Review: The Witcher, Season Two

In my review for season one of The Witcher, I opened by remarking that I liked Netflix’s version of the material, noting, “It’s not perfect. I hope there’s more of it.” The second season delivered with not just more of the show, but an overall stronger sequel.

This season continues to adapt elements of Andrzej Sapkowski’s work, although a fair amount of it is material that I simply haven’t read. I know some things were added or significantly changed, which seems to have raised the ire of some book or video game fans. It doesn’t bother me, both because of my increasing lack of familiarity as the story advances and because I’m normally pretty fine with an adaptation doing its own thing; the deviations in this series don’t represent the extreme of simply using basic concepts or character names with otherwise no resemblance to the source material. If nothing else, the series continues to further increase my interest in actually reading through all the books and playing all the games, and it’s nice to know there will be deviations and surprises along the way.

Destiny, and the acceptance, defiance, or ignorance of destiny, are critical themes in this season–and in the show as a whole. That exploration of destiny is wrapped around a central mystery in the season’s overarching plot: just what is Ciri, what is her destiny, and why are monsters drawn to her? In exploring that mystery, Ciri, Geralt, and ultimately Yennefer all have pretty significant growth along their own character arcs. We also see even more of mage politics and get to meet some of the surviving Witchers–whose numbers are greatly reduced even further by the end.

There are some touching emotional moments this time around, but I don’t think I could even characterize them broadly without risking major spoilers. I was really impressed with the action/fight scenes, maybe more so than the first season, and the variety of monster designs. Pacing was good. I liked the improved costume/character designs–it didn’t occur to me until seeing Freya Allan in season two with dark, clearly defined eyebrows how the wispiness and virtual absence of her brows in season one were a distracting feature. (Also, in looking up the actress, I was shocked to learn that she is apparently 20 years old–I really thought she was a child!) Jaskier (Joey Batey) continues to be the Best Boy, and he has plenty to do and some very fun new songs added to this season as well. I don’t have anything more to say about Jaskier, I just love him and he’s always such a refreshing presence in the otherwise quite dour setting whenever he shows up.

I don’t really have any complaints that don’t amount to fairly minor things that made me uncomfortable or pushed the line for gore for me. Then again, this is a show about a fantasy medieval society embroiled in war and inhabited by nasty monsters slain by well-trained monster hunters, in which the most evil figures are most often human. So that’s more a personal comfort level than any legitimate critique of the show.

There is enough lore to this world that it makes sense that Netflix is exploiting it by developing the setting into a sprawling franchise. So far, that’s consisted of The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf (decent, surrealistic and over-the-top, did a good job of growing Vesemir from an amoral and ambitious scoundrel to someone who carried the responsibility and moral maturity to pick up the task of raising the last generation of Witchers). Of course, more is coming. That includes further seasons of the main show, as well as The Witcher: Blood Origins. I’m sure I’ll keep watching.

Review: Encanto

In contrast to last week’s movie review, I’m writing with open admiration for Encanto. I feel we’ve truly been blessed with some incredible animated movies and television over the past decade or so because I feel like my opinion is so frequently that the most recent animated movie or show I’ve watched is one of the best I’ve ever seen, and Encanto fits that trend.

The voice cast is great, led by Stephanie Beatriz as protagonist Mirabel, the only blood member of the Madrigal family not bestowed a magical Gift. (And oh hey there, John Leguizamo as Uncle Bruno!) The music, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is tremendous, ranging genres and emotions while at times managing to convey the way people in families talk in shockingly accurate ways. I couldn’t get over the fun and gossipy familiarity of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” and centerpiece song “Dos Oruguitas” just destroyed me.

I liked the colorful depiction of Colombian culture as well, but I’m not Colombian and claim no special knowledge of the country or its people, so I’ll defer on further commentary there. If nothing else, the Madrigal family itself and the community they are a part of are welcomingly diverse.

The story is such a heartfelt depiction of generational trauma and the metaphorical process of breaking out of unhealthy familial roles and healing. This felt like such a genuine depiction of a simultaneously personal yet universally relatable experience that feels rare in Disney movies (though not unusual for Pixar, under the umbrella of Disney but having nothing to do with this film). The magic system is maybe a bit undercooked, and why/how powers actually emerged, disappeared, or returned is never really explained, but given that it’s working heavily as metaphor for the underlying emotional and relationship troubles of the family, it doesn’t really matter.

This was a really good Disney movie.

Quick Thoughts on The Matrix Resurrections

I am sure The Matrix Resurrections has already fed thousands of reviews, think-pieces, and clickbait articles already. I saw it, and the sci-fi film is in line with the topics I cover on my blog, so it seemed relevant to address it here. But I don’t really have much to say.

It was fine. It was an overall enjoyable sci-fi love story with cool fight sequences and a retreaded heroic journey. It was fun to see Keanu Reeves as Neo and Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity again. It was interesting to see Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jonathan Groff doing their own versions of Morpheus and Agent Smith. (Jonathan Groff is so good in everything he does, and I somehow never recognize him at the time, which is probably a credit to his performances.) There were other new roles, and returning roles, and references to characters from the other movies. These were all mostly entertaining and/or interesting, as well. None of this movie felt vital or fresh or new, though.

The movie even argued against itself. Thomas Anderson is saddened that he has to make a new Matrix video game, that the studio was going to make one with or without him. Despite his creative involvement, he isn’t sure about what to do with the new game. Plenty of people who grew up with his games tell him what the game should be about. A consensus is never reached. Lana Wachowski is hardly subtle here.

In general, there was nothing subtle about anything in the movie. I don’t think the Wachowskis know how to be subtle. They can be cryptic, but not subtle. That’s fine; they offer big ideas coupled with gripping action sequences. But they’re most fun when setting up a new concept (even when adapting a property or riffing on a genre), like the original The Matrix or Speed Racer or Jupiter Ascending.

I have seen the full Matrix trilogy. I’ve watched those movies maybe twice, once around when they came out and once as a young adult. I’ve enjoyed them. I recognize The Matrix as groundbreaking. But none of them got deep under my skin, like they did for some people, like especially the original did for many people. I don’t remember the details well enough to have a deep appreciation for all the callbacks made in Resurrections. That’s fine. It didn’t ruin my experience.

But Resurrections did not need to exist, and it has not justified its existence or the continuation of the franchise. Maybe die-hard fans will disagree. That’s fine too. I think I’d get more out of just watching the original again. This franchise can go on and on beyond Resurrections if it wants, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t need to, and I won’t care at all if it does.

My Five Favorite Games in 2021

My tradition continues: below are my five favorite games that I played in 2021.

1. Red Dead Redemption 2

I only started playing RDR2 in the latter half of December. I’d heard great things for a long time. I expected to find it enjoyable, probably better than the first Redemption. I’ve in fact been absolutely blown away by this game. It’s an incredible balance of Western simulator and heartfelt narrative vehicle, and I can’t get over how well that balance is maintained. Rockstar games typically favor the simulation side, creating big open worlds with tons of activities and locales, densely packed with AI inhabitants, awaiting you to create your own stories through the dynamic interactions with that world as you sow chaos or simply walk through it. Those games are often paired with stories about Big Ideas and memorable (and occasionally even complex) characters, but the story and gameplay often undermine each other. I’ve written about this before. But RDR2‘s open world and story don’t feel in contrast; they feed off each other. Your choices matter. Small choices create ripple effects, in and out of missions. How you act in the larger world determines to some degree how Arthur acts in missions and how the story plays out.

A lot of this is the richer Honor system pulled in from RDR, but not everything is simply tied to morality mechanics. The constant presence of characters who matter to the narrative helps, as well. You spend a lot of time at camp, and there are rewards and incentives for doing so. You get to know the camp members, who are well-written and well-acted; all but one or two of the most despicable have redeemable characteristics, and there are characters I found easy to relate to and care for. There’s a real sense of community, and that helps guide my actions as protagonist Arthur Morgan. But there’s always enough nuance in Arthur’s demeanor to justify a more honorable or more dastardly version of the character, and all versions feel within a reasonable range for this character as he is depicted.

There are also optional systems that provide additional depth to the stoic and gruff (though far-from-silent) protagonist; for instance, Arthur updates a journal to sketch places he’s visited, animals he’s studied and hunted, and interesting personalities he’s encountered, while providing his perspective on events in the game and his own (partially player-guided) actions. That journal feature is omnipresent, and when there’s an update, a notice briefly appears, but one never need spend time in the journal. I love to view it whenever it’s updated, though, as it adds much greater richness to the game’s story, providing a window into the inner life of a protagonist who isn’t always particularly inclined to tell people how he’s really feeling. Arthur’s defined personality traits but broad range of reactions has allowed me to find my own version of the character, one who tends to help those in need, who looks after women and children, who can be a bit too trusting, but who is also quick with a gun, willing to rob and loot, willing to turn a profit especially if it helps his outlaw community, and not out for blood but never afraid to get into a fight or even to kill if it serves his goals. He’s an interesting gray character–genuinely interesting, and not just the erratic set of disjointed choices that might normally define a “chaotic neutral” type of character.

The simulation side has engaged me far more than RDR, GTA IV, or GTA V, as well. I enjoy fishing and hunting. I enjoy seeking out a great buck, slowly stalking it, attempting to cleanly and mercifully kill it, and then collecting its carcass for a ride back through mountains, valleys, forests, plains, and rivers to share it with the outlaw camp’s quartermaster/cook for the benefit of the community. I enjoy simply riding my horse down wide roads and up narrow, winding paths. God, do I love the horses. There’s a button prompt to comfort/praise/reassure your horse, and I abuse the hell out of it. We’re closely bonded. And you can praise (or scold) cats and dogs, so I of course praise them when I can. You can pat dogs, so I do that often too. I suppose you could shoot them, but why would you? There are plenty of rewards in being a good person and treating the world like a real place, and I imagine there are rewards for those who want to play a far more violently aggressive personality as well, though I seldom see them.

There are also systems to punish wildly out-of-character behavior. There are harsh penalties to crime sprees. It’s inevitable–simply following the game’s story will get you involved in at least some criminal behavior, and my Arthur isn’t a saint. But the Wanted system combined with the lingering Bounty system and resultant posses of bounty hunters and lawmen that will follow you in territories where you’ve wreaked havoc provide for additional experiences to test your skills but also remind you that you shouldn’t push things too far, that the game’s “society” has clear rules and will demand you adhere to them or face dire consequences, locked out of most of civilization and on the run.

There are a lot of fascinating random events and strangers to run into. One time, I saw a fight to the death between territorial bucks. I’ve helped escaped prisoners and women captured by marauders. I’ve been ambushed by rival gangs. I’ve gotten swept up pursuing an impressive pronghorn buck or elk, or a legendary beast whose territory I innocently wandered into, ignoring for a while whatever my immediate goal had been. I’ve been invited to search for dinosaur fossils (an awesome acknowledgment of the rapid expansion of paleontological fieldwork and the wild characters involved from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries). I’ve collected some treasure for a quest and stopped by a nearby abandoned cabin late at night, only to find skeletal remains everywhere and a message from a cult, with a sudden green glow and eerie thrumming to throw me off even further, my brain sounding alarm signals of fear before I realize I’m being buzzed by a UFO overhead just as it takes off. It’s a wild game.

There’s so much to do, and so many of the situations in the main narrative and the random encounters can be shaped by your personal input. While this could easily reward replay of the story, the game is just so damn big, the choices so many and varied, that I imagine I’ll see the completion of the game as the completion of the story for My Arthur; no replay would be needed. (Plus, if I still want more when I’m done, there’s Red Dead Online.) I’ve played for just over thirty hours and appear to be just under a third of the way through the story, so there’s more than enough game in the single-player mode alone.

There is so much to RDR2, but the nature of the game, its story about a struggling community and the efforts to find safety and purpose on a fading frontier, allow for such a wide-open story. Unlike the first game, I don’t get a feeling of bloat (which is really crazy when I complained about completing RDR in 46.5 hours, compared to my 31.4 hours for less than a third of the story in the sequel). There are certainly excessive systems, but the game wants you to live in it, and the story is about living in this community. There is no burning rush for revenge, as in the original. Instead, it feels like a story in which you’re simply trying to hold out as long as you can with the ones you love and the ones who rely on you, even as the noose slowly tightens around you and your found family. (Oh, also unlike the first game, RDR2 has so far provided a quite diverse cast of characters, from some of the central figures to the many background parts, and they’re provided much greater nuance and, at least for the main characters, individuality and complexity than in any other Rockstar game. I’m really impressed by this development.)

Finally, the customization options for accessibility and UI appearance are quite welcome. I like keeping a minimalist overlay presentation, inviting greater immersion into the game. The one feature I often keep up is some version of a navigation system in the lower left corner of the screen. If I’m moving through familiar territory or not particularly concerned about direction, I turn it off. If I’m heading toward a goal, I keep a simple compass on so I know that I’m at least not riding south when I need to be going west. If I’m in a territory where I’m wanted, or if I’m on a mission, I tend to turn on the normal or expanded versions of the minimap with its associated markers and route guides. All of this can be done without even pausing the game, pressing a couple of button prompts the same as you would to rotate between your weapon options. It’s impressive.

Then again, this whole game is impressive.

2. Jurassic World Evolution 2

This shouldn’t be a surprise. I loved what Jurassic World Evolution evolved into with its DLC. I was eagerly awaiting the sequel. It has not disappointed. I’m sure I’ll be returning to challenges and sandbox modes for quite a while yet. And I’m hoping for some further story developments post-Dominion!

3. Book of Travels

Another title that shouldn’t be a surprise on this list. This is a game that focuses on the things I like most about roleplaying. I haven’t given it the attention it deserves, but the time I’ve spent in it has been delightful.

4. Halo: The Master Chief Collection

I got into the co-op with a friend toward the end of this year. I also started playing solo playlists of missions. Maybe I’ll get into the multiplayer? Then again, I imagine most people have moved over to Halo Infinite. Either way, it’s been a fun and nostalgic time.

5. Star Wars: Squadrons

This was a go-to toward the start of the year, but my friends and I slowly burned out of this. We’ve idly talked about getting back into it. It really brought the sense of cinematic Star Wars space battles to life and personally invested you in it as a starfighter pilot caught up in the middle of it all. Multiplayer matches were chaotic and intense. We had one really strong player (not me–I was maybe the worst), but matchmaking unfortunately veered toward unbalanced rounds against incredibly skilled players or players who clearly didn’t know what they were doing at all, so we oscillated between fantastic victories and crushing defeats. I never got very far into the story, and the limited multiplayer maps could feel repetitive. But all that said, it was a way to socialize with friends during some of the worst of the pandemic while experiencing authentic Star Wars.

Have you tried Book of Travels yet?

I’m very sad to hear about the layoffs at Might & Delight. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of the studio prior to the Early Access release of Book of Travels, but this game has charmed me so. While I appreciate the transparency from Might & Delight, this news did bring a lot of questions to my mind. Did their launch so underperform? Has the indie video game industry, at least on PC, become overly reliant on Early Access-type experiences? Were there other troubles that were simply exacerbated by a perhaps disappointing launch of this tiny multiplayer RPG?

I hadn’t actually logged into Book of Travels for several weeks (whoops), but I did hop back in the other night. The experience feels more polished than last time, and I had fun exploring some new-to-me areas and continuing my fishin’-and-tradin’ routine. I do worry, though, that there won’t be enough new content for a long time, especially in light of the smaller team, to keep me eager to come back with a high frequency. Not a knock against the game or a lack of interest, but it’s something I’ve enjoyed most logging in and playing casually in a relaxed setting for as long as I want, somewhat aimlessly. I like the lack of an urgent quest or progression cycle, but the quiet teasing out of more information out of the world doesn’t give me an incentive to log in every day–or even every week. That’s fine! I like the quiet and the peace! But maybe it’s ultimately hurting regular player numbers in the game. Then again, surely player numbers couldn’t have been that crucial since there’s no subscription fee and this is Early Access–unless they were relying on potential investment that fell through because of low engagement figures. I hope that’s not the case. I want to see this game thrive for years to come, and we’re just a couple months out from release.

What I’ve been trying to do off and on for a while now is to persuade some friends to get the game. I think playing with some buddies with voice chat through Discord, getting involved in group endeavors and chatting as we wandered over a beautiful and peaceful land, would be an ideal way to regularly interact with the game. As much as I’ve loved the spontaneous, quiet moments I’ve had with strangers in the game, it’s still a social-lite experience in a setting and playstyle that seems ideally set up for in-depth roleplaying. (Alternatively, having a more combat-focused experience could easily mix up the gameplay, so I might roll a new character just for that.)

Anyway, with the Steam Winter Sale going on, and in light of the apparent financial woes at Might & Delight, I picked up much of their back catalogue of games. I’ve heard good things about the Shelter series while reading about Book of Travels, so I’m interested in trying that out. Plus, if it helps to support the studio while they continue to build out Book of Travels, I’m on board with that. They’ve also released the soundtrack to Book of Travels, and it’s truly beautiful music in that game, so I got that as well.

If you haven’t checked out Book of Travels, as part of the Steam Winter Sale and through January 5th, you can pick it up for 20% off now. Yeah, it’s weird to push this game in light of a setback, but I really do love it, and I really do want other people to experience it. Please, please, please consider checking it out.

(This isn’t a promoted post. I’m getting nothing for it. This is a small personal blog. I just really love this game and want to see more of it, and I think most people would like it too if they gave it a chance!)

Arena Reboot, Part I: Returning to the Arena and starting out in Reich Parkeep

I see no reason to recap the introductory materials of the game. Those descriptions, and my thoughts related to them, are still available through my older series of Arena posts. Please do consider taking a look.

For this time around, you’ll see I went with the same name and image for the character, but already the adventure’s been different, not just from a stats perspective but from a flow perspective, and I think that boils down to my choice of Spellsword this time around.

This suits my apparent playstyle quite readily, and I had a fun and easy time mopping up rats and goblins in the sewers. I’m tentatively optimistic about this attempt–I haven’t been bored or frustrated at all yet. For now, I think that to the extent that I write posts about the game, I’ll present them as an ongoing narrative, an extended fan fiction chronicling my character’s exploits, cutting out some of the more nuts-and-bolts discussion of the game that my previous series had. To the extent I engage with that out-of-universe stuff, I think I’ll keep to separate posts from the main series.

Now with that said, I’ll just jump right into Aizen’s adventures.

Imperial Battlemage Jagar Tharn’s coup had been quick and overwhelmingly successful. Emperor Uriel Septim VII and Talin, leader of the Imperial Guards, were transported to a pocket dimension. Tharn assumed the visage of the Emperor and surrounded himself with his own loyal followers. He killed his own apprentice, Ria Silmane, when she learned the truth and refused to cooperate with his scheme. With a few careful and covert imprisonments and executions, his power was cemented, and he felt confident that no one could uncover his scheme or stop his plans.

Aizen awoke from his dream vision of his old friend, Ria, in the moldy depths of the abandoned Imperial prison, realizing he might be the only one left able to thwart Jagar Tharn. It was a matter of simple luck that he had been provided an imprisonment instead of execution, as a minor member of the Imperial court, a Dunmer in the Imperial capital and thus an outsider among Imperials and Dark Elves alike, who had known nothing of the actual coup until Ria’s ghostly appearance. He presumed he had been left to die in here, surely, but now it seemed this was merely the first chapter in a greater story. The first problem was determining whether he could actually escape from his cell. He found a ruby key sequestered away, just as Dream-Ria had promised, and he was quickly able to make his way through the labyrinth of this old, abandoned section of the Imperial prison, following half-remembered instructions from his vision to escape. Arming himself and equipping a buckler and some magic items hidden among the refuse and rot to aid in his defense, he stepped through the portal Ria had told him of and found himself in the town of Reich Parkeep, in northwestern Morrowind, in the middle of the night. The jump had successfully gotten him away from the heart of the Empire and out into the provinces, it was true, but this was a less-than-ideal time and place.

He spent way too much time wandering the dark, empty streets and alleys of the town, noting the excess of churches and apparent lack of stores and inns. He did not find undead, but he did encounter plenty of goblins and rats, a couple thugs, and a lizard-man, fighting more perhaps on the town’s streets than in the depths of Tharn’s dungeon.

He came across a few good-hearted people who still found a reason to be out in the night–an unusual jester, a prostitute, some devout monks on their temple grounds–and eventually found his way, with the help of their vague directions, to an inn hidden away behind a hedge wall: the Gold Griffin.

Ria had suggested that only Aizen could stop Jagar Tharn, but she had also promised that he could safely set himself up in the provinces. The messages were somewhat contradictory, unless of course she intended him to train and equip himself in comparable security until he was ready to take on the Imperial usurper. While he planned to simply take a room for the night to think things over, an “aggressive” figure cornered him and asked him to retrieve a lock of ghoul’s hair from someone at the Mages’ Guild within one day. He pushed himself back into the night, figuring perhaps he could discover this knick-knack on his own within the sleeping Guild hall. No luck–upon breaking in, he found a couple small bags of gold, not worth the break-in if that had been the goal, and the shock of another thief who eventually cornered him and forced him to fight to the death. On his retreat from the guild, he came across yet another thief in a nearby snowy square, perhaps the partner of the former, and once more defeated his human foe.

Aizen returned to the Gold Griffin at last, for a final time that night, a little past four in the morning. He drank some ale–allegedly the best in the city–and rented a room, waking not-quite-fully refreshed but eager to complete the task bestowed upon him. He set back out into the city, not straight for the guild but rather heading to a weapons store he’d passed and marked accordingly on his map the night before. Once there, he offloaded the goods he’d acquired on his journeys so far, save for the weapons, magic items, buckler, and leather armor that he’d looted from his foes and procured from heaps of old treasures in the dungeon. He’d managed to collect a silver helm, ill-suited to him, but that went for over 300 gold, and he bought a few cheap leather pieces, including a helm, to complete his set.

Returning to the Mages’ Guild at last, still nearly vacant, he encountered a mage hidden away among a stack of books who offered him the lock of hair. He collected the hair and returned to the aggressive fellow at the inn, receiving a measly 45 gold for his troubles but the gratitude of this stranger.

Life fell into a comfortable routine for Aizen for a few days after that, handling basic fetch quests–back to the Mages’ Guild to deliver a note, for instance–and exploring the countryside surrounding Reich Parkeep. To the south, there were open fields and farmlands, and winding country roads, all coated in snow. The city itself had a series of canals running through it, and to the east and north was a large lake with an island set out in the middle of it. Aizen found dungeons to explore in both these places.

The south fields were interrupted at one point by a small inn and at another by an isolated fortress. No soldiers appeared to staff it, and the interior was barren. Aizen found some loot, but also quite a number of thieves and scoundrels just as willing to slit his throat and take what he found. When he’d had enough of exploring the crumbling stone corridors, he would take a brief break to try to infiltrate a low-slung, newer building, but he never succeeded, inexplicably drawing the presence of armed guards. It was a mystery to him, but he wasn’t sure it was worth finding the answer.

The lake’s island had a strange earthen den with a wooden door set into it. That door led down into narrow, dimly lit tunnels set into the bare soil, with strange open gaps suggesting precipitous falls into darkness, frequent patches of blood staining the ground, and wooden doors set off at seemingly random locations that occasionally had some bit of loot left behind. This warren was crawling with burglars and beasts, and Aizen fought off his fair share of thieves, rival spellswords, minotaurs, orcs, rats, and even a couple of mages. Aizen’s curiosity got the better of him, and he pushed too far and too fast, unnecessarily risking his life, but he eventually got out with several valuable odds and ends.

Aizen found himself in the magic trade after that, briefly. He had already discovered that several trinkets were protective when worn, but he had them and several strange potions identified. What he couldn’t wear, or what didn’t seem clearly useful to save to drink, he sold off. And he bought himself a couple spells: a better healing spell and an Open spell to improve his future chances with locked doors. By the end of his trading, he had a full set of chain armor to supplant his still-fresh leather gear.

There were two inns in Reich Parkeep. The Screaming Helm was good for the odd job, but it was the Gold Griffin, Aizen’s first sanctuary, that became something of a home. Whether he had simply been out and about town or delving deep into a dungeon, he always welcomed the moment he could enter the cozy inn, stamp the snow from his boots, and rub warmth into his fingers. Yet he felt oddly detached from those who also seemed to make the inn their home. He talked little, and when he did, he found most disinterested in him. The barkeeper was friendly enough, but seldom had anything to say. The arrangement worked for the short term, but Aizen knew that Reich Parkeep would not be his home forever.

On one of his first nights of freedom, Aizen dreamt of Ria again, who told him to seek out Fang Lair, where he should find the first piece of a broken relic of power, the Staff of Chaos, that could undo Tharn’s plot. According to legend, Fang Lair was built by the Dwarves of Kragen, who were driven out by a Great Wyrm. But Ria could not say where Fang Lair could be found. If Aizen had not already had tangible proof of the reality of the visions, with the manifestation of the ruby key and the portal that had dumped him in Reich Parkeep, he would have questioned whether he was simply going mad. In truth, he did anyway. But for the sake of Ria’s spirit, he knew he would follow this lead in time. While he adventured and quested, he did take time to ask the local residents for any information about this lost locale. Some believed it was simply a legend. Others suggested the temple for information, but the temple knew nothing. Still others suggested the Mages’ Guild for information, but the guild knew nothing too. One person Aizen spoke with suggested that Fang Lair could be found in Hammerfell, and then another, and another still. Aizen knew that if the place was regarded as a legend by most, his best chance of tracking down more information would be Hammerfell–if that was even the right part of the continent. So he squirreled the piece of information away, until he felt ready for a trial of that nature, and a journey that would take him to the other side of Tamriel.

On his next adventure out into the wilderness, Aizen found the small inn again but couldn’t locate the old fortress. He did, however, stumble onto a remote, small graveyard with a single mausoleum.

Exploring the mausoleum.

He crept into the funereal chambers within, expecting perhaps his first encounter with the undead, but the rooms were barren, save for a few valuables. To enter those rooms was its own challenge, as they were locked, and his first Open spell failed while nearly depleting his magic reserves. But in frustration, he swung his sword at the old wood, and the locks on each door yielded to his onslaught.

Pressing on further, he came across a small, unnamed settlement with a temple, an inn, several houses, and bustling residents in the snowfields outside.

After strolling through the woods outside the settlement, Aizen found a low-slung, oddly angled compound with a massive barred wood door. He crept inside, finding a winding maze with sheer drops and halls that led to nothing. And, as expected, he found his share of monsters and men eager to try to slay him. He even encountered a couple skeletons, and just as he was about to leave, a zombie set upon him, nearly pummeling him to death before he could flee into the frozen overworld.

On return to the small settlement, he rested up at the local inn. The local innkeeper told him that the “prophet” he spoke with said that Hammerfell would be decimated by plague early the next year. Aizen didn’t know the “prophet,” presumably some sort of simple soothsayer, and he had already heard many spurious rumors about suspected plagues and poor or rich harvests, but the news was dismaying given his likely final destination. In that moment, he made a decision. It was time to move on, to leave the region of Reich Parkeep behind. It was time to begin his trek across Tamriel to determine if the legendary Fang Lair was real–as his vision insisted–and could be truly located. He set off on the main road toward the adjoining state of Skyrim, stopping in the border town of Cormar View.

Here, the news of Fang Lair was fresher–couriers had arrived just the day before, speaking of the locale. Aizen could not ascertain further details, but it seemed that Fang Lair was real, in Hammerfell, and somehow making its presence felt once more.

He knew he was on the right path, and his journey seemed increasingly urgent. He would press on soon.

Bethesda Launcher

Hey, did you know that Arena and Daggerfall are both available through the Launcher? And that when you install them through the launcher, they also install a DOS emulator? And that you can smoothly launch the games from the launcher? Hm…hm

Well, I’m still playing Jurassic World Evolution 2‘s challenge mode (and capturing some novel-inspired images in sandbox mode that I plan to eventually share here–fun little side project), and I’ve been playing co-op with a buddy in old Halo games from The Master Chief Collection (Infinite? Come on, I’m typically years behind the times, no way I’m touching that soon), and it’s been a little while since I played Book of Travels despite regular updates so I want to get back to that, and god do I need to get back into Ring Fit Adventure, and then there’s my larger backlog of games that’s not getting any smaller any time soon, and that of course is just discussing games

All that said, I can’t imagine that I’ll actually get back into Arena any time soon. But the convenience of it makes it more plausible, makes it a little bit of a glimmer in my mind’s eye once more. And hey, maybe you didn’t know about its availability through the launcher, and maybe you’ll give it a try.

UPDATE: Oh, why not.

Aizen 2.0

Review: Camp Cretaceous Season 4

The fourth season of Camp Cretaceous is the best one yet. The animation has continued to improve, and some of the action sequences, including an early one this season set in open waters (that also serves as an homage to Jaws), surpass anything that’s come before on the show and rival some of the scenes from the film. I really care about the characters, too; the campers have been through a lot, have had time to reveal their personalities to each other and the audience, have had time to grow, to develop, to be thoroughly traumatized. This season offers some big payoff on all that development, and every character has at least one interesting issue that guides their motivations and choices throughout every episode. It’s amazing that the show continues to maintain the diverse ensemble cast that it does, expanded further with some adult characters this season, without neglecting any individual characters’ stories.

The removal from Isla Nublar to a whole new island run by the villainous Mantah Corp. allows for a certain level of unpredictability to this season, even while the timeline still hasn’t caught up with the films. It’s a little whackier sci-fi, and the apparent motivation behind the bad guys to simply battle these expensive dinosaurs for the benefit of the rich felt a little flimsy to me, but there’s enough action and emotional character moments that I seldom had a reason to linger on the logistics of the operation too much. The setting also sets up a much larger world even pre-Fallen Kingdom that calls into question some of the absolute statements made in the Jurassic World films (while the larger world might not know, at least some of the Isla Sorna dinosaurs did not end up dead or departed to Jurassic World but were abducted to this new island; plus, Blue was the last of her pack but not the last Velociraptor out there). I think I can detect some plotlines that will end up continuing into Dominion, but frankly I’m uncertain, and I think after the movie comes out I’ll look back on this season (and perhaps the earlier seasons) with surprise about how things were set up.

This season also offers more dinosaurs to empathize with and simply see as animals, which was not at all what I expected. Even the Tyrannosaurus is given a surprisingly gentle moment with one of the human characters. This is a lovely change from the erratic behavior of the dinosaurs in reaction to the monstrous hybrid threat of the last season–and for that matter, we even have some cute baby dinosaur hybrids now that show that being a “hybrid” by itself doesn’t make an animal villainous.

I had a fun time binging this season’s 11 episodes. While still a fairly short season, this is the longest one for the series yet. And there just has to be another season coming with the cliffhanger ending offered! I can’t wait.