Book Review: “The Macharian Crusade: Angel of Fire”

It is the dawn of the 41st millennium. Humanity has been fractured by internal struggles for millennia thanks to the Age of Apostasy, and hundreds of worlds have remained separated from the Imperium of Man due to warp storms, succession or outright loss of records. But one man stands resolute in the face of this dark time. He is Macharius, Lord Commander Solar of the Imperium! He has gathered the largest massing of the Imperial Guard since the time of the Great Crusade thousands of years ago, and he has vowed that he will reunite those lost worlds to the greater Imperium! But first he must conquer Karsk for the precious resources it holds for his new crusade. But something sinister is lurking within the depths of this world, waiting to be unleashed. Can even Macharius stand up to the ancient evil centered upon the Angel of Fire?

Beware, for there be spoilers ahead.

Well, it’s finally come Warhammer fans. We’re finally getting a chance to see firsthand something only mentioned in little texts of fluff from the rulebooks. We’re finally getting to see the Macharian Crusade! This book covers near the beginning of Macharius’ seven year campaign, and he’s still growing into his power. It’s written by the long time black Library author William King, famous for both the Space Wolves series as well as the Gotrek and Felix books. But how does Angel of Fire stand up to his sterling record?

I’d have to say it does a pretty good job. It’s well within the quality one would expect for William King. The tale is gripping, and the personalities of the characters fleshed out. It was obvious he was experimenting a bit with this book, and I say that because he didn’t write it from the perspective of Macharius himself. He wrote it from the perspective of troopers serving under him. Which actually makes a good bit of sense. I mean, how do you write this larger than life general in such a way that you can relate to him? This man conquered almost a thousand worlds in just seven years! So to properly capture the feel of Macharius, you go to who felt his influence the most. The soldiers who he led and inspired.

Now, I did have a few issues with this book. Most are minor, but the one big one was how King wrote the soldier thinking back on the Crusade. His thoughts are always rather terse and clipped, which makes sense for a soldier but also made the prose a little clunky. I get the feeling King is trying to properly get a handle on how he wants to handle this trilogy he’s got planned, and this book is him testing the waters a bit before he gets his balance. It’s not a bad book by any means. In fact, it’s a pretty damn good book. Nothing especially wowed me, per se, but the over all product is pretty fantastic. So if you’re a Warhammer fan I recommend you pick up this book. For myself, I’m eagerly looking forward to the rest of this series. It promises to be a grand old tale of blood, guts and military action. But for now, let’s leave off on the words of William King himself giving his own thoughts on the novel.

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Movie Review: “The Amazing Spider-Man”

I am a gigantic nerd, as anyone who reads this blog should know. Part of my nerdiness has always, from the time I was eight years old, been my love of Spider-Man. I really, really love this character. He always felt so human, so relatable. He goes through so much, but through it all he does what’s right and responsible. So I was greatly looking forward to this movie even with my initial reservations about the fact that it’s a reboot of the movie franchise. As always, beware! There be spoilers ahead.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. Peter Parker is an awkward teen trying to make his way through the emotional, and sometimes physical, war zone that is high school. He lives with his Aunt and Uncle, and feels a longing for parents he hasn’t seen since he was about six years old. In the process of trying to figure out more about his father, he’s bitten by a genetically altered spider and develops amazing powers! He connects with one of his father’s old colleagues, Curt Conners, giving him a crucial piece of information that he needs for his research. But in the process of discovering more about his father and learning his powers, his beloved Uncle Ben is murdered! Now with a new goal in mind, Peter Parker strives to live a responsible life with his amazing powers. But trouble is brewing, and with pressures mounting Conners may make a mistake he will regret for the rest of his life.

So, how does it all hold up?

Remarkably well, actually. Let’s face the honest truth here, Spidey’s reboot is coming from the fact that Spider-Man 3 was such an utter clusterfuck of a movie. With that movie line ending on such a low note, it actually helps this one up. Not that this movie doesn’t hold up perfectly well on its own. Andrew Garfield does a fantastic job as Peter Parker, playing the awkward teen better than Tobey Maquire, in my opinion. Seriously, it’s almost painful to watch in some instances. Emma Stone plays the role of Gwen Stacey really well, and I enjoyed every moment she was on screen. I am a little scared about the character’s role in any future movies, though. It’s… Well, Gwen Stacy’s history doesn’t turn out well. Rhys Ifans does a splendid job playing Curt Conners, and I could really empathize with his reasons in the beginning and understand how they could all go spiraling out of control. But the role I found a surprising amount of enjoyment with was Martin Sheen’s portrayal as Uncle Ben. Seriously, this is how I always thought of Uncle Ben! He’s patient, caring and wanting to help direct Peter onto the right path. I absolutely adored every time he was on screen.

There are some things I’m iffy about, though. I think they could have done more with Conners. He had understandable motives in the beginning, but his motives later quickly became kinda silly. He also began talking to himself, much like Norman Obsorn in the other films. I think there was a lot of potential that they missed out on there. I also think they didn’t really play up Peter’s intelligence quite enough. Now, it was a close thing in that regard. While he may not have invented the web fluid, he did design the firing mechanism. Still, I think there’s a bit more they could have done in that regard. But considering time restraints, this is pretty forgivable.

So, how does it hold up to the other movie franchise? That’s actually a tough question. I liked Spider-Man 1 and 2 quite a bit. I also liked this movie quite a bit. Is one better than the other? I’m gonna have to say they’re about equal, really. They each go in their own way, so making flat comparisons is a little difficult. Andrew Garfield plays a much younger Peter Parker than Tobey Maquire did, and I think that shifts the whole movie in a different direction than that of the 2002 movie. In any case, this movie was good and I’m looking forward to any future films. If you want a good super-hero flick, The Amazing Spider-Man is right up your alley. Seriously, go give this movie a look.

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Thoughts on Mass Effect 3’s Extended Cut

So, here we are. After much outcry, wailing of lamentations and gnashing of teeth we finally have the extended ending to Mass Effect 3. It was promised that this ending would give greater detail into what had already been shown, and also address some of the key issues fans had with the original ending. So, does it make the grade?

As always, spoilers ahead.

I’ll say, after a good deal of thought, yes. My reasoning is thus. Three major issues were solved in this extended cut. Issue number one: We now have an explanation for why Joker was running away in the Normandy. It bothered me greatly, as I’m sure it did others, that Joker and the crew would simply turn tail and run while Shepard was doing the hero thing. I mean, what’s up with that? Where’s the band of brother’s comaraderie? But with the extended cut we now see why he was running, and that he had to be convinced to leave. This is a great improvement. As an addendum to this, you can also evacuate your ground team to the Normandy, explaining how the hell they got there when they were fighting down on earth with Shepard.

Second, we see that Normandy actually taking off from the planet it crashed on. Fantastic! That means the members of the crew that don’t operate on the same D.N.A. as the humans don’t starve to death. This is good, because I love Tali and Garrus to death and the idea they were slowly wasting away on some alien planet surrounded by food they couldn’t eat pissed me off. It seems like the people are Bioware were a little confused as to how the fans could come to this conclusion, but come on! The ship had crashed, it was beat up and we never saw it take off again. What were we supposed to think? This is a welcome change.

Third, and related somewhat to the bit above, is that the Mass Effect Relays are fixed. This is either done by the Reapers themselves, controlled by Shepard or convinced thanks to Synthesis, or by the rest of the surviving races even if it takes a while. While this is good, because it means galactic civilization doesn’t just crumble, the more important aspect of it is that the Relays didn’t blow up. As we saw in the Arrival DLC for Mass Effect 2, when a Relay blows up it pretty much goes supernova and destroys a solar system’s worth of space. The original ending implied, almost outright showed really, that the Relays had blown up. This would have killed billions. Now they merely broke after releasing their energy. It’s nice to know that Shepard’s choice didn’t kill more people in one go than the Reapers ever did throughout the entire series.

There are still some issues, of course. The endings now have significantly more variety between them than they did before, but that’s not really saying much when the bar is set that low. There are still some similarities between all the endings, and while it does make you feel that each ending is more unique there’s still a lingering sense of pick your different colored light. That’s my one lingering gripe, to be honest. However, there is now sufficient variety between the endings to greatly improve the overall experience. So I can easily live with this.

Hell, there’s even a fourth ending where you can refuse all the options given to you by the Star Child. Granted, this ends with the destruction of all races this cycle with the message that another race thousands of years later picked up where you left off. This does give a feeling of Bioware flipping the bird to their fans for all the noise they raised, but I think we can forgive them this. Overall, I have to say these extended endings are a massive improvement. I have to wonder, though. Why didn’t Bioware just give these endings in the first place? It really does imply that the original endings were rushed, and I think that if they’d just taken the time to do it this way there would have been significantly fewer bad feelings from fans in general. Maybe it was executive pressure? Whatever the case, we have the new endings and they’re free. That’s a victory for the fans, right there.

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Series Review: “Fate/Zero”

There once was a boy who wanted, from the depths of his heart, to be a hero. He desired nothing more than to save the world in the name of justice. But when the chance came to save many at the expense of one whom he loved, he couldn’t do it. And then everyone suffered, consumed by fire and blood. Years later the boy became a man whose heart was made of stone. To save ten people, he would be willing to sacrifice one. To save one hundred people, he would be willing to sacrifice ten. He lived by this creed for years, putting his life on the line to hunt dangerous monsters and even more dangerous mages even as he lost touch with his own humanity. And then, when he felt he couldn’t continue under the weight of all the lives he’d taken, he was offered the chance to achieve his greatest wish. A world without conflict. So rejoice, Kiritsugu Emiya! Here is your chance to achieve your dreams, should only you win this Holy Grail War!

Fate/Zero is the prequel to the popular visual novel Fate/Stay Night. Taking place ten years prior, it follows the tale of seven mages who summon seven Servants, powerful warriors from the depths of history. They will each fight for the chance to claim the Holy Grail, a magical artifact created hundreds of years ago that will grant any one wish to the victor. But something ominous is stirring in the shadows, and is the Holy Grail truly the miracle it is touted to be?

Fate/Zero was originally a light novel series created by acclaimed writer Gen Urobuchi. It was made into an anime which has recently concluded, and I wanted to offer a few of my thoughts on it. I enjoyed Fate/Stay Night, and I have to say I enjoyed Fate/Zero. It stayed very true to its source material, and Ufotable did a magnificent job animating it. The acting, as well, was superb. The main difference between Fate/Zero and Fate/Stay Night is that while Kiritsugu and his Servant, Saber, are arguably the main characters, everyone else is only slightly less important. It’s a huge cast, and everyone gets plenty of time devoted to them. The voice acting was very well done, and you could really get a feel for these larger than life characters from how easily they interacted.

One thing I didn’t like was how certain parts of the story were left out of the television airing in order to be put into the Blue-ray release. They did an okay job making the cuts, I guess, but for those who knew the story it would make a weird jump in why some of the characters did the things they did. Doings things this way also cut out some of the history between certain characters, which I didn’t enjoy. I really have to wonder just how effective of a marketing strategy this really is when it actually does interrupt ones enjoyment of the show, if only a little.

Aside from that, though, I absolutely loved this series. The story was compelling, the characters interesting and the drama was through the roof. The interactions between Kiritsugu and Saber was always an attention grabber, as was Kirie Kotomine’s search for why he feels his life is so empty. It’s a story of plots within plots, with bitter victories and narrow defeats. There’s blood, action and an epic tale to be had here, so I highly recommend Fate/Zero if you enjoy those things. Go give it a look.

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Movie Review: “The Avengers”

Well, it’s finally here. The moment we’ve all been waiting for ever since “Iron Man” back in 2008. The stage has been set, and everyone has been assembled. “The Avengers” has arrived! We’ve had four years to get hyped up for this movie, but as we all know anticipation can either make or break a movie. If it lives up to its own fanfare, then it’s great and everyone goes home happy. If it doesn’t… Well, that’s when things can get kind of ugly. So let’s ask the question. Does “The Avengers” meet all our expectations?

As always, beware of spoilers.

We start off with Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. getting very anxious about an item his peopleĀ are researching called the Tesseract. It’s an object that can produce potentially limitless energy, and it looks like it might be about to explode. Not the best way to start your evening. It get’s even worse when the Tesseract brings forth Loki, Thor’s estranged brother, who then proceeds to kill several people and brainwash the remainder. After giving his spiel about the great evils of free will, he steal the Tesseract and then vanishes off the grid. Fury, more than a little annoyed from getting shot and then getting robbed, decides it’s time to do something drastic. He starts gathering a team…

I’m going to answer my question from the beginning now. This movie is worth watching even if you aren’t a fan of the comics. If you are a fan, what are you doing reading this? You should be watching this movie. It completely lives up to all the hype. Joss Whedon does a masterful job of writing and directing these varied characters in such a way that they remain true to themselves and also tell an entertaining story. This can be a harder balance to achieve than most realize, since it’s so very easy to focus so much on characters that the story itself suffers. This is not the case with this movie. The characters become the story, and while this sounds simple it can be very difficult to pull off.

It’s because everyone gets their time to shine in this movie, and its done in such a way that it’s completely organic. Nothing seems forced even when you have the typical superhero misunderstanding brawl. Now, this isn’t entirely because of Whedon of course. Chris Evans, Robert Downy Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlet Johansson, Samuel Jackson, Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Renner all do magnificent jobs with their roles. To be fair, Robert Downy did steal the spotlight a bit in his scenes, but not to the point where its to the detriment of everyone else. And I have to give special praise to Tom Hiddleston for his role as Loki. He plays such a suave, smug bastard that you really just want to keep an eye on him because you’re waiting to see what he does next.

Really, the most amazing thing to me about this movie is how everyone gets a chance to be awesome, and quite often in tandem with each other in such a way that every one complements the others own awesomness . With so many main characters that’s an almost herculean feat. But this movie does it. This movie is going to be the standard that we hold superhero movies to for the foreseeable future, I guarantee you. So if you haven’t already, go see this movie.

Also, stick around after the credits. There are interesting times ahead for this franchise. Let’s hope it can keep up its momentum and give us another great flick in the years to come.

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Game Review: “Space Marine”

My goodness I cannot tell you all how long I have waited for a game like this. I believe I’ve made it no secret that I am a total Warhammer fanboy. I love everything about it! I love the fantasy version, with sword and sorcery against the foul machinations of threat beyond the Empire’s borders and below their feet. I arguably love the sci-fi counterpart, Warhammer 40,000, even more! Mankind stuck in a despotic, cruel regime thanks to equal parts necessity and constant warfare. The one man who led humanity into a golden age has been stuck between life and death for ten thousand years, the machine supporting him slowly giving way to the ravages of time. The Imperium of Man is ever set upon by countless enemies, threatening life, limb and even the very souls of mankind. This cheery place is where this game is set.

You are a space marine, a seven foot tall genetically engineered badass who has been training since he was twelve years old to fight the biggest and nastiest things in the galaxy. You know four hundred unique ways to kill thousands of different aliens and even your own species. You are mankind’s final true hope of pulling through the dark times that constantly assail it. So no pressure, right? You can handle it.

Space Marine is centered around the world of Graia, which has a nasty Ork problem. This is a rather big concern because Graia produces quite a bit of military ordinance, including Titans, and if the Orks get it they’ll probably run roughshod over the whole subsector. The Imperial Guard is on its way to liberate the planet, but the space marines are sent in first to sneak around, tear up enemy lines and in general soften up the Orks for the Imperial Guard. But there’s something lurking behind the scenes, worse than the savage greenskins and threatening to rip asunder the veil between reality and things that lie beyond.

There is so much to love about this game. The weapons are over the top, brutal and bloody. The characters on all sides are interesting and well acted, and the combat system really got my blood pumping and encouraged me to jump into the fray. THQ and Relic continue to do a great job with the Warhammer universe. They really do. I personally think this game redeems the Ultramarines, a space marine chapter that has gotten some flak from the fanbase thanks to certain lore decisions, in the form of Captain Titus. He’s the main character and he’s incredibly cool. Yes, he’s a giant killing machine. But you know what? He doesn’t let that separate him from the humans he’s supposed to protect. That’s awesome. He also introduces himself to the Orks via combat drop and downs an Ork ship by himself. The man’s tough and he’s willing to take as many hits as needed to get the job done, that’s for damn sure.

I’ve only got two things against this game. One, it’s on the short side. I completed it in about fifteen to eighteen hours. I think they easily could have put in more for the player to do, though this does give the game a nice fast pace. The second problem is that the multiplayer is a little glitchy. It’s really just a host of small things, but all together they get kind of annoying. I do highly recommend this game, though. It’s loads of fun and it’ll give you plenty of information to enjoy it even if you’re not familiar with the Warhammer universe. In Nomine Imperator!

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Movie Review: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”

Well, here we are at the end of an era. This is the final Harry Potter film. There are no more after this. It’s finished. Done. And as we all know, the end can be just as important as the beginning. Sometimes even more so. It started with a bang, so let’s see if the ending can do this iconic series justice. As always, spoilers below.

It basically picks up right where part one left off, with Voldemort picking up the Elder Wand and in general being very creepy. I keep having to give Ralph Fiennes props for getting so into this role. Seriously, every time he’s on screen it makes my skin crawl. As he does that, Harry and the gang continue to hunt for the Horcruxes, getting into much trouble and adventure along the way. Adventure that eventually leads them back to Hogwarts, where Voldemort himself is returning to settle all scores.

Now, I had issues with the pacing of part one. It started too slow and didn’t really pick up till the end. In contrast, it becomes fairly obvious with this movie that the endgame is approaching. Things move really fast. That’s both a good and a bad thing, in my opinion. It keeps you at the edge of your seat, but at the same time it’s really counting on you to remember the previous movie that happened several months ago. I realize that this had to be done because otherwise we’d have a four hour long movie, but the split does cause a bit of a disconnect when you’re getting back into it. They do what they can, but for me at least it’s still there. It also gives the impression of perhaps too much speed, making the movie feel a tad rushed in certain places.

The acting was good, as usual. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint continue to play their characters as well as they’ve always done in the past. Even more so, I feel, because they know this is the end of it all. Over all, I’d say this was a good film, and a fine end to it all. I would, however, recommend that if someone was going to watch it at home they should see both part one and part two back to back. That would solve many of the issues I personally had with both films.

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