Friday, 17 November 2017

Some Art

As well as my many activities involving sitting in a chair, staring at a screen, I have a wildly different hobby of sitting in a chair, staring at a piece of paper. Not a great artist by any stretch, but I enjoy it, and I thought I’d have a crack at a few different types of drawing.

The process I use is to do a very faint pencil sketch, then go over with a darker pencil. Usually I put it through a BW filter to make it starker, although I chose to leave the first image just in pencil-and-paper form.

Some of these I previously posted on my Twitter account, MorrisF1.



Cat (and dog)

The cat mostly turned out well, although the legs are a little stumpy. It’s based on the guide in Mark Crilley’s Mastering Manga 3, which I can highly recommend. This was a lot easier than the more realistic dog tutorial in the same book, but, obviously, that took a lot longer, so swings and roundabouts. (Having mentioned it, I decided to add the dog as well).


Desert

This is based on a screenshot from the nocturnal desert region in Dragon Age: Inquisition. I wish I’d gone for a little more background detail, but am quite pleased with the sandy outline. So, not bad, but I should’ve added more stuff.

Triss

I was very much in two minds about including this. As I drew it, I liked this drawing of Triss Merigold from The Witcher 3 a lot. And then immediately afterwards I loathed it. Weirdly, I think the outline of the face (something I struggle with for ‘realistic’ faces quite a bit) looks ok, but the features just don’t seem to gel together.

France Map

Being into both history and fantasy, maps are an interesting thing to try and draw. Personally, I’m not fussed about them being included in books (details often get swallowed by the spine and the necessarily small size limits what you can show anyway) but as larger pictures I think they work well. Anyway, this is a pretty basic map. Coastline looks alright, not sure about the city symbols though. The larger collective forest in the south and the swamps in Brittany (NB I was just practising symbols, Brittany isn’t really a giant quagmire) turned out well, and were based on the WASD20 RPG map videos on Youtube. On the downside, this took quite a long time. Not as long as the reptile head with hundreds of scales, but quite a long time nevertheless.

Lion Crest

I was delighted with this. Based on William Marshal’s crest (deliberately low on detail beyond the outline), although I got the proportions a smidgen off and the paws/claws could be better, the basics worked very well. I was planning on doing another but mingling it with the style of the Lannister lion (from Game of Thrones) but then had a perhaps even more cunning plan for another lion. If that ends up working (I haven't started it yet) I'll put it up here and/or on Twitter.


Thaddeus

Friday, 10 November 2017

Review: Angel’s Truth, by AJ Grimmelhaus

This took me a while to read, but that was due entirely to a rare bout of pestilence that lingered awhile.

Angel’s Truth is the first entry in the Angelwar series. Disclaimer: there is an ad for Kingdom Asunder (by me) in the back.

Tol Kraven is the chief protagonist, a youthful monk sent on an urgent mission to protect the Truth (hence the title) and deliver a message/warning to a convent. He’s quite likeable, when he isn’t falling off a mountain, trained to kill and capable of being decisive (although not necessarily wise).

The other main perspective is that of Katarina, the somewhat dubious daughter of a foreign ruler who may or may not be involved in nefarious business. She forms an odd couple with her terse bodyguard Stetch, a relationship which works well in a chalk-and-cheese sort of way.

Tol travels to try and shore up the church, which is under threat from mercenaries hired by a very dangerous puppetmaster. I always find assessing grimness quite difficult but this is not one for kids or the particularly squeamish, I would say, in terms of violence.

The writing style is easy-to-read and fast-paced which, coupled with the small chapter size, meant I often ended up reading more than intended. Protagonists are likeable and distinctive, and I like the world-building, which is extensive but gradually revealed so there isn’t a wall of info-dumping to leap over.

I particularly enjoyed the first half, when the protagonists were largely separate and much of the plot was deliberately shrouded in uncertainty as to who was trustworthy and who wanted what. Although these separate threads were tied together neatly, the mystery was enjoyable.

On the downside, a little more editing to make certain parts slightly more concise would’ve been beneficial (nothing atrocious, just some cases where two lines were used but one would do).

All in all, an enjoyable, fast-paced fantasy adventure with spies, treachery, and the odd angelic intervention. Well worth a look.


Thaddeus

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Review: Ancient Egypt on Five Deben a Day, by Donald P. Ryan

This small book, around 140 pages or so, takes the reader on a voyage through the Egypt of Ramesses II, around 1250 BC.

The approach taken is literally in the form of a journey, with some general chapters about Egyptian attitudes to foreigners (they’re quite xenophobic) naturally flowing to the religious reasoning (they think they’re especially blessed by the gods) and social observations. From there, the book takes the reader from entry to Egypt on the likeliest route (up the Nile), which has the happy coincidence of working both as a tour guide and summary of recent history due to the grand temples and burial sites (some maintained, others very deliberately abandoned) that dot the landscape.

Despite its quite small size, the book is crammed with interesting information written in an intelligent but light-hearted tone (those who have read any of the Unofficial Manuals will find it pleasantly familiar).

Ancient Egypt is not my usual fare, and this is my first history of the place. As such, it was filled with mostly unfamiliar terms (Hyksos, Nubians) although fellow watchers of Stargate: SG-1 will find many of the god names familiar. The book works very well for a complete novice of the period, and I never felt lost historically or geographically. Indeed, the author did a really good job effortlessly mingling historical snippets with the journey south along the Nile.

There are numerous small illustrations throughout, as well as two sets of glossy colour pictures including Egyptian art and impressive temple scenes. A couple of maps are at the back, along with some handy Egyptian phrases (such as “Egypt is much better than my wretched homeland”) and a concise list of the most important gods and their characters.

All in all, an entertaining, informative and interesting book that serves perfectly as an introduction to Ancient Egypt.


Thaddeus

Monday, 30 October 2017

Review: Pillars of Eternity (PS4)

I recently finished my first playthrough of Pillars of Eternity. I played on Easy (default difficulty), did some side-quests, completed the Caed Nua (fort/home sub-storyline) but this was not a completionist playthrough. Obviously there are some spoilers within but I’ve kept them as light and possible and don’t believe they compromise the story significantly.

Character Creation

There’s a huge degree of choice here, which affects both combat and roleplaying. As well as both genders, there are six races, each with at least one subtype, eleven classes (I erroneously said thirteen in my early impressions blog), customisable attribute stats and numerous background options.

Of the races, there are the fantasy staples of men, elves and dwarves, along with the unique aumaua (reptilian beefcakes), orlans (pointy-eared midgets), and godlikes (who look a bit freaky). The classes include standard fare (rangers, fighters, rogues etc) and some more unusual options (ciphers, chanters etc).

The only real downside to character creation is that there are so many options it can be hard to pick what to go for.


Story

The protagonist begins as part of a caravan headed for Gilded Vale, where the local lord has offered a good deal for new settlers. However, the protagonist has fallen ill, and so camp is made beside some ruins. What could possibly go wrong?

After the wrongdoing occurs, the player learns their character has become a Watcher, able to see into people’s past lives. It’s a bit freaky, and you continue on your journey to find out more…

The game is text- and lore-heavy. Personally, that’s not a problem (although it is a little overdone early on) but for some people this will be off-putting. One thing that did irk me was that there’s a lot of voice-over but sometimes (in the same conversation) the voice will be absent entirely and it’ll be just text, which is a little jarring.

I found five (there are more, it seems) companions on my playthrough, and each was distinctive both in combat and story terms. They’d have banter together, interject into my own conversations, and sometimes you can take them aside for a chat. They’re a good little crew, each with their own motivations and character.

World-building is extensive, and if you want to delve into it there is extra information (both lore and gameplay relevant) in the bestiary, as well as an encyclopaedia of information about gods and so forth.

As for the central plot, it hangs together well whilst allowing plenty of scope for side-questing. I don’t want to say too much. I did enjoy it, though here and there the twists were a little easy to see coming.


Gameplay

Combat is real time but can be paused easily and commands given to each party member (including animals following rangers, or summoned beasts). There’s a nice array of interesting commands that enable magical or physical effects and make, as usual, a balanced party more than the sum of its parts.

One thing that was absent which would’ve improved things was tactics. You can set a basic disposition for companions but you can’t pre-set tactical commands (as per FFXII or Dragon Age: Origins). On the upside, you can determine one or two customised formations, putting your beefcakes on the front row and having the weedy wizards at the back.

Combat isn’t scaled, so enemies have a certain toughness. If you wander into an area that’s beyond you, you will know, as the enemy sets about transforming your party of adventurers into worm food. There also isn’t random combat (you can sneak past enemies sometimes, if you like) and once you kill all enemies in an area, that’s usually it and they’ll be gone forever.

Experience is granted both for combat victories and advancing quests, and proceeds on an increasing basis (so, 1,000 xp for one level, then 2,000, then 3,000 etc) so the rate of levelling declines over time. I was level 10 when I finished the game, but I suspect it would’ve been possible to get significantly higher.

There is crafting of potions, cooking of food and enchanting of weapons and armour but this isn’t given a particular introduction (check the bottom of the inventory menu) and I missed it for some time. Good incentive to collect shiny rocks and magic weeds, which take up no inventory space.

If party members are knocked out (and they can be killed permanently but this is easy to head off) they acquire injuries that damage their stats, and if they’re tired much the same occurs. Both fatigue and wounds can be removed by resting either at a camp (camping supplies are limited, you can’t lug around 20 odd) or an inn. These rests can also confer bonuses, so paying for the swankiest room at the inn can be well worth it.

As well as a number of fleshed out party members, you can also make your own at any inn. Especially useful for higher levels when getting the balance just right will matter more.

Whether you fix up the fort of Caed Nua or not is up to you. There is a related quest line, and certain features offer resting bonuses or other advantages (I particularly enjoy the bounty tasks).

Away from combat the gameplay focuses upon the numerous decisions the protagonist makes. These vary a lot by choice (being nice or nasty etc), and by unique opportunities your particular race, class, background might afford. This gives a real sense of your adventure being a unique one rather than running through the exact same routine every time you play. In most RPGs nowadays, decisions that change things are actually pretty rare. Here, they seem to happen in pretty much every quest.


Graphics

The isometric view can’t be rotated but you can zoom in or out and the camera is rarely problematic. The nature of the game doesn’t place the emphasis on graphics, but they’re clean enough, and I like the style of art used in the rare ‘cut-scenes’ (parchment with ink drawings and options to do this or that) and bestiary. Functional and fine would be the way I’d put it.


Sound

The music practically oozes fantasy, sometimes reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, sometimes Final Fantasy or The Witcher 3. Sound effects are pretty good and voice-acting is generally strong. One quibble I’d have (and this might just be me, because I’m quite into voice-acting) is that sometimes you can tell when two characters have the same actor/actress and it makes my VA senses tingle (although it’s a long way from Oblivion…).


Longevity/Replayability

The game advertises itself as 70 hours. Not sure how long I spent, but I can easily imagine exceeding that amount. Varying difficulty settings, roleplaying opportunities, and some extra settings (like having your save file auto-delete if you die) certainly open up the possibility of multiple replays.


Bugs and Other Issues

I’ve mentioned a few things above and shan’t repeat them, but one I’d add would be that load screens are both frequent and long. Usually this sort of thing doesn’t bother me (Dragon Age Inquisition/Skyrim never made me gripe) but they are excessively long/frequent.

I only had the one freeze throughout, during a load screen, which isn’t too bad. So, loading aside, not much to complain about.


Conclusion

Some rough edges to sand off and polish, and if you dislike lore/text-heavy games then avoid this one, but if you like an in-depth story world with a great range of roleplaying opportunities then this is very much a game you should seriously consider buying.



Thaddeus