All posts by gefnsdottir

Game Review: Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments

The Steam Summer Sale is over and I have a bunch of new games to play and the sequel to the surprisingly good The Testament of Sherlock Holmes was near the top of my list (especially since one Humble Monthly bundle included a copy of The Devil’s Daughter).

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Apparently a departure from its predecessors, Crimes and Punishments tasks the player, as Sherlock Holmes, with solving six stand alone cases in what feels like more of an episodic game. There’s a good variety here, from the straightforward (murder involving a harpoon) to the complex (ritualistic murder related to the cult of Mithras with at least four different suspects). In addition to interviewing witnesses, scouring crime scenes for clues, and solving puzzles, you’ll also be making deductions based on what you find and capping off each case by making a choice to condemn or absolve the culprit.

Most mystery games I’ve played are very straightforward: there’s a set culprit and your job is to follow the clues until the game tells you how it happened. Crimes and Punishments tries to mix it up a little by giving each case multiple endings. Holmes can make different deductions based on the evidence that allow for, say, the possibility that there are two murderers in a case, or what sort of weapon was used, and can come to different conclusions that point to different suspects as the guilty party. It feels more open-ended than most other games I’ve played, letting the player examine the available evidence for themself. It makes you feel like you’re actually in the shoes of the famous detective. I also liked the “character portraits” feature, where the camera pans around a character being interviewed and you can highlight interesting things about them (like the presence or lack of a wedding ring or the state of their clothes) which reflects Holmes’ incredible powers of observation. Again, it makes you feel like you’re actually the great detective himself.

When Holmes isn’t interviewing people or picking up every object in sight, he’s solving puzzles. The puzzles can range from “follow the directions on the screen” to “what the hell am I supposed to do?” to “a fucking lockpicking puzzle again”. Unfortunately, this is where the game often faltered for me as some of the instructions for solving the puzzles are unclear and it was much easier to just look up the solution. The most frustrating puzzles for me were the lockpicking puzzles, where you have to rotate a cylinder to connect lines that stretch from one end of the cylinder to another, and the game isn’t content with just giving you a couple of them, oh no, you have to do a bunch of them. It got to a point where I sighed in exasperation when Holmes mentioned that he needed to pick a lock. I think they’re probably in my top five of “annoying lockpicking puzzles” (I’ve played enough games with annoying lockpicking puzzles that I could probably make a top ten list, TBH). Other than the lockpicking, the puzzles were generally well done and there was a good variety of them. I really liked the puzzles where Holmes has to use his imagination to reconstruct a sequence of events. The final puzzle in the game also deserves praise for being much, much easier than the final puzzle in the previous game (which was incomprehensible to me) it almost felt like a reward for having to pick all those locks. Note that while there is an option to skip puzzles, you’ll miss out on an achievement if you do.

Besides the puzzles, my one major criticism of this game is that although the premise is that each case has multiple endings, there’s really only one correct answer, and although I feel like it did capture the feeling of being a detective, it didn’t really give you a story to be invested in. I also felt that the “moral choices” could have been scrapped entirely because it didn’t seem to have that much of an impact on the game at all. There are a few references to what seems like a main plot involving a group called the Merry Men, but it’s literally brought up in one scene and then….nothing. I feel like they should have just stuck with the episodic format and not tried to tie it into a bigger plot and it would’ve made for a better game.

In terms of things to watch out for: you can click on Holmes’ telescope to view a woman in her bedroom in the next building over, which appears to serve absolutely no purpose besides portraying Holmes as a creeper. Many of the true culprits attempt to commit suicide when you catch them, you can stop them with a QTE but you can also fail (and apparently you can’t replay the scene after the fact). A couple of victims were domestic abusers and a few witnesses have bruises attesting to that fact. There is also a fair amount of blood and examining dead bodies, including one autopsy where you examine individual organs (which honestly look like plastic fruit to me but someone else might not think so).

Overall, I enjoyed this game and prefer it to Testament. Steam has me clocked at 16 hours and that’s with most of the achievements attained (it is possible to attain all achievements in one playthrough). This would be a good game to eat up a weekend or if you have a couple days before a major release. It’s a solid adventure game with some interesting mysteries.

Review: Ashes of Honor (October Daye #6)

I’ve read a ton of series over the years but I can only name a few that I’ve ever finished. Most of the time, I don’t finish a series because there’s some problematic element that is like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Sometimes I feel like they don’t have anything interesting to offer, and sometimes they just get swallowed up in the sea of other books in my ever growing to-read pile.

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October Daye is trying to get her life back in order after suffering significant personal losses. She’s been keeping busy by training Quentin, paying the bills, and, as usual, acting as Sylvester’s knight. Predictably, something once again interrupts her regular routine, and this time it’s the changeling daughter of her fellow knight Etienne who is in serious trouble. To make matters worse, there’s also trouble brewing in the Court of Cats.

At this point, I don’t need to tell you that I enjoyed this book, it’s pretty much a given unless the author pulls a Yasmine Galenorn and has some serious -isms in future books. There are a bunch of plot threads in this book. There’s the familiar “a child is missing and Toby must find them” thread, there’s “the Court of Cats is in trouble and Toby’s going to help fix it because she cares about Tybalt” thread, and related to the first, there’s “Etienne wangsting about how he’s going to tell his liege that he had a kid he didn’t know about until she went missing” thread. Naturally, there’s more faerie politics. Toby’s got a lot on her plate this book, but then again, when does she not?

Luckily, she’s not alone, and in this book she’s joined by the late Countess January’s widow, Li Qin Zhou, who is a constant presence in this book, whereas May and Jazz are more in the background. Still, some good representation in a genre that tends to be very heternormative is a good thing.

One thing I love about the series as a whole is the way it handles romantic relationships. Toby is still in mourning in more ways than one, and even though Tybalt is a classic “bad boy” love interest, he treats Toby with respect and doesn’t fall into the trap of so many characters like him who seem to confuse abusive behaviour with “romance”. I think they are officially my most tolerable heterosexual couple now.

Also the Luidaeg continues to be the best character in this series. Fight me.

There’s not much else I can think to say about this book (it’s been some time since I started this review) except that it’s more faerie goodness from Seanan McGuire, who is awesome.

Review: Fallen Legion: Sins of an Empire

I wasn’t going to review this game, and then I thought “Well, I spent a good chunk of time beating it” so I might as well say a few things about it before I head off to bed.

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The Fallen Legion saga is made up of two games: this one, Sins of an Empire, where you play as Princess Cecille, and Flames of Rebellion for Vita, where you play as the opposite side. In this version of the game, Cecille suddenly finds herself as heiress to an Empire after her father passes away, an empire that is beset with rebellion and corruption, but she also finds herself in possession of a mysterious book that claims it can give her the power to save her people, but at what cost?

I think the best way to describe Fallen Legion is that it’s a side-scrolling action RPG with combat that reminds me of Valkyrie Profile. The Valkyrie in this case is Cecille herself, and the Einherjar are the Exemplars–weapons personified as legendary heroes and conjured by the book. The Exemplars do most of the fighting with Cecille supporting them with magic, if the Exemplars fall, Cecille is basically a sitting duck, so actually it’s the opposite of Valkyrie Profile, more like a tower defense game. The combat is basically the same: your party members are all mapped to specific buttons and you attack with a character by pressing their corresponding button. The characters have a number of action points that dictate how many attacks they can do before they need to recharge, blocking refills their AP. Speaking of blocking, it’s done in real time, so timing your combos and blocks is very important. There’s also a mode you can trigger that gives the Exemplars unlimited AP for a short time. In between battles, you’ll be asked to make choices that influence how the Empire sees you and which bosses you fight.

I bought this because the founder of one of my favourite gaming news sites, Siliconera, is the director, so it’s a shame that I can’t recommend this game at all. The combat sounds great on paper, but in practice it involves mashing the buttons until you win (which I know because I did it) ans spamming the block button. The game also does a really poor job of explaining itself. Certain decisions indicate that a character shifts stances or equips something, but the game never explains what that means. There is a glossary that helpfully explains some things, like that Tributes are buffs, but overall I feel like the game could’ve taken some time in the tutorial to explain this stuff. I also didn’t feel any attachment to the characters at all. Their characterization is so inconsistent. One moment, Cecille will moan about how her talking book needs to eat souls to live, and the next she’s resigned to feeding it. The decisions you make between battles relate to a couple big decisions you can make, but more than once I found myself thinking “who the hell are these people and why do I care?” I just didn’t care.

The art and music are meh. The character portraits are nice if you like anime-style art. Admittedly, the reason I don’t care for the art so much is I had a tough time with a mid-game boss that meant I had to keep repeating the same level over and over. Even so, I didn’t find any of the tracks particularly memorable and the background art and enemy designs get reused a lot. I understand this is a small indy team so obviously I can’t expect AAA quality (although remember Dragon Age 2’s bland environments) but I don’t think bright orange makes the best background colour for a outdoor map.

I really wanted to like this game, but honestly, it’s a mess. It feels like it wants to be an epic tale of politics and betrayal but it just feels cliche and the combat gave me hand cramps from all the button mashing, and in the end I just didn’t want to keep playing once I beat it (not even to get a more satisfying ending). Play Valkyrie Profile, if you want something more recent, try Exist Archive or even Grand Kingdom, skip this one.

Review: One Salt Sea (October Daye #5)

What’s this? A new (to me) October Daye novel, but with mermaids this time? Sold. Not that I wasn’t intending on reading the whole series regardless, but mermaids. I love mermaids.

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Once again, October Daye is doing all right. She’s a Countess with her own knowe, she’s dating again, she’s even agreed to take a squire. Naturally, as usually happens, a situation arises and it’s up to her to fix things. The situation in this case is that the sons of Duchess Dianda Lorden of the Undersea Duchy of Saltmist have been kidnapped, and if October doesn’t find them in time, the Undersea will go to war against the sidhe of the land.

The world of this series grows with every book, and in this book we’re introduced to a whole other society of sidhe in the Undersea. The Undersea has a very different culture from the land sidhe, with harsher laws but, naturally, great beauty. This isn’t Disney’s The Little Mermaid, that’s for sure. The Undersea adds a whole other dimension to this world, and I hope this isn’t the last I see of it. As the Sea Witch, the Luidaeg gets a fair amount of page time as well. I’ve probably said this a dozen times already, but she’s one of my favourite characters in the entire series, and Quentin, Quentin is adorable, and I love May and Jaz. Honestly most of the characters are just incredibly likeable.

In previous books I complained that October did very little investigating. That seems to be a thing of the past now, now she examines crime scenes, gets her friends to examine evidence (and use their unique talents to help with the investigation), interviews a shady underworld contact, and attempts to escape a would-be assassin while pushing a mermaid who is currently using a wheelchair in one of the most tense action scenes in this series.

In terms of complaints, I felt once again that the villain (even the villain the reader isn’t expecting) was obvious. Once again, Rayselline and the Queen of Mists do bad things because they are nuts. The end chapters also pile on the sad moments (and in one instance, I felt it was a very abrupt “oh yeah so-and-so died”), the one good thing is these events do seem to definitively resolve some subplots so, yay? Again, it might be the fact that I’m practically reading these books back to back, but it seems as if at least one subplot could have stood to go on for a couple more books at least, especially since the character involved was mostly part of the background until now.

Also, this is random, but I think this cover is one of my favourites. It’s bright where the others were dark. It’s just a really cool cover. I really like the covers of this series in general. They avoid the sexualized, impossible poses of most women on covers in the urban fantasy genre.

I’m not really sure what else to say about this book. It seems like when I started writing this I had something much longer planned, but it is late, that might be my problem, writing reviews late at night.

Game Review: Child of Light

It’s February, the month where nothing (usually) really exciting happens in the game industry, the month of some of the fakest holidays in Canada (looking at you, Family Day), the month I just want to be over because it’s another month of snow and misery.

I’m going to put all that aside today, however, because today I review a beautiful game that reads and plays like a fairy tale.

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Child of Light is developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. The story revolves around Aurora, the daughter of a duke in 19th century Austria. Aurora’s mother is absent, the narrator informs us, so the lonely duke marries another woman. One day, Aurora takes ill and seemingly dies in her sleep, only to awaken in the mysterious, magical land of Lemuria. Lemuria is currently under the oppressive rule of Queen Umbra, who has hidden away the sun, moon, and stars. Aurora embarks on a quest to restore the celestial bodies and free Lemuria from Umbra’s oppressive regime.

The gameplay consists of exploring 2D environments and occasionally solving light-based, switch-based, or block puzzles with your firefly/wisp friend, Igniculus. Running into enemies initiates combat. Combat is done Grandia style, where icons representing the characters move along a bar at the bottom of the screen. When your characters hit the white bar at the far right, time stops and you can choose actions. Different actions have different casting times, which affect how long it takes to move from the red portion of the bar to the end, which is when the character actually performs the action you gave them. If you manage to hit an enemy while its casting, its attack will be interrupted and it will be pushed back in the turn order. The same thing can happen to you, however, so it’s important to time your actions. Some enemies counter interruptions with attacks or buffs. To help with timing, you can move Igniculus into an enemy’s space and press L2 for him to shine his light in their face, slowing them down. If he runs out of juice, you can use the pauses between turns to touch the shining plants around the field or use a potion to refill his light meter. Igniculus can also shine to heal you or your allies. You can also craft gems, known as Oculi, so that your weapons deal elemental damage or you are protected from certain kinds of damage. Characters can level up and improve their abilities by using skill points.

Aurora assembles a quirky cast of friends on her journey, These include two traveling acrobats, a capitalist mouse, and a fish girl. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like I got to know many of these characters very well, even in their post-battle conversations. Partly that’s due to the dialogue, partly to the length of the game, even so, they all have their amusing quirks, such as Robert (the aforementioned mouse) putting everything in terms that sound like he’s playing the stock market.

The art and music in this game are phenomenal. The art has a very dreamy watercolor effect, of particular note to me are the trees. My favourite tree being the one with pink leaves. I also love the way Aurora’s hair is animated, as if it’s constantly being blown back by a stiff wind. You can spend ages just flying around in this game, entranced by the animation. The visuals are accompanied by a soundtrack which includes melancholic piano music that plays while you’re exploring the world and dramatic pieces that play during boss fights. The boss tracks are some of my favourites, where ominous chanting and an orchestra really create a sense of urgency. I’ve been playing the final boss theme constantly since I first heard the music in game.

I have two major criticisms of this game. Firstly, it only has two difficulty modes: casual and expert. I played on expert difficulty, which offered a decent challenge but could be very brutal, especially in the game’s early stages. An early boss gave me such grief I was considering swapping to casual just for that fight. A middle of the road difficulty would have been appreciated. The second criticism I have is that while the rhyming dialogue (you read that right, all the dialogue is in rhyme) is charming and fits the theme and style of the game, some of the rhymes are very forced and that broke the flow of the game for me. I love the idea and I bet it was tough to pull it off in the first place, but I still cringed at some of the things the characters were saying.

Child of Light is a beautiful game and the only reason I didn’t play it sooner is because UPlay sucks. It doesn’t try to revolutionize the genre, it’s just a well made, nice game to enjoy along with a cup of hot tea (or your beverage of choice). I don’t know how much time I spent playing it, but the average I’ve seen is about 10 – 15 hours. There are 16 collectable confessions to collect, and some of them can be in out of the way places, which will extend your playtime a little, but don’t go in expecting a 40 hour epic and you’ll be fine.

Deck Review: The Starchild Tarot (Akashic traditional size edition) by Danielle Noel

I honestly debated whether I should review a book I just read or finally get to reviewing something that’s been in my review pile for a long time as my first review of 2018. I had actually started writing a review for The Wisdom of Unicorns by Joules Taylor and Danielle Noel, and then I thought “Wait, I haven’t done a review of the Starchild Tarot!”

I went back and forth on this deck for ages before finally purchasing it. People said you really had to click with the deck’s worldview, and at $65 CAD, I wasn’t sure I’d click with it, even though I liked the art. When the “traditional size” borderless edition came out, however, I finally decided that I needed to either take the plunge or stop pining after this deck.

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This edition of the Starchild Tarot comes in a two piece box with gold accents. The cards themselves are 4.75″ x 2.75″ with a wonderful smooth matte finish. The edges have gold matte gilding, giving the cards an antique look. An extra card, “Akashic Records” is included in addition to the usual 78 cards. It comes with a small 170 page companion book that contains everything you need to know in order to use the deck. The book contains instructions for staples like the three card spread and the Celtic Cross, as well as a five card “Akashic” spread, a five card “Starseed” spread, and a seven card “Metatron” spread. Several cards have been renamed: Pentacles are now Crystals, the Fool is Starseed, the Hermit is Serenity, the Hanged Man is Perspective, Death is Transformation, the Devil is Oppression, Judgement is Awakening, and the World is the Universe. The guidebook also lists a variety of correspondences for the major arcana, including chakra, gemstones, symbols, and guides, as well as upright and reversed meanings. The minor arcana only get upright and reversed meanings.

I can say without a doubt that this is one of the most luxurious decks I own. I’d wish more deck creators would do similar things with their decks, but then I wouldn’t be able to afford their decks at all!

The art is what I like to call “cosmic hippie pastel aesthetic” it’s mixed media with a combination of photography, hand drawn art, and paintings and it’s all done in a mix of soft and bold pinks, purples, and blues with some cards being dominated by green or black. The characters are mostly human but there are some cards that feature animals, natural or cosmic features like planets and galaxies, and geometric patterns. The art almost has an elven or fey feel to me.

I’ve been using this deck for everything from “pick me up” readings to readings for other people to readings predicting what will happen on my favourite D&D webseries, Critical Role and it reads like a dream. Sometimes it can be very literal. other times you have to give it a moment to let the message sink in. I just like pulling cards and letting them tell me a story.

You don’t need to subscribe to the idea of starseeds (that is, people who have had past lives on other planets and have chosen to reincarnate here on Earth, though they may feel as if Earth is not their “true” home) in order to use this deck, but it’s important to know that the deck is pretty New Agey. The actual meanings of the cards, however, are consistent with RWS tradition. In fact, my one big gripe with this deck is that even though the text is consistent with tradition, the images are not, and often don’t seem to have anything to do with the meanings in the book. This is why I don’t recommend this deck to beginners unless you’re really prepared to read these cards intuitively. I personally mostly ignore the book and just go with what my gut tells me. It’s such a shame that such a beautiful deck isn’t very accessible to newcomers.

There is some diversity in this deck with models of colour in some cards (like the High Priestess). I really appreciate that all the models are credited with their contact information in the back of the book. There isn’t really anything in terms of sexual or body diversity, but I will say the Two of Cups depicts a woman swimming in the ocean.

I love this deck. I don’t know what else to say about it except that I love it and I’m glad I decided to bite the bullet and add it to my collection. Despite my issues with the New Age Movement in general, this deck has grown on me and it’s definitely in my top ten all time faves. I can’t wait for the Moonchild Tarot and the Work Your Light Oracle from the same artist.

Review: Late Eclipses (October Daye #4)

Sometimes I’ll decide to read a long running, in progress book series, and I’ll feel as if the plot and characters would’ve had a greater impact on me if I’d had a year to wait between books (for them to come out in paperback, at least). This is pretty much how I feel about Late Eclipses in a nutshell.

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Two years ago, Toby Daye thought she could leave Faerie behind, now she finds herself back in the service of Duke Sylvester Torquill and sharing an apartment with her Fetch. When her friend Lily comes down with a mysterious, seemingly impossible illness, however, she soon finds herself struggling to save the undine and her subjects, not to mention that the Queen of the Mists has plans of her own, and, as if that weren’t bad enough, Oleander de Marelands, the same person responsible for turning Toby into a fish, is back, and just how does Toby’s mother Amandine fit into all this?

There’s a lot going on in this book. The pieces are moving around the board and things are changing. The central mystery isn’t that hard to solve in that the reader will probably know whodunit, it’s the how that keeps the characters (and the reader) guessing. Well, I figured it out as soon as a certain character was introduced, but even then there are a couple of twists and turns to this tale, and by the time it wraps up there are a lot of intriguing developments for future books to explore, and we’re not even halfway through the books that are in print and the series is still going!

As I mentioned in the little intro bit, I’ve been reading these books back to back and I can’t help but feel that I’m missing some of the impact of certain scenes than if I had had the time to wait between installments. Characters I feel like I’ve just come to know start dying left and right. This must be like what reading A Song of Ice and Fire feels like, except I’m fairly certain a few characters in this series have thick enough plot armor to survive for most of it.

That said, the series slowly seems to be becoming a bit more diverse. May Daye (who is honestly one of my favourite characters in this series) brings her South Asian girlfriend to a ball, and characters of colour like Raj are still up and about, but it’s a shame that given the immensity of the world and the variety of Fae on display that it isn’t more diverse. Then again, this is only book four, and I’ve read entire series that don’t even bother. In terms of potentially triggering content, I can’t remember anything specific besides there being a lot of death. It’s one of those books.

This is one of those books where it’s difficult to talk about it without spoiling everything. Suffice it to say that although this book made me sad (and a little angry) I’m intrigued by the possibilities it presents, and the next book deals with selkies! I love selkies, selkies are great!

Game Review: Dishonored 2

Dishonored was a pretty great game with some really cool levels even if constantly reloading saves because some asshole spotted you during a Ghost run wasn’t the most fun gaming experience I’ve ever had. I’d generally heard good things about the sequel, that it was more of the same etc. which TBH I’m fine with games being more of the same or I wouldn’t keep buying every Fire Emblem game. I was a little concerned, however, by some reviewers comments that the levels weren’t as memorable as the first game.

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Set fifteen years after the events of the first game, Dunwall is prospering as a city under the reign of Empress Emily Kaldwin. Naturally, you get to spend a few moments of stability and safety before a coup is staged by returning antagonist Delilah Copperspoon, who usurps Emily’s throne and declares herself Empress. As either Emily or Corvo, you escape the palace and head for the southernmost island of Serkonos (the city of Karnaca in particular) not only to discover what led to Delilah’s rise to power, but to hunt down her co-conspirators.

For the most part, Dishonored 2 is pretty much more Dishonored: the game drops you into a huge open level, gives you some cool powers and weapons to play with, and lets you accomplish objectives the way you want. Do you want to go in guns blazing or take the stealthier route? Do you want to kill your targets or find a way to remove them without killing? You can even play the game without supernatural powers if you want. There are also a number of optional side objectives, like robbing the black markets in certain levels for some free equipment, and of course there are runes and bone charms scattered throughout the level for you to collect. You can also craft bonecharms and runes if you upgrade the right skill. Crafting is simple and involves “sacrificing” bonecharms for trails and whalebone and creating new bonecharms with multiple traits.

At the time of writing, I’ve only played through the game once with Emily, but from what I’ve heard Corvo’s powers should be familiar to you from the first game. He can still possess characters and animals, but this time around he can possess corpses to create instant hiding spots. Emily’s powers are a bit different. Far Reach, her short range teleport, doesn’t have the reach (lol) of Corvo’s blink, but she can also create copies of herself with Doppelganger, enthrall enemies with Mesmerize, and link enemies together with Domino so that they share the same fate. This last power is easily my favourite, as you can link up to four enemies at once and then knock them all out (or kill them) at the same time.

In Dishonored, if you wanted to deal with enemies in a nonlethal manner, you were pretty much limited to sleep darts and choking them out (and occasionally distracting them with noise). Dishonored 2 is much more non-lethal friendly. You still have your trusty sleep darts and chokehold, but now you can do non-lethal drop assassinations, use grenades or shots from your pistol to destroy bloodfly nests, and destroy clockwork soldiers without worrying about ruining a clean hands run. The game also tracks things like how many people you’ve killed or whether you were detected by enemies, making it much easier to get a clean hands or ghost run without agonizing over whether you were actually spotted or not.

The environments also have more of a sense of being lived in than in the first game. You can open cupboards and find towels and bath salts, books the occupant has been reading. Once I stumbled into an apartment shared by two women where one appeared to be cooking and I really felt like I was intruding in someone else’s space. Unlike Dunwall, much of Karnaca sees actual sunlight (which reminded me of the last mission in the Brigmore Witches DLC) and yet it still feels every bit as oppressive as Dunwall’s dark streets.

One major criticism I have, despite saying that the world feels lived in, is that the mission locations lack a certain uniqueness. There’s one notable level involving a time travel gimmick and it’s not that I didn’t enjoy zipping around the Royal Conservatory or going between the walls of the Clockwork Mansion, but much of the game is spent going from fancy house to fancy apartment to fancy house. I can understand the desire to not retread old ground, but I’m baffled as to why they didn’t attempt to do another “social stealth” level like Lady Boyle’s Last Party, especially since that mission is so popular among the fanbase. It’s not an awful game by any means–I had more fun playing my no-kill run than I did in the original, and to be fair, I do like exploring fancy houses (and there’s some great environmental storytelling if you care to explore) but by the time I’d finished the final level, I’d had enough of seeing the same paintings over and over again. Another thing that I almost didn’t mention because it’s more of a personal pet peeve of mine is the way you pretty much have to play Dishonored’s DLC to really get what’s going on in the sequel. This isn’t really a huge deal since the definitive edition of the game is available for really cheap (especially during a Steam sale) but I hate it when companies make it so that reading tie in novels or playing DLC is required to understand the sequel (hey Dragon Age Inquisition) I might seem like a fussbudget but I remember a time when you could play a game and jump right into its sequel and understand what was going on. I miss those days.

In terms of diversity, Meagan Foster, who basically does Samuel’s job from the first game, is black and plays a not insignificant role in the story. A minor character, Mindy Blanchard, is implied to be trans, and one of Corvo/Emily’s targets is implied to be gay. while another is implied to have romantic feelings (or they could just be obsessed) that may or may not be reciprocated. There’s also a more overt bisexual character. Emily herself has a significant other, Wyman, and the game deliberately avoids using gendered pronouns for them. You can also encounter NPC couples who may or may not be romantically involved. The first game’s gender representation was limited, but in Dishonored 2, women are Empresses, witches, community leaders, enemy combatants, domestic workers, artists, doctors, it does feel like Arkane listened to criticism in that area, even if their LGBT representation could stand to be a little less implied.

In terms of trigger warnings, one mission takes place in a hospital, one of the non-lethal options involves giving a character a lobotomy via electric shock, while another can end up in an asylum, and notably there’s the old chestnut of “split personality where one is evil”. The slow motion assassinations of key targets return, and they’re even bloodier than before. Also. for those of you who really don’t like bugs, bloodflies are glowing bloodsucking wasps that glow orange and buzz menacingly when you come near their nests. Unfortunately, they’re unavoidable, especially on a high chaos run, and boy, talk about unnerving. The Heart also has even more horrifying secrets to spill, usually involving murder.

Dishonored 2 is a fun game. IMHO, it lacks the uniqueness of the first Dishonored‘s missions (although the time travel mission was a blast), but in terms of gameplay I had way more fun playing the sequel, so much so that I’m thinking of doing a high chaos run with Corvo, but I’d also like to get to Death of the Outsider. I’m just bad at stealth. At the end of the day, it’s more of the same stealth action gameplay in a whalepunk setting, and that’s good enough for me.

Game Review: Dishonored

This is one of those games where a review has been a long time coming. Since I lacked the hardware necessary to play the game when it first came out, I had to wait until I had a PC that was capable of handling the game, that time came and went, and I progressed to near the end of the base game before being swallowed up by other, newer, shinier games.

You know, the usual.

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Dishonored is a stealth action adventure game about a man on a quest for revenge. Corvo Attano, once the bodyguard to the Empress, is framed for her murder and must hunt down and eliminate the people who orchestrated his downfall with the aid of supernatural powers bestowed upon him by the Outsider as well as rescue the late Empress’ daughter, Emily.

The basic gameplay flow of Dishonored is that it drops you into a huge level in the plague-infested steampunk city of Dunwall, gives you a target to eliminate, and then gives you free reign to accomplish your goals. There are multiple ways to approach targets and multiple ways to dispatch them, including nonlethal means. In addition to conventional tools like crossbow bolts (regular and sleep darts for nonlethal takedowns), Corvo also has some neat supernatural powers: Blink is a short range teleport, whereas Bend Time slows or stops time completely. Corvo can summon rat swarms to devour enemies or possess animals and people. These powers can be combined in interesting ways. One of my favourite things to do is stop time, fire a couple sleep darts at enemies, then watch as they all keel over unconscious. Powers can be upgraded by finding runes scattered throughout the level. Corvo can also equip bone charms (also found throughout the level) which enhance his abilities (increasing his movement speed, for example). Another important gameplay element is Chaos. Killing enemies (other than key targets) or leaving bodies around for enemies to discover raises Corvo’s Chaos rating. High Chaos will make Corvo’s enemies more suspicious, and result in increased defenses and a more difficult time traversing the level in the next mission.

For my playthrough, I went with a Low Chaos, Clean Hands (no killing), Ghost (no enemy alerts) run, which is one of the more difficult runs but is perfect for stealth runs. I didn’t manage to get Ghost due to an annoying alert guard in the very first level. This means that many of Corvo’s more interesting abilities were off limits to me (although I did take the opportunity to mess around a bit with the combat before loading a save). As a stealth game, Dishonored is engaging, if at times frustrating, and Ghost runs involve a ton of reloading if you’re spotted. I personally wouldn’t recommend a Ghost run on your first run, I just really like stealth games.

Here we come to the disconnect between Dishonored’s gameplay and the Chaos system in that the game gives you a bunch of cool toys to play with and punishes you with a bad ending if you use them. You can choose to only take down key targets or complete most missions in Low Chaos and still get the good ending, but even so, it still feels like you’re being punished for playing with your toys.

Even though the game isn’t technically open world, Dunwall feels huge. You can find the usual assortment of books and documents to read which flesh out the world. You can look for the Outsider shrines in each level, which contain a rune and some dialogue from the Outsider that changes slightly depending on your actions. Point the Heart (a macabre artifact that beats whenever a bone charm or rune is near) at an NPC and you’ll hear a fact about them. You might find out a guard you just knocked out is a serial killer or that one of your associates peeps on women in the bathroom. One of my favourite missions in the game is Lady Boyle’s Last Party, which sees you rubbing elbows with the elite at a fancy party where you need to first identify your target before moving to the main event. You can even eschew stealth altogether and walk in through the front door like a boss. Some of the nonlethal methods to eliminate your targets arguably leave them worse off than just outright killing them (like handing a woman over to her stalker or having two targets sent to be worked to death in their own mines).

Some criticisms I have is that the Blink power is a bit too sensitive, I’d be wiggling the mouse around, trying to get the indicator where I needed it to be and accidentally end up blinking too soon and faceplanting in front of enemies. Sometimes there would be a weird “time skip” where I’d save my game, get spotted, and reload to immediately be spotted again. Sometimes unconscious bodies that I’d stashed away were missing after a reload. Fortunately, the instantly spotted on reload only happened to me once and the game autosaves frequently. This is something that happens in many games, but after a while you hear the same NPC chatter over and over again. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a guard whistle the same tune I’d be filthy rich right now. Another thing I personally object to is the way the DLC apparently has more to do with the sequel’s plot than the actual base game. It’s not a complaint about the DLC itself, it’s just a personal gripe of mine. I dislike when I’m expected to play the games, play the DLC, buy the tie-in novels, and bake the officially approved cake so I can understand what’s going on in the series. To be fair, Bethesda isn’t the only company that’s guilty of this EA and BioWare but I thought I’d mention it because I despise the practice so much.

Normally I don’t buy a lot of DLC but I bought the definitive edition of the game on sale on Steam. The Void Walker’s Arsenal includes bone charms, gold, and books that were offered as preorder bonuses. The Dunwall City Trials are a series of challenge maps, each with a different objective. In “Mystery Foe” your goal is to collect clues in order to find and eliminate a random tarot, while “Kill Cascade” is a series of drop assassinations on a timer.The real meat of the DLC are the two story campaigns: The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches, which follow the adventures of Daud as he searches for a woman named Delilah. Daud controls much like Corvo with the addition of some new tools like the Chokedust grenade, which can distract enemies for a few seconds while you escape (or sleep dart them). Another new feature of the DLC is corrupted bone shards which have both benefits and drawbacks. The favours system allows Daud to purchase advantages (like a weapons cache or a rune) that can make levels a little easier. The DLCs are supposed to be harder than the main campaign but they are absolutely a must play.

In terms of triggery content, one of the easiest ways to non-lethally deal with enemies is to choke them out. As you might expect from a game where you play as a supernatural assassin, violence is par for the course, and even in a playthrough where the player isn’t violent, NPCs will frequently be shot and stabbed by other NPCs. Descriptions of the effects of the rat plague are horrific and the game makes it clear that children are not exempt from the horrors that the poor of Dunwall experience. There are a couple sequences (one in the DLC) where you can torture characters for information.

I spent about 55 hours in total on both the base game and two story DLCs and 26 hours on the base game alone. There is some replayability if you want to go back and try a High Chaos playthrough. I can’t imagine anyone reading this hasn’t played this game, but if you’re the one person who hasn’t. Dishonored is a dark but engaging stealth action game with some really interesting level design.

Review: Daughter of Mystery (Alpennia #1)

I’ve been thinking about this recently, but describing a book as “historical fantasy” seems like a contradiction in terms, and yet, there’s no better way to describe this series, which was recommended to me courtesy of the tumblr hivemind as a sapphic historical fantasy series.

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Margerit Sovitre didn’t expect to inherit a baron’s fortune, and with it, a bodyguard in the form of Barbara. At first, Margerit protests the need for Barbara’s protection, but she wasn’t counting on earning the enmity of the new baron and soon she can’t imagine life without her by her side. All is not well in Alpennia, however, with the Prince ill and the succession in question, Margerit finds herself drawn to the mystical rituals known as the Mysteries of the Saints, and now she’ll need Barbara’s protection more than ever to survive the deadly intrigue of the court.

I’m struggling with finding words to describe this book. There’s a bit of political intrigue, a little action, a bit of (Catholic) magic and a lot of mingling in Society and maintaining one’s reputation. According to the author, Alpennia is a fictional country nestled between Italy, Switzerland, and France. I’ve heard it described as “Ruritanian romance” but as I wasn’t familiar with that term, I was reminded of Regency romance.

The major players in this slow burn of a novel are Margerit and Barbara, the point of view characters. Margerit is a typical fish out of water protagonist who suddenly finds herself a highly eligible heiress, though she would rather spend her days buried in books than trying to land a man. Barbara, on the other hand, was trained from a young age by the former baron to be his armin (professional duelist) and finds to her chagrin that his death hasn’t freed her from service. There are some interesting secondary characters, like LeFevre, the baron’s (now Margerit’s) man of business, Margerit’s aunt Bertrut, the prickly scholar Antuniet, and the eccentric Vicomtesse de Cherdillac. My one issue is that we didn’t get to see very much of a couple characters.

Politics, religion, and reputation play a big role in Alpennian society. At times, the politics can be a bit knotty, but the basic idea is that there’s a crisis of succession based on the validity of a marriage contract. At one point there’s a discussion of some of the finer points of Alpennian inheritance laws and debts that becomes a plot point later on. The magic system is focused on the mysteries of the saints, which combines ceremonial magic with intercessory prayer and rituals in a way that reminds me of the game Darklands.

It’s a very slow-paced book, there isn’t really a sense of urgency in the plot until the last few chapters, when the plot threads are neatly tied up. In a book like Throne of Glass, where the main character is an assassin, the focus on dresses over murder was disappointing (even if Celaena is recovering from being imprisoned) but here it makes sense: Margerit is an heiress and would-be scholar, and Barbara doesn’t have many opportunities to leave her side, so of course there’s going to be a lot of visiting, parties, the opera, and the like.

In terms of potential triggers, there is an attempted rape/sexual assault and the attacker appears later in the story. The romance, which is between Margerit when she technically “owns” Barbara (it’s complicated) might make some people uncomfortable. However the power disparity between the two is acknowledged and Margerit does make multiple attempts to free Barbara from her obligations, which for me is more palatable than, say, the relationship between the two main characters in The Winner’s Curse. Although the main romance is between two women, Alpennian society is still very heteronormative, so characters make certain comments about how Barbara might be one of *those* women because she dresses in masculine clothing.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed this book. I’m not sure if it would make my “Top Ten Books of All Time” list, but the Alpennia series is now one to watch. I would recommend it if you like books like The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner, just be prepared for a slower read.