Destiny: Rise of Iron – First Impressions (and review I guess…)

I really, really want to be fair in this. We will see how that goes.

After about an eight month hiatus from Destiny, I logged in and played for the first time last night. I’ve logged in two or three times since January, but they were only to see what was up with the new patches. In those cases, I didn’t even go on a patrol let alone actually take a run at any missions. The main reason for that hiatus has been blasted across the internet, you don’t need me to really add anything. Either way, Rise of Iron was released last night and I was ready to get my game on.

Two and a half hours later, I beat it.

I am not even kidding. The story stretches maybe four or five missions. I sat down at 8:00. Between my daughter waking back up and having to get her to sleep, and the uncharacteristic OCD fervor that made me reorganize and throw out everything in my inventory and vaults (due to the awesome revamp to infusion), I started playing at 8:30. By 11:00, I had beaten the story missions. There is still the big strike with Sepiks and the raid left, I don’t think those are the same anyway, and there is a ton of stuff to find, but that’s it from a narrative point of view.

By now, you may realize I have a negative tone. The reason for this, and I think this is my main takeaway, is everything I anticipated Destiny would do well, they delivered upon. It looks good, it plays well, it’s fun, and there are guns all over the place. But everything I had hoped they would improved upon, and everything I was afraid they would fall short of, was exactly as feared.

I have an issue with the length of time, but my core problem is around the execution of the narrative itself. The story centers around Saladin, the last remaining Iron Lord (the dude who runs the Iron Banner), as he recruits the Guardian to destroy the technology that killed all the rest of the Lords of Iron. I say that it centers around that, but that’s actually pretty much a synopsis and that’s the problem. Saladin loses his shit because next “worst thing ever” (SIVA) has broken out and he thinks it will destroy everything if not contained. The Fallen, who were touted as such a big enemy, hare just fodder. This space herpes, broadcast as a plague for some reason, hasn’t so much modified them as much as it is being used by the Fallen to build new body parts. Other than a few mini bosses (and I still have to see how the strike and raid play out), there are no unique enemies delivered from this. It is anticlimactic from a story perspective and falls flat from a gameplay point of view.

This is emphasized by how quickly it is resolved. Within a few missions you go from “The End is Nigh!” to “S’Cool, I go this”. I singlehandedly in my case, take down the entity that killed over a hundred Lords of Iron. Granted, for some reason Rasputin was involved in that massacre (because, you know, when is he not?), but even in the storytelling no one seemed all that concerned by this plague. I’m not even really all that sure why it’s referred to as a plague. It doesn’t do anything that the Hive’s gunk doesn’t already, just with a color and texture pallet change. There was some affliction of the Iron Lords, but nothing is given to build that up or emphasize the way it infects a host other than one scene toward the end (when you get the axe).

I have not yet read through the Grimoire cards and am looking forward to doing so, but the narrative of the story is so disjointed that even if the plot and lore is filled in offline, I can’t help but hold Bungie accountable. Yet again, they have ignored the most fascinating and intriguing parts of the game by either omitting them entirely or burying them in the damn grimoire. I am very interested in what SIVA actually is (I think it’s a self replicating nano machine meant to alter and build stuff for colonization), Clovis Bray’s role in its development, why Rasputin was involved, as well as the Lords of Iron. Why are they immortal? Are all the Guardians? If this was truly a moment where the Guardians, as a whole, discovered that immortality did not equal invincibility and that the light of the Traveler did not protect them from all harm…shouldn’t that have been a bit more of an emphasis?

I would have loved to have seen the Fallen’s role in this expanded. They are the more boring enemies other than their grimoire references to having been a race the Traveler visited and possibly uplifted in the past. The idea that they would “splice” their bodies isn’t terribly original but would have expanded their lore a bit. I would have liked to have seen a decent boss from them as well, something a bit different (think Draksis).

Why in the hell haven’t the Vex gotten involved in this? Seems right up their alley.

It may have come from Mars, why isn’t the Cabal (probably the most ignored of the enemy races) not involved in some way?

There was also a lot of speculation that Charlemagne, the supposed Martian Warmind, would have been involved. Nada.

I am hearing some people applaud the story. A lot of those people seem to be comparing it to Destiny’s original content and its earlier expansions.

No.

The Taken King set a new bar for this. It had fascinating lore, a seriously threatening villain, and galactic stakes. It still had problems with burying a lot of that in the grimoire and failing to really convey all of that in the story, and overall the threat was again too easily vanquished, but it was the new standard.

This is not that.

And the real reason this matters, The Taken King was the achievement of what Bungie had originally set people up for. I was not an early Destiny player. I played the beta, took one look at this, and said to myself, “this is all it’s going to be”. And largely, I was right. It never truly reached the scale, the story, the breadth that people expected and were promised. The Taken King, as good as it was, still wasn’t the achievement of that promise. It was a wonderful step in the right direction.

Destiny wants to be an FPS and an MMO but doesn’t really hold itself to the standards of either. The gameplay, the actual mechanics of shooting and combat, continue to be probably the best executed I have ever played. I would say the PvP probably holds itself up pretty well too. If it were just an FPS, that would probably be fine.

But it’s not.

There was a lot of frustration from people who wanted constant content. Who wanted big content. There has been griping and complaining about the story, the missions, and what you actually do in the game to even out the grind. This needs to be addressed. At the moment, Destiny executes well as an FPS, but I look at the top FPS game out there, and Destiny falls short. It doesn’t have the epic campaign of Halo (which has faltered most when the story is its weakest) nor the mass multiplayer engine (or release schedule) of games like Call of Duty of Battlefield. As an MMO, specifically one that developed this concept of a loot shooter, it has made progress but I think we are right back where we were the end of last year. People have new guns and armor, it’ll be great for a month while they mess around with the Raid. Content such as new guns, puzzles, challenges, etc. will be time released and it will create a storm or interest for a week or so each time, but it will die down and in the end people will be looking for more. What will they get? Crickets. Promises of a Halloween event. Destiny 2. Next time.

I love Destiny. I am trying to be fair to this. I am disappointed by this release because it is a reaffirmation that Bungie is just going to throw scraps to its fan base. This is one of the most anticipated titles of the year for one of the most successful new franchises in recent memory developed by one of the most lauded studios of the past three generations.

That is the standard I apply.

 

Late Review – Boardwalk Empire

I have been in the midst of watching Boardwalk Empire. As is my normal custom, I didn’t start until well after everyone else has consumed it. Spoilers are obviously ahead and in full disclosuure, I must also say (and this probably gives you an idea of what I think ahead of time) I did not finish the series and have no intention of doing so. I got through season four but couldn’t make it any further.

I love history, always have. Gangster history is no exception. It’s such an odd and interesting era in America’s culture. It is possibly one of the best examples of how to build a black market, was a time of lawlessness rarely seen, as well as a moment when law was so blatantly disregarded that the line between common sense and corruption became blurred.

And the legends, oh the legends. Our country is so young, there are just certain events that seem to take on this mythical status. A lot of people point to the Wild West for our demigods and myths, but the Roaring Twenties was another time when certain figures rose to legendary status. Seeing figures like Meier Lansky, Lucky Luciaono, and Al Capone was quite a joy.

In fact, if I’m being honest, that’s what the show should have been about. I understand that Nucky Johnson (Thompson in the show) was a real life gangster and a big deal, even though he’s not as well known as many of the other figures. In fact, the only reason I know this is because I had to look it up. I didn’t actually realize the show was going to include such historical figures. Until Luciano showed up, I thought Nucky Thompson was completely fictional and the world that was being set up was a reflection of that. I do owe the show that and more, I am remiss to say that, while I knew many of the figures, I had no idea who Arnold Rothstein was or the foundational role he played in the American Mob.

But the execution in the show leaves much to be desired. I love Steve Buscemi as Nucky, and there are moments when a lot of his other surrounding characters are interesting, but the show always seemed to shine brightest when involving his foils, Lansky, Luciano, Rothstein, Capone, even Torrio. You really get a sense for what is coming, what is being built. You are watching as crime becomes organized, watching legends be born as men become godfathers and kingpins.

The issue the show continues to repeat is that, in this world of legends, those characters who are nonexistent in history find very little role to play. It often times seems to get bored with key characters and no long has anything for them to do. But because they are key, the show seeks to keep them in the loop. Margaret seems to be one of the bigger issues, but even Chalky, Eli, Gillian, Harrow, and Jimmy seem often time rudderless. Their arcs are uneven, sometimes repetitive, and often times uninteresting. Many time, they even seem to act against their own nature to drive the story in a certain direction. I did not care when Jimmy died, only disappointed that the show expected me to care. The show jumps around to such disconnected story arcs that it oftentimes fails to flesh people out, at least until they are about to die when they will almost always get a tender moment or episode at the last moment to try and make it feel impactful when their face gets removed.

For example, Nelson. Why in the hell is he even in this show? He bungles through everything, starting out as a ridiculously religious, flagellating Prohibition Officer who kills his corrupt partner, then to a man on the run who stumbles into organized crime, before becoming an enforcer for the Capones? Really? As far as I can tell, his ends his run by getting his face blown off while trying to kill Al Capone. Watching that clip sort of nailed down for me that I didn’t need to take this further.

One of the very last scenes in the fourth season (which I hated) was Harrow dying under the dock. He hallucinates approaching his sister’s farm, seeing his new wife, father in law, and adopted son. His face is complete and unscarred for the first time and he dies with a smile on it. That is heartbreaking, and fitting for Harrow’s story arc, but comes after one of the most horrible scenes in the entire show. Harrow is dying because he was shot in Chalky’s club, after accidentally killing Chalky’s daughter in an attempt to kill Narcisse. There are two, horrible things here. First, the last thing Harrow does in the entire show is kill an innocent person. I hated that as a sendoff. But also, why the fuck did we kill Mabel??? Don’t get me wrong, Chalky’s reaction was perhaps the one of the best pieces of acting he does in the show, but shit, Mabel? It just wreaked of HBO’s desire to shock the audience.

A few things I will call out as excellent. I have already said I love the big, major historical figures, but there are some fictional ones that are very well done. Valentin Narcisse was based upon Casper Holstein, who was a Harlem gangster and politician in the same era. I have only seen Jeffery Wright in a few things, but I loved his role here. Boardwalk made race a big focal point of its storytelling, so to have black man who was so condescending and hateful of anyone not black (or not black enough), while talking about the decay of his people (while also selling them heroin) was fascinating. And his writing, the use of words, and his voice, just all sum him up into a complex, lethal character.

But my favorite absolute character I think I have seen in this show, and many others, is Gyp Rosetti. I think Bobby Canavale is mostly a character actor, usually playing these types of tough guys, but man did he nail it in this. Part of what I hated to see throughout the series was how it lost a lot of its fun. Nucky gets more and more dour, and most of the other characters just plain start that way (Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy…). But Gyp is just the right combination of vicious insanity, sexual depravity, horrible insecurity, and humor that he is one of the singular reasons the third season is my favorite. Canavale owns the role and delivers the best Sicilian sociopath since Joe Pesci made it a thing. From his opening murder to colorfully insulting the most dangerous people in the world, either arguing with God or choking himself with a belt while…you know, this was a character that was vibrant and interesting in any and every scene he made an appearance and truly drove the storytelling that occurred in this arc.

I ended the fourth season exasperated. I wanted this to be good, and it has so many great moments that it always felt on the verge of becoming what I wanted. Yet, and this was what made me finally give up, it never dives deeply into the quality I would expect from such a show. It was ambitious, but fails to hit the mark often enough to enjoy thoroughly. Its greatest sin is in its inconsistency. With its writing, its characters, its conflict, just about everything. It’s possibly worth diving into, but only if you’ve already knocked out some of the heavy hitters like The American, House of Cards, or Justified.

 

My Review of Skin Game

I have to admit, I’ve been a bit worried about the Dresden Files. It started with Turn Coat, which was one of my least favorite in the series. I don’t know what it was, it just never scratched that itch I have for the Dresden Files. Then there was Changes, which was good, but the whole point of that book was to be purposely out of sync with the tropes, tone, and style of the rest of the series (hence the name, Changes). Ghost Story was a mix of really bad and really good. I thought Corpsetaker was an odd villain to revisit, but she/he/it really just seemed to serve as a backdrop for Harry’s out of body experience and flashbacks, where the story really shined. Cold Nights was good, but it had a few problems for me, I could take it or leave it.

So, yeah, I’ve been a bit worried…

Not anymore.

Skin Game is fantastic, easily one of my favorite in the series. Maybe it’s because the Denarians (always one of my favorite villains) play such a big role, or because it leans so heavily on my favorite supporting characters (Murphy, Michael, Butters), I don’t know, but it works. Unlike any of the other stories, Harry finds himself surrounded by, and even aiding, the villains he has fought so hard against in the past. In any of the other books, he would be investigating the very events he’s involved with. I won’t go into too much detail, just to say that it gives a perspective we’ve never seen before, and provides some character interaction that is really, really well done.

As usual, the Denarians are sociopaths of the best possible flavor. Nicodemus is equal parts suave and lethal, but we get a more intimate look at him. The other Denarians, utilized as monster fodder in the other books, don’t don’t play as big a role (I’m thinking back to Small Favor when they all fought it out with Kincaid, one of my favorite scenes in the series), but that’s because it focuses deeper on those that do show up. Part of the reasoning too is because there are a number of other, non-Denarian villians, each unique and interesting in their own way. Goodman Gray in particular went a surprising direction, but all the rest have interesting and unique parts in the story.

As far as allies go, you can’t really do better than Murphy or Michael and they both get some fantastic moments. This isn’t really a story for them to show their dangerous side, Michael especially, but they do things for Harry on an emotional level that I think will bring him back from the turmoil he’s been experiencing since Changes.

And actually, that’s one of the things that I enjoyed so much about Skin Game.

You can watch throughout the series as Harry has his ups and downs. The period between Blood Rights and White Night, leading into Small Favor, is pretty rough on him. He’s fighting Lasciel, his hand’s all messed up, people around him are getting into trouble or getting hurt, and until Small Favor things don’t really move in a more positive direction. The last few books, Changes, Ghost Story, Cold Days, have been downers, with Harry struggling with what all this is meaning for him. Finally, in Skin Game, we get a bit of a break, with things looking a bit more up. Sure, they’re still plenty of danger and Consequences, but I’m very interested in seeing where things go, not just with his situation, but with the relationships he’s nurtured and given new life in this story.

I’ll leave it with this.

Hades, man, Hades.

This isn’t a spoiler, he’s mentioned in the freaking jacket cover, so it’s safe to assume he shows up. I was really interested in how Butcher was going to portray him, partly because I’ve been working on my pantheons for my world (I won’t be introducing Virgil to Hades anytime soon, so this doesn’t matter as much, but he does meet a few other gods briefly in FayTown Calling) and been thinking about how I would portray Hades. I know how I’m going to portray the rest of the Greek gods in my world, they gambled on Rome and lost, but I’ve also been keeping Hades (and coincidentally Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft, hint, hint) separate from that.

Anyway, Hades is probably my favorite portrayal yet of ancient beings in his stories, better than even Odin, Kringle, or the Erlking. It’s subtle, and short, but very well done. I wouldn’t be surprised it he continues to show up, but at the same time is was done so well that if we never see him again that would be fine too.

Now, I’ve been completely ignoring my writing to do this, so I’m going to go take care of that. Happy reading.

 

 

 

How I Met Your Mother Finale

Yeah, yeah, I know, I haven’t posted anything in two weeks. I don’t like to be that out of touch and usually I post something on at least one of the blogs. The day job beckoned though and it took me away from…well…everything.

That includes TV and that would be why I just got around to watching the HIMYM finale.

Like any other successful show, the finale is likely to ignite strong opinions. Some people will hate it no matter how good it is and some will love it no matter how bad. Honestly, I felt myself conflicted. So did my wife. We spent a good hour talking about it, trying to wade through the story. I’d seen on Imgur that a lot of people weren’t happy, I even thought I knew why, then I saw it.

From here on, SPOILERS!

Okay, the ending sucked. Sucked bad. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Because the 58 minutes leading up to that were beautiful.

A lot of people, I’m sure, have problems with many aspects of the show. Robin and Barney get divorced. Robin distances herself from the group. Barney knocked up some chick. Some people will continue to mistakenly complain the mother takes a backseat role in her own show (I’ll get to that in a minute). And of course, there’s the fact that she dies. The ending has a general bleak quality. The happy endings are lacking a bit, except of course with Lilly and Marshal who everyone knew would end up well.

But that’s kind of the point.

The show has always been about life. More than that, it has been about the phases of life, about how people grow together and apart through their journey. Horrible as it was that Robin and Barney get divorced (especially since it was such a HUGE focus for the last few seasons) it also happens.

People move on.

It’s horrible that the mother dies. It’s terrible. We spent ten years waiting to meet this character and then they’re together for less time than it took to meet her.

Welcome to life.

The way that was done was actually quite beautiful and they do a good job of pointing a lot of that out. I do wish Barney and Robin’s marriage had at least been pleasant for its brief existence but, considering everything we loved about those two characters, it’s easy to believe that wasn’t in the cards. That doesn’t negate the many beautiful moments.

Barney meeting his daughter for one, finally finding the one person in his life whom he will dedicate everything to. The simple, sublime joy of watching Ted and Tracy fall to fate. I don’t believe in fate, at least not in that way, but watching these two people as they meet and realize how they were connected, even if it was through a stupid, yellow umbrella, was beautiful.

Then the last two minutes comes along and shits all over that.

I simply don’t understand why this show insists upon Ted ending up with Robin. Their initial meeting and his courting of her was exceptionally well done. It’s what drew us into these character’s lives. But it came and it went and it was over. For this whole story just a lame attempt to bring these characters together seems distasteful, especially considering how eloquent at storytelling the show has been. The foreshadowing and dedication to continuity has always been on of this show’s greatest strengths, for him to show up at her door with that blue horn just felt so tacked on and cheap.

It felt like a cop out.

If I didn’t know better, and I guess I don’t, I’d say they did it at the last moment, though I don’t see how since it seems like they filmed the kid’s response way back in the beginning. Part of the weakness of the show was Ted’s on/off relationship with Robin. The story has always been wishy washy with this, and it drew in other parts of the story. Barney was good with Quin and even with Nora. It felt like they sabotaged those to build up the relationship with Robin. All of this was part of the show outliving its welcome. I think it’s fair to say the show could have ended two, even three seasons ago. It also felt like it was planned that way. Instead we see character get yanked all over the place.

The only context I can offer to make this better is the scenario my wife and I came up with. It would have been better had Robin and Ted never ended up dating in the beginning of the show. Ted would have tried to court her but it never would have worked out. She would have eventually returned his feelings just for Veronica or Stella or work or any number of other things to get in the way. Frankly, that’s what they did anyway so it’s not too far out of the realm of possibility. Then, after finding the love of his life and building a family, just to lose his wife tragically to disease, he asks his children for permission to move on, to seek out the woman who he’s always loved, never forgetting that first partner.

Instead of having two characters slide back into bad habits in an unnatural and contrived scenario we would have the culmination of years of friendship blossom into a late in life romance.

And as far as the mother, Tracey as we now know her, not being a big enough part of the show. Don’t do that. Don’t belittle that. If there is one thing this show did, it was building a character that was never seen, never heard of, only alluded to. No, we didn’t meet her until the last season, but we knew all about her. We knew the music she liked, the movies, the food, her hobbies and personality.

I don’t believe she was brought in too late, if anything, I think it was too early.

The best, the absolute best ending I could have imagined would have been for Ted to approach the woman on the station terminal. For the last thing we saw was that umbrella turning, the last word of dialogue being either him saying hello or her introducing herself.

But that’s life.