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Magic Duels Review

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Why has “free” become synonymous with “bad”?

2002 called; they want their graphics back.
2002 called; they want their graphics back.

It’s no lie that the Magic video games have been declining in standard since…well, since the first Duels of the Planeswalkers in 2011. I think I am going to largely be repeating myself from my Magic 2015 review last year, which was filled with anger and distain, but I feel that the points need to be repeated.

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It’s true that Magic Duels, this year’s instalment in the Magic video game series, is free. That’s an instant plus. It seems like a tactical move, since the release and success of Blizzard’s Hearthstone, which I am largely inclined to download. And of course, as with any free game, there is a ‘pay to win’ feature. Well, I guess they have to make their dollars somehow… So what do you get from Duels if you don’t want to spend any moolah? Firstly, you have a story mode. Using the current ‘origins’ theme as inspiration, the story mode follows the awakening and subsequent sparks of some of the main Planeswalkers we know and love – Gideon, Jace, Lilliana, Chandra and Nissa. Each character features five (I think) battles using a premade deck that gets better as the campaign goes on. It’s a nice idea, and the stories are mildly interesting despite all being somewhat similar. The decks that you play with aren’t anything special and are actually pretty dull, notably Gideon’s. Additionally, the AI opponents that you fight are as easy as your mother, and don’t serve a real threat. As such, you can complete the campaign in a couple of hours tops. Each win awards you with some coins, which I will come back to later, and at the end of the campaign you are rewarded with a speechless short film that looks like it was made for an early PS2 game, and nothing else. You don’t even unlock the mediocre deck to play with. Not even a “well done!”. Hell, not even a stinking achievement besides Gideon! Gideon’s campaign, whilst on the subject, serves as the incredibly arduous tutorial, which, you know, is great if you have never played Magic the Gathering before, but if you know what you are doing then you just have to listen to the patronising lady voice (who may well be the same patronising lady voice from Magic 2015!) telling you how to make simple moves. Agh.

Nice filler though.
Nice filler though.

Once you have exhausted the campaign, you can participate in one v one battles with AI opponents, ranging from easy to medium to hard, or, as I like to call it, easy to slightly harder to you might lose a creature. There is no difficulty spike in this game. Enemy decks are completely randomised it seems, as I had a hard comp that just played lands until I killed him. No challenge whatsoever. So what about playing against other players? Firstly, you can participate in one v one fights against a random player across the globe by hitting the button and waiting for one of the six other people online to respond. Also, they have graciously brought back a two headed giant mode, in which you and another random player across the globe fight two other guys by telepathically communication. That is to say, there is no way to communicate with your team mate or even other players in general. Literally nothing. Additionally, if a player disconnects, a notification will flash up, but blink and you will miss it. After that, you fight an AI in their place, with no aesthetic indication. As a result, if you happened to sneeze or look away for a second and your opponent quits, you may have no idea. Which is especially helpful when a large percentage of the other six players online rage quit when they’re losing.

And sometimes they take freakin' forever!
And sometimes they take freakin’ forever!

But what about the cards? You start off with a little starter pack that has some basic cards in. Playing matches unlocks coins. Coins unlock booster packs. Booster packs contain six cards (IKR?!) that you can include in one of your many decks. Completing the campaign will earn you enough to unlock around 5 boosters for you to open and enjoy. After that, you can earn coins by completing matches. However, a single booster costs 150 coins. An offline match win gives you 5/10/15 coins depending on the difficulty, where an online yields 20. As such, grinding for coinage becomes a tedious task, and once again our old pay to win friend comes a’knockin’; you can, if you so wish, spend IRL money to buy cards, which, obviously, some people do. However, seeing as the online community for this game seems dead before it’s even reached its toddler stage, it seems pointless. That, and I don’t want to spend money in a game like this. So to get tha’ good cards, you have to play tens of matches against either long, drawn out, effortless computer or grouchy, silent real life people. Editing decks is quite straightforward, and offers both a ‘basic’ and ‘advanced’ mode. This allows you to tailor using the cards that you have won and/or bought. You can also autocomplete decks if you’re feeling lazy.

Most popular my arse.
Most popular my arse.

The interface, though an improvement on last year, is still a winding road of nonsense in some parts. For example, once you build your deck, you can change the name and art of it. To do this, you would think there would be a simple tab in the ‘edit deck’ region, but instead, you must go into your card choosy area, find the stats tab, and go from there. Why? Because.

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Magic Duels is a free game, so how much can we complain really? You’ll kill a few hours from it, but don’t expect anything that’s really worth while, unfortunately. Whether they will release future DLC or not I don’t know, but at the moment Magic Duels serves as a brief and aggravating pastime and nothing else. As I believe I said last year, if you want a good Duels game, check out the 2012 and 2013 instalments.

Oh there are also challenges that no one cares about.
Oh there are also challenges that no one cares about.
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Assassin’s Creed Unity Review

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Do you hear the people sing?289650_screenshots_2015-06-21_00006There’s a lot wrong with Assassin’s Creed: Unity. I mean, there is a lot right with it too…but there is a lot wrong. Now, I went into playing Unity all smug like, thinking “well, I have seen Les Misérables both on stage and on screen – I am totally in the know of the French Revolution. But, apparently, there was more than one – so where Les Mis is set in the early 1800s, Unity takes place during the 1790s. So, my knowledge on the historical events were limited, with the only historical figure I recognised being Napoleon. Oh, and Madame Tussaud makes an appeareance! Not that my lack of knowing is the game’s fault by any means – I mean, how were they supposed to know that my historical knowledge was limited? But it certainly makes you less invested in the story if you don’t really know who is who. Anyway, that is an irrelevant side note.download (4)Unity follows assassin Arno Dorian throughout his adventures in Paris. Arno’s story takes an interesting, different route from previous AssCreds; it focuses more on a unity (hey? hey?) between Assassins and Templars, as opposed to the usual “we have to find these deadly artifacts before they do!” approach some of the previous games take. Despite this interesting premise, Unity fails when it comes to deliverance. The story feels very disjointed and slow of pace, with the Revolution not actually kicking in until about half way through. There are some fascinating side characters – powdered faces, ludicrous wigs and what not – but most of the main cast are pretty bland, and many share similar facial features, making it quite difficult to distinguish between who is who. One of the best features of the plot is the love side story, which plays out nicely as the game progresses. Still, Unity, somewhat ironically when you think of the title, seems to stand very alone when compared to previous Assassin’s Creed games. Granted, we have just finished what is called the “Kenway Saga”, so naturally all of those games would link, but there is barely any reference to previous instalments (apart from unlocking past protagonists’ outfits), which, considering this is only set a few years after the Kenway Saga, is a bit disappointing. If you have played Rogue, you will know how its epilogue ties in nicely with Unity’s prologue – so it would have been nice to maybe feature Shay at some point during the game, even if he is an older man by then. There is also no ‘modern day’ section of the game, bar a few cutscenes, which is a shame because it was actually quite a fun little diversion going around and hacking computers, learning about Abstergo’s secrets. As a final point on plot, the trailer/promotional art would have you believe that Unity focuses on a troupe of young Assassins who work together having banterous fun and a cheeky Nando’s every now and then. This certainly is not the case in the story, unless this kicks in right at the end. There are several multiplayer missions scattered about, and the game puts a great emphasis on completing these (I have no friends so…), but nothing in the main story, unfortunately.download (2)This leads nicely onto my next point: sidequests. Fans of the Assassin’s Creed series will know that there is an abundance of activities to complete in each game. Unity is no different. Now, opinions on this may be mixed, but I believe that Unity offers too much. The map of Paris is lovely, large and lively, and absolutely infested with side activities like moles on my back. There are chests to open. Some are locked, which requires a certain degree of lockpicking skill, which can only be obtained after completing Sequence 5 or 9, depending on the skill level. Lockpicking is also incredibly boring and tedious. There are collectibles in the form of cockades; like Animus fragments in previous games, these are dotted across the map and serve no real purpose other than gotta catch ‘em all. There are murder mysteries, which are actually quite enjoyable, in which you take the role of a Batman-style detective. They range in difficulty from piss-easy to that-required-me-to-think-a-bit. There are assassination missions, which literally highlight a random poor bugger on the map and require you to go and kill him. Alongside this we also have “Paris Stories”, mini-missions that require you to complete a few little tasks for certain characters; nothing too special. Lastly, there are Nostradamus Enigmas. Nostradamus, being the enigmatic little seer that he was, has left clues around Paris in the form of riddles to unlock some uber armour (probably for aesthetic purposes only). I enjoy a good riddle, but some of these are ridiculous – it got to the point where I just looked them up. There are 18 in total, each with three riddles, which have you traipsing all over Paris. Again, a nice idea, but piled on top of everything else, it just becomes tedious. The fact that there is no real reward, bar some aesthetic differences, also makes all of these side quests lack incentive. In the Dead Kings DLC there are some similar riddles to unlock a hilariously OP sword, but that’s kind of it. Unless you’re an achievement hunter then it feels like a waste of time. Saying that, achievements are stored on uPlay (if you’re on PC), so what the hell is the point there?

I still had places to discover AND had already done a fair few side quests.
I still had places to discover AND had already done a fair few side quests.

Unlike its predecessors, Unity is a ‘new-gen’ game, and it certainly feels it. With a new art style which I have mixed feelings about (a bit like water painting), and an arguably improved freerunning mechanic (it’s a lot more fluid but also a lot more restricting…play and you will see what I mean), Unity feels like a slightly less intelligent big brother to its previous instalment siblings. The clunky controls are still apparent, making Arno very difficult to control at times. Combat has changed slightly too – it’s a lot more difficult, which is a welcome change. It now requires you to actually think what you are doing, as opposed to waiting for an opportunity to counter before engaging in a kill streak. There is a vast variety of weapons and armour to customise Arno with, but, again, this is a little overwhelming. In the weapons category, you have one-handed, two-handed, long weapons, pistols, rifles and (if you have Dead Kings) guillotine guns, which are pretty much grenade launchers with axes on. You can swap these around at any time by accessing the customisation menu, but due to the clunky route you have to take to get there, there isn’t too much point. The plus side is that you can make Arno into the type of fighter you want: will you go sword and pistol? Or perhaps a spear? Unfortunately, if you choose a weapon such as one from the rifle category, that serves as both your melee and your ranged, making combat limited. I just stuck with one handed sword and pistol, occasionally dabbling into heavy. There are also a finite number of skill points, so make sure you spend them in the category that is useful to you. Now, you can also customised every inch of Arno’s outfit, from hood to gloves to belt to pants. Well, not the last one, but close. Each item of clothing offers different stats and oh my gosh it’s just too much. If you’re really into customisation, then this is great for you, but unless I’m playing an RPG in which I can actually role-play with a character how I want, then it’s limited. I don’t care what gloves Arno wears. Additionally, various weapons and clothes have exactly the same stats – the appearance is just different. As mentioned, you can also unlock previous protagonists’ outfits, and a few others, that serve as a skin for whatever armour you are wearing.

download (5)Unity by all standards is a decent game, but it falls short in a lot of areas, and lacks where games such as Black Flag and Rogue succeeded. Ridiculous load times, various texture and clipping issues (and at one point, two characters kissed, and they didn’t touch, resulting then standing near each other with puckered lips making kissy sounds…), and other somewhat silly factors that really shouldn’t occur in such an established franchise stop this game from being great.

So much loading, it requires TWO load bars. But you do get an outstanding 60fps.
So much loading, it requires TWO load bars. But you do get an outstanding 60fps.

If you’re a fan of the series it’s worth playing, but I personally wouldn’t spend more than about £20 or so on it, as seems to be the continual case with most Assassin’s Creed games.

 

I think I took a wrong turn into a glitch...
I think I took a wrong turn into a glitch…

Assassin’s Creed Rogue Review

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November 2014 saw two Assassin’s Creed games simultaneously released for the ‘new’ and ‘older’ generation consoles: Assassin’s Creed Unity and Assassin’s Creed Rogue, respectively. I have always been a fan of the AssCred series, but, as previously stated in my Black Flag review, my faith wavered a little after Revelations – a disappointing end to the Ezio trilogy. Then came Assassin’s Creed III, kicking off what is now known as the Kenway saga. Whilst ACIII certainly had an interesting story with some wonderful twists and turns, the overall historical setting didn’t interest me, and the repetitive environment became very tedious. When Black Flag came out, I neglected to immediately purchase it, and instead waited until it was in the Steam summer sale 2014. Black Flag was both a brilliant Assassin’s Creed game and a brilliant pirate game. Because pirates are friggin’ awesome. Despite this, I was still hesitant when Unity and Rogue came out, though I will admit I was enticed by Unity’s pretty amazing trailer. I bided my time, and waited until these two games came on sale a few months later; I ended up picking up both for around £20 each on Steam. After consulting the wise mentors on /r/assassincreed, I started with Rogue.

Hey Haytham, I'm wearing your dead dad's robes.
Hey Haytham, I’m wearing your dead dad’s robes.

Chronologically, Rogue takes place a few years after Black Flag and before (and partially during) Assassin’s Creed III and Unity, featuring some nice tie-ins with the aforementioned three, including certain characters and allusions to events. Rogue has you play as Shay “I make my own luck” Cormac. Shay begins the game as an Assassin, but becomes disillusioned with what they stand for and, in a somewhat roundabout way, ends up joining the Templars. With the exception of the beginning of ACIII and that pretty cool twist, this is the first time in the series that we actually get to play as a Templar, and moreover see their point of view, as usually they are depicted as the big, greedy baddies. In Rogue, it’s very easy to empathise with the Templar cause and actually find yourself disliking the Assassins. Part of this is due to Shay being pretty bad-ass; up at the top of the character scale just behind Edward Kenway and Ezio. Part of it is also because all of the Assassins in the games are dicks. Just utter dicks. Due to the change in perspective, the story in Rogue is overall pretty good, interesting and a new take…though I was a bit gutted that the misleading, ominous announcement trailer seemed to imply that you would be hunting Assassins, of which there is none of, apart from some repetitive side missions. Instead, the game plays out like every other Assassin’s Creed game, in which you go from mission to mission occasionally killing an ‘important’ character – nothing really new there. I didn’t find myself as interested in Rogue’s story as Black Flag’s, though this may largely be due to the fact that I know very little about the Seven Years War, in which Rogue is predominantly set, so a lot of the historical figures were lost on me (as opposed to Black Flag when I was sitting in my chair going OMFG BLACKBEARD!!).

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The story itself is relatively short in comparison to other games, and ends rather abruptly. There is, of course, the chance to then continue obtaining the many, many collectibles, but, unless you’re a bit of a completionist, it seems almost pointless. Considering the story’s lack of longevity, Rogue offers an overwhelming number of collectibles…and I mean overwhelming in the bad sense. The map itself is huge, and has you travelling around the North Atlantic Ocean, the Hudson River Valley and New York. However, it’s so big that the story itself only takes you to a small fraction of the entire world; the only incentive to see the rest is to collect these darn treasure chests, shanties and Animus fragments. Originally, I was planning on collecting everything, but as soon as the story ending was sprung upon me, I kind of lost interest. There is just too much for its own good. The setting itself is relatively varied, with icy climates in the North Atlantic, the tundra that is the River Valley, and New York’s cityscape. Despite this, in the former two especially, you couldn’t really differentiate one area from another – once you have seen one snowy forest, you’ve seen ‘em all. For the most part, Shay sides with the British Empire (as opposed to the French). Whereas previous Assassin’s Creed games have had maybe one faction of guards patrolling the streets, Rogue has two or three. However, it wasn’t until I was about half way through the game that I realised that the chappies in orange were in fact not French soldiers with annoying British accents, but Assassin thugs. Occasionally, these thugs hide in bushes or other well-known Assassin hiding spots and ambush you, causing critical damage, which keeps you on your toes a bit. But, as I will address later, health was never an issue, so even after being ‘critically’ injured, you can still stab your attacker in the face and walk away unscathed.

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Rogue plays largely like Black Flag DLC, in that the majority – if not all – of the game mechanics are the same. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but players should be aware before they play. The easiest mode of transport is by ship. Like the Jackdaw, players can upgrade Shay’s Morrigan with better hull armour, cannons, mortars etc. Use these to take down ships to acquire loot to…upgrade your ship even further! Naval combat remains the same as it did in Black Flag: strong, but not without its flaws. For example, if you happen to be engaged in a fight with, say, two enemy ships…when you destroy one and board it, time seems to stop for the other – it just circles around for a while, waiting. Aspects like this make it apparent that Rouge is a ‘last-gen’ game, and one would hope that if naval combat features in future instalments, it becomes a bit more dynamic. Regular combat is the same as it has always been: pretty dull. It’s just easy. You can buy new weapons and pistols, but even those are boring. Different weapons have different stats, but you can’t really tell the difference. In hand to hand combat, you can either fight with fists, hidden blades or a dagger and sword combo – but, again, this is essentially for aesthetics as the sword seems to do as much damage as the blades seems to do as much damage as fists. I miss back in the ACII era when the sword and dagger were separate. Combat has always been relatively easy in the AssCred series, requiring you to just wait and counter at the right moment, and Rogue is no different. Luckily, these seems to have been addressed if Ubisoft’s E3 preview of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate can be believed! Like Black Flag, you can upgrade Shay too with various crafting mechanisms, improving his health etc. But, if I’m honest, I completely forgot about these, and finished the game with the same amount of health as I started. It was never an issue.

Hunt wolves, beavers, whales, deer, narwhals, hares...but you cannot TOUCH this turkey.
Hunt wolves, beavers, whales, deer, narwhals, hares…but you cannot TOUCH this turkey.

Oh, like previous AssCred games, Rogue also features a ‘modern day’ section, in which, like Black Flag, you play as a faceless Abstergo employee who is playing through this memories for totally-not-evil-scientific reasons. Again, like Black Flag, something happens to the severs over the course of the game and you have to go down and hack into them and turn them on, slowly revealing more and more about the company. The lore that surrounds the series is very interesting, especially as it is influenced and intertwined with our IRL history, so learning about this from the Templar’s point of view as you fix the severs (I don’t know why they keep all of this information encrypted on various computers but hey ho) is a nice little treat. And you’re often accompanied by a women who endearingly, and not at all irritatingly, affectionately refers to you as ‘numb-skull’. Classy gal.

Thanks bae.
Thanks bae.

Visually, Rogue is pretty impressive. Surprise, surprise, the visuals are very similar to Black Flag’s, though, again, that is not a bad thing. There are your standard clipping errors, or certain objects not rendering quick enough, but overall I can’t really complain. The only feature that could really be improved is the water, which often looked like a big ol’ tub o’ jelly…all thick and gloopy. The music is wonderful and really aids in creating the darker atmosphere that comes with Rogue. Voice acting is on par, with a range of personalities across a large and colourful cast.

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At a glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that Black Flag and Rogue were the same game: apart from the dramatic change in climate, many gameplay elements carry from the latter to the former. So, if you enjoyed Black Flag, or any previous Assassin’s Creed game for that matter, then I certainly recommend it. However, due to the short story and repetitiveness of obtaining the crazy amount of collectibles and exploration, I would suggest getting this game on sale. And, why, it’s on sale right now!

311560_screenshots_2015-06-10_00003

Game of Thrones Episode Companion – Season 5 Episode 10

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It’s ok guys, it’s ok; there are THEORIES!

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So the winner of the War of the Five Kings is….Balon Greyjoy!!! Ah, so another season of Game of Thrones comes to a climactic end. Whilst this season has arguably been the worst (of the best) so far, you cannot deny that the finale had some wonderful moments. Well, depending on your definition of wonderful. As it stands now, essentially every story has caught up or even overtaken the books – save for an entire side plot featuring the Greyjoy family which fans are hoping will make an appearance in season 6. This episode popped in to say hi with pretty much every ‘main’ character, so let’s start in the east and do a little banana shaped trip across Westeros and Essos.

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The climactic scene of episode 9 was, of course, Daenerys flying off on Drogon. Now, Drogon is still a young’un and not fully grown, so it is understandable why he was hurt so badly from a few blades. We aren’t exactly sure where Daenerys has landed, but due to the arrival of the Dothraki, you can assume it’s somewhere within the Dothraki Sea, which is north of Meereen. It wasn’t revealed who the Khal of this particular khalasar is, but we know that what remains of Dany’s ties with the Dothraki is limited; will she be greeted with welcome arms, or a sword to the face? In the books, Drogon makes himself a home in a cave, which Daenerys calls Dragonstone after her old home. She also gets very ill and has the poos before she seen by a lone Dothraki scout, who then sends for the rest of the khalasar.

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Further east, in Braavos, we saw the concluding chapter for Arya this season. After a bit more overkill with Meryn Trant’s evilness (yes, we get it, he’s a dick) Arya is able to finally act out her revenge, wearing the face of the girl that she helped mercy kill a few episodes ago, which was a pleasant scene to watch! What was interesting here was that we saw, in some form, how the faces actually work. They appear to literally be masks that the Faceless Men can chop and change as they please. Additionally, the show also implied truth behind a theory that many fans already speculated – that Jaqen H’ghar is just a face, not a person. Seemingly as punishment for going against the Many Faced God, Arya is now blind, and even that does happen in the books, but under slightly different circumstances.

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Over the Westeros now. The slightly seemingly irrelevant Dorne scene concluded with the unexpected death (we assume, anyway) of Myrcella. It was kind of obvious as soon as Ellaria kissed her on the lips what would happen, but my mind was briefly taken away from thinking about it too much as soon as Tyene Sand said “bad pussy” and I cringed. I mean, really? As if the Sand Snakes couldn’t get any worse…. As mentioned prior, this whole side story differs quite dramatically from the books. To avoid mild book spoilers (for scenes that I am 95% sure will not appear in the show), skip ahead to the next paragraphs. Ok? Ok. Well, for starters, Jaime is off in the Riverlands, and nowhere near Dorne. Mycrella is still there, and is guarded by a member of the Kingsguard named Arys Oakheart. Doran Martell’s daughter, Arianne (who sadly does not appear in the show) seduces Arys and convinces him to make Myrcella queen, seeing as in Dorne, age matters in succession, not gender. The reason for this is to largely defy the Lannisters. Without going into too much detail, someone snitches, and Arianne’s little rebellion fails, with Myrcella losing an ear in the process and Areo Hotah (the big guy with the glaive that protects Doran) killing poor Arys. What do the Sand Snakes have to do with this? Well, not much…they kind of just bang on about revenge until Doran imprisons some of them, whilst Ellaria…also doesn’t do much, and is a lot nicer! So, anyway, the question that arises now is 1) how will Jaime react? And 2) how will Doran react? I’ve said before about how much I like House Martell in the books, and unfortunately they haven’t really shone in the series, but there is still in in season 6!

 

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Right, King’s Landing. It was a shame that we didn’t get to hear of Margaery’s fate; so at this stage we have no idea what the High Sparrow has in store for her. In the books, Loras is off fighting on Dragonstone, and so the whole trial surrounding his sexuality doesn’t happen. Instead, Margaery’s own virginity is taken into question (bear in mind that book Tommen is about 8 or so, so they didn’t seal the deal). Nevertheless, I’m sure light will be shed on her early next season. No, instead, the focus was on Cersei and her brilliantly done walk of punishment. It was horrible to watch, in a good way…and it was just about long enough that you felt uncomfortable and, despite what you may think of the Queen-mother, sorry for her. The question that now of course is how will Cersei respond to this? Will she get revenge, or is she truly broken? As an interesting side note: lads, this was just a body double with Lena Headey’s head CGI’d on. Some people are complaining that it looked a bit rubbish, but honestly I don’t think you would know. We very briefly saw the return of Kevan Lannister, standing with Pycelle, in the Red Keep. Kevan has been acting ruler since Cersei’s imprisonment, whilst Tommen pouts in his room. We were also introduced to a new member of the Kingsguard….who looks somewhat familiar…but I can’t quite put my finger on it….

Feels like he is staring straight at me...
Feels like he is staring straight at me…

Everything that surrounded Winterfell was show-only stuff. In the books, we last we see of Stannis is that he is marching…forever marching. He does not engage the Bolton force. Sansa is still in the Vale with Littlefinger – in the series, she has taken the role of a character called Jeyne Poole, who marries Ramsay as a fake Arya. Nevertheless, Theon still steps up and leaps from the walls of Winterfell with her to freedom…only to run into Stannis’ army. Right…let’s talk about Stannis. Despite being a Stannis fan, I don’t feel as upset about his death as I thought I would. It was almost inevitable. He became such a tragic figure, and as I mentioned last week, truly desperate. But, like the man he is, he went down a trooper, in the most stoic, Stannis way possible. So, yes, whilst I am a bit gutted that the One True King is dead (in the series, anyway….), it’s almost a relief. Now, all the legit Baratheons are dead… On the plus side, Brienne finally got her revenge…at the expense of forgetting all about Sansa. Shame we didn’t actually get to see the fight, but I guess a lot of the budget was spent on Drogon and Lena’s head. Now, Melisandre…what is your game? You got the impression that her confidence in Stannis was waning as this season went on, especially after her interactions with Jon. Which brings us on to…

Face of pure heartbreak.
Face of pure heartbreak.

The Wall. Firstly, Sam. Now this conversation is carried out a little differently in the books, and it’s actually Jon who insists that Sam go to Oldtown to become a maester, pretty much as soon as he is elected Lord Commander. Sam also takes Gilly, the baby, and Aemon with him, the latter of whom still passes away, but during the journey. Melisandre never actually goes with Stannis, and stays at the Wall. As do Shireen and Selyse, who are still very much alive. The climactic events happen in a slightly different albeit somewhat similar way too. In the books, the Night’s Watch are annoyed at Jon not just due to his empathy with the Wildlings, but because he wants to attach Winterfell to remove the Boltons from power (and existence). The attack on Jon happens through the teary eyes of the Watch brothers, and is not led by Alliser Thorne. Jon is also not tricked about Benjen either – no, no one has heard from Benjen since A Game of Thrones. Also, Olly isn’t there, because that little bastard is a show only character. Nevertheless, Jon is assassinated “for the Watch”. This is where book readers are; “[h]e never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold.” BUT DON’T WORRY!!! Since this happened in A Dance With Dragons back in 2011, fans have been scrambling together any theories they can on how Jon might have somehow survived this assassination. Now, show Jon looked pretty darn dead to me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he will stay dead. One theory is Melisandre. She returns to the Wall, but for what purpose? We know she has a bit of an interest in Jon, and know that Red Priests have some sort of power that allows them to bring back the dead – think back to season 3 with Thoros and Beric. I believe that she will use her power to resurrect Jon. This may well change the Stark bastard, but changed Jon is better than no Jon, isn’t it? Kit Harington has said in a very recent interview that Jon is dead…but my argument is that he wouldn’t really turn about and go “nah he comes back”, right? RIGHT?! It also seems kind of weird that they would kill off our only real link to the Wall. Sure, Melisandre and Davos are now there too, but they are more supporting characters. There are also dozens of other theories surrounding Jon, such as his parentage, or whether he is some kind of ‘chosen one’, and whether the title A Song of Ice and Fire alludes to him partially. Also, he had his stare down with big baddie White Walker, the Night’s King in episode 8…surely that was not for nothing….right?! Well, until either The Winds of Winter or season 6 are released (the latter, I’m sure), I guess we can keep on speculating.

IT'S FINE OK HE'S FINE
IT’S FINE OK HE’S FINE

Well, now you have just under a year to kill. My advice? The same as last year: read the books. They are phenomenal, and further expand on this world that we know and love. As for me, I need to find some games to review…

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Game of Thrones Episode Companion – Season 5 Episode 9

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So….Meryn Trant likes…kids?

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First, let’s take a moment to appreciate Doran’s awesomeness. Finally. After nine episodes, he is finally given his due. Doran is very smart man, and not at all rash like his brother: he bides his time. We see in this episode, though, that despite being in a wheel chair (from severe gout, if you remember) he still holds great power and is well-respected. It is unfortunate that these Dorne scenes have been pretty filler…and pretty awful filler at that, but it least it has nearly concluded without any serious causalities, and has provided us an insight (albeit small) into how Doran rules, and his motives. And Trystane’s weirdly hairy chest.

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In all honesty, most of episode 9 was largely self-explanatory, so I’ll just focus on the two ‘big’ scenes of the week: Stannis and Daenerys. Let’s begin in the north. With winter closing in around them, Stannis and his army are truly struggling. Especially when scoundrels like Ramsay come and set stuff on fire. I can’t help but laugh at the irony as Melisandre steps out of her tent to a sea of flames and a Ponyta. How brilliant would it have been if the downfall of Stannis’ conquest was fire? I mean, after this week’s episode, but proxy it just may be! So, yes, Stannis sacrificed his daughter to the Lord of Light. Now I feel it’s important to add here that this has not (yet) happened in the books – book Stannis is currently trudging along in the snows with his army still, whilst Shireen and her mother stay at Castle Black. The main things that afflict book Stannis’ army is the lack of food and endless marching. This whole section of the book is also told from the point of view of a character that hasn’t even encountered Stannis once in this entire series, though whether or not they pop up in episode 10 remains to be seen. Despite not appearing in the books, Shireen’s sacrifice was apparently headed up from the evil mind of George R. R. Martin himself, and not from Benioff and Weiss – which is who most people will turn to blame when something happens in the show they do not like! So, why did Stannis do it? Well, this is my quarrel with the whole thing. We saw that lovely scene earlier in the season between Stannis and his daughter. Then, last episode, he shooed Melisandre out from his tent when she merely hinted at the notion of sacrificing Shireen. I feel that his decision would have been more believable if we had seen one more episode – one more scene even – of Stannis pondering it over, as opposed to this apparent sudden choice. My personal opinion on Stannis hasn’t really changed because of it – he did it because he thinks that it is the only way he can save the realm, essentially, and you could see the pain in his eyes as the execution is carried out.  I’m not saying it was right, or even justified, but in his mind it was the only option. The sacrifice itself, I feel, was almost inevitable, what with the amount of time dedicated to building Shireen’s sweet, innocent character this season, as well as the ominously foreshadowing conversation between her and Davos earlier in the episode. Also, Davos said something about hearing about her story “when he gets back”…and from past experience we know that in Game of Thrones, if someone says that, they (or the recipient of the conversation) are going to die… My personal prediction was that Selyse, at Mel’s bidding, was going to go behind Stannis’ back and do it, to which Stannis responds with a firm backhand, but in fact it was her mother’s crying, along with Shireen’s screams, that really made this whole scene very haunting. Stannis is truly desperate. He has made a number of speeches about the needs of the many over the few, and that sacrifices aren’t easy, “that’s why they are sacrifices”, but one cannot help but pause and wonder if the Stannis hype train is really going in the right direction… But then again, he sneakily murdered his brother and has sacrificed countless people in the past, so what’s so different about a daughter…?

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Say what you will on the episode as a whole (though I quite enjoyed it), but you cannot deny that once again we were treated to an epic ending. What began with some well-choreographed fighting and a bit of Daario suave ended in what can only be described as slightly-bad-CGI-dragon-epicenes. Meereen, as we know, is plagued by the gang known as the Sons of the Harpy (RIP Barristan). These ex-slaves and Masters loath Daenerys for what she has done to their city, and won’t rest until her head is on the edge of a rusty blade. Apart from that, we still know very little about them, such as whether they have any ulterior motives, or even who their leader is. One of my guesses was Hizdahr, so I was extremely shocked and surprised to see him viciously stabbed to death (and felt a pang of sympathy). Now, there are those on t’internet who believe that Hizdahr’s death was staged, and that he is in fact still alive, and it was all a ruse…but I think it looked pretty convincing. I think he is pretty dead. This scene is somewhat similar to its book counterpart, the key difference being that book-Jorah is somewhere else (and Tyrion, too). Still, Drogon is drawn in by the scent of blood and lands in the pit, singeing all who come near, until Daenerys mounts him and soars into the skies, leaving behind the chaos to her bemused followers. Despite the questionable CGI, I thought this scene provided another brilliant end to a decent episode. Even Jorah’s Dark Souls inspired forward roll kill was pretty epic…though not as epic as the Spartan inspired spear throw. Well done Jorah.

A great little addition was the Braavosi Water Dancer!
A great little addition was the Braavosi Water Dancer!

Before we conclude, the word “Graces” was uttered by a character during this final scene – I forget who. Anyway, the Graces are a group of healers or priestesses in the area surrounding Meereen, led by the Green Grace, who acts as an advisor of sorts to Dany in the books. So far, they have been omitted from the series, so it’s interesting to hear their name dropped, even if it was for a second. Will we be delving more into the political side of Meereen next season? I’m also curious about the Unsullied, and how, for lack of a better word, shit they have been this season. The argument here is that they are not trained for this kind of combat, and lack proper field training, but nevertheless they got pretty much butchered by…well, civilians. I hope someone has an answer for this! I assume Grey Worm was resting in bed as this whole shabang went on…

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As mentioned last week, The Dance of Dragons’ episode title is taken from the fifth book, A Dance with Dragons. Obviously, the title prominently refers to the climactic Meereen scene and Drogon, but it was also referred earlier in the episode via the book that Shireen was reading. The final episode of the season is titled Mother’s Mercy, so put your speculation hats on now and start guessing what that’s about!

Once again, Daenerys' eyebrows were on point.
Once again, Daenerys’ eyebrows were on point.

 

Honourable mention of Mace’s singing, too.

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Game of Thrones Episode Companion – Season 5 Episode 8

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Confess….

9.9 this episode scored on IMDb! 9.9!! The highest rated Game of Thrones episode (on IMDb, anyway). Interestingly, this episode also featured a wide range of ‘show-only’ content. Which backs up my point that with the whole Dorne thing, book readers aren’t annoyed because it’s different: they are annoyed because it’s bad. Show-only folks feel the same. But this episode greatly restored my faith (which was never really dwindling, I swear) in the writers’ ability.

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The book-to-show adaptations this week focused solely on Arya and Cersei’s stories. Cersei’s is pretty straight forward, continuing on from last week’s cliff-hanger. Arya’s, on the other hand, is slightly more convoluted and confusing. The question is, what is Arya actually doing? Well, it seems like she is training to become a Faceless Man, that’s for sure. To understand how to be another person, Arya must live the life of another person. Hence, she becomes the oyster seller. In the books, she talks the name Cat of the Canals – a nod to this can be seen during the scene when multiple cats cross her path. The ‘skinny man’ sat at the desk was essentially an insurance dealer (boo!) who had cheated a family out of their money. Arya has killed before, but for her own reasons, so it will be interesting to see how she deals with taking the life of someone who has done her no wrong.

V3UvWGDBreaking away from the books, we are treated to a fantastic couple of scenes between the little Lion and the Dragon. As Tyrion has not yet met Daenerys in the books, this is all original stuff, save the “wheel” speech, which is said to another character. As Barristan is now sadly deceased, it appears that Tyrion will be taking his role (as advisor, anyway, not knight…though that would be good). Tyrion, obviously, knows the political scape of Westeros more than Dany, and doubts she would gain many supporters. However, the Martells were Targaryen supporters until the bitter end, after years of a love/hate relationship between the two. We still haven’t really seen the extent of the Martell’s power, as they tend to keep themselves to themselves…though I’m hoping more light will be shed on them in the final two episodes of the season.

 Ok, time for the biggie. Beyond the Wall (which apparently has some sort of magic spell on it to stop Baby Sam from aging??) is a vast wasteland: the Lands of Always Winter. Very little is known about this area, save a few leagues from the Wall where rangers have explored. The Wildlings have scouted further, as far as Thenn, which is where the bald cannibal people from. Beyond that, however, it is largely uncharted, and the map just kind of fades off. Hardhome is a settlement situated on the east side of the Lands of Always Winter, geographically roughly the same distance north of the Wall as the Fist of the First Men (where the Night’s Watch set up camp in season 2). Hardhome has acted as a refuge for Free Folk all over. Leaderless, they have become shambles, and appear to be governed by a group of ‘elders’ representing each faction. We see the (brief) return of a character from season 2: Rattleshirt, or the Lord of Bones, before he is brutally bashed down by Tormund. This not only shows Tormund’s brutality, but also acts as a final nail in the coffin for another character: Mance. In the books, Melisandre puts a glamour spell on Mance, and disguises him as Rattleshirt, and vice versa. So, it’s actually Rattleshirt that dies on the pyre at Castle Black. Meanwhile, Mance goes incognito and heads south on a secret rescue mission. Book-readers may well have hoped that the same happened in the series, but, alas, it’s not to be.

OldBrightFoalThe climactic scene gave us more information about the White Walkers than we have received in the books. Largely, this is due to the fact that this scene is show-only, and a lot of information on the White Walkers comes from gossip and Old Nan’s stories! Exciting times. Obviously, we still know very little about them – such as their motives, their intelligence, community etc. But it’s apparent they are a serious threat, which many Westerosi seem to poo-poo. Suddenly, the tribulations of King’s Landing seem irrelevant, now that we have seen the real enemy! It’s important to note that this isn’t just a ‘medieval Walking Dead zombie apocalypse’; this is full out war. These undead soldiers (known as Wights) are relentless and brutal, as opposed to your classic zombie which survives on instinct. No, these guys want to hurt you. And now we know how easily the White Walkers (also known as the Others in the books) resurrect their undead Wights. Just a simple ‘come at me, bro’ gesture and you’ve got yourself an army. We also got to see how they really do ‘bring the cold’, and the Wight’s sheer determination as they flung themselves off of a cliff in order to kill their prey. Another big reveal was the importance of Valyrian Steel. I think I have talked about this previously, but Valyrian Steel, as the name suggests, was originally forged by the Valyrians (see my post on episode 5 for information about them). It is said to be the strongest, sharpest metal around, and only a gifted few know the secrets of how to forge it. Known Valyrian Steel swords are few: Ned Stark’s massive sword, Ice, was melted down and presented to Joffrey on his wedding day, and to Jaime, who later passed it to Brienne as Oathkeeper. Samwell Tarly’s family also own one named Heartsbane. Littlefinger’s dagger that was used to try and assassinate Bran is also Valyrian Steel. To my knowledge, these are the only blades that have been mentioned in the books. There were many more, but they have been lost to time

GreedyNecessaryJavalinaThis whole final scene was brilliantly shot, with some wonderful cinematography, and, in my eyes has made up for the awful Dorne scenes (especially choreography wise). And the sound; oh, the sound! I’ll be interested to see how the rest of the Watch react to Jon bringing bands of Wildlings and a Giant (whose name is Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun, or Wun Wun for short, if you were interested) to the Wall. Also, I’m awfully suspicious about that hooded figure navigating Jon’s boat at the end. He didn’t even turn round! I was half expecting it to be some sort of disguised White Walker…or, and I had my fingers crossed for this, that we would hear a voice “Jon?” *Jon looks down* “Uncle Benjen?!” BLACKOUT!

0jG1AvSNext week’s episode is titled The Dance of Dragons, which is an obvious allusion to the title of the fifth book, A Dance with Dragons. Ramsay also mentioned how he would leave Stannis’ army as “a feast for the crows”, which is a nice little nod to the title of the fourth book, A Feast for Crows. Whether you think this season has been slow or not, it’s definitely apparent that it’s picking up now, with next week’s episode looking pretty darn epic, and episode ten will apparently “break the internet”…! Also, Oberyn died this time last year. Just saying.

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Game of Thrones Episode Companion – Season 5 Episode 7

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RIP Old Flaydy.

HkoQwLt - ImgurSeason 5 of Game of Thrones has indeed been a rollercoaster of mixed emotion to some. Whilst certain areas have most definitely dipped due to bad writing, directing or acting, I think that it is important to note that the good outweighs the bad. After season 4’s GO-GO-GO action packed attitude, it’s easy to look at 5 as being nothing but filler. It’s slower, definitely, but not slow. Personally, I thought that this episode was one of the better – they seem to be going in a bit of a pattern: good, ok, good, ok, good etc. The title The Gift is a bit of an odd one; it’s apparent that towards the end of the episode numerous characters have mentioned “gifts” – Ramsay’s ‘gift’ to Sansa, and obviously Jorah’s gift of Tyrion to Daenerys. However, the Gift is also the name of a stretch out land south of the Wall given to the Night’s Watch by an old Stark king. Funny that that wasn’t mentioned at all.

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Let’s kick off by addressing the death of a fondly looked upon character, Maester Aemon. By now, we all know that Aemon was a Targaryen, so I thought I would provide a bit of information on his background, and “Egg.” At the beginning of A Game of Thrones, Aemon is already one hundred years old – an outstanding age to reach even by today’s standards…even more-so in cutthroat Westeros. Aemon was the third son of (who would later be king) Maekar Targaryen, who himself was a fourth born and only became king due to a string of unexpected family deaths. As a third born son, it was unlikely that Aemon would inherit the throne (that, and the Targaryen family tree is so complicated that there were tens of potential heirs). As such, he was sent to Oldtown, to the Citadel, to train to be a master at the age of nine or ten. When he completed his training, Aemon was sent back to sit on his father’s small council. However, good natured Aemon thought that this would undermine the current Grand Maester, and so he retired to Dragonstone to serve his older brother, Daeron. After Daeron’s death, many urged that Aemon take up the throne and become king. Aemon refused, and the recommended the crown go to his younger brother, Aegon (or “Egg” for short).  Aemon then took himself to the Night’s Watch, thus quelling any uprising or rebellion that might be sparked in his name against his brother. Aemon served in the Night’s Watch for over fifty years, seeing many commanders rise and fall, including Brynden Rivers, a Targaryen bastard, who went on to become the Three-Eyed Raven (Crow in the books) that Bran seeks out. Aegon’s adventures can be read about in George R. R. Martin’s prequel novellas Dunk and Egg. So, all in all, Aemon Targaryen was a very nice man who gave up the throne and heard about the decline and decimation of his house from thousands of miles away. And now his watch has ended.

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Further on south, we see the Sparrows orchestrating their own decline and decimation of not one, but two great houses. Whatever the outcome of these trials, you can bet your bum that the Tyrell’s name has been tarnished, as emphasised by Olenna’s lack of words during her exchange with the High Sparrow, who is revealing himself to be an extremely dangerous man. If found guilty, Loras and Margaery will be given the Mother’s Mercy, whatever that is. Additionally, if found guilty, I imagine that that’s the end of Margaery’s queenship right there! Similarly, the Lannisters now find themselves in a similar pickle. You may remember that cousin Lancel has a lot of beef on Cersei – including their own incestuous relationship, as well as hers and Jaime’s. This is where the religion of the Seven falls slightly short, though, as Targaryen families would often wed incestuously (causing some ill-fated offspring), and no one really bat an eyelid…not openly, anyway. If the accusations against Cersei prove true (I mean, we know they are), then you can bet your other sweet bum that Tommen’s kingship will be null, resulting in the throne passing to Stannis. This is purely speculation, as the books haven’t gotten that far yet, but I can’t help fearing a little for Tommen’s life. Myrcella’s too, though she is protected in Dorne and I don’t really care about her because this new actress is a bit pants. If Stannis is declared rightful king though, how will the Sparrows respond to his newfound Red God religion…? Either way, karma’s a bitch, Cersei.

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As a side note, the terrifying women that imprisoned Cersei are known as the Most Devout. These are different from the Silent Sisters, who you may or may not know about: Silent Sisters are women who take a vow of silence and swear to serve the Stranger – the god of death. We have seen them quite a few times throughout the show’s history, tending to the dead. Usually they dress themselves in robes and bare a standard with the seven-pointed star on it. If you rewatch the series, have a look at the background detail and see if you can spot them. Make a game out of it. Most Devout, however, are the ruling council of the Faith. They used to serve the High Septon, but since his imprisonment they have become supporters of the High Sparrow. The only named Most Devout in the series so far is Septa Unella, the one that actually grabbed Cersei. Think of them as strict nuns.

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Before I end, I think it’s important to comment on Theon/Reek’s position and why he told Ramsay about Sansa. Reek isa broken man – completely. We have seen this multiple times throughout season 4, such as when he was shaving Ramsay and Ramsay told him about the Red Wedding, or Yara’s awful rescue mission which I pretend never happened (she should have taken a leaf out of Sansa’s book and shouted “YOU ARE THEON GREYJOY!!!”). Theon is petrified of the Boltons. We know what Ramsay did to an extent – physically – but the emotional damage goes a lot deeper. He’s trained Reek like a dog: rewarding good behaviour, but severely punishing any sort of bad behaviour. This is why, I think, he has not told Sansa that Bran and Rickon are still alive – he knows what will happen to him if Ramsay finds out he told. Bad things. Very bad things. But Sansa is strong. She has endured this much, and with Stannis coming in from the north and Brienne watching from the south, I am really hoping that she gets what can only be described as a Game of Thrones happy ending.

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That’s all for this week – nothing else really needs to be touched on. Jorah and Tyrion’s escapades were pretty self-explanatory, with the slavery and fighting pits mirroring that of ancient civilisations such as the Romans (see Gladiator). Meanwhile Stannis continued to become more and more likeable by refusing to burn his daughter. What a nice guy. Though I’m still certain that his batshit wife is going to do it. And Sam…..Sam became a man! Oh my. And even the Dorne scenes weren’t too bad this week! Of course, the real MVP is that brute that cut Tyrion free and Dany’s perfectly ironed dress.

So soft.
So soft.