Tomb Raider, The Way of Kings, and the Power of (Evil) Friendship

Welcome once again, my devoted minions!  We will be keeping things relatively positive once again tonight, and more on why toward the end.  Now, lets get down to it, shall we?

The recent announcement at E3 of the Xbox One S had me tremendously excited – not because I had a 4K TV with HDR, but because it was now an absolute certainty that the prices on the original Xbox One would plummet as a result.  And sure enough, for less than what the 500 GB Xbox One cost when it launched, I managed to snag a bundle including a 2 TB Xbox One and a metric shit-ton of games.  One of the games I was most excited to play was Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition.  I had been turned off in the past by some of the original, PS1 era games in the Tomb Raider franchise, and had consequently held off on playing through the reboot of the series, despite critical acclaim.  But fuck, am I glad that I finally did.

Part of my hesitancy was due to my prior experiences with protagonist Lara Croft.  Now I will fully admit that writing a strong female lead isn’t simple, and that what makes a strong female character may vary from person to person.  But in the early days of Tomb Raider, the prevailing school of thought seemed to be that a strong female character appeared to be “engages in physically taxing adventures while maintaining over-the-top levels of sexuality at all times.”  I’m well aware of the constraints of game hardware at the time, as well as the need to appeal to the primary gaming demographic of that era – after all, I was that target demographic – but for me personally, it was just too much suspension of disbelief that was being asked for.  A highly educated and trained woman who chooses to brave the unknown in hot pants and a painted on tank top?  It didn’t make any sense.  Coupling this character dissonance with controls that were clunky at best just led me to stay away from the series after my first couple of forays, even after developer Crystal Dynamics took the reigns and began to rehabilitate the franchise.

But this Lara Croft, in Tomb Raider: Definitive Addition?  This is one of the most believable, realistic, and strongest female characters not only in gaming, but in modern media.  Is she still beautiful?  Undoubtedly – in my opinion even more so – but it is her inner strength of character in the face of soul-crushing adversity that truly takes center stage in this game.

Lara 1
Every one of her trials leaves its physical mark, but it’s the scars on her soul that truly last.

Lara Croft is not a globe trotting adventurer here.  She is a young, brilliant archaeologist looking to translate her readings and research into a real discovery.  She isn’t out looking for a fight – circumstances force her to survive against the odds and in the face of horrific danger.  And Lara, both physically and emotionally, reacts exactly as one might expect someone of little experience, but much inner strength, would.  Her frantic and narrow escapes leave her soaked, shivering, and covered in grime.  When she is forced to kill, which she has never done, she reacts with revulsion, and the blood spatter remains as a grim reminder of the innocence lost to the cruel demands of survival.  To go into too much detail would be to spoil moments that you should go and experience for yourself – but suffice to say, THIS Lara Croft is easily one of my favorite characters in all my years of gaming, and even in all of fictional media.

The gameplay itself is fantastic as well – both exploration and combat controls are tight and responsive, and I find that the shooting mechanics are a step above that of the Uncharted series, which itself is a spiritual successor to those early Tomb Raider games.  There are secrets to be found all over each area map, from collectible treasures to hunting challenges to optional secret tombs to explore.  One complaint I have is that in early areas of the game, you can feel somewhat hamstrung and frustrated in combat due to only having access to a single crude bow and a limited arrow supply.  It can be annoying trying to run and dodge from a pack of wolves, circling you out of sight in the woods and then springing at you from all directions, all while trying to line up a bow shot to whittle their numbers down.  However, it never really feels unfair – the wolves behave exactly as you would expect pack predators to take on a single target, and Lara’s struggles mirror those of a young woman thrust into fending for herself in the wild unexpectedly.

All in all, this game is amazing – an absolute top-notch action-adventure that solidly places Tomb Raider back on its throne and Lara Croft standing triumphant as one of the best examples of female characterization in the medium.  Go and play this game.  Unless you hate yourself.  And even then, go play it.  Or maybe you hate strong female characters, in which case, fuck you, Trump voter – get the hell out of here.

Now, as promised, my impressions on Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, Book One of The Stormlight Archives.  For those of you too goddamn lazy to read this whole thing, I’ll do you a solid – if you have read and enjoyed Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, go pick up this series now.  Sanderson seems to be a master at hitting all of the sweet spots of the epic fantasy genre – fully realized, developed, and fleshed-out world, with rich social, political, economic, and racial histories; a balanced and internally logical system of magic; and sweeping battles with far-reaching geopolitical consequences.

Way of Kings
Have any idea what these guys are doing?  Well the book thinks you do.

That’s not to say that this book starts out necessarily easy to like, or even to understand.  Sanderson adopts the tactic of beginning his story in media res – which while functional when a story takes place in our world, or a close facsimile, can become incredibly confusing when the book just starts throwing around terms and names and concepts with little-to-no explanation, as if you should already be familiar with them.  There are the occasional one or two sentences of explanation each time a new person or mechanic of the world is addressed, and if you are patient you can piece these together and build an understanding of the world and what makes it function.  To add somewhat to the confusion level, Sanderson also likes to jump back and forth in time between chapters, by years, centuries, or millennia, with no immediate connection between the time periods.  The links do begin to make themselves clear over the course of the book – but at 1250 pages, it will be some time before it all begins to make sense.  However, all of these issues aside, it is a tremendous achievement in world-building and if you can be patient through the early information dump, the characters and tales woven will leave you eager to move on to the second book in the series.  Highly recommended for fans of the epic fantasy genre – but if you are a newcomer to these series, you may want to start with something a little less daunting.

Finally…do you know how to recognize who your best friend is?  I mean, in my case it’s somewhat easier as there are so very few candidates (I’m not what you would call “likable”) but how do you know which one is at the top of the class of people that give a flying fuck about you?  Well, you’re in luck!  I’m going to tell you.  You’re best friend is the one that you tell how you are going to start a blog as a way to deal with all of the shit that’s happened to you, and they simultaneously do two things.  1. They unconditionally support you, become the first person to start reading your blog, and help you with ideas for it.  2. They go out and buy a mug for you for the EXPRESS PURPOSE of mocking you for starting a blog.

Blog Mug
Not Pictured: The enclosed “Thank You” card which had “Thank” crossed out and replaced with “This is a card for” and ending with (shrug).

Now, when you’re as evil and blackhearted as me, there is an extra component to friendship that holds some people up all the more – your best friend is the one that will sit with you and rip apart all of the people you can’t stand together.  You’re the best, Amber.  And the new whiskey holder isn’t the only reason why!

Until next time, humans, remember – if you are just dead-set on voting for an omnicidal megalomaniac who is only trying to amass power to pursue his own private interests at the expense of anyone else, then don’t vote for Trump.  Just fucking vote for me.  Because at the very least I’m being up-front when I tell you that I have no business being president, and will gladly utilize the victory for my own sole benefit.  What’ve you got to lose? – EWE

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3 thoughts on “Tomb Raider, The Way of Kings, and the Power of (Evil) Friendship”

  1. I also snagged a cheap older model Xbox One (it’s in the mail now 🙂 ). I will have to take a look at the new Tomb Raider games. As a female gamer, it’s so awesome to see the industry creating more strong female characters I can look up to!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so pleased by this interpretation of Lara Croft – it’s one of the most realistic and multi-faceted portrayals of a female character I’ve ever seen in gaming. Too many times have female characters been defined by one character trait (i.e. just strong, or just smart, or just pretty) and it makes the character feel shallow. But this is so well done. Enjoy!

      Like

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