Dragon Age: Inquisition, Story, Choices, and Gameplay

Borrowed from ytimg.com

Genre: Fantasy RPG

Synopsis: You were at a peace summit for mages and templars, which are at war. Unfortunately, the summit exploded and now there’s a big hole in the sky that spews demons. You have the power to close that hole, but not by yourself. So you get involved with the Inquisition, an organization dedicated to stopping this war and fixing those holes in reality. And it becomes your responsibility to use the Inquisition to put the world back to rights (whatever your definition of ‘rights’ may be).

Series: The third Dragon Age game, but it can be played by those new to the series.

Verdict: Excellent.

Dragon Age: Inquisition won Game of the Year. Congrats to everyone involved with it!

Story

Borrowed from gameranx.com

The main storyline is a quintessential fantasy storyline–a hero has to save the world. (This might be the result of fans of the series criticizing the previous game for having a less typical plot.) Still, the story manages to do some interesting things within that.

For one, the game doesn’t draw out the plot. It doesn’t hold you to an arbitrarily unattainable goal. Instead, it has you steadily making progress and succeeding in your smaller goals. As you progress, your knowledge of what actually happened and what you’re actually dealing with grows, until you reach the point where you can finally take care of the problem. This game also challenges a lot of the lore we’ve received in previous games, which is awesome, as it adds in a what-you-think-you-know versus what-is perspective. This isn’t necessarily lost on people who haven’t played the previous games, however, as it provides context.

The main missions have a nice bit of variety to them, which is very cool. The open world aspects pale in comparison to the depth of the story, but I understand that they’re there to appeal to a wider variety of gamers. I do enjoy the open world stuff, but personally, I’d trade all of it for a little more story. I felt that there should have been more story and less open world stuff (or more story contained in the open world stuff)–it would have felt like it better rounded out the events of the game. The templar/mage war could have been a stronger plot point, instead of just petering out. But that’s what happens when you have a massive game that you’re trying to make appeal to a wide variety of gamers, I guess.

As for the main missions themselves, they’re varied and they’re interesting. You’ll end up in a variety of unexpected situations that I don’t want to spoil. And you get to go to a party. Bioware does love throwing parties in its games.

Anachronisms abound, but they’re fun and deliberate–in fantasy, there’s a noticeable difference between when writers try to evoke a time period and fail, and when they choose to incorporate modernized language to convey meaning or for comedic effect. Dragon Age is doing it on purpose, and it doesn’t feel out of place. There’s also some cheese–I get the impression that the creators really love music–but again, it doesn’t feel too out of place, for the most part. There are also some plot holes, but plot holes tend to stand out more when the work is bad than when it’s good.

The final ending, by itself, felt a bit anticlimactic. Granted, part of that was because I didn’t want the game to end. But Bioware has definitely put together way more powerful endings than this one, which was very straightforward. Everything up to the last mission hinged on choices, consequences, and character work, so maybe they just needed to finish the game.

This is just a quibble, though. The entire game was so fantastic this barely registers in comparison. And of course, the after-the-credits scene completely made up for that. Wow, what a game changer–and what a teaser! When is the DLC that’s going to address this coming out?

Choices

Borrowed from imgur.com

Ah, choices. How much can you impact the game through your decisions?

First off, you get to customize the appearance of your character, choose between playing one of four races (with special dialogue options available for each), and play as whatever personality you wish.

While there is one major ending (a hero-saves-the-world story must end with the hero saving the world, obviously), there are variations in how you get there, and in what kind of world you help shape after. These can be major or minor variations–such as, how are mage/templar relations defined after the war? What kind of leader is guiding this country and what impact do they have?

There are multiple ways to go through the game–one decision early on in the game leads the player to one of two very different missions, the consequences of which are felt for the rest of the game. I didn’t realize how much so, until I played a second time. As per the Bioware norm, there are many decisions to make during each mission, which have different effects on the game.

I have totally sat in front of my screen at times, just staring at my decisions and wondering what on earth I should do. Sometimes my character didn’t have any way of getting enough information to make an informed decision (and in my first play-through, neither did I) and I just had to do my best. Sometimes, even after finishing one play-through, I had no idea how I felt about the decision. It’s cool that there are choices that aren’t very clean-cut–you can’t just say, ‘oh, an altruistic character would make that choice and a selfish one would make that one’. They’re more nuanced than that. Right or wrong isn’t necessarily clear.

There are times when your decisions matter beyond all reason–I guess that’s just what you’re supposed to get with RPGs, if the complaints of RPGers about the previous game are any indication. So expect to be guiding the Inquisition’s actions before you even have any official standing, and making major life choices for your companions that they then have to live with. At least the latter can sometimes be explained away as your input having a strong in-the-moment effect on characters while they’re in a stressful situation. And they are genuinely interesting missions, even so.

Companions will or won’t experience major events in their lives based on your relationship with them. And if those major events are resolved, or how they’re resolved, may lead to a change in the artwork on the cards representing them, which is cool. One thing I love about these characters is that some of them only want you to agree with them, while others actually like it if you make a valid point by disagreeing with them. Some of them want to be challenged, want that discourse that brings to light things they haven’t considered before.

Some of them want you to sympathize with them, some of them don’t. It’s awesome, and it’s not straightforward. I also love how they sometimes change their opinions about each other over the course of the game. And I really love how characters I don’t expect to get along because of how different their world views are, actually end up respecting each other immensely. And how some characters will like people who don’t like or trust them back. Characters might also outwardly support you even if they disagree (most notably Cassandra), which I find to be a pretty impressive trait.

Sorry–started ranting about how much I love the characters, again. Anyway, lots of choices available.

Gameplay

Borrowed from gamecrate.com

This game is supposed to appeal to wide audience, and it does it by including different ways to play through the game. There’s an open world component, but you don’t have to touch most of the content if it doesn’t appeal to you. The main plot is heavily story-based, but you can have all the random open world adventures you want. There are a lot of characters and many optional character interactions, but you don’t need to do them if you don’t like the character or just don’t feel like progressing their characterization. You can play combat tactically, or action-based.

And the upshot of exploring the open world is that you get to hear your companions bantering with each other, so it isn’t devoid of character work. You hear how they relate to each other, and how they change over time. One of the great aspects of the game.

There is also another optional feature to the game, the War Table. There, you get to send out your forces on missions you aren’t personally involved in. You choose how the mission is handled and they take care of it for you, with your rewards and mission endings varying depending on how you chose to handle it. It’s a nice feature that puts you at the head of a large organization and makes you feel the weight of the differences your Inquisition is making in the world.

Most of the game is combat based, but there are a bunch of optional puzzle quests in the open world. And at least one main mission makes your court approval a feature of the game play, with a meter that you need to keep above zero. You have a few non-combat based options for filling that meter.

PC controls are not great. Playing with a ranged character instead of a melee character lightens the burden. Tactics mode is nigh unusable. Origins used it way better, but I guess that’s the difference between being optimized for PC versus consoles.

Exploration can be nice, but it’s also annoying when features you can climb up are indistinguishable from those you can’t, and you have to use your bad PC controls to figure out if you can actually go up the hill this way. If not, you have to circle it for five minutes before you find a pathway up. This might not be so bad if I was playing with a controller, though. I don’t know.

Favorite Quotes (aside from the ones in my previous Inquisition post):

“Without fear, and pain, and failure, we cannot learn. We cannot grow.”

“Please stop stealing my kills.”

“You want to talk about me? I’m flattered. Also, inclined towards extravagant lies.”

“In all my years as a Seeker, I did what I was told. My faith demanded it. But now my faith demands something else: that I see with better eyes.”

“If I truly believed my homeland was beyond all hope, I wouldn’t miss it so much.”

“In all my years as a Seeker, I did what I was told. My faith demanded it. But now my faith demands something else: that I see with better eyes.”

“If I truly believed my homeland was beyond all hope, I wouldn’t miss it so much.”

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Agents of SHIELD Midseason: Those Unpredictable Wild Cards

Borrowed from screenrant.com

Genre: Action/Superhero

Synopsis: HYDRA, an organization bent on unlocking a powerful alien weapon and unconcerned with collateral damage, has shattered SHIELD, with all remaining loyal agents in hiding. Coulson and his team have to stop HYDRA before they unlock the power they’re looking for.

Series: Season 2.

I’ve Watched: Up to Season 2, Episode 10–the midseason finale.

Verdict: Very good.

Borrowed from screenrant.com

Action, betrayal, faulty scientific setups, what’s not to love? We’re into the second season, and I’m happy to say that this is a good show now. Consistently. I knew it would happen, of course, and I no longer have to say I’m watching because I know it will get good. It’s gotten there. Some spoilers.

As a result of Ward’s actions in season one, Fitz–whose main strength is his intelligence–has brain damage. And it isn’t magically disappearing. Fitz still has that intellect, but he has difficulty putting his ideas into words–the other characters can’t understand what he’s saying half the time. He has difficulty with manual dexterity, which is also important for an engineer. He can still be useful, but he’s hobbled. And he’s isolated, though progressively less so with time. His arch is very powerful.

The scene he has with the man who did this to him is just absolutely amazing. Iain De Caestecker is so very good. It has to be seen, I can’t possibly do it justice.

Borrowed from mdcu-comics.fr

And Fitz’s relationship with Simmons is another highlight. How the two of them have changed and grown as a result of their experiences in the past season, and how they’re going to be able to progress from there. Their relationship is strained, we learn what is going on at each end of that relationship, and it’s not something they’re going to fix overnight.

I am really happy Hunter’s ex-wife is on the scene–I’ve mentioned before wanting to see the character introduced after Hunter’s constant comments about her, and of course, the show was actually setting up her entrance. His unspecific stories about his unreasonable harpy of an ex-wife did trigger doubts in my mind about how reliable his account was, and lo and behold: she’s actually a pretty cool person.

I also liked Skye’s first fight scene. She struggled with it and just barely managed to keep her charges from being shot. I wish her opponent had more clearly had the upper hand the whole time and that the fight was shorter, to better demonstrate Skye’s relative newbie status. But they did pretty well with it as is. She certainly isn’t May (who is?) Speaking of May, she got some awesome fight scenes this season, and hers are always the best ones.

Borrowed from wordpress.com

The show’s plot is moving forward instead of stagnating, which is fantastic. We hear characters state their goals, and one way or another, they actually reach them or fail forever, but we aren’t left with the plot dangling in front of us all season long. And then the story keeps going in new directions, because there’s always more. Though I’m not sure the show can afford to treat its black characters like this, especially after the uproar in the first season about lack of diversity. I’m sad about this turn of events, and because of the racial politics, not in an entirely good way. It did kind of ruin what would have otherwise been a great moment, with a great idea behind it.

Otherwise, generally a very good show. And it does some interesting things with wild card characters like Ward, Raina, and Cal.

The Wild Cards and the Unaffiliated

Borrowed from etonline.com

We now have two psychos loose (Ward and Cal), and we don’t know what side they’re on (though we have an idea of what side they think they’re on). This is cool, because there’s really no way for us to know where the characters are going. They don’t have a clear picture of who they are and how things really work, so they come up with these ludicrous ideas of how to make everything okay again. Without ever really acknowledging what they did wrong and what they have to make up for.

I have no idea what they’re going to do next, once their totally insane plans fail to produce the desired result. And Skye’s latest reaction to Ward is something that we were definitely working up towards, with the payoff totally worth the wait.

For me, it’s not the Whitehalls of the show that I watch most closely. Whitehall knows what he is, and when he hurts people, he does it deliberately. He doesn’t make excuses for it.

Borrowed from timeinc.net

But the deluded characters, the ones that don’t even see what they’ve done wrong? They’re unpredictable, because they’re functioning on skewed non-logic. Cal doesn’t even realize that he killed actual people. He just says that Skye needs to understand, it was all for her, all because he’d lost her. He misses the point so badly.

Ward doesn’t even properly remember how his attempted murder of FitzSimmons went down–which is brilliant, because memory is fallible. What we saw on screen, was him wanting FitzSimmons to open the door. When they refused, he ejected the container they were in into the sea–he admitted to himself that he cared about them, then said it was a weakness. Then he ejected the container into the water. That’s a pretty solid attempt to kill someone, and his line, “it’s a weakness”, pretty much cemented his intentions. There is absolutely no reason to expect they would find a way out of that. They barely did.

And yet, when he sees Fitz again, he seems convinced that he’d saved FitzSimmons by giving them a chance to escape danger (dude, you were the one who caught them and brought them into danger in the first place. No one would have known if you’d just told them to run instead of turning them in.)

And I believe that he now believes those were his intentions back then–he’s conflated the fact that FitzSimmons survived and his present feelings with his actions in the past, to construct a new narrative. One where he doesn’t have to admit his guilt. It’s fascinating. Ward is unpredictable and creepy, and the show is not bothering to sugercoat it. His obsession with Skye, the way he’s convinced himself that he’s still part of Coulson’s team. The story he’s made up for himself, that if he fixes Skye’s family situation she’ll forgive him. He’s just so delusional.

Borrowed from mtv.com

Raina is the third loose cannon in the mix, and only one not trying to prove herself to anyone else. She’s like Whitehall in that she doesn’t have all these delusions that Ward and Cal have built up for themselves, but she’s much more flexible. She’s very well portrayed by Ruth Negga, with this gentle aura that’s interesting for such a ruthless and amoral character. There’s a charisma to her, and she knows how to get to people. That one episode where she hit on Coulson was weird and out of character for her–I’m pretending it didn’t happen. All of her manipulations have always been about establishing a connection based on understanding, and I’d never even seen a hint of seduction from her before that point (or after).

But how she works over Skye, by appealing to the things that matter to her and telling her what she wants to hear in the most believable way–that’s Raina at her best (or worst). Also, sending the newbie to question a master manipulator like Raina is a terrible idea. Yes, she did okay with Ward, but only because he was insane by that point, and wanted to be honest with her anyway. Also because she specifically never let him control the conversation. Her talks with Raina, on the other hand, were completely under Raina’s control.

Borrowed from hypable.com

Another distinguishing characteristic between Raina and the other two loose cannons is that Raina sees people and gets them to react the way she wants to them to by engaging with them. Ward and Cal know what reaction they want, but their interactions with people are all about themselves, and not the people they want the reaction from. They just don’t know how to think of their target as a person with their own wants and needs. They think if they do things, they’ll get what they want.

Raina says whatever will get her the deepest immediate connection to her target. She reaches for what a person is feeling and puts that feeling into words. And she’s managed to get pretty much every person she’s worked with to reveal their weaknesses to her at some point–which is bad for them, because Raina is loyal to whoever will get her what she wants. Which makes her loyalty pretty fluid.

That makes three characters out there, for whom it’s hard to predict how they’re going to go after their goals. And some really interesting psychology to go along with it. That’s pretty exciting. (By the way, while it’s hard for me to see Cal or Ward actually ending up on the side of good–they’re too far in denial for that, as of now–it would be really exciting to see Raina as an anti-hero. She would be fascinating as someone working for the team who could never really be trusted. And who isn’t reaching for it in the creepy way Ward and Cal are. I don’t think it’ll happen, with Raina being set-up as a counterpoint to Skye, but it would be cool.)

Oddest Quote:

Borrowed from bwwstatic.com

“I will pay you five hundred dollars right now for a pair of flats.” – Melinda May

Oh, the irony. Have you already forgotten how often you wear heals and wedges on missions with no undercover component, May? Is Agents of SHIELD pretending that May is wearing sensible shoes while putting her (and now Skye) in seriously impractical footwear for aesthetic purposes?

Favorite Quotes:

“Look around you. Venders, selling their wares to bring home a modest income. Locals, buying fresh vegetables for dinner tonight. Tourists, on their one vacation a year…They’re the reason I’m here. The reason there’s a S.H.I.E.L.D.. There are three million people on this island. I don’t want HYDRA turning them into collateral damage.”

“Join SHIELD. Travel to exotic, distant lands. Meet exciting, unusual people. And kill them.”

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Dragon Age: Inquisition, and Character

Dragon Age: Inquisition is the new high fantasy role-playing game from Bioware that I’ve been waiting for years for. You take on the role of the Inquisitor, and your job is pretty straightforward. Fix a giant hole in the sky that’s spewing demons. Your player character is customized, both in appearance and dialogue options, so the character is whoever you want to play as. The game explains itself as it goes, so it should be accessible to newcomers.

It should come as no surprise that I love this game. It isn’t perfect (what is?), but I love it. The game breaks down into several different categories which each succeed or fail (relatively) independently of each other: character, story, choices, and gameplay.

For me, characters are always the most important thing, so that’s where I start. Note that I love all the characters, even the ones I dislike. And with the breadth of characterization available here, most people should find at the least a few characters they enjoy.

Borrowed from rackcdn.com

Cassandra

“I want to respect tradition but not fear change. I want to right past wrongs but not avenge them. And I have no idea if my wanting these things makes any of them right.”

By the time Inquisition takes place, Cassandra has grown into a fierce, physical character who nonetheless cares deeply about people and about the institutions she has dedicated her life to.

I expected to like her, but I didn’t expect to love her. After all, she’s brash and jumps to conclusions. She comes from an order of holy warrior, and is given to solving her problems aggressively. And yet, she’s thoughtful enough to rethink her actions. She owns up to her mistakes. She might have been more comfortable following orders blindly once, but she’s moved beyond that now. And she refuses to do nothing when she recognizes something needs to be done.

I tend to relate to the free thinkers, those characters who are always questioning assumptions. Cassandra is not one of those.

She’s someone who understands the value of tradition, history, and faith–these things have always been and will always be deeply important to her. Yet she recognizes the flaws in her current society and wants to create a world that’s right for the people in it, while still respecting the past from which they came.

Her foundation–that deep caring she has for tradition–isn’t something that I personally understand that well, but in her, I respect it. She cares. She cares for people and she cares for the institutions and beliefs that people draw strength from. She’s matured into a cautiously wise (if at times impulsive) character, who’s main asset is how much she cares about everything. How could I not love her?

Borrowed from imgur.com

Cole

“It is dangerous when too many men in the same armor think they’re right.”

Cole is–actually, no one’s quite sure what he is. He’s unique. By nature, he’s a spirit, but he isn’t following the rules of existence for his kind. His one drive is to lessen people’s pain, and he doesn’t necessarily understand things the way a human would.

I was unsure of him, initially, but he grew on me very fast. He just cares about people so much. He’s got a powerful character story that poses some difficult questions for me, ones I don’t know the answers to. And he’s so genuine. He’s made some pretty serious mistakes out of a lack of understanding in the past, but he realizes that and is terrified of making more. He needs help figuring out who he’s going to be and how to fit into this world, and looks to your guidance to show him the way.

I really love Cole. He’s unusual, and unusual in how he sees the world. His main character trait is compassion, but that doesn’t necessarily play out in ways you’d expect. He’s just fantastic.

Borrowed from 3dmgame.com

Solas

“I have observed too much and done too little.”

Here’s the philosophical free-thinker type of character I’m bound to love, especially since some of the things he says are actually intelligent and not just something no one’s put enough thought into. A lot of ideas are things that actually require some thought to come up with, which is awesome.

Solas isn’t about being constrained by other people’s ideas of the world. He’s about exploring those ideas himself, without the world’s preconceptions shaping how he experiences life. Not an easy thing to accomplish, but he has an advantage on that score, being as isolated as he is.

This is another character who cares deeply about what happens to people–no rarity of those in this game–so much so that he put himself in potential danger by offering his expertise to people bound to distrust him at best.

Borrowed from everyeye.it

Iron Bull

“I can get worked up about a group or a nation just fine, but people… It’s too much to hate them one by one.”

Iron Bull is the leader of a mercenary company looking to get hired. As such, he’s about as uninhibited as you’d expect. Possibly more so. He and his people are hilarious, and I didn’t know Freddie Prince Jr. could voice act like that. I honestly had no idea.

Despite being presented (and presenting himself) as the quintessential brute, he’s got some surprises in him. Also notable is that he’s widely popular, and I see why.

Bull has his own (quite cool) backstory and decisions to make, but that would be telling.

Borrowed from wikia.nocookie.net

Varric

“That’s such a terrible idea, I have to do it.”

Varric is a storyteller, a rogue, a businessman, and a people person. Seriously, he knows everyone. And he’s changed since his role in the last game, as I’m sure war tends to do to people. Now, he wants to make a difference despite himself.

Character development aside, Varric remains as lovable as ever. He’s funny, and he’s fun. It’s absolutely heartbreaking when he’s suffering. And he’s still the one going around the camp, forming relationships with everyone and watching out for their mental health.

He’s just the sweetest person ever, and entertaining to boot.

Borrowed from imgur.com

Vivienne

“Magic is dangerous, just as fire is dangerous. Anyone who forgets this truth gets burned.”

Oh, Vivienne. Don’t you ever have anything nice to say about anyone? Even her compliments are actually backhanded insults.

Vivienne is the picture of taste, refinement, and cultured condescension. She’s very well-spoken, educated, traditional, and acerbic. I understand her character the least, possibly because I usually have the lowest approval with her–I tend to play as varying levels of pro-mage, and Vivienne (despite being a mage) is rather anti-mage in her views.

I understand that her personal experiences under the restrictions mages have to live by have been generally positive–she hasn’t experienced any abuses and has actually had every opportunity to succeed despite those restrictions. But it might physically hurt me to support her views.

So that means I haven’t gotten her personal quest yet–I’m working on it–and I have a limited view into her character.

Still, she has a lot of conviction and drive. She created an influential position for herself at court out of a position that used to be similar to that of a jester. She would rather be doing something important than sitting around waiting for someone else to fix the world. And despite her jibes against pretty much everyone, she does seem to get along with a decent amount of the other characters, and even enjoy trading quips with some of them.

Borrowed from gameranx.com

Blackwall

“We could make the world better. It’s just easier to shut our eyes.”

The honorable, self-sacrificing warrior who’s part of an entire order of honorable, self-sacrificing warriors. This order somehow manages to recruit mostly from criminals despite its reputation–possibly because self-sacrifice isn’t the first course of action for anyone with something to lose–but it attracts those looking for a higher calling or noble purpose as well.

As such, we have no idea what Blackwall’s background is, and he doesn’t like to talk about himself. All we know about him is that he joins the cause because it’s the right thing to do. And he’s all for honor, righteousness, and protecting the innocent. He’s the gruff loner fighting for whatever best helps the world. Even so, he’s got quite a few layers.

Borrowed from rackcdn.com

Sera

“It works for me, and everyone I know. Same reason everyone else thinks they’re right. It’s all bull, so pick the advice you like.”

It took a long while for Sera to grow on me. I couldn’t understand half of what she was saying, and the parts that I did understand mostly consisted of dirty jokes or potty humor. I also disagreed with her a lot. But after a while, I came to appreciate her goals and what she represented. She stands for some important things, even if she does manage it in the most crass way possible.

She’s about independence, freedom, equality, and justice. She doesn’t care about legacy or history. All she cares about is who she is now, not where she came from. And she cares about the commoners around her who get hurt while the nobles play out their dramas without caring what happens to these people.

Her thinking is overly simplistic, yes. But she’s too busy actually doing things to spend her time thinking everything over. She may not feel connected to her heritage, but she’s too busy living her own life to care about her people’s history. She isn’t very emotionally mature, but she’s too busy acting on all the wrongs she sees around her to focus on her own personal development.

I can’t relate to that at all (except maybe the heritage part), and I’d certainly prefer some middle ground between doing and thinking, but it does make me wonder what I should have been doing that I haven’t, because I spend so much time in my head. I couldn’t change and wouldn’t want to, but it does make me wonder.

Borrowed from wikia.nocookie.net

Dorian

“Selfish, I suppose. Not to want to spend my life screaming on the inside.”

He’s so much fun. He’s extravagant, he’s grand, he likes to think of himself as being on show. Dorian was not made to fade into the background.

He’s also a mage from a country where mages rule, a country with a less than stellar reputation worldwide. Dorian understands his country’s faults, but he loves it nonetheless and desperately wants his home and his people to be better.

Dorian knows who he’s supposed to be, and he spends his entire life ignoring that and paving his own way instead. He chooses to be who he wants to be instead. And instead of politicking for power and influence, he chooses to fight for the things that he believes matter. Like not tearing holes in the fabric of reality.

He’s a fantastic character, and I don’t know if I can adequately describe him. He’s intelligent and thoughtful enough to make up his own mind against everything he’s ever been told. He’s developed core moral values over the things that matter to him, and they aren’t the things that he’s been told should matter to him. And he loves his homeland. Flaws and all.

And that’s the rundown on the companions for Dragon Age: Inquisition. I’m definitely going to have more to say about the game, but I’ll try to intersperse that with talking about other things.

Any opinions on DA:I or its characters? Love them or hate them?

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Roundup: Stormlord Rising and Rage of Bahamut: Genesis

Dragon Age: Inquisition is coming out tomorrow, and I’d like to keep my evenings open to give me some time to play it. So the week’s post is going up today.

Stormlord Rising

Borrowed from glendalarke.com

Genre: Dark Fantasy

Synopsis: With cities lost to the Reduners, our protagonists have to find a way to turn the tide of battle around. Some are enslaved after the fall of their city. Some are free(ish), and determined to defeat the Reduner forces.

Jasper is a Cloudmaster, but there are things he can’t do. He needs to find a way to work despite his limitations, or people will die without water. Terelle has powers few understand, and is trapped by those same powers. She has to find a way to fight her destiny so that she might join a battle that desperately needs her.

Series: Second in a trilogy. (This one does wrap up in a nice ending–odd, that the first book had the cliffhanger and the second was a nice concrete stopping point–it’s usually the opposite with trilogies.)

POV: Third person multiple

Romance: As subplots, yes.

Verdict: Good

Preview: Here.

Oh dear. This book is even less fluffy than the first one, which I talked about here a few months back.

It deals with a difficult topic with more nuance than is typical. Maybe with more nuance than I’m personally ready for. Glenda Larke has guts to go into this territory, that’s for sure.

This book deals with the aftermath of a huge, decisive battle, and the lead-up towards the next one. Since the victors of the previous battle are nomadic, patriarchal warrior types who enslave enemy survivors…

There’s nothing graphic–that’s not what this story is about. It’s about emotions. It’s about how being indoctrinated to a certain type of mentality leads to brutality. It’s about how important it is to have been taught better. It’s even about showing that horrific acts are committed by people, rather than cardboard cut-out villains.

This doesn’t always make for a comfortable read, and it’s not trying to. But it does prompt thought about the kind of issues that we should think about, but often don’t. Because they’re hard to think about.

On the less uncomfortable side, there’s Shale–Jasper now–struggling to carve out some autonomy despite being chained by his responsibilities. And he’s doing surprisingly well. It’s gratifying to watch him succeed, and finally outsmart the people playing with his life in the first book. I suppose it’s a little sad what he has to lose in order to step up to his position. But I did enjoy the creativity he and Terelle employed in figuring out how to hinder and debilitate a superior fighting force. Jasper still feels like the main character of the story, by the way, despite sharing the field with other protagonists.

Terelle has to compromise her morals as much as Jasper to save their people, but she has a harder time with it. Not that Jasper doesn’t have a hard time with it, but necessity gets through to him more quickly than it does to Terelle. He realizes that it has to happen and regrets it, while she has to be pushed into acknowledging the necessity of it, first.

You know how in some stories, you wonder why the protagonists never used a particular power to just kill the bad guy? There’s a nice twist on that here–there was a moment in the first book when she could have killed one of the book’s big bads easily, and was ultimately unable to do it. And that turned out to be a good thing, because said bad guy was needed later. It makes it way nicer not to have to spend the whole story being like, this whole thing could have been avoided. Because, no, it couldn’t have.

This book is heavy on the emotions. The characters have to fight the fates laid out for them, do things they wish they didn’t have to do, and take on responsibilities they never asked for. They fight enemies stronger or more experienced than they are. And it’s a very personal journey for them, to do all these things.

Rage of Bahamut: Genesis

Borrowed from huluim.com

Genre: Fantasy

Synopsis: Favaro is a bounty hunter who makes the mistake of boasting about knowledge that he doesn’t have, and is unfortunate enough that a demon who wants that knowledge overhears him. The demon curses him with a tail as incentive to help her, and now Favaro is forced on an involuntary quest.

Series: Season 1

I’ve Watched: Episode 1

Verdict: Meh

The show starts off with a battle in which I have no idea what is going on. I guess it shows off the nice animation?

But the real fun starts shortly after, when our protagonist is involved in a horse chase. And those are some magic horses, since they run over slanted rooftops as easily as they would on an actual road. That was pretty much the only scene I enjoyed, and everything else failed to grab my attention, at least in a positive way.

Our main protagonist is Favaro, and I kinda hate him. I think he’s supposed to be a likable rogue, but there’s nothing likable in the way he treats people. Other than that, not enough material to get a real impression of the show yet. But I’m already put off, and I honestly can’t work up the energy to force myself to watch another episode. I’m out.

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TTT: Top Ten Characters You Wish Would Get Their OWN Book

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic from The Broke and the Bookish is, “Top Ten Characters You Wish Would Get Their OWN Book (minor or just maybe a semi main character you wish a book was from their POV)”.

I actually did not manage to come up with a lot of books where I wanted more of non-main characters. But here’s what I did manage.

Borrowed from ilona-andrews.com

Kate Daniels series (urban fantasy): Kate Daniels is a mercenary in a world where magic and technology come in waves, and when one of them is dominant, the other isn’t working. Kate lives in Atlanta, and the series follows her as she becomes embroiled in the problems of the shapeshifters, necromancers, and the magical police.

Derek, the werewolf who’s gone from being an adolescent to a young man through the course of the series, and a steadfast ally of Kate’s. He’s been through a lot, what with being scarred and all. Getting a book from his perspective would be amazing because he doesn’t tend to say most of what he thinks.

Desandra, the new werewolf alpha with a penchant for inappropriate comments. I did not like her when she was first introduced, which is understandable, given that she was not exactly at her best. Now free from the machinations of her abusive father and less than ideal ex-husbands, she can finally shine in her own right, without having to hide her competence. It’s a drastic change and she’s owning it, moving up in the ranks of the pack while raising two infants.

Borrowed from tamorapierce.com

Provost’s Dog trilogy (YA fantasy): Beka Cooper comes from a poor family in the Lower City that got lucky–the Lord Provast of the city’s guardsmen took them in. Since then, Beka has been in training to be a guardswoman, or Dog.

As much as I love Beka and would never trade more books from her point of view for anything, there are a lot of pretty cool characters in these books.

Rosto, Aniki, and Kora. They’re essentially unofficially ruling the lower city now, in a quasi-illegal way. Thy aren’t Lawful the way Beka is, but they do have their own sense of morality, and have helped deal with anything from serial killers to interfering with abuse that Beka could not legally do anything about.

Other stories I wouldn’t mind seeing from this world include Goodwin and Matthias’ early days as dogs/enforcers in the lower city, though that might also hurt, knowing what I know. And the knight Sabine’s future adventures after the last Beka book.

Borrowed from seananmcguire.com

October Daye series (urban fantasy): October (or Toby) Daye is a half-fae living in San Francisco. She’s a detective, and frequently gets tangled up in solving fae problems. Especially when missing children are involved.

The Luidaeg, the sea witch, and a powerful fae with restrictions on her actions. But those restrictions, which make her less suitable to being a protagonist due to the limitations they put on her actions, couldn’t have always been in place. And she’s got centuries of history to draw on. Present day, she’s snarky and jaded, with a terrifying reputation. What was she like before she’d lost so much?

Quentin and Raj, Toby’s squires. They’re best friends and teenagers primed to one day be influential in fae politics. It might be fun to watch them become those people, and try to maintain their friendship against inevitable pressure from social norms. It might have to be a different type of story than the usual in this series, but it could be interesting.

Rayseline Torquill, a young fae who’d been kidnapped and imprisoned during her formative years. She would likely be an anti-hero, and have a redemption arc if she were ever to have her own story. Which is definitely an if. But it’s possible. She was a teenager who’d done some pretty bad things after a tortuous childhood, and after she hadn’t gotten the support she needed to recover from her experiences. One of her disadvantages has been taken away, and who she’ll be in the future remains to be seen.

Borrowed from girlgeniusonline.com

Girl Genius (steampunk/gaslamp fantasy): Mad scientists rule the world, and the legacy of one family in particular threatens to tear it apart as a lost heir moves to claim that legacy.

There are so many amazing side characters in Girl Genius. I want to pick all of them. But here are some highlights.

Moloch von Zinzer, a mechanic who somehow manages to survive the craziest situations. He’s finally become resigned to his new role as a snarky minion for mad scientists.

Da Boyz, three Jägermonsters, unusually independent for their kind, but just as cheerfully violent.

Zola, a professional damsel in distress, master of the art of pretending to be an idiot, who only wants you to think she’s completely incompetent. So that you underestimate her while she goes about being a spy/ninja/whatever.

Othar Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer, a hero(?) dedicated to protecting the world from mad scientists (despite technically being one himself), he’s sure he’s the hero of this story. Even if he gets his own story to be the hero of, I foresee him misinterpreting everything.

Violetta, a reluctant spy/ninja who says she’s worse at her job than she actually is. And likes pretty dresses, though she hasn’t gotten to wear one yet, what with all the enemies to fight.

Ardsley Wooster, a secret agent just a tad out of depth, now that he’s surrounded by evil geniuses…But when he’s in his element, we get brief windows on a completely different story.

That’s all I got, and weirdly enough, it was easier to come up with multiple characters for one work than multiple works. Not including TV shows/movies this go around, but if anyone can think of side characters from other media which could really work their own story, let me know!

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Title Change: Bardic Impulses

When I first started this blog–okay, full confession. I started this blog as a project for a digital media class, my last semester as an undergrad.

However, the point of the project was to create a blog that we would continue to use, and I knew in the back of my head I would have to start blogging sometime if I was going to eventually distribute the work I was writing. So I originally conceived of my blog as an author blog, only to find two years down the line, that I’m very comfortable with it being a genre fiction review blog. (And occasional science-in-media critique blog.)

I haven’t yet published my original work in any form, and though I will eventually, I have no idea when “eventually” is going to be. In the meantime, I’m totally happy having a space where I can talk about my likes and dislikes in genre fiction, or point out cool stuff I’ve come across, or rant about the portrayal of science on TV. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

The title “Marie Erving” has served its purpose–it got me used to the pen name, and it got me thinking of the name kind of like a brand. But it’s always felt a little weird to me as a title, and I think I’ll be much happier renaming the blog into something less arrogant-sounding.

The URL will remain the same and I have absolutely no intention of changing it–hopefully that won’t be too confusing.

So without further ado, “Bardic Impulses” is on.

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Fall 2014 TV: Constantine, Garo, and Legend of Korra

This Fall 2014 TV thing is getting a little exhausting, but I persevere.

Constantine

Borrowed from comicbook.com

Genre: Supernatural/Horror

Synopsis: John Constantine is an exorcist, who’s tried to leave the game after a demon attack went horribly, horribly wrong. But something big is coming, and he doesn’t have the luxury of sitting it out.

Series: Season 1

I’ve Watched: Eps 1-2

Verdict: Promising (?)

I think it might take a few more episodes to really get a feel for the show, but so far, not bad. Hopefully, it isn’t going to settle into a too-procedural routine.

Borrowed from blastr.com

It’s refreshing to get a world-weary antihero whose past mistakes haunt him instead of an idealist somewhere in this TV season. Constantine is the character we see the most of at this point, and there are some interesting faucets to his personality. He has this sardonic humor that he pulls out in serious situations, not to be a jerk (though he can totally be jerk when he feels like it), but because he’s just so jaded from everything he’s seen. He wants to care less than he does. And unlike at least one of his allies, he cares more about giving others a choice than he does about how useful they might be to him.

Although, let’s be honest. A whole bunch of bystanders died during Constantine’s attempts to save one woman. That’s a lot of collateral damage.

As for Constantine’s companions, Chas has the potential to be interesting, but has yet to have his character explored (or even established). Ritchie had an intriguing start, with a very disillusioned outlook on exorcism in general and Constantine in particular–I definitely want to see more of him. But the most extensively explored companions so far are Liv and Zed. Liv is a newcomer to this supernatural thing, and very much what I’d expect from an everyday person type of character. Zed is…not.

Borrowed from hypable.com

Actually, Zed is kinda creepy, as a consequence of her magic. A more light-hearted show would have trouble pulling her off. Here, she’s discomforting and just a bit endearing all in one. Because of her visions and the inexplicable feelings they induce in her, she’s both an otherworldly, unpredictable presence whose power changes how she experiences reality, and a resourceful woman who’s nonetheless innocent to the demonic world Constantine moves in. She doesn’t quite fit in the normal world, and she doesn’t quite fit in Constantine’s demon-hunting world (yet). But she can hold her own against John, which is really impressive for someone who’s new to the dark arts business.

In short, I want to like her. She fits into the story in a fairly unique way. But yes, she does still totally creep me out.

As an addendum, an issue I take with one quote from episode 2: “There’s nothing blacker than gypsy magic.” –well, that’s kinda racist. If the show was going to create a type of magic which is inherently bad, it certainly didn’t have to be associated with an ethnicity.

Garo: Honoo no Kokuin

Borrowed from blogspot.com

Genre: Fantasy

Synopsis: Makai priests and knights are tasked with defeating horros (demons) and possessed humans–but they’re hunted by the rest of humanity, in a witch hunt driven by the machinations of the king’s advisor. Now, a boy whose mother was killed in the witch hunts fifteen years ago, his knight father, a usurped prince of the land, and a priestess with a hidden agenda will cross paths to save the country.

Series: First season

I’ve Watched: 4 episodes.

Verdict: Good.

Borrowed from wordpress.com

I love good fantasy, and this might just be it for this season.

Some spoilers for the first two episodes.

Garo starts of with a witch burning. The witch in question is pregnant, and magically manages to give birth to the child in way that destroys herself but protects the baby from the flames (none of the other characters get it, either). And then a mysterious knight in a magical metal suit launches an epic rescue of the baby. It’s a good scene, immediately grabbing the audience’s attention, though I do wonder why exactly the woman couldn’t have been saved (other than Because Plot).

Borrowed from movieanime.com

I’m impressed so far. In episode 2, the main female character came into play when the show revealed she’d been captured by the inquisition and our main guys were off to rescue her (which did get an instinctive ugh reaction from me, yes). But then we actually see the character, and she’s…oddly confident for someone who’s tied to a chair in a torture chamber and has clear bruises on her face from being hit. And we find as our heroes bust in to rescue her that she could have escaped at any moment, and was there for information (like Black Widow in the Avengers movie, but with less interrogation skills).

Thankfully, when our heroes bust in to rescue her, she doesn’t ridicule or attack them for it–because obviously, they had no way of knowing she wasn’t actually in danger. Instead, she thanks them, but lets them know it was unnecessary. It’s one sentence, but I am just so happy that line was in there. Everything about this character’s intro is perfect. I was waiting on pins and needles for it to be fumbled somewhere, and it never was. This character–Emma–doesn’t come off as incompetent or hyper-competent or ungrateful or irrational. This is how a confident character with nothing to prove to anyone should react to an unwanted rescue.

As the fight with the horror commences, it becomes clear that Leon joining in on this battle is actually a hindrance. He has unresolved issues that make him unreliable in a fight, and Emma finally manages to finish off the enemy only when his dad physically removes him from the fight (so he can’t hit her with the area of effect attacks he throws at the enemy). These three characters all have strengths and weaknesses that have the potential to compliment each other–but as of now, they grate with each other. They’re all very different people.

And I’m interested in seeing how the dynamic shifts when we add in the kindhearted exile prince, sometime in the future. Leon is a serious, frustrated character with a chip on his shoulder. His dad is irresponsible and barely takes anything seriously. And Emma has a generally sarcastic demeanor. A gentle character might round out the group nicely.

Also of interest–German’s irresponsibility manifests itself in a few ways, one of which is abandoning his son to go sleep with prostitutes. The show ties in his promiscuity with his irresponsibility and portrays this as a negative aspect of his character. He isn’t even remotely ashamed of himself, but he’s called on his behavior (especially by his ever-abandoned son). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a portrayal of promiscuity like this in media before, for any gender. It seems to be uniquely suited to his character’s particular situation, rather than a broad idea of how people should behave.

So ultimately, a very promising show, that isn’t afraid of being a little more nuanced in the portrayal of its characters than I tend to expect.

Legend of Korra

Borrowed from hallels.com

Genre: Fantasy/Steampunk

Synopsis: Korra is the Avatar, tasked with bringing balance to the world. She’s a little battered and bruised from her past adventures, still recovering both physically and emotionally. But the world needs her as a new dictator is rising in the Earth Kingdom–one who is a former ally.

Series: Season 4

I’ve Watched: Eps 1-5

Verdict: Great

Oh, wow, what an opening!

Last season’s adventure took Korra out of the action for three years, and life has moved on while she wasn’t capable of doing anything. The Air nation has been trying to fill her role, but there’s too much to do, especially with the chaos in the Earth kingdom. Bandits galore, and an awesome villain with a history with our protagonists.

Borrowed from edgecastcdn.net

Kuvira has a strong army and is using some less then reputable tactics to get it–and she’s trying to reunify the Earth kingdom by offering security against serious bandit problems in exchange for the independence and natural resources of these regions. Now, on the surface, a lot of this is pretty standard national protection stuff. The citizens of Kuvira’s territory get her protection, and those who aren’t citizens don’t. Outright refusing aid to nearby territories in desperate need of it when she clearly has the resources to do it is a pretty jerk-ish move, especially by modern standards, though even that is not too far removed from political reality in real life.

But of course, she’s obviously in it for power, and commits questionable actions behind the scenes to get it. This puts her in a murky dark grey area of characterization, and the fact that she has so much history with many of our protagonists–and has even recruited one of our protagonists–makes this a very interesting set up.

So tons of potential for conflict here, which is awesome.

Borrowed from overtice.com

In parallel to Kuvira’s rise and the lives Korra’s friends have been living while she’s been unwell, is Korra’s own story. She’s been through a lot, so she’s not quite up to speed yet–and it’s kind of awesome that Korra’s journey of self-discovery happens so late in her story. She has her sense of self beaten down for three seasons before she needs to find a way to go on. Normally, this kind of thing would happen before the big fights, but for Korra, getting into the big fights was just something that happened. Her impulses drove her there. It’s after she’s been hurt repeatedly that she finds it hard to get back up again, and that’s when she needs most to grow and change. So I found the switch around interesting.

So far, Korra’s problems and Kuvira’s ascension have been separate storylines. Kuvira was a problem for those who are out in the world dealing with her, and Korra’s focus has been on recovering. But now that Korra’s going to get back into the action, we’re about to see where this goes. I have a lot of trust for this writing team, so I’m sure it’s going to be amazing.

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