Assassin’s Creed – Odyssey

Remember how I wrote about Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and how somehow I keep playing those games? Yeah me neither so here’s a link.

Suffice it to say after Syndicate, I did quit playing these repetitive map games. I did not play Origins, nor did I ever want to – even if it was advertised as “new and improved”. I had had my fill of the franchise, didn’t care about Egypt – and especially with Breath of the Wild revolutionising the 3rd person adventure genre, it just didn’t interest me.

Then came Odyssey. An Assassin’s Creed game set in ancient Greece? Count me in?

And boy, is it a doozie. This game has just about everything. A gargantuan map spanning all of Greece. A boat. A leveling system. A skill tree. Mercenaries. A (very cool) cult for you to hunt and destroy. Dialogue trees. Player choice. A female protagonist – Kassandra! And: No minimap!!

At first, I dove right in there. I wondered why I ever fell out of love with the franchise in the first place. It was like a second honeymoon, and I had a lot of fun destroying barbarian camps and the like.

About thirty hours in, I had probably killed about a million barbarians, and had uncovered about a third of the map. Boy, this is a marathon, I thought, and made Kassandra visit Marathon. I was still feeling it, thinking this journey would lead somewhere.

Then, about fifty hours in, I started growing weary. A couple of really promising plotlines started heading in a direction that was an immense disappointment for a fifty hour investment. And lo an behold, an hour later, the plot had completely derailed (without spoiling anything, let me just say “Pythagoras” – those who played the game will know what I mean).

Boy, do I feel kind of burned. Yes, riding across Greece is a thrilling experience, and the vistas are as beautiful as ever. But somehow, I can’t enjoy them anymore, knowing the story has completely derailed. It just killed my genuine investment in Kassandra – and thus, in the entire game.

The Legend of Zelda – Breath of the Wild

Sometimes, things come together nicely. Case in point: Pre-ordering a Switch – Nintendo’s console-handheld-hybrid – and having it come out three days after my brain surgery (more on that soon). I was hospitalised for three weeks with nothing to do but to practice closing my eyelid, smiling and walking in a straight line, and the Switch and Zelda gave me something to look forward to.

And boy, was this something. Breath of the Wild does away with ninety percent of the core Zelda tropes, strips it of the baggage the series has dragged along over the course of thirty years, and just delivers a breathtaking open-world experience that’s all about exploration – and all that without even needing a minimap.

It’s amazing. After two hours of a very open-ended tutorial, you have all the skills you need and one quest in your log: Kill Ganon. You can just storm Hyrule castle and have a go at him. But that’s not where the fun is at – it’s in discovering the world, looking for shrines (this game’s version of miniature dungeons) and using whatever means the game’s environment gives you to defeat the baddies and grow stronger.

And while there is a lot of that, it never gets old. There is a seemingly endless stream of content to explore, from lava-filled lands to scorching deserts and jungles and plains. I couldn’t stop myself from discovering every nook and cranny and even after 40+ hours of playtime, I still felt surprised at all the creative situations the game threw me in.

And then, when I finally stormed the castle, armed to the teeth with the finest armor and the best weapons, it felt like catharsis.

I don’t know if the Switch will be worth it in the end – the console feels very bare-boned as it is – but Breath of the Wild is a true classic. This might just be the best Zelda ever made. And it’s certainly going to be the one I come back to most often.

I seriously couldn’t wish for any other game at a time like this.

Fantastic Beasts and where to find them

“My philosophy is worrying means you suffer twice.”

Whoa, hey, he lives! Yes, in fact, I do – but I’ve been so caught up in work and life that I’ve had no chance to update this blog. But seeing how we’re on winter hiatus until after the holidays and I’m just gaming the day away, it’s high time for a little post.

It should be no secret I’m a Harry Potter fan. I read the books on a regular basis. I rewatch the movies every couple of years. And I actually bought a gargantuan box set a while ago and watched all of the extra bonus stuff (very interesting!).

So when I heard Fantastic Beats and where to find them was a thing that was going to happen in a cinema near me, I was wary almost immediately. Sure, this could be great, and I could get that giddy feeling I get when reading or watching Potter coupled with some fresh materials – but it could also be a disaster that, viewed pessimistically, could even destroy the original story. If you think I’m being overly dramatic: Star Wars did the exact same thing for me.

Thankfully, Fantastic Beasts is not a catastrophe. One could even say it’s a really good film, with brilliant and dynamic new characters, gorgeous locations and a nifty story almost worthy of the original seven books.  And the original story? Still intact, enhanced even, as Fantastic Beasts expands upon some parts of the original Potter lore with things like the Obscurus and Grindelwald.

But what Fantastic Beasts evoked most of all was that original sense of wonder the Harry Potter universe transports. The moment I saw the Niffler – a creature not quite like a platypus – I felt that uncanny “just out of reality’s reach” feeling these stories do so well. And one moment in particular, where we finally see Newt’s secret plan, is just breathtaking.

All in all, worth a watch! Even if it spends quite a lot of its time (and its most exciting story twists) setting up a new franchise in ways that feel like a poor storyteller’s bad photoshop, with bits and nuggets of a broader (but very obscure) framework tacked on the otherwise brilliant narrative. It’s small moments in this story that irk me and wonder how much of it was rewritten while shooting to allow the franchise to grow from three to five movies – and I guess only time will tell how well that gamble payed off.

(PS I cannot say how often I typed Fantastic Beats writing this post. I think that should be a thing)

(Do people still do blogs nowadays?)