Tag Archives: Writing

Exploring the Best Ideas that Assassin’s Creed Has Had

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Assassin’s Creed has been running around in cloaks and hoods with hidden weapons since 2007. Although the whole hood thing may be out the window in favor of plumed helmets this year, the sentiment stands. The series began in 2007 and from 2009-2016 had fairly uninterrupted content on an annual basis. Prior to the break before 2017’s Origins pushed the Creed into a new direction and breathed some new life into the semi-faltering saga, there were plenty of overused ideas and tropes that came to be anticipated and expected of each year’s title. This particular post is going to explore some of the interesting ones- for better or worse in terms of how they fared, in every title from the original to Odyssey.

Assassin’s Creed (2007): Ironically my choice for the innovation in the very first historical fiction game depicting the shadowy war between Templars and Assassins is the story/lore itself. For the most part, the integration of the modern day and past settings into each other (some times more seamlessly than others) stood the test of time from AC1 through Syndicate, prior to the semi-reboot of logic and lore with Origins and Odyssey adding their own ancient ideas to the mix and already intriguing but confusing story. With Assassin’s Creed 1, we were first introduced to the Assassin and Templar orders and also to the concept of a ‘precursor’ or first civilization. It was unexpected and it was cool. Until Desmond had to go ruin it all for everyone later.

Assassin’s Creed II (2009): Like any good sequel, Assassin’s Creed II is grander in scope and scheme and builds upon the foundation, lore, and innovations of Assassin’s Creed in quite literally every single way. It is very much the series’ best interpretation of ‘Empire Strikes Back’ in that sense and although some could argue that its follow-on Brotherhood is the highest point (or Black Flag for other reasons), I disagree. Outside of directly building upon all mechanics in the series and diving fully into the lore and intrigue while getting the whole assassin thing kick-started from the get-go in memorable fashion, Assassin’s Creed II’s biggest addition to the series is the overall world. From architecture to sprawling countryside to the amount of people and fascinating backstories and evidence available, Assassin’s Creed II was the first to truly create an immerse and large, believable and living world. It wouldn’t be the last game to do so.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (2010): Ezio Auditore is a name that is synonymous with the series as a whole and for good reason considering he is the only player outside of Desmond Miles to span several core installments as a significant character. His second game built in many ways upon the Italian’s first adventures and show him in his prime as a tried and true Assassin Grand Master operating his newly built network in the hub city of Rome. Brotherhood didn’t build upon ACII as much as the former did upon the first title, however the additional tweaks that Brotherhood brought to the core formula make it one of the most highlighted games in the series and also most critically acclaimed. Perhaps its biggest innovation, at least in terms of lasting effect and impact (for better or worse) was the introduction of a multiplayer mode that had surprising depth and unique gameplay. It would later be seen across several other games in largely similar format- from Brotherhood to Black Flag.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (2011): Although Revelations is the end point for Ezio Auditore as a series protagonist and capped off the so-called ‘Ezio Trilogy,’ is it also the black sheep of the family for many. Revelations actually has quite a few contributions to the series however many are so experimental that they haven’t ever quite come back and were met with mixed reviews from the start. While den defense ‘tower defense’ like mechanics might be perhaps the strangest and most unique, they don’t operate well enough to be classified as perhaps the “best” mechanic or idea in such a game. What I will say however is that in terms of adding necessary new content, Ezio’s new hookblade weapon/tool is a sweet addition in both locomotion and combat. It has a multitude of uses and upgrades and can be combined with devastating effect during fights as well as escapes. It may seem like a simple gimmick such as bombs were, however it drastically changed the game in a way that hadn’t been done since parachutes and counter kills.

Assassin’s Creed III (2012): Many would regard this moment as one of the darkest for the series because of the initial outcry over bugs and quality of content. I actually disagree and think, even more so in retrospect, that ACIII stands as one of the most unique games in the series for its new ideas (many of which have since been iterated into games since). Although it features one of the least memorable or interesting main characters, the supporting cast, time period, and overall gameplay make up for that along the way. The particular innovations I’d like to highlight here are something which Black Flag and several subsequent titles build up and effectively hone in on: the sailing and frontier mechanics respectively. Black Flag especially dives into the survival aspects in the wild and on the high seas and ACIII is to thank for coming up with those ideas. Crafting takes on a whole new meaning and navigating deadly waters as you build your crew and upgrade your ship play into it as well as farming loot and resources on land does.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (2013): Desmond’s story largely played out across the first five games and while it’s arc had finished by the time we arrived at Ubisoft’s first pirate excursion, the lore and backstory still stood strong after. Black Flag builds upon nearly every aspect of Assassin’s Creed III and is ironically seen as the modern pinnacle for what the series can be and is known for. Who would’ve thought that ironically the least ‘Assassin’ of the Assassin’s Creed protagonists would be the most popular assassin by user and player consensus? For it’s innovation I’d have to highlight the much broader and richer combat experience which is in some ways a more developed build of both Brotherhood and ACIII in a weird sort of way but in others an entirely new concept as well. Familiar aspects as always with this series make a return but fighting more as a pirate than as an assassin makes for a wildly different experience from any title prior. It may even be one of the most gruesome and violent entries in the series as well.

Assassin’s Creed: Rogue (2014): Just as its very title would suggest, Rogue is perhaps the rogue game in the series and also the most likely to be forgotten. Although you could argue Revelations could take that title, Rogue came out in conjunction with Unity which was released for the then-next generation consoles while Rogue was destined for the back burner on current generation consoles. Rogue is not a bad game and in terms of launch actually fared far better than the mess that Unity initially was. However it, like Revelations, is the victim of fatigue and doesn’t have much new content or ideas to thrill us with. It instead opted for combining characters from ACIII and Black Flag into a narrative that bridged the gaps and provided some backstory as to their motivations later on as well. It also marks the first time we truly get to see things from a Templar perspective, which is conveniently its major innovation. This would of course also be semi done with Unity in the same cycle and has since been done through Odyssey now as well. Shay Cormac through no fault of his own is one of the most forgettable characters in the series and outside of being truly wronged by the Assassin order, he has no purpose in it.

Assassin’s Creed: Unity (2014): Unity was a mess upon launch but over the span of several months it grew into something that I actually found myself immensely enjoying. It has since become one of my favorite ugly ducklings in the series despite still having several mechanics that just don’t age well and weren’t great to begin with. It’s world (of Paris) is still one of the largest and most interesting time periods we’ve yet to visit in the series and also one of the most compelling in terms of exploration. Although Arno Victor Dorian isn’t the most capable or memorable of assassins, the sheer level of customization and ability to influence his growth is admirable and well thought out. One of the most unique aspects of this title is its brand of multiplayer which is actually cooperative heists. Being able to work cooperatively with assassins in such as way that we have yet to ever see again is memorable even though now it is largely impossible since the game is several years old. That is just one of the many things that Unity did that other titles have yet to build upon, but another fundamental change would be to the free-running system which they rebuilt to be even more fluid and believable.

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (2015): While many saw the series running itself ragged and were growing fatigued with its overused tropes and same old ideas, Syndicate simultaneously provided a little respite and also allowed Ubisoft to refocus on what to do for the future of one of their flagship titles. It marks the last installment that went further into the future than titles before it and also the last annual installment, although we’ve since had Origins and Odyssey released back to back (despite there being no sequel planned for 2019 since Odyssey will be continually supported). Syndicate does a number of fresh things for the series: it marks the first time there are two playable protagonists, it marks the first time that such technically advanced weaponry and gadgets are available to assassins, and it also utilizes a complex yet navigable ‘mob’ system of gangs and crime bosses that you can build up or take down. It did many things right, built upon old ideas well, and also pushed the quality back up after a few perceived ‘down’ years.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins (2017): Origins is not a reboot but it stands as a stepping on point for a new generation of players should they wish to start now. Between Origins and the games that came before, there are a multitude of differences but there are also the same similarities that will probably persist in the series until its death. Origins is so-called because it depicts the first time we see a shadowy order of assassins come together to combat the period’s version of the Templar order. It adds a bit of fan service in traveling to Egypt and it changes the scheme of the game to a degree that it plays more like an open world RPG than it does an outright action-adventure game at times. Perhaps the most unique element of all is that it features all of these things that directly overhaul the series as we’ve come to know it. And although Odyssey follows in mostly the same stride, Origins is also the first time we’ve seen a progression system with the depth it has as opposed to the sort of progression system featured in Syndicate previously.

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (2018): To the naked eye, Odyssey was developed largely as a clone of Origins it might seem and you may already worry that the next five years worth of Assassin’s Creed games will all be clones like the previous core installments seemed to be turning into of each other. However there are still plenty of fresh ideas to be found in Odyssey despite the elements introduced in Origins being cloned to a degree as well. Odyssey embraces role-playing much more than Origins did and dives deeply into that side of the adventure saga spectrum. It looks almost akin to Destiny in the loot, gear, resources, and weapons respect there as well as having a fully realized skill tree (or three). It also features a rich world not unlike Origins’ Egypt, however the setting (if you couldn’t tell) is Ancient Greece this time around. The newest elements may be unique in aesthetic only but they are unique nonetheless- there is a dynamic weather system, city state / leader system that you can fully impact, and also a truly living world with people and animals fulfilling their daily tasks as they see fit. It’s the first time we’ve seen this attention to detail in this series pretty much.

Honorable Mention: It wouldn’t be an Assassin’s Creed post without also mentioning one ‘game’ tied largely to lore and one tied to piggybacking off of Assassin’s Creed III. First I’d like to address Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation which combines elements of ACIII and Black Flag in terms of story and world building (and mechanics), but started as a port prior to becoming a console version of the title. Liberation has one of the most intriguing characters in terms of backstory but is also largely forgotten despite having an interesting conflict of Templar/Assassin ties. In terms of lore, I’m actually speaking of the Facebook game ‘Project Legacy’ which was an interesting deep dive into memory and intrigue back in 2010. It embellished upon some backstories and crafted others for characters we would actually later see as well.

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Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s ‘Worst’ Ending Might be its Best

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In a game where you’ve spent countless hours upgrading your character or their companions, having the opportunity to see all of your hard fought progress go to waste in the blink of an eye because a beloved character is killed by events in or out of your control is enough to make the hardiest of players grieve. If you had spent countless hours building relations in The Witcher 3 only to receive one of the ‘worse’ endings to the game and find out not many main characters survive, you’ve be shocked and saddened I’m sure. Odyssey includes enough RPG elements of choice and branching storylines that similar outcomes can and will occur at its climax as well.

I’m here to tell you that while you should grieve for your lost and / or loved ones and while you should pity the mistakes your earlier self made when you thought you wouldn’t have such an impact upon the Greek world, all is not truly lost. That’s not to confuse you and make you think you will somehow get your friends and comrades back if you fail to make certain choices or complete tasks and quests- the most certainly are doomed and gone. However I think perhaps the most authentic experience to the Greek myths and histories of old is the tragic route. While I would much rather see my characters lavished with adoration and pride from their friends, companions, and family members at the end of their literal transformative odyssey, I know that is not always the Greek way and may also be out of the realm of possibility at some points.

I think perhaps the truest ending to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey may be the one in which you suffer greatly for the duration of the game. This is the part where I tell you to shield your eyes and cover your ears because there are plenty of spoilers to come.

If you make certain choices throughout your playthrough as either Kassandra or Alexios in Odyssey, you can affect the entire outcome of the separate storylines- from the main ‘Odyssey’ to the outlying ‘Cult’ narrative. A few prominent examples would be whether or not you spare some plague stricken villagers in the tutorial island section early on in the game- a decision with surprising ramifications later on that could lead to the plague engulfing the entire island or no issues at all. A second example is whether or not you choose to spare the Wolf of Sparta- a general of significance to your character that has a shared history and comes into play later in the story unless you choose to slay him early on. Even if you dare not slay him earlier, you can extinguish both his life and many others later on as well. There are obvious and less obvious choices that will ultimately shape your experience in ways you may not expect.

To cut to the chase and talk a little bit about the ending without spoiling it outright in its entirety, there is a way to effectively ensure  the majority of your companions and all of your family members die. Throughout your quest(s) you will encounter certain opportunities to slay a few prominent characters and you will also be unable to prevent the deaths of others. Based largely upon these choices or the consequences of other actions, near the end of your game you may encounter a battle sequence in which several of your faithful friends/rivals/lieutenants are slain by a brainwashed Deimos and then you are able to exact a measure of revenge against the backstabbing Athenian, Kleon.

Depending upon how these (and other) events play out, you will regroup with your Mother later and relay the news to her. Here’s where things really heat up. You choose to return to the mountain from your childhood where so many things changed forever and you run into none other than Deimos (who will be of large significance throughout the story for reasons you’ll immediately realize upon playing the game to that point). After a tense conversation, if you’ve made some questionable choices or perhaps just been a hard ass in your playthrough, Deimos will grab your mother and run her through before becoming a boss battle and difficult end game encounter. Depending upon a multitude of other options and also that conversation, you could’ve potentially talked Deimos down instead. After defeating Deimos, you’re treated to a lengthy amount of end game scenes through encounters with your surviving companions such as Barnabas or Markos and then also shown the empty dinner table where once your living friends and family could’ve sat instead.

It’s tragic, it’s brutal and it’s true to Greek lore and legends as most stories do not have a happy ending. You’ve still saved Greece no matter the true end here but whether you’ve done it at the expense of your morals, family, and sanity is another question entirely. I have actually enjoyed how each ending to Odyssey is crafted and despite there at times being some character differences between aesthetics of Alexios versus Kassandra, the experience with either character is the same and has just as much weight, impact, and overall finality. The world of ancient Greece is an epic place to explore and I can’t wait for future content and story information and lore as well in order to see what happens in the wake of the ample devastation or hopefulness that can come from both the good and bad endings for good reason.

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Thoughts on Fallout 76

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I will definitely be getting Fallout 76 upon launch, however that is not to say I have any superb expectations of it. I think it will at least be as good a game as Fallout 4 despite some admitted issues to be expected regarding framerate and servers with it being a multiplayer online game. It’s going to be weird to simultaneously not have much story of NPC-interaction and to also have MORE story in the sense that you can role play as you see fit for the first time (seeing as you always fit a pre-established archetype in previous games).

I do not think it will be the greatest game in the series but I do expect it to be a fairly solid title and also to get better with time as Bethsoft is pouring plenty of time and resources into the game and obviously sees within it a viable future for the franchise for several years. I’m curious to see Fallout’s take on the RPG-MMO genre and I’m sure it will constantly be fine tuned as well along the way. Perhaps my biggest gripe outside of little kinks and details here and there, is the fact that without humans and other NPCs readily available, the game world while magnificent to look at feels much more desolate.

I don’t expect a relatively recently destroyed world to be bustling with people but when you think about the thousands of lines of dialogue in Fallout 3 and New Vegas alone, it’s definitely a part of the game that I will miss. Getting to interact with real human beings will be infinitely interesting I’m sure and although it strikes me more as a large scale social experiment, I’m game. It’s interesting to think about how the human element will quite literally be shaping this particular game in ways we haven’t really seen from the franchise before. It’s also neat to be afforded the opportunity to play cooperatively although I’m sure I will still stick to lone wolf status for the most part in homage to past games.

Another aspect of the game I’m particularly interested in is the lore and how it will be handled. I’m actually okay with plenty of exposition through audio records and terminals, as I think that adds some further mystery to be explored and exploration factors overall. I’d much rather wonder Appalachia in search of knowledge and cool sights than battle it out constantly with other like-level scavengers. In fact, I’m most interested in a pacifist approach in this game as opposed to my typically destructive ones in the previous three titles (because it was easy to do). The human interaction and the attention to detail in the environment could make for some interesting roleplaying and self tailored stories ranging from vampire cannibals to cultist zealots and I’m eager to see that at work.

Some of the detracting factors (at least as it stands currently, largely with a lot of the unknowns) could be such simple things as lack of activities outside of the gimmick for musical props. Give us board games and fishing and sports and any other random downtime hobbies you can think of and I’m sold. I also don’t know if hacking, a longtime staple of the series, has been left by the wayside in order to make the lore much more accessible to players of all skill levels so long as they go looking in terminals for it. That hasn’t been very clear, although I have seen lockpicking make its return.

Besides this brief little snippet, I have plenty of thoughts about the impending release and I’m eager to see how things continue to play out up until then. As always, it’s been my pleasure and I welcome any and all conversation.

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Residue S1E1 Brief Thoughts

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It’s no great surprise to a number of people that I’m a fan of dark British shows and series(‘). As such, I think it’s only fair to discuss one of my (lately) favorites: 2015’s underground release titled ‘Residue.’ Capping at only three episodes for the series thus far but with a promise of more to come in the future (here’s hoping this year is the year, as advertised and promised), Residue has a great many ‘known’ actors in it but capitalizes more upon aesthetic and sound than anything else.

I think the thing I enjoy the most about the first episode in particular is the soundtrack and the sweeping shots. Being that the show focuses heavily on photography which is one of my many hobbies and interests, I find the beautiful cinematic moments truly worthwhile and breathtaking. It’s equal parts dramatic investigation and paranormal or supernatural haunting and that’s a portion of what made the show stand out to me from the get-go.

I’m a fool for cliche neon strips and futuristic spoiled cities so seeing a neon-drenched London and a fantastic hook such as the one Residue sets up for itself really makes me that much more interested in the story even beyond what has so far been released. It’s too rich of a setting to otherwise ignore in all honesty.

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Let’s Talk About…Call of Duty

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With Black Ops 4 coming up (and surprising us for numerous reasons this year, multiplayer focus only being one of them), I figured it’s as good a time as any to talk about both the series and its longevity as well as my own experiences with it. I’ll touch on all of my previous reviews and make notes as to how they hold up in relation to the games even now. I’ll touch on some of the places the series could go, especially after a year where many players seem neither very excited for Black Ops 4 nor Battlefield V in terms of colossal shooters, each for their own unique reasons. I’ll even talk about how Black Ops 4 seems to be primed to out-Black Ops 3 Black Ops 3- it’s a mouthful but it’s a thing.

First things first, let’s briefly touch on my personal involvement: the reviews side of the house.

I’ve either retroactively reviewed or reviewed each entry of the series to date (even the piss-poor ports and Declassified). Whether that has been in a feature-length review or in a blurb format on twitter, I’ve at the least made the highs and lows as well as where I numerically typically known. I’m not going to provide all the links to each specific review as the games themselves won’t all hold up to the test of time nor to the specific points I credit them with, however I will give the original ratings and a ballpark current one for added benefit.

Starting from the top…

Call of Duty 1, 2, and 3 (in all their various versions and ports) received an 8.0, 8.5, and 8.0 from me respectively. The original wasn’t perfect but it still holds up quite well in many ways and you can see the inspirations for the series down the road in little things from mechanics to gunplay. The sequel improved upon the first game in every perceivable way and was also the best game in the series until the first Modern Warfare rolled around. Call of Duty 3 will always be a step backwards to me but it also allowed Treyarch to get their ideas out there and to get some experience before their arguably better work on the series than the original creators themselves (through later arcs such as the World at War/Black Ops story).

Call of Duty 4, Modern Warfare 2, and Modern Warfare 3 although alternating off-years with Treyarch’s Cold War and Near-Future saga, were overall the pinnacle of the series in terms of multiplayer production and quality product. There were highs and lows here as well but few people argue the merit that the first two games of that trilogy arc especially had. Modern Warfare 1 (Call of Duty 4) as well as Modern Warfare 2 both received a 9.75 from me for stellar campaigns and multiplayer innovation. Modern Warfare 3 had its fair share of developmental issues and because of that fell off in overall quality, however it has remained one of my favorite games in the series ever since and still netted an 8.5 from me as well.

Call of Duty: World at War, Black Ops 1, and Black Ops 2 were Treyarch’s major push into Infinity Ward’s home territory and also established them as the creators with the best storytelling ability in the series. The continuation of stories just between the Black Ops titles (primarily one and two, not the latter additions) with the backstory of World at War made for excellent gameplay as well. Although World at War only received an 8.75 from me, it revisited the previously overdone WWII setting and delivered an epic story with memorable moments and characters. Black Ops 1 is perhaps the best story to date in the series and also some of the greatest multiplayer and zombies content with a 9.25 rating. Black Ops 2 and the rest of the series and its quality truly started to decline with 2011’s MW3 and then on, especially from Ghosts forward, however the 2012 gem still gets an 8.0 from me and is my favorite multiplayer experience to date.

Here’s where we get into some hit or miss storytelling and a darker time for the series. Year in and year out, the quality has become something of an unsteady stream as there will be plenty of good ideas yet flawed products. Call of Duty: Ghosts is perhaps the worst game in the series in terms of mechanics and fine-tuned gameplay, however it had an interesting story. I gave it a 7.5 in my original review. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare still boasts one of the most interesting and best-acted stories and yet is coupled with some of the worst multiplayer ideas in the entire series and also largely credited with the “future first” push towards things that are less Call of Duty in nature. I gave it a 9.0 for its many strengths despite the lack of overall quality and pacing of multiplayer.

We’ve begun a weird sort of tango that is the dance between three core studios now- what remains of Infinity Ward and their different ideas for each year now that the Modern Warfare arc has ended, Treyarch and their continued spiral for the futuristic Black Ops series, and Sledgehammer and their one-off’s in Advanced Warfare and WWII.

I never actually took the time to develop a full-length review for Black Ops 3 however I have spoken out on how odd if not interesting its story is and how frenetic and fast paced the multiplayer modes are. Black Ops 3 certainly does a lot right as a fun game but I’m not sure how good it has been overall for the series due to it pushing towards a new focus on “operators” and futuristic ideas and a lack of realism or grounded focus. If it were the first game to be multiplayer only, I have a feeling I would’ve felt a lot better about the overall product, however for all people want to complain about Infinite Warfare being the far cry from Call of Duty, it is Black Ops 3 that started to buck the trend after Advanced Warfare suggested it. Honestly, I could argue for Black Ops 3 falling anywhere between an 8.5 and 9.25, however it begs the question: just what does ‘Call of Duty’ mean anymore and is it okay for the game to evolve so far past its initial boundaries?

Infinite Warfare without a doubt did not do a lot right in the online realm as I find the multiplayer quite literally boring at times and a dumbed down version of what Black Ops 3 did with a few added gimmicks thrown into the mix. However, as far as stories and challenging singleplayer gameplay goes, I’d argue that Infinite Warfare is some of the best of the best. It’s much more open ended than even Black Ops 2 but it does not suffer for it. I gave the mixed back an 8.0 overall simply because it plays to its strengths and only suffers overall because it does not properly cater to the most important market of all: it’s online fanbase. It does do a great job of mixing longtime favorite modes such as zombies into a non-Treyarch product for the first time since Advanced Warfare attempted and failed to do so.

Call of Duty WWII is a beautiful game. I mean that quite literally because Sledgehammer has proved themselves the most capable in the graphics department. However, I wish their gameplay and quality were as good. The story in WWII is great although I still think Call of Duty should look to other past conflicts besides the World Wars or future ones. It has some gimmicky mechanics that I can’t say excite me for how they will be further implemented in the future (see: Black Ops 4’s health packs). It also sports possibly the least creativity in multiplayer maps since Ghosts. Overall, I suppose it gets an 8.5 from me for many of the same reasons Advanced Warfare fared as well as it did in my eyes.

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For my next trick, I’m going to discuss some ideas the series should do more than just toss around. Only a couple in particular really.

Instead of continuing to push into the futuristic shooter category, which is ultimately going the way of the former WWII shooter category, I’m of the opinion we are long overdue a true Vietnam era Call of Duty game that builds upon elements of the Cold War genre introduced in both original Black Ops titles. Give us an ‘Apocalypse Now’ style narrative and give us the harsh reality of guerrilla warfare in the jungle again. That was where the series was strongest in black ops tactics so instead of being a simple retread, give us the grunt’s viewpoint like we’ve held in several of the WWII games from the eyes of a recruit entering the foray. Who wouldn’t want to play what is essentially Forrest Gump?

Another idea and one that is arguably much harder to pull off but has also been hinted at in the past would be a Middle Eastern setting or perhaps even limited to the Iraq/Afghanistan warzones we’ve witnessed in the early 2000s. We saw some of this in Modern Warfare 1’s memorable missions and first few acts, however we haven’t seen a lot of it since Shock and Awe. It doesn’t have to be in any way a retread and we could get some great moments again from films such as The Hurt Locker or Lone Survivor depending upon whether we are following a group of covert operatives or mere marines.

What I’m really trying to say is maybe the series could use yet another quality and grounded experience after all. I don’t want a future where Killzone, Battlefield, Call of Duty, Halo, and all the other shooters out there with popular followings and good ideas look the exact same in some future/near-future setting. Quality is all well and fine but continuing to pique the interest of gamers and consumers with new ideas or refreshing takes on similar ones is key as well. If Call of Duty is going to continue being an annual release and not run itself wholly into the ground as Activision seems fine with doing inevitably, it will at some point need a different overhaul to avoid going the way Assassin’s Creed almost did. Adding a battle royale mode to cash in on new gimmicks isn’t going to cut it no matter how entertaining it is. Make your money, but make your art too.

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It’s the final stretch. Here’s why I think Black Ops 4 will be such a mixed bag despite also being undeniably fun content.

Black Ops 4 is drawing plenty of comparison to Black Ops 3 for more than just looking like pretty much the same game. So 2014’s Advanced Warfare introduced us to a further future setting than 2025 in Black Ops 2 and to more mobility than 2013’s Ghosts and its slide mechanics. WE got double jumps and side-hopping, grenade avoiding slides. For many people that was an interesting mechanic at first but then a noticeable shift in how games could be played. Black Ops 3 introduced a ridiculous amount of verticality and traversal with what essentially equates to a triple jump and ensured that all operators could boost around the small maps at an insane pace in order to keep the gameplay as frantic as possible. In 2016, Infinity Ward slowed things back down a little with Infinite Warfare despite also pushing even further into the future- a combination that both puzzled and disappointed many fans who now had an odd amount of mobility in comparison to previous titles but also a setting closer to Halo than Call of Duty.

WWII of course cut out a lot of these mobile mechanics and went for an entirely grounded approach which in many ways now makes the game feel old and out of place when you look at the fact that it’s been pushing mobility for five years. It also took away automatically replenishing health which has been a staple of the series for quite a long time. Now Black Ops 4 is making some weird hybrid scenario combining all of these things into one package. The mobility looks like something Call of Duty: Ghosts could’ve gotten by with or perhaps even Infinite Warfare, but there’s less focus on all that boost-jumping madness. The operators are largely the same or similar to Black Ops 3’s classes and characters. Player selected health stimulants or whatever you want to call their equivalent are a strategic-use item (so continuing what WWII started). And last but not least, there’s no single-player campaign.

Single-player has never been the focus of Call of Duty since Modern Warfare 1 exploded onto the scene, that much is obvious. However a good Call of Duty game has also always had an excellent or at least well-done narrative campaign as well. All the best ones: Black Ops 1 included, had excellent single-player to accompany the multiplayer content. Not having it included does mean they should theoretically be able to focus more on a refined multiplayer experience however it also feels like a copout for them to produce the game faster and in a more haphazard manner. Essentially they’re also raising expectations that MP must be perfect because after all it’s what they’ve spent all their time on. And don’t get me started with why they’re retconning the original Zombies timeline and backstory in favor of…whatever the new version is here.

I’m not saying Black Ops 4 adding a wealth of multiplayer content such as Blackout (Royale) won’t be a fun and even great experience, I just don’t think it’ll ever be a better experience than better games before it such as Black Ops 1 or Modern Warfare 2. I’m always interested to see the evolution of a series and how it deals with doing things in new and inventive ways but to be honest, Call of Duty has been on its way out for quite some time despite still making a ton of money each year. All good things must come to an end and I hope Activision realizes that some day and is able to do it on their own terms rather than suffer through several down titles with no really effort put into differentiating them from others previously released and then shutting the series down.

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Monthly Movie Magic- July

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We’re halfway through August (give or take a few days) but I’d like to flash back to July to talk about some of the films I’ve watched between then and now. So although the title of this post is somewhat of a misnomer, I hope you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me anyway.

The Mediocre Watches- Game Over Man, Mute, and The Package (Netflix):

One of these films is not like the rest. If you guessed the dark and fascinating concept of Mute the you’re absolutely right. Whereas the other two films focus on dark comedy and genitalia in pretty even measures, Mute is a bleak story without much consolation. In many ways it reminded me of one particular episode of the excellent adaptation of Altered Carbon, however it was not quite as realized from a story standpoint as it could or should’ve been. The Package had a few smirk worthy one-liners but outside of that it was terrible and not worth the time. Game Over Man (forget the punctuation, forget the plot) was a comedic Die Hard wannabe with interesting moments and a splattering of gore.

Final Grades: Mute 6/10, Game Over Man 4/10, The Package 2/10

The Cults of Personality- Eyes Wide Shut, Red Dragon, and Constantine (Netflix):

I’ll take whatever flak will come my way for stating that the filmmakers milked Hannibal for all he was worth in turning three films and a prequel film into worthy Sir Anthony Hopkins performances in the nineties and early thousands. Red Dragon is neither the best nor worst film in that series however it is worthy of the cult attraction in terms of character building and eventually setting up plot lines of the far superior television show era Will Graham as well (sorry Ed Norton). Eyes Wide Shut, as with most anything To Cruise touches is gritty gold and very, very intriguing and mind bending at times. Constantine is the odd one out here but certainly not as terrible as it could’ve been despite Keanu Reeves doing his best Shatner interpretation with each choked out syllable.

Final Grades: Eyes Wide Shut 8/10, Red Dragon 7/10, Constantine 6/10

Worthy Newcomers- Set It Up, Father of the Year, Message from the King (Netflix):

The three films in this particular segment vary wildly in tone and quality however the most important thing to note is that they do what they promise very well and deliver on that tone. Whereas two are comedies through and through and have their fair share of cringe worthy and hilarious moments, the third is also a gritty performance pre-Black Panther by Chadwick Boseman and an excellent low-budget revenge flick. Set It Up is cliched and yet a wild ride all the same and one I enjoyed and was fond of by the end. Father of the Year is a typical David Spade romp and brings back memories of better movies and moments as well. Message from the King is an entertaining fight and has several well-choreographed moments to a dark score.

Final Grades: Set It Up 8/10, Message from the King 7/10, Father of the Year 6/10

Movie Theater Mayhem- Uncle Drew and Mission Impossible Fallout (Theater):

These two films were phenomenal for a number of good reasons. Uncle Drew is one sketch after another that has a great cast as well as great moral by the end of the lighthearted romp. Mission Impossible Fallout is the best movie in a grand series and one that ensures it has a bright future to come despite some characters not appearing and others ending their series spanning tenure. Kyrie Irving proved he has handles as well as plenty of ‘young blood’ jokes for us youngsters on and off the court. Tom Cruise proved his resilience and seemingly inhuman ability to heal and release an excellent product yet again.

Final Grade: Mission Impossible Fallout 9/10, Uncle Drew 8/10

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Relax, Reload, and Relaunch

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The next few months are going to be a very interesting time of year as they always are. You have the usual regulars such as Call of Duty: Another Year, Another Lackluster Title, Assassin’s Creed: What Historical Time Period to Ruin Next, and the usual annual crowd. However there are also some interesting projects that deserve your attention: Fallout 76- which probably wasn’t what anybody wanted or expected but should be an interesting diversion even despite the ultimately assured and absurd level of bugs it’ll tout, Red Dead Redemption II- going the prequel route but somehow making us fall in love with Rockstar’s vision of the West all over again, and Destiny 2’s latest and possibly greatest expansion yet, Forsaken.

Fallout 4 was a good game but it was also a massive letdown in the eyes of fans, focusing on looks and gameplay in some respects but failing in the story department in others. Touting world building and characterization yet not breaking much new ground in terms of what Fallout 3 and New Vegas had already been able to achieve. In this way, Fallout 76’s vision of the future will undoubtedly break new ground just due to the fact it is such a hybrid or bastardization of content, however if it is able to be both a good single an multi-player adventure is the true question. Perhaps it’ll grow to meet the apparent demand for online role-playing games that shooters have largely left untouched lately despite the MMO-RPG hybrid genre growing bigger by the year.

Red Dead Redemption II is another prime example of not being the game we wanted or expected and yet quickly growing to be the one we are looking forward to as Rockstar’s next project. The Grand Theft Auto series continues to pour content into the last entry even half a decade after release and Rockstar has no set plans to really push that series further or to seemingly put time and effort into smaller IPs such as L.A. Noire or older titles coming back. As such, it seemed only fair that Red Dead get some love and attention again nearly ten years after it showcased a graphic depiction of the wild west and blew hearts and minds and brains out accordingly. John Marston may be back but he’s only part of the show this time around. Characters and craziness look to be in huge demand as with all great Rockstar games.

The third time has always been the charm for the folks over at Bungie working on Destiny. The first game was mostly a mess until the release of The Taken King revitalized players and sales in one fell swoop. It helped to realize the vision the developers had for the game prior to wrapping up the first few years and game with an equally strong Rise of Iron expansion. Destiny 2 started on much more of a strong note in terms of story and content however it could almost be arguably said it had a little bit of too much where Destiny 1 had too little. Once you got through the lengthy slog of content you were “rewarded” by both the Curse of Osiris and Warmind offering far too little endgame content and mostly being short trips to slightly new locations with a varied cosmetic enemy appearance. We’ve already been put on notice and made aware that Forsaken, like Taken King will upend our expectations and change the very world as we know it. While I’m equal parts eager to see these changes made manifest in under a month, I’m also terrified by the consequences for everyone’s favorite Hunter and the rest of the lore.

That’s essentially it for my short glance back into the world of gaming. I’ve been largely out of the loop for several years now which is no surprise but I’ve also been watching from behind the scenes- writing here and there for other projects and keeping up to date with the few people I stay in touch with. Cheerio.

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