“Throw the bodies into the pool of poisonous blood!” “And then remember to blow them up!” – Anonymous (actually, my two sons)
Good evening, mortals! I trust you enjoyed your weekend, hmm? (Editor’s Note: Wow, it’s nice of you to a- ) sure, whatever, I don’t want to hear it if not. (Editor’s Note: …and, there it is.) I am finding myself in the eye of a whirlwind of change, personally and professionally. Some of this I expected (still working out the podcast, but I may have amend my initial plans of having every episode along side my fire-haired eldest spawn as he’s quite busy himself) and some have been out-of-the-blue, though not altogether negative. But one particularly pleasant diversion has been my sons’ idea to use my Backlog Rewalk of Larian Studios’ Divinity Original Sin 2 as our chance to do a full co-op playthrough of the campaign.
As any of you who know me or have followed along for a while now realize, RPGs are far and away my favorite genre of game. But even for all I love them, their Achilles’ heel has always been a sore lacking in the ability to share the adventure with others. Although recent years have seen this somewhat addressed with the advent of MMORPGs, with many tremendous offerings in both free-to-play and subscription based models (Editor’s Note: Oh, we definitely need to so some separate entries on that subject…) the classic narrative-driven RPG, whether party-based or featuring a solo avatar, largely remained single-player affairs. When earlier generations of games attempted multiplayer components, it largely felt like a tacked-on afterthought, such as a second player being able to control a single party member in battle but otherwise being limited to just watching the game unfold with little to no agency. Not so in the least with regard to Original Sin 2.
As players of either of the Original Sin games will know, a huge party of the games, both in and out of combat, comes from environmental interactions. Buildings, ships, and treasure chests on fire can burn up and be lost without a quickly cast rain spell; poisonous fogs can be cleared by a cleansing fireball; out-of-reach crates and statues can be teleported or lifted telekinetically to be placed on pressure plates – the possibilities are near-endless. And since each of these requires some expertise in different skill trees and spell schools, diverse party make-up is essential to fully explore the world and take advantage of combat situations. While in a single-player game, these decisions can all be left to the player to manage across different party members, Original Sin 2 shines when it’s turn-based world and combat are shared between a group of friends (or a twisted father and his equally-demented sons), ideally in the same room. Did the tank manage to successfully pull all the enemies into a group together focused on him? “Hold still, son – you can handle this fireball!” Is the healer teleporting the mage out of danger because all the healing spells are on cooldown? “I’m sorry, dad – I didn’t realize you were still on fire when I dropped you in that puddle of oil!” The possibilities for fun are endless – as are the number of things that you will likely yell across the room to your party that nobody else in the room will have any hope of making sense of. – EWE
“My brother, War, stands falsely accused of unleashing Armageddon upon the human race. His fate concerns me. Yours…does not.” – Death
Big brothers fix things, humans. It doesn’t really matter what else there is to a sibling relationship – when you boil it down to its essence, big brothers see their younger siblings in trouble and their first response is “what do I need to do in order to make this better?” So it is for the oldest brother of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Death – his little brother, War, has gotten himself into some deep shit, and so Death rides forth to try and fix things.
Darksiders II takes place at an interesting place in the series’ timeline. During the prologue/tutorial of the first Darksiders game, horseman War unwittingly brings about the doom of mankind by responding to a fake-out on the apocalypse and thus allowing armies of angels and demons to wage war across a woefully unprepared Earth. In the aftermath, War is killed in battle and some nebulous amount time passes with him passes with him being held in torturous captivity by the Charred Council before eventually being returned to life and sent to discover who had tricked him into riding before his appointed time. Darksiders II is set during this time of War’s captivity and torture, essentially making it an interquel between the prologue and game proper of Darksiders. Death, upon hearing of his brother’s plight, has a natural big brother’s instinct to fix things for his younger sibling. In this case, Death has decided that “fixing things” means resurrecting the entirety of the human race and basically invoking a cosmic-level “no harm, no foul” defense to the Charred Council.
The original Darksiders was a hit with fans and critics for taking the exploration and combat mechanics of action and action-adventure games like God of War and The Legend of Zelda, melding them, and building a dark fantasy world from the mind of comic book master Joe Madureira in which the armies of Heaven and Hell are in a kind of temporary cease-fire, maintained by the mysterious Charred Council and their enforcers, the powerful Four Horsemen. Feared and respected by all creatures in existence for their power, but seemingly easily manipulated, Darksiders II expands upon the background and origins of the Horsemen. They are not angel, demon, or human; they are the last of the nephilim, a cosmically overpowered race that conquered and destroyed countless worlds across the cosmos, threatening the very Balance that the Charred Council uneasily maintains between angels and demons. Four of these beings saw the destruction and carnage being wrought by their kind and began to sour on it; these four went to the Charred Council and were granted unbelievable power in exchange for their service to the Council and the Balance. The first task given to these newly-christened Horsemen was the complete and total destruction of their kind – a grim task which they completed. It was Death himself who struck the final blows of that battle, and as well it was only Death who seemed somewhat remorseful of the genocide they had perpetrated against their own kind. Perhaps it is for these reasons that now, millennia later, he cannot stand by and watch either the loss of another entire race in humanity, nor the loss of his brother War, one of the final four surviving nephilim.
For Death, the scars of his soul are reflected in his flesh – rather than destroy the souls of the nephilim, as he was instructed, he preserved them in an amulet that early in the game becomes fused with his very body, leaving a glowing green wound upon his chest and the cacophony of the souls of his brethren in his mind. As he pursues his goal of exonerating his brother War with single minded purpose, forces are at move in the universe that will pull Death in two between saving his brother or saving his own soul. It is a remarkably well told story that is made immensely greater by the fantastic voice acting. Death, in particular, is never, EVER at a loss for a deadpan snark. As a connoisseur of sarcasm myself, Death shot into the upper tier of my favorite game characters of all time. And he isn’t just fun to listen to; he’s a blast to play as well.
While War controlled with a sense of weight and power, as lumbering brute that devastated enemies with overwhelming power, Death weaves a fast-paced dance macabre in combat that takes everything that was great about the first game, eliminates the negatives, and accentuates the best parts. Instead of the gigantic sword Chaoseater wielded by Way, Death’s default weapon is his twin hand scythes. There are light and heavy attacks, as in the original, and as in the original these can be combined and strung together into various chains that result in combo moves of tremendous strength and fluidity. If you played the original Darksiders, you may have gone the entire game not realizing that War could actually block enemy attacks. Darksiders II seems to have noticed this, and in keeping with his faster-paced combat style, Death cannot block incoming blows – he must dodge them. The dodge mechanic is tremendous with an adequate window and sufficient enemy ques to make the dodging feel like a natural reaction. A successful dodge often opens up enemies to a furious counterattack, and before long you will find yourself right at home weaving in and out of a pack of enemies, slicing them to ribbons and crushing them with heavy attacks from secondary weapons such as a gigantic hammer or polearm.
Darksiders II retains its predecessors gameplay loop of finding new tools and devices to give you additional ability to explore the dungeons and world and find new secrets, but it expands by introducing a randomized loot system not unlike the Diablo titles. Every enemy slain or chest opened can explode into a shower of gold, weapons, and armor, with enhanced elemental or stat boosts. This loot can range from being near-worthless vendor trash to epic or legendary named armor or weapons. Additionally, rather than buying skill upgrades from Vulgrim this time around, Death has two separate skill trees, Harbinger for melee damage and Necromancer for arcane damage, into which he can invest skill points gained from leveling up and completing some quests. This gives a game like Darksiders II tremendous replayability as you can experiment with different class builds and equipment loadouts. While the loot system suffers eventually from the same feeling of diminishing returns that is present in all such systems, all the elements come together to create a tremendous action-adventure-RPG.
The Deathinitive Edition includes all of the DLC released for Darksiders II, adding several new full dungeons and quests, as well as the Crucible, a 100-wave series of arena battles that take skill and resource management to fully complete. It just adds even more value to an already content-rich game. In all honesty, mortals, if you played the first Darksiders and enjoyed it (and if you didn’t, it’s not the game, there’s something wrong with you) then you will absolutely love Darksiders II. One of the best games of the PS3 era that was perfectly remastered in the Deathinitive Edition and is a must play for anyone that likes fast-paced action and a huge world to explore. It is truly fantastic that the franchise was resurrected by THQ Nordic and I can’t wait to move on to Darksiders III.
“It shall be even bloodier than you hoped.” – Dorn Il-Khan
Love is a funny thing, humans. Sometimes it feels so strong at first, only to burn out or fade over time. But the best and truest love is the love that remains a bond; the love that, even when apart for a time, remains in your heart and can pick right back up where it left off when reunited. (Editor’s Note: …who even are you?) Shut up, I’m having a moment here. I loved Baldur’s Gate. I had always wanted to play tabletop D&D, but I lacked a very important component: friends with which to play. So while I read as many rulebooks and companion materials as I could get my hands on and rolled character after character, I never got to take them on adventures and quests…until Baldur’s Gate. So it was with some trepidation that I approached a fresh run through Beamdog’s Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition – could we pick up where we left off years ago? In a word: yes.
First things first: I adore what Beamdog did with the visuals. They were never going to take an isometric PC RPG from the late 90s and make it graphically spectacular. But as you can see above, they took the approach of function over flashiness, and it absolutely worked. The Infinity Engine was a landmark interface for the genre, and Beamdog took into account widescreen, HD monitors and incorporated interface elements that would normally have required additional user effort to access right into the main play screen. They also smoothed out and enhanced the sprites for HD resolutions. But the classic look and feel of Baldur’s Gate remains unchanged. This carries through to the sound as well – hearing Imoen tell me “I’ve done had enough of this” as I instructed her to pick a lock made me smile despite the fact that I knew I was going to hear it 1,000 more times.
For those that may be unfamiliar, Baldur’s Gate operates on the now archaic-sounding Dungeons and Dragons 2.5 Edition ruleset (Editor’s Note: For comparison’s sake, you may want to mention that the modern ruleset is 5th Edition.) What?! What kind of masochistic non-nerd would still be reading this and not already be aware of that?! (Editor’s Note: …fair point.) While at first seeming overly complex and strict when compared to more modern interpretations, once you understand the system there is a tremendous amount of freedom to be had within its confines. So many multi-class and class kit options are available that are either no longer viable or not nearly as unique and interesting as they were under the older ruleset. So, what does an Evil Wizard, Esq. do when creating his Forgotten Realms avatar? Well, obviously…he rolls a half-elf Fighter/Wizard/Thief multi-class. (Editor’s Note: I…don’t know how “obvious” that is…) Hey, sometimes I want to stab mortals, sometimes I want to set mortals on fire, sometimes I want to steal all of their things and laugh maniacally into the night…I like options.
Now we come to my favorite part of the Enhanced Edition by Beamdog…added content. When Beamdog developed the new release, they didn’t just port the original game and it’s Tales of the Sword Coast expansion. They wove into the game new party members and quests, incorporated characters from the sequel into the first game to add backstory, and finally, created and released Siege of Dragonspear, a totally new expansion that bridges the story gap between Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II. The new content is a masterwork – in particular the characters that were not originally present. The original Baldur’s Gate assumed that you were going to lose party members – either to death or just utility loss – and replace them, so while it’s party members were often endearing in some ways, they were not particularly fleshed out. Beamdog has taken the more modern approach of giving characters meaningful backstories and motivations, personal quests you can assist them with, and even possible romances with your character. And these are not cookie cutter characters – they span the alignment gamut, with some being teeth-achingly sweet and others deliciously sadistic. It’s tough to pick a favorite, but my party has included the half-orc blackguard Dorn Il-Khan, who gleefully gives the quote at the top of the page when asked to…do anything, really. Even just walk to a certain point or open a door. It’s amazing.
My time with Baldur’s Gate was taking a long overdue vacation with your best friend. You both have been busy with work and life, but you still text and call each other. When you finally are able to spend some time together, you still laugh at all the same things, you still finish each other’s sentences, and even when you disagree on something, it feels more of affection than argument. My worries about the Enhanced Edition not living up to my nostalgic memories of the original were unwarranted – as soon as I got back into the game, just like spending time with an old friend, I was home again. – EWE
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” – Charles Caleb Colton
The Four Horsemen. Just the name alone is enough to conjure so many images to mind – four larger than life forces of nature, carving a bloody path of destruction leading inevitably to the apocalyptic end times.
The very idea of four supernatural harbingers of the end of days has always, naturally, fascinated me. So the opportunity to play as one of the legendary Horsemen in a post-apocalyptic world designed by famed comic book artist Joe Madureira and inspired by the classic Legend of Zelda series sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? Enter the puntastically named Darksiders: Warmastered Edition.
A graphically enhanced edition of the original Darksiders PS3 game released for modern consoles and PC, the game places you in the hulking, brooding form of War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In the universe of Darksiders, an ceasefire has been reached in the endless wars between Heaven and Hell, with the balanced maintained and enforced by the mysterious and creepy Charred Council, a weird collection of talking skull-rocks that won’t allow the heavenly hosts and hellish hordes have at one another until such time as the world of humans is ready to participate in the final conflict. In order to maintain the Balance, the Council employs the aid of the Horsemen, four mysterious siblings of unbelievable power.
A catastrophic series of events leads to a massive upsetting of the precious Balance, and War is left to take the fall for it. Slapped with a sentient shadow that acts as both a restraining bolt and warden, War sets out across the ruined Earth to discover who is truly to blame for the upsetting of the Balance and cut that person to ribbons with his BFS Chaosbringer. But all is not as it seems on the remains of world, and War will need to explore puzzling ruins, acquire useful tools and artifacts, and make deals with several devils – and angels – before he can solve the mystery and get his revenge.
The visuals in Darksiders are, in a word, stunning. Madureira’s character designs are spectacularly realized – War is a hulking brute of a warrior, with oversized boots and gauntlets that somehow don’t seem out-of-place at all. Surrounding him are fiery demons, packs of angels wielding both swords and laser cannons, and giant, tumorous monstrosities that look like nothing more than eldritch abominations. Colors are vibrantly contrasting, popping off the screen and giving you the impression that you are in control of a graphic novel published by Dark Horse.
The gameplay can best be described as a glowing, polished love letter to the 3D Legend of Zelda games. War’s journey will take him from one dungeon to another, each one serving to introduce newer and more complex gameplay mechanics and often including new tools or equipment to assist War in solving environmental puzzles in order to advance. This gameplay loop builds upon itself in an immensely satisfying fashion, with puzzles and challenges incorporating and expanding upon the tools and solutions discovered in previous places.
Boss fights are often puzzles in and of themselves, with each one serving as a culmination of the tools, tricks, and traps found in their environments to defeat. For all the power that War possesses, it is his – and your – ability to analyze and adapt to his situation that serves him best throughout the entirety of his adventure. That isn’t to say that every card up War’s sleeve is entirely useful – one might go the entirety of the game, for example, without ever even knowing that War is capable of blocking some enemy attacks rather than utilizing a well-timed dodge. Similarly, while War has access to a small selection of magic spells, I found only one to be something that I used more than once, and even then it’s use felt situational and more of convenience than necessity.
The sound design is equally polished, if in my opinion less memorable. While my youngest son insists that the soundtrack and battle music in the early stages is among the best that he’s ever heard, for me there is nothing of note to distinguish from one growling guitar background to another. That isn’t to say that any of it is bad – just that it is there and serves it’s purpose without ever truly standing out. One exception I would note is that the voice acting is amazing, particularly Liam O’Brien as War.
After more than a few twists and turns, Darksiders’ narrative ends with a fairly obvious hook for further sequels – sequels which have since come to be. Would they pick up that story trail? I guess you’ll have to come back to my upcoming discussion of Darksiders II to find out! – EWE
Lookie here, mortals – I’ve managed to actually get a second stream done and uploaded! Still now live viewers/subscribers – but that’s ok, I think we have all learned by now that I can happily carry on a conversation with myself (Editor’s Note: …what’s that supposed to mean?) So, if you would be so kind, watch the replay of Let’s Play! w/ Evil Wizard, Esq. – The Witcher – Ep. 2 on Twitch or right here below!
As for some other goodies on their way, I’m still working out the script and a recording time for my flame-haired offspring and I to sit down and record the first episode of our podcast – with tentative topics being a breakdown of the new Legion expansion of the popular (and free to play) Diablo-killer, Path of Exile, as well as a discussion of the fantastic start that new North American pro wrestling promotion All Elite Wrestling has gotten off to recently! In addition, I’ve been bitten by the bug to do some old-school D&D dungeon crawling and have been powering my way through Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition and will be bringing you my thoughts as I finish that campaign and carry over to the Siege of Dragonspear interquel. So you’ll be seeing, hearing, and reading me more and more, fleshbags! (Editor’s Note: Uh, that sounded kind of threatening, don’t you think…?) MWAHAHAHAHA! – EWE
Welcome back, humans! I hope life has been treating you better than “President” and “guy you wouldn’t buy a used car off of” Trump has been treating poor people trying to flee to a better life in America. Though I suppose given just how abysmal the treatment of them is, that’s a pretty low bar that life has to clear to treat you better.
Anyway, as you may recall, I’ve been strolling through the overgrown jungle that is my game backlog since I needed to replace my computer’s HDD and as a result lost a significant portion of my save data in many games. I began this little journey in earnest with Pillars of Eternity, and decided I would give it a strong push through all of the expansion content – The White March Parts I & II – and then complete the game. So how did it go? (Editor’s Note: Some SPOILERS AHEAD for Pillars of Eternity and The White March.)
The White March expansion was released by Obsidian in two parts, and unlike many expansion packs for RPGs, it is integrated seamlessly into the main story path of the base game. Part I is accessible once you reach Act II of the main story, and Part II is accessible upon reaching Act III. Your quest journal has a nice touch that keeps separate track of main quests for the base game, WM I, and WM II – though this doesn’t extend to the sidequests and “tasks” – those are all lumped together regardless of which part of the game they originate in. Nonetheless, Obsidian deserves a TON of credit for making the new areas, NPCs, and quests feel like they were always a part of the world to begin with. The base game itself was already one of more well-written fantasy worlds in gaming, and WM did nothing but drive that point home. Most notably, your choice of companion characters escalated from sometimes-funny to batshit crazy hilarious!
The character backstories and personal quests for the three new playable party members in WM are absolutely fantastic – some of the best, most genre-aware and yet not-total-parody fantasy character writing I’ve seen in video gaming, period. My only complaint is that there wasn’t more of it – the personal quests for these three felt very short compared to the quests for the base game characters. But as complaints go, that one doubles as a compliment – always leave your readers/players wanting more! And it was the characters that sealed my desire to play the next game in the series – once I’ve got more time and funds. But lets not discount the fantastic real-time-with-pause combat mechanics, either.
Every class in the game is functionally useful in different combat situations – to the point that you will find yourself regularly journeying back to your fortress of Caed Nua to switch out party members for different bosses and challenges. And boy do I mean it when I say challenges – while you can reach a point where most regular encounters won’t give you much trouble, several of the optional bosses in the game are absolutely brutal and require close attention to party positioning and skill management. For example…
So after THAT little mishap, I also discovered that not all of WM takes place in a frozen wasteland – some of the quests do take you to new zones in the more temperate zones of the main game. For example, after you take care of an archmage who had decided that lichdom sounded better than death (Editor’s Note: and who’s reanimated head you kept floating behind the party as a pet…) you end up being summoned by one of the other archmages to a meeting. Sadly, a village full of cultists decides to get in your way and must be…dealt with…but then you can have intelligent conversation with one of your intellectual peers…
So, let me share a little life advice: do not attempt to send melee fighters against a dragon. Just…don’t. (Editor’s Note: I said I was sorry, and you only got set on fire a few times.) But all’s well that ends well, yes? And here is how THEY ended:
What can I say, humans…I’m very good at what I do, but what I do isn’t very nice. What IS nice though is that I got to play through this gem of a game. It is a definite love letter to games like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale, but with enough subtle modern improvements that it doesn’t feel dated. If you haven’t played it yet, what are you doing? Stop reading and go play it! – EWE
Salutations, humans! It’s been some time since I addressed the less interactive forms of art and culture that I so enjoy, so let’s take a break from all these newfangled computery games and see what ol’ EWE has been reading lately, shall we? Well, not everything – after all, if I’m ever NOT reading something, I start to get the shakes – and not just my normal, quaking-with-seething-rage-and-malice shakes. And speaking of things that enrage me…
You know, it’s kind of a shame that I read this one several months ago and am only now reflecting on it here. I have tremendous respect for Bob Woodward as a journalist and author, and from a technical and critical standpoint he is strong again here. The book is thoroughly researched and documented, and Woodward demonstrates as he has since Watergate why he is possibly the seminal presidential historian of the modern age. So what, you may ask, is my problem? Simple – none of this makes a difference. There isn’t a whole lot in this book that wasn’t already known or suspected about the tangerine ball of yak shit occupying the White House – Woodward just backstops and adds even more authenticity to what we already realized. And yet…nothing came of any of it. It was in the news cycle for a hot minute, and then it was gone. In any other era of American history, a quarter of what is in this book would have all of Washington falling over themselves to be the first to the White House with torches and pitchforks, but the con artist in chief has made the surreal into the same-old, same-old. If you are a fan of Woodward or just feel like being even more angry at and ashamed of your country, it is a well-written book. Just don’t hope for anything to ever change.
As someone who has worked on both sides of a criminal courtroom, I have a complicated view of the role that law enforcement plays in the criminal justice system. I grew up wanting to be a cop – specifically, in the FBI. Winding up as an attorney, I first worked in a prosecutor’s office, and since have worked as a public defender. I have absolutely nothing but respect for the job that police do – but that respect is distinct from the reverence that some blindly have for them. Cops are first and foremost human beings – just as flawed and varying and multifaceted as all other human beings. And just like all groups of human beings, some are subject to racist and biased tendencies – both towards the people they are supposed to be policing, as well as toward one another. Author Matthew Horace – as a 30-year veteran of policing and as a person of color – has experienced this first-hand on both fronts. His clear and concise assessment of the problems involving race that have plagued policing for generations is equally mixed with a strong vision for how they can do better, and why they have to do better. It is a very enjoyable read – even for those that aren’t involved in the criminal justice system – but should be required reading for anyone that is, especially current or aspiring police officers.
Ta-Nehisi Coates takes a wider look at race in America than merely from the perspective of policing in his collection of essays looking at the years of the Obama presidency, at first with the sense of hope and inspiration that led him to believe that perhaps a new generation in America had turned a page, if not outright closed the book on the incredibly ugly history of how black Americans have been treated since the first slave ships arrived in the 1600s. What Horace’s experience as a police officer lent to his direct, blunt message about law enforcement, Coates’ incredible talent as a writer infuses his work with poetry and lyricism – it makes you feel intensely. And feel you will – as the sense of hope that was the initial reaction to Obama’s election gives way to the visceral and ugly backlash of racism and white supremacy that ultimately led to the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Still, while it truly is the titular American tragedy that it claims, some of the best works in history have been tragedies, and Coates is one of the most gifted writers I have read in some time. Read this, and wonder at what we had, and lost, and hopefully will find again.
So this one can’t really be called a review because I am still working on it – but it’s a seminal work on the nature and structure of evil written by a clinical and forensic psychiatrist; is there really a doubt about whether I’ll like it? Dr. Stone first published his original scale of “categories of evil” to sort forms and types of murder in 1993 and has since updated it to include 22 categories, based on his hundreds of case studies. My favorite part so far? He acknowledges that this wasn’t the first attempt to create a categorization of evil – he credits that to Dante’s “Circles of Hell” in the Inferno portion of his Divine Comedy. Now THAT is sourcing your reference material!
That’s it for tonight, fleshbags! Now go read something! I mean, besides this. – EWE