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Breath of the Wild’s Tragic Princess Zelda

Bo

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She is the most powerful princess in an apocalyptic world. She has a long-unfulfilled magical destiny. To make up for this inexcusable failure – because of course it is, and totally her fault – she develops an intense scientific interest. She remains a teenager for a very long time. Her magical destiny is meant to defeat is a timeless, reincarnated evil. This magical destiny exists because she herself is the reincarnation of an ancient power meant to fight this evil. Her dedication to her science and her duty to her kingdom leads to a cold, distant personality at times. She has a blonde teenage swordsman sworn to protect her.

Isn’t Princess Bubblegum great?

Where are my new Adventure Time episodes, damn it?!

No, despite all these matching traits, I’m not talking about Princess Bubblegum. I’m talking about the latest rendition of a more iconic princess who has experienced a variety of personalities over the years.

Zelda has been many things throughout the course The Legend of Zelda’s long, storied history. Often she plays the role of damsel in distress for Link to rescue in the end Mario-style. Sometimes she takes action within this role, such as her brief appearances to help both Link and Midna in Twilight Princess. Wind Waker gave us a Zelda entirely unaware of her secret royal heritage. Most times, she either fights alongside Link against Ganon or grants him the power to win.

Of all these many versions of Princess Zelda, probably the most famous is the version which appears in Ocarina of Time. There are several reasons for this; mainly that Ocarina was the first 3d Zelda game. As such, it was one of the most influential games of all time, ushering in the world of 3d gaming and defining it for years to come, much like Super Mario 64. The game, of course, remains fantastic to this day. It’s the kind of near-timeless masterpiece even the young, graphically spoiled generations will go back and love.

Another large reason was the cinematic turn which breathed a previously unseen life into classic Zelda characters. One of, if not the largest beneficiaries of this newfound cinematic flair was Zelda herself. No longer a passive prisoner for Link to rescue, our princess played an active role in the story. She sends Link to find the Spiritual Stones opening the Door of Time and sneaks him the Ocarina of Time while escaping Hyrule Castle.

After the disaster occurring because of Link’s premature claim of the Master Sword, she spends seven years training as a Sheikah in order to win back her kingdom and eventually assist Link in freeing the Sages necessary to defeat Ganondorf. Now, this doesn’t seem like that big a deal on the surface. Where it gets juicy is the further examination of why exactly Zelda does what she does.

After all, she sends Link to retrieve the Stones opening the Door of Time, allowing Ganondorf to seize control of Hyrule. It’s heavily implied to the point of obviousness that she feels crushing guilt over this. It is her guilt, combined with the duty she feels to her ruined kingdom, which causes her to train as what amounts to a ninja and fight Ganondorf’s evil. At the end she sends Link back to his childhood while she remains behind with the ruins of her kingdom to rebuild.

You can talk for hours about the mental and emotional state she must have been in throughout this game. Pretty obvious why this Zelda stands so memorably above her counterparts throughout the series. Well, move over lady because Breath of the Wild gave us a Zelda with strong claim to the title, one I’m not sure Ocarina’s Zelda can beat back.

Guilt and Destiny

In a lot of ways, what Breath of the Wild does with Zelda’s character resembles Ocarina. Both see their kingdom laid to waste by Ganon. Both try desperately to prevent this and fail. Obviously the same crushing guilt afflicts both young women afterwards, and causes them to sacrifice a great deal to try and hold Ganon back. However, where Ocarina gives a relatively bare-bones series of events for the player to fill in the blanks, Breath of the Wild delves deep into who exactly Zelda is and why her failure was a devastating personal blow, while also increasing the magnitude of her failure considerably.

Alright, so quick background; Breath of the Wild takes place 100 years after Calamity Ganon emerges from beneath Hyrule Castle, destroying Hyrule in the process. Zelda and Link both descend from the ancient heroes that initially imprisoned Ganon 10,000 years earlier with the help of 4 Champions from the 4 other kingdoms of Hyrule. These Champions pilot giant machines called Divine Beasts created long ago by the Sheikah for this purpose. They also built all the futuristic ruins and enemies Link explores and fights.

What does all this mean for our girl Zelda? As the descendant of the Zelda who initially sealed Calamity Ganon away, she was named for that descendant and expected to wield her power, just like every female descendant of that bloodline. Ganon would eventually return and it was her job to stop that should Ganon return in her lifetime. A series of optional flashbacks shows the immense burden her father placed on her. The guy does not hold back at all. Really, Zelda’s father is a complete prick about the whole ordeal.

Zelda’s mother was meant to train her, but dies when Zelda is six-years old. King Rhoam’s journal within Hyrule Castle talks about Zelda’s struggle to learn without a teacher.

“She lost her mother, her teacher, before she could learn from her. Ten pointless years of self-training, without so much as a book or note to help her find her way…”

As such, Zelda spends her life stuck between the need to realize her magical powers and her duty to help her kingdom however she can. Because of her frustration awakening her powers, she instead turns to the ancient Sheikah artifacts and ruins. Most of the flashbacks revolve around her traveling with Link and the Champions to research the Divine Beasts and activate the other Sheikah artifacts and weapons unearthed throughout Hyrule.

Ouch, right?

Zelda’s feelings of inadequacy and failure plague her long before Calamity Ganon busts loose and lays waste to Hyrule. They start at a very young age due to her father’s expectations and only grow worse when Link claims the Master Sword. As her sworn shield and the hero wielding the sword meant to defeat Ganon, he succeeded where she cannot. He represents and intensifies her failures. So do the Champions. Each of their successes in controlling their Divine Beasts leaves Zelda as the only thing separating victory from defeat should Ganon return.

It didn’t help that everyone else represented the very best of their race, and they were each meant to serve her. Even Link was a “better” Hylian than Zelda, the princess. That just left Zelda the “failure” surrounded by the kind of people she was supposed to lead. As you’d expect, this creates considerable guilt over her inability to fulfill her role and also considerable loneliness among those who already have.

Duty and Loneliness

As if you don’t feel bad enough for Zelda already, we also see how lonely and distant she was while helping the Champions figure out their Beasts. She treats Link outright hostilely. Her interactions with Daruk, Mipha, and Revali are practically nonexistent. Urbosa clearly tries to play a motherly role (just end me now) but she’s a single, isolated example.

Still, things improve for the poor girl. She overcomes her dislike for Link after he thwarts an assassination attempt. She dives happily into the science behind the Sheikah ruins and grows closer with her crew. For a brief period she gets to be happy.

This, of course, is an awful sign.

Soon thereafter, Zelda’s father confronts her to demand an end to her scientific pursuits. This leads to the scene above where he attacks her insecurities in brutal fashion. He accepts nothing but her total commitment to her powers and Sheikah artifacts distract from that commitment. Because clearly she’s running from her duty, not struggling with her failures and her responsibility to help her kingdom however necessary, and he demands she stop.

So she does. She leaves behind her friends, her interests, and her only escape from her crushing guilt and loneliness to concentrate solely on failing her magical destiny. Link still accompanies her, but we’ve already covered what Link represents to her. Their newfound friendship won’t entirely change the friction between them or what he represents to her.

Why accept his demand? Well, because she’s the princess of Hyrule, of course. It is her duty. And she totally loves her father, and he loves her, and their conflict is born of the fact neither took two seconds in the ten years following the death of Zelda’s mother to discuss their grief or their fear of Ganon’s impending return. Whoa, Bo, we haven’t reached this point yet.

We find out again through King Rhoam’s journals (the journals do such a great job adding context to all this) that when her mother died, it was Zelda that held him together. Despite being only six-years old (yeah) he describes her as completely steadfast and strong.

“Zelda never cried, never faltered. Not even during the royal funeral or later when she and I were alone with our grief. I must assume her strength is a result of us repeatedly informing her of her duty to be a valiant and steady princess. For a child of merely six years of age, her conduct was truly that of a born leader. Her strength gives me hope.”

Rhoam’s journal continues to paint a picture of a truly lonely girl with nothing but her duty and the burden of her destiny. Keep in mind Zelda spends these years after her mother’s death single-handedly trying to figure out her powers. Rhoam describes his disappointment in her lack of powers a year after her mother’s death. She is seven-years old and her father already treats her like something is wrong with her. She still has ten years of failure ahead of her.

From the age of six Zelda is left alone to grieve and live up to an immense magical prophecy with no help whatsoever. Her father certainly does not help her. He grieves too strongly to help with the loss of her mother and has absolutely no idea how to help with awakening her powers. Zelda seems to isolate herself from any other help anyone might offer. She bears her duty alone and with little emotional connection to anyone, because as Rhoam himself says, she was raised to do so and no one else knows how to help.

Silence and Similarities

Like you see time and time again with these characters, this leads to severe communication issues only increasing her loneliness and insecurities until they reach breaking points.

Her hostility towards Link only exists because of a literal lack of communication of any kind, as Breath of the Wild took silent protagonist Link and gave him a reason for his silence. Zelda was not the only one dealing with immense expectations. As the chosen wielder of the Master Sword and the princess’s sworn knight, Link has his own expected role in defeating Ganon and must also deal with the burden of it.

“When I finally got around to asking why he’s so quiet all the time, I could tell it was difficult for him to say. But he did. With so much at stake, and so many eyes upon him, he feels it necessary to stay strong and to silently bear any burden. A feeling I know all too well…”

Why did she need to “finally” get around to asking? Because she was raised to bury her feelings by a father who did the same. Rather than ask Link about his silence, she lets her questions stew until she believes Link resents her.

“I never know what he’s thinking! It makes my imagination run wild, guessing at what he is thinking but will not say. What does the boy chosen by the sword that seals the darkness think of me? Will I ever truly know? Then, I suppose it’s simple. A daughter of Hyrule’s royal family yet unable to use sealing magic… He must despise me.”

And to her mind, why wouldn’t he despise her? Zelda’s journal entries take place shortly before Ganon’s emergence, when she has tried and failed on her own to awaken her powers for ten years. Link has the Master Sword and stands ready to defeat Ganon. The Champions have control of their Divine Beasts and stand ready to help. The only missing piece is Zelda, who must seal Ganon away after Link and the Champions win. No matter what she tries, though, she can’t awaken those powers.

Zelda’s self-loathing nears its peak at this point, as she travels alone with her guilt and the constant reminder of her failure ten years after her mother’s death, all the while refusing to talk about it. Why? Why swallow her feelings to the point of self-hatred she projects onto her most faithful servant? As you’d expect, it’s a character flaw shared with her father.

Let me be frank: King Rhoam Bosphoramus Hyrule acts like a complete prick. From the very moment he reveals himself as the mysterious old guy making you shrine-hunt for a glider, Breath of the Wild inspires a dislike for the man. His scene demanding Zelda quit her scientific interests only increases player hatred.

It’s not unless you discover Rhoam’s journal that you receive sorely needed information about him and Zelda. It provides a lot of the quotes I’ve used. The journal also does one unsurprising thing; it reveals the shared traits of father and daughter, including those flaws responsible for their fraught relationship.

Like his daughter, Rhoam has a deep interest in the Sheikah artifacts. He orders the excavations revealing them. At some point after their discovery, he describes Zelda’s reaction to them:

“Zelda’s eyes lit up like a wildfire when I told her about the relics… I must admit, she has a knack for research.”

By the way, Zelda’s five-years old here. Talk about an early start.

The journal also reveals Rhoam’s obsession with the prophecy predicting Ganon’s impending return. After his wife’s death, preparation for Ganon dominates his thoughts. He can’t show weakness or even take time to comfort his daughter. There is no time for comfort. They must each prepare for Ganon in their own way, and nothing else matters. Not even their grief.

“It has been a year and three months since her mother passed. Perhaps she is held back by heartache too deep to heal. If the Ganon prophecy wasn’t looming over our heads, I would tell her to take her time… To wait until she is ready. But our situation is dire and leaves no room for weakness—even on behalf of my beloved daughter. My heart breaks for Zelda, but I must act as a king, not a father.”

What becomes clear is how Rhoam, much like Zelda, uses Ganon as a distraction to avoid his feelings. Only by diving deep into his own duty could he avoid Zelda, his wife, and his own sorrow. Feelings are hard, after all. Much easier to drive them all away using a very legitimate aim for your attention. He fully understands what he is doing, too. He knows he is sacrificing his relationship with his daughter in the name of defeating Ganon. His feelings come second to the safety of Hyrule.

Huh, sounds like Zelda, doesn’t it? In fact…

“The return of Ganon looms—a dark force taunting us from afar. I must learn all I can about the relics so we can stop him. If the fortune-teller’s prophecy is to be believed, there isn’t much time left… Ah, but turning over these thoughts in my head puts me ill at ease.”

Much like her father, she would rather let her feelings torture her than face them. She wanted to make amends, but too late.

“When Link arrives, we will set out for Mount Lanayru. The other Champions will accompany us there. I have not seen my father since he last scolded me. Things are too strained now… I will meet with him when I return. …”

As for King Rhoam’s opinion on the matter:

“I have been told my Zelda went to the Spring of Wisdom… This will likely be her last chance. If she is unable to awaken her power at Lanayru, all hope is truly lost. If she comes back without success, then I shall speak kindly with her. Scolding is pointless now.”

Don’t mind that sound. It was just my heart breaking over here.

Two characters receive all of Zelda’s scorn throughout the memories of Breath of the Wild; Link and King Rhoam. Fittingly, they each share immense similarities with her. Link and Zelda are both children of destiny, descendants of ancient heroes tasked to defeat Ganon. Both struggle mightily with this destiny and internalize their burden to the point of creating conflict with each other. Zelda and her father both place their duty to their kingdom above all else, even their happiness.

They also share the same fear of Ganon’s return, a fear driving a wedge between them, and grief over the loss of Zelda’s mother. Neither ever takes the step necessary to face their shared feelings, choosing instead to run from them and bury themselves in preparation for Hyrule’s defense.

In the end, Zelda never entirely opened up with either of them, or truly repaired the damage done to either relationship. Ganon attacks during that trip to Mount Lanayru, killing her father, her citizens, and her Champions. Link suffers mortal wounds defending her and ends up in the Shrine of Resurrection for 100 years. Zelda’s powers awaken too late, and she is left alone to bind Ganon at Hyrule Castle until Link reawakens.

Pictured: More than a decade of internalized guilt erupting when all of Zelda’s worst fears come to pass.

Tragedy and Flaws

This catches us up with the beginning of Breath of the Wild. Link reawakens. King Rhoam’s spirit makes him run around doing stuff rather than just hand over a glider. He is tasked with defeating Ganon, who Zelda still struggles to restrain after 100 years.

Breath of the Wild does a fantastic job using all this history to define its world and characters. For obvious reasons a great deal of anger, loss, and guilt exists in this ruined version of Hyrule. Link faces open hostility for his failures. Every society grieves the loss of their Champion. The ruined remains of familiar locations (why did they do this to Lon Lon Ranch) hit hard at longtime fans. The game drives home the tragedy of Calamity Ganon and the failure of Zelda and her Champions at every turn.

It all makes for a powerful storytelling beyond anything I’ve ever seen from the Zelda series before. Breath of the Wild does a remarkable job telling Zelda’s story through skilled use of conventional cutscenes and a more subtle, Dark Souls-style use of visual clues and optional information. Absolutely none of Zelda’s story is necessary to complete the game. You can beat the game without learning any of it.

I suppose this might be the biggest negative of all this. By leaving so much of this information optional, she plays little role within the game itself. She does end up spending the game inside Hyrule Castle, taking no action besides holding Ganon back. She speaks telepathically to Link from time to time, but takes no other role in Link’s journey to Ganon. As much as I love the execution, the entirely optional of Zelda’s story makes me sad, as many gamers will never discover the full extent of it.

I suppose there might also exist dissatisfaction about how her powers manifest. The game makes it pretty blatantly clear that Zelda came to love Link before Ganon’s attack, and implies her powers awoken due to that love, as she first uses them to protect him. I would have preferred if the overwhelming emotions of her failure awoke her powers, and the moment is vague enough about the cause. One could easily read the manifestation as her refusing to lose the last person in her life, regardless of whether she loves Link or not.

Really it’s beside the point. Breath of the Wild tells a wonderful tale adding yet another Dutiful Princess to the ever-growing list. This is a version of Zelda more tragic and compelling than any preceding her. It is a surprisingly strong story about a princess’s destiny, the guilt and burden born of said destiny, and her failure to live up to it. This is a story of a princess and her guardian struggling to make up for those failures, and a story of a father and daughter whose grief and duty tore them apart.

Damn if Nintendo didn’t knock this game out of the park. Breath of the Wild just might have lived up to the hype as the best Zelda game yet, and Zelda herself stands tall among the reasons why.


Images Courtesy of Nintendo

Bo

Bo relaxes after long days of staring at computers by staring at computers some more, and continues drifting wearily through the slog of summer TV.

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Roleplaying Outside Your Comfort Zone

David

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Greetings readers! I’ve returned to write more about tabletop RPGs. Last time, I wrote about the different, non Dungeons and Dragons games you can play. This week, I’ll be writing about roleplaying. Specifically, roleplaying characters you aren’t used to. But before we begin though, I want to make one point very clear:

You do not have to play in any situation that is triggering, or makes you uncomfortable in any way. Your safety and mental health take precedence over everything. It’s important to always keep that in mind. Particularly if you have an enthusiastic group of people around you. You don’t want to disappoint anyone, and you can end up in situations that are upsetting. You are always allowed to stop and a good GM—a good person—will stop and give you time to recover. Keeping this point in mind, let’s start by answering the first question…

What is ‘Roleplaying as different characters’?

What exactly do I mean by roleplaying different characters? At the most basic, it’s playing as a character that doesn’t share your beliefs or personal experiences.

At first blush, that seems simple. After all, most people have never cast a magic fireball spell before, or swung a sword, or talked to a dragon. The trick to playing as someone different comes mostly from the details however. Start with something simple. If you’ve mostly played male characters before, play a female character. Try playing as character from another culture. If you’ve always played wizards or sorcerers, try playing a character that doesn’t use any magic. It’s a small change, but it’s one that can make a big difference, particularly if you’ve never given it much thought before.

Once you’ve taken these small steps, try taking it another step further. If you’ve always played a character who looks out for the little guy, trying playing an aristocrat. Keep in mind that adapting to some roles will be easier than others. Playing someone who can’t use magic is pretty easy. Learning to inhabit the role of a peasant, or (in the case of people used to privilege) an oppressed minority is much harder.

Once you are used to these smaller steps, the next big hurdle is roleplaying in games that are outside your typical choice. There are many different games out there, and some require more in-depth roleplaying then others. And within the ones that require more roleplaying, there are the ones that are unusual enough that roleplaying becomes more challenging. The two biggest examples for me are Dogs in the Vineyard and Eclipse Phase. Both games have very different themes and goals, but they are alike in the way they challenge the player to think outside their typical comfort zone.

A Dog eat Dog world

Dogs in the Vineyard appears at a glance to be a fairly typical tabletop RPG. It’s a Western, but that’s about its only distinctive trait on the surface. It’s once you start looking closer at the details that you see what sets it apart. The first thing is that it’s set in a fantasy version of the LDS territory of Deseret. Fewer showdowns at high noon and closer to early colonial America. And the characters you are playing as? Holy gunslingers.


The game has you playing as itinerant preachers, problem solvers, and exorcists. Called ‘God’s Watchdogs’, they make a circuit around the various small towns and homesteads in the territory, administering various blessings and dealing with problems as the crop up. Sometimes the problems just require you to talk it out. Sometimes it escalates to gun fights. It’s always the player’s choice to escalate, and that adds to the stress of the roleplaying.

The difficulty with roleplaying in this game is that the characters, by their very nature, are religious. And not just religious, but belong to a religion that follows early LDS teachings. Multiple wives, no drinking, etc. For some people, such as myself, the leap is not that difficult. Still uncomfortable, but not that big of a deal. For other people who may have come from more difficult religious upbringings, casting yourself as the enforcer of dogma is a much higher hurdle to clear. But casting yourself in that role can be important. It lets you see what is attractive about it in the first place and maybe do some good from a position of authority.

Octopus…IN SPAAAACE

Eclipse Phase at first blush is nothing like Dogs in the Vineyard. Dogs is a semi-fantasy western. Eclipse Phase is a sci-fi/cyberpunk/trans-humanist setting set in the future. The basic premise of the game is that at some point, humanity evolved by its own hand. Now considered (and called) ‘Transhumanity’, it was practically a golden age, with people able to choose new bodies for themselves. You could avoid hunger, pain and death forever…if you could afford it.

However, ten years before the game proper starts, the earth is devastated by AI known as TITANs, and they infest both people and machines with deadly viruses. They also kidnap tens of thousands of cortical stacks (Which are what consciousness is stored on in this setting when not in a body) before fleeing the solar system. What’s left of transhumanity has broken into dozens of smaller factions, each competing with themselves. The players generally belong to a faction dedicated to quietly eliminating the greatest threats to transhumanity. You can play any number of different ‘types’ of bodies, with different skills and physical abilities. And yes, you can even play as an uplifted Octopus.

The difficulty in roleplaying in this game comes not from real life problems with organized religions, but from futuristic fears and bodily autonomy issues. The viruses that the TITANs created are still around, and can still twist both your mind and body in grotesque ways. Even disregarding that fact, there is a bias in the game against baseline human bodies. As someone who feels very strongly about bodily autonomy, I have a hard time roleplaying in this game. Some of my other friends however, particularly those who identify as transgender, find being able to to play as something other than their current selves a relief. There’s something for everyone.

Keeping the ‘play’ in roleplay

These are just two examples of games that might have more difficult scenarios to roleplay then others. There are dozens of other games out there, and nearly limitless ideas that creative GMs can come up with that might test your ability roleplay. Like I said at the start of the article: You don’t have to play in something that makes you uncomfortable. People play these games to have fun, and your enjoyment and safety is the most important part.

However, if you are comfortable with the game, and it’s just outside the traditional role you cast yourself as…try it out. If you’ve ever been to California Pizza Kitchen, you know they have a guarantee: If you order something new and you hate it they’ll give you your usual, free of charge. It’s the same principle with characters. Do the opposite of what you’d normally do. Roll for random personality traits. And if you hate it? Play what your comfortable with and have the GM save the old character as a NPC. Good luck and happy gaming!


Images courtesy of Lumpley Games and Posthuman Studios

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First Impressions from Deadfire

Michał

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Hello, readers of the Fandomentals. A week ago, I decided to write a recap of my first impressions of Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire, once I bought it on Monday. This turned out not to be the case, as bugs prevented me from playing once I bought it. But now the bugs have been patched…so I’m at least able to write about what I’ve played since Friday. There’s a lot to unpack even in this context. I will avoid any actual spoilers, seeing as plenty of people might want to read it to decide if they want to buy the game.

The game is big in more senses than one

Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire is big in many senses of the word. We’ve got a much larger area to explore than we did in the first game, obviously. And to explore, we need a ship. Which brings with it ship management, finding crew, equipping it… I’ve only scratched that so far, really. I’m still using my first ship with a couple of new cannons. The ship-to-ship combat system is very elaborate, but I can’t say I’ve understood it yet. I’ve only defeated one enemy ship that felt like a tutorial.

The game isn’t quite what I’d call an open world, but closer to it than most “traditional” RPGs. The classic dilemma of following the main storyline or screwing around doing sidequests is certainly there, as is a variety of NPCs to talk to and factions to side with (or against).

But the physical size of the Deadfire Archipelago isn’t all there is to it. Like I expected, multi-classing and subclasses open up so many avenues. Now, of course, our teammates have a limited selection of classes, and only a few of them have subclasses, but it’s still a series of choices as you gather your party.

With so many choices, though, it’s easy to make the wrong one. The game warns you that multi-classing isn’t recommended for new players, and it’s true. Multiclass characters don’t get more abilities than single-class ones – they simply get to pick from a wider variety, in exchange for a slower power growth. It’s the player’s job to make good use of the synergy.

Of course, if you can make good use of it, the effects can be wonderful. Not necessarily powerful, but very fun and satisfying. My main character is a fighter/rogue, specializing as a streetfighter on the rogue side – that means he gets faster and deadlier when he’s flanked, beaten up or both. Setting up situations where that happens and then making sure he doesn’t die is exciting. It really is about trading flexibility for power. A single-class character will pack a punch, but a multi-class one rounds off a party in a different way.

The combat isn’t quite what we’re used to

I can’t say the game has challenged me much so far, though. Or rather, it has been uneven. Most of the time I comfortably defeated all encounters, but then I ran across an area where I had to stay on my toes, use Empower points to refresh my resources and retry the battles. Maybe it was because I was running a somewhat haphazard and sub-optimal team, with two multi-class characters aside from my own character. Or perhaps it was simply a more dangerous area.

Later on, I took on a quest where I couldn’t even scratch the enemies. As it turned out, it was a level 16 quest, with me being level 8. The journal failed to inform me of it as it was supposed to. The faulty difficulty scaling is a known issue that the devs are working on… I hope so is the journal. There is an option to adjust level scaling – I set it to scale only on the main storyline and only upwards.

Challenge aside, the combat is much as it was, but not quite. Gone are daily spells, and non-spellcasting classes have more options on average. Spells take longer to fire off. Various penalties and bonuses have been folded into an affliction and inspiration system, though not all. It’s a familiar but subtly different experience. But it certainly engages me more than the first game’s combat did.

Wouldn’t be an Obsidian games without bugs on release

You’ve seen me mention the journal not working properly. And I can’t talk about the game without mentioning the bugs, I’m afraid. I mentioned up there that I couldn’t play it for a while because of them. That was because Eder’s fate after the first game didn’t import properly; he talked about different things that had happened. For those who consider it important, it might have been enough to wait for the patch. Which, thankfully, helped.

Still some stuff remains unfixed. The biggest one I’ve noticed in my own run is companion dispositions and relationships. They progress too quickly – a new companion gave me a chummy speech about how much he likes me after two conversations where I did something he approved of.

No other companions have professed their deep sympathies to me yet… But another thing happened far too quickly. After I recruited Pallegina again, I got to talking to her about gods. As you may remember from the original game, she’s not very fond of them and is vocal about it. This doesn’t sit well with Xoti, a new companion who is a devout priestess. This plays into the game’s new system of inter-party relationships.

Which is all well and good and interesting. Except for how Xoti started yelling at Pallegina, which ended with me having to take sides or trying to reconcile them… after that one conversation. I don’t think it was supposed to go this way, since Xoti’s lines implied that she’d endured Pallegina’s opinions far too long.

This also applies to romance, incidentally, causing some companions to start flirting with the Watcher as soon as they approval rises a bit. This happened to me as well. I won’t tell you with who… I won’t spoil the surprise. But I do hope they patch it soon to make those relationships more organic. I’m still deciding if I want to romance someone or go with the “leave me alone, people, I have enough crap to deal with” option.

Smaller things

There’s some minor things that I like and those I don’t. I love various shortcuts in map navigation. You can resupply your ship from anywhere in a city, and head straight to a particular building when entering a district. A small but handy quality of life feature.

Crafting got even bigger, and thus I can’t be bothered to even read the list of all the consumables I can craft. Weapons and armor can only be enchanted if they’re uniques – each unique weapon has a list of traits you can add to it.

That would be great if there was anything resembling balance between the number of those. But there isn’t; by all accounts, swords, greatswords and sabres outnumber everything else.  I’ve already found three unique swords myself. Reportedly, the number of unique crossbows is one. In the whole game. They’ve blundered into the same mistake the Baldur’s Gate games once did.

The skill list got bigger as well. While I admit it’s hard to keep track of who has which skills and making sure I’ve got it all covered, it’s a much more real choice than it was in the first game. Having multiple people with the same skill is also no longer redundant in dialogues and scripted interactions, with our merry band being able to help us make them.

All in all, I’m having a lot of fun with this game, despite the rough edges. It’s still the traditional RPG gameplay with a new spin, only the spin is even newer. Even if you’d rather wait some more until more patches come out to fix more bugs, I can still recommend Deadfire, based on what I’ve seen so far.


Images courtesy of Obsidian

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Will God of War Change Your Mind on the Series?

Bo

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By now gamers have at least heard the hype. God of War has received universal praise not only as a great game, but as a contender for the best game of this current generation of gaming. Having spent nearly all my free time since its release losing myself in this game, I can tell you the hype is real. Whatever you’re reading about the game, it’s true. It’s all true. This is a remarkable game in just about every area. One that caught me completely by surprise.

But you’ve heard all this by now. The better question to ask might be whether this game will change anyone one’s mind on the series. Will this latest God of War draw in gamers who did not like previous games? Will it draw in gamers who never saw reason to give the series a shot?

Well, that’s a complicated answer. There are many reasons to think it would. There also exist reasons to think it won’t.

god of war kratos atreus

Why it Will

Make no mistake, God of War makes many changes to the franchise that somehow manage both to take significant steps forward while also retaining the classic feel of the series. The gameplay is outstanding; it’s deep, diverse, epic, and the Leviathan Axe not only lives up to the legacy of the chain blades, it arguably outdoes them. Kratos loses nearly nothing in translation to the new camera perspective. He is basically every bit as quick, strong, and brutal as he was before.

Where previous games were more iconic for the brutality and spectacle of the gameplay than the actual mechanics, this game actually ups the stakes in the complexity of the combat. The axe gives Kratos a variety of gameplay choices. You can slash up close, throw it from afar, use it to freeze enemies, use it to trip enemies, or use it to pin them to walls. Once it’s thrown, you can use Kratos’s bare hands to shatter enemies or just accumulate stun damage quicker, opening them up to God of War’s signature button-prompt brutal finishers.

Atreus also avoids the fears of adding a companion by operating as an absolute force in combat. While he starts off somewhat limited in his capabilities, by the end of the game he has multiple types of elemental arrows with different effects, grapple moves that open opportunities for Kratos, and melee attacks all his own. His response time to the player’s commands are fantastic. He also avoids the fragility issue forcing players to constantly rescue companions in other games. Atreus is a strength of this game’s combat. With some of the tougher fights, and especially on higher difficulties, he is a necessity to success.

These various tactics come in handy against an improved variety of enemies. Previous games certainly had a huge variety of different enemies, but your strategy against these enemies didn’t really vary. You used your preferred combo or two and they carried you throughout the game. Some bosses would require more advanced use of combinations, parrying, and environmental usage, but overall you were blasting through the game with the same couple combos.

This game has fewer enemy types on paper, but they necessitate a greater variety of strategy. Some enemies are immune to the axe and require fists or a weapon acquired later. Some are best handled through stun damage. Others require ranged attacks. You have enemies that heal, enemies that turtle behind shields, and enemies that attack fast and viciously. There are enemies that hide underground and can take a long time to defeat if not stopped.

By the end of the game, when all these different enemy types start mixing together, players will need to switch weapons, range, aggressiveness, and use of Atreus, and often from enemy to enemy. For those action fans who wished for more depth in God of War’s gameplay, this delivers and then some. I’m still not sure you can put it on par with the combat of games like Devil May Cry 3 or Bayonetta, but it’s at least closer than it was before.

Then again, I suppose gameplay probably isn’t the reason a gamer didn’t like or care about God of War before. Most likely what turned you off was Kratos and the uber-testosterone coursing through the game. Between the romanticism of insane violence and vengeance, the absurd sex minigames and nudity, and Kratos’s one-note toxic masculinity, the original games definitely don’t appeal to everyone. To be fair, the first game told an effective story (for the time) speaking against the person Kratos had become. That doesn’t change those elements within the game and it sequels, though.

Have no fear, this new God of War shares little in common thematically or even content-wise with its predecessors. The violence is still there, for sure. It is a hack-and-slash action game, after all. Otherwise the themes, characterization, and content almost feel like a direct response to critics of Kratos’s previous adventures.

Kratos himself is an entirely different person. He’s a man running from the horrors of his past and harboring no desire to return to it. A lot of the super-machismo male fantasy suff has been ditched. Violence and death are actively spoken against. There’s very little romanticism of violence, and a central theme of the story is actively speaking against it. Kratos is definitely still an angry man, but one who has seen the horrors of violence and vengeance and wants to avoid them. It’s a direct rebuttal of his former attributes.

The central story revolves around Kratos and Atreus bringing their wife/mother’s ashes to a mountaintop per her final wishes, and as such they spend the game in mourning. The main plot never diverges from this goal. There’s no violent goal here. Kratos aims aren’t about killing. Yes, he kills a lot, but it’s never the reason he seeks to do anything. He avoids killing at crucial moments. God of War gives the series a newfound maturity.

This maturity also extends to God of War’s past of extreme violence and sexualization regarding women. There are no sacrifices, no sex minigames, no bare chests at every turn. In fact there’s no nudity at all that I’ve seen. I know when people heard about the game starting with a dead mother, they worried we’d get the same vengeful fridging that the first game delivered, but that is not the case here.

The story told never strays from this maturity, either.  It maintains a subtlety unexpected of fans of the previous games. The relationship between Kratos and Atreus drives much of the story, and it is a complicated one fraught with emotional complexity. Uncertainty defines the interaction between the two; uncertainty about being a father, uncertainty about Atreus’s worth as a son, uncertainty about their feelings or shared grief. As the plot develops, the secrets Kratos keeps about his past create a friction threatening their relationship.

This parental theme extends to the main villain as well. Parent/child dynamics are the engine beneath God of War’s hood, not the old standby of vengeance. Santa Monica Studios really nailed it here. They tell a mature, complicated story that hits incredibly epic peaks without ever losing the subtle, personal tensions beginning the journey. This is not your old God of War.

Another problem gamers might have had with the previous games was the use of the Greek mythology. While I love them, they didn’t show much respect for the mythology. They just used the settings and characters to tell stories regardless of the source’s characterizations and such. I loved it, but others may have resented such careless use of the myths. Have no fear, God of War treats the Norse pantheon better. Mostly this comes from a greater commitment to the world of Norse mythology through every step of the world.

As an outsider, Kratos is pretty clueless about this new godly realm he inhabits. This gives the game a chance to teach both him and the player about Norse mythology without crossing into lame exposition. Every step of the game is steeped in old tales and visual lessons that make for incredible worldbuilding. Atreus and another companion tell stories related to the scenery or current events. Translated runes tell you about a location. Hidden shrines provide cool history lessons.

God of War really commits itself to a more proper use of Norse mythology. More than the originals ever did.

This creates a believable, lived in setting steeped in history. One that I had a great deal of pleasure exploring. You explore about half of ten realms, and travel along the branches of Yggdrasil. You meet light and dark elves, dwarves, and gods. You travel Skyrim-esque snowy mountains and fiery cliffs dripping with lava. Every realm is unique and colorful. With all the things God of War does right, the worldbuilding is the biggest surprise to me. I’ve never been more interested in the Norse pantheon.

They do switch the characteristics of some of the realms and play with the characteristics of a couple gods, but these are small issues compared to the overall package, and only for those familiar with their myths.

Overall this is a mature, well-created package that somehow manages to take the best parts of the old games and improve upon a lot of things people disliked. I expect a lot of people who lacked interest in the series will love this one. It’s very much the Resident Evil 4 of the God of War franchise. Just without falling apart at the end like RE4 did.

god of war kratos yell

Why it Won’t Change Your Mind

Unfortunately, there are reasons it may not. Some of these continue old problems, while others are a twist on the old problems, and might be enough to invalidate changes I previously mentioned.

First off is the violence level. I stand by the story not glorifying violence. The gameplay, not so much. God of War very much continues the same visceral violence in its action that made its predecessors famous. Kratos dismembers and decapitates and cleaves in half just like always. In many ways the game has the same issue as a game like Uncharted, where the gameplay’s level of killing doesn’t match the character’s supposed attitude toward killing.

Now, Kratos isn’t meant to be a charismatic good guy like Nathan Drake, but for someone who spends most of the game speaking against violence and killing, he sure does a lot of it. I don’t think the game does anything at all to portray the gameplay violence as anything except cool. There are trophies for each specific method of brutally ending the enemies in front of you.

And sorry to rat myself out here, but it is cool. It’s freaking fun, but others may like it even less than before because of the contradiction of story and gameplay. At least he’s fighting monsters rather than other human beings.

When it comes to Kratos, for all his change in demeanor, he is still a pretty gruff, macho depiction of your typical toxic masculinity. He’s a rough guy who doesn’t show his emotions and can kill things with brutal efficiency. He goes to great lengths to hide his emotions. This isn’t a negative so much as a consistent continuity. There’s no reason Kratos should change completely from the violent asshole of the original games to someone softer and open about his feelings. His portrayal here makes perfect sense with where he should be.

However, many gamers who didn’t relate at all to Kratos may still find it impossible to relate to him. That’s fine. Kratos very much appeals to a certain kind of gamer. Santa Monica Studios did a great job making him a more appealing character, but Kratos will never appeal to everyone.

There’s also the huge issue of the woman inspiring the journey Kratos and Atreus undertake. That is to say, we don’t know anything about her until the final moments of the game. Even then she’s the literal stereotype of the Idealized Mother/Wife. You have no idea what she looks like, no idea how she feels about anything, and even the little tidbits we learn about her past actions treats her more like a symbol than a person.

She really differs little in concept from the dead wife and daughter who inspire Kratos to take vengeance on Ares in the first God of War. So if you weren’t interested in watching a grieving Kratos murder things because of a dead wife the first time, you might not be this time.

It sucks to have this woman who is so central to the plot receive no personality or traits unrelated to being a mother or wife. Anything would have done. The game’s finale eventually reveals some of her motives and life, but it’s a bit too little, too late. The best you hope is that these motives are expanded upon in the next game so she can be more of a character. There is good reason to think that happens, thankfully.

And unfortunately, she represents a larger issue God of War has with women. It’s true they fixed the problems previous games had with immature sex and nudity, but they took the Mass Effect 2 approach to fixing these problems. Namely, they cut damn near all female content altogether. There’s one woman in the entire game. I suppose you can technically solve a problem by eliminating almost all content related to that problem.

(Now, there are 8 hidden Valkyrie fights, and obviously the Valkyries are women. However, I can’t really count optional boss fights as real representation.)

Now, this is a bit of a nitpick. I admit that. The one active woman in the game is a really good, really complicated character. Easily the best in the entire franchise, unless I’m unforgivably forgetting someone. She stars in many of the game’s best scenes and never stops being fascinating. Also, the cast is remarkably small so one female protagonist isn’t some huge offense when there’s only one adult male protagonist and his son.

Still, between only having one living woman and one dead woman who is basically the idealized version of Rose Quartz probably won’t do much to bring in gamers dissatisfied with the representation of women in the other games. Now maybe I just don’t know Norse mythology well, but surely they could have fit more women into the game? Or at least given them lore focus like other characters receive? So many gods, elves, giants, dwarves, and other characters feature in the discovered lore throughout the game. Why not use more of those to mention the Norse goddesses?

Again, this whole issue may unfortunately not be much an issue to many gamers, but for some they’ll find it difficult to care if they didn’t before.  This God of War vastly improved on the games before it, though. I need to make that clear. I can’t say it improved  enough to bring in the audience who disliked the previous games. Kratos still isn’t appealing to feminist sensibilities in any way.

Final Verdict

Overall, I’d expect a lot of people to see the improvements this God of War made over its predecessors and, at the very least, want to try the game. It improves in almost every area. I could complain about the number of boss fights, but that would fall under “reasons you liked previous games but not this one.”

The only question here is really whether it improved enough, not whether it improved at all. And it didn’t just improve, it improved astoundingly. It completely eliminated some of the worst complaints about the previous games in the series. This is a new God of War for a new era of gaming. One that is at least worth a shot.

If you like action games, give this a play.

Maybe you despised Kratos, or the misogyny, or the mistreatment of Greek mythology in previous games. Maybe the gameplay didn’t thrill you like other games of the ilk. Every single one of these issues has been addressed. Maybe you still won’t like Kratos that much. Maybe you’ll grumble about another dead wife with no personality of her own. Maybe it still glorifies violence more than you’d like. I still think every gamer owes it to themselves to try this game.

You have to at least try what is arguably the best game of this generation.


Images Courtesy of Sony Interactive Entertainment

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