Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

If Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is anything other than an enjoyable video game, it’s a value proposition. Developers Ninja Theory are no stranger to big budgets; they made Heavenly Sword for Sony, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West for just about every platform, and the most recent Devil May Cry game for Capcom. They know how to spend money, so it’s interesting that they’ve separated from big publishers to develop and publish Hellblade at a $30 price. The end product is mostly good.

In Hellblade, you play as titular Senua, traveling deep into Nordic territory to rescue the soul of your murdered lover. In the vein of what Ninja Theory does best, it’s a third person character action game. What makes Hellblade unique is that Senua suffers from hearing disembodied voices and seeing things that don’t exist.

A lot of the marketing around the game has to do with the challenge in trying to portray a character with mental illness. Plenty of games have tried and it’s almost always a flat portrayal of someone who’s zany or unpredictable without a lot of nuance. With the help of consultants in the neurological sciences, Ninja Theory has crafted a tortured, sympathetic character in Senua.

Another aspect of the game that reflects Ninja Theory’s experience and skill is in the look of it. It’s a beautiful game with some really incredible motion capture, particularly in the faces. They don’t look like video game faces; they’re expressive and emotional every time you see them. This really helps with connecting to the characters and feeling what they feel.

While they nailed the characters and look of the game, the game parts are kind of lacking. Each level of the game will have you doing one of two things: finding hidden objects in the environment, or fighting. The hidden object stuff is mostly clever, but it’s almost always boiled down to aligning objects in the right perspective to find the symbol you’re looking for. It doesn’t change much from beginning to end.

The combat is also not very robust. There are five enemies, excluding bosses, that you will encounter in small groups. The challenge is to keep them away from your back as they’ll try to flank you to attack. With infinite ability to dodge, and most attacks blockable, the only thing that has to be figured out is reading attacks to time blocks (or dodge), and how many whacks it’s going to take to kill the enemy. It’s fun for a while, but it really wore me down by the end. You’ve got one weapon, so once you’ve figured out how to use it, combat loses its shine.

But the thin combat and environment puzzles couldn’t keep me from seeing it through to the end. Senua and the darkness that haunts her was compelling enough on her own to keep me playing. What Ninja Theory set out to do, make a high quality game at an indie price point, is successful as long as you keep your expectations at the sub-blockbuster level.


Reference: Ninja Theory (developer). Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice [Ninja Theory, 2017]

Source: Purchased via Humble Store

Non-Review: Destiny 2 by Bungie (developer)

Nameless Midnight is my favorite weapon. It’s a scout rifle with explosive rounds and decreased recoil. It’s good in PVP, but it’s amazing in PVE. Every shot is a bloom of damage numbers. With sixteen rounds, I can empty a room with it. Dump a whole magazine into an elite enemy and I’ve probably killed it. Since it’s a scout rifle, it’s second only to a sniper for range too, so I don’t even have to be close. It’s not even an exotic weapon, so I can still carry my Hard Light as a backup. They’re an amazing pair.

One of the most damning things I can say about Destiny 2 is that it’s more Destiny. Outside of dozens of quality-of-life upgrades (like not having to level weapons or worry about stat rolls), it’s very much the same game in function. There are about a dozen storyline missions, twice as many sidequests, and an almost limitless number of background activities. There’s PVP multiplayer with a handful of modes and maps. You still can’t matchmake into a Nightfall strike (a more difficult three-person mission), and you still can’t matchmake into a raid (a time-consuming dungeon crawl for six people), but they’ll give you some tools you can use to find people to play with. Instead of relying on grinding out strikes in the hopes of getting a good roll on a reward weapon, you get a weekly list of activities that promise better equipment with a relatively short time commitment. But the game is mostly the same.

There are two reasons this is a non-review. The first reason is that Destiny 2 is so similar to Destiny that I may as well copy-paste that review into this one. If you didn’t like Destiny, it’s really unlikely Destiny 2 is doing anything to win you over. The core of the game is the same. And if you’re a Destiny fan, good news! Here’s another 30 hours of new Destiny to play. It has cutscenes and a story now. It’s great!

The other reason is that part of the game that is reportedly the very best it offers is the raid, and I’m not ashamed to admit that, as an adult, I can’t glue five more friends together to commit to something like six hours of consecutive game time. I’ll be lucky if I can get two more to join me for a Nightfall strike. I understand the reasons why Bungie didn’t include matchmaking for the raid, but I’m so very disappointed that I’ll never experience it because it requires such a high bar of commitment. The raid might be the thing that pushes Destiny 2 from a very solid 8 to a 10, but not everyone is going to get that experience.

Compared to Destiny, it feels like a gift that Destiny 2 only requires about 5 hours of time to check the boxes on some weekly tasks to get loot worth chasing. I’m happy with Nameless Midnight and I’ll keep feeding more powerful weapons to it because I like Nameless better. But there are things in this game I’ll never see, and that sucks. It ultimately hurts the game that it tries to strike a balance between people who only have 5 hours to play per week, and those who have 5 hours to play per day. It’s “fair” for me to review Destiny 2 without ever seeing that stuff, but I won’t. You should know what you’re getting into when you play Destiny 2, and that means reading all these words I wrote about it.


Reference: Bungie (developer). Destiny 2 [Activision, 2017]

Source: Purchased via Microsoft Store

SoHP: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (movie)

I’ve been putting this off subconsciously and consciously for weeks now. I’ve had little desire to watch another mediocre movie. Today, I bit the bullet and watched it. Huge shock, it’s terribly Hollywood! More so than the previous movies, it felt like this one was really on fast-forward. They barely hit all of the critical plot points, and that’s it. It’s missing every single thing that didn’t have to do with the Tri-wizard Tournament, and a ton of stuff that does have to do with it but isn’t absolutely necessary.

These movies continue to do a disservice to the novels, so who are they for? I guess they’re just kids action movies. But if those kids had read the novels, they would likewise find the movies disappointing. I have enough reason to believe kids would notice the same differences I do, and likely more if they’re re-reading these novels frequently because they love them. But if the novels are not supposed to be on-ramps for the movies (because the movies aren’t made for fans), then they’re still not doing a good job of building the brand. If you manage to enjoy the movie enough to seek out the books, the books will ruin future movies for you. And if you don’t enjoy the movies, why would you watch any more of them? There are eight of these things!

A Confession

I have a confession to make. Some games make me so anxious to play them that I don’t play them. The absolute worst thing in the entire world (1) is the feeling that I’m wasting time, even when I’m playing video games. This is why I dread playing multiplayer games and I’ll never get into something like Dota 2. If I spend 45 minutes playing a game, I don’t want to lose. I can’t play RTS games, because if I do something dumb and screw up so bad that the whole mission is a waste, I’m not going to go back to it. I can’t play XCOM. I can’t shake the feeling that everything I do is going to lead to me failing the whole game because I let a rookie die. Even save scumming doesn’t help because I don’t recognize long-term problems until it’s too late. I’m not going to back to an earlier save to correct a problem if I’ve wasted hours learning I screwed up.

Where this truly bites me in the ass is when I use this excuse to avoid playing games that I genuinely enjoy and would have a great time with if I could just get over myself. It took me a decade to play Deus Ex because I wanted to see and do everything. It took me 10 years to realize that it was stopping me from playing a really good game and it’s not even vital to the game to “see and do everything”. You shouldn’t play it that way. I used the same excuse to avoid Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, a game I really, really loved once I got into it.

Today, this is manifesting in my third serious attempt at Dishonored 2. I was really excited for Dishonored 2. Then I started it and all of the choices and freedom overwhelmed me. I stopped playing almost immediately after the tutorial. Later, I came back to it and got halfway into the first real mission. I got to a room with an upgrade rune in it that I couldn’t figure out how to retrieve without murdering a lot of people. I’m trying not to murder anyone, so this was a real problem. Since I couldn’t get that rune, I quit.

But today, I got over it. I just finished that level leaving behind two runes. And I’m okay with that. I had fun. That’s what’s important! Video games should be fun. If they’re stressing me out, I’m not going to play them, but some of it is give and take. The time loss with RTS and MOBA games isn’t something I can avoid. It’s part of the game. But a stealth/action game with tons of options on how to play has those options so that you can feel free to enjoy it, not constrained by artificial limits.

So tomorrow, I’ll forget I wrote this and drop Dishonored 2 again.


  1. Literally not the worst thing in the world.

SoHP: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Did you think #SoHP was over??? It’s not over! It just took me too long to read this book because it’s significantly longer than the previous three! I’m beginning to think the Summer of Harry Potter is going to bleed into the Autumn of Harry Potter, and maybe even the Winter of Harry Potter.

I liked the Goblet of Fire despite the Triwizard Tournament. How weak was the competition that Harry Potter, a couple years junior of all of the participants, was able to beat them fairly handily? Did none of them have friends like Ron and Hermione? I get that Crouch was cheating to support him, but the tournament was designed for wizards of the age and skill of Diggory, Krum, and Delacour. Where were the officials who were supposed to keep someone like Crouch from interfering?

But Goblet of Fire did a ton to progress the overall plot of Voldemort’s return. I do find it a little funny that, even surrounded by evil wizards and fighting the newly reborn Voldemort, Harry Potter is able to survive. I know, this story ending here wasn’t going to happen, but I guess we need to handwave the lack of power the totally scary Voldemort has when he’s just been pulled out of a cauldron.

I also loved the introduction of the Death Eater trials and Aurors. I was way into the character of Mad-Eye Moody until he was revealed to actually be Crouch. He had me convinced; Crouch as Moody acted like someone who’s been fighting dark wizards for ages. Paranoid but vigilant, on the verge of seeing dark wizards in every shadow, which is understandable considering Moody was an Auror during Voldemort’s reign of terror. Moody’s probably seen some real shit.

The last five chapters or so (when the third task starts) really sucked me in, so I’m ready to pick this back up and start The Order of the Phoenix!

SoHP: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (movie)

I was about to complement this movie for hewing closer to the book than the previous two, but I started thinking about what was missing and now I’m mad again.

It completely glosses over the connections between Harry’s father, Lupin, Pettigrew, Black, and Snape. In fact, I don’t think they ever make the connection between them and their animagus aliases or how the Shrieking Shack became the Shrieking Shack, or who made the Marauder’s Map or why. That’s really important stuff for motivations between these characters, and it reveals a lot of Harry’s father’s history, which he knows absolutely nothing about.

The conflicts between Crookshanks and Scabbers, and the problems they cause for Hermione and Ron are mostly ignored. The deteriorating condition of Scabbers is gone. And then there’s the weird bonus scene where Harry chases Pettigrew with the Marauder’s Map. And all of the Quidditch stuff is dropped after Harry falls off of his broom in the game against Hufflepuff.

So just like the previous two movies, this one is still a mess. It makes changes that don’t make a lot of sense.

But something I forgot to complain about in the novel is that WIZARDS CAN MANIPULATE TIME. Holy hell, two thirteen year old wizards are given an artifact that lets them go back in time and permanently change the course of events for the rest of the story. They’re concerned about Sirius Black getting a hold of the Marauder’s Map because he could track Harry with it, but there are artifacts in this world that can manipulate time. Talk about messed up priorities.

SoHP: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Okay, now we’re back on track. I’m settling into how the pacing of the novel is centered around the duration of a school year. At least this one didn’t end with a monster fight (per say) or a ghost of Voldemort. I enjoyed this one moreso than the previous two.

But let’s talk about Azkaban. The wizard prison. The wizard prison that is staffed by dementors. Dementors literally drain people of their happy thoughts and drive them insane. WHAT. This is not reforming criminals! This is torture! I fully understand that dangerous wizards need to be somehow magically neutralized, but to so fully destroy happiness that it drives the wizard insane is a really, truly horrible way to doing so. Are all magical court sentences to Azkaban life sentences? It doesn’t seem like pulling people out of Azkaban after all of their happiness has been drained will leave a functioning human behind. Why don’t they just execute them?

Speaking of executing them, there’s some sort of tribunal for magical animal punishments (which include death sentences), but they threw Hagrid in Azkaban without any trial because they thought he opened the Chamber of Secrets? The justice system in the wizarding world is as bad as the mundane world! What in the hell, they didn’t even have a shred of evidence that Hagrid opened the Chamber and they tossed him in Azkaban!

I’m bothered that we’re going to learn where dementors come from. I’m even more bothered that we might learn how they’re controlled. Prisoner of Azkaban opened a real dark can of worms.

SoHP: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (movie)

Note: I was unable to rent the extended version through Amazon video so I missed out on 20 whole minutes of movie.

How in the world was this a 2hr 40min movie and still miss so much of the book? I’m already not a huge fan of Chamber of Secrets for being too much like Sorcerer’s Stone to begin with. But the movie cuts out so much of the plot that makes it less clever than it actually is. The scene where Lucius Malfoy is dealing in dangerous magical artifacts? Gone. The scene with Nearly-Headless Nick’s death day party? Gone. And then the phoenix tears are immediately explained when they’re used, making it seem like they can just make up any old thing to address a problem and call it good.

I know this is a magical world. But it’s a magical world with rules. If Fawkes was just an owl or any other bird, Harry dies. He lives because of phoenix tears, which is explained when he first meets Fawkes. Not when he’s on the verge of death!

Then, at the end, the house cup is entirely neglected. And Lockhart’s fate is entirely neglected. I’m positive we’re going to start the movie of Prisoner of Azkaban as if Lockhart never existed. The scene where Harry and Draco are chasing the snitch all over the outskirts of the Quidditch arena and the scene where Harry’s hanging out of the side of the open door of the Weasley flying car never happened in the book for good reason! The flying car scene is just needless action, but the Quidditch scene makes Draco look like a competent seeker when he’s not. He’s a bad seeker. The snitch was right next to his head and he didn’t notice. BECAUSE HE’S A BAD SEEKER.

Just like the movie of Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets is full of unforced errors. It didn’t have to be a bad movie, but they slip up and miss things that even someone like me, who’s only read the book once, will notice and it makes the whole thing look sloppy. Because that’s what it is; sloppy.

SoHP: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Here’s my white-hot take on Chamber of Secrets: this is the exact same book as Sorcerer’s Stone. They both start with Harry being abused by the Dursley’s. Then we have the arduous process of getting to Hogwart’s. There’s some weird stuff that happens throughout the school year. It culminates with Harry Potter in mortal danger against a shadow of Voldemort at the end of the school year. Hundreds of points to Gryffindor, they win the house cup again. Hogwart’s needs another Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor.

Of course, this novel fleshed out more of the wizarding world, and the characters within it, but it’s very disappointing that this novel follows so closely to the pattern of the first book. I’m not bored by any means, but I’m bothered.

When I was a kid, I was into Inspector Gadget for maybe 10 episodes. Then I figured out that every single Inspector Gadget episode followed the same formula. MAD is doing bad things, Gadget goes to stop them, he’s worthless, Penny saves the day. When I recognized that pattern, I instantly could not stand Inspector Gadget any further. I’d seen everything that series had to offer.

I know Harry Potter can’t continue in this manner, or else they’re going to be spending much more time goofing off in class. I know the novels get longer as the series goes on. But I hope The Prisoner of Azkaban shakes things up somehow.

SoHP: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Extended Edition (movie)

Bear with me here. The movie is an abbreviated version of the book. This is easy to understand. But the changes they made to the already thin plot gave it significantly less impact. I don’t get it.

The whole hook of the plot is that Snape is a bad dude and obviously trying to kill Harry. The movie gets across that Snape is mean, but it fails to make the case that he’s evil. It makes Potter look paranoid that he suspects Snape as the one trying to get the Stone. Throughout the movie, the two barely interact.

This makes the whole red herring reveal less meaningful. Harry barely interacts with Snape, and Quirrel is a background character. Quirrel is basically a background extra. The turban, the stutter, the fact that he’s teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts, none of this explained at all! And I really don’t know what to make of Quirrel’s fate. I guess the filmmakers wanted to make it less gross than boils and blisters.

Here’s the part I’m really unhappy about. They cut the potions test from the gauntlet and sent Hermione away to take care of Ron. They don’t explain that each of these tests were put in place by Hogwarts faculty. Then they cut the one that’s put in place by Snape, and solved by Hermione where Harry was stuck. Maybe they felt Hermione got her time to shine with the plant trap. But Hermione’s whole character in the book is that she’s smarter than Ron and Harry. It feels like the movie really did her a disservice here.

There’s other notable absences. The centaurs in the woods are drastically reduced in number. Malfoy is an annoyance rather than a real menace. I don’t even think they explain what the Sorcerer’s Stone does. This was the 2 hour, 38 minute extended edition. I’m sure I’d be even less impressed by the theatrical cut.

I hope the next seven films are significantly better. This one may have captured the look and feel, but it missed out on the substance of the novel.

Ne Cede Malis