Love it or hate it or hate it, Glassmaker was a more-or-less year-long Nightwave series that gave us some more of the same, and some new stuff to boot. It was DE's attempt at a murder-mystery that…Kinda fell flat due to contentious mechanics, poor story/pacing/delivery, and what I think is inarguably a constant irritant, Cephalites.
So, I wanted to take some time to give my honest opinion on the Glassmaker, so that should DE take another crack at this (or make something similar), they might be better prepared to make a more compelling, interesting experience.
Before the Glassmaker began, we had a pretty interesting premise; it was to be a murder-mystery where we actively searched for clues about strange murders where people were "getting glassed", which was an old Orokin punishment technique used to turn criminals and willing contributors alike into Cephalons – a punishment technique long-thought lost, but it seems someone figured it out again.
Now, this premise is interesting for a number of reasons; it gives us a means to indirectly explore the background of some of our favorite minds-turned-machines (Suda, Ordis, Simaris, etc.), we get a new gameplay space and thematic to try out (detective-style), and we get an archetypal murder-mystery to puzzle out with our detective work, which (while typically poorly executed in games) is always a pretty enthralling thing.
Sadly, the "glassing" part of the story didn't really get much attention besides the character who perpetrated the punishment-glassings, so we didn't really learn anything there that we didn't already know. But, that can be forgiven if the central pillars of the story hold up, which…They don't.
I'll cover the detective part later, but right now, I wanna go over the story, delivery, and pacing; the pacing was…More-or-less abysmal, but that can be attributed largely due to COVID impacting workflow, but nevertheless the frequency (or lack thereof) of the major story beats often made it difficult to keep the details of the previous story beat in-mind.
I don't think I'm alone in having already forgotten the import of the Corpus victim when I got to the Grineer victim, and the same with the Solaris. Again, this could just be an issue with COVID, but nevertheless, it should still be pointed out that in a story about detective work, we need all of the details churning in our mind as we come to the next scene, so that we can potentially evaluate and make connections to help us solve the case.
Then, there's the delivery, and this is definitely the bad part. The bulk of the Glassmaker's story is narrated by an in-game character who is also participating in the mystery. The problem with that is that, this character (Nora Night) can have access to so many things that we don't – and that proves to be the case when she becomes a Deus ex Machina in the second scene, ruining the mystery.
By the end of the second scene, she roots around some old Orokin Codices looking about a word we heard from Nihil in the datascape at the end of the first scene; "Legem", meaning "law". And in her search, she finds out that it was strongly tied to the executioner who used to do the Glassings in the Orokin age, Nihil.
This does two things majorly wrong. First, having Nora as both an active participant and narrator deprives us of any real room to mull over the evidence and come to conclusions ourselves – which, is honestly worse than some of the fixed "find the right answer in the word salad" stuff other detective games have.
Second, making her both the narrator and participant gives her the power to communicate answers to the player, as is the case in the second scene, at which point, it's not even a mystery, it's just a "wait until the narrator explains to us what's happening". This is made especially worse by the fact that a murder-mystery is essentially a "whodunit", and we already know "who" all of three months into the story, so it's just a matter of waiting for him to actually reveal himself for a fight.
If they're going to do another mystery, they need to dial back Nora's presence in it. Having a narrator can be fine, as long as they don't blurt out the answers and don't give too much leading information, but making them an active participant can very easily ruin the story with information the players don't get access to.
I think it goes without saying, the Glassmaker had probably the worst gameplay out of the three we've had so far. We did still have the trademark "Nightwave enemies appearing in your mission", sure, but that…Doesn't really make for interesting gameplay, especially for a murder mystery. If anything, it just raises more questions that don't get answered.
Ask anyone what annoyed them the most about the Glassmaker, and I think the majority of people will say "Cephalites". People running stealth missions especially seem to be vocal about it, and for everyone else, they're a persistent annoyance – and I think the biggest problem with that is that they always come in on the alert.
For stealth players, this can be a huge pain, since Cephalites can potentially interrupt your stealthy play (or just disrupt your affinity gains by breaking your stealth kill affinity multiplier), and for people doing landscape content like fishing, mining, etc., Cephalites often force you to stop what you're doing, turn around, and spend a full minute massacring them before you can get back to hucking spears into the water.
For the next Nightwave series, if you're going to have the trademark enemy spawn-in, just make it so that they retain their alert status from when they spawn-in/are altered; if they don't see you to start out with, they shouldn't even know you're there.
As for what should be considered the primary gameplay of the Nightwave series, the Crime Simulas are…Definitely ill-received. And there's good reason for that; your movement in them is slow, and the spaces are often large (particularly the Grineer scene and the Last Victim scene), with items that are difficult to pick out as unique.
I will say at least this; the groundwork of the Crime Simulas is good, but the mechanics and the like built on top of that foundation isn't.
Searching for the clues is, more often than not, a chore. The slow movement speed hampers your investigation more than it helps, and the items themselves don't often stick out in any notable fashion, which isn't helped by the constant sonar pings that…Don't do anything. If there was something to roughly guide you to where to look, I don't think the search for clues would be that bad; but as it stands, you're not given much in the way of help besides the smallest glow to point an item out.
As for the clues themselves, in most detective games, they'd be directly related to the case, and each piece would have some significance. A sword would almost certainly be a murder weapon, but in Warframe, it's…Just a sword, belonging to the Ostron. Self-defense likely occurred, but to no avail, and we don't see a murder weapon.
Across the four murder scenes, there's only one clue that holds any continued significance, and all it amounts to is…"Yeah, you know the murderer we found out in scene 2? Well apparently all 4 victims worked together to release him." Every other clue is just fluff belonging to the victim.
And, that can work, weaving a consistent piece of evidence in along with a swathe of red-herrings, but the problem with it is that the red-herrings are numerous, and the import of everything in a given scene is reduced to "memorize what version of the thing you got to progress." (And, of course, Nora as Narrator + Participant removes the need for players to clue into the consistent detail, as she just explains it at the end for you anyhow.)
The "memory puzzle" in the Cephalon Weave at the end of each Crime Simula is probably the icing on the cake for the bad mechanics. As mentioned above, red-herrings are fine to throw in (although it can be argued in a case with no legitimate evidence like these), but every individual clue is equally important in the worst way possible. Memorize a word, memorize an image, memorize which weapon you found. Remembered everything? Congrations, you done it.
And all you get for memorizing all the non-evidence is Nihil taunting you and Nora doing the detective work in your stead. That does not a good murder-mystery make.
I wouldn't want this to go all-out as a rant saying "well this all is what makes Glassmaker bad" and say nothing else about it, because for all the frustrating gameplay, poor mechanics, and bad story delivery, there's still some good stuff in it.
For starters, like I said, the groundwork for the Crime Simulas is a good one. Having a slice of a location, be it the byways of Cetus, the Grineer Sealab extraction point, or the Corpus locker room, and being let to roam around in it to search for clues to a murder is a really good gameplay concept.
If they focused on making the search less of a slog (give at least a few hints as to item locations, increase movespeed, etc.) and then built up the investigation process from there, it'd probably be a much more fun slice of gameplay.
The twist in the 5th Crime Simula genuinely felt surprising. Going into it knowing "Okay, so his first victim was an Orokin, I'm curious what kind of character this is going to be", and finding out he glassed himself (which still raises some questions) made for a pretty nice "woahwhat" moment for me.
Ignoring the irritation factor, the Cephalites are a cool and interesting enemy design, requiring you to shoot the glass clusters to open them up to any damage. Their uniqueness is diminished a bit by the fact that melee attacks will easily break the glass without any aim, but it's still nice that there is a small (and I do mean small) bit of skill required to get to their health bars.
EDIT: I forgot one other positive to mention, that being the Nihil boss fight itself; while there was certainly some jank to it (glass shard targeting and "how high in the air do I need to be to not get smacked", it was actually a pretty nice boss fight. Unique mechanics that weren't just "obliterate it with your 7-forma Gram Prime"; definitely look forward to seeing more unique bosses like that in the future.
The Glassmaker has certainly been something of a mess, both from a story and gameplay perspective, but there's some good game-dev wisdom I've seen from Extra Credits: "Fail faster". Failures allow iteration and improvement, and while there's definitely a lot of room for DE to improve with Glassmaker (if they dip their toes into something similar in the future), there was still some good stuff with the series besides the cosmetics and content.
Here's looking forward to what's coming for the next Nightwave, and to enjoying the Intermission!
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