The Backlog Rewalk Files: Pillars of Eternity: The White March (I & II)

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Hope you like snow and ice!

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.)

 

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Oh there was something behind the waterfall, alright…

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!

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Evil Wizard? Check. Foul-mouthed, possibly cannibalistic druid? Check. Robotic serial killer rogue? Check. Former war criminal barbarian? Check. Elderly masochistic hallucinogenic-addicted monk? Check. Um…one fairly well-adjusted hunter? Also check.

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.

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Yeah, that’s right – nobody screws with this crew of cutthroats.

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…

EWE and Editor Cave

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Editor’s Note: See, there WAS a cave behind the waterfall! HA! It never fails! Now we can just grab whatever bonus loot Obsidian tucked away in here and…
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Editor’s Note: …oh. Oh dear. (EWE’s Note: Yeah, there’s your fucking treasure, asshat!)

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…

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OH COME ON!

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:

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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

 

 

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A Trip to the Tomes

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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

The Backlog Rewalk Files: Pillars of Eternity

Good evening, humans!  How are…ugh, honestly, I’m too tired to care.  I’m a little…busy…at work and consequently have been too exhausted to do much of anything.  Even if you were on fire right in front of me, I couldn’t summon the effort to enjoy it (Editor’s Note: Uh, you mean to put it out) sure, whatever – regardless, no fucks to give.  So there is only one thing to do when your body is breaking down and your mind is shattering from too much stress (Editor’s Note: Rest?  Eat better?  Eat at all?) nope, spend some precious evening hours replaying the Steam backlog that got erased!  (Editor’s Note: …we’re going to die, aren’t we?)  Probably.  Though we did some focus groups on reaction to our death and the results were…less than stellar…

Let Them Die

Regardless, before total collapse, a random stab into the backlog brings us to (drumroll) Pillars of Eternity.  No, not the more recent sequel – the original Kickstarter-backed love letter to classic CRPGs like Baldur’s Gate.  So far the early game is as strong as I remember it, with a fairly robust character creation system that mixes together some standard fantasy tropes and classes along with some more original and alien options, such as the Godlike race and the Cypher class, which focuses on soul manipulation as explained in the background lore.  And boy – so much lore.  Obsidian did an amazing job crafting this fantasy world and leaving it for you to explore and find bits and pieces of, letting you have as deep an understanding of the background of the world as you are willing to invest effort in seeking out.

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Was there ever really doubt about me being a Deathtype Godlike Wizard?  Have you even been paying attention?

The early scenario for the game does a great job of introducing the classic real-time with pause party based RPG combat, although by the end of the starting dungeon, you’re going to find yourself in some need for, uh, new companions.

Not These Guys

These early hours are pretty dark too – what with your caravan party being slaughtered and you stumbling into the starting town only to be openly threatened with death by the town guardsmen basically because the Mayor is in a pissy mood.  But then again, so am I, so that leads to the big question: will I complete Act I just by setting the Mayor of Shitholetown on fire?  Tune in next time to find out, fleshbags! – EWE

If You Voted Trump, You Are Not Going To Like This Post

As you know, humans, I like to try and keep it pretty light here (Editor’s Note: well, relatively speaking…) shut it you, I am NOT in the fucking mood right now. (Editor’s Note: yeah, I know.) I like to talk about my boys, I like to talk about my cats, I like to talk about my games – hell, I’ll even admit what a pathetic personal life I tend to have. Sure, I take the occasional shot at the flaming dumpster full of dog shit that occupies the White House currently, but I try to keep it to a minimum…for me.

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Please come back. Please. I will literally sacrifice as many lives as it takes.

But then after two years in the making, Robert Mueller delivered his report on the Trump election. Now, I know some might say “EWE, you’re just a salty liberal angry that Mueller exonerated the Presi- ARRRRGGGGHHHH!” And after I was done setting them on fire, I would respond to their writhing, screaming form that no, that is not the case. You see, I don’t know that Mueller exonerated Trump. I know that Mueller prosecuted and convicted a whole bunch of Trump’s circle of a whole lot of shit. But I don’t know anything about what Mueller concluded in his report, and neither does anyone reading this because the only thing we’ve gotten is A FUCKING FOUR PAGE SUMMARY FROM TRUMP’S HAND-PICKED CRONY AG!

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Clearly an innocent man.

Let me try to put this into perspective. I have read Darwin’s Origin of Species. If you were to ask me “what did Darwin conclude in Origin of Species?” and I were to respond with a note card that said “Darwin said that humans are just shaved apes” then you would not, in fact, know what Darwin had fucking concluded. You would just know what I told you. And to make this EVEN MORE FUCKING RIDICULOUS, Barr has now also said that he will not release the Mueller report until the White House has had a chance to make edits to it. Well why the fuck haven’t I thought of that before?! Attention courts: going forward, I’m afraid that we won’t be able to introduce any evidence into trials until myself and my client have been able to fucking edit it in order to remove anything that might make us look bad. And in order to even BE attorney general, Barr has to be, ostensibly, an attorney – so he fucking knows better, he just doesn’t care! (Editor’s Note: calm down, your blood pressure is going up.) You know, for once you’re right…I think I need some music or something to help me relax.

Whew…that is so much better. Now, what were we talking – oh fuck, that’s right. Listen, fleshbags…I have tried very, VERY hard to be patient with you. I have, against my better judgment on more than one occasion, refrained from summoning an army of hellspawn to just depopulate your species from the earth. But SOME of you – probably the ones that have not read this far – are making a quite compelling argument for me to stop holding myself back. So if you have some of those in your life, just remember – there are 6 billion of you on the planet. It won’t miss a few here and there. Because this…

And while Richard – and I – may not care whose side we’re on…you meatbags will. – EWE

The Elder – and Younger – Scrolls

Ho there, adventurous humans! Gather ’round and here a tale of magic and mysticism…of warfare and wonder…of evil and, um, pretty much more evil. Yes, I speak of the founding of the fledgling group of mercenaries and traders known as Murder and Mayhem Inc.

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Yes, mortals, what this means for those that don’t know is that my eldest spawn, Beefer (Editor’s Note: Not only does he not hate the nickname he’s had since birth, but he actively uses it as a handle online) managed to convince me to join him in playing The Elder Scrolls Online. As someone who has put many, MANY hours into MorrowindOblivion, and Skyrim – not to mention Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 (or as a wise woman once said, The Best Fallout) – I’d heard good things about the MMO chapter in the Elder Scrolls saga. So, with a new expansion on the horizon, Beefer convinced me that this was the best time for me to join him in Tamriel and journey the land together, questing and battling foes as father and son. Until I played with him for the first time, whereupon he had me follow him to a shadowy shrine, turned around, and drained my blood, inflicting me with vampirism. “Hey, cool, I really CAN turn others into vampires at this level!” Whereupon, he left to go fight endgame monsters that I couldn’t even look at without dying.

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In fairness, what else would Evil Wizard Esq be but a Vampire Sorcerer?

Thus, it was left for me to begin the long path to joining my treacherous little Beef in the upper echelons of killing ability. Fortunately, ESO is a dream to play. The combat and questing combine the best of Elder Scrolls style with slight twists on the modern WoW MMO formula. Positioning and active aiming of your abilities is generally required, but is not difficult thanks to crosshairs on the HUD as well as smart hit detection by the game engine itself. You can play in both first- and third-person, but generally I find it much more advantageous to play in third-person, as there are so many ground effects to avoid and battlefield variables to be aware of that the zoomed-out, or even over-the-shoulder third-person views are far less frustrating than the first-person. There are a myriad of classes that at first seem to fall within the standard tank-healer-dps trinity, but with the dozens of different skill trees in the game, can all become self-sufficient while also remaining viable for group play. Really, I can’t say enough about the character customization – it is superbly balanced and fun to play around with.

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But the true icing on the cake is the questing. While world building and lore have always been a strong suit of the Elder Scrolls, and Bethesda games in general, they absolutely outdid themselves with ESO. Quests are leveled to your experience level – no more picking up quests at level 10 and then finding them not worth completing a few levels later. Instead, the enemies and rewards are tailored to your characters ability at the time they are encountered and it makes it so much more immersive when going through the dozens of quest lines available in every zone of the game. And you’ll want to go through them because every zone is a treat for the senses – absolutely beautiful, with fantastic ambient audio, music, and voice acting.

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I have thoroughly enjoyed my time thus far in ESO and cannot wait to keep exploring its nooks and crannies. If you are a fan of Elder Scrolls games, MMOs, high fantasy in general, or any combination of them, I encourage you to give it a try. It is free to play once you purchase the game itself, but it has an optional subscription that if you find yourself enjoying the game is well worth the price – giving all content updates as well as various premium perks and rewards on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

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Until next time, see you in Tamriel, humans! – EWE

Persona 5 Father/Son Run – Better Parenting Through Demonology

**WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR PERSONA 5**

Greetings, humans – it’s been far too long, and while life offers no guarantees, I hope it is not so long again after this.  And I will leave that at that.

Now, what does a malicious mage like myself get up to in the many months since we’ve met?  Who is to say for sure (Editor’s Note: well, possibly some of those villagers…but I don’t think you left them in any condition to talk, actually), ahem – Editor’s flattery (Editor’s Note: I wasn’t complimenting you…) FLATTERY aside, I did engage in one particular activity that I can share with you here that quite intrigued me over the last couple of weeks.  You see, several weeks ago my eldest, redheaded clone pointed out that when I had initially completed Persona 5 when it released on the PS4, he had not been able to watch most of it at that time.  He seemed intrigued in the gameplay systems as well as the standard SMT storyline of carving your own path through the world to rage against the gods and your opposed humans to grab your destiny with your own two hands.

But the decisions being made moment to moment are what really brought us closer together.  Because as you may understand, between the holidays and then some early January scheduling strangeness, they were able to more freely pick and choose time to spend with me.  And since my big Beefer has been with often lately, he was able to help establish our personality for our avatar and how he interacts with his social links, er, I meant “Confidants.”  For example, it took no time at all for us to agree strongly that Ryuji is a loud, tasteless, useless piece of garbage and gleefully try to envision scenarios in which we could get him destroyed.  There were the long discussions about who the best female confidant was and why we should have our character date her as opposed to anyone else.

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And then there was watching my young boy, my growing little man, who claims little interest in school topics, show genuine curiousness about the various demons, gods, and mythological figures that filled out the Persona Compendium.  He and I loved checking online for more info on whatever the latest god we had tamed and the abilities now at our command.  From there would be stimulating back-and-forth conversations regarding the occult, Judeo Christian demonology, Japanese youkai and spirits, and others.  It truly is amazing seeing an intellect that reminds me so much of what I once was, but sharper, growing and learning and becoming even greater than I could have dreamed.

We were not, however, able to come to total agreement in choosing between clearly fellow nerd love interest Futaba:

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…and more mature, and darker punk rock back-alley doctor Tae Takemi.

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Honestly, it’s a great problem to have, choosing between those two.  But even better has been the last 130 hours of game time – laughing at the insanity, freaking out at the ever increasing audacity of the villains, and concocting new ways to save our friends.  Until finally, on the day we were faced with having to destroy God himself in order to preserve the freedom of humanity, we sat in awe as the main character we’d created ourselves manifested powerful demon lord and destroyed the divine.  We were still talking about it when I had to take him home to do homework.  About about the bonds the main character forged with his true companions to sustain him.  About how outside of one another, they didn’t care what others had to say about what they felt called to do.

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So for any of you parents that believe videogames are a waste of time, I openly mock you – because while you are busy denigrating something you don’t understand, you are also losing a valuable tool to connecting with your own children!

Until next time (Editor’s Note: unless in his frustration he summons a meteor to annihilate us all), I will take my leave and see you soon! – EWE

High Crimes & Misdemeanors

Good evening, humans!  How fare you this night?  What’s that – me, you ask?

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That about sums it up.

Yeah…the mind and body weren’t very cooperative today.  Since my normal response to lack of cooperation (Editor’s Note: …i.e., setting the offending party on fire…) yes, that, didn’t seem appropriate seeing as how it was MY mind and body, I just had to grin and bear it.  Well, bear it – grinning being decidedly not my thing and, frankly, very disturbing the few times I’ve attempted it.  I’m fairly sure it has something to do with the horrific, Lovecraftian monstrosity that I call my face.  Regardless, despite the mental and physical fog, a particular piece of lunacy leaped out to pierce the shroud and assault my mind, common sense, and sense of basic decency (Editor’s Note: and you know that’s really a low bar coming from EWE!) exactl- hey, watch it!

Upon seeing this, my immediate, gut reaction was something like:

Goddammit

Upon further time to process the Senator’s comments and stance, however, my calmer, more nuanced response was:

Goddammit

You know, this is going to sound selfish and petty, but…why do I have to do this?  Why?  For fuck’s sake, it is 2018 – why in the hell do I need to waste a single iota of my time and energy explaining why it would NOT, in fact, “be hard for senators not to consider who he is today” if Kavanaugh, a nominee for the Supreme Court of the United States, sexually assaulted a woman in high school.  And is lying about to this very day, displaying no remorse or recognition that his conduct was improper.  Why do we even have to fucking HAVE this discussion?  What in the actual FUCK is wrong with you miserable sacks of watered-down carbon that this is something that even needs to be addressed whatsoever?  (Editor’s Note: Sorry – he’s a little cranky tonight.)

Listen, what a lot of people may not know (although you’d sure think a goddamn sitting Senator would know it) is that Supreme Court Justices are open to impeachment and removal for “high crimes and misdemeanors” much the same way as a President.  And that, short of the Justice retiring voluntarily or dying, is the only way they come off the bench.   With that kind of job security comes a high standard of behavior that we hold our Justices to.  This means that if Bill Clinton can be impeached over a white stain on his intern’s dress, while Kavanaugh is alleged to have teamed up with a fellow classmate to sexually assault and attempt to rape a young woman, then that should damn well disqualify him from even being considered for placement on the Court in the first place.

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Which brings me to Orrin Hatch.  You pathetic, sniveling, arrogant, senile son-of-a-bitch.  You actually said, to national media, with a straight face, that even if Kavanaugh’s accuser is telling the truth, he should still be given serious consideration for the Supreme Court based upon “who he is now?”  Well, Orrin, let me give you a little insight into that point of view.  If you assume that his accuser is telling the truth, then Kavanaugh is someone who committed sexual assault, and possibly rape, in his late teens.  When confronted with this fact, his response has not been to acknowledge his wrongdoings, admit them, illustrate how he has changed and grown, express remorse, or otherwise demonstrate anything in the way of character development.  His response has been to deny any wrongdoing on his part, deny even being present, and call his accuser a liar.  So, Orrin, if under your scenario his accuser is telling the truth, and Kavanaugh continues to deny any responsibility, that not only makes him a sex offender but a liar.  And that doesn’t sound even remotely like someone that should be placed on the highest court in the country, even to a feeble-minded simpleton like you, does it, Orrin?  Because if it does, then not only should Kavanaugh be swept out of Washington and back under whatever dark hole he crawled out from under, but maybe you and your fellow slime that place party line over good of the nation should join him there. – EWE