The Summer of Harry Potter Wrap-up

Okay, so the Summer of Harry Potter became the Autumn of Harry Potter, which became the Winter of Potter, because I’m a slow reader. It also went that way because I had a hard time getting through those last two books.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was a slog. It ditches the whole Hogwarts setting for… camping. Aimlessly looking for horcruxes. Hiding from Death Eaters. It ditches the prophecy leading to the confrontation between Harry and Voldemort for some wand magic rules that weren’t important to the rest of the series until this last chapter. It reveals that Snape was actually good the entire time and gives him a most ignoble death for all of his sacrifices. It denies redemption for Draco and all other Slytherins, and some of the worst characters, like Dolores Umbridge, never get their due. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a bad book and a terrible end to the series.

Over the series, I’ve learned that Harry is the worst character, the rest of the cast isn’t much better, and Neville is the only character with any development. They’re largely brats who don’t learn anything except what they’re taught in wizard school. Neville, on the other hand, learns confidence and leadership, and even he immediately defers to Harry when he’s around, despite Harry proving to be an awful leader. And it’s like the whole prophecy introduced in Order of the Phoenix was meaningless. It teases the possibility that Voldemort got it wrong, that Neville is the one who will defeat him, and immediately forgets about it. Neville was never going to be the one. Voldemort choose Harry and he was right.

And Voldemort. Voldemort is an idiot, not a menace. How does he not know that someone is destroying his horcruxes until it’s waaaaaay too late? It’s obvious he notices when one is destroyed. Did he think those were accidents??? And he never suspects that Snape is not working for him. He kills Snape over the Elder Wand, not because he’s spent decades in Dumbledore’s service. I can’t really figure out how he got so many followers. He uses dark magic and kills people, two things that seemingly any wizard can do.

Speaking of dark magic, it seems that dark magic is a very bad thing until Harry and his friends use it. They use the Imperio curse to break into Gringotts to steal a horcrux, with the intention of screwing over the goblin that helps them steal it. None of that is good! And throughout the series, Harry uses dark magic, sometimes intentionally, to get things done, so how is he so different from Voldemort?

The series peaks with Order of the Phoenix. That’s when Neville didn’t trip all over himself, the department of mysteries makes the wizarding world actually wondrous, and real sacrifices happen. Everything afterward was a downhill slope to a poor end. I’m not happy about being such a downer about it, but at least I’ve experienced what Harry Potter brought to SFF. But please don’t ask me to finish the dreadful movie series.

Game Reviews

Assassin’s Creed Origins

I tell people I have a love/hate relationship with the Assassin’s Creed series, but I’m going to be totally honest here: it’s mostly a love/annoyed relationship. I find them to be brainless timesinks, and that’s not really a bad thing. They’re a reliable, often enjoyable 20 something hours of game. I haven’t played all of them, and the ones I have played are often regarded as the bad ones, but I almost always get one when I want to kill time. Assassin’s Creed Origins, however, is better than a time killer. It’s a great game.

Assassin’s Creed Origins takes the history-skipping game way back to ancient Egypt, in the times when Cleopatra’s brother occupies her throne, and he’s propped up by a Greek army. You play as Bayek, a Medjay, and you’re hunting down the people who killed your son. This mission will take Bayek all across Egypt and lead to uncovering a greater conspiracy.

Origins bins a lot of hallmarks of the Assassin’s Creed series. In doing so, it becomes a much more enjoyable game, and probably a more accessible game, but it loses some of what makes Assassin’s Creed unique. Origins presents a huge, sprawling Egypt, that you’re free to explore and engage with on your terms.

Origins took a lot of, let’s call it, inspiration from The Witcher 3. It’s very much about having a lot of stuff to do, and letting you do it in whatever priority you want. Often, you can even run off in the middle of a quest to do something else and then come back and pick it right up. While the quests aren’t quite as well written as The Witcher 3, and they rarely do that thing where it acknowledges when you’ve already solved a step in the quest ahead of time, they are competent. They don’t feel like a waste of time. Bayek himself, along with the rest of the cast, is also well written. Compared to some of the rest of the Assassin’s Creed series, this is the best it’s been.

What is loses is the strict focus on stealth. Bayek can get into a lot of fights and leave most of them alive, where most Assassin’s Creed protagonists would wilt like a flower. Additionally, if you do find yourself in over your head, you can simply run away and it’ll almost always work. This is in stark contrast with other games in the series, where enemies are almost omniscient and ever-preset to the point that being spotted means reloading a checkpoint. Add in that you no longer have the ability, or much need, to blend in with crowds, nor much need to run along rooftops to avoid being seen, means this Assassin’s Creed feels least like a game in this series. If it weren’t in a historical setting, with a single “assassinate” button, and good climbing mechanics, it’d be a different game entirely.

Some people aren’t going to like this shift; I’m not one of those people. I loved it. Like The Witcher 3, it hooked me early on and I spent a lot of long stretches of time playing it. Unplayed games notwithstanding, this is the best game in the series. The extra time Ubisoft put into its development clearly paid off; they made an Assassin’s Creed that I just loved.

Reference: Ubisoft Montreal. Assassin’s Creed Origins [Ubisoft, 2017]

Source: Purchased from Steam store.

Game Reviews

Night in the Woods

There’s an audience for Night in the Woods that this game will hit harder than the rest. Here are just a few touch points this audience will identify: instant messenger, away messages, sleeping until 4pm, dropping out of college, being in a band that never plays a show, working in a low paying, low skill job for too long, bailing on said job as often as possible, living in a dying town but coming back because it’s home. All of these things come together to form a picture of Night in the Woods, and it’s not going to connect with everyone.

You play as Mae, who’s recently dropped out of college and returned home. You pick things up with your old friends, learn what they’ve been up to since you’ve left, but there’s something else going on in Possum Springs. Mae has nightmares or visions and strange things around town that cannot be easily explained seem to follow her.

To Night in the Woods‘ credit, the characters are well-defined, and it’s a pretty big cast. Each has a unique voice and the often more to them than their initial presentation. This clarity of character definition extends to the beautiful art of the game. Night in the Woods has a distinct, clean art style that never looks bad or dull.

Where it didn’t quite come together for me was in the narrative and gameplay. It took a long time for the story to build to a point where it had to hooked. It is a slow starter. This may be purposeful, as a lot of the draw of the game is the connection you should feel to the characters, but it felt tedious at times. Adding to this tedium is the gameplay loop.

Here’s the loop: wake up and check your computer for messages from your friends. Talk to mom in the kitchen. Walk all over town, talking to everyone. They’re always in the same places, but they always have something new to say. After you’ve talked to everyone, go back to the one friend you want to hang out with that night and tell them so. Then go to a character specific scene that nudges the story forward a little bit. These end at home where you talk to dad, check your computer for more messages, and go to sleep.

Again, this may be purposeful. They’re replicating some of the tedium of living in a small town, where you know everyone and they’re all going through a similar routine. But it’s not particularly thrilling and I wish there were a way to move a bit faster. Mae’s not a quick walker and I got a bit tired of walking all over town at her slow pace. It plays like Super Mario Bros. at half speed and, instead of squishing dangerous mushrooms, you’re chatting up your friends and neighbors. If it moved a bit faster, maybe it wouldn’t have taken me nine hours to complete a story that could’ve fit within maybe a quarter of that time.

I picked up Night in the Woods because so many people whose opinions I respect loved it. I get why they loved it, because the writing is good and the characters are great. But I found it pedestrian to the point of being just okay. It’s got its moments but they’re deep in there, surrounded by a lot of slow walking and repetitive gameplay. I was honestly quite surprised to find this game has an Overwhelmingly Positive user rating on Steam. It is very much not going to please everyone.

Reference: Infinite Fall. Night in the Woods [Finji, 2017]

Source: Purchased from Steam store.