Monday, January 14, 2019

Tournament of Supervillainy and Wraith Knight now on audiobook

Great news, everyone, both WRAITH KNIGHT and THE TOURNAMENT OF SUPERVILLAINY are now available in both ebook, audiobook, and paperback format. I hope people will check out these two works as they're both awesome.


 Gary Karkofsky, aka Merciless the supervillain without mercy, is presently the most disliked supervillain in the world. Superheroes don't want to just throw him in jail, they want to deliver an epic beat down for ending their golden age by killing Merciful, the superhero with mercy. His fellow supervillains aren't much better, either jealous of his success or loathing him for all the other baddies he's killed. Also, what's up with his wife, Mandy? She's been acting extra strange since getting her soul back (long story). That's when Gary receives an invitation to the Primal Fighting Tournament - an interdimensional contest involving all the universe's greatest warriors. The prize? A wish with no limitations. Gary can finally get on that world domination thing he's been putting off.

Unfortunately, Gary is competing against good and evil way above his league. Not only Gabrielle Anders, aka Ultragoddess, his former fiancée, but Entropicus, the Space God of Evil. Thankfully, Gary has allies from unexpected sources including Jane Doe, the protagonist of I was a Teenage Weredeer, G from Agent G, and Cassius Mass from Lucifer's Star.

Available on Audible


The King Below, Enemy of the World, is dead. Will his successor save the world...or rule it? 
Jacob Riverson was once the greatest hero of an age. Cut down during what should have been the final battle against the King Below, he was condemned to centuries of torment as a Wraith Knight in the service of said monster. With the destruction of his master, Jacob finds his free will returning and discovers he is in a world torn by civil war between the King Below's former slaves and the heroes who "saved" them. 

Joining forces with the overly-idealistic but brilliant warrior Regina Whitetremor, Jacob must determine whether he has any place in the new world and whether his destiny is as a hero or monster.

Available on Audible

Sunday, January 13, 2019

2018 United Federation of Charles Indie Book Awards

Sculpture of HP Lovecraft by Bryan Moore/copyright 2009.
Hey folks,

It occurs to me that I have reviewed a staggering amount of stuff here on my blog but never was so arrogant to give out my own personalized awards. Well, I've decided to be every bit as arrogant as that decision deserves. This is going to be a collection of awards presented to those works of indie literature that I feel like stood above the rest this year.

You may wonder why I'm presenting a bust of H.P. Lovecraft as my award. Well, for two reasons, the first is the World Fantasy Awards aren't using it anymore and second since this is just a picture of a bust that costs nothing--I might as well actually make it look good.

All of the contest awards are judged and presented by me with no input involved. I am completely fair in my judgement and will explain why I made the choices I need. If you have a problem with my decisions, well, it's just a blog award dude. I know a couple of these authors but that has not influenced my vote and even if it did--it would still be more honest than Hollywood.

Take note that I have deliberately chosen to list indie and lesser known books over the more popular books that might have come out this year. This is in part because of the fact I like to promote them but also because I actually primarily read indie. There's a few gems that you should definitely check out that didn't quite make the cut, though, like The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French, Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence, The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang, and Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames.

BEST OF 2018

WINNER: Kings of Paradise by Richard Nell

Kings of Paradise is a work that caught a lot of indie reviewers by surprise for how awesome the work is. A conflict between an ice ridden realm and a tropical paradise rarely happens even in fantasy but in this case, it's a matter of a deformed warlord seeking to bring his people to a promised land. Tradition and lies collide in a story that I think stands up with Martin, Lawrence, and Abercrombie.

RUNNER UP: Son of a Liche by J. Zachery Pike

The Dark Profit series is one of the great indie-fantasy discoveries and if it wasn't going to win here then it probably would have won there. Certainly, if I'd known about it last year then it would have been marked on my awards. The premise of a Dungeons and Dragons-esque world where corporations ("Guilds") have made fortunes exterminating orcs as well as dragons to seize their hordes, only for the economy to collapse is a delightfully messed up but timely premise.


 WINNER: Darkfall by M.L. Spencer

The Rhenwars Saga remains one of the best independent gems currently out on the market. The premise being, "what if a ragtag band of misfits ended up failing to save the world?" It's basically a long deconstruction of classic high fantasy stories and one which I think favorably compares to the Wheel of Time (at 1/10th the length). Darien, Kylie, Quinn, and others are all fascinating characters that work well in this saga. Darkfall is the final book in the series and satisfies its readers with a firm but well-written ending.

RUNNER UP: 1000 Scars by Michael Baker

One of my favorite works of 2019, I felt like 1000 SCARS was a surprise as it was an author's first work. It's a story set during a fictional version of the Peloponesian War with ZOMBIES. I have to say the characters are delightfully evil (even the protagonists), the battle scenes are epic, and the story is going in a direction I can't predict.


WINNER: Steel, Fire, and Blood by Allan Batchelder

I admit this one is cheating but it was re-printed, redone, and re-released this year. Steel, Fire, and Blood is about a Conan: The Barbarian esque hero who gets hired by a corrupt old queen to take down a genocidal warlord whose armies are marching through her lands like a swarm of locusts. No one in this trio is a good person but whoever brings the conflict to an end swiftest will get to bear the mantle of hero.

RUNNER UP: Shattered Hopes by Ulff Lehmann

I was a huge fan of SHATTERED HOPES last year and this is a direct sequel to it. Unfortunately, that means you should probably read it back to back with Shattered Dreams for it to make much sense. It's a story of a massive war from the perspective of multiple players in it from the ground up and how the return of magic affects it. I'm very much looking forward to the sequels.


WINNER: The Saint of Liars by Megan Mackie

This is a combined award from last year because the best independent science fiction I've read this year came was done in the cyberpunk genre. The first of these is The Saint of Liars, which is like Michael Gibson's Technomancer or the Shadow Run games in that it combines the supernatural with the near-future tech. It's a romance as well as a fantasy/sci-fi novel but I like its depiction of a world dominated by corporations, corporate samurai, and ruthless businessmen where you still might meet centaurs.

RUNNER UP: Drones by Rob J. Hayes

I am absurdly jealous of Rob J. Hayes who continues to put out some of the best independent fiction out there. In this case, the future has come and the most marketable drug out there is emotions. Our protagonist has decided to numb himself to oblivion while using himself as a tap for feelings that are sold on the black market. It's a dark and wonderful decadent story that I think people will really enjoy.


WINNER: Master of Chaos by David Hambling

David Hambling and Seth Skorkowsky are two of my favorite authors in terms of revitalizing interest in H.P. Lovecraft's classic gumshoe roots. Seth in his massive webvideo series for Call of Cthulhu and David Hambling for creating the magnificent Harry Stubbs series. Set in the Post-WW1 era of Great Britain, Harry is a former boxer turned pseudo-occult investigator that more often stumbles onto the edge of the Mythos than right down Yog-Sothoth's mouths. I've enjoyed all of the books so far with Master of Chaos being my favorite and taking advantage of the archetypal horror trope: the creepy asylum.

RUNNER UP: (Tie) Andrew Doran at the Mountains of Madness by Matthew Davenport/Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys

It was a good year for Lovecraft set in a world of Weird FictionTM. Andrew Doran at the Mountains of Madness was a work set in Matthew Davenports "Indiana Jones meets Call of Cthulhu"-esque setting where the protagonist continues his workd against the Nazis prior to WW2. In this case, they have a demonic desire to steal the power of the shoggoths! Equally awesome in its own way is the revision sequest to WINTER TIDE which follows Aphra Marsh, Deep One hybrid as she struggles to find a place for her people in post-WW2 America. While it's not QUITE indie, I threw this in here because of the niche nature of the work.


Winner: Please Don't Tell My Parents You Believe Her by Richard Roberts

I'm rather saddened by the end of the Please Dont Tell My Parents series. It's a lighthearted middle school coming of age drama except coming of age means becoming a supervillain. Here, Penny Akk ("Bad Penny") has been replaced by her evil robot duplicate and she has to figure out how to prove to her parents that she's the good(ish) Penny. It doesn't help she's in a robot body and superheroes don't consider destroying them to be murder.

Runner-Up: Villains Pride by Michael Gibson

I'm also cheating on this one due to the fact I made my list for last year without mentioning this one since I didn't know it was out in 2017. Villains Pride is the superhero themed sequel to the original Villains Rule. Really, I am terrible this year for sequels but who isn't. The Shadowmaster is a consulting supervillain for Dark Lords, Ringwraiths, demon princes, clowns, and villainous overlords. Now he's stuck on a Stan Lee-esque world where he's the only monster with any brains. It takes a particular skill to ruin a world--and a willingness to make human centipedes.


Winner: By Fire Above by Robyn Bennis

I'm stretching the definition of indie again because I can and it's my blog so nyah. However, steampunk is such a niche audience that I think it's important to bring attention to this traditionally published work about a young airship captain and her desire to prove herself worthy to the fat sexist jerkasses her control her country. I love this series and I hope Robyn Bennis continues it forever.

Runner Up: Privateer/The Queen's Pardon by J.A. Sutherland

The Alexis Carew series are two great tastes that go great together: steampunk and outer space! In the distant future, humanity is exploring space GOD SAVE THE QUEEN! With sailing masts, rigging, rum, sodomy, and the lash! Well, maybe not the sodomy part or at least young Ms. Carew hopes not. It's a story of a young lieutenant who rises to the role of her status as a burgeoning officer in a horribly sexist navy (we seem to have a theme here). Privateer and The Queen's Pardon are a two part.


WINNER: Redemptor by Seth Skorkowsky

The Valducan series is a great urban fantasy series that is darker and more serious than the majority of urban fantasy out there. While a lot of authors prefer to fill their books with jokes and pop culture references (guilty), this is just about pure hardcore monster slaying badasses with magic weapons and Redemptor is no exception.

RUNNER UP: Paternus: Wrath of Gods by Dyrk Ashton

Another great innovative urban fantasy series and sequel to the Paternus: Rise of the Gods. I've done a lot of sequels this year but the continuing series have been done exceptionally well. The gods of humanity are an alien race that have been battling behind the scenes for ages. Now a new war is being waged among them with humans caught in the middle. Lots of great mythology research and obscure deities used compared to traditional Greek and Norse myth.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys (The Innsmouth Legacy #2)

    DEEP ROOTS is the sequel to Ruthanna Emrys' WINTER TIDE and THE LITANY OF EARTH. It is a story set in a "perspective flip" Cthulhu Mythos. The basic idea behind the Innsmouth Legacy is the Cthulhu Mythos is not actively hostile but simply different. The Deep Ones are just another race of human beings, the Mi-Go are busy-bodies who want to make humans better, the Yithians (actually the Yithians are much worse). It moves the setting from the realm of horror into that of science fiction.

    I don't mind authors doing this sort of thing and actually think more people should. Basically, there's no point to trying to ape H.P. Lovecraft's prose but much benefit to adding your own spin on his universe. It's why I enjoy the works of Brian Lumley's TITUS CROW, Peter Cline's 13 and THE FOLD, Matthew Davenport's ANDREW DORAN series, and David Hambling's HARRY STUBBS series. I admit, I'm biased since I also wrote CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON with this sort of thing in mind.

    The premise of the Innsmouth Legacy is the adventures of Aphra Marsha. Aphra is one of the only two survivors of the camps where the population was herded after the events of THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH. This idea was actually done before with THE DOOM THAT CAME TO INNSMOUTH by McNaughton but his story took a traditional view that the Deep Ones, victim of a horrible crime or not, were still an evil cult. This group of Deep Ones is entirely innocent of the blood libel they have been accused of.

    The first book had Aphra exploring Miskatonic University and the Innsmouth ruins while dueling with both the Yith and FBI. The sequel takes Aphra and her brother Caleb on a quest to New York (as well as Red Hook) in order to find missing members of the Innsmouth Legacy (a.k.a "mistborn"). Along the way, they encounter the Mi-Go who provide Aphra with a different perspective on the religion she's grown up revering.

    I really enjoyed this novel and hope Ruthanna Emrys continues to write books in the setting. While it's a bit iffy to find so many of the Mythos creatures made harmless and good intentioned, she still manages to make some of them quite terrifying. The Yith (also the Elder Race in this version) are also a people she reveres but this book highlights what a vicious and evil race their actions actually make them to being. The K'nyanians (from "The Mound") are also revealed to be even worse than Lovecraft portrayed them.

    I also like how Ruthanna Emrys plays with the themes of prejudice as Aphra Marsh proves to be outstandingly bigoted and close minded against the Mi-Go. The prospect of defying fate, of exploring the galaxy, and many things we tend to think of as positive are all things that horrify her. She can't get into the mindset of someone who doesn't view the Earth's oceans as the "be end all" of existence.

    I also like the follow up from events in WINTER TIDE with the apexia of Mary, Professor Turnbull struggling to get her life back in order, and Audrey's love of Aphra that she remains oblivious too. It seems very likely Aphra is asexual with no interest in mating beyond reproduction (even then that's because she's being pressured into carrying on the Innsmouth legacy) and that's something you don't see very often in books. I also like how FBI Agent Ron Spector is caught between his desire to protect the United States from supernatural threats and his friendship with Aphra (who is actively hostile to the United States for obvious reasons).

    In conclusion, I really like this story and think fans of Lovecraft will enjoy it if they don't mind switching genres. It's not horror and it's not a particularly "alien" version of the Mythos but it's still a very good take on Lovecraft's work which I enjoyed for its own sake.


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Call of Cthulhu (2018) review

    CALL OF CTHULHU (2018) is a roleplaying survival horror game developed by Cyanide and published by Focus Home Interactive. Initially, the game was supposed to be created by Frogware Games, which created the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (including one where the Great Detective investigates the Cthulhu Mythos). They had the game taken from them and, ironically, ended up making their own Lovecraft game with the upcoming THE SINKING CITY.

    The game was moved into production in 2016 and this means it had a roughly two year development cycle, probably less, which I'm going to comment on.  Call of Cthulhu's roleplaying game (as well as its spin-offs) is a franchise that I am deeply in love with and have loved for literal decades. I've never been quite the fan of the tabletop RPG as some (being more a Vampire: The Masquerade and Star Wars D6 fan) but I've always appreciated its existence.

Cat Baker is the best character in the game.
    Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu is arguably the greatest legacy of August Derleth (and arguably Lovecraft himself). Famously, August Derleth re-wrote a lot of H.P. Lovecraft's fiction and reformatted them as conflicts between good vs. evil. While the folks at Chaosium dialed back some of his sillier notions, their version is fundamentally a game about fighting the Mythos. Whether with Tommy guns, spells, or dynamite--you can do some damage against the Unnameable.

    H.P. Lovecraft only had that be true in a few of his works (THE DUNWICH HORROR, THE STRANGE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD, and THE THING ON THE DOORSTEP). You could never stop Cthulhu but you could possibly delay him from ending humanity for another day. Call of Cthulhu is ostensibly as an adaptation of the pen and paper game like the previous CALL OF CTHULHU: DARK CORNERS OF THE EARTH.

    So is it any good? I very much enjoyed it but this is going to be a review with a lot of caveats. Call of Cthulhu is a good game but it's not a great game and it's disappointing because you can see this could have been a great game. It's a game which suffers from dated graphics, inconsistent gameplay, confusing storytelling, and (most of all) a complete lack of scares. Call of Cthulhu is a horror game that fails to achieve anything resembling creeping dread and that's a shame because it really looked like they had something here--it's just lost in a sea of other ideas.

This guy isn't trustworthy. Shocking, I know.
    The premise is as follows: Edward Pierce, private detective and WW1 veteran, is hired by the father of a famous painter named Sara Hawkins. Sara is a minor celebrity with a reputation for painting surrealist paintings that are vaguely disquieting. She's accused of burning down her house with her child, husband, and self inside. Sara's father wants to exonerate his daughter and sends Edward off to Darkwater Island off Boston to do it.

    What follows is a rather predictable collection of events with the island being controlled by an evil cult, a plot to bring something dark and nasty into reality, an asylum section, and a sanity meter. There's even a shooting section which feels totally out of step with the game and hurts the narrative.

    I really wanted to like this game but it jumps out and yells "SURPRISE!" way too early. It's about twenty minutes into the game that you've already found the secret temple to the world's most famous Great Old One and what his worshipers are up to. There's really nowhere to go from there and the rest of the game struggles to catch up on the fact Pierce knows the secret of the island for the majority of the game.

Some locations are genuinely creepy.
    The game has some really good elements to it and I love the characters of Cat Baker, Marie Colden, and the posthumous Sarah Hawkins. I don't like switching to their perspectives, which takes us out of the perspective of Edward Pierce too often, but I enjoyed interacting with them. I really wanted to do more interaction and investigating with the locals but there's not really much chance to roleplay or investigate in the game. It's all very linear but takes the illusion of being open-world when I think a more Telltale Games or LIFE IS STRANGE format would have benefited the story.

    Gameplay wise, the game mostly consists of wandering around small levels looking for clues and talking to people. The stat sections leftover from the tabletop roleplaying game sometimes add a new line of dialogue or option but not enough really justify the EXP point section of the game. There's a number of stealth sections and the aforementioned shooting one but not so much that it really feels like a game you can honestly lose. Indeed, the most tense section of the game is where you have to play tag with the Dimensional Shambler as Sarah Hawkins (who appears via flashback) and one of the few scenes with any real edge.

This would be terrifying if we knew who he was.
    It's weird to say it but the game's best sections are not the Cthulhu-related ones. The story is most entertaining when you're talking to Cat Baker the Bootlegger, Marie Colden is investigating horrible afflictions she doesn't realize are tied to the Mythos, or when you're dealing with a haunted art gallery instead of the Cult of Cthulhu. These elements set up in the 1920s feel more authentic and give a sense of stakes to the horror that is otherwise absent. The fear of the Mythos is the fear of the unknown and too much of this is a theme park ride of Lovecraft's greatest hits.

    In conclusion, I think this was a decent enough game but I believe it needed a more coherent rewrite and a focus on tension. Edward Pierce can lose SAN but it's almost impossible to die in the game save in a few locations and there's not much of a chance to play on the game's strength by talking with people. I wonder what would have happened if they'd re-written the game episodically with Edward Pierce slowly finding out about the evils of the island.


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys review

    WINTER TIDE by Ruthanna Emrys is a book which came out last year, I read and I loved, but for whatever reason I didn't get to review. This is strange and an oversight on my part because it ticks most of the boxes for what I love in fiction: not only is it an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired story but it is also something that reinterprets the Mythos for a modern audience. Like Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff or my own Cthulhu Armageddon, it's a work which tackles HPL's controversial elements head on and does something interesting with them.
    In the case of Winter Tide, it is a sequel to the novella A Litany of Earth which was originally published on Tor's website and is actually available at the back of the novel. I suggest readers who want to fully enjoy this work read both A Litany of Earth first as well as H.P. Lovecraft's The Shadow over Innsmouth, which remains his most famous work as well as the work which this is a perspective flip as well as continuation of.

    For those of you unfamiliar with The Shadow over Innsmouth, the premise is a young New England scholar heads to the titular town of Innsmouth. It is a decaying hellhole of a fishing village with the locals all looking grossly deformed with huge eyes, scaly skin, and frog-like bodies. Gradually, the protagonist discovers the Innsmouthers have been interbreeding with a evil race of fish men called the Deep Ones and worshiping the dread god Cthulhu. The protagonist calls the US government down on them and they're all arrested before being herded into camps.

    Ruthanna Emrys takes this rather horrifying ending, if you treat them as people rather than monsters, and makes a series about the camps' (almost) sole survivor. In this universe, the Deep Ones were just a peaceful aquatic race which was unfairly maligned by both H.P. Lovecraft's protagonist as well as the US government. The same camps which held Japanese Americans during WW2 contain the leftovers of the Innsmouth Raid. Aphra is traumatized by the event and simply wants to get on with her life--but the US government isn't done with her.

    Aphra Marsh's story is basically the H.P. Lovecraft version of Wicked where up is down, black is white, and the Mythos is good rather than evil. The US government hideously wronged Aphra and her people but have the gall to want her help in dealing with magical matters. Magic isn't evil in this universe but it's not "safe" either and plenty of humans are messing with forces which could end up destroying the world by accident. So, Aphra, heads off to join an FBI team trying to find a Russian spy in Miskatonic University.

    The book advertises itself as a spy thriller but it's mostly a drama about Aphra coming to terms with the appropriation of her people's books and cultural artifacts by Miskatonic University. She has to go to New England in order to look at her people's own work and request them from the library which stole them. Meanwhile, she also has to deal with a variety of personages who want to take her religious practices then remove all context from them in order to make a purely scientific form of magic.

    I found these elements of the book very timely with things like Trevor Noah talking about how museums in Europe refuse tor return African art taken during the colonial era as well as things like Mindfulness that attempt to remove all Buddhism from Buddhist practices. Some of this is intended by Ruthanna Emrys while other is just happy coincidence I'm sure. The book is never preachy but is definitely written from the perspective of a minority coping with having her culture turned "trendy." It makes me wonder what she'd think of Cthulhu slippers since he's their version of Jesus.

    I liked the eccentric cast of characters which the author assembles around Aphra Marsh. Spector is a true blue Captain America sort of patriot but you have to wonder if he realizes just how much he's re-opening old wounds in his attempt to make amends for his country's crimes. Professor Turnball is a delightful character and I liked the slow revelations about how her relationships (like her maid that the Great Race of Yith drove off). Barlow and his team of idiot FBI magicians also served as fun antagonists, even if I sympathized with them more than I should have. It reminded me a bit of a Mythos version of Agent Carter but with less action and more melancholy.

    Does the book have any flaws? Well, I'm going to be remiss if I didn't say the book is sometimes a bit on the slow side. There's also the fact Aphra Marsh is not particularly interested in finding out the identity of the Russian spy in Miskatonic University's library. She gets around to it eventually but there's never a confrontation or dramatic payoff. Instead, she's sidetracked by her "fellow" FBI agents and visiting Innsmouth for the first time in years. For those wanting Aphra to get involved in spywork, it's a bit of a disappointment. This is a small flaw, however. One simply needs to understand what sort of book this is.

    There's also the fact this is a love letter to Lovecraft (Cthulhu, Deep Ones, geometric magic) but not necessarily Lovecraftian (scary unknowable dread) despite its use of the characters. To invoke my Wicked comparison above, this is not a book about how the Mythos is particularly scary to anyone but people who see cosmic insignificance as a sanity blasting thing by itself. Both the religious and arreligious both have often taken the view mankind is a small thing and this is a book where HPL's creatures are merely weird rather than terrifying. You'll appreciate this book more if you know the Mythos inside and out but also have to leave your prejudices the cult of Cthulhu eats babies at the door. Aphra isn't about to find out her people were secretly evil all along like some HPL protagonists did.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed this book and I think your enjoyment will be affected by how much you know (and love) H.P. Lovecraft while also being willing to put up with some good-natured criticism of his concepts. Aphra and the Deep Ones are a bit too nice at times but still likable characters. Besides, you don't want to give them any sorts of characteristics that might make the treatment of them seem justified (especially when drawing parallels to real life history). It's, overall, an extremely entertaining novel and good scifi.


Sunday, December 30, 2018

100 Miles and Vampin' and Maven of the Eventide review

Hey folks,

It's a vamptacular good time here this December (Merry Christmas, Blessed Cthulhu Rising, and Happy New Years). We have two bits of great news here with the release of my latest novel 100 MILES AND VAMPIN' (Straight Outta Fangton 2#).


Peter Stone is a poor black vampire who has found undeath isn't all it was promised to be. There's no vast riches, innate cool, or super-sex appeal. No, instead, there's working the graveyard shift at a gas station alongside the highway to Detroit. Oh, and the blood thing sucks too. Working a second job as the sheriff of the undead, Peter is asked to serve as bodyguard to a famous vampire romance novelist visiting the city. He doesn't go twenty-four hours before she's dead and he's the primary suspect. There's also evidence it was one of the most powerful vampires in the world.

Some days just hit you like a stake through the heart.

Set in the same world as the Bright Falls Mysteries.

I also have been incredibly lucky to hav the first book in the series, STRAIGHT OUTTA FANGTON reviewed by the awesome Maven of the Eventide. Elisa Hansen is a former member of Channel Awesome's staff and does a wonderful collection of vampire fiction reviews.

I hope people will check it out as she really got into the nitty-gritty of the book!

100 Miles and Vampin' is available for purchase here

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Fallout 76 review

"War...war is constantly getting dumber."

    I am a huge Fallout fan. I was brought into the series by Fallout 3 and mesmerized by its dark as well as haunting vision of a post-apocalypse Washington D.C. This led me to check out the original isometric games, which I also loved. Later, I would enjoy Fallout: New Vegas and it would become my 3rd favorite video game of all time after Skyrim and Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines. Unfortunately, my opinion of Fallout 4 was more mixed. I felt like the game was dumbed down with large story holes, too much focus on settlements, and a change to gunplay over a mix of it with skill use.

Fallout 76 is a very pretty game.
    Despite this, I still enjoyed Fallout 4 and was looking forward to Fallout 76. I'm a resident of West Virginia and could recognize some of the locations which were in the game's trailer. I also liked the idea of reversing the timeline from 200 years after the war to 25 years after the war. Much of the complaining on No Mutants Allowed boils down to, "They should have rebuilt the United States after that time and everything from the Pre-War Era should have turned to dust." I don't necessarily agree with this but I don't disagree with it either.

    So, how is the game? Well, it's terrible. It's extremely difficult to screw up a game that is already a tried and tested formula but they somehow managed to do it. I'm actually going to include some positives about the game because everyone else has gone into the negatives of the game. However, it needs to be spelled out this game is BROKEN. It is worse than Skyrim and Fallout 4 by far and I have encountered more bugs playing it (after 3 massive patches) than I have in the entirety of my gaming experience combined.

Here's a short list of the ones I've had through my first six hours of gaming:

* Quests not starting until reloads.
* Frozen indestructible enemies.
* Invisible enemies.
* Restarting in different places than I where I left the character in the game.
* The game not saving itself where I left it.
* Free-floating characters.
* Lag.
* Clipping.
* Characters not uploading as they should (sometimes missing beards before they pop on).
* Characters not having any clothes or equipment.
* The highlight option for the main menu not working for half of the commands.

    It's ironic that this isn't the worst mess of a game I've played this week because at least Fallout 76 plays. My Assassins Creed: Odyssey DLC was purchased, uploaded, and bought but doesn't ever show the option to play it. I'm disgusted with the gaming industry whenever they turn out something that hasn't been properly playtested or (in this game's case) I dare say not even finished. I mean Skyrim and Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines were both buggy but this is a whole new level.

The West Virginia landmarks are often places I know.
    The game also has other major flaws in the fact there's nothing really to do in the game but kill and do a LITTLE exploring. They've wholesale imported the settlement system from Fallout 4, despite most people hating it, but that doesn't work for a multiplayer game. You can't permanently keep your settlements and other players can dismantle them.

    So, really an entire portion of this game is completely pointless and hard as hell to do. PVP is also not well-designed since you have to challenge them to a duel by shooting them and have them shoot you back (with minimal damage) like you're slapping gloves. So all PVP is one-on-one duels and have no option for ambushes or battles. That doesn't even get into the biggest flaws of the game which are the lack of NPCs and the combat.

    The lack of NPCs is the craziest element of this game and I wonder who drank the Rad-infested water to come up with this idea. For whatever reason, there's only robot and terminal quest-givers in the game. It massively cuts down on the enjoyment of the game since I'm not sure who I'm supposed to be rebuilding the United States FOR given there's no people inhabiting this Wasteland. Quests lose whatever urgency they might have had without people depending on you even in a fictional context.

I'm annoyed Vault 76 isn't a hub.
    The game is also weirdly depressing as it has all the world-building of previous Fallout games with a Brotherhood of Steel faction, the Responders faction, a new branch of the Enclave, and the Order of Mysteries. However, all of these orders have been wiped out by the Scorched weeks beforehand. It's depressing that not only do you not get to interact with any of these interesting factions but the mostly-empty world is full of endless tragedy with no triumph.

    Combat is iffy as due to being a multiplayer always online game, you can't pause it for V.A.T.S that more or less means that shooting is completely different for people like myself. It's more like auto-aiming now and not nearly as effective. This has led me to do something I've never done before and pursue a melee build. My Resident has been moving across the Wasteland, slaughtering Scorched with a multi-purpose ax like Jason Voorhees rather than using guns. I'm not sure if that's a feature or not given it's because I didn't trust the gunplay.

    The enemy variety is a mixed bag. On one hand, there's too many Scorched in the game and they're a poor substitute for Raiders. Scorched are basically Feral Ghouls who use guns and melee weapons so they're not anything new to the franchise. The fact they're zombies created by radiation dragons (due to reusing Skyrim assets) gives them a awesome origin, though. The fact is I'd much prefer actual Raider clans to the group. Zombies are the most overused enemy in fiction and giving them guns doesn't make them less overused since we already had the undead in Fallout. On the plus side, we do have a lot more animals that included things like giant toads as well as the Molemen. The thing is, when there's no other humans alive, I'm confused why I'm shooting at the industrial miners.

    There's some of the old Fallout magic in the game that is still fun as hell when you're wandering around West Virginia, listening to old tunes, and exploring ruins of the Pre-War World. One of the best moments of the game for me was, ironically, just traveling across the New River Gorge Bridge. The crumbling massive creation was an environmental puzzle that I loved soaking up. Poking around the ruins of the Old World and figuring out what went on reminded me of Fallout 3 at times, which remains my favorite of the games. West Virginia is absolutely beautiful and feels more "realistic" (authentic?) at 25 years after the apocalypse versus 200+. Chernobyl is overgrown with forests and there's more than a few nods in that direction.

    The main quest is decent, if underdeveloped, and the fact I wanted to complete it and devote the hours to it means that they must have been doing something right. The radiation dragons and their zombie plague have to be wiped out. Fine, that makes sense. The fact the Overseer is directing you to do it is also a decent-enough quest even if you never meet with her directly. I like the dramatic irony of the Overseer, who never gets a name, being fanatically devoted to Vault-Tec while being
fundamentally a good person (as well as blind to how evil they are).

    The biggest positives I can say about the game is the long-popular modded-in survival elements work really well with the game. Caps are extremely rare in the game (even more so with Fast Travel eating them up), food spoils if left in your backpack, you need to regularly eat and drink, plus there's a shortage of ammunition as well. It really is important to boil your water, cook your food, and have recipes to survive. You have to work for your gear in this game and I find that to be a very interesting way of playing even if it is something PC gamers have been experimenting with for years.

    I'm kind of iffy about the fact you can launch nuclear weapons in this game. Much of the Fallout series is about the horrors of nuclear war even if it's in a silly coating. The fact you can and are encouraged to use nuclear weapons against the Scorched feels like it's missing the point. On the other hand, Liberty Prime uses nukes and I had this same objection with blowing up the Institute. War, I suppose, never changes.

    In conclusion, I am torn about my rating for this game because I keep wanting to play it and have a lot of fun with it but feel like it has removed so very much about what I do love about the game. The game is doubly frustrating because if they had just put NPCs in the game and copied the elements of other mutliplayer games then it'd probably be one of my favorites this year. As such, it doesn't feel like a good Fallout hame or a good Destiny clone (which it was clearly trying to be). This game is salvageable, though, and I hope Bethesda doesn't just abandon it. Give it The Taken King treatment and make it the game it deserves to be.