best with the limited resources you have, and in this case, those resources are volunteers. On the flip side, I suppose you could point the same argument against the later WC games too, and besides, given how well everyone performed their roles, generally, this is a very minor criticism. I think that's all I have right now. Remember, please take said criticism in the spirit in which it's given - I'm only trying to help in providing feedback for a project that took many years to complete and the fact that it was completed in the end is an achievement in itself. For all it's faults, I'm still finding it fun and I'm still finding myself looking forward to the next mission... just as I felt with playing the original WC games all those years ago.