Live-Blogging the 2017 NFL Draft

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It’s that time of year and that time of day again! That’s right, after just a few short months of not blogging about the vaunted (I say semi-sarcastically) NFL, it’s time to hop back on the baggage train and ride it into town. Tonight marks the start of 2017’s NFL Draft Class and the first round of the draft proper. So in order to commemorate that I will be following the events online on various websites- see ESPN and NFL.com essentially if you want examples. Without further ado, allow me to include some of my comments and time stamps as we get things underway.

1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett DE: As many have guessed by now and seemingly rightly so, Myles Garrett’s stock couldn’t be diminished enough to keep him from going number one overall. He’s just joined a handful of other defensive linemen to get picked number one overall in the past twenty-some years. I’m not too terribly surprised by this selection although in my own personal mock draft I had Jamal Adams (S) going first.

Est. 8:28pm ET

2. Chicago Bears: Mitchell Trubisky QB: Perhaps many speculated whether or not he would be picked above other notable quarterbacks or whether or not he would be the number one pick, but I doubt many saw the surprise trade of slots between the 49ers and Bears as landing Trubisky in Chicago. It seems as if the Bears are on-board with training a new QB to take over the franchise in the future and they think Trubisky is that QB. My personal pick in the mock draft was Leonard Fournette (RB) to the 49ers of course.

Est. 8:32pm ET

3. San Fransisco 49ers: Solomon Thomas DE: I did not see this one coming at all actually and I don’t think many other people did either. Most seemed to prospectively have Thomas listed around the 5-10 range in terms of where he would go but this pick was obviously given some more thought with the trade down and I think it is as solid a choice for any team that needs considerable work in the defensive scheme of things. San Fransisco probably can’t go wrong here. My personal pick in the mock draft I made myself was Myles Garrett (DE).

Est. 8:36pm ET

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette RB: I can see exactly why the Jaguars capitalized on Fournette not already having been picked and I feel like this is one of the most sound fits for them as well, especially as a high draft pick. They’ve been desperately in need of a good RB at the position and he was bound to go in the first half of the first round regardless of who picked him up. Good call on Jacksonville’s part here and I think it’ll be truly interesting to see how he performs especially considering he’s the first of his position to be picked thus far. My personal pick here was Malik Hooker (S).

Est. 8:39pm ET

5. Tennessee Titans: Corey Davis WR: Although I’m a little surprised that Davis was picked above Mike Williams at the very least, that is just my untrained opinion showing through as the scouts mostly seemed to agree that he would more than likely be picked first. Davis is pretty much the ideal receiver in this draft class and one of the few to balance both height and weight as well as speed and agility (on top of outright performance) I must add. It’ll be interesting to see how the receiver matches up with the other deep threats and big tight ends that Tennessee boasts on Mariota’s offensive lineup. My personal pick here was Jarrad Davis (LB).

Est. 8:44pm ET

6. New York Jets: Jamal Adams S: I think this is a really good fit especially considering some of the shaking up that has been done lately in regard to the Jets’ defensive scheme. Plus, let’s look at the fact that we may even witness Adams getting to play side by side with former CB turned possible S Darrelle Revis if that ever materializes. Either way, this prospect has a tough road ahead of him but couldn’t be going to a better team in terms of being utilized and thrown into the fire- considering the Jets are forced to match up with the Pats and Dolphins twice a year at least. Not that it matters much, but my pick here was Deshaun Watson (QB).

Est. 8:51pm ET

7. San Diego Chargers: Mike Williams WR: Here’s an interesting pick and one that should be very worthwhile in the long run as well for both the Chargers as a whole and Philip Rivers at QB. Giving Rivers another solid target to throw downfield to when the rest have been so injury prone lately and those injuries have often derailed what would’ve otherwise been a decent to good season can only be good news. Maybe we can finally see the Chargers push for another playoff performance in the near future, even though they must first contend with the staunch adversity they face from within the AFC West year to year. My pick here was Marshon Lattimore (CB).

Est. 8:57pm ET

8. Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey RB: The Panthers broke the bank in a good way here. I can’t help but think they’re drafting the best all-around threat on offense in Chris McCaffrey right now. Although Leonard Fournette went higher than McCaffrey and may be the stronger back, I’m positive that McCaffrey’s usefulness as a ball catcher as well as a runner will definitely come in handy and help the Panthers to rebound from their nonsensical performance last season. There was no real reason why they flopped last year other than post-Super Bowl loss nerves essentially so with a few defensive keys missing but at least one strong new offensive tool in their arsenal they should be ready to go. My personal pick was Christian McCaffrey (RB) as well.

Est. 9pm ET

9. Cincinnati Bengals:  John Ross WR: The Bengals only really had two major options here: to go for a defensive lineman or for a playmaker on offense, whether that be another running back or another solid option downfield for Andy Dalton. John Ross is a strong pick for them despite my shock that he’s gone higher than most experts predicted he would fly. He has some of the most versatile movements of any of the receivers in this draft class and he also boasts some of the rawest talent and greatest potential as well despite size concerns. When it’s all said and done, I think Green and Ross lined up beside each other could be a powerful combination for years to come. My personal pick here was also John Ross (WR).

Est. 9:07pm ET

10. Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes QB: Well I can’t say I’m necessarily surprised that the Chiefs picked out a QB but I can say that I’m surprised that a) they traded up in order to snag this spot from Buffalo and seal the deal early and b) nobody has picked up Watson yet who must be positively fuming. It makes sense to see the Chiefs go ahead and secure their legacy after Alex Smith inevitably departs at some time in the future, and I’m very interested to see where Mahomes eventually fits in with their currently all-over the place offense that gravitates at times towards the run and at times towards the pass. My personal pick (for the Bills) was O.J. Howard (TE).

Est. 9:15pm ET

11. New Orleans Saints: Marshon Lattimore CB: This is a pretty decent and intelligent pickup by New Orleans, especially when you consider that their defense has been a non-factor for far too long. They need to bulk up on the defensive front and this is a fairly strong acquisition to start with. Lattimore is one of the best corners in his class and should do wonders if immediately implemented into New Orleans’ defense as well. My personal draft only included essentially ten players and then I sort of gave up after that so forgive my lack of draft stability from here on out.

Est. 9:25pm ET

12. Houston Texans:  Deshaun Watson QB: I was just wondering if we were about to see Watson get snubbed further but it turns out he unsurprisingly goes to a team that could use a winning quarterback at the helm. This particular draft slot is interesting if only because it was traded earlier in the year from Philadelphia to Cleveland who just now gave it away to Houston. Maybe Cleveland won’t even worry about drafting a QB this year- if so, maybe they’re semi learning after all? Either way, Houston could use the help and many of its receivers have said they’d most like Watson to lob the rock their way…

Est. 9:34pm ET

13. Arizona Cardinals: Hasson Reddick LB: For a team that could use some big guys protecting the ball and the person holding the ball, this is as safe a pick as they come. Reddick is not only one of the best at his personal position, but one of the most applicable candidates for the lineup in Arizona given a little time and work at camp in order to finesse his skill set a bit. I think it’ll be interesting to see whether or not some of the other LBs in the draft class perform as well or better than he does this coming year as well.

Est. 9:43pm ET

14. Philadelphia Eagles: Derek Barnett DE: When you really start to look at things, the best first round fit for this team of the players that were left at the time of Barnett’s selection was in fact Barnett. It doesn’t get much better than nailing the pick you need after trading for the slot from Minnesota earlier in the season and sealing the deal. Barnett is second only to Myles Garrett in the draft presumptions and also now in terms of being third overall at his position for the draft which isn’t too damn bad after all.

Est. 9:50pm ET

15. Indianapolis Colts: Malik Hooker S: Although this is definitely good for Hooker’s draft stock considering I was really starting to worry he would fall even further, this is sort of an outlandish pick for the Colts- not because Hooker isn’t insanely talented, but because they surely could’ve gone ahead and picked up one of the best guards in the draft class. All things said and done, I think Hooker will be a great addition in the defensive scheme of things and for the Indianapolis secondary as well.

Est. 9:56pm ET

16. Baltimore Ravens: Marlon Humphrey CB: Humphrey is a solid addition to the Ravens at the mid-way point in the first round. The Ravens definitely needed some help in the backfield this year and a CB is probably the answer to their prayers as well assuming he can perform well. As the second CB thus far in this draft class, Humphrey should have some lofty ambitions and be ready to hit the road and grind all year long with a squad that’s known to go hard in the paint. I’m excited to see how he lines up alongside or behind some of the hardcore vets here.

Est. 10:03pm ET

17. Washington Redskins: Jonathan Allen DT: In the end it came down to pretty much either a linebacker or tackle at this point for the overall first Redskins selection of the round and of the draft. It’s good to see Allen finally getting some love after going down so many slots from where he was initially projected, but then again it’s also gonna be interesting to see him don shades of red yet again- albeit a lighter shade than that of which the evil NCAA empire wears.

Est. 10:09pm ET

18. Tennessee Titans: Adoree Jackson CB: In what has thus far been a heavily defense-oriented first round , to nobody’s great surprise, it is semi-shocking that of all the CBs in the land Jackson would be the next in the line of draft succession. He wasn’t in the top three at his position by most standards, but then again since when does that mean anything? If Tom Brady can not even go in the first five rounds and put up the stats he’s done time and time again then what do I care? Congratulations Jackson- I’m sure you’re going to be an excellent addition to Tennessee’s up and coming roster.

Est. 10:17pm ET

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: O.J. Howard TE: It’s always good to see someone who has been recognized as one of the best if not the best at their position have the satisfaction of ending up with an equally talented team. Tight Ends no longer operate as they once did and are largely changing up the way a lot of offenses work nowadays. I’m really interested to see how Alabama’s newest NFL prospect fares with the likes of Winston and Evans on the same side of the ball and same team.

Est. 10:22pm ET

20. Denver Broncos: Garett Bolles OT: It’s fair enough to say that Bolles probably wasn’t many people’s first thought when it comes to who the Broncos would be picking as their first round draft pick. That’s no slight against his skill or size or versatility or anything, just merely stating that it is surprising that he would be picked above at least one of the other tackles out there. All things considered, it may turn out to be pretty wise that they went with the offense this time around when you consider the fact that the typical Broncos D is pretty stout these days.

Est. 10:28pm ET

21. Detroit Lions: Jarrad Davis LB: I’m interested in some of the choices that have been made these past few picks because they seem to be gathering superb players that just don’t necessarily fit with what exact needs they require as of right now. This could be a sign of trades to come or deals to broker after camp if these rookies happen to be better than the veterans on retainer who cost more. Davis is a sound player and I think he can make some waves with the lowkey talent on Detroit’s line.

Est. 10:32pm ET

22. Miami Dolphins: Charles Harris LB: Harris may just be the best at his position and this is probably about where most people would’ve expected him to be drafted as far as outside linebackers with that level of talent go. He’s speedy when he needs to deliver and he knows exactly what he’s doing so I’m really curious as to how well he’s going to match up with the rest of the crew that Miami has been building and how that in turn can affect their level of play this coming year. They managed to be pretty potent last year after all…

Est. 10:40pm ET

23. New York Giants: Evan Engram TE: Here we see another tight end going to a team that has some dangerous potential on the offensive side of the ball. I’m interested to see how they start using their strong tight ends again since it’s been more than a few years since I’ve enjoyed seeing a certain shock jockey ramble around the field like Rob Gronkowski does now. I only hope the Giants can make things interesting again for fans everywhere and Engram seems like a strong enough candidate to bolster the already dangerous offense downfield.

Est. 10:44pm ET

24. Oakland Raiders: Gareon Conley CB: I’m a little chocked the Raiders didn’t opt to pick up Reuben Foster at ILB since nobody has yet and that’s a position they could look to fill. As far as a first round selection goes though, I’m not necessarily too sure what they’re thinking outside of Conley’s combine performance here. Conley isn’t a bad player by the numbers and he’s lithe as well as speedy and able to deliver at his position. I’m curious as to what they see in him personally over the rest of his peers at the same position, but then again we may see that he gets molded into the perfect shutdown corner that Oakland needs this coming year.

Est. 10:51pm ET

25. Cleveland Browns: Jabrill Peppers S: Peppers certainly got a lot of hype coming into things and although that has died down over the past few weeks he’s certainly going to find himself at home with other strong defensive prospects on this Cleveland team. It’s becoming pretty obvious which way the Browns are leaning with draft picks this year but I must say I’m also a little bit surprised they didn’t use their trade with Houston to pick up a tight end that hasn’t been claimed yet as well or something along those lines.

Est. 10:56pm ET

26. Atlanta Falcons: Takkarist McKinley DE: Atlanta made a literal last second trade up a few slots with Seattle and because of it they nabbed a pretty good pick on defense. McKinley could certainly help a team that only lost the Super Bowl and blew a double digit lead to force an overtime play against the increasingly clutch Patriots because they suffered a second half lack of defense after all. So I think it’s safe to say they can focus less on the already potent offense that they have and more on their obvious needs up front with defense for now.

Est. 11:07pm ET

27. Buffalo Bills: Tre’Davious White CB: Cornerbacks are a hot first round commodity at times and that’s become more apparent as yet another high-end corner has been picked up. The Bills earlier trade with Kansas City means White gets to call the wilds of Buffalo home for the foreseeable future and can do his part to give some much needed assistance to the struggling team. Defense should be a priority for the Bills and they’ve made a strong opening statement with this particular pick at the helm of their 2017 decisions.

Est. 11:10pm ET

28. Dallas Cowboys: Taco Charlton DE: Looks like the Cowboys managed to fulfill one of their most needed draft wishes in picking up a pretty solid defensive end. In the few contests where defense was the deciding factor, the Boys weren’t always as hot as they were when they ran away (quite literally) with things on offense. So a solid defensive prospect like Charlton really cannot hurt them in the long run and I’m interested to see how they can mold him and grow him as well.

Est. 11:18pm ET

29. Cleveland Browns: David Njoku TE: I really want to see the Browns do well this year, or at least anything but repeat their performance from last season. With their third pick in the first round courtesy of the Packers, they’ve picked up yet another amazingly talented player that should be able to bolster the team’s performance. To me, I think the Browns are being wise for once- having finally learned their lesson. If they really want another QB, they can pick one up in the latter rounds and maybe they’ll even be pleasantly surprised by a Dak-like performance as such. It’s been proven that you can take a decent QB and give him the right tools and gain success. So maybe they’ve done the right thing in grabbing a bunch of other lethal weapons for now.

Est. 11:23pm ET

30. Pittsburgh Steelers: T.J. Watt LB: Man, what can I say? Despite a lot of people not having Watt going in the first round at all, I was really looking forward to this. I think Pittsburgh sees all the potential that Watt has to offer and then some. So many people thought the Packers would get the guy and they almost did if not for their trade with Cleveland. As it stands, Watt has notorious work ethic and could grow to be even better than his renowned brother- only time can tell.

Est. 11:29pm ET

31. San Fransisco 49ers: Reuben Foster LB: After some trade deals between Atlanta and Seattle and then on to San Fransisco, Foster’s new and (finally) anticipated home is the 49ers. I was almost of the mind that he would get bounced to the next round entirely but apparently it wasn’t to be and someone finally saw the potential enough to step up. Alabama is notorious for churning out linebackers and running backs and big guys all around so I’m curious to see how San Fransisco decides to implement him into the game plan and how their defense turns out at all this year. So far he’s the only really “needed” pick they’ve managed to land.

Est. 11:38pm ET

32. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Ramczyk OT: We haven’t seen many tackles go just yet but the Saints went for a relatively safe choice and didn’t shake things up too much to end the first round. I’m a little bit surprised that nobody in the final few moments decided to pick up Dalvin Cook at RB considering he’s not too shabby and lord knows the 49ers could’ve used him and Saints could use the depth even with newly acquired AP. As it stands, welcome to the NFL Ramczyk and welcome to the Saints.

Est. 11:42pm ET

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Pokemon: Indigo League Retro Review S1 E1-5

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If you know anything about me and my writing in general then you probably know that not only do I write about a variety of subjects, I also enjoy writing semi-nostalgically about how old television shows hold up by my current standards as well. I’ve written about episodes of The X-Files before here as well as Season One of The Clone Wars, which I plan to continue at some point in the future but can also currently be found here.

Chances are, if you watched Pokemon: Indigo League in your youth or adolescence then you’ve grown up with and are pretty familiar with Ask Ketchum and the rest of the interchangeable crew of trainers (most notably Brock and Misty, I would venture to say). You undoubtedly remember the shenanigans Team Rocket would pull off- or rather the shenanigans they would hilariously fail to pull off. Chances are, you may even remember many of the episodes and their morals themselves fairly clearly. Regardless of your circumstances or what you may or may not have retained, I’ve taken the liberty of rewatching the entire season and breaking it down into bite-sized portions for individual episode reviews (in several batches).

Without further ado, let’s get to talking about Pokemon: Indigo League’s first five episodes- from “Pokemon- I Choose You!” to “Showdown in Pewter City.”

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Ep. 1: Pokemon- I Choose You! | 22m

For a series starter and the premier episode of a lengthy saga- that being Pokemon in general and regardless of what subtitle may accompany each season, the first episode of Indigo League does a really good job of cementing a lasting resentment of the entitled Ash Ketchum and ironically making viewers (at least of my age and right now) immediately dislike the young boy. That having been said, it also manages to bring him in a circular and redemptive arc by the end of the episode and beginning of the second- showing that there are at least two sides to every character and that maybe he’s not quite so bad as he seems. What initially makes you disdain the entitled lad will inevitably morph into recognition that yes, he has his flaws but he will do anything and everything for his friends and companions. As such, this premier episode is a perfect beginning to the season and the fifty-one episodes that will follow. Grade: A

Ep. 2: Pokemon Emergency | 22m

The second episode of the season follows directly on the heels of the previous one and essentially serves as part two of a two-part episode. Ash and his newfound friends- both Pokemon and human alike, head to Viridian City and encounter the dastardly doofuses of Team Rocket. Despite the dire situation that they initially find themselves in and the demeaning words of Team Rocket and a scheme that will leave the local Poke-Center devoid of its main constituents, Ash and his crew of course manage to one-up the morons and send them packing in style. Although it helps to bring viewer favor more in line with actually liking Ash and in finding hilarity in each and every Team Rocket encounter from here on out, the episode has its strongest moments in the first half rather than in the next. Grade: B-

Ep. 3: Ash Catches a Pokemon | 22m

This episode carefully balances the morals and themes representative of the previous two and seems to pull it off a lot better- rather than being too heavy handed with either comedy or tragedy, it walks a thin line down the middle. Truthfully, there are few genuine tragic moments in Pokemon as it is ultimately catered towards children and young adults, however some moments are sad and that’s something that permeates even the happier episodes when issues like friendship and treatment come up. After Ash catches a Caterpie and realizes that Misty is deathly afraid of all bug-life, he of course can’t help but terrorize her while all Caterpie wants is to be recognized as a friend and companion by the two of them. It’s heartbreaking in a way if only for the short period of time before Ash actually appreciates the Pokemon more fully and before Misty manages to overlook her fear in favor of being more open and less resentful. Grade: B+

Ep. 4: Challenge of the Samurai | 22m

Not only is it the first episode to not feature the prominent pocket monsters in the title itself as a shameless plug, but “Challenge of the Samurai” also features a fast-paced and pretty exciting plot as well when compared to the last few episodes. Caterpie has quickly evolved from his initial form into Metapod- the cocoon-like second evolution that looks pretty good but pretty much operates as a more functional land-Magikarp for all its knowledge of combat. When the group encounters a trainer in the woods who dresses as a samurai and vows to face each new trainer in battle, Ash wastes no time in challenging the trainer and basically being as arrogant as he possibly can be. Thankfully the two trainers are basically mirror images or each other and essentially their battle devolves into a stalemate between their Metapods until it is rudely interrupted by an angry swarm of Beedrill. As one might expect, this leads to Ash abandoning Metapod and later returning to witness its evolution and subsequent decimation of the swarm. Grade: B

Ep. 5: Showdown in Pewter City | 22m

Here we finally get to see the introduction of another key cast member in Ash Ketchum’s interesting and often varied ensemble- Brock (the Rock?). After dealing with some collective Team Rocket (and Meowth) shenanigans which I’ll essentially avoid for now considering their plans usually retain the same one-dimensional purpose of stealing other people’s Pokemon, Ash makes his way to his first gym battle. As he faces off with a pretty desensitized Brock (because dramatic and tragic backstory!), he realizes that he isn’t strong enough to win the battle quite yet and not nearly as ruthless as Brock seems to be. Flash forward to Ash being tutored by a mystery merchant on the outskirts of town and you get a little more backstory about the hardness that Brock showcases as well as his motives. Predictably, in their second face-off Ash eventually gets the better of Brock only because the two otherwise evenly matched opponents realize that they should better care for their Pokemon and their families and futures. Oh, and the mystery merchant turns out to be Brock’s estranged father who has finally returned and the rest is history. Grade: A-

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So there you have it, the first segment of Indigo League’s episodes and subsequent reviews and grades. Feel free to comment with your own nostalgic or opinionated thoughts as well as gripes, concerns, or any feedback at all really. I look forward to providing you all with some more fresh content in the future as well as the next post regarding Pokemon: Indigo League.

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My Favorite Games: A Decade Long Retrospective Pt. 3

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It’s been roughly a week or so since my last report on the matter, but it’s more than time to move on to the next segment of my ongoing retrospective glance at some of my favorite games year to year. Although I’m only covering about a decade worth of time, there have been plenty of excellent releases in that time period and as such some haven’t quite made the cut here and there. This particular post focuses on games that I played to 100% completion in the years 2009 and 2010 and that I thoroughly enjoyed on top of that. As always, please feel free to comment with your own opinions and concerns and give me feedback as well.

2009: F.E.A.R 2, Killzone 2, Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Halo 3: ODST, Uncharted 2, Borderlands, Dragon Age Origins, Modern Warfare 2, Assassin’s Creed II.

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For me personally, FEAR 2: Project Origin is the premier FEAR game of the three that have been released. Whereas the first was thoroughly chilling and offered some excellent and frenetic online multiplayer, the second upped the ante in every single way and gave us the best protagonist of the series (who would later be unceremoniously exploded in the final game). It combined the perfect amount of bullet-time shooter glory with chilling horror vibes and gore. All things considered, Project Origin was a fun romp and offers plenty of replayability in collectibles and DLC as well.

Killzone 2 is another sequel which is worlds better than the original both in terms of ambition and sheer success. Although Killzone 2 is my favorite game in the series, even I must recognize that the advances both Killzone 3 and Shadow Fall have made makes for a perfectly justified argument for any of Guerilla Games’ excellent shooters. Perhaps it was the initial experience of being able to finally take the war to the Helghast or perhaps it was the gritty and amazing visuals of the time, but Killzone 2 stands side by side with such PSN greats as Uncharted 2 from that time period in my mind easily.

Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena is an amazing and completely underrated and underappreciated game. Not only is it the sequel to the pretty spectacular Escape from Butcher Bay- a game created as a way to essentially push the Riddick franchise and to send it into the world of gaming, but it is also a complete package in its own right. Few other games have nailed the dark and gritty science fiction tones that Assault on Dark Athena did and does and even fewer have managed to pull the entire thing off as well. There are so many innovative elements that I loved in the game and it’s hard to believe that it came out this long ago when it still holds up well today.

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Long before Logan embraced his dark side more often on the silver screen, we gamers were treated to a rare thing indeed- a mature X-Men game and a movie tie-in that actually ended up being better than the movie it was based upon. Although X-Men Origins (the film) received plenty of harsh criticism and is a sore point with fans even today, I dare say few people could argue the blood pumping action and adrenaline inducing rage that the game offered. Not only is it a fulfilling and truly invigorating experience but it is one of the few notably good superhero games out there as well. X-Men Origins: Wolverine really laid the foundation for the small niche that is the mature superhero genre.

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood may be the last truly great game in the series outside of the mostly on-rails shooting of Gunslinger which semi-made up for the failure of The Cartel which was some garbage to say the least. It’s essentially a game that lets you take the best elements of shows like Deadwood and mix them in with other shows like Hell on Wheels and see what happens. And the coolest thing is that this was all in a pre-Red Dead Redemption world as well, so in many ways it pointed the torch and led to the reinvention of the western game genre after all. The first Call of Juarez is a pretty classic story but the grim brothers the sequel centers on tell an even darker tale.

The Batman Arkham series is perhaps the greatest licensed gaming series of all time and certainly holds the title of greatest superhero series of all time in my mind. Arkham Asylum started things off and like the initial Mass Effect it charted a course which the rest of the series would slowly evolve, modify, and perfect over time. I’ll never forget the first time I got to play and enjoy the dark and thrilling version of Batman’s world that is the Arkham universe or utilize my detective skills in order to piece together a larger puzzle. Sure, I knew things would eventually always come down to me and the Joker but after all what else could possibly go wrong?

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Stranger things have been known to happen but I’ll wager that few would’ve thought ODST would be the sleeper hit it turned out to be, despite it bearing the trademark Halo name. Who would’ve thought that what is essentially a detective story and ‘Saving Private Ryan’ mission would turn into one of Bungie’s most successful campaigns of all time and potentially the most memorable and gritty multiplayer offering either for that matter? ODST may not have topped the highs of Master Chief’s adventures in Halo 3 and it may have preceded what is arguably the most complete Halo package of all time in Halo Reach, but it was and is still amazing in its own ways.

In many ways, Uncharted 2-4 are on equal playing ground whenever the argument for which is the best game in the series comes up. Uncharted 2 did things first however and as such I think it deserves the brunt of this discussion for originality and for the sheer fact that it has such technical and graphical mastery and impressiveness for its time. Truly, Uncharted 2 featuring virtually no loading alone is one of the most impressive achievements in any game prior to 2010 and even in any game prior to 2017 for that matter. It was not only a fairly seamless adventure but one hundred times better and smoothed out the flaws to be found in the first jungle romp of Nate Drake. Whereas it may fall in the middle of the series, to me Uncharted 2 features some of the best characters and situations we’ve yet to see in Drake’s adventures.

Borderlands is a love story just as much as Deadpool is. Yes, you heard me right. It may be a love of glory and loot but I’ll wager the infatuation there still counts in many ways and that people enjoy it as such. Although it changed from what was initially pitched as a pretty realistic looking shooter on an alien world, I couldn’t be more than thrilled with the art direction that launched one of the most iconic and well-known gaming series to date. The art and humor often go hand in hand and I think that’s one of the most important design decisions we’ve ever witnessed. A cast of colorful characters and plentiful armaments makes the first Borderlands and all of its amazing downloadable content one of the most complete packages- prior to Borderlands 2 of course and the notably epic Handsome Collection in years since.

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Dragon Age is perhaps the most KOTOR-like game since KOTOR II itself and I’m here to tell you that’s an amazing feat on Bioware’s part. Perhaps the graphics haven’t necessarily held up over time and perhaps the experience has since been all but dwarfed in many ways by the expansiveness of Inquisition, and yet for what it’s worth it is still one of the quintessential role-playing experiences in gaming. Origins is one of the lengthiest and most fulfilling RPGs I’ve ever played and the level of choice and consequence for the time truly took my breath away. I’ll honestly never forget some of the storylines and the fact that Bioware has been and will continue to be one of my favorite developers.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 upped the ante in seemingly every way- the campaign was bigger and better, the multiplayer more refined, and the game modes bordered on the insane as the sheer amount of creativity and attention to detail was shown with each new collection of maps and modes released. It introduced the underappreciated special ops missions and an excellent cooperative mode as well. Modern Warfare may be the high mark for the series but Modern Warfare 2 is as good or better in literally every single way. Although I find MW3 to be the most replayable of the trilogy I cannot take away from the fact that at one time MW2 was the best and brightest the series has ever been and were it not so desolate eight years later and understandably so, it would be just as good now.

Assassin’s Creed II is a game that is over eight years old and yet it still represents what is essentially the best iteration of the series in every single way. Sure, we’ve had plenty of excellent experiences in the franchise since but there have also been plenty of mishandled and misguided entries as well. Assassin’s Creed II went bigger in every single way and it pulled every trick off. Whereas some of the other titles since have been hit or miss in many aspects, Assassin’s Creed II is the flawless total victory that the series needed and has been searching for ever since. I’ll never forget stepping into Ezio’s shoes and pursuing my quest for vengeance against the Pazzi Conspirators and across mainland Italia.

2010: Darksiders, Mass Effect 2, Bad Company 2, God of War III, Alan Wake, Red Dead Redemption, Singularity, StarCraft II, Halo Reach, Fallout New Vegas.

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Darksiders: Wrath of War is that rare game that comes along and copies a lot of what so many other successful series are doing and yet turns out to be all the greater for it rather than stumbling into the abyss. There are elements of God of War, Zelda, and even Portal unashamedly aped and placed into the Darksiders universe and yet it all fits together so seamlessly even in this first more-linear adventure that it’s actually quite impressive. I’ll never forget when I first placed and realized that each boss battle was going to be one hell of a time and that each gruesome finisher was better than the last. Truly, Darksiders is one of the series I would like to see come back in a big way and I really hope it gets its third chance.

Mass Effect 2 is my favorite game in the series hands down. That’s not to say Mass Effect 3 wasn’t thoroughly spectacular despite a mishandled ending and the critical acclaim it flushed down the drain because of it. However Mass Effect 2 represents the series at a time when it made me feel the most for its characters and when things felt so important and deep and real. The stakes have been higher before in the series but nothing quite made me feel it like infiltrating the Collector base and taking the fight to the Reaper’s puppets in the Omega 4 relay. There have been other amazing Mass Effect moments since, but I can’t help but shake the feeling that Mass Effect 2 represents the Empire Strikes Back of the original trilogy and is in many ways the darkest and best point.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is the best we’ve seen Battlefield in some time, if you’re not considering Battlefield 3 and 4 when they worked and weren’t brought down by so much technical difficulties and crappy campaigns. Battlefield 1 is fairly impressive overall but I’d still go so far as to say that the Bad Company series is the only one to boast actually good narratives in the Battlefield universe. Not only that, but Bad Company 2 features perhaps the most spectacular array of multiplayer maps and modes of any of the core series titles. Hardline is irrelevant essentially and 3 and 4 offer most of the same maps while 1 is a refreshing take we haven’t yet seen, but BC2 just blows them all away. The series introduced Rush and we’ve seen how influential that and survival modes have been since.

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In a year where we also saw a nearly God of War clone in Darksiders, it’s only fitting that the reigning champ of bloody brawls and the toppling of veritable gods comes back into the picture with its best game yet. As thrilled as I am to see Kratos reinvented in Norse mythology in the future, God of War III is the best we’ve ever seen the series go as it went bigger and beyond anything ever done before and nailed each and every moment. It’s not GOW without some controversy along the way, but I truly have loved the narrative and gameplay elements of each title in the series and this final console iteration (well prior to the mediocrity of Ascension) is no different. Kratos is brutal and unrelenting and one of the greatest anti-heroes of all time, if he can even be considered anything remotely heroic.

Remedy has crafted some gems throughout the years but one of the best and perhaps the cultiest of all of them has been the original Alan Wake- a slightly toned down horror thriller that missed some steps but retained its heart and essence despite bundling the true ending behind downloadable content. Although it essentially pulled an Assassin’s Creed II and hid chapters from players unwilling to pay for them, Alan Wake is an original and trippy experience and one I’m ever so glad I’ve had. I’ve played the game many times as it also has a somewhat arcadey feel to it and makes for an easily enjoyable and visceral experience. Alan Wake plays like something of a combination of Joss Whedon writing, Stephen King, and the X-Files but it is something that is so much more than all of its inspirations as well.

At least until we finally get to see Red Dead Redemption 2 and compare the two, Red Dead Redemption is the greatest western game that you will ever play and it holds up by today’s standards as well. Rockstar is well-known for crafting some of the most expansive and amazing open world games and Red Dead is no different. Outside of GTA V it is undoubtedly the greatest world they’ve yet to create for players to explore and take advantage of. Not only is there so much of a story and plenty of content but it’s all actually entertaining and interesting and something more than a lot of fetch quests and filler material. The story has undoubtedly been spoiled time and time again in the years since its release and yet it still carries so much emotion and sway with gamers everywhere even nowadays. RIP John Marston.

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Singularity is the very definition of a cult classic game- it has some wonky controls at times and it has received some pretty mixed reviews over the years and yet it is such an original and enjoyable and thought provoking experience. Many games could perhaps compare to it nowadays but at the time it was relatively alone in what it achieved and what it forced players to consider. It is very much a conversation on time and its effects and yet it is also a thoroughly engaging look into the Cold War and the changing of history for better or worse because of obscure decisions that could or couldn’t have been made. Raven Software always has something tricky up their sleeve and this game made me appreciate them more than ever- it’s just a shame we’ll more than likely never see anything else come from that universe because there’s so much more potential there.

StarCraft II is perhaps Blizzard’s most anticipated and greatest game of all time. And that’s saying something for a company that seemingly only churns out amazing products whether it be the Diablo series or World of Warcraft or Overwatch. Seemingly everything Blizzard touches turns to gold and StarCraft II pushes the boundaries of what the initial game did in so many ways that it essentially challenges the RTS genre it firmly established itself as the leader of. We’ve been hearing about the potential for a StarCraft I remake lately and that just gets me thinking about how much it would mean if a third game game out since it’s somehow been a whole seven years almost since the sequel released. Blizzard constantly provides content for their games so far beyond their release that sometimes I forget just how old they are.

Halo Reach is the best Halo game we may ever see and certainly Bungie’s greatest testament to the series. It is a love letter to space marines everywhere and features a memorable cast of characters as well as a tragic narrative, which is always a win in classic stories after all. The story of Noble Team and the glassing of Reach by the Covenant isn’t particularly new but having everything come full circle kind of in a Rogue One way and tie into the initial Halo game itself was not only masterful but fan service at its best. Combine that with the fact that Reach offered virtually every multiplayer mode from every previous Halo iteration including ODST and you’ve got a recipe for a game that is entirely playable even seven years later. Take that Call of Duty.

Fallout 3 may be my favorite game in the series but New Vegas is truly the gift that keeps on giving. I feel like every time Obsidian gets the chance to work on a sequel to somebody else’s project they just go out of their way to truly one up them and make the best product possible. Look no further than KOTOR II and New Vegas. New Vegas is more ambitious than Fallout 4 in many ways and still offers new surprises for me even today. Graphically it didn’t push the series in any direction but in terms of story and characters it is world ahead of the other current generation Fallout titles. New Vegas also offers the best downloadable content outside of Brotherhood of Steel and Point Lookout and pushes the series in such interesting directions in and around the Mojave area of the wastes that it can’t help but be aesthetically and intentionally pleasing. Come on- a post apocalyptic Zion? Gorgeous.

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Revisiting the Film that Reignited the Zombie Apocalypse

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28 Days Later is something of a modern cult classic but even so, it’s hard to believe that it only came out fourteen-fifteen years ago. But then again, it’s also hard to believe that it DID come out fourteen-fifteen years ago. 2007 sequel 28 Weeks Later and talk regarding a potential third and fourth series film notwithstanding, the film operates as most cult classics do so well- telling a story that is in many ways a circular journey and neatly wraps many details up while maintaining the intrigue and mystery by leaving some relatively unanswered as well. Although fans/victims of the lore and universe will know that many details and background interests have been added in the years since- comic books, graphic novels, a film sequel and more, the best part about any zombie apocalypse (besides it being horrid to be stuck in) is that anything can happen.

The sixties, seventies, eighties, and even nineties all had their famous horror zombie flicks and we’d seen many tall tales come and go- Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead to name a few. We’ve even seen some surprisingly good films since- I Am Legend, The Crazies, Shaun of the Dead, and Dawn of the Dead (2004). 28 Days Later kicked all of this off however, and not just in the film industry. Prior to the reinvention of the classic zombie thriller-horror romp many considered the genre to be dead and buried like westerns and eighties action flicks. Afterwards however we’ve been treated to a resurgence in films, literature, and even gaming. Left 4 Dead and Dead Rising are two of the bigger franchises out there and they both prominently feature the zombie apocalypse in entirely different ways.

Not only is 28 Days Later a good film and a good example of what to do in terms of filming the zombie uprising, but it deserves its status as a cult classic because it is both a harrowing experience against WWZ-like zombies and it is a cinematic experience that should be appreciated to the fullest. The camera work in Danny Boyle’s zombie thriller is spectacular- both in the long pans across the desolate London horizon and the tense emotions elicited throughout every chase sequence and encounter. Although it reestablishes the now commonplace trope that humans are their own worst enemy even in the dead uprising, 28 Days Later focuses both on the visceral feelings and emotions of mankind in reaction to the dead and undead as well.

Although we’ve been treated to two feature-length films that tell pretty decent stories within their own version of the zombie apocalypse, I’m really excited for what the future might hold for a series such as 28 ___ Later especially in the wake of the immense success of shows such as The Walking Dead (and the Kirkman comics). I would love nothing more than to see yet another quality zombie game released set in a similarly dark and gritty world to the films and perhaps even set within the same universe and utilizing some of the abundant lore as well. So far we’ve been given Zombi (originally for Wii U) which is probably the closest we’ve yet come to a fully realized and detailed experience in the vein of 28 Days Later, and that game was decent for what it offered in interesting gimmicks and mechanics.

I’m doing my best not to really spoil the great narrative even though it’s probably considered a bit cliche nowadays- not at the time, considering it is what so many movies now base themselves off of it seems. Not only is it a fully worthwhile and fundamental stroke of genius in terms of storytelling and cinematography, the acting itself is pretty spot on and the relatively unknown actors (besides Brendan Gleeson and Chris Eccleston) sell their roles perfectly. The 2004 version of Dawn of the Dead may be one of the most recognizable and pretty decent zombie films of the early 2000s, but let’s not forget the fact that 28 Days Later started things off right and paved the way not only for the shambling dead but the night-roaming mutants of I Am Legend as well. All things said and done, Boyle’s film would’ve also been fine without a sequel but expanding the 28 universe hasn’t been the worst idea either.

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Games I Didn’t Review in 2016: Quantum Break

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Quantum Break is a pretty interesting third-person shooter that was released essentially to showcase the graphical powers of the then-newer Xbox One and to potentially create a new supreme IP for Microsoft as well. Although it is fairly linear in scope despite offering an array of seemingly choice-driven narrative lines and the ability to warp and change time, it is still a thoroughly amusing adventure and also boasts some of the most prolific acting talent in a game I’ve played to date. Not only does it use the animated likeness of several well-known actors and actresses from such shows as HBO’s hit The Wire, but it also features many of their voice acting chops as well.

Besides star-power and an interesting time-related gimmick along the lines of something out of 2010’s Singularity, Quantum Break is interesting in other ways as well. For one, it is both a live-action television show and a video game, each part intermingled with the other in an intricate yet optional playable and watchable experience. This is really where the acting credits come in handy and where the story and lore progress deeper than they could in the base third-person action-shooter game itself. The story itself as well as the fluidity of gameplay mechanics are certainly the highlights and have been praised by other critics as such, however some of the other mechanics such as platforming and general locomotion are a bit messier.

Although it is intrinsically a shooter game and these typically don’t have much to offer in the way of a story, Quantum Break’s plot is fairly refreshing and interesting, not just for the genre but for gaming as a whole.  It does admittedly share similarities to some other time traveling adventures but then that exists only because many of the same issues that have always been theorized regarding time travel exist in this incarnation as well of course. One unique mechanic the game features is the built-in ability to essentially decide how the protagonist and antagonist will act and how that will shape the course of the plot itself. The game does a good job of representing Aidan Gillan’s (of course) chaotic character as neither good nor bad and sets him up as a definitely complicated antagonist that largely acts according to how protagonist Jack Joyce (Shawn Ashmore) reacts to…well it’s all really spoiler-ish and confusing so I’ll stop there.

When all things are said and done, Quantum Break should be and is an interesting new direction for Microsoft because it presents an original playing field with many talented actors and an intriguing yet potentially well-written and already closed script as well. Although I could see how the game could become a series, it also offers a thoroughly satisfying experience and conclusion which means it could be one of those highly praised cult-classic one-off games some day soon. There’s room for improvement and also some room for upgrading the story to be a little less linear and yet with all the background details and lore and episodic live-action pieces included it really is a pretty complete bundle. I’d like to not only hear or see more about the universe- not even in video games but perhaps through other mediums such as comics or novels, but also just see how similar elements that worked well in this game could be implemented into others successfully as well.

Remedy Entertainment is well known and well-praised for their work on some unique cult-classics and projects such as all things Alan Wake. Although many people would like to see Alan Wake 2 (in earnest) or see them take the helm on other ambitious and interesting projects, I also think working on Quantum Break was the right call and that they really nailed the tone and pacing they were aiming for. Sam Lake (who you may also know for producing stories in relation to Max Payne 1 and 2 as well as Alan Wake and a credit in Gravity) couldn’t have been a better fit for directing the effort and for managing the elements that would eventually come together to form a brave new live-action meets interactive adventure and game trope. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed that nobody else has started to implement the themes yet into their own development projects quite yet.

For me, Quantum Break exists somewhere in the 8-9 range in terms of assigning an actual number to it, if that were even possible. It does so many things well despite what could’ve ultimately ended up as an otherwise generic shooter like so many others out there. The story is both original and actually engaging, with memorable characters and talented actors truly bringing it to life and making me actually feel invested in the moment to moment action. Whether it was actually taking the time to watch each lengthy episode or play through the intermingled game portions, the entire package as a whole is a unique and lovable experience. I’ve been truly interested in some of the theories and lore ever since and would definitely love to see the brand used elsewhere even if it never comes back to gaming- it’s too much of an interesting tale to not take advantage of.

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Face Pizza and Flaming Midgets

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It’s taken some time to get to this point as I’ve been busy and one of the lower items on my to-do list has been replaying Borderlands 2 (and Mass Effect 2), but I’m finally ready to drop the first of many rocket propelled Tediore guns on you all. Prepare yourself for a world of hurt- and one filled with as many Borderlands references as your puny little brains can scarf down and stomach. Hey, some people think with their stomach after all. Paltry jokes and Borderlands memories and nostalgia aside, this first post is going to touch on plenty of themes and not really pertain to Borderlands 2 itself so much as the series and the lore as a whole. Strap yourselves in and buckle up for a long haul.

I’ve recently found myself replaying Telltale’s “Tales from the Borderlands” as well as Borderlands, Borderlands 2, and The Pre-Sequel. One thing I’ve noticed about the games is that for the most part they’ve aged like fine wine and also that between the chronology of The Pre-Sequel and Tales from the Borderlands, I’m sorely confused. Obviously I know how things tie together thanks to the fact I’ve completed every game in the series, however the jumping around that both The Pre-Sequel and Tales do doesn’t much help in terms of making things clear. In case you’re a relative newcomer to the series or otherwise haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on, rest assured that you’re in modest yet capable hands here.

Essentially the chronology of the series and its lore follows a trail of Borderlands, the storytelling portions of The Pre-Sequel, Borderlands 2, the present day portions of The Pre-Sequel, Tales, The Pre-Sequel, and Tales. Now, if that’s moderately confusing in any way then I apologize but TTG and Gearbox haven’t exactly made things the easiest to follow at times. Meanwhile, I’m just looking forward to another season of several TTG episodic releases that we have yet to even hear news on and Borderlands 3 which has been in development but also been very hush hush. At least we can rest relatively easy knowing it will not be going the Half-life 3 route- hopefully. Something I’ve come to both realize and appreciate through my time with the series in both the past and present is the fact that even when another studio emulate what thematic elements made the initial two games a hit, it often works in their favor- taking Tales for example, which is different but still maintains similar characteristics and a unique perspective.

Gearbox has constantly outdone themselves in terms of creating a fun sandbox adventure and dropping players either in single player or cooperative madness with ease. Borderlands 1 and 2 represent the highest points the series has seen and yet Tales and The Pre-Sequel are far from shabby iterations of the beloved franchise. Ironically, the storytelling is sometimes one of the finest elements in a series solely based upon and developed with loot collecting and level grinding in mind. The wit and crudeness and sometimes outright parody is hardly mirrored in other games as well and as such is one of the truest highlights of the versatile formula. If you recall, Borderlands did term the phrase ‘role-playing shooter’ for a reason after all, but that’s not to say it has to take itself seriously by any means. Look no further than the newly remastered Bulletsorm to know that Gearbox recognizes sometimes players just wanna let loose.

The characters of Borderlands are another well-done piece of the collective puzzle and they’re truly unique and interesting in their own ways. Whether or not you choose one playable character over another, the non-playable characters will inevitably steal the spotlight regardless of your heroic or bandit-like antics. Who can forget the wily Handsome Jack or dancing Cl4p-Tr4p or downright scandalous Scooter- RIP Space Cowboy. Whether or not the lifespan of our favorite characters is as long as it should be notwithstanding, the playable character selection across the three main titles is superb and expansive and the NPC ensemble is equally immersive and diverse as well. I can only think of a few other series with as well-rounded and star studded a cast as Borderlands 1, 2, and The Pre-Sequel can boast. And that’s even discounting the fact that Tales is particularly story based and melds many of the series mainstays into the adventure with new characters as well.

I mentioned that my replay runthrough is going to be done through the eyes of the manic Krieg- a psycho and downloadable character add-on for Borderlands 2, mainly due to the fact that he is one of the least used and least played characters. I’ll be running through the game predominately in single player but charting my exploits into familiar territory by leaving wordy yet intrinsically interesting (hopefully) posts for you all here and there. What exact format these posts take may differ from time to time, however for the most part I’ll document hilarious and harrowing encounters, share some of Krieg’s own thoughts and best banter, or perhaps just show a montage of asploding heads. The boundaries are minimal and the limits limitless. This is Borderlands after all- we live on the edge far too often for most bandit-fearing souls’ comfort.

As also aforementioned several blogs down the pipeline ago, I will be doing a replay runthrough of the runner-up Mass Effect 2. Essentially I’ll devote my dozens and dozens of hours to Krieg and all that Borderlands 2 has to offer before diving in for my umpteenth run through the suicidal Omega 4 Relay. Just how well will Shepard and his/her crew fair this time around remains to be seen. Perhaps I’ll even inject a little community bias and cause/effect by putting the upcoming major dialogue and action sequence choices in the blog at the end and allowing you all to choose how I should progress through those sequences. That could make for a particularly intriguing experiment in space and time after all.

As always, feel free to send me your regards and your opinions- I’ll take all things that float my way. Cheers and a good evening to you all.

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My Favorite Games: A Decade Long Retrospective Pt. 2

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As you may or may not have already read earlier last week, I’ve begun to write a few posts regarding my favorite games of each year roughly from the last decade give or take a few years. You can read part one if you have not already done so and then continue with this further retrospective glance through gaming’s recent history. Essentially, this post focuses on the games that I played to 100% completion in the years 2007 and 2008 and the ones that on top of that I enjoyed thoroughly. I’ve played many games in my time and many more have come out since, however there are only a select few that I would dare to place into this category personally and these are simply some of those.

As always, please feel free to agree with me or berate my choices in the comments section below- in general just sound off if there’s anything that interests you here. Without further ado, I’ll get this show underway in earnest.

2007: Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2, Bioshock, Halo 3, The Orange Box, Guitar Hero III, Manhunt 2, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Mass Effect.

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I can say, without hesitation, that Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 is perhaps one of my favorite Tom Clancy games of all time. The Ghost Recon brand has never really hit the high notes that the game hit since and I haven’t really thoroughly enjoyed many Tom Clancy games in general as much as I did the sequel to the phenomenal Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. From the amazing tactical awareness both the single player/cooperative campaigns and multiplayer boasted to the heap of content available, GRAW 2 is truly an all-encompassing package that not many publishers could match even today.

Bioshock…man just saying the name all these years later will send shivers down your spine and conjure images of defunct underwater utopias and denizens of the deep and all sorts of odd pictures. Even though the trilogy itself has been completed and everything has ultimately come full circle in such an amazing way, the first game is what kicked it all off in all its gory glory. The thrill and horror of tackling your first Big Daddy and saving or harvesting the Little Girls, discovering your true nature and that of your friends and foes, and discovering one of video gaming’s now most well-known revelations of all time never got and never will get old.

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Before we were made aware that it was not in fact the end of times for the almighty Master Chief and before we received ODST, Halo Wars, Halo Reach, Halo 4, Halo Wars 2, Halo 5: Guardians, and all the other titles we’ve since seen in the universe, Halo 3 was truly IT. Not only was it a climatic and eventful and moving potential end for a saga but it was a thrilling and challenging cooperative and single player campaign with an equally impressive array of multiplayer opportunities. Halo 3 used to be the testament to which other multiplayer titles should and could compare themselves and is still played by plenty of players out there today a full decade later. Think on that.

Valve isn’t the greatest developer when it comes to counting things off in threes, but all bitter jokes aside they have had immense success in the video game market both creating and selling popular titles. The Orange Box was somewhat of a risk for them despite offering portions of the episodic aftermath of Half-life 2 as a sort of guaranteed failsafe mechanism, yet Portal and Team Fortress 2 ended up being easily the more popular games offered in the eclectic collection. Call me eccentric or call me crazy, but it seems as if plenty of people remember the mother of all plot twists in Portal and the better moments of frenetic TF2 matches even all this time later. Now it would just be nice to see Left 4 Dead 3, Half-life 3, and Portal 3 so…

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We’ve seen surely dozens of incarnations since, but something about Legends of Rock just truly resonates with me even today and there’s always just cause for me to replay even the easiest songs for nostalgia’s sake. Maybe it’s the fact that it was the Guitar Hero game that truly cemented the franchise for what it would soon become or maybe it’s because we had the likes of Hendrix and power ballads among our ranks while attempting to conquer the sheer insanity that was Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and the Flames”- the world may never know for sure. But truly, this musical odyssey is a tale worth telling and a game worth enjoying.

Manhunt 2 is definitely an interesting beast, I’ll say that much. I do not condone violence or any of the horrific and barbaric acts that players can and will conduct within the bounds of the game and yet there’s something immensely interesting about the dark deviance your character takes part in. There’s definitely a twisted story and a level of creativity to combat and encounters that we’ve really yet to see in any stealth or fighting game since. Whatever your opinions on the series may be, one thing is certain- Manhunt 2 is a compelling and truly horrific and eye opening look into violence and the lengths to which mankind can and will go to get what the want and do what they feel is right.

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Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare not only threw the series into the modern era with style and gusto but it changed the fate of the industry and created a new juggernaut almost overnight as well. The FPS genre has never been the same since and may never be the same again, even if Call of Duty is slowly ceding ground to other fresher and less overdone franchises year by year these past few. Somehow fans keep coming back for more and it’s not for a lack of general quality which was first showcased by Modern Warfare which was the first and possibly most impressive of the Modern Warfare trilogy. Between an excellent story and superb multiplayer, it doesn’t get much better than a decade old game that even warranted a last year remaster.

Mass Effect 1 is sort of the Andromeda of the initial Mass Effect trilogy. It was a risky venture and one game that needn’t necessarily spawn a franchise. All things considered, it has perhaps the best story of the original trilogy even if the weapon systems and overall gameplay were eventually and inevitably smoothed out over the course of the second and third game. Without Mass Effect we wouldn’t have such fond memories of Commander Shepard and such vivid memories of the thrills and horrors brought about by the Reaper Wars. Bioware has proven time and time again that they can and will craft spectacular universes and characters and I’m truly pleased to have had this experience and to still play and enjoy the game today.

2008: Bully, Grand Theft Auto IV, Ninja Gaiden II, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Dead Space, Fallout 3, Left 4 Dead, Prince of Persia.

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Rockstar is well-known for a reason- they create some of the best and most believable worlds and characters and stories. Yes, there’s always an air of absurdity to a degree, however the ways in which those worlds and characters and stories interact and evolve over time is the reason why GTA 5 is still perhaps one of the best games of all time even two plus years after its release. Bully was a slightly less dark and more humorous take on the open world format that Rockstar has nearly perfected over the years and it remains one of their most unique and replayable titles even today. If I could get any sequel after we see the launch of Red Dead Redemption 2, it would be a true sequel to the original Bully.

Bully isn’t the only Rockstar game of import to me from 2008- GTA 4 is another and even more ambitious title that sticks out in my mind for good reason. It’s as much a satirical take on the “coming to America” tale as it is a look at the problems plaguing society from the eighties until present day, more so than any other time- crime and drama have and always will be issues it seems. Although GTA 5 has set the new benchmark for the series since, Grand Theft Auto 4 and all of its expansive support and content is still an epic story in a city loosely based upon an already epic New York City. Nico Bellic is one of the most memorable and intriguing characters in a crime drama video game and GTA 4 offered so many choices and cheats- being equal parts hilarious and serious when the time called for it.

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Before things were semi-toned down for the third and lackluster sequel, Ninja Gaiden 2 featured stylish and over-the-top action and fleshy enemies that virtually exploded upon contact. Such carnage and destruction even God of War has not necessarily seen in recent years, although that is soon to change as well. Ninja Gaiden 2 represents essentially the last great game in that series for me- Yaiba and Ninja Gaiden 3 notwithstanding of course as they are out of the running. It was and is a difficult game on most levels and a thrilling challenge once completed as well, making for a nostalgic series to return to every few years.

Before there was the surprising depth of The Phantom Pain and the mystery that accompanied it, Guns of the Patriots was the high water mark for the series and a thrilling conclusion (and still is) to the present days struggles of Snake and his allies and enemies. Although the chronology has and inevitably always will be confusing and all over the place for a series that starts with two back to back games and then flashes back to the past every other title afterwards, Metal Gear Solid 4 represented the first true “current” or “next gen” outing for Snake and co and as such was and is a truly fantastic experience. Not only was it serious but it also held the same subtly hilarious moments that past experiences like Snake Eater’s The End dying from old age as well.

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You do not know true terror until you’ve submitted a paper past its due date or you’ve played the original Dead Space. As much as the second and third games pushed the boundaries of the series, the first iteration is where the buck stops in terms of amazing science fiction horror elements that have yet to be fully realized as well in other games yet. Saltiness over not seeing a fourth game notwithstanding, I still stay up late at night to replay Dead Space on the highest difficulties because that’s just the masochistic kind of human being I am apparently where gaming is involved. Peng’s treasures and Isaac’s horrors are equally intriguing and the experience is always fresh and original.

Fallout 3 is, besides New Vegas, probably the best we’ve seen the revitalized series in some time. Fallout 4 was by no means a bad game but as ambitious as it was there are some things it still has yet to fully realize or capitalize on, newfangled hardware or not. Fallout 3 has one of the most memorable casts of characters in any RPG I’ve played and perhaps the best living breathing world as well- which is a great irony considering it takes place in the desolate D.C. metropolis of post-apocalyptic America. As thrilling as the Mojave wastes are to traverse or the vertical Commonwealth has been to scale, the Capitol Wastes have offered me over one thousand hours of fun and horror and hi-jinks in the nine years since  was first introduced to them. Consider me hooked on Bethesda’s flavor of gaming.

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Valve typically knows how to peddle the right product that we consumers want and their amazing cooperative zombie apocalypse skills are like few others can do- see Dead Island and Dying Light (aka Techland games). Left 4 Dead and later Left 4 Dead 2 offers amazing cooperative action and truly immersive and interesting combat and exploration in a twisted and dark and gritty yet humorous apocalyptic situation. Each campaign is presented in what essentially boils down to a B-movie format and each bloody theatrical poster is perfectly fitting as well as the environment and enemies are. It’s perhaps one of the most replayable games and series of all time and one of the last great gems of couch coop as well.

2008’s Prince of Persia title is the most distinct we’ve ever seen the series and also my favorite game in the entire saga despite being largely a standalone experience. I do not fault the 2011 tie-in feature that was sort of a fun albeit meh retread of the first trilogy and the movie release, yet the distinctive art direction and environment of the 2008 game pitting you against darkness rather than sands is truly the highlight of a renowned series. The story is moving, the combat encounters are meaningful and epic, and the puzzles, platforming, and parkour are entirely too good- but not too good to be true. In all fairness and honesty, if there’s one game in recent memory that I most want a sequel to it’s Prince of Persia. DLC containing a second ending doesn’t do the job.

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Nier: Automata Review

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Totally dependent upon how you view it, I’ve either spent an impressive amount of time with this game- which released roughly a month ago, or I’ve dedicated far too much to an oddly compelling yet confusing adventure. Nier: Automata is stylized as a successor/sequel to 2010’s Nier, which was just as oddly compelling and yet quite confusing from a convoluted plot standpoint- something which did not impact the cult following it has obviously procured. Without spoiling too much in terms of either games’ story and pacing- whereas the first title takes a humanistic approach to things, Automata drives things the other way and focuses not only on non-human playable characters but the failure of humanity and threat of extinction as a whole.

Or at least that’s somewhat the simple gist of it, if it’s even remotely possible to boil down the extensive and surprisingly in-depth lore of the series thus far and of the expansion this game represents as well. I’ll admit, a lot of the coverage and footage I saw for and of the game didn’t exactly blow me away- I was never really impressed by the expansive yet empty world that I saw or the often repetitive encounters with too-similar enemies. While some of these issues remain to a degree, Automata also provides enough base content that it never made me feel that any one element was too overdone or too much of the focus. To a certain degree this means Automata is quite the jack of all trades and genres, however it also fails ultimately to master any one segment because of this.

There is certainly a predilection towards combat- as Nier is at its base a hack and slash adventure game with role-playing elements and other unique gimmicks littered somewhere in between. However I was actually blown away by the fact that certain parts of the game which I would not have immediately expected to be as important or to have such an impact drew me in more so than the solid combat mechanics and exciting locomotion maneuvers themselves. Whereas I thought the environments looked lifeless and bare upon first glance, I completely understand how this ties into the plot and lore and why that’s actually the exact direction the game should’ve and could’ve gone. Couple this desolation and loneliness with an equally melancholy musical score and you have a truly moving work of art.

A lot of this expansiveness adds to the ability for players to take time to think alongside their android character, reflecting on the calamities leading to the ultimate destruction of the human race and life on earth. Although every character you will encounter is in some way machine-related, not all of them will be killer robots or robot clowns and quite a few emulate historical context and interesting caricatures in ways that would put even Fallout’s founding father bots to shame. Such pensive moments as I experienced within many of the quests and plot lines of Automata were a complete contrast to my expectations and honestly raised the bar that much higher for me when it came to the bleak story being told. Somehow, against all odds I became that much more invested in the characters and the universe that I’d previously seen as two-dimensional on paper.

To delve into other aspects of the game and push off from the story and some of the periphery of the game and its moments, as this is a Platinum Games title it boasts an impressive array of combat features and upgrades. There are definite ties to the first Nier title to be found if you know where to look, yet this game serves as an easy stepping on point for newcomers looking for a thrilling and contemplative adventure as well. Combat is kept simple and precise and yet still offers the complexity of some other flashy Platinum Games titles as well- affording players the opportunity to utilize several classes of weaponry suited best to their style of play, while also keeping upgrades and additional unlocks to a minimum so as to keep things comprehensible. There are light role-playing elements here and there, but I’d say they’re few and far between.

One of the most intriguing aspects of gameplay at least stylistically stems from the change in perspective that litters some portions of the game. Typically you play in an over-the-shoulder third-person format, yet on occasion the game shifts to on the rails and top down perspectives for intense firefights utilizing your full android arsenal and party. While ultimately even the bullet-hell segments of the game boil down to eliminating your enemies and clearing the area in search of any interesting lore or story progression, I still found combat and the nice pace of breaking things up a suitable way to keep the monotony of most hack and slash titles to a minimum. The combat is solid enough that there honestly doesn’t need to be too much done with it that is flashy or gaudy and the enemy encounters and boss fights are memorable enough and frenetic and entertaining as is.

The few complaints that I would have do touch a bit on what repetition there is actually present within the game and that comes largely as a narrative and strategic thing. Your character will be afforded the opportunity to deck themselves out in the occasional rare bonus here and there, plugging in a special upgrade chip that boosts stats in certain areas and are hard to come by. Ultimately this adds some strategy to the game, however there isn’t much diversity outside of a health or damage boost and so it isn’t as interesting as it could be in terms of use. Another case I would like to make is that Automata falls heavily into the Dragon Age II camp of adventure titles- meaning there is plenty of lore and content there and it isn’t a bad game at all, however you’re likely to retread many of the same or all-too similar areas for the duration of the campaign and throughout your quests. Although encounters will be varied and narrative progression unhindered, it’s a sort of lazy game design flaw that bugs any and everyone.

The world and lore is entirely too intriguing for it to be limited in some of the ways it is- perhaps not literally as it is quite expansive, but in terms of scope and use as a character in and of itself. All things considered, if you played the previous installment then you’ll probably agree that Automata is certainly a leg up on the original in nearly every single way possible. The combat encounters are fun if not always diverse, the lore is handled quite well and manages to promote some intriguing plot lines, and the gameplay mechanics are quite solid and rarely offer any hiccups to halt the fluidity of the game. If you’re looking for an experience that has the ability to be a comprehensive one but doesn’t force you to explore it as deeply as you could, then Nier: Automata is for you.

Concept: Guide your android comrades in the eternal war against the machines. Quite literally, rage against the machine.

Graphics: While you will see ultimately a lot of the same, what is there is rendered quite well and there aren’t too many muddy textures involved.

Sound: The melancholy mood that permeates the soundtrack and the narrative itself lends to the experience overall and is a strong selling point.

Playability: While it has some quirky features and abrupt changes in perspective at times, the gameplay handles excellently and fluidly throughout your adventure.

Entertainment: There are often hidden depths to be found but the main draw lies in the fact that the experience is totally what you make of it and there are many interesting facets to the characters and the world and conflict themselves.

Replay Value: Moderate.

Overall Score: 8.5

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GI Show #342 Thought Blog

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Somewhere within the first seven minutes of listening to and watching the latest iteration of Game Informer’s long-running podcast/video series, I realized that I wanted to do one of my rarer pieces in which I list some interesting details and my own thoughts in regard to them. I’m also going to take this opportunity to more than likely thoroughly embarrass myself with my extensive knowledge on some subjects and lack thereof whereas others are concerned. Reader beware, you’re in for a scare…as a certain scary mastermind might say.

My first point of interest comes about four minutes or so into the two-hour show and is in regard to Ninja Theory and their work on Hellblade, as well as previous titles of interest including the DMC: Devil May Cry remake/reboot. For some strange reason I had been thinking they also developed Ninja Blade, a 2009 game for last generation consoles (predominately the 360) that centered on a similar demonic situation to some Ninja Gaiden narrative points. However, to my ultimate surprise that was handled by none other than our friendly neighborhood From Software- the creators of the variety of Souls games for those of you unfamiliar with the name.

My next point comes in regard to the discussion surrounding Hellblade itself and the talk of experiential storytelling versus outright cutscenes and loss of player control. I find it incredibly interesting that the game markets itself as not only trying to adhere closely to history and historical accuracy, but as a story revolving around perception and mental illness as well. These are such heady topics in today’s society and aren’t often handled by any industry or medium, meaning this is venturing into somewhat dangerous and uncharted waters and I’m truly interested to see how the portrayal holds up. Interestingly enough, a close comparison I would draw at least from how I’ve seen the footage play out thus far in-game would be to That Dragon, Cancer’s perception of the world and of physical illness rather than mental. I think oddly enough these two projects have some semblance of a close relationship in the tone they wish to convey and the important matters they wish to both show through experience and deal with through narrative promise.

The next portion of the video that drew my attention was some of the discussion regarding Drawn to Death and its myriad of inspirations- from the creative productive of David Jaffe to Anarchy Reigns to Brutal Legend to MadWorld so on and so forth. Having of course seen the review and some more thoughts regarding it in the time since the latest episode of the GI Show has aired, I’m immensely disappointed with any of the promise the third-person arena shooter hybrid had being pretty much a loss, despite it not being anywhere near my radar of interesting games to pursue in the first place. I think perhaps my thoughts line up somewhat with the simple premise that it’s an interesting and semi-unique concept and a shame that it doesn’t really pan out whatsoever from that.

I also enjoyed the particular question regarding who showcased more versatility and overall effectual game development chops- Rockstar North or Naughty Dog. Personally I think I agree with a lot of the points made- while it is true Rockstar has had a few different genres on their plate, for the most part they’ve stuck to the tried and true formula first showcased by GTA’s open world design and have emulated it greatly (admittedly) in their other works of recent years such as Red Dead Redemption as well. On the other other hand Naughty Dog has handled several amazing story arcs across different series, genres, and narratives entirely- going from the fantastic Uncharted series to The Last of Us and even to more cartoonish games prior to both of those hits. If I had to choose based upon flexibility and talent for world-creation in terms of diversity versus depth, Naughty Dog would take my vote as well.

I particularly liked the comments regarding conciseness and succinctness of writing in terms of what the most common editing tips were that the crew had been given as writers themselves. Obviously as I don’t have to deal with deadlines and word constraints for my free-flowing combo of a set-piece write-up (or whatever the heck you want to call this site and my posts) I can afford to go off on tangents and speak my mind in thorough and cluttered posts such as this. While that is an obvious disadvantage to some in terms of reviews and response pieces at times, I also utilize it as a way to give a truly in-depth and all-encompassing look at whatever thing piques my interest for that particular piece. Of course, I don’t write in this same style for other specific purposes- such as when it comes to novel or short story writing or any of the other things I typically dabble in, so take that with a large grain of salt. Write in whatever way suits you best and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise- unless it’s your editor; you should listen to that person because they will get you to the finish line.

I recognize the fact that I’m jumping all over the place here in terms of topics despite following the base chronology of the podcast, yet I also really appreciated the mention of Evo. I think more games- like Spore in some ways, for example, would benefit from that same sort of simple approach and simple focus in terms of leveling up both design and scale alongside plot and character themselves. I sort of see similar attributes in the recently released Everything, however that even pales in honest comparison to some of the factors of Evo itself.

I think another particularly useful line of questioning and responses stems from the previews and misconceptions area of the podcast as well. Ultimately I feel like the majority of games will get a better preview even if the final product turns out to be crap. Whether this is because most of us are innately optimistic in what we hope to see in the final product or solely because developers are obviously going to show their best work off remains to be argued. As for misconceptions about the industry, as with any other industry I feel that this sort of insider access can and will always give way to changing opinions and open up new viewpoints to people as they discover what truly goes on behind the scenes. I myself only know a little bit of it from a journalistic and press point of view, yet I’ve been active in the development process before with projects and can certainly understand the struggles and difficulty with decision-making there for example.

Short of going into the intricacies and details of the phenomenal interview with Rare on Yooka-Layleewith a fine-toothed comb, I think that’s about the majority of highlights I’ve got to hit on this particular episode. I’ve done thought blogs and reactions to GI magazines in their entirety and highlighted things I’ve particularly enjoyed about videos before but it has certain been some time. So, if you all would like more of my long-winded thoughts from time to time you can always feel free to comment or ask for them, or simply yell at me to write more of them down. Cheers.

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Games I Didn’t Review in 2016: The Division

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I’ll admit it outright- I was more than hyped for the release of Tom Clancy’s The Division in more ways than I can possible explain. The basic premise of an unforgiving romp through a devastated New York City struck chords favorable to Crysis 2 within me and that was fine by my standards. Add to that the fact that it was the first Tom Clancy game I’d been thoroughly excited for since Rainbow Six Vegas 2 and Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 and you’ve got yourself quite the hype train rumbling down the tracks.

What transpired is something altogether different than I’d initially imagined and envisioned, although that’s not to say it was terrible or that it hasn’t evolved over time to become a closer image to what I expected. As with any MMO/RPG, The Division fell into many of the same traps that Destiny did in the year or so before. The saving grace for these games is that the developers can take this into account and slowly update it enough with each new patch or content release and bring the game closer in line with what players expected or asked for. The disappointing part is that this takes time and not everyone has the patience to wait for a game to become what it should’ve been from the onset.

Once you eliminate some of the ironically farfetched aspects of the game and its gameplay and factor in the realism and attention to detail, The Division is quite the grandiose picture of a devastated NYC after all. The environments are certainly one of the stronger aspects both in aesthetic pleasure and tense action forced upon you by harrowing conflict in close quarters with an adaptable enemy. The cover system is quite progressive and you’ll certainly need to utilize the variety of environmental protection as you take the fight to rioters, looters, and heavily armed militia forces attempting to make the most of a bad situation. The enemies you’ll face are some of the smartest in terms of functioning thought processes, even if they’ll often open themselves to easy dispatching as well.

When I think of the Tom Clancy brand of games I often immediately think of action-packed tactical outings such as Splinter Cell or Ghost Recon. Truthfully, in the last few years the TC games we have seen have either been a disappointment or fallen somewhere outside of this traditional category. We have had wonderful additions to the Splinter Cell family, but the newest Ghost Recon titles have been far from great in terms of following the tactical baseline. I’m all for trying new things out and The Division is a testament to that for the TC label and surely an influence ultimately for Ghost Recon: Wildlands as well, seeing as it shares the same genre type. What I mean to say is The Division has broken some new ground for better or worse- it does what it states and no more or less, considering the fact that it sticks to tactics and ultra-realistic firefights.

While I recognize that even now it still has its flaws, if I had to recommend whether or not to purchase the game I would definitely say to go for it if you can secure the complete package- DLC and deluxe items or whatever else may be available to you. Microsoft, Steam, and Play Station Network all often offer deals on titles that have been out for some time and packages as well so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find on any main platform. Whereas Rainbow Six: Siege is a great game bogged down by paid content and premium status packs and an initial barebones game in terms of content, The Division only really offers three major expansions and the rest of its paid content is mostly cosmetic. I’m glad that Ubisoft has foregone some of its typical shenanigans concerning paid and premium content and followed more along the lines of Bungie and Destiny.

Ultimately if I were to assign the game a score it would have to be somewhere in the 7.0-8.0 range, even as of now. I’d certainly lean towards the 80% mark rather than anything lower than 75% however, but I cannot say the game doesn’t still have its fair share of glitches, bugs, and design flaws at times. What is there is approachable and definitely enjoyable, it’s just a matter of persistence and patience as well. I definitely enjoy the frantic feel of combat both against computer generated enemies and player controlled foes in the PvP/PvE Dark Zone. The Division is certainly an interesting take on hybrid shooters, that much is certain.

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