Monday, September 26, 2016

Cthulhu Armageddon audiobook recording!


Jeffrey Kafer is awesome. The man who has done my first three Supervillainy Saga books (The Rules of Supervillainy, The Games of Supervillainy, The Secrets of Supervillainy) as well as my Esoterrorism novel is also doing Cthulhu Armageddon. What if Cthulhu Armageddon? It is a post-apocalypse action adventure set in the future of the world of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. Basically, what if you crossed Mad Max and Call of Cthulhu.

“Under an alien sky where gods of eldritch matter rule, the only truth is revenge.”

CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON is the story of a world 100 years past the rise of the Old Ones which has been reduced to a giant monster-filled desert and pockets of human survivors (along with Deep Ones, ghouls, and other “talking” monsters).

John Henry Booth is a ranger of one of the largest remaining city-states when he’s exiled for his group’s massacre and suspicion he’s “tainted.” Escaping with a doctor who killed her husband, John travels across the Earth’s blasted alien ruins to seek the life of the man who killed his friends.

It’s the one thing he has left.


Jeffrey has already gotten a sample of the book out for us!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Warcraft (2016) review


    I don't know why this movie got such bad reviews. Oh yes, I do. This is a movie which is unashamed to be a video game movie. It treats its lore with the kind of reverence and seriousness that fans have given the franchise for decades. This is a movie with all of the major characters from the first Warcraft game as well as much of the lore from the novels. The story is streamlined but it's probably a more faithful adaptation than anyone should have expected.

    In my opinion, the biggest problem with the  movie is it doesn't make any attempt to apologize for being a serious movie about gigantic cartoon CGI orcs beating the hell out of griffon-riding humans while fighting in a rainbow of magical energies. It is also fairly heavy on fidelity to the cartoonish designs of World of Warcraft but treats them completely serious, which may have thrown causal movie goers.

The humans and CGI creations have a "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" seamlessness.
    The premise of the movie is the original Warcraft's. The world of Draenor is dying due to the use of Fel magic by the warlock Gul'dan (Daniel Wu) and his philosophers. Constructing a gigantic magical gate powered by the life-force of imprisoned Draenei, they invade the world of Azeroth. Durotan (Clancy Brown) fears the use of Fel will destroy this world too and attempts to make an alliance with the humans.

    Simultaneously, Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) is summoned by his king, Llane (Dominic Cooper), to deal with the threat. He reluctantly befriends Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) and Garona Halforcen (Paula Patton) in their quest to prevent the orcs from overruning Azeroth. They enlist the help of the clearly unginged Medivh (Ben Foster) who starts leading the group into increasingly perilous events. Alliances shift and prejudices form with neither side having access to the moral high ground.

The movie really rebuttals alot of the design decisions of the Peter Jackson films. Just like the games.
    Now, I'm very familiar with Warcraft's lore from both the games as well as the spin-off fiction. There's a lot that's changed but it's mostly minor stuff. Travis Fimmel plays Lothar as more akin to Ragnar Lothbrook than a studious older paladin but his clever sarcastic tactician is easily the most interesting character in the movie. Clancy Brown also manages a very subdued and dignified performance playing a character completely composed of pixels.

    The movie is going to surprise people expecting the orcs to be portrayed as completely evil monsters as it opens with the birth of Thrall. It's an obvious humanizing, for lack of a better term, but works well in establishing these orcs are a people like any other. Some may argue it would have been better to have the orcs be actors in makeup but I think the designs of this movie are stunning. The CGI of this film really does reach classic age of animation levels and if it may be off-putting to some, I give it props.

Paula Patton is quite fun as She-Hulk meets Sheena of the Jungle.
        Unfortunately, the movie isn't quite as good as it could have been because the film is trying to cram the entirety of the video game's plot into two hours. This would be fine if it was focused on just the humans but the orcs have their own story arcs set up for what is probably going to be either a sequel focused on the Second Orc and Human War or the rise of the Lich King. The fact the movie cuts off before the orcs destroy Stormwind also deprives the film of a enjoyably depressing ending.

    We've got Durotan, Ogrim Doomhammer, Blackhand, Gul'Dan, Medihv's issues with the Fel, the hidden hand of the Burning Legion, the set up of Varian Wynne's rise to power (who is the worst character in Warcraft history--God, I hate him!), Khadgar's role as the future Guardian, Garona's parentage, and alll the complicated plot which will only partially play out on screen. In short, the movie suffers from the fact it is trying to condense the first two games as well as the redemption of the orcs plus all of the backstory retcons from World of Warcraft into a single film.

Some truly beautiful animation here.
    Despite this, it's a fairly coherent narrative and that's an improvement over World of Wacraft these days. There's two fundamentally decent groups of people who are being led into a situation where the only option is war. The orcs have an evil leader in Gul'dan but their world is dying so they will do anything to survive. The humans are just defending their lands against the orcs but they have unwittingly got their own dark forces brewing in the background.

    Honestly, I like Garona's story best out of the movie's characters. Starting as the slave of Gul'dan, she is a woman who is not part of the orcish world but desperately wishes she could be. The humans accept her, better than she ever expected from her own people, but they're not who she wants to be with. Watching her deal with that struggle and how she plays off of the humans in the group is quite entertaining. I also like her unexpected friendship with the Queen of Stormwind.

Orcs vs. Humans.
    The CGI for the movie is beautiful when it's handling the actual characters and hampered only by the fact the designs are very stylized. High Elves, for example, look ridiculous but they also look identical to how they look in the game. The magic is one of the few weak areas of the movie since it seems to consist purely of colors rather than anything of substance. Despite this, I felt the orcs and other monsters looked absolutely real. There is some impressive artistry here and the creators deserve major props.

    In short, Warcraft is a decent movie. It's not an amazing film but it's certainly worth the money I paid to watch it and I may end up buying it. It's the kind of film you could watch numerous times and not have to really think too much about but deep enough to be appreciated on a more than superficial level. Obviously, fans of the games and their lore will get more out of this film than the causal moviegoer.

8/10

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Moral Ambiguity of Fallout 4: Nuka World


    I've mentioned my absolute love for Nuka World before and that remains to be the case. It's an absolutely beautiful spectacle and blows the main game out of the water but it's also something which has been controversial for the fact it favors an "evil" playthrough. Indeed, there are only a handful of quests which do not require working with complete scum. However, it is that very need to work with the deplorable and blunt their efforts which makes an intriguing path for those who don't simply want to have their Sole Survivor crack and go Raider.

    The premise is the Sole Survivor is invited to a sick gladiatorial game under the guise of rescuing someone's family, only to kill the leader of the Nuka World bandits in single combat before being declared their new leader. It is all very Chronicles of Riddick. The game then encourages the Sole Survivor to go along with this, help the Raiders reclaim Nuka World then proceed to start settling the Commonwealth with outposts.  

Heavy is the head which wears the Overboss helmet.
    There doesn't appear to be much moral ambiguity to the Nuka World Raiders. The three gangs assembled by Raider Overboss Colter found the (apparently) peaceful traders of Nuka World. They proceeded to attack the town, take it over, and then turned it into their party palace. Colter further vilified himself by creating the Gauntlet, which is nothing more than an arena for witnessing the murder of innocents. The Nuka World Raiders keep slaves, one of the surest signs of evil in the Fallout universe, and are parasites on the Commonwealth if they build settlements. Surely, it is an evil decision to side with them.

    I'm not so sure.

    One of the interesting things I've discussed about Fallout 4 is there's no actual villain to the story. The Institute is, at worst, guilty of amorality in the pursuit of science and a refusal to acknowledge the sentience of their creations. They are paranoid and ill-informed about the surface world, using that to justify murder and replacement. The Brotherhood of Steel plans genocide against a sentient race but justifies it in the name of the fact they are not human and very likely capable of wiping humanity out. The Minutemen are good but incompetent while the Railroad is mono-focused on one issue. All of the groups are influenced by the Sole Survivor and changed by their relationship with him.

    In the case of Nuka World's Raiders, the DLC does something which I have long argued was necessary in the Bethesda Fallout games: it humanizes its Raiders. In the original Fallout games and New Vegas, raiding is an action rather than a state of being. Tribals, gangs, and organizations raid but they have motivations for doing so. The Great Khans are a culture, for example, who just so happens to have a tradition of stealing from outsiders to sustain themselves like so many historical peoples.

Nisha isn't a nice person. Could you guess?
    Bethesda's games have lagged a bit behind this with the majority of Raiders in Fallout 3's Capital Wasteland being a bunch of cannibals who attack you on sight. They are so numerous, its very possible they outnumber the actual settlers of the land and have possibly depopulated the region of major settlements but for Megaton and Rivet City.

    Fallout 4 was less extreme but still had Raiders exist in bandit camps that murdered anyone who approached. It also had terminals talking about their hopes, dreams, and aspirations as well as relationship to other Raider gangs. It also had the Gunners and Forged as a Vault-born pair of gangs which were primarily mercenaries but had become as Raiders.

   Nuka World's Raiders are divided into three individual gangs with the Disciples, Operators, and the Pack. The Disciples are the most overtly violent, surrounding their base in the viscera of the dead with prisoners kept imprisoned for torture. The Operators are the most mercenary, existing solely for the purpose of making money and being no better or worse than the Triggermen in Goodneighbor. The Pack, by contrast, is the most alien as they act more like original series tribals with odd traditions and an alien morality.

    Over these three gangs but under you is Porter Gage, who is an individual who has an interesting story. A farmer, he witnessed his family and friends repeatedly robbed by Raiders with no attempt to fight them. Switching to become a caraveneer, he soon found the state similar. Too proud to submit to thievery, he eventually decided to become a Raider himself. He has a simple philosophy based on a binary principle: you either take or are taken from. This sounds simplistic and self-justifying except the Sole Survivor is a Raider.

You see, Overboss, they can be reasonable. For a price.
    You kill and you loot your enemies' bodies as well as homes. Now, of course, the primary difference is the nature of your targets. Much as Dexter Morgan is the serial killer who kills serial killers, so is the Sole Survivor a Raider who kills Raiders. Sometimes, this is in self-defense but just as often, the protagonists seek out Raider Dens so they can be slaughtered for caps or goods.
  
    Certainly, when fired upon, the instinct of the gamer is to send his or her character barging in to slaughter their attackers rather than retreat. That is the nature of the game and one of the criticisms who favored pacifist playthroughs in the original game. Even the saintliest Sole Survivor is a mercenary for one faction or the other and ends up attacking locations where children live (The Prydwen or Institute).

    Still, none of the three gangs of Nuka World share the Sole Survivor's scruples. Missions for them can involve murder and mayhem depending on how you choose to play them. You will be offered missions which could very well turn whole towns against you. However, it is interesting to note you can actually play the entirety of the game without hurting any innocents. You can refuse Radiant quests to harm the innocent and only take the ones against groups you are enemies with like Super Mutants, Gunners, or (in my case) the Brotherhood of Steel. You can also buy the land and crops which will sustain the settlements which are necessary to keep your new kingdom in Nuka World going.

Maybe you can free them as Overboss. Eventually.
    But why would the Sole Survivor do this? Why would they not simply massacre every single one of the Raiders in Nuka World and liberate the enslaved traders therein? Well, the answer may well be they're trying NOT to act like a Raider. As Overboss, the Sole Survivor can potentially blunt or redirect the Raiders underneath him as well as achieve peace.

    They don't have to sentence all of the gangs to execution like Judge Dredd. By providing the Nuka World Raiders with the various theme park zones to loot or use as they see fit as well as settlements to keep them happy in chems, they can actually avoid simply eradicating them. You can avoid war never changing by introducing something foreign to the setting: peace and compromise. It's Gray and Gray Morality because you're capitulating to scumbags. None of the Nuka World Raiders is a model of good citizenship with Gage probably the nicest one of the bunch and he's a ruthless killer. Nevertheless, governments in real life make these kind of deals all the time.

The Pack are neither good nor evil. Just animals.
    The Raiders can also be used as a force against the other Raiders, Gunners, Super Mutants, and enemy factions in the setting. The Minutemen are grossly outgunned and even if you're backing them up with a major faction like the Institute or Brotherhood, its destined to be a bloody slog. The Radiant quests show the Nuka World Raiders aren't afraid of fighting any of them, though, and can be bodies on the ground for retaking the Commonwealth.

    As long as they're paid. Indeed, while their leaders are all monsters, the average Raider is simple in his wants and desires. They want to be fed and have lots of chems. With Nuka World and their settlements, they have the Commonwealth version of the sweet life. Even so, you're not going to be able to make peace with all of the Raiders and one third of their ranks will end up being slaughtered by you anyway. If one were going for the least malevolent option, it would be best to have the Pack and Operators as your allies while the Disciples are your enemies. At least then you avoid having serial killers in your employ.

You killed him and took his stuff.
     All of this would be pure speculation on my part if not for the fact this is a valid route detailed in the DLC with your Sole Survivor entirely capable of putting down or nay-saying the more violent quests of their allies. They can acquire territory with words or caps. You can be the peace-maker and the negotiator of the Raiders rather than the brute.

    You can get away with it, too, because the Raiders aren't animals and mostly just want to enjoy wealth and drugs like most criminals. You can also be less than morally ambiguous and just murder or intimidate the Commonwealth's settlements into compliance. You have the option of being evil in Nuka World but what is "good" is very nebulous as another pile of bodies is a questionable triumph for justice--even when it's as odious as a group as the one you're now in-charge of.

    Interestingly, the theme of making peace and compromises is one which is carried throughout each of the Zones. In Kiddie Kingdom, the best case scenario is to convince Oswald and his army of ghouls to move on so you can take over. You take over his land which he is bothering no one on, in order to give to Raiders but ultimately do him a favor. Dry Rock Gulch is a place where the robots are willing, even desperate, to serve as long as you play to their biases. Cito the Ape-Man can be convinced to share his territory with the Raiders, which works out fine because Cito is a hardass who won't have a problem keeping the Raiders in line. It'll also allow him regular human contact for the first time in decades. Galactic Zone? Okay, there's nothing wrong with Galactic Zone but some malfunctioning robots but diplomacy is still the preferred way of getting things done in this game.

Peace means Oswald has to give up his home.
     There's a price for your actions if you choose to play peacemaker just like making a treaty with the Brotherhood of Steel and NCR results in the firing of Ambassador Dennis Crocker. In this case, while the Minutemen might be willing to go along with a General who has decided to cede territory to Raiders (since they'd otherwise not exist without him), idealistic Preston Garvey loses all trust in his closest friend. The kind of realpolitic of making peace with monsters is unforgivable even at its softest. You lose him as a Companion and from then on, he is merely a cold business associate.

    The question is why would you want to? Why go to all this trouble for the bandits of Nuka World when you've killed so many for less? For me, I think it's a good roleplaying opportunity. I didn't play the Minutemen or Railroad ending because I thought the grayness of Fallout 4's main quest demanded a more cynical ending. It's why I went with the "cover-up" ending of Far Harbor. The Sole Survivor bends over backwards for these Raiders simply because he doesn't HAVE to kill them like so many others. A peace treaty between Nuka World, the Institute, and the Minutemen in my gameworld is an ugly uncertain thing but it's perhaps the best the Sole Survivor could manage. Who am I to gainsay them after they've suffered so much?

What would Cappy? Kill everyone, probably.
      Then again, perhaps the best option for Nuka World is to simply slaughter all of the Raiders and give back the territory to their victims. Nuka World will remain a mostly-hostile place full of monsters and horrors but you can, at least, turn the power back on. The Commonwealth will remain a safer place in the objective sense even if you don't have Raiders at your back to help you against the threats which assail it. Perhaps peace and keeping your followers happy comes at too high a price. Certainly, Preston Garvey agrees with the belief the Nuka Worlders deserve nothing but death and if you meet him after you've joined them then he will only become your friend if you turn on your brethren to slaughter them.

    Despite my words, Nuka World is not set up to be an ambiguous situation. The Raiders are awful people, through and through, while the traders are noble victims who do nothing wrong except under extreme duress. Even Harvey lures you to your doom only because he's witnessed the murder of friends. Yet, after playing a game of slaughtering hundreds if not thousands of people, I couldn't help but wonder at the fact Nuka World is the only time I can actually find a peaceful solution.
[QUOTE="CerberusGate, post: 4181982, member: 97288"]I don't as well; he's not devolved into Someguy's level of facetious trolling (i.e brings up a point and devolves into childish insults not offensive enough to be banned while defending said point) and has remained mostly reasonable in his posts though he admittedly slipped up (but at least has the decency to apologise for said slip ups).[/QUOTE]

I am sorry for some of the things I've said today. I really posted all night and day so I guess I had a LOT of pent-up passion from when the Bethesda forums moved.
[QUOTE="CerberusGate, post: 4181982, member: 97288"]I don't as well; he's not devolved into Someguy's level of facetious trolling (i.e brings up a point and devolves into childish insults not offensive enough to be banned while defending said point) and has remained mostly reasonable in his posts though he admittedly slipped up (but at least has the decency to apologise for said slip ups).[/QUOTE]

I am sorry for some of the things I've said today. I really posted all night and day so I guess I had a LOT of pent-up passion from when the Bethesda forums moved.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Heart of a Dragon by David Niall Wilson review


    I was a big fan of the White Wolf novels released in the 90s to accompany their Vampire: The Masquerade gameline. I enjoyed the Clan Novels starring Lucita, Hesha, Beckett, and the other great characters who starred in them. Helping write these and several other stories was David Niall Wilson who is now the head of Crossroad Press. The opening of this book and others talks about how restricted those parameters were and how much they impeded storytelling.

    Heart of a Dragon is the prequel novel to the actual start of the Donovan DeChance series. It follows a gang war between the Dragons Motorcycle Club and Los Escorpiones. The Dragons are thoroughly trounced due to Los Escorpiones' using a witch's corrupted hoodoo to become superhuman. I was actually a little off-put by this opening because I didn't see any reason why I would want to side with the Dragons over the Los Escorpiones. This is where David Niall Wilson lures you in as the actual villain isn't either side of the conflict but the escalating violence and the magic.

    Aware they don't have a chance against the superpowered gang members, the Dragons end up seeking a middleman who puts them in touch with seasoned sorcerer-detective Donovan DeChance. Donovan DeChance is a character strongly reminiscent of Doctor Strange and Titus Crow but more on the latter's John Constantine-esque power level. If you played Mage: The Ascension he struck me as an archetypal Order of Hermes operative.

    What follows is an entertaining urban fantasy adventure as not only does Dovonan DeChance have to deal with the escalating gang feud but a young boy who has a intimate connection with dragons. The story eventually has its stakes raised to the point Dovonan must work to prevent the world from being invaded by a large number of very angry, very dangerous gods. It's a slow-build interwoven story I have to give them credit for.

    The main character of Donovan DeChance is the biggest appeal of the books for me. He is a mysterious gentleman magician who doesn't have much of a backstory but lots of implications to a long and storied past. I hope we'll get more details on who DeChance is in future novels. Heart of a Dragon was written as a prequel so I'm interested in what the first "official" book is going to be like and what it reveals about our protagonist. Alas, my biggest complaint about this novel is that I don't quite grock what motivates Dovonan. What inspired him to become the occult detective par excellence of this world?

    I particularly liked the depiction of magic in the setting. Rather than something which obeys partcular laws, it is described as something which is a form of art. It's very much imagination-based and evocative based. Mage: The Ascension never really got into the nitty-gritty of how magick was supposed to work and how different people viewed it but I think the version here is quite interesting to read about.

    The supporting cast is a mixture of very good and okay. I'm eager to learn about the pasts of the majority but, as stated, the book really just alludes to their relationships more than describes them. Still, the fictional city of the book is a place which feels authentic and that it has a history even if we don't know it. San Valencez feels like a combination of Los Angeles, San Fransisco, and several other West Coast cities with a strong undercurrent of magic hidden just under the surface.

    In conclusion, this is a really good book and one that I enjoyed. It has its downsides in that I think it was sometimes a little too good at obfuscating the pasts of its characters and their feelings but I was entertained throughout. I'm already biting into the next book in the series and am eager to see how it tackles vampires.

9/10

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Fathomless by Anne M. Pillsworth review


    Why is it so wrong to want to be a Deep One? H.P. Lovecraft's The Shadow over Innsmouth is all about the horror of how a bunch of townsfolk voluntarily decided to interbreed with fishmen in exchange for gold and fish. The focus of the narrator on the act of such "defilement" is such that Ruthanna Emrys claims to have completely forgot they also engaged in human sacrifice among other horrifically evil things. However, if you have the attitude of, "mating with fish men isn't my bag but to each their own" then the horror of the novella kind of loses its punch.

    Indeed, the Deep Ones are the Lovecraft monster most likely to be redeemed nowadays with The Doom that Came to Innsmouth, The Litany of Earth, their sympathetic portrayal in Alan Moore's Providence and now Fatholmess. They are often considered to be individuals who were horrifically abused for no other reason than they were different and practiced a different religion than was acceptable in the 1930s.

    I, for one, respect the fact the Deep Ones are a race of religious fanatics and evil sorcerers because, as Terry Pratchett says, "Just because someone's a member of an ethnic minority doesn't mean they're not a nasty small-minded little jerk." Except replace small-minded jerk with evil Cthulhu-worshiping cultist. After all, it's not like Deep Ones are GHOULS who I would totally join the secret underground society of in a heartbeat.

    The premise is Sean Wyndham, teenage survivor of the Cthulhu Mythos in Summoned, is now studying with the Order of Al-Hazred. Unfortunately, the heir to infernalist sorcerer Reverend Redemption Orne has few friends in the organization as they believe him to be a threat. Sean has the benefit of his friend Eddie (a girl who prefers that to Edna) and their new friend Daniel who always wears turtlenecks. It doesn't take a Lovecraft scholar to guess what Daniel is in light of the title and he proves to be the most fascinating character in the book.

    Anne M. Pillsworth makes a lot of really good decisions in this which both underline and play with many of the concepts within Lovecraft's own work. The original Deep Ones were metaphors against intermarriage between races and immigration. Daniel, by contrast, is a figure who immediately takes up with Eddie and we're meant to root for their relationship. I also like the fact Sean and Eddie have no interest in one another. Aside from Harry Potter, it's the rare story which doesn't end with the hero and the girl.

    After reading Summoned, I wondered why everyone was down on Reverend Orne because all of the problems in that book were caused by Sean. It seemed like they were blaming him for all of Sean's mistakes. Here, the author gives a better reason for why we should terrified of the centuries-old wizard while also keeping a friendly face to Sean. I won't spoil the ending of the book but it was a huge shocker.  I think the author does an immensely good job of balancing horror, adventure, and urban fantasy in her series.

    Redemption Orne remains the stand-out character in the book. He is a wonderful mix of superficial charm, intelligence, and ruthless pragmatism. He may want to protect his family and lineage but all of his actions are with the goal of manipulating Sean into accepting the way of Nyarlathotep. I think he's been set up as an excellent continuing villain.  The best villains think they're heroes and he definitely qualifies as both in the amoral universe our heroes have found themselves in.

     The depiction of Innsmouth in 2016 is interesting. The undersea city of the Deep Ones is covered up by shoggoths, the Deep Ones maintain their homes to remain ignorable, and they go out of their way to make it a decent but boring place to live. They are not against humankind but they are also contemptuous of them. Daniel's mother hated her Deep One ancestry but eventually came to embrace it, not taking her son with her. Even so, the only Marsh family member we meet is an amusing older uncle rather than a sinister cult leader.

    Lovecraft Purists will be annoyed by the fact the Deep Ones are portrayed as reasonably harmless. Personally, I've always thought my ideal treatment of them would be to keep all of their murderous religious fanaticism and supernatural powers while also making it so they're unduly persecuted by others. Then again, I tend to prefer Gray and Gray Morality to Black and White or Black and Black. You could have the Deep Ones working to overthrow Dagon and prevent Cthulhu's rise even as both sides work to wipe each other out.

    I found Fathomless to be an exciting, entertaining, and enjoyable ride. I like the way magic, New England flavor, and Lovecraft lore are woven together. I think I would enjoy the series if it went a little darker but I enjoy it as is. It reminds me of Potter at its best and most serious, which is no small praise. I'm looking forward to the next installment of the series and heartily recommend these two books.

10/10

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Fallout 4: Nuka World DLC review


    I've never shared my post-apocalypse plan. It's to take a car, journey to Disneyland and take it over. Alternatively, I will journey to Brazil and live on a plantation where I will grow the ingredients necessary to create Coca Cola. If this is a peculiarly specific plan for Armageddon, I should note that if you somehow merged Disneyland and Coca-Cola then I never would have left as a child. I would have run away from my parents and lived in Colaland's sewers along with the other feral children.

Why save the world when you can rule it?
    As you can imagine, Nuka World is a kind of weird drill into my brain from the good people at Bethesda. I love Disneyland even if the reality is an overcrowded place you never have enough money to fully enjoy. I also love Coca-Cola even if it is so sugary sweet that my poor diabetic family genetics will never be able to live off of as I've always dreamed possible. I don't think anyone else necessarily had as high a hope for this DLC as I did but I may have unfairly put expectations on this due to my desire. Does it live up to it? No, unfortunately, not. However, it's still pretty damn entertaining.

My wife wouldn't want me living here. Maybe I could commute.
    The premise is the Sole Survivor finds the abandoned tram system to the Pre-War equivalent of the Magic Kingdom (which is in Massachusetts of all places). Along the way, he discovers the place is controlled by three allied gangs of raiders and their Overboss. Stumbling into a bravery test, the Sole Survivor kills the Overboss and in proper Necromonger fashion is named their new leader (mostly due to their second-in-command's endorsement).

The Overboss. Invincible to all but the dreaded squirt gun.
    There's two ways of proceeding from this point with the first being to ally with the raiders and take over the theme park sections they don't control. The second is to wipe out all of the raiders and liberate the settlement for its population of slaves. The DLC is geared strongly toward the former, which will throw some players for a loop as Fallout 4 was notorious for "forcing" you to play a hero.

    Indeed, the climax of Nuka World's "Evil" path is having you lead an army of raiders into the Commonwealth to assault its settlements. Which, if you've been playing the traditional way, means that you'll very likely be attacking your own settlements.

I love the skeleton who died happy in this pic.
    This is probably not going to be the path which roleplayers will enjoy but there's actually a story to be told here. The Sole Survivor as the man who had been forced repeatedly to compromise his morals for the sake of an ungrateful wasteland only to eventually snap and turn on his former loved ones. Certainly, there's a temptation to simply unleash the anger and rage of a very disappointing finale for the main game and simply enjoy the easy pleasures of being Lord Humungus. I've wanted to be a Raider since the beginning of the Fallout series and I finally have the chance even if it didn't fit with my current build.

Alas, I can afford everything in the Disney Marketplace!
    Still, I would have appreciated Nuka World if it had been far lower level and available as a place to journey to from the very beginning. It's eaisly the best "evil" settlement and as memorable as Paradise Falls from Fallout 3. If you choose to play the role of the Overboss, you even get a memorable scene where Preston Garvey is horrified by your actions and turns against you. It's the most emotion he ever displays in the game. Sadly, we don't have reactions from Piper, Valentine, Strong, and Cait who seem like they'd have opinions on your new vocation.

A wonderful brother-sister pair of raiders.
    The DLC's raider gangs are well-detailed with the Disciples, the Pack, and the Operators. The Disciples are a group of cannibal amazons, the Pack are animal worshiping feral humans, and cultured rich kids who'd decided it was better to steal than work for a living after being cut off. I decided to side with the Operators up until the point I decided to eliminate them from the park. I kind of regret we didn't get a "good" or at least neutral gang of raiders because I hated turning against them despite each group being complete scum. They're fun scum, though, which is what's important.

Blood worms are the worst.
      Nuka Cola the product is notably something which has been built up from Fallout 3 and is now a major part of the backstory despite being only a minor part of the setting. It is the equivalent of Cola Cola as well as the Disney corporation in the setting's backstory.

    Its ubiquitous presence in the setting means I was genuinely interested in finding out the history of the product and getting a bunch of Nuka Cola swag. Indeed, I'm hoping Bethesda puts out some Nuka Cola shirts because I want one. I also was very excited about painting my power armor in fire engine Nuka Cola red. If you find this a little strange then you should know how much fun it looks. We even get a return of Nuka Cola's biggest fan from Fallout 3 in Sierra Petrovita.

These raiders have personality. Evil awful personalities.
    I do think there's an over-focus on combat in the DLC. Even if you eliminate all of the gang boss leaders, this just results in all of the raiders in the park becoming hostile. I would have appreciated more options to deal with them. It would have been cool to do something like A Fistful of Dollars or the Sith Academy in Knights of the Old Republic where you play the various factions against one another until they're weak enough to completely eliminate.

      On the plus side, there's a "peaceful" path through dealing with the Raiders and Commonwealth's settlers which I found to be surprising. You can be a moral Raider who pays for land and good with caps. Unfortunately, there's no option for freeing the slaves or persuading the Raiders to devote their efforts to less monstrous acts. Even so, there's a lot of fun little sidequests like meeting with a bunch of Hubologists who are even more insane than their predecessors in Fallout 2 and the mythical founder of Nuka Cola who is living like Walt Disney's urban legend underneath the park. It says something about how much I enjoyed this setting that I wish it had been its own game.

Slaves. The gift which keeps giving.
     Like the Magic Kingdom, Nuka World has multiple "worlds" with a Futureworld, Wild West World, Coca Cola Land, and a mountain made of fizz. Each of these have different sorts of enemies and plenty of games which can be experienced. Like the best of Bethesda's creations, each land has an extensive Pre-War history to explore as well. Honestly, I loved the Wild West world the most since it involved rounding up Giddy-up Buttercups and being addressed as the Silver Shroud if you're wearing the costume.

    There are flaws in this DLC like the fact it's about twenty minutes long if you're playing a purely good-guy raider who would never associate with a morally ambiguous faction. Likewise, the Raiders are a trifle underdeveloped. They have personalities, themes, and major characters but no real side-quests or conversation options. There's a lot of places they could have expanded on the history of the gangs as well. Lore breaks like Enclave armor in a display case are also annoying. On the other hand, it's probably the single most fun DLC I've played from Bethesda and rivals Old World Blues for the amount of enjoyment I derived.

     In conclusion, Nuka World is an amazing DLC and I wish there was more of it. I think its also suitably grim and dark despite its whimsical atmosphere. I think this is probably the best DLC which Bethesda has put out since Mothership Zeta.

10/10 (in terms of fun)
9/10 (in terms of playability)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Red Dead Redemption review


    This is a really overdue review but I, honestly, fell prey to hyper aversion. Everyone I knew mentioned it was one of the best video games of all time and a decent candidate for the best. However, I was leery of the idea of Rockstar being able to produce anything above Grand Theft: Stallion and it fell by the wayside. Still, with the upcoming announcement of Red Dead Redemption 2, I decided to finally give the game a try. Now, I'm kicking myself for not doing it much earlier.

Our (anti)hero.
    Red Dead Redemption's premise is ex-outlaw, John Marston, has had his family taken by the Bureau of Investigation (precursor to the FBI) with the explicit threat they will be killed unless he brings in his ex-gang. It is the end of the Old West, though, and John is an anachronism in a land full of telephone wires and railroads. The last remaining gangs have formed up in fortresses, moved down to Mexico, or are engaged in last stands against insurmountable odds.

    Red Dead Redemption manages to capture the feel of a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western with a lot of the classic ideals of the Old West getting re-examined. The persecution of Native Americans, causal racism, hypocrisies, and slow encroachment of government are handled deftly if obviously. While the main campaign is enjoyable, I actually liked the side missions which seem to always end in the most horrifying soul-deadening way possible. For example, in one of the missions, John Marston is investigating a cannibal serial killer and in the process may gun down or lasso an innocent man to deliver to the figure eating people. In another mission, he gathers flowers for a man to give to his wife only to discover he's keeping her corpse as a Norman Bates-esque trophy. Another mission still results in John trying to rescue a kidnapped woman only to discover he's after a horse the former owner has an "unhealthy" attachment to.

I wish Bonnie had been in the whole game.
    Indeed, this is one of the few video games which would actually make a decent movie as the movie actually has a number of decent points to make. The titular concept of redemption is analyzed in an interesting manner as John, unless you choose to play him otherwise, is always trying to do the right thing but this usually leads to large amounts of destruction.

    His murders and moral compromises further stain his soul even as he may become the last legendary gunslinger of the Old West. At the end of the day, John will do anything to protect his family and that includes murdering his former friends with thin justifications. We like to think of John as a pure and true hero but the fact is he wouldn't be stopping his former partners if not for the threat to his family and things like "they left me to die" and "they're criminals" ring hollow as John is after them long before we see the worst of their actions.

    Really, John is a major part of the game's appeal as he's one of the most multifaceted and well-developed video game protagonists we've seen. He wants to be moral and decent but his entire life has been one criminal undertaking after another. He judges other people for their crimes but hides behind a code which doesn't really always make sense (even to him). A favorite scene early in the game has Bonnie snarling about the outlaws who have attacked her father while John tries to weakly provide justification for why he was different. Famously, he's also a character who can theoretically do all manner of terrible things in the game but will never cheat on his wife.

Dueling is one of my favorite activities in the game. Too bad I suck at it.

    The gameplay is very entertaining with the decision to make there be an "auto-aim" feature very useful and avoiding the difficulty of the setting. Of course, auto-aim can result in you randomly murdering innocents passing by while you're trying to shoot a rabbit but that's just how it happens sometimes. I didn't much care for any of the side games from poker to five-finger-fillet but they're all there. I also appreciated the game a lot more when I realized I could fast travel between locations.

    My favorite activities in the game turned out to be the capture of those criminals listed on Wanted posters, going after gang hideouts, and dueling. In short, my favorite parts of the game were when the game simply provided me more of itself. I especially liked the additional difficulty of taking gang members alive with your lasso even if I think the hogtie function in the game is horribly broken. I can't say why I enjoyed picking flowers but I also spent an inordinate amount of time looking for Red Sage and Prickly Pears.

You can bring justice to the Old West but...should you?
      The real appeal for me is the supporting cast, though. This is a rare game where I can't actually think of a single character I didn't like. Well, maybe the anthropologist as I really wanted him to get a good ass kicking but everyone else were magnificent characters. It's a pity Bonnie MacFarland and John didn't meet earlier in their lives is all I'm saying. I also was a huge fan of the Mexican Revolution arc, even though (or perhaps because) it ends on such a downer.

     Almost every supporting character is a twist on a stock Western archetype which doesn't always go the way you expect. The Marshal in Armadillo, for example, is as tough as nails as any other Sheriff but he's also a person who doesn't actually care about enforcing the law unless it visits his region and gives good reason for it. Bonnie is as heroic and admirable a figure as any other rancher's daughter love interest but then she causally talks about how her father killed Indians to get their land (which is historically accurate as an attitude to have and would have been celebrated as late as the 1950s). Luisa believes passionately in the Revolution and her lover, completely missing the latter is sleaze and the former dependent on him.

It was an accident! Sort-of! I auto-aimed wrong!
    The graphics of the game are pretty damn good and hold up exceptionally well. I actually recommend this game be played on the Xbox One or a next generation console versus the original as it runs signifciantly better. Also, I was able to appreciate the level of detail to the graphics whereas on its original console, I wasn't. The design for the Wild West of Rockstar's fictional world is quite beautiful with a variety of terrain as well as little hints left and right how the world was and how it's changing. Historically, the Wild West only lasted from the Civil War to 1890 so it really was a far more compact period of history than people imagine.

    Despite this, there were still some glitches and I had moments where my horses were floating, horseshoes were in the middle of the air, and certain bodies were hanging around like ghosts. These flaws weren't so bad as the long loading-screen times even on the Xbox One and I'm very glad that I mostly played on my current generation console as, otherwise, it would have been awful.

John can also kill the last buffalo. Monster.
    Red Dead Redemption earns major points for the fact the game's soundtrack is absolutely awesome. It's an homage to what is already some of the best music in cinema and the use of fiddles is particularly memorable. I purchased the soundtrack and listen to it on a quite regular basis, it's so good. The main theme is particularly haunting and if not quite "The Ecstasy of Gold" then at least pretty damn good.

   The ending of the game is so famous it's hard to spoil it but I won't take the risk and will simply say it's touching as well as appropriate. I actually liked Jack Marston a lot and wish he'd gotten his own game or, at least, a really prolonged DLC. I would have enjoyed to have more insight into Jack and how he feels after the events of Red Dead Redemption. Instead, we got Undead Nightmare, which is an extremely enjoyable expansion and one which is pretty much necessary for every fan of the game to play. Even better, it doesn't actually feel that out of sorts because the zombie apocalypse in the Old West is treated with an actual plot. It's not the most singularly original plot but there's moments like when John is hired to eliminate the Sasquatch "menace" that you feel an emotional gut-punch.

    In conclusion, this is one of the few games which qualifies as art. Not perfect art but pretty damn close.

10/10