Checkpoint: Phantom of the Opera 2018 Edition

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Canada Day 2018 is upon us. This is the first year that I will be spending portions of it in different cities. I’m currently in Toronto but will be heading back home on the big day.

We headed into Toronto earlier for my first ever theatre musical experience. Cameron Mackintosh’s take of Phantom of the Opera was an amazing spectacle. But despite the fact that I never saw a theatre musical like this, I knew this was a production that was meant to woo newcomers and modern simpletons like myself. It was a mesmerizing experience filled with elaborate stage transitions, loud music, and over the top acting. I felt the production communicated the tone and setting more than the actors which is fine for folks like myself but I can certainly see why veterans of the musical would prefer that the actors and actresses were the highlights. 

I didn’t come away discussing the drama that unfolded. I came away praising the set pieces, the production, the organized chaos, and wondering how they pulled off such a show. The people involved were captivating but I wasn’t drawn into to any of their performances like I was with the production itself.

We paid just over $110 per ticket and I thought it was well worth the price of admission. Now I’m wondering how i can transition to another theatre experience without being immediately disappointed by it. I want a fun auditory and visual experience but I also know it’s not fair to expect all musicals to be like this. 

God of War PS4 Review

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God of War put Sony’s Santa Monica Studio on the map during the PlayStation 2 days. While their PlayStation 3 output wasn’t a barn burner like Naughty Dog’s Uncharted and The Last of Us titles, they were still a force to be reckoned with. I loved God of War III but felt God of War: Ascension was superfluous at best. It’s been 5 years their last big title and was very curious how they were going to make their mark on the PlayStation 4.

When I first laid eyes on this reinvented God of War, I didn’t know what to make of it. On one hand, it looks like they threw out everything but Kratos, the name, and reinvented with modern sensibilities. On the other hand, they threw out all the memorable and distinctly amazing qualities of the old games as well – primarily the scale and gravitas. I was very curious how this game would turn out and I was going to find out on day one.

God of War was a long game. I don’t know my hour count but I played it on a regular basis for over a month. My total playtime was inflated due to my decision to play on Hard difficulty but despite that wrinkle, there’s a lot of game here. I’m sure a significant percentage of that game is spent traversing via row boat but since they weaved in fun little Norse mythology related stories during these moments, I still felt it was worthwhile content. Even though they built in the ability to interrupt and resume boat stories, I still took the time to just sit in my boat and listen to Mimir’s tales.

We’ve heard intentions for Kratos to move from his Greek stomping grounds for what seemed like ages now. The idea of Kratos moving into the Norse realms seemed absurd to me. How were they going to justify pitting this angry Spartan against Odin and his ilk? Apparently the answer was: Kratos just wanted to get away. Portraying this world where different mythologies occupied different regions of the world made a lot of sense — it’s how it is in the real world, why wouldn’t it be like that in God of War’s version of Earth?

I loved how Kratos was ashamed of his past life in Sparta. He slew numerous Gods, Titans, and mortals alike during his quest to take down Zeus. Moving to Midgaard and starting a new family was the last thing I expected Kratos to do but here we are. He has moved on from avenging Calliope to raising Atreus. Kratos was learning to become a father in function and not just in name. While we saw Kratos interact with Calliope in God of War: Chains of Olympus, the relationship was never explored like this.

I loved seeing Kratos and Atreus’ relationship develop. They weren’t complete strangers in the beginning of the tale, but Kratos did not know much about his son. He knew of the basics (like the audience), but we got to know Atreus and his relationship with his mother and Norse mythology throughout the course of the journey. Watching Atreus grow angry, petulant, brave, cocky, and confident was captivating. When a game manages to evoke frustration towards a boy whom I grew to trust and rely on, there’s nothing to say but: kudos.

God of War showed an aged Kratos but an evolving one as well. He didn’t become a great father by the time the credits rolled. However, his relationship with his son did improve, albeit at an accelerated pace. Atreus learned a lot about himself and his father throughout the course of their journey to scatter his late mother’s ashes. He handled it in a believable manner but I felt he processed it in an unconvincing timeline.

Kratos and I also learned a lot about Norse mythology via Atreus and our traveling companion, Mimir. I enjoyed Mimir’s presence and found the game increasingly more engaging after he “stepped” onto the stage. Brok and Sindri were very helpful and added levity to many of the game’s proceedings but they didn’t give the context and flavor that I needed. I wanted to know more about the Aesir, the Valkyries, the Giants, and the realms that Kratos and Atreus found themselves in. Mimir filled the role I wanted and then some.

Mimir was not only helpful narratively, he also served as the literal eyes behind Kratos’ back. The unwritten rule in many third person over the shoulder games like this is to not attack the player from the behind. God of War didn’t care for those conventions and routinely strikes at Kratos from his blind spot. On screen indicators, and shouts from Atreus and Mimir give me a sense of where dangers are coming from. In theory this should be enough but when I’m in the thick of carving undead with Kratos’ magical axes, a single warning sign may not be enough. This was especially true early on.

I’ve played my fair share of From Software’s Bloodborne, so I’ve been conditioned to expect a certain pace for melee combat. I struggled with the combat for the first three hours or so. I died a lot. Some of it had to do with the fact that I played on hard difficulty but a lot of it was the relatively foreign nature of the combat. But once I got the hang of it, began upgrading equipment, and unlocking new abilities, the game clicked. I still died but it wasn’t’ a struggle like early on. There was only one battle where I struggled mightily and it was optional.

God of War reshaped my expectations for long running and successful modern franchises. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End made strides to evolve their character narratively but it didn’t make a drastic in gameplay. We need more games like this; the Breath of the Wilds and Metroid: Primes of the world. I’m happy to see developers of these franchises toss out the playbook and re-evaluate everything when it feels right. I don’t expect next God of War title to reinvent the wheel again but they should feel welcomed to do so the next time the franchise hits a rut. The pay offs can be tremendous.

Verdict:
I love it

Checkpoint: E3 2018 Edition

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E3 2018’s press conferences are finally over. I actually liked that the big publishers and platform holders got out of the way of each other and spread out a bit.

It gave me more time to digest it all and meant I was spending less time binging on the barrage of news and announcements that didn’t leak beforehand.

There were many leaks this year including one from Walmart Canada that spoiled so many publisher’s fun. It didn’t spoil my fun though, knowing a game’s existence isn’t the same as seeing the titles in action.

With that in mind, here are some thoughts I had on the press conferences that I watched since Saturday, June 9th.

I graded them with entertainment, news, and games shown in mind. Was it a fun watch? Despite leaks, did they shed light on anything interesting? Did they show games that I wanted to play?

Electronic Arts

Electronic Arts’ press conference was awkward. It was good to see Anthem in action but they took such a long time fluffing it up.

The Battlefield V was a looker but I have very little desire to revisit realistic World War II shooters like Battlefield V or Call of Duty: WW2. Maybe I’ll give it a go when a multiplayer beta hits but as of right now? It’s a non-starter for me.

No one is expecting Electronic Arts to make a real-time strategy game in 2018. So what can EA do? A MOBA? They tried in 2014 with Dawngate. So seeing Command & Conquer Rivals in action makes a lot of sense to me and it was the big surprise coming out of EA’s event. And that’s disappointing.

The reveal of Origin Access Premier and a peculiar interview with Vince Zampella about his team’s upcoming Star Wars game does not make up for the fact that EA’s offerings were poor this year.

D-

Microsoft

Microsoft brought it this year. They’ve been refining their formula for the last couple of E3’s but I felt they nailed it when came to reassuring people that Microsoft is committed to the Xbox brand. I don’t know if announcing sequels to familiar first party properties is enough to sell people on the idea of buying an Xbox One but their future looks brighter with their recent studio acquisitions.

But if you ignore hardware sales angle and focus on reasons to subscribe to Xbox Game Pass, I think Microsoft did a bang up job.

Forza Horizon 4 looks like a spiritual successor to Test Drive Unlimited which is very intriguing. Gears 5 looks to continue the strong start of Gears 4. Crackdown 3 looks like dumb fun. And Ori and the Will of the Wisps is shaping up to be a fantastic sequel to one of my favorite games of the generation.

There will be another Halo game named Halo: Infinite. Not much else to say about that trailer besides that it looks pretty. Gears Tactics (title pending) looks like a match made in heaven; combining Gears of War with XCOM style gameplay sounds phenomenal.

Although they weren’t exclusives, the reveal of Devil May Cry 5, Cyberpunk 2077, The Division 2 and longer looks at titles like Kingdom Hearts III made for a very entertaining showcase.

They showed games and lots of them!

A

Bethesda

Bethesda sold me on RAGE 2 which I didn’t think was possible after the weird reveal. Did we need another post-apocalyptic title? Well, it turns out the answer is “yes” if they’re invoking the frantic pace of Doom (2016).

Teasing the existence of Doom: Eternal was welcomed and so was the reveal that they’re bringing out more Wolfenstein content with Wolfenstein: Young Blood. They also reminded me that I haven’t played Wolfenstein: The New Colossus yet which is shameful of me.

I doubt I’ll pick up Fallout 76 but seeing it in action was interesting. Were they going to ape other survival games? How much “traditional” Fallout are we going to see in this? It’s not going to be just another Fallout game which is intriguing for me but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

The super early teasers for Bethesda Game Studio’s upcoming projects: Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI were a bit awkward. They sound very far off and I’m not sure why they needed to tease both of those titles so early.

C+

Ubisoft

Ubisoft knew how to have fun with their dance number for Just Dance. I thought that was a fun way to acknowledge that game’s existence.

I don’t know what to make of the Beyond Good & Evil 2 trailer. The CG trailer looks like a sales pitch to recruit the community to help generate assets for the game. I want to know how those assets are going to be used and if there’s a worthwhile game in there.

The Division 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey are known quantities. They look like newer and shinier versions of the games you may or may not like. I’m partial to The Division so more of it is okay with me. AC:O looks very pretty. Almost enough to entice me back.

I like seeing games continue receiving support but after Bethesda’s showcase, I was growing tired of seeing games I don’t play being trotted out again. I can’t say I’m particularly fond of seeing repeat appearances for games I like.

C

Square Enix

Speaking of known quantities, here’s Square-Enix showing off Kingdom Hearts III again. Little did we know, there would be three trailers shown across three press conferences. (Microsoft, Square, and Sony). I am not against this game but that’s a lot.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider looks like more of the same and since I haven’t even played Rise of the Tomb Raider yet, I don’t know if I want that. She looked like a ruthless killer though and a far cry from that reluctant heroine from Tomb Raider (2013).

Dragon Quest XI looks very pretty and it would be on my list of games to pre-order but I just started Dragon Quest VIII and barely put a dent in it.

Square Enix showed a lot of known quantities and while some resonated with me, I just didn’t see why they waited until E3 to reveal these.

C-

Sony

I missed the first half hour of Sony’s which meant I missed The Last of Us: Part II. That’s fine because I don’t need to be convinced to buy that game. I was already sold. Just like I was more or less already sold on Spider-man.

Ghosts of Tsushima was the big reveal and I thought Sucker Punch did one hell of a job with that demo. I was impressed with the reveal but I’m curious how it plays.

Death Stranding was weird and I’m sure it will abide with some internal logic that Kojima stitched together. I just hope this game is more than celebrity guest stars doing weird things.

Seeing Resident Evil 2 remake in action was eye opening because of how much effort Capcom is putting into this and seemingly nailing it.

Remedy Games are making another time manipulation third person shooter but this time it stars a red haired woman. I’m in. It reminds me of Quantum Break (which I haven’t played yet) but without all the bad TV science fiction.

In many ways, Sony followed Microsoft’s event but instead of showing new installment to the same old franchises. They showed off more of the same game that we’ve already seen. Death Stranding is just as weird as when we saw it last year. The Last of Us: Part II is still the Last of Us. And Spider-man is still Spider-man. They showed well and I will likely play them all but they’re still known quantities.

B-

Nintendo

Nintendo was the most disappointing only because it looks like their software lineup looks barren compared to last year’s. A new Fire Emblem, Super Mario Party, and another Smash Brothers with every single character should be enough for most folks but they’re not Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild.

Spending so much time on Smash Bros. Ultimate was exhausting. I can appreciate the changes they made but I don’t play Smash Bros. often enough to even notice. It seems like they were pitching to a very specific demographic of the Smash fanbase and that’s just a very weird thing to do on the “big stage”.

I will likely pick up Super Mario Party just to have a nice party game. And the same with Smash Bros. Ultimate but their lineup so far feels lacking from a first party perspective.

On the plus side, the release of Fortnite on Switch did out Sony for being scum bags on cross play.

C

A Decent E3

It was a decent showing as far as the press conferences are concerned. Lots of promising titles on the horizon and many of them debuting early next year. I doubt I will have time play all of them but this is a good problem to have.

Dragon’s Crown Pro Review

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I try to finish the games I start. I really do. It may take me a while to do so but I try to watch the credits roll on all the games I start. Every once in a while, a game like Vanillaware’s Dragon’s Crown Pro comes a long and just bounces off me. No matter how hard I try, there’s a sensation of dread when playing these games. It doesn’t appear immediately but it eventually seeps in and I just want to stop playing.

I tend to find Vanillaware games to be lookers and generally pleasant on the eyes. Most of Dragon’s Crown is appealing but a sizeable chunk of it was decidedly not. I would go as far as to describe these parts of the game grotesque. I’ve seen my share of questionable boob physics in my day but Dragon’s Crown depictions are just off-putting. I caught glimpses of the eclectic exaggerations in Odin Sphere but Dragon’s Crown took it to a whole new level. I just didn’t like how they portrayed humans in this game. Somebody should have reigned in the boob and muscle sliders. I’m fine with larger than life characters once in a while but this was too much.

Of the six available, I chose the most normal looking class: the elf and her trusty bow. By the third mission, I was already growing bored of her skillset. Compared to the sorceress and other classes, the elf was tame. Her moves weren’t flashy or bombastic. I felt that because she was a normal looking class, her skills reflected that. The other classes were given flashier spells that buried the poor elf’s arrows with an avalanche of special effects. I found having to scrounge up arrows to be especially tedious when other classes could just stand in place a recharge.

I am an optimist so I didn’t let my relatively boring class choice deter me from pushing forward. I was curious what each new level would bring. It turns out, I was moving from locale to locale slaying enemies, collecting loot, and vanquishing bosses. What I didn’t expect was that I would be forced to revisit those locales again, and again, and again. I have no problems revisiting locations but to revisit them so soon, and so frequently was too much of an ask. I needed to grind out quests and run through the same levels and scenarios that were presented to me the first time around. I think it would have been easier to accept retreading the same levels again if I didn’t have to go through the exact same motions. Dodging lava waves is silly the first time around, but having to repeat it is too much of an exercise in patience for me. 

I would have felt a greater connection to the loot grind if it didn’t feel like busy work. I felt like I was going through the motions to stay competitive. The armor or weapon selections didn’t yield visual changes neither so it was very apparent that I was going through the motions to make the numbers bigger. 

I would have tolerated all the above if the moment to moment gameplay was exciting but it wasn’t. I don’t like how the characters moved on screen. I felt their movements felt stiff and awkward while shifting up and down the plane. I would have preferred if they stuck to the fixed 2D plane like in Odin Sphere. Glimpses of fun juggles and attacks could puffed up here and there but my class wasn’t meant to deal high flying action from the get go so I was limited. I felt like I was flying and free in Odin Sphere. I felt the exact opposite with Dragon’s Crown. 

I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to interact with the background with a cursor but I cannot think of a more jarring and disconnected feature. It was like someone saw all the beautiful backgrounds and was convinced that people should spend time pixel hunting. Thankfully it’s largely optional. 

I tried playing this game via co-op with my girlfriend but she lost interest rather quickly. I don’t blame her. I stuck around until my character reached level 16 and the game “opened up” but I didn’t see anything worth drawing either of us back. It’s a shame. On paper this sounds like a fun romp but, in reality, I cannot think of a game that actively repelled me away from it..

Verdict:
I don’t like it

Ratings Guide

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