Book Review: The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch by Neil Gaiman

FitCotDoMFThe Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch is an adaptation of a Neil Gaiman short story, first published in comic form in 2008. At the time of its release, I, sadly, had not yet discovered Mr. Gaiman. In the years since then, he has become one of my favorite authors in any medium. There is something terribly unique about Mr. Gaiman’s work; it’s as if his (prose) stories are meant to be read out loud, lending them a style and tone that is all together his own.

Even if you have never heard of Neil Gaiman, there is a good chance you’ve heard of his work. Whether it is stop-animation classic, Coraline, the incredibly esteemed Sandman graphic novel series, the Robert DeNiro featuring fairy tale film, Stardust, or radio play/BBC TV series, Neverwhere, Gaiman is a superstar in the literary world.

Much of this is because his stories, separate from their tone and voice, interweave genres with an ease that is all together remarkable. Neil Gaiman’s stories weave together classic or all-but-forgotten folklore, magic, mystery, horror, romance, and fantasy. His characters are universally well developed and interesting, coming to life with each passing page. What’s more remarkable, however, is that Gaiman avoids steeping himself in horrors and shock value; he does not wade into needless violence, sex, gore (though doesn’t shy away from adult themes if it serves the story). Across the board, Neil Gaiman’s work is rooted in amazing ideas and rich storytelling that hews much closer to the adult fairy tale.

Such is the case with the Departure of Miss Finch. The story was originally published in the UK version of his 1998 short story collection, Smoke and Mirrors. Partnering with artist Michael Zulli, Neil has adapted the story to graphic novel form, and it works exceedingly well.

The novel is short, hovering right around fifty pages, so to say to much would be to spoil the tale. In a nutshell, however, three friends gather in London and are joined by the rigid Miss Finch. Together, they go out for an evening of entertainment and find themselves exploring a subterranean circus of haunting displays. What first appears to be shtick soon proves to be something more, and so the mystery unfolds.

The narrator never tells us his name, but I was struck at the visual similarity to Mr. Gaiman himself. As I read, I couldn’t help but interject his voice into my head. More broadly speaking, Mr. Zulli’s art is rich and refined, but also sketch-like and impressionistic. It is thematically dark, but also evocative, and works wonderfully to sell the skepticism being shared by the party of circus-goers.

The storyline is quintessential Gaiman. What seems normal on the surface – an author’s getaway to focus on his work – quickly turns into something else entirely. Like much of his work, Miss Finch relishes the idea that there is more to our world just brimming under the surface. We experience this alongside our narrator, sharing in his bewilderment. Yet, at the same time, we are given a peak of the ending before the tale even begins, so even more than he, we know that there is more to the macabre circus than first meets the eye.

It should be clear at this point that I very much enjoyed The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch and would recommend it to anyone who is even passingly interested at what I’ve described here. It is a good introduction into the themes Neil Gaiman weaves throughout his work, and a short read that can easily be finished on a day’s commute. Fair warning, though, that there is a touch of nudity, so I wouldn’t open the e-version at work.

Happy reading!

Book Review: Paleo – The Complete Collection by Jim Lawson

paleoI went into Paleo with high hopes due to the author, Jim Lawson’s, pedigree. I didn’t quite what to expect, however, because the concept was rather hard to wrap my head around. A three hundred page graphic novel focusing on real-life dinosaurs. No anthropomorphizing them. No applying human thoughts or attributes, or breaking from the likely reality that these massive creatures experienced. It’s an easy enough concept but seemed like a doozy to make a lengthy storyline out of. It also seemed terribly, compellingly unique, so I jumped at the opportunity to see what exactly Jim Lawson has been up to and why the fans of this series were so ravenous.

Let’s not bury the lede. Lawson keeps this book interesting by breaking it up into a series of vignettes. Each vignette focuses on a day, or series of hours, in the life of a single dinosaur. I was worried there would be a lack of drama but was very wrong. The line between life and death is only minutes, or even seconds, when the focal ‘saur becomes the hunted — even if they begin their day as the hunter. Likewise, Lawson avoids humanizing his subjects, but also narrates from inside their heads, letting us peek into what each dinosaur may be thinking. These are creatures you can empathize with and root for, which is no easy feat to pull off.

The art certainly helps. While I am partial to full color, the black and white sketches are well done and do a good job of setting the scene and allow us to settle into the pre-history before us.

All of that said, Paleo just wasn’t for me. It is absolutely unique, and dino-fans will go ga-ga for it, but the side-effect of keeping the dinosaurs true to life is that the narration often feels like a National Geographic documentary. It’s interesting, and some stories are better than others, but I often found myself returning to it just for the sake of finishing, not because I was consistently compelled by what I was reading.

This isn’t a knock against Paleo. It accomplishes its goal with exceptional grace and style. Graphic novels just aren’t the medium I turn to for that type of story. I’m happy to have read it, but caution new readers that this is a truly different type of story for the medium. Whether that’s a plus or minus depends entirely on you.


New Content Incoming

Hi All,

Just a brief update to let you know, again, that most of my games writing can now be found at, though I will continue to try to update here as well. In the meantime, I will be posting more book/graphic novel reviews. As you may know, I’ve been reviewing games and other media for some time at a number of different outlets. A small selection of that can be found at the reviews link above but certainly not all — I’ll get around to updating that list so it’s comprehensive sometime soon. Anyway, on to the subject of this post.

One of my greatest passions is reading, whether it’s the traditional novel, short stories, audio books, graphic novels — the works. I’ve recently decided to expand my critical scope and start covering literature and graphic novels. I love them, and spend a lot of time thinking about them, and poring over my most recent literary adventure. I post on Goodreads and go through far too many Amazon reviews, so why not go full boat and start sharing these thoughts in a more structured way? If you’re not into that kind of thing, I understand. Feel free to skip on by those posts.

If this is something you’re into, feel free to comment. If you’d like to get into reviewing, I highly recommend checking out NetGalley. It’s a great free resource for ARCs (Advance Review Copies) of books on the condition that you write a review and publish it on a consumer site like Amazon or Goodreads, or with your own audience. You have to make a profile and be approved, but it’s not all that hard, and the selection is wonderful.

With that said, I hope you enjoy the added content, and be sure to check out what I’m up to in my weekly RPG Files column at MMO and hosting their official podcast!

Book Review: Martian Manhunter: The Epiphany

25810152I had never read Martian Manhunter before, so I was hesitant about picking this book up. I’m glad I did. Without any background going in, The Epiphany does a good job of introducing J’onn J’onnz, the titular Manhunter, who he is and what he stands for. This would be a typical superhero introduction if not for the fact that internal conflict is at the center of this graphic novel.

Without treading too deeply into spoilers (this is nearly all in the book’s description), the book begins with J’onn J’onnz on earth being called into to help NASA investigate a lunar base that has gone silent. We meet him as a superhero, already helping the people of earth, even if they don’t know quite what to make of him or if he should be trusted. What he finds there changes everything and begins a series of alien attacks on Earth that draw into question his true allegiance.

I hesitate to go much further as it will spoil some of the big questions and events of the story, but that is where we begin.

As a series newcomer, I came in without expectations and was pleasantly surprised. Knowing nothing of the Manhunter’s abilities, I was most surprised by his ability to completely transform himself, from limb to limb or completely into another creature. I was worried that it would become over the top, the kind of heroic one-upmanship that makes a hero essentially unstoppable. Instead, author Rob Williams kept J’onn grounded. In fact, the internal conflict and all of that raging guilt made him feel more human than many other characters in the DC Universe, even without his level of superpower.

The story was a page turner, and I completed it in just two short evenings (just over 160 e-pages). It’s absolutely science fiction, what with the alien invasion and all, but there are elements of horror here too. Some of the main villains, are truly horrifying and would give Cthulu a run for his money. Eber Ferreira and Eddy Barrows’ art do a great job of capturing William’s story beats and bringing them to sometimes horrifying life. The themes of Evil Among Us and the horrors just outside our vision are also present and create a looming sense of unease and, occasionally, dread.

I really enjoyed the different characters, particularly Mr. Biscuits, who provided some much needed comic relief. I was also surprised to see members of the Justice League make an appearance, right down to t-shirt and jeans Superman. Some could have stood some extra character development, however. The FBI agent, Wessel, for example, makes some questionable decisions with a young murderer that left me wondering. One second he’s running from him, the next he’s rescuing him from a hospital and taking him on along for the ride. Don’t get me wrong, I can piece together some of the motivation here, but not quite enough to clear the logic gap. A small issue overall.

Finally, I am at a loss for what to make of the ending. Suffice it to say, one of the main heroes does a complete 180 in the last pages. In the few pages that follow, Williams does a decent job of connecting the dots for why this occurs, but it doesn’t quite go far enough to explain why a character would contradict himself and the trajectory of the story arc so thoroughly. Then again, this is the stuff that cliffhangers are made of.

Even with these looming unanswered questions (and it is again worth noting that this is the first volume in a larger series predicated on cliffhangers), I very much enjoyed The Epiphany. I am a huge fan of the DC Universe but came to this book mainly as a Batman and Superman fan. What I found was an ironically human alien character – and not like Superman, J’onn J’onnz is a straight up green skin, bug eyed Martian – and a storyline that neatly hit the notes of science fiction, horror, and, of course, the world saving superhero. I noted a couple of logic gaps here, and at least the last feels intentionally vague to fuel the beginning of the next volume. Overall though, this book is a cut above many and avoids the trap of “comic book logic” that can so easily drag a graphic novel down. I will be picking up the next book.

The Epiphany made a Martian Manhunter fan out of me.

Steam Link/Controller – The Couch MMO Solution?

Oh, hello there! It’s been a while! No, I’m not dead or lost, just inundated with work and parenting (like many of you!). That said, there’s always time for a game or two, right?

Which brings me to this point: It’s hard to play MMOs with little kids in the house! These days, I find that my time is far more precious than ever before. During the day, I teach third grade, plan and grade after dismissal, come home for an hour or two of daddy time, another hour of husband time, and then you can stick a fork in me because I’m done. Maybe somewhere in there, I squeak in a half an hour or so of game time, but not every day. And friends, the whole late night gaming thing — you know, Game By Night — just doesn’t work as well as it used to.

Enter the Steam Link and Steam Controller. I convinced my wife that the Link was a worthy birthday present at the beginning of the month and Fedex tells me it should arrive tomorrow. The controller is backordered, so it looks like December may be more likely for that end of things.  Amazon actually sold it to me “in stock” and notified me today that it was sold out, which was a bummer but so is life. I’m just happy that my library of Steam games will finally be available! More importantly, I’m excited to be able to play MMOs from the couch. RPGF-Oct31-4The Steam Controller has the neat ability to emulate a mouse and keyboard. The track pad can be customized to act like a trackball or touch pad with a mass of different customization options. The other buttons can be programmed to act as stand ins for key strokes. Using mode switching, you can hold one button and assign the rest a whole second set of commands. It’s imperfect but certainly workable for many games. I do worry that the action bar heavy may prove to be a bit much, but couch MMOing is a viable option now!

Obviously, there are drawbacks. I’m not convinced of the Steam Controller’s keyboard interface for text chat. It looks workable but also more than a little confusing. There’s also the obvious issue of having too few buttons, so game choice is more limited. Initially, I thought MMOs like World of Warcraft would be totally off limits, but it seems someone has developed a controller addon to fix that problem. With mode switching, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 buttons that can be programmed. When you factor in basics like clicking, jumping, and navigating the interface, it’s probably closer to 15. Still, with some trade-offs, or a willingness to simply use the mouse to click on interface panels, that’s enough for many, many MMOS!

I can’t wait to try this out. I have visions of Wildstar or SWTOR on my TV. If it all works out, I’ll be back in the MMO world full bore by Christmas! We’ll see what game but, at this point, I’m thinking Wildstar!

PS: If you haven’t heard, I write for now. You can check out my weekly RPG column here.

Prepare For Holiday Gaming Bundles

It’s that time of year again, folks. With the holidays just around the corner, companies all across the gaming industry are preparing new ways to interest players in purchases. We’ve reached a point in 2015 at which gaming is always going to be expensive, unless you happen to prefer mobile apps and online arcades to console titles and PC downloads. New games are pricey, consoles are rather lucrative, and no bundle or special package is going to completely change things. But these companies are experienced with this, and there are a number of enticing reasons to consider some new gaming purchases this holiday season.

The first is that the lineup of upcoming games may be even more impressive than usual for this time of year. Usually around early November there are a few big titles to look forward to, and those titles dominate pre-Christmas sales. But in 2015, there are so many exciting games coming out it’s almost hard to keep track. Metacritic has the full lineup for both PS4 and Xbox One, but just to name a few, here are some highlights: Call Of Duty: Black Ops III; Fallout 4; Star Wars Battlefront; and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege. Those are all pretty major titles, not to mention they’re coming on the heels of a number of significant releases including NBA 2k16, Halo 5, and Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, all of which will further incentivize the purchase of consoles.

In fact, when it comes to the Xbox One sales for the upcoming holiday season, Microsoft appears to be relying almost entirely on it exclusive titles—including Rise Of The Tomb Raider and Halo 5—to keep it afloat. There have been a lot of stories lately about PS4’s increasing dominance of console sales, and a recent analysis in Forbes indicated that in some respects, Microsoft is conceding defeat. However, the same analysis quoted a sales pitch that basically asserted the Xbox One is the better console for a blend of major and exclusive gaming titles, as well as for the live gamer network Xbox Live. The piece also mentioned upcoming holiday bundles starting at $349, though details on those bundles remain largely mysterious.

The folks at Sony, meanwhile, have taken the more conventional route of simply announcing holiday console and game bundles, rather than releasing PR statements explaining their advantage. The Playstation Blog lists the bundles as various packages featuring limited editions of Black Ops III and Battlefront, as well as a few others—some for the same $349 price Microsoft quoted, and others for a little bit more.

This is all pretty typical competition between the two biggest names in console gaming, though it’s also representative of the time of year. And there are certainly holiday sales and promotions going on elsewhere in the gaming industry. The online casino business in particular is always quick to come up with creative promotions throughout the entire year, especially during the holidays. Already, Gala Bingo’s online platform features a few fun gift bonuses for players, such as a “Bingo Showtime” promotion that lets players win a random gift each time they spend one euro throughout November. This gift-giving concept is likely a prelude of similar promotions to come during the holiday season.

Additionally, we can almost certainly expect some app gaming bundles, as that’s fairly traditional of the holiday season. A little over a year ago, just before Christmas in 2014, Square Enix announced a massive list of gaming titles that were marked down for holiday purchases, and 9to5Mac revealed even more sales that were going on in the iOS store. Discounts like these are not yet listed for December 2015, but you can rest assured there will be an opportunity to grab some popular mobile titles at appealing prices.

That ought to give you a few ideas of what to look for in the month or so ahead. It’s always a fun time of year for gamers, and with competition continuing to increase between companies and developers, the discounts will only get more interesting.

#NBI2015: How Did GamerGate Affect Me?

It’s May and that means it’s time for another Newbie Blogger Initiative. I probably wouldn’t have participated since I’m far from new to games blogging but Belghast of Tales of the Aggronaut convinced me on his latest AggroChat podcast. The call, as he put it, was also to blogger who may have stopped blogging, and considering the last post on this site was months ago, I think I qualify (even though I never really stopped — I think I have close to 100 columns at now, but I digress). Anyhow, I’ve been looking for a reason to get back into writing casually, so I’m going to try this and see if it sticks. Good? Good. On to the question.

How did GamerGate affect me?

I think I’m in a unique position in that any time I wrote about it, I did so in front MMORPG’s audience instead of my own or on social media. I have to say, though… I was afraid to do it. I became a father this last year and the idea of poking a dragon that could reveal my address and harass my family was intimidating. Believe it or not, I’m somewhat of a private person, and the idea of inviting that kind of force scared me. GamerGate made me afraid to speak out.


But I did because I felt I had to. Also, I’m a man which instantly dropped the chances of any GamerGaters even caring what I had to say. Frankly, I think the last year has proven that a man could attack the GG cause and come out unscathed whereas a woman even using the hashtag was called foul names. The worst I got was called a Social Justice Warrior, which is an ironic insult because we all should be fighting for social justice.

When I did talk about it, it was lightly with a few snarky comments. Nothing outrageous. No preaching from the pulpit. People still got offended. They called me a journalist and tried to hold my feet to the fire of opinion-free journalistic standards, never minding that I was writing an opinion column. The usual stuff when you’re writing something remotely controversial in the gaming world.

What GamerGate accomplished more than anything, I think, was inspiring a whole lot of fear in a whole lot of people. It set gaming back years and years in the public consciousness. Rather than finally rise about the muck of politically fueled controversy that so defined video gaming, GamerGate ensured that our hobby would once again be dragged through the mud in news stories and congressional halls. It also showed how many young men are genuinely threatened by women invading their hobby and not immediately acquiescing to horny male sub-culture because they dared step where they didn’t belong.

I’d rather be a Social Justice Warrior than that kind of gamer.

Companies Successfully Have Gamers Looking Forward to November

Every year just before the start of the holiday season, an influx of new games hit the market. Companies look to attract those with a little extra income from end-of-year bonuses while reminding others how a new game makes for a perfect gift.

This year is already proving to be no different.

One of the most anticipated games is one that has been in the forefront of many of our minds lately—World of Warcraft’s Warlords of Draenor. Recently GameSpot compiled a montage of TV and commercial spots for the game, claiming that Blizzard Entertainment is doing all they can to ramp up marketing efforts before the game’s release in a few weeks. Several of the videos have already been viewed over 100,000 times by eager fans left twiddling their thumbs in anticipation.

Gamestop Line

Hallels even called November the “special month” for Sony, as it’s when gamers acquire new and more games. It’s also when Sony will be releasing their new list of free games for PlayStation Plus. While the titles on the list are still unknown, speculation was fueled from an entry on PlayStation’s official blog, which said that one of the games “combines the elements of Smash TV and The Legend of Zelda yet with a rogue-like genre.”

But the point of releasing free games isn’t just an act of kindness. More than likely it’s to stir attention towards the ones that aren’t free for the taking. The game they likely hope to get the most buzz about is the upcoming title Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Set to go on sale in just a few days, the massive popularity of the franchise will likely make it a success. If that alone doesn’t fuel a buying frenzy, Kevin Spacey’s shockingly life-like animated character is sure to do the trick. Ad Week says that the likeness of his House of Cards character integrated into the game has been brought to head by the creator’s subtle advertisement campaign from the last few months. And I would be lying if I said it hadn’t completely worked on me.

Kevin Spacey

However, all franchises can’t rely on an on extreme fan base to draw attention to their games. Instead, those that still want to contribute to the spike in gaming sales around this time draw players’ focus through giveaways. Online hub Betfair Bingo is even taking the tradition of the gaming season to the next level by creating an on-going contest throughout the autumn to promote their games. While players engage in their usual activities on the site each week, they’re entered in to a drawing for a chance to win £1 million. On certain days, they can even increase their opportunities to win, gaining one, two, or three tickets determined by the day of play for every £5 they wager.

I’d like to say that being able to point out the goal behind companies releasing games and promotions around this time makes me think I’m above shelling out my money for them. But like so many other people that contribute to the spike in sales this time of year, the end of my fiscal quarter is coming up at work. With any luck, I’ll have a few extra bucks burning a hole in my pocket as a result. If I’m really being honest with myself, I know I’m going to check out every last one of these games the minute they’re available.

ESO: Do It Right the First Time


I’ve been thinking a lot about Elder Scrolls Online lately. Ever since my post about Keeping Up With the Joneses, I’ve been hovering over the purchase button. Well it’s a good thing I didn’t! Out of the blue, I received an email from the Zenimax notifying me I had “purchased the game” and reminding me that I still needed to activate my free 30 days. Now, I can assure you that I did not purchase the Elder Scrolls. But, with a little digging, I did have a copy activated to my account. Strange, yes? Well, a quick email to support told the tale. See, a while back, I was able to help test their billing system. Apparently, that copy of the game I was refunded for is now mine to keep. Sweet deal, says I!

Anyhow, with all of the hustle of my wife returning to work from maternity leave and my being a stay-at-home daddy this summer (while also trying to finish grad school this week), I haven’t gotten around to activating the game. Why bother? What they say about subscription fees making you feel pressured to play rings true for me and, unfortunately, signing up now would just mean wasting some of those free days.

I have been reading, though, and have really been enjoying freelancer Leif Johnson‘s article series over at IGN. Say what you will about the big sites and their practices when it comes to reviewing MMORPGs but Leif has done an excellent job, taking 150+ hours to see all that the game had to offer before submitting his verdict. Take note, other sites: that’s how it should be done.

Today he posted an interesting piece on The Trouble with Elder Scrolls Online’s Veteran Content. While he loves the veteran dungeons, he takes issue with how long it takes to actually experience it. After 300 hours, he’s only midway through his veteran ranks. Here, he shares something important:

I wouldn’t mind this so much, but this cross-faction endgame quest also has the adverse effect of making leveling an alt account almost unthinkable. In other MMOs, when you hit max-level you might roll a new character to experience a new quest, and explore all the zones you missed. But in ESO, you feel compelled to experience it all on a single character, breaking the in-game lore along the way . . . There are times when I wish I’d leveled a Dragonknight or Sorcerer instead of my Nightblade, but the thought of playing through the content for roughly 300 hours again gives me shivers. – Leif Johnson

Emphasis mine. See, for a player like me, hitting the level cap is a big deal. It’s an investment and those 150 hours it took Leif would likely take me two months to chip away at. I’m not a fan of repeating content in the first place and Zenimax has designed a system that actively eats the other factions worth of content. The idea of putting in a second 150 hours, then another 150 hours just to get midway into the endgame is unbearable. 600 hours for two mid-veteran alts? That will simply never happen. I know myself too well.

I had the pleasure of interviewing ESO’s Creative Director, Paul Sage, last week (written version here). He made it clear that any content drops they plan on adding (“real content” not just systems, by his description), you need to be a veteran player. He also mentioned that the majority of ESO’s players are still in the second and third zones. We have two things here. First, that this really is a slow burn of a game. With most players still in the mid-game, not even to the soft level 50 cap, it’s safe to say that leveling takes far longer than most other games of its ilk. Second, that if you want to get in on the ground floor of all that’s new and exciting, those hours are a required investment.

This design choice reinforces that ESO is another game that “begins at the level cap.” That, combined with the ultra-slow leveling speed, makes for a tricky proposition for Zenimax. Will players stick around long enough to even reach the upper veteran levels? Based on the average player level, I’d say that’s still a big question, and a pretty dangerous one with Wildstar right around the corner. And if they happened to mess up and discover 200 hours in that their class just isn’t what they wanted in that endgame, how many will be willing to reinvest that much time, with content they’ve already experienced, to do it all over again?

I’m still very excited to play the game. So many of you seem to love it that I’ll be activating and diving in with heavy anticipation. I do wonder, though, what all of this means for ESO’s future. A shortened leveling curve? Selling xp boosts or levels in the item shop? I just don’t see very many people leveling second characters when the same time could get them max level characters and real progress in even two or even three other MMOs.

ArcheAge: This Generation’s Vanguard (In a Good Way!)

I’ve been struggling to articulate why I find ArcheAge so compelling since I first began hearing about it. I described it many times in the past, talking about its many systems or how it supported the virtual world concept. Now that I have my hands on it, I think I’ve come to a conclusion about why this game has captured me so much, so quickly, and why I think it will do the same for a lot of people. It is this generation’s Vanguard.

Think about it. How many things do these games have in common? A huge, expansive, multi-continent world? Check. In-depth crafting skills with tons of interdependence? Check. The ability to build and decorate houses? Check. Build boats and great ships? Explore for exploration’s sake? A deep class system? Non-combat pastimes that can last the whole game long? Dozens of mechanics and systems that exist purely to deepen the overall experience? It’s all there. These are two games cut from the same cloth. Except ArcheAge seems to be doing it right.

I was a huge fan of Vanguard but never got the chance to experience it to its fullest. By the time I had a computer that could run it, everyone else had moved on, including the developers. Still, there was something magical that many of us look back to today. Part of that is capturing the essence of a virtual world, which is something that ArcheAge does very right. More than that, though, was this overriding sense that this was a game that begged you to go deeper, to keep digging because there was more and more for as long as you wanted to keep going. And if you wanted to go off in another direction, say Diplomacy, you could make your own way and be just as rewarded for doing so. That’s the sense I get from ArcheAge and it, so far, is doing a lot to rekindle my excitement for a genre that has been too long steeped in more of the same.

Giving my little cub a bath... before it turns into my mount!

Giving my little cub a bath… before it turns into my mount!

Everything I know says that this is a game that isn’t about the experience, it’s about the entirety of the experience. It’s not just about the 15 crafting professions available from the start (the wiki says there are 21 — maybe more will open up?). It’s not about the siege warfare or emphasis on world bosses over raid zones. It’s not even about being able to raise your own farm or castle, feeding your goslings, or growing crops that you physically cart off to trade. It’s about all of it. That at any given moment you can uproot yourself and strike out in a new direction and there are options for you. If you want to be a pirate or a trader, a farmer or fisherman, I can do that. It’s about the small systems, like the treasure maps or raising your mount from a cub, making sure to give it water and play with it to form a bond. It’s about being able to turn in quests early for less experience or keep on grinding for more. It’s these needless but meaningful touches, like the entire composition system — which puts LotRO’s music system to shame, I might add — that immediately seem to elevate the experience.

Forgive me if it sounds like I’m gushing. In a way, I am. But Vanguard was a big game and if you were even a little excited about it, this is a game you need to be paying attention to. ArcheAge is Vanguard’s rebirth with all of the renovations of a modern MMO, minus the action combat for action combat’s sake. Even the game’s quest system has so far been trumped by the fun of being a part of the world. It’s fun just being out there, taking part in combat, and seeing what there is to see. I’m curious to see how this feels 20 levels from now but I’m guessing I still won’t mind. Traditional questing doesn’t bother me, as long as it’s done well.

But here’s the most important thing: after six years playing nearly every major MMO release, I’ve grown a bit jaded. Those early days of excitement never seem to glow so bright and even so fade quicker than ever before. It is hard to reignite wonder in a player that spent so much time poring over systems and mechanics, comparing title after title after title. It’s a blogger’s curse. Maybe you can relate. I’m still in early days but this game has done it for me. For the first time in a long time, I’m wanting to stay up late and get up early to log on. That’s pretty neat.


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