I started this game back in 2017 and only seriously started getting into it this year. Obviously I know this is "old" content and probably not useful for a lot of people to read, but I had the urge to write a review for these two episodes, and here I go.
First, a note: it's likely that my urge to review these two episodes are due to the fact that, compared to Season 2-3 and the expansions, I felt like these very better, and I kind of want to work through that to see why. In any case, you can expect this to be an overall positive review.
Second, it should probably be useful to establish a few criteria to judge these and maybe future episodes by, if my urge continues . I was thinking something along these lines:
1. Story (how interesting, what excited me most, etc.)
2. Map(s) (the metas, how well I liked the look, structural setup, etc.)
3. Comparison to previous content (expansions and seasons)
Season 4 Episode 1: Daybreak
I was intrigued and pulled by the story during all instances. From the playful beginning of a dolyak ranch to the feeling of dread you get during your prison break, and even in the revelation of the Inquest presence at the end+boss fight were good developments with big stakes. I appreciate the Astralarium and its hidden library, but I do wish that this part and Fahranur were better fleshed out in their history and significance. I still don't have a good understanding of the role of the Sunspears in Elonian history and how significant or important it might be that I get to be in contact with what comes across to me like "another" "Resistance" movement to the rule of Joko. I kind of wish the writers would've stuck to the striking idea that people might actually like living under Joko for various reasons, with the Sunspears despite their history coming to serve Joko and the difficulties that would narratively arise from your interest being to destroy that which these people actually support. Good parts but nothing that felt like going "wow".
Except for the Mordant Crescent Hall (especially during the prison break sneaking) and the Astralarium (one of the most interesting hearts to complete), the map did not elicit any strong response on my part. I liked doing the Palawadan/Great Hall meta once, then never came back. Visually, I did appreciate the look for the Joko Wall next to the Astralarium and I liked the meteor area next to the Mordant Crescent Hall: for this last element, it felt like something else was happening except our adventures and it made the world a more lived-in place. As for the items and currencies, I honestly did not pay much attention, this element I only started watching out for, and even then superficially, in Episode 2. Side content: I was not there for when the content launched, but I think Twilight Oasis is one of the best Fractals out there; and I have not yet done the Hall of Chains raid.
In comparison to previous content, I think the story was much stronger than Path of Fire, which I was seriously disappointed with: they killed Vlast before even developing him (those optional "insights" you could hear were not enough), I don't think the Commander had to die in order to make contact with Joko, and Balthazar did not work for me as a villain. I much prefer, as you may have noticed, the political and personal relations of the Commander with those of his world, rather than big goodies and godly baddies, which I find to be overkill. From a gameplay perspective, I think the map and metas were average: some Season 3 maps like Bitterfrost, Lake Doric and Draconis Mons were better but others were worse.
Season 4 Episode 2: A Bug in the System
Story-wise, this was on par if not better than Ep. 1. It was very entertaining to infiltrate the base hidden behind the waterfall in the Golem while Rox and Braham were "processed", the Olmakhan were intriguing, the three labs to be infiltrated were all different puzzles and the final assault mission was meaty, long but never boring (I loved saving Subject S!!!!). Two things did throw me off though. First, the Olmakhan, while intriguing, offered little actual development: why did they split from the charr precisely when there was a rebellion against the Flame Legion, considering they themselves are shamanistic, magic-praying? Were they allies of the Flame Legion or enemies? How does their philosophy, for example of families instead of fahrars, justify itself compared to the "technologistic" and "Spartan" ways of the Black Citadel charr? Naming the character Bottica is not enough in transmitting the way of life of this splinter group of charr and even suggests (since Bouddica fought against the Roman empire) that the Olmakhan were indeed allied with the Flame Legion. Second, there were some really jarring moments that just kind of happened with no justification, deus ex machina-like: how where we supposed to know that was the Claw of Jormag when we were teleported, and how did Joko escape from the realm of the dead or whatever it's called? This remains a good story for this episode, because these elements are counteracted by the sweet reactions and relations of Taimi and her fellow asura, for example.
I liked the Sandswept Isles better than Domain of Istan, as a map. More verticality, the imposing presence of Rata Primus, the division between the Olmakhan side of the map and the Inquest side, I think these were gameplay elements that really matched and made sense, narratively. I also think the bandolier and its related currency and achievements are a big draw for a lot of players, and offer real utility in the number of bag slots. I also liked doing the metas, more than once, though I only did the storm one multiple times, the vault laser defense got old quite fast because of the timer on the defense objective. What's with the wallpaper of this episode though? I like to put wallpapers of episodes where I'm at in the story, and this was really ugly.
While the story was maybe not as strong as Episode 1 and I wish some elements were fleshed out, it never dragged on and I wasn't fundamentally bothered by anything; on this, I very much enjoyed the return of Saida the Sly and I hope that future episodes continue to build upon past stories and characters. From a gameplay perspective, the map was cool to navigate by griffon and skimmer and its metas were a bit above average compared to the rest. Visually, Desert Highlands remains the map that strikes me the most (from catacombs to snowy peaks and everything in between) and, from a creative perspective, Verdant Brink is still the map to beat.
That's my review for these two episodes. Hope this was entertaining for some of you, I liked this exercise as a way to sum-up and put down my thoughts and feelings on the matter. I would very much enjoy to know what you guys think about these two episodes and/or about the arguments and conclusions of my review.