Arby's Backlog Hell Arbiter Libera’s profile

~ Let's Get Some Games Done ~

An Ongoing Exercise in Clearing the Backlog Extraordinaire


Nothing special here for now, really. Just my updates divided for somewhat navigable lists using the artwork I used when updates were originally published. Maybe I'll add more to the "homepage" at some point, but this is serviceable for now.




Another two weeks, another update. Much to my own surprise. I kinda winged it this time seeing as Book of Demons is the kind of game I could've taken a lot more time with before penning a review, but I think I'll also keep it installed for a little while longer. On the other front I've covered Castlevania S2 and Y: The Last Man as part of my finally correctly titled Multimedia section. You can teach me to schedule, but you can't take the obsession to standardize out of me.

P.S.
What do you think about actually listing what I’ve reviewed in the opening and including samples of graphical media when I review them?

Castlevania (Season 2)

Action, Adventure, Horror October 2018, 8 episodes

Almost two years ago I reviewed the first season of Castlevania and wondered how its sequel would turn out considering the first one, which consisted of mere four episodes, was basically just a setup to get our party together so they embark on a quest to hunt down Dracula proper. Time has come... well, time actually came last year yet here I am today having seen all eight episodes of the second season attempting to put it into words.

Where to begin? In hindsight it turns out having that tight-packed original was better in every way compared to what we got in this offering. I'll get into actual problems as I carry on, but the most obvious one for me is there's basically just as little if not less story here than we got earlier except it's now dragged out across twice as many episodes with unhealthy dose of filler thrown in for good measure. Show also fell into “bigger and more = better” trap in the attempt to escalate story stakes when the groundwork was already laid down and that should have been used instead.

Story buildup we saw up to this point gets resolved in the last two episodes. Until then it becomes painfully obvious writers watched too much Game of Thrones and thought vampire politics was what I wanted in my Castlevania animation. They were sorely mistaken. Now, vampires and politics can work, as Vampire the Masquerade can attest to, but in this case it results in just a whole lot of static shots where vampires stand in the grand hall and pretend to politic/strategize while old Drac is tired of life and wants to end it all. When you consider half of most of the episodes are dedicated to vampire POV it drags the whole thing down. Flipside is there are two new human characters who are interesting and I genuinely wanted to see more of and show thankfully provided it with backstory flashbacks. Once in a while you cut loose with gratuitous action scenes that don't really provide much context to the story under than to, I don't know, justify the action tag? It's just all so unfocused and I don't think the director knows what pacing means as they were given too much time and not enough plot to fill it with. Even our intrepid trio of protagonists does little until the finale and I can only stand so much bickering between Alucard and Trevor with Sypha mediating between the two manchildren. All three of them are fundamentally the same characters we saw in the original so nothing's really changed there. They simply have to get new stuff and learn new tricks to actually get to fight the big D. But those last two episodes, man. That's what I wanted the show to be – action galore and finally tossing in some Castlevania music. Such a shame it comes so late and is resolved with assumed expectation from the viewer to be already invested in these characters. Except in this second season I can't even cheer for Dracula anymore because he's gone full nihilistic. And show then has the nerve to sequel bait not once, but TWICE... with season three already confirmed.

As you can probably tell I did not enjoy this. It simply comes across as a tremendous downgrade in almost every respect that has to do with pacing, writing and development. Sure, the visuals are still there and combat choreography was good, considering they seriously increased the time spent fighting so it occasionally dips into frame jank, but even the sound design is somehow just there. Vampires going all “diversity mode” simply so you can have an international cast to slay, who barely utter a word so they're just stereotypes, seems like a waste of time and effort, for example.


Y: The Last Man

Post-apocalypse, Drama, Adventure, September 2002 – March 2008, 10 Collected Volumes

Time for another graphic novel. Or comic, if you prefer. Y: The Last Man fits well within my spheres of interest aka not being your “cape comic” that seem to be all the rage these days and comes neatly collected. As a matter a fact there are multiple collected editions out there and I'd probably track down Absolute Edition because it's the entire story in just three books.

It's 2002 and the unthinkable has happened – all the males have died. Well, everyone except Yorrick Brown and his pet monkey Ampersand who makes it his favorite past time to throw excrement at Yorrick. Needless to say this turns the world upside down as society breaks down and begins to rebuild over the course of the story. What is the story, though? There's kind of a lot to take in because the story clearly runs on arcs, but what we start off with is Yorrick wants to get to Australia to locate his girlfriend Beth while the rest of the world, of which there are many parties including the Israeli military, female US president drafting the mysterious Culper Ring organization to protect the only surviving male, and lots of other crazy shit that eventually gets introduced. Story is not really Y's strong point if you ask me. Barring some asspulls and twists you can largely guess how this “world gone crazy with women” premise turns out for the only guy around and ultimately comic relies on introducing more outlandish elements to throw roadblocks in Yorrick's way as the cast expands. Ultimately it's the premise I found the most engaging when you have the types of New Amazons popping up, piracy taking a new meaning and not even the astronauts are forgotten. Not to mention asking if there's truly hope in such a setting?

With all that in mind it's the characters that really carry this one. Or will break it utterly depending on where your preferences lie. Mr. Brown himself is kinda that stereotypical early 2000's wisecracking smart guy using it as a facade to deal with his own inner turmoils and is largely likable. Where he got on my nerves is with constant referencing when it felt out of place or just to reinforce the notion he's a brat. Fortunately he's balanced by excellent agent 355, a no nonsense government agent who's role it happens to be to watch over Yorrick. She doesn't have an easy job and relationship is one of barely tolerating each other early on. Naturally, it goes places. There's probably about a dozen of other characters involved, particular standout being Dr. Mann who may or may not know what actually caused the extinction of the male population worldwide, but it's the dynamic duo that carries the story and how they develop.

So what's my last word on Y? Well, uneven would definitely qualify. As well as groan-inducing at times. Aside from the whole in your face feminism thing, which got on my nerves real fast but with Yorrick being the way he is you can almost see the women in this story may be onto something, it was author's incessant need to stop and deliver a paragraph worth of “as you know...” type of exposition. It's unnecessary and kills whatever pace you had. No, I don't need to be reminded who the Amazons were in the middle of a tense standoff, for example. This persists throughout the comic. It is a decent looking comic, I'll give it that. Definitely modern made and you can tell corners were cut with some backgrounds, but the cover art is gorgeous so that was a good way to get me hooked. On top of general artwork gradually getting better as more issues were released. I think one of the artists was actually from Croatia?


Another collection of shorties reviewed in under a day. Just like with my last Grab-bag all these games are free and, this time at least, available on Steam as precursors to upcoming games. I have not really found a solution for games lacking “proper” covers yet so I guess current format could work for those versus full “cover on the side, multiple screenshots” package. What do you think? I wish I managed to squeeze in at least one more review under the non-games section down below, but one will have to do.

P.S.
You’ve probably seen these pop on Steam prior to me posting here. Eh.

The Long Tomorrow

Science Fiction, 1955, 222 pages

There are many approaches one can take when writing a novel set during or after an apocalyptic event, and so we have on our hands this time. The Long Tomorrow might actually surprise you because it's not an action drive story, but that in no way diminishes its own take on the premise.

So many stories regarding the apocalypse decide to set themselves far off into the future to cut all ties except those they'd like to keep to the old world, but as the reader learns through the eyes of a fourteen year old Len Colter that's not exactly the case this time around. It has been scantly two generations since the world ended so there are old people still around who remember what the cities were like, for example. And it is a notable example because in this new world order one rule reigns supreme – cities can never return. Does that mean everyone's turned nomadic? Not really, they just returned to more rural life style and put hard caps on what passes for civilized hubs. Going beyond mere cities people also abhor much of the advanced technologies and swept in religious doctrine they consider them evil and remnants of what caused humanity to forsake God who then decided to burn them away for their sinful ways. Such is the world view we get through Len's eyes. View, you might say, is heavily biased considering it comes from New Mennonites who rose to become just one of many sects to keep the society going. This life will soon be cut for our boy protagonist as he and his friend Esau have ideas of their own and don't want to be kept ignorant for the rest of their lives when there has to be so much more out there. Well, if you dodge Ishmaelites who have become zealous savages and a vile place called Bartorstown where technology may have endured to plague the world.

From my setting summary I think you can kinda put two and two together and make an educated guess where this story is going, but it's a good thing the journey itself is why you're here. Seeing these two boys enact their plan and witness the world, with the reader along for the ride, beyond their village is the real draw. Nothing's perfect in this new world yet there are familiar problems. Kinda like with zombie stories you realize despite all external circumstances we are our own worst enemy in most situations, and no matter which form it took it seems like the apocalypse hasn't really changed that. Journey I mentioned above is also an internal one where Len's worldviews are tested and he has to decide what to believe in. Even whether his father is in the right and this way of living they practice is the correct one when they weight against the days of yesteryear. Not to mention new societies that have risen and struggle balancing the old laws with the inevitable increase in population and [old] issues that will bring back that cannot be solved by faith alone.

I enjoyed The Long Tomorrow a great deal and would recommend it. There are some things that didn't work for me, especially the resolution and some buildup towards the ending when Len suddenly makes certain calls, but those do not undermine a great story of self-exploration we have here.


Now this is more like it and what I had in mind when I scaled back updated to one per game. Also to break the monotony I've brought back my takes on other media which will no longer be reviews proper and rather more like impressions or summaries. Makes it easier that way, although I doubt anyone will notice with my walls of text. Have fun reading and fire back any feedback you have.

P.S.
If you’re reading the ANTHOLOGY section please comment on whether it was uncomfortable to read with cover art on the right side. I found it distracting myself.

Prophet + Prophet: Earth War

Science Fantasy, Action, January 2012 – November 2016, 4+1 Collected Volumes

It's been ages since I last tackled a comic or graphic novel, whichever you prefer, so I figured it was time once more and with 700 or so pages I figured Prophet would make for triumphant return. One thing worth noting is you don't need to know anything about the '90s iteration of the comic because this 2012 one is a reboot for all intents and purposes, albeit one that's aware of the original and later on pays more than just homage from what I've pieced together.

John Prophet wakes as his drill-pod digs its way out of the ground. Barely surviving after getting attacked by an alien life form and injecting stimulants to rouse his body after untold years of dormancy he realizes this is no longer Earth he remembers. Time frame is not given and nor is it relevant – Prophet has a mission to accomplish, clearly embedded into his mind with psychic conditioning and extreme training. He is a one-man army equipped with only the bare essentials old Earth Empire left him in case he ever needs to rebuild it. Knowing what he has to do to reactivate the G.O.D. satellite he embarks on his journey to prepare and perform his duty.

All that? That's just part of the first volume and one of multiple Prophets we follow over the course of the run. Or should I say, over the course of these first two volumes because Prophet is only partially an anthology of individuals all embarking on missions of great importance until its plot crystallizes into a tighter narrative with a more permanent cast of characters yet even then it's not like authors (because each story has a creator so you get different takes on similar core themes) completely abandon the notion of feeding you background tidbits so later stories won't feel the need to explain all over again. If you were to ask me I'd probably say I regretted that shift in focus and preferred the standalone stories themselves, but I would also lie if I didn't say it was awesome the way most of them are brought back in some capacity. What REALLY drew me in was the setting, though. It is absolutely amazing in that “show, don't tell” approach that goes so hand-in-hand with an alien setting like this one. Closest approximation would be one of techno barbarian future existing in the shadows of once powerful empire still lingering but there are other players in this rich and layered history Prophet presents. Not to say the empire itself are really the good guys when you consider they basically have no limits to what they'll do with genetic tempering, psychic control, slavery, etc. I liked the setting and its mystery so much that I was kinda disappointed when they went and presented two in-file sections in a later volume to shed some light on it.

Considering the medium it's only expected I talk about the art, framing and such things. Fortunately, all I can say is they're outstanding all-around. There are multiple artists at work here so you cane expect variety, but nothing too drastic that will stand out. It also means you'll see plenty ranging from survival on an alien space station lead by a mental projection with clones around you who failed to epic space battles between bred warships and ancient rock titans, for example. This one's a winner, guys.


The Airs of Earth

Anthology, August 1963, 190 pages

Problem with anthologies in general is I have yet to find a way to comprehensibly cover them in review-style format considering there's [usually] no uniformity to them and works tend to vary quite a bit. In this particular case with Brian Aldiss' The Airs of Earth it is easier because they're all penned by the very same author, but that does not negate the uneven nature of the collection as a whole. There were definitive high and low points among the eight stories featured so I will not attempt to break down each and every one of them. What I will commit to, however, is commenting on those that stuck with me the most for whatever reason.

Going in reading order first one what stood out for me was, well, the first one - A Kind of Artistry. On surface it is a story about one Derek Ende who comes off as almost your typical pulp era space opera protagonist who can do no wrong and is extremely competent, but that's honestly just a facade for the story where he undertakes a mission to “make liaison” with an alien on behalf of the government. Real theme is the protagonist's underlying relationship with his mistress and her possessive/not really/kinda attitude towards him as well as inherent desire to be free yet wanting to be bound. It's hard to put into words without spoiling, so let's just say she's not merely his mistress and that complicates things. Next one would definitely be O Moon of My Delight! from which the cover I've posted comes from and is honestly kinda simple when you get to it considering it mainly deals with a tech engineer posted to a Tandy Two where Flange system exists aka method to slow down ships coming out of FTL. Explaining reasons and logic behind I won't go into, because that's precisely what our lead does to get the point across to a very sharp little girl, as they're all departing and taking the next ship off-world. It involves romance, sheep herders with malfunctioning robot dogs, and a tragedy waiting to happen no matter where in universe you may be. Penultimate story I would give attention to would probably be The Game of God with its straightforward twist if that makes any sense. Opening to a god accepting two sacrificial bowls full of freshly extracted guts and hating his followers to it we switch perspective to a team of scientists landing on planet Kakakakaxo where they're seeing a legendary figure Dangerfield who landed there 19 years ago and survived, being the only human to have done so. What's the story behind the primitive reptilian natives and their two slave races? That and more if you read in what is probably the most typical story in the collection, in my opinion. I would end summary with, fittingly enough, final story - Old Hundredth. Problem is I have no idea how to go about it. It is a far future story where humanity seems to have disappeared and Venus now orbits our planet. What replaced humanity are the Impures, or should I say intelligent creatures apparently engineered by old humanity on Venus at some point. Dandi is one of those as our protagonist, a mega sloth of sort, and she wanders the planet while maintaining a mental link with her Mentor. Did I mention Mentor is a intelligent dolphin in an underground tank? Her trade/art is exploring the musical resonance psyche leaves on death. And then something happens to her that changes things, but it's getting into the idea of musicolumns where story spends the most time on alongside occasional hints about history now gone which may be fitting considering this is the most out there story of the bunch.

I was planning to also break down my least favorite stories, but this has already dragged out long enough for what was supposed to be short so I'll skip that. Let's just say to enjoy half of the books is a good deal with an anthology and I didn't actively dislike any stories. Some were very obvious, like the military or smiling drug one, but for the most part I enjoyed The Airs of Earth. Your mileage may obviously vary.


Love, Death & Robots

Anthology, March 2019, 18 episodes

To finish off this little trifecta I have going on here let's dabble into moving pictures. Love, Death & Robots was a Netflix initiative to fund a story anthology where various studios would get to display a short of their own using whatever animation technique they felt like employing. It turns out almost all of them really like CG versus traditional animation, but I'm not complaining with what's on display. Worth pointing out – like it says on the cover it is a NSFW anthology so expect nudity here and there. They aim to please both camps.

Out of eighteen shorts present and accounted for there's quite a few I enjoyed so I don't think I'll go into extensive breakdowns, merely brief opinions here and there.

Three Robots and When The Yogurt Took Over stood out for their humorous take on what passes for pretty grim scenarios when you stop and think about it. Former could've done without the cat part, though. Standing in the off corner we have Beyond the Aquila Rift, Good Hunting, Shape-Shfters and The Secret War as more serious heavy hitters of the package in both their presentations and themes. First one deviated from the book it was based on somewhat, but stunning CG display was something to behold and had me impressed throughout. The Secret War almost fes like someone animated Metro games and is the most self-contained movie of the the entire anthology in a sense it has clear beginning-middle-end structure you'd expect. Couple of shorts that didn't wow me like the above, but were still absolutely worth watching would be Sucker of Souls and Zima Blue which were both honestly on the basic side of things and one even lacked a proper ending, but not underwhelming enough to write off. I've seen people rave about Zima Blue online and I can't say I really get why.

Sadly, there were also a handful of episodes I could not stand. Alternate Histories is just someone asking “what if Hitler died and we made six scenarios out of it?” that should've honestly been left without an answer. Idea is solid, but execution is easily the worst out of everything on the offering. Then there's also Blindspot which landed with a very dull thud and I honestly forget it even existed. Needed some more thought put into premise and script, not to mention the ending invalidates everything I just sat through so it can evacuate through the nearest window. Lastly there's also Ice Age. I have no idea why this was included other than to get some celebrities aboard, I guess. Not bad, but just flat and already seen.

So what did I make of Love, Death & Robots in the end? It's a tough sell and I'm almost hesitant to recommend it as such, but you can never tell with people. You may end up liking specifically what I couldn't stand. For example, there were shorts like The Witness that were visually breathtaking but otherwise felt like filler with some supposedly deep ideas going on. If you do a head count you'll see there's couple of missing episodes I didn't talk about and that's simply due to lack of impression or bad/good balancing out for a mediocre sum.


So much about going with individual game updates in hopes of leading up to faster updates, huh? I've fallen into a trap of tackling too many games at once and making little progress in all of them as a result. I also got around to playing some of the short and free projects that exist out there, like I already did once way back when, albeit at this point it risks appearing as filler content considering the update drought. Keeping it simpler this time. As usual, I've linked to where you can get more info about and download these games from by clicking on their banners.


Well, in endless pursuit of streamlining my post format and process I've taken truly taken after the AAA publishers and got right down to axing stuff. Seeing as my updates take forever, and I often find myself sitting on reviews before I have them all so I can put them together into one neat package, I've now decided to take the sensible route and release them as I finish games. Now, I'm not sure if I'll stick to just GAME reviews for individual updates, but let's see how it works out for couple of these. Also did some work on the banner template which should be usable in general.

Have fun and enjoy the read. As usual with Steam reviews you can also find it on my Steam page. ◕‿◕

Foreword

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.

~ Anne Bradstreet

On the short side this one, but I got some reviews this time around so it feels legit. No Quizzical seeing as I don't want to spam it on the regular and I put off some non-video games stuff I didn't feel was quite ready for a review or first look. Maybe in the future? We'll see. Oh, I also get to cheap out with the cover art because INTERNET. Have fun reading.

Also, you can now subscribe to people on BLAEO so you never miss their updates. I know I made good use of it.


Chronicles & Ventures

Considering the merger of what were previously two categories into one, the single most important change this time around is BLUE now signifies PC reviews while GREEN has been assigned to game reviews from other platforms. Be they from consoles, mobile, etc. Also made some changes to Steam covers by actually using, but availability of such beyond bigger titles remains to be seen. I guess it's ironic I'm committing to this in the final update of the year so I'll have to give it some time to stretch legs in and see how it pans out, though. As usual my tl;dr summaries are at the bottom if you don't feel like reading the good old wall of text.

If you can't find Call of Chtulhu anymore on my account that's because the game was revoked during the whole Humble Bundle pricing shenanigans fallout. I was never more thankful for Steam's offline mode. Humble Bundle gets a big demerit, though. Honor your price mistakes.


Epilogue

The way it tends to go every year this one has also run its course. 2018's end is almost upon us and what a run it's been. Hectic job schedule and even more responsibility has left me with barely any time to actually play games or read books in the second half of the year. Which makes it even stranger when circumstances conspire in order to allow me to binge on a game in just two-three days.

In any case it's one more year I've survived on BLAEO. Shame some people aren't active on the site any longer, but there's been a ton of new faces who joined so you might say it balances itself out. My output had dropped significantly to less than half of what I put out last year yet hope remains things will change for the better.

Best wishes for 2019!

Foreword

A man must fortify himself and understand that a wise man who yields to laziness or anger or passion or love of drink, or who commits any other action prompted by impulse and inopportune, will probably find his fault condoned; but if he stoops to greed, he will not be pardoned, but render himself odious as a combination of all vices at once.

~ Apollonius of Tyana

Three months. Quite a break I took there. Life. :D

This is essentially a non-update as far as I'm concerned, but what can I say? Been burdened with work and have honestly been making some pretty bad gaming decisions insofar as making definitive reviews goes. This will be a break “what I've been playing, but got nowhere” kind of deal. As far as update structure I did some streamlining to cut down on real estate and kept one quote at the top instead of the usual, and I also removed descriptions from images. I doubt anyone was reading those but it means one less step for me when writing these. Funny thing is creating the image probably took more out of me than the writing part.


Ongoing Journey

I swear to god this section has become almost filler and part of non-updates I only include when there's nothing to review. On the other hand, I have been playing stuff. It's just that most of it has been long running titles or being spread out across multiple games. Bottom is on top of logging into Elder Scrolls Online and Guild Wars 2 for the dailies. Three MMORPGs are already too much even if I rotate them on semi-regular basis for now. Let's dig in.


I knew nothing about the series The Dwarves is based on and bought the game on a whim. Now I kinda want to track down said books and give them a read. Thinking back on it, for what is supposedly a short-ish game going on what I've heard from other people this has bene installed on my HDD since forever. Should fix that soon.

Current Impressions?

Odd. I think it took me a good hour or so to acclimate myself to the way The Dwarves does basic stuff.

Although they're nothing alike, I think I can draw certain parallels to Of Orcs and Men because both games EXPECT you to learn how they operate and don't pull back punches. Traveling the overworld? Unless you cheese it with a guide you have to accept the fact optimal decisions are not as obvious as you'd expect them in the CYOA manner game presents them. Doing combat? Oh boy, “mass combat” system is something. The just of it is characters fight on their own when near enemies, but you manually activate abilities and items. This lends a weird ebb and flow to game's combat as you, for the lack of a better phrase, learn to game the system to make the most out of executions and animation timing. Most fights so early in have definitely been by the skin of my teeth kind of affairs... and I like it.


Compared to the amount travel and fighting you do in the game those regular RPG scenes of just talking to people seem quite rare.


It has been good three months since I reviewed Rogue in my last update and would you believe I installed Unity pretty much the next week after? Nothing really to add here as I'm catching up to Assassin's Creed titles. Going at this rate I'll probably catch up to Odyssey in 2020 if I'm lucky.

Current Impressions?

I'm couple of hours after Arno gets initiated so its obviously still very early, but I like what I've experienced so far. Generally. Helix Episodes blueballs after you play the prologue section is something I'll never forgive Ubisoft for. Other than that I really like the gear customization, going back to different weapons types after last few games featured nothing but swords as well as massive incline due to addition of a crouch button and sneaking playing a somewhat bigger role. Pair it with deadlier combat and you can't counter-kill half of Italy anymore.

What I don't like is this piss poor co-op implantation restricted only to specific missions. On the flipside of the gear customization I don't think I'll really like gear PROGRESSION, though. There are clearly superior threads and you'd be a fool not to aim directly for those over anything lesser. Item benefits could also be telegraphed a bit better. Gonna keep at it and see how it evolves over time.


I'm still not that hot on tying the player's account identity into the game like this, but I can't deny – Unity nails that atmosphere. Nice to go back to tight urban environment.


My experience with Naruto up until last month – big fat zero. Then I got roped into reading the manga, read 100 chapters and wanted to watch the show instead to get all the BELIEVE IT nonsense. Realized show is full of filler and looked up if there's a way around it. Found Naruto Kai. Watched both parts. Now I'm a Naruto expert, bakayaro konoyaro.

Current Impressions?

Turns out doing the above was a good call because Ultimate Ninja Storm tells you just about the barest cliff notes imaginable to get you up to speed story-wise. It's a loose fighting game at heart where exploring Konoha village for scroll and ingredient collections is rudimentary at best. Heart and soul of the game is in fights which is odd because I don't think it's particularly tight combat system, or even close to that as a matter of fact. Still, I find myself having fun playing as memorable characters aka Rock Lee = best boy, and wondering whether splurging for the trilogy upfront was a smart financial move.


Game did get kinda-sorta remastered for later release, but you can still draw its roots to 2008 release easily.


To this day I have no idea how I keep getting into MMORPGs when I already have barely enough time on my hands. Am I glutton for punishment? I've had previous stints with FF14, going all the way back to original beta days before A Realm Reborn overhauled the original version. Took me a while to dope out that, yes, free trial accounts actually require free trial clients or game won't even recognize your account.

Current Impressions?

Well, it's Final Fantasy and MMORPG. Pretty different from when I tried it years ago, but something that hasn't really changed is the presentation. I still have issues with... surface diffusion, I guess? Game has issues conveying materials stuff is made from so most of the stuff gives off this vibe as if it was made of foam, polyester or aluminum. But the style itself is great and instantly evokes nostalgia for series veterans. Going beyond that it's a pretty standard representative of its genre in sub-20 levels with some standouts like Leves and exhausting crafting you can really get into hardcore. Ability to level all Jobs on one character is a godsent solution to having myriads of alts running around. I like it so far. I started out as a Pugilist, but created a new Roegadyn Archer not long into the original run.

*Proceeds to do the math on whether subbing to one game would be cheaper than buying 10+ new ones each month.*


Story tied into basic system progression features heavily in the game and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. Note the visible equipped necklace, though.


Quizzical

After almost a half year break it's time for another Quizzical and I believe this one might be near and dear to us. You know, sort of people who amass vast library of games and then need to get around to actually playing them. To cut things short - where do you stand with video game bundles?

  • Do bundles have to feature some highly specific games to raise your interest or are you more of a generalist?
  • What’s the perfect sweet price point you’re looking for? On the other hand, what are your maximum and minimum in terms of how much you’re willing to pay?
  • Do you actually CARE where you’re getting your games from as long as the price is right? Is the so-called “gray market” a factor in your purchases?
  • Have there been any memorable bundles that have stuck with you? Any you regret skipping?

As usual I'll put my own opinions down, but I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts and opinions on this stuff.

Glancing at my library might convince you to call me a liar, but would you believe not even ten years ago I was staunchly against digital games? At the time I still saw absolute value in retail games and their packaging, but what my younger self, who didn't really buy new games, failed to realize was that he was basing this on 20+ year old experiences. Compared to packages of the ye olden days buying boxed versions of modern games basically just gets you a DVD/Blu-ray, pamphlet masquerading as a manual and usually a code for additional content download. From what I hear nowadays not even complete games are included and you have to download gigabytes upon gigabytes just to play on launch day. Having realized this I decided I might as well go digital where things are cheaper and easier. Fast forward and I'm on BLAEO.

Humble Bundle specifically was my gateway drug into affordable games and titles I would never in my life pay anything close to full price or even half off. Those early days were great before all the trash started gathering in throwaway bundles. Even to this day HB has treated me right, and I'm even subscribed to their Humble Monthly service where trend of trying out unlikely titles has lived on. Fanatical aka Bundle Stars was my second port from home because site has these specific bundles which stay around seemingly definitely. Inclusion of Star Deal has also been a great attraction if game in question strikes your fancy. Third site was IndieGala before they started rejecting my payment method, but that has been resolved by simply paying with PayPal if I feel like it. One reason in particular in care for IndiaGala is because payment is in dollars compared to my usual euro currency. I'm still waiting for the blessed day when publishers are going to wake up and realize those two don't convert 1:1.

How do you fare?

Foreword

Here we are again and it only took me a month. As usual I hope you enjoy the read. :D

This is a big 'un, but not necessarily on the front as much as in the work I put into behind the scenes changes only to scrap them. Basically, I had everything converted to a button layout where you could actually collapse and open “tabs” at will. It got reverted because I did not like the fact opened sections stacked on top of each other rather than collapsing all but the one that's currently opened. This works just fine for smaller chunks of text where you can read them without scrolling. With my walls of text where you still have to scroll; first to read through them and then to select the next piece by pressing the appropriate tab button, I think current format works out better.

There are some other changes such as overhaul of the basic information layout which is more of a visual change for the sake of it. To be perfectly honest real intention was getting couple of extra lines to work with, but then I had to separate that from the main body of the text so it evened out. Real change lies in expanding my thumbs up, down or middle to a properly granular rating system at the end of reviews. Why the change? Because I wanted to separate my reviews from Steam's rating system. I simply applied it to everything else from there on out. One last thing is unification of all video game reviews under a single category now titled “Chronicles & Ventures” seeing as there is really no reason to keep Steam games and non-Steam games separate. Now I just have to figure out how to handle Steam games that don't have traditional box covers. Even with something like SteamGameCovers and other resources it's going to be tricky short of creating my own covers and I'm not that crazy yet.

P.S.
Props to Shax for letting me steal his bolding-for-emphasis technique.


Chronicles & Ventures

The future is unwritten. there are best case scenarios. There are worst-case scenarios. both of them are great fun to write about if you’ re a science fiction novelist, but neither of them ever happens in the real world. What happens in the real world is always a sideways-case scenario. World-changing marvels to us, are only wallpaper to our children.

Why does this always happen to me? I procrastinate for a long time and then cram two games in under a week. Well, it's been almost half a year since I last dabbled in open world so I decided to give it a go once again and with the next Assassin's Creed game no less. For a change of pace I then decided to break it up a bit with something different and here we are. In retrospective it's kind of a shame Syndicate is still stuck on Origin if you want to play on PC.


Beyond the Rim

If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed.

Pretty light update as far as non-games go this time. Decided to re-watch some of the classics after many years and I can say I was pleasantly surprised. Even more than I expected after watching nothing but modern stuff for years. It can be jarring to go back and watch slower paced movies that seemed to have scripts infinitely superior to what we get these days. Well, I'll leave that to your judgement and whether you agree or not.

YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP!

Planet of the Apes

Science Fiction Adventure, April 1968, 112 minutes

🙦

If I can admire Planet of the Apes for just one among many things it does well it would be the movie's adherence to brevity yet also tempering with necessary buildup and appropriate pacing to set the mood as befitting. What this means in practice is I can scarcely imagine a movie today that would play coy and keep the audience in suspense for the first half hour or so as we don't even see the titular apes. This slow burn to the point when we finally see mounted gorillas results in almost surreal surprise equaling protagonist's own shock. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We open to a scene of four astronauts returning home to now foreign Earth following a certain mission that will have left them off-world for 700 years. Taking into account they're traveling at near-lightspeed it means going into cryogenic sleep and this hibernation is interrupted due to malfunction caused by crash landing somewhere far away from home if ship's machines are to be believed. Sadly, those machines can do nothing for the only female member of the crew who dies mid-transit leaving our three scientists to find their way out of a sinking space ship and making due with their different personalities and reasons for opting into what was obviously a suicide mission from the beginning...

Did you like any of that? Well, I have some good news and some bad news – good is that Charlton Heston is phenomenal in the role of George Taylor with his abrasive and dismissive personality, but still unbridled professionalism and keen intellect running underneath. He's the unlikely genius explorer opposed by more classical lab scientist and boy scout companions, and perfectly suited for what unfolds as he comes to realizations about himself and confronts why he choose to join the mission. Bad news? Aside from Taylor himself none of the above really matters as Planet of the Apes changes gears about a quarter way in and true survival begins. I haven't read the novel movie was based on, but from what I have read it only borrows premise and decidedly goes in its own direction. Low-tech society we see works and is largely believable, aside from a factoid on whether remaining humans are mute or as this movie's sequel will attempt to capitalize on, something different entirely. Fact we're not dealing with humans does not change the fact movie explores themes ranging from subtle, and not so subtle, racism, religious zealotry and obfuscation of knowledge that could shake one's world. Even observed today this is not some cheap movie to get people into costumes and cheer as our hero engages in fisticuffs. Respectable philosophical themes and nature of humanity are explored with plenty of emotions and reasoning alike to go around.

Taking into account when the movie was filmed you certainly have to adjust your expectations, but I would argue it stands the practical test of time. Sets and costumes are both well made, particularly prosthetic lips which are capable of alright to decent articulation. Facial expressions above all else took me aback at times with how lifelike they came across. As someone not native to US or familiar with Glen Canyon those shots alone made me feel like I was peering into a genuine alien world. Gradual shift and eventual total immersion in tribal music goes hand-in-hand with narrative's direction and you definitely feel a sense of belonging much to movie's credit. Or Taylor's complete and utter alienation, depending on how you look at it.


Final Thoughts and Rating?

It's a shame you can't really go see Planet of the Apes blind today and even looking at DVD special edition case spoils the ending of the movie because some genius decided that scene has to be the cover. Anyway, I remember watching it for the first time ages ago and being taken in by its atmosphere and script that respects the viewers intelligence. Rod Serling at work yet again? Action scenes where actors shuffle awkwardly around in furry suits may not be a major selling point, but seeing this inverted society that still clings to seemingly eternal nature of man shows that as much as things change with time they also remain the same.

That power is reserved for the Almighty Spirit.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Science Fiction Drama, September 1951, 92 minutes

🙦

I suppose it's funny how in retrospective The Day the Earth Stood Still subverts a lot of the usual “space men invade Earth, save the women” tropes despite effectively still belonging to that particular subset of SF popular during post-WW2 1950s. Coming from someone who has seen the remake and its ecologically bent message I far prefer a more original's takes with humanity potentially becoming a threat to the galactic civilization at large as matter of technological progress where ethics did not necessarily follow. Not to say what's being preached is perfect, and protagonist himself admits to that, but it's a very good hook to get the ball rolling.

This is where I'd talk about characters but despite quite a few in the support, I'd say far more of the attention is dedicated to random people worldwide responding to the fact an alien spaceship has just landed in Washington D.C. and everyone's on edge over what this mute edifice wants. In what would become a cliché we see reports from across the world, regular people sharing comments and the US military getting ready as they cordon the area and tensions rise. Difference between the way this movie handles it compared to modern takes lies in there being none of that forced human element we are meant to care for or identify with. There are relevant characters who get introduced later on, but make no mistake when I say this is Klaatu's story throughout as he emerges from the flying saucer under the watchful eye of his giant robot Gort... only to promptly get shot in a misunderstanding and taken away to get his wounds treated by the military. There he demonstrates some of his superior healing and seeming longevity, but also comes with a warning for the entire human race and demands to see our world leaders or he'll have to resort to drastic measures to get his message across because, in fact, things are apparently that dire.

At this point you could say the remainder of the movie is not that relevant as it deals with Klaatu's blending into human society and learning as he finds room and board, but that's really the meat of The Day the Earth Stood Still. He becomes friendly with a local boy and his mother upon whom he echoes many of his ideals and aspirations, he sets up a meeting with the world's most important scientists so he can deliver his ultimatum, almost dies and comes back to life as we witness some of his ship's interior and Gort itself is revealed to have a much bigger role. Message itself is significant, but it's the journey that matters more in this case. Michael Rennie gives something I would not call a mundane performance as Klaatu but rather one that almost comes off as normal. It's odd because you can see glimpses of not getting human society perfectly, but for the most part he doesn't play the stoic or alien ignoramus you'd expect. Imposing resolve and interactions with others establish him as a well-rounded figure with a mission. Only regret is that in the process no other character really gets that much attention.

Not everything is peachy, of course. Given the age of the movie you can expect various jabs at then current political situation in the world with the Russians and why world leaders won't come together. I was also not a big fan of the screechy soundtrack which is just a fixture of period's SF and takes some time getting used to. There's also this notion the way Klaatu's civilization exists is somewhat ridiculous because they do so by effectively handing away control and responsibility to robot overlords and relying on their mechanical benevolence. This is presented as an improvement over humanity's way of doing things and threat of atomics. I respectfully disagree.


Final Thoughts and Rating?

I think my problem with the movie lies in rooting much of the message in the era when it was at peak relevance and something to ponder about. This feeds into my active dislike for what passes as “good galactic community” far too eager to bash humanity over the head to maintain their philosophy. Some would scoff at movie's black and white presentation, but taking into account we're working with a lot of metallic and silver both are only accentuated by the presentation. It helps that Robert Wise was very keen on contrasting shots and even special effects are not too jarring because the movie manages to avoid them for the most part. I was genuinely impressed by the melting effect, though.

Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Satirical Comedy, January 1964, 94 minutes

🙦

When referred to as a “funny movie”, audience should be aware that Dr. Strangelove falls under dark comedy and should be treated as such. I can remember genuinely laughing only once or twice throughout the entire movie, but I think that more general and “in your face” gag-based comedy is here largely overshadowed by dark humor and overall snappy writing that only occasionally pushed just a step too far to its own detriment.

We have three different points of view feeding into one story so let's break them down.

First and one to instigate the entire incident is General Ripper who initiates Wing Attack Plan R by going through RAF Captain Mandrake and putting 843rd Bomb Wing on alert during. Our second team is crew on one of those B-52 bombers who receive said orders, naturally double check them, only to set a deadly course towards their primary and secondary targets. And lastly we have the Pentagon's own War Room where another General Turgidson is quickly roused to attend a meeting where President Muffley and others are in panic over what they can do about a rogue officer who just authorized a nuclear drop on USSR. Officer who's also the only one holding a special prefix code that will enable bomber crews to receive callback orders and all attempts to get him to stand down have resulted in Ripper barricading himself his own base as US soldiers face each other in deadly combat to get through and save the world from nuclear fallout.

I wish I could say all of the above were equally as strong, but they're not. Which might just be me blowing it up somewhat. Only point of view I would argue is somewhat weaker is one dealing with General Ripper himself and that's mainly because we discover the mastermind who got the ball rolling, east and west in absolute panic as Doomsday contingencies are being weighted, etc did it all over... fluoride water and general being a loony. Make no mistake because USA vs USSR and conflicts between their ideology is central here so it make sense the story uses it as such, but Ripper's character concept wavers on silly and those scenes are largely salvages by some of the now most iconic shots of the movie and his character himself is balanced out by Captain Mandrake – seemingly the only sane man in the movie and one of three roles portrayed by excellent Peter Sellers. Most of the bomber pilot crew scenes are dedicated to them being en-route and eventually getting technically as hell breaks loose. I liked them as an every man crew and there's even some young James Earl Jones action there. Absolute meat of the movie lies in Pentagon scenes which attempt to tie it all together, though. Make no mistake because all these characters are very serious about their job, aside from Dr. Strangelove who is just... well, kinda mental and flashes back to MEIN FUHRER days from time to time, yet their personality and stereotypes come through perfectly. From a somewhat weak president, Russian ambassador always looking to make gains and general Turgidson portrayed by George C. Scott who against his own better judgment realizes this may be it purely because of US superiority. And they may lose because of it.

Going beyond what I already said about it earlier the cinematography is absolutely stunning and so many scenes have stood the test of time. Just some damn good camera work without much dramatic action you'd see nowadays in some elaborate CG fest. Some effects like superimposing background on a flying bomber is one of those effects that's sadly going to age badly no matter how you look at it considering it was a green screen, but what's there is cleverly used and attention to sets is insane. Bomber cockpits with the claustrophobia inducing tight quarters were especially unnerving.


Final Thoughts and Rating?

I honestly don't think I could add anything that history hasn't already ascribed to Dr. Strangelove. Is the eponymous character barely in the movie and it's all somewhat silly? Yes, but neither of that is really a negative. If anything it's simply the kind of movie that might require a certain mindset to properly enjoy and even more so if you go into it expecting a typical comedy. It's a Kubrick movie and for many that's pretty much everything that needs to be said, but I think it's also the type of movie that only gets better and better with repeated viewings AND as we get further away from the Cold War. I can only imagine it took quite something to satirize the situation like this back in the day.

Foreword

Months since the last update and I bring you this? Sadly, life's been busy and I haven't had much time to play anything I could tangibly put to words. Destiny 2 from Humble Monthly is partially to blame as well with couple of hours here and there, but it has mainly been work. Some non-video game stuff has also been put on backburner with hopes of coming back to some day. Sorry to disappoint few readers who give my scribbling a look.


Completed Chronicles

The cost of oblivious daydreaming was always this moment of return, the realignment with what had been before and now seemed a little worse.

Telltale round two, I guess. Kinda surprised by Epistory because I expected more of an action adventure but at least it was a pleasant surprise. I still have Batman season two from Telltale's offering, but I have no idea when I'll get around to it. It seems like cheating at this point because of my lack of time, and I don't want it to become something like filler. Maybe the Pillars of the Earth would be a better fit for a change of pace?

Water changed her path.


Token of “FRIENDLY FOX” ₪ Genre: Adventure, Puzzle
☑ Release date: March 2016
♬ Soundtrack: Burning Hollow and Arena

Looking back on it in retrospective I'd have to say Epistory - Typing Chronicles is a rather weird game in a sense it is a “type words to fight” formula you may have seen in something like Typing of the Dead, but if I had to go out on a limb I'd say Epistory is pretty unique when it comes to combining said approach to combat with adventure and exploration. So let's give it a go and see how else it stands out and whether it's worth spending your valuable time on.

It's only fair I get story out of the way first because, let's be honest, there isn't much of it in the game. If you want to check out Epistory expecting a worthwhile narrative to go with honing your typing skills I'd have to say you'd be disappointed. We follow a blonde girl riding a giant fox as more and more is revealed from what, at least initially, starts out with mending together the broken landscape and restoring it over your long trek. Insights into the character we know very little about personally are sprinkled across the world and given voice via female narrator. In the last quarter things do ramp up and I wish that level of engagement was maintained throughout prior to the finale. Not to mention the reveal is rather abrupt and could've used a bit more subtlety after what we've been through. Some of it can be pieced together by the player if he's attentive, collects all fragments and notices some of the metaphors the writer is fond of.

More than narrative and story themselves I think the presentation is what will grab you at first and there's sadly no way to show that in screenshots. You need to see Epistory in motion to get the “folding paper” style in properly intended format. I don't think it's very much like Origami look the way Tengami did it and there are 3D elements to the presentation, but it still comes off as pretty breathtaking when you look at absolutely impressive use of color schemes, contrast and saturation which result in every area standing out when you pair it with different levels of depth when it comes to level design itself. I wish the art team applied the same level of identity that made these locations pop, no pun intended, to enemies as well, though. You'll have to settle for simple 3D bug models with merely a handful of variations that don't really change based on their elemental type.


I loved the cinematic flair chapters get and the lead-in to them.

You'll go through contrasting areas, but the mine was the one that stood out the most to me.

There's a point requirement to “unfold”new areas on the overworld yet I find it difficult to imagine anyone could consider grinding for them.


Types? What is he babbling about, you may be asking yourself. Well, it's high time I talked some about gameplay.

Basically, there are two “levels” on which you play Epistory – at first there's a sort-off overworld where you progress the story at large and gain entrance to locations where you unlock new abilities which in turn let you do dungeons and vice versa. For those of you worried that this might be a procedurally generated game please don't be because everything is handcrafted and each of handful of dungeons exist to introduce a new ability until you master it and use to clear the bug nest at the end where enemies spawn and attack you in waves. Then you get to put said power to use in the overworld and open new chests, new routes as well complete exploration. Powers? Well, you start with basic typing and eventually get foure specific types. In no specific order: FIRE (second enemy words burn off on their own), ICE (stop enemies dead in their track), SPARK (second enemy words are zapped off in a chain reaction, as long as it's not their last word) and finally WIND (area effect that blows enemies away from you and slows them down). I think it's pretty evident which is the most OP power, but surprisingly enough they all have legitimate uses if you're a quick enough typist to utilize them considering you have to type their name to switch between them. This becomes imperative as game will start mixing enemy types that can only be hurt by specific powers. Add to this experience points you generate by killing enemies, interacting with the world, progressing the story, etc and upgrading your abilities... you almost have some lite RPG progression there.

To add a footnote let's just say I enjoyed Epistory and hence the rating, but it could've been a more expanded take compared to what we got. Basic gameplay loop is satisfying, albeit it clearly hinges on whether you can type at acceptable speed or it's a complete no-go for obvious reasons, soundtrack is pretty chill with one standout combat track which plays when you're clearing a nest and things do ramp up, and presentation itself is the most impressive element. I'd recommend it, just know what you're getting yourself into.

If I had known the world was ending, I'd have brought better books.


Token of “CARRY ON MY WAYWARD DAUGHTER” ₪ Genre: Adventure
☑ Release date: December 2016
♬ Soundtrack: Peace and To the Gate

Here we are once more with another Telltale game. I'll cut the preamble short for once and [mercifully] get right in- The Walking Dead: A New Frontier it is. Let's see if them zombies still bite.

My gut reaction going through the game could basically be summarized with “Why was this even made?”, and then I corrected myself because I realized that Michonne game released earlier fit far more into this train of thought. There are good points to A New Frontier and my underlying fear was Telltale made a calculated play banking on fans' investment into Clementine as an on-going character to give this one a go. Well, they were correct but we have yet to get around to that.

Had it not been done already I think starting a proper The Walking Dead sequel with an entirely new cast of characters would've been a bold move. Taking into consideration what we got I can't really say I was impressed. We get Javier aka Javi, and look into his family life of a sort-of wayward son being late to his father's deathbed. Things don't work out and we're introduced to his aggressive brother David who pounces on the guy. It very clearly portrays a complex brotherly relationship with its ups and downs. Along the way we also see his brother's wife Kate as well as their children Gabe and Mariana. There are some hints their marriage isn't all roses as David has a difficult personality, there's a family crisis and all-around resentment. This is cut short when, in fact, little Mariana announces grandfather is not actually dead but rather up and about... and we end the flashback cutting to present as Javi, Kate and two kids are driving in a van on their own four years later, and kids have grown up to teenagers. Frankly I really like this setup and I'm not even a fan of flashbacks in general. Story kinda goes downhill after that because, hey, it's Telltale and you can only play the drama really well once, which they did in the first game so everything feels like it's been dragged through some sort of a zombie drama generator.

I'll avoid spoilers but something still has to be said about overall plot and characters themselves. I think one major problem is they're really one note and when they deviate it's immediately obvious to be a setup for some kind of development. This is really, really apparent in the relationship between Javi and David considering you can see twists and turns for miles before they happen. That's a problem because at about a half-way it kinda becomes one of the focal points of the story. Introducing “civilization that just might not be what it appears to be” to the story will let your mind wander until you realize you already know how it's going to end and just comes down to who's going to fulfill what roles. I did not like how game sets up things between Kate and Javi only to seemingly backhand you for making certain choices while railroading like crazy on others. It's the usual inconsistency I've come to expect, though.


Plenty of brown to go around with the occasional simple inputs.

Goofballs gonna goof.

Game sure loves to throw QTEs at you, but they're little more than something to so you can't put your controller down.


Which ironically brings me to game's one bright spot – Clementine. Yes, we get to see her story continued albeit presented through somewhat awkward flashbacks and come-and-go nature of her presence in story proper. When you start the game you'll notice you can import your old save file if you bothered putting it on Telltale's cloud service, which I did not because who needs another account, but simulating events she experienced and choices she made since the very first game is a neat way to remind the player what she's been through AND you also get to effectively decide another character's personality. That doesn't mean Javier's choices still won't shape Clementine but I liked this particular approach because you get the sense of who she is. Her ties to current groups and individuals are convenient at best, but flashbacks telling her side of the story for that brief time frame when she grew up hit the spot. I haven't replayed the game, but from what I've read there are different personality outcomes she can get at the end and couple of choices in the game are depended on which one she fits into. Good job on this one.

What do I even say gameplay-wise? Provided this isn't your first Telltale game you get a very light adventure where most of the focus is on character drama and choosing flavor of your choices with couple of tangible ones sprinkled into the mix here and there. I am disappointed to say Telltale still loves their binary choices for absolutely no good reason other than putting you on the spot with a mandatory ”you don't get to stand on the sidelines with this one” line. The more I play their games the more these stand out as entirely forced... about the same as spawning zombies for some action sequences. Particularly in one of the middle episodes where token villain will simply screw everything up and put you on the spot just, well, because rather than working it out sensibly.

You would think I'd rate The Walking Dead: A New Frontier negatively but for all the personal misgivings I have, mostly coming from stale formula at this point, I really can't because it's a decent game. I don't think there are many more ways to cut out gameplay after playing this and Batman season one, but I'm sure Telltale will find a way. Clementine parts are great, others feel kinda compressed and telegraphed. Take it for what it is.


Quizzical

Life experience is what defines our character, even if it means getting your heart broken or being lied to. You know, you need the downs to appreciate the ups. Going on the adventure or taking that risk is important.

I wondered what else to put in this rather slim update and then it dawned on me it's been a while since we had our last Quizzical so where we are. Topic? Well, taking into account this convenient timing there's really no other choices but couple of subjects that are surely dear to our hearts – what do you think about various game conventions and games sales in general? We're on SteamGifts so we already realize we have a problem, but let's dig into it a bit deeper.

  • How religiously do you follow gaming conventions? Do you even care about announcements made there?
  • Have you ever been to any and are there any that happen near you? Perhaps some underrated ones we don’t hear about online that much?
  • Steam has our hard earned money, but what do you think about Valve’s sales? Have they gone downhill or are they as good as they’ve ever been?

As usual I'll put my own opinions down in the tabs, but I'm looking forward to hearing your own thoughts about this stuff.

E3 is almost upon us if not already live by the time this update goes out so I might as well open with big boy. It just hasn't been the same since 2013 when Microsoft decided to collectively commit suicide with that Xbox One disaster of a reveal and handed the reigns of this generation to Sony more or less. Nintendo has been been doing their own thing and I can't help but think that was a good call when your new console has enough traction to stand on its own. It does lead to awkward pleading for ports by the fanbase, though. This year? Definitely going to tune in and check out what CDPR is up to with Cyberpunk 2077 as well as if there are some surprises kept hidden. Kinda difficult to do in this day and age when everything gets leaked days before so you're just there for confirmation. Surprise is big part of the package for me.

Other than the above I wish we Europeans had strong conventions like E3. We get Gamescom which generally just ends up playing the second fiddle because publishers repeat announcements or expand a bit on them as if this isn't a global market. I do appreciate the fact MMOs seem to favor Gamescom as well as more niche titles that wouldn't get the time of day at E3. Japanese also have it nice with Tokyo Game Show, promptly followed by “Is it getting localized?” by everyone after reveals.

Certainly a difficult subject to broach, but we all know they're coming round each year and we can't stop them. What do I do about game sales? To be perfectly honest I've found hunting for good deals/bundles all year long gets you much better results. For starters, it's not like big sales have the BEST prices you'll find around seeing as they're really aimed at people who just wait for them, assume it's a great deal and indulge.

It comes down to how or even if you want to spread your library around, though. I've found Steam in particular has been taking advantage of lower discounts ever since flash sales got phased out. GOG is playing its own game and yet considering they've been working on things like GOG Connect, Galaxy client and others you can tell they've been meaning to branch out of good old games for a while. It is funny to see everyone dancing around big Steam sales so they don't overlap. Are we looking at digital retailers clashing in the future?

Foreword

As February runs its course it's time to post the first update of the year. Sure took my sweet time, huh? No idea what changes I may have in store for this year but knowing how much I like to nitpick it'll be something for sure... maybe finally that standardized covert art? Last year it was a happy coincidence I came up with exactly twelve reports even though I gave up on regular monthly updates. Somehow I sincerely doubt that number will hold up in 2018. Just a hunch.

Same as usual, then – grab your favorite beverage, settle in all comfy-like and enjoy the read. All feedback is more than welcome. :)


Completed Chronicles

Gravity is a lifestyle choice for many elements of the world.

Not much in my Steam category for this one, sadly. Interestingly enough Telltale's take on Minecraft was the one I was least interested in, but someone convinced me to give it a go I think? Keep in mind I always write these opening paragraphs last and if you go by my Steam review you'll see it's been a while since I actually finished the game so it's all a bit fuzzy on my end here. There should be more to read when I come around next time, though.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.


Merit of “GODDAMN BATMAN” ₪ Genre: Adventure
☑ Release date: October 2015
♬ Soundtrack: New OOTS and The Traveler's Tune

Before even attempting to review Minecraft: Story Mode – A Telltale Games Series I should probably come clean and admit I'm one of those weirdos who know nothing about Minecraft as global sandbox block building phenomena that had everyone's attention before sandbox survival became a trend in recent years. I never got into it and genre as a whole did not grab my attention. This is worth bringing up because I may have on my hands a rare example of where not being familiar with source material to at least some degree can be detrimental and because you're piecing together what's what as you go along for a spin-off game. How'd I do? Well, let's see.

First episode is actually free so anyone can check it out, but just in case – we follow Jesse as he, or she seeing as you can choose the gender and some skin/clothes colors at the beginning making for a strange character creation in a Telltale game, and his two friends Olivia and Axel, are preparing to embark for EnderCon. Major competition of some sort for builders and that seems to be a big thing in the world? Accompanying them is also Jesse's best friend, a pig named Reuben. We see humor and jabs aplenty in these first few minutes and honestly, minus the QTEs, this single instance of a tree house room neatly condenses a lot of what Minecraft Story Mode is all about. Needless to say and self-evident for every good narrative this is merely the opening and soon world finds itself in danger as new heroes step up to save it. You connect the dots.

Weirdest thing for me was definitely getting over the art style. Fans will think nothing of it and it does grow on you over time, but goddamn if that first episode didn't take some time to acclimate myself. Maybe it looks better if you're playing further away from your TV and not seated in front of the monitor? I can't say. Geometry is simple, but at the same time I can only guess that may be the appeal for fans of Minecraft proper. Especially in later episodes when developers clearly went for some ornate and impressive architectural layouts, and realized them with various blocks. This is actually even brought up for story and character reasons seeing as building things is often the go-to solution for our party, but I really wish it wasn't relegated to just button mashing QTE segments. In fact, that's something I'd like to get into next...

I've ranted against Telltale's tendency to phase out actual gameplay with each new “adventure game” they keep making, but in many aspects this might be the worst example yet simply because such overt actions which COULD be turned into something where the player has to think for himself are automated. Crafting is one element where you do have to get involved, but it comes down to simple “hey, these are the ingredients you conveniently find in the same room where the crafting table is and all you have to do is match the pattern”. Maybe I'm [unjustly] expecting more than what Telltale can and has delivered so far yet Minecraft Story Mode actively made me question if I'm even necessary for anything in the game or whether my role is to just be an observer. For all the formula variations employed across eight episodes this is something that remained a constant – too many cutscenes where you're maybe required to occasionally press a button or two.


You would not expect such gravitas to go with the art style and it does clash on occasion.

Plenty of snappy humor to go around, though.

If you're not one for puzzles you'll be glad to hear inventory is mostly there for show and minor instances of crafting.


And really, it's bringing up episodes that takes me to the worst offender in what is, in a summary, an above average production – filler. My god, this did not require eight episodes. Certainly not if you're going to make two filler that amounts to nothing. Well, technically you got trophies from them that you get to display in the final interactive sequence, but story wise episodes five and six could've been completely done away with. One is a self-contained story and arguably Ivor development vehicle depending on how you handle it, but the other one... well, rarely have I seen such a self-indulgence on display. I can only surmise these characters are famous Minecraft Youtubers/streamers or something that got an entire episode dedicated to not mere cameos but actual story invasion. Let's just say I could've done without that and less said the better. Thankfully, plot steers back to its second arc somewhat naturally after that and builds up to a surprisingly good finale. Might actually be one of the best in all of these games, to be perfectly honest.

I briefly mentioned graphics upstairs, but soundtrack department was much more consistently satisfying. You can read from episode intro vignettes that one composer got dropped after a certain episode and you can hear it, but tracks grounded me in what was going on. Might sound strange when you imagine things like characters dying and other dramatic events happening set against the backdrop of such blocky visuals, but presentation itself is not the problem. It's merely a sort of juxtaposition until your mind accepts what the eyes see. Soundtrack lends itself well to this and chirpy tunes eventually settle in.

Why am I still recommending it then after this kinda negative piece? Because of what I said above – it is still an above average game of its type that simply happens to have some blemishes here and there, large and small. If you're a Telltale fan you already know what to expect and if you were hesitant because of Minecraft, like I was, I still think you should give it a go.


Outlandish Junction

No, the problem with the classical heroes isn’t the heroes- it’s the stories they live in. The truth is we grew up with these do-gooders as our idols, and we try to live up to their ideals every day. But we know how their stories actually play out, and reading about their happy endings insults our intelligence and serves as an ugly reminder: We’re probably never going to come out looking that good.

Someone please remind me not to tackle two open world games at the same time when I get the bright idea to do so next time, alright? Needless to say this section was what held up the entire update seen as I took my sweet time to get through both games. If I was a smart man I would've spread them out in two different updates, but alas. I'll probably take a break and aim for something more straightforward and less time consuming in the future.

In a world without gold, we might have been heroes!


Token of “LEAVE HER, JOHNNY” ☉ Platform: PC
₪ Genre: Action, Adventure
☑ Release date: November 2013
♬ Soundtrack: Under the Black Flag and Queen Anne's Revenge

Back to Assassin's Creed it is for me after nothing but spin-off titles for a while. Surprisingly enough I did not get Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag when it became free on uPlay. No, I actually bought the damn thing some time back and then held off until I got the DLC I wanted for it. Now let's go see if it's same old fare or has the new setting resulted in major changes, yarrr.

Latter only applies if you're newcomer to the series, though. Provided you don't already happen to be familiar with the fact that Assassin's Creed is pretty damn constant in what it provides and setting affects flavor more than anything. You could make the case that Black Flag is the most notable departure so far because sailing is such a major part of the game, in my humble opinion, far more important than actual on-foot sections, but I'll get to that later. For now let's talk story...

... because it was honestly the weakest element for me. You play as Edward Kenway, a Caribbean pirate with cliff-notes backstory where he decides he'll make something out of himself and call for his wife waiting for him in England to join him, and tangentially ends up in embroiled in same old Assassins versus Templar situation we're all familiar with – Freedom versus Control. Now, I could accept the fact he adopts the costume and gear from would-be-traitor he disposes off, but I have no idea where Edward inherited Assassins' abilities the way he did. For a regular pirate with aspirations he certainly has the right skill-set from the beginning and does nothing to earn it. Hell, that's something actual members of the Order comment on when you meet them in the game. Even that isn't the main problem and this ties into the story, though – for most of the game and even Edward's story itself has nothing to do with the whole meta premise and unending conflict between two factions because you're just a guy plundering ships and stealing stuff while, by sheer convenience, having to get involved with things you care nothing about except for, you guessed it, get more booty. In hindsight I suppose this could be seen as a positive and might be the reason why so many people like the game, but for me it meant that about 80% of the story did not grip me in any way and character development/twists towards the very end fell flat because no groundwork was laid down properly for it to be built on top of. This could, admittedly, be just my taste. I wouldn't waste breath on modern day segment except to note they still exist and are presented to you in first person as you assume role of some Abstergo employee working on the Kenway project as part of Abstergo's game development studio. Draw whatever parallels you wish from that.

Good thing Assassin's Creed never really lived or died by its story. Sure, interesting characters and plots help, but they're not necessarily the main draw. Setting and locations play a large role in these things and Caribbean Golden Age of Piracy hits it straight on the head if you care about pirates. Do I? Well, sure. Most of the good pirate games are simulations which has, ironically, limited their appeal as far as mainstream fans care, but Black Flag is definitely accessible and gets most of the experience right. Sailing during the night while crew sings shanties is a phenomenal experience. Not to mention it's one of the few games in the series so far to tie the basic premise and gameplay into such tightly interwoven systems, but that's for the gameplay section.

Which happens to be simultaneously amazing and disappointing, both in already tried and true ways. For you see Assassin's Creed 3 already did sailing or at least basics that get expanded upon drastically in this one, and land sections are same old, same old you can probably play through blindfolded at this point. I did like the reduction in your overall kit so you're not a walking armory like you were in Assassin's Creed 2 trilogy. Good thing to inherit from the last game, of all things. Something I absolutely detested and yet is more prominent than ever are the goddamn tailing and eavesdropping missions. Why Ubisoft insists on bringing back the most despised type of missions in the franchise remains beyond me and doubly so this time seeing as civilized locations generally look all alike. What's even worse is this tailing carries into ship gameplay aka you have to tail ships unseen while avoiding detection areas and other ship's line of sight. Yes, it's absurd because, I mean, you can't really hide in a haystack while you're on the high sea and aboard a ship. Can you?


I wish Caribbean settlements had more identity beyond “shacks and jungle”. Even your own underdeveloped base.

Ah yes, the modern day storyline we can't get away from and you can probably count on one hand how many people care about.

Snippets of character stories you get from Assassin contracts are great, but sorely few in number.


Speaking of ships. Yes, I can safely say it's the best part of the game and finally a reason for in-game economy to exist, not to mention actually be put to good use. By their sheer nature ground sections could always be winged even with the most basic gear/upgrades. Not so with ship combat where you absolutely NEED numerous upgrades for the Jackdaw that come in form of improved hull armor, more broadside cannons, mortar to shell fortress with, ram to... well, ram things with, etc. It's much more of a numbers game with ships because you don't have much room for improvisation when combat is met. Seeing as you're a pirate you will use your spyglass to look at other ships on this Caribbean overworld, so to speak, and engage them in combat whereas you can loot by either destroying them and scavenging or boarding a crippled ship to take their entire inventory. You could fund your operations by looting all usual chests that are scattered around, doing missions, etc but big Reals lie in plundering rum and sugar from other ships and selling them. You also get three resources: metal, wood and cloth, combination of which you need in addition to Reales to upgrade the Jackdaw. All in all it's a very satisfying system and you can avoid the grind if you, well, play the game as a pirate the way you're supposed to which leads to higher wanted level and Hunter ships that carry vital crafting materials aboard. It works.

From a production standpoint Black Flag looks pretty damn solkid considering its release because the next generation of consoles was already underway and everything is apparently subject to those. Vibrant colors abound and lush vegetation lends itself well to organic locations compared to older, more established cities franchise is generally better known for. Unlike the previous numbered entry I think they realized it much better this time around because Caribbeans aren't really supposed to be some half-assed replacement for cities and rather seem to be the dominant biome. Like I mentioned above I wish there were less obstacles between ship play and on-foot sections, though – there's one or two too many loading screens between the sea overworld dotted with islands, fishing spots, diving locations, etc and hubs of civilization when it really should've been seamless to keep up with the illusion. Alas, we do what we can with what we have. What I did not like was probably the buggiest Assassin's Creed experience I've had so far; from disappearing ships left and right, NPC routines being unable to handle tight obstacles and water areas, missions that would just freeze and had to be restarted, vanishing markers, overall mistaken approach to everything naval freezing once you relinquish control of your ship, etc. Good number of these have been faithful franchise companions, but they're at their absolute worst in Black Flag.


You wouldn't think going from four pistols to a blunderbuss would make for much of a difference.


Before the conclusion I'd like to talk a bit about the accompanying DLC.

Well, only notable piece is really Freedom Cry because all others are really just cosmetics, OP weapons for Edward to use in the main campaign, resource saving packs if you can't be bothered to collect them properly and multiplayer stuff I did not bother with. Freedom Cry follows Adewale, protagonist's quartermaster in the main story, at some point after the events of Black Flag when he's doing a job on Templars but gets shipwrecked near Haiti and has to make his way back. As you'd expect it's a much smaller game in every way, but interestingly enough I found it a lot more engaging because Adewale is a good character with actual noble goals to him. Keep in mind you can only say SLAVERY IS BAD so many times before you get on my nerves and honestly, Freedom Cry managed to do so in about twenty minutes, but I still liked the addition of the Rebellion system where you liberate slaves from repeatable events and slave ships in order to build up a resistance. Sadly, this is not the sorely missed Brotherhood system where you command your own death squad, but it's nice to have a somewhat working base and gear progress that ties directly into your objectives. Short and focused, but worthwhile DLC that lasted me for couple of hours.

So let's bring this to a close. For me, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag was a mixed experience. I'm not one of those people who seemed to have enjoyed it because they disregard the Assassin's Creed part and just wanted to sail around. No, in many ways it embodies the worst and best parts of the franchise as a whole. What this really should have been is a game about ship combat exclusively. The way it is you still have to deal with very weak story and standards trappings held together by sailing.

Life might be black and white to you witchers, but to us common folk it's all just shades of grey.


Merit of “FIERY ELDER BLOOD” ☉ Platform: PC
₪ Genre: RPG, Action
☑ Release date: May 2015
♬ Soundtrack: After the Storm and Steel for Humans

At some point in your hobby, career or whatever it may be you'll come across something that's such a milestone that everything else pales in comparison. Doubly so if said product isn't perfect, but is phenomenal despite its very tangible issues. Such is the case with me and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Game had undergone various setbacks before I finally got around to finishing it – waited to upgrade my PC, considered getting it on Steam before going with GOG and then simply that cold and plain fact of having a ton of other games to play while a 100+ hour RPG required a special touch.

So here we are at long last.

Well, this is the third game in the trilogy so I'm not certain how much I should be divulging to get you into because it is, in my opinion, not a good entry if you plan to get the most out of the experience. To cut the usual preamble short, don't worry because there's plenty of beating around the bush to follow, prologue is handled in flashback fashion as Geralt recalls a certain dream to Vesemir, another Witcher and Geralt's mentor. Aside from serving as the game's tutorial it also lays down some basics like who Ciri and Yennefer are, you get to see other Witchers of the Wolf School and some very ominous foreboding about the Wild Hunt and their chilling assault on the keep. Only to pull the rug under you as Geralt reveals this is, in fact, a dream and not a flashback seeing as events never transpired that way in reality yet the key players are very real. This retelling is cut short by a battle as two master Witchers make short work of some monsters and we finally get a tangible goal and reason why they're wandering across war-torn Northern Kingdoms as they're being invaded by Nilfgaardian Empire – Geralt's foster daughter Ciri has been missing for a while and he's on her cold trail alongside his mentor and sorceress lover Yennefer. It's a long shot at best but the duo knows they have to try as they descent to a local village to search for clues.

While not immediately evident from the above because both premise and story are presented in very understandable format, one can assume a fair bit of the Witcher 3 may be lost on newcomers who haven't stuck with the previous two games or, and perhaps more importantly in the grand scheme of things, haven't read the books. This is worth pointing out because even if you diligently follow up on various character entries, in-game literature and such I feel like you'll be stumped by Geralt's comments from time to time. I lost count of how many times I ran into “hey, it's THAT guy” while playing the game. From what I've gathered this has not been much of an obstacle for new fans, though.

While we're on the subject it should be pointed out that despite all of its other flaws and boons the Witcher 3 lives and dies by story, narrative and characters. This is doubly impressive when you consider it also falls under the “open-world RPG” umbrella where this belief that you have to sacrifice all or some of the above to get a world where you can fool around in has been long since entrenched, primarily championed by Bethesda in most cases. What I'm trying to say is the Witcher 3 is a game still strongly rooted in storytelling and, if I had to summarize it bluntly, subscribes to open world philosophy primarily so the player would have an easier time immersing himself into this world rather than so they can forget the story even exists. And make no mistake because what a story we have on our hands. I won't go into spoilers, but it involves traveling across multiple locales, some small and some large with varying degrees of pleasure and frustration along the way, and tackling a LOT of the subjects that go beyond simple “Where is Ciri?” despite that being the primary motivation behind Geralt's actions. It's difficult to put into words how writers did this but provided of willingly going off the beaten path to explore and do side content of your own volition, main story somehow never stops engaging and moving forward. One moment you're dealing with a self-proclaimed baron of Velen only to contend with pogroms against mages in Novigrad yet it all leads naturally as story moves along. It's very well done in a sense it doesn't play out like a set of blocks you have to build in order. After all – this is a Witcher game. Expect gray morality and choosing lesser evils with very few clear cut victories to be snatched from the jaws of death.


Forgetting you can't rob everyone blind when you go from boondocks to civilized places can be jarring. Guards get miffed, you see.

Whether he lives or not is up to you, little girl.

I know the sharpening effect can be overbearing for some people, but for me it added so much to the game under right conditions.


Characters and side quests fare in very much similar fashion – developed and positively worthwhile. There's a staggering quality to a game's writing when you realize even its throwaway side quests are more memorable and will stick with you longer than some other games' main stories would. That's not even getting into quests that feed into the main story, quests you can do out of order and actually get feedback from the game (nothing like doing contracts all on your own before even accepting said contract only for the fact to be recognized) and generally few examples of content that require you to pay attention or use common sense. Characters you interact with get very much the same treatment and I found myself remembering a simple innkeeper from what is essentially a tutorial area because she was animated so well and felt lifelike. If I had to put a finger on this beat it would be that the Witcher 3 benefits strongly from believable approach to writing all across the board. Keep in mind believable is not realistic but the no-nonsense attitude, staying true to premise and story, not to mention sheer memorability elevates the game in this aspect.

Yet it also brings us to the first major negative I have for the game and it's not a minor one.

You see, all of the above can be a double-edged sword if you don't have the systems to back such lofty storytelling and sadly that's really where Geralt's adventures stumble. What do I mean by that? While there's a ton of genuinely interesting, inventive and varied stories to enjoy they're all bolted on top of very simple and repetitive mechanics – you can expect to almost always A) follow someone to get to the objective or B) follow red trails visible with your Witcher vision as Geralt narrates what you should be doing next. This started to grate on my nerves extremely quickly because I decided to tackle side content as well and there's even less [mechanical] variety there whereas major and side quests tend to vary it up to some degree. You can only clear so many bandit camps, destroy monster nests or dive for chests before it all blends together, for example. Not to say some of those didn't have, you guessed it, interesting premises for you often come across bandit notes and such breathing life to characters who's guts you just spilled out. It should be noted that side QUESTS and side CONTENT do not necessarily refer to the same thing in Wild Hunt's context and I've seen a fair share of people equate actual quests with simple activities you can do after finding them in the world and marking them on your map. This is not an honest assessment in my opinion.

I can't believe I'm this far into the review and I've only rambled about things narrative and if you don't already know about the Witcher series you basically have no idea what I'm talking about at all. Taking after its predecessor we once again have an action RPG on our hands, albeit one that's much more polished and does away with somewhat stilted combat system for one that flows much more smoothly. Entire game has been retooled to feel this way, in the same manner as its engine was modified to facilitate open world structure. In many ways you still have all the tools Geralt of yore had access to like variety of magical Signs, ability to brew potions, oils and bombs, but there are new additions some of which like the crossbow are dubious at best and highly situational or perhaps were introduced more for the sake of needing to handle underwater combat of all things? We can only speculate. All character buildings aspects also saw major facelifts and upgrades you uncover along the way and having a access to a handful of abilities at any point in time makes you choose careful which of those you want to have “turned on”, so to speak.

In many ways, as you play through the Witcher 3 and find all the armor, weapons and other equipment to get better in traditional RPG sense you can't really shake the feeling game suffers from development bloat as features were continuously added for the sake of being there or, once again, immersion. Did we really need haggling for contract fees when you get what amounts to minuscule raises? Did we need a specific item that lets Geralt see what people were up to at their moment of death you will use only in handful of situations? Was there really need for contextual Igni actions that let you flick fires on and off? No, not really. But they add to the game and world interactivity and I appreciated them for that.


Aside from being a definite step up from Witcher 2's inventory there's also a lot of usability packed here you may not notice at first like the preview feature.

CDPR should be congratulated for the amount of effort that was put into areas you only briefly visit.

As befitting a Witcher you can expect to do much more than just whack people over the head with your sword(s).


While I'm on the negativity I might as well keep riding it all the way because it leads to the Witcher 3's second problem – questionable itemization and balance. There are many opinions on which path (Alchemy, Combat or Signs) is the best and most OP, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm referring to the fact game was clearly balanced for the so-called “critical path” approach aka just doing the main quest with minimum side stuff required to perhaps reach the level required so you can survive on higher difficulty. In practice this translates to couple of things not least of which being that you'll be pretty over-leveled if you choose to exhaust optional content before tackling the next step of the story AND if you actually bother locating Witcher set diagrams, best sets of armor in the game until you tackle New Game+ from what I've understood, you can forego about 95% of other equipment you come across. That's just sad and tremendous waste. It's not like getting Witcher sets is a major achievement or anything, either. Make that small effort and you've essentially made your own upgrade path you'll never deviate from. There's hope that you may end up starving for crafting components you need to further upgrade those sets, but if you're playing the Witcher 3 like a good little RPG boy aka stealing everything that's not nailed down and where you can get away from the guards, you'll also never want for components. Basically, if you take the game seriously and explore you run into serious diminishing returns in terms of gear progression. But on the flip-side you'll also gain access to a lot of formulas which will future proof you more than you realize. That +50% damage and correct decoction can be a life saver.

So... those are actually pretty serious points against the game, right? So you may be wondering why am I so enthused for it? Because the Witcher 3 is that kind of game proving sum of all parts can be so much more than when you observe those parts individually. There are problems yes, even problems some could find totally off putting like combat which features a lot of moving parts and things to keep track off yet is ultimately simplistic and easily broken with a modicum of thought put into your setup, but when observed as a whole the Wild Hunt shines like rarely any RPG has in recent memory. You could even say it raises the bar in many aspects from its stellar production values and post-launch support to sheer scope and scale with all the content that entails. Make no mistake because you WILL get your hours played with this one and if you add DLC on top of that you, well, you get even more out of it. Speaking of which...

There was a chance I would postpone both of the story DLC when I was considering this review a week or so ago but when I got my claws into them I could not stop playing. I would also like to point out CDPR had a great series of 16 pieces of free DLC, but those are more along the lines of different skins and armor and as such I won't cover them here. Still, nice to have more added to the game.

First order of business is Hearts of Stone which, in all honesty, is almost CDPR's return to form and more scaled back Witcher work with a personal story included versus large zones you have to fill with content. This one is grafted onto Velen, but story regarding one Olgierd von Everec and his supernatural troubles absolutely stands out as one of the best in the entire complete package. You walk away from Hearts of Stone seeing nothing but pure progress compared to base game in every way; bosses are deadlier and actually thought out so they're not just supped up normal enemies, there's even more astonishing production value to go around and shorter play time makes for a very densely packed experience. As if to prove me wrong and show they can do vanilla format except better we also have Blood & Wine which introduces an entire new region of Toussaint where chivalry lives on, but is hopeless to do anything against the Beast which seems to be stalking the region and killing influential people. Formal invitation on behalf of the Duchess sees Geralt resolving what could be the contract of a lifetime. Blood & Wine raises the stakes significantly compared to the previous DLC, but all the same applies on top of introducing the final level of Witcher set upgrades. This is the one you should probably tackle after finishing the main story proper seeing as it has a note of finality in Geralt's final farewell and goes even heavier on fan service than Hearts of Stone. Needless to say, they are both outstanding and should be played as they're absolutely worthy of being called EXPANSIONS in this day and age of bite-sized and overpriced DLC.


Accurate representation of what the author went through after finishing Blood & Wine... minus the running mascara.

That was a long read and I absolutely gushed all over the game while glossing over talking about anything tangible, didn't I? Yes, and yes. I don't think I'm that blind to most of the Witcher 3's tangible faults, but I cannot help liking the game despite all of them. Now for the sad realization I will probably never replay it because it's so huge and will most likely stay fresh in my mind for a long time. It is probably my one regret that I couldn't get more into Gwent, fully fleshed out card game present as a side activity. I think missing a card early on lead me to fail a quest and discouraged me from getting involved further. Not to mention a standalone Gwent game exists now so there's always that. To be perfectly honest I'm containing my yamering here seeing as I haven't even touched on the amazing soundtrack game has that really lends it identity and character in its own right. Vocals are seriously underused in soundtracks outside of dramatic tracks for some reason and it does take some time to get used to them, but region-specific tracks enhance the experience dramatically.

There is no such thing as a perfect game, but looking at it as a modern RPG standing separate from genre's “golden age” and ticking all the boxes I like in games I can stand today, Wild Hunt gets pretty damn close to that mark.


Beyond the Rim

There’s more to research than just looking up facts. Eventually, you have to make subjective calls. If you’re writing a science fiction novel, there’s probably some speculative technology in it. You’ll have to decide how to project existing technology forward in a plausible way.

Remember when I talked about reading some books without writing anything about them last year and that I will make up for that lapse? Well, here it is. Three books from genre fiction just the way I like them. I got into it in the review proper, but goddamn did I delay reading Horus Heresy for a long time. Glad to have finally caught up. The Bug Wars and The Golden were almost random picks, and yet another reason I'm glad to have my Kindle handy. When I think about how I lugged books back in the day... yeesh.

I was there, the day that Horus killed the Emperor.


Merit of “BEWARE OF KAOS” ₪ Genre: Science Fiction
☑ Publication date: April 2006
⇲ Pages: 416

I guess I should make the following my motto at this point, but The Horus Heresy series of novels was yet another series I put off for years because at first I just didn't have the time and then I wanted to wait until more of the books were released so I could get a feel from other readers. Needless to say you can imagine my surprise when a decade later series is still going with its myriad of novels and short story anthologies. So lest I dally any longer it's time for the first book in the series – Horus Rising – penned by Dan Abnett himself.

If you asked me whether this was a good primer for someone not at all familiar with Warhammer 40k I would be hard pressed to give you an acceptable answer? Why? Well, because Horus Rising is actually set during 30k aka it's a prequel to Warhammer 40k setting as people know it today. Emperor of Mankind is still around, Primarchs are kicking ass on the Great Crusade, and Imperium of Mankind is on the way to drag itself out of the Dark Ages by reclaiming lost technologies, fighting against the horrors of ignorance and mysticism and in general striving to unite all of its denizens in strong unity to fight against cosmic dangers. This is the time during which we follow Garviel Loken, serving in Luna Wolves, as he follows his legion and their Warmaster Horus on the Great Crusade. Seeing as many things happen over the course of three parts, even changing the protagonist for one of them, and even more plot hooks as well as references fans will appreciate are dropped it's really difficult to talk about all the events that transpire, but let's just say I really enjoyed the switch and bait that almost had me going “no way they're already rushing to the finale”. I would argue REAL strength of Horus Rising is giving the fans look into pre-40k Imperium that many have been asking for, though.

Seeing Space Marines are military you can imagine what you'll get from characters – from stoic sergeants, badassery from discipline, etc. Difference here lies in the source material so you'll also expect a lot of veneration, regular army and civilians looking upon Space Marines with awe, sentiment latter also extend to their Primarchs as ther best of the best. But this is also a time of change as Emperor extends his hand and allows Remembrancers to follow his Legions on their Crusade and document for posterity what is happening. This was a well done perspective that adds more to the novel than I originally expected because these are ultimately academics and artists trying to somehow co-exist and find time to interact with rugged Space Marines, dignitaries, etc to get their creative material. Glances at how these two different groups intermingle and what their opinions are on each other make for a sizable part of the read.

Other part is all action, though. And I couldn't be happier for the way it's handled considering you really get the feeling Space Marines are greater than life figures who get thrown into insane situations. Getting sent on a planet codenamed Murder is a bad sign, but they persevere despite some folly. Garviel is suitably appropriate for what transpires, yet I also really enjoyed seeing there is a person under all that armor with his own personality and opinions. Add to that other characters, be they his fellows or from other Legion with somewhat less friendly attitude, and you get a nuanced look at what are usually stereotypical FOR THE EMPEROR zealots. Running across other human cultures on Crusade's journey just adds more to this aspect of the novel.

So to come back to my earlier point – would I recommend Horus Rising? Yes. Even if you don't know much about Warhammer 40k this is a good novel in its own right. Not to say Abnett doesn't go to length to familiarize you with the setting, though. You will be comfortable with most of the terminology early on as it eases you in with the prologue scenario, but a lot more interesting parts happen internally as we see some wheels starting to move and characters adapting to change. Series certainly promises to be an interesting read if it stays on this level of quality.

There was no jerk of release; I was just suddenly falling.


Token of “TZEN STRONG” ₪ Genre: Science Fiction
☑ Publication date: April 1979
⇲ Pages: 217

Another day, another SF book. The Bug Wars sounds like such a generic title, but I found the book to be anything but looking back on it as a whole. One standout fact I wasn't aware of is that this is a relatively rare case of xenofiction aka fictional work distinctly not told from the human perspective. In our case at hand it involves alien point of view, but that quality alone almost makes it a worthwhile read because author had to put in extra effort to flesh out his characters on the most basic level. Or so I assume, at least.

As the book itself points out in the opening song lyrics following events are set at some point in time before humanity was a thing, era when species of insects and lizards were vying for dominance of the stars. We follow the lizard race, so-called Tzen empire, as they embark on another phase of their seemingly long spanning war against the insect coalition comprised of wasps, leapers and ants. Compared to them Tzen are a monolithic and warlike race with their people bred for cast role and our protagonist Rahm is one of the warriors who puts together an unlikely team, because it's not all-warriors the way they're expected to be when headed by a warrior leader, and leads them out into various dangers as they get stranded, play a pivotal role in uncovering enemy intelligence and resolve their own tensions.

Short novel covers what he and his team were doing during multiple offensives made on the coalition, but I honestly think events themselves take a backseat compared to inner group dynamics we become witness to as we get a window into Tzen society. Because of the nature of the book and seeing that I consider this to be the main draw over story, characters and all else I really won't go into detail, but I'll just touch on some things like how warriors, technicians and scientists have mutual distaste for others' caste yet clearly need each other, how given that you can change your cast based on talents can lead to some interesting skillsets that come useful in the wilderness and how familial ties in Tzen can become a tremendous liability because they cannot stand in the way of doing your duty.

Sadly this also brings me to the main problem of the novel – it's incredibly dry in its writing style. What I mean by this is little effort is made for scenes to really flow into each other and god help you with the dialog because it's utilitarian to the extreme and Rahm in particular often resorts to simple “Explain” which is then followed by a paragraph long literal explanation from other characters that doubles up as in-character lecture and conveying the message to us, the readers. I wouldn't even pick up on this if it wasn't so pervasive and ever-present in the book. Events are also clearly disjointed in flow of time, but that could be well explained because Tzen soldiers go to stasis between operations and it's never established how much time has, in fact, passed between major events. One small touch I like is how we're talking generations here and old cast comments how these newfangled Tzen can actually tell colors apart and are brasher with more self-initiative, but also less stoic and not as zealously willing to throw their life away.



In the end it's a pretty good read hampered by Asprin's writing style. I went in expecting action, and you will get some of it alongside exploration of lizard technology and military tactics, but the main appeal is most definitely the social angle. Ending probably left a bigger impact on me than I expected as certain someone wonders what will become of Tzen society now that it has to change.

There are terrors more profound than that of mere extinction.


Token of “MYSTERIES ARE A BITCH” ₪ Genre: Mystery, Horror
☑ Publication date: March 1993
⇲ Pages: 243

The Golden was not exactly what I expected it to be before diving in. Or should I say, priorities were turned on their head. In all too many vampire stories it's the vampirism that gets all the attention as the work becomes an exploration of the state itself, but in The Golden while still prevalent you can tell the whodunit mystery is the focal point and other elements are supposed to feed into it. In a sense I was reminded of David Brin's Sundiver except that was obviously a work of science fiction, but the same principle applied. Let's take a bite and see if holds up.

Imagine the following scenario – important vampires of Europe are gathering in old castle Banat in the middle of the 19th century for an event that's been in the making for the longest of time. So called Decanting where they'll partake in the finest blood that centuries of breeding and grooming can produce, contained in what is merely one mortal vessel – the Golden. Mark of prestige on its own, yet this gathering of immortals provides numerous other opportunities such as the ever-growing question of should the bloodlines spread out across the world further and set out to form new colonies as the Old World grows tiresome and stagnant. In the middle of all of this a tragedy strikes as the Golden is brutally murdered before sampling can take place, and our fledgling vampire Michael Beheim has to put his former Parisian inspector background to use in order to figure out who committed the deed before the Patriarch's time limit expires and potential suspects disperse never to be seen again. Will he succeed in navigating all the obstacles and rivals that stand in his way?

As you've surmised from the above it's a mystery story and protagonist fits the genre like a glove. In essence this is a perfect mystery premise with supernatural elements added on top of it, but aside from couple of trippy parts that really left me wondering “what's going on here?” towards the end I don't think the vampire element added that much to the work. Characters involved still fit general archetypes genre savvy readers will recognize and appreciate, but it sort of detracts from the puzzle at hand. It doesn't help you can figure out relatively early on who the culprit is if you've read these sorts of stories, though. Then again later on you can clearly tell there's more going on here than just hedonistic excess and loss of life. Maybe I would've been content if the book pulled more of a twist on me? Still, I would argue this is a matter of preference on my part and might depend entirely on the reader's experiences so far.

One notable aspect that struck me as rather is the way the book is written and I had to look it up to put into words because I'm not that experienced with old time-y English literature and it flew past me the novel was written in period-appropriate style with lots of foreshadowing and almost overbearing focus on gothic mood. I don't know what to think of it except that it may be the reason why The Golden is predictable if you start thinking about what is transpiring, but is also richly dense in conjuring imagery. Descriptions of the mysterious castle Banat with its purposefully nonsensical layout not really built for mortal lives, nature of vampiric Mysteries and vague tonality of what they are, etc. It seeps throughout the novel and really draws you in.

You might wonder why would I give this a middling recommendation if the summary is generally positive? Mainly due to mystery not holding up and resorting to pulling a rug under you towards the end to keep going. Maybe I'm not explaining it succinctly enough, though. I was also surprised at how a major discovery that could change lives of all vampires is almost hand-waived to keep the current events going.