Saturday Night Gaming: Prey

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Back when I was a kid, and then a teenager, I hated games like Prey! Dead Space, Bioshock 1&2, a variety of others which saw a lone protagonist facing against horrifying and unknowable enemies, whether on a derelict starship or submerged leagues beneath the sea.

Hated is, perhaps, too strong a word. Feared, in truth, would work much better; I was a scaredy-cat when I was a kid, due to an unfortunate accident that had much to do with a movie adaptation of Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher — as average a movie as any, but a seven year old’s mind can turn silly, horrible special effects into the stuff of nightmares.

After that experience and another one a year later, it was easy to ignore horror films and games with a lot of jump scares; so it was when I got over Prey’s beautiful intro that I knew, the Filip from six-seven years back would’ve stayed as far away from Prey as he could throw the physical copy of the game (that younger Filip hated digital distribution; whether due to distrust, or some other reason, I couldn’t tell you).

I’m very happy to have grown out of that fear, for Prey deserves to be played and replayed, and replayed some more!

You take on the shoes of Doctor Morgan Yu(the gender of the good doctor is your choice), as you find yourself missing a three year-sized chunk of memories. If that wasn’t enough, you’re also on the space station Talos I, which orbits the moon in the year 2035. It’s…not looking too great, with corpses littering the ground and strange alien lifeforms running around, turning into cups, trying to chew your face and what-have-you. It’s all terribly confusing, as the last thing you remember was preparing to leave for that same space station, after some cajoling from your older brother, Alex Yu, in 2032.

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Alex is the CEO of TranStar, a mega corporation whose public face is the Yu family (mum and pop, as well as big bro and –yey — you!). The biggest hit of the company is the so-called Neuromod; the device changes the neural pathway of its user, allowing them to gain a new skill ranging from learning languages, to lengthening the life span, as well as a variety of other skills. As you might imagine, they’re something of a luxury, with only the richest and most influential on Earth able to purchase them.

Thankfully, Neuromods a plenty, since you’ll need a lot of help if you’re to stand so much as a chance of getting alive. Then again, a friendly robot who seems to have all but stolen your voice — your personal assistant January does the talking, instead of you — is asking you to blow up the station, for the sake of all of humanity down on Earth.

The choices are many, both in how you go about your exploration of the space station, and in how you deal with the decisions the story throws in your face. I won’t spoil now, nor will  I go in an in-depth discussion about the bits of the game that made my mind go boom, then blank, then boom again — but I have to say, it’s an excellent game that deserves a lot more attention than it got, both for its narrative and its varied gameplay.

It was made by the excellent Arkane, which stand behind the Dishonored franchise (although, to be fair, there are two studios that wear the Arkane name, one in Lyon (Dishonored 2), the other in Austin, Texas (Prey) ) and it does feel like Dishonored in space, in some ways. The best ways.

What a brilliant gem of 2017, a year that’s given us a ludicrous number of excellent games!

P.S. Thy Typhon were downright scary for the first five-six hours I spent playing, and that’s the greatest thing! Enemies who spook you as you squish them into fine jelly with a wrench or turn them into statues with your trusty GLOO gun are the best.

The best.

 

Ah, how I’ve missed writing one of those! Next week, Horizon: Zero Dawn. Probably. Alloy is the best.
Morgan Yu ain’t half bad, though, trust you me!

 

 

Thursday Recommendations: Doctor Aphra, vol. 01, “Aphra”

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Kieron Gillen is one among a very limited number of comic book writers who never fail to deliver excellent works. Whether you look at his heartbreaking “Journey into Mystery,”( exploring the life of a young Loki), or his multiple collaborations with Jamie McKelvie  — Young Avengers, Phonogram and the godly Wicked/Divine — you are bound to get your money’s worth, and much more besides.

Kieron’s 25-issue run on Darth Vader in particular, was the best Star Wars comic book I could’ve hoped for, and furthermore succeeded in two very important ways; first, it made the iconic villain even more multi-layered than I thought possible; and second, it introduced Doctor Aphra, a brilliant archeologist, unburdened by morality, and  a bit too clever for her own good, if the end to Kieron’s Vader is anything to go by.

Minor Spoilers Incoming: After faking her own death by Vader’s hand, the good Doctor is back to what she does best — scouring the galaxy for artifacts from a by-gone age and selling them to the highest bidder! All is not well, however, when Aphra discovers her Doctorate suspended…by none other than her father!

That’s how this six-issue volume starts off, and with a few memorable characters — two psychopathic droids who enjoy murder way too much, as well as a very angry, scarred Wookie ex-gladiator — it’s a volume worth picking up!

“Aphra” hit all the right notes a comic book in the Star Wars universe should — laughs, space opera goodness, some Imperial conflict, a brave adventure, and even some strong emotional moments between father and daughter. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I’d really enjoy seeing an amoral Indiana Jones in space, helped along by evil Chewie, C3PO, and R2-D2,” that’s just the comic book for you!

And if you haven’t…you should! It’s fantastic! The art is great, too!

To finish this off, I’ll say, without spoiling, the last page in the volume is such a fun character moment, which speaks volumes about who Doctor Aphra is.

That’s it, my Thursday recommendation, returned from the longest hiatus yet! Here’s to hoping content will resume in a more normal fashion! Sorry to any of you folks who enjoyed getting a daily tidbit from the blog; I’ll try to do better in the coming weeks and during all of 2018! What’s important is, I’m back…

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Unintentionally Helpful Villain #15:

Diary Entry #215

Ah, my sweet perdition has ended! And to think that I have one of my very own Librarians to thank for it! A nice enough lad, and bright, too–to save me from the throng of half-catatonic Inquisitors–while I’m slowly roasted upon a pyre, no less!

I have named this Librarian the Head Librarian, and have banished his original name unto the Infernal Tempest. He doth not seem very pleased at all by this turn of events. He groans and bemoans my choice, this Head Librarian.

He’ll get over it!

Diary Entry #216

Mine Head Librarian has finally recovered from the loss of his name. He has taken the time to tell me the tale of his discovery that mine body has been in use by an imposter — mine ex-wife. Thus goes his tale:

As My Lord knows, we few remaining Librarians remained behind along with Your Lordship’s champions, to await your return. When first you–rather, your body– returned from the underground of Kresh, we had very well taken ahold of it, and prepared to annex it into the Realm. To everyone in the camp’s chagrin, you ordered us to free the prisoners, to turn the newly-converted Library building to dust, and to ride away. 

We didn’t know what to think. As we moved northwards, a series of events served to confuse us much further; as we made camp near a brook, it was none other than you, Lordship, that ran along to fetch water for our sick and wounded. Later, you offered your pale horse to the Prime Librarian, Sven, as he had taken an arrow to the elbow from a twelve year old child. You also did not order the child be commended as we have witnessed you to do, but punished its entire village. 

As your loyal subjects, Sire, we are used to a certain amount of…aberrant behaviour where your royal decisions are concerned. Your Lordship will forgive me for saying so but there is a certain mercurial side to your magnanimous character. No, no, don’t blush, my Lord, I speak truth. 

When your…imposter, for lack of a better work, allowed another to ride your horse, we knew we were dealing with something altogether different from our true master. So it was that I volunteered my services to return to Kresh, and to seek out the truth behind your change. 

Your…wife, is it, Sire? gave me permission to leave when I told her my darling, old grandmother had health issues several towns away. There is something disconcerting about your gauntleted hand offering me a healing salve to take on the road; that’s what I used on all the burnt flesh, Dark Lord, it works rather well, doesn’t it?

As I got to Kresh, I heard more and more rumors of strange happenings — villages gone rampant against men, magical animals disappearing, a traveling rabbit-beast–werebunny, Lordship?–do forgive me; and much more, besides. 

I seemed to miss you time and time again; until I heard of a woman that refused to die within enchanted flames, a witch that refused to give up on her sinful ways in so terrible a way that one Inquisitor crier had passed on, and another was on the edge between life and death. That is when I knew.

The rest, Lordship, is history. Now that you are well-rested, we should be on our way.

So he spoke, the Head Librarian, and so I found myself moved almost to a murder spree; so strong was the bond of loyalty that mine men have for me, and so well do they know me! Never would I have thought anyone so familiar with mine character.

Now, of course, I might have to murder this Sven, for he is in direct competition with the Head Librarian, but alas — the road ahead is clear.

“Lead on, minion!” I say, and so we go, to kill Sven!

And also, to punish mine ex-wife for her traitorous body-switching ways.

 

(Top) Ten Things I would do if I were a Sentient Sword in a Fantasy Setting

Another Monday, another Top Ten List! I’ve been reading and thinking about magical weapons, sentient swords, talking scythes and so decided to do another one of my favourite little lists!

  1. If I get an arsehole of a wielder, I’m going to pretend that I’m just your normal, every-day magical sword. No sign of sentience from me, nuh-uh. Then, when he’s in the middle of a fight–snikt! and off go his hands.
  2. I would make sure not to get thrown away into a forgotten quarry by some reluctant master. Millenia spent talking to rocks, devoid of tasty  blood? No, thank you!
  3. I would be a fantastic instructor to youths who’ve never held a weapon in their lives before. Face anyone–anyone!–and I’ll use the pipsqueak to gut whatever instructor, family member, or fellow student of the sword he’s going up against.
    I like to throw my pupils head-first unto oceans of blood. It builds character.
  4. I would encourage, listen to and do just about everything but tolerate defeatist attitude.
  5. Teaching heroes is, of course, another purview of mine, and I would put my back into it. So to speak.
  6. I’m not saying I would enjoy sating my blood thirst…I’m not saying that I wouldn’t, either.
  7. I would make a great gift. Not a ‘ha-ha’ kind of gift, more like a ‘I murdered everyone at my birthday party and it was epic’ kind of gift.
    It’s the little things in life.
  8. If ever a strong-willed man or woman with principles takes hold of me, I might be in trouble. Naturally, I’ll do my best to betray and murder them horribly. Not because I’m evil, but because I’m a free spirit, and loyal to who I am!
  9. I would not tolerate any Dark Lord or Evil Master or Ancient Forger’s soul to snuggle up in my biz! No other sentient creatures and souls are welcome in my house, thank you very much.
  10. I would accept kitten sacrifice as a price for my use! Oh, don’t look at me like that, it’s a valid currency where I come from!

Thank you for reading this list! We’ll be back next week with the third part of Adventurer’s Mishaps! If you’d like to give me some feedback–the comment section is below, and I’d be all too happy to implement any good advice in the blog! 

Total War WARHAMMER 2: 60 Turns of High Elven Intrigue!

One thing has become painfully clear in the 8 hours I spent fooling around in Total Warhammer 2 — High Elves…are wankers.

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The world around them is going through a cataclysm; the Great Vortex, a nexus of arcane magic created to siphon off Chaos energies, is assaulted on all sides; Dark Elves, or Druchii, are sprawling towards Ulthuan like brooding ants over honey; the Gods only know what Skaven and Lizardmen are up to; and what do your fellow High Elven princes do?

They go straight back to backstabbing you, without a care in the world. Not even when an army of Chaos pops up in the middle of a ritual to stabilize the Vortex does anyone lift a finger to stop them! What gives, fellow High Elven rulers?!

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The backstabbing nature of my fellow High Elves aside, I can’t describe how pleased I am with the work put into this sequel; nevertheless, I will make an ill-fated attempt to do just so.

Warhammer 2 manages to create a world that feels far larger than that of the first game, partially because of the sheer size of the four new continents and partially because of the supporting part that all of the original game’s races play. Sixty turns, and I’ve already had my closest ally attacked by Norsca tribesmen and human pirates(who use the Empire’s faction presets), I’ve made contact with several other human factions, and I’ve even met a particularly nasty triad of undead specimen, quite unwilling to grab a chat. All of that, and more, in such a short span of time; if I wanted to compare this to the last time I played a campaign in Total Warhammer…I recall bashing ork skulls with dwarven hammers not for sixty, but for a hundred and twenty turns!

With the Vortex now a joint objective for all four newly minted races, there’s an active push towards a much more tightly focused experience; where domination nearly always ends up a bore with a clear victor going through the motions near game’s end, the Vortex adds a level of tension that, I suspect, will keep you on your toes until the very end. Gathering artefacts to perform large-scale magical rituals comes with the need for greater structure in terms of objective-led thinking, as well as timing; you can’t let yourself waste sixty turns jostling with the neighbor over the state of grass; else you might just end up like me!

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I can’t speak for the other factions’ unique racial traits — although I plan to — but I applaud the Intrigue mechanic, which is unique to those cleanly shaven chaps. It doesn’t just involve manipulating different factions’ relationships behind the scenes; no, Intrigue goes one step further, allowing you to recruit better Lords and Heroes, to solve the myriad events that pop up every few turns, and more…perhaps. Sixty turns will only give you so much.

Diplomacy is the same as in the first game, however; I found it wanting there and I am sad to report, Creative Assembly hasn’t done anything to improve this static bit of design; there are a dozen different commodities you can gain through trade, for examples, but other than increasing your gold per turn in terms of trade agreements, they do absolutely nothing. Wine should give a bonus to public order; salt should offer some additional bonus to the towns/province in which it’s produced; just so with all the other resources.

You could make the case that Intrigue adds to diplomatic relations, but it’s difficult to praise something that only affects one race as a positive for the entire game.

But enough! Eight hours can only offer so much, and I do not wish to misrepresent a game that has brought me sixty turns of exciting experiences in a brand new world, and some would say — with good reason — a better one.

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Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this quick run-down of my experiences with Total War: Warhammer 2, let me know; there’s more to come! 

 

Thursday Recommendation: Asimov’s Science Fiction, September/October Issue (Part 1 of 2)

Ah, Asimov’s. Doubtless, one of the best known science fiction magazines in America, perhaps the world. I’ve been subscribed to the e-mag for exactly one year now, and it’s been nothing short of a delight every issue I’ve read. I rarely read all of the magazine before the next one comes out, but I make the effort — hopefully, I’ll get a couple of weeks sometime, enough to read every single issue of the last year of Asimov’s, uninterrupted. That’s pretty close to happiness right there, folks.

At any rate, in this post, I am going to take a few minutes to give you a short synopsis of the four novelettes in the September/October 2017 issue of Asimov’s. They’re really good, and worth your time. Worth mine, as well–or I wouldn’t be going the extra mile to recommend them to y’all!

Wind Will Rove by Sarah Pinsker, is a story about a generation seedship; if you’re unfamiliar with the concept, the generation ship is a hypothetical type of arc ship that takes hundreds or even thousands of years to reach its target; its original passengers and crew pass down the knowledge to their children and so on and so forth, until some far-removed descendants reach their ancestors’ dreamlands.

In Wind Will Rove, collective memory and knowledge are put under question after a tragedy led to the ship’s loss of all of Earth’s media databases — books, movies, video games, plays, everything you could imagine. What this led to was a recreation of many great works of art by the generations on the ship — most of the original scientists and artists and engineers from Earth were alive and well, and to lose everything that reminded them of home must’ve been horrifying.

What follows is, then, a recreation from memory. Movies reshot with the usage of the ship’s holo-tech, books written a new from memory, and so on. It’s this recreation that Wind Will Rove digs into in a clever, charming way, while using an old folk song by the same name. It’s about more than collective memory; it’s about humanity’s ability to bounce back up, no matter how lethal the wound on its collective behind!

 

I don’t think I’ve ever read a work of science fiction as vibrant as Universe Box by Michael Swanwick is.

Nightmares beyond human imaginng howled and ravaged at his heels. Nihilism and despair sleeted down on his upturned face. But the thief culdn’t have been happier. His grin was so mad and bright that it would melt granite.

His erection was shocking.

That’s an excerpt of the very beginning of Universe Box; it gets a lot crazier from that point onward. The story is filled with literally allusions; one character, for example, originates from Gilgamesh! It’s as far from hard sci-fi as you can imagine, but the humor Swanwick has infused this with makes this a memorable story that you’ll laugh through.

It reads like fantasy, in truth. Fantasy with sci-fi elements is how I would label it, in fact. The devil may or may not appear as well, in the form of an “attorney at lawlessness.” You know. Normal sci-fi stuff.

It’s a strange story, but funny throughout.

 

Grand Theft Spacecraft was a difficult one to get into, but once you did…R. Garcia y Robertson, author of this novelette, does not easily let go. It’s the closest to the space opera genre of the four, with Space Vikings, a Christian Deacon protagonist, a nine year old genius who’s got an AI by the throat, and a princess that may or may not be in need of saving. I’ll let you figure that one for yourselves; but underneath the swashbuckling, grand theft spacecrafting is a story about love, family and…well, blowing space ships.

“Faint hearts never fucked a flag captain.”

Indeed. Oh, there are also space Mongols, very much into Genghis Khan’s ideological beliefs. This novelette is also filled with historical allusions, which are entertaining in their own right.

 

Books of the Risen Sea is a post-apocalyptic story of a small American coastal town (if I got that correctly) by Suzanne Palmer, who’s been doing quite well for herself. It’s about a man’s attempts to preserve books in the library from the slow but certain spread of mold, toxic rain and just about anything else that Nature can throw at him, while dealing with being a parriah in his city for who he is, and his choices.

It’s another very powerful story that starts off slow, and goes onto unexpected places. Caer–that’s our main character’s name–is content in his loneliness, and hungry for story after story. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t see myself in that hunger.

There’s also a robot with a sawhand. That’s right, you read that correctly. Pretty good reason to check this one out, right?

 

Thank you for reading! If you find this little run-down interesting, let me know and I’ll do more. Would you like spoiler-y discussions, as well? Or would you prefer I be even more vague and non-commital? Say it and I’ll make it so! 

Unintentionally Helpful Villain #14: Karogar, Cursed Be Its Name

Read the previous entry here. Read the first entry in the series here.

Diary Entry #200

Ah, Karogar. The birthplace of mine own greatest failure.

It’s a filthy place, filled with pampered humans, haughty elves and bored, rich dwarves. Artists! Each one will tell you that’s what they are, and they’ll smile and look at you with thinly veiled arrogance, all the while explaining how your art has no merit!

Pish posh. What could possibly have ‘artistic merit’ if not the myriad shades of blood?!

If mine memory serves me right and proper, ’twas five days that  I spent within this accursed city. Here it was that I first lay within a great wide bark — and dreamed the dark dreams that led me to mine great empire. The empire mine wife even now plots to destroy with mine old body, mine own arcane strength!

Bah, I am salivating profusely once again. Mine magical quill begins scribbling away whenever I allow this wrath take over mine better self.

Diary Entry #201

Mine search for the ex-wife hath proven fruitless. What I did find was a small army of Inquisitors, all too ready for mine appearance in the Art Halls of Karogar.

Aye, they hath caught me, and bound mine skin with rope. They remain obsessed with my witch’s magicks, no matter what I offer them. I cannot change in form, for they have enchantments keeping me locked unto this ridiculous body.

And yes, I am dictating unto mine magical quill through magical means. Do not question it.

Diary Entry #202

I have now offered mine captors a number of treasured items and experiences: several painful and gruesome ways to die; crossbow bolts to their knee caps; precious last words with their significant others, children and elder relatives; a mountain of goblin shite.

I hear that goblin shite is much appreciated by humans for the variety of medicinal values that can be found within it.

The Inquisitorial Order still refuses to release me from mine bindings.

Diary Entry #205

The Church of the Holy Blame hath pronounced that there is much to blame about mine feminine wiles. A crier has been crying out crimes, real and imagined, for the past three days now.

I have been tied to a balefire for some time, waiting for the Inquisitor-boy to finish mine list of grievances. Or mine wife’s. There is a surprising amount of overlap.

It is mildly uncomfortable.

Diary Entry #210 

The young man that hath read mine great list of crimes, real or imagined, hath perished due to lack of breath. Another took his place. Might some fiend light the stake already?

Diary Entry #211 

This is torture! Such monotonous voice, such inept usage of words, one coming after the other. I cannot stand it anymore!

Diary Entry #212 

I hath attempted to break my bonds. While not fully successful, I hath managed to grab a torch and set the stake afire. It has burned now for one whole day. I feel the most terrible itch on my calf from the fire.

The monotonous boy-creature will not shut up. Where do they find these fanatics?!

Diary Entry #213

‘Tis enchanted wood. It simply won’t stop burning. The young Inquisitor will not shut up.

I will not die. I will instead laugh at them all! At the fire, at the lad, at their ineptitude in killing witches! What fools, what blithering, magnificent idiots!

But who might that be, in the distance? Doth mine feline eyes deceive me?!

Thank you for reading the latest Unintentional Villain adventure! I needed to take a few weeks easy, to rediscover my awful inner comedian, but now I’m back, and my vision for the series and the blog — restored and stronger than ever! I’m pretty much like Palpatine in that one Revenge of the Sith scene. In order to ensure the security and continuing stability of this blog, Magnus Writes will be reorganized into the *BLANK* to ensure progress and awesome fantastical shenanigans!