Rolling a Natural 1 – Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance Review

I’ve related my Dungeons & Dragons misadventures here before. From ill-timed invisibility to challenging monster fights, my band of D&D friends and I have gone through quite a bit together. Truly, we have run the gamut of hilarious D&D escapades a group campaigning together can go through.

However, despite my positive experiences playing around a tabletop with my friends, I haven’t really explored the world of D&D when it comes to video games. None of them really called to me, especially because my favorite aspect of Dungeons & Dragons is the downright goofiness that can occur when fails happen. (Failing in a video game the way I fail in D&D would be gutting.)

So when I found out that Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance would be available to play on Xbox Game Pass, I thought it would be nifty to grab a friend and give it a whirl. ‘Why not dabble in a D&D video game?’ I thought to myself.

It’s disappointing. That’s why.

Dark Alliance is an overall letdown, and I’ll tell you why in just a sec. I first want to admit that I only played around two sessions of the game, each of which lasted maybe a few hours. I did not complete it, and maybe the game has more to offer down the road. All I know is that it did not offer enough to make me want to continue playing it.

Dark Alliance pulls its characters and some of its story from the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. I am only loosely versed in its lore. However, noteworthy character Drizzt Do’Urden is one of the four characters you and your friends can choose to play as during missions.

If you are familiar with the gameplay structure of Left 4 Dead or Vermintide 2, you will know what to expect when booting up Dark Alliance. You and up to three friends go through these fairly linear missions, fight off monsters you find, and complete rudimentary objectives.

If you’ve played those two games I mentioned, then you know that this formula can be very successful. However, Dark Alliance messes it up in multiple ways.

For one thing, the characters feel very uninteresting. It sucks because they each have a backstory that fans of the Forgotten Realms universe will know about, but the manner in which this is conveyed to you is either through dry narration or through these one-liners the characters will occasionally speak during a mission. And the snippets of cutscenes you see at the start and end of missions don’t inform you much on the characters or the events at large.

If only the story itself was lacking, I would be fine with that. But the gameplay itself leaves a lot to be desired. I played as the character Wulfgar during one session, and Cattie-brie in the next, and no matter which I played as, it was not fun.

Any action in the game felt unresponsive. Whether I was swinging my hammer or firing my bow, there was this laggy, molasses feeling that persisted. Even picking up objects from the ground took an age and a half. And I don’t think this was input lag on my controller’s part. I would swing at a rock outcropping to get some loot, the hit would connect, and then two seconds later, the rock would crumble. It was that slow.

And the enemies were uninspired at best. They would always be clustered by some door or square-looking area, arranged like stodgy chess pieces, and sometimes they would not even react when you hit them. They’d take it, slowly turn to you, and only gradually start to attack you. This is a far cry from when I played Left 4 Dead 2, and zombies would rush at you from every which way, and certain special types would attack in a specific fashion.

In addition to that, cooperative play was unrewarding as heck. My coworker friend and I felt like our characters did not interact with each other in a meaningful way at all. They had a few abilities that could be beneficial for a group, but it did not feel like an impactful interaction.

Lastly, the bosses felt laughable. They are appreciably difficult in comparison to regular enemies, but each encounter feels similar. Do some damage, roll away, do some damage, roll away, do some damage, roll away, do some damage, roll away.

Playing Dark Alliance made me hunger for the simplistic artistry of Risk of Rain 2.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance was disappointing because it wasn’t fun. One of the basic tenets of D&D (for me at least) is that no matter who my DM is, who my fellow party members are, or what story is being told, the game has to be fun. Dark Alliance did not hold up to this standard.

I rate Dark Alliance a poor-representation-of-how-much-fun-D&D-can-be-and-a-sucky-game-at-launch-to-boot.

What Is the Point of Zack Snyder’s Justice League?

I get it, okay?

Sometimes, a movie comes out, and you’re not happy with the results. I have more than once been irked by a movie that got on my nerves for how awful it was. For your reading pleasure, here is what I thought of Wonder Woman 1984, here is what I thought of Cats, and here is what I thought of Alita: Battle Angel.

As you can see by these examples, I am no stranger to vitriol.

But never in my life have I thought to myself, “Hmm, that movie was so bad. I hope it is redone, made twice as long, but still retains the same plot points.”

That’s basically what Zack Snyder’s Justice League is.

When Justice League first came out, there were good bits and there were bad bits. I enjoyed the movie for what it was (a rushed attempt to capitalize on the Marvel Cinematic Universe trend of mashing up heroes in one movie) and got on with my life.

But then I started hearing whispers about how “the Snyder cut is the true vision of what the film could be” and other such stuff. I never thought anything would come of it.

And that’s right around when the Snyder cut was announced.

I like 300 and Watchmen as much as the next person, but some of Zack Snyder’s fans talk about him like he is the filmmaking equivalent of Jesus. And I just don’t understand it, especially after watching the four-hour-long version of a movie I already saw.

The plot remains largely the same. For those of you who saw Justice League, rest assured that the Snyder cut only offers a few meaningful differences. The one aspect worthy of attention in this bloated movie is Cyborg’s story. Man, this character got shafted in the first one if this was his original intended storyline. I appreciated the expansion of his history and his inclusion in moving the film along. He actually plays a more important role and gets some much deserved screentime.

However, the rest of the film felt stuffed with unnecessary chaff.

I don’t need to see someone’s disturbed expression for thirty seconds after something upsetting happens.

I don’t need to see measured stares between characters that last way longer than they should.

And I don’t need to see slow-motion walking for no goddamn reason.

I mean, criminy, a quarter of the Snyder cut is made of slo-mo scenes. I don’t even think I’m exaggerating. And it’s one thing if I saddle myself up for a stylistic movie like 300, where I am aware of what I’m getting myself into.

But it’s like Justice League tried to be both stylistic-artsy-fartsy and MCU-generated-popcorn-fluff. PICK A LANE, PEOPLE.

And don’t get me started on the “ancient lamentation music” that played nearly every time Wonder Woman was on the screen.

Snyder fans might hate me for not liking this massive movie, but I swear, I like other films he has done. It’s just…

This one feels so unnecessary. I can’t comprehend why people were so hyped for it.

And I guess maybe part of my displeasure stems from that. If people hadn’t been praising the heck out of it like it was the neatest thing since sliced bread, maybe I wouldn’t be so irritated after watching it and finding out it was as absurd as canned bread.

I rate Zack Snyder’s Justice League a zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Doing Dune Justice

Dune is an epic adventure that I’m a bit ashamed to admit I read rather late in life. While I read The Lord of the Rings when I was eight years old, I read Dune when I was already in my twenties.

With the Dune movie coming out soon, I thought it would be the perfect time to recommend this classic to my favorite Above Average readers, i.e. all of you.

Dune is a sci-fi book that combines high-tech escapades and ideas with a mystical flavor. It does so with dense political history, religious ideologies, and risky thematic overtones.

I’m usually hesitant to recommend hefty sci-fi tomes to people because there is so much diversity in the genre. Even if someone says they like it, there’s no telling what part of it they enjoy. For example, someone who enjoys a realistic tale like The Martian might not like the zany humor of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

In addition to that, sci-fi books are usually a huge time investment to read, and they’ll put forth downright weird notions that can prove difficult to swallow.

So when I say I recommend you read Dune, know that it will take a decent time investment to read it (especially if you want to read its sequels), it has an occasional bout of weirdness (like strange marital practices and cannibalistic tendencies), and it focuses on a mix of predestination, heightened mental awareness, ecological consciousness, and space politics.

The story follows the young Paul Atreides as his family moves to the desert world of Arrakis. They have been relegated there from their lush homeworld of Caladan thanks to the political maneuverings of the Emperor. Different families rule the galaxy, like a sci-fi aristocracy, together under this one Emperor, and the Emperor is not supposed to show favoritism to one family over another.

Unfortunately for the Atreides, this Emperor has decided to ally with the Harkonnen family in an attempt to eradicate them from the galaxy. (The Harkonnens and the Atreides have this epic feud going on between them.)

Paul and his family have to contend with this betrayal while trying to survive on Arrakis. While Arrakis is a dry dump of a place, it is home to a valuable spice that is worth a lot to the ruling families of the galaxy, including the unaffiliated Guild, who needs the spice for their trade.

Arrakis has a population of native Fremen who protect and harvest the spice, but the Fremen are hiding a secret that Paul must uncover if he hopes to have the Atreides line survive. Not only does he have to deal with this, he has to contend with these amazing mental powers bestowed on him by his mother’s Bene Gesserit training. (Think something like telepathy plus hyper-analytical thinking, bordering on precognition.)

The whole book culminates with a revolution on a planetary scale.

I’m rather fond of sci-fi stories that don’t hold your hand. Dune is that kind of book. While it does come with a helpful glossary at the end, it does not do much to introduce you slowly to its world. It just dumps you into it and you have to get used to using context clues to figure out what’s going on.

I have to be in the mood to read these kinds of books, so be sure you’re up to it yourself if you pick up Dune.

The book strikes an awful middle ground with its female characters. Most of the ones you meet are all incredibly powerful in their own way, especially those who have been trained as Bene Gesserit. This group of women has intense skills when it comes to controlling their minds and their bodies, so much so that they can easily manipulate other people.

However, even the most powerful female is subservient to men. Influential Bene Gesserit exist to serve male leaders. The most prominent female character is Paul’s mother, and she is a concubine to Paul’s father because he has to remain marriageable if he wants to continue to negotiate with other ruling families. The whole system of every society we encounter in Dune is patriarchal in nature. This is something I sincerely hope they change in the new movie.

In addition to that, it sometimes seems like emotional moments, moments that would make for a deeply impactful, character-development kind of scene, are just skipped. For instance, there is a death of a person whom you would assume is very close to Paul, and in the book, you don’t even see it. It’s told to you that it happened.

These leaps in time can be confusing if you’re trying to follow the emotional beats of the story, but Dune seems to prefer to focus a hell of a lot more on the aspects of fate and precognition that it sets forth from the very beginning of the novel.

But when it comes to detailing mental processes, Dune excels. There is nothing I like more than reading through Paul’s thoughts before he makes any decision. It makes you believe in the power of positive thinking, if that makes sense.

I rate Dune a decent-read-that-was-groundbreaking-in-its-day-for-its-ecological-themes-and-is-still-fantastic-even-though-it-is-showing-its-age.

Fragile Packages Don’t Exist: Totally Reliable Delivery Service Review

That’s me on the left

If I do say so myself, I make a fantastic delivery person.

I only break every other package.

And all of my experience comes from playing Totally Reliable Delivery Service.

For those of you who haven’t heard of this delightful cooperative game, Totally Reliable Delivery Service is a goofy good time, full of goofy good fun. You may not learn any real delivery skills whatsoever, but you will have a riot just reveling in how not-seriously the game takes itself.

The premise of this little title is as simple as it sounds. You deliver packages from point A to point B using a variety of methods at your disposal. You could take it in a delivery truck, fly it by chopper, use a boat to carry it, or just walk it over like a plebeian.

While the goal of the game is incredibly basic, the execution is unforgivably hilarious. My little character is the most unwieldy and awkward thing I have ever controlled in a video game. It sometimes feels like they have their own center of gravity, and driving a car is more impossible than sending a real life space shuttle into orbit.

However, don’t let this put you off from playing! The jankiness of the controls is all part of Totally Reliable Delivery Service’s charm.

Players are dropped onto this open world of interconnected islands, and these areas range from beach-side resorts to snowy mountain peaks to a downtown city block. Each area is peppered with an assortment of vehicles you can use to help you in your deliveries.

Deliveries are typically straightforward affairs, tasking you to either deliver a package within a set amount of time or to bring it over as undamaged as possible.

However, I remember the first time I played Totally Reliable Delivery Service with my coworker friend, we maybe completed a grand total of two deliveries in the span of three hours.

Why so little?

Because we spent the rest of the time just messing around with all the game had to offer!

One of the highlights of Totally Reliable Delivery Service is how it gives you total freedom to go where you want and do what you want when you want. If you want to ignore every delivery on the map and ride on a Ferris Wheel, you can!

When my sister and I played the game, we spent hours just trying to drive up the mountainside in go-karts. Alya could not control her vehicle at all, and she kept sliding down after making too sharp a turn.

When I played with my friend Andreya, we tested how high we could go in the hot air balloon before the game told us no. (It never did.)

There is no pressure to complete objectives, and the game excels in how much freedom it offers. Also, from experience, this is the kind of game that is best played with a few friends beside you (or online) and a handful of drinks at the ready.

Side note: I have never giggled so hard as when my friend missed jumping on a trolley while we were in the city, and I got to stare at their little character huffing and puffing after it, trying to leap onto the moving vehicle, while I watched in mirthful comfort.

And the game has practically no limits to what your character can do. The only big one is swimming. Do not, I repeat, do not take your character for a dip because stepping into water is automatic death. For some reason, you just can’t swim in this game.

But other than that, the game pretty much lets you do what you want.

That’s not to say that it is without shortcomings.

Honestly, I think the game feels pretty unplayable without friends. It doesn’t require co-op play, but just roaming around the world being silly by yourself does not hold a tenth of the appeal as doing it with friends.

The vehicle controls truly are terrible, and they take a while to get used to. If you’re trying to actually complete deliveries, you will hate any that involve aircraft.

In addition to that, Totally Reliable Delivery Service is good for maybe 3-4 hours of fantastic fun before you get tired of the environs, the controls, and the never-changing gameplay loop.

So it’s definitely not a forever game or a must-buy by any stretch of the imagination.

However…

…if you just so happen to have Xbox Game Pass and a few friends you can call on for a raucous time, then I would not miss out on Totally Reliable Delivery Service. It might not be a polished, triple-A experience, but it definitely delivers on a good time.

I rate Totally Reliable Delivery Service a totally-reliable-game-that-is-clearly-meant-to-inspire-goofy-fun-with-friends.

Side note: I should mention that the game’s soundtrack gets very repetitive. Almost to the point of insanity. You’ve been warned!

It’s a Wonderful Book: Wonder Review

I don’t mean to brag, but I’m a huge reader.

Like…a huge huge reader.

Anyone who knows me knows that I lug around a giant book bag filled with a multitude of books that I read simultaneously. It is an encumbrance that I am notorious for. Whenever I travel places, it is a whole other bag I have to take with me.

I read so much, there is usually a never-ending supply of books that I can recommend to my sister, who is also a big reader. I basically introduced her to all of Stephen King.

I think it’s apt to say I’m a more voracious reader than her, but my god, sometimes she just floors me with how awesome her reading selection is.

To give a perfect example, she is the one who introduced me to Game of Thrones.

Alya also introduced me to Wonder, a delightful book that is easy to read and absolutely touching to finish.

Wonder is about a young boy named Auggie with a disfigured face. He has lived most of his life being supported by his family with little interaction out in society, but the story covers his first trying year attending a public school. With a sense of humor and realism about his situation, Auggie navigates both the cruelty and kindness of other human beings.

I thoroughly enjoyed Wonder. It is without a doubt a feel-good story, even though it deals with sore themes of humiliation and public disdain. The book is parceled out into different sections, each section narrated by different characters, whether it’s Auggie, his sister, or one of his classmates.

This shift in perspective allows you to draw sympathy for varying characters that you might not have otherwise sympathized with. However, it did make me wish to linger a while longer with POVs I enjoyed. It sometimes felt that certain perspectives could have been expanded upon. The steady shift in narrators often left things unsaid.

That said, that is probably my only complaint with Wonder. It is seriously an uplifting book, even though its subject matter might come across as depressing. I know it made my sister cry on more than once occasion. As for me, I think I only cried at the ending, when there was a really sweet moment. A moment of unexpected kindness caught me completely off guard and I choked up. (It was the blatantly uplifting ending the narrative needed.)

Wonder’s chapters are very short, and the book as a whole makes for a fast read. This is the kind of book you could take with you on a holiday and finish in one go. I don’t read these kinds of books often enough, so I really treasure them when I do.

There is a movie based on Wonder, but I haven’t seen it. I would be very interested in watching it. As a matter of fact, I think I should get together with my sister and we could watch it together. Not only would it make for a great follow-up movie review post (yikes, I sound so mercenary), but it would be a nifty feel-good movie to watch with my bestest friend.

I would recommend Wonder to anyone who enjoys a heartfelt story that is straightforward and not overly sentimental. I’d only note the fact that it can be binge-read in a single evening and that the narrator changes from time to time.

I rate Wonder a wonder-to-read-and-a-joy-to-finish.

Sit Down and Watch Some WandaVision: WandaVision Review

I’m a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as is most of the globe at this point. (Is that an overgeneralization? Maybe. But I’m making it anyways!)

So no matter what the MCU elects to churn out to the masses, I’m going to watch it. I’m going to immerse myself in the trailers and the lore discussions and the review videos afterwards. It’s a whole process.

When I first saw the trailers for WandaVision, I was mightily intrigued. The show appeared to be doing something it had never tried before. Both Wanda Maximoff and the Vision were seen in these sitcom roles from various eras of television. This would be mystifying enough if it weren’t for the fact that the character of Vision was considered dead at this point.

What follows is going to be a spoiler-free review on the off chance you haven’t seen the show yet. (Though given that it’s been about a month since the last episode released, you really should have checked it out by now.) And yeah, I know I’m covering the show way later than I should. But, I mean, I am a Below Average person. It’s part of my descriptor. Might as well cover shows in a Below Average fashion, right?

WandaVision uses perhaps the most interesting vehicle I’ve yet seen to tell a Marvel Cinematic Universe story. It follows the familiar structure of sitcoms to tell its tale, so much so that you might not understand what’s going on at first.

Any fan of the MCU will enjoy this show as it offers a unique perspective into certain events that were never really explained in the films, and the sitcom angle is really quite fascinating. Newcomers to the MCU should definitely not start here, as the appeal of many moments in WandaVision rely heavily on past occurrences in the movies.

However, the people who will truly appreciate WandaVision are those who both love the MCU and have a deep-seated affection for a good sitcom. WandaVision is an homage to the art of the sitcom, and even though I’m not overly familiar with every sitcom on the block, even I could recognize the trends and stereotypes it was poking fun at.

Character development in WandaVision could have been something that was washed over thanks to the shiny appeal of the sitcom trappings, but several fan-favorite MCU characters get to display how the events of both Infinity War and Endgame have affected them. I’m just going to go right out and say it: Wanda in particular is the one to watch.

Unfortunately, and this is perhaps one of the most prevalent MCU weaknesses across the board, the “villain” suffers from rather unclear motivations and power mechanics. You are introduced to their story in a single episode, and no big explanations are provided.

The most intriguing aspect of WandaVision is how it sets up Wanda’s future in the MCU. The implications are major, and if you’re a fan of the universe, you will feel the potential ramifications of the show’s ending ripple throughout your mind more quickly than a snap of Thanos’ fingers.

Personally, I enjoyed the show, but it’s not my favorite outing into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s not something I will go out of my way to rewatch. That said, I heartily appreciate what the show set out to accomplish. It went for something new, and I think it largely succeeded.

Besides, I love campiness and I love super heroes, and WandaVision has both in spades.

I rate WandaVision a bewitching-good-time-that-spells-an-interesting-future-for-the-MCU.

Revisiting the Major Suckage of Twilight with Good Humor: Midnight Sun Review

Okay, feel free to make fun of me for going out of my way to buy Midnight Sun as soon as it came out. But let me just remind you that I have proven to have fairly discerning literary tastes over the course of this blog (I hope), so if I want to go through the book equivalent of discount sugary cereal, I am totally within my rights.

Besides, Midnight Sun was one of the most hilarious things I’ve read in a while. I think I cackled more than a hundred times over the course of reading the whole thing.

For those of you who don’t know, Midnight Sun is just the latest installment in the infamous Twilight franchise. However, instead of covering new territory, it retreads the same ground as the original book. This time, instead of reading through the story from the human girl’s perspective, Midnight Sun gives us a tour of the same story through the eyes of the vampire boy.

Or should I say man, since the dude is over a hundred years old at this point?

When I found out the plot of Stephanie Meyer’s latest book, I knew I had to get my hands on it. I mean, it sounded like comedy gold. And I was not wrong.

Just in case you’ve never read Twilight, here is a brief summary.

  1. Human Bella moves to a new place to live with her father very grudgingly and falls in love with an elderly vampire who lives there too, named Edward.
  2. The two of them spend a lot of time talking and trying to overcome the biggest obstacles in their relationship, one of which is the fact that Edward wants to eat her (and not in a fun way or anything like that he seriously wants to fucking kill her and drink her blood).
  3. Bella’s life gets put in danger because obviously she’s chilling with vampires on a regular basis and that’s not good.
  4. After a harrowing experience where she nearly dies but Edward saves her, the two of them go to prom.

Yeah, that’s seriously the story.

And Midnight Sun is the exact same plot as told by Edward.

I’m going to be completely honest, there were some good parts to the novel. For example, Edward is a special vampire that possesses telepathy. In Twilight, when you’re reading from Bella’s perspective, Edward either tells her what he senses from other people’s minds, or Bella has to make educated and convenient guesses as to what he’s “hearing” based on his expressions.

In Midnight Sun, we get it from the horse’s mouth. And I’m a total sucker for telepathy in books. Stephanie Meyer does a good job detailing what it’s like to hear people’s thoughts, so any time that happens, it’s an ameliorating experience.

One of Edward’s vampire siblings, Alice, has the ability to see into the future, and that too is also fun to read about.

However, one of the best things about reading Midnight Sun is for those cringey moments you remember from the first book. They are made even more cringey (and thus more hilarious) in this one.

I remember when I first read Twilight, I always thought Bella came across as an insanely selfish person who was constantly directly characterized as being selfless. For instance, she makes the move to live with her dad as a bit of a sacrifice play to help her mom out. However, her treatment of her father is nothing short of abysmal. She looks at him as an annoyance and often does not seem to stop and consider how he might feel about things.

She also treats purported friends as hindrances. Other people are stepping stones to get to what she wants. Aside from Edward, she never goes out of her way to think about what another person might be feeling.

But in Midnight Sun, we now have Edward coming along, showcasing left and right how he believes Bella is a phenomenally generous and giving person.

I don’t buy it.

Another thing that sucks but is funny is how the book maintains that incredibly unhealthy notion that you can find your one true love in a matter of months and then think it is okay to die for them. Or to be absolutely devastated if they leave you. I mean, don’t you think you shouldn’t necessarily base your life around another person? Shouldn’t your happiness stem from yourself?

The book also does a poor job of trying to explain plot holes that are apparent in the first. When Bella’s life is in danger, the vampires have to take a car to get to her, but one of the things we are frequently shown in every novel in the series is that vampires can move faster than a human can see. Even if it is daytime and they might sparkle if they stepped outside, you would think Edward and his family could have super-speeded to go rescue Bella without anyone noticing.

In my opinion though, the most hilarious thing about Midnight Sun is how it seeks to pull back from some of the troublesome content it included in Twilight.

As a pseudo-erotic young adult novel, there are moments in Twilight that play into these dominant-submissive stereotypes. However, if these moments were to occur in real life, they would come across as some severely messed-up behavior. Edward stalks Bella and watches her sleep at night without her knowing. Edward tries to control Bella’s actions, even going so far as to physically man-handle her to prevent her from doing things he doesn’t want her to do. He also has a tendency to order Bella to do things he does want her to do, no pleases or thank yous.

None of these things sit well with me given the context of the novel.

And how does Midnight Sun seek to rectify these mistakes?

By giving Edward intense anxiety in his inner monologues.

Every time he says something that could be seen as problematic, he instantly second-guesses and berates himself in his mind for doing so.

This is absolutely side-splitting to read.

One second Edward is displaying a terrible temper to Bella, the next he’s mentally horrorstruck at his own audacity.

I got whiplash reading Midnight Sun trying to keep up with Edward’s mood swings.

Now, as my totally Above Average readers, you’re probably wondering whether or not you should buy this book. I’ve simultaneously bashed and praised it in equal measure. Therefore, I have constructed a guide to help you determine whether or not you should pick up Midnight Sun the next time you’re in a bookstore.

Loved ItHated It
If You Have Never Read TwilightIf you have never read Twilight, but you think you might like the type of hilarity I’ve described, I’d recommend reading Midnight Sun only if you read Twilight first.If you have never read Twilight and loathe the notion of the story, don’t pick up Midnight Sun. You will hate it.
If You Have Read TwilightThere should be enough in Midnight Sun for you to love if you are a hardcore Twilight fan. Go right ahead.Pick up Midnight Sun only if you plan to read it with good humor and wish to really poke fun at how hilariously bad the first book truly is.

I don’t mean to bash on you if you do enjoy Twilight by the way. Everyone can like whatever they want. You’ll get no judgment from me if you like to immerse yourself in the series. My personal opinion is that the story is pretty flawed, but clearly I still draw enjoyment from it.

So in all seriousness, Midnight Sun builds on the strengths of Stephanie Meyer’s writing style, but that also means it falters when it rests on the foundational weaknesses of her first book in the series.

I rate Midnight Sun an absolute-riot.

Volatile Voyages: Sea of Thieves Review

During my neverending quest to play through all the titles on Xbox Game Pass that I can, I came across Sea of Thieves. My coworker buddy and I were both pumped for trying it out because who doesn’t want to be a pirate?

Side note: I really should ask him if I have permission to use his name here. But I keep forgetting/chickening out.

Now, I have never played Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, so Sea of Thieves was actually the first game I played that involved using a ship and sailing.

Nothing but excitement and anticipation filled my body as my coworker friend and I booted up and got ready to sail the seas.

And after several hours of adventure, mishaps, and extensive fishing, I know exactly what to say to people who ask me what Sea of Thieves is like.

It’s okay.

That’s it.

Sea of Thieves possesses a fairly shallow gameplay loop, so long-term replayability does not sit well with me. But those initial hours of exploring the world with a crew of your friends are undeniably fun and exciting.

The game starts off with a short tutorial that you must complete solo, but afterwards, you and three other friends can comprise a crew together. There are three different kinds of ships you and your friends can use: the Sloop, the Brigantine, and the Galleon.

Their layouts are similar, with most of the differences contingent on the increase or decrease in size between each. The Sloop is the smallest and can comfortably fit two players. The Galleon is the largest, and if two people tried to run that boat, they’re asking for trouble. Between running below decks to plug leaks and running back up to lower the anchor, every voyage would be a marathon.

Once you have a crew assembled, you can go on quests together, and one of Sea of Thieves’ problems is that these are all essentially fetch quests.

There are three types of quests available at the time of this writing. You can either receive a map of an island with some buried treasure to dig up and deliver to somebody, a bounty on some evil skeletons that you have to defeat in combat and deliver their skulls to somebody else, or a commission to transport goods from one person to another.

As you can see, a game comprised entirely of this can get fatiguing as you shuttle back and forth as a glorified deliveryman.

There are a few events scattered throughout the world, and I assume these are updated regularly, but they’re still pretty much the same. Fight off bad guys, take their loot, and deliver it.

On the bright side, your pirate is fully customizable. You can purchase different skins for your equipment, weapons, instruments, and more.

Sailing your ship is honestly the most exciting aspect of Sea of Thieves. It looks and feels like what I would imagine sailing an actual ship would look and feel like.

And the water.

My god.

I have never seen an ocean look so good in a video game. The waves pushing past your ship are so enticing, it makes you want to jump overboard just to be closer to them. Graphically, the sea is absolutely stunning.

One person can manage to sail around in Sea of Thieves, but it’s far easier and more enjoyable with at least two. You can take turns standing by the helm, adjusting the sails to catch the breeze, perching in the crow’s nest to keep an eye out for ships, examining the map below decks, or playing your hurdy-gurdy non-stop to maintain some mood music.

Side note: Oh, yeah. Sea of Thieves lets you play music on instruments you just have in your equipment wheel. When you and other players pull out the instrument of your choice and start playing, the music automatically harmonizes.

While sailing the expansive ocean, you’ll notice that the atmosphere changes depending on what portion of the sea you’re sailing on. For example, one area features sparkling sea-green water, with relatively clear skies, while another area to the south contains choppy, grey waters with stormy skies almost constantly. It’s a cool way to keep the generally static environment of an ocean feeling fresh.

While you’re sailing from point A to point B, several things can happen that shoot some excitement into an otherwise relaxing endeavor. Other player ships can appear on the horizon, causing the two crews to wonder if you’ll attack each other or just sail right by, ignoring each other. There are also monstrous sea beasts, like a giant shark and a kraken, that can attack your ship. These creatures are cued by threatening music, and the kraken is usually heralded by a sudden staining of the ocean from blue to utter black.

Peppered across the sea are small islands, and it’s here that you can pick up items, find those skeletons for your bounties, and dig up treasure. Though the occasional fortress or odd cave might differentiate these islands from each other, they feel largely similar. The activities you can do on each island are also the same. You can fish, fight, dig, or collect small animals that inhabit these lonely specks in an interminable ocean.

Sea of Thieves’ biggest flaw is its complete lack of an end goal. The only end goal I can see deriving from Sea of Thieves is earning enough money to pay for your favorite paint jobs. That’s it. And if customization is a game’s sole objective instead of just a side perk, you’re going to have a tough time drawing in and keeping players invested. There is no demonstrable story to find, and your character’s skills cannot be upgraded. Personally, aside from unlocking every parrot-themed skin I can find, there is nothing else for me to really work toward.

That’s not to say I haven’t had a great time playing Sea of Thieves. My coworker friend and I have had some outrageously hilarious adventures of our own making while playing the game.

Our most disastrous outing was also one of our first. We decided to take up a contract to deliver some chickens to an outpost. After receiving the chicken coops needed to carry these birds, we set out on a search of various islands for the specific type of chicken we needed.

It took us ages. We had terrible luck finding an island that sported chickens on its shores. Pigs and snakes must have bred like bunnies; they were everywhere.

Finally, we found an island with some chickens, and after a bit of finagling, we got two of them into our coops. We brought them on board and set sail for the outpost.

However, while we were sailing there, this mighty storm appeared over our heads. The waves became gargantuan slopes in front of us, rain poured down in sheets, and thunder sounded every few seconds.

The storm tossing us around actually caused damage to our ship, springing enough holes in our boat that our bottom deck got flooded. In an effort to save the chickens from drowning, I brought them above decks, near the mast. I went below decks to start bucketing water out of it and to try patching up some of the leaks. In the meantime, my coworker friend was struggling to control the helm and make sense of our spinning compass.

During one of my trips up to dump out water, lightning struck the ship and sent me flying out into the ocean. My friend immediately dropped anchor and was able to guide me back on board.

When I climbed back up, the two of us could only see smoking drumsticks in the chicken coops by the mast.

Apparently, the lightning struck and cooked our chickens.

At this point, we’d left the ship leaks so neglected as we stared forlornly at these edible remains that our Sloop slowly sank.

With our ship scuttled, we got a new one and tried to start another delivery quest. Almost as soon as we set out on that mission, a Kraken attacked our vessel, killing me and destroying this second ship as well.

We haven’t had a wild time like that in a bit; we have instead chosen to focus on fishing. I have my eye set on a parrot-themed fishing pole, and the only way to get it is to fish and deliver “pondies” to an NPC.

It’s quite relaxing, and we don’t get sent to Davy Jones’ locker as often as we used to.

I don’t want to turn anyone away from playing Sea of Thieves because it is a fun experience in those first few hours. However, don’t expect this to transform into a game you frequently return to unless they add more content.

I rate Sea of Thieves a pirate-adventure-that-loses-charm-over-time-but-can-set-your-heart-to-sailing-with-a-mesmerizing-sea-and-a-recipe-for-good-fun-with-friends.

The Trouble With Tenet: Tenet Review

The pandemic has thoroughly wrecked my usual form of movie entertainment. Before going into lockdown in March, one of my favorite things to do was call up a few friends and go see the latest movies at our local theater.

Yeah, that’s been out the window for a while now.

When Tenet was announced to be releasing in theaters, I possessed mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I was thrilled at the notion of a Christopher Nolan movie premiering at theaters. A Nolan film is typically a fantastic thing to see on the big screen, an absolute must-watch of the movie season.

On the other hand, none of my local theaters were reopening anytime soon and even if they did, my stress levels and concern for my health would prevent me from seeing Tenet in them. So the news of its release also brought about its fair share of disappointment.

However, my spirits were raised thanks to my boyfriend suggesting we rent it on Redbox when it came out there, and we’d watch it together, make it a movie-date-night kind of thing safe from home.

I love my boyfriend, I love Christopher Nolan movies, and I love watching Christopher Nolan movies with my boyfriend. Sounded like a recipe for a pleasant evening.

As I waited for the day when Tenet released, I refused to read any reviews about the movie. However, one day, I caved and read some of the comments below an ad for the movie while scrolling through Instagram. (I should know better than to read the comments section by now.) Most of these strangers who took the time to type up a response on this ad were complaining about Tenet, saying it was just too confusing.

Now, I’d seen both Inception and Interstellar, so I scoffed at these remarks, knowing I could handle any complex plot Christopher Nolan could throw at me.

Boy, was I wrong.

I can now personally attest to the messy tangle of Tenet’s plot. The movie is basically a clever concept poorly executed and explained in a terrible fashion.

Normally, whenever I review a movie, I’ll provide a brief synopsis of the film, giving you a chance to learn about the story if you haven’t seen it yet.

Tenet’s story is so complicated, I actually leaned back in my chair while writing the outline for this post, absolutely stumped on how to go about explaining it.

Essentially, a man gets hired by a group (I think) to stop a time war that is about to happen thanks to another unknown group from the future (I think) sending items that can go back in time (I think) to the present in order to start or end this war (I think).

This is kind of conjecture, and I’ve seen the movie.

Tenet goes beyond Inception when it comes to how complicated the plot and story mechanics are. In Inception, rules were laid out for moviegoers to follow, and you could visually understand certain aspects about moving through a person’s dreams thanks to the power of filmmaking.

The character of Arthur from Inception spends a lot of time explaining to Ariadne, a newcomer to the dream-thief business, how things work in the dream world. As he explains things to her, he is explaining them to us. Having a rookie character in a story can help you as a storyteller more easily explain complex notions to people. They learn as your character learn.

And the film itself visually showcases how things going on in the real world can affect things in the dream world. It does so in small bursts, such as when a character needs a kick to get out of a dream, and they get jolted awake in the real world. However, Inception also showcases these moments in stunning visual displays, such as when Arthur must fight in a hotel hallway while in the dream level above him there is zero gravity.

Tenet has a barebones moment where “time traveling” is explained, but the notion is so beyond comprehension, it’s not enough to swallow the later events of the movie.

The main character of Tenet, imaginatively named Protagonist (no, I’m not joking), is shown an “inverted” object. It’s a thing that moves backward through time. For example, an inverted bullet gets fired back into a gun and an inverted ball leaps back into your hand.

Right off the bat, I can’t wrap my head around how this works. Protagonist implies it’s half thought, half physical action that makes this happen. But showing me Protagonist as he fires a gun that sucks a bullet back up does not explain to me how it works.

And that is the simplest example of going-backwards-in-time that the film shows you. Once fistfights, car chases, and murders start happening in reverse time, it gets even harder to understand the mechanics of this time travel.

And it didn’t help that when things are explained, they’re using words like “inverted entropy.” The whole movie requires captions to be turned on (which my boyfriend considers a cardinal sin when watching a film that is meant to be viewed without words scrolling across the bottom).

Aside from the convoluted mechanics of inverted time, Tenet also suffers from one glaring issue: it has no heart.

Nolan has covered mind-bending concepts in his films before, from faulty memory in Memento to dream-incepting in Inception. But one thing you could always count on in these past films was a strong emotional connection to the main character. Leonard Shelby was driven by an urge to seek revenge for the murder of his wife. Dominick Cobb is desperate to clear his name so he can see his children again. Interstellar’s entire story is practically driven by Cooper’s love for his daughter.

Tenet is missing that emotional thread that kept us invested in the intellectual twists and turns of Nolan’s other films. Protagonist is a bad-ass, but he’s a blank slate. I relate more to John Wick for his love of his puppy than I do to Protagonist.

Sure, we know Protagonist is a good guy. He’s working to save the world and its future after all. But he is missing that emotional element that would keep me rooting for him aside from a general interest in the survival of humanity.

Side note: Jeez, I sound like an uncaring person, but I hope you guys know what I mean.

Tenet is an intriguing film to watch, definitely one that’ll keep you thinking the entire time, but it is difficult to comprehend and connect to the protagonist’s journey on several layers.

I rate Tenet an avoid-if-you-don’t-want-to-spend-hours-watching-explanation-videos-afterwards-and-if-you-don’t-like-subtitles-because-man-this-movie-requires-you-to-have-them-on.

Rock and Stone! Deep Rock Galactic Review

Owning Xbox Game Pass is a lot like owning Netflix. There are so many cool games I want to check out, I spend more time scrolling through the game library planning what I’ll play next than I do actually buckling down and settling in with a title.

However, that’s not to say I haven’t taken a bite out of the selection available to me. As you guys might remember, I work for a site called TheGamer. I wrote about this ages ago, and since that first post, I’ve climbed through the ranks and become an editor! It’s super cool.

Anyways, I’ve had the incredible pleasure of making friend with several of my fellow editors, and one of them in particular has embarked on this journey with me of combing through fun online co-op titles available on Xbox Game Pass.

One of the first games that called our attention was Deep Rock Galactic. The tagline for the game (“Danger. Darkness. Dwarves.”) is the kind of tagline that just makes you think, “Okay, now this, I’ve got to check out.”

After weeks of playing it, I can say that Deep Rock Galactic does in fact give you danger, darkness, and dwarves, and that it promises straightforward mining fun that leans on cooperative play and indulges in a great sense of humor.

Your Dwarf works for Deep Rock Galactic, a mining company that operates in the far reaches of space. Your new job entails dropping onto a planet called Hoxxes IV and retrieving precious ores in its most dangerous caverns. These caves are crawling with dangerous bug-creatures and riddled with devious environmental hazards.

When launching into a game of Deep Rock Galactic, you start off on a rig in orbit around Hoxxes IV. It is here that you can customize your Dwarf and upgrade their gear. It’s also a nice little hub where you and three other players can just chill out before dropping into a mission.

There are four types of Dwarves you can play as: the Gunner, the Driller, the Scout, and the Engineer. The Gunner is more heavily equipped with weaponry to keep off the hordes of bugs that can attack your group. The Driller has an item that allows them to quickly and easily drill through rock and stone. The Scout focuses on mobility, coming complete with a grappling gun that allows them to travel from one place to another with incredible speed. The Engineer possesses two sentry guns that they can set up wherever it’s most useful.

Every Dwarf uses flares to light up the darkness, a pickaxe to mine for those minerals, and a basic gun to protect themselves in addition to the specialty items they can carry.

Once you’ve tricked out your Dwarves on the rig, you can descend to Hoxxes IV for more adrenaline-inducing fare. There are several mission types, but most of them are basic mine-for-this-ore-until-you-have-this-much assignments. Don’t let this basic gameplay loop fool you though. There is a lot of fun to be had in working together to set up a pipeline, retrieve bug eggs, or mine for a hard-to-see metal.

And every mission is tied up neatly with a mad dash back to an escape pod after you complete your objective.

Now, one of the only cons I can say for Deep Rock Galactic is that the environments tend to blend in after a while. Hazards in a specific area might be unique, but there is a similar quality to every map that is inescapable. However, the joy of playing with your friends completely obscures the repetitive nature of each excursion. Every outing is an adventure, and though I’m going through the same motions every time I go on a mission, I have yet to get tired of it.

I enjoy playing as the Scout, and my coworker friend has rocked nothing but the Engineer since we started playing. It makes for a decent combination of skills as I can zoom in and out of a bad situation and he can provide a solid bastion of support with his sentries.

We’ve had hours of fun simply goofing off on the rig before going on a mission. There’s a jukebox and a bar area where you can drink and dance to your heart’s content, and I’m not too embarrassed to say we’ve spent decent chunks of time just grooving and kicking barrels before diving into a mission.

Side note: I’ve also taken to screaming “Rock and Stone” in an abysmal accent. I’ve also started singing “Diggy Diggy Hole” whenever I swing my pickaxe.

Deep Rock Galactic is a diamond of a game that I feel has gone mostly unnoticed. It is delightful, and it vacillates between hilarious downtime to pulse-pounding sprints for safety. These adrenaline moments are lightly peppered throughout the game, so if you mostly want a chill type of game, don’t turn away from Deep Rock Galactic.

I rate Deep Rock Galactic a game-worthy-of-your-time-that-will-make-you-shout-rock-and-stone-more-times-than-strictly-necessary.