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Old 07-27-2019, 04:12 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Darkmoon Card: Heroism What You Left Behind Review

I probably owe another apology for finding this so late. Blizzard seems to have developed the habit of releasing things after my Thursday news scan, and that makes for very bad timing. The only reason I found it was because I'd gone looking for the Sigma origin video -- and then it took me a week to wrestle my notes into something presentable.

What You Left Behind
Alyssa Wong

Overall, Wong's work is solid -- though there were a few things that slipped through the cracks. We'll get to those.

First, it bears pointing out that a short story is, by its very nature, an exercise in efficiency. Scenes must be structured carefully to ensure ideas get dropped at the right times, and you often have to be brutal about cutting things you want to include. That means a laser focus on main ideas.
  1. Jean-Baptiste Augustin is a good man with an ugly past.
  2. The most powerful criminal organization on Earth wants him dead.
Both of these ideas are apparent in the very first scene. Here, Baptiste is introduced with some humor from the dirty old lady, then we see his warm relationship with Dr. Mondésir. Both help to pull us in. At the same time, Wong introduces Baptiste being on the run and the troubles with Sainclair Pharma.

From there, the bar scene sets the plot in motion. Baptiste is given an offer he can't refuse. Sainclair is downgraded from distant god to vulnerable target. And we meet Mauga. Just, wow. It's one thing to make the struggle personal by inserting an old buddy as an antagonist, but Mauga is so much more charismatic than Baptiste that he completely stole the show. Next to him, Nguyen feels like he was added to the story as an afterthought -- though it's good to see the Talon agents from the teaser event weren't forgotten.

Inserted into the scene is the first of three flashbacks. In fact, all of Wong's flashbacks are placed within, rather than between, the primary narrative. The technique is slightly disruptive, though certainly permissible. The flashbacks depict Baptiste's time in Talon with a particular focus on his relationship with Mauga -- which should come as no surprise, as this relationship drives the whole story. It's a rather fascinating one too. Here are two men who work together so beautifully as a team, yet are separated by a yawning gulf of personal values. You don't just see it; you feel it.

Something else to note how the first three paragraphs of the mansion scene occur outside, followed by an instant jump to the inside. This is a good example of something permitted in short stories, but not other formats, because the need of for economy of space lets you get away with things. There's also the matter of the skylight in the office, which immediately struck me as a Chekov's Gun -- and sure enough, it was. Baptiste's steadily growing sense of horror at how easily he's falling back into his old habits forces him to draw a line somewhere, even if it means turning away from the logical progression.

From there, the falling action carries through to a final confrontation between Baptiste and Mauga. Wong artfully reprises the scene from the last flashback by placing it on the docks, though its context -- and outcome -- are quite different. Once again, Baptiste is running away; and once again, Mauga is there to deal with him. Now, though, the crime is betrayal, not just desertion, and the parting is replaced by a duel to the death.

In all, a very compact story with remarkably few settings. Clinic, bar, mansion library, mansion office, dock showdown -- with a few flashbacks sprinkled around -- would almost be convertible to a comic...

One thing I find very interesting is how the story would've been easy to end on page 20, but Wong kept it going to drop some hints about future direction. We learn that Mercy is in the Middle East (Bastet touched on this too) and that Baptiste intends to seek her out, which only makes sense considering their shared vocation. More surprising is his prior relationship with Sombra. He would, after all, be an easy target for her to control, but he apparently trusts her enough to ask a favor. Therefore, it stands to reason their relationship must have been a positive one. Were they romantically involved, or just a plot convenience? (Note: Sombra seems the type to use diminutives for everybody.)

Other reveals:
  • The return of Overwatch is public knowledge.
  • Talon HQ is in Rome -- probably underground, if the "dreary" description is anything to go by.
  • Vehicles attach to fusion-energy charging stations when not in use.
  • Boats, like the cars, hover above the water.
  • The identities of Overwatch agents were not generally known.

However, there were some parts that left me scratching my head. Just what, for example, does it mean to say Dr. Mondésir has "braided hair done up in a bun?" Are we talking Yulia Tymoshenko here? And is the "Rosaline" mentioned only on page 4 the same person as the "Roseline" mentioned everywhere but the first scene?

Then, there's the tortured sentence on page 15: "It would be more than was a step back into the life he’d promised he’d left." Someone likely forgot to delete the 'was' when rephrasing, though it's awkward even then.

If Nguyen was able to "stare him down" on page 16, why wouldn't he shoot?

And wouldn't Sainclair’s forces catching up be a good thing on page 19?

Then, there are more serious problems. Consider this excerpt from page 13:
Quote:
With you at my back, we can do anything, he’d told Baptiste once. You’re the best medic in Talon. You keep me alive, and I’ll protect you. No one stands a chance.
There are no quotes or anything on this, which does help to distinguish it from the immediate scene. However, there should be something to denote Mauga's long-ago words as dialogue.

This points to the recurring problem of thoughts not being italicized. Yes, there are purists out there who abhor the practice; but at this point, the convention is so cemented it makes more sense to use it than not because it eliminates confusion about what's narration and what's internal dialogue.

There's also the matter of how Baptiste's white armor is never explained -- a glaring omission, given that the whole point of the story is to advertise a skin. If it's from his Talon days, why would he still have it after four years on the run? If he picked it up more recently, why would he discard it by the time of his default skin?

Biggest problem: Wong makes us want to see Sainclair dead, then abruptly declares his execution a mortal sin. While she does a good job of building Baptiste's revulsion at his own actions, the effect is still jarring. Then again, maybe the real culprit is Mauga. The sheer fun of his character destroyed the mood and made us want to see him win. Baptiste is, after all, an "inner strength" character whose appeal rests on his determination an pluck -- and these are easily overshadowed by big personalities like Mauga. If What You Left Behind was intended to seed a character for future use, it might've done its job too well.

In any case, it's a good bet we're going to see Mauga again. It would've been very easy to kill him off on page 19, but I wasn't surprised slipped away. He was described in far too much detail to discard so easily. While I'd at first pegged him as a boss in an upcoming PvE scenario, the usefulness of his shield for protecting others makes him playable. It's already been said the game needs tanks, and Ashe already made the jump from bit character to staple.

What matters for writers, though, is the focus on Baptiste's internal thoughts, showing us who he is and what he's about. What You Left Behind did this very well, and I look forward to more.
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Last edited by DarkAngel; 07-27-2019 at 04:18 PM..
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