Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Top 10 Best Games I've Played the Last 5 Years (Part 2)

And here is part 2 of my Top 10 list that you probably thought I had forgotten about by now! You can find the first part here.

5. Planescape Torment
Although I am a big fan of old CRPGs I often find that while they hold up storywise, they don't always gameplaywise. Because of that I can often be quite wary when trying them out, knowing that I am going to need a fair amount of patience (and sometimes googling) for the initial couple of hours to get acquainted with the somewhat outdated and sometimes unintuitive systems.

Those late 90's graphics *heart*

I barely even remember if that was an issue with Planescape Torment. Sure I had some minor gripes with some design choices - the fact that you had to rest to be able to gain back your spells for instance - but they all drowned out in the experience that was the Planescape. As "The Nameless One", aptly not only amnesiac but also immortal (which sounds like it would break the game, but it is very cleverly implemented), you wake up into a world that just barely makes sense to you, yet manages to keep you interested and invested throughout. You'll meet crazy and broken people along the way as you try to uncover more about yourself (sounds like The Witcher took a page from this). I hate the cliché "you have to experience it to understand it" but that is ultimately the kind of game Planescape Torment is. Words just don't do it justice and anything I could tell you about the stories or characters you encounter would spoil the experience. 

This game really has it all - great characters, great gameplay and a world you won't find anywhere else.

4. Deus Ex
Back when I was barely even playing PC games, my dad brought home a game for me and my brother he had received from a co-worker who had told him it was "really, really good". I took one look at the cover and decided it was not for me. It looked dark and kind of scary. Surely it would be too hard for me anyway.

The game was Deus Ex and years later I decided it was time to give this all-time classic a go. I was hooked from the very first mission. As JC Denton (who I keep misremembering as Fenton in my head) I absolutely loved to sneak, shoot and blast my way through the levels. I was amazed at the possibility to try out different solutions, allowing me to avoid danger or go in guns-a-blazing as it suited me. My jaw completely dropped to the floor when I was able to completely avoid a boss-fight by choosing the appropriate dialogue options. To me, this game was pure genius.

More beautiful graphics

It hardly made matters worse that the story was interesting but the amazing gameplay is what I would return for. I didn't love every level, I remember being quite creeped out by the huge water stage (I don't like swimming in water in games, don't ask me why) but I loved how clever this game made me feel (this is something in common with a lot of other entries on this list). The level design is nothing but brilliant and manages to make you feel like a master puzzle-solver without any big signboards displaying how and where you should do something. The game smartly leads you to find alternative routes if you are interested in looking for them and to give you the feeling you have outsmarted the game and its inhabitants. Few games adapt themselves as much to the player as Deus Ex and I think no two players will play it the same way.

3. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
I can hardly say much more about this game than hasn't already been said. It not only started a genre, the Metroidvanias, but is probably without argument the best entry in said genre. I knew of this game long before I ever decided to play it, and it wasn't even my first foray into the Castlevania series (see Circle of the Moon in my previous post).

I think my only real reason it took me so long to get around to playing SotN, other than it being quite tricky for me to get hold of without having to live off bread and water for a month, was that I had heard so many good things about it that it started to intimidate me. I wasn't even really worried that I'd be disappointed with the game, I sort of knew that it was going to rock my world just like it had pretty much everyone elses, but I knew that once I had played it that was it. You only get one first playthrough of a game, and I wanted it to be special. I wanted to be able to get it all the attention it deserved, so I bided my time.

Maybe awesome graphics is what all the games have in common?

Then, it was finally time. I played it through (and recorded it here)* and yes - it is amazing. The gameplay, the setting, the MUSIC! I wasn't disappointed for a second (not even the clunky handling of items could sour my gleeful mood). Even the voice acting has become a classic. Not only was it a game so full of new ideas convened into an amazing package, it also showed game designers high on 3D graphics that pixel art and 2D games were nowhere near done being awesome and that some games needed to be in 2D to be at their best.

What really makes Symphony of the Night stand out from other games on this list is that I don't think you have to enjoy this genre to enjoy this game. It offers a more universal type of enjoyment and has a style that will always be unaffected by time, technological advances or changes in tastes.

2. System Shock 2
If there was one thing I would like to change about mysef, it's being such a scaredy-cat. Sure, I am quite capable at social situations but I am like a child when it comes to darkness and scary things like horror movies and games. One of the creepiest things I know is an illustration from Edgar Allan Poes "Masque of the Red Death" that I stupidly read as a child (if you click that link, don't say I didn't warn you).

So I scare easily and probably the most when playing games. I tend to get very invested and immersed and that doesn't help in the slighest when you think (or know) some ghoul is breathing down your neck. Unlike a movie I can't make it better by closing my eyes. Unfortunately this has kept me from fully enjoying otherwise brilliant games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill.

I am trying to change this about myself though, and one way to do it is to challenge myself to playing games that are just creepy enough to keep me on edge but not keeping me from playing. It doesn't hurt if the game is also really, really fun. System Shock 2 is definitely such a game.

Cyborg Assassin, probably the most annoying enemy in the game.

Firstly, it's not scary because it makes you feel too vulnerable or because the enemies you encounter are that freaky (compared to a game like Amnesia: The Dark Descent for instance) but because of the weird mood and atmosphere it sets. In this way System Shock 2 and the first entry on my list have a lot in common and you might find me saying similar things about them. The tension doesn't rise so much from the fact that you're pretty sure you're going to die any second, but that you just don't know what is coming around the corner. In System Shock 2 you start out on a space station, but towards the end you're in some sort of body, jumping on teeth and stuff? I don't even know and that's part of the fun. The twisted people you meet who try to kill you even shout things like "Forgive me!" as they try to bludgeon you to death.

Like I said, it definitely doesn't hurt that it has excellent gameplay with fun role-playing elements that allow you to tackle situations differently from playthrough to playthrough (that being said I've only played it through once, but I have watched LP's of it since). Good level design means you're rarely confused as to what to do and where to go, at least not long enough to leave you frustrated, and Shodan is one of the best villains in video game history of you ask me (too bad she has a pretty lackluster boss fight). It will drown you in sinister and eerie, but always keep you curious and wanting more.

1. Thief: The Dark Project
So here it is, the game that has left the most scars memories and that I keep returning to in my head over and over - Thief: The Dark Project, that is the original and not the remake that came out a couple of years ago. I mentioned that it's similar to System Shock 2, and that goes most prominently for tone and atmosphere. Gameplay wise they're not overly similar, whereas SS2 allows you to be sneaky if you want to, there is also a lot of room for going around guns-a-blazing if that is your cup of tea. In Thief however, staying in the shadows is essential and I found this game very trial-and-error heavy. Never have I played a game that made trial-and-error so much fun though. Just timing going around a corner, sneaking into a room, shooting a moss-arrow at the right time - everything has to be perfect if you want Garrett to survive the harsh world of "The City". 

Sometimes you're not entirely sure what you're fighting.

The story is ominous, it starts out light-hearted enough with you getting a mission to steal some nicknacks, but soon you find yourself trying to avoid zombies and monsters. There are factions to ally yourself with and demons to destroy. It all sounds convoluted, but Thief has some of the slickest level-designs and densest feeling worlds I've experienced. Every second is a delight and I can't ever remember feeling frustrated or cheated - every failure was my own. 

In fact the game weighed so heavy on me that it was almost like running a marathon every time I sat down to play it. I really had to mentally prepare myself for the all the concentrating and quick thinking I was going to do, to me this was far from a game you can play around in leisurely. There is a reason I have been very hesitant about getting started on the second game even though I enjoyed the first one so much. But it was all worth it because of the overwhelmingly rewarding feeling you got when you got through a mission. 

This game is pure brilliance, even though it (just like SS2) gets very weird towards the end. Overall though, it's a must-experience game in my book.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Quick Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery Ep 9

Into the Forest I Go
And as usual, spoilers.

Was this the mid-season finale? I'm not sure how those things go since I don't watch many TV-series. In either case, it was quite a good one albeit with some stupid things. But to be fair, if I were to nitpick every other episode of Star Trek I'd end up with about the same amount of stupid, in the end it's about whether it comes together as something with a Star Trek feeling or not. I think this episode did.

Where to start? Well, last episode basically left us in the middle of a shit-pickle. The Pahvo'ans had just invited the Klingons to their coordinates and Federation want Discovery nowhere near that mess. No one on the Discovery wants to leave the Pahvo'ans to their demise so Lorca decides to disobey the order and just do the opposite of what he is asked, as usual. That anyone expects him to do anything he is told anymore suprises me. And the Vulcan admiral, or whatever he is, that he talks to seems so annoyed that Lorca won't just do what he says. How absolutely un-Vulcan.

A much better Vulcan.

Lorca thinks it's a better idea to try to solve the Klingon cloaking device issue in an arbitrary three hours, which is interesting considering the entire Federation science force has presumably tried to do this since the start of the war and failed. But they don't have Michael Burnham, so of course they succeed.

It's not an easy feat though, they basically need to plant sensors on board the Klingon ship, aptly named the Ship of Death or something like it, and then perform exactly 133 spore-jumps to get enough data to crack the cloaking device. The sensors can only be planted by beaming someone over there to put them there. Sounds like a great plan that can't fail.

This is also when Lorca, and Stamets boyfriend the Doctor, find out during a medical check-up that the spore-jumps are messing up Stamets' brain. The Doctor (who actually has a name, I just forget because he's unfortunately the most underdeveloped doctor in the Star Trek universe) strongly advices against it but since "trillions of lives", as Lorca puts it, hang in the balance Stamets doesn't really have a choice. You'd think Stamets would have regular full-body check-ups anyway, considering what he is doing, but apparently not.

Why can't someone else just do the jumping? Did they establish somewhere that Stamets is uniquely qualified? Granted, it might be difficult to persuade someone else to do it given the side-effects it's had on Stamets, but considering the circumstances probably not. Speaking of side-effects, Tilly of course blabs that she knew about it all along and that makes for an awkward moment between Stamets and the Doctor.

The best Doctor.

I also wonder why Discovery is still the only ship with the spore-drive? Did I miss when they explained why this can't be copied onto other ships, especially considering how insanely, awesomely useful it is? One explanation could be that Lorca hasn't given the Federation the chance to go through the Discovery enough to replicate the spore-drive, but still.

Speaking of something else though, at this point I really like that they've established Lorca as having such dubious morale, because in every scene he is in and every conversation he has you question whether he has an ulterior motive. It really makes him a very interesting character and give some otherwise ordinary scenes an extra layer.

Michael and Tyler are sent over to the Klingon ship who has de-cloaked to be able to fire on the Discovery. Apparently they also lowered their shields because I thought you couldn't beam through shields? I think that is something that is a bit on-again off-again in the ST Universe.

Either way, Michael and Tyler make it over without any issues. Then they start planting the sensors and they are big, noisy and shiny. Really? Just about the most useless sensors ever if you want them hidden. Let's go with the explanation that they weren't designed to be hidden and there was no time to even turn off the annoying bright, blue lights or beeping they do. Of course they need to beep, or they don't work.

While on the ship they find another human life sign (don't worry, they've masked their own) and who could that be? That's right, Admiral Cornwell isn't dead. To get into the room she's in, Tyler does some nifty "removing of panel and cutting wires" that seems to work in every movie and series. Star Wars had it right, you need an R2D2 to hack into stuff, just breaking it won't work. Although they employ that as well on occasion, anyway, I digress. Tyler says he's been imprisoned long enough to know these things, but unless they're how he got out (and we know it wasn't) there is no reason he would know that.

In essence, Star Trek needs more robots.

In the room where Klingons apparently throw corpses, they find Cornwell alive but not so well, and also L'Rell who has been a bit beaten but not killed. Why was she left there exactly? If they didn't kill her, why not imprison her? They left her with the dead people because they were going to come back and kill her later?

Seeing L'Rell puts Tyler into full PTSD mode and he becomes a blabbering heap of uselessness, leaving Michael to do the rest. He has been hiding that issue pretty well! The rest involves getting onto the actual bridge and planting the last sensor there. I love how the Klingon bridge just conveniently allows someone to sneak in and sit behind a corner and plant sensors. Sounds like a pretty big design flaw to me and it would've been impossible on the Discovery. We don't actually see how Michael gets onto the bridge (unless I blinked in that moment) but she's there and that sensor is even more noisy than the rest. Not that anyone notices, maybe the Klingon are hard of hearing and that would explain why they shout so much.

Best hard-of-hearing character

With the planting of the last sensor, the Discovery starts doing its 133 jumps and Stamets is not doing well at all. Long before they're done however, the Klingons decide to leave so Michael decides to reveal herself and fight Kol to stall them. It does mean the humans in the death-hold get discovered though and fighting ensues. Cornwell basically tells Tyler to get his act together, and he does enough to shoot a Klingon that dies with a sound effect that sounds ripped straight from Dungeon Keeper.

Eventually the Discovery is done jumping and Michael is saved from Kol as he goes to kill her. At the same time L'Rell jumps and grabs onto Tyler just as he is beamed out, allowing her to leave the ship with the others. Then Lorca orders them to destroy the Klingon ship and they do. Kol is presumably dead and now we don't know who will take over to lead the Klingon war-effort.

Back on the Discovery, they've been ordered to return to base. Tyler reveals to Michael that he was a sexual abuse victim to L'Rell, beside also being tortured by her for seven months. It also seems L'Rell still has some sort of Stockholm Syndrome power over Tyler, because he runs to her in her prison confinement and acts weird.

Meanwhile Stamets agrees to do "one last jump" to get everyone back to base safely. The fact that the jumps already almost fried his brain is apparently not so important. Of course this can only go one way - Stamets promises to take the Doctor to the operas if he allows him to do one last jump, because gay people like the opera-cliché - they kiss and then Stamets' fate is of course sealed, Hollywood-style. To no ones surprise Stamets fries his brain in the jump, which means the jump fails and sends Discovery into "where-the-heck-are-we?", basically doing a Voyager. The only thing they see are a load of derelict Klingon ships, which can mean basically anything. Are they in Sto-Vo-Kor?

Stamets demise would've been sadder if it hadn't been so obvious and also kind of unecessary. If he had had his brain fried during the 133 jumps that would've been more powerful, even though that is also kind of expected. But like this it is so extremely sign-posted and also feels a bit forced. Stamets deserved better.

Overall though a good episode with some nice and intense scenes. The ending is exactly what I wanted to make me look forward to the next episode. It looks again like they're moving away a bit from the war-story and at least allowing for the possibility for some mysterious episodes, the kind that make Voyager my favorite Star Trek series.

What do I think of Star Trek Discovery so far as a whole? In short, it's alright. I definitely didn't dislike it but I think I need to see how it all comes together before I can give a verdict on the first 9 episodes. On their own they swayed from mildly interesting to pretty entertaining but they have the potential to be part of a greater whole. Fingers crossed that'll happen.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Quick Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery Ep 8

Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum
I have no idea what that means.
Yes, there are spoilers.

We have yet another decent episode this week, and a return of the Klingons. This time the Klingons screen presence wasn't as boring and I am starting to like Voq's second hand L'Rell who gets some character development here.

It all starts out when the Discovery jumps into battle to save some fellow Federation ships, but fails pretty miserably when it turns out that more and more of the Klingon fleet have stealth technology. This makes Lorca angry and he demands a solution right now. As he speaks to different characters on the bridge around him, I realize that we know nothing about them except for their first names. I have never been so uninformed about a bridge crew in Star Trek ever.

Somehow they find an item that can help them on a planet somewhere. I must've missed where this information came from, but my immediate thought was that whatever it is, it can't work very well since they have no nifty anti-cloaking device in the later instalments of Star Trek. Yet again they are introducing something they will need to un-explain by the end of the show, very much like the spore-drive.

Saru, Michael and Tyler (which I swear they pronounce as Taylor) beam down to the planet which is not supposed to have any life forms. Instead it has... singing trees? Well, the trees turn out to be sentient in what can only be described as hilariously Star Trek. Honestly, this was so Star Trekky it made me smile.

Since the trees are somehow sentient Michael decides that they need their ok before they can use the anti-cloaking device, which is basically a huge crystal tree worthy of any JRPG (it is also purplish-blue like the rest of the trees). Meanwhile Saru is not feeling well from all the singing and Michael and Tyler do some more love-bonding but I just can't see those two together. But neither could I any other couple in other Star Trek series (except maybe Worf and Dax) and I know I talked a bit about this in my episode 7 post already.

Saru begins to try to learn to communicate with the sentient cloud-thing the trees emmanate, and has a scene where he tells Michael and Tyler he's barely made any progress learning their vocabulary, n the next sentence he has a long tirade of back-story on the Pahvans (or something like it) as the beings are called (named after the planet). For someone who just said he barely understood them he had already gathered a lot of information.

At least they're not Phylosians.

Back to the Klingons and things are getting very confusing. L'Rell hates the new Klingon leader Kol but offers to interrogate the prisoner because she needs him to accept her into his ranks. What prisoner? Well, Admiral Cornwell of course. Instead of doing that though, she tell Cornwell she wants to defect and they try to sneak to L'Rells ship together. So that's why she wanted to interrogate her! On their way there, Kol sees them and L'Rell kills Cornwell. Or does she? It is not very clear. Either way she returns to Kol and swears fealty to him, he awards her the face paint that they're all wearing and the second after he tells her he knows she is trying to deceive him and arrests her.

Ok, what just happened there? Was it really necessary to go through the whole kneeling and face painting and talking if he knew she was up to no good in the first place? And why let her be alone with their most useful and valuable human prisoner? And where is Voq in all this? Last time we saw him he was stranded on the destroyed ship of Giorgiu with L'Rell, they were talking about getting some sort of revenge and how does all of the stuff that just happened in this episode tie in with that? And how does the face painting work anyway? Do Klingons never shower or do they just re-apply afterwards?

They'd better explain a lot of the things that went down in this episode or it didn't make much sense.

On the Discovery it seems like Stamets is not feeling too well from all the spore-jumping anymore. So he's basically gone from being a really grumpy hater to a cheerful loving everyone kind of dude, back to a grumpy hater again. Tilly is worried and asks him about it. He tells her to sod off, when she doesn't move he just opens up to her, so he changed his mind pretty quickly. Nothing is explained however, he just confirms that the spore jumps are starting to make him confused.
On the planet Saru has been possessed by the tree-spirits while trying to understand them. They're basically all about harmony and peace and really made me think about the Mako lifestream from Final Fantasy VII. Saru becomes a bit creepy and won't let Michael or Tyler leave the planet. Overall Saru gets some character development here. Earlier on in the episode they "casually" mention that Saru's species the Kelpiens can run really fast. Guess if that is going to play a part later in the episode?

The Pahvans actually look a lot like this.

Tyler tricks Saru so that Michael can run off and fiddle with the anti-cloaking device, which is also a transmitter somehow? Saru figures it out because he can sense that Tyler is deceiving him with his "threat-ganglia", I really hate that name by the way. Saru gets really violent, almost tries to kill Tyler and then runs really fast to get to Michael and almost kills her too. My first thought was that all that talk about peace and harmony went away pretty quickly, but this is actually something Michael points out as well and Saru basically blames Michael for forcing his hand.

The tree-spirits interfere in the end when they turn up and Michael beg them to allow them to use the transmitter-anti-cloak-device to stop the war, since that will bring peace and harmony. The tree spirits agree but it turns out they're actually just stupid and have instead sent out an invitation to the Klingon fleet to come join the Discovery by the Pavan homeworld, presumably for negotiations.

And that is where the episode ends, so it's pretty much a two-parter because this episode didn't answer any questions but only raised them. Overall it was a pretty confusing episode that often had me feel like I missed a scene somewhere, but I like the idea of the sentient trees because it's just so silly.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Vanilla WoW Is Coming Back!

If you ask me, the only interesting news we got from Blizzcon, which I only know anything about since pretty much every one on my Twitter won't stop talking about it, were the news that Blizzard are launching Vanilla servers. For the uninitiated (and if you are I doubt you're much interested in this post), "vanilla" refers to WoW before expansions. They've existed all along as unofficial "pirate" servers without any kind of support from Blizzard, now they are coming legitimately with all that entails. This blew my mind. As you may or may not know, I started playing WoW around April 2005 and played it until somewhere around April 2013. That is 8 years of my life invested and some of my fondest memories, not just gaming memories, are from that game. I met my bf and we have our child thanks to WoW. I can not overstate what an impact it has had on me and I still think about it  anecdotally pretty much every day. Although I didn't start playing it seriously (as in more than 1-2 hour a day and with raiding) until Burning Crusade, Vanilla WoW is where I started out. Breaking the news to my bf we just stared at each other, memories coming rushing back.

After I had gone past the initial amaze-balls feeling of just hearing about it, my first thoughts were - which kind of Vanilla? Vanilla was around for about two years before we got Burning Crusade and a lot happened during that time alone. Will we get early-Vanilla or late-Vanilla? Which patch are they going from? And are they going to do it hardcore, no Quality-Of-Life-Changes from later patches/expansions added whatsoever? It made me and the bf reminisce about what all that could mean. What was Vanilla all about? Here are some completely random memories from back then;

  • Horde didn't have paladins and alliance didn't have shamans.
  • Shamans had totem quests! I wrote about them several times on this blog, and I particularly hated the Water Totem Quest.
  • Shamans had several talents and skills as if they were meant to be able to tank, which I wrote about here. I even wrote a guide on how to do it!
  • Most classes required consumables to be able to do their best buffs and/or certain skills. Symbol of Kings of 30 min Blessings for Paladins, Candles for 30 min Prayer of Fortitude for Priests. Rogues still needed ingredients to do different poisons and had to carry around those poisons. Warlocks needed a ton of Soul Shards for Healthstones which had to be summoned one by one. Imagine that when you want to give your raid of 40 people a Healthstone each. Mages also had to summon their food one by one, although they required no ingredient to do it. Instead they needed materials to open portals and to teleport.
  • Spellpower was based off Intellect and mana regen off Spirit. This means most classes had a spellpower gear for when being in combat and a spirit gear to swap into when out of combat, to regen mana in.
  • Every skill had ranks and they all scaled about equally with spellpower, but had a very different cost in mana. This means Paladin rank 1 Flash of Light cost basically no mana but could heal for a lot anyway if you had enough intellect.
  • You couldn't have dual-specs. You had to pay to swap and you had to buy all your ranks back. I forgot to do this several times and ended up tanking end-game instances with rank 1 skills.
  • Tanking as a warrior was pretty damn difficult and required a lot of cooperation from your team or quick reflexes. As a warrior you started each fight without any resource which meant you either needed initial rage or needed to keep the pace up so that your rage never went down to zero. I wrote a lot of guides on warrior tanking, they are from later points in the game but warrior tanking regarding this point hadn't changed much then. Things that annoy me when tanking. Tanking heroics nice and smooth.
  • Classes had class quests, some of the best ways to see if someone knew their class or not because they were genuinely some of the most difficult ways to obtain a certain item. I did the Anathema/Benediction quest on my Priest, but I think that didn't hold a candle in difficulty compared for instance to the Rok'Delar/Lok'Delar Hunter quest.
  • Obviously Blood Elves, Draenei, Worgen and Goblins didn't exist yet. Introducing Blood Elves and Draenei in Burning Crusade was how Blizzard explained Alliance getting shamans and Horde getting Paladins.
  • No flying mounts!
  • You didn't get your first mount until level 40 and getting enough money to afford it was not easy. I think it cost some 90g.
  • There were no Looking For Groups or Looking For Raids. Originally there weren't even Summon Stones or game-wide channels that allowed you to find people, but you had to stand around in a major city to collect enough people for an instance. Then get everyone there. And if anyone left mid-instance, someone had to travel/hearthstone back to a major city to find a new player and get that new player to the instance. This meant just making any old instance could take hours. HOURS!
  • Some instances were hell just to get to let alone get through. Maraudon was infamous for having people lost and confused long before they even entered the instance. If you died you had to corpse-run from outside the instance back in if no one could resurrect you. My brother was known as "Luzi the lost" in his guild because he could never find his way back into Maraudon.
  • There was no roll for "Need", "Greed" or "Disenchant" system. You could only roll to either take an item or not. Initially this was one system I wish they didn't bring back, but my bf pointed out that this was the best way to find out who was worth grouping with again or not. You could find some really nice people based on how they treated the rolls, although it also meant a lot of frustration from people treating everything as a potential weapon for them, even when it clearly wasn't *cough*Hunters*cough*.
  • Some instances that are now instances were initially raids. Scholomance and Stratholme come to mind. They were first 10-man raids and then 5-man raids if I remember correctly. I recall priests being the go to healer for those instances because we could remove both magic and disease debuffs, had Shackle Undead and that buff that protected from fear.
  • Paladins had Judgements and Seals, they only lasted a few seconds. I remember having a macro where I would rebuff my Seal every time I used Judgement.
  • Rogues could still open Lockboxes, that was a big thing actually. I loved leveling up my lockpicking skill and offering up my services to people in big cities.
  • There were still chests around the world. I really miss those, although they were pretty heavily exploited.
These are just off the top of my head and as soon as I post this I am going to think of a ton of more ones. But I could do this all day and both me and the bf realized that we would love to go back to an unaltered experience of Vanilla WoW. It was harsh, but absolutely amazing. My personal favorite expansion was Wrath of the Lich King, but maybe Blizzard intend to make it slowly through the old expansions again? That would be so, so cool.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Quick Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery Ep 7

Magic to make the sanest man go mad
Spoilers as usual

The previous episode I felt like Discovery was finally picking up some interesting story telling. This time they are doing it again with a good old Groundhog Day-tale. Mudd returns and manages to cement himself as possibly the most annoying a**hole in the Star Trek Universe, rivaled only by Q.

It all starts off with a party, which feels very un-Star Trekky, not in a bad way but in that, in the older series people have come off as if they are only their on-duty characters all the time. It's a sort of stiffness to the character I would say and not really something I've noticed until I saw this party-scene that felt like it could've come straight out of any other TV-series. In the older Star Trek series, no matter what people were doing it always had this veil of Trekkiness to it that is difficult to describe. That made this scene feel odd but I didn't dislike it.

I think it might be the lack of casual-wear.

Michael and Tyler are called to the bridge because the ship has encountered a Gormagander, which apparently is an endangered species who likes to float around in space. For some reason there is a directive that says that whenever a Federation ship encounters one of these they need to not leave it be, but meddle as much as possible by aiding it - apparently preferably by beaming it straight into a cargo bay. How a creature that seems to live and (somewhat) thrive in open space can even endure being in a cargo bay I don't know but it's not impossible I guess (I mean, tardigrades can so why not these creatures too).

The Gormagander is big enough to hide a space ship in so Mudd basically uses it as a Trojan horse to trick himself inside the Discovery. Once inside he tries to steal the secret behind the spore drive so he can sell it to the Klingons, kill Lorca and when he fails he blows the ship up. Then he loops it all and tries again.

At first I was curious as to how Michael was going to figure out that there was a time loop going on, but turns out it's not Michael who does it at all, but Stamets. Which makes perfect sense seeing as he is "in tune with the Universe" and all. In essence he isn't affected by the time loop so while he dies his memory of the incident remains. Which feels like a pretty arbitrary difference in effect by eh, time travel works in mysterious ways.

Stamets finally manages to get Michael to believe him and Michael gets Tyler to spill the beans on what it could be that Mudd is using. I don't know why the episode feels like Tyler needs to trust someone before he can tell them about Mudd, since he despises Mudd, but I guess a random question about Mudd from a random person would seem odd. Either way this setup is used to force Michael and Tyler to acknowledge to each other that they "like each other". It is used for a decent purpose in this episode, but where they are going with it from here I don't know and I don't see it being particularly interesting either. I can count exactly zero love stories from Star Trek series in the past having interested me in the slightest and I doubt this one will either.

Not even this love story.

I love the look Lorca gives Saru when Lorca calls the Gormagander (sounds like something out of Harry Potter btw) a "fish" and Saru goes to say "technically sir, it's not a fish but a...". He doesn't get further, but that scene was instant Data reference to me, it made me smile.

Towards the end, when we think they might finally have turned the tables on Mudd, Stamets says he will give Mudd the secret to the spore drive if he promises not to kill any more people. As viewer we are not in on whether he does this because he is stupid or because it's part of a plan to trap Mudd so we (or at least I did) immediately thought the latter. Surely Stamets wouldn't go through all that just to give it all up in the end? Well... turns out that seems to be exactly what he does. So they're all screwed, thanks for nothing Stamets.

Fortunately Michael realizes she still has an ace up her sleeve, to force Mudd to loop once more so they can catch him. She goes and reveals to Mudd, who is just about to finish the deal with the Klingons, that she is the Michael Burnham who killed T'Kuvma. Mudd realizes that Michael is worth a fortune to him and in that instant Michael kills herself, forcing Mudd to reloop to capture Michael alive.

Which is obviously exactly what they had been hoping on and Mudd gets caught and... is sent off with his wife?!

This is pretty much what happens. They find out that Mudd needs the money because he owes his father-in-law a ton and so they send for him and his daughter (Stella) who pick him up and leave. Umm... so the whole trying to steal the most secret weapon in the Federation and selling it to the mortal enemy they are currently at war with, killing hundreds of crew members in the process wasn't an issue? Just... letting him go are we?

Yeah that ending leaves a lot of question marks. I knew of course that Mudd survives, since he is in TOS. And we know he absolutely hates his wife so it's more of a funny ending than a suitable one. I also know he's not very liked in the Federation, but considering what he has done he should literally be either in prison or banned from all Federation space forever. He has proven well beyond doubt that he is merciless lunatic that would do anything for a bit of money.

Even though it's the kind of episode where you know they're going to make in the end the suspense is in the "how" and this episode does a very good job with it. It keeps a good pace throughout and is very well edited, leaving in or adding just enough for every loop so that you don't literally have to rewatch the same thing over and over. It's yet another episode where we don't see the Klingons and it almost feels like the series is better off without them. The best episodes so far have been in their absence.

Has Kelsey Grammer been in every TV-series? (TNG Cause and Effect)

Of course this series gave me serious déjà vu for other reasons (no pun intended). The whole time through watching this I felt certain that something very similar has happened in Star Trek before. Of course, I was probably thinking of the TNG episode "Cause and Effect" in which the Enterprise is caught in a time loop where it is constantly destroyed. Data and Dr Crusher eventually figure out a way to send him a message to be able to stop it. Also a great episode that I am going to have to rewatch now. (On a side-note, the USS Bozeman that is also stuck in the time loop in that episode is originally from only 20 years after Discovery is set)

Overall I liked this episode and feel like the series is on a good track. Maybe the whole "war with the Klingons" thing was just an excuse to allow for this kind of story-telling. I would be ok with that, but I doubt that's the case.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Quick Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery Ep 6

Lethe (I had to google what that meant...)
More spoilers than ever I think.

I think this was my favorite episode so far. It established a couple of very interesting things and was also finally going into some more of the crazy story-telling that we all know and love from Star Trek. In short, we get to experience mind-meldception. But before I get into that...

It should've been clear from the get-go to me, seeing as Michael is Sarek's other child trying to mix Vulcan and Human cultures, but if it wasn't this episode hammered it in. Whereas Spock was a logic man fighting (against) his emotions, Michael is an emotional woman fighting (for) her logic. They're similar in that they both value logic a lot higher than emotions, but that makes perfect sense seeing as they've grown up in the Vulcan logic-driven culture. Both Michael and Spock come off as rude and awkward in human company a lot of the time, this is a point that is often mentioned in TOS where people (mostly McCoy) are shocked by Spocks lack of emotions even in the worst of situations. They think not crying/shouting/cursing means you're not caring. Michael, just like Spock has had her issues growing up in the Vulcan society, trying to balance these two worlds - although of course the Vulcans would rather the human side was completely eradicated meaning they see no value in it whatsoever. Star Trek, and again TOS mainly, goes a long way to show that emotions have their time and place too. That is something this episode also tries to do, and I think it succeeds.

Speaking of Sarek, his ship has been blown up by an assassin Vulcan (apparently that's a thing) part of a terrorist faction who don't want Vulcans to work with humans. Sarek is drifting around in a nebulae that looks a lot like those 3d pictures I always failed to see back in the 90's and his Katra-meld with Michael is the only thing that can save him. In the end she basically does a mindmeld within the katra-meld. This story is just the kind of oddball that I love about Star Trek, especially since it is used for an interesting and rewarding purpose. Lorca immediately sets out on a rescue mission against the express commands of the Federation. Michael has to force herself into Sareks mind, which allows her to learn that when given the choice Sarek chose Spock before Michael for the Vulcan Expeditionary Force. Sarek had told Michael she had failed the test. I thought Vulcans don't lie? I know they do on several occasions, but it's still something they make a pretty big point out of in TOS.

Nebulae or 3d picture?

Also how does it work when Michael can see scenes in Sareks memory that he can't possibly have witnessed himself? In this particular case it might've been her memory mixed in with his memory, but eh /shrug.

A lot of people have been complaining about the anachronistic problems that arise when you make a prequel - in this episode we see that the Discovery has a very advanced holo-deck, something that of course wasn't present in TOS which is set after STD. I guess you can explain it that the technology existed, it just wasn't anything that was used on the Enterprise. It's not something that bothers me a lot, as long as it's not story breaking as in STD showcasing something that was actually invented/discovered as a plot point in another episode set after in time. I am sure this happens, but I haven't noticed any so far.

The guy Lorca escapes with in the previous episode, apparently named Ash Tyler, turns out to be one heck of a guy. So good in fact that Lorca basically offers him the Chief Security position on the spot. As we know, the previous security chief died a horrible death after an incredibly stupid decision to let loose the tardigrade on her own (well Michael was in the room, but unarmed), then aggravate it, although knowing it had killed several armed Klingons and torn through armed ship hull like it was butter. She was clearly not very good at her job. Also clearly, Lorca doesn't care who he pisses off in the ranking system that was actually in line to get that position, but that does seem in character.

I'm not sure what I think about Ash yet though... he seems pretty bland, but then again so did a lot of characters in other ST series (hello Dr Crusher, Harry Kim and actually come to think of it, almost everyone from NG).

I was in camp Pulaski. Yeah you read that right.

Speaking of Lorca, we get to learn a lot more about him. He is possibly, and probably, the only (main character) captain in Star Trek so far with a very dubious character and moral code. I would say he verges on psychopathic. Lorca gets another visit from Admiral Cornwell, they've bickered enough in the past to not make it come as much of a surprise when it turns out they've been some sort of couple-item in the past. Cornwell, who also seems to be a psychiatrist when she's not being an admiral, tells Lorca she thinks he has major issues (I am euphemizing here) and wants him to relinquish control of the ship. Lorca breaks down and pleads to her, as an old friend, not to ruin him. Cornwell answers, in what is a great scene and reply  -"I hate that I can't tell if that is really you".

The food replicators tell you everything you need to know about the dish you're ordering, making them effectively more annoying than Neelix.

Actually, I kinda liked Neelix.

Sarek was on the way to negotiate some sort of truce between the Federation and some break-off Klingon houses, but since he has been hurt he can't do that anymore. Lorca suggests that Admiral Cornwell does it in his stead, and the second he said that I knew that Cornwell was dead. That would solve the story "problem" of her threatening to remove him from command of the Discovery. Literally the last thing she says before she flies off to meet the Klingons is "we'll discuss how you are going to step down when I get back". Well, you ain't coming back obviously - Hollywood writing 101.

She wasn't killed though, to my surprise, but indeed kidnapped. Somehow I doubt she will be let off as easily as Lorca was, he seems to have been kidnapped by the only completely incompetent Klingon out there. What's very interesting though is that Lorca doesn't set out to immediately rescue her but instead tells a very surprised Saru that he wants to go "through the proper channels and wait for the command". Clearly completely against everything he has done in the past, and another sign that Lorca isn't above throwing anyone to the wolves if it fits his plans and needs. Very interesting indeed.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Quick Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery Ep 5

Choose your pain
Spoilers beware...

Another episode where I felt not much did happen, but we did get a whole lot of throwbacking. I am definitely not the only one who will have noticed who was on that list of "notable captains". Christopher Pike and Jonathan Archer from The Original Series and Enterprise respectively. But speaking of that scene, I didn't see where that lead to? I guess it was to show Saru whether he had leader qualities or not but they never showed the results of the test (or did I just completely miss that?) so the point of it was kind of lost. And why would the computer talk back like that? Why does the questioner need to justify the question? If it's programmed that way I'd be really annoyed with it quickly. Just answer my dang question, will ya?

The more I look at those Klingons the uglier they get...

And also speaking of throwbacks, we got to meet Mudd, one of my least favorite characters from the TOS. When I rewatch that series I tend to skip the episodes he is in, except the Tribble one of course. He wasn't any more likable now, in fact he doesn't seem to have any redeeming qualities. If he was supposed to come off as street-smart, looking out for himself they mostly just managed to make him look like a huge d*ck.

It also seemed pretty clear the whole kidnapping business was just an excuse to unfold the story about the tardigrade because even though they establish that Lorca has been kidnapped because the Klingons want to know why his magic ship is so awesome, this isn't pre-developed with any kind of hint about this motivation. We don't see any Klingons screaming in frustration as yet another battle plan is foiled by the Discovery, nor any discussion about the kidnapping going to take place. Where did they get information on Lorcas whereabouts exactly when he was at his most vulnerable? Was it that easy for the Klingons to sneak in to what I am assuming is Federation space and kidnap one, if not the most, important captain in the fleet? Heck, they didn't even sneak, they just showed up.

Apparently they also know that Lorca has an eye condition and use that to torture him. Then they just let him leave the torture room when they get nothing out of him, and Lorca doesn't even seem particularly bothered by the torture! It's like the Klingon captain just gave up on the idea almost immediately or the Klingons are just very bad at it because they tend to rather kill their enemies in the battle field. I guess they didn't have the mind reading machines used in TOS ep 27 "Errand of Mercy" yet because that would've made that whole business quick and easy (that would've also made for an interesting throwback and possibly a more interesting plot development).

Errand of Mercy is one of many TOS episodes with omnipotent beings.

The fact that the kidnapping was thrown in there without any kind of build-up, and then quite badly developed, makes me think it's not supposed to be an important part of the plot but just an excuse for the whole tardigrade thing and for showing what a douche Mudd is.

The episode is named after a practice among the Klingons to let the prisoners choose who will get a beating, the prisoner himself or another prisoner. This is how we are first introduced to Mudd, by understanding that he has had another prisoner beaten to death in his stead. But how does this work really? If there are only two prisoners and they presumably name each other, do they both get a beating? Sort of defeats the object.

We get a tiny bit of character development for some characters in this episode. For instance we find out that Stamets and the Doctor are a couple. I thought that Stamets and that guy from the Glen were a couple though? Maybe I misunderstood that and besides, since a couple of months have passed since then I guess new relationships could've been established.

Will we get to know more about Airiam for instance?

We also find out that Lorca blew up his previous ship, with crew and all, rather than have them become prisoners of war to the Klingons. We already know he is ruthless and cares more about results than lives so I am not entirely sure what this was going to add to his character though.

So this felt like yet another episode that didn't accomplish very much until the very last second, with the eerie revelation that there is now something very, very wrong with Stamets. I really hope they go somewhere interesting with this.

I am still having fun watching STD, I just wish I cared more about the characters.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Quick Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery Ep 4

The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry
And yes, there will be spoilers.

I actually forgot to watch the episode yesterday and instead decided to finish out Fallout New Vegas. Not sure that is a good sign for STD. Yeah, I know it's a funny acronym.

I felt like not much happened in this episode and what did wasn't all that interesting to be honest. I also realized something that's bugging me but I'll get to that.

It opens up with an unintentionally funny scene when Michael walks into the elevator with Saru and tells the elevator to go straight to where she wants to go. What was Saru doing in the elevator then? Either he was going off on that floor and forgot or Michael just completely ignored that he might want to go somewhere else.

I'm suspecting more and more that the new look on the Klingons was because the producers, or whomever is in charge of those things, was worried that no one would be interested in something that has been around since literally the beginning of the series. With a whole new look and basically feel to the Klingons they can sort of be passed off as a new enemy. I'm not entirely sure what I think about it yet but I am still not all against it either.

They're pretty cute actually.

When they showed the "Ripper" (the name feels a bit like a metaphor for the series, simplistic and not all thought through) my immediate thought was "huh, that looks just like a tardigrade" and two seconds later they confirm that in fact it is a huge tardigrade. I was actually quite intrigued by the idea of turning a giant tardigrade into a weapon, considering they are the most sturdy animal we know of, even more so than cockroaches. Tardigrades are almost impossible to kill and can withstand insane amounts of temperature change and radiation. But no, apparently it is going to be tortured into being some sort of "navigator" or cog in the machinery. I would've preferred the weapon-path, but hopefully they'll go somewhere else with the tardigrade as well.

The whole attack on the dilithium-mining-outpost was just not well done... When the kid shouted "mummy, mummy wake up!" I was cringing at the bad writing. Add cliché yelling and crying children in the background. And then at the end they had the little kid who looked up into the sky and said "who saved us?". I was starting to wonder whether I was watching a 70's Superman movie. And why did Lorca need to endanger the entire ship with that "blow-the-Klingons-up-with-explosives"-scheme? It looked like the phasers were doing a pretty good job already so that entire tactic seemed really stupid.

Not that there is anything wrong with Superman.

In the meantime the Klingons can't agree on anything even when in full-scale war with the Federation. This doesn't surprise me, but that Kol (or whatever his name was) guy who comes and takes over everything from Voq says, and I paraphrase "well we won't stick together after the fighting anyway so we might as well not before the fighting". Yet again, seems like a bad tactic. Unless he is worried Voq will get too much power but we don't get to see the motivation behind what any character is doing besides Michael.

And here we come to my one biggest issue with this series so far. Every series of Star Trek so far has given many characters in the show the opportunity for some character development. There has been an overarching story, but also branching stories in which we learn more about someone else beside the main character. In Next Generation that was unfortunately characters I didn't care much about, like Troi or Crusher, but mostly this has worked really well and has made me care more about everything that happens to the crew. The Original Series probably does this the least but they still manage to give depth to more characters than just Kirk.

So far I see very little inclination that STD is going to give much character development to anyone but Michael, and when another character gets any development it is only to further the story around Michael. We get some exposition into Saru's species in the first episode, which comes in handy in this episode when Michael needs his "threat-ganglia". Tilly explains a bit of herself but that is only so that we will understand what a pain in the ass she will be for Michael. I didn't like every character of all the other series, but knowing more about them allowed me to make that choice! Now I don't even get to decide whether I like someone or not because they are barely even people to me, they're just dialogue-providers for Michael.

The biggest reason for this is obviously that STD so far is slated for way less episodes than any of the other series. Even Star Trek Enterprise, which I felt was short by Star Trek standards, is almost 100 episodes (TOS has 80, NG 176, VOY 170 and DSN 173)! Clearly they've either decided to go for a tight-knit, no excursions allowed, story-arch to test the waters for more episodes, or maybe this is it. I really hope this won't be it.