Hellequin: Promise of Wrath Review

This is Nathan Garret’s sixth adventure. It’s a complete story on its own, but several long running plotlines are coming together in this penultimate book in the series. Do not start here – go back to Crimes Against Magic (book 1).

 

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The former and once again Hellequin, Nate Garrett, has gathered allies to respond to impending events that would threaten the balance of power in Avalon. His enemies have careful plans though, and things never go quite as Nate intends.

As usual for the the Hellequin series Promise of Wrath goes back and forth between the present and related events in Nate’s past. Various schemes of Nate’s enemies are building to a crescendo so there are a lot of important developments and reveals in all of the various times and places featured. Several long running themes and story threads come together here, as appropriate for the series’ penultimate adventure.

I found Promise of Wrath to be a bit of a return to form for the series after the last installment (Lies Ripped Open). That book was ok overall, but it felt a bit stagnant as well as ending with a development I didn’t care for at all in the context of the series. The plot recovers nicely here, with said development actually leading to unexpected and intriguing story points. I hope things continue in this vein in the final book rather than going with the climax I expected.

There are still a multitude of things to explain and deal with in the remaining book, but McHugh’s juggled a lot in each installment so far and I feel like he should be able to bring everything to a satisfactory conclusion. Looking forward to it and I hope things don’t run out of steam as this highly enjoyable series wraps up.

 

Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 5 Review

As with all Telltale episodic games Batman focuses on a building story throughout the “season,” and this is the finale for Batman season 1. Start of course with episode 1. Also see my reviews for episodes 2, 3, and 4.

 

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There’s a a lot to wrap up in this first season finale, starting with the villain I chose not to confront at the end of last episode. I assume that first scene is reversed if I chose differently in Guardian of Gotham, which is a nice way to make the choices seem important even if the net results of everything are pretty much the same.

Of course while interesting I still have the feeling that as opposed to other Telltale games I’ve played most of the choices had a “right” answer. The statistics provided at the end explicitly show they were trying to balance things like mercy vs brutality, being pragmatic vs compassionate, etc, but it practice the harsher dialog options were too harsh and I ended up firmly in the majority on nearly every choice. Less “black and white” choices would have been nice.

The careful balance of the Batman and Bruce Wayne identities continues to great effect. There are reasonable yet escalating reveals and developments, including a suitable climactic battle with Lady Arkham and an expected tease for season 2.

On the technical side things were still reasonably solid, although loading times seemed significantly worse here. There were a lot of interruptions to action scenes where the screen would freeze frame as the next part loaded. It made it hard to get fully immersed in the flow of battle.

Strong finish overall though. Telltale’s first season of Batman wasn’t perfect and had a lot of unusual and possibly divisive elements, but overall it was a compelling story from start to finish and fun to play.

 

Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 4 Review

As with all Telltale episodic games Batman focuses on a building story throughout the “season.” Start of course with episode 1. Also see my reviews for episodes 2 and 3.

 

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New World Order (episode 3) ended with a significant reveal and things going horribly wrong for Bruce Wayne. Guardian of Gotham directly runs with those developments and the player immediately has to deal with the realities of Wayne’s new situation.

In some ways Telltale is just screwing with the players now with shocks and twists, but it remains intriguing and all fits fairly well. There is some railroading in the plot where obvious, logical arguments are suppressed or ignored for the sake of the story and the villains are losing some nuance in favor of presenting greater danger, but for the most part it’s internally consistent and the plus side is nicely escalating drama and tension. There are numerous games and schemes in play and the various plot threads weave together nicely.

The supporting cast is being slowly expanded in small doses with more familiar faces (some for those who read Batman comics), and the variations are interesting. I’ll again warn that you have to take this series as it is, and check a lot of preconceived notions at the door so to speak. Most characters still feel right, but some are completely different from any previous incarnation. There continues to be some interesting major choices that don’t necessarily change how events resolve overall but provide different ways of getting there and significantly different scenes and playing choices.

The mystery elements were one of my favorite parts of the early episodes, so with a lot of that gone this installment feels different. But it’s still quite good and the building conflicts have set up for what should be a strong finale.

 

Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 3 Review

As with all Telltale episodic games Batman focuses on a building story throughout the “season.” Start of course with episode 1.

 

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The significant choices from previous episodes are reflected in the opening story summary and the first new scene heavily depends on the major choice made in Children of Arkham. In general this series seems to have the most significant and meaningful choices of all telltale games I’ve played, but I won’t know for certain until/unless I play through again changing some things. A lot of them (and a lot of the dialog choices) seem to have “right” answers though, as Bruce’s responses and actions can generally be kind or bitter.

The plot proceeds with interesting parallel developments and threats on multiple fronts. Some of things are a bit heavy handed, but they fit the growing narrative all the same. Like the previous two episodes New World Order has a good balance of investigating aspects, story, and action.

Pretty big surprise to end here, providing a pretty good payoff to one of the main mysteries. I can imagine a fair amount of backlash, but it fit with the story they’ve been telling and raises interesting possibilities for the rest of season 1. Halfway through and this remains a compelling play, albeit with a plot and some characters majorly at odds with normal Batman canon which may bother some people. It still feels like a Batman story though, and it’s a good one so far, which is what matters most to me.

Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 2 Review

 

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Children of Arkham jumps right in to deal with the bombshell unleashed at the end of (episode 1 – see my review of that for general gameplay information). It’s an unexpected direction for a Batman story, and the implications are  quite interesting. Telltale is providing extremely different takes on some familiar characters, which gives the story a lot of freedom. But they’re also doing a great job of preserving core elements so the mythos and overall atmosphere still feel like a true Batman story. The focus continues to be split between the Batman and Wayne personas, making the plot nicely character driven.

At first the previous choices didn’t seem to be having much effect, but there are some huge ones in this episode that seem like they could have far reaching consequences. Very curious to see if that potential’s followed through on in later episodes. There are a fair number of shocks and twists here too, including an event that comic fans have been expecting, and I really like the way all the intrigue and mysteries are building. Wayne has significant ethical and moral dilemmas to deal with in addition to physical and societal dangers.

There are a few spots where I feel the quick time events are a little too unforgiving (specifically the ones where the right thumbstick and a target are involved), but they’re doable and the resulting instant deaths don’t rewind things too much.

The graphical environment continue to impress, particularly in the attention to details like the light marks from Catwoman’s swipe to Bruce’s chin from last episode staying visible on the character model. Little consistencies like that improve immersion greatly.

There’s a good amount of story and things to do in each episode to feel like a solid installment while building the overarching plot in a logical manner and providing clues and cliffhangers to keep anticipation high going forward. Really enjoying this series so far.

 

Mae Young Classic Predictions

As a longtime fan of women’s wrestling I’ve been hopeful and excited with some of the developments over the last few years. Another potentially huge breakthrough is the currently taping Mae Young Classic tournament in the vein of last year’s Cruiserweight Classic. The participants represent a wonderful variety of styles, countries, and experience levels. The assembled level of talent is incredible.

I’m familiar with a majority of the field, and nearly half of them have previously wrestled in Shimmer (a fantastic Chicago based women’s wrestling promotion – find more information here).

The participants were not fully revealed until just before the first round was taped. As such there were no matchups to consider nor brackets to analyze until now, when half the competitors have been eliminated. Based on results from that first round there are now apparent brackets, and I’d like to take a shot at predicting how it will all turn out for fun. Given the circumstances however doing so will contain spoilers for last night’s round 1 matches. Here’s the place to stop reading to avoid them.

 

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I’ll be trying to predict what I think they’ll do, not necessarily my preferred results (although there really are no bad choices here).

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Edit 7/15/17: I’m not going to get into later round spoilers, but I will say the apparent brackets were not correct, so in retrospect this post is largely fantasy booking. Still interesting to see what I expected vs what came about though, so I’m leaving this up.

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Round 2:

1) Princesa Sugehit vs. Serena Deeb

This is a really interesting matchup, with an international veteran against a former WWE superstar coming out of retirement for the tourney. Either one is a solid pick to make someone look strong later by putting them over. I’m expecting a mini Brian Kendrick in the CWC story for Deeb, so will go with her.

Prediction: Deeb

 

2) Shayna Baszler vs. Piper Niven

The conversion Baszler’s made from MMA to pro wrestling has been incredible (as I’ve talked about here), and she has a great opponent here in the perhaps underrated Niven (who I know as Viper). The former’s MMA skills against the latter power and size should be a lot of fun. Seems too early for the MMA star to exit, so I expect Niven will come up short after a solid showing.

Prediction: Baszler

 

3) Mia Yim vs. Mercedes Martinez

This indie main event is perhaps the hardest to call. Both are excellent, experienced competitors, with Mercedes in the business longer and really on a roll lately but Yim also putting on the performances of her career and having perhaps a slightly higher profile due to her extensive time in TNA. It’s a coin flip really, so I’ll go with my personal preference.

Prediction: Yim

 

4) Rhea Ripley vs. Abbey Laith

I was originally thinking this would be an easy call in the former Kimber Lee’s favor, but as I research the newcomer Ripley she seems like exactly the kind of underdog that could go far (especially with Dobson and Kay Lee Ray gone already). And the solid Laith is destined to make someone else look good on her way out at some point…

Prediction: Ripley

 

5) Toni Storm vs. Dakota Kai

The former Evie is under contract and could really make a splash with a win here, but Toni’s a big enough name that her taking this one and putting Candice over in a big way and into the semis next would be a big deal. There’ll be time to build Kai (and get a match between her and Sane) later.

Prediction: Storm
6) Candice LeRae vs. Rachel Evers

Another tough call here. Evers is regularly in NXT and the daughter of Paul Ellering (although they’ve obviously chosen not to play that up much given the name change), while Candice is an indy darling and seems to be the Cinderella story outsider pick. I think there’s more upside to continuing Candice’s run.

Prediction: LeRae

 

7) Bianca Belair vs. Lacey Evans

Honestly no idea. Both are under contract, I’m not familiar with either, and whoever wins is fodder for Sane in the next round either way. I’ve heard slightly more buzz about Evans, so will go with her. This is a case where I think the opportunity and spotlight on both will matter more than the result.

Prediction: Evans
8) Nicole Savoy vs. Kairi Sane

This was one of my dream matches for the tournament, particularly after seeing Savoy wrestle a variety of Joshi talent in Shimmer. Savoy is another wrestler I’ve written about as a rising star and the sky’s the limit for her. But Kairi’s already there and there’s no way she goes out in round 2. The match should be incredible.

Prediction: Sane

 

Quarter Finals:

So these matches are of course all theoretical based on my predictions above.

 

1) Serena Deeb vs Shayna Baszler

Deeb will eventually make someone look like a world beater, and I think it’s Baszler right here.

Prediction: Baszler

 

2) Mia Yim vs Rhea Ripley

My gut and preference says the indie veteran should go over, but I think the upsets continue and Ripley shocks her way into the semis.

Prediction: Ripley

 

3) Toni Storm vs Candice LeRae

I think this is about Candice overcoming the odds and advancing to face Sane.

Prediction: LeRae

 

4) Lacey Evans vs  Kairi Sane

Kairi’s run won’t end before the semis at the absolute earliest.

Prediction: Sane

 

Semi Finals:

1) Shayna Baszler vs Rhea Ripley

The overachievement ends here, as Ripley fights valiantly but falls to Baszler’s ground game.

Prediction: Baszler

 

2) Candice LaRae vs Kairi Sane

The first match it feels like Kairi could realistically lose, but she won’t. To the finals she goes.

Prediction: Sane

 

Final

Baszler vs Sane

This is the match it seems the brackets are set up to give us, and it would be an appropriately fantastic end to the tourney. Either would make a great inaugural winner. As much as I’d love to see Kairi take it, I think like with TJP in the CWC WWE will go with someone signed during / as a result of the tournament, with the already contracted Sane coming up just short (which honestly won’t hurt her at all).

Prediction: Baszler

 

It’ll be fun to watch the result roll in and see how incredibly wrong I end up being. Hope every one enjoys the tourney!

Castlevania Season 1 Review

“For no more do I travel as a man.”

The trailer for this looked great, and the underlying games this seems to be based on (Castlevania III and Symphony of the Night) are two of my favorites of all time, so my anticipation for this was off the charts. It easily met my expectations.

 

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Castlevania is as always a story about Dracula threatening humans and a vampire hunter rising up to challenge him. The great part here is that the characters involved and story (written/adapted by Warren Ellis, known primarily for his superb comic books) are well developed and things build and unfold at a pitch perfect pace.

The scope of this initial four episode season is relatively small, which allows the tale proper room to breathe, yet covers a lot of information at the same time. In a lot of ways these episodes are setup for the larger adventure to come, but still contain important events, wonderful feelings of foreboding and suspense, and plenty of action.

The approach is appropriately dark and (at times) disturbing, and is brought to life by beautiful, atmospheric animation. The series doesn’t shy away from it’s subject matter, and between often gruesome depictions of violence, a foul mouthed main character (who admittedly has ample legitimate reasons to behave thusly), and the harsh realities of the world presented this is firmly aimed at an adult crowd. The story is nicely layered and already shows great judgment in what elements and moments are being included from the games. Time is wisely spent on the background and motivations of several different characters. There are numerous factions and agendas intertwined, which adds good depth.

The attitude of one of the main characters is a little jarring at first, but it all makes sense in the context of this story, humanizes him a bit, and is well done.  The music is largely there just for underscoring the mood and is honestly fine but unremarkable. This didn’t bother me as it allowed the characters, story, and visuals to take center stage, but Castlevania is well known for amazing music so I can imagine some disappointment from some viewers at that approach and at the fact that the series’ classic themes are nowhere to be found.

The fights are great and wonderfully over the top when they happens, and in particular there’s a phenomenal one towards the end that helps the season feel satisfying and complete despite its short length. This was pretty much everything I hoped it would be and I can’t wait for future episodes.