Monday, 29 June 2015

Blog update

After procrastinating for one or two years, I’ve finally (slightly) updated the blog. Axed a few links, and shoved in a few more (particularly recommend the ones to Goodreads, lots of lovely reviews there, Kraxon [which includes many free stories] and Chrons). There are also links to debut bestselling author Jo Zebedee, and LK Evans, who is both a top reviewer and writer.

I’ve also declunkified the Books tab. Currently my stuff’s only on Amazon, although I do plan to shove them back up on Smashwords at some point (probably with a discount as part of the run-up to Kingdom Asunder’s release).

Been posting a lot about videogames recently, but I will be swerving back towards books. Unsure if I’ll keep writing fantasy book reviews (bit worried about potential conflict of interest, if I write something positive it may be seen as back-scratching, if negative as jealousy/having a go at someone else) but history and other genres will definitely keep coming.

As far as book releases go, Sir Edric’s Temple should be re-released traditionally this year, and Sir Edric’s Treasure will hopefully also come out in 2015. Kingdom Asunder’s possible but not certain this year, and although Sir Edric’s Kingdom (which is larger than Temple/Treasure combined, at the moment) is quite close to completion it won’t be out this year.

Next post will be on varying writing approaches (spontaneity or planning).


Wednesday, 24 June 2015

E3 Round-up

Just a summary of the major points that interested me at E3 (mostly RPG-focused). There are minor gameplay-related spoilers, and very small plot spoilers (relating the premise of a story, not including anything I’d consider twists).

Not going into detail into all these games, but some which caught my eye were: Fallout 4, Mass Effect Andromeda, FFVII, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Uncharted 4.

Fallout 4

I had planned on buying this but waiting either until the price had tumbled or until a Game of the Year edition emerged. Got to say that it looked bloody fantastic, though. A warning: if you check out the videos from E3 about Fallout 4, you may well come across early plot spoilers.

Female protagonist is confirmed, as is the fact both genders are voiced. Courtenay Taylor (Jack in Mass Effect 2) will be FemSurvivor, with Brian T. Delaney voicing ManSurvivor.

Dogmeat returns. He’s also invincible [although M. Bison thought that about himself too], so he won’t get killed. Instead, he’ll get knocked out, and you will get killed. Glad to hear this.

VATS returns but this time it’s slow-mo rather than time-freeze. Probably makes combat more exciting, but as I have the reaction times of a drunk giraffe I’m not sure it’ll suit me.

There’s a rumour (based on Pip-Boy footage) that there will be no skills, just stats and perks.

Mods will be coming to consoles. How it’ll work is unclear (although a console gamer I know that PC mods can be massive, and a lot are a shade risqué, so I guess some at least won’t be transferred), but it will happen for Xbox One in the early part of next year, and come a bit later to PS4 [probably, not sure that’s 100% confirmed].

Crafting looks like it’s had steroids applied, crack injected into its eyeballs and nitroglycerin inserted in every remaining orifice. Not only can you massively customise weapons and armour, you can also build and decorate your own house. And, in fact, your own settlement. Or settlements, to be precise. Generators, lights, turrets, traders, it looks very extensive.

The release date is 10 November 2015.

Mass Effect Andromeda

Not Mass Effect 4. The title, rather than number, helps mark a clean break for the series. Andromeda is a nearby galaxy to the Milky Way, and is used in the title because the human race is looking for more real estate. It’s unclear whether this is to escape the Reapers, or happens long (or soon) after the events of Mass Effect 3.

Sadly, it seems the protagonist must be human once again, but the usual male/female gender option will be present (unclear if we’ll get 2 or 4 potential voice actors).

Release is around Christmas 2016, which is fair enough given people might just have finished with Fallout 4 by that time.


Final Fantasy VII is being remade. Not remastered. As well as graphics being enormously improved, it seems the combat will not feature random encounters and turn-based mechanics but instead adopt a more modern approach. More surprisingly, the story will not be exactly the same. No idea if that means little tweaks here and there, or a full-blown re-write. Whatever they do with mechanics and storyline will cause some people to be annoyed. I just hope they keep the themes the same.

As an aside, it’ll be odd hearing Red XIII’s name. I misread it the first time I played, and have thought of him as Red Eight ever since.

Not Indiana Jones

Lara Croft and Nathan Drake both get new outings (the former coming to Xbox first, the latter a PS4 exclusive, as per usual). I may look at the new Tomb Raider when the price drops (enjoyed the reboot, but I’ve always been off-and-on with the series). Doubt I’ll bother with Uncharted. Liked the first two games but they didn’t grab me enough to keep my interest.

Not a videogame, but glad to hear Xbox is bringing backwards compatibility to its console. Shame that hasn’t happened with the PS4 (and probably won’t). I hope the next generation is another story, but that’s some way off. Backwards compatibility is not only great for gamers, it’s good for the firms because helps lock in loyalty from one generation to the next.


Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Review: The Witcher 3 (PS4)

Just finished my first playthrough of The Witcher 3. I left it a couple of days before putting up this review to try and decide just where on the scale of excellence this game belongs. Obviously I’ll be including some elements of the story, but I’ll keep spoilers to the absolute bare minimum.


You play as Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher (professional monster hunter, and a mutant). Geralt’s searching for Ciri, with whom he has a surrogate father-daughter relationship. Unfortunately, the Wild Hunt is also after her, and your task is to both find and protect her.

One aspect that I really enjoyed was the secondary quests that branched off from the main storyline. They’re entirely optional, but by doing them (or not) you can affect the way the main story ends up going.

Geralt’s a neutral sort of character, and can be pretty harsh or relatively nice depending on the player’s preference (a small minority of dialogue options are timed, so you may need to decide quickly how to react to a situation).

There’s a strong cast of characters, including some potential romantic interests and old friends (such as Zoltan and Dandelion).

The side-quests are engaging and interesting, rather than escort/fetch quests (they feel like mini-stories rather than box-ticking or fetching X for Y). It’s quite possible to find yourself so preoccupied with side-quests you forget the main storyline for some time. I don’t think I’ve ever come across side-quests done as well as this.

This is my first Witcher game, and I imagine that’s true of many. A concern, given there are two prior games and a book series, was that I’d find it as incomprehensible as a cut-scene from Metal Gear Solid 4.

The initial part of the game starts in a good-sized area (which is nevertheless minute compared to the others), and you learn about the war and political situation through the interactions you have with ordinary people, rather than through lengthy exposition. It unfolds naturally, and avoids the videogame equivalent of info-dumping.

So, whilst I do think veterans of the series will get more out of it (particularly with minor returning characters), there’s no problem getting your head around the world if this is your first visit.


The combat has three major aspects: physical attacks, alchemical shenanigans and magic. You have at least basic abilities in all these areas and can develop them more as you wish. Combat did take me a little while to get into, and some enemies proved more troublesome than others (I’m rubbish against werewolves). Being able to customise your skills to match your fighting style (I went heavily for magic with a side order of melee) works well, but you will almost certainly use all three parts of combat to a greater or lesser extent.

The spells are powerful enough to be of use without making combat a doddle. Likewise, alchemical oils will help you, without being a silver bullet.

Difficulty (on the standard setting) was high enough for a challenge but I only felt overwhelmed (at the right level) a few times. Mostly against werewolves. Furry gits.

The levelling and skill allocation system is something intuitive to grasp, but a bit tricky to explain in a single line. Levelling is graded, so you only need 1000xp to level up to about 10, then levels 11-20 requires 1,500xp, and so on. Each level gets you one skill point. You can also acquire skill points from places of power (rare monoliths scattered through the world, a few of which you’ll encounter as part of the main story).

These skill points are then spent improving your melee, alchemical and magical prowess (or in a fourth, miscellaneous, category which has simpler enhancements like more health or faster stamina regen). Skills can be enhanced multiple times, and using a certain number of points is necessary to unlock the next tier of enhancements in a given skill table. For skill enhancements to become active they have to be placed in one of twelve slots (which gradually become available as you level). These skills can further be enhanced by use of the right mutagen (one mutagen per three skill enhancements). So, use a blue mutagen with magic to get a boost.

Quests are tagged with a recommended level and divided into main storyline, secondary, Witcher contracts and equipment hunting. It is possible to fail quests.

Crafting is entirely optional and you can get good gear without it. Crafting weapons/armour occurs only when you’re chatting to a smith. Alchemical crafting can be done by yourself, at any time.


The world is beautiful. Not just in terms of graphics, but also in the way the mountains and hills, rivers and seas have been put together. Dozens of times, especially early on, I’d just pause the game to enjoy the view (and get a screenshot). Weather is dynamic, and a really nice effect is that trees/bushes will bend significantly in the wind.

Clothing mostly looks great. Textures are good, though there’s the occasional rough spot. Every piece of armour has a wet look, so if you go for a little swim and then come out, your clothing will be soggy.

The sea looks especially nice, although one of the first whales I saw did freeze, its tail forever sticking above the surface. Near the coast the sea is flat and calm, but further out the water gets choppier, especially in storms.

On rare occasions (a few times during the whole playthrough) textures took a moment to load, but it was just a moment. Pop-in did happen, but it was also rare.


Voice-acting is generally very good. Geralt’s probably got the best voice of a male protagonist since David Hayter was Solid Snake/Big Boss. Yennefer and Triss both sound great, and having Charles Dance as the Nilfgaardian Emperor fits very nicely.

The music’s brilliant, not just in that it’s well-composed, but each theme seems to really fit the situation. The fact that you get the music on a separate disc as a free extra for buying the game is just another bonus.

Bugs and Other Issues

In a game this size, there will be bugs. The question is whether they’re serious or comical. Mostly, they’re comical (I saw one dock-worker doing what appeared to be a river dance audition as he worked). Occasionally, they’re more serious. As well as floating characters and other minor issues, Geralt did once start jumping incessantly (which was amusing initially before it refused to stop). I eventually found that getting on Roach fixed the bug.

The initial load screen lasting forever (which has hopefully been patched and didn’t recur when I started a new game today to see if it was still a problem) was very tedious. I also came across two flying beasts that were invincible. At first I thought it might be intentional (I had to rescue someone and was thinking he might get the kills), but reloading solved the problem. And, once, the music just decided not to play (entering a cut-scene with music brought it back).

One thing which did irk me was that sometimes (but not always) it was necessary to be online to load my save (due to the DLC). I have no idea why it was sometimes needed and sometimes not.

There are some nuisances in there, but nothing game-breaking.

Not a bad thing but ‘another issue’ is the free DLC, which is still being released. There will be 16 in all (I think we’re up to about eight now). Some are toggled on/off in the main menu (alternate looks for characters/cards), most are quests or items purchased in-game (NB for game money, not real cash).


There are flaws, but they’re little niggles rather than persistent problems. When I look at it from another angle, seeking areas it could improve, there really isn’t anything.

The Witcher 3 offers the morality of Game of Thrones, the open world of Skyrim and the strong storytelling of Dragon Age in a game with around 200 hours of content. It’s a triumph of style and substance and may very well be the game of the year (I think only Fallout 4 may compete with it for the accolade).

Score: 9.5/10.


Thursday, 11 June 2015

Fallout 4, XCOM 2, and Mass Effect 4

E3 is just around the corner, and there are a number of potentially great sci-fi videogames coming out soon, so I thought it’d be a good idea to have a little look ahead.

NB there will be some general spoilers, but nothing too specific. So, you’re probably fine reading this unless you’re on a full-blown blackout.

Fallout 4 has been announced, and the release date has not. Well, not officially. Unofficially, it’s rumoured to be 23 October (this year). If that’s the case, expect it to be confirmed at E3 this month. It’ll be out for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

XCOM 2 (an intriguing title for a game which is either the 11th or the 3rd instalment depending on whether you consider the reboot XCOM: Enemy Unknown to reset the counter or not) has been announced for November (again, this year). Maybe they asked Xbox for help with the numbering. Anyway, it is PC only at launch, though some think it’ll come to the consoles in 2016.

Mass Effect 4 [which may well have a different title when properly announced] has been confirmed as in the works but very little beyond that is known. I’m hoping we get more info at E3. I’d be very surprised if it were cross-generation (as Dragon Age: Inquisition was).

It’s quite nice to have games announced just a few months ahead of release. Sometimes by choice, and sometimes due to delays, games can be announced a year or more ahead of time, and that just feels too damned long. So, what do we know so far?

Fallout 4

The game appears to be set in Boston, perhaps later than Fallout 3/New Vegas, and/or with a correspondingly superior level of technology. Lots of series favourites return (power armour, the protagonist appears to be a vault-dweller, and Dogmeat’s back).

The trailer ends with the protagonist’s voice. This has led some to believe there won’t be character customisation and you’ll be destined to be Johnny Whitechap. My gast would be flabbered if that were the case. The suggestion of the protagonist having a voice (or perhaps multiple, as per Inquisition) could be true, but I’m not sure.

The world’s also a bit more colourful (huzzah, Fallout 3 was the Land of Brown), and there may be gameplay in the pre-war era as the bombs drop (if so, it could well be a prologue).

It’ll be interesting to see whether there’s a ‘hardcore’ mode, like in New Vegas where you had to eat/drink regularly or suffer the consequences. The only thing we can be sure of right now is that it’ll sell by the bucketload.


Massively disappointed this is PC-only. Enemy Unknown was one of the best games of the previous generation, all the more so because it was originally going to be another shooter before fans old and new pestered Firaxis into making it a strategy/tactics game [kudos to Firaxis for listening, and thus selling a ton of copies]. Anyway, it might yet move to consoles, but the initial launch will be just for the PC.

So, what’s new?

Well, you lost the war (or someone did, anyway). Aliens have conquered Earth and have been running it for what seems like a few decades. This time, you lead insurgents (although I suspect the aliens would consider XCOM terrorists) trying to free our beloved homeworld from the slimy grip of the extra-terrestrials. Insectoids have become humanised (whether due to genetic manipulation or human-insectoid frisky time is thankfully unclear), very cool-looking snake aliens are introduced (technically re-introduced, as they were in older games), and your base is now a mobile mothership rather than a subterranean refuge.

Gameplay hasn’t been revealed much, but one thing we do know is that if one of your veterans gets gunned down, you can save him/her by taking the wounded hero back to the evac point. Players of Enemy Unknown will be familiar with the problem of getting your whole A-team massacred, so the ability to withdraw with some but not total losses will help reduce that problem.

It also seems that customisation options will be improved, although details are scantier than a nudist’s bathing suit.

Mass Effect 4

We know this is in the works, and that, alas, Commander Shepard will not be the protagonist. I’ll miss you, FemShep. No date yet announced, and it’ll be interesting to see whether we get a trio of great sci-fi games close together or if Mass Effect comes out a little time apart [which may make more commercial sense].

The game occurs in the same universe as the three previous. So, expect Krogans, Turians and so forth to feature. However, it’s rumoured to be in the relatively distant future (compared to the original trilogy), so it’s unlikely we’ll see returning characters (perhaps excepting those with enormous life-spans). It’s also unknown what degree of character customisation will be available, or whether we’ll be human-only.

It’s said that the plot will involve civilisation looking for a home in a new galaxy, and that the protagonist will be a Path-finder, tasked with exploring the new galaxy for safe haven. And that’s about as far as whispers go for the plot. Reapers will not, I think, make a reappearance, having been dealt with one colour or another in Mass Effect 3.

Worth noting that all three are likely to have significant DLC (all preceding instalments did), so if you want maximum bang for your buck you could wait awhile and save [well, spend less] getting Game of the Year/Ultimate Editions.

It’s been a little while since the last blog. Personally, I blame The Witcher 3 for this (I think I’m near(ish) the end of my first playthrough. When I complete it, I’ll put up a full review).