Review — Starcraft: Legacy of the Void (430)

Starcraft has always had a special place in my heart. I know it’s not accurate, but I do consider it the beginning of Esports and gaming on a competitive level. I never was very good, though. I was probably only about twelve years old when the second true installment of the game, Wings of Liberty, came out. This game has had an enormous impact on the gaming community as a whole, and while I’ve talked about it before, let me give my thoughts on the latest version. Even though it’s already two years old at this point, I hadn’t played through the last chapter until this past month, so cut me some slack.

Protoss is my favorite race. Between the goopy, brooding, and infesting insectoid swarm of the Zerg, the mechanical, sturdy, and militaristic might of the Terran, and the advanced, noble hierarchy of the vengeful Protoss, I’ll take the latter. I don’t like the bug or the hardbitten war aesthetic much, but an ascended race of people who think they’re better than everyone else? Yes please.

So, I think it goes without saying that since Legacy of the Void was the Protoss chapter of Starcraft II, it was definitely my favorite. I have the strongest handle on what my capabilities are with that faction, so I can try a little bit harder and pay more attention to the story than I could before.

And man, Legacy of the Void has some awesome characters and stories. I won’t spoil anything here (though the statute of limitations is definitely over), but it definitely has a lot more character than anything I really felt in the other two campaigns. The previous two objectives were: “save my x-girlfriend”, followed by “figure out who I am then get vengeance”. This time it’s “unite your fractured people, then take down a god”. This campaign felt a lot more impactful than the previous two, even if it is because it’s the “final chapter” of Starcraft II. Obviously I can’t really give credit to the writers here. It’s pretty much comparing the climax to the beginning and middle of a book, which isn’t fair at all.

All that being said, my favorite part about the single player is that it’s totally okay to give the player incredibly powerful abilities because it doesn’t have to be balanced. You’re supposed to win. The way that Legacy of the Void achieves this, through giving your character choices of unique units as well as adjustable in-game abilities (like ‘giant_lazer.exe’). Being able to upgrade and customize the way your character(s) go into a fight is one of my favorite game mechanics, and the fact that the things I’m choosing are all incredibly powerful makes my decisions feel extremely rewarding.

And, of course I can’t talk about Legacy of the Void without mentioning Alarak. (Minor spoilers ahead, but nothing too pivotal to the actual plot.) As far as I know, this character didn’t even exist in the Starcraft universe before this campaign, but he quickly ascended (see what I did there) to one of my favorite characters. You don’t get a lot of ‘Lawful Evil’ characters in any franchise, and even the ones that are aren’t on the good side. Alarak is a good guy, but he would never be mistaken for a good guy, if you know what I mean. Plus, he’s amazing because he’s so condescending, and the way he does it is so funny it’s amazing.

So, is Legacy of the Void worth getting? If you’re a Starcraft player, absolutely, but if that’s the case then you’ve probably already bought it. If you’re new to the RTS genre and want to know where to start, it’s great for that, too. All the complicated strategy stuff is easily tossed aside for new players. It’s mostly there to give veterans a way to amplify their abilities even more.

But, as old as Starcraft II has gotten, I’d imagine the next major installment for the franchise is due somewhat soon. I’d be willing to bet that the next big game release will happen before 2020 ends. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if it was announced by the end of the year, but I don’t expect it to be. Whatever might be the case, this game is great and is very compelling for an eight/nine hour experience!

Review — Wonder Woman

After all the raving reviews for this movie, and how everyone I know seemed to like it, I had high hopes for this movie. Even with it being part of the superhero bandwagon DC is jumping onto (which we all know they have been horrible at translating their stuff to the big screen), I knew it was going to be great. And, by and large, I think it was. Not a fantastic movie, mind you, but a pretty good one. As far as this post goes, I won’t be spoiling any specific plot related stuff, but I will talk about the general framework of the movie.

Now, when I tell people that I didn’t think this movie was amazing, most are surprised. Don’t get me wrong. This movie is amazing, especially compared to the other DC movies. But there’s nothing that makes it stand out as unique. The general plot is pretty basic, and one of my main issues with this movie is that there are never any direct consequences for the heroine. She wants to do a thing, and nothing in the world will stop her from doing it.

I, like much of the world of fiction, will consider this level of stubbornness and arrogance a character flaw. Only, she is never punished for her actions. (I realize you could argue this, but doing so would involve spoilers, so let’s just leave it at that.) But when I say she is never punished, I don’t mean there is no conflict. I mean that I wanted her actions to make the situation worse, and for her to learn something because of it. Instead, her arrogance leads her to take actions that don’t solve the problem, so she goes and does something else instead.

Overall, the plot structure is also very basic. “Here’s some exposition, now some action, and now we’ll be getting intermittent character development in between action scenes.” You hear a lot about character-driven fiction versus story-driven fiction, but this is definitely action-driven fiction. Characters will make dumb decisions based on the plot’s need for some slow motion action-y bits, of which there are a lot.

That isn’t to say that action movies are bad. But no action movie will ever get a perfect score in my book because I like interesting stories, and they just never do. Instead, they focus on cool shots and CGI. This movie did have some great shots, but I wasn’t a big fan of some of the CG. There were quite a few moments where Diana was moving in a way that looked wrong because the specific things that were happening didn’t physically work. I realize that I’m a product of my generation in that I have extremely high expectations for what looks real and what doesn’t, but still. (I will admit that all the horse tricks and the flips looked pretty dang snazzy, though.)

By far, the single best thing that Wonder Woman had was Gal Gadot. Her acting was pretty awesome, and she did a great job portraying a lost but stubborn character in an unknown world. I love naive characters like that, and she really nailed it without also being ‘dumb’. Plus, I think she really nailed the facial expressions, and as attractive as she is, I found it completely believable when all the characters who saw her for the first time were awestruck.

So, when I watch the next movies in the Justice League series, the thing I’m most excited for is seeing her act more. Unfortunately, it’ll be a ‘present day’ Diana where she’s acclimated to society, so we won’t get nearly as much of the naivety anymore, but either way I think that the quality of this movie is an probably an outlier. I don’t expect the next movies to suddenly be on the same level.

Review — Critical Role

I’m actually a little surprised that I have yet to actually talk about Critical Role as a thing. I know I’ve mentioned the fact that I’m watching/listening to it on a few monthly updates, but I never even explained what it is. So let me pose it to you this way. Imagine a Dungeons & Dragons group that professionally filmed all their sessions, and the entire cast, dungeon master and all, are famous celebrity voice actors who all happen to be great friends.

Now imagine that that’s a real thing, because it is.

There are a ton of reasons why this show is amazing. Even people that don’t like D&D would like it by virtue of the fact that it has some amazing storytelling, vivid description, and hilarious role-play moments. The adventures of Vox Machina are everything I want but have never quite achieved in a Dungeons & Dragons group, and I admit it makes me a little jealous.

Here’s the list of players and the characters they play, as well as one of their most notable roles (in that order). Keep in mind that while I know a lot of these people from video games, cartoons, or anime I’ve seen in the past, many of them are very prevalent actors in general.

Matt Mercer, Dungeon Master: McCree from Overwatch

Liam O’Brien as Vax’ildan (half-elf rogue): Illidan from World of Warcraft

Laura Bailey as Vex’ahlia (half-elf ranger): Jaina from World of Warcraft

Taliesin Jaffe as Percy de Rolo III (human gunslinger): Darion Morgraine from World of Warcraft

Marisha Ray as Keyleth (half-elf druid): Diamond Dog Soldier from Metal Gear Solid V

Travis Willingham as Grog Strongjaw (goliath barbarian): Roy Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Sam Riegel as Scanlan Shorthalt (gnome bard): Spider-man from The Amazing Spider-man 2 (video game)

Ashley Johnson as Pike Trickfoot (gnome cleric): Ellie from The Last of Us

Orion Acaba as Tiberius Stormwind (dragonborn sorcerer): Crazy Dave from Plants vs. Zombies

For starters, Matt Mercer, the Dungeon Master, is the most amazing DM I have ever seen. Not only does he spin awesome tales so well it looks like the entire game was made for this setting rather than an open-world thing he made up, but he is also an amazing voice actor. Never have I seen somebody be able to so accurately mimic what I would imagine monsters like giant spiders or goblins to sound like. And he does it all on the fly, too!

The party of this campaign is also pretty great. I could tell you what I like about each and every person in the cast, but since there are eight of them, it would take too long. Suffice to say that they’re all great in their own right. They’ve each had amazing moments, and while some characters are more enjoyable than others, you can tell they really love not only their own character but the characters of the rest of the party as well. This is a group of people that have grown to love each other and the game. You can really see what Dungeons & Dragons is all about by watching them play.

My favorite part about this game is that I can learn more about it as both a player and dungeon master just from watching it, and I get to experience this amazing story at the same time!

This is an ongoing campaign, as well. They stream it live every week, and they’ve been going for about four years, I believe, and they’ve filmed the last two. This means that there are well over a hundred hours of their campaign that you can go and watch right now, so just a fair warning there.

So, as a parting gift, here is a link to one of everybody’s favorite characters that Matt Mercer cooked up on the spot. It just goes to show that you don’t have to develop a huge boss monster or an important king to make a non-player character memorable.

Review — Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I know it’s been some time since Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild released, but I have yet to give my complete thoughts on it, and anything that occupies my time for as long as this game did is deserving of a sincere, quality post. I put over eighty hours into this game, and I could start over from scratch in a heart beat. (Whenever I start over like that I like to set rules for myself, for ex. “No buying armor”.)

But before I get into this game specifically, let me talk about my background with the Legend of Zelda franchise. The first game I had ever played (to any substantial degree, at least,) was Twilight Princess. I had access to older classics like Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, but I was too young to really enjoy those. So while Twilight Princess was the first installment I had really played, it was also the only one I had ever beaten. I went back to play some older ones later, but they couldn’t catch me like that one did. Legend of Zelda had never really been my thing, because I had always imagined them as being “dungeon crawler puzzle games”. For me, I typically enjoy either one or the other, because I get worse and worse with puzzles the more variables you throw in.

But when I saw the teaser trailer for Breath of the Wild, and the open world adventure it promised, and I was beyond excited. An open world puzzle game? Now that is something I would want to get my hands on. If it’s anything I like in a game, it’s a steady advancement as the character advances from a wooden practice sword to the Master Sword. Quite literally, in this case. This is the only Zelda game I have ever been hyped for. And man, did it deliver.

There are so many things that this game did remarkably, it’s hard to know where to begin. I think having unique places that are interesting to explore is a huge one. In most open world games, I go to the points on my map I know will lead to things. In Elder Scrolls games, for example, there are countless ruins and dungeons to explore, but they’re all pretty much the same and there is no promise of reward. After all, it might be the location of a quest you haven’t found yet, making the prospect of exploring pointless because you need the quest to get the reward or even explore that dungeon in the first place. But in Breath of the Wild, there are no such apprehensions. I can pick a direction and run with the certainty that I will find interesting things along the way. I couldn’t tell you how often I was sidetracked, logging on for the day with a specific goal in mind like “Explore X region”, only to find myself waging war with all the monsters in an area in a mad frenzy to get all of the materials I need to buy or make something. It’s amazing how Nintendo managed to make every possible task in this game interesting.

The second part about this game is related to the first, and that is the fact that this is a world you are discovering for the first time. The first time you see a big bad enemy you’re scared because you don’t know what it can do. The first time you explore a region you’re curious because you don’t know what is just beyond the corner. The first time you encounter one of the many strange events happening you’re awestruck because you’re forty hours into the game and how is this the first time you’re seeing this thing. (That happens a lot.) This game’s draw distance is also remarkable. You can always see across the entire continent, staring at the distant volcano from the other corner of the map. I can’t tell you how often I marked a spot in my map when I was using my “binoculars” and was astounded to see how far away that point on the map was from me.

There really is no end to the majesty of the game. Constantly finding new and better weapons as you explore new areas, and obtain more and more Heart Containers as you get Shrine Orbs is a great feeling, because you get a very real sense of progression as you play. Plus I’m a sucker for new types of armor, and a lot of them have their uses the more you play! There isn’t one set of “best, always wear” armor.

Here are the three things I hated most about this game. They’re common complaints, I’m sure, but compared to the overwhelming graceful nature that this game offers, they’re nothing. My first complaint is that the inventory system is clunky. As soon as you start stockpiling materials it becomes a burden when you switch from gathering ingredients to making food to switching pieces of armor. I wish it was easier to navigate, and I wish you could manually sort the items in your inventory rather than having the one or two “sort” settings, because they don’t stop you from constantly having to switch back and forth between inventory pages. The second thing is making food. Identical foods don’t stack, so making any meal will take up a slot in your inventory, and you can only have three pages of foods to boot. When I’m cooking, I would want to use the majority of my ingredients because, because when I have twenty snails in my inventory, the only way they’re going to get used is by making food. The only problem is I don’t have enough inventory to use that many snails, so it’s pointless. Twenty snails might as well be considered an infinite supply of snails at that point.

The last point is weapon durability. Yes, it’s frustrating how often weapons break, but that isn’t my real complaint. The thing that I don’t like about durability is how arbitrary it seems. It’s impossible to tell how much use a sword has left, because there are only three gauges. Does it sparkle? Then it’s never been used. Does it flash red? That means it’s almost broken. Does it do neither of those things? Well, it could be anywhere from practically new to almost broken still, especially considering how variable durability is across weapon types anyway. If anything, I’d like to see a little bar on the inventory screen that tells me how much use a weapon has left. Can I risk spending durability on this big guy and use it later for this shrine? Or will it break during the first fight? I have no way to tell. I find that a little frustrating, especially considering many weapons have uses outside of combat (which I won’t get into).

Now, this review is already about twice as long as most other reviews I give, and I could go on. This game is huge, and unlike many other open world games, it is far more encouraging and rewarding to actually go everywhere. I think that’s the single most impressive thing this game has accomplished. Is it hard? Parts of it. Some puzzles and some combat can be challenging, but I would say it’s primarily an adventure game and a puzzle game a close second. Unless it is a direct obstacle, you can avoid pretty much any fight simply by running, because most things will miss when attacking you.

So, really, play this game however you want, but pretty much any gamer could enjoy themselves with this game.

Review — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I’m not quite sure what the general consensus for this movie has been, or if it’s one of those “love it or hate it” situations, but overall I would say this is probably the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s weakest movie to date. That said, I did enjoy it, I just think they could have done a lot better with it. Since this is a new movie, no plot-relevant spoilers ahead, though I will be talking about the first few scenes.

As far as “movie adaptations” go, I think as a general rule it’s okay for a movie to diverge from whatever the original story is, regardless of the medium it’s derived from. I’m not upset when things don’t happen in the movies the same way they happened in the comics, primarily because I’m not very familiar with the comics, but also, there will always be too many different factors at play. You can never translate anything perfectly to film, there will always be things that are different. This is indisputable by virtue of the fact that many of those mediums require imagination, and movies take that aspect away, and you can’t stay true to everyone’s imagination in any circumstance.

So I’m not upset when this movie is different from the comics. I don’t know the comics, this is the only time I’ve seen these characters. I am upset when the plot rides the back seat to let jokes steer the wheel, however. I think the first Guardians of the Galaxy had lots of humor in it, and everybody loved it, so this time around they made the movie about the humor. Now, I’m okay with comedy movies, but I wouldn’t have even put this movie and it’s predecessor in the same genre, and that’s what the problem is here. We’re sacrificing character development and story telling to let sex jokes and obscure references take the forefront, and that isn’t what I signed up for. I think anyone that is told this upfront before seeing the movie will enjoy it a lot more.

The part that I liked the most was the first scene. The team fighting that horrible beastie while Baby Groot dances to a song is I think holds true to the original movie, and I loved it (especially when Gamora yells at Groot, and then smiles and waves cause she’s talking to a baby). But when they finish that scene and get to Sovereign, we’re immediately thrown into an info dump that has no immediate relevance to the plot. We’re given a ton of backstory that didn’t even fit the conversation, let alone the scene, and that was really confusing. Any time you describe a process to your audience just to teach them how things works, you’re doing something wrong. You have to at least make it make sense with the scene!

I did enjoy seeing more of the less important characters from the first movie. We get more interaction from Yondu and Nebula, and I do like what they added to the development of things. Their character arcs were very predictable, but that’s not always a bad thing.

Overall, the thing that I hated the most were the jokes. It wasn’t that there were too many, it’s that the execution on several of them were so poor. There were lines that didn’t fit with their character and jokes that grabbed the low hanging fruit, as Howard Taylor might say. Much of the humor in this movie was pretty low brow, and I don’t think it was suited to the plot at all.

All that said, I would still give it an overall positive score. I’m still excited to see more of these characters, I just think this could have been a lot better than it was. I suppose Marvel proved that it wasn’t infallible with this movie. Okay, it already proved that with the Iron Man sequels and a few others, but I still thoroughly enjoyed those!

Review — My Biggest Problem (400)

Instead of doing a conventional Review post, I thought I would make the Daily Dose’s 400th post special by talking about me and where I’m at. “Isn’t that a Me/Life post?” you ask. “And shouldn’t you talk about this next Monday where the May Update should be?” These are both fair questions, but I’ll actually be reviewing myself today. My personality. Looking at my life, and especially where I can improve. It’s good to reflect every once in a while.

First things first, I’ve gone through a lot of personal growth since I started this blog in February. And it’s all amounted to me being confident enough for me to introduce myself to people as a writer and not feel like I’m just pretending. It’s only a matter of time before I publish now, and that is really important. But I’ve talked about my growth there before.

Six years ago, I was an introverted elitist. I didn’t talk to anyone because I assumed strangers were beneath me. In fact, everyone was beneath me to a certain extent. Talking to them would just be a waste of time. But then improv came along and I came out of my shell. I’m still introverted, still a little narcissistic, (but I try to express that part in simple confidence these days). I teach high school kids. Being in public and socializing with people I don’t know well takes energy, but I can do it.

But I’ve pretty much spent my entire adult life lonely. I’ve spoken about this vaguely and briefly before, but when I’m talking to my few friends about this, I often describe it as the one source of failure and frustration in my life. Safety is a privilege I’ve always had, success is (in my eyes) inevitable, and the only thing I’m truly lacking is a feeling of attachment. If anything, I should be thankful that it’s the only real problem in my life, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that it’s prohibiting me from being truly happy with where I am right now. It’s a bit difficult to describe, really. I’ve boiled it down to this: I want to feel like people are personally invested in my life. I know friends and family care about me, but I don’t really feel as though anybody is genuinely interested in anything I’ve done or tried, and this feeling isn’t exclusive to my writing.

Yes, you could just say I’m looking for a significant other. That’s bound to curb the loneliness away, but really, I just don’t have any close friends at all. I have friends I’ve known for a long time, and friends I know I can talk about anything with, but none I really spend quality time with to make a true bond. I don’t feel as though I would have lost anything if I packed my things and moved across the country without telling anyone. I doubt many people would even notice, to be honest.

This is the part of me that needs the most work. I’ve talked to a therapist about this, and the conclusion we’ve come to is simply to talk to strangers even when I don’t want to. In fact, I’ve gotten all sorts of advice on “how to make friends”, but knowing what to do and taking action are two different things. I’m afraid of becoming friends with somebody I don’t actually like and forming social obligations, really. I have gone out and done social activities I wouldn’t normally do in order to fix this problem, but it still feels fake.

And unfortunately, I think all of this is starting to affect my writing. The number of times I have gone to bed at a reasonable hour in the last two weeks is zero, mostly because I’ve stayed up late doing writing that should have already been done (this post included). The worst part is, even the writing I do get done is meaningless. I simply don’t have anything to say these days. I have nothing to teach with the Learning! Posts, and nothing to new to talk about in the Review posts. The only thing I can talk about is me, and all it amounts to is whatever this sounds like, which I assume is pointless whining.

So, I imagine this means I need a break. It’ll be the first one since November. Two weeks every six months isn’t bad, and it will also give me time to breathe as I focus on schoolwork as well as some (much needed) free time. My constant fear of failure is driving me to make irrational decisions, putting production and writing over personal health, and it’s time I recognize that and put a stop to it.

All that said, this is the last post for a while. Two weeks, I imagine, but it could be longer, so I make no promises. But exciting news is on the way. Until next time.

Review — Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime

Part co-op, part power-up, part Asteroids, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a game with an intriguing concept and a brilliant execution. When a friend of mine told me about it, he explained it as “four people operating a single space ship as they navigate a space filled with lasers, missiles, and as you’d probably expect, myriads of different kinds of creatures. Every ship has several different parts, including guns, engines, shields, etc. and each player can only operate one at a time, so you have to really work together to pull through.

When I heard about this game, I immediately thought it would be a hectic game in which every person will constantly be swapping between manning the guns, the engines, the shields, and whatever else may be demanded of them. But really, this isn’t that game. One person steering, one person with a shield, and two people managing all the different guns works just fine. The only thing that’s hectic is actually killing all the guys that are coming.

But the intrigue in this game is the power-ups. Because while there are only about four different kinds of stations a person can operate, there are three different power-ups you can find (Power, Beam, and Metal), and they all fundamentally change every station you put them on. Placing a Power gem on a gun will make it fire more bullets. Placing a Metal gem on a gun will change the weapon into a giant flail. Placing a Beam gem on a shield will make it deflect (rather than absorb) any bullets that hit it. There’s so many possibilities, and a lot of the fun in this game is looking for power-ups in order to utilize them in ways you haven’t seen yet.

This grows exponentially more exciting when you unlock upgrades that let you store two power-ups at each station. A Metal-Power gun will turn the gun into a giant missile launcher. A Metal-Metal gun will make the weapon have two flails! Since there’s so many different combinations of operating stations you can create with this game, it’s fun simply discovering those new things. There are, inevitably, ones that are better than others. I’m looking at you, Beam-Power engine and Beam-Metal shield. But that doesn’t make the discovery any less fun. As you progress into the game, you fight bosses, and eventually you can unlock new ships with different layouts.

Now, this game is up to four players, and we had five at the time, so for the majority of the time we were playing I sat out. But that didn’t actually diminish my experience. Since a lot of the fun is in the discovery, I got to experience all that alongside everybody else.

My biggest critique is that the discovery is sort of short-lived. I could have kept playing this game for several more hours, but I imagine this game will get stale after you’ve played it twice. You can only create so many types of enemies and terrain before it starts to get boring. I wanted to see even more discovery. Just one extra power-up. A Fire or Lightning gem, maybe. Now, I realize this is a tall order, given the number of combinations this would introduce would be insane, but since that’s where most of my entertainment came from, I think that should be a larger highlight of the game. This isn’t a puzzle game where co-op and perseverance is the only way to succeed. It’s not easy, but we never lost a single mission, and we were always playing on the hardest difficulty. So I want more ways to toy with the game interactions.

But beyond my insatiable need to have every game better than it is, this game is great. It’s loads of fun, and best of all it’s kid friendly. You’re rescuing space bunnies (often referred to as friends) as you go on an adventure literally mending a giant metal space heart.