5 Video Games I’d Love to Play Again (For the First Time)

I “borrowed” the idea for this post from a recent feature on Unbound Worlds listing five books to read again, for the first time. I am, of course, working on my own list for that one, but while considering books, I started thinking about the games that rocked my world, the ones I wish I could go back and play again for the first time.

I’ve played a lot of games and this list could get unwieldy if I started at the very beginning. When thinking about early adventures like Zork (played on a Compaq with a little green screen and fold out keyboard) or Asteroids (or anything on the Atari), I acknowledged the greatness and moved forward. I don’t really want to play any of those games again. Instead, the earliest game I’d really like to rediscover is: Continue reading

Dishonored and Dishonored Again

I haven’t posted about gaming in forever! I have been playing some great games, though, so it’s time to catch you all up. First, Dishonored and Dishonored 2, two neatly packaged, shorter games that allowed me to complete an adventure in less than six months.

dishonored-2-fb-share-8ef325c803 Continue reading

Downloading a Vacation

I don’t often buy and/or play extra downloaded content for games. Basically, I’m cheap. I don’t want to pay any more than I already have. More usually it’s a matter of having spent upward of 150 hours exploring the world and being done. I want to move on to the next game. I also have this stubborn (and cheap) belief that if the content is important to the original story, it should have been included. For free. Continue reading

Railroaded by the Railroad

I finally finished Fallout 4. (This write up may contain mild spoilers)

I don’t know if it’s that I enjoy exploring post-apocalyptic worlds, or if Bethesda simply excels at creating compelling environments, but I could (and did) spend hundreds of hours wandering ruined America—and that is perhaps my favourite part of any Fallout game, the time lost to roving.

FoodstuffCuriosity is not always rewarded kindly. Scouring the edges of the map will drop you into obscure quests and hair-raising encounters. Foodstuff machines, a stranded ship crewed by robots, loners who should be left alone, atomic cults, a barely operational nuclear sub, aliens and the mother of all mirelurks. I tripped over a hill into a nest of glowing green radscorpions and died horribly (while running away). I hadn’t saved for a while and lost twenty minutes of game play. I reloaded and ventured into the Glowing Sea again, because what’s twenty minutes when you’re already four hours distant from the quest you were absolutely, positively going to finish today? Continue reading

Gaming: Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Warning: I’ve tried not to spoil the game, but if you haven’t played it, or finished it, you may want to stop reading now. 🙂

I’ve been looking forward to Wild Hunt since I finished Assassin of Kings. I was keen to continue Geralt’s story and to see what CD Projekt Red could do to improve on an already superlative gaming experience.

I came to these games in a roundabout manner. While fully immersed in the world of Dragon Age (BioWare), I ran across a comment likening the Wardens to Witchers. A little research unearthed a series of novels and games loosely following around The Witcher, otherwise known as Geralt of Rivia. I ordered the first game and book and the rest, as they say, is history. Continue reading

My Favourite Things: 2015

I always wait until the last possible moment to write this post because, in the last two years, I’ve had to update a couple of the entries as I go to one last movie or find the book I couldn’t have made it through my life without reading. This year, the delay again proved worthwhile as I became absorbed in December by some of the best television I have ever seen, and a number of startlingly good books.

As always, highlighted entries point to my reviews and rambles.

Books

2015Books

I read about 270 books this year. That’s twenty less than 2014 and, consequently, I awarded fewer five star ratings. I had 64 to choose from when trying to decide which books to rave about. Narrowing my list of favourites wasn’t as hard as last year, however, as there were some clear standouts.

Science Fiction: Hyperion by Dan Simmons

This book kinda blew me away. Actually, there’s no ‘kinda’ about it. This book hit all my buttons: impending apocalypse (okay, it’s Armageddon, but good enough), deeply drawn characters and a sprawling sense of space—a universe you could live in, would recognise when you returned to it—poetry and a compelling narrative. Six compelling narratives, actually. Told from the consecutive points of view of six of the seven men and women making a pilgrimage as the galaxy prepares for war, this book is a saga in one volume. It’s three love stories and a treatise on military action. It examines humanity, religion, philosophy, art and politics. The story bends time and rules. It’s just nothing short of amazing.

I also enjoyed Kevin Anderson’s return to the Seven Suns universe in the Saga of Shadows, Pierce Brown’s follow up to Red Rising (last year’s top SF pick from me), Golden Son, and everything I read by Peter Clines.

Fantasy: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Long. Oh my goodness, so long. Every word is worth it, though. Every. Single. World. This book, these characters, this world! SIGRUD! Also, there’s a sequel coming out next year and I already have the ARC for it. *pause for epic flailing*

What sets this book apart is the world building. It’s truly unique. I have never read about a world like this one, and the world is such an integral part of the story. It’s nearly a character in its own right.

Close runner-up is Theft of Swords (Riyria Revelations #1) by Michael J. Sullivan, a new to me author who is now an auto-buy author. I will read anything this man writes. A part of the charm of this series is the fabulous narration by Tim Gerard Reynolds. If you can afford to do this on audio, go for it.

Horror: The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey

This is a new category. I don’t usually read horror, but The Girl with all the Gifts is one of those stories that caught me by surprise. I can’t reveal much about the plot without giving away the magic, but what made this book work for me was the extraordinary journey of one of the characters. I despised this character at the beginning. I began to understand them halfway through. I was utterly besotted with their arc by the end—and then there’s a scene that just… Yeah, I’m haunted.

Graphic Novel: Commencement (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, #1) by John Jackson Miller

For me, this story combined elements of the original three movies and the world fabulously imagined by BioWare for Star Wars: The Old Republic. Great storytelling, decent art and fifty chapters to keep you invested for a good long time.

Romance: Waiting for the Flood by Alexis J. Hall

My review for Waiting for the Flood was a quote from within the book which, for me, defined the very essence of romance:

“It’s all I’ve ever wanted, really. Someone to make tea for. To know how they like to drink it, and share some pieces of time with them at the end of long days, and short ones, good days and bad, and everything in between.”

Movies

2015Movies

In Theatres: Furious 7

Apart from the fact this movie is a must see for every Furious franchise and Paul Walker fan, it really is the best one yet. The story, the stunts. The cast. The ending is bittersweet, as it had to be. I cried and, for about a month afterward, every time I heard the song See You Again I got all misty eyed.

I also really enjoyed both Southpaw and Creed. Southpaw was a shoe-in for me. Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and starring Jake Gyllenhaal? I didn’t have to be asked twice. Creed—you’ve seen Rocky (and a handful of the sequels), right? Why not treat yourself to Stallone acting, and doing a damn good job of it.

Yes, I have seen The Force Awakens and yes, it was a great film. I also really enjoyed San Andreas!

On DVD: Lilting, St. Vincent, Begin Again, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

I didn’t watch as many movies on DVD this year. I was too busy streaming season after season of television shows I’ve missed.

TV

2015TV

Broadchurch, Sense8, Grace and Frankie, The Expanse

These shows are about as disparate as you can get. The Expanse is the space opera I’ve been waiting for since BSG drew its last breath. Grace and Frankie explores interpersonal relationships between family, friends and lovers in so many wonderful ways. Sense8 is spectacular—cinematically and for the story. Broadchurch WRECKED me. Not sure when I last sobbed in front of the television in such a distraught manner. Thank goodness no one came to visit me.

Games

2015Games

Favourite Game: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

Geralt…

Sprawling, endlessly entertaining, well-written, beautiful and…Geralt in all his grey glory.

I also finished Dragon Age: Inquisition which left me wanting and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Music

2015Music

I don’t listen to music when I write and I wrote a LOT this year. I also listened to a lot of audio books, which really cut into my music listening time—particularly when driving. But I still managed to get caught up by a couple of new to me bands and did have a few favourite songs.

Song of the Year: Hold Each Other (ft. Futuristic)

I adore Great Big World. I love apparent simplicity of their lyrics and melodies and the depth I always feel beneath—whether that’s due to the stories I apply to their songs, or the stories they’re telling me. In this song, I really like the three perspectives. And the video is REALLY cute.

Mark Ronson’s Uptown  Funk! ft Bruno Mars was my favourite danceable track this year and every time it plays, I think of a couple of my guys, Alvaro and Daniel, from Wrong Direction, which makes me happy. 🙂

I discovered The Weeknd well after everyone else, and well after FSOG, thank goodness. I heard The Hills as I was driving and nearly crashed trying to enlist Google’s help in identifying it.

I also discovered Twenty One Pilots and am still listening to Stressed Out over and over.

Fooddoughnut

This was the Year of the Doughnut. I discovered a Krispy Kreme about an hour and a half from my house and spent a stupid amount of time visiting other doughnut stores up and down the East Coast.

Activity

Being Offline

As I mentioned earlier, I wrote a lot this year and because of the volume and increasing importance of writing in my life, I’m planning a separate post dedicated just to that! Given I spent so much time at the computer, by year’s end, my favourite activity actually became disengaging from the internet. Escaping to the real world to remember what the sun feels like. Taking day trips to reacquaint myself with my surroundings (and hunt for doughnuts). Hikes. Connecting with friends, face-to-face. Talking about anything other than writing, editing and publishing. Not being thoroughly confused and dismayed by social media.

That’s it, my list of favourite things in 2015. As always, the list is incomplete. I read so much, watched so much, listened to so much—and my tastes are so wide ranging and varied. I get a lot of joy out of mixing it up—leaping from a love story to a mystery, falling into a fantasy world and then jetting out to the stars. It keeps every adventure fresh and new.

Happy New Year and best wishes for your 2016.

 

My Six Months of Piracy

assassins-creed-iv-black-flag-SMLAssassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is the sixth game in an epic series combining three story arcs—one from history, one from a near future setting and one that transcends time. There are so many things to love about these games: the richly rendered settings, the historical detail and the gameplay mechanisms. But it’s the story (or stories) that keep bringing me back for more. You play as a character in a near future setting who has been recruited by a corporation with the technology to thrust you into history through a series of simulations. During these simulations, you play your part in an ever evolving story between two factions: the Assassin’s and the Templars.

Throughout each installment of the game, you track down clues to a third story. It’s that third story that fascinates me so much! I enjoyed the tease of it in the first game and by the end of the second game, I knew I’d be playing through every installment until I reached the end of the larger tale. I’d love to share that part of the games with you, but I think it would count as a significant spoiler and I’d hate to ruin the end of the second game. True ‘Aha’ moments are so rare.

The simulation aspect of the game also works nicely to explain character death. After you watch your assassin plummet instead of executing a perfect leap of faith (or get stabbed a million times, or…), the simulation desynchronizes and resets. I love this! It’s a simple mechanic for delivering unlimited opportunities to finish the game without breaking immersion.

My Journey to the Open Seas

My favourite installment so far is Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, which completes the trilogy devoted to Ezio’s story. I didn’t like Ezio when I first met him. In fact, I didn’t think much of Assassin’s Creed II when I first attempted to play it. I’d skipped ahead to Revelations after watching a friend demonstrate all the new cool. I wanted to play that game. I’m kind of a stickler for order, though, so I figured I should go back and play Assassin’s Creed II first. I got caught up on an early mission, unable to figure out where to go next, and abandoned the game in favour of Revelations, figuring it wouldn’t matter if I skipped a chapter.

It did and it didn’t. Through Revelations I got to know Ezio late in life—and I adored him. I also enjoyed the conclusion to Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad’s (the original assassin)story. It was an unexpected twist to be able to go back and see the end of his life—what became of him and how his actions directed Ezio’s journey some 300 years later. In a way, playing Revelations after the original Assassin’s Creed made sense. In another way, it inspired me to go back and retry Assassin’s Creed II. I needed to know all of Ezio’s story—to see how he’d grown from the self-absorbed ass I’d met at the beginning to the mature, somewhat taciturn and thoroughly competent assassin I came to care for.

Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway) I loved the story. I skipped straight from the end of Assassin’s Creed II to Brotherhood and then played Revelations through all over again. Those three games together rival another trilogy for top place on Kelly’s Shelf of Gaming Goodness, the other being Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3.

Then I got to Assassin’s Creed III. You can read about my trials with that game here, but briefly, it was a combination of gameplay and story that nearly killed my love for this series. But I needed that chapter to continue forward—not just the story, but the experience of it—and I’m glad I persevered because it’s an important chapter in many ways. Just poorly executed.

Imagine my horror when I learned Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag would be based almost entirely on the open sea and would require mastery of one of the most frustrating aspects of the previous game: ship combat.

assassins-creed-iv-black-flag-ship-battle

Thankfully, it’s been simplified and diversified and made fun.

For’ard

Another of my issues with Assassin’s Creed III was the protagonist Connor. I actually found Haytham Kenway more interesting and liked the idea of playing the opposite side, of investigating the Templar story more fully. The beginning of Black Flag takes you to that place, thrusting you right inside the Order for the first few sequences—all in the lovely skin of Edward Kenway, voiced by the equally delightful Matt Ryan (Constantine).

Kenway is his own man, however, which is probably why he’s destined to become a pirate. He’s not a joiner or a follower. The privateers don’t suit him, His Majesty’s Navy would be a disastrous fit and while the Templars appear to be doing well for themselves, they’re a little too devious for a man who simply wants to make his fortune so he can answer to no one. While with the Templars, Kenway learns about the Observatory. It’s the ultimate prize—fabled and powerful and the obsession of many men. It’s the one way ticket Kenway needs to realise all his dreams.

That something comprises the bulk of Black Flag. Kenway becomes obsessed with the Observatory and like any man obsessed, is easily manipulated by friends and foes.

All of the Assassin’s Creed games delve into real history, postulating certain figures were more than they seem. Black Flag is no exception. Kenway falls in with the pirates of the Golden Age: Edward Thatch (Blackbeard), Anne Bonny, Charles Vane, Benjamin Hornigold and Jack Rackham.

Edward
See the rest of the pirates at UBIBLOG

Avast!

The piracy aspect of Black Flag is FUN. I would sit down to continue the main story and two hours later all I’d done was chase and sack ships, rob smugglers and chart deserted isles. For the achievement hound, Black Flag has a number of challenges that will have you scouring the map for treasure, plans, clues to any of the intertwined stories and gold. Going after all these prizes becomes something of an obsession, which ties in beautifully to Edward Kenway’s story.

His wife gave him two years to make his fortune and make his way back to her. Six years later (and about a hundred hours of game play for me, spread over a period of six months), he has lost everything he once held dear. His wife, his friends, his dreams and possibly his future. He is a man shamed. He is a man scorned. All he has is his ship—and he’s nearly lost that too.

It’s rare for a game to capture one man’s story in such a compelling manner—make it entertaining, playable and touching all at the same time. Black Flag does this while adding boat-loads (I couldn’t resist) to the main canon. My only complaint is the continuation of the greater story. You’re no longer playing Desmond Miles (for reasons) in the near future setting. In fact, you have no idea who you are, or what your stake in the greater story is. There’s a nice scene toward the end when Kenway discovers the observatory and its purpose, but overall, the greater story is ignored. I think this is a great shame, as while the games are enormously entertaining, the conclusion to that story is my ultimate goal. So I will be continuing my journey—and after seeing the trailer for Syndicate on TV this morning, I’m as excited about the next installment as I have ever been.