On… Final Fantasy XV

The last time I had a new, main-entry Final Fantasy game was when my daughter was born. Almost seven years later, FFXV has come along following a development process that sounds so painful that it makes me gladder than ever that I’m not in the games industry.

At this point I haven’t completed FFXV yet but, at some 40-odd hours in, I feel sufficiently armed to provide a bit of an assessment of it. And, just to give some context to the whole thing (and because the last time I wrote something about a Final Fantasy game I almost got lynched), let’s be clear that I’ve got a pretty good history with the series: I’ve played almost every main entry from FFIII to XV, can tell my chocobos from my moogles, and own enough related merchandise that I could probably be considered a ‘fan-boy’. That said, I hated FFXIII when it came out and, though my opinions have changed somewhat since then, I do feel that at some point the series has lost its way. There was a sense of magic and fun about an entry like FFIX that somehow seems to have been lost.

I was hopeful going into FFXV that it might mark a return to form. After 40 hours, do I think it does? Well…

First things first: the game has obviously been a labour of love for the development team, who have poured their hearts and souls into this; that much is obvious. What’s also unfortunately obvious is that, despite the game’s lengthy incubation period, it probably just needed a few months or another year more in the oven. Some things are blatantly unfinished: the story is a jumble of plot-holes, with pivotal events happening off-screen and mentioned only in passing. Major characters get little or no character development, committing actions that seemingly have no motivation behind them. The open-world is large but mostly barren, and strewn with invisible walls that make navigating it an inconsistently frustrating experience. Sub-quests are plentiful, but rarely become much more involved than the standard formula of ‘go-here-do-this-come-back’. In that sense they’re very similar to those of Xenoblade Chronicles, though at least that title had the good grace to remove the necessity to return back to the quest giver for a reward.

For all this, though, FFXV is an experience that should not be missed if you have any kind of interest in the series. There are some wonderful facets to it: the combat system is frenetic and fun (if slightly shallower than it initially seems); the world is amazingly detailed; and there are just so many little touches throughout the title that it will bury its way into your heart.

Crucially, it’s the central relationship between the four main characters that defines the game. You play as Prince Noctis, and you begin with a retinue of three other characters: Ignis; Prompto; and Gladiolus. Unlike previous FF titles, this remains pretty much the extent of your party for the entire game. Whilst at first this seems a bit disappointing, the camaraderie you build up with the others means that you legitimately care for them.

Well, except for Gladiolus. He’s just an arse.

In many ways FFXV is frustrating, because it’s obvious it could have been so much more. There are so many weird decisions made during its development that sometimes you just sit back and wonder what they were thinking about. Who, for instance, thought it was a good idea to have the majority of travel in the game take place during unskippable car journeys that take literal minutes of real-time? Who decided there shouldn’t be an option to ‘wait’ and rush through the day-night cycle when so many quests and monster hunts are only possible at certain times? Who decided those bloody frog-catching quests were a good idea?

FFXV is a work of artistic genius, and, like all such things, has idiosyncrasies that are mitigated by the brilliance elsewhere. It could have been a better game, but as it stands it is a great experience.

The Only Christmas Quiz You’ll Ever Need (Apart From All the Real Ones)

A long time ago, in a bedroom far away, I got disillusioned with the ‘production-line’ approach to Christmas cards: you write someone’s name, write your name, maybe append a Christmas salutation, and then stick it in an envelope. This all seemed a little bit dull to me, and so I vowed from that point forwards to each year attempt to write a different thing of length in every single person’s card.

This has evolved over the years into a ‘themed’ set of supposedly-humorous vignettes that people generally glance at and then throw away. Still, it makes me feel better.

In 2015, the theme was a Christmas quiz. You know, the kind of thing irritating people like me think will be a ‘fun’ idea at parties, mainly because deep down inside we like to show off how clever we think we are. Here, for your delectation, is the complete set of questions. Merry etc.


  1. True or false: the character of John Rambo first appears in the works of Mark Twain?
    True. He appears in Tom Sawyer Part V: First Blood.
  2. In Jane Eyre, what does the title character find in the loft of Thornfield Hall alongside the Mad Mrs. Rochester?
    Mr. Rochester’s first cat, Fluffikins, stuffed in a pose resembling Lord Horatio Nelson, and an anachronistic collection of Bay City Rollers LPs.
  3. Does the fact that Jeffrey Archer has written so many books preclude the existence of the traditionally-understood Christian God?
    It certainly doesn’t help.
  4. Several Enid Blyton books have been banned in recent decades due to increasing ‘political correctness’. Can you name any of them?
    Naughty Amelia Jane Incites Racial Hatred; The Paedophile Ring at Mallory Towers; Five Join the British Union of Fascists; Noddy Visits the Mohel.
  5. Approximately what proportion of Tolstoy’s War and Peace is war?


  1. If Henry VIII had six wives, and Henry VI had eight wives (which he didn’t), how many wives would Henry IX have had if there had been one (which there hasn’t)?
    387,420,409 (9 ^ 9).
  2. Who is missing from this list of early Anglo-Saxon kings? Ethelbard, Ethelbert, Ethelred, Alfred the Great.
    Ethelernie, King Arthur and Fred Flintstone III.
  3. If the events of Star Wars happened a long, long time ago, who was king of Spain at the time?
    Philip II (and his beard).
  4. Henry VIII had six wives. How many times did he recite his wedding vows?
    Five. In order to fool the Pope, who was still a bit miffed what with the whole ‘reformation’ thing, Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn was conducted entirely in an early version of semaphore, using lavishly decorated flags designed by Hans Holbein’s lesser-known sister, who was rubbish at painting, but a real whizz when it came to elaborate cross-stitching.
  5. Thanks to a competition on a box of cereal, you have been selected to take part in the world’s first time-travel event. You have chosen to go back to the time of the Elizabethan era (the first one). Assuming that you bump into William Shakespeare, what advice would you give him?
    Think about a more upbeat ending for Hamlet in order to appease future Hollywood audiences. Perhaps Ophelia could come back as a zombie and pledge her undying love to Hamlet before he dies? Also, don’t bother with Coriolanus: the lead character is an idiot and people will forever be confusing it with Julius Caesar anyway.


  1. An essential item of modern-day computing is the mouse. Why is the mouse so-called?
    Because originally real mice were attached to computers. They were nailed to little roller-skates and, as the user moved them across a smooth surface, electronic pulses were sent to the CPU via the mouse’s tail. This practice was eventually brought to an end by the reduced manufacturing costs of plastic mice and complaints from the RSPCA, Mary Whitehouse, the Queen, and the entire population of French-Canada.
  2. A printer is an example of a computer peripheral. Name three others.
    Suitable answers include: a scanner; a dongle; a mouse; an inflatable Bill gates; a Bionic Man; a keyboard; a graphics tablet; or a giant killer robot with spikes down its back that shoots laser beams from its eyes and stomps around going ‘roooooooaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh’.
  3. Your computer displays a fatal exception error and smoke begins to pour from the air vents at the back. What do you do? Assume for the purposes of this question that the Bat-signal is broken.
    Throw a bucket of water (room temperature, not ice-cold) over the computer at once, and then immediately call the emergency services and request a fire engine and a qualified exorcist. Never, under any circumstances, attempt to open the case of your PC and tamper with the insides. No user-serviceable parts lie within, and many computer cases are home to small tribes of miniature sabre-toothed monkeys that do not appreciate their privacy being disturbed. Every year 500 people in the UK alone die from miniature-monkey-related injuries. Make sure you’re not one of them.
  4. How do mobile telephones work?
    All modern mobile telephones incorporate a tiny fairy, trained at an exclusive boot camp just outside Oslo. Whenever a telephone call is made, the fairy records your voice onto a small spool of tape roughly the size of something really small. This tape is then transferred across the sub-ether to the other telephone at a speed so fast it’s impossible to write the number on the page without the digits flying off. The receiving fairy then re-plays the tape to the call recipient. Text messaging works in the same way, only with a typewriter.
  5. What is a gigbite?
    The same as a gigabyte, but with more teeth.


  1. What is the longest river in the world apart from all the other ones?
    The Tyne.
  2. If you were to climb Mount Everest whilst wearing a tin-foil hat, would you be able to get a 4G signal on your mobile telephone?
    Probably, although if you’re on Vodafone you might struggle to get one in your own house.
  3. What did the Hanging Gardens of Babylon hang from?
    The Colossal Coat Hanger of Marduk.
  4. If Driver A took the M4 towards Glasgow, travelled at a constant speed of 68mph and stopped for six twelve minute comfort breaks, whilst Driver B did the same journey but at an average speed of 50mph with no breaks, who would reach Glasgow first?
    Neither: the M4 doesn’t go to Glasgow, and the head gasket on Driver B’s car broke just outside Gretna.
  5. Name five types of rock.
    Any five of the following: igneous; sedimentary; metamorphic; soft; dad; fraggle; crocodile.


  1. 1992 Paul Verhoeven film Basic Instinct is infamous for the scene in which an underwear-less Sharon Stone crosses and uncrosses her legs. What can be seen during this scene if a viewer uses freeze-frame?
    A baby owl in a trilby.
  2. True or false: initial studio cuts of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones replaced Anakin Skywalker actor Hayden Christensen with a cardboard cut-out of a young James Caan. Nobody noticed the difference.
    False: he was replaced by a glass of tepid water.
  3. 1990 Tom Selleck epic Three Men and a Little Lady had several straight-to-video sequels. Can you name any of them?
    Three Men and a Junkie; Three Men and a Contractual Obligation; Two Men and a Different Man Because We Couldn’t Afford the Same Third Man as In the Other Films.
  4. John Wayne and Bruce Wayne are related. Discuss.
    A good answer will mention that John Wayne was Bruce’s elder, cowboy-obsessed cousin. A poor answer will deny the existence of Batman. A very poor answer will deny the existence of John Wayne. An answer that denies its own existence will not be an answer. QED. Or something like that, anyway.
  5. True or false: the sequel to The Great Escape sees the survivors attempting to break back into the prison camp.
    False: the sequel (The Great Escape II: Escape Harder) has a supernatural theme where the ghost of Steve McQueen possesses his motorbike and attempts to finally make it over the fence.

What Entertainment Product(s) Have I Been Consuming This Week -October 10th

October is now in full swing or, at least, as close to ‘swing’ as October gets. Not that I’m really sure I know what ‘swing’ is or what it feels like, but I’m confident that if I did, I would be feeling it now.

The Apprentice: Or ‘the only reality show I actually watch.’ Man, I love The Apprentice. Yes, it’s full of people who were for the most part obviously picked because they are mad enough to make for good television whilst not being in danger of slitting the throats of the other contestants in their sleep. Yes, it’s obviously edited to make the smallest mistake seem like tap-dancing through a minefield. And, yes, it’s pretty much the same formula ever year with little deviation. But, boy, it’s good.

A highlight of any opening episode is the ‘choosing of the team names’ bit, and this series didn’t disappoint. My favourite exchange went something like this:

Male Candidate #1: How about Team Alpha?
Male Candidate #2: No, that’s too macho and masculine.
Male Candidate #3: How about Titans?
Others: Yes!

The female team went for ‘Team Nebula’, an ephemeral cloud of gas pretty much summing up their approach to this week’s task, which was basically a more shouty version of Bargain Hunt. The ladies lost, since it seems they were all in need of a clear pricing strategy to ensure that they didn’t sell a priceless vase for £3.50.

Roll on episode two…

Ni No Kuni: This week I was sucked into the uterus of a giant fairy, and wandered around rescuing the unborn before battling a giant jellyfish-thing and subsequently being ‘birthed’.

This game is great. 

What Entertainment Product(s) Have I Been Consuming This Week -October 1st

It’s that time of year when we all start talking about how it’s October already, and isn’t it going dark soon, and why are the supermarkets selling mince pies already, don’t they realise they’ll need to be eaten long before Santa has even considered checking the oil level in his sleigh? For introverted types like me, who prefer to stay indoors whenever possible, only venturing outdoors when I really have to, this is a great time of year. The increasingly inclement weather makes not going out seem a choice that no longer carries with it the guilt and worry about vitamin D deficiency that goes along with the warmer months. 

Ni No Kuni: I’ve finally made it past the point in the game where I gave last time, and have now managed to get access to a boat, thanks to what in retrospect was a very surreal encounter with a cheese-obsessed giant cow-woman. It did seem to make sense at the time. 

It seems ages since the last time I played a JRPG that followed as traditional a route as Ni No Kuni. No doubt it in a few hours I’ll get an airship or some similar flying thingummy. I’m still enjoying it so far, mainly because the game just oozes charm through all its various pores. It is pretty grindy, though, and not a game for those who don’t like lots of backtracking and fighting the same monsters. 

Red Dwarf XI: Back in my teenage years when, if you can believe such a thing, I was even more socially awkward than I am now, I was for a period obsessed with Red Dwarf. This was around the period of the sixth series, the last one that saw Rob Grant take part in the writing and, in a sense, the end of an era of what I’d consider ‘proper’ RD. Everything since then has never been quite as good, from the frankly awful seventh series through to the bizarre Coronation Street crossover that was Back to Earth. Anybody who was read the two third books in the novel series – Rob Grant’s Backwards and Doug Naylor’s Last Human – will have more than a rather sneaking suspicion that Grant was the funnier of the two writers, and his absence from all the later series of Red Dwarf has been keenly felt. 

Given all this, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I watched the first episode of Red Dwarf XI, which premiered on Dave the other week. I’ll admit to being pleasantly surprised – there were a few moments that made me genuinely laugh out loud, some clever concepts and the decision to move back to using models for the special effects is undeniably a good one. The best bits were those that just featured the crew being the crew, arguably perhaps the most traditional sitcom bits. As I’ve often found with a lot of the later Dwarf stuff, the sci-fi narrative portions are the weakest. 

The cast are as good as ever, by this point so comfortable in their roles that it must be second nature to them by now. And, yes, it still makes you wish Chris Barrie was in more things (surely somebody somewhere other than me would like a one-off revival of The Brittas Empire?).

All credit to Dave as well, aside from a mostly unknown (save for Kevin Eldon) supporting cast, the lack of budget doesn’t show. This looks every bit as impressive as you remember the old shows looking.

Trump vs. Clinton: The US presidential election seems like it’s in need of a reboot. I don’t envy the choices of the American people, having to select either the stereotypical politician Clinton, who comes across as some kind of automatron whose moral programming has become corrupted, and Trump who is, well, Donald Trump. The first debate between them was a fascinating 90 minutes, particularly from the perspective of an Englishman. The differences between the two are stark, although not perhaps quite as much as they would have been had Sanders won the Democratic nomination.

To me, Trump is a man who needs to stop talking about a third of the way into every paragraph. Some of his policies are sensible (if you’re of the more right-wing persuasion), it’s just rather unfortunate that they tend to be followed up with lunacy. Clinton, on the other hand, lacks the charm of her husband and often came across as smug, which is amazing when you consider her competition. 

A fascinating show, though. Thank God it’s not real. 


What Entertainment Product(s) Have I Been Consuming This Week – 17th September

I wasn’t kidding before when I said I’d forget to do this regularly. Hey-ho.

Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD: I’m enjoying Twilight Princess a lot more than I remember from before, I think mainly because I’m taking it in small doses rather than just playing straight through it. More so than other Zeldas, TP seems to suffer a fair bit from ‘dungeon fatigue’, where the game just keeps on giving you dungeon after dungeon at the end. I don’t think it helps that the standard of dungeons is a little inconsistent either. Last week I’d made it through the fantastic Snow Peak Ruins, easily one of the best dungeons if the game if not the series as a whole. This week I was dumped into the rather drab City in the Sky, which has so much potential but turns out to be a slightly dull slog involving lots of hanging on grates with with the claw-hooks waiting for another grate to turn around. Still, I’m being picky here: even at it’s worst, Twilight Princess is a fantastic game.

Ni No Kuni: I’m not really sure why I’ve started playing this again, but it probably has something do with the trailers of the sequel I keep seeing. I never made it all that far into the game back when it first came out; hopefully I’ll manage a bit more this time around. Man, this is a lovely game. Level 5 stuff normally looks great anyway, and the Studio Ghibli input here just adds an extra layer of loveliness to it. Everything is beautiful, from the cartoon graphics, to the animations, to the interface and the music. Especially the music. Performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, the soundtrack is some of the best original music I’ve heard in a game for ages. Gameplay-wise, Ni No Kuni isn’t perhaps quite as good as its presentation. The combat is decent enough, though perhaps could have done without as much emphasis on the Pokemon-esque familiar system. It’s a very gentle tale, as well, which does have the slight negative effect that it can seems a little on the slow side, at least in the bit I’ve played. As JRPGs go, though, this is up there with the very best of them.

On… Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Warning: Contains minor spoilers for Deux Ex: Mankind Divided.

Adam Jensen, antagonist of 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution and this it’s sequel, is cool. He looks cool, what with his black trench coat, carbon-fibre death arms and beard so pointy you could cut glass with it. He sounds cool, too, with his delivery drier than the surface of Mars. In fact, he’s probably a bit too cool for his own good, as he often comes across as more an impartial observer of humanity than someone invested in it.

Maybe that’s deliberate: a comment perhaps on how Jensen, augmented with so many cybernetic implants that he’s got more physically in common with a toaster than you or I, has had a portion of his humanity taken away. Or perhaps it’s a way of providing players with a cipher that doesn’t attempt to stamp too much personality onto proceedings.

Whatever the reasoning (if there is one), Jensen’s attitude highlights one of the main problems with Mankind Divided, which otherwise does so much to fix the problems of Human Revolution and emphasise what it did right. On the positive side, this is a game that excels in providing player agency and freedom to make progress the way you want to. Pretty much every scenario in the game has multiple routes to completion. The more gung-ho of us can rattle through the levels obliterating opponents with a mixture of gunfire and augment-enhanced melee, whilst those more inclined to a sneaky-sneakster approach can hide in air vents, surprising enemies with a whack to the head or a tranquiliser dart between the eyes. Where Mankind Divided really shines is not just with the sheer number of options available, but how easily you can shift your strategy as scenarios change. Whilst the AI isn’t always wholly convincing, it does a decent job and the gameplay is the most emergent I’ve seen since Metal Gear Solid V. This is no Assassin’s Creed with it’s multiple black-and-white fail-states.

You can tell it's a dystopian future from the Venetian blinds.
You can tell it’s a dystopian future from the Venetian blinds.

Presentation-wise, MD is also top-notch. The central hub city – Prague – is a beautifully rendered environment, with differing day-and-night states, complete with fantastic lighting effects. Several of the other levels also contain vistas that are worth just sitting back and looking at for a good few minutes. Character models are an improvement on Human Revolution, if still not quite first-class, and the various interface elements of the game are clean, crisp and with a consistent design motif.

Where Mankind Divided falls down is with its plot and the disconnect between game and narrative. ‘Ludonarrative dissonance’ is one of those terms that gamers like to bandy about a lot, mainly because it sounds quite intelligent, and is often applied to titles such as Uncharted where Nathan Drake’s Hollywood-hero aesthetic in cut-scenes fails to mesh convincingly with his crazed-gun-man approach to combat encounters. Here the problem is that Deus Ex provides a world that is realistic, but where the actions of most players won’t be. My first instinct, for instance, when leaving Jensen’s apartment at the beginning of the game was to try and break into everyone else’s rooms in the building. Entering the top-secret Interpol headquarters, before going to my mission objective I preferred to wander around hacking people’s computers whilst they stood about ten feet away. Of course, you can argue that these were my play choices, but by allowing you the freedom to do these things and effectively incentivising them with XP rewards and consumables, the game is pushing you towards actions that don’t sit well with the narrative.

The plot also doesn’t really go anywhere. It starts off quite strong, with Jensen thrown into the middle of a conspiracy and then a terrorist attack, but following this it takes a while to get going again and then, when it does, it pretty much ends without much of a coda. I came away with the distinct feeling that I was missing not just the final chapter, but a whole volume. Perhaps this will come in DLC, though I can’t help but think the amount of story remaining really requires a whole new game.

Much has been made elsewhere of the political overtones of the game, in particular the segregation the narrative presents between augmented and ‘natural’ humans. This didn’t overly bother me, though at times it did seem to be laid on a little thick. Possibly the worst crime the game commits with regards to this is that it doesn’t provide a great deal of commentary to it; arguably this is down to the game’s primary aim to offer you as much agency as possible, but it does still come across as a bit empty.

Despite these nagging issues with the narrative, this is still most definitely a game worth playing. The sheer number of ways to play compensate somewhat for the relatively short length, and the top-notch presentation demonstrate that this is a game that’s had a lot of money spent on it.

Plus, Adam Jensen’s beard is cool.

Great Jensen's beard!
Great Jensen’s beard!

On… The Witcher 3 DLC

Let’s get this out of the way right from the start: the DLC for The Witcher 3 is the best example of the form I’ve ever seen. There have been some good pieces of add-on content in the past (Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker, ME3: Citadel, Oblivion: Shivering Isles, etc.) but they are all trampled into the Velen mud by what CD Projekt Red have produced here.

Beware if you wish to read further: spoilers for the main Witcher 3 campaign as well as Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine are contained herein.

Released late last year, Hearts of Stone was the first major piece of DLC and features around 10-15 hours worth of content. At first glance it might seem slightly uninspiring, not least of all because there’s no new area to explore. Well, actually that’s a bit of a lie: the expansion does provide new parts of Velen to traipse around in, but there’s no new ‘whole’ map area as such.

What makes HoS so fantastic though is its storyline. Whilst there are, as you would expect, a number of various sub-quests, the main meat of the package concerns Geralt’s encounters with Gaunter O’Dimm. Rather cleverly, this is a character who initially appeared right at the start of the main campaign in a role so subtle that most people (myself included) would have forgotten about it until reminded by the DLC. The character of Gaunter is fascinating – his exact nature never truly revealed, but there are hints enough that he is an incarnation of evil. Your slow re-introduction to him takes place over a series of quests, initially focusing around new character Olgierd von Everec. To begin with, Olgierd seems to be the antagonist, but it soon becomes apparent that instead he’s something of a sympathetic character, drawn too deep into a situation he can no longer control.

HoS in many ways makes for a better campaign than the Wild Hunt itself did: it has the advantage of taking place over a smaller scale, and thus becomes much more involving for the player. Whilst Wild Hunt was very, very good, the need for it to take in the political machinations of Nilfgaard and Redania (amongst others) often lent it a layer of abstraction. HoS has none of this, really, and instead focuses on a small set of characters whose motivations and actions you come to know intimately. Indeed, the most memorable parts of the DLC are perhaps those that deal with the smallest matters. The wedding scene, for instance, wickedly subverts expectations set by the main campaign and external touch-points like Game of Thrones by being pretty much uneventful. Yet it stays with you because of the wonderful character development it employs, plus a fair amount of humour.

By the time HoS ends you have a completely different view of the world it presented than you did when it started, and that’s much to its credit. The character of O’Dimm will stick long in the mind, his cavalier ambivalence and macabre wit making for one of the best villains I think I’ve ever seen in a video game.

Touissant, not in Arizona.
Touissant, not in Arizona.

The second expansion, Blood and Wine, is a different beast. It’s hard to guage the ‘size’ of it, as mileage can vary, but to me it felt a good two-and-half times as big as HoS. This also adds a new map area, the southern duchy of Touissant. A rich, vibrant land with more than a hint of the Mediterranean about it, Touissant is an area vastly different to the war-torn Velen and the beautiful but harsh Skellige.

Due to the nature of the Wild Hunt’s main storyline, Blood and Wine by necessity needs to take place before the former’s conclusion. Thematically, however, the expansion is very much a coda to Geralt’s adventures. I’d suggest, in fact, if you buy the whole game packaged complete with the DLC, that you finish the main story first before tackling this. Not because of any difficulty issues (although the enemies here are tougher than most in the main game), but simply because the story works better.

Ostensibly, the main plot-line concerns a vampiric beast stalking the duchy, murdering a seemingly unconnected group of nobles. As the story builds, though, it touches more obviously on the topics of home, family and belonging. There is a wondrous juxtaposition between the traditional Geralt, perennial outcast, and the homestead vineyard that he acquires and potentially builds up over the course of the expansion. Additionally, whilst the Witcher series has always been in some ways a dark counterpoint to more traditional high-fantasy fare, here the inversions of tropes are laid bare. Towards the end of the expansion’s main story there’s a wonderful segment where Geralt enters a fairytale world, at first glance seeming peaceful before rapidly showing its corrupted side. Seeing Geralt take part in a dark (well, darker I guess) version of Little Red Riding Hood is a complete joy.

BaW is a campaign that deals with endings, of a sort. Whilst none of us can lay claim to living the life of a Witcher, the questions the game asks regarding where we wish to settle, literally and figuratively, are ones we can all empathise with. At its conclusion you feel as if Geralt’s story is complete. Okay – there could be extra adventures put in if needed – but all the pieces of the jigsaw have been put into place.

Narrative aside, BaW astounds as well because of the sheer generosity of the content it offers. At £15.99, the expansion contains more hours of gaming than most standalone, full-price titles. There are sub-quests galore, additions to character development, new gear sets, and so on. Also, it looks absolutely amazing.

I mean, seriously, it's lovely, isn't it?
I mean, seriously, it’s lovely, isn’t it?

All of this gushing probably makes it obvious that I can’t recommend Witcher 3’s DLC sets highly enough. They take everything that was great about the main game and simultaneously condense it whilst expanding on it. The only word of warning I would give is that, given the length of the main campaign and the DLC, it might not be a good idea to attempt it all in one go, for fear of burning out. I took a break of several months between finishing the main game and approaching both DLCs, and at the end of Blood and Wine I did almost wish I’d had an extra hiatus before it. Still, it seems rather petty to complain about having too much.

The addition of Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine probably make The Witcher 3 the best computer RPG ever. I’ll admit it’s not my favourite (Mass Effect and Baldur’s Gate II top it), but as an achievement of narrative, technology and scope it is, quite simple, untouchable.

What Entertainment Product(s) Have I Been Consuming This Week – 13th June 2016

It’s been a week full of pre-E3 leaks, more than I can recall in recent memory. I suppose it’s hard to keep a lid on all of these things, but it does rather worry me that there won’t be anything left to announce that will surprise us in the way that we had the FFVII remake and the return of The Last Guardian last year. Ho-hum.

Anyway, what I have I been partaking of over the last week…

The Witcher 3: Heart of Stone: The release of the new Blood and Wine expansion has made me return to the world of Geralt the witcher, as well as purchase both big DLCs. I loved the base game, but got a little burned out with it towards the end. Now refreshed, I’m really like Heart of Stone. It’s substantial without straying too far from the pattern set by the main game. I’m probably about two thirds of the way through now, and finding the story very interesting. Whilst lacking the ‘epic’ scale of Ciri’s tale, this seems to be looking at the nature of evil and the question of immortality. Also, the wedding sequence is fantastic.

Skylanders Superchargers: Tesco were selling the Wii U for £15, so I bought it for my daughter. We’ve not played too much of it yet, but it seems okay. I’ve never played a Skylanders title before so wasn’t really sure what to expect. It seems more polished than Disney Infinity, if not quite up to the standards of Lego Dimensions (though that probably has something to do with the fact that it’s more obviously targeted at a younger audience). I am slightly disappointed that right from the very start there are chunks of the game that are separated off by a blindingly obvious paywall, though I guess that’s the point of these toys-to-life games.

Arrow Season Four: The emerald archer has finished his fourth TV season now and, like many others, I think this was rather a mixed bag. Whilst Neal McDonough made a great villain, his motivations were always a little cloudy and, unfortunately, the fact that his powers revolved around invisible magic did make for a few too many scenes where Stephen Amell and co were being made to stand around ‘looking trapped behind an invisible wall’. This season also seems to have suffered more than most due to its length: the plot arc dipped a fair bit throughout. Still, there have been some standout moments and it remains one of the best things on TV.

Final Fantasy XIII: Actually I haven’t being playing this, I just wanted an excuse to use the tag and annoy the idiot who left me a profanity-laden comment last week, seemingly because I didn’t proclaim that FFXIII is the greatest game ever made. It isn’t.

What Entertainment Product(s) Have I Been Consuming This Week – 3rd June 2016

In the first of what may be a regular feature but, in all likelihood, will be something I do for a couple of weeks and then mostly forget about apart from a small kernel of intellectual guilt that remains deep in my soul, here is the badly-titled post where I tell you – the people – what I – the person – have been playing/watching/reading/listening to this week.

Final Fantasy XIII: Six years after my first abandoned playthrough, spurred on by the fact that (for reasons probably best ignored) I’ve recently acquired the other two games in the trilogy, I have been attempting to make it through Square-Enix’s much-maligned last big single-player, single-numeral entry in the series. In the past I’ve been quite adamant that I didn’t like XIII, mainly due to the battle system that I just couldn’t get along with. Having started the game afresh, though, I’m enjoying it more than I thought I would. True, the combat mechanics mean that many fights can devolve into wars of attrition, but there’s a tactical element to it that I hadn’t really tuned into before.

It does, however, have possibly the worst opening of any game I’ve ever played. Certainly of any big title. There are some stunning CGI sequences, but the first few hours (hours!) of the game are just exercises in tedium. Walk down a corridor, enter a battle that is so simple it really is just a matter of selecting ‘Auto-Battle’ four times in a row, walk down another corridor, watch a cutscene, rinse, repeat. The mechanics of the game are introduced so slowly but not really explained in great detail unless you read the in-game codex. Just get on with it! Thankfully, now some 30+ hours in, I’ve got to the world of Gran Pulse and can actually walk around a bit and do sub-questy type things. Hurrah! This really is a game that rewards invested time, because it does get a lot better both in terms of gameplay and storyline, I just wish it didn’t take so damned long.

Also, Vanille is incredibly annoying.

The Witcher 3: Well, technically what I’ve done this week is bought and downloaded the Heart of Stone and Blood and Wine DLC and spent hours re-installing the game on my PS4. I played it for a few minutes, picking up where I left off with my post-end-game save, though seem to have stumbled immediately upon an XP bug where my character seems stuck at 2000/2000 points on level 35. There’s a few things the Internet suggests to try that I might have a go at, but haven’t got around to it yet. Looking forward to spending some more time in Geralt’s world, though.

The Flash season two: There’s a current void in my life that will remain unfilled until The Flash comes back later this year. I think I’ll do a separate post on the whole season at some point, but suffice to say this has been a great season. Perhaps not quite as good as the first, it’s still managed to be consistently entertaining for twenty-three episodes. And that ending. Holy-shit-pants.

What makes the show so great is the cast. Grant Gustin is fantastic as the eponymous hero, and it seems such a shame that the DC movies won’t feature him. Also Tom Cavanagh has rapidly become one of my favourite actors. More of him, please.

On… Uncharted 4

Warning: Spoilers for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End contained below.

Blimey, this is a lovely game. Lovely to play, lovely to look at, lovely to hear. Just lovely. At times its loveliness is so pronounced that it makes you want to reach out and stroke your TV screen. Don’t do that, though, as you’ll get fingerprints all over it and immediately feel embarrassed.

Uncharted 4 is one of those games that, if you dissemble it to its constituent parts, doesn’t seem to add up to very much, yet somehow the finished product is spectacular. On paper it should be rather like The Order 1886: a linear, story-based romp interspersed with shooty bits. And, yes, it is that (plus some jumpy bits and car-drivey bits), but whereas The Order felt dead and leaden, this feels full of life. Maybe it’s the stunning graphics. The vistas of Scotland and Madagascar in particular are the most astonishing I’ve seen since The Witcher 3. Maybe it’s the characters. If wise-cracking Nathan Drake urked you before then, well, he won’t endear himself to you this time. But if, like me, you enjoyed the breezy, almost effortless charm of the main cast then you’ll certainly get your fair share of entertainment here. Maybe it’s the gunplay. True, it’s not best-in-class but is easy to pick up and, most importantly, fun. Most of the weapons have a satisfying heft to them, and there’s enough variety so that you feel you’re constantly finding new items throughout the length of the game.

Most likely, it’s everything together that makes this game what it is.

Nathan Drake doing what he does best: standing perilously close to the edge of a cliff.
Nathan Drake doing what he does best: standing perilously close to the edge of a cliff.

What’s most pleasing is that, considering this is the fourth game in the series (well, fifth if you count Vita prequel Golden Abyss), this is actually the one that differs most from the pre-set formula. There’s an increased focus on stealth which, wonderfully, never descends to the level of insta-death fails (I’m looking at you again, The Order). The pacing also seems better, with more sensible gaps between the all-out shooting sections. And whilst you never feel that you’re free to explore the world, there are multiple sections where you have more scope for moving off the beaten path. I found particularly impressive the way that the game signposts and funnels you down particular routes without ever really making you feel as if you being forced to go in a specific direction. There are no mini-maps, waypoints or HUD routes here, yet you never feel lost.

Special mention should be made of the game’s story, and if you’re really worried about spoilers you should step away now. Superficially, Uncharted 4 centres around a hunt for the lost treasure of long-dead if not long-Johned pirate Captain Avery. In actuality, the story is more concerned with the question of obsession and the notion of what we do after the adventure of youth is over. The game ends with the idea that, as life moves on, you shouldn’t give up on your dreams entirely, but perhaps you do need to adjust them and consider them in light of what else you’ve gained. The introduction of Nathan Drake’s brother Sam, whilst admittedly feeling slightly shoe-horned into the series’ continuity, provides an interesting juxtaposition. Despite Sam being the elder brother, his time spent languishing in a Spanish jail means that he essentially plays the role of Nathan in the early games: driven to find the treasure more than anything else.

It’s unusual for game series to end in a ‘planned’ way: normally they go on either forever or until the sales figures drop too much. Uncharted 4 is very much a ‘goodbye’ to the series or, at the very least, to the series as we know it. There could be more Uncharteds after this, but I think it’s fair to say – some DLC aside – Nathan Drake’s treasure-hunting days are over. That’s nothing to be sad about, though. The series definitely ends on a high and, as the game tells you, you can’t keep doing the same thing forever.

Remember that bit in Ocarina of Time when you could see Death Mountain and actually go to Death Mountain? This isn't like that.
Remember that bit in Ocarina of Time when you could see Death Mountain and actually go to Death Mountain? This isn’t like that.

Of course, an Uncharted game wouldn’t be an Uncharted game without some amazing set-pieces. Whilst there’s nothing here that quite matches the train sequence in Uncharted 2,  you’d have to be a cynical cove indeed not to be caught up in the thrills presented by the Madagascan car chase or the escape from the Scottish church. It helps that everything is presented in such a stunning way, with very few performance problems (I think I noticed maybe three or four slight frame drops throughout my time with the game). Naughty Dog have a reputation for squeezing wonders out of PlayStation hardware, and they haven’t disappointed here.

If any criticism can be levelled at U4 it’s that it is still a linear adventure at heart. This didn’t concern me – I’ve spent too much time in aimless open worlds – but if you’re coming to the game expecting something akin to an RPG then you’re not going to be happy. There are the normal Uncharted hidden treasures to uncover, though they don’t do an awful lot aside from unlock some special game modes and other ‘goodies’ in the option menu. The Vita title Golden Abyss had some interesting codex entries fleshing out the treasures, and I was a bit disappointed to find those missing here. I’m also not sure how much replay value there is here, particularly if you don’t touch the multiplayer (which I didn’t).

All of this is criticism for the sake of it, though. Uncharted 4 is one of the best games I’ve played this generation.

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