Sunday, December 27, 2015

Thor: the Dark World Review

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Before I say anything, know that I haven't been disappointed by any of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So when I say that Thor: The Dark World is way better than the original Thor, I want you to understand that I'm not hating on the original; the second is just so good!

I think that part of it is that in the first movie we watched him wandering around on Earth for quite a while without his hammer, which really isn't as cool as watching Thor bringing order to the nine realms and celebrating with his fellow Asgardians. The enemy he faces is also much more high-stakes than before, even when compared to The Avengers. This is only possible because they largely moved away from Earth in this movie, though it does play a large role towards the end.

We also get to see a lot more of Thor's family, and how Loki's actions during The Avengers are affecting all of them. I can appreciate them all more now as people, which is always a critical part in how much I get invested in a story.

Speaking of getting invested in a story: as with any action movie, tons of people die during the huge battles that take place. But it isn't often that an action movie takes the time to have a memorial scene for the characters they just killed, and it really touched me.

The movie also doesn't disappoint from a comedy standpoint. There were plenty of good one-liners and hilarious moments of character interaction that even had me laughing the second time I saw the movie.

Overall, definitely a worthy addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Dishonored: Knife of Dunwall, Brigmore Witches Review

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Dishonored was one of my favorite games from last year; when I heard that they were coming out with DLC that would expand on the story, I was super excited.

As you know, at the beginning of Dishonored the Empress was assassinated. In these DLCs you are playing as Daud, the guy who assassinated her. It picks up soon after the assassination, when the Outsider pays Daud a visit and tells him that important things were happening with someone named Delilah. Over the course of the two DLCs this vague hint plays out into a conspiracy that threatens the entire empire.

Daud of course has many of the same powers as Corvo, with a few additions. The most notable is that he can call in a fellow assassin to help him out. I personally did not use that power because I was going for a low chaos playthrough. I thought it was very clever of Arkane to introduce Daud as the player character. No matter how you played the main game, you could justify playing Daud however you wanted. He is an assassin, so going high chaos makes sense; on the other hand, maybe he is tired of killing and is looking for redemption. I of course followed the latter course.

Each DLC has three chapters and took me over five hours to play, so price-to-gametime it is very reasonable. The Knife of Dunwall of course ends on a cliffhanger, which confused me at the time because I didn't know that The Brigmore Witches was coming as well.

Delilah, as it turns out, is another individual who has been given powers by the Outsider. Like Daud, she has a lot of followers who she shares some of her powers with. This only comes into play in the final couple of maps where you have to contend with people who can teleport.

Well somebody had to eat the babies.

I wanted her to be comfortable when she wakes up.

I'm really glad that Arkane gave us the opportunity to flesh out Daud's character and learn more about him. It gives the decision I made in the core game a lot more meaning. If you enjoyed Dishonored at all, you should definitely get The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Lords of the Sith Review

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Surprise, the Star Wars universe has another book out! Actually, by the time I finished reading Lords of the Sith, they came out with yet another book. Today I'll be focusing on three things: how good a book is it; how important it is in the Star Wars universe; and how important it is as a cultural artefact.

So, is it a good book? I enjoyed it! It had a logical plot of events, and remained focused around them. I never felt like the book was dragging on. The book switched perspectives throughout, showing the events from the point of view of all of the major characters. This was both a blessing and a curse: I found it refreshing to get in the minds of so many characters, but as a result there were almost zero surprises or plot twists.

One aspect that was a mild surprise was the fact that we finally get to see Darth Vader exercising the full extent of his power. I've always felt like Vader was overrated in pop culture, because we've never really seen him do anything really impressive. This book along with the ongoing Darth Vader comic book has rectified that issue. On the other hand, I have now come to the conclusion that Vader never got over his melodramatic teenager phase. Seriously, look at this sentence about how he felt being attacked by a predator: "None penetrated his armor, and what little pain they managed to inflict could not surpass the pain he carried always within him." And Vader isn't the only one; at one point the Emperor chooses aliases for himself and Vader, and "other than the Emperor, only Vader knew the false names were ancient Sith words that meant 'death' and 'fate.'"

My biggest criticism of the book is that it gets very repetitive in its wording. Kemp uses the same phrases multiple times to describe similar situations. For example, during a single battle scene we might get three or four instances of "Vader fell more deeply into the force." Or when describing interactions between Twi'lek, he talks about their lekku twitching in excitement or their skin darkening in embarrassment.

Another issue I had was that some of the information about events seemed inconsistent. This included things like a character being ordered to do something, but on the next page she was doing something else and a different character was doing what she had been ordered to do. Another example was the body count in Darth Vader's group. I became very confused when there was suddenly one more character alive than I expected.

On the other hand, there were some very clever moments in the book. In particular I enjoyed an insult I had never heard before: "you speak as though all your words had a serif." It's a good insult, but it's also hilariously hypocritical.

Those were all things that a general audience would care about in a book. But what about the dedicated Star Wars fan? Well, Lords of the Sith does fill in some of the large gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, showing us a resistance movement that existed before the rebellion really got started. It seems like this is a similar purpose to that of Star Wars Rebels, though the Free Ryloth movement in Lords of the Sith seems to operate on a much larger scale. I don't want to spoil anything, but they accomplish something that according to one character had never happened before. That being said, nothing that happens in this book are huge, galaxy-changing events. Think of them as B-level events.

Kemp ties things in nicely to other pieces of Star Wars lore. Cham Syndulla is a major character in Lords of the Sith; he first appeared in The Clone Wars, and his daughter Hera is one of the main characters in Rebels and A New Dawn. Darth Vader also does a lot of reflecting on his past, which we all know about very well. I appreciate these references, because they give a greater sense that all these works exist in the same universe.

And finally, how does Lords of the Sith hold up as a cultural artefact? What are the values it promotes? It is significant in that it is the first time that we get an official LGBTQ character in Star Wars canon. The presentation of this in the book was exactly as I would hope: it wasn't even presented as an issue. None of the characters in the book thought it was odd, and she was even an Imperial Moff, so we know that it isn't a controversial subject in the Star Wars universe.

Cham Syndulla is a great example of a fighter whose principles guide his actions. Far too often we see situations presented with such high stakes that everyone accepts that the ends justify the means. Sometimes they bring up the issue of "if we do this, we're as bad as the enemy!" but usually in those cases another solution presents itself. Here, Cham has to do the best with what he has. I'm really happy to see this. Next I want to see pacifism portrayed in a positive light in Star Wars.

As I said, I really enjoyed Lords of the Sith. It was funny at times, some awesome feats were performed by Vader and the Emperor, and it moves the Star Wars franchise forward in the social progressive front. It has its flaws, certainly, but the book moves fast enough that you will quickly leave any subpar sections behind for more exciting things.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Dream: Bow Warfare

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I'm trying to escape from Dumbledore's house with some important information. I go to a window on the left (second floor) just as a group of young men come to the front door. One of them comes over towards my window to break in. He throws a grappling hook up, but I snip the line.

Seeing this, he takes out an enormous compound bow and shoots an arrow at me. I barely dodge to the right to avoid it. I drop down to crawl under the window to the left side of the room. He knows that I was laying on the floor, so his next few arrows come in as low as he can make them. Luckily it is physically impossible for him to get them low enough. I get to the left side of the room and grab the mattress off the bed. I prop it up in front of the window so he can't see in. He shoots through it anyway. He misses, but I let out a pained yell to make him think I was hit. Hearing this, he decides to come up. For some dream logic reason, that means he has to throw his bow through the window before coming up.

As he is climbing the rope on his second grappling hook, I grab his bow and nock an arrow. The bow has way more resistance than I am used to, and there are several tense seconds where I am unsure if I will be able to draw it back before he gets to the window. Luckily I manage just before his forehead appears over the window sill. I put an arrow through his skull and he falls back to earth.

I climb down and grab the rest of his arrows, thinking of using them to take out his friends who are still at the front door. The dream ends before I can do that.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons Review

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I recently became interested in getting a few controllers with the intention of playing local multiplayer games with friends when they come over. A happy side effect to this is that I can also play games that are better suited to a gamepad than mouse and keyboard.

Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons has a very good reason for requiring you to use a controller; it is a single player game where you control two characters. The control scheme is very simple on paper: the older brother moves with the left analog stick and interacts with the left trigger, and the younger brother moves with the right analog stick and interacts with the right trigger. In reality it is very easy to get them mixed up, especially when the older brother ends up to the right of the younger brother. Luckily any time there is a puzzle element that requires each brother to be in a particular spot, the younger brother is almost always to the left of the older brother.
The puzzles almost always involve the two brothers working together, and more often than not they utilize each of their unique skill sets. For example older brother can pull heavy levers, and younger brother can slip through narrow bars. The puzzles are usually not very difficult to figure out, and very rarely are they a test of the player's finesse. This means that from a gameplay point of view, Brothers is entirely counting on its unique core concept. Luckily it is a short game (about three hours) so the novelty does not have time to wear off.
The story is another strong point. Everyone in the game speaks a fictional language, which leaves only the character's body language and tone of voice to convey their message. The result is that you usually have a vague idea of what they are saying, but a very clear impression of the emotions they are feeling. The brothers' journey begins when their father falls ill and they have to travel to a presumably magical tree to retrieve an antidote. On the way they encounter many people and creatures both magical and mundane. A lot of time they need help of some sort, and the brothers come to their aid. Some of these are required to progress through the linear game, but others can be found just off the beaten path. It is worth noting that none of the achievements are awarded for progressing through the main story, but none of them are very difficult to get.

The writers attempted a few plot twists, but for the most part I saw them coming a long way away. There were some genuinely sweet moments, and some that took my breath away. My favorite was the hang glider flight, which was delightful. It felt like the cumulation of the wonder found in the world, and the musical crescendo was the most memorable in the game.

I encountered a couple of bugs that involved certain events not triggering properly or the enemy AI failing to react to the brothers properly. Both were solved by restarting the game. The most amusing bug was the fact that half the text in the credits was cut off my first time through. None of these were crippling issues.

Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons takes a unique idea and uses its novelty to great effect. It also does not overstay its welcome, ending before things get stale.