Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, Writer, Possessed by Cats

Category: Reviews (Page 2 of 3)

Dishonored 2 – Initial Impressions

I am a gamer. It is one way for me to blow off steam and to escape from the muse when she won’t leave me alone. One of the games I purchased based on a recommendation from my son was the original Dishonored. It took me a while to get into the game. Stealth games aren’t ones I usually do. I’m more of a kick down doors and shoot/stab everything in sight. But, once I finally sat down and got into the game, I found it to be every bit as great as my son had said. Since then I have replayed it several times, looking at the differences between the high chaos and low chaos gameplay/plot.

So, when Dishonored 2 Limited Edition – PlayStation 4 became available for pre-order, I didn’t hesitate. I placed my order and began to anxiously await the release date. That date is officially today but, because of the pre-order, I received my copy of the game yesterday.

Now, I ordered the physical copy instead of the digital download. Even so, as with so many games these days, there was still a huge download that had to be done before the game was playable. As I waited for the download to finish, I did a little research to see what the initial reactions to the game happened to be. (Note, even though the link above is for the PS4 version, I have the PC version.) What I found was that there were a number of PC users who were having problems with the game. Worried, I checked my stats against the minimum requirements and breathed a sigh of relief. Until others started saying they had rigs similar to mine but who were having problems with things like slow cursor movement, frame rate slowing to a crawl, etc.

But I wouldn’t panic. I kept reminding myself that this rig is less than a year old and has no problem playing any of my other games. Still, once the download was done and as I started the new game, I worried. I’ll even admit to holding my breath. Which might not have been a good thing since the load screen is longer than I anticipated. VBEG

From the beginning, it became clear that the devs wanted to make Dishonored 2 a good game. There is a tutorial with Corvo and Emily to reacquaint you with basic movement and combat controls. You can skip it if you want but I recommend you go through it because there are a few minor changes. Then you get into the story. I’m going to try to be spoiler-free, so I won’t comment too much on the story. I will say this, if you have not played the Doud DLCs for Dishonored, do so.

Also, it doesn’t matter which way you played Dishonored. Unlike Mass Effect, where you choices had an impact on the following games — except when it came to the end of ME3 — the devs and writers for Dishonored 2 have devised their own canon which appears to basically follow the low chaos version of the game. (At least, that is how is seems so far.)

For this first playthrough, I am playing as Emily. I am also trying to go low chaos — of course, that is hard to do in the first chapter, before she gets her powers. Besides, I can’t help being a bit pissed off for her. So if I killed a few of the bad guys, I felt they deserved it. (Okay, I’m a bloodthirsty bitch.)

I will admit that I’m having a hard time adjusting to the new voice actor for the Outsider. There was something sinister about the original Outsider’s voice that is missing in the new one. However, it isn’t more than a little distracting. I’m sure that by the time I’m further into the game, I’ll have adjusted to it.

The heart makes a return this time as well. It still helps you find bone charms, etc., and it still gives insight into your surroundings. But there is a twist where it is concerned. One that can be a bit creepy if you let yourself think about it, especially if you are playing as Emily. I won’t say anything more — yet.

As for having problems with the game on the tech side, I haven’t. At least not yet. Frame rate seems to be running steady. I will say, if your rig is at the low end of the recommended stats, you will need to do some tinkering with your settings. The game can be a resource hog. But it is well worth it. The visuals are stunning. The story, at least so far, is interesting and I can’t wait to finish the work day so I can get back to it.

I will say to take you time, even in the first chapter when you are doing your best to avoid the bad guys. Explore the area. As with the original game, there are multiple routes you can take to get to your destination. But, if you take the time to look around, to go into buildings, etc., you will get a more complete gaming experience and more of the holes in the backstory will be filled quicker.

Over all, after playing the game for a couple of hours, it is everything I had hoped for a more. I have to give it to Bethesda and Arkane Studios for not dropping the ball. Of course, they may do just that later in the game but I am more than optimistically hopeful that they haven’t.

One word of warning. If part of your pre-order includes the free soundtrack download from Amazon, there is apparently a problem on Amazon’s end. The email you should receive says to refer to the download code — except there is none. Some folks tried downloading it and wound up being charged. Amazon is aware of the problem and working to fix it. For those who were charged, they are refunding the payment and giving them the appropriate download code. I’m going to wait a couple of days and see if they have the problem fixed. I recommend everyone else do the same.

Now, time to get to work so I can get back to gaming sooner, rather than later.

Fall has come and so have the shows to avoid

I’m not a big TV watcher. However, I spend most evenings in the den with my mother as she watches TV. Usually, I’m either gaming or writing and can ignore what’s on the boob-tube. Last night was the exception as we tried watching a couple of of the new shows that we had DVR’d earlier in the week.

First up was the remake of MacGyver. I’m old enough to have watched the original with Richard Dean Anderson when it was first run. I enjoyed the show for what it was, fluff. But it had humor and, more often than not, decent writing and acting. I wish I could say the same for the new version but I can’t. I was ready to turn it off after the first five minutes. Instead, Mom watched it through and that’s approximately 40 minutes of my life I will never get back.

As my friend Nicki put it on her blog this morning, there are few if any redeeming qualities to the new show. She hits it out of the park when she criticizes the acting, writing and directing of the show. Let me give you a few examples.

In the first few minutes of the show, Mac has infiltrated a society do in order to steal a weapon of some sort. Of course, he doesn’t really know what he’s stealing and his first real challenge is that he needs more than the single fingerprint he managed to lift from one of the bad guys. Oh, and in doing so, he goes from being a guest to one of the staff by simply removing his suit jacket. Then he wanders into the kitchen and knows exactly where to find the duct tape and other odds and ends he will need.

He finally manages to get into the “really secure room” and finds the object he was after — only to pull an Indiana Jones and lift it from its container only to discover doing so turns on an alarm (I was praying for a boulder to roll into the room and smash him by this point). In rushes the first armed guard — and Mac manages to avoid being shot by lifting a silver serving tray and holding it in front of him to stop the bullets.

Not once did the security type realize he was emptying his clip into a serving tray and shoot lower, which would have been center mass in Mac’s body, but Mac never showed the impact of the shots hitting the tray. Elbows locked, feet planted, he held that tray in front of him and not a single bullet penetrated or rocked him.

After beating that guard up, another comes in with two guns — guess he was the bigger, badder bad guy because he had two guns — who emptied both clips at Mac who jumped behind a sofa, iirc. When the now empty clips hit the floor, Mac was up and — yep, you guessed it — throwing the same silver tray he had used to block the bullets from bad guy number one as a frisbee to take out bad guy number two. Then, with the tube of biological whatever, he rushes to make his mistake. Only to have the really bad guy catch up with him and his team and shoot him and his girlfriend.

Oh how I was hoping that seeing Mac shot and falling into the water far below meant the show was over less than 10 minutes after it started.

But no. Now we find it was a flashback or something and Mac has been sulking — er, mourning — his girlfriend. Now his boss (and here is yet another slap in the face of the original. Then Mac and friends worked for a non-governmental agency. Now they are working for a really super secret governmental agency that some hacker chick who is in prison knows about and who they make a part of the team to take over for the girlfriend everyone thinks is dead even though no body was ever recovered) is there with a job for them. You guessed it, Mac is off to get back the biological whatever he lost in that first mission.

It doesn’t get any better. The final action sequence has Mac realizing he can’t stop the bomb in the back of a truck that is attached to the biological. So he grabs the seemingly fragile tube with the biological in it and creates a parasail of sorts to escape the speeding truck before the bomb goes off. Of course, he does wind up hitting the pavement hard and rolling but, miracle of miracles, the container holding the biological doesn’t break. Nor does Mac even check it before the military folks arrive with containment safeguards for it.

Not. Enough. Liquor. In. The. World.

The next one up in the DVR queue was Designated Survivor. I can say it was better than MacGyver but only because at least part of the cast could actually act. However, omg, there were problems with it.

The basic setup is that there is always one member of the Cabinet who does not attend the State of the Union Address in case something catastrophic occurs. In this case, it was Kiefer Sutherland who, we learn, had been asked to resign his post just hours earlier. He had decided to do so but had not yet told the president. So, while he is at some other location, watching the president’s speech on TV, the Capitol Building is blown to bits.

Now, the designated survivor is close enough to the Capitol that he can walk to the window and look outside and see the flames. Then he is bundled into a waiting SUV (along with his wife. His kids are elsewhere. Kids being the cute little girl who is too old for her own good and teenaged son who is the rebel and out selling drugs at a club) and taken — you guessed it — straight to the White House just minutes after the Capitol has gone up in flames.

Oookay, here is the first issue I had the show (we won’t discuss having the DS so close to the Capitol that they could be caught in the fallout if a dirty bomb went off or the fact he was above ground and not in a bunker somewhere). The White House is approximately 2 miles from the Capitol Building. If someone has just blown the hell out of the Capitol and you are still trying to figure out what is going on, I don’t think the Secret Service is going to rush you that close to what is effectively Ground Zero. That is especially true when another bomb is found in the rubble. What happened to checking to make sure there is no such danger at the White House?

The Sutherland character is pretty namby-pamby for most of the show. He grows a spine — maybe — after he hears a speechwriter railing against him being president while they are both in stalls in the bathroom. There is the obligatory evil military man who is already planning on removing Sutherland from office. After all, he wasn’t elected president.

Oh, and in the magic that is Hollyweird, they were able to locate and ID the president, the vice-president and all members of the Cabinet in attendance at the State of the Union in a matter of minutes because Sutherland is informed by his Secret Service escort that he is now president. Amazing how quickly a scene can be searched and forensics checked, isn’t it?

I will at least give this one another shot. As I said, the acting was better and I want to see how they handle most, if not all of Congress having been killed as well. As for MacGyver — nope. Not gonna watch that one again.

Sometimes the original really is better

(I am getting back to the blog. It’s been slow, more so than I wanted thanks to an upper respiratory bug that has kicked my butt for more than a week. The how-to series will continue next week.)

We currently live in an age where the so-called creative types in Hollywood, New York and London seem to be at an end of original ideas. Instead of new movies, TV shows or plays, we get retreads and “new treatments” of old favorites. Some work but, more often than not, these re-dos fall flat on their faces. Look up movies like “Land of the Lost” with Will Ferrell for an example of one that fell even more than flat.

Soon, the History Channel will redo “Roots“, the pre-eminent mini-series of the last century. I’m old enough that I can remember sitting in the living room with my parents watching the 8-night event. This new imagining of it will probably be good — at least it has a cast of actors who can, well, act. But I am worried about how it will be changed to fit the political and social commentary of today.

And that brings me to the reason for this post. Last night, I went to see Cabaret in Dallas. The Cabaret making the theater touring rounds today is not the Cabaret of then 1970’s or even of the 1990’s. Oh, much of the same music is there. It is still set in pre-war Berlin. The characters are the same, at least in name. But the differences. Oh, the differences.

I knew there would be changes. Those changes were what made the revival of Cabaret such a talked about show back in the ’90’s. The Emcee, the character immortalized by Joel Grey in the original staging and in the movie, was portrayed in the revival by Alan Cummings. Gone was the evil, asexual character, replaced by a character that was anything but asexual. More than that, the evil exuded in the original characterization was replaced by debauchery. For the first time, Cliff’s bisexuality was made clear as well. Different takes for a different generation.

Fast forward to last night. I went into the night wondering if I would like the show. I’m a follower of the adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Sure, you can improve something — and you should. But redoing something just for shock value isn’t my cup of tea. Still, curiosity had me going in and hoping I would enjoy the performance.

And I did, but with reservations.

Overall, it was a very good performance both vocally and when it comes to acting. But it felt like a watered down version of the musical. Gone was the haunting performance of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” The performance last night lost so much by being performed by one of the “working girls” instead of by the Aryan youth. As noted earlier, the evil that was the Emcee was missing and, with it, the sense of impending doom. Gone, too, was the 19 year old Cliff with his innocence. Instead, the male lead was older, wearier and more worldly. Worse, in my eye at least, Sally was broken from the beginning. There was no hope for her or in her and you knew it.

The result was a show where you knew from the onset that no one would get out unscathed. Worse, you knew the characters knew it as well.

But the major problem with this version of the musical is that despite some inventive and very effective staging, the heart was removed. By scaling back so much of the dialog and removing some of the songs, a lot of context is now missing. For those who aren’t familiar with the story and the time it’s set in, much of it would not make sense. I have to wonder if that is part of the reason the performance was one of the worst attended I’ve been at in recent years.

One thing the change in the Emcee’s character accomplished was the shock factor. Not in his sexuality. Not in his over the top performance. No, the impact moment came not when Sally returns to the Kit Kat Klub and sings “Cabaret”. That impact moment came just before the final curtain fell when the Emcee removes his leather coat so reminiscent of Gestapo coats to reveal the striped “pajamas” of someone sent to one of the death camps. Affixed on his top was the yellow badge marking him as Jewish and the pink triangle marking him as a homosexual. The ending moment was a flash of light, a jerk of his body and then he stood there broken and dead and no one in the audience could doubt what it meant.

But that came almost as an afterthought. The whole impending doom of the growth of Nazi power in Berlin felt missing. The town was a character but its history had been diminished somehow.

Still, I find myself recommending the musical. The performances ranged from good to inspired. The vocals were excellent, even if the mikes needed to be adjusted a couple of time. But, if you go, don’t expect the Cabaret of Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey. If you aren’t familiar with the history of 1930’s Berlin, especially the time around Kristallnacht, grab at least the highlights. It will help you understand the backdrop of the play.

Houdini and Doyle – review

Earlier this week when I was setting up the DVR schedule for the family, I noticed a “new” show on Fox. Now, I’ll admit up front that I don’t watch much network TV and even less from Fox. But the title of the show, Houdini & Doyle, intrigued me enough to read the description and then to set the DVR to record. Last night, we sat down and watched the first episode.

The basic set-up is simple. In 1901 London, the Metropolitan police find themselves investigating certain cases that aren’t quite your run-of-the-mill crimes. Is there are real supernatural element to them or what? The police are stumped, so they call in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who most definitely do NOT want to write another Holmes mystery, and Harry Houdini. Doyle believes in the supernatural and Houdini does not. In fact, when brought in on the mystery of the murder of a nun, Houdini bets Doyle that he proves there is no supernatural element at all.

To round out our investigative team is Constable Adelaide Stratton. Our first glimpse of her finds her deep in the basement of the station, typing away. When she is brought to the chief constable’s office to be briefed, Houdini looks at her and dismisses her as “the help” — oh, he doesn’t say so outright, but he asks her to bring him a cup of tea. When the introductions are made, he is surprised to learn she is a “real” constable. This is the first of several encounters between Houdini and Stratton where Houdini proves himself to be an “ugly American”, crass enough to show he thinks women beneath men. Still, that is softened a bit in a scene where he is giving his mother a birthday party and his love for her softens him.

The mystery itself is entertaining. A young nun finds the first murder victim and sees what she thinks is the ghost of a young woman who, we are to learn, died as a result of ill-treatment of others there. While Houdini tries to find a mundane explanation for what happened — he leans toward robbery — Doyle looks at the supernatural, including visiting a medium (and we quickly learn this is not a new behavior for Doyle). Stratton sort of walks a thin line between them. She wants to prove herself to be as worthy as any man. Unfortunately, being female in a man’s world, that is a difficult road to hoe — as shown at the end of the episode when her supervisor tells her that he assumes she must be sleeping with Houdini since Houdini told him how well she had done on the assignment. Because of that, he would keep an eye on her and, as soon as he had proof, not only get her booted out of the constabulary but he would make sure she never found work as a copper again.

Overall, the episode was enjoyable but nothing earth shattering. The banter between Doyle and Houdini grinds at times. Doyle is a bit boring and stodgy with hints of something else, as in when he talks about the supernatural or when he goes to the medium. Those scenes give us more of his background, more of who he is, than anything else in this first episode.

Houdini is more than a bit of an ass. Cocky, condescending and more. Yes, he’s a talented magician or illusionist but there is no give to him, or at least not that we see until at least halfway through the episode. In some ways, he is the pesky little brother you wish big brother (Doyle) would beat into a pulp. Worse, the chemistry between the two didn’t really start to gel until the last third of the episode.

As for how the two main male characters deal with Stratton, Houdini basically dismisses her. Part of that, we begin to see later in the episode, is just him. He can’t admit someone might have been better than he at something, even if his life depends on it. An example of this occurs in the second half of the episode when Stratton saves Doyle and Houdini from drowning after they had been locked in to a flooding area. Houdini had been trying to pick the padlock and failing. Time was running out and along came Stratton to save them. When she points out that she did save his life a little later, Houdini’s response is to quip something along the lines of “my dear lady, I have been escaping water traps six times a week for years.” The dismissal is clear — but, by then, the viewer is starting to get that maybe, hopefully, it is more bravado than anything else. If not, Houdini is going to drive viewers away.

There is more connection between Stratton and Doyle. Not romantic and not sexual tension, at least not yet, but some understanding. That keeps her from becoming just the political and social mouthpiece for the show — although we do get a few quick speeches from her about women’s rights, etc.

The mystery is pretty good, although I figured it out before the reveal. The explanation of the “supernatural” element, which turned out to be mundane, was a bit of a stretch. Not because of how plausible or implausible it might be but because there was no real groundwork laid for it.

What will have me tuning in for the next episode was the very last scene of the show — was it groundwork for a change in opinion for Houdini or was it the foreshadowing of another mystery? Inquiring minds want to know.

Overall, I’d give the show a “B”. It has a great premise but has not lived up to its potential yet. If it doesn’t start picking up next week, it will be like most shows on network TV: watched once or twice and discarded as a waste of time.

We’ll see.

Review: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

I don’t often take part in beta tests for games. One reason is I don’t usually have time. Another is I hate opening my laptop up to software that hasn’t been fully tested yet. But when I had the opportunity to take part in the closed beta test for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – PlayStation 4, I jumped. Then I prayed I would be one of those lucky enough to be chosen. I was and I’ve spent several hours since then playing the opening sequences of the game as well as some optional missions.

All I can say is if the final game is as much fun as the beta test version, it is going to be a blast.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the game, this is the follow-up to Mirror’s Edge, one of the best games I’ve ever played. Considering this game is so very different from most everything else I play, that’s saying a great deal.

Short version, the game takes place in a quasi-dystopian future (funny how so many games take that approach — not). The main character, Faith, is a runner. Runners take to the rooftops and are the parkour heroes of the future. Mirror’s Edge was more a game of tactics and evasion than a run and shoot. I know a number of folks who played the game without ever using a gun and who prided themselves on trying to find ways through missions without engaging the enemy. And, no, this is most definitely not a stealth game.

Mirror’s Edge also had the advantage of having been written by Rhianna Pratchett. The follow-up, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – PlayStation 4 does not include Pratchett. In fact, much of the original team is gone. That could be problematic. Other games that have had such major shifts in personnel from one game to another have suffered. For the little bit we saw in the beta test, this one does not. Of course, I say that with reservation since the beta only lets us see a couple of missions.

So, what do I think about Catalyst? I loved it. The controls — and I was playing on PC — were intuitive and easy to get the hang of. I liked the fact that the tutorial wasn’t all at the beginning and staged as such. There was some character interaction and then “training”. Even after that, you received another mission which included some more training as well as completing a mission in the process.

Yes there were glitches. This was a beta test after all. The voice to video synching often reminded me of a badly — very badly — dubbed Japanese science fiction movie. The mouths would move and the subtitles would appear and then the voice would sound. Load screen sometimes froze or it felt like they did because it took forever to move from one to another. But it was nothing compared to some finished games I’ve played and hated.

This is a beautiful game. I wanted to spend time I don’t have just exploring the city. The fact that you can go off-track is something I enjoyed and I look forward to being able to do it in the finished product.

My recommendation is simple. If you enjoyed Mirror’s Edge, you need to check out Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – PlayStation 4. If you like games that let you use figure out the best way to get from Point A to Point B, this is your game. If you want to use your wits to avoid the enemy or if you want to confront the enemy, you can do it with Catalyst.

I don’t know about you, but I will be pre-ordering the game and waiting anxiously to be able to play the full game.

Review — Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate

I’ve mentioned before that my way of destressing from life and from writing is to game. There are times I thank my son for getting me into gaming and other times when I curse him. As I finish my first play through of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, I thank him. This has been one of the most entertaining games I’ve played in a long while.

First things first, I played this on  a PC. Most of my gaming is done this way these days. While there are a few games I’d like to play that are platformers only, there aren’t enough to justify buying yet another gaming system, much less two.

I’ve played other Assassin’s Creed games. Liked some, loved one and others left me pretty much going “meh”. I will admit going into Syndicate, I was more than a little leery. So much had been made of the fact that you could now play as a female for much, but not all, of the game. Then there was all the half-hearted cheering because Ubisoft had put a trans-gendered character in. There were cheers for having such a character but jeers because it was a non-playable character. (For those who haven’t played the game, or who didn’t read the bios in the database, I’m talking about Ned Wynert.) To be honest, other than making the world more representative, the fact Ned was a trans male didn’t play into the game at all.

Then there was the opening screen where Ubisoft welcomes players to the game. I groaned and wondered what I had gotten myself into when it came up. “Inspired by historical events and characters, this work of fiction was designed, developed, and produced by a multicultural team of various beliefs, sexual orientations and gender identities.” All sorts of visions of politically correct ideologies and feminist agendas filled my mind. Even when people whose opinions I trust said to play the game, I wondered if I had been led astray.

Without giving away spoilers, I will admit there was an inordinate amount of evil white males in the game. All but one of the mini-bosses, for lack of a better word, were male. Only a couple of the gang leaders you had to defeat were female. Evie Frye, the female protagonist, is more of a thinker and more worried about consequences than her twin brother Jacob, the male protagonist. In fact, Jacob is a bit of an ass and Evie spends a lot of the game “cleaning up” (her words) after him. That may have been the writer’s attempt to show sibling rivalry but it fell sort of flat to me. I would have preferred them working together rather than at odds with one another so much of the game.

Visually, the game is stunning. It captures the feel of Victorian England. My rig didn’t have any problem handling the specs and that was a definite plus.

The controls were easy to reacquaint myself with and I rarely ran into one of those lousy camera angle problems you get with so many games.

As for the media for the game, I chose to buy a physical copy. I purchased the Assassin’s Creed Syndicate – Gold Edition – PC. This included the game as well as the season pass. That meant I was immediately able to install the Jack the Ripper dlc and The Last Maharaja dlc downloaded last week. Unlike some of the problems the XBOX and Playstation gamers had with their gold edition downloads, I had no issues getting either. Also, buying it this way saved me more than $20. That is a big plus as is the fact you don’t have to play through Steam. Yes, it connects to Ubisoft but you can play off-line and it is easier to configure the game to do so than it is through Steam, imo.

As for the game itself, I enjoyed it a great deal. I have yet to play the World War I extension or the Jack the Ripper dlc, but the former can’t be played until you beat the game and the latter can be played any time. I did play The Last Maharaja and, while good, it isn’t the best dlc I’ve ever played. I am glad it came as part of the season pass and I didn’t pay another $10 for it. Still, you do get some goodies during the missions and as a result of completing the dlc. So it is well worth playing.

Admission time, I did not go for 100% completion. That’s a new one for me and I might go back later to do so. The problem for me is there were too many escort missions and the like. That sort of grinding, especially when you have already maxed out on leveling up, means you are grinding for nothing, especially if you don’t like those sort of missions.

What I did like was being able to switch between the characters of Evie and Jacob. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Evie was more of a stealth character while Jacob was more of the fight ’em and kill ’em. I found myself playing as Evie more often when I was able to choose which character to play. Ubisoft did, however, make it impossible to play as one character throughout the game. Some missions required one character while others demanded the other. That was something I enjoyed.

So, will I go back to play the WWI and Jack the Ripper sections? You bet. I want to see how Ubisoft handled the WWI bit since you play as a new character. From everything I’ve heard, the Jack the Ripper dlc is probably one of the best Ubisoft has done. Besides, the idea of playing the same character 20 years later intrigues me.

So, were there negatives to the game? Sure. I’ve yet to play a perfect game. From time to time, the vocals didn’t quite match up to the mouth movements, reminding me of a badly synced foreign film. During the final mission, Evie is out of her usual outfits (that you earn or buy) and in a ballgown. Clearly the game designers had issues with how she should move. They got the hip swish in but from the waist up, she was like a Barbie doll — little to no movement, arms at a weird angle, etc. But that was minor when compared to all the good in the game.

Some of the missions could get very frustrating if you were trying to hit the additional goals. Timing meant everything in those missions and after several desynchronizations in a row, it was tempting to simply kill the nearby enemy instead of trying to sneak past them. (Okay, I’ll admit I did that on more than one occasion.) There were times I wanted to reach through the screen and smack Jacob because you knew all the work you’d done with him to “help” someone would come back to bite him in the ass.

I’ll also admit that the final boss battle was a big let down. Not to the point of the original ME3 letdown but a letdown all the same. It was too easy and too quick.

I am hopeful that Ubisoft follows this up with another high quality game and have hopes that is what is happening since they aren’t rushing to put another game out right away. In the meantime, I will play the dlc and keep my fingers crossed.

Final recommendation: this is a must have for anyone who is a fan of the series. For those who haven’t played the series before, I recommend this as a great way to spend time in Victorian England.

 

Writing and editing and reviews, oh my!

I am head down, butt in chair busily working on the final edits for Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). As I’ve noted before, I had planned for this third book to be the end of not necessarily the series but this story arc. Of course, with my muse being evil, the plan changed and there will be one more book in this particular arc. What happens after that waits to be seen.

This is part of the joy and frustration in being a writer. Sometimes a story takes a turn you don’t expect, no matter how carefully you plot it out beforehand. I know plotters who will come to a complete standstill with a project when that happens. Me, I’m a hybrid between a plotter and pantser. I know the end point of the story and I know the main story points that need to happen between the start and the end. What I don’t always know is what comes between them — or when the plot will diverge for a bit before coming back to the main road. It can be a fun and frustrating ride, especially when a carefully planned series suddenly adds a book or two to it.

As I work on the edits, I am also making notes for Dagger of Elanna, the follow up to Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1). I am also working on finishing Skeletons in the Closet — and deciding if I will publish it as a single volume or as two or three smaller volumes. This weekend, I will be finalizing the print editions for the three books I’ve fallen behind on. In other words, I’ll be doing the business end of writing, the end I know I am the weakest at. That includes not only getting the print versions out but dealing with promotions, the accounts, etc.

I have also, as you can tell by the more frequent posts here, decided to use blogging as my morning writing prompt. I haven’t quite made it habit to do a new post every day but I’m getting there. The reality is, between my posts here, on Mad Genius Club and According to Hoyt, I am doing close to 10k words of blogging a week. So far it hasn’t cut into my writing and has, in fact, seemed to spark it. Maybe it is because it has gotten me back into a “work day” mentality. Perhaps it is because the blogs are my morning prompt and get the creative juices flowing. I’m not sure and I am keeping track. The moment I feel they start cutting in on my “real” writing, I will see what needs to be cut back.

Now, reviews. I don’t often read them. However, there are a couple of reviewers I always read when I get notice they have commented on my work. Sure, I go in cringing because I am always afraid they won’t like my baby. It’s foolish because both are ethical and believe in talking with an author before posting a negative review. I appreciate it and am relieved that neither have felt the needs to have such a conversation with me — yet.

The first of those reviewers, Cedar Sanderson, I linked to earlier this week when I reblogged her review of Slay Bells Ring. The second reviewer is Pat Patterson. Pat is one of those reviewers you want to get to know on a personal level. His reviews are honest and, as I learned in the first one he did for one of my books, laced with humor. He is a blogger as well as a reviewer and his blog always leaves me smiling or thinking or both. Most of all, I love the way he talks about his wife. He calls her his “gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother”. It is clear from every word he writes about her that he adores her. He has to. He read my paranormal books to her. Not many men would do that.  😉

Anyway, Pat’s review of Slay Bells Ring went live on Amazon yesterday. I don’t know if he will be adding it to his blog or not. I’m just thrilled to have it on the Amazon page. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (I am leaving in the link to Pat’s Amazon page so you can check out the rest of his reviews there. I also highly recommend you check out his blog, linked above.)

I want a series! Make it happen!, February 25, 2016
This review is from: Slay Bells Ring (Kindle Edition)
SLAY BELLS RING

Ferguson, Ellie; Green, Amanda S. (2016-01-14). Hunter’s Moon Press. Kindle Edition.

This is not a Christmas book!

I don’t care what you see on the cover, and I don’t care that the title is a goofy pun (and by goofy, I mean stupid). It’s not a Christmas book.

Now, Christmas does figure in to a wee, small, tiny, minuscule degree, in that it does establish a deadline for the protagonist to solve the murders before everyone’s schedule gets mixed up, but that’s it. It’s not a Christmas book.

Wait! I forgot one thing: it does provide an opportunity for bonding and healing through charming invitations to Christmas events. But that’s it, and I mean it this time. NOT A CHRISTMAS BOOK!

It’s a good, dare I say great book, though. I was drooling over it from the beginning, and that’s even before I got to the cuddly scene. (it’s a really nice cuddly scene, too. Just enough; not too much. Tasteful.)

Annie works for the district attorney in Austin, Texas, and is building a nice career, when she is called back home to Mossy Creek by her grandmother. It seems her aggravating and irritating mother has been arrested for murder; in fact, the police discover her clad only in her nightgown, standing over the body of the decedent, holding the murder weapon. And although no one who knows her mother would ever believe that she would commit such a tremendous social faux pas, no one would have believed that she would have been shacking up with an odious character like Spud Buchanan in the first place.

It is now time for me to pay homage to an author skilled in her craft. We know from the very beginning that Annie is a highly competent lawyer, and that the main reason that she had to leave for Austin was to get away from her mother. I had every expectation of reading chapters filled with the details of conflict between mother and daughter.

It doesn’t happen. Not once. The story unfolds seamlessly, we are introduced to characters from Annie’s past, as well as people she is meeting for the first time; we understand clearly where everyone stands on the issues; and we never hear one single word of vicious, nasty, catty, ugly infighting. Not only does this, in retrospect, seem like a refreshing brain cleanse, it also paves the way for realistic scene of reconciliation.

I really like Annie’s character. She is smart, highly skilled, tough when she needs to be, and she gratefully accepts the help that is offered her, even though it is often unexpected. Now, Mossy Creek is a pretty sedate town, so she may not have a lot of adventures ahead of her; on the other hand, Jessica Fletcher never seemed to suffer for mayhem in Cabot’s Cove.

Awesome review

Cedar Sanderson, one of my cohorts over at Mad Genius Club, published a review of Slay Bells Ring yesterday on her blog. I always hold my breath when Cedar, or anyone else for that matter, reviews my work. Like most writers, I am my own worst critic. The means I halfway expect an honest reviewer — which Cedar is — to see all the faults I do, even if many of those faults are in my head. So, when she posts a favorable review, I want to do a happy dance.

Anyway, here’s her review. For other reviews, as well as posts about writing, art and food, be sure to check out her blog.

Review: Slay Bells Ring

So this is a Christmas book, sort of, and it’s chick-lit, sort of. Or at least that’s what you might think when you first picked it up. Sure, it’s set at Christmas time. But why not read about the festive season year round? And sure, the main character is a woman. But that’s where you’d be wrong to dismiss this book. It’s a fun murder mystery with characters who will win you over if you take the time to sit down and read this one.

Juliana Grissom is a lawyer who left her small-town background and never looked back. It wasn’t that there was trouble in her past, no, it was that her family was back there and they all wanted her to come home and fit into the pre-determined fate they wanted her to fulfill. But when she gets the call that her air-head mother has been accused of murdering the one man Juliana knows her mother hates, she doesn’t have a choice. She’s got to go home again, even if it means losing her big-city job, taking up the inheritance she didn’t suspect, and worst of all… interrogating her mother about her sex life.

Slay Bells is a fun, fluffy read with a zany mustery that will go in directions you don’t expect. It’s got heart-warming moments, and a bit of romance, but mostly it’s about family, and coming home again, whether you want to or not. Ellie Ferguson, the penname of Amanda Green, delivers the goods if you enjoy cozy mysteries with a side of wit and wisdom. You might not like them, but they are family, and when the chips are down, they are the ones you can rely on.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

star-wars-force-awakens-official-poster-691x1024Yesterday saw a return to a tradition Mom and I hadn’t observed in some several years. No, not Christmas. For years, we would go see a movie after opening presents, having a huge meal and needing time to get out of the house and relax for a bit. Attendance varied from Mom, myself and my son to sometimes include several members of our extended family. For the last few years, real life seemed to keep us from our Christmas Day trek to the theater. Yesterday, that changed. Mom got the two of us tickets to see the new Star Wars movie at our local Movie Tavern and, much to my surprise, in 3-D.

Now, if you don’t want spoilers — and I am going to try to keep them to a bare minimum — don’t read any further. I won’t promise not to spill some of the plot simply because it is difficult to talk about how I felt about the movie without talking a few specifics.

I’ll start with the theater itself. Our local Movie Tavern is in its last throes in its current location. In a month or so, it will move to a newer, more modern location in the same shopping center. So some of the amenities at the theater are, well, a bit run down. But that didn’t take away from the excellent service and comfortable seats. Add to the fact we chose a time to see the movie when most folks were still doing their family Christmas lunch/brunch/whatever, and the theater was probably only 3/4 full. (Note: the line was already starting for the standard def showing an hour and a half after our showing.) Good food and brew was ordered and we settled back to watch the film.

I will admit I was a bit worried about seeing it in 3-D. It’s been years since I’ve been to a 3-D movie and all I remembered were the headaches and fuzzy images, even with the funky glasses. Whether we hit the right position in the theater or technology has improved or both, I left with neither the headache nor grousing about fuzzy images or the inability to focus where the action was. There were a couple of times when objects seemed to come into view from my peripheral vision, there were no real “oh crap!” moments.

As for the movie itself, I went in with little in the way of expectations. I hated the prequels. Anakin Skywalker was, in my opinion, a spoiled, whiny brat. Then there was the stiff acting and even stiffer dialog. The fun of the original trilogy had been lost. With it, a generation of possible fans were left with a big “meh” because they saw the prequels in the theater but the original trilogy only on their home TVs where much of the awe was lost.

All I wanted was for The Force Awakens to be better than the prequels. After all, that shouldn’t have been that difficult. I doubted it would come close to the original movies. I even told myself to act as though I had never seen any Star Wars movie, read any of the books or seen any of the other related media.

Maybe I was helped by the fact that I haven’t read a great deal in the Expanded Universe. So I wasn’t as invested in what came before, especially once Disney announced that the EU would no longer be canon. Maybe, as a writer, I realize that what is written often bears little resemblance to what winds up on screen. Still, I had stood in line to see Star Wars on its opening day. I did the same with Empire Strikes Back and with Return of the Jedi. So there is a bit of a fangirl in there that can’t be denied.

J. J. Abrams drew me in with the familiar. When the scroll started across the screen and the fanfare began, I settled back and waited, hoping not to be disappointed. I smiled when the first few scenes brought memories of the first movie. Oh, it’s not a remake but there are echoes there to be seen. That is part of what I liked. It gave it a sense of familiarity.

I loved seeing Han Solo and Chewbacca back together again, wise-cracking and growling and howling. Han was older and grayer and even more worn — as he should be. You know there is a backstory to the two of them, especially when it comes to the Millennium Falcon, and you want to know what it is (don’t fret. You’ll get at least part of it during the course of the movie.) Princess Leia, now General Leia Organa, wears her years and her worries on her face and in her posture. I have to give it to Carrie Fisher for not having major work done and the studio for not doing major Photoshopping to make her look 20 years younger. She looks the appropriate age for the time that has passed since Return of the Jedi.

It was interesting to know that not all stormtroopers are created the same. Finn’s backstory, as it unfolds and you have to listen carefully for it, gives some hints into the changes between what we last saw with Return of the Jedi and (gag) Revenge of the Sith. I’m curious to find out what else will be revealed in the subsequent movies.

Odd little things I noted as I watched the movie was that I saw more female pilots for the Resistance that I remember seeing before. There is one notable female stormtrooper — Captain Phasma. I have a feeling we may be seeing her again and our heroes will rue that day, should it come. She didn’t strike me as someone you’d want to piss off and, well, they did. Now, I’ll admit that I don’t sit in a movie trying to figure out if the casting director got the right proportion of sexes and races and whatever. However, it was nice to see a more representative mixture in some of the scenes because crowds should not be one-dimensional, especially in a future where we have so many different species and races, etc.

My one disappointment was, to be honest, the villian. Kylo Ren in a lot of ways reminded me of Anakin (yes, yes, I know. There is a reason — maybe, kind of, sort of. Nope, not going there.) He pitches fits any pouty, spoiled 13 year old would be proud of. That weakened him, in my opinion, especially since there were times when he could have given us more evil and didn’t. Of course, I know why some of this is (it’s revealed in the movie) and can guess other reasons. Still, that sense of evil we had from Darth Vader and the Emperor wasn’t quite there in the new movie.

My pleasant surprise was Rey. I’ll admit to being worried about her. From what I’d read, Rey is Daisy Ridley’s first major role. That is always something to worry me. How will a relative unknown handle the leading role in a movie such as this. I am pleased to say she didn’t disappoint. Is she a great actress? No. But she was much better at conveying her character than either of the leads in the prequels were. At least I felt that way.

Now, in case you’ve read the reviews and posts saying she is a Mary Sue, I can say this. Yes and no. Yes because things do happen that make it so she can prevail, in a way, at the end. But then, if you look at that sort of plot manipulation as Mary Sue-ing it, so was Luke Skywalker. However, a lot of the criticism falls short when you really look at the specifics. I’ve seen reviewers and bloggers complain because Rey knew how to pilot a certain ship when all she was was a junk collector. First, we have already seen her piloting a skimmer-type of vehicle. Second, when she and Finn are racing to a ship to make their escape, she says she is a pilot and then, when they get to the second ship you can see her fumbling and making guesses as to what to do. And, hey, if the world is blowing up around me, I’d find myself a ship and try my best to get off, even if I’d never flown anything like it before.

Then there is the criticism about how she was suddenly able to fight with a light saber. Those complaints claimed she was “proficient” with it and was, again, being a Mary Sue. Well, if you have ever trained with sword or staff, you would see how wrong their complaints were. Yes, she activated a light saber — but so had another character earlier, also someone who had not been trained in its use. Yes, she fought with the light saber and she did eventually win. However — and this is a big however — if you looked at her fighting style and compared it to earlier scenes in the movie where she was fighting with her staff, you would see that she fought with the light saber in much the same way as she had the staff. No proficiency and a lot of blundering and stumbling as she figured it out.

One last criticism that I’d seen before going to the movie was about the culmination of the fight between Rey and Kylo Ren. It ends in what is basically a draw (although one was winning by that time) when a fissure in the ground opens between them. Oh, the cries of Mary Sue again by some bloggers. Nope. Not really. We had already seen fissures opening up and the reason for it. Sure, J. J. Abrams could have insisted the fight come to an end but, had he done that, there wouldn’t really be any need for future movies.

As for the denunciation of the Expanded Universe as canon, that was Disney’s call when it bought the rights to Star Wars. However, if you pay attention, you can see the movie tipping its hat to the EU in several places. I won’t say where, not yet because I’ve already come too close to spoilers as is. But if I, someone who didn’t follow the EU after the first few years, could see them, the real fans of the EU should be able to as well.

Over all verdict, a fun movie that kept me entertained for the duration. I didn’t look at my watch once and even my mother, who isn’t a real fan of the series, loved it. The Force Awakens is definitely much better than the prequels, in my opinion, even if it doesn’t quite rise to the level of A New Hope and definitely not to Empire Strikes Back. If you can suspend memory of the prequels and go in not expecting too much, you should enjoy it. I did and I will be going back later this week with a friend. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, I missed the first time through.

 

Bioware brings Dragon Age Inquisition to an end

I have a confession to make. It’s not a new one. Anyone who has followed me here or on Mad Genius Club knows my secret. I’m a gamer. It started innocently enough. When my son was young and all his friends had Playstations and Xboxes, he wanted one too. I relented, finally, when prices came down to something resembling reasonable. The only caveat I put on his gaming was that I had to play the game first. It was the same rule I had for movies. He was young enough that I wanted to know what he was going to see or play so I could talk with him about it if he had questions or comments.

Checking out games to make sure they were appropriate for him soon turned into a bonding exercise between the two of us. We gamed together. As he got older, we discussed games, and gaming systems. Which game was better on what system. Then we got into gaming on our PCs and that added a whole new level of discussion. Was it better to game on a system or on the PC? What needed to be done to upgrade the PC to play the latest generation of games? Yes, we became a gaming and techie household.

Well, my son is an adult now and we are both still gaming and talking about what games we play, what platform we play them on and what games are coming out. I don’t remember if I turned my son onto Dragon Age Inquisition (Deluxe Edition) – PC when it came out or if he turned me onto it. Not that it matters. What does is that Bioware redeemed itself in my eyes after the debacle that was the ending of Mass Effect 3 Digital Deluxe Version [Download]. (No, I don’t think the ending of ME3 was as bad as some of the fans do, but I will admit it could have been handled better. After all, it basically did away with the decisions we had made through three games. That didn’t sit well with many of the fans.)

For those of you unfamiliar with Bioware games, one of the strength of those games has always been the story. From Jade Empire to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic to the Mass Effect Trilogy to the three Dragon Age games, story and characters have kept gamers returning and, more importantly, demanding more. All you have to do is look at the discussions that have gone on since the ME3 was released and speculation about what the next Mass Effect game might be.  Yes, I am one of those anxiously awaiting Mass Effect: Andromeda and hoping that Bioware continues building on the legacy of Mass Effect and doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel.

Anyway, back to DA:I.

If you aren’t familiar with DA:I, this is how Bioware describes it:

A cataclysmic event plunges the land of Thedas into turmoil. Dragons darken the sky, casting a shadow over lands on the brink of chaos. Mages break into all-out war against the oppressive templars. Nations rise against one another. It falls to you and your allies to restore order as you lead the Inquisition and hunt down the agents of chaos.

Explore, lead, and battle: Tough choices define your experience, and even one decision can change the course of what’s to come.

It’s fun. The combat can be challenging and it has, in my opinion, a high replay value because of the different classes you can play as as well as the different choices you can make during the game.

Even without the DLC packs, DA:I is a game that can keep you busy for tens, if not hundreds, of hours in a single playthrough. You can simply do the main mission quests or you can do all the side quests. Then there are all the “collectibles” you can go after. Yes, some of it does come down to simply grinding as you try to find the right group of bad guys to beat so you get the valuable you need to finish this side quest or that but, unlike so many games, grinding isn’t required to progress through the game.

There are three single player DLC missions for the game. The first,Dragon Age: Inquisition – Jaws of Hakkon [Online Game Code], was an interesting mission, taking players to new areas and giving them some challenges battles. The mini-boss near the end of the DLC was, to me, more difficult to defeat than the final boss. As with the main game, there are storyline missions, side missions and grinding if you want. Overall, I enjoyed Jaws of Hakkon and found it challenging enough to keep me interested.

The second DLC, Dragon Age: Inquisition – Jaws of Hakkon [Online Game Code], was less satisfying to me. Yes, it introduced a couple of new characters, non-playable but companions during the quest. Yes, we got to return to the Deep Roads, one of the more interesting areas we’ve visited in the Dragon Age universe. But the plot was only meh, in my opinion, and it felt too linear and felt like one big grinding exercise. No, that’s not quite right. It felt rushed. Yes, when I finally go back to do another playthrough of DA:I, I will play this DLC, not for the plot but for the items you can grab along the way.

The final DLC, Dragon Age: Inquisition – Trespasser, was released yesterday. It isn’t as long as the previous DLCs and that could be seen as a detriment since it costs the same as the others. However, I didn’t care. This DLC did exactly what Bioware promised. It brought DA:I to a close and it set the stage for the next Dragon Age game (please let there be another one).

trespasser

Trespasser takes place two years after the end of the events of DA:I. It is your chance to find out what happened after the breach was sealed and peace came to Thedas (Of course, peace is never long-lived in that world). The basic starting point is that the Inquisition, which had been welcomed for its help in closing the breach and driving off the bad guys, is now seen as a danger. It is too big, too independent and too well armed. So a conclave has been called to determine what is to become of the Inquisition now.

Once again, you play as the Inquisitor. You have the chance to interact once again with your companions from the main game. But trouble is afoot. That becomes clear very quickly. So, while you leave your advisors to deal with the icky political aspect of what is happening, you and your companions go haring off to some new and some familiar locations in an attempt to track down not only who is behind the trouble but learn why they are doing it.

No, I’m not going to give spoilers here. Just know that this DLC, which I played through in about 4 hours, answers a lot of questions left from the main game and other DLCs. Heck, it even answers a few questions from the first two games. While it does give closure to the game — and you get to choose what will happen to the Inquisition and see the near future consequences of that decision — it also leaves questions open, questions that could be the seeds of the next Dragon Age game. It left me wanting to play the next game when it comes out because there is no doubt Thedas will soon be facing its greatest threat yet.

As I write this, part of me is sad to see the game come to an end. While we might not have seen the backstory of our Inquisitor like we did with Hawke in Dragon Age 2, the Inquistor and companions in DA:I are characters I want to see more of. Perhaps they will make appearances in the next game. But, that is not guaranteed. One character that has been with us since the first Dragon Age game is talking about retirement. Another, one we’ve known since the second game, has been — much to my surprise — raised to a position of political power. A third, who we were also introduced to in the second game, may or may not be the new Divine, depending on decisions you made during the main DA:I game.

Yet, sad that I am to have DA:I over, I have to applaud Bioware for how the did it. The decisions I made during the main game and other DLCs mattered and had an impact on the decisions and outcome of this final DLC. Because of that, and because of the quality of the not only the plot and lore in this last DLC but also the graphics, I give Dragon Age: Inquisition – Trespasser a thumbs up. It is a must for every fan of the game.

One last thing, watch through the credits for what very well may be a hint about where the next Dragon Age game will take place.

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