Warcraft – Review

 

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

The film begins with the orcish horde, a military collection of tribal clans. Within the horde we find Durotan, a young orc chieftain, who is accompanied by his wife and their unborn child. The horde, under the command of the warlock Gul’dan, makes preparations and sacrifices needed to cross through a dark portal to escape the imminent destruction of their home world, Draenor. This portal takes them into the world of the seven kingdoms, where live humans, elves, dwarves and other races, and where peace has reigned for many years.

Warcraft_02

The orcs bring war with them. Upon their crossing, upon the orders of Gul’dan, the orcs begin to wage a guerilla campaign against the humans. As they pillage, they capture villagers for sacrifice in order to open the dark portal again and bring the full extent of the clans into Azeroth and claim the world as their own. Durotan, meanwhile, begins to have reservations about the methods and goals of Gul’dan.

All of the forces of Azeroth, the country the orcs first invade, are put to the test to figure out what is happening and how to stop it. In Ironforge, a dwarfish city, commander Lothar is summoned to Stormwind to discuss the strange attacks and plan how to thwart them. A young mage named Khadgar has found signs of “fell” magic, demon magic, in these attacks. Khadgar recommends they seek out the guardian Medivh.

Will they figure out the truth in time? Even if they do, will they have the strength to fight the might of the horde? These two factions, orcs and humans, collide in “Warcraft.”

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

When you have a film filled with orcs and humans wielding weapons in a medieval setting, it’s obvious that anyone who doesn’t enjoy fantasy will be turned off immediately. However, there is an in-genre distinction to make. Even with a serious tone, the colorful and cartoonishly-proportioned characters and armor, as well as the generous use of magic, means this film will only appeal to people who not only like fantasy but can also accept the more outlandish elements of this film’s design and storytelling. As much as it might like to be Lord of the Rings, it’s not. I mean, we are talking about magical floating cities, portals the size of skyscrapers, and orange and green orc warriors – each built like the Hulk – after all.

Warcraft_11

Beyond this distinction, fans of Warcraft, especially fans since the original real time strategy title “Warcraft: Orcs and Humans,” will find the most to latch onto here. The film doesn’t shy away from its lore, and it drops names of people and places so fast that many die-hard fans might have a hard time keeping up.

That isn’t to say that people unfamiliar with Warcraft lore can’t enjoy the film. The film takes place near the beginning of the game lore of the Warcraft series, meaning this is as good a jumping on point for someone unfamiliar to Warcraft as any. The question is, how well do the filmmakers accomplish providing a good and clear movie narrative?

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

I’m not going to beat around the bush. This film has a lot of flaws. Pacing issues drag it down, especially near the beginning. While there are maybe two good performances, the rest of the acting varies from just fine to very bad. Some plot elements are vague to a fault. The CGI occasionally looks iffy, and the world doesn’t feel particularly lived-in.

Despite these flaws, there are many good things about the film as well. While the pacing is way off, the plot itself is fairly straightforward and understandable, though there are a few points that could have used some more set-up or payoff. Tragedy can and does strike the characters of the film. Sometimes this happens in unexpected ways, and the story doesn’t shy away from violence and consequences.

Durotan is a great character, and we spend a lot of time with him. While the other characters aren’t as engaging as Durotan, many are at least likeable or interesting in their own ways. Lothar in particular nears Durotan in terms of engagement. Also, Gul’dan makes for an effectively vicious villain.

Warcraft_06

The action is generally strong. The fights feel real, in the sense that the sound direction makes every impact feel weighty and painful.The CGI is obvious, but once you get used to it, it’s actually pretty good, and it only ever interferes with immersion once or twice. Even if you’re never emotionally touched, this is a perfectly good popcorn spectacle.

I enjoyed this film quite a bit – more than it deserves, even. While I might personally buy it as soon as it comes out, I can’t deny that “Warcraft” won’t be worthwhile for most people. In the end, it’s just a…

Guilty Pleasure

If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.

If you enjoyed this review, keep on reading for “The Long Take” and “Spoiler Talk,” and don’t forget to support me on Patreon!

Continue reading

Advertisements

To the Moon: Holiday Special Minisodes 1 & 2 – Game Review

 

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

In the first minisode, it’s been a while since the events of “To the Moon,” and it’s Christmas time at Sigmund, the company where Neil and Eva work. They find themselves stuck there due to a large group of protesters outside their building.

TtM Mini_06

This bottle-episode trope provides some opportunities for various characters to interact with one another, delving a little into the morally and ethically questionable work of the company, as well as build interpersonal relationships while they wait for the protesters to disperse and the snowy weather to let up.

TtM Mini_05

In the second minisode, the protesters and snow are gone and it’s time for people to find their way home for their own Christmases, but things don’t quite work out as planned. This minisode explores the relationships of the main characters further, but more than that, it drops hints and mysterious sights that tantalize the player for the sequel.  

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

The target audience is pretty straightforward. This is directed at people who have already played “To the Moon” and can’t wait for the sequel. That being the case, they provide the same sorts of experiences that “To the Moon” provided. Players can expect some light humor, mystery and excellent characters built on the foundation of a science fiction premise. If that sounds good to you and you haven’t played “To the Moon” yet, then you should! For more information about that game, check out my review of “To the Moon” HERE.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

“To the Moon’s” minisodes do a good job at continuing the character building for Neil and Eva that occurred during the first game. These two were not nearly as fleshed out as their patient in that game, and the future of the series will rely on expanding their characters, so this is a good first step in that direction. Not only that, but the hints and foreshadowing of things to come do a great job of whetting the appetite for the sequel without giving any secrets away.

That said, these minisodes truly live up to the “mini” part of their name. I would say that both of them require no more than a half-hour to finish, and neither of them had a real depth of content. There simply isn’t much to do but explore the environment, talk to everyone you can as many times as you can, and observe the short plot as it unfolds. It doesn’t cover much territory, as the events all happen in and around the Sigmund building, and it doesn’t answer any questions whatsoever.

TtM Mini_04

These minisodes feel like scenes from the beginning of the upcoming sequel that wouldn’t fit into the story well without destroying the pacing, so they split it off and offered it as a goodie for the fans. This not only allows FreeBird to tell this part of the story while upholding the artistry of their future game, but this also keeps fans invested. These story morsels are a nice way to keep “To the Moon” in mind until the sequel, which feels a time and forever away.

Even though the minisodes aren’t very meaty in terms of content, they are free. So, considering that low low price, “To the Moon’s” minisodes 1 & 2 are completely worth their short run-time.

4.0-4.5 Rating - I'll Take it!

If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.

Continue reading

The Stanley Parable – Review

 

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

An indie game by the small developer Galactic Cafe, “The Stanley Parable” is about a man named Stanley, a simple office worker who enjoys nothing more than pressing the buttons he has been told to press every day. Then, one day, he leaves his workspace and finds his office building mysteriously empty. All the while, his exploration is given narration and snarky commentary by a mysterious voice.

 The plot and story is in some ways extraordinarily simple, and in other ways complicated. It is as much, if not more, a thought experiment than an actual game. The game explores the power and variance that comes from the power of choice, and how much difference can come from the simple act of choosing which door to enter.

Stanley Parable 2

“Stanley chose the door on his left.”

 

Review Format 2 - Target AudienceTheoretically, the game’s simplicity opens it up to anyone who can wrap their head around the simple mechanics of movement that is commonplace in first-person games. However, the mind-bending subject matter is primarily a commentary on choice in games, and what is possible even within the constraints of a simple game. This means it might not mean as much to someone who doesn’t play many games.

However, the game is simultaneously aimed at people who enjoy the thought experiment aspect of the experience. This might be interesting even to someone with no experience with games whatsoever, but it is a very specific sort of interest, so I imagine that audience is small. There is no real action to speak of, so if the player isn’t interested in the ideas it will be a dreadfully boring experience for them. Finally, to get the full experience of the game’s ideas it requires multiple playthroughs – as many as eighteen to get every ending.

So this game is ideally for gamers who prefer idea-driven narratives, little action, and have completionist compulsive tendencies. Let’s just say it’s a niche audience.  

 

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

“The Stanley Parable” is an interesting idea, and it has some insightful things to say about game narratives and choice in games. The narrator is a lot of fun to listen to, and the twists and turns some of the pathways take through the game can be fascinating. That said, the gameplay is dull, and a short playtime per pathway can’t save it from growing boring after a few times through, especially if you are unlucky enough to hit the most boring story paths your first few times through. This is especially bad news when the game only really comes into its own after the player is exposed to the vast majority of the stories that are told in “The Stanley Parable”’s framework. If the player doesn’t see the majority of the game, the time spent isn’t really worth it.

It may be a niche game with some flaws, but it is hard to hold that against it when it has such interesting ideas. Ultimately I think it’d be worth taking a look if you find it in…

3-4 Rating - The Bargain Bin

If you want to know more about my ratings, check out what each rating means HERE.

Continue reading

The New Review Format and Ratings System

Hey everybody!

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted a review in a little while, and that is unfortunately true, but for what I hope to be a good reason.

You see, I have been a little bit frustrated with my Review format and ratings lately. It’s not that it doesn’t work, it’s just that it’s a bit bland. I find the star system especially unhelpful because everyone has a different idea of what different numbers of stars means. Yes, I provided a chart some time back to explain what the stars meant to me, but what use is that, if I don’t explain it every time I post a review.  

To remedy this, I’ve decided to add a little bit of graphic flair to it all, and I’ve decided to completely rehaul my review rating system into a system that will have some similarities to the rating system that Jeremy Jahns uses on YouTube (go watch his videos, they are great!) So, below I will outline my slightly new format with graphics, and at the very bottom I will explain the new different ratings of my rating system.

Let’s begin!

I will always start out my reviews with an image to represent what I am reviewing, such as a movie poster, a title screen, some box art, something like that.

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot“The Plot Spot” is where I will give the premise of the book/movie/game. I will never include any spoilers here that hasn’t been given in the trailers or promotional media.

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

Here I will describe who the book/movie/game is for, or who it will appeal to. I will try to justify the fact that this is a whole section and not a footnote in the major text by being very thorough in my description of what makes this film enjoyable and what some people would really not like about it.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

Like my current review already has, I will have a short summary of my opinions on the piece, and I will completely avoid specifics that might be considered spoilers.

After this, I will post my rating, which will come from my new rating system that I explain below. The rating I am including here is for reference, but I will explain it in detail below.

4.5-55 Rating - Brilliant!

For a full explanation of my review system, please refer to my ratings explanation HERE!

Then I have a page break for those who want to access the deeper-levels of my review.

Continue reading

Undertale – Review

 

Undertale_BlogIMG_01

What it is:

An indie game made by Toby Fox after a successful kickstarter campaign, “Undertale” is a retro-style RPG following the tale of a human child who accidentally falls into an underground world of monsters beneath a mountain, and the child’s quest to return home. This story shares a basic premise with similar games, but the branching paths of the plot, characters, and even game mechanics, take twists and turns that upend many of the expectations and tropes that have become the bedrock of the genre.  

 

The Short of It:

“Undertale” is an exceptional game. It is not long, even considering multiple playthroughs, but the game makes every second of your time worth it. The game mechanics are simple but brilliant. The basic art and bit music are used to excellent effect to create a colorful world that is a joy to explore and live in, and to provide an atmosphere of quirk, adventure and heart to the player’s journey.

The plot has multiple branching paths created by the player’s interactions with the charming characters, and yet these branches are marked more by the change of relationships of the player to the characters than by changes in the plot. Despite this, every little branch feels world-shakingly different.

“Undertale” is a funny, clever, and deceptively simple game with a big heart and impressive meta-knowledge of how people play RPG games that allows it to rise well beyond the typical genre fare.

The Long of It: Continue reading

Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void (Single-Player) – Review

 

Starcraft II

What it is:

“Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void” is a real-time strategy game, and a follow up expansion that builds from “Wings of Liberty” and “Heart of the Swarm,” which, as a whole, serves as a sequel to the original “Starcraft” and its expansion “Brood War.” Legacy of the Void picks up after the end of “Heart of the Swarm,” but for much of the story it only focuses on the Protoss until the Epilogue Missions which bring the three races, Zerg, Protoss, and Terran together. The main storyline follows Artanis, the leader of the Templar Protoss in his quest to defeat Amon, a Cthuluan dark god, a fallen Xel’Naga, and then switches to follow Artanis, Kerrigan, and Jim Raynor as a trio in the Epilogue.

 

The Short of It:

“Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void” is a good game. Blizzard’s games are always polished, and LotV follows that tradition. The gameplay is smooth and polished, and likely the best in the RTS genre, but it has been that good since “Wings of Liberty,” so nothing new there. However, the design of the levels wasn’t very strong in places, and the story feels thin and a bit bland despite its epic scope, which disappointed me considering Blizzard’s pedigree. Despite my qualms with the game, it is still fun and well made, generally speaking. I recommend it to fans of the series and the genre, with the caveat that the story and ending will likely disappoint. I don’t recommend it to people new to the franchise, who should really go back and start from at least “Wings of Liberty” if not the original Starcraft.

 

The Long of It: Continue reading

“Mass Effect 3” – Review


The most incredible space opera of our generation comes to a mostly satisfying close.

March 13, 2012 – Star Wars and Star Trek have long dominated the mindshare of popular culture in the science fiction realm. They had a right to. Both told epic stories from the small screen to the silver screen, exploring the wonders of the stars. But as time passed, with Star War’s fall from grace, the lack of Star Trek dominance on television, and with the rise of new media, other stories have stepped forward to take forth the banner of science fiction space operas. But none of them come close to the marvel that is the Mass Effect series.

Mass Effect 3 sees the return of the Reapers to the Galaxy, a doomsday warned of by Commander Shepherd and her stalwart crew, and now, with Earth and the Galaxy as a whole crumbling before everyone’s eyes, no one can doubt any more. Commander Shepherd must not only rally her crew mates, but now the entire Galaxy to fight off this dire threat to the existence of all civilization. It will not be an easy task. Shepherd will have to bridge over old animosities, bring peace to disparate factions, and forge alliances where once was open hatred and war.

The story that Mass Effect weaves is astonishing in scope, certainly, but equally as amazing is the quality with which it is achieved. Watching as Shepherd finds ways to bridge the gaps between the races is believable, and set in the foundation of information being built from Mass Effect 1 onward. The Genophage, the Geth, Cerberus – all of these issues have been present since the first game, and how they play out in the last feels natural and brilliant. What should be impossible is made possible, and the choices of the past come back to either haunt or strengthen Shepherd’s cause.

The game does a remarkable job portraying the costs of war.


The characters are similarly brilliantly portrayed. The dialogue, not just between Shepherd and the crew, but also between the crew mates themselves, is terrifically done. Each character is unique, wonderfully realized and either likeable or despicable based on their own terms. The authenticity of each character is never something questioned by the player. They have become real.

In my time with Garrus, Liara and the rest, I felt like I truly knew them. The new faces make welcome additions also. Vega, a character I was initially worried about, turned out to be a hilarious and colorful addition. Cortez provided another facet altogether, not prone to any stereotypes or bravado, he felt like a real person. This was especially important due to his status as one of the two homosexual characters in the game.

Old characters return, even if only for brief missions and cameos, and more often than not you’ll wish you could spend more time with them. Some of these characters have even moved on to different stages of their lives, and don’t rejoin the crew for believable reasons. Some have decided to settle down, others may be wrapped up in their own issues, and still others may be slowly waiting for death. You aren’t the center of these characters’ universes (for all that the game places such a responsibility on Shepherd’s shoulders), and that makes the world feel that much more real.

Now, all of this said, the story and characterization takes an abrupt turn for the worse at the very end of the game. If you have already played the game, and do not mind spoilers, you can read my analysis of the endings At My Main Blog, as well as some further analysis of what went wrong at the Rough Writers Blog. I can hardly imagine a player who won’t be disturbed on some level concerning the endings, so I have to mention it.

To put it in vague terms, for those avoiding spoilers, there is little real choice at the end of the game for the player, no matter how the player has played the game. Paragon, Renegade, it doesn’t really matter, the choices are the same, with very small differences. Also, forget closure. There is little to none. There are positive things in the endings. Some good nuggets that I cling to. But they are largely outweighed by the flaws.

It is one thing to have a bitter sweet ending. Bitter-sweet is laudable, especially given the context of the Reaper invasion. It is another thing entirely to have no good endings at all.

Forgetting for a moment DLC and any other possible ways Bioware may still fix these problems, the question remains: Despite the ending, was the game worth it?

The answer is unquestionably yes. I laughed and cried my way through the entire game. The bonds I had built over three games, the emotional investment, payed off in so many little ways. The journey of getting to the end was incredible, and easily one of the best journeys in gaming and in entertainment period. Mass Effect is on the same level for me as Star Wars and Star Trek – perhaps greater. It certainly has more of my emotions twisted up in it.

“Story story, character character, blah blah… how does it play?” – You might ask (you monster). Well, it plays a whole lot like Mass Effect 2. Nearly identically. However, it must be said that some elements of the controls have been smoothed out, and some RPG elements dropped from the first game have made a return. There are a lot more and varied weapons again, with modifications to boot. The leveling system has also gained some needed choice and variety to let the player decide exactly how they want to fight.

Surprisingly, the Kinect works pretty well.


More importantly, the enemy variety and level design have received some significant improvements. The battles I’ve had in Mass Effect 3 were easily the most interesting and intense I’ve had in the series to date. For all its prowess, the Mass Effect series has been said to be an average third-person cover-based shooter, hardly comparable to the likes of Gear of War 3. But with this entry I feel that the series has finally stepped into the the shooter big-leagues, both mechanically and tactically.

The graphics are the best in the series, even if I’ve experienced more bugs than I recall from the first two. There will be multiple times when a conversation will suffer from an inexplicably invisible or flickering squad-mate, or times when Shepherd bugs out and starts flying around Iron-Man style. But in the end, these are minor issues, and nothing like the lag from Mass Effect 2’s Omega Relay sequence is found anywhere.

To top it all off, despite the departure of the last composer, the music of Mass Effect 3 hasn’t suffered one bit. The music is wonderfully done, perfectly tailored to each moment, and drives the emotional crescendos the game will be remembered for. If any game soundtrack deserves a purchase, this would be it.

Closing Comments:
I loved this game. For all the heartbreak I have over the lame endings, the journey there was worth every second. Staying up all night never felt so good. If you haven’t played this game yet, or its predecessors, what are you waiting for? You’re missing out on one of, if not the greatest science fiction space epics of our time. It’ll be hard for anything to top this for game of the year come December. The Mass Effect series has etched its name on my heart.

STAR RATING: (4 & ½ Stars)

Four and one-half Stars

For those of you who stuck around after the rating, I’ve got a extra segment for you called Spoiler Talk. It’s a segment in which I discuss what I thought of certain elements of the story or themes that are too spoilerish or high-concept for the main review. What I say here doesn’t ever trump my review, instead it might give insight into what exactly made me give something the score I did. So let’s get started.

Spoiler Talk:
I feel utterly drained. What a ride. For as much as Bioware has me frustrated about their endings, I must also thank them for the experiences I’ve been able to have through their artistry. I would not trade my time with the Normandy and her crew, my time with Liara, Garrus, Joker, EDI and the others for anything.

Now, to be sure, the endings were pretty bad. Not completely bad, but certainly mostly bad. As for the why’s and wherefores, well I talk about the endings in some detail at both my Main Blog and over at the Rough Writers Blog, as I’ve mentioned before. I won’t be going into any more detail here. I feel like I’ve talked the subject into the ground.

But there is so much to say otherwise! I saw Earth burning, and civilians dying. I saw Palaven burning too. I saw men and women determined to fight for their worlds, and their lives, struggling against beings the size of skyscrapers with power that would make them seem gods. I cured the Genophage. I witnessed the death of a Reaper at the might of a Thresher Maw. I brought peace between the Krogan and the Turians. I passed through a virtual tron-meets-ghostbusters world.

I fought an evil, badass Space-Ninja.

I witnessed the advent of true sentience in the Geth, and brought an end to their long conflict with the Quarians, leaving them both to build their lives together on their newly shared home world. I built an allegiance spanning the whole of the Galaxy, and fielded the grandest fleet in history. I spurred the creation of the mightiest scientific project ever conceived of.

But more importantly… I saw old friends again, and made new ones.

I joked with Vega in the cargo hold. I comforted Cortez over the loss of his husband. I befriended Traynor and watched her turn from an uncertain tech to an irreplaceable crew member. I helped Jacob save his new life protecting a scientist he loved. I helped Wrex move beyond past hatreds on to a brighter future. I witnessed Jack’s redemption and acceptance of new responsibilities. I brought Tali home, where she saw her world for the first time unhindered by her mask. I helped Miranda save her sister from her father. I said goodbye to Thane one last time. I saw Legion sacrifice himself so that his species may evolve to something greater. I watched Moridin find redemption through aiding the Krogan he had wronged, and die in the process.

I watched EDI find meaning in life. And then I watched her and Joker find love in a bold new future, where synthetics and organics are one.

I became best friends with Garrus. A cool-headed, determined and heroic badass, and one of the most amazing characters in gaming, or any other medium. I’ll never forget that time with the Sniper Rifles at the Citadel.

"I'm Edward Cheever, and Garrus is my favorite character in Mass Effect."


My Shepherd worried, mourned, laughed and loved with Liara, and saw her turn from a scared and naïve scientist into the powerful and determined Shadow Broker. And only my Shepherd will ever know her softer side – who she really is at heart.

I sacrificed myself to try and provide a better future for the Galaxy, for my friends, and for Liara – evolving all life to another plane, beyond the dichotomy of synthetic and organic, to something new, something different, something beyond our imagination.

To put into words what all this means to me would be to diminish it. So while Bioware may have failed to bring closure to this life, I will let this simple record stand as a memorial to my Shepherd, and the experiences I had living these experiences through her.

Thanks Bioware. Thanks for what you’ve given me.