The Backlog Rewalk Files: Darksiders II Deathinitive Edition

“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.

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Of course, sometimes fixing things involves breaking more 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.

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Yes, the Horseman Death spends the whole game trying to bring the entire human race back to life. Smell the irony…

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.

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Behold, a pale rider…

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.

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Chill out, pal.

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.

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You wouldn’t think a blank-faced character like this would give you feels…and you’d be wrong.

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.

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How many times do we have to teach you this lesson, old man?!

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.

Until next time, mortals! – EWE

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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

Game Night! – Dragon’s Crown Pro

Long time, no see, mortals!  I’ve been a bit swamped with various unexpected events lately – still am, truth be told – and as such, have not had the opportunity to either game nor write nearly as often as I would like.  However, Dracollia, Beefer, Monkey, and Special Buddy were able to all join me for Game Night last night and we were able to throw a live stream up on the Twitch channel of Dragon’s Crown Pro for PS4.  While some headset issues prevented you from enjoying our typically insane banter, the gorgeous art style and satisfying 2D brawler-RPG gameplay more than make up for it.

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Look upon this beauty, and despair…

For some reason, I can’t embed Twitch the way I can YouTube, so you’ll have to hit the link above if you’re interested (Editor’s Note: and if you can help us solve this little dilemma, feel free to educate us in the comments below).  Until next time, humans! – EWE

Game Night! – Dad of War

Happy Friday, humans!  So, technically yes, I know, the game is God of War…but let’s face it, the hook is that Kratos and Atreus are learning to be father and son every bit as much as they are an ass-kicking combo of gods.  We tried something a little different for tonight’s stream, as Dad of War is obviously a single player game and I have not wanted to spoil the main story beats of the game.  So, since Beefer has advanced the furthest in terms of combat ability and accessed a difficult optional battle with a Valkyrie Queen, we elected to stream his attempts to defeat her…with the rest of the crew providing him with, ahem “encouragement.”  Hopefully you find it as entertaining as we found ourselves!  Except Beefer.  He didn’t appear to be entertained by it at all.  You can find the video on YouTube or below.

Until next time! – EWE

God of War – First Impressions

(Editor’s Note: While the following will contain spoilers for the previous games in the God of War series, there will be NO SPOILERS of anything not previously made public about the newest entry just released for PS4.)

Early on in God of War, there is a moment when Kratos’s son, Atreus, is despondent and unresponsive after a brutal battle.  “You’re in your head, boy,” remarks Kratos, “Close your heart to it.”  Atreus doesn’t respond, and so Kratos gruffly states “Then we return home,” before slyly adding, “A shame…to quit the journey so soon after we began…”  Atreus immediately snaps out of his shell shock, exclaiming, “What?!  No!  I’m fine!  See, here…I’m dropping the chain!  I’m fine now!”  It was a moment that made me, and would make any father or parent, smile.

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I am still early on in my journey through the Norse lands in God of War, but Sony Santa Monica has already taken a character in Kratos, who was once the poster child for one-note characters – literally just an anthropomorphic personification of rage – and transformed him into one of my favorite nuanced characters, and fathers, in all of fiction.  This isn’t an exaggeration.  I am a father of two sons myself, and perhaps that is part and parcel of why I find myself relating so, so much to the struggles and the strengths of Kratos in this adventure in these latter days of the demi-god’s life.

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It isn’t a spoiler to say that Kratos and Atreus are on a journey following the death of Kratos’s wife and Atreus’s mother – that much was made obvious from the prerelease trailers and campaign from Sony.  And yet, despite sharing this deeply personal loss, it is obvious in the early hours that Kratos struggles with the emotional bonds of fatherhood.  There have been several times where Atreus has appeared in need of comfort, while Kratos reaches an unseen hand toward his back, only to hesitate at the last moment and then drop the hand away.  Many have speculated that this is indicative of Kratos’s struggles with “adjusting to fatherhood,” but for me this misses the mark and overlooks a huge chunk of the character’s history.  He’s already been a father – and it came to a brutal, tragic end at his own, albeit unwitting, hands.  So it isn’t that the bonds and emotions of fatherhood are foreign to Kratos – instead, he is all too familiar with them, and knows the pain of having them ripped away, and thus has been torn between nurturing them with his new family or keeping them at arm’s distance to avoid the risk of repeating his tragic and violent past.

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While much has been made of how this game represented a “fresh start” and would not necessarily be tied to the prior games, but would still “honor” them, for me personally, the ties to Kratos’s journey through the previous games have been pervasive through the early hours of his new quest.  From multiple characters referencing Kratos’s past, to Kratos’s starting equipment referencing that it covers a “dark secret,” to a mysterious illness that Atreus suffered from as a child that Kratos seems to know more about than he is telling…and then there is the growth of Kratos himself.  Gone is the blind rage of Kratos rampaging through the Greek pantheon.  In its place is an older, wiser man, still capable of tremendous violence when challenged, but more focused on imparting reason and wisdom to his son than in engaging in the slaughter of all who oppose him.  He is a deeper, nuanced character that can be related to much more easily than in past installments in the franchise.

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These changes to the God of War formula are immediately apparent in the gameplay itself.  Gone are the days of the zoomed out, fixed camera angles – instead we now have a controllable camera that is zoomed in over the shoulder of Kratos, making combat much more visceral, brutal, and tactical.  Every encounter, even on normal difficulty, has the potential to end your game if you just mash an attack button and don’t pay attention to your surroundings.  Enemies are brutal and intelligent, engaging in flanking tactics, adapting to your battle maneuvers, and attacking in well-balanced packs that require employing varying battle tactics to succeed against.

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But this isn’t to say that combat is in any way unfair – if you plan well, you’ll succeed.  Time your blocks, look for openings, call for Atreus to send in arrow strikes at opportune moments, and unleash hell, and you’ll be rending enemies limb from limb in short order.  Boss fights, however, are still tense affairs requiring you to observe and identify patterns and weaknesses.  Rushing in without knowing what you’re doing is going to get you quickly killed – and honestly, that feels right in a game set amongst gods and monsters.

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I spent all weekend and as much time this week as I could playing God of War and I still feel like I have barely scratched the surface – and that thrills me.  I don’t ever want it to end.  Everything about this game has amazed me, and it has been one of my favorite gaming experiences that I have had in a long, long time.  More thoughts will assuredly come as I continue my journey alongside Kratos and Atreus, but for now, all I can say is that if you haven’t begun your own journey at their side, you should.  This isn’t just a game – it is a piece of art, it is a timeless story that should be told and listened to and experienced.  Do not miss it. – EWE

Monster Hunter: World – Or Gutting Dinosaurs For Fun and Profit

Hello, Hunters!  So, as I continue to adapt and adjust to some changes in my fibro (Editor’s Note: you curl up in a ball and mew like a kitten when the weather changes abruptly) SHUT UP…ahem, ADAPT and ADJUST, I was given an unexpected treat.  My Eldest Evil Offspring ™ decided that he wanted to spend some of his Christmas money on a copy of Monster Hunter: World and leave it at my apartment to play when he and his younger co-clone are here plotting with me.

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Now, I’ve tried on a number of occasions to “get into” Monster Hunter games.  Dating back to some of the PSP outings, and even most recently with Monster Hunter Generations on the 3DS, I have wanted badly to like them.  The general concept – take assassination contracts on various monstrosities, harvest their parts, wear them as trophies – appeals to both the maniacal evil genius, and the grinding treadmill gamer, sides of me.  (Editor’s Note: “Genius” might be a bit of a stretch…do I need to recount our personal life choices?)  …Point taken.

The point, dear humans, is that despite my efforts, I just have heretofore been unable to really enjoy my time with previous Monster Hunter games.  Everything about them just felt…slow.  Clunky.  I know in part this is by design – these aren’t designed to be fast-paced hack-and-slash games – but sometimes it also felt like an artificial and unnecessary frustration inducer.  In short, I would inevitably play for a while, over several sessions…but invariably put the game aside for something else and not really miss it.  They were never able to capture my devotion long-term.

Until now.

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Now I’m hardly far enough into the game to call this a “review” but in my early and not-so-humble opinion, Monster Hunter: World fixes just about everything I’ve ever really disliked about the series.  Is the combat still measured?  Yes, but not in the same frustration-inducing way that I remember.  Instead, each of the 14 Hunter weapon styles is distinct in its speed, timing, combos, and visceral impact – the combat rewards changing not just your weapons for different fights, but also your mastery of each weapon’s distinctive play style.  If you have been using the lightning-like dual blades exclusively, and then notice that a particular target is weak to blunt damage so you grab a hammer and go after it without spending some time altering your approach to suit your new tool…you are going to get painfully destroyed in short order.  But unlike my past experiences with the games, this stops short of feeling unfair or frustrating – just intelligent and challenging.

I also LOVE the open-world expeditions that you can choose to embark on as an alternative to the more traditional timed missions that are a hallmark of Monster Hunter.  Don’t get me wrong – the missions are still the primary bread-and-butter of the game, and I’ve never had any issue with the mission-based structure of previous games – but the open-world exploration and sidequest elements supplement the larger-scale missions perfectly, allowing you to take a break from difficult tasks and relax or grind up some bones and scales to improve your equipment.  As someone who has many (Editor’s Note: many, MANY) times lamented the seeming glut of games that just decide to throw in an open world because it’s “the thing to do,” I was very pleasantly surprised to discover how well done this is.  There is freedom, but not lack of direction or sacrifice of world building and level design.  It is just so well balanced – a tremendous testament to the development team.

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Suffice to say, I’ve been pleasantly surprised (and mercifully distracted) by this unexpected addition to my PS4 library.  I’m looking forward to further hunts, more harvesting, and bringing you my additional thoughts as I continue to delve deeper into Monster Hunter: World.  Plus, you get an anthropomorphic cat as a personal bodyguard – this automatically makes it awesome.

Until next time, humans, remember – next time you may be feeling down about yourself, you pick up that chin, because this is America, a land where anybody – ANY-FUCKING-BODY – can do anything, even be president.  Yes, even a horrific, abhorrent, orange-skinned, fake-haired, petulant, raving, rambling, syphilitic, moronic, illiterate, misogynistic, raging dumpster fire posing as a human can.  And if HE can, then YOU can.  Unless, you know…he gets us all killed first.  Then you can’t. – EWE