A Nerdy Moment With: Pokemon Sword & Shield

Pokemon Sword and Shield are the first new Pokemon games to come out since Sun/Moon. Lets Go doesnt count, those are remakes of Red and Blue! The first brand new pokemon game on the Switch, does Sword/Shield do enough new to entice both old and brand new players? Is Dexit all that big a deal? And how bout those Dynamax and Raid battles?

Join me for a Nerdy Moment with Pokemon Sword and Shield, as I discuss my thoughts on this game.

Pokemon Sword on Nintendo Store: https://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/pokemon-sword-switch/
Pokemon Shield on Nintendo Store: https://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/pokemon-shield-switch/

And always remember…STAY NERDY!

A Nerdy Moment With: The Outer Worlds (A Review)

Is Obsidian’s new title The Outer Worlds just Fallout New Vegas in space? Or is it something more. Today I bring to you a moment with The Outer Worlds, and my thoughts on it after my 25 hour journey with Parvati and Felix has been completed. Is the Halcyon system the same after I got through with it? Is capitalism still running rampant over everything?

Is there hope for the future? Lets find out!

Buy the Outer Worlds on Green Man Gaming – https://www.greenmangaming.com/games/the-outer-worlds-pc/?tap_a=50262-8d2b33&tap_s=644938-bae488

This link is an affiliate link, which will help me get a small cut of the sale.

Be aware if you get Xbox Game Pass for PC, the Outer Worlds is INCLUDED!

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – A Review

75 and a half hours.

I spent 75 and a half hours on a journey.  A journey through a land called Alrest, with a colorful cast of characters taken straight out of an anime.  All in the hopes of eventually taking a woman named Pyra to a land called Elysium.  It didn’t start as a journey to save the world or anything.  It was simply a boy called Rex trying to take a girl named Pyra to where she was born.  And it was amazing.

As of late, JRPGs by and large have not been able to hold my attention.  The turn based combat in most of them bores me anymore, the trite anime fantasy worlds feel the same over and over again or feel like they copy older games, and the “save the world with the help of a chosen one!” plotlines that are still used in the genre feel tired and dull.  Thankfully, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is none of these things.  In fact, the best way I can really describe it is this: a JRPG in Tone, Storytelling, and Characters, but a Western Styled Open World Action RPG in mechanics and playstyle.

I wasn’t sure if I would fall in love with this game either, but over the course of my journey, I found myself pretty much liking everyone.  Tora and his odd way of speaking.  Poppi and her sass towards her “Masterpon” and childlike nature.  Zeke and his completely insane catchphrases (He is the ZEKEANATOR ya see).  Morag and her no nonsense attitude and maturity.  And even Rex, with his weird obsession with saving everyone, even the villains, from their own anger and hatred.

This is my review of Xenoblade Chronicles 2.  A game that, to me, is something a bit special, a bit silly, and has a whole lotta heart.

VISUALS

The anime influence is clear from the get go with the design and style of Xenoblade Chronicles 2.  Everything is bright, colorful, and stylized from the costumes that Rex and company wear to the NPCs that populate the world to the enemy designs.  However, speaking of enemies, there is a lot of pallete swapping going on, with types looking basically the same (all Bunnits look the same but might be carrying different items in their tails, for instance) and there is a VERY clear line between the costumes and designs of the main cast and characters and generic NPCs.  Basically, if someone has an actual outfit that pops, they are a main character vs the NPCs who all wear the same sort of clothes based on the region you are in.  It can be a tiny bit jarring at times, because Rex and company (and the rest of the supporting cast) look so vastly different from literally EVERYONE ELSE.

The world design is also something I want to mention.  Each Titan Landmass looks visually distinct from the others.  Gormott for example is a big lush island, with a swamp, rolling plains, mountains, and a massive tree.  Mor Ardain however is a desolate rocky Titan, with a ton of industrial machinery and mining equipment lying down.  My favorite, however, is Uraya, which is otherworldly (as you would expect given where the people of Uraya live) with a ton of pools and strange plants laid out in steppes.  The Leftharian Archipelago is also a treat, with distinct islands connected by long pathways over the Cloud Sea which gives you some stunning vistas to experience.

Performance wise, most of the time the game works great in Docked mode on the Switch, although some areas like Gormott can have FPS drops and stutters if there is a lot going on, or if the day night cycle shifts making the shadows change.  However, there is a noticeable drop in quality the instant you try to go into handheld mode and I personally would avoid doing so.  I tried for a bit and just couldn’t handle it.

AUDIO

I love the music in this game.  Each area has its own theme, and they all are stellar tracks.  Of note, Uraya (again) as well as the final areas of the game are my personal favorites and I really want a copy of the soundtrack so I can listen to these tracks and others.

Just listen to the Uraya Music!

The sound effects are pretty good, with attacks sounding suitably brutal or effective.  The battle music is also pretty solid as well, although it can get a bit repetitive at times, as it always can in a game like this.  However, you won’t really notice the battle music most of the time because of the in game battle voice clips.  And lets talk about that voice acting.

I played with the English voice cast, although you can download a free DLC update to access the Japanese.  The English cast for the main group is pretty great, honestly.  Most of the voice acting by and large is solid work, although some of the characters can get annoying (Hello Tora…meh-meh!) just due to how the characters vocal patterns and mannerisms are.  However, what started to drive me insane are the in battle voice clips.

You see, your characters and the humanoid enemies constantly talk in battle.  Special attacks, random quotes, the works.  You will hear Rex yell “ANCHOR SHOT” every time you use it, you will here Zeke scream “Dynamic Spark Sword!” whenever he unleashes the blow.  And they all overlap in a medley of aural chaos.  It can be a mess at times.  Your enemies, the humanoid ones at least, also yell things.  There is one area of the game where you fight these particular soldiers…and they ALL yell the following phrase: “YER DONE!?” just like that, sounding almost like a question.  Over and over.  In one fight I had four of these enemies active in a fight and the overlapping yells of YER DONE became a joke to me and my wife.  We now wander around the house and will just randomly scream YER DONE?! at each other when we do things.

Also, Rex legit screams “We will defeat you with the power of Friendship” as a battle quote, so that’s a thing.  This game really is anime to its core.

Oh and the entire soundtrack (as covers, but good ones) is available to listen to on Spotify.

STORY & WORLD

Trying to explain this story without giving too much away might be a tad difficult but I will do my best here.  This is the story of Rex and Pyra, two people brought together under unusual circumstances and bonded together.  Rex has promised to take Pyra to her birthplace, a land called Elysium, which is a mythical land of plenty atop the World Tree, this massive tree that sits at the center of the known world of Alrest.

The big thing here is that Alrest is a world where humans live on the backs of mammoth creatures called Titans, who swim around the Cloud Sea, a literal sea made of clouds.  The remains of the previous civilization sits under the Cloud Sea, and people called salvagers (like Rex) make a living diving into the cloud sea and scavenging for relics of the past.  It is due to these skills as a Salvager that Rex is hired to accompany some dubious people, and that is how he meets Pyra.  From there you travel the world, all with the primary goal of getting Pyra to Elysium.  Rex truly believes that the way to fix the world also lies atop Elysium, so he is more than happy to accompany Pyra.  It also helps that Rex is very clearly attracted to Pyra very early on, and this attraction grows and forms between the both of them, although neither ever expressly states this till the very end.

Along the way you will uncover plots to destroy the world, deal with terrorist organizations, run from the law, and more.  But throughout the game the main goal is always “Get Pyra to Elysium”.  Everything else is pretty much secondary to that stated goal by Rex and company.

The world itself is very well realized, with each Titan landmass having its own accents, culture, visual style, and personality.  From Tantel being an isolationist country that hides in the Cloud Sea, to Mor Ardain being a super advanced military country, to the Nonpons of the Argentum Trade Guild, every area feels and looks different.  There are tons of side stories to undertake as well that expand on both the cast and their relationships (called Heart to Heart events) as well as hidden areas to explore, side quests to discover that fill out the trials of the people of the world, and so on.  The main story is also very well written, but also very much anime inspired.  At times, it felt like I was playing a Shonen anime in game form, with Rex being a little too positive and naive at times, with him spouting the “Salvagers Code” at random times in an effort to bolster the group or explain his intentions.  The villains are pretty straight forward as well, but they all have their motivations, and while the story does try to do the “redeem the baddie” stuff here and there, it doesn’t really take away from anything.  Also, I will freely admit that by the end of the game, during the final sequence, I teared up and got a little sad as to what happened between Rex and Pyra.

One of the more unique things about the world that is woven both into the mechanics of the game as well as the narrative is the concept of “Drivers and Blades”.  Blades are beings summoned from these crystals called Core Crystals, that resonate with a “Driver”, a person who has the potential to bond with a Blade.  Those who do not have the natural talent to resonate with a crystal….well they die.  Very very horribly.  Rex becomes the Driver to Pyra, and its thru this bond of Driver and Blade that the story really gets shaped.  As the narrative progresses, we learn more about how Drivers and Blades interact, where Blades come from, and the way Blades work.  There are also the Titans, and we do learn towards the end of the game where they come from as well, and by the end of the narrative we have a full picture of how Alrest was born, the ideas its creator (The Architect) originally had, and its past and future.  All in all I was very much satisfied by the story and setting of this game, and really enjoyed every moment of narrative I experienced, even if Rex and Pyra’s attitudes annoyed me at times.

GAMEPLAY

Alright, there is a lot to unpack here with this game.  It involves a ton of systems, some of which don’t even seem to connect to each other and at times feel half baked.  In fact, this game even still gives you tutorial popups of new features all the way till the last chapter of the game (seriously, there is a pop up right after one of the 2 final boss fights letting you know of a new thing you can do its wild).

Controls are pretty straight forward however.  Left stick to move, right stick to control camera.  You move in a 3rd person perspective.  The B Button on the field is Jump, A unsheathes your weapon if you are targeting an enemy or you using A to activate items or talk to people.  R1 targets nearby enemies.  ZR (or R2) opens and closes your “quest” tracker, LZ switches your active Blade on screen, X opens up the Fast Travel screen.  Y is for auto run although I never used that.  The L Button plus the Control Stick or Directional pad can shift the camera around.  R3 (Pressing the R stick) changes your map zoom (so mini map, full map, zoomed map, no map).  The + key is your menu key to access things like inventory, characters, ect.  The – key is to quickly go to your system menu to save the game, change the time of day, and get access to options.  You can save almost everywhere which I love.

Combat is where things get a little wild.  To start, you must target an enemy, or get its aggro (some enemies can auto attack you if you get too close, like an MMO).  Once you target or are targeted you must take your weapon out with A.  Then your characters will auto attack with their equipped weapon which is based on the Blade you had out on the field.  Your Blades are how you access different weapon types and roles in combat.  Each Blade will be either an Attack (DPS), Healer, or Tank type.  Each character in your party will have 1 Blade that cannot be removed (Pyra cannot be removed from Rex, for instance, & Nia cannot remove Dromarch) and eventually you will be able to equip up to 3 total blades on each character.  Tora is unique in that he can only use Poppi, just as an FYI, and Poppi is a unique Blade with her own set of mechanics that will take way too long to go into here.

One combat has started you will have access to 3 “Weapon Skills” mapped to your X, Y, and B buttons.  These charge up during combat, and can be unleashed to do more damage and have added effects such as Break, Spawn Healing Potions, Heal the Party, Grab aggro, ect.  You can check these effects in your Weapon Menu in the character screen.  Each Weapon Type goes with a Blade Role as well (so Hammers are almost always TANK weapons, Katanas are Tanks, ect) but it also depends on the character.  Rex will have different attacks when using Fist weapons then Nia will, for example.  You also get a Special which is unique to the Blade, mapped to A.  This special can charge up to 4 levels during combat.  Your DPad will be used to eventually switch between your equipped blades (Up, Down, and Right) and also set your team to Target specific enemies (Left).  Finally, you can switch your target by holding down R1 and pressing B or Y for left and right.  You have no control over your party members (and you will have 2 party members plus whichever character you are controlling) in fights.

There are 2 big things in combat you need to be aware of: Driver Combos and Blade Combos.  Driver combos are activated by chaining specific status effects.  Start with Break, then you can hit the Topple status effect, then the Launch effect, and finally Smash.  Each character will generally be able to activate ONE of these (Rex can do Topples for example, and with one blade he can do Smash eventually).  The window to activate these is pretty small but you can do big damage.  You also have Blade combos, which are based on the element of your blade, and those Specials.  If you hit an enemy with a level 1 water special, you can combo with say a level 2 water special, and then finally a level 3 water special for big damage.  You can use Blade Switching to maximize your potential for both Driver and Blade combos and you will need to learn this to be effective.

Mind you the game will explain all of this to you…exactly once.  And never again.  You cannot access any of the tutorials the game gives you about combat, or ANYTHING AT ALL, once you have seen them, so you will have to be looking this stuff up on a wiki if you can’t remember it.  It took me nearly 40 hours before I FINALLY got the hang of Blade Combo’s and understood what I was doing.  Also, the game doesn’t really explain how roles work, or how healing works, or any of that.  Thankfully I have played enough MMOs to understand that, in general, you will want 1 Tank character, one DPS character, and one Healer.  By the end of the game I had Rex as my healer due to some story stuff, my DPS was Zeke, and my tank was Tora.  It worked pretty well.  Most of the games combat is going to be up to managing who everyone is targeting, your blade and driver combos, and understanding how to use Chain attacks (yes there is another mechanic that comes way later) to maximize damage.

Character customization is surprisingly detailed as well.  Each character has a skill tree you can spend SP on (earn in combat and by doing side quests) that unlock upgrades.  Things like being able to use your Weapon Attack mapped to Y at the start of a battle, or more HP or strength, or increased critical chance.  Each weapon type has 4 unique skills for it as well, and you can only equip 3.  You can also level those skills up with earn WP, again which you get from combat and side quests.  Finally, each character can equip 2 “Accessories” which can do all sorts of things like increase aggro generation, boost auto attack damage, grant increase damage with specific weapon types, and so on.

Blades also come in 2 types: Rares and Commons.  Rare blades have unique names, art, and skills.  Each blade will also have an “Affinity Chart” which has nodes that increase their Special Attacks, their passive skills, and their Field Skills.  All blades have Passive Skills that do things like “Heal the party every second while at max Affinity” or “Increase damage when under 30% health” and Field Skills which are used for skill challenges on the world map.  You might find a chest, for instance, that needs several levels of Lockpicking to open.  That’s a Field Skill, and the more Blades you have equipped that have Lockpicking as a field skill, the more levels you have access to.  The game does not tell you that your characters who are NOT in the active party will contribute to this.

An example: You have 4 total available party members.  3 of them are in your active team, one on the bench.  You run into a chest that needs 8 levels of Lockpicking to access.  No single blade will give you that much (at most, you can get 5 from a single blade).  But if each of your 4 party members has a Blade with 2 points of Lockpicking, you can switch those blades onto them (equipping the blades) to get 8 total levels of Lockpicking, and beat the challenge.  Most of these Field Challenges will unlock treasure, new areas, and more.

There are even more systems, like Town Development which unlocks more stuff in shops, a pouch system that grants Trust to your blades (which is basically how much a blade likes the character, mercenary missions where you can send blades out to do jobs while you play, and a full on gathering system and salvaging minigame.  This game has a metric ton going on here, nevermind a full complement of side quests that are pretty involved at times (and quite a few that are just fetch quests too), and the fact that just about every Rare Blade has a “Blade Quest” unique to them that you can unlock as well and sometimes HAVE to unlock to level the blades Affinity Chart further and its just…there is a lot of stuff here.  Oh and I almost forgot to mention all the Unique World Bosses that roam areas of the game.  Those things can be scary to face.

My biggest single gripe about this game has to do with those Rare Blades.  You see, you get some Blades from story moments, like one called Wulfric, or Pyra.  However, many Blades are locked inside “Core Crystals” which you get as drops from enemies.  Core Crystals are in essence Loot Boxes you cannot buy with real money outside of some that are included in the DLC packs that you can get ONCE.  Core Crystals come in Common, Rare, and Legendary types, and there roughly 28 total Rare Blades in this game.  I opened all my Crystals, and I think I got about 12 Rare Blades from them, plus I have all the Quest Rares.  Most of the time, I got Common blades, which can vary in quality and usefulness in the extreme.  You also have a limit to how many Common Blades you can carry, and Blades have to be bonded to specific characters and can only be moved thru the use of “Overdrive Protocol” items.  So if you mistakenly get a healer blade on a character you want to use as DPS, you will be stuck unless you have one of the rare Overdrive Protocol items.

Now, as always, here is some gameplay footage showing off both the exploration, combat, and even the salvaging minigames as well as menus, blade systems, and all the various charts.  PLEASE BE AWARE THERE ARE SOME MINOR SPOILERS REGARDING WHO JOINS YOUR PARTY.  I CANNOT HELP THIS AS THIS IS MY END GAME SAVE FILE.  I also access one of the DLC Features called the Challenge Mode for the first time to show you combat as well as some of the voice acting and cutscene stuff.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Look, it takes a special sort of game to grab my attention for as long as Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has.  The last JRPG to manage this, to make me actually WANT to finish, was Persona 4 on the PS2.  Beyond that, most of the games I play with long playtimes are things like Fallout 4, Path of Exile, Dragon Age Inquisition, and so on, and generally those are over multiple sessions over long periods of time with breaks for other games mixed in and frequent restarting.  But Xenoblade?

I have basically been playing that exclusively outside of my Indie Impressions games, and honestly I am not done with the game yet.  I still want to complete more Blade Quests and try to collect all the remaining Rare Blades (which means farming Legendary Core Crystal drops).  There is a New Game Plus mode that unlocks special Blades and secondary skill charts for all the characters.  I have the DLC Torna the Golden Country which is something like 20 more hours of content that goes over the Aegis War time period.  But now that I have finished the main story of the game I feel I can take my time, and do things when the mood strikes me.  But my time with Rex and company isn’t over yet.

And if what you have seen here interests you I urge you to consider picking this game up.  Its $60 on the Nintendo Switch Store, and it was well worth every penny for me, personally, even if it’s got some oddball issues, some strange mechanical quibbles, and the goofiest voice acting at times.

So…I gotta ask myself…YER DONE?!

No.  No I aint.  But Alrest has been saved, at least for now, so it’s time to move on for a while.  Thanks for reading, and as always treat each other kindly and Stay Nerdy.  We can defeat the evils of the world with the power of Friendship indeed, Rex-Rex.

The Camp Halfblood Novels (Percy Jackson, The Kane Chronicles, Magnus Chase, and More): A Series Review

Ok this is going to be very long post so strap in and get ready.  While the Dresden Files and Sandman slim are both long unfinished series (15 books and 10 books respectively) they each have one handy thing in common: They follow a single protagonist and their journey through their life and the world around them.
However, the novels of Rick Riordan which I always call the Camp Halfblood novels, currently sit at 22! full novels plus a few cross over short stories, and feature multiple protagonists, in multiple groups, but all in a single shared world that is connected.  Yes, this is an absolutely massive series of books, and the wild thing is that all of the books are in the same universe! How is that even possible? How does that work?  Well for this Series Review I am going to break down each grouping of books, give some general thoughts on how they feel and play out, and then talk about how it’s all connected at the end. I am going to try to avoid any form of spoilers because, honestly, these are personal favorites of mine and I really think you should read them yourself. If you want a TLDR Summation of Rick Riordan’s books? GO READ THEM.  RIGHT NOW. Start with the Lightning Thief, and just don’t stop till you hit the end. If you are a fan of Urban Fantasy, Young Adult, and Mythology you NEED TO READ THESE BOOKS.
Additionally I will not be touching on the various short story collections for each mythology, as those are not really main series stuff and serve mostly to flesh out the mythology of the Greek, Roman, and Norse worlds that exist in these books as well as give some secondary characters the chance to shine. They are good, but they are not part of the main “Meta Narratives” if you will.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s begin!  Mind you, at the time of me writing this the Trials of Apollo series is STILL being released. I will update the post when its finished with any changes in my opinion on that series.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Series 1, 5 Books)
Where everything started, these 5 books consist of “The Lightning Thief”, “Sea of Monsters”, “The Titans Curse”, “The Battle of the Labyrinth”, and “The Last Olympian”.  These books are all told from the perspective of teenager Percy Jackson who starts the series at 12 years old and by the final book has reached 16 years old.  Percy is a Demigod, ie the child of a mortal parent and Greek God.  Rick Riordan cemented himself, at least for me, as a modern day classic author.  Each of these novels can stand on their own and tells a complete story, but to really understand the struggles of Percy, you need to read all 5 in order. They each detail a different point in his life, the struggles of dealing with Greek Mythology in the modern world, and the people he meets along the way. These books also touch on a variety of topics many young adult novels used to shy away from. Loss, revenge, absent parents, mental illness, disabilities, and more are touched in solid ways that doesn’t shy away from the hard truths. Percy, like many Greek Demigods, has ADHD and Dyslexia for one, and its explain that these are because his brain is hard wired for both battle and reading ancient Greek.  Percy is also a fairly likable character. He makes mistakes, as do his friends, but in the end he does what’s right for the world at large.
The series also does a great job modernizing classic Greek mythology and tales. We see the various gods such as Ares, Zeus, Athena, Apollo, Hermes, and more. We learn about the Titans such as Kronos and Atlas. We learn about Circe and Calypso, and Daedalus, and get to see Percy and company deal with tons of classic monsters from the Minotaur to the Furies!  Everything works exceptionally well and fits together with the modern world.
Percy’s journey, like many classic Greek tales, isn’t really a happy story and is more akin to a tragedy. While the ending to the series is great and ties up everything, it also opens things up the next 5 books in the Olympian Series via a new “Great Prophecy”, which is called the Heroes of Olympus series.  But before we get there? We gotta get through the Kane Chronicles!
The Kane Chronicles (Series 2, 3 Books)
This trilogy consists of “The Red Pyramid”, “The Throne of Fire”, and “The Serpents Shadow” and details the adventures of Sadie and Carter Kane, a brother sister pair who are of mixed race.  Where the Percy Jackson series deals with Greek (and later Roman, but we will get to that) Mythology, and Magnus deals with Norse (Again, we are getting there), the Kane series deals with Egyptian mythology and follows a very different structure.  First, we have two narrators over just one, with Sadie and Carter switching off to tell their story from their own points of view.  Further, these stories are treated as recordings that were found and transcribed by the author which is an interesting narrative device.
One major difference is just how, well, depressing these books get.  While Percy Jackson and the Olympians can get dark at times, and have some bittersweet moments, it still tends to end on high notes. But the Kane’s story? Almost nothing ever seems to go right, and everything seems to spiral out of control the further and further into the story and world you get.  Now, at first there is no mention of the world of Percy Jackson, and until the next little block of stories (the Demigods and Magicians Crossover series) you would never have known that The Kanes and Percy existed in the same shared universe.  Further, the way the Egyptians work with the Gods is VERY different.  Rather than being Demigods, the Kanes and the people like them are able to directly access the power of the Egyptian Gods like Isis, Horus, Thoth, and so on.  They are, in essence, wizards.  There is a lot of spellcasting, a lot more focus on magic and the rules of magic, and at times these books almost feel like a kids version of the Dresden Files.  I do enjoy how the books again tackle things like loss, mortality and chronic illness (there is a character who is basically dying of cancer, although its called a curse), dealing with racism and being of mixed racial heritage, being different (the Dwarf God Bes makes an appearance in the novels and is central in Book 2) and so on.
I will admit as well that I am not as in love with these books as I am with the Percy Jackson and Magnus Chase stuff. I find the world, while interesting, to be bogged down in the details of Egyptian mythology a bit too much, and the super dark tones and depressing narrative to be something I just don’t enjoy coming back to.  The trilogy does tie up everything pretty well and ends on a mostly positive but still rather bittersweet note, and I would not be against seeing more of the Kanes in the future (there are hints at the end that leave the world open to being returned to) especially if the books were a bit more positive, but if there was any block of books you could safely skip in the Camp Halfblood world, this and the novella crossover series would be the ones. The books themselves have no connection to Percy or Magnus until the Crossover, and that crossover series is really only there to establish and connect the two world together.  There is a comment at the end of the last book talking about working with Demigods against a greater threat (which sounds like a setup for a major crossover event) but so far nothing has come of it.
Now, logically I should do those crossover novellas next, however I want to jump ahead and do the next set of Percy Jackson novels, the Heroes of Olympus.
The Heroes of Olympus (Series 3, 5 Books)
And now we return to the world of Percy Jackson. This series consists of 5 novels, starting with “The Lost Hero” and then continuing with “The Son of Neptune”, “The Mark of Athena”, “The House of Hades”, and ending with “The Blood of Olympus” and whooooo boy, this is a wild series.  First, one change is that the books are no longer written in First Person perspective (IE I talked to Sadie) but rather third (Percy looked at Nico), and this is because the cast of main characters and viewpoint characters expands from JUST Percy Jackson to SEVEN/EIGHT total demigods. We have Percy, Annabeth, Leo, Piper, Jason, Frank, Hazel, and sometimes Nico.  There is a ton of stuff going on here. The first two books each deal with a different group of three (Book 1 has Jason, Leo, and Piper while Book 2 is Percy, Frank, and Hazel) as viewpoint characters. These books, much like the Kane books are very dark, but at the same time somehow feel more hopeful. The heroes seem better equipped to deal with the situations they are dealing with as well as their own personal issues, and the very real possible destruction of the world at the hands of the primary villain.
These books deal with the same themes as his previous works: loss, mental illness such as imposter syndrome, personal identity, sexuality, love, duty, and sacrifice. Nothing is held back in these novels either, with the battles feeling like the heroes could lose at any time and the stakes feeling major pretty much constantly.  Obviously, now, we know that they don’t fail because Trials of Apollo exists, but the way everything plays out, the things that the 7 have to endure is frightening and a little disturbing at times. House of Hades specifically is incredibly messed up with what Percy and Annabeth specifically have to deal with in their portion of the book, although Mark of Athena is also several levels of messed up when dealing with phobias and the like.  I do want to take a moment to also mention a specific scene in House of Hades involving Nico and Jason.  It’s a moment where the duo have to meet and deal with Cupid to obtain a magical item that is very important to the quest, and it’s one of the most gut-wrenching and heartbreaking moments in the series as well as some massive character development for the duo.  Additionally, some old characters from the first 5 books also show up again, and new alliances are formed and new love is found.  Hell Book 5 even adds a new Viewpoint character which grants a new perspective on things.  Its gripping, exciting, and while at first it seems like it’s going to end on a downer, the surprise at the end wraps up everything nicely for everyone.
The characters also each get their time to shine, to show off their abilities, and to grow as people and heroes, which is good considering we have 7 bloody viewpoints that are shifted through almost on a chapter by chapter basis. Each character also has their own voice and personality which shines through their perspectives as well.  It’s really well done and I was always able to follow the group and their trials easily enough.  It’s just…excellent fiction all around and a fantastic capstone to the story of Percy and company.  After the trials our heroes faced in these novels they deserve a chance to rest.
So how does one follow up such a crazy 10 book story?  Why, by changing to a new Pantheon, a new tone, and this time connecting it directly in the main books to the world of Percy.  I am talking about the magic of Magnus Chase, my favorite of all the Rick Riordan series.
Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard (Series 4, 3 Books, connects with Percy Jackson, runs concurrently with the Trials of Apollo to a point timeline wise)                
         
Straight up, this is my favorite 3 books in Riordan’s entire catalogue thus far.  The series includes the books Sword of Summer, Hammer of Thor, and Ship of the Dead.   The adventures of Magnus and his friends through the Nine Worlds is exceptionally written and deals with a lot of various topical issues such as gender, sexuality, disabilities, friendship, toxic relationships, prejudice, racism, and more.  Further, Magnus himself is actually not a fighter, not really anyway.  He is quickly revealed to be a demigod of a Vanir god, which are the more nonviolent gods in the Norse pantheon (Thor and Odin are Aesir, which are the more warrior / militant gods for example) and is actually more along the lines of a healer and support member for his group of friends.  The characters and the way the story plays out are what make this adventure so much fun as well even when it gets dark and depressing.  Magnus himself starts the series as a homeless kid living on the street since his mother died, and we quickly find out that Annabeth Chase (yes, Annabeth from the Percy series) is his cousin and is looking for him.  From there Magnus, well, dies.  This is not a spoiler as the book literally opens up with him telling you the story of how he died.  He is then taken to Valhalla by a Muslim Valkyrie (yes, really) who is related to yet another Norse god.  From there he goes on adventures dealing with Loki (because who else is going to screw with the Norse pantheon but Loki) and all of that madman’s schemes in an attempt to start Ragnarok and hasten the end of the Nine Worlds.
I can’t really go too deep into this without spoilers, but let me just say that Alex Fierro is one of the best written characters I have ever encountered.  He/She (Alex is Genderfluid you see) is feisty, strong willed, and takes no prisoners whatsoever.  Hearth and Blitz are also amazing. With Hearth being a Deaf Elf who is trying to relearn Rune Magic and Blitz being a Dwarf who wants to open a fashion store selling boutique handcrafted clothing items.  And both use their skills to aid their friends, and deal with their family traumas throughout the books as well.  And everyone here is dealing with some trauma let me tell you.  Hearth in particular is really depressing due to how his family has treated him, but he does overcome it over time with the help of Magnus and company.  Samira is another one that is pretty unique, being a person trying to balance her two worlds (her life in the mortal world and her job as a Valkyrie).  And the ending is one of the most unique ways to end such an adventure honestly, and it made me laugh quite a bit.  The representation of the Norse gods as well is hilarious.  Odin as a motivational speaker, Heimdall obsessed with his Phablet of Doom, Thor with his goats and obsession with mortal TV shows, ect.  All done in great detail with perfectly fitting updates to modern times.  Also Magnus does fall for someone in the books (because of course we gotta have romance) but it feels natural and the person whom he falls for might surprise ya!
Honestly, what I hope to see here is more of Magnus in the future, maybe a full crossover with the Olympians given his ties to the world and relationship with Annabeth and Percy by the end.  This series is heartwarming, gutwrenching, and is the best of the bunch so far.  And now, finally, let’s talk Trials of Apollo.
The Trials of Apollo (Series 5, 5 Books, 3 released at time of writing)
This is the most recent series by Riordan, and is currently (at the time of writing this) still ongoing.  There are a planned 5 books, and currently only The Hidden Oracle, The Dark Prophecy, and The Burning Maze have been released to date.  The upcoming book is titled The Tyrants Tomb, and right now no one has any idea what Book 5 will be.
I am going to lay it out there that, when I first read The Hidden Oracle I was not sold on this series at all.  Apollo, at the start, is really hard to like as a character.  I found him annoying, self centered, egotistical, and unwilling to learn.  Which, when I thought about it and as I got further in both that book and the series as a whole, made sense.  You see, Apollo, due in part to the events in the Heroes of Olympus, has taken some of the blame for the war with the Giants and Zeus has cast him out of Olympus and into the body of a mortal to try to correct some errors and mistakes.  However, we discover that something MUCH more dangerous is going on in the world, as it seems that both the Oracle of Delphi AND other ancient oracles have been taken by an unknown enemy which has caused the power of Prophecy to no longer work for our heroes.
The villains in this series are absolutely horrifying, and nothing about their historical characters are held back.  If you were not familiar with these folks before reading this you will get an accurate portrayal of them let me tell you.  As the series moves forward, however, Apollo (as Lester) starts to change and learn.  He starts to grow fond of Meg, a demigod who befriends him early on and becomes his keeper.  He meets up with characters from the previous books such as Percy, Leo, Calypso, Annabeth, Jason, and so on.  They never take center stage but all serve to show us how they have been growing since the Giants war, and most get involved in some fashion or another with Apollo’s own quest to free the ancient ways of Prophecy from the hands of the baddies.
By Book 3, The Burning Maze, I was hooked and willing to go along for the ride.  Apollo at this point, while still a bit of a coward and still a bit of whiner due to not having his godly powers, was starting to finally grow on me.  Plus, he started to show flashes of, well, humanity.  Also, some of the events that take place in The Burning Maze were soul destroying and I did not see Riordan doing what he did.  He basically pulled a George RR Martin on one of his characters and I about flipped my shit.  Seriously, while it was mentioned that something MIGHT happen to this character in the book, by this point stuff like these threats had occurred a few times and never had panned out the way you would expect em to. At least the character went out showing their nobility and grace.  And seeing the threat actually happen the way it was prophesied was perfect.
I am actually excited for The Tyrants Tomb, and with its upcoming release I am eager to see how things progress.  This section WILL be updated once that book is released to discuss it in specific, but for now, Trials is ranked prolly 3rd or 4th in my love of his books.
Demigods and Magicians crossover collection (3 Novellas, Features Percy Jackson and Annabeth Chase, as well as Sadie and Kane Carter)
These are pretty much a trio of Novellas that have Percy and Annabeth team up with Sadie and Kane Carter to deal with a threat. The first book is Percy/Kane, second is Annabeth/Sadie, and the third is all four. Honestly, its completely skippable as a series and you won’t miss much doing so.
My Personal Rankings
For fun I want to end this massive series review with my own personal rankings of the series.  Mind you, they are all worth reading in my opinion, but if you were only going to choose one or two, here is how I would rate them.
  • 1. Magnus Chase
  • 2. Heroes of Olympus
  • 3. Percy Jackson
  • 4. Trials of Apollo
  • 5. Kane Chronicles
  • 6. Percy/Kane Crossover Novellas

Death’s Gambit: A Review (Guest Review by Virus the Mad Bard)

This review was written by my friend Virus, you can find him on twitter by clicking here.  Enjoy the review and remember to Stay Nerdy!

Death’s Gambit is a game that’s been on my radar for quite some time. As someone who loves dark souls and 2d action platformers, I had a lot of hope for the game, and after finally getting around to playing it I figured I’d share my thoughts to try to help anyone else who might be on the fence about picking it up. 

Story

Death’s Gambit has you taking on the role of Sorun, the lone survivor from a decimated regiment of troops who ends up making a pact with death to make himself immortal in exchange for an initially undefined task. The rest of the story is mostly told through interactions with the random NPCs found around your main hub section, lore books found in locations that give you an edge against that areas boss, and some mostly brief cut scenes. Despite the plot not showing its face a fair amount of the time I did still enjoy finding out more and more about the world and lore throughout my time with the game.

Gameplay

The inspirations from dark souls are wildly apparent from about the moment you hit start and end up at the character select screen, featuring a very similar layout and equipment styling to the dark souls character creation with a few notable changes. First, there did not appear to be appearance customization, and second, your class choice affects more than your stats. Each class not only starts with different stats and equipment than each other, but also has their own special abilities and skill trees that can help in a variety of ways, from the blood knight healing from attacking enemies immediately after taking damage, to the sentinel having reduced stat requirements for all equipment. Each time you manage to defeat a boss you’ll find yourself gaining another skill point to gain some more abilities to hopefully help you survive the rest of the trek through the hostile environment.

The combat system offers a variety of weapons and tools to the player to allow them a multitude of builds  and ways to approach encounters. Also much like dark souls the game relies heavily on players getting used to enemy patterns and reading their telegraphed attacks to be able to handle them without taking too much damage. The game also has multiple areas that have chests that reward a player for making it through without healing from your last save statue, providing an incentive for the player to improve. A few of my minor complaints are that the game had a few moments where it was not particularly clear where to go, in combination with a few areas making it fairly difficult to tell where certain traps triggers were even after going through them a few times.

Additionally the game offers extra challenges in each playthrough with the options of heroic battles, super powered versions of bosses you have defeated that award special drops upon defeating them, as well as a mortal mode that requires you to go through the game without dying and rewards you with a special ending once certain criteria are met. There are also multiple levels of new game+ to continually increase the challenges you want to face on multiple playthroughs.

Audio

The voice acting and sound design overall were fairly well done, there wasn’t ever a time where anything felt particularly out of place although nothing particularly stood out to me at any given time either, with the exception of a few vocal effects on death and a few other characters adding some neat flavor for the ears.

Overall

I really enjoyed my time with Death’s Gambit, I came looking for a 2d dark souls and it gave me exactly what I was expecting, a decent challenge with good lore and a variety of ways to approach any given situation. So if you’re looking for a challenging 2d Acton Platformer, or just really enjoy souls-like games and want a bit more to enjoy, then i would definitely recommend picking this one up. If you have any other questions that you don’t feel I hit on in this review feel free to hit me up on Twitter @VirusTheBard and I’d be more than happy to try to answer them. Thanks so much for reading, and until next time, keep gaming!

Grim Dawn + Ashes of Malmouth, The Crucible, and Forgotten Gods: A Review

Hello everyone, Clay here with yet another video game review!  One subgenre of RPG I particularly love is the Action RPG or ARPG genre, which really came into its own with Diablo, was cemented with Diablo 2, and has grown to encompass many different games such as Titans Quest, FATE, Torchlight, and the focus of today’s review, Grim Dawn.

Grim Dawn was developed by CRATE Entertainment and released on 2/25/2016 and has since seen 2 major expansions (Ashes of Malmouth and Forgotten Gods) and one mini DLC expansion (The Crucible).  Most of CRATE came from the same team that created Titans Quest, and you can see a lot of similarities between the two games once you get going.  However, how does Grim Dawn stack up compared to say Diablo 3, or Path of Exile, or any of the other ARPGs new and old?  Well thats what I am here to talk about!

Also I will be discussing the expansions as well, as I own all the parts and pieces to the Grim Dawn package.  Truth be told, if you are going to play Grim Dawn, you will want Ashes of Malmouth and Forgotten Gods as they complete the story being told in this game.  The Crucible can safely be skipped.

VISUALS

This game uses a style that is very reminiscent of Steampunk or something out of the Industrial revolution.  Everything is dark, gritty, and for the most part muted.  Architecture is gothic in style and almost everything in the world is in a state of decay, which makes sense as Humanity is on its last legs.  Your weapons and armor will be dull metals, dark and again, gritty.  That’s the best way to really describe the world: Gritty.  Even in the brighter areas of the game, things tend to be muted and somber.

Environments are surprisingly varied.  You started out in a sort of flooded plains area with some ruined towns and a lot of graveyards, move into a forest surrounding another massive ruined town, and then eventually go into hills, mountains, and large scale ruined cities.  Ashes of Malmouth has a full on swamp leading into a super massive ruined city, and Forgotten Gods adds a huge desert environment to the mix.  The environments flow into each other well, as the large scale world is mostly seamless as well.  The mood the visuals convey fits the theme of this world, one ruined by war between two enemy factions with humans caught in the middle.

The actual visual effects used for your character are also solid.  Not super flashy for the most part, each attack looks good for the most part.  However, things can get pretty hectic on screen at times with enough attacks from both you and your enemies firing, and the ground effects used for things like Aetherfire and regular fire can make figuring out what exactly is hurting you a chore.  It can be messy on screen frequently especially if you are playing a spell heavy build.

The UI can also be a tad confusing to get used to with its layout, but once you get used to how you setup your hotbars and loot filters it gets better.

AUDIO & SOUND DESIGN

First and foremost the music reminds me of Diablo 2 in all the right ways.  Its guitar heavy, moody, and somber pretty much all the way through, punctuated by more frantic tones when a boss battle or action heavy encounter occurs.  The music also does not loop, so you will sometimes be wandering in silence, adding to the atmosphere of the game as a whole.  There is some voice acting here and there, and its decent work but nothing stellar.  It’s very infrequent and honestly, you could turn it off and never miss it.

The sound design is pretty solid as well.  Attacks and abilities have great sound design.  I played an Oathkeeper, and my primary attack was throwing my shield at enemies like Captain America, and every time it hit the dull clang was wonderful to hear.  Explosions, screams, all of it is great and again fits the tone and mood of this very dark somber game.

STORY & WORLD

Let’s start with the base games storyline.  There will be some slight spoilers here to how things play out, but I will be keeping most of the major stuff hidden away.  You start the game by, well, being hanged by the neck in an effort to kill you.

You see, in the world of Grim Dawn, Humanity is on its last legs and the survivors have holed up in various strongholds trying to deal with a dual threat.  On one side, we have the Aetherials, spirit beings that can possess humans and on the other we have the cults who worship the Chthonians, horrible demonic beings from another realm.  Both sides want to control or kill the Humans, and you start the game being possessed by an Aetherial.  The only way to kill an Aetherial is to kill its vessel before the Aetherial escapes, and as you are hung out to die, the being leaves your body and you are cut down.

You awaken with the unique ability to open Rift Gates, and from there you go on a long journey to help the last survivors of Humanity do just that: Survive.  Along the way you end up focusing your efforts on the Chthonian threat mostly, and end the game killing a horrible demonic entity they attempted to summon, ending their power.

Ashes of Malmouth however deals with the Aetherial threat as well as tying up the loose ends left over at the end of the base game.  Now I did not finish the Ashes of Malmouth storyline, but I did get about half way through and I can tell you that it was engaging up to that point, with plenty of interesting factions.  Finally, Forgotten Gods takes place after Ashes, and has you dealing with the forgotten gods of the world, the three witch gods, and their attempts to come back now that the Aetherials and Chthonians have been dealt with.

The world building in this game is fairly passive, all things considered.  Most of the story is from dialog you get when taking quests, and journals you pick up out in the world.  However, you can frequently miss things, and when the game decided the Chthonians were my main threat for example in the base storyline, I got really confused.  I had no idea where that decision had been made, but at that point I was having too much fun just killing enemies and exploring this hand crafted world I simply did not care.  Overall, the story and world are solid, but you could just as easily not pay attention to the story and miss very little, all things considered.

GAMEPLAY

The best way I can describe the gameplay of this game is as follows: More complex and with more depth then Diablo 3, but not as much as Path of Exile.  The game uses your standard click to move control scheme, with 2 hotbars and both Left and Right click as bindable to any attack or spell you have learned.  You have a Rift power which is your town portal as well, a grid based inventory system, shared and personal Stash with multiple tabs you can purchase, and a crafting system very similar to Diablo 3 with randomized crafts using materials you find.

There are a couple of oddities however.  First, your gear is not colored the way most of us long time ARPG players are used to.  Traditionally, in an ARPG, white items are common, blue are magic, yellow are rare, green are Set, and orange are unique/legendary.  If you add in Purple from MMOs as epics, you get the standard gear color progression.  However, in grim dawn things get odd!  White are still common, but YELLOW are magic, GREEN are Rare, BLUE are Epic, and PURPLE are Legendary.  It can take some serious getting used to in order to deal with this seemingly simple shift and it honestly bugs the hell outta me.

Additionally, the game has 2 primary systems that are very different from pretty much every ARPG save for Titans Quest: The mastery system, and the Devotion system.  Starting with the Devotion system, these are points you earn from cleansing shrines out in the world, which you then use to unlock Constellations in this huge star chart.  These unlocks give you new passive effects like 10% more life, or 15% more fire damage, as well as Powers that you attach to your spells and attacks, such as one that summons Meteors with a 15% chance to trigger every time you use the skill it’s attached to.  It’s very similar to the Passive Skill tree in Path of Exile and there is a lot of customization to it, as you must unlock earlier constellations to get access to later ones.  Here is a prime example, using my own Devotion Tree from my Shieldbreaker.

Use of an offline skill planner is heavily suggested for this.  There is a good one right here.

The second primary system is the Mastery system.  You see, rather than having defined classes like Warrior, Mage, or Warlock, the game has a total of 9 Masteries (6 in the base game, 2 from Ashes of Malmouth, and 1 from Forgotten Gods).  You choose your first mastery at level 2, which gives you a set of skills unique to that mastery.  Then at level 10 you choose a second mastery tree, giving you 2 skill trees and a unique class name.  The 6 masteries in the base game are Soldier, Demolitionist, Arcanist, Occultist, Nightblade, and Shaman.  Ashes of Malmouth added the Inquisitor and Necromancer, and Forgotten Gods added the Oathkeeper.  My character is a Demolitionist / Oathkeeper, which gives me the unique class name of Shieldbreaker.

Each mastery tree is made up of a collection of Passive skills, Active powers, and modifiers to those active powers.  Blackwater Cocktail is an active power in the Demolitionist tree, for example, that has a few modifiers connected to it in a line, giving it increased damage, a new damage type, and more.  It’s also easy to tell active and passives apart in your mastery trees, as actives are Square, Passives are Round, and if a passive is a modifier it will have a line connecting it to a Square active.  Further, you have your Mastery Bar, which is at the bottom and gives you raw Stats (Physique, Cunning, and Spirit) as well as more HP and Energy.  You need to put points in your mastery bar in order to unlock more skills as you progress.  You get 3 skill points per level up to level 50, and then it tapers off to 2 after that.  You also get 1 Stat point every level which you can put into your Physique, Cunning, and Spirit, which increases your damage types, health, and so one as well as allow you to equip better gear.

The sheer amount of available builds here is quite large.  I think there is roughly (if you include both expansions) 72 possible combinations (9 x 8) all of which are viable, although some are more viable then others.  You can do pure pet builds, caster builds, bizarre hybrid builds, the works.  Hell even my Shieldbreaker was built in a way unique to me, with a focus on the Aegis on Menhir skill (where you throw your shield and it bounces between enemies) and I also focused on Fire Damage.  But I could have used any other skill from Demolitionist and Oathkeeper as a primary attack and done just fine.

Another interesting feature of the game is the fact that it is a hand crafted world and not procedurally generated.  The maps are static, with one a few things moving around (such as hidden areas and their entrances).  There are “Roguelike Dungeons” you can access eventually, which require a crafted key and have randomized layouts as an activity, but by and large every zone will always be the same, which makes finding your way around easy enough.  Forgotten Gods and Ashes of Malmouth really don’t change the gameplay up, but rather add new areas, bosses, items, and the masteries to the game.  Also, one final thing: All areas have level scaling to a point, and the game also uses the classic 3 tiered difficulty settings.  You have Normal, Elite, and Ultimate, and the only way to ever reach 100 is to get to Ultimate, which requires beating elite and normal.  There is also a faction system in game, as well as randomized bounty quests you can do if you need objectives to complete.

Now, Forgotten Gods adds one unique system called “The Shattered Realm” which is basically the RIFT system from Diablo 3, or the Atlas from Path of Exile.  You enter the Realms, you have a time limit for bonus loot, and your objective is to kill your way forward in an ever increasingly difficult world with stacking modifiers to you and the enemies.  It’s fun and a good side activity for when you just want to kill things and get loot, and challenge your build.

And here is where I will talk about the Crucible.  This is an alternative game mode where you can use your character to fight in wave battles against enemies, earning rewards for every wave you complete.  It has its own difficulty system as well.  It’s a fun activity but it can get boring really quickly.  It is good for leveling up fast though.  However, with Shattered Realms being in the Forgotten Gods expansion this is honestly even more skippable then it was already to me.

As always here is some gameplay courtesy of one of my streams, where I run around with my Shieldbreaker pretending to be Captain America:

FINAL THOUGHTS

Grim Dawn is, without a doubt, one of the best Action RPGs on the market right now.  It’s got a great blend of accessibility and complexity that for me, just puts it above other games like Path of Exile and Diablo 3.  Plus, once you own it, you own it, and it does not require an internet connection to play!  It does feature multiplayer if that’s your thing as well.

However, you will want both Ashes of Malmouth AND Forgotten Gods to get the complete package, as they add tons of items, areas, quests, and the 3 additional masteries to the game.  Plus they finish the story begun in the base game.

If you are a fan of Action RPGs and have not played Grim Dawn I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so.

You can purchase Grim Dawn at the following locations:

The CRATE Website:  https://www.grimdawn.com/contribute_buynow01.php

GoG:  https://www.gog.com/game/grim_dawn

Steam:  https://store.steampowered.com/app/219990/Grim_Dawn/

 

Dragonball Xenoverse 2: A Review

I love Dragonball Z.  Growing up, it was my second anime that I ever watched back on Cartoon Networks Toonami block.  The first was Sailor Moon, by the way (and Mercury is best girl).  I was entranced by the action, the insanity, the martial arts, and all that jazz.  I never watched GT, and honestly I have not seen DBZ Supers either at the moment, but I have always loved the magical world of the Z Fighters.

A couple of years ago, the first Dragonball Xenoverse game was released, and I bought and played the hell outta it.  It was decent, but not great, and after I finished it with my character I put it down and never picked it up again.

Then Xenoverse 2 was released, and it improved on the first in basically every way, while adding new features and options as well.  Today I wanted to break down the good and bad of this fantastic game, and show you all the power of the Dragon.

VISUALS

This game does a fantastic job of bringing the world, characters, and art of Akira Toriyama to life in 3D.  The designs feel like they are straight out of the show, and the colorful nature of the world is represented here wonderfully.  Further, character designs seem like they are ripped straight from the show or manga.  The stages you can battle in each have their own theme and it’s easy to tell them apart.  When you are on a Namek stage, for example, the colors and style make it very clear where you are.  Everything just works together.

My Main, Zaevrick, named after Saevrick

Animation wise, the attacks and moves you are capable of doing all look and feel like, again, they are ripped straight from the anime.  When you unleash a Galick Gun, or Destructo Disc, or Kamehameha blast it all looks perfect.  Overall the visual presentation of this game makes it feel like you are really in the show.  Although, admittedly, the lip sync is off in pretty much every cutscene, and in cutscenes characters can seem stiff at times.  It’s a small gripe, but it is there.

AUDIO

Let’s start with the bad here.  The background music that plays in the primary hub of Conton City is decent, but repetitive.  You have something like 14 available tracks you can play, however you have to manually switch between them.  There is no shuffle, and trust me, after a while the BGM of the city where you spend a great deal of time will start to drive you mad.  I really wish they had added a shuffle, because it’s a pain to have to enter menus just to give yourself something new to listen to.  The stage music also can grate after a while, but you can again select from different tracks in the menus.

The voice acting however is near perfect.  I swear it sounds like they got the English VA cast to come back and voice their characters again.  Every single one sounds show accurate, which is amazing.  Sometimes, however, what a character says in a cutscene does NOT match the written dialog exactly.  It’s still the same tone and overall feel, but the words are different.  You can also use Japanese voices if you wish as well.  Finally, your character will have a selectable voice during character creation and you WILL hear it.  You have voice clips for nearly every special move, and it’s awesome to hear.  Nothing says loving like hearing your character scream KAMEHAMEHA! before letting loose a big ol blue energy beam.

The sound effects for attacks and strikes and specials are all perfect as well, with a nice meaty sound to em.

STORY AND WORLD

First off you do not need to play Xenoverse 1 to understand Xenoverse 2.  The only connection between the two is that if you played Xenoverse 1 you can import your character, which will change who Trunks is partnered with in the second game.  Beyond that, the events you participate in are, by and large, nearly identical.

In Xenoverse 2 you are a member of the Time Patrol, a fighter tasked with keeping the various Timelines in the universe correct.  Villains exist who seek to manipulate or change events, such as Goku and Piccolo’s fight with Raditz, for nerfarious and mysterious ends.  Your job is to enter those changed events and correct em so the original outcome takes place.  Along the way you will experience DBZ History all the way through the Majin Buu saga of the show, helping to make sure that the major events that took place stay correct.

It’s a pretty basic story, all things considered, but it lets fans of the show experience pivotal moments of the show in person as it were, making you feel like you had a hand in shaping DBZ history.  Sadly, the story does not explain WHY these events are important, so unless you are familiar with the show or manga, you will no idea why Goku had to die when he fought Raditz, or why Goku went Super Saiyan for the first time.  It just won’t have any impact on you without the knowledge from the show, and the game does not provide that background at all.

Majin WHO?

GAMEPLAY

At its core, this game is an Action RPG Brawler.  You will enter stages with objectives to complete, and you will play through those stages using a barebones 3D fighting system.  You have light and heavy strikes, a block, jump/flight, grab, and ki blast as your basic moves.  You can also use up to 4 changeable Special Attacks, 2 Ultimate attacks, an Evasion move, and a Transformation.

As you complete stages you will gain Score, which is basically experience, and level up.  Every level up gives you 3 Attribute points which you can place in Health, Stamina, Ki, Basic Attacks, Strike Supers, and Ki Supers.  The first three are your bars during a fight.  Health is your HP and if it hits zero you go down. Stamina controls how many Vanishes you can do, your block ability, and how long you can dash.  Ki is for any special or ultimate moves you have equipped such as a Kamehameha or Galick Gun.  At the end of a stage you will also earn Zeni (the games money), TP medals (a secondary currency), and on occasion items and new skills.

In fact, the primary way to earn new special and ultimate attacks is through the drop system, and at times the RNG can feel pretty rough.  I have spent hours trying to get certain attacks to drop from side quests at times.  You can however also learn special and ultimate attacks via the Master system, where you apprentice to famous DBZ characters like Yamcha, Nappa, Whis, and others to learn their signature moves.  Finally, you can learn Transformation moves, both general ones and race specific ones, through a variety of means.  Things like Golden Form for the Frieza race, or Super Saiyan for the Saiyan race exists, as well as things like Kaioken and Unleashed Potential which everyone can use.

Golden Huh? This is the Frieza Race Transformation.

There is also a full equipment system, where you can wear a head, torso, arms, and legs costume items which can affect your stats.  There are also accessories which just change how you look, and QQ Bangs, which are craftable items that will replace your equipment stats with the QQ Bangs stats.  Be aware that QQ Bangs are affected by RNG and the combinations you can make don’t always make sense.  Most people use a QQ Bang however so they can wear whatever items they want to make their character fabulous.

When you start the game you will choose one of 5 races (Earthling, Majin, Frieza, Namekian, or Saiyan), your sex (Friez and Namekian dont have this as far as I can tell they are agender), and then your starting fighting style which will dictate your starter moves.

As you play through the story missions you will unlock new masters, new items in the shops that exists in the hub of Conton City, eventually the ability to fly in Conton City (get through the Frieza Saga for this), and new Masters will show up that you can under.  You will also unlock new Parallel quests, which are this games side quest system and the primary way outside of Masters to earn new equipment and special attacks.  These are usually cool What If scenarios, like “What if Frieza had your help and beat the Z Fighters?” and things of that nature.  You will spend a lot of time doing these so be ready.

This is the QQ Bang System

During Story Missions you will have a set goal and set AI controlled team mates for the most part.  However, during Parallel quests you can actually take any combination of 3 Unlocked characters you wish!  Want to play AS Goku?  This is how you do it.  Want a team of 3 Raditz to face off against Frieza?  You totally can, and its hilarious.  You can also take your master with you to raise their friendship meter, which will eventually help you unlock their Dual Ultimate attack, where you and them combine your attacks to create some really awesome effects.  The video I will link below form my stream has some examples of me getting these to work.  Protip: take 2 copies of your master if you can with you, and your friendship meter will double charge.  Also, if your master likes you enough sometimes they will randomly appear during missions to assist you in your fights.

There are also a few side activities in the game called Time Rifts, a system called the Hero Coliseum where you have little figure battles, and a full PVP system where you can play against other players using your Created Characters or the Roster you have unlocked.  Additionally, you can do Parallel Quests in Multiplayer as well, and there are also Raid events where 5 players go up against a super boss.  You can also do Raid events with yourself and 4 AI Team Mates, but it can be a bit rough do to so.  Raids also drop exclusive equipment from them.

For a good example of how the game plays and looks I present one of my streams of the game, where I work through some master missions, fight with the RNG Drop Rate to get some attacks I was missing, and even do some of the story mode.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As much as I love this game, there is one major issue with it.  If you are NOT a fan of the anime or manga, this game is pointless for you.  No, really.  It will never explain who the characters are, it will never explain why the events you are correcting are important, it will explain NOTHING.  Why is Goku so important?  You will not learn.  Who is Broly and why is everyone afraid of him?  You will not be told.

This is a game for fans of the series.  This game lets you live out the fantasy that many of us growing up had: of being a Z fighter, of training with Krillan and Yamcha and Goku.  Of having sparring matches with Vegeta and Buu.  If you are a fan of the show, or manga, and you want to live out that dream then you need to pick this game up asap, and all its DLC (which covers DBZ Supers and some of the movies).  If you are not a fan of the show?  Then you can safety skip this game honestly because you will not get much out of it.

You can pick this game up on Steam right HERE.

The Second Super: A Review

I have a love of good superhero fiction.  One of my favorite series for example is Cape High by RJ Ross, a long series of Novellas detailing a super hero high school.  Every so often I go on Amazon and the Kindle Store trying to find more good supers fiction, and I ran across this one where the excerpt caught my eye.

“When the first superhuman is a villain, it’s up to the second to become a hero…

Seventeen year old Kane Andrews is just another one of the billions of people on Earth who watch as Richter, the world’s first superhuman, goes on a rampage. All the worlds military cannot stop him, no matter what they throw his way.

Until, with the whole world watching, Kane surprises himself by flying up to catch someone the supervillain has thrown off a building.

The second superhuman is born.

With no idea of the extent or magnitude of his powers, Kane has a long way to go before becoming the first superhero. He must stay one step ahead of both Richter and the rest of the world while he figures out how to take down his nemesis. Time is running out though, and Richter will do whatever it takes to make sure he’s Earth’s only superhuman.”

That premise, where there is only one super and he has gone full villain and a second is born in response caught my eye.  It made me think of things like the Reckoners series.  So I grabbed it and began reading.

This was an incredibly fast read.  I finished the book over the course of a day, reading it on my breaks and lunches.  The pace of this book was scorching fast, and I never really got to know the main character Kane, aka Tempest, or Richter.  I got glimpses into Kane’s life and how he came into his powers, and then before I knew it I was at an action scene or a major event, and then before I knew it I was past it and on to something else.  Because of this blistering pace I never had a chance to really dig into or get to know the characters here.  Kane is given a love interest for example, but beyond one scene where they admit their feelings to each other, I am never really given a reason why he likes her other than “she’s hot”.  I am never shown really much of anything of Kane’s life pre awakening, and once awakened the pace of the plot never slows down even for a moment.

However, the actual story here is solid and complete.  We get the story of Richter vs Tempest, how they meet, how Tempest awakens, and how the battle between them ends, with hints of a larger story at the end, both in the end of the fight between Richter and Tempest, and in the epilogue / final chapter.  This is clearly a novella designed to work in a larger series, and it tries to entice you to read more.

One thing I really enjoyed were the action scenes.  They were written well, tight and controlled and gave me a real clear image on how Tempest viewed the world when his powers were going full steam.  The idea that the first super has gone fully rogue and the hints to his backstory here are also very interesting, and the world building is excellent as well.  In fact, in a technical sense the book was well done.  No wasted words, no overly flowery descriptions, no grammar or spelling errors that I could catch.  I just wish the plot and story were given time to breathe so I could get to know the world and the characters better.

Much like the Abel Book I reviewed in my last post however, this is something that felt almost like a palate cleanser.  It’s a super-fast read, and I don’t know if I will ever return to it nor am I sure I will continue with the next book or the prequel detailing how Richter came to be.

I think it’s a decent buy at $3 at least, and I did get some enjoyment out of it.  If you want to give it a try you can pick it up at Amazon right here, and I rated this a 3/5 on both Amazon and Goodreads.

Bloody Rose: A Review

This book had a lot to live up to as the follow up to Kings of the Wyld.  Taking place 6 years after the events of that novel, this book follows a young girl named Tam who is obsessed with the Bands who travel from arena to arena fighting monsters for entertainment.  Let start with the excerpt right away:

“A band of fabled mercenaries, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, tour a wild fantasy landscape, battling monsters in arenas in front of thousands of adoring fans, but a secret and dangerous gig ushers them to the frozen north, and the band is never one to waste a shot at glory . . . even if it means almost certain death. 

Live fast, die young. 

Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listening to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown. 

When the biggest mercenary band of all, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, rolls into town, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It’s adventure she wants – and adventure she gets as the crew embark on a quest that will end in one of two ways: glory or death. 

It’s time to take a walk on the wyld side.”

First and foremost, this book has a completely different feel from the previous entry in this series, and that’s not a bad thing.  In the 6 years following the events of Kings of the Wyld, the world has drastically changed.  Mercenary Bands are now very much like Rock Stars, with screaming fans and groupies, and taking tours along an Arena Circuit from town to town, killing monsters while fans watch, and then having insane parties afterwards.

The story can best be broken up into 3 sections really.  The first 40% is the final tour of the band Fable, led by the daughter of Golden Gabe himself, Bloody Rose.  Tam, our main character in this entry, becomes Fable’s bard, tasked with following along in their footsteps and chronicling their adventures in song.  The band consists of Blood Rose and her lover Freecloud, Brune the Shaman, Cura the Inkwitch, and their booker (manager) Rodrick.  Tam herself is a likeable character, clearly a girl who wants to see the world and one who, like many, idolizes the Bands and what they do.  The characters are well written, and enjoyable, but not quite as likable for me as the first group.  Brune for me is my favorite however.

This “tour” section of the book, where we get to know the characters, is my favorite part.  Eames has been on record as saying his inspiration was “What if adventuring parties were like rockstars” and this section embodies that ideal.  This is sex, drugs, and glorious combat on an insane scale.  They even have Argosies, which are basically touring vans.  No joke, it’s hilarious.  Also, the band names that pop up during this section are clearly references to 80’s music like the Duran Brothers, The White Snakes, the Men with Helmets, the Iron Maiden, and so on.  You can clearly tell where Eames got his influence in this book way more than the previous one.

The next 30% is the Bands last actual job.  You see, Fable actually takes dangerous contracts, unlike the vast majority of the bands now.  Rather than just plying their trade on the Arena Circuit, they make an effort to take on contracts to deal with actual threats in the wilds.  This makes Fable unique when compared to their contemporaries.  While the idea behind the last contract is interesting, with Fable going after a mythical creature that no one else believes exists, the pace here slows down a bit too much for my liking.  The first section was a blistering pace almost the entire time, and then suddenly it’s like Eames slammed on the brakes and decided to take it slow and steady.  We get a TON of backstory and character development here, which I loved, showing how each member of Fable is broken in some way.  Each of them bears scars and issues from their pasts, even Tam.  However, this part of the book really felt like pure setup for the final 30% of the novel, and while there was a nice twist here that tied the events of this novel together with the first, it still felt a bit too slow and plodding for my liking.  Even if the set piece that takes place here is absolutely amazing.

The final 30% is a roller coaster of emotions.  The pace picks back up and rockets towards the finale, and the book redeems itself well here.  The final battle that takes place is just as much a crazypantsnanners clusterfuck as the final battle in the first one, and again Eames shows his skill with writing by wasting nothing here.  Every moment is described perfectly, letting you visualize exactly what is happening.  Also the ending is perfectly bittersweet, and I loved it.  It tied up the story of the two books nice and neat.

My only real issue is with that middle 30%.  It dragged at times, and as much as I enjoyed Bloody Rose and would recommend it to fans of the first (I mean, the stories ARE connected, even if it doesn’t seem that way at first) I would not rate this as highly as Kings of the Wyld.  Much like Rose, this book lives in the shadow of what came before.  I give this a 4/5 and if you liked Kings, read this.  It is well worth your time.  You can purchase this on Amazon HERE.  I would not however read this without reading the first, as some events and references would lose their impact.

Kings of the Wyld: A Review

This has to be the best fantasy novel I have read in a very long time.  I found this book by sheer accident, looking up “Best of Fantasy 2018” lists for new stuff to read.  What I actually found was its sequel “Bloody Rose” which I am currently reading as I write this.  The praise I found heaped on that book caused me to go looking for the first, and here we are.

Kings of the Wyld is very much a “One Last Job” type of story.  It details the final adventure of a band of mercenaries called Saga, a group that is held in high esteem, that bards sing about, that legends are written about.  However, Saga has long been disbanded, something like 19 years at the start of the book, and they are all old men who have moved on with their lives.  Let’s start with the excerpt as always.

“Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best, the most feared and renowned crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld.

Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk, or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay’s door with a plea for help–the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for.

It’s time to get the band back together.”

Our main character is Clay Cooper, and can I just say how NICE it is to see my name (Clay) used for a good guy for a change?  In almost every form of media I have run into, if someone is named Clay / Clayton they are always villains!  Every stinking time!  Further, the way Clay Cooper is described resonated with me. A big mountain of a man, slow and steady, who cares deeply for his family and worries he will never live up to the standards he believes a good person should be.  And inside he holds a monster, a terror he tries to keep under control.  And during fights that monster comes out and it’s a sight to behold in the novel.

The plot of the book is one where Gabriel, aka Golden Gabe, the frontman of Saga turns up on Clay’s doorstep one evening, begging for aid.  Turns out that Gabe’s daughter Rose has run off to form her own Mercenary band and fight against an horde of monsters at a far city called Castia.  And that battle is not going well. Gabe, feeling horrible for getting into a fight with his daughter and causing her to run away, begs Clay for assistance with getting Saga back together, crossing a dangerous wilderness called the Heartwyld, and rescuing his daughter from an impossible situation.

The story is told from Clay’s perspective mostly, and as we meet the other members of Saga, we learn about the history this fabled band had, the things they accomplished and the way people hold them as true heroes.  But we also learn that they are all by and large broken men, whose lives after the band broke up were not always the best.  Matrick, former rogue turned king has found his life to be very hectic since marrying a princess.  Moog the Wizard lost his husband to a disease from the Wyld called the Rot, and seeks to find a cure for it to prove that it can be beaten.  Ganleon, well I don’t want to ruin his reveal but he is a troubled man by and large.  Clay just wants to get things done and get home, away from adventure, and worries that he will die away from his love and his child.  And Gabe, of course, is both a beaten down former shell of himself and a man driven to save the one good thing in his life.

The characters are by far the best part of this story.  Each one has their moments to shine, their personalities showing in everything they do.  My personal favorite is Moog, who is driven to near obsession to prove that this horrible disease that took his husband away can be beaten.  Clay is my second favorite, and he is unique in that he fights primarily with a badass shield called Blackheart.  Even the supporting cast around Saga are awesome, and we learn a great deal about the world they inhabit and the way things have changed since they last adventured.  This book reads like an amazing dungeons and dragons campaign quite frankly, some of the set piece events that occur made me think of a DM sitting there going “Ok that is an absolute crazypantsnanners idea, let’s try it!” and somehow the party makes the roll every time.

The pacing of the story is near perfect as well.  Every moment, every scene, either expands the world, characters, or moves the story forward.  Its rich in detail but it never gets bogged down in it.  There is also a surprising amount of humor here, frequently between the characters, and it helps make it feel like they are old friends getting back together for one last party before their lives drift away again. Oh and our villain is actually likeable!  In fact, I found myself agreeing with him at times, and I understood how he must have felt living the life he had to in order to survive.

The writing is excellent as well in a technical sense.  Action scenes move forward with a blistering pace, everyone again getting their moment to shine, both the heroes and the villains.  The world building is amazing and if Eames ever put out a Setting Book for say dungeons and dragons I would be hard pressed to avoid purchasing it.  Hell I purchased the sequel and started reading it the INSTANT I finished this one, so hungry was I for more of this world.

Finally, the ending sequence of this book is absolutely batshit insane in the best way possible.  It tied up everything for the story of Saga, and left some mysteries and events open for the Sequel.  Suffice to say, the only complaint I have with this novel is that it ended.  I wanted to learn more about Saga, I want to see how they got together, their early history, the events that made them the men they were in this world.

Hopefully Eames goes back and does a prequel sometime showing just that. I will be there for it, for sure.  This gets a solid 5/5 on Amazon and Goodreads from me, and if you are a fan of fantasy you owe it to yourself to enter the Wyld, and ride with Saga.  You will NOT be disappointed.  I promise you.

Purchase Kings of the Wyld right HERE