What’s Left to Play When I Can’t Stop Playing Elden Ring?

Not going to lie, I didn’t know what else to put here, and when I searched Elden Ring on google, this image came up, which is so right, and even more wrong. Who photoshopped this? I must find them.

Probably over a week or two ago, I surpassed over 100 hours of play time in Elden Ring. This is not a big deal for many video game enjoyers out there who dump hundreds, if not thousands of hours, into plenty of games they own. Back when I was a child and I had my PS2, an infinite amount of time to myself, and the same five games to play, I too would dump time into them from a deep, deep bucket. These days, and probably since I had my resurgence of video gaming as a hobby back when I bought my Xbox One in 2016, I’ve craved short, accessible experiences that were meant to be finite in nature. Sure, games such as Furi, Celeste, Hyper Light Drifter, The Surge 2, and Prey can be played over and over again, but I tend to be picky about my single player experiences: Once I beat the game, I usually don’t crave returning to it for quite some time. And I practically worshiped these games while I was playing them; I couldn’t believe how good the experience I was having with them. They reminded me why I loved video games so much in the first place. However, when I finished them, I dropped them like they were a lump of coal. The endorphins wore off by the end of my journey with them, and it felt like a chore to pick them up again.

To be fair, I’ve felt that same endorphin peak with Elden Ring. Certain portions really are a chore to get through. If you’ve played through the mandatory areas once or twice, you know where the good stuff is. You know the NPC’s that are worth talking to, and the optional forts and caves that aren’t worth spending more than a brisk hop, skip and a stab in. Elden Ring is a fantastic open world, but being an open world, it is privy to the same bloat that other open world games are. It just so happens that Elden Ring’s world is so incredible to explore, its NPC’s so engaging to talk to, and its combat so customizable and satisfying, that even the bloat feels relatively easy to chomp away at.

And I’ve also pinpointed the exact location that is my roadblock in a Souls game this time: The Fire Giant. Sure, with enough practice, I probably could beat him, advance to the Crumbling Forum Azula, the Haligtree, and defeat final last few bosses of Elden Ring, ascending to the throne. Really, I’m not much of a fan of the entirety of Mountaintops of the Giants. The area is visually stunning, and I love riding past the many frozen giants on my way to confront the last giant standing, but the area feels rather empty and linear compared to previous biomes in Elden Ring. I’ve actually come to resent these mountaintops as a roadblock to enjoying the remainder of the game that I have yet to sink my teeth into. I know, I know: Git Gud. This is moreso a personal problem with me as a player, and not anything that I find Elden Ring for being at fault for. I’ll eventually defeat the Fire Giant, same as I eventually beat the Twin Princes in Dark Souls III. Probably on a new save as well. Speaking of which…

Let’s get to the nitty gritty of this: I’m thinking of starting a new save in Elden Ring. I have my first save of 66 hours in which I accidentally nuked my character and can’t be bothered to find another larval tear to fix him, my second save of 26 hours in which I made it to Morgott but proceeded to get bored of my build, and finally, my third save of 27 hours in which I’ve gotten to the Fire Giant again, but hit a dopamine road block due to my lack of Git Gud, and now… now… I want to start another save. I want to start as the Prisoner build and play more Elden Ring. Every single one of my builds has resulted in me leaning towards STR, and this build probably will too. Doesn’t matter. I enjoy the opening hours of this game so, so much, and the general ascendance involved in growing more and more powerful, getting new armor and weapons, still discovering old secrets that I missed on previous playthroughs, and clobbering my way through legacy dungeons that gave me hell on my initial playthrough.

There has never, ever, ever been a single player game that has done this to me. I have Gamepass, for goodness sakes. I am literally spending $15 a month to download a bunch of promising looking games, and keep going back to Elden Ring instead. I know I wrote that post over a month ago about how I couldn’t rip myself away from Elden Ring for long enough to play Tunic, but I eventually did do just that, for long enough that I got roughly 3/4 of the way through Tunic before dropping it like a lump of coal. I also played about an hour of Loot River before placing it in the “I’ll come back to this eventually” pile. I downloaded Switch Sports, and had a decent enough five or so hours with that. Just yesterday, I got a craving to play the Crash Bandicoot remake, and I had a decent enough time with that for an hour or two. But you know how this paragraph ends. I’m going back to Elden Ring again, and I don’t know for how long. I don’t know how engaged I’ll be, or how fulfilling this playthrough will hold up against my other three.

What’s left to play when you can’t stop playing Elden Ring? Oh man, imagine if I asked myself that in the mirror every morning as a way to pull myself out of this trance. That would be hilarious.

Tunic: A Game You Should Play

Hmmm… I wonder what character this fox could be making an homage to

I’ll start by stating that I’m unsure of the specific reason that my pictures I uploaded from my OneDrive account are no longer appearing in the previous blog post on Dark Souls 2, but I’m sure that the answer to my question can be derived from this current sentence, and probably has to deal with the phrase “…uploaded from my OneDrive account…”. To the thirty of you that viewed that article, and the (perhaps) three of you (I’m being generous, I know) that read enough of it to see the images I uploaded, I thank you for being a part of this grave experiment in which I type into the void that contains my personal platform that I have to justify as an outlet for my transgressions that occasionally receives views as a result of me sharing my blog posts with the appropriate subreddit. We are all truly a part of life’s rich pageant. Editor’s Note: I fixed the article by downloading the images from OneDrive to my phone and then uploading them back to the article from my phone’s image library. Hooray!

Anyways, Tunic! No longer just an outdated part of a burgeoning adventurer’s wardrobe, but a successful example of the hard work of a solo developer! A solo developer that was probably handed quite the wad of cash and awarded plenty of patience from Finji and Microsoft, as this game has been in the works and previewed at various gaming festivals for quite awhile. Tunic has been out for a month after being released during the second wave of Gamepass titles for March. It currently has an 86 on Metacritic, and received mild praise from Yahtzee Croshaw, which is of the most personal importance to me, a humble YouTube subscriber of TheEscapist’s YouTube channel. I pay two real American dollars per month for early access to TheEscapist’s YouTube content! Wow, what a deal! Everyone should subscribe to this YouTube channel! Everyone! Everywhere! What are you waiting for! Subscribe! Do it now!

So, what do I personally think of Tunic? Well… I think the first hour or so is great! Tunic is incredibly charming, elegant, thoughtful, pretty, and fun. Am a describing a video game, or your nearest blind date at the local tiki bar? Both! You play as an adorable little fox that wakes up on the beach, and as if you have amnesia that your character isn’t particularly worried about or aware of, you need to piece together exactly where you need to go and what you need to do in order to advance through the world and rescue your fox friend/girlfriend/queen/princess/family member from the colorful prism she is imprisoned in. The game plays a similar trick on the player to that of Hyper Light Drifter, in which there is no legibly written sign-posting or item descriptions in the entire game (except for minor exceptions in the in-game manual, which are fine concessions made by the developer, though not entirely necessary in my opinion). You pick up an item, and in order to know what it does, you have to use it! Brilliant! Your character also has the ability to fast travel and upgrade abilities such as health and stamina at the beginning of the game, but until you find the explanation of how to do so in the in-game manual, you are not aware that this is even a possibility.

Wait, what was that I just mentioned? In-game manual? Okay, here’s an example:

In-game manual!

Throughout your adventure, you collect different pages of a manual that can be viewed at any time. Your collection begins with the tenth page, and you will continue to collect more pages that help you decipher basic and complex things that you can accomplish in Tunic. As stated earlier, there is some legible English on this page, but other than that, you get more of the language that was created specifically for this game, which people are continuing to find ways to decipher. This manual, from the illustrations and information contained within, and the method of collecting and making use of its various maps, is absolutely brilliant, and feels essential to the experience of playing through Tunic.

What’d we cover… Story and world context, in-game manual, exploration… How about gameplay? Well, the gameplay isn’t anything to write home about, but it is entirely functional and fair. You have a sword, shield, throwable items, healing potions/foods, and you receive more trinkets and items along the way that increase your arsenal and stamina/health. The inventory screen is easily accessible and managing the three items you can equip at a time is fine, though it takes a little while to get used to the menu controls (Pressing Left Bumper is the only way to exit the menu, while pressing B changes what is equipped to that slot). There is also a lock-on mechanic that is helpful for dueling opponents one-on-one, but just like in Dark Souls, if you are facing multiple enemies at the same time, it is best to drop the lock-on and move around more freely to deal damage easily to multiple enemies. What else is there to say? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Sold on Tunic yet? I sure hope so. It’s a game you should play. Me? I played two hours of it about a month ago, and then went back to playing more Elden Ring. Then, last week, I started over and played an hour of Tunic, getting roughly as far into the game as the previous play session, and then went back to playing more Elden Ring. Elden Ring. Elden Ring? Elden Ring! Yes, Elden Ring is still dominating my mind, and though I have been able to loosen it’s grasp, it still holds all of my attention. For how much longer, I’m unsure, but I do know that since starting my second playthrough of Elden Ring, I’ve gotten nearly as far as I did the last time, and in roughly a third of the time. So once I either finally beat Elden Ring on my second try, or get bored of it and decide to move on to the next thing that I want to play, hopefully that thing that I play next is Tunic.

For now, how about you play Tunic. If you don’t like it, please file a suit against me and take me to court in the most bombastic and inflammatory way possible. I could use the media attention.

Views from Majula, et. al.

Image credit to Reddit user TheUndine

After roughly 70 hours of Elden Ring, and even starting my journey over with a brand new character that I’ve modeled after my less-than grateful fiancé, I’ve decided to take a legitimate breather, and pursue a different calling: Exploring and piecing together the strange, fever-dream-reality of Dark Souls II’s Drangleic. DSII has always fascinated me since I played through it a few summers ago back when I finally decided to put the metal to the grindstone and experience the Souls series. I powered through 20 hours of Bloodborne, then 30 hours of Dark Souls, then 30 hours of Dark Souls II, and finally got about 98% of the way through Dark Souls III before running into the absolute road block that is Lothric and Lorian (don’t worry, I eventually started DSIII over again at a later point in time, completing the main storyline and rekindling the flame for the final time). Being entirely honest, after playing through each of these games, what stuck out to me as the odd duck of the series was Dark Souls II. I’m not alone in saying that, and plenty of video essays have been made in defense of and favor of DSII’s otherness.

However, this is about world feel! As in, how does it feel to be a character in the world of Dark Souls II? Each Souls game (Bloodborne, Sekiro, and Elden Ring included) has a distinct vision directed towards the overall shape and congruency of its world. In Dark Souls II’s case, it is well documented that this vision was sliced, diced and compromised. And even with the release of Scholar of the First Sin (which is the edition DS II that I own and have played), FromSoftware couldn’t fix the actual shape of and connective tissue of Drangleic. Fans of DSII have certainly attempted to justify, for one of many examples, the fact that you can see sunken ruins that are miles away, and to get there, you walk through a sewage tunnel for one minute to arrive at said ruins. Anyways, enough context, let’s begin born undead anew into Majula, the serene hub of DSII, and take a look at locations we’ll visit in our journey through Drangleic.

Looming Locales

Once the player character steps out of Things Betwixt and into Majula, we have a view of three separate areas of Drangleic: Drangleic Castle, The Forest of the Fallen Giants, and Heide’s Tower of Flame. The easiest way to see all of these areas is by going to the western cliff edge of Majula, where the Crestfallen Warrior is sitting slumped over at the base of the monument.

The first instance of foreshadowing that I want to take into account is Drangleic Castle, which is also visible from multiple other locations in DSII, and is an instance of intentional design from the developers. Drangleic Castle is essentially the Anor Londo of Dark Souls II; not necessarily in quality of level design or combat encounters, but rather as the clear halfway point of our journey. We can always see it off in the distance, looming over us as we collect the four great souls in order to confront its impending challenge. Even better that we eventually learn the Queen was watching us from her throne the entire time, waiting expectantly for us to arrive and hear her request.

If we exhaust our dialogue options with the Crestfallen Warrior, he will give us clear indications of three other areas we will be travelling to in the first half of our journey. The first location he mentions is the Forest of the Fallen Giants, which in reality is less of a forest, and more so the ruins of a castle overgrown with trees that sprouted from the fallen giants themselves. He points out the cave entrance that we will pass through to arrive at this location, just beyond the bonfire at the bottom right corner of the picture. We can see that the Forest of the Fallen Giants sits on the edge of a cliff, and perhaps when we visit it and climb to a vantage point at the castle, we will see a view of Majula?

The second location that the Crestfallen Warrior will mention is Heide’s Tower of Flame. The sewage tunnel that we take to arrive at this location is just out of picture to the left. From this vantage point, we can see the tower itself, in which we will fight the Dragonrider, and what I am going to call the “cathedral” that we fight the Old Dragonslayer in. We see that this area is quite far from the shoreline, sunken into the ocean, jutting about the surface of the water as the sun beams down on it. If we were to be standing at any point in this location, we should easily be able to see the vantage point we are standing at.

The third location that the Crestfallen Warrior speaks of rather ominously is The Pit, which you can fall directly into in order to eventually end up at The Black Gulch. What I love most about The Pit is the options that the player character has to finally make the plunge into it. We can find an NPC that will build us a ladder to reach the highest plank, we can buy a ring from an NPC to reduce our fall damage, or we can use a spell in order to reduce our fall damage. If the player were to grind enough souls in order to purchase the ring, they could fall right down into The Pit and take a crack at fighting The Rotten just a few hours into their journey.

Dreadful Drangleic Castle

If we travel through the cave in order to reach the beginning of Forest of The Fallen Giants, we will arrive at a bonfire located next to a shallow stream. If we turn to the south, we can see the Drangleic Castle, blending in with the towering trees off in the distance. Once we complete our first few intial combat encounters with the groups of hollow soldiers that roam the outskirts of the ruined castle, we can climb up a ladder in order to reach one of the best views of Drangleic Castle in Dark Souls II:

Drangleic Castle is no longer playing coy as it juts up into the atmosphere, making its presence known to the player. This foreboding view is heightened aesthetically by the dark clouds and embers falling around us. In Dark Souls, when we began in Undead Berg and tilted our cameras up at the high walls of Anor Londo, we could barely make out the Duke’s Archives, glowing above us in the orange sky. Here, in the Forest of the Fallen Giants, which is analogous to Undead Berg as our first maze-like starting area, Drangleic Castle is not hiding. Rather, it is watching and waiting, patiently sitting atop its rocky throne. Let’s travel to Heide’s Tower of Flame to see if we can make out Drangleic Castle from there as well.

Not discounting the view of The Forest of the Fallen Giants, which is planted at the far left of the frame, we can again see Drangleic, though it is farther away from us. This distance does make sense, especially if we take into account how our current location is at sea level, while the rest of Drangleic is already high above the water, and Drangleic Castle sits atop a mountain. I do wonder if Drangleic Castle should be positioned in the top right of the frame, as its far more inland than it appears in this picture. The skybox is again imposing and dramatic, but the geography doesn’t seem quite right. In addition, there is no view of Majula from Heide’s Tower of Flame, even though there is absolutely nothing that would be blocking our view of it. And here we go…

Careful Concessions

Why can we not see Majula from Heide’s Tower of Flame? How do we travel through a sewage tunnel for roughly a minute to end up at Heide’s Tower of Flame? Why can we not see Majula from the Forest of the Fallen Giants? How do we travel through a cave for roughly a minute to end up at the Forest of the Fallen Giants? Well… we retcon. Or, depending on if you believe this was the intentional vision of the developers, we abide by the Crestfallen Warrior’s explanation of Drangleic. We believe that our chosen undead, as a result of their impending hollowing and the flow of time and space in Drangleic, forgets or cannot even comprehend portions of their journey to new locations. Perhaps the landscape even shifts in order for us to arrive at each place we visit.

I think this argument can be used to partially justify the tunnels that lead us from one location to another. These tunnels are loading screens that allow new locations to load in before we arrive to them. They are not long (one particular game from my memory that forced the player to walk through absurdly long tunnels and staircases in order to arrive at a new location was Whiplash), yet by the time we end up at a new location, we can trick ourselves into thinking there were enough twists and turns in the tunnel that it geographically makes sense. The skybox, however, tells a different story. These locations are miles away from one another, and due to the time, game design, and hardware constraints available to them, the developers of Dark Souls II could not have feesibly created an open world that allowed us to travel for dozens of minutes from one location to the next. They made concessions with traversable loading screens to new areas, such as gates that took time to open, elevators taking ages to lift us up or down, and spiraling pits and tunnels. This is already prevalent from our journeys to the Forest of the Fallen Giants and Heide’s Tower of Flame. These locations, if presented accurately by the skyboxes, would have taken far more time to arrive to by walking (or, in Heide’s case, sailing).

The time we spend in Drangleic is convoluted, and so is the geography. We believe this is intentional if we look at both the lore of Drangleic, and the actions of the developers that led to this final product. Sometimes this works, especially if we take into account our view of Drangleic Castle from the first few areas we visit, which seems to shift with the landscape itself in order loom over us. Other times this doesn’t, as is evident by our inability to see Majula from the Forest of the Fallen Giants and Heide’s Tower of Flame, as if its shrinking into the cliffside. Had the developers of Dark Souls II had the vision of the exact final product that we eventually received, I think they would have gone all out with the skyboxes and level transitions. Perhaps we would have received an additional traversal method, other than walking through a tunnel or riding an elevator to our next location. We would have had more dramatic, sweeping vistas that foreshadowed the surrounding world. Would it matter that we couldn’t directly access that area from our current location? Hardly. Play Dark Souls III to see how this is properly executed. Or better yet, watch this video by the brilliant Illusory Wall.

To conclude, I have mixed feelings on Dark Souls II. I love its atmosphere, vistas, and decaying and rotting locations that rapidly come and go as I pass through one after the other. I loathe its healing system, dull bosses, and tedious enemy placement that emphasizes ambushes and sucker punches rather than one-on-one encounters. Dark Souls III would go on to have quite its fair share of group encounters, but also allowed the player character more responsive and fluid movement (it really is no surprise that the earlier you go into the Souls series, the more the player character feels weighed down by bags of sand).

Most importantly, I remember each Souls game for the distinct feeling they give me, and for Dark Souls II, that feeling is clear: Melancholy. For the world that I am journeying through, and wistful daydreams of the world it could have been.

Never Mind, I Changed how I feel about Adam Sessler and the G4TV Reboot

Personally, I like the shaved head with beard combo. Looking forward to rocking that myself one day.

Alright goofball(s), it’s that time of the millennium again, and I’ve got the sauce, straight from the source. I am twenty eight hours into Elden Ring, and have defeated two of the Demi-God bosses. I been exploring. I’ve done things. Things I’m proud of. I almost respec’d my character, but then chickened out because I realized that it wasn’t actually that worth it, as I only would have been moving three experience points around. I found the second blacksmith, who of course is an allusion to the second blacksmith found in Dark Souls and Dark Souls 3, so I have that innate sense of nostalgia gripping my chest when I talk to him. My character has an intelligence and strength build that focuses on sorcery and the heaviest weapon he can carry. Usually I only like to do a strength build, as I prefer big swords, hammers or clubs, but knew that magic abilities have been overhauled and tweaked for Elden Ring, and boy howdy have they been a pleasure to use. I have over 50 hours left of this game until I reach anywhere near the finish line, and I couldn’t be more satisfied with my experience thus far unless playing Elden Ring also counted as increasing my cardio.

So that’s, as they say, fun. Less of that, though, and more of the chase: During the second half of last year, when I first realized that G4TV was rebooting itself onto YouTube with Adam Sessler returning as one of the faces of the channel, I was pretty whelmed! Like, not overly excited or eager to see the content that they had been pumping out, but I was at least a little intrigued. This realization happened fairly organically, as the YouTube algorithm pushed content from G4TV into my feed, and I checked out the videos with Adam Sessler in the thumbnail, because he was the only person I recognized and cared about catching up on regarding his opinions on modern-day video games. It felt relatively serendipitous to watch a video game journalist that I obsessively spent time caring about the opinions of back in middle school, and had not seen since his review of Bioshock Infinite while I was in college (coincidentally, it is that very memory of that review that should have been the first alarm bell going off in my head reminding me exactly why I personally grew past the content Adam Sessler pushes). I could stress far more about how he was one of my former guiding role models on video game critiquing. I respected the hell out of his opinions, laughed at all of his sketches, and was always happy to see him speaking when I flipped the channel to G4TechTV as a pre-teen. Yet here he was, on a YouTube channel carrying the same moniker as the fabled G4TV, reviewing games such as Red Dead Redemption II, Guardians of the Galaxy, Halo Infinite, and No More Heroes III. It had been over fifteen years since I seriously paid attention to his reviews, and I was eager to learn how I would engage with his newer content, and how he, with his even more grizzled and learned perspective, engaged with YouTube and reviewing games in 2021 and beyond.

Yeah, not to bait you anymore with forced anticipation, but it turns out he’s just another guy on YouTube that reviews games. I wanted him to rock my world so bad, but my take on current Sessler is: “Bland opinions, straightforward points, and relatively harmless conclusions.” I think the first alarm bell that went off in my head was during his review of Guardians of the Galaxy, as after the video ended, I seriously could not remember any legitimate or meaningful points that he had about his experience with the game. The next alert in my head occurred during his review of Far Cry 6, in which the only thing I remember about the video was him praising the performance of Giancarlo Esposito (a professional actor had a good performance in the video game he starred in. You’re kidding me!). The final proverbial #NailInTheCoffin was during his review of Halo Infinite, in which he only spoke about the single player campaign (that’s fine!), which he was relatively luke-warm on (that’s also fine!). Overall, I wasn’t engaging with his argument about the campaign being repetitive, and the narrative being incomplete. It’s fine (it’s fine, I swear!) that he didn’t vibe with Halo Infinite, but I wasn’t following his logic as to why he didn’t enjoy playing it. Later last December, I unsubscribed from G4TV, and the algorithm has not pushed their videos my way since then.

You might be asking yourself, “Why am I here? What’s the deal, boyo? What’s the 411 with your opinion on the Sess Dog 3.0, and why are you bringing it my way?” And I would respond by saying “Yeah, I don’t know why you’re here either, you should probably leave.” This blog post was going to be written rather differently before I did some website skimming this morning to refresh my memory on when last year I started watching Nu G4TV videos. Originally, I was going to title this diary entry “What Happens when your Favorite Game Reviewer has Nothing Meaningful left to say about Video Games?” BUT, you see, that would imply that Adam Sessler and the G4TV crew have nothing meaningful to say about video games! It turns out, however, in the time that I was unsubscribed from G4TV (roughly December 14th of 2021 to today, 2022), some juicy, succulent drama occurred in the YouTube #WebSphere thanks to an unlikely source: Someone working for G4TV who isn’t Adam Sessler. You might say that’s crazy! After all, have you seen Adam Sessler’s tweets? I didn’t until today! If you don’t want to click that absolutely beautiful hyperlink, here is one tweet below, just for you:

Now THIS is “going hard in the paint.” Also, this image is a screenshot of a screenshot. His most recent username includes what I think is a joke about Elden Ring. Very timely, Adam!

Wow, I wonder how the YouTube community reacted to these series of tweets? I said, I WONDER HOW THE YOUTUBE COMMUNITY REACTED TO THIS SERIES OF TWEETS? What, you’re telling me no one in the YouTube comments brings up Adam Sessler’s hardcore leftist stances under every single one of his reviews? You’re telling me that the Alt-Right has not set their sights on a man in his 40’s that plays and critiques video games for a living and tweets about not caring about his family dying from COVID? #Weird. So, uh, who’s the source of this hot new drama? If the fans of G4TV’s reboot on YouTube don’t care about Adam Sessler’s relatively hardcore political views and hot takes on Twitter, what could they possibly care enough about to make video, after video, after video of them reacting to as if the person in question has usurped everyone else employed at G4TV and declared themselves dictator in charge? Better yet, I’ll share the video that people are flipping their lid on, with a picture below of the person at the heart of this drama!

Hmm… Now why in the world would G4TV’s male audience react negatively to the opinions of India “Frosck” Black? I just can’t put my finger on it…

DO YOU GET IT? DO YOU SEEEEEEE? Frosck, who works for G4TV in a prominent position alongside Adam and the other reviewers, stated that she is upset about people making rude, sexist, misogynistic, and homophobic comments directed at her when she appears in videos on the channel. Everybody in this clip, from the reviewers that are sitting with her, Adam who is appearing on a live feed, and the live audience are loving it as they hype the hell out of her. And, you guessed it, the kicked dogs are howling in the YouTube comments section, and on their websites that get way more traffic than mine (HOW DARE YOU HAVE SUCCESS ON THE INTERNET, I WANT THAT). Apparently, this is the downfall of G4TV as we know it. They lost 6,000 subscribers! View counts are down! An employee stated her opinion about the existence of misogyny in the gaming community that she herself is a victim of, and the audience literally clapped and even, *gasp*, “whoop whooped,” while the gamer Chad’s watching online in their dens recoiled in horror. G4TV has fallen, I repeat, G4TV is down.

Let me be real with you for a lil’ bit: I don’t think that the reboot of G4TV is going to be wildly successful on YouTube, but it ain’t cause one of the employees of their company made a statement that riled up a bunch of weirdos that comment about the downfall of the nuclear family on the Microsoft Bing homepage with one hand and salute Jordan Peterson with the other. I just had to see the current impact of Frosck’s statement (and G4TV rightly backing her up) on current videos being released by the channel, and saw what anyone would expect from YouTube comments: Takes, takes, and uh… More takes. Will G4TV lose a majority of their subscribers en masse as the gamer Chads take it to the streets in an organized protest against someone calling out sexist harassment? Nah, they’ll probably keep releasing videos while giving their employees a platform to speak their minds on video games. And hey, look at this, they found me, an ardent supporter who will return to their channel to check in on how they are doing, while silently hoping that the trolls get bored and move on, the view counts are fine and the channel will continue to make enough money to produce content. I’ve got my eye on you G4TV, and I hope you remain a relatively popular channel on YouTube.

However, I ain’t gonna resubscribe. As scrawled earlier in this bloggity blog post, I unfortunately didn’t dig the videos I saw last year featuring Adam, and there aren’t other people employed by G4TV that I’m interested in hearing from either, at least based on what I’ve seen from them before I unsubscribed. That Frosck video, though? That was meaningful content. Watch that and tell me you didn’t have some sort of reaction, good or bad. Then, watch Adam’s review of Far Cry 6 and find yourself strangely interested in the speckle of paint on your wall. If G4TV can carve a niche as a YouTube channel by producing content that differentiates itself from other similar channels such as Polygon, The Escapist, or IGN, they will find success with a core audience that desires their specific takes on video games. Frosck’s statement is a hint of that content, and I swear, if they can adequately showcase the personalities and perspectives of their other employees, and give them a platform to vent on and emotionally and thoughtfully engage the audience, they will be successful. G4TV isn’t what it used to be, and that’s okay. It’s never going to be the show you watched in middle school, high school, or college again. Times have changed, bruv, and G4TV better change with them. I’ll wait patiently for that to happen.

Elden Ring is…

The less said about the place of origination of this meme, the better. Look at the meme, though! So early 2010’s.

When I was in high school, I went on 4chan.

Anyways, I downloaded Elden Ring about a week after its release, after finally having finished Dying Light 2. Thirty-four hours of open-world, parkour-involved zombie-busting combat with generic characters, a semi-intriguing plot, and no real cause worth fighting for until nuclear missiles were about to rain down on said cause, and I’m finally leaving that game in the past. Kind of funny when you can look back at your experience with certain media you were invested in as a slog, but one that you can also recognize as having gained genuine enjoyment out of at certain times. These days, however, “genuine enjoyment at certain times” isn’t good enough, I say! I need #RealEnjoyment that comes from a game that I have a legitimate stake in, not only passing interest born out of the reluctance of not finishing a game that I spent sixty real American dollars on. And that, my dear friends, is when Elden Ring comes along, which as they say, really does feel like an amalgamation of the best ideas that FromSoftware have been pumping out for a decade and some change, all released in one package.

Oh, I could write to you about my thirteen and a half hours that I’ve played thus far of Elden Ring, but what would there be to say that hasn’t already been said by VaatiVidya or Iron Pineapple (look them up if you don’t know them, you thumb-sucking luddite)? No, you didn’t stumble upon my domain with my fine and fancy blog logo that I paid REAL AMERICAN DOLLARS for a talented artist on Fiverr to make, only to hear about my opinion on the gameplay, worldbuilding, writing, level design, open-world, enemies, bosses, combat, abilities, exploration, customization, leveling system, and character classes which are all so, so expertly designed and a real clinic on how to put a fundamentally scholarly level of work into as those experts at FromSoftware are so inclined to do up until this point and beyond. In fact, I’m literally wasting my time as I write this, because I am using my succulent free time to write about my feelings on Elden Ring, instead of playing more Elden Ring, which is a far better use of my time than anything else that doesn’t involve my significant other, cats, or work (ah, life’s trifecta).

But I’m going to do it! I’m going to waste my time, not by talking to you about Elden Ring, but about that four-panel meme that I saw one time when I was in high school and using the internet! Here is the meme again, in case you forgot about it:

Oh, doesn’t this image just take you back? The Berserk reference… The MS Paint illustrations… The in-jokes…

The four-panel meme pictured above shows a simple story; one of initial confusion, followed by absurd elation at the realization that the game being played is different from its contemporaries. The game, in case you were wondering, you rotten scoundrel you, is Demon’s Souls. No, this meme isn’t even about Elden Ring! Or is it? No, it is not. It’s about Demon’s Souls! Demon’s Souls was released during the Summer of 2010 in the United States and other places that exist outside of Japan. It quickly became a cult hit, and was followed by such classics as every other game that FromSoftware’s A-Team has released (Dark Souls 2 is the obvious outlier and #JustFine). I’ve never actually played Demon’s Souls, but I would like to one day play the remake of it that was released last year for the PlayStation 5. As of now, I’ve played every FromSoftware game post-2011, and even then, FromSoftware games never really “clicked” with me until 2016, when I played Dark Souls 3. Here’s my hot take of the hour: If you want to introduce someone to the Souls series, have them play Dark Souls 3 first. It has, by far, the easiest difficulty curve and the most intuitive level design of any of FromSoftware’s games. You can fight me IRL about that if you want to.

More on that meme, though: I think that, in a way, the above meme represents so much about why people love games created by FromSoftware, and especially the Dark Souls series. Even more importantly, the meme displays the ever-necessary “click” moment, when the game that you are playing starts to make sense in an instinctive way. The elation of the character in the meme, though over the top and played for laughs, is representative of any moment when you are playing a game and start having a great time playing said game for the very first time. It doesn’t matter if the game is Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Sekiro, or… hmm… Elden Ring. And that’s exactly what anyone trying to sell you on games created by FromSoftware is trying to explain to you, the person who has never before played a FromSoftware game: When it “clicks,” it is amazing. It’s everything you’ve ever wanted from a video game. It’s even what you didn’t know that you wanted, but better.

Elden Ring is.

Who is Harrison Bergeron for?

Yes, I did find this illustration by searching for “paranoia” on Google Images. Ooh, look at me, giving away my methods.

Bear with me as I bury the lede: I first read Harrison Bergeron in my freshman year English class in high school, at the wee age of fourteen years old. My teacher had presented plenty of other literary classics appropriate for teenage reading comprehension that year, such as Homer’s Odyssey, Romeo and Juliet, and plenty of texts featuring Greek Mythology, which is apparently required to be taught to younglings on the bourgeoning cusp of coming to grips with their sexuality and unbearable drive for intercourse with others their age. Go figure, the Greeks were also into that stuff, too, which is why all of their Gods were constantly drunk, fighting, having sexual intercourse, or all of the above at the same time. My English teacher was also heavy into tableaus, which is a style of performance art that emphasizes the actions of characters while simultaneously being completely still. We would perform these tableaus in front of the class, which was deeply embarrassing, but also forced us to have confidence in expressing ourselves, at a time when we would have been most hesitant to otherwise. I had this English teacher for a class during my Senior year of high school as well, in which we read stage plays, dived into contemporary literature, and thankfully did not perform as many tableaus. She was a great teacher, and she introduced me to the subject of the scrawled memo on a random piece of bark that I am presenting to you today.

First of all, you need to have read Harrison Berguron, and if you have not taken a high school level English class, or perhaps you attended high school in the American South and your local school board had already decided to burn all available copies of books containing words with multiple syllables, then here, this should take about five to ten minutes:

http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/harrison.html.

I have inserted a picture of a handsome man staring thoughtfully at his computer below to encourage you to read this short story. Good luck! I’ll see you on the other side.

Look at him go! I wonder how much they paid him for this photo. I personally refuse to pay BIGSTOCK for the rights to this image. You won’t take my hard earned coin this time, BIG PHOTOGRAPHY.

Whew, that was a fairly grim, yet breezy story, right? I remember my English teacher setting aside time in class for us to silently read through that story. I found it dense and a little difficult to unpack, but the main arguments presented by Vonnegut in the story were not lost on my developing mind. Clearly, even though I didn’t know the term yet, this story featured a dystopian future in which the gifted were punished, and the handicapped were promoted, all in the name of equality. Even though this story was written in 1961, when a particular group of people in the United States were fighting for their rights to live freely and equally with their fair-skinned brethren, race is never actually brought up in Harrison Bergeron. No, all of these people in this story might as well have been purple, as race has nothing to deal with whether or not a human being is promoted to a talking head on tv, or saddled with a bag of metal balls around their neck. Instead, mental and physical handicaps reflect the dichotomy of winners and losers in this story, with the handicapped given the privilege of better job opportunities, while the gifted are required to wear masks, earpieces, weights, or anything else that would hinder their natural talents or genetic traits and physical features.

Reading this short story at this point in my life, two things come across as blindingly obvious: 1. This is a ridiculously bizarre future that will never, ever, ever come close to happening, and 2. This is a fairly quaint, rather comedic tale. Now, I understand how naïve my first point sounds. I have read Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, and if you’re looking for a far more likely dystopian future reflective of the United States’ current political landscape, then look no further. I’m not some simpleton that can’t come to grips with understanding fascism when I see it. That being said, the fascistic society present in HB, with the handicapped given a leg-up on the gifted, and being presented as equals in all facets of life, is so removed from our current society that I can’t handle it. This story does not feature an honest picture of America held up in a funhouse mirror; it is a bizarro reflection of a society that does not exist, one that has no future or past, and one that is entirely alien to human beings. You can’t tell me that those who are unfairly and unjustly viewed as possessing genetically inferior traits and abilities in the United States will ever be given a legitimate stirrup to help them spring up and be viewed as true equals in this country. Even today, the physically and mentally handicapped are still viewed as a burden. If it wasn’t for the work of non-profits and grinded-out legislation in the wake of deinstitutionalization spurred by the Reagan era of politics, we would see even less support for the downtrodden masses that have to beg for a helping hand anyways.

And who does HB present as those handicapped that have a leg up in its dystopian future? We have a mother, who seems to be forgetful of what she is doing, perhaps due to some sort of hinderance with her executive functioning of her frontal lobe, and we have a newscaster that has a speech impediment. That’s it. The main focus of HB is not the mentally and physically handicapped that are given opportunity to continue existing, it is on the gifted; those that are synthetically handicapped with loud noises interrupting their thoughts, bags over their heads, and weights strapped around their necks. Oh, the horror. Read on about these amazing people, who have such wonderful qualities and would be able to display them if it wasn’t for Diana Moon Glampers (what is up with her name, anyways? Seriously, did her parents really give her the middle name of Moon? I guess she really shot for the moon, and became a general as a result!) and her evil government of evil people doing evil things to hinder the intelligent and beautiful people of this world. What is the argument that the reader of HB comes away with? “Oh, we best not try too hard to make sure that people at the bottom of the totem pole have a good shot at experiencing happiness in our country. If we try too hard, then we will end up punishing those at the top of society!”

That brings me to my second point: This story is funny. Not in a way that would make you laugh like Seth Rogan reading comics in the newspaper, but in a deeper, probably intentional, more insidious way. Picture in your head the events that occur in this story: A husband walks into the room, asking his wife why she is crying.

“I don’t know, she slowly responds. I was just watching the ballerinas on the tv.” Cue the laugh track.

The ballerinas are on tv, but they are tripping and falling over one another, due to their synthetic hinderances. Cue the laugh track. A massive, hulking fourteen year-old bursts into the studio, strapped with weights, goggles, and headphones, all unable to limit his incredible genetic gifts.

“King me,” his voice booms, “and bring me the most beautiful ballerina to be my queen.” Cue the laugh track.

The king and queen begin dancing in the room, leaping farther and farther up from the floor, before they finally embrace. The audience says “awww,” as this is a heartwarming moment. Suddenly, a woman bursts into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun, and shoots both of them. Cue the laugh track. This time, the audience can barely contain themselves, laughing for a full seven seconds. The woman then points her shotgun at the performers, ordering them to put their synthetic handicaps back on before she shoots them as well. Cue the laugh track. The wife, who watched this all happen on tv, turns to her husband, but he didn’t see any of it, as he had gone into the kitchen for a beer. Cue the laugh track. Finally, the husband returns to the living room, asking his wife why she is crying.

“Gee, I can’t remember,” she says, “I saw something real sad on tv again.”

“That’s my girl!” responds the husband. Cue the laugh track, “awww’s” and clapping, as the credits roll across the screen.

So, who is Harrison Bergeron for?

It’s easy to describe how the story of Harrison Bergeron could be dissected, with its internal organs being adjusted and fiddled with just a bit and then stitched back up again to show the perils of going too far with promoting equality in our society. Obviously, we don’t want to hinder those that have natural talents, who work hard to move up the totem pole, and want as happy a life to live as any other person in the world. Good news, Kurt, because that will never happen, and has never happened in our country.

Earlier in this post, I stated that there is no direct connection between this story and race. How ironic, as HB was written during the Civil Rights movement, when the push for racial equality was at the forefront of politics. However, I do believe this story is about two sets of people: The haves and the have-nots. Those that are gifted, and those that are not. And the main argument of the story is that we cannot punish the gifted for the faults of the have-nots. Look past that this story focuses on what would happen if we unfairly leveled the divide between people with physical and mental handicaps, and those without physical and mental handicaps. Think of the broader argument being distilled from a couple-thousand words: We cannot go too far with equality.

Therefore, here is who Harrison Bergeron is for:

HB is for the legislator that promotes a bill stating transgender high school athletes should not be able to compete in any sport reflective of their gender.

HB is for the resident of a high-income neighborhood, who is skeptical of the black family that moved in to a house down the street.

HB is for the parent who doesn’t want their child in the same classroom as a child with down syndrome.

HB is for the parent that refuses to allow their child to accept a participation trophy.

HB is for the white student that claims she did not get into the college she applied for because of Affirmative Action.

HB is for the political candidate that argues we cannot provide drug addicts with clean needles, and must continue to send them away to prison instead.

HB is for the talking head that constantly highlights studies showing gang violence and homicide rates trending upwards in lower-income communities.

HB is for the celebrity that states their opinions are being censored because of “cancel culture.”

This story is for the privileged neurotic. This story is for those who fear meaningful change. This story is for the status quo. This story is rotten.

Harrison Bergeron is slapdash, inaccurate, unnecessary, and feeble; a faint story with an argument that resonates with the most faint-hearted, egocentric, manic, short-sighted, paranoid minds of those in power. HB is a litmus test that measures if its reader desires basic human rights.

Thank you, Mrs. Harris, for introducing me to Harrison Bergeron! I hope I passed the test.

Hey, look at these Nintendo Games that are going to Siphon Money Directly from my Wallet!

While Klonoa does look like a mutated Pokémon, it is reassuring to look fondly at a character I haven’t thought about since I was in third grade.

Another passage of time, another Nintendo Direct that came and went. Before we get into the nitty gritty of this post, I think it is worth pointing out that I rarely pay full price for a video game. In fact, I would consider myself a #PatientGamer with only the slightest hint of irony. I have no problem waiting for a sale to come around, and I relish the chance to check out my Wishlist just in case it lights up with those fateful negative percentages. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. Typically, the games that fall into that category are Nintendo games, since A: Nintendo games tap into a part of my brain that desires anything and everything comforting, and B: Nintendo games rarely go on sale, so I might as well buy them right away to experience them now, rather than later when they are only 10% off, if that.

So, let’s cut to the chase and look into a handful of titles from the recent Nintendo Direct that I think are worth paying full price for (almost) right away, as they fall into the category of fulfilling the needs of my specific tastes as a gamer. These needs may match yours, and they may not, but who cares! If you’re reading this, then you’re already someone who deserves everything they want, because you somehow took the time out of your day to look at this blog when you could be eating Oreos or shooting up heroin instead.

Klonoa: Phantasy Reverie Series

As mentioned in the text underneath that wonderfully colorful and playful image, I will be paying money in order to play a game that my parents already paid for when I was a wee child. To be fair, I don’t have my PS2 or any games associated with that console anymore, so I don’t have any current way to access Klonoa, as I lacked the foresight as a child to understand that I would ever want to play my favorite PS2 games from my childhood as an adult (what kid even fantasizes about revisiting their favorite video games as an adult, anyways? I bet the Young Sheldon writers made some sort of joke about this scenario already, the bastards). What I wouldn’t give (other than more money than I currently want to spend) to play Sly Cooper, Jak & Daxter, and Ratchet & Clank again. Oh… and Klonoa as well, I guess.

Klonoa fits into an odd category, where I’m not overly nostalgic to experience its gameplay again, but I don’t want to forget about its world, either. I played the second Klonoa game when I was nine years old, and I have no idea what lead my parents to purchasing this for me, other than them seeing the friendly mascot on the cover, and their knowledge that I already loved other cartoony platformer games. That game was a relative fever dream for me: I generally had no idea what was going on the whole time, as I traversed and platform-puzzled my way through a forest-world, industrial-world, circus-world, and I think some sort of flying-sailboat world. There were these awesome snowboarding sections with radical music that I totally dug, and I recall playing those sections over and over again as a child. Also, the final boss fight was wild. He (or she? I legitimately thought they were a girl as a kid, but I think that was just because I pegged their voice actor as being a girl) was the king of dreams or something, and their boss fight went from a snowboarding section in a sort of ethereal realm to a sweat inducing one-on-on duel. After defeating this boss, Klonoa heroically states that he will help save them and their kingdom for reasons as he lifts his giant bejeweled ring/bracelet into the sky and the screen fades to white, finishing this journey in the dream world, I think. Don’t blame me, I haven’t deeply thought about this game in two decades.

So, yeah, time to experience that again, as well as the first game in the series that I believe was available on the previous generation of consoles to the PS2, but I never played it. Therefore, one new experience, refreshed and remastered, side-by-side with a relatively nostalgic experience that I will gladly fork out the thirty to forty dollars that I’m sure Nintendo will charge for this duo of games.

The Other Games

Alright, I was going to write as in-depth about each of these Nintendo games that I will also likely be purchasing this year, but then… I didn’t feel like it anymore! Therefore, here is a smaller amount of writing regarding how I feel about each of them. Enjoy the lightning round.

The new Mario Strikers game looks fun, and I had an absolute blast as a middle schooler playing Super Mario Strikers on my friend’s GameCube, and then playing Super Mario Strikers: Charged on the Wii that belonged to someone who lived on my dorm floor. Now, I get to pay MY OWN money to play MY OWN copy of Mario Strikers on MY OWN Switch. Wow, I’ve really become the master of my own domain, here.

There’s also the new “Sports” game, which looks like a great family-friendly affair full of body waggling and your mom accidentally throwing your Switch controller at the wall. I remember playing Wii Sports at a mutual friend’s home in middle school, and then playing it on my own when my family eventually purchased a Wii. You know, back in my day, the “Sports” game came with the console to show off its hardware and motion-control tech, instead of being released later for extra revenue. Just like that Astro’s Playroom game that came with the PS5! That was fun. Made me wish I had a PS5. Instead I’ve got this box. But I like my box, and I like my little tablet that I can hold like a baby, or plug into the Matrix and display on my 4K TV. I’ll be playing the new “Sports” game on that TV, crushing the opposition in badminton and bowling.

How about that new Kirby game? That looks… fun. Like they took Super Mario 3D World, gave it a central hub, and then allowed you to play through the levels as a ditto with Prader-Willi syndrome. Again, because this is a Nintendo Property, I played an older iteration of a this game as a child on my N64. That was also an enjoyable experience that only revisits me in my daydreams! Each world you played through consisted of five or so different levels, and I recall the environmental design becoming progressively more intricate and related the boss creature the further you got into the world. One world started as a benign snowy landscape, but by the final level, you were rolling through an industrial factory, dodging drill bits and inhaling underpaid Amazon warehouse employees. I hope that this newer Kirby game has as intricate and creative looking environments. So far, we’ve learned that we can become a car. Oh, and there’s a hub world that becomes more established with residents and businesses as you complete the game (while also gathering resources?). Hooray… I wonder where they possibly could have gotten that genius idea from.

Mario Kart 8 is receiving 48 new tracks, all of which are remasters of tracks from other Mario Kart titles. I will be paying money for these additional tracks, because I AM A FOOL. Choco Mountain will be in the first content pack! CHOCO. MOUNTAIN. I’ll be playing these new tracks while enjoying the updated music, letting the nostalgia wash over me like a fine mist. Just put the stuffing in me already, because this turkey is cooked.

Anyways…

There we are, a remastered collection, a sequel, a sequel, a sequel, and content packs that I will most likely be purchasing this year upon their release dates, instead of waiting for a non-existent sale as if I were a penny-pincher with Stockholm Syndrome, which I am when it comes to my Xbox Series X. That being said, the Switch is an entirely different beast, overflowing with indie titles, nostalgic IPs, and online services, all of which I typically refuse to pay for. Nintendo is a powerhouse for a reason, that being the accessibility and broad appeal of a majority of their IPs and the console they can be played on. My Switch sits idly by, waiting for the opportunity to be picked up and played when a worthwhile hit of nostalgia comes rushing my way. Earlier this year, that hit of nostalgia was for Metroid Dread, and I dutifully obliged to this nostalgia, gripping my Pro Controller as I dashed through the industrial and research facilities of whatever planet Samus was stuck on. Later this year, I’ll have at least five more reasons to abide by my nostalgia, looking to capture the warm feeling of enjoying the game that I am currently playing.

If you’ve read the tagline of my WordPress profile, you’d know I don’t think I like video games as much as I used to. These days, the best games that I’ve recently played have snuck up on me, like Olija did. I just recently played the beginning of Skul: The Hero Slayer, and while the tutorial level that I completed was fairly rudimentary (“hey skull boy! Press the A button twice to do a double jump!” said the pile of bones next to me), this game has a potentially excellent narrative hook in which you play as a generic enemy character, rather than a standard human hero. I did know that was the hook going into my play session, but something about the music, art style, and the character animations allowed Skul to come together in a way that left me wanting more.

As a child, games such as Klonoa (the second one) surprised me as well. Klonoa never blew my mind, but it had a creative world, with funny-looking creatures and a dream-like narrative that jumped from one colorful level to the next. As a kid, that was enough for a game to capture my attention, and keep it for the entire length of its storyline. And that’s Nintendo’s strong suit, isn’t it? There’s a Nintendo game for anyone out there, whether they know it or not. So, so many Nintendo games have tapped into my sense of intrigue to try something new, while others could provide nostalgia for a familiar experience. Not much of the former category on the list that I’ve shown off today, but perhaps Nintendo has another franchise installment up their sleeve to shock us with.

After all, they could release a competent Pokémon game with three dimensional graphics!

Help: I Don’t Care Enough About the Human Characters in my Zombie Game!

Ooh, I bet you’d never know which new zombie game I was talking about unless I inserted this picture.

Hello, Joe! This past weekend, much to the chagrin of my significant other, I decided to purchase Dying Light 2 and crank out roughly 8 hours of open-world, parkour-packed baseball bat-swinging zombie-avoiding thug-beating up action-packed gameplay. It was fun! Yes, I had fun in an open world Triple A title. And the good news is, I’m going to keep playing this game for the foreseeable future.

That being said, you’ve read the title of this blog post, and have noticed that I’m having a bit of a conundrum: My new zombie game isn’t making me feel invested enough in its characters and the world they inhabit! To be fair, there are some characters I care about. There’s this leader of the militant faction in the city this game takes place in that comes across as pragmatic and disciplined, but also vulnerable in the fact that he admits in more words or less that he’s overwhelmed after taking over for the old boss that recently got murdered in rival territory. In addition, I recently met a total slime ball of a man that is most definitely responsible for the murder of the aforementioned old boss, and I am so going to turn on the faction that he is a part of when I get the chance to.

Regardless, I have a problem with this video game that I paid the so-called “big bucks” for: There’s a relative issue of tone. If tone in zombie games were to be represented by a pendulum, with one side being a grim and serious nightmare, and the other being a light-hearted and goofy adventure, I would place Dying Light Two somewhere in the middle. If you’re curious to know which games represent the other two points of reference, then let’s say Sunset Overdrive is as goofy as they come, and The Last Of Us Two is as self-serious as they will ever be.

I think we can agree that any game would have a difficult time balancing between irreverent comedy and disturbing, world-shaking events. DL2 seems to have most trouble distinguishing between the two in its writing and portrayal of its characters. Unfortunately, I just don’t believe that these characters are aware enough of the disastrous situations they regularly find themselves in. My main gripe is with Aiden: Our player character that comes across as a wise-cracking yet gruff hero that could have been ripped right out of Bioshock: Infinite or The Evil Within series. Sure, he’s not your average hairy dad; he’s a hairy older brother instead! He’s looking for his sister that he hasn’t seen since his childhood, and he will surely find her in one of the few remaining cities in existence! He has a disturbing past in which he was experimented on and injected with dangerous chemicals! But… He also regularly makes wise cracks that don’t gel with his overall character arc that I am predicting the developers have in mind for him as the player progresses through the story. I feel like I’m playing as someone who acts like Spiderman, when I should be playing as Wolverine, if you know what I mean.

And to make matters more distracting for myself, while I’m playing through DL2, I keep thinking about that particular game at the far end of the pendulum that I mentioned earlier… You know which game I’m talking about. The one with the chick who had muscles that everyone flipped out about because the writers decided for her to butcher their psychopathic hairy dad role model. And anyone who enjoyed it was #Cancelled for liking things that the #TrueFans didn’t like. Enough snark aside, I also enjoyed The Last Of Us 2, even though I didn’t finish it. One fateful weekend, while my significant other was out of town for the weekend, I decided to play through as much of TLOU2 as I could. I played something like six hours on Friday, and probably about 9 more hours during Saturday and Sunday. By the time I put the game down on Sunday, I had gotten to the part of the story in which I was climbing across skyscrapers as Abby, escorting her little friend through enemy lines. I think I was specifically descending down one of the skyscrapers when I finally threw in the towel: Not because I disliked what I was playing, but because I was exhausted.

TLOU2 is a graphic, disturbing, brutal game that demands your attention as you parade through endless deaths of friends, enemies, and infected. There are probably five death-proof people in the game, and you play as two of them. That Friday in which I started my journey as Ellie, travelling into Seattle, exploring the semi-open world before triggering a mine, getting captured, butchering endless waves of enemies, and eventually stumbling through a subway station as more and more people died around me before I finally made it to the movie theater to safely end that play session was one of the most exhausting experiences I have ever had as a gamer. I wouldn’t say I loved what I was playing, but I was hooked to continue the story and see how much more death and destruction that Ellie would plow through before possibly getting the chance to avenge the death of her father figure.

If there’s one thing that TLOU2 excelled in, aside from the rock solid, yet repetitive gameplay oriented around stealthily murdering as many people as I could, it was making a realistic world with characters who acted like actual people when they interacted with one another. The writing wasn’t perfect, but it was consistent, and certain motivations were definitely stretched (again, how many people did Ellie have to kill for her to get the chance to avenge the death of Joel?), but damn did the characters feel real. I felt the entire time that I was playing like I was watching a good episode of The Walking Dead every time a cutscene came back around. Rarely did I feel the disconnect that I typically associate with video games when they attempt to make me legitimately care about their characters. When I was playing as Abby, and the commander of her faction revealed to me the bodybags full of her dead allies who had perished in the recent conflict with a rival cult, those numbers didn’t feel imagined; they were the plain result of the unforgiving and violent world in which this game takes place.

This was a world that, frankly, left me disheveled and worn-out. I didn’t want to keep playing through this world full of grim people acting on primal urges to continue killing anyone within a five-foot radius of themselves. Therefore, when I had the opportunity to stop playing at the end of the weekend, I did, and I haven’t touched this game since. That being said… TLOU2 left a significant shoe print treaded across my brain, as I still think about certain moments and characters from that game to this day.

So, what lesson did I learn?

As I had to clarify with my recent entry on that new Tiny Tina game coming out in a little over a month: I haven’t learned enough yet to make a distinction on having learned anything at all about Dying Light 2! If we break down this potential lesson to it’s roots, I know that I’m not as invested in the characters of Do-It-Yourself Zombie Killing Simulator Two as I’d like to be, but the gameplay is fun, and the open world is engaging to explore and interact with. I’ve already met a faction of characters that I can’t stand, and as a result, I’ve probably made my decision on whether I am going to side with the Peacekeepers or the Survivors, which is a primary motivator to continue playing this game.

There is that magic touch missing so far, though I don’t absolutely need it present to keep playing. TLOU2, as much as it exhausted every bone in my body, had an incredibly-realized world where even the bit-characters had an impact on how I engaged with the overall storyline. DL2, on the other hand, has pretty forgettable side characters, and I’d rather not be around most of the main characters for long, either. For example, the leaders of the two main factions are a cult leader and a military leader. Congratulations DL2, I’ve only seen these two archetypes a couple dozen times before in other videogames I’ve played.

I don’t expect the writing or characters to get any better as I play through DL2, but I hope the gameplay scenarios that I find myself in at least continue to be as engaging as they have thus far. I’m infected and can only be in the dark for so long, I need to activate water towers and windmills to decide which faction will become more powerful, and I need to find my sister by completing tasks for people that might have worthwhile information regarding her location. Those are significant rocks that I can hold onto as I play through this game. Later, when my playthrough expands into the city center, packed with skyscrapers and the promise of grappling between them, its still feasible that I will be handed a few more rocks to carry to the end.

An Addendum to my Recent Prediction

The glasses, the necklace, the turtleneck, the jacket… all perfectly in place.

In my round of scrabble yesterday, I interrupted my regularly-scheduled ramblings about video games in order to mention that I was rooting for Josh Allen and the Buffalo Thrills last weekend in their AFC Divisional Game against the Kansas City Big Reds. Well, Joshy-boy lost that game to a more powerful, menacing foe that outlasted them in an all-out clash of the offensive titans. Though I was left distraught over Buffalo losing out on a golden opportunity to make it to this years big game, there was hope, nay a prayer, that someone else just as likely could melt my football heart and remind me what football fandom is all about.

Yes, folks, Joe Burrow has answered my call and provided me with sweet mana from the heavens, dethroning Kansas City from atop their mighty perch during the AFC Championship Game. He has lead his squad of orange kitty cats to the big game, the real deal, the #SuperBowl. I was so happy after their rookie kicker nailed a field goal to end this game in overtime, and relieved at the fact that another, far scrappier and deserving team will get the chance to lift the Lombardi by the end of February.

Anyways, this is fine and all, oh yes we are all happy for people who have to spend the rest of their Godforsaken lives in Ohio. Overall, I think it is quite obvious as to what this has to deal with my prediction regarding Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands from yesterday. Well, this morning I watched the trailer that Gearbox released earlier this month that showed off characters who will appear in TTW, including the Wanda Sykes-voiced robot, and another guy who looks like he serves the same purpose as that bard character from The Witcher Netflix series that I’ve never watched. I like the bit in the trailer about the Cheeto blocking the way on the game board. I also like the look of the game, and how colorful the environments and overall art direction is.

However, watching that trailer also gave me Goddamn heart burn. Is this all Borderlands has left? Endless amounts of wacky characters and irreverent humor (or, at least humor that tries to be irreverent) until the cows come home? I know I’m endlessly harping on about this, but wackiness is not the only thing that people love about the Borderlands series. Borderlands is wacky, yes, but there is deeper, searing pain that exists under that initial sense of humor. Characters in the Borderlands universe have mental and physical scars. Friends die, villains win, and making jokes about these hardships is sometimes the only way for the good guys to cope.

I promise that this was originally supposed to be a more positive post. After all, I’m pretty elated that Cincinnati is going to the #SuperBowl! I was actually supposed to write about how even though my hopes died a little bit with Josh Allen losing, that handsome fellow in the picture at the top of this article vanquished any further despair by pushing down on the pedal to send his team across the finish line and on to the next opportunity for fame and glory. And oh, how that could relate to my fears of Tiny Tina’s Dungeons and Dragons Extravaganza also being dashed by the reassurance of a fun and light-hearted promotional trailer. Well, instead, I’ve got another nail in my possession, and I’ve already started thinking about what varnish I’m going to apply to the coffin.

Enough with the gallows humor, let’s get to the point: I know there’s still hope in this world, as the little hedgehog that lives behind my ear is apt to remind me of. Josh Allen lost, but Joe Burrow won. Tremendous Tina’s Waterpark looks like more of the same slop that Borderlands 3 tried to push my way, but… But. But.

Until next time.

Will Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands have a Worthwhile Story to tell?

What is Tina, like 24 years old now? Does it matter? Does anything matter anymore? Where did the years go…

Alright, dear reader, let’s get this out of the way: I have a Love-Meh relationship with the Borderlands series. I really, really love Borderlands 2, which is probably my favorite looter-shooter of all time. I think Borderlands (the first one) is about as exciting as standing around in an uninhabited section of the American-Southwest for a few hours and being told you aren’t allowed to hike any neat-looking trails. I enjoy both Borderlands 3 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Finally, I find the DLC content that I’ve played to be pretty hit-or-miss.

WOW. I feel like I should get an award that states “Average Gamer’s Opinion of the Year” for typing that last paragraph out. Give it to me on a bronze-stained couch cushion so that I can sit, fart and spill my drink on it. Anyways, please refer to my #TierList of the Borderlands series below if you are more of a visual learner:

Please note that Tales From The Borderlands has a well-written story with memorable characters, but it’s not really much of an actual video game. Therefore, it only deserves an A ranking. My list, my rules, pleb.

Listen, I know the hits just keep on coming in this diary entry, so let’s get to the point: The game in this series that I haven’t mentioned thus far, and one that I hold near and dear to my heart, even more so than Borderlands 2, is Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep. That should come as no surprise to anyone who has played the games I’ve mentioned in the Borderlands series.

TTADK (or Double T’s Awesome DLC, for long) is a heartfelt, brilliantly-written game about TT finally gaining closure in regards to the death of Roland, her father figure. The DLC actually refuses to reveal it’s hand until quite some time into the story; it isn’t until we’ve reached the climax of the assault on Handsome Jack’s castle that TT admits the game of Dungeons and Dragons that she’s having our player character, along with other characters from BL2, compete in is also her way of keeping Roland “alive” from her perspective. The other characters (and the player, if they’re bad enough) then realize that this isn’t a game of D&D; it’s a grief counseling session. After this particularly heavy moment, Mordecai, who is in fact a bad dude with a heart of gold, is elated when TT gives his dead bird friend a heroic moment in the story, as he is also able to finally experience closure over the death of his close friends. It’s all lovely and made me feel happy for these people that do not exist. How amazing that a video game allowed my cold, metallic heart to pump warm blood back into my decayed, frigid body. Haha, video games!

So, you see, this is a truly incredible reveal that happens at the game’s absolute climax, leading to meaningful character development! Well, at least, I thought it would, but then Borderlands 3 happened, and I realized that characters could be as well-written and likable as they want in one game, but that doesn’t mean that will carry over between staff changes and the years and years and years between games that are being released (seriously, what the hell happened to Rhys? They turned him into a meme, and not for the better. They, as the Zoomers say, massacred my boy).

Thus, we get to the crux of this article: The lingering feeling I have that Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands just won’t have anything meaningful to say about it’s characters or universe that they inhabit. I think back to the first teaser trailer that was released about TTW, announcing that WANDA SYKES WAS VOICING ONE OF THE CHARACTERS AND OOH HOW LOVELY THAT AN ACTRESS OF HER CALIBER WOULD GRACE OUR SWEATY PRESENCE. Now, Wanda Sykes is a lovely actress and #funnycomedian, but does it really matter that Gearbox has the big boy triple-a money for Hollywood talent if their writing is still sub-par? No, reader, it quite obviously does not. BL3 already proved that it doesn’t matter who voices the characters: If the writing is bad, and motivations are either ham-strung or meaningless, then we don’t care who is voicing the talking puppets on Sesame Street (unless, like, Joe Rogan starts voicing Big Bird. I think I would break down into tears of rage if that happened). Instead, our eyes will glaze over during cutscenes while waiting to get back to the shooty-stabby-explosive bits that BL3 perfected. Yes, perfected. BL3 was a blast to play, even if the story, writing, and characters were below par for the series.

So, what lesson did I learn?

I haven’t even learned anything yet! I’m asking another stupid question instead! How about, “what lesson will playing through Little Tina’s Wonderworld teach me?” Borderlands 2, Tales From The Borderlands, and TTADK taught me plenty about the world, characters, their innate desires, and even revealed to me the bleeding, beating heart on prime display that the good people at Gearbox had to offer up. But that was then, April is a few months down the road, and I’ll continue to be dragged kicking and screaming through this walk of life, whether I like it or not.

Does Gearbox have it in them to provide a meaningful story and likable characters in addition to excellent gameplay (that will involve, [audible gasp], magic) this time? I’ve been purposely avoiding as much pre-release information about this next adventure and the experiences some committee of suits wants me to have while playing, but I’ll most definitely be watching the big trailer that they are likely to drop in the month or so before release. And even if I don’t like the game that’s being pitched in that footage, that’s just a nail, not the entire coffin, if you know what I mean. Borderlands 3 had a great pre-release trailer, with compelling, intimidating-looking villains, and we all know how those bozos turned out to be during the full game.

If I’m a betting man (I’m not), I’m going with the under for this one. The string of games from Borderlands 2 up until Tales From the Borderlands was lightning caught in a few bottles, and those bottles have long been guzzled down by yours truly. It’s 2022 and I’m thirsty for another batch of the new and updated formula, but I don’t think Borderlands has much juice left in the world building, character writing tank. What is there left to do with a character like Tiny Tina? Borderlands 3 gave us Tiny Tina, but older and more unhinged in a memey, cringeworthy way that was neither revealing of her older age nor told us anything we didn’t already know about her. Perhaps TT the Dungeon Master will be even wilder, but honestly, who cares?

I hope that Queen Tina’s Adventure Time force feeds these words right back to me, as it wows me with a vivid, colorful world full of fun, memorable characters and engaging, inventive combat. Do I think it will? No. But I’ve been wrong before. I thought that rooting for Buffalo to win in their recent AFC Divisional game would be a rewarding experience, and I’m still sobbing for Josh Allen and his magnificent arm as the Kansas City Football Team marches back to Arrowhead to play the Cincinnati Skyline Chili. That being said, I’ll root for Josh Allen again next season, and I hope that I am writing about Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands again later this year. I just desperately want to write about this game for the right reasons.

Bye, everybody!