Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Archive for the month “May, 2016”

Ratchet & Clank for PS4

I didn’t have a PS2 growing up so my nostalgia is placed firmly in the Gamecube (my all time favourite console) era. I never played Ratchet & Clank, although the whole aesthetic appeals to me. I have a soft spot for mascot platformers; Banjo-Kazooie is one of my favourite games of all time. I’m even a bit fond of some of the bad ones, like Croc: Legend of the Gobbos. The Ratchet & Clank reboot was therefore pretty appealing to me. Although it feels in some ways like a blast from the past, Ratchet & Clank has enough concessions to modernity to make it feel exciting and fun even to a newcomer devoid of nostalgia.

Ratchet is a young mechanic with dreams of greatness; he seeks to join the Galactic Rangers, a squadron of elite space cadets led by the beloved, but in actually arrogant and incompetent, Captain Quark. Meanwhile, the Blarg under Chairman Drek have teamed with the sinister Doctor Neferious to create an army of war robots. One robot is defective and is produced as smaller but more intelligent and with a conscience. This robot, Clank, escapes the factory after escaping destruction and crash lands right in front of Ratchet. The two team up to fight the Blargian threat.

There have been some rather hyperbolic comparisons between this reboot and a Pixar film, but that is overstating it quite a lot. There are some fun characters and moments, particularly involving the Zapp Brannigan-esque Quark, but overall the story is incoherent and difficult to follow. It’s not that the story is complicated, it’s just that everything moves so fast and the storytelling moments so sparse it’s difficult to feel like I should care. The cutscenes that are here are pretty great and it seems odd to want more, but there it is. I wanted to love the story of Ratchet & Clank, but to be honest I finished it yesterday and I’m already fuzzy on the details.

Ratchet & Clank is a hybrid platformer and third person shooter and manages to balance these two mechanics rather well. It’s probably more of the latter than the former and it’s fun to play something so utterly detached from the tropes of the present day. Since Gears of War, third person shooters have invariably been tied into cover mechanics. I love Gears of War, but it’s difficult to deny that this can create stale and boring shooting experiences. Ratchet & Clank is nothing like this, with constant movement being the requirement to survive. There are loads of weapons and I found myself genuinely using almost all of them throughout. The hectic combat was a lot of fun and I never tired of blasting my way through the various stages. To break things up there are some simple, but fun, sections about grinding on rails and hoverboard races, as well as a couple of ship battles. These are well paced to break up the shooting and give you other things to do.

This isn’t a huge game, which is reasonable considering the lower launch price. There is an ostensibly open structure, but mostly the game is linear. There are lots of gadgets to gather, such as a jetpack which can be used in some levels, and this gives the game a slight Metroidvania element when previous planets can be returned to so you can gather collectibles. There are upgrade paths for every weapon and on my one playthrough I was only able to get them all to under 50% completion. I imagine upgrading them fully would take at least one other playthrough on the New Game+ challenge mode. The unlocks for the collectible golden screws are great and bequest all sorts of fun little additions. There are side missions, although not many and most are quite brief. I would probably have rather paid a bit more and got a bit more content, but on the value for money scale Ratchet and Clank is fine.

Ratchet & Clank looks gorgeous, with a clean and bright colour palate and a lovely world. It’s not quite Pixar; maybe more late 2000s Dreamworks, but it still looks bloody good. It’s a shame that this kind of vibrant cartoony game has been in short supply this console generation as Ratchet & Clank shows how good they can look with the boost in power. The voice acting is nice and cheesy, as well it should be for this sort of game. For something which essentially exists to promote a movie, Ratchet & Clank is a very handsomely presented package.

This isn’t the kind of game which is going to particularly linger in my memory, but as a fun and light diversion I really cannot fault it. Although I have no Ratchet & Clank nostalgia it did make me nostalgic for a simpler time. When Yooka-Laylee comes out, which is essentially going to be Banjo-Threeie, I’ll be a quivering wreck.

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Fall of Light by Steven Erikson

I decided recently that the Malazan series is the Dark Souls of books. Comparing everything to Dark Souls is popular at the moment so I thought I’d get in on the action. The comparison seems apt to me though; both are challenging and dense with a steep barrier to entry. However, if you persevere there comes a moment that clicks and it becomes the best thing ever. My relationship to the Malazan series borders on the fanatical, so the last four years between Steven Erikson Malazan books has been hard. Fall of Light is a dense, complex sequel to the dense, complex Forge of Darkness. In the earlier chapters it can be a bit of a slog, but as things went on I found myself bowled over all again by the ambition on display here.

Fall of Light follows two storylines. The first is the Tiste civil war; the race is now split into two, the Andii and the Liosan. The army of Vatha Urusander, newly crowned Father Light, is marching on Kharkanas to wed him to Mother Dark. Urusander’s control over his Legion is weak, with the brutal drunk Hunn Raal committing atrocities in his name. Mother Dark is ensconced in a strange realm with the consort Draconus and war seems inevitable. The obvious Andii leader for the resistance to the Liosan, Anomander Rake, the First Son of Darkness, is indisposed journeying Kurald Galain to find his brother Andarist. The third Purake sibling, the brash albino Silchas Ruin is left in charge of mustering the defence of Kharkanas. This storyline flits between three factions; the Andii loyalists, the Liosan rebels and a loose group combined of the Shake and the Deniers, those who worship the ancient spirits of Kurald Galain rather than Mother Dark. The other half of the book follows Hood’s war on death following the murder of his wife at the hands of Errastas and Sechul Lath. Far to the west, a loose army of Jaghut, Thel Akai, Jheleck and many others has gathered to wage the ultimate war. Alongside all this, magic has been loosed unto the world by K’rul, beginning to blur the boundary between mortal and god. Finally, a rent into Starvald Demelain has unleashed the Eleint, dragons, upon the world, bringing on an ancient and terrifying power not seen for an age.

Obviously, there’s a staggering amount going on in Fall of Light. Forge of Darkness touched on wider elements of the Malazan world, but the focus was very clearly on the Tiste. Fall of Light broadens the scope and in fact covers huge swathes of how the Malazan world came to be, from the introduction of the Warrens, the nature of the Azath to the origins of the Imass and Toblakai races. Fall of Light perhaps covers a little bit too much ground, particularly after the recent release of Ian Cameron Esslemont’s much more focused Dancer’s Lament. Don’t get me wrong, the ambition is what makes this series so special, but at times it feels like pretty much every Tiste in Kurald Galain gets a PoV at some point. Early on, the writing feels bogged down in the lengthy discussions of philosophy. This is a classic Erikson trope, but one he can sometimes do great things with. The problem is that when every character, from the noble highborn poet to the court historian to the hardened guerrilla warrior pontificates at length it can make them feel indistinct and makes some characters blur into one.

Erikson in fact does this much better with the Jaghut, particularly with Gothos, a much heard from but not much seen figure in the main series. We finally get a good indication of what he’s all about and the ramifications for Jaghut civilisation and it’s actually pretty fascinating. In fact, civilisation could easily be named the core theme of this novel, with the question as to whether a society built on the subjugation of the wild and the killing of enemies can ever really call itself civilised. The Tiste and Jaghut are implicitly compared; the Jaghut abandoned civilisation and live in relative isolation, nonetheless often filled with joy and laughter when they do come together. The Tiste hold the pretence of civilisation but are plunging themselves into a pointless and violent civil war.

These ideas are expressed when allowed to come through organically, through action and story and dialogue rather than the didactic approach Erikson favours in the earlier chapters. That said, patience is rewarded and it isn’t long until Fall of Light unfolds into one of Erikson’s most dazzling, ambitious works yet. Not all of his vast numbers of storyline hit, but the majority do. This series has often been labelled ‘Shakespearean’, which I’m not sure if this is a term which means a whole lot. One area where this may apply is in the grand notions of tragedy and melancholy which can suffuse the book as well as moments of supreme joy. The comic moments are generally found away from the Tiste (although possibly the funniest line of the novel takes place in the Liosan camp) and focus on the Jaghut and Thel Akai. A somewhat bizarre storyline is a sexual farce between a group of young Thel Akai, centred around the beautiful polygamous Lasa Rook. I found it hilarious personally and there are plenty of moments like that.

In a way, love is at the core of this novel. The controversial love between Draconus and Mother Dark, the fraternal love between the Jaghut, the twisted and obsessive love of Sandalath Drukorlat for her son Orfantal and, most moving to me, Hood’s love for his murdered wife which is so strong that he declares war on death itself. There’s a grandeur to Fall of Light which is paired with time given to the intimate, to humanising characters who are closer to Gods. In the Malazan world, everyone suffers, everyone hurts and everyone feels. The characters of Fall of Light are driven by emotion and feeling rather than cold reason and that it what makes it so special. Characters which seem stoic, such as Anomander Rake and Caladan Brood are in fact deeply emotional and tormented figures. It is this focus on grand emotion which makes Erikson so special and Fall of Light does this incredibly well.

Fall of Light isn’t a perfect book; it has a slow opening and can be too didactic, but it is a staggeringly ambitious and moving piece of work. It hits all the important prequel beats, with some incredibly fan pleasing references and cameo appearances from fan favourite characters and fascinating insights into the Malazan world. Most importantly though, it is a book of deep feeling and coherent narrative themes. Steven Erikson definitely isn’t the easiest fantasy author to read, but he may be the most rewarding.

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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End for PS4

I can’t claim to being a long term Uncharted fan, having only first played the trilogy in the Nathan Drake Collection last year. The second game, Among Thieves, was the only one that really stood out to me, but nothing which particularly blew me away. Uncharted 4 was different though; I think it is comfortably the best game of the series, building on strengths whilst showing a remarkable willingness to leap out of its mechanical and narrative comfort zones.

Nathan Drake has settled into a normal existence, retired from his life of swashbuckling adventure. Married to the love of his life Elena, Nathan nonetheless clearly feels bored and constrained in domestic harmony. The arrival of Sam, Nathan’s long lost brother, thought dead in a heist on a Panamanian prison 15 years before, brings him back into the fold. Sam was bust out of jail by a terrifying, psychopathic drug lord who has threatened to torture him to death if he does not bring him the treasure of the legendary pirate Captain Henry Avery. Nathan and Sam had been searching for the treasure for years, although Nathan abandoned the search after Sam’s ‘death.’ Nathan, lying to Elena, sets out with Sam to track down Avery’s treasure and rescue his brother.

I enjoyed the plot of the previous three Uncharted games, but all of them felt like popcorn; tasty in the short term but ultimately not particularly filling. It’s a cliché to call a sequel more ‘personal’, but Uncharted 4 genuinely is. There’s been a bit of a backlash lately against the idea of ‘ludonarrative dissonance’ (the contrast between the way a protagonist is presented in the story and how they behave under the control of the player) and it’s true that the idea is often abused by those who don’t really understand it, but I think the idea still holds some water. It’s always been difficult to reconcile the breezy and easy going Nathan Drake with the shocking violence of his day to day life and although Uncharted 4 shies away from acknowledging the brutality in Nathan’s line of work, it does begin to look at the people hurt by his lifestyle. The swashbuckling pirate adventure to find Avery’s gold is great (and thankfully lacking in the out of place supernatural elements of the previous games) but it’s the relationships which are the best part. Nathan’s rebuilding of his relationship with his lost brother Sam is charming to see, although the best relationship of the bunch is that of Nate and Elena. Uncharted 4 achieves what many movies and TV shows fail to; make the personal as (or more) interesting than the epic. Uncharted 4 is both a celebration and deconstruction of what came before and comes together as the best story of the lot.

Things are basically the same on a mechanical level. Early trailers promised a focus on more melee focused vertical combat which isn’t really the case here. Sure, you can swing from a rope and smash people in an instant knockout, but it’s almost always not practical to do so and leaves you exposed. In practice, you’ll be playing Uncharted 4 much like the in the previous games, which is fine as the mechanics are pretty polished by now. The climbing is still fun and the shooting frantic, if shallow. There was a great article recently which argued that the Uncharted series are essentially elaborate walking simulators. The illusion of control is given to the player but in practice you hold very little sway over what happens and how things play out. This is a deal breaker for some people, but the illusion of control is so beautifully crafted that it never bothered me.

There is a slight shift towards more open environments, with some beautiful scenes set on the plains of Madagascar. You can make some slight detours, but you are still mostly being funnelled down a path. Naughty Dog do a fantastic job of this funnelling, making it feel organic, rather than simply being in a corridor. There are vehicles, which control well, including a stand out chase scene which was shown at E3 last year. Stealth mechanics have also been refined. They’re not particularly deep, but they work well and avoid the curse of terrible stealth mechanics in non-stealth games. In fact, the stealth is better than that in Assassin’s Creed which is either a complement to Uncharted 4 or a damning criticism of Assassin’s Creed; probably both. Uncharted 4 has the best gameplay variety of the series and paces exploration, combat and action set pieces pretty much perfectly.

Probably the most immediate thing which jumps out to you in Uncharted 4 are the visuals. I’m trying to avoid hyperbole, but it’s difficult to do so when talking about Uncharted 4. I genuinely think it has the most perfect ‘graphics’ of any game I’ve ever seen, all whilst maintaining a smooth frame rate. The environments are stunningly beautiful and varied, from the plains of Madagascar, to bustling city streets to Scottish moors, all are pulled off with aplomb. The facial animations are incredible; we’re able to read the complex nuance of their emotions from the looks on their face, the miniscule shifts in the way they stand. Put simply, I responded to the characters of Uncharted 4 as I would a human being. Other games have attempted this and some have done bloody well (Rockstar are good at this) but nothing has done it better than Uncharted 4. Of course, all the wonderful animation in the world wouldn’t count for anything if the voice acting was rubbish. It’s not though; it’s brilliant, with the new characters establishing themselves well and Nolan North and Emily Rose bringing new dimensions to their already excellent performances as Nathan and Elena. Uncharted 4 is an immaculate game, something which is incredibly rare these days.

The word that kept popping into my head about Uncharted 4 is ‘effortless.’ Everything works so well and runs so smoothly that it feels breezy and light and lacks any of the weighty irritations which are so prevalent in the AAA gaming industry. Looking this effortless is something which I imagine took a huge amount of…well, effort. The big budget AAA linear action game is a dying breed and in some ways Uncharted 4 feels like it may be the last of its kind. This is a bit sad, but at the same time it’s difficult to imagine how Uncharted 4 could be topped.

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Bravely Second: End Layer for Nintendo 3DS

Bravely Default was a really good JRPG that was somewhat overhyped. I liked it enough to play the sequel Bravely Second, which, although a bit uninspired, is saved by excellent turn based RPG mechanics. Bravely Second is no masterpiece and sometimes feels like it’s phoning it in, but it’s an all round solid experience.

Bravely Second picks up two years after the first game. The Duchy of Eternia and the Crystal Orthodoxy are ready to sign a peace treaty after their conflict in Bravely Default. The peace  ceremony is interrupted by the arrival of the mysterious Kaiser Oblivion who kidnaps former Bravely Default party member Pope Agnes and flies away in a floating castle. Yew, the last son of the noble House Geneolgia and Knight of the Crystalguard sets forth to rescue her. It isn’t long until he is joined by Magnolia Arch, a representative from a previously unknown civilisation on the Moon who has descended to Luxendarc to fight strange creatures known as Ba’als. Alongside returning Bravely Default party members Edea Lee and Tiz Arrior, the group travel Luxendarc to rescue Agnes and discover why the Kaiser has thrown the world into chaos.

Bravely Second made me think about just how rare direct sequels are for JRPGs, as well as why that’s a good thing. As many series progress they move between entirely different stories and settings, or are set thousands of years apart, such as the Final Fantasy or the Tales series. Bravely Second has made me realise that this is probably the right approach. Playing Bravely Second I was constantly left with the niggling feeling that anything left to say about Luxendarc has already been said. The plot isn’t particularly interesting and the two new party members never really develop. Edea is still the best character. That said, there are lots of elements of the story I liked. As with Bravely Default, the cast of weirdo asterisk holders you fight are varied, forceful personalities. Bravely Second also takes Bravely Default’s hints at fourth wall breaking and smashes it wide open. It’s really cool when it happens, but it’s hard not to feel in retrospect like it isn’t just sleight of hand to distract you from the fact that huge swathes of the plot make no sense. In the moment though? It’s pretty awesome. The real writing isn’t great overall, with no real grasp of tone. There are some great puns around the word ‘Ba’als’ though.

From a gameplay perspective Bravely Second is simply more of the same. With combat this good that isn’t a problem and the new jobs are just as satisfying to tinker with as the old ones. Some of the weirdest involve a pastry chef who debuffs the enemy or the ‘Catmancer’, who trains cats to mimic the abilities of monsters. Some of them are really useful, like the Wizard who can manipulate the impact of different spells, or the Hawkeye who can attach elemental damage to a weapon, or the Charioteer who allows you to equip three weapons at once. Experimenting with these jobs is probably the greatest strength of the game. Bravely Second has a lot of nice quality of life touches, such as the ability to disable random battles or alter difficulty on the fly. Purists may hate it, but I think it was a nifty way to make a mechanic many have grown to hate bearable.

So, while the core mechanics are still great the other pillar of a good RPG is unfortunately a failure; the exploration. The vast majority of locations in Bravely Second are recycled from the first game, a natural consequence of being a direct sequel. This isn’t really an excuse though and it made exploration an utter drag. Bravely Default had some beautiful locations and the new ones that are here are perfectly nice, but there just isn’t enough. While I like the characters and the world of Luxendarc, I strongly believe that creating Bravely Second as a direct sequel was a big mistake. It’s difficult to shake the feeling that this was simply a cost/time saving measure, with Bravely Second feeling more like an extensive expansion on the original rather than a new game in its own right. Bravely Second never quite manages to justify its own existence, which isn’t a good position to be in.

It’s still a nicely presented package though, with some wonderful music and great visuals. The voice acting will be divisive, but the cheesy style works for the kind of story they’re trying to tell.  Unfortunately, the actual quality of the voice recording is sometimes appalling. I’m far from an audiophile; I don’t have great hearing so for me to notice how low the quality of recording is it must be bad. Bizarrely, it’s worse for one character in particular, Magnolia. It may not sound like much but I honestly think it affected my ability to respond to this character as warmly as I did the others.

Bravely Second has an almost perfect core turn based JRPG mechanics surrounded by a sometimes bland and repetitive outer layer. If a third game is made I hope they pull a Final Fantasy and set it in an all new location with all new characters. Luxendarc is definitely done after Bravely Second, although to be honest it was already done after Bravely Default.

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Dark Souls III for PS4, Xbox One and PC

I’ve mentioned before my blasphemous dislike for the first Dark Souls. I loved the setting and the way the world fit together, but the ponderous combat and punishing hollowing system was a heap I just could not get over. It took Bloodborne, one of my all-time favourite games, to convert me on the From Software style. I was nervous that I’d feel the same way about Dark Souls III as I did the first, but needed some of that sweet Bloodborne methodrone so took a risk. I’m glad I did; I loved Dark Souls III.

Dark Souls III is as obscure and unknowable as anything else in this series. You awaken in the dying land of Lothric with a task; to hunt and kill the Lords of Cinder, resurrected beings who had previously Linked the Fire and brought more time for the world from darkness. I’m sure there’s a lot more to the plot that I didn’t pick up on, having skipped the first two. It lacks the narrative cohesiveness of Bloodborne, which built an extremely compelling lore in one game, but there are moments of strange power which resonate even if you don’t have a clue what’s going on. I foresee watching many lore videos in my future.

Dark Souls III plays as a hybrid of Bloodborne and the older Souls games. It’s still a slower and more defensive beast than the quick and aggressive style of Bloodborne, but it’s also not nearly as defensive as the first Dark Souls. The reliance on hiding behind a shield in the first game put me off a bit and Dark Souls III does a much better job at catering to a range of play styles. I played as a sorcerer/swordsman hybrid, with a focus on light armour to allow me to dodge around. This served me pretty well and I didn’t feel the need to play the heavily armoured knight the series is probably best known for. That said, this isn’t Bloodborne and trying to play it like it was got me killed more than a few times. As the game progressed I came to enjoy the combat more and more and think that Dark Souls III may have one of the best combat systems I’ve ever encountered. On a purely mechanical level, Dark Souls III is extremely satisfying and lacks the clunkiness which put me off the first game. I can’t not mention the bosses, which are generally outstanding. There are a few which are focused on spectacle over challenge, which is fine as the spectacle is generally brilliant, but some of these bosses are brutal. I personally found Dark Souls III much harder than Bloodborne, but this probably says more about my preferred play style than anything else.

Whilst the environments in Dark Souls III are varied and interesting, they lacked the sense of cohesion and dense layering that made Bloodborne and (from what I’ve heard) the first Dark Souls so special. Partially for plot reasons, Dark Souls III is a bit of a mishmash, but there weren’t any moments of stunning short cut unlocking that were so exciting in Bloodborne. I’ll never forget travelling through the woods, crawling through the poison cave filled with giants, climbing a massive ladder and finding myself in the graveyard just outside Iosefka’s clinic from the start of the game. That’s not to say that the environments don’t sometimes fold back in on themselves in interesting ways, but all told Dark Souls III is a more linear experience that I was perhaps hoping for.

Dark Souls III is a supremely pretty game with a wonderfully melancholic and sinister art style. The monstrosities you face are suitably horrifying and the locations oppressive, but there are moments of genuinely breathtaking beauty. Emerging from some truly horrible dungeons and caverns into a new beautiful location is an emotional and oddly stirring experience and Dark Souls III has a couple of those moments. That said, I missed the cohesiveness of Bloodborne’s Yharnam. Sure, there was variety of Bloodborne, but everywhere was recognisably connected and afflicted by the same curse. This helped Yharnam stand up alongside settings like Rapture as one of the most compelling videogame cities I’ve ever explored. Dark Souls III doesn’t have that sense of overall coherence, making the setting of Lothric less compelling for me. The music is wonderful and the general sound design sublime. Running at a consistent frame rate on PS4, Dark Souls III is sumptuous and beautiful game.

Dark Souls III is a wonderful game that only suffers for following on from one of the best games of all time. From Software have created something truly unique in this series and they’re a company who I’ll now be following with great interest.

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The Star Diaries by Stanislaw Lem

I’m in the midst of an epic series run at the moment so decided to take a break with something a bit different. I love me some old fashioned science fiction, but until now had never looked at Stanislaw Lem, one of the most legendary figures of the genre. I’m glad I have now as The Star Diaries is a fun, bizarre and striking work whose influence I can now retroactively see ripple through the genre.

The Star Diaries is a collection of short stories, all focusing on famous space adventurer Ijon Tichy. Tichy’s adventures range from the ridiculous to the profound and include things which later became science fiction staples, such as closed time loops and post-humanism. A few of the best involve an attempt to re-write human history to be more peaceful which goes amusingly wrong, a world where human body modification has produced a bizarre and disturbing society and Tichy’s appearance with a delegation to beg for humanity’s admittance to a Galactic government.

One of the most striking things about The Star Diaries is how ahead of its time it is. The best stories choose an idea and pursue them with a dogged determination. Lem’s reputation as a philosopher means that these stories can get a bit didactic, with lengthy scenes of people recounting their world view and perspective to Tichy. There’s an impressive variety; some stories are essentially a vehicle to allow Lem to explore his philosophical ideas and some are simple daft fun. The best ones are those which combine both and The Star Diaries contains some really funny moments. There’s more than a little The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy here.

Tichy is a fun protagonist to follow, being generally competent but not nearly as much as he thinks he is. This isn’t really a story about characterisation and there isn’t much coherency to the setting. The Star Diaries isn’t about this though and is more interested in pursuing its themes to a ruthless degree.

The Star Diaries is a strange, challenging book which manages to also be a lot of fun. I haven’t read much old school sci-fi recently. I read a lot in the past, in fact I did my dissertation on Isaac Asimov. The Star Diaries may just be the book to persuade me to get back to it.

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The Tyrant’s Law by Daniel Abraham

The Dagger and Coin series is highly readable and rather compelling and this continues in the very good third book The Tyrant’s Law. The pace and trimming of the standard fantasy fat remain the clear advantages and we begin to see a bit of wider world building to address one of the series’ weaknesses.

The Tyrant’s Law has four protagonists, the first being the titular tyrant himself, Geder Palliako. After the attempted coup by Dawson Kalliam in The King’s Blood, Geder has become paranoid and conjured delusions about a conspiracy in the Timzinae nations to the east of Antea. Buoyed by the stunning Antean victory is Asterilhold, the reach of the spider goddess continues to spread. In the Imperial capital Camnipol, Clara Kalliam, widow of the martyred Dawson, begins to sow the seeds of a rebellion against Geder’s rule as she learns to live among, and love, the common people of the city. In the Southern Timzinae city of Suddapal, Cithrin bel Sarcour continues her training with the Medean Bank, but the spectre of Antean aggression under the command of her former lover Geder hangs over her. Finally we have Marcus Wester and Kit travelling to the southern continent to find a sword which can kill the spider goddess and end her influence on the world.

The snappy pace which defines this series continues very well here, even if The Tyrant’s Law doesn’t quite contain as many shocks as the previous two books. The ancient past of the Dragon Empire begins to come into a bit more focus, with a promise of further world building in this regard for the future books. The best storylines belong the Geder and Marcus, with Geder’s utter self delusion and conviction that he is a great hero being fascinating to watch. Marcus and Kit’s storyline is mostly a pleasantly old fashioned story about finding a magic sword, which winks at the tropes without being annoying. Clara’s storyline is interesting and probably the slowest, but watching her learn how to be an individual without Dawson is satisfying and touching to watch. Cithrin doesn’t quite have as much to do and has probably the weakest storyline, which is mostly focused on reacting to what Geder is doing. These books seem to always have one storyline that doesn’t quite live up to the others, in The King’s Blood it was Marcus, but it’s still all very good.

The effortless way Abraham propels you through the pages is extremely impressive. In terms of sheer readability Abrahams is almost unparalleled and it’s impossible not to find yourself barreling through the book, buoyed by effortless and unpretentious prose. This lightness can have the downside in meaning that more grandiose moments can fall a bit flat, but I’d take this over something that is entirely grandiose any day (I’m looking at you Thomas Covenant).

The characterisation remains strong, with Geder remaining a genuinely unsettling protagonist and villain. I’ve fawned over Geder in reviews for the previous two books so won’t do it again here. Clara Kalliam emerges as one of the best characters; now fully out from under the shadow of her husband Dawson, Clara is allowed to develop into a unique and interesting character. A middle aged widow rediscovering her youth and sexuality is not typical fantasy fare, but Abrahams handles it deftly and makes it feel just as interesting as the quest to murder a malevolent spider goddess.

The Tyrant’s Law is another strong instalment in The Dagger and Coin series. It doesn’t quite propel the plot as far as The King’s Blood did, but the ‘middle book slump’ which plagues fantasy doesn’t appear to be present here. I’m looking forward to carrying on with the series, although with new Steven Erikson and Joe Abercrombie books on the horizon it may not be for a while.

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Bloodborne: The Old Hunters for PS4

Bloodborne is one of my favourite games of all time, which is quite odd as most of my other favourites are from my childhood and seeped in nostalgia. Bloodborne got under my skin and affected me in a way that games simply don’t as a 25 year old man. Even recent games which I utterly adored, like The Witcher 3, didn’t affect me as much as Bloodborne. Playing Bloodborne for more than an hour often resulted in strange, unsettling dreams. It’s clear that Yharnam has it’s hooks in me. I actually rationed the DLC, playing it over the space of months, because I couldn’t bare to be done. Please make Bloodborne 2.

The Old Hunters sees the player cast into the Hunter’s Nightmare, where blood drunk hunters are pulled if they seep too far into depravity. This is the final resting place of legendary Healing Church figures such as Lawrence and Ludwig, but it holds a dark secret about an atrocity committed in the early days of the Church, with many figures in the Nightmare are desperate to keep hidden.

I love the lore and story of Bloodborne. I read an entire 107 page e-book analysis of thenplot for crying out loud (The Paleblood Hunt by Redgrave, it’s brilliant). The Old Hunter builds and develops the story in some interesting ways and casts light on some of the most enigmatic and fascinating figures in the game, such as the Plain Doll, Gehrman and Ludwig. Of course, it’s all still very obscure, but the strange power that suffused the main game is absolutely present in The Old Hunters.

Fundamentally, The Old Hunters is more of the same. There are loads of new weapons, although I didn’t really experiment with these much. I’m too stuck in my ways with my +10 Ludwig Holy Blade. It’s a shade more linear than the main game, which is inevitable considering that this is more of a bite sized Bloodborne chunk, but the environments are still complex and fold back on themselves in interesting ways. The boss fights are cool, which vary from slow heavy hitters to the furiously aggressive. The final boss of the DLC is an absolute nightmare, probably the hardest in the game. In fact, the difficulty is higher all round.

The Nightmare is a realm that we didn’t explore much in the main game, only really in the Nightmare Frontier and Mensis and its twisted proportions are fun to explore. I think a Bloodborne sequel built around free travel between the ‘real’ world and the Nightmare could be very interesting and offer a twist on the somewhat familiar ‘Soulsborne’ formula. Everything is very horrible and unsettling, with the final section being somewhere entirely unlike anywhere else in the game. The boss designs are stunning and The Old Hunters’ has some of the best music in the game.

Bloodborne is a masterpiece and The Old Hunter’s simply adds more to it. If you liked Bloodborne this is worth a go and if you love it as much as I do it’s essential.

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