Friday, November 25, 2016

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Dishonored 2"

Yep, time once more to step back into the shoes of Corvo Attano, the greatest assassin in Dunwall who nonetheless keeps getting duped every few years or so by someone. But it's okay, because the game gives us the lovely option that any adventurer in a Dungeons & Dragons game will eventually go for: mass executions!

And, much like the original, Dishonored 2 delivers on that pretty much in the same way that you well as a completely different way, as you can now play as Emily Kaldwell, Corvo's daughter who is now the Empress in place of her mother, who was killed in the first game. Emily has likewise been trained by Corvo in the ways of the assassin, no doubt him hoping that he can prevent the mistakes of the past.

Yes, you have the very different playstyles of Corvo and Emily except...they're really not that different beyond aesthetics. Do you want the voice of Mercer Frey or a less gruff, more feminine voice narrating in a game where narrating wasn't necessary in the first one? Corvo being suddenly voiced is...weird, to say the least. Kind of like Isaac Clarke in the sudden shift between Dead Space and Dead Space 2.  And, much like those games, we're just expected to take the change with no real issue. And, if I hadn't just slayed him in order to save the Thieves' Guild, I might have been able to do that.  Alas, no dice there, Bethesda and Arkane.

Even the campaign pretty much plays out exactly the same way with only a few changes in dialogue. Indeed, even either Corvo's or Emily's meeting with the Outsider (the maybe good maybe evil maybe God maybe Satan figure who gave Corvo powers in the first game) plays out much the same regardless of who you pick, with you even being given the option to completely turn away from the Outsider and play the game without powers.  While I do appreciate the commitment to giving us a choice here, why would I ever choose to be a super badass assassin without magical powers?

Seriously. Why?

But yes, if you played the first one, this pretty much goes the same way.  There are some new powers, but you can pretty much blitz through the entire game with just Blink maxed out as Corvo or Far Reach as Emily and you're pretty much okay. There are, of course, the options to use runes to beef up your attributes as well, and that's pretty much the only thing I ended up using the Runes to upgrade for in the end.

Oh, and Bonecharms. For some reason now, you have the option of crafting your own bonecharms. There's...really no reason to do it, and you also have the problem of Corruption, which amounts to a negative effect on Corvo/Emily while still giving a benefit. There are also naturally corrupted Bone Charms out in the world, which can be found with their clean counterparts and the various Runes out in the world, via the mechanical heart gifted to Corvo/Emily by the Outsider.

Again, much like the last game.

That's actually the truth with a lot of the game. Unfortunately, once you've done the revenge plot to regain your innocence plot, you really can't do the same thing over for the sequel. To the credit of Arkane, they did put in enough variation plot-wise to keep it interesting. The game really emphasizes a "play it your way" mechanic, where you can do everything between sneaking around and killing only essential enemies or go through making all of Dunwall look like the set of an Eli Roth film.

Sure, you get the "bad" ending, but bite me. I had to save my daughter from spending eternity as a statue. It's the Corvo Way. You petrify my daughter, I hunt down every last one of you, make you take back your lemons, and then I make a combustible lemon that...

[EDITOR'S NOTE: He goes on like this for a while. Just smile and nod and it'll be over soon.]

In conclusion, it is literally more of the same as the first game with a few minor cosmetic touches, and that's not bad. As much as I ragged on it, the option to play without powers is kind of interesting and tells me that it's possible to play through the game without powers, not that I would.  While there's not much variation, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Familiarity is often a very good thing, and there really was no need to fix what wasn't broken to begin with.

So, as I predicted, decent sequel. Might see more, might not. Time will tell.

Dishonored 2 is now available from Arkane Studios and Bethesda for PC, Xbox One, and PS4.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, November 18, 2016

MadCap At The Movies - "Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them"

When I was a youth, I was caught up in the rise of Pottermania.  I read the first three books before the first movie had come out. My mother and I would go to the midnight releases for each of the books, take them home, and read them until we passed out. Then we would wake up and read on until we finished them. Then came the long, grueling wait in the years between books five, six, and seven...which later became movies five, six, seven, and eight. The movies...I've had less of a wondrous relationship with, so you can imagine my raised eyebrow when I heard that a brand new production was being entered into, even with JK Rowling as the writer.

And yes, I know that's going to sound like blasphemy to a lot of people, but writers of prose do not always necessarily have that translate well into screenplays - see also The Goblet of Fire film adaptation - but then there was something else that came up that I found most interesting. The film was set to be a prequel film to the Harry Potter films, set in the same universe but utilizing new characters and perhaps a few references to others within the mythos. And, to the film's credit, it did largely stick to that criteria. Newt Scamander had been name dropped as the writer of a book on Harry's course list (I can't think of the name at the moment) and Gellert Grendelwald had been mentioned and even appeared in the series as the evil wizard that Dumbledore was most famous for apprehending.

To get to the plot, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is traveling into New York in 1926 to buy a birthday present (or so he says). He has brought with him a suitcase filled with magical creatures that gets him the attention of disgraced former auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and gets accidentally swapped with the suitcase of another man, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) during some hijinks at a bank.

Kowalski accidentally opens said suitcase, which gets the attention of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (basically America's Ministry of Magic), who are already dealing with some issues between wizards and "no-maj" (the American word for muggles). One auror, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) is working the cases of various troubles seemingly being caused by magical creatures in the city...and yeah, he's the villain.

Oh, c'mon, it's Colin Farrell, it isn't a spoiler. You hire the man to be menacing. Although, to their credit, I was honestly hoping it was a red herring...but nope! He's the villain! And he's working to manipulate a young man named Credence (Ezra Miller) who is tied to a group called the Second Salemers...which is honestly like naming your group the "New Inquisition" or the "New Ku Klux Klan". Really, really, really dumb.

And on the nose. Shame on you, JK.

But yes, Graves - and seriously, "Graves"? Was "Judas McScrewsyouover" taken? - is trying to manipulate Credence because he believes that he's connected to a child who will have untold magical powers that he could manipulate to his own sinister ends. Again. Villain. No ambiguity or even an attempt to pretend to be something else, he's a villain...though there's some problems with that that would get into spoiler territory.

Needless to say, Colin Ferrell does it well.

Actually, the cast largely pulls in solid performances. Eddie Redmayne is excellent as the nebbish, but good-hearted Newt Scamander. He's more druid than wizard, caring much for the animals and not wanting them to come to harm. Indeed, in the course of events, he even says that he wants to try and teach the wizard community that creatures of a magical nature shouldn't be feared and that co-existence is possible.

Wanting them to take...Care of Magical Creatures...something like that. Not sure how it'd apply.

Dan Fogler plays an excellent every man, bringing a sense of awe and wonder to a world that is largely mundane to everyone else around. He has his aspirations to rise above his job in a cannery and own his own bakery, and has a stroke of goodness that sees him facing down magical threats even though he can't do magic himself. He even gets a romance subplot. Can't hate him.

Rounding out the trio, we have Katherine Waterston bringing Tina Goldstein to life. She has a great deal of respect for the law, but was dismissed from her post as an auror and put into Wand Permits when she used magic against a No-Maj to defend a young man from abuse (Credence, if you're wondering). She's headstrong and no-nonsense, seeking to do what's right not matter the it to the wizarding community or herself.

And Colin Ferrell I've already gone that only leaves Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp). And, here's where we come to a rather dark spot in this movie for me...and I know my readers who are devoted Potterheads will likely disagree...but...


Not. One. Reason.

And no, you can't justify it to me by saying that it's a prequel and it's a set up to his big duel against Dumbledore in the near future. Johnny Depp speaks all of thirteen words (yes, I counted) within the last twenty minutes of the film, and then he's gone. La-di-da, absolutely pointless.

And while I have issues with Johnny Depp being cast for much in general when his one note these days is "Lol, weird guy!", he could honestly make an interesting mark on the role. It's a shame then that his appearance is a literal last minute twist that I'm still kicking myself for not getting (namely because the biggest freaking clue is literally dangled in front of us late in the film), though I was maybe hoping they wouldn't do something like that...sure, we'll go with that and not that just my powers of clairvoyance aren't terribly dodgy.

And as for the Fantastic Beasts themselves...the CGI is hit or miss for me. Some scenes it looks really good, some scenes it looks like something the previous films would laugh at. But rarely, if ever, did I actually come close to believing the illusion that anything I was seeing was actually there. That being said, the creature designs are - for the most part - rather nice and show a lot of creativity and thought put into them...provided you just kind of gloss over the rhino creature with the big glowy head., I don't know or care what the actual name is. Go back to Pottermore.

Despite my minor complaints, some of which I can't really get into without spoilers, I did actually enjoy this film and want to see a continuation. There are definitely the seeds of a series here and I really would like to see them blossom into a franchise that can sustain itself both because of and in spite of the series it was spawned from. Do I think that this one will grow to rival the original Harry Potter series?

Of course not. Much like the original Power Rangers series, lightning never does strike twice. Like the ebb and flow of the tide, this too shall pass. That being said, it doesn't mean we can't sit back and enjoy the ride.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is now in theaters Heyday Films and Warner Bros. Pictures.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, November 11, 2016

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim"

Well, honestly, this is about five years overdue. Seriously, this game shut down my blog for SEVEN MONTHS! Seven months where I didn't post a thing, I didn't do anything. It completely consumed by gaming life for seven months, fueled on the insane amount of hype. At the time, this game was literally everything I could have hoped for in a fantasy RPG: running around the landscape with a sword in hand as I completed quests, stood stalwart against the forces of evil, and battled...wait for it...FREAKING DRAGONS!

Had I reviewed this game in 2011, it would have been me gibbering in fanboy-induced insanity, likely in the form of a video of me belting out a Dragon-themed version of the Narwhals song at the top of my lungs to a montage of me killing said dragons. an alternate universe where I can make videos that aren't me sitting in a room with really, really poor lighting and bad audio, but I'm working on it!, in 2016, five years later and going back with a fresh perspective on things, how exactly would I rate the fifth main series entry into the Elder Scrolls series? Let's take a closer look.  First, the various plots...

The (Main) Plot & The Civil War
You are a prisoner (because every Elder Scrolls protagonist starts off in the klink) being transported to an execution at the hands of the Imperial Legion. However, you're saved by Turbo Man's sudden arrival that causes a fiery cataclysm and allows you escape with either a member of the Legion or a member of the Stormcloaks. You see, you have come to the land of Skyrim, where civil war has broken out after the death of the King at the hands of Ulfric Stormcloak.

Having jumped two hundred years after that escort mission that ended in tragedy, the Empire is heavily fragmented now and Skyrim symbolizes it better than any of the other provinces, with Ulfric leading his Stormcloak army against the Empire, who have just gotten out of a nasty war with the Aldmeri Dominion - e.g., the Nazis if they were elves. However, the player soon discovers that they are the legendary Dragonborn - a warrior who can kill dragons and take their souls and thus their power.  Basically, think of it as a draconic version of Highlander.

So, the Civil War really just falls to the wayside as you deal with the fact that you're a warrior blessed by the gods with the soul of a Dragon and destined to fight other dragons...sort of. It's not actually completely clear as to what your destiny is, but you nonetheless have one. Are you supposed to defeat Alduin and stop the return of the Dragons or are you supposed to just let all of Tamriel burn? Well, if you take the second option there isn't much of a plot to be had.

As for the Civil War, it basically comes down to whether you want structure and some freedoms taken away in order to maintain stability and peace, or if you want freedom (both political and religious freedom) at the cost of minorities getting squashed underfoot and what is the equivalent of complete and utter anarchy...

...totally not something that very much parallels real world political events in America at the moment.

But overall, no, the Civil War doesn't heavily factor into the plot besides in changing a few quests and swapping out a few key players in the various cities.  But at least both it and the main plot against Alduin are a great deal better than Oblivion's main plot, which I already made a joke about above.

Oh, and the Blades suck. Jauffre and Caius would be ashamed of how far they've fallen.

The Dark Brotherhood
A very sad follow up to the Dark Brotherhood plot in Oblivion, and I shall explain why (with some spoilers for Oblivion's plot regarding everyone's favorite assassins) here.  In Oblivion, the Dark Brotherhood was very much a family that ran by the strict code set forth by Sithis and the Night Mother.  But, more than that, they were honestly some of the most interesting characters in that game. Through a sea of poorly animated faces that were nestled nice and tight into the Uncanny Valley, the people of the Cheydinhal Sanctuary made the player feel welcome.

Sure, they were a bunch of murderous, insane psychopaths. But damn it, they were your murderous, insane psychopaths. They were there encouraging you right from the start in your various methods of murder, would sometimes offer alternative methods of taking out targets, and all seemed genuinely interested in your upward movement through the ranks of the Brotherhood, happy to see one of their Brothers excelling so well and all in the name of Sithis and the Night Mother, long may they reign from the Void!

Cut ahead to Skyrim and...that feel is just gone. The Brotherhood is now on its last legs and is about to topple right over.  The once proud organization I left behind when I last played Oblivion has become a handful of people huddled in an old crypt in the woods and have completely abandoned the Five Tenants and their patron deities! It's a disgrace! And, of course, Astrid insists that it was done in order to save the Brotherhood, but that's a massive pile of nonsense if ever there was one. The Night Mother and Sithis have proven themselves to have been very active deities in Elder Scrolls, being able to set up for things that would happen ages down the line and-

...and I've already lost most of my audience by writing this all out, much less getting fanboy-y. Nevermind.

The point is, Astrid messed up and she pays for it. The only thing this has over Oblivion's questline is that you at least have radiant assassinations after the plot ends instead of just collecting gold.

The Companions
That which is not the Fighters' Guild, totally. The Companions actually have a very deep and interesting backstory that I won't get into here for the sake of brevity (as if that's ever in any way mattered to me). Even if I were to, that's not why most people took up this questline. No, most people went for it in order to become a werewolf, and I gotta say...I'm not 100% sold on it, even now. It's fun, but you don't have access to your gear and can't cast spells. You have to rely solely on your wits, reflexes, and your DPS in order to survive.

Also, on higher difficulties, getting stuck in a kill cam loop can see you offed if too many enemies are around. Be wary of your surroundings before you go into a power attack.

The College of Winterhold
Okay, not having to go around to every Guild Hall to get a recommendation to be able to enchant? A definite plus over Oblivion. Having access to enchanting everywhere over having it just restricted to one place? Again, a plus.  Getting to save the world from destruction with the help of the Psijic Order and getting to snub the Aldmeri out of a victory and a powerful potential weapon in their battles against the Empire? Priceless.

In all seriousness, it's a nice questline and you might as well do it because the College is the only place where you'll find all the Master trainers for magic. Granted, if you aren't a magically inclined character, there is no real appeal here.

Thieves' Guild
I can only imagine the people at Bethesda were sitting around after Oblivion thinking "Crap! We took the idea of pulling a heist on the Imperial Palace and used it! How do we top that?" Why, by becoming the ultimate soldier of Nocturnal Herself, of course!  The Thieves' Guild in Skyrim has fallen on some hard times until you show up, but you hop in at an opportune time to start turning things around, all the while investigating a mysterious individual who has been working against the Guild...or are they? Not all is as it seems, and an enemy could very easily be hiding in the skin of an ally. After all, honor among thieves only go so far...

Really, this is a Thieves' Guild questline that makes you feel like a thief. Before, in Oblivion in particular, thieving was just a way to get to the next questline. You did it because your Doyen wouldn't give you jobs to do otherwise. Now, you do it because there's loot and thus you have a reason to break into people's homes and steal their things - profit! But beyond that, you also have the questline that allows you to become a Nightingale, a soldier of Nocturnal who has access to some unique powers of stealthy goodness.

You can't weave around in combat like you could in Oblivion, but that's alright. You have the standard fantasy setting assortment of melee, ranged, or magic. If you know anything about my play style, you know I'm the manliest of manly men and am only too happy to charge recklessly into combat with a sword and shield. Melee combat is pretty involving, but it's nothing you haven't dealt with if you haven't played with in an RPG. Same goes with ranged, though some of the perks do make a few changes.

Magic, on the other hand, has changed greatly from both of the previous games in the series. Instead of the constantly failing spells despite being Master level in Morrowind or having a spell holstered for any situation in Oblivion, spellcasters in Skyrim must equip spells to their respective hands. You'd think this would allow you to combine different spells to produce cool and unique effects, a la Fable III, but that doesn't really enter into it in any meaningful way besides adding DPS.

And yes, with the right combination of leveling, enchantments, and alchemy usage, a player can easily turn a mage into a full-on nightmare for literally anything that they come across. Of course, the same can be said with any class, particularly if one uses the Oghma Infinium glitch (which, after patching, can no longer be used...though that doesn't stop PC Gamers with their damned console).

The Shouts
And yes, the biggest draw of the game is the Dragon Shouts and...they're not impressive. I know, I'm disappointed. When I first played, I was completely fascinated and entranced by using this unique power in various ways...and with five years of wisdom, I've come to a conclusion - most of them really suck. Unrelenting Force is good and is more than a little useful in many situations, but the rest...? Not as much.  And this coming from a guy who tried to build a specialty character around the concept of using Shouts.

Basically, they can flavor combat, but overall you won't need them besides making combat slightly easier. Get Unrelenting Force, Dragonrend, and Marked For Death, and you pretty much have all the immensely useful ones.

...and no, I'm not going into ones like Bend Will, particularly since that's from Dragonborn. But, needless to say, the DLCs did not add many immensely useful ones to help out the concept either, and that's a shame considering the in-universe descriptions of the power of the Voice and all the power and destruction you can wreak. Really, the Dragonborn, empowered by the souls of dragons and with the full upgraded power of the Voice should be a warrior unparalleled, basically a living, breathing demigod walking across the face of the Earth...and you just, don't. And that sucks.

Like the previous two entries in the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim has some good, has some bad, and a little bit of both.  You take the good and you take the bad, you take them both and there you have...Skyrim. But is the game itself good? Yeah, it is. It's not great, and in terms of complexity, I still hold up Morrowind as an altogether better game thanks to the complexity of its storyline over this one. Also, when you were the actually had the magical equipment and backing by Azura to actually feel like a badass demigod. In Skyrim, even if you do take the time and effort to hunt down the Dragon Shrines (which, by the way, will take you through every questline), you don't get a lot for it.

So yes, not so much enjoy the super power fantasy on this one...though that's really why you make your own fate. And Skyrim does give you the agency to do that and isn't particularly restrictive, so I guess I shouldn't complain overmuch.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is now available from Bethesda Game Studios.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, November 4, 2016

MadCap At The Movies - "Doctor Strange"

The MadCapMunchkin takes on the Master of the Mystic Arts.

Doctor Strange is now in theaters from Marvel.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2"

...yeah, I know, this isn't a video review. Eat me, I'm getting ready for a rant on the big one next week. Y'know, the fifth anniversary of that game I hyped to holy hell and yet didn't actually review. And, again, oops! But let's save that for next time.  This time, we have the sequel to the smash hit video game release of last year, Dragon Ball Xenoverse. And no, for the record, I'm no more of an anime fan than I was a year (more, actually) ago. I've seen some of Dragon Ball Super, but overall, my connection to this series is largely with the releases on the Cartoon Network Toonami block in the early 2000s.  So, needless to say if I hadn't played the first game, I'd be really confused as to the people and locations I'm seeing in this game almost from the jump.

And yes, for the record, I am a fan of TeamFourStar's DBZ Abridged and have seen both Battle of the Gods and Revival of 'F', if my reviews of the first game's DLCs didn't give it away.

But getting to the game at hand. It's been two years since the great Saiyan warrior Butarega defeated the evil Demigra and saved all of time...and then was replaced in this game by a completely new protagonist that wasn't wished from the Dragon Balls into existence.  This time, you're a promising rookie from the ranks of the Time Patrol, entrusted with a sacred mission from the Old Kai to run around the most important battles in the Dragon Ball Saga (from Z onwards, anyway). Nevermind that the Future Warrior in the first game, in my case the aforementioned Butarega, already fought in all those places and thus it should be me revisiting those and having to deal with the consequences of so many people time traveling to the same place and creating paradoxes out the wazoo...

...however, I don't think trying to have a workable system of time "It just works because God says so" is really that important in a game where the primary object is "You have to punch the thing".

So touche there, Dimps on making me overthink and then not think at all about what I'm supposed to be doing, because "Yay! Punching things!"

However, the newbie this time is Parsnap who is, in my headcanon, the son of Butarega having to live up to the legacy set by his father. The Saiyans, as well as the other races, are very much unchanged from the previous game. In fact, the racial selection screen is unchanged from the previous game.  In fact, very little in terms of mechanics has changed from the last game. The missions have only minor variations, now having brought in several of the movie villains such as Turles and Lord Slug, and the AI remains pretty much the same - i.e., your allies suck and you are facing some pretty nasty odds.

Seriously, one of the missions in the Namek Saga will have you going up against both Frieza in his Full-Power form and Cooler in his Final Form, and Cooler on his own was enough to make me want to eat my controller in frustration.

The combat hasn't changed at all, but it doesn't really need to. You lock on, you press the heavy and light attacks until you work up enough ki to blast your opponents into atoms. Rinse and repeat. Granted, there's the absurd jumps in difficulty that will cause you to grind Parallel Quests until your thumbs are bleeding. Blame it on the MMO style of the game.

And yes, I could go into the different changes that have come up for each of the separate races, but it's really more fun if you do it yourself. Everything is pretty much as you expect with a few changes here and there.  Namekians finally have a useful Super Namekian mode. Buus get a Kid Buu-esque mode and the Frieza Clan take to their Golden form.

Oh, and Humans? They get a that's cool, I guess. I mean, they haven't been relevant since Tien mildly annoyed Semi-Perfect on them, I guess?

 I'm sure the line here would be that if you enjoyed the first game, get this because it's more of the same, but it's not just more of the same. It really is the same. Granted, there are a few aesthetic differences. Toki Toki City is now replaced with Conton City and is much bigger, so much so that the developers felt the need to add a powered hover board for the player to get around least until they can fly in the hub world!

Seriously, why even have that option after we learn to fly? Whose going to choose to not fly? Probably the humans.

One change I will debase myself in gratitude for is the ability to have a mentor, but to also learn from other NPCs in the game world. I can keep Piccolo as a mentor and be able to go far and wide learn a variety of tasty techniques as the mighty Saiyan Parsnap, whereas in the first game you were stuck with just one and had to suffer some dialogue if you switched mentors, which always made me feel rather guilty (except when switching from Vegeta, because he's an ass).

Also, you can get missions to defend Guru's house which (like several other locations) is accessible because of rifts in time. Coincidentally. Nail is the new Preston Garvey, as I said on Twitter. Should have gotten Guru the big screen TV, Nail!

Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 is now available from Dimps and Bandai Namco Entertainment for Windows, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.