Sunday, November 23, 2014

X Men: The Last Stand

So I just watched this again since my friend rented it for no readily apparent reason. Like many others I saw this and was immediately disappointed after the first go-around; however 8 years later with a less scornful eye I somehow managed to find enjoyment out of the film. Many will remember the infamous “I’m the Juggernaut, Bitch” scene as the one highlight of the movie, and it still is; however the rest of the movie sort of follows that accord. This movie just doesn’t give a single fuck, much like a Roland Emmerich disaster movie.

Major characters get killed off randomly, hundreds of civilians get murdered; and in general it’s just a ludicrous action movie. The movie’s not horrifically awful like Batman and Robin or anything though, it really has some interesting scenes and is toying with themes far above it that could have worked in a better film. The CGI holds up pretty well so provided you’re up for a silly big budget action film I would recommend it.

Perhaps the film’s most egregious error is not allowing Wolverine to say “Bub,” because as Steve Blum fans know Bub is the height of all Wolverine discourse. However in the absence of Bub we get the disposal of asshole Cyclops, terribly acted Mystique, and Jean Luc Picard who’s obviously too good for this movie (Gandalf was not so fortunate). There’s a certain charm about the absurdity of the film reminiscent of Independence Day, while it doesn’t hold up quite so well as that masterpiece it doesn’t deserve the amount of disdain that it still has to this day.

Far from a formulaic Super Hero movie, this film strives to have as many explosions and B romance plots as possible. Ellen Page, the matriarch of female video game characters, is even in this film at the ripe old age of 19. Vinnie Jones plays Juggernaut flawlessly, and pretty much everyone else sucks to one degree or another; but for some reason it kind of works anyway. It’s not quite as baffling how this got through production, this has all the charm of a 90’s action movie minus Bill Paxton. Keeping in mind how horrible most Super Hero movies were in that decade this one towers over them as the true ascendant heir to the 90’s.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


Interstellar is not a perfect film despite the Nolan touch being present; but it is damn good. The audio and visual experience is absolutely top notch and much better than anything else in that regard. I’d put the soundtrack up there with Road to Perdition as one of the finest scores of all time, just amazing stuff. Plotwise we’re in semi-near future Earth in a more realistic than usual but not entirely realistic doomsday scenario where we need to evacuate the planet within a century or so. So Matthew McConaughey is tasked with saving the world, after a very good exposition and introductory sequence.

I don’t wish to spoil too much of the film but the overall premise is McConaughey promises his daughter that he will return from an impossible journey through a wormhole. A dubious promise to be sure, but this being a movie you should have an idea of how that works out; since it’s Nolan there’s some let’s call it “interesting” stuff that happens along the way. I could read this film pretty well, at some point I've just seen too many movies and have a rough understanding of what has to occur; but it still had some surprises in there.

There are some amazing emotional moments in this movie and it makes no sense how they work so damn well with so little. And then there’s some bits that aren’t quite as great. However, this isn’t a movie where you wonder “what could have been” because it’s still pretty damn good anyway. Sure, sure it’s probably not as good as Inception but it’s also more philosophically interesting than Inception and maybe less of a technical showpiece. The film is definitely superior to The Dark Knight Rises, though the technical achievement here is primarily a digital one whereas in the Batman films the most impressive shots were practical (how do you film 200 police cars in unison converging on a tank in a major city? That’s a 20 million dollar 15 second shot.).

My Dad’s reaction was to compare it directly to 2001 and I have to say it compares quite favorably. Whereas 2001 kind of goes off the deep end eventually this one stays in the realm of possibility maybe? I mean based on what we know maybe not but who the hell actually knows. Robots are scumbags in 2001 and in this they’re the best (goofy looking) fucking character; I’d have a beer with that robot level of comradery. On that note: Fuck Matt Damon, what the fuck are you doing in my movie you fucking asshole; get the fuck out.

This is a really interesting, compelling movie and I’ll probably have to see it a few more times to get an overall read on it. There’s obviously the one negative sequence everyone’s going to point to but it’s not different than Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Dark Knight (which is still by miles and miles the best movie in its genre). It’s not strictly predictable but it has simple, effective foreshadowing that leads to the eventual conclusion. As to what happens in between; well that’s up for debate, you can try to figure it out I guess, it’s not complicated it’s just hard to say whether it is plausible enough, for some it will be and for some it won’t. Is it better than Edge of Tomorrow? Well, Edge of Tomorrow is not going to get Oscar consideration so I’m inclined to favor it and I imagine over the course of time I’ll probably watch Edge 20-30 times and I might only watch Interstellar like 6 or 7; but Interstellar might be slightly better just for the audio/visual combination. Fuck Matt Damon.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What is Power?

So I recently saw both Sin City and it's new sequel, and the esteemed Powers Boothe is excellent in both films (though only briefly in the first). His most wondrous line was "Power is is Power does." Because who knows more about Power than a man named Powers? Well, as much as Powers Boothe knows to most of us power is a nebulous thing. However the easiest way to describe it is one's ability to influence another human being, whether voluntary or involuntary. Power translates fairly evenly to natural resources, military strength, the sheer number of humans under one's control, and one's skill at manipulation through fear, deception, and even positive reinforcement.

Power does not however, automatically translate to money itself. Sure money can theoretically equal power but money itself is a nebulous, flowing thing that doesn't actually signify something in and of itself; it is a simple stand-in for a barter system. A marker as it were. To have enough money to achieve something appreciable as an individual (i.e. be the sole financier of a major military conflict or revolution) is functionally impossible; as that figure is in the trillions of dollars; thus these vast fortunes that people accumulate are functionally more or less useless. You can have billions of dollars, sure, but you can't actually effect change with that sum due simply to the sheer preponderance of wealth in the world (JD Rockefeller may have had some capacity in his era, however) and the logistics of controlling millions and, indeed, billions of people.

Thus wealth itself is largely meaningless beyond a certain point, the most expensive sum of things an individual can buy that is actually useful is maybe ~$30 million, anything beyond that does nothing beyond slightly influence election campaigns (for which there are major restrictions) or give to a charity and help a few people in the short term. So, if it isn't wealth you should strive for in the pursuit of power, what is there to pursue? Well in America it's very difficult to say, much of the elements that would make one powerful are simultaneously divided and institutionalized in such a way as to benefit those that already have power (which is the nature of humanity); in broad terms to pursue power you need to be able to influence people rapidly and effectively.

For one: Have a message, it doesn't necessarily matter what that message is as long as you're able to make it resonate with others through speaking, motioning, or demonstrating en masse (not in small numbers mind, in vast and broad numbers sweeping across the entire society). Power can be created with eloquence, however more often the best messages are simple and easy to understand; these messages largely focus on single human emotions, anger, hate, fear, love, and reconciliation being amongst them. Anger is most common and generally the easiest to utilize.

What makes a seemingly small and archaic organization such as ISIS powerful? Well they seem to be competently organized for one; structured effectively with a zealous devotion to their cause; however that zealousness is organic rather than a symptom of the systemic design. You can not create that kind of passion in people through training, you have to produce it from some other means; generally with some kind of emotional resonance. Thus Iraq's military fails even with a vast superiority in numbers and materials; the smaller, more aggressive force is functionally more useful than this country-wide organization. Obviously a larger force from the US or Canada (wouldn't that be something?) or whomever could easily repel and hold basically all of the territory ISIS has, naturally they wouldn't be able to eliminate them due to the nature of Guerilla warfare and invading an opponent's homeland; but that sort of feverish devotion to a cause is one of the symptoms of power.

Power is situational, fleeting even; it doesn't hold in one place for long. Some men have borne the mantle for their entire lives, but once they die the message rarely gets passed on effectively to the proceeding generations. To make an organization sustain extraordinarily levels of influence for more than 20 years is an extremely difficult task, but it is one that can happen through communication and faith in the particular cause. While some small handful of men have had the term "powerful" applied to them in a non-erroneous fashion, we need some way to translate this down to a lower level so that the followers of such men can still maintain that power in their passing. So what is ultimately the answer here? Who really wields that kind of power? Why, God of course! Religions are the only organizations in human history that sustain power throughout time; and the reason is simple, there is a Nietszche-identified trait in humans to pursue some sort of belief about the end of their existence; it is universal, even in those that deny it. Powerful groups must embrace some sort of over arching faith or belief in a cause beyond themselves and all such causes are founded not on logic or reasoning but in simple emotional resonance.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What Would it Take for Me to Buy a Wii U?

In the long long ago of 2007, a time amidst shitty new consoles there was one smart buy left for me. And so was the Gamecube purchased, alongside its finest efforts, some excellent games overall and 2 of the best games ever made. While it's no Vagrant Story on a whim or Valkyrie Profile 2 and Final Fantasy XII on the same day this was perhaps my third best video game related purchase of all time. So what would it take for the Wii U to accomplish such a feat? Let's look back and see what made the first purchase good in these considerations.

1. Resident E-vil 4

Once upon a time I was dumb and I liked Resident Evil 2, what can you do. It's still an "okay" game in retrospect but man those controls were atrocious. Really the main redeeming thing about the series is the comedy from the awful story; so what better way to capitalize on that than to make one of the most fun games period and basically treat it like a B movie. RE4 is an awesome, awesome game and one of the few "infinite replay value" games in existence; the game just never stops being fun. So what could come out on the Wii U to be as good as this? Probably nothing realistically, but hey get some solid third party support from struggling companies and maybe you'll find something similar.

2. Metroid Prime

Ah Metroid Prime, what a gorgeous, wonderful game. Likely the best presentation ever alongside fun, almost totally unique combat systems and a genuinely interesting, if entirely predictable, storyline. People say Mass Effect was a good series and Metroid Prime just totally annihilates it, as far as Sci Fi series go this is the pristine peak. Super Metroid is a little better, sure, but that doesn't stop Metroid Prime from also being in the top 5 games ever. So yeah, don't make a shitty fucking Metroid game and there you go Nintendo.

Retro is making good/excellent DKC games but while DKC is a fine series it's still not even close to Metroid, likely the best franchise in existence. You don't have to make a game as good as Prime or Super to have an extremely good game in this day and age; just make something that's pretty good relative to those and you're probably set. It could be an old school platformer, a first person shooter, or hell even an FTL with Velocity-esque platforming sections. Just get us out there murdering those poor, defenseless space pirates one way or another.

Metroid Prime 2 is also quite a good game and supplements the main issue I have with the first in that there's a ton of boss fights and the vast majority of them are quite good. Obviously the last last boss (the first last boss was awesome) is not great but aside from that the game was superb; even with the ubiquitous light/dark mechanics of the time.

3. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door

Paper Mario has always been awesome, in concept and execution; and this game is no exception. With each dungeon you have a completely different exploration mechanic and the combat is easy to get into but somewhat difficult to master, with an extremely addictive leveling system. It's a good traditional RPG and those are precious few these days. What I want on the Wii U is mainly just a shitload of Xenoblade type games; one of those you can get out of the way quite easily by simply rereleasing Xenoblade on it and after that just make 2-3 more over the course of the system's lifetime. Square has some of the best talent out there as well so why not get them to make a non Final Fantasy game again, because basically all of those are amazing, including but not limited to: Vagrant Story, Chrono Trigger, Valkyrie Profile 2, Dragon Quest VIII, and Chrono Cross. Look, Final Fantasy is good and all but what really made Square impressive was the B team stuff that often exceeded the main product.

4. The Price

50 bucks, that's how much the Gamecube was in 2007. Now you can get one for like 35. Every so often there's a forum thread about whether they should buy Metroid Prime; and the answer will always be: it's cheaper to buy Metroid Prime and a Gamecube than it is to buy a new console game. Maybe 50 bucks is a pipedream in the immediate future (though likely not at the end of this console cycle); but just have a really nice Black Friday sale and maybe I'll even get one before the end. Right now the Wii U has a lot more good games on it than the other new consoles, but that will ultimately change at least in terms of volume (though perhaps not by that much at this rate); but it just doesn't feel like an upgrade over older systems. However I have more faith that Nintendo will put out an RE4/Metroid Prime caliber game (of which the last console generation was sorely absent, apologies to Dark Souls II and the Last of Us which barely miss the cut) than the other companies so I wouldn't be too displeased in buying one early. So, what price? I'm going to say 150 bucks, but I might spontaneously have a PS4 from an oft trucking brother of mine for at least a few months and that would drive the acceptable price range up to 200 bucks.

5. Uh... Zelda?

Full disclosure: while I own both Windwaker and Twilight Princess I've never actually beaten either of them. The reason is simple: A Link to the Past is better at doing the same exact thing. But random spatterings of Zelda in games such as Hyrule Warriors and Bayonetta 2 will have to suffice. Really I just want a lot of good third party games, I mean if Zelda or Mario were miraculously amazing then sure I'd go for those but chances are they'll just be the same as always (3D World giving a somewhat different spin). What I ultimately want from a console is 10 great games, doesn't matter what genre they are though in the case of racing or rhythm games they'd have to be particularly good.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Lucy is a very bizarre, entertaining film. It plays at much grander ideas and even presents a few interesting ones that have little, if nothing at all, to do with the actual plot. This isn't a movie like Prometheus where you can philosophically deconstruct the whole thing successfully and get a semi-interesting result; no no no. This movie is quite dumb, but I mean if you go in expecting that you'll probably enjoy yourself. It uses the very tired premise that "We only use 10% of our brains, what would happen if we could use more."

Unlike the competent Bradley Cooper film Limitless this movie just goes completely nuts with the idea right off the bat. And you know what, something about that is pretty charming and amusing, especially considering it is a Luc Besson film. Besson directed the outstanding Professional as well as the first Taken, but he's also done a lot of simply mediocre films along the way. However he does know how to construct an action sequence, even if said action sequence ultimately has no impact on the proceedings.

Scarlett Johansson plays an ostensibly stupid person (who seems to just be average at the start, not remarkably stupid as the film wants you to believe) who is lured in by an extremely well acted bit part guy with a cowboy hat to carry a case into an office building. Said case contains the plot macguffin drug that turns you into God if you take enough of it as it were; the drug lord is Choi Min-Sik from Oldboy, an amazing actor. After being surgically implanted with a fairly large packet of the drug (hereafter referred to as "blue shit") She has a series of epiphanies over the course of the film and turns into an emotionless robot immediately (there's no progression here, it's just overly emotional nervous wreck straight to killing machine superhero thing). She essentially becomes every X Men as well as Wikipedia in human form.

So if that sounds interesting to you go see the film, don't really need to read the rest of this. I think the dumber you are the more appealing this film will be, which isn't to say the film is bad on any level it's simply a bizarre curiosity and it isn't a fucking incredible bizarre curiosity like Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. One early scene has stock footage of a cheetah catching its prey whilst Lucy is lured into the trap, reminiscent of the much more effective scene in Snatch which actually showed already presented and actively shot elements in the film. I mean the whole movie has Morgan Freeman narrating a bunch of purely hypothetical shit, but because it's Morgan Freeman it somehow kind of works, because Morgan Freeman could narrate the worst piece of literature in the world and it would still be interesting.

Okay, down to the Philosophical point I mentioned earlier. Basically at the end of the movie Scarlett Johansson turns into God, literally (and a 2 dimensional USB drive I guess); which obviously makes precisely no sense whatsoever. However it does bring up the interesting point that God is transient, timeless and the point of his inception is largely irrelevant and meaningless because we couldn't possibly fathom how or when it occurred. That's a good, interesting idea that deserves a better film to have a wrap-around for it, though it is probably too theoretical to use in a formulaic argument and would have to be presented at the point of impasse. The other major point the film makes is that everything humans have created is inherently flawed, obviously true but it even broaches the ultimate sacred cow of Mathematics; naturally the film does this poorly but it is probably true that our perception of Math is not some universal amazing language and that Mathematics is no more an objective science than any other human endeavour. Another interesting point that you could probably make a good movie about, this just isn't it. Meanwhile, a guy with a rocket launcher does an action slide and blows up a door to the white void from the Matrix. Yep.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy is the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. Yes it’s even better than Return of the Jedi as well as the two JJ Abrams Star Wars masquerading as Star Trek movies, not to mention Revenge of the Sith (a perfectly competent action film, for what its worth). Sure, sure a lot of films pay homage/rip off Star Wars (or Independence Day, more on that later) but this movie just is Star Wars. We’ve got your Luke Skywalker (Starlord), your Leia (green lady), your Han “Rocket Raccoon” Solo, your Chewie (I am Groot), your crazy guy who doesn’t fit this analogy at all. The Emperor makes a cameo before he’s due to return in 2 Avengers 2 Furious and Samurai Darth Vader is your big baddy; who sort of casually does a little to create an aura of intimidation.

I highly doubt the new Star Wars movie will surpass this one for overall quality, given that they have to have dozens of cameos and it’s the good but never great Abrams directing. This film is funny, well paced, and has an extremely diverse set of action sequences featuring all sorts of different, beautiful environments. There’s Mos Eisley, a Super Star Destroyer, the Millennium Falcon, Coruscant, and a prison sequence which very loosely fits the Star Wars theme. It’s not quite as funny as Iron Man 3, that glorious comedy of comedies; but it’s certainly much better as a super hero/sci fi movie and surpasses all other films except the magnificent Edge of Tomorrow thus far this year.

While the comedy in this is good it sort of just has the first Pirates film appeal, which is perfectly fine and popcorn worthy but not extremely dark like Edge of Tomorrow’s infinite death sequences.  There’s some odd “maturity” as it were to Edge of Tomorrow that this film doesn’t have and doesn’t need; but that’s still enough to propel the other forward, alongside some phenomenal thoughtfulness in the other film which is sort of lacking here, though not entirely. Space Racism is handled in a reasonably un PC fashion in the film which is rather amusing. Note: if you’re really into space racism you should definitely check out Defiance, a fabulous show.

Wait, wait one second, you thought cities were safe, you thought one summer action film wouldn’t mercilessly destroy millions of innocent civilians abodes? You thought wrong! Bahahahaha, that’s right, Independence Day reigns supreme once again as yet another city falls to the might of American Cinema, joining the aforementioned Edge of Tomorrow, Godzilla (which does get a pass), X Men, Captain America, Transformers, and undoubtedly every other major action film since the dawn of 2010. While previous years may have tried it looks like 2014 is going to be a strong contender for the most mass city destruction of all time. ALL TIME! Okay, old joke but it fits the humor chain of more or less every joke in the awesome film.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Geniuses are a Minority

This is something I've been thinking about for some time and randomly whilst posting on a forum (the highest of pursuits) it sort of just came together in the following paragraph:

"If you're just absurdly smart then that's not anything that can be solved except by miraculously finding a peer somewhere (I've never found one). There's a sort of layer of perception that essentially everyone else won't get when you're talking. This isn't some flaw in your reasoning skills its just your mind skipping steps as if every social interaction was just another mathematical equation to be simplified. The same way you might skip a step in a basic math problem you skip any superfluous step in a conversation. In debate this can be sort of harnessed if you make a hard enough hitting point, but in a conversation where emotions are involved your mind will naturally think of the conclusion of the relationship not the actual relationship itself. The film A Beautiful Mind is probably the best demonstration I've seen of this phenomena, though that considered an extremely successful person. If you made such a film about just any one of the hundreds of random geniuses that wind up doing absolutely nothing (because there is precisely no advantage to being one in American society) its hard to imagine how it would function."

So dissecting this: obviously technically geniuses are a minority by necessity. But what I actually mean is that you are a separate entity from the rest of society; an outside, external group of others. You don't have any visible indications of your intellect so people will treat you as they might treat someone else, at first, but as they get to know you or some nebulous fraction of you you gradually become either an object of awe or one of disdain, but never an object of acceptance. Since there's no way to easily identify other geniuses you have no method of grouping together, no inherent "genius" subculture as it were; sure vaguely smart people will cling together and develop nerd culture and all that nonsense but the actually smart people will be busy thinking about how to innovate in whatever field they're interested in or how to best manipulate everyone in a certain circle as a method of social experimentation or what have you. If you have absolutely no interest in basic social interactions you can't group together, you can't "defend" yourself from marginalization; but surely you will still be marginalized.

Personally I have demolished extremely difficult tests in the past that are supposedly extant for the purpose of advancing an exceptionally talented individual forward in society; however even having done that there wasn't actually any fundamental value to doing so (oh, your parents weren't in the military?); and indeed most supposed aptitude tests just wind up being tests on how well you studied for the test instead of actually being a measurement of aptitude. In effect the vast majority of extremely smart people will be totally ignored by society, they are a mythological being; you can't even claim to be a genius without someone shouting how arrogant you are. Really you just want some sort of positive identification that is meaningful and not a purely surface level thing such as skin color, but you will never have it; you will live inside yourself with no contacts that can actually understand what you're saying.

Hell, even saying something as simple as "language is too flawed to communicate my argument," in certain circumstances an objective fact, will lead to wild misinterpretations on the part of the observer. Personally I exceed at both written and verbal debate, but the fact that my mind skips obvious (to me) steps means I'll never get as good of a grade on a paper as some apparently average person whose mind works a bit slower but more traditionally would. You can't communicate, you can't integrate, you can't do anything except wax poetically occasionally. This is how it feels, this is reality for the most perceptive; sure I can completely annihilate people at whatever random game I want to play without actually putting effort forth, sure I can crush them in debate, sure I can make them laugh because humor is empirical, but I'll never be able to understand them and they'll never be able to understand me.

That as it were is the essence of being a minority; if I was somehow not a WASP maybe I'd be able to build some connection to another group of people on the basis of being an equally marginalized participant, but no I am a WASP; I am a member of the dominant group. Hell, I'm even extremely handsome, tall, and have a deep voice, and all of that is completely meaningless and useless to me because I just don't care about social interaction and will never be able to. Were it not for my unerring faith in God I would be quite self destructive I imagine, but I do have faith, I do believe I have a purpose, some mysterious reason for existence (even if that reason is to be God's thought experiment a la Job). Hell I even think I know what that purpose is and maybe it's theoretically possible, and even a hint of a chance at possible supremacy is enough for me to continue.

"All men are equal under the sun but for the unique gifts God has granted them." ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dark Souls II - Great Balls of Fire

Been a fair amount of time since I’ve written extensively about this game. Why you ask? Work of course, though there’s something to be said for playing the best games only occasionally instead of constantly, after you’ve come to the conclusion that they are excellent. I did a no bonfire run and I did a no death run; but aside from the novelty of using different weapons in the no bonfire run there wasn’t a ton to write about that wasn’t regurgitating stuff I already said. However there’s still tons to do in the game and various different playstyles to explore; in this case pyromancy. I’m also doing an online playthrough with a faith build that I may write about at some point, but there’s sure to be a Hexing post and a Sorcery post in the future.

In order to experience the true glory of pyro I’m playing an older version of the game, also I still haven’t done NG+ since there’s just so much stuff to do and explore in basic NG, and I’d like to experience the hardest version possible before I patch it further. Time will tell if I manage to do this before the first DLC comes out. I don’t know if I’ve ever written this on this blog before but the original Dark Souls’ DLC is probably the best piece of DLC ever released and is the main part of Dark Souls that holds up compared to Dark Souls II. I might even write a 2 years late review of that at some point, but it’s more or less a sure thing that the Dark Souls II DLC will be amazing.

So, what makes unpatched pyromancy so special, you ask? Why, Flame Swathe of course. Though ironically it isn’t really as powerful as something like Iron Flesh was at release in Dark Souls, it hits really hard but it can be awkward to cast and you have to rely on RNG to get more than usages of it. Great Resonant Soul is actually substantially more overpowered, but we’ll save that discussion for another time. Flame Swathe hits for 1200-1500 damage, a fairly staggering amount considering; the reason it got nerfed is because it could and did one shot people in pvp. It’s not too difficult to avoid in pvp situations, but getting hit once and dying isn’t exactly an interesting experience.

What else does pyromancy have to offer? Well unlike Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls you can pretty much get an unlimited amount of firestorm casts and use it as your primary spell instead of just an occasional devastating AoE. It really murders just about everything and is quite reliable relative to its counterparts in the other spellcasting schools. The previously incredibly daunting Dragon Shrine becomes somewhat trivial with firestorm, though that’s to be expected from the Souls universe.

The most interesting pyromancy spell is the corollary to Flame Swathe, Lingering Flame. What Lingering Flame does is lay a trap that lasts for ~25 seconds. It only hits for ½-1/3rd as much as Flame Swathe however you can stack up multiple traps and it just is a really cool spell to use in tandem with various pulling methods. If Swathe wasn’t comically overpowered you might see more usage of this spell; but even in the handful of cases where I did use it I had fun setting traps and luring particularly troublesome enemies into them. The main area I used this was the Huntsman’s Copse; on the way to the Executioner’s Chariot boss fight.

Unlike my early playthroughs I’m using very minimal amounts of vitality, endurance, adaptability, and vigor; since it seems more purist to play a spellcaster with low survivability.  This also maximizes the damage output, though in the case of pyromancy the output is already so high that this doesn’t convey particularly large advantages. As you might imagine running around with base- or near base HP (started as Deprived) leads to a fair amount more deaths as you adapt to how your spells work and sometimes things don’t go quite as planned.

Pyromancy also sees the return of fireballs, which have 5 variants this time instead of just the 4; I’ve yet to try out the Great Chaos Fireball since the process of unlocking it either requires online and is arduous or requires NG+; I’m assuming it behaves similarly to the Dark Souls version. The other fireballs are okay, the most notable difference is the first one is more like a small flame but it has a much greater travel distance than any fire spell in Dark Souls. You can actually lob most fireballs at a great distance which adds an interesting element to the game assuming you’re not using alternative ranged methods; though in pre-patch Shrine of Amana that doesn’t work out so great.

The new fireball-ish spell is what the Giant Mages use in Memory of Vammar; that is to say an enormous, fast travelling fireball with a massive radius of impact and huge amounts of damage. It was also nerfed, but Forgotten Sun is very limited in the number of uses so it isn’t controversially overpowered or anything. What ultimately makes the spell so impressive is the cast speed, which is quite a bit faster than every other pyromancy spell. It is probably the fastest primary spell in the game, which coupled with very impressive (though not Flame Swathe level) damage and lingering effects makes it just awesome. While you only get a few spellcasts of it that’s more than enough to have some fun.

The way to get Forgotten Sun is to talk with the kindly Navlaan while he’s in prison and go around murdering NPCs (if you like) to get items for him, there’s alternative methods of getting the items but this is your Mephistopheles equivalent. Granted he also has so much more to him and this is probably the best NPC in the history of the series just for his overall presence. Hopefully the series sees more Jekyll and Hyde type characters in the future.

The combustion spells also return from Dark Souls, though they are fast and do a ton of damage they also use quite a lot of stamina so you can’t just spam them repeatedly as you could in the first game. They’re useful, just not relative to Flame Swathe. Fire Whip is nominally categorized as a combustion spell now, though it varies whether it’s more or less useful than Great Combustion depending on the opposition and your accuracy. Chaos Fire Whip is no more it seems.

The last aspect of pyromancy is the status effects and support spells. The status spells are what you expect with a tad more variety. I guess for SL1 playthroughs these spells are your bread and butter, and they make fights like Twin Dragonriders fairly amusing (perhaps the most interesting fight in the game with spells, just as a barometer for how smoothly you can kill the black dragonrider). Toxicity and Poison both kill enemies at a much faster rate than previously, a single toxic duration can do even more damage than one usage of Flame Swathe (~1500 damage), which while quite powerful doesn’t hold up to just blatantly overpowered stuff for sheer DPS.

There’s no more power within in Dark Souls II, which is probably a good thing; but you do have this spell that lights yourself on fire called Immolation. While this spell looks incredibly impressive it isn’t all that useful in practice, because you’re doing similar amounts of damage to yourself as you are to your opposition. However this could just be that my build was incorrect for it since I didn’t have a ton of vigor, perhaps it’s more useful with a tanky build.

The spell Warmth creates a beacon that pulses every so often and heals everything in the area, you, enemies, allies, everything. What makes this useful is that it lasts for an absurd amount of time and you can kind of use it in tandem with lingering flame; set a Warmth beacon near the beginning of the room, set a lingering flame or two in front of that, and then lure the enemies into the flames. Something like pre-nerf Shrine of Amana becomes substantially easier with Warmth on your side to limit the incoming damage; though it doesn’t do much for the huge damage dealers in later areas.

Iron Flesh and Flash Sweat are both situationally useful. Iron Flesh isn’t even remotely close to being broken but you can still find some value in it. I imagine there’s got to be someone who beat a boss like Smelter relying on these 2 spells as well as phantom support; though it was probably not the optimal way to do it. The enormous arrows from Iron Keep still stagger you even with Iron Flesh up, and naturally you’re not going to be able to avoid them at such a slow speed.

The most interesting thing with Pyromancy is that the best flame scales with your deteriorating humanity. In effect, the more you die the stronger your spells get. The more depraved or primitive you are the more effective pyromancy is. This is a curious thing from a lore perspective and goes along with all the raggedy clothing that pyromancers have. Obviously I wasn’t too concerned with dying with this being the case, even if the spell buff wasn’t irresistible; and perhaps running with low vigor isn’t too much of a bad thing when pyromancy is concerned (non-Immolation division).

For this run since it was going to be overpowered anyway I went with the incredibly generic Greatsword which I've never used before. The Greatsword might not be the best weapon in the game but it's still quite ridiculous assuming you use it right. If you're just using it as an every-day bludgeon this is a decent weapon but ultimately inferior to various blunt weapons in the game; however if you stick exclusively to 1 hand jump attacks it becomes quite impressive both for the absurd reach on the weapon and the very short recovery time after each jump attack. What more can I say other than it's fun and comically overpowered, much like pre-patch flame swathe and forgotten sun.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow is brilliant. Not really any other way to put it, this is one of the best Science Fiction films ever produced. It's sort of an ascension of all the pretty good recent Sci-Fi films (Oblivion, Looper, and District 9 being the most apparent) to their natural conclusion. This is the best film I have seen in theaters since Inception, which is obviously a fantastic movie. More than that I think it might actually be better, though mainly because Tom Cruise is a lot more compelling than Dicaprio (who I like as well), and a 2 person dynamic simply works better than a group of people.

So, how to describe this movie... It's more or less Groundhog Day + Starship Troopers + Resistance: Fall of Man, and it has quite a few elements from all 3. The beginning has vignettes not unlike those found in Starship Troopers; though not quite as campy; and the general space marine vs bugs vibe is present throughout (though the hoo-ah is limited to the first 45 minutes or so). The aliens originate in Germany this time instead of Russia (as they did in Resistance), and Britain is the last stand of Europe more or less.  The hero gains his power in a similar fashion to Nathan Hale as well. The film is very reminiscent of what happens in video games; you start your life, die, and respawn; learning the enemies positions to improve your ability to adapt to them over time. Tom Cruise starts out as this cowardly marketing major for the Army and gradually turns into the ultimate badass after thousands of untold deaths.

The film handles the dying part quite well, making it mostly a comical experience but still having a few heavy deaths along the way and Tom Cruise as "Cage" has one of the more pronounced and indeed "earned" character arcs in recent memory. As you might expect there is a romance element to the plot being that it's a male and female duo heading the cast, but it is extremely well done and there's no meaningless scenes to that effect along the way. Hell even the one-sided nature of the relationship is done quite well, as Cage grows more and more attached to Emily Blunt's (of Looper fame) Rita over the course of the film and she simply has a mild curiosity throughout (the standard sort of curiosity humans have when they meet an attractive member of the opposite sex). I won't spoil any of the really good stuff here but suffice to say there's some fantastic scenes.

I've seen both X-Men and Captain America already this year, both of them were quite good; they don't even come remotely close to being as jaw-droppingly amazing as this film. The supporting cast in the film is excellent to back the two outstanding leads; most apparent being the magnificent Bill Paxton and the great-in-everything Brendan Gleeson. Every movie that has Brendan Gleeson in it is good, even Dark Blue; but this might be at the top of the pile above even Gangs of New York (the anti-Dicaprio factor strikes again, sorry DDL) and In Bruges.  This is a smart, funny, well shot, well acted movie. The action is compelling and not overly CGified and relatively easy to follow. It's going to be difficult for even the mighty Nolan to outdo this with Interstellar; though McConaughey seems to be on a roll. It is pretty much a masterpiece; and no not a moviebob masterpiece. I'll be watching this one for years to come, and you guys should too.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Praise Be to Ray Allen

The NBA finals have begun, and to celebrate I decided to try out NBA 2k14 since it's free on PS+ at present. I used to be extremely good at NBA Live in the mid 00's and that contributed to a greater understanding and liking of basketball alongside my high school, college (MSU), and local professional teams (pistons) being quite good. I'm not particularly deep into the stats section of the game which is evidently all the rage now but I have a general understanding of what PER means and so on (I ma fairly interested in more advanced baseball statistics; but that's my favorite sport). Aside from big budget films the main thing I feel our society's wastefulness has produced worth remembering are the various professional sporting environments and the NBA is no exception.

In NBA Live 2005 (whose best player by their stat system was one Baron Davis) I had a general feel for driving to the basket to create open opportunities for shooters or just to dunk on fools. I developed an interesting back and forth with the hardest computer. It took a solid 20r or so games to get better than the comp who initially stomped me into oblivion; but after mastering some reasonably advanced basketball philosophy I had a good feel for just how to pick apart their defenses. The inexorably dominant Baron Davis surely did help in this endeavour. Richard "Rip" Hamilton of the Pistons was highly successful at the time and sort of made me fall in love with the mid-range jumpshot. Despite being inherently inefficient relative to the 3, the mid-range is still quite powerful given the shooter is accurate enough with it.

Now, you may ask, wasn't NBA 2kxx the game you bitched about causing an absurdly long line at Dark Souls' midnight release all those years ago? Yes... yes it was. Apparently it's actually a pretty good game and has amazing production values relative to the games I used to play. The animation especially feels very fluid and the absurd attention to detail on a per player basis is extraordinary. Even the commentary doesn't have that usual extremely stilted problem that video game commentary tends to have. They must have recorded an absurd amount of dialogue to get that to work out (though admittedly I am running into repeats due to doing the same thing every game so far). There are still candid camera moments where a player will get stuck in an animation loop trying to pick up a ball out of bounds and failing, but that's just part of the charm. This game is so realistic that I feel it cleanly rests in the Uncanny Valley universe; but it sort of embraces that as well.

The most notable new feature of this game is the "path to greatness" mode with Lebron actually voicing over little segments for each game, that's primarily what I've been playing. There's definitely some obtuseness to the introductory portions of the game and even the insistence on immediately throwing a game at you when you turn it on instead of a menu screen. But what's most duanting about this game are the controls, which admittedly do facilitate an incredible level of depth. Going through the tutorial for this game is not unlike going through a difficult fighting game tutorial a la Skullgirls or King of Fighters XIII. The game even has you doing quarter, half, and full circles in specific directions to get your player to do various dribbling or shooting maneuvers. It's pretty intense stuff and I might not have the motivation to actually get to a high skill plane, as even the game's base difficulty computer is quite difficult to beat. However that doesn't mean there isn't fun to be had.

Like every other sports game NBA 2k14 has a hidden stats system on every interaction you make; most obviously impacting the FG% of whatever shot you happen to be taking. However this is slightly more apparent and easier to exploit because of how the game presents its systems and shows specific traits for each player. Dwayne Wade for instance becomes an absolute monster in the 4th quarter and gets a raw boosts to all of his stats in that time period; an already good player becomes ridiculous. Lebron has a whole shitload of icons to this effect and I'm not really sure what all of them do other than "yo this guy's good." However, I do pay some amount of attention to NBA coverage and am aware of Lebron's prodigious passing ability.

Lebron "Magic" James, as it were, triggers one of his traits on passing that instantly boosts the shooting percentage of the recipient of his pass; regardless of the situation in which you threw it. His hand is just that magical to convey shooting competence to anyone. While this is obviously ridiculous it only becomes all the more entertaining if you combine it with the magnificent Ray Allen's ability to "Catch and Shoot" as well as the ambiguous "Dead Eye." Effectively a pass from Lebron to Ray Allen gives him about a 60% chance to hit a 3 (a 40% chance is considered exceptional in reality), regardless of whether he's covered or not. So to beat the merciless comp I embarked on this prodigious strategy: bring the ball up court with Lebron, pass to Ray Allen behind the arc, shoot. In many of these games Ray Allen accumulates well over 60 points and Lebron over 20 assists (as is his wont) and the whole rest of the team does nothing other than what the comp decides to do.

I've pretty much given up on the defensive end so I just pick the shortest guy and hope for the best (defense has more Balrog type moves than fireballs/spinning piledrivers); the comp seems to be pretty decent if you just let them defend. So far I have a 5-2 record, even getting 3 stars on one of the challenges (Lebron's true calling indeed). The comp is content to get the vast majority of their points in the paint while I rain down my barrage of 3's. While they might wind up with a 55-60 FG% I'll be content with my 50%+ from behind the arc. Unfortunately with the bizarre alternate future setting you get moved out of Miami after the first season and I no longer have the outstanding Ray Allen to pin all my hopes on, but Ray Felton seems to be doing alright in his stead. Shane Battier contributed as well and even Lebron himself performs serviceably behind the arc.

This game's fun and sort of dauntingly difficult in a way that I find satisfying. I might never figure out how to get to the rim easily, but I'll probably figure out how to get a decent passing game going and my instincts have already sussed out ways to break the ingame systems in my favor. One day I'll be beating the hardest comp with ease... maybe.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Heroes of the Storm

So I've been playing a lot of Heroes of the Storm lately. You may ask, didn't you say Dark Souls II is the greatest shit ever? Well not quite, it is merely the 7th or 8th greatest shit ever; but I think if you find something truly brilliant it's in your best interest not to overplay it so that you cherish the times when you do play it. I've only played Vagrant Story 3 times through or so for example, and even a short game like Super Metroid I've only played 5 or 6 times. Yes, I do eventually have to write a review for Dark Souls II and ideally another couple miscellaneous blog posts; but I could write them in several months instead of immediately and do just as well.

Back to the point, Heroes of the Storm is a lot of fun. A bit of history here: I played Brood War for 10 years and played all sorts of custom maps, the vast majority of which were awesome and unique. Then Warcraft 3 comes along with DoTA and that's all anyone played or made maps of (well that and just garbage or TDs), in essence DoTA killed mapmaking, so I passionately hate it for that. I don't care how good DoTA is it doesn't justify killing off over a thousand genres of maps; that shit's just stupid. Yes, eventually mapmaking would have died because of indy games but that's not how it went down.

However I did enjoy the predecessors to DoTA and even Temple Siege in Brood War; Aeon of Strife was reasonably fun and I even talked to the mapmaker at some point; as I talked to all mapmakers in Brood War over the course of a decade. Sure Aeon of Strife didn't have the amazing depth of some of the other genres (which had more depth than DoTA as well), but it was a fun, relaxing game to play. Star Wars: AoTR was the best rendition of this type of map, as it had 3 factions and fairly radically different heroes. The troops in the game were so balanced that given no human intervention it took over 36 hours for the game to conclude; in favor of the most frequently doomed faction in regular games.

So, DoTA was popular and a lot of developers thought "Hey let's make the exact fucking same thing and call it something else" because there's so little creativity in this genre (in sharp contrast to the UMS scene in Brood War). That's why they're DoTA clones and will always be DoTA clones. For a long time people just called them DoTA clones; but then some incredibly smart genius superman heroic majestic wordsmith came up with the term MOBA instead. What the fuck does that shit mean? Multiplayer Online Battle Arena? You mean like every game ever that has online multiplayer? How descriptive. No it's just an acronym that sounds like DoTA.

Anyway basically every company has to make either one of these or a mobile game and Blizzard is no exception. Full disclosure: I played Guardians of Middle Earth when it was on PS+ and *gasp* enjoyed it (actually has more depth than Heroes of the Storm at present), but it did largely eliminate the needless obfuscation elements of DoTA. This is to some extent a relic from the UMS days in Brood War; a huge bias to people who had already played the game. It never really made games better it just made them inaccessible for no reason. Heroes of the Storm also eliminates the needless obfuscation; and thus is on the right track to actually doing something with this genre while still keeping true to the same format (there's plenty of examples of Non-DoTA Clone DoTA clones that exist in other genres and perform admirablly).

For whatever reason the game is just not popular at all on twitch, which is basically the kiss of death for DoTA clones. But that also means that the vast majority of people playing the game are just straight up awful at it; so no matter what class I play the game is fun as shit because you can just massacre everyone. Note: I do think that approximately half of the players playing are actually just bots since they don't speak and don't act like humans. Not the Elite AI bots mind but lesser difficulty ones.

I've played a lot of Nova in this game, and as you might expect done well with her. But strangely it feels almost exactly the same as Warhammer Online did with a stealth character, the creeps are basically the zergling players; the other players are still quite stupid and require herding. So there's zerg-herding masterminds in Heroes that tell people what to do even if they don't have much of a conception of the game themselves. Most importantly almost no one knows how to use stealth effectively and frequently just pops and dies instantly; so being one of a scarce handful that do know how to use stealth makes you a mastermind or something.

But I've also played other characters, and while Nova is the most fun for ridiculous scorecards you can still dominate with a support hero or a specialist; just work at it a little. Groups are very rarely of the super suffocating kind in this game and you've pretty much always got an open shot at winning easily. It's basically like the incompetence of players in Battlegrounds in WoW combined with the mechanics of Warhammer. In a stroke of utter brilliance Blizzard actually made more than one map; sacrilege for DoTA clones; they've been using that same fucking not even as good as AoTR map for decades. And having more then one map; Surprise! makes the game more interesting. So 3 out of 4 matches will be different and interesting relative to the map you just played; and they'll probably eventually add more maps.

Put simply this is a great game to play if you want to destroy a bunch of mediocre-poor players. And since there is literally no popular streamer playing it if you're a competent player I'm sure you could start having a large following on twitch. I actually have a job for the time being and despite having a magnificent voice am not overly interested in playing video games as a job; but I'm sure someone else out there is. Just get good with a few different heroes and you're set; takes like 3-4 matches with a hero to get better than say 95-99% of the people playing right now.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Amazing Spiderman 2

Well this was an intriguing movie. In most ways this is a decent improvement over the last installment of the Andrew Garfield saga. I suppose the largest thing I was frightened by was the imposing 2 hours and 23 minute runtime. And yeah it did feel a little long and certainly had an abundance of characters. Nevertheless this is a really entertaining film. Both the visual and audio aspects are very well done, and the primary villain's specific soundtrack works extremely well with the character.

Jamie Foxx plays Electro and his formerly shy, withdrawn self Max Dillon; and he's a pretty great actor so it works out quite well. He does look pretty terrible in the trailers but it works much better in the film then you might have expected; and Electro is a difficult villain to pull off without CGI thus the abundance of CGI in the film is acceptable. Whenever he's on screen there's a sort of techno/electric audio reverb going on and a lot of the stuff that happens is actually in rhythm with it; most notable being the scene in central park when Jamie Foxx is sort of rhythmically talking to himself, which just sounds kind of awesome. His scenes are probably the strongest part of the film, but he's only in maybe 35-40 minutes of the movie.

Dane Dehaan plays Harry Osborne; and he's pretty underwhelming. I like James Franco in the previous movies, but he's not like incredibly amazing or anything; but Dehaan's Osborne is just kind of irritating at all times. He's not in a ton of the movie and a few of his scenes work pretty well so I don't think his presence is an enormous detriment, but he might make the following movie disappointing. Paul Giamatti of all people is playing motherfucking Rhino; and Giamatti is awesome in everything so obviously that's just great; it's kind of a bit part but that's something to look forward to in the next film.

Emma Stone is excellent and Andrew Garfield pulls off the sarcastic humor bits quite well in this movie; even if the overly emotional scenes are kind of "meh." Look he's no Tobey Maguire in the insufferable category and it's probably more the movie being too bloated with those types of scenes. Gwen Stacey does what Gwen Stacey does; though even in the context of the film that shouldn't be overly surprising. Overall this is quite a solid action movie, and even lacking a dominant villain the film's plot still works well enough for it to carry through. There's even a weird action sequence right at the start that has nothing to do with anything but yet is still pretty fun to watch.

Thursday, May 1, 2014


So I missed April; I suppose the gravest loss is no Dark Souls II continued coverage. I had a job for most of the month so that's the primary reason why; but I still could have posted a Captain America review since those take me 15 minutes or so to write and consider. But I do still plan to continue on in Dark Souls II and of course eventually write another mammoth review post; but it might be July or something this time around. But for now let me wax philosophical.

I had a question today in Bible study that puzzled me; Have you ever had a life-changing humbling experience? Answer: Of course not; I'm American, there is no humility in America (no one else answered the question other than the Pastor). Okay maybe it's more me than the question. So what would it take for me to be humbled on so grand a scale as to reduce my absurd amount of arrogance at present. Well, I'd basically have to meet Napoleon Bonaparte in person and he'd have to tell me why exactly I'm an idiot; for I would most certainly listen. Similarly while I am especially attractive to young women (somewhere around 95% or so of those that I encounter display some sort of tell to that effect) I have very little interest in them so their ability to humble me is also quite nebulous and vague. I have been taught and firmly believe in an anti-promiscuous society; the antithesis of the present state more or less.

So you see, some might say my standards are too high for role models and mates; but no that's missing the point. My standards are theoretical, non existent, impossible, perhaps even counter-intuitive. Indeed self-teaching is the most efficient method of improvement by far; and perhaps some men don't need instruction so much as they need the opportunity to express themselves in their art of choice; mine being warfare. Yes yes there are people out there like me, there's just an absurdly low chance of me actually meeting any of these people; statistically I have maybe a 1-2% chance if I'm lucky of ever even encountering one of these people in any medium. Moreover, chances are a fair a number of them will die of hunger or spend a life entirely impoverished or imprisoned; my relatively comfortable existence is certainly enviable on some level but also not enviable for the continuous realization of futility. Old man Putin seems to want the world to be more interesting, mayhap it will be yet, mayhap it will be yet.

Notes: Captain America is great; go watch it. Scarlett Johansson is still the weakest part of the film but I guess delivers a passable performance. Everything else is fantastic either for stupidity or amusement. A massive improvement over the first film. Diablo 3: RoS is pretty fun; I've gotten relatively bored now due to ye old RNG and having done everything within 130ish hours. Heroes of the Storm is okay, sort of feels like Warhammer PvP right down to the extraordinary foolishness of most players. Dark Souls II will continue in time, and is still perhaps the 7th or 8th best game ever made.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dark Souls II Online Experiences

So a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to utilize a different connection for a few days and took advantage; and banked around 50-60 hours of online experiences into that small timeframe; this is virtually the same amount of time that I spent engaging in the online features of the first game prior to reviewing it so it seems fine; and of course it was at launch.

I wanted to get the perceived online trophies out of the way (there are tedious ways of doing these offline I’ve discovered since then, but online was much smoother) so I immediately made a character intent on being a Sunbro early on. This is actually more difficult than it sounds as getting to the Sunlight Altar is not a meager feat in this game and most people don’t get there until they’re around halfway through the first part of the game.

The first thing to notice about the online is that WOW summoning works fast, like being summoned was this irritating chore in Dark Souls and it takes seconds now. Put down sign, boom “you are being summoned” message within 5-30 seconds. This allowed me to actually do more white/gold phantoming than I believe I’ve ever done in Dark Souls. My fellow White Phantoms (and they were exclusively white phantoms until later) would also die with alarming regularity; again pointing to the loftier challenge of the early areas of the game. As you gain souls your Soul History goes up so regardless of whether you actually spend those souls on SL you’ll still eventually have to move on; this led me to look for the first “bottleneck” area.

The Last Giant is actually pretty tough in Co-op though I’ve never had any trouble in singleplayer; his AI is much more likely to be in a position to attack at all times and he does have the ability to one shot some classes; over around 15-20 fights the host died perhaps 6 or 7 times which was enough to deter me from focusing on farming Sunlight medals here. Pursuer is much easier in co-op thanks to the ballista capable of 1-2 shotting the boss, but one of the more amusing experiences happened here as well; whomever it is that is tanking the boss is also vulnerable to the bolts being fired and I swiftly killed the Pursuer and then the host in rapid succession in one of the first of these rumbles. This was naturally hilarious (unintentional) and is exactly the kind of stupidity I look for in Souls games online.

On my way to the Sunlight Covenant I had to rush through the Huntsman’s Copse early on still with mostly starting gear; much more difficult than my first, much more powerful character’s run through this area. Still it is doable and knowing how the boss worked enabled me to do that without too much trouble as well (though it did take like 120 sorcery casts). Given the time to digest it the Skeleton Lords actually have a pretty sweet musical track; and in general the game seems to have great boss music.

Now in the Sunlight Covenant I returned to the first few areas but was only summoned with frequency in Heide’s Tower of Flame; and while this area might seem pretty easy that didn’t stop people from dying. The esteemed Dragonrider, perhaps the easiest boss in the game, managed to dispatch a host in about 5 seconds; the host not having pulled the levers to make the boss arena safer. After returning from this wonderful experience I was immediately attacked by the Old Knight I was fighting just prior to the summoning, and lo and behold he had the exact same amount of life remaining.

Another thing that makes being summoned quite swift is that the summoners actually outnumber the summoned, at least for the time being. While it can occasionally be frustrating trying to summon people yourself (“Summon sign was already used”) the sheer wonderment of plopping that golden sign down and literally within 3 seconds being summoned is amazing. While it might not take particularly long to get summoned as a white phantom being summoned as a gold phantom is still undoubtedly faster; and I eventually made my way to No Man’s Wharf.

The Wharf is a fairly labyrinthine zone; another I did with a powerful character to start with which was quite a bit more troublesome on my frail sorcerer. I began by doing summon runs from the first bonfire which was never particularly effective; as the host would frequently die or get lost on the way to the “summon ship” lever. It didn’t help that I failed to stand conspicuously by the lever on more than one occasion and immediately rolled off the edge. I really don’t like how easy it is to miss that lever.

After a while I realized I could just put my sign at the edge of the Wharf and then in about an hour and 15 minutes I managed to accumulate the 30 sunlight medals necessary for Sunlight Spear; I also picked up the Sun Sword and started using it for the wondrous B/B (eventually A/A) Str/Dex scaling; which is still vastly inferior to various traditional 2 handed weapons.  In around 30 attempts the Flexile Sentry failed to kill a single host. It might seem cold but if someone summons you at the end of the pier and the ship isn’t there you can just black separation crystal if they don’t seem to be particularly intent on following you to that evil lever. No Man’s Wharf is of a sufficient difficulty to advance 200-250K Soul Memory prior to losing the chance at being summoned and the boss is the least lethal out of the early game; thus this is the most efficient way to get Sunlight Spear; though people are now doing it at higher levels as well.

I now moved on to the PvP portion of the wondrous spell gathering experience, I had to get the much (not at all) desired “Hidden Weapon” spell from the Bellkeepers Covenant; which again was fairly fast and efficient on the summoning front. The benefits of having an absurd number of Titanite Chunks from this covenant are myriad, but for starters I was able to upgrade the Sun Sword all the way to +10 fairly early on (still inferior to a +5 large weapon).

Prior to this I had experimented with the Bellkeepers in the Belfry Sol on the first character, but there just weren’t all that many people at that high of an SL and those that were were relatively competent at the game (though I still performed quite well in the proceedings, thanks in large part to my excellent weapons). But in the Belfry Luna there were an endless stream of grey invasion opportunities; and in the rare event that there was an interlude I could always invade the Belfry myself and get invaded instantly; because being a Bellkeeper does not prevent you from fighting Bellkeepers. Although most of the players I fought here were of middling skill the best overall player I fought was in the Belfries; he successfully dodged every single ranged attack I threw at him and I just barely won (I believe he had a Bastard Sword?) in melee range; no extensive backstab fishing period. This doesn’t quite trump my previous best experience of just barely dying to a guy next to a bridge at the Kiln of the First Flame, but it was definitely interesting.

On that point backstabbing is no longer a guarantee most of the time, while there will still be glorious lagstabs a lot of the time you can just roll out of the way of the initial animation. This leads to more shield turtling but From introduced a new mechanic of “pushing” the shield out of the way to set up a weaker critical hit to deal with this. Overall a melee on melee match is mildly more interesting than it was in Dark Souls. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for late-game spellcasting.

Spells are just too powerful right now, in PvE and PvP; the most glaringly overpowered spells are hexes but pyromancy isn’t that far behind and sorcery/certain miracles are also quite daunting to deal with. It is possible to roll dodge through almost everything but if you have the slightest bit of lag the dodge may just not record and essentially being hit twice is death. Yes backstabs are mostly a one shot with good builds but now that they’re no longer a guarantee they aren’t really that beneficial. I still won most of my encounters with spellcasters but it never felt like a loss was particularly skillful on the other player’s part. There was one guy who had a whip and was reasonably entertaining, but ultimately even that fight had a fairly unsatisfying conclusion.

In general the PvP experiences I’ve had have been almost entirely underwhelming; not because of the game mind but simply because of the boring approaches most players choose and the lack of any particularly impressive skill save for the aforementioned 2 rare situations. It could be I’m just better at PvP so I know what things to do in what situations and most of the time that leads to victory, but I would just like to see more creativity.

I get the feeling that NG+ is probably where you’ll be able to find the 5% or so of the playerbase that actually deals in inventive builds; and in Dark Souls 2 a whole shitload of builds are extremely viable. I’m not going to be able to engage in NG+ PvP for at least a few months and will probably never have a particularly clear picture on that front, and I also won’t be able to participate in the eventual “balanced” PvP; there’s no fog ring to make you passionately hate the playerbase or anything, it’s simply not a very interesting set of people to fight (note this is almost universally the same experience in other multiplayer games). Basically the overarching issue is the same as people playing PvE, everything is guide/online build driven and very little is driven by personal creativity or inspiration; and that’s just modern multiplayer games in a nutshell. As always my sample size is not overly enormous here so it could have just been my experience.

My second large batch of PvP was on the bridge in the Iron Keep, a fairly boring arena compared to the Belfry Sol and Belfry Luna (the Belfry Sol being the best designed PvP arena in the series); but it was the fastest place to find Dragon Eye signs given the proximity of the covenant. In a little under an hour and a half I managed to win 30 of said duels, winning 15 in a row; losing 10 in a row, and then winning another 15 with 1 loss. This wasn’t quite as successful as my Belfry experiences, but it didn’t take particularly long and I wasn’t using an uber powerful build or anything. For whatever reason backstabs have a huge damage range so sometimes the ol Malformed Skull did 1800 damage and other times it did 1300 damage with no clear reason why (regular strikes doing relatively similar damage throughout); could be the critical hit rings just reduce damage by a % and don’t negate them entirely. With this not so arduous task done I now had some of the best looking armor in the game, instead of looking incredibly stupid the Dragon Covenant actually looks pretty sweet/is pretty viable this time around. I guess some amount of stupid humor is lost so people are complaining about that as well.

After this I embarked on my final grand expedition to get the AI based achievements, escorting some of the worst summons in the game through some of the most difficult bosses in the series. This is actually surprisingly doable with an extremely overpowered hex build but I figured it would be more interesting/legit to do it with the meager Sun Sword+10 and actually engage in some Jolly Co-operation in the process; learning a fair amount more about people’s general experiences with various situations in the game.
The more difficult of these two was Lucatiel’s set; having to fight the much esteemed Smelter and keep Lucatiel alive throughout; as well as the Lost Sinner. For both of these fights her presence functioned as something like a 50 second enrage timer.  For Sinner I did some summons, looking for another competent player to message for my own summon on the boss; it took around 10 tries to find someone with an apparent amount of competence; the host dying about 6 of those times.  But, the process of messaging and setting up the summon was extremely smooth and intuitive; unlike console Dark Souls you can now basically just play the game with friends provided you hide your sign well enough. The guy I wound up playing with was very courteous and understanding and even seemed to have a good grasp on the English language, an extreme rarity in any console online endeavor. This is a huge improvement and server-wise Dark Souls II seems to be just as competent as Demon’s Souls; only there are so many people playing as to make it even more efficient; this is one of the major reasons why Demon’s Souls aficionados are embracing the newest game despite their various misgivings with the predecessor. We were perhaps a bit fortunate and managed to beat the Lost Sinner whilst keeping Lucatiel alive on the very first try; both of us using moderately powerful melee builds.

And now on to the meat of this troublesome experience, the beloved Smelter Demon. It took quite some time but I eventually found another compatriot, this one of the standard 4th grade English level variety. But this guy too seemed to be competent and understanding and we gave it our all, and Lucatiel died 15 times or so.  Yes, my time with Smelter would be a much more exhaustive experience. Smelter is just a monster, he attacks swiftly but at such a different specific rhythm compared to almost any other boss in the series; just enough to fuck with you completely. Yes, yes Smelter is optional so you could just come back at SL 170 or whatever and it’s not too bad at that point with a Great Resonant Soul spammer or two; but trying to do this vaguely legit with an average build will take you a lot of pain. I’m actually quite confident in my ability against Smelter now, only took around 30 summons to get every dodge down perfectly; of course that doesn’t necessarily stop the host from dying. If Gwyn is the beast of fast bosses (assuming you don’t parry) then Smelter is the beast of slower, larger bosses; and he’s just an all-around fearsome opponent.

It was an interesting experiment doing around 80 fights with Smelter as the summoned or as the summoner, by the end I was good enough at the boss to not die with any regularity but the same could not be said for the various hosts and Lucatiel; luckily the  summon range for Smelter is literally over 1.5 million Soul History wide and you get 10-12k souls just going from the bridge bonfire to the boss door (and another 10k from Smelter should you manage to beat him); this is definitely the place to be if you want to leech souls for lack of a better term from other worlds, because as always there’s a nominally limited efficient amount in your own. Eventually you’ll be out of range and have to move on to Dragon Shrine, but until then you should gain a newfound respect for the awe-inspiring powers of smelter (again, assuming you’re using a moderately powerful but not blatantly overpowered build). Eventually Smelter died out of pity on like the 4th or 5th attempt where Lucatiel and he were around 10% in unison, finally he decided to not do the boom attack at this vital juncture.

It should go without saying but the Flexile Sentry with Lucatiel is a joke, as it always is being one of the two completely trivial bosses. So I moved on to fight the Rotten; who while if you fight it early enough can be quite tough with a solitary character, isn’t too bad once you know his patterns and is quite easy to just wail on if he has another target.  Provided Lucatiel doesn’t walk into the lava this part isn’t too bad. For all of this effort you get a trophy, one line of dialog, and a set of armor/very interesting weapon; however if you just kill Lucatiel earlier you can get the weapon near the start of the game for 10k souls and the armor if you want it for another 30k. The dialog difference is minimal in the case of failing her quest.

I moved on to doing Benhart, who had a solitary difficult boss to fight and a few dicey ones aside from that. Giant Lord, Mirror Knight, and the Throne Watcher/Defender were the main obstacles here. Benhart also has a fairly easy (though not entirely trivial) boss in the Congregation; which shouldn’t pose too much of a threat. For Giant Lord basically you have to kill him in a short time period before Benhart dies, how fast Benhart dies is totally random so could be 30 seconds could be 2 minutes; I managed this one on the first try with the friendly neighborhood Malformed Skull lending a hand. Looking Glass Knight is pretty tough with a weaker 1 handed build but not a huge deal with a powerful 2 hander/spells and he went down relatively easily as well. For Throne Watcher/Defender it’s going to be random because that’s just how that fight is; if they don’t aggressively murder Benhart and you’re able to pump out a decent amount of damage it isn’t too bad, if they do then you’re going to get screwed; could see it taking a fair number of tries with a non-overpowered build. Benhart also helps with Nashandra and that conflict isn’t too harsh if you’re smart about it, but usually Benhart will die before you can kill the boss; not entirely sure which boss fight counts and which doesn’t but that isn’t how I wound up getting the trophy. For Benhart the reward is similar to Lucatiel, a trophy, some otherwise acquirable gear, and a single line of dialogue.

Having finished all of the online contingent rewards I moved on to another 20 odd hours of random online experiences. I spent some time in the Rat Covenant but didn’t really want to level a guy to the ideal SL (and thus was only able to summon a few grey phantoms) so I don’t have a clear picture of how that would go on the whole; I imagine it’s simply an easier way to be victorious than the Bell Covenant and a nice source of Pharos Lockstones. Doors of the Pharos seems like a much more ideal area to fight than the Grave of Saints, but you could probably have a fairly deadly dungeon in either case.

The next main thing I had to do was do some Dragon Shrine co-op; because I’m just fascinated by these absurdly powerful enemies. I’ve yet to actually agro the Ancient Dragon in my own games but I do know how the pattern works and I’m sure I could do it, I simply have respect for the boss at this point and since there’s essentially no reason to do it I’ve decided for the time being “we cool” more or less. Dragon Shrine nets you about 25000 souls with soul boosting equipment on the way to the boss door; you’ll get invaded and usually the invader will fail but the enemies will probably succeed around 30-40% of the time before they even get to El Dragon Grande.

Having done it a few times I think running around Dragon Shrine with no shield is a ton of fun, you learn how to dodge very precise attacks and how to approach some extremely daunting enemies in numbers. Yes you’ll still die, most assuredly, but it seems yet another future run to have where I make a full Drakekeeper/2h mace/no shield set and go mano-a-mano or mano-a-2 mano with the Mace Drakekeeper in NG+7 (spoilers: he’ll probably win a few times). The boss however is uh, not fun. Now, conceptually a gigantic fuck-off dragon would probably swat a few humans in a second or so and instantly win the fight every time; and that’s kind of what he does. Even if the phantoms/host know the pattern there’s a lot of times where with multiple players his AI is totally unpredictable and if you’re even in the vague vicinity of the wrong spot you’re just dead. Sure there’s plenty of ways to go about cheesing the AI in this fight but taken on the whole it’s just a massive “why would you do something so stupid dumb fuck” message to the player. Yes, yes the internet will inevitably make this a farmed boss fight but in the general context of a mythical knowledge-less utopia where people choose to rely on themselves this boss is actually pretty damn legit. But, that’s not the case so like many things in Dark Souls and online experiences in general these days it’s just people saying stupid shit because they learned XYZ thing from someone else who learned it from someone else who learned it from the guide who maybe learned it from the development team.

For the record I don’t think the Ancient Dragon is an interesting boss but it does make a lot of storyline sense. I think if he just killed you instantly and there was literally no recourse it might actually be better. As it is it’s just kind of a tedious slog where you hope he doesn’t do something unpredictable. They definitely could have made him Smelter/Guildenstern levels of hard instead of just “recognize the pattern and succeed, fail pattern and die instantly” and that would have been way better. I will probably eventually fight it just for review purposes and likely beat it on the first try because I know what to do; but for the most part he’s kind of just a big ass dude chilling on his big ass platform minding his own business (dictating the future of the world), what’s wrong with that you savages.

Online Stats:

Active PvP: 110-25
Smelter W/L – 60-20
Ancient Dragon W/L – 40-0
Souls sucked from other realms – 2.5 million

Note: If you really don’t like the idea of doing PvP for the Bellkeepers for whatever strange reason about 1/5th of all invasions will be successful without you lifting a finger, so simply afking next to the Servant's Quarters bonfire for 10-12 hours will probably get you 30 titanite chunks.