Giff Wars: Introduction

A long time ago,

In a multiverse far far away…

 

The War of Ascension is over. The Giff Empire now consolidates

its’ power over the world through its use of advanced weaponry

and superior warfare techniques, that it brought with it from the stars.

but not all of the world is satisfied with subservience to the giff.

 

Many kingdoms balk against its power and are looking for a way

to overthrow the Empire, a fact the Empire is not blind to. Rumours

abound amongst the upper echelons of society of the giff dabbling

in magic and artificery, arts they have rejected since they crashed onto

the planet 500 years ago.

 

One House, once a Kingdom before the Giff Empire, has found plans to

related to a great giff weapon. A horrific blend of magic and their own

alien technology. House Organo must now find away to stop the Empire

before it is too late…

 

Next: The Hunt for Ubi (Coming Soon)

 

Advertisements

How many timelines are there in the X-Men film universe?

‘Mankind has always feared what it can’t understand.’

I watched ‘Dark Phoenix’ with my family over the weekend, which was an enjoyable film experience, and as we left the screen my Dad turned to me and said ‘So how does that all fit in with ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’?’

What followed was a rather long discussion with my family about where in the series of films ‘Dark Phoenix’ is placed, and how it is supposed to interact with the other films that have been published in the past decade of cinema.

This conversation made me realise that there needs to be a simple film timeline that explains what exactly links all the films that we see in the X-Men franchise.

And that is what I hope to set out here; the universal X-Men universe theory!

There will be spoilers for every film in the X-Men franchise ahead, but I will list the films I am about to talk about in each section, so you can avoid the spoilers before you see them.

There are 10 films in the X-Men movie universe (12 if you include Deadpool, which has its own little timeline) and everything was fine with the continuity (again I will address this at the end of the article) until Days of Future Past decided to add a little time travel into the mix.

Oh dear.

Retconning the ‘less good’ films out of the series must have seemed like a smart idea at the time, but then it means that people who have been following the franchise for the past 19 years get a little bit confused about what is and is not canon, particularly given the somewhat slap-dash approach to coninuity that the X-Men films have had since ‘Days of Future Past’.

But never fear!

That is what this article is all about, and hopefully by the end of it you will have a better understanding of what exactly is going on with these timelines!

Timeline 1: The Original Timeline

This timeline contains the following films:

  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
  • X-Men: First Class (2011)
  • X-Men (2000)
  • X2 (2003)
  • X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
  • The Wolverine (2013)
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

The original timeline is the all the events that lead up to the beginning of ‘Days of Future Past’. Wolverine has his origin story, Magneto and Xavier have their first class, Magneto attacks Liberty Island, and the mansion is attacked by William Striker. After this Jean Grey is killed by Wolverine, who, mourning over the loss of the woman he loved, goes to Japan, before the sentinels begin to kill everyone, resulting in Wolverine being sent back in time to prevent this.

The events of ‘Days of Future Past’ result in this timeline being deleted or maybe just ignored as the audience never find out what happens there.

We know this because when Wolverine returns to the ‘present’ both Professor Xavier and Jean Grey are back in the mansion, alive and well, suggesting that the films ‘X2’ and ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ never took place in this new timeline, as Jean Grey dies in both of those films and Professor Xavier dies in the later.

But not all is well that ends well…

Timeline 2: The Logan Timeline

 

This timeline has removed ‘X2’ and ‘X-men the Last Stand,’ and the sentinels from ‘Days of Future Past’ are never created, but it looks like nothing can truly stop the doomed fate of the mutants…

This timeline contains the following films:

  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
  • X-Men: First Class (2011)
  • X-Men (2000)
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
  • Logan (2017)

This is the timeline that Wolverine ‘returns’ to at the end of ‘Days of Future Past’. Wolverine prevented the creation of the sentinels, but mutants are dangerous and a conspiracy of mega corporations find a new, biological way to wipe out mutants. Professor Xavier in this timeline, not being killed by Jean Grey, lives into a ripe old age, and gets to experience the horrors of dementia and psychic siezures, as told in the film ‘Logan’.

‘Logan’ is one of the best films in the franchise and those of you that have seen the film know what happens here, it needs no further explanation. Those of you that haven’t seen it; I think you should watch it. Patrick Stuart and Hugh Jackman give their finest performances for characters they have played for the past 10 years, and it should not be missed.

So this is the timeline Wolverine returns to, but what about the timeline that Wolverine left when he ‘came back’ to the present?

Timeline 3: The Re-Boot Timeline

The films in this timeline are:

  • X-Men: First Class (2011)
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
  • X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
  • Dark Phoenix (2019)

This is the timeline that Wolverine leaves at the end of ‘Days of Future Past’, and some things are different in this timeline.

We know that Wolverine exists in this timeline and for some reason behind the scenes Mystique takes over the Weapon X Project in place of William Striker, at the end of ‘Days of Future Past’. Odd but hey she does stop and join the good guys again once she is done with her mutant experimentation. This means that the events of ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ probably happened in similar way to the other timelines with some minor variations to account for that particular body swap, but they are not portrayed by the films in this timeline. In fact you get a little hint of this side of things in ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ when the re-boot X-Men have to find their way out of the Alkali Lake facility portrayed in both ‘X2’ and ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’.

Following the events of ‘Days of Future Past’  the events of ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ happen and they are followed by the currently in cinema film ‘Dark Phoenix’. With this in mind all you would therefore need to see to be fully up to date with the story for ‘Dark Phoenix’ are the three re-boot films.

Look at that! A nice neat package!

It’s not like there are any films that throw a spanner in this perfectly working machine…

Deadpool

Well, I suppose I need to account for it somehow…

Timeline 4: The Deadpool Timeline

There are two confirmed films in this franchise are:

  • Deadpool (2016)
  • Deadpool 2 (2018)

So Deadpool definately takes place in the same universe as the other X-Men films. How do we know? Well in Deadpool 2 we see Quicksilver, Cyclops, Beast, Storm, Nightcrawler AND Professor Xavier all exist in their ‘reboot’ forms in this timeline. They are in his timeline, whether we like it or not. Although it is very fun to see.

We also know that Hugh Jackman, Ryan Reynolds and the DC film Green Lantern all exist as their own entities in the Deadpool universe. Yeah those fourth wall breaks care not one jot for continuity…

So how can we make heads or tales of this in a timeline perspective?

Here is my theory: The X-Men and Wolverine all exist in Deadpool’s universe. A universe where Deadpool clearly has a relationship with Wolverine. But in the Deadpool universe there are also films based on the X-Men’s stories. These films are similar or identical to the films we see in our real world – which is why Deadpool can reference ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ and ‘Logan’ in his films. He has seen the films, he has the action figures, and in his universe those are works of fiction portrayed by actors like Hugh Jackman, who is probably a lot better looking than the Wolverine he actually knows in world, that we never see on screen. It just so happens that in his reality the X-Men look startlingly like their movie actors…

…That works right?

So the coninuity works?

No.

The X-Men films have always been shocking when it comes to the finer details of timelines. The films cross over eachothers ‘timeframes’ haphazardly and without a care in the world. The X-Men never seem to age in the timeframe between 1960 and 1995, and this is just glossed over. To enjoy these films you just need to accept that this kind of thing happens.

But we can still laugh about them!

Some of my favourate continuity issues include:

  • Professor Xavier is standing and bald when he rescues the children in ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’, but loses the use of his legs whilst he still has hair in ‘X-Men First Class’.
  • Sabertooth goes from being able to speak perfectly in ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ to becoming a mute, who seems to not know who Wolverine is in the original ‘X-Men’.
  • Professor Xavier transfers his conciousness into a coma patient in ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ but has managed to transform back into his Patrick Stewart form, complete with non-working legs in ‘The Wolverine’ and ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’.
  • William Striker says ‘I used to think you were one of a kind,’ to Wolverine in ‘X2’ despite having performed an identical and very successful proceedure on Wade Wilson in ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ which would in no way suggest Wolverine was one of a kind.

These are just a few of these broken continuity details I particularly enjoy with the X-Men films.

If you have made it this far, Hi! Why don’t you share some of your favorate issues with the continuity of the X-Men franchise below, or pull at some of the plot holes that inevitably exist in my universal X-Men universe theory, I am curious to see what they are and see if we can fix them!

Until next time true believers!

Dark Souls: Video Game Literary Classics 101

‘If only I could be so grossly incandescent…’

Dark Souls

You sit in a cell in the Undead Asylum.

You cannot die, but you can be left to rot.

And so you wait.

You cannot remember who you are or how long you have waited, losing your humanity…

…until someone drops your key to freedom through a hole in the ceiling.

And with that key hope is kindled.

It is hard to be part of the modern video game and media world without being at least familiar with the name of the game Dark Souls. It became particularly popularised in internet circles for its punishing difficulty and the associated catchphrase ‘Git Gud’ which is often the only advice offered to individuals who struggle to progress with the game.

But if a high difficulty was all that made this game notable it would be quickly forgotten. After all a real challenge is presented by many video games out there, and other options can often be more accessible than Dark Souls, offering players difficulty sliders to fit their challenge preferences.

So what sets Dark Souls apart?

There is no simple answer to this question, which I think is part of the game’s beauty, but in this article we can explore some of the threads of this answer that I am more drawn to.

1) Your character is not special

When you start there is nothing spectacular about your player character. You are a husk of a human. You cannot die, but that is true of many in the world you inhabit. It is not a glorious immortality you experience, but a debilitating curse.

You spend the game trying to break this curse, but you are just as well equipped as any other undying human to do this. There are plenty of humans more skilled at fighting than you, better equipped, and you live in a world filled with fantastical beasts and lovecraftian horrors.

At no point in the game does your character become anything close to invincible or overpowered.

You could be strong enough to fight the final boss, and still be quickly killed by enemies in the starting area if you are careless. A fact that many people showcase when they perform runs of the game without levelling up at all.

So what impact does this have on the player experience?

When someone experiences a story they need a character that is their proxy to provide the experiences the reader needs to feel.

This is why you start the Lord of the Rings in Hobbiton with Frodo; you have a character that lives a simple ‘country life’ where events and happenings are a close analog to our real world. Frodo has little knowledge of the world outside those borders, any of the more fantastical elements of the world. But then Frodo moves out of Hobbiton into the unknown, and as he learns about the complex world he lives in, so do we. Frodo is our proxy.

In Dark Souls we are given that character; unskilled in combat, unknowing about the world, and unprepared for the task that is ahead.

But you get better.

The more you fight the more you learn how to respond to the enemy and how to beat them. Your character does not gain any special abilities to shortcut combat, but you personally get better at the combat that is functionally the same at the beginning of the game as it is at the end of it.

Your characters ability is directly proportional to your personal ability, and if you are not winning in a fight, you can only, generally, win if you personally learn how to be better at fighting in game. This dynamic is what gets commonly reduced to ‘Git Gud’ on forums. There is not a shortcut to success and death is part of the experience.

With that in mind.

2) Failure is part of the journey

You will die in Dark Souls.

If someone says that they have played Dark Souls without dying I would be confident in calling that person a liar.

Why?

Because you are meant to die in Dark Souls.

This was a fact I personally struggled with when I first started playing the game, often switching off the console before the death properly registered and autosaved.

It was rage and frustration that led me to do this.

In most games death is a fail state, a sign that you were not good enough to succeed. It is something I have been trained over the years to avoid as much as possible. And the impact of this attitude was obvious when I first played Dark Souls.

I was afraid to progress.

I was afraid of moving away from safe-zones, and areas where I knew the layout of enemies.

Because I was afraid of dying in game.

But the game is more fun when you take the plunge and accept you will die. You still need to be cautious and careful to progress, but if you fear the consequences of failure you will not progress at all.

Death in Dark Souls is part of the story. The game continues after you die. You return to life at the last bonfire you rested at. Items you used before your death are gone, but your experience remains. This is because your death is canon within the game. The thing that sets your character apart from the hollow undead you see scattered around the world is that you keep striving to reach your goal, whilst the hollows stopped trying.

You as the player keep playing, keep trying and keep learning from mistakes of the past.

In doing so you work out how to overcome the challenges you face and if you persevere you will eventually succeed.

You succeed in the same way as your character succeeds. Dying constantly and learning from that experience.

In this the game does something clever. On one level it helps you the player to learn that it is okay to not succeed. Failure is not a permanent state, nor is it a final state. It is just a step that you, and everyone else, must experience in the continued story that is life. Learning that failure is not the end is an important lesson in life, and Dark Souls incorporates this lesson into the heart and soul of the game.

On another level your character reaches their goal by learning that lesson as well. They are a human that is only remarkable in one respect. They persevere. That is the story that Dark Souls tells. An unremarkable individual with no particular talents or abilities will defeat the strongest creatures in the world, because they persevere and do not give up despite the setbacks they face.

3) Your character does not achieve the goal they set out to complete.

This part of the article contains major story spoilers, so if you do not want the ending to this game spoiled before you can play it, I would stop reading now and return once you have played it.

When you first start the game you have no particular goal. You are given a goal by way of a prophesy from the man to rescues you from your cell; to end the curse of undying.

To do this you must ring the bells of awakening.

And so your character sets out, fighting through enemies and monsters. But you never actually manage to end this curse.

It is something beyond you.

You are informed by Kingseeker Frampt, the primordial serpent that is awoken by the bells of awakening, that it is your job to succeed Gwyn, Lord of Cinder.

You must succeed Gwyn and preserve the Age of Fire by linking the first flame.

Which involves burning yourself in the first flame that will feed off the eternal strength of your undying soul.

You are destined to sacrifice yourself to keep the first flame alive and stop the growing darkness. You are told this will cure the curse of undying.

Unless you meet Darkstalker Kaathe before Kingseeker Frampt.

Darkstalker Kaathe is hard to find accidentally in game, but he lets you know the truth, or a kind of truth.

Kingseeker Frampt is not your friend.

He seeks only to keep the fires lit, a failing and ultimately fruitless task.

If you meet the Darkstalker you can instead choose to let the fires die, and you walk off into an uncertain future.

You do not learn what becomes of your character in this ending. All you know is that the light has died and darkness will grow.

So what is important about this choice? Surely the Darkstalker’s plan is evil? shouldn’t light live on?

Maybe not.

Your character is told a story where light is good and dark is evil, and so preservation of the light prevents evil from growing.

But your character is lied to.

At the Kiln of the First Flame you meet Gwyn, Lord of Cinder. A husk of what he once was. A hollow shell, like so many of the undying that you have met before him.

The light is slowly failing and the world is stuck in a strange limbo. People don’t die, much like the fires of the first flame, and the world looks tired.

Maybe, just like how it is natural for people to die, the flames should be allowed to go out.

Maybe there is potential for something new, in a world of ashes than the world of the dying flame.

After all the Age of Fire came after the Age of Ancients, in which nothing changed and everything was stagnant. Gwyn felt this was not good but now fights to preserve his own unchanging age, fighting against the most fundamental of processes in life: change.

Dark Souls plays off of our traditional pre-loaded notions of good and evil.

Humans are naturally phototropic beings, being drawn towards the light.

But the world of Dark Souls is not our own.

And that instinct is being used to manipulate us.

Ultimately your character does not manage, as far as they know, to break the curse of the undying.

They will either let the flame die and usher in the age of darkness, or they will spend the rest of their lives burning, until the Kingseeker finds a new undying to take your place, and an endless cycle continues.

The ‘good’ ending is unknowable.

They are both debatable.

Both have dire consequences. You and your character have no unique insight into the situation.

You lack the full understanding of as to what the consequences of your actions are.

But you must choose to do one or the other, or consign yourself to slowly hollowing, losing what humanity you have left.

Conclusion

These are just 3 aspects of Dark Souls that make it the classic game it is. Much more can be said about the game, which I may touch on at a later article, but for now I will conclude with this.

Dark Souls tells a human story.

An unremarkable human without perfect knowledge sets out to try and help the world.

They face challenges and setbacks, but they grow, and develop as they learn from their mistakes and overcome their challenges.

They reach points in their life where decisions need to be made, but they are uncertain as to what is the best course of action.

They have the power to shape or change the world by their perseverance, but do not know how they actions can affect everything.

And you the player join them through this experience.

You make the choices in imperfect knowledge, build up the skills, test your perseverance, and are left unsure as to whether or not you made the world a better place or a worse one.

You can convince yourself either way.

But you will never know.

This game is a classic because is speaks to those fundamental human drives of overcoming adversity, and finding purpose.

But you do not know what impact your life will have.

And that is all part of the human story.

This article is part of Backlog Crusader’s Video Game Literary Classics 101. If you are interested in more of these articles follow this link to read more!
If you like this article check out more of my video game articles here.

 

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

A defeated shinobi sits in a well. No companions. No sword. No hope. An unknown figure drops an item down to them, an item that gives them hope as they pick themselves up to fight another day.

Sekiro_03

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice opens on a familar note for a From Software game, and one that harkens back to the first Dark Souls game, which truly brought From Software into the mainstream gaming conciousness.

Since its realease Sekiro has garnered a reputation for being punishingly difficult even for, or maybe particularly for seasoned From Software fans. This issue in essence revolves around the difference in combat that From Software introduces in this game; the emphasis on parrying. In Demon Souls and Dark Souls you can block and roll your way to victory, in Bloodborne you dodge and parry when you can to go in for the kill, but in Sekiro you stand your ground and parry until your opponent’s posture breaks, leaving you with an opening. That is the basic design and combat flows, with variation, around this core combat component.

I have played Demon Souls, Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne. I have only completed Demon Souls, and as such I view myself as an experienced player, but not an expert by any stretch of the imaination, and I have the strong tendancy to play these games offline for fear that an invading player will decimate me. My enjoyment tends to come more from the exploration of these immersive worlds rather than the PvP elements, a view I am aware is akin to sacrilege in certain circles. Out of all of these games Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the game that I have found most accessible.

The first thing to be said about this game is that it is beautiful. It is set in a fictional 15th century Japan and brings all of the known From Software artistic style to From Software’s home country, stepping away from the pseudo-european settings of previous games. Your character runs and glides through the air, climbing pagodas and cliffs, with a range and freedom of movement that has not been seen in the games the company has produced so far. Your charcter can run and jump and climb, and this is augmented with a grappling hook that allows you to take to the rooftops and approach the game from a different angle. This freedom of movement makes the game all the more fun to explore than the previous glued to the ground games that From Software has made.

This freedom of movement also results in a new way to approach enemies that again was never a formally implemented system in other games; stealth. I love a good stealth game, and Sekiro has an effective stealth system that works fluidly with the combat mechanics. You can get through most combat situations by stealthily killing targets before they see you, and most bosses can have their first health bar wiped out by a stealth attack. Sometimes stealth can feel a bit like cheesing the game, but combat is challenging enough that occasionally running away and hiding becomes a vital part of surviving the game. You are, afterall, a shinobi; a ninja. You attack quickly and quietly and slip back into the shadows before you can be caught.

The game is a challenge and is filled with mini-bosses that are designed as skill checks to keep your abilities honed, but it is not the impossible game that it has been portrayed as by many individuals who have played it. The checkpoints are far more frequent In Sekiro when compared to previous From Software games, so lost progress is rarely significant, and losing money and experience rarely feels like the anxiety inducing panic it can be in other From Software games. This worry over death is further reduced by the fact that you cannot recover lost money and experience. When it is gone it is gone. The feeling of finality removes the stress of the second run to recover lost items that is present in all prevous From Software games. The reduction of these death penalties is counterbalanced by the Dragonrot mechanic. The more times you die in Sekiro the more the NPC’s you interact with suffer with an affliction called Dragonrot. This affliction prevents NPC stories from progressing further, so if you want to follow those stories you need to keep those deaths down. If however you are less interested in the worldbuilding then it means you can focus on the gameplay with minimal death consequences which allow you to bounce back into combat quickly after deaths.

This reduction in death penalties means that I can sit down with the game for a about an hour and beat a boss with minimal backtracking from the 1-5 deaths it takes to find the best technique to beat them. This game structure is perfect for gaming in your spare time when you have a busy life, whilst still feeling like you are making significant game progress.

The combat is fast, and unforgiving, but deceptively simple. You time your blocks with the enemy attacks and strike back in the openings you make. There are several kinds of unblockable attack you must dodge or counter to avoid, and you can then punish the enemy with the opening you have created. Every fight fits this pattern, with different emphasis put on different aspects of the combat system, without fully breaking away. Coming from Dark Souls, where a visibly heavy attack must be dodged and not blocked for fear of having your block broken, it takes some getting used to. You are able to block and parry the moveset of creatures twice your size, and once you adapt to this you feel incredibly powerful in combat, despite the vulnerability of your flimsy life gauge.

If you enjoy a From Software games it is likely you will enjoy this game, but you will have to adapt how you fight (Remember parry, don’t roll). If you find From Software paced too slowly, then this game may be what you are looking for. I love this game and it fits my gameplay style perfectly. I will always recommend this game, but with the following caveat. The game does require a base level of skill in relation to timing. As many reviews have highlighted, if you don’t adapt to the combat you will not have a good time. If you are familiar with modern gaming you probably have all the skills you need to enjoy this game, but it does not go easy on you if you if you do not meet that base requirement. However if you do, then there is not a From Software game I can recommend more to someone who has not played one before, or someone who is looking for something fresh from the makers of the Soulsborne games.

If you like this article check out more video game impressions here.

 

Stardew Valley

A Beautiful journey into the countryside idyl.

Platform: iOS

Stardew Valley opens with your character working a dead end job for the mega conglomerate Jojo Corp. Tired of the city rat race your character turns to an envelope gifted by your grandfather on his deathbed. Opening the letter you learn that your grandfather has left you his farm in the quaint Pelican Town in the epinomious Stardew Valley.

Stardew Valley is a game that never stood out to me as a game I wanted to play when it first came out; farming simulators are not my cup of tea, or so I thought.

I have played the game for several hours, picking it up on a commute or in a lunch break, and the game fits this style of gameplay perfectly. It has beautiful pixel graphics and a charming soundtrack, two things that I loved about publisher Chucklefish’s own game Starbound. Stardew Valley invites you to dip your toe into the country bumpkin lifestyle, growing crops, farming animals and making friends with the residents of the small town trying to cope with the difficulties of village life in a world increasingly based around city economies.

The stress of actual farming (crops unexpectedly failing, trying to find a buyer for your produce, business management) is stripped away leaving a zen plant, wait and explore dynamic, which is peaceful relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable. It is the perfect game to experience the escape to the country dream through.

The game has a variety of farm maps to pick from, although you only choose once per save file, in the character creation screen, and you can customise the layout and interior of your farm buildings, if you choose to have any. You can grow crops or farm animals, you can process the products these produce into more valuable artisan goods, you can explore and fight monsters in mines, or you can go around the town making friends with the NPCs and start a family with children.

The game has a tight knit play-cycle, with 1 hour on the in-game clock equating to roughly 1 minute realtime, meaning each in game day is 15-18 minutes long in realtime depending on when you send your character to sleep. This short day cycle fits a mobile game perfectly, it is designed for you to be able to spend 20 minutes enjoying when you have a moment, and it is a genuinely relaxing 20 minutes.

The short play-cycle does lead to the old ‘I will do just one more thing and stop playing – oh dear how did I keep playing for another hour?’ situation, but as this is not a game designed to get you addicted in the manner of many mobile games, and you incur no penalty for just ending playtime for a while, there are no daily rewards or in-app purchase systems to dig into your brain. I have an addictive personality when it comes to those kinds of games and it was a genuinely stress relieving experience to realise that I can come away from the game and miss no limited events or daily bonuses if I forget to play one day. I can truly play at my leisure.

If you have the money to spare and even a passing interest in what this game has to offer I fully recommend purchasing it. I was uncertain about it prior to purchase, and it has turned into one of the most enjoyable games own, a window into a beautiful pixel world, and a perfect break from the stress of city life.

If you like this article check out more video game impressions here.

 

Book Review: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

‘The Wheel of Time turns, and ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.’

51nDTUXFvaL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_

I am a big fan of epic fantasy. I love the Lord of the Rings, despite how over-written it can feel, I enjoyed Eragon, before I found out that it follows the same story as Star Wars Episode IV, and I love George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. So I was surprised when I discovered that I had missed out on a large fantasy epic series that was fairly well known named The Wheel of Time.

Much like The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire, The Wheel of Time series is author Robert Jordan’s magnum opus. There are 13 books in the series, and Robert Jordan passed away before finishing the last two, which were finished using his notes, in the same manner as Christopher Tolkien has constructed and published the books his father had written or intended to write when he died.

I have only read the first book so far; The Eye of the World, and whilst it certainly has the narrative cliff hangers that pull the story into the rest of the series, it does not prevent the book from being a fully self-contained story. This makes it perfect for someone to pick up if they are uncertain about committing to a 13 part series; you can read the book and if you don’t want to spend longer in the world, you will at least have the satisfaction of a complete story, loose threads being more of an intrigue as to what the future may hold than an story arc that feels unsatisfactorily left open.

The Eye of the World follows the story of a group of village youths, Rand, Mat, and Perrin, being taken from their town by a mysterious Aes Sedai; a sorcerous woman whose power is feared by everyone in the village and surrounding towns. The youths are pursued by an evil force and they spend the book coming to understand why this evil wants them so desperately and what they can do to protect themselves.

This summary makes the book sound like a fairly standard heroes journey, and it does have some very familiar story beats to The Fellowship of the Ring, but where I think Robert Jordan’s book really sets itself apart is its cosmology.

This cosmology takes heavy influences from East and South Asian mysticism, with time being an unending wheel where key world events happen unerringly in cycles, a cycle of death and rebirth, all of which is fuelled by the One Power, a fundamental force of Robert Jordan’s universe. This Power is the source of all magic, and is divided into male and female halves, two parts of a whole, that can only be touched by those of the corresponding sex. But there is not balance; One half of the One Power has been tainted by evil and cannot be safely channeled. These light and dark halves of a whole evoke the concept of ying and yang to continue the East Asian faith theme.

This underlaying cosmological groundwork is placed under a more traditional good versus evil framework, with similar language used as is found in Abrahamic faith; there is a good but distant creator, mysterious and unknowable, and a devil character, named Shaitain, who takes an active part in corrupting the world, as well as creating evil creatures to serve him in a manner similar to Morgoth and Sauron from The Lord of the Rings.

There is a lot going on with these concepts and the question of what happened to the One Power and whether it can be restored to purity appears to be a thread that will be picked up on in later novels, however the cosmology does not bog down the storytelling. We slowly learn more and more about it as a flavour and explanation for the character development we see as we progress. It facilitates the story rather than constraining it, and this is what helps make the story so gripping. The fantastical rules of this world are very different from the rules we see in Tolkien or Martin’s work, and it is interesting to see how these different rules shape the archetypal characters that we are introduced to.

This book is an accessible and enjoyable read. It is familiar fantasy with a distinct and unique flavour that keeps the reader hooked throughout.

If you like fantasy stories and have not found The Wheel of Time series, I would recommend reading this book, as it provides a new and interesting world to enjoy. It is more accessible than Tolkien, and less convoluted than Martin with similarities to both whilst still feeling fresh.

If however fantasy is not your cup of tea, The Eye of the World is not so different that it is likely to change your mind. It is a book firmly grounded in the fantasy genre and takes it in an interesting direction, but not so far away that you no longer have people with swords fighting bad guys that are embodiments of evil, and evil is evil for evil’s sake.

If you like this article check out more book reviews here.

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

‘Before the beginning there was nothing – no earth, no heavens, no stars, no sky; only the mist world, formless and shapeless, and the fire world, always burning.’

91oTGjPGvDL

In Norse Mythology Neil Gaiman invites us to pull up a seat by the fire with our friends and family and listen as we learn about the gods and how they shaped the world.

The book is Neil Gaiman’s retelling of 15 tales from the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, and it effectively transports the reader into the place of early Scandinavians, looking for meaning in the world; an explanation for why things are the way they are, and what qualities one should have if they wish to please the gods.

Each chapter is a separate tale, and can be read individually, or as a series of highlights in the massive timeline that is existence itself. The stories are clear to read and easy to understand for the modern reader, with a narrative style more similar to the Hobbit than the Lord of the Rings. Every detail given adds to the readers understanding of the world, the gods and their relationships, and gives clues as to the stories that we are not told, all without bogging down the narrative or leading to confusion.

Reading this book reacquainted me with stories that I read as a child. I half remember reading the stories of when Thor and Loki travelled to Jotenheim and were tested by the giants, and that Loki was somehow the mother of Odin’s horse Sleipnir, but I could never remember the details. Now, thanks to Neil Gaiman’s masterful retelling these stories are firmly fixed in my mind.

The stories this book tells have not only informed my understanding of the old Norse culture, but continue to inform my experience of more modern media, such as the God of War remake, and Marvel’s Thor movies. Having an understanding of source material allows you to better appreciate the creativity of the authors of these newer stories and interpretations, which I have found improves my enjoyment of these other media, although my friends and family might not appreciate the little ‘did you knows’ I now have at my fingertips when we watch Thor: Ragnarok…

There were parts of this book where I thought the writing was a touch over simplistic, explaining a bit too much, but in the same breath, these are stories you could read to children almost verbatim, and it would be enjoyed. There is always a balance to be struck with accessible storytelling, and I believe that Neil Gaiman has achieved that balance with this book.

If you have even a passing interest in Norse mythology, or the modern stories that have been influenced by it, I would recommend reading this book. It is a short, easy read that, that does not require you to be a linguist to enjoy.

If you like this article check out more book reviews here.

God of War

Kratos has killed the entire pantheon of Olympus, and the world is torn asunder.

Everyone is dead.

The world is flooded.

But through it all, like a butterfly from Pandora’s box, there is a trace of hope.

If you are looking for an experience similar to the God of War franchise of old, this game is probably not for you. Gone are the fixed camera angles, floaty combat and quick time events. But the developers have replaced these things with something unexpected. They have given God of War a heart.

The old God of War games were well-known for the way they fitted every teenagers idea of what makes a game cool. Blood, guts, giant monsters, sexy women willing to sleep with you for no apparent reason, more blood and guts and a whole lot of extreme anger towards everything and everyone. It was a teenage angsty game, and much like those who played it in the early 2000’s, it has grown up.

The game opens with a much older-looking Kratos, cutting down a tree in the woods, with a young boy – his son. the first thing you do is finish preparing a funeral pyre for your wife, the mother to your son.

It is slow.

It is intimate.

It is heartfelt.

Your wife’s last wish?

To have her ashes scattered at the highest peak in all the realms.

This is the basis for your journey, and so you travel with your son to complete his mother’s last wish. Atreus, or ‘boy’ as Kratos tends to call him, has lived a sheltered life and is learning about the world and, importantly, about his father. It is apparent that there is not much of a relationship between Kratos and his son, and you, the player, are taken on the journey as they come to learn more about each other and about the world that they share. And they kill alot of things on the way.

The game is not as gratuitous as in previous titles, but it does not shy away from violence. Kratos still tears enemies apart, but combat has been reworked to feel heavier, more methodical, appropriate for an old god that has lived with all the sins of his past. You fight alongside your son, who slowly becomes a more proficient fighter as you fight alongside him, until by the end-game he becomes a force of nature by himself, able to dispatch enemies before you have to. The game is at its core still an action platformer, that has been reworked for a modern audience, and the action is tight, taking incluences from the evasive combat of Dark Souls, and the fluid multi-attack combat of the Batman Arkham games. The most you get for quick-time events will be occasional finishing moves against larger opponants, but the loss of these is not necessarily a bad thing, in a world where QTE’s have been done to death, following the early God of War games. The game’s story is linear but there is a large central hub for exploration if you wish to tickle that free-roaming itch, which is appropriately awards players who care to look with lore and skills and items to help you make things deader faster.

The game itself is set within the nine-realms of Norse mythology, a world that it captures beautifully. The icy environments are simply stunning, as snow blows around a grizzled and bearded Kratos, the world feels real. I thought the game was so beautiful that I bought the God of War Art Book so that I could revel in the juicy concept art that made such a visually delightful game.

But for all of the tight combat and beautiful graphics, it is the story where God of War truly sets itself apart.

The parent-child dynamic feels deeply personal. Seeing Atreus grow and who he is becoming becomes a central theme throughout this game and it is one that feels particularly hard-hitting given the knowledge that you the player and Kratos have about who Kratos is and what he has done. The story is emotive as Kratos hides who he was from his son, in the hopes that his son can be different, and not shaped by his own past, but his son is still affected by Kratos’ issues with emotional communication, which are a consequence of everything Kratos has done.

This game is a solid action platformer with beautiful graphics. I have completed the game, and have almost got a platinum trophy from completing all the side-quests, so I have squeezed about as much as I can out of the game, and I have enjoyed every second of it. The older God of War games were not particularly to my taste, but if you like a good character exploration story, with healthy doses of Norse mythology, and tight action, then the new God of War will be right up your alley.

If you like this article check out more video game impressions here.

No Man’s Sky – A Zen Exploration

I have a full-time job.

I have a young child who I have to put to bed as soon as I get home after a long work day.

I have very little mental capacity to focus on anything when I finally sit down and rest.

No Man’s Sky has been my game of choice for these days.

I have Dark Souls, The Witcher 3, and even Metal Gear Solid: Phantom Pain in my catalog of games I need to finish, but these are all games that require more thought and mental activity than I can muster at the end of a long day, as I am sure more than a fair number of ‘grown-up’ video game fans can attest to. It is in this exhausted mental void that I discovered the beauty that is No Man’s Sky.

At its launch No Man’s Sky was a monumental flop with everyone who had been interested in the game. I was not one of those people, having heard of No Man’s Sky in video game media, but nothing about it seemed to spark my curiosity. This is something I am incredibly grateful for, as it means I have not approached the game from a place of previously being burned by it. In the years since initial release No Man’s Sky has had several large updates, including Atlas Rises and NEXT. After these updates I found it selling for £10 on the PlayStation Store, and noted that it had started to get some positive reviews. I figured I would give it a shot, if the game was rubbish I wouldn’t need to cry over it. With this in mind I took to the stars.

This is not so much a review, as there are plenty of those elsewhere, as it is a record of my experience with this controversial game. I really love this game. I have recorded about 32 hours gameplay, and it has been a relaxing exploration through the vast emptiness of space. I have a handful of personal ships and one large Freighter, which I treat mostly as storage for the various items I collect. I have the beginnings of a base, which I initially built simply to further one of the in-game questlines, but have slowly started to add to as my desire to do so has grown. There are lots of ‘bits’ to do, lots of quests, which are generally not my cup of tea and I simply activate so they can be fulfilled in the background to reward my own exploration, but they mostly follow the same formula and get repetitive easily. However the exploration truly is the name of this game.

My favourite thing to do in No Man’s Sky is land on a planet I like to look of, so no scorched or barren ones thank you very much, and just explore. Scanning all the animals I can find, looking for strange new plants on the surface, then hopping in my ship, flying a bit further around the planet, and hopping out again to see if there is anything I have missed. Ensuring I stop by any outposts on the surface, and have a good old-fashioned loot, is simple and repetitive, but the infinite variation of kinds of animals and plants makes this experience a tranquil one. With headphones on you become your traveller, listening for the squeaks or creaks of animals, exploring caves, or just stopping to get a beautiful view of the procedurally generated universe. The photo above I took on a toxic planet, which I just thoroughly enjoyed exploring. I can’t put my finger on what it was about this planet that kept me exploring for several evenings in a row, but it was an immersive and compelling experience, that truly helped me to relax at the end of a long day.

no-mans-sky_20180819191735-e1538941701463.jpg
Giant antlered care-bears are the perfect way to relax at the end of the day.

With the approach I take to exploration the piecemeal storyline and drips of information as and when you find specific monoliths or computers works perfectly. I am not playing this game desiring a story, and so the little bits I pick up on different planets make me feel like an archeologist picking through the pieces of an ancient civilisation. I can see how this game is not everyone’s cup of tea, and in a different life I think I would be among those people, but when you are exhausted, sometimes it is nice to just take to the stars and see what you can find.

There is a kind of multiplayer in this game, but I don’t enjoy other people entering my game-space. I like multiplayer in other games, but when it comes to No Man’s Sky, having another player on your isolated planet is like having someone trampling on your freshly planted flowerbed, it interrupts the very thing you are there to enjoy. Whenever someone starts to connect to my currently habited galaxy I always get that feeling of ‘out of all the galaxies in the universe you had to warp into mine’. Which is quite funny given the name of the game. The feeling of isolation is one that I crave in-game, and this is probably due to the strain of being an introvert working in a very extrovert-centric job.

This game is a real joy. Is it perfect? No. is it grindy? Kinda. Is fun? absolutely. This limitless, isolated exploration is something that will keep me coming back to No Man’s Sky for years to come, when I get tired of the story driven games I tend to be drawn to, and with its recent update, that I will soon be playing, I am looking forward to many new and interesting things to discover.

If you like this article check out more video game impressions here.

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

Create your website at WordPress.com
Get started