All That Matters is the Ending: Dragon Age Inquisition

So I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately. I’ve found that I’m just having a hard time concentrating on my writing and my blog. Maybe it’s the soul crushing loneliness. Or maybe it’s the fact that my recurrence of depression has me living in a bottomless pit of despair. Regardless of the reason, I just haven’t been writing like I should. To try and pick myself up I bought Dragon Age: Inquisition. I never planned on buying this game, but after seeing so many people recommend it and so many positive reviews, I finally decided to get it.

I should have remembered that Mass Effect 3 had glowing reviews too...

I should have remembered that Mass Effect 3 had glowing reviews too…

I was hoping to do a review of it, like I’ve done for The Walking Dead series, praising its storytelling and characters. But what I got was even better…

I got a bad ending.

And there’s nothing that motivates me like a bad ending. After all, my most successful post was eviscerating the horrible ending of Mass Effect 3.

So thank you BioWare! Thank you for giving me an ending that’s somehow EVEN WORSE than Mass Effect 3. You have given me reason to exist once again.

All That Matters is the Ending:

Dragon Age Inquisition

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Now let me preface this whole review by saying that I have something like 60 hours logged in Inquisition. It’s a good game. And I totally understand why the game is getting such great reviews from everyone. Just like Mass Effect 3 though, it’s the ending that totally derails the whole thing. The main plot is competently written, the characters are amazing as usual, and the huge expansive environments really let you experience Thedas is a way the Dragon Age: Origins never allowed. Yet the ending…

The ending is somehow even worse than that of Mass Effect 3.

“But John, how can that be!?” I hear you ask, “Mass Effect 3’s ending was without a doubt the worst finale in the history of video games!” 

Well… it’s worse because it doesn’t even try.

As harsh as I was on Mass Effect 3’s ending, on some level I still respected what they did. They dreamed big. And really the main problem with the ending was the last 10 minutes of the game with the Star Child and his Architect-like explanation of the Reapers.

In fact I'm surprised BioWare didn't get sued for lifting their ending straight from Matrix Reloaded.

In fact I’m surprised BioWare didn’t get sued for lifting their ending straight from Matrix Reloaded.

As many wise people have said over the eons:

If you’re going to fail, fail spectacularly!

For all its failings, at least Mass Effect 3 tried. It tried hard. The finale in the smoking ruins of Earth’s cities is still one of my favorite moments in gaming, and ignoring the last ten minutes, it’s a fine ending to the series.

Dragon Age: Inquisition on the other hand…well it doesn’t even try. It fails so pitifully that I almost hate to tear it down further. Mass Effect 3 was a worthy opponent, an ending whose many grand mistakes demanded a long detailed analysis. Inquisition practically apologizes to you for having such a bad ending, before immediately offering to sell you a better one. Ten, twenty years down the road people will look back and remember the hilarious aftermath of Mass Effect 3’s terrible ending, and the otherwise amazing game that led to that ending. Ten, twenty years down the road people will look back on Inquisition and say… “What game was that again?”

So why is it so utterly forgettable? Well…

1. There’s No Payoff

Let me just say this… I never really got into the plot of Inquisition once “The Elder One” was revealed to be Corypheus (really Bioware, Corpse? That’s the best anagram you could come up with?) Up until the attack on Haven I felt like this story had the potential to go anywhere, who was the mysterious voice in the ruins of the Temple of Sacred Ashes. What was the purpose behind the Divine’s “sacrifice”, what was the ultimate plan behind the rifts? This story could have gone in so many epic directions, told us strange and wonderful tales.

Instead it went with the old and incredibly tired megalomaniac aspiring to Godhood route.

Sorry Corypheus, but I think that whole schtick has been done before...

Sorry Corypheus, but I think that whole schtick has been done before…

Now I’ll be the first to admit that there’s nothing new under the sun, every story has been told. The challenge of writing a good story lies in telling the same old crap in new and interesting ways. Bioware failed to do so. All of Corypheus’s dialogue sounds like it came straight out of an “Antagonist Dialogue for Dummies” book complete with the deep, gravely voice. He wants to become a god and remake the world in his own image…well get in line buddy, there’s long, long line of people ahead of you that already had that idea.

Even after Corypheus proved to be a disappointing reveal, I was hoping maybe his plan was imaginative or would reveal something interesting about his character. Did he learn something when he was lost in the Fade? Was there a secret to Godhood? Was he behind Red Lyrium and its corruptive properties?

We may never know because his whole plan seems to be “enter the fade” and… well that’s it. Nothing else. There’s only a Step A, with Corypheus apparently hoping that the rest will somehow take care of itself.  Yeah, that went real well for you the last time you tried it, Magister. Oh did I forget to mention he was one of the original Tevinter Magister’s the penetrated the Golden City, turning it black and unleashing the Darkspawn? Well he is. That’s the same plan he has now, because surely the same plan couldn’t fail twice right?

And yet despite the fact this same plan has already failed before, everyone is convinced it’s going to work. Why? If he didn’t become a god from penetrating the Golden City, why would entering the Black City herald any different results? The better explanation is that his tampering with the fade might unleash powers that will destroy the world, but everyone acts like that’s the less likely option, despite literally no one explaining why.

I will admit his generic plan fits rather well this is generic character and generic appearance.

I will admit his generic plan fits rather well this is generic character and generic appearance.

Corypheus, apart from being utterly forgettable, is also just really terrible at his job. He’s built up as this all-powerful demigod and yet he fails every single time we meet him. The whole reason this plot even begins is because the all-powerful sphere of magic slips from his hand. Yes, the inciting incident of this entire story can be summed up as “Oops…butter fingers!”

Next he attacks Haven, a tiny little village utterly isolated from the rest of the world. Yet despite having an army of thousands, magical abilities powerful enough to rip open the sky, and a fucking dragon, he can’t even do that properly. Then he marches into the Arbor Wilds in search of the Well of Sorrows, and fails to get there before the Inquisitor despite having a head start. Oh, and we only know he’s heading there because he takes his entire fucking army with him. Why not just take a small team? You’re a demigod after all, why did you need thousands of soldiers?

And while we’re on the subject of the Well of Sorrows…why wasn’t this your plan A, Corypheus? If the Well of Sorrows could have taken you into the fade, why rip open a giant green sky hole and announce to everyone your intentions? He could have gone into the Arbor Wilds and taken the the Well of Sorrows before anyone even knew he existed.

And finally we get to the final boss fight? Finally, Corypheus has a chance to show us all the power at his disposal…

And he’s basically a mediocre Mage. The unstoppable Demigod, who everyone was telling me would easily kill me if we met in battle, who can levitate an entire temple and the bedrock it sit on… is apparently not all that powerful in combat. Hitting him repeatedly with an axe seemed to work just fine guys, but thanks for all the concern.

Pictured: A far more interesting and capable Villain.

Pictured: A far more interesting and capable Villain. Also a headcrab.

Ultimately the game is 99% build up and 1% crushing disappointment. Everything in the game fools you into thinking that the story is building into an epic finale. It’s like watching the fuse on a firework slowly burn down, and you brace yourself for the spectacular light show you think is coming, only for the firework to fizzle pathetically to nothing.

2. None of Your Choices Matter

Aside from the horrible dialogue and awful contradictions that Mass Effect 3’s ending introduced, the other major complaint was the fact that in the end none of your choices really mattered. Whether you chose to kill or spare the Rachnid Queen, whether you sided with Krogan or the Salarians, none of it affected the ending. It was a perfectly valid criticism, ultimately nothing you did in Mass Effect had any effect on the ending. Now take that utter lack of meaningful impacts from your choices and multiply it by a hundred.

That’s how useless your choices are in Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Not only do none of your choices affect the ending…they don’t affect the game period. One of the early story missions asks you to choose between seeking the aid of the Mages or the Templars. I chose the Templars because I thought their anti-magic abilities would be the most useful against a mage like Corypheus (at the time I didn’t know he was less dangerous than the wildlife in this game.) When Corypheus attacked Haven, his Venatori were supported by rebel mages and then…well they’re never seen again. From then on it’s just Venatori and Red Templars, Templars corrupted by Red Lyrium. Okay, I can accept that maybe I didn’t save all the Templars and that they’d still show up…but the utter lack of mages? Where did they all go? You telling me they were wiped out at Haven? Every mage from every circle?

Bioware couldn’t even make their first meaningful choice in the game last beyond one mission. But at least it showed up in one mission, that’s more than I can say for the rest of the choices you’re given.

Another mission later on asks you whether you want the Grey Wardens to join the Inquisition. I exiled them from Orlais because I figured they were too susceptible to Corypheus’s darkspawn influences. So was my caution rewarded and a mutiny in my own army avoided? Or were my troops slaughtered by Darkspawn without the Grey Wardens to protect them? Uh, apparently neither , because as far as I can tell, not a single thing changed. I looked it up, even if you let them stay, all they do is show up at Skyhold. It’s a purely cosmetic choice.

Did you save Empress Celene or allow her to be killed so her more militaristic cousin could take over? Hint: It doesn’t matter, you get Orlais’s army no matter what.

I don't know why we went through all that effort to build an army in Origins. Apparently they grow on trees in Orlais.

Remember when building an army was a huge undertaking?

And while I wasn’t expecting every single operation on the war map to have a significant impact on the game, I did expect some kind of feedback. I helped Queen Anora of Ferelden broker a peace with Orlais. I sent my troops to combat an army of Darkspawn and hunt them down when they retreated into the mountains. I gave financial and medical aid to civilians affected by the Orlesian Civil War. These were big missions with far ranging implications, and surely those would have some impact.

Nope. You can go through the entire game without doing a single operation and it would’t affect the outcome, not even a single line of dialogue would change.

I paid special attention to the Keep missions because those, I thought for sure, would play an important part in the ending. Surely the ending would feature all out war with Corypheus and his army. Maybe even the Tevinter Empire would send its legions in support, and my strategic positions in the keeps would be the difference between victory and defeat. So I captured the Keeps, and did all the operations to make sure they were operating at maximum efficiency. I found a new source of water for the keep in the Western Approach and made sure they had good food to eat. I rebuilt the highway at Empris Du Lion so that troops could march through the area quickly.

And it didn’t matter, because the only thing Keeps do is operate as another campsite that you can fast travel to. They also have a merchant or two that will sell you some good stuff. But as for an impact on the story? Nope.

Welcome to the table of worthless bullshit.

Welcome to the table of worthless bullshit.

So what about character side quests? Surely their approval would matter in the end. Cole, a spirit of Compassion, was worried that Corypheus might bind him. So I found an amulet to protect him, and then helped Compassion learn to forgive the man who killed the boy he couldn’t save. So did Corypheus attempt to bind Cole and impotently rage at me when he failed? Nope, as far as I can tell he never even made an attempt to do so.

And yet in the final meeting in Skyhold’s grand hall, Cole has the gall to say “Did you see? Corypheus tried to bind me and he couldn’t!”

No Cole, I didn’t see that. I would loved to have seen that. To see some kind of feedback from my choices.

The only choices that have any impact on the story are the ones from previous games. And it’s kind of impressive they managed to integrate so many of your previous choices into the game world. It’s just a shame that they couldn’t do the same thing for all the choices you make in the game you just spent nearly $70.00 on.

3. The Story is a DLC Marketing Tactic

I think the saddest part of the ending, is that I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. When my final objective was “Retire to your Quarters” I thought, Bioware you crafty Dog. This is a fake ending isn’t it? I’m going to retire to my room, and then my Inquisitor will wake up in the middle of the night as Skyhold is besieged by…someone. I didn’t even care who at that point, just tell that anemic boss fight wasn’t the ending. But no, I retired and the game gave me a final whimper as it gave me a couple of portraits explaining how my actions had consequences. Even that final ending monologue was pathetic compared to Dragon Age: Origins, at least Origins went through every choice you made and told you the fate of all the characters you got to meet. Inquisitions final monologue covers like 3 of the major choices in the story and maybe like 2 or 3 characters. That’s it.

Still, even as the credits rolled I thought, nah. Bioware couldn’t have fallen this far. No way. Mass Effect 3 had a bad ending, but surely the company hadn’t fallen this far from grace.

When I saw this after credits stinger, it suddenly all made sense. The whole, shamefully underwritten plot and story of Dragon Age: Inquisition was just a preamble to a series of DLC.

It was the video equivalent of this message.

It was the video equivalent of this message.

Oh, so you didn’t like the ending? Well guess what, there was this far more interesting story going on in the background this whole time! But you’ll have to pay to see that one, because forking out $70.00 fucking dollars just isn’t enough to justify us giving you a good story. – EA Games, apparently

Well guess what Bioware and EA. Fuck you. If you couldn’t get a decent story written for the main game, what makes you think I’m going to trust your storytelling abilities in any of the undoubtedly long series of overpriced DLC adventures you have planned?

So in Conclusion…

Bioware took our criticisms of Mass Effect 3’s Red, Blue and Green endings by giving Dragon Age Inquisition only a single color ending.

And that color is white.

White as in the color of really old dog shit.

As in the color of really old dog shit.

 

 

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Tell me Another Story of The Walking Dead (Season 2 Review)

I’ll admit I was a bit wary of playing Telltale’s The Walking Dead season 2 for the same reason I was wary of The Dark Knight Rises, I was afraid that the second season wouldn’t be able to live up to the original. I’m happy to report that my fears were proven wrong and that not only does The Walking Dead: Season 2 live up to the original game, but in many ways it’s superior to the original. It manages to correct the few mistakes from the last game, and tells a story even more riveting than Lee’s… the story of Clementine.

Obviously this review is going to contain spoilers so, you know, don’t read it if you haven’t played it. Which you totally should.

The Walking Dead: Season 2

A Storyteller’s Review

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When last we left Clementine, she’d just finished blowing Lee’s brains all over the wall in one of the most emotional finales I’ve ever encountered in a video game. Season 2 begins with Clementine tagging along with Omid and Christa as they make their way north. Who are Omid and Christa? If you, like me, hadn’t played the first season of Walking Dead in a while you probably won’t remember these two. They were introduced late in Episode 4 and thus didn’t get as much screen time as the more memorable characters. Don’t worry though, they’ll be dead before you really have to worry about remembering them. Also like me, if you’re missing your savegame from Season 1, not importing a save doesn’t have any significant impact on the story as far as I can tell, so feel free to dive right in.

It’s been about a year and a half since the events of Episode 5 of Season 1, and Clementine is now bigger, more mature and, let’s face it, a bit more disturbed. After Omid is killed by some stupid teenager looking for an easy score, Christa blames Clementine for his death. Though personally I would be blaming the two adults who thought it was a good idea to leave a 9-year-old alone in a zombie infested wasteland. Anyway after one the most intense chase scenes I’ve ever played through, Clementine falls into a river and is swept away by the current, leaving behind a horde of walkers and the thugs that tried to kill her.

And leaving one of the thugs minus a thumb, because you don't fuck with my Clementine.

And leaving one of the thugs minus a thumb, because you don’t fuck with my Clementine.

This is where the story really begins, with everything before providing the inciting incident; Clementine finds herself alone, unarmed and with no supplies in the middle of a forest with winter fast approaching. Fortunately Clementine finds herself a new friend:

Man's best friend.

Man’s best friend.

Together Clementine and her new Canine companion go on many magical adventures; playing fetch, scavenging for supplies, and sharing a meal. Oh the good times I imagined me and my new friend would have together. Just me and my faithful dog against the scary, zombie-infested world. Soon we’d…we’d…

Clementine attacked by Dog

Dude, what the fuck!? I thought we were bros!

This scene shocked me on so many levels. When I was taking Creative Writing at the local college, my teacher told me a very specific fact about dogs and stories, a fact that I’ve never questioned.

You can have your protagonist kill men, women, even children and still have your audience rooting for your character. But the minute your character kills a dog, say goodbye to your readers.

I’ve always found this to be true, and apparently so do many other writers, because you never see a hero killing a dog. If you see a dog die in a story, it’s almost always a result of either the villain’s actions or environmental factors. This is mostly because dogs are often always the heroes in stories, even the powerful Dire Wolves of the Song of Ice and Fire series are seen as heroic companions rather than the apex predators they are. That’s not surprising considering that canines have been our loyal companions for thousands of years. This scene with Clementine though, is probably the most realistic depiction of dogs I’ve seen in a video game.

In the right conditions any one of us would turn into a heartless, cold blooded killer. We’re all predators, but because we live in comfort with readily available sources of food, safety from the elements and disease, we’ve suppressed the instincts that have made us such efficient killers. Dogs are no different, in a loving environment with food, warmth and safety, dogs are one of the most loyal and dedicated friends you could ever ask for. Throw a dog into the cold, deprive it of food, put it in constant danger and isolate it from people, and they will quickly revert to their most basic instincts: that of the wolf.  That’s what happened to this dog. To its credit it was friendly for most of the time, but once Clementine found that food, the dog’s overwhelming instinct for survival took over.

It’s a credit to the people at Telltale that they so brilliantly lured you in with the dog’s pleasant demeanor, we trust dogs almost implicitly and they used that trust to shock us with this powerful scene. When a story needs to reinforce the stakes of a story, reiterate the harsh realities of their world, most of them will kill off a human character. That’s a fine way to do it, but Telltale’s decision to use this dog instead was simply…brilliant. We love dogs, and to see what many of us consider to be our closest friends, reduced to a wild animal willing to kill a little girl over a can of beans, that reinforced the stakes of the story in a way that shocked our sensibilities. It told us that the world we live in was truly gone. That dog dragged Clementine to the ground and dragged us into harsh, unforgiving reality of her story.

Dog dying after attacking Clementine

I’m so sorry.

I wanted to be angry at the dog, but I couldn’t. I understood why it attacked me. I chose to kill the dog, not because I was seeking revenge, but because the dog deserved mercy. I wasn’t about to let it spend hours in agony slowly bleeding to death. With a tearful goodbye I forgave the dog and ended its suffering.

That’s just the first fifteen minutes of the first episode by the way, and it does an absolutely terrific job setting the stage for the rest of the game. In fact the dog represents a microcosm of the story itself; will you become like the dog? Will you put your survival above all else, even at the expense of other people’s lives? Or will you try to hold onto your humanity?

Obviously this isn’t the first story to explore such questions, but exploring those questions through the eyes of a 11-year-old girl makes this one of the most riveting and compelling explorations of these themes. While most stories shy away from showing children in pain, The Walking Dead takes an almost perverse pleasure in not only making you watch her suffer, but making you work with her through the worst pain she’s ever experienced.

"I'm going to make you stick pins into a little girl's arm... just to watch you squirm." - The Game

“I’m going to make you stick pins into a little girl’s arm… just to watch you squirm.” – The Game

Holy shit this sequence was crazy, absolutely crazy. The game shows you, in excruciating detail, Clementine disinfecting and stitching shut her gaping wound by herself. The dickheads she meets up with are convinced the arm wound in a zombie bite, so the stupid bunch of cowards go and lock her in a storage closet to see if she turns. I was ready to see all of these idiots die horribly because they pissed me off. Who leaves a little girl to die in a utility shed? Really guys? What the fuck is wrong with you?

Once again though, Telltale never makes things simple for you, and as you get to know this new group of survivors, you’ll not only understand their decision but will in all probability forgive them for leaving you to die in a drafty old shed. And yes, once again, it’s these characters that make this game so incredible.

All of the problems I had with the previous Walking Dead season have been completely eradicated in this one. There are no more forgettable characters like Omid and Christa, each and every character you meet in this game will stick in your memory. Even the ones that die only moments after you meet them.

Sometimes especially the ones that die after you meet them...

Especially the ones that die after you meet them…

My biggest gripe from the first season came in the form of the Walkie-Talkie-Baddie, the strange villain that came out of nowhere and served no purpose than to give you an overwrought overview of your actions over the course of the game. This time there is no impossible to explain villain and no contrived kidnappings; it’s just you, your company of survivors, and the hard decisions you have to make in order to survive. Also, unlike the ending of the first season which railroaded you towards the ending, you get some time to rest and appreciate the characters you’re travelling with.

This scene around the campfire is yet another great example of juxtaposition, I was smiling and laughing right alongside my companions, especially when Luke began talking about his sexual escapades with Jane.

I just wanted to forget about everything for ten minutes. – Luke

Ten minutes? Hell I wouldn’t last that long at this point. – Mike

Well, okay, maybe not ten minutes. – Luke

That’s gross. – Clementine

It’s a puerile sex joke, and in any other context wouldn’t be that funny, but after the stress of surviving zombies, crazy Russians, and a mentally unravelling Kenny, it was the funniest thing I’d heard all day. For a few moments, while huddling around the fire and listening to people laughing, I thought maybe this group would be okay. That maybe we’d all survive. Maybe everything would be alright.

Of course then we tried to cross the river and everything went to hell.

Of course then we tried to cross the river and everything went to hell.

Luke falling through the ice and drowning proves to the final straw for this group of survivors. Kenny, who has been becoming increasingly unhinged since the death of Sarita, is ready to kill Arvo and leave the rest of the group behind if necessary. Alvin Jr. (AJ), the newborn of Rebecca, has become an obsession with Kenny. His entire reason for living becomes wrapped up in the survival of the child and he begins seeing anyone who doesn’t agree with him as a threat to the kid’s survival. Mike, Bonnie and Arvo are completely terrified of Kenny, and I can’t say I blamed them. What I can blame them for is shooting Clementine before running off into the forest. Though perhaps she should thank them, because after being shot, Clementine wakes up in the arms of a familiar friend.

2014-08-26_00011It was good to see Lee again, I didn’t realize how much I’d missed his character until this scene. Clementine’s mind, reeling from the shock of a bullet tearing through her shoulder, retreats to the last moment when Clementine felt safe. This scene gives us not only a much needed break from the constant stress of survival, but a valuable glimpse into Clementine’s subconscious. As much as she’s grown, as much as she’s proven that she can care for herself, inside she’s still a little girl. Inside she wants what we all want, to feel safe and loved. It’s a nice scene that reminds us that, even though Clementine has killed more than her share of Walkers, and even a few human beings, she’s still a child. A child who just wants someone to tell her it will be alright.

Clementine's flashback to Lee

It will be alright.

When Clementine regains consciousness she finds herself in the truck that Kenny managed to get started, with Kenny and Jane arguing over their next course of action. Kenny wants to continue searching for Wellington, an almost mythical sanctuary at this point that might be more rumor than fact, while Jane wants to head back south to Carver’s old base where they know supplies are being kept. It’s clear a choice has to be made, Kenny and Jane are both too stubborn and shortsighted to put aside their differences, leaving Clementine to make the decision.

After getting separated in a Blizzard they regroup at a rest stop, but when Jane arrives without AJ Kenny finally loses his tenuous grip on reality and goes completely crazy. Like any good narrative, this scene hearkens back to the scene with our dog friend. I trusted Kenny, he’d been a good friend, but a person can only take so much before he’s irrevocably broken. Sarita’s death was Kenny’s breaking point. I tried to reach him, to pull him back from the edge. Like the dog who attacked Clementine though, Kenny was beyond reasoning when he attacked Jane. Finally… he left me choice.

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To my surprise, the bullet lodged in Kenny’s hip seemed to make him a bit more lucid, and he forgave me for shooting him. The man who only a few minutes ago was prepared to stick a knife in a girl’s heart…finally seemed at peace.

I’ve asked for this for so long… and now that it’s here… I’m scared. – Kenny

You’re going to see Duck and Katjaa… – Clementine

You always were good for a smile… – Kenny’s last words.

Kenny dies after being shot by Clementine

Goodbye my old friend…

Saying goodbye to Kenny was just as emotional as saying goodbye to Lee in the previous episode, and this time it wasn’t tainted by an inexplicable villain. The finale of episode 5 ranks as one of the finest endings in any video game ever, and Telltale once again shows us what a powerful storytelling device video games can be. The Walking Dead may not always be good for a smile, but it’s always good for an incredible journey. And it’s a journey I urge you to undertake because it’s one of the finest, most emotional journeys you’ll ever take inside a video game. It may be filled with tragedy, loss and darkness…

But that just makes the moments of hope all the brighter.

But that just makes the moments of hope all the brighter.

 

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The Writer Returns to the Block

So those of you still with me after these months of silence: my humblest thanks for sticking with me through another bout of depression. You’re probably confused now, since my last post was so smugly self satisfied that it was practically an invitation to my inauguration as mayor of awesometown, population 1. Well I did believe what I wrote, at the time at least. Yet the human brain can be an absolute bastard sometimes, and it wasn’t long before it began taunting me:
What if that was your one and only shot, and you fucked it up? What if you never make it as a writer? What if you never find love in this lifetime? What if all of existence is a sucking black hole of misery and despair from which there is no escape?

 

My mind escalates things quickly.

My mind escalates things quickly. 

Of course it didn’t help that my living situation was uncertain at the time, though I didn’t publicize it on here I was actually living with some friends for a few months. My first time living away from home. Things started brightly, my friends were extremely accommodating and it was a real pleasure living there. I got on a semi routine schedule, and began applying for jobs so that I could eventually move out on my own. Riding the high of a new experience I did really well… until I couldn’t find a job. After a solid month of submitting applications and not getting a single nibble, I began slipping into old habits. Staying up late watching netflix, playing video games 12 hours a day. It wasn’t pretty.

After leaving my friends I went through a couple months where I didn’t even know where I was going to live, and a freeway underpass was looking like a more and more likely option as time went by. It’s hard to concentrate on writing when you spend all your time worrying about living out of a tent and wondering what garbage can cuisine tastes like.

Though I admit I was looking forward to being roomies with the Freemont Troll.

Though I admit I was looking forward to being roomies with the Freemont Troll.

Fortunately I was able to stave off homelessness thanks to my awesome friend Hali!  I’m now living in an awesome loft apartment with my three cats, complete with an amazing view of the Puget Sound. It’s basically a perfect perch for doing writing, because the beauty of the Puget Sound never fails to inspire me.

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So with things settling back into a normal rhythm I can start concentrating on my blog again. I’ve got plenty of material coming up, including posts on Doctor Who, the first 4 chapters of Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 2, and plenty of other amazing, stupendous topics that I just haven’t quite thought of yet. I know they’re there though, so stay tuned!

 

 

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Games, Microsoft and the Future

So apologies for my long silence everyone, but exciting things have been afoot. About three weeks ago I applied for a job with Microsoft as a Game Writer, which has pretty much been my dream job since I began writing professionally. I didn’t actually take it that seriously at first so I slapped together a sample piece of writing in about fifteen minutes, and sent it in,  figuring there’d be a long line of qualified writers with years of previous game writing experience behind them. Compared to industry veterans, what chance would I have? Well it turns out I had a really good chance, because I heard back from the recruiter almost immediately.  After talking with him over the phone, he said I sounded like a great candidate and he’d forward my name on to the project lead at Microsoft. All of that took place over the course of about two weeks, two weeks of delirious happiness. Had I finally made it as a writer?

I spoke with the team leader at Microsoft last Monday and was, unfortunately, completely unprepared for the kinds of questions he was asking. He asked me to describe my creative process and… well I couldn’t really give a coherent answer. I told him I make a general outline, and there are usually a couple of drafts I go through, but that’s it. I can’t describe how I write, I just sit down and do it. The rest of the questions were similar, how would I interact with the team? How would I work side by side with a graphic artist? How would I interact with stakeholders? I did my best to give coherent answers, but I think most it was just rambling. How would I interact with these people? I have no idea, I won’t know until I meet them and get a clearer picture of what kind of work I’m doing. That’s why I was really hoping to get an in-person interview, where it’s easier to get a feel for people thanks to all those subtle, subconscious clues we get like body language.

A firm handshake can be the key to getting a job... also a bribe never hurts.

A firm handshake can be the key to getting a job… also a bribe never hurts.

Unfortunately last Thursday I found out that I didn’t get the job. I’ll admit, this was a crushing disappointment and I’ve spent much of the last week just moping around feeling bad for myself. After mentally regrouping however, I’ve taken stock of what I accomplished; I manage to impress enough people that I got to talk with the project lead at Microsoft! Not only that, but the guy read my blog and revealed he worked on Bioshock: Infinite before Irrational Games closed and that he really enjoyed my articles on the subject. Microsoft is a notoriously difficult company to get a job with, and I managed to get a phone interview with a project leader! Most people don’t even get past the job application.

That’s not meant to be a boast, but rather my own realization that I have real talent. I didn’t attract attention through a long, impressive resume or an impressive educational pedigree, it was entirely my writing. A piece of writing I wasn’t even taking seriously because I figured there wasn’t an ice cube’s chance in hell I’d get the job. Clearly I’m doing something right, the last twenty years I’ve spent writing haven’t been for nothing. Scribbling stories out as a little kid about dinosaurs and ninjas, the aborted novels I tried writing as a teenager, and the four years I’ve been working on this blog have all been contributing to my future. Part of me is always doubting, maybe I’m at talentless hack and I’ve been merely deluding myself for all these years. Attracting the attention of a huge company like Microsoft though, that’s not just a fluke. I didn’t make it through four levels of interviews because of dumb luck.

So no, I didn’t get the job, but holy shit I came so close! And next time I get an opportunity I’ll be more prepared for the questions they’ll ask, and I’ll spend more time on the writing sample, because now I know… I’m a good writer. And for someone who lives to tell stories, that means everything to me.

“Write without pay until someone offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this as a sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.” – Mark Twain

Mark Twain's quote on writing.

 

No wood chopping for this writer, no sir. I’m going places.

And the first place I’ll be going is a little blue box that travels through space and time. Keep an eye out for it later this week.

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Burial at Sea: The Cycle Ends

And so we come to the end of the journey, in more ways than one. With the death of Irrational Games, this is truly the end of the Bioshock series as we know it.  In a way I’m glad they had time to wrap up the storyline of Infinite, but in other ways I wish they’d had more time to give us a more satisfying ending. One filled with more closure and understanding, and less with random retcons and useless scenes.

Burial At Sea: Part 2

A Storyteller’s Review

I suppose it's fitting that it ends where it all began.

I suppose it’s fitting that it ends where it all began.

When we last left our heroes Zachariah Comstock had just suffered a heart bypass via pneumatic drill while Elizabeth solemnly watched in an attempt to satisfy her hunger for vengeance. Of course we all know that’s a hunger Elizabeth will never satisfy, so Part 2 of Burial At Sea begins with us waking up as Elizabeth and staring into the face of Comstock’s corpse. Having achieved nothing beyond petty vengeance and ruining the life of one little girl, Elizabeth is tasked by Atlas to find a way off his prison in order to save the girl she just screwed over.

Like Bioshock Infinite, you spend most of your time trying to figure out what the hell just happened but somehow this plot didn’t seem as coherent as Infinite’s. Infinite was a complex plot filled with time travel and multiple dimensions, but I always felt the plot knew where it was going and the great character interactions kept me invested in the story even when I had no idea what was happening. Part 2 of Burial at sea, by contrast, sort of meanders around for most of its story and I felt like it didn’t quite know what it wanted to do with itself. It doesn’t help that Elizabeth is suffering amnesia, making her just as confused as the player. And like the first part of Burial at Sea, I felt that the majority of our time was spent just killing time and waiting for the story to resume. I liked the conversations Elizabeth had with her hallucination of Booker, but again, these were too sparse to fill the hours of vent crawling and sneaking around. When the story is present, and not just taunting you from the other side of a locked door, it’s pretty good but also filled with strangely unnecessary scenes and plots.

Daisy's Retcon is horrible in Burial at Sea Part 2.

I don’t think even the Luteces understand what the fuck was supposed to be going on here.

There are a handful of absolutely baffling scenes that seem to serve no purpose to either the story, the characters or even for the sake of entertainment. The one that really sticks out is Daisy Fitzroy’s retcon. At one point you have to use a tear to go back to Columbia to retrieve a McGuffin in order to progress through the story and while crawling through the vents of an airship you meet the Lutece siblings convincing Daisy to kill Fink’s son so that Elizabeth will become “the person she needs to be”. I really hate this scene because it’s utterly unnecessary, killing Daisy Fitzroy wasn’t the pivotal moment that turned Elizabeth into a vengeful killer, it was an important step along the way but not the pivotal moment. It also ruins Daisy Fitzroy’s character and the motivation of the Vox Populi, first of all why should she even take orders from the Lutece siblings? For one, they’re supposed to be dead, and two they were Comstock’s henchmen for most of their lives, so why would Daisy trust them? Is she also a time traveling, dimension-hopping demigod that just somehow knows that’s what she needs to do? You could remove this scene from the game and it wouldn’t change anything in the story. Nothing. I still don’t know why it was included.

At another point in the game you explore a bit of Songbird’s backstory, but that too retcons the previous storyline and explores things no one was interested in. Instead of exploring Songbird’s origins and creation, the game focuses on why and how it bonded with Elizabeth, which would have been fine if it had something to do with Songbird’s personality or had anything to do with the story at all. The game takes us tantalizingly close to some answers regarding the enigmatic Songbird, only to then totally disappoint by showing us that it bonded with Elizabeth because she plugged a hose back into its beak. “The lion with the thorn in its paw” is the analogy imaginary-Booker uses. They then use this completely anticlimactic reveal to show how the Big Daddies bonded with the Little Sisters, which I’m pretty sure Retcons the original Bioshock since I think the Little Sisters used pheromones to command the Daddies. Not to mention this retcons the previous chapter since Sally called for Mr. Bubbles before they were supposedly bonded. Again, removing these scenes from the game wouldn’t have changed the ending or the overall story of the game one iota.

Those are the two most egregious scenes in the game but there are plenty of other quests and plots that just seem to hang there like the frayed ends of a broken rope. For instance, the McGuffin I mentioned earlier turns out to be locks of Elizabeth’s hair. Again I thought this was another important part of the story at the time, like the Little Sisters are all clones of Elizabeth or something like that, but no it’s just another obstacle slowing down the story’s pace.

They might as well have made the McGuffin this doll head for all the impact it had on the story.

They might as well have made the McGuffin this doll head for all the impact it had on the story.

So after an interminable amount of time crawling through ducts and tranquilizing more bad guys than Solid Snake, we finally get to the meat of the story. After raising the prison and setting in motion Atlas’s war for Rapture, Elizabeth has to find the ‘Ace in the Hole’ in order to free Sally. Long story short, after more meandering around, you find the Ace in the Hole is “Would you Kindly?” the phrase that will set in motion the events of the original Bioshock. And we finally reach the end: Elizabeth gives Atlas the phrase and allows herself to be killed.

“It’s like a wheel of blood constantly turning…”

That’s how Elizabeth describes her existence and it’s what I’ve been saying through all the different writings I’ve done on this game. Fortunately in this ending Elizabeth finds the same strength her father showed in the ending of Bioshock Infinite. Elizabeth’s life, like Booker’s before her, is a constant cycle of betrayal, pain and revenge. She could have spent the rest of eternity trying to satisfy her lust for vengeance, but it wouldn’t have helped. And as she realized during this episode, she was fast becoming the very monster she was hunting. She took Sally away from the only person she could call a father in order to use her as bait. Ruining a child’s life in order to achieve your goals, gee, that sounds somewhat familiar. Yet it was this realization that made her return to this time, to set aside the rage and the pain, to achieve something that was truly worthwhile. In her omniscience she saw all the doors, all the paths of rage and hate that had been laid out for her, the never ending cycle of blood.

But behind one the doors, she found hope. She found a place where she could do something good.

Elizabeth couldn’t save herself, no matter how hard she tried. She would never be able to just live a normal life, never experience life with her real father, never dance in the streets of Paris. What Elizabeth could do, was prevent the same thing from happening to five other innocent girls like her. Saving Sally was about more than simply rescuing her from Atlas, it was about saving her from living the same life Elizabeth led. It was about giving them the life she never had the chance to live. It was about giving those five girls the life that twisted monsters like Andrew Ryan, Atlas (Fontaine), and Comstock sought to steal from them.

Elizabeth couldn’t right all the wrongs that had been inflicted on her, she could never go back to the girl she was, but here in this moment in time, she could save five little girls. And she was willing to make the sacrifice, the same sacrifice her father made, only this time it worked.

She gave them the father, the childhood and the future she never had.

She gave them the father, the childhood and the future she never had.

It was a bittersweet goodbye, but overall I think this was a great ending for the Bioshock series. In her final moments Elizabeth defies Andrew Ryan (and Ayn Rand) by sacrificing her own life to save the life of five strangers, altruism at its finest. She defies Comstock by choosing to accept responsibility for her actions and not hide them behind a cloak of rationalization and excuses. And she defies Atlas-Fontaine by showing him… he’s not nearly as clever as he thinks he is.

I found this ending to be incredibly emotionally gratifying, it let us say goodbye to the Elizabeth we all knew and loved: the one who was kind at heart and generous of spirit.  The cold, detached Elizabeth that drowned her father and used Sally as bait to kill Comstock died the moment Elizabeth realized what she was becoming. Elizabeth dies as the person we all grew to love, and sets aside the rage and anger that had haunted her for so long.

Goodbye Elizabeth, you were one of the finest characters ever featured in a video game.

Goodbye Elizabeth, you were one of the finest characters ever featured in a video game.

All that said, what holds this ending back from becoming the greatest video game ending ever, is all the sloppy writing that comes before the ending. The unnecessary scenes and retcons, the unanswered questions, the endless padding that killed the pacing. It was a brilliant ending for the series, but everything leading up to that ending…just didn’t work.

I love the ending…I just wish everything that had come before had been as touching and as memorable.

 

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How Star Wars Went Right: The Prequels vs The Clone Wars

So I lied earlier, I’ll be doing the comparison between the Prequel trilogy and the Clone Wars now, since it’s taking longer to choose the episode arcs I want to write about than I thought (currently it would take a book to cover all the things I want to cover.)

The Plan

clone-wars-palpatine

The Prequel Version:

We all knew that Senator Palpatine was the villain the moment he stepped on stage in Episode I. We knew it, the cast new it, everyone knew it. Yet despite the fact we all knew it, the prequel trilogy tried to make it some big mystery with “Darth Sidious” and treating the audience like a bunch of idiots who couldn’t possibly connect the two together. This is a huge problem because in order to preserve the mystery, they never showed us Palpatine actually doing anything evil. This is supposed to be the True Lord of the Sith, a master manipulator who’s enacting a plan so devious that the Jedi can’t even see it, let alone stop it. Yet the only kind of political maneuvering we see in the prequels is Palpatine’s replacing of Valorum as Chancellor. Then, two movies later, he walks into the senate with his melted face of pure evil and announces he’s taking over the Republic and making it an Empire. And the senators applaud? Really? And the Jedi, who we’ve been told are the heroes of the galaxy, are slaughtered wholesale and not one person finds that odd or objectionable?

"Hey everyone, I know I look like evil incarnate but it was totally the Jedi. Yeah, they're responsible for everything. Also, I'm declaring myself Emperor. You know, for kicks."

“Hey everyone, I know I look like evil incarnate but it was totally the Jedi. Yeah, they’re responsible for everything. Also, I’m declaring myself Emperor. You know, for kicks.”

In the end, Palpatine doesn’t take control of the senate through any kind effort on his part. He gains control of the senate and the republic because that’s what the script demanded, it wasn’t a natural evolution of events, it was completely contrived. We never get to see the plan that brought about the end of the Jedi, which is a shame because as The Clone Wars shows us, it’s a brilliant plan…

The Clone Wars Version:

The Clone Wars dispenses with the mystery portion of Palpatine and as a result, shows us everything the Prequels didn’t. We get to see how Palpatine’s smooth diplomatic skills and ability to manipulate people came to turn the Republic into the Empire. Palpatine doesn’t just walk into the senate one day and announce he’s taking over, it happens in degrees.

He drives the Republic into crippling debt by escalating the war and creating more clones, which in turn leads to more Jedi leading troops on the frontlines and leaving the Jedi Order increasingly vulnerable. With the Jedi becoming the generals of the clone armies, Palpatine succeeds in corrupting public opinion about the Jedi, painting them as the war hungry fanatics behind the war. Palpatine derails peace negotiations by first assassinating the Separatist Senator who suggested them and then allowing Separatists to bomb Coruscant to make the whole peace negotiation look like a ruse meant to lower Republic defenses. And as the war continues to escalate, driven by the fear that Palpatine so masterfully creates, the Senate allows Palpatine to centralize more power through his office until he controls the entire Republic military. Every move he makes and every interaction he has with the senate is specifically designed to make him look like an honest man of the people, a simple politician who was thrust into a situation beyond his control. He plays his role so masterfully, no one even suspects him to be the orchestrator of a plot centuries in the making.

And while he has the senate, people of the republic, and even the Jedi dancing to his tune, he slowly turns Anakin to his side.

Palpatine and Anakin in The Clone Wars

Whispering poison in Anakin’s ear…

Using Anakin’s already existing anger and frustration with the Jedi council, Palpatine plants seeds of doubt and hate in Anakin’s mind.

Anakin’s fall in the prequels never made sense because he basically went from good, albeit confused, young man to slaughtering everyone he’s ever known and cared about in fifteen minutes. Okay sure, he straight up murders mother-fuckin’ Mace Windu, but to go from that to essentially killing a class of kindergartner Jedi is a big leap.

Fortunately in The Clone Wars, we get to see more of the subtle manipulation of Anakin. We get to watch as Palpatine sews seeds of doubt in Anakin’s young mind, and then cultivate those doubts with frustration and fear. Palpatine almost becomes a father-figure to Anakin, which only makes it easier for him to slowly sway Anakin to the dark side.

And since his character in The Clone Wars is so much more relatable, his downfall becomes truly tragic…

The Romance

Anakin and Padme's Romance

 The Prequel Version:

The Star Wars prequels have the singular distinction of containing the most stilted, awkward and downright creepiest romance ever put to film. Scientists have had more success programming robots to feel love than George Lucas had filming a love scene with Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman. Padme came across as a kind of whinging tween girl and Anakin kept looking at her in a way that made the entire audience afraid we were about to see Darth Vader: Sex Offender.

There are few things in this life that are truly awful to behold; war, pestilence, death… the romance scenes in the prequel trilogy.

The Clone Wars Version:

What the movies couldn’t do with a massive budget and award-winning actors, The Clone Wars managed to do with just a handful of scenes and a smattering of dialogue. Less is definitely more when it comes to romance scenes, and Anakin and Padme snatching small moments in the show to be with each other was infinitely more romantic than the holiday retreat to Naboo during Episode II. Anakin’s utter devotion to Padme, rather than coming across as the creepy fixation of a future serial killer, actually becomes an endearing trait that deepens Anakin’s character. A less creepy Anakin also makes Padme’s feelings for him seem genuine and not a manifestation of Stockholm syndrome.

Anakin and Padme in The Clone Wars

A single, well-timed glance can convey more meaning than a hundred lines of dialogue.

Some of the best moments showcasing Anakin and Padme’s relationship are the ones where they’re not even trying to be romantic. Arguing over the politics of the war for instance, provides both an excellent overview of the Clone War and makes their relationship seem far more real, because real people argue all the time regardless of how much in love they are. When they’re in public, they’re joint attempts to remain cold and neutral to each other to maintain their deception also goes a long way to establishing their romance. The decision to imply their romance was not only a wise decision, but probably also a necessary one since you don’t want to go boring kids with a bunch of romantic dialogue they won’t understand.

Their relationship also gives the audience a much needed human perspective on the Jedi and their teachings, and more specifically, the flaws in those teachings…

The Jedi

Jedi-Sith

The Prequel Version:

If the Jedi have one flaw that I simply cannot come to grips with, it’s their Vulcan-like dedication to eliminating emotions. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering, shut the fuck up Yoda! Maybe anger is just anger, it doesn’t have to lead to hate. If anything you’re teaching young Jedi to be afraid of their emotions and it’s that fear that’s leading to suffering.

I can understand wanting to control your emotions, that’s something all humans have to deal with, but the Jedi teachings seem to promote the utter elimination of emotion. In order to control your emotions, you have to understand them and the Jedi seem to have no desire to want to understand them.

In the prequels when Anakin seeks guidance on his visions of the future and Padme’s death, Yoda’s advice basically boils down to “go meditate on the force.” Yeah, big fucking help you scrawny green toad. Anakin could have found more useful advice in a fucking fortune cookie.

The Clone Wars Version:

The Jedi teachings we see in the Clone Wars are far more rounded and fleshed out than what we got in the Prequels, much resembling the wisdom of Yoda’s teachings in the original movies. Most of the wisdom of the Jedi wasn’t displayed through Yoda though, but through Plo Koon.

Master Plo Koon was one of those silent pieces of set dressing in the prequels, the one with the badass face mask.

Plus that breathing mask just looks badass.

With a mask like that, you know he means business.

I think one of the best moments for Plo Koon in the series is when Ahsoka is kidnapped and Anakin is sitting around worrying about her, blaming himself for her kidnapping. Now Plo Koon is very close to Ahsoka as well, but the difference is that Plo Koon isn’t blaming himself and while I think he’s concerned, he’s not worrying himself. He recognizes that it’s a situation he can’t hope to change, but more than that, he trusts Ahsoka to take care of herself. He tries to teach Anakin this lesson by telling him that, if he trained Ahsoka well, she’ll find his way back to her.

And that’s something we all struggle with: trusting other people to take care of themselves. When it’s someone we care about, humans have the bad habit of constantly worrying that something bad will happen to them. We can’t trust them to take care of themselves because we’re not there to control them. That’s what it boils down to, and what leads Anakin to falling to the dark side. It was his fear that Padme would somehow die that drove him to seek the Emperor’s help, since Yoda basically handed Anakin a fortune cookie and told him not to worry about it.

Had Plo Koon been Anakin’s adviser, perhaps he would have found a way to come to terms with his fear and trust Padme to take care of herself. Maybe he could have come to accept the fact that sometimes bad things happen, and there isn’t anything he can do about it. That he’s a Jedi, not a god.

So what I’m saying is, this whole thing is Yoda’s fault.

The War

CLoneWars

 

The Prequel Version:

It was a war full of sound and fury, but ultimately signifying nothing. Since the Clones had no character and, for all we knew, as soulless as the droids they were fighting all the battles ultimately became nothing more than eye-candy. War loses all its horror when no one gets hurt, that’s why we can all play war games and not get PTSD, no one gets hurt. If we found a way to fight wars using nothing but droids and clones while eliminating all collateral damage, we’d probably never stop fighting. We never saw a single refugee, a clone trooper with no legs being wheeled around, or even any kind of economic downturn on Coruscant. If you were an average, everyday citizen in the Star Wars Prequel Universe, you probably wouldn’t even know there was a war happening.

The Clone Wars Version:

You start seeing the true cost of war on Ryloth, where the series really begins to pick up. The battle in orbit over Ryloth was far more interesting than the Battle of Coruscant because, for one, there was actual build up to the fight and the show didn’t just plop us down in the middle of an incomprehensible maelstrom. There was tactics and surprise attacks and maneuvering, like how you’d actually fight a battle rather than dozens of ships lining up to broadside each other like we’re in the 19th century. Secondly, Ahsoka’s bombing run and her disastrous defeat, finally showed us the cost of battle. Ahsoka losing her clone wingmates helped give me a new perspective on the Clones and how they related with the Jedi. Ahsoka is devastated by the loss of her clone pilots, and that was enough to give the battle some real emotional weight. Once the characters actually became involved in the battle, instead of just being present, all the action of the Clone Wars came together.

On the ground we begin to see the cost of the war on ordinary people as Ryloth, home of the Twi’leks, is turned into a bombed-out ruin. Finding the orphaned child finally gave me a sense that yes, people are dying and losing their homes in this war. The clone’s interaction with the orphan girl also gave the clones some humanity, laying the groundwork for the characterization that would make the clones pivotal to the story, and making me care about their lives.

Saving innocent refugees? Now that's a cause worth fighting for.

Saving innocent refugees? Now that’s a cause worth fighting for.

I think the absolute best battle showcasing the war is the battle of Umbara, an inhospitable rock whose native inhabitants refused to bow down to the republic and fought tooth and nail against the republic. First of all this was just a great change of pace for the show. After fighting battles in relatively clean, well lit places, the battle on Umbara’s eternally fog shrouded surface really made you feel the dark, claustrophobic fear of battle as the Clones were forced to fight meter by bloody meter for the planet surface. Second of all, after fighting soulless droids for most of the series, clones facing off against other humanoid opponents made the battle feel that much more brutal; especially since these people were fighting for their independence. They may have been fighting for a twisted dictator, but then again, so were the clones. Neither side knew they were fighting for the same person, the clones thought they were fighting for the Republic and the Umbarans thought they were fighting for their freedom, but they were all fighting for the Emperor. It all just highlighted the utter pointlessness of it all.

And the pointlessness of it all was driven even further home by the madness of the war when General Krell came on the scene, a cruel and calculating Jedi who relished in the slaughter of his clone troops. Sending wave after wave of clones against invulnerable tanks was such an infuriating sight that I would have executed Krell myself if I’d had the chance, and inspiring that kind of hate and disgust in me isn’t easy to do. It’s something I didn’t expect from a kid’s show, that’s for sure. As terrible as war is though, the show reminds us that war also inspires acts of true valiance and courage, and the ending of the episode arc is probably one of the finest I’ve seen.

 

Darkness, brutality and secrets. An episode tailor made by the Sith.

Darkness, brutality and secrets. An episode tailor made by the Sith.

None of this is to say that The Clone Wars is haute cuisine, or a narrative on par with A Game of Thrones, obviously it’s not. But then it doesn’t need to be, and it succeeded in what it set out to do: create a compelling, dramatic and fun space opera. Like the original trilogy it told a great story in a way that would entertain kids while making sure there was enough going on to hold the interest of adults. It managed to do something I thought was impossible: it redeemed star wars in my eyes.

I guess we’ll find out whether or not Disney can take advantage of this opportunity and build on the trust The Clone Wars built or whether the new trilogy will drive the final stake through the heart of Star Wars. Coming up this week will by my write up on some of the best Clone Wars Episode arcs and an analysis of the Burial at Sea DLC for Bioshock: Infinite. As always, any critiques or requests would be greatly appreciated.

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The Clone Wars: Star Wars Made Right

So Netflix recently added Star Wars: The Clone Wars to their catalog of streaming shows, and I decided to give it a try. As much as I hated the prequel trilogies, I still love Star Wars and I wanted to see if the Clone Wars could do anything worthwhile with the Clone War setting. Not only is the show thoroughly enjoyable but it managed to do the impossible: it redeemed the mistakes of the prequel trilogy!

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

A Storyteller’s Review

Star-Wars-The-Clone-Wars-Season-4-Episode-15-Deception

The Clone Wars begins badly, the first season ends up feeling like a kid’s show where the young main character, Ahsoka Tano, helps teach those stupid kids about life and love. The characters are goofy, and the Battledroids “Roger, Roger” gag gets old the first time they use it, and there is a disconcerting lack of violence. I don’t mean disconcerting because I’m a sociopath who thrives on bloody death and mayhem… well okay maybe I am, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Obviously I wasn’t expecting this show to be a Tarantino-esque slaughterfest where humans contain more blood than most hospitals, but this is called The Clone Wars, I was expecting at least some violence. Instead, any actual deaths seemed to occur off camera and the show even seemed squeamish about showing Battledroids being destroyed.

I almost gave up after the first couple of episodes but then, I thought, most series have a rough first season. Even The Next Generation and Deep Space 9, two of my favorite shows, had some pretty awful opening seasons. So I skipped the first season and started on season 2.

The Clone Wars Season 2, fortunately, starts maturing rapidly and begins drawing you into the story. The show wisely begins phasing out the wacky dialogue of the battledroids, General Grievous becomes a cruel and calculating general instead of a bumbling comic relief character, and Anakin and Obi-wan start showing the friendship that Alec Guinness manage to establish with a single line of dialogue.

"And he was a good friend." - The Great Alec Guinness

“And he was a good friend.” – The Great Alec Guinness

By the third season the Clone Wars is truly exceptional with interesting characters, good action, and excellent effects.

Whereas Anakin was an insufferable ass in the prequel trilogy, he actually turns into quite a likable and ultimately tragic character in The Clone Wars. You can also see the frustration and rage hiding just beneath the surface, and watch it erupt every time something goes wrong for him. Obi-wan remains mostly unchanged from the prequel, which is fine because I actually liked his character in the movies, but we also get some more backstory for him that makes him more relatable. Amidala is shown to be a shrewd and capable politician whose dedication to peaceful negotiation not only makes sense, but deepens her character (unlike the movie where her pleas for peace seemed to come straight out of her ass like a bad case of royal flatulence). Finally, Chancellor Palpatine is revealed to be the cunning master manipulator he’s supposed to be, and as you watch his schemes develop you’ll come to understand why he is Lord of the Sith.

The most surprising characters of all, however, are the Clones. The battles in the prequel series lacked any kind of emotional impact because it was a bunch of droids vs a bunch of soulless clones, and since we never got to see any civilians get hurt, the clone wars of Star Wars III felt like one of the cleanest and most polite wars ever fought. Giving the clones character was not only a brilliant move, but a completely necessary one as well, because without them the story loses all its humanity.  Rex, Cody, Headcase, Fives, Echo and the rest all have their own personalities and you’ll come to know every one of them. “We’re men, not machines” is the line they use whenever they encounter someone who dismisses them as ‘just clones’ and its absolutely true. They’re the only thing that makes the ‘war’ in Clone Wars real, because as the war expands, the cast of clones shrinks as more of them are killed in battle until only a few remain standing. And as the war grows, so too does the intensity of the action.

And what spectacular action it is!

And what spectacular action it is!

Their squeamishness over showing violence completely evaporates as well, and some of it becomes downright brutal for a kid’s show. Thanks to the fact that lasers and lightsabers cauterize wounds instantly, the show can show decapitations and severed limbs like no other (non-HBO) show out there. Even the blaster wounds start looking nasty when you see the burning hole left over in some poor clone’s chest, or worse, some young kid that die shockingly often in this series. Again this isn’t some kind of psychopathic desire for violence I’m expressing, it’s the fact that this kind of real action adds weight and meaning to the action. Seeing a single young Jedi get a blaster bolt through the chest in The Clone Wars packed a much bigger emotional punch than the entire Jedi massacre scene in Revenge of the Sith. In fact all the scenes featuring the Jedi are infinitely improved in this show.

As the prequel trilogy wore on, the lightsaber fights grew more and more ridiculous until it all ended in a 45-minute ballet between Anakin and Obi-wan that succeeded in doing the impossible: making a lightsaber fight boring. Fortunately The Clone Wars has struck a nice balance between style and action. There are still enough acrobatic maneuvers to make the fight interesting to watch without slowing down the action and pace of the fight itself. When a character pulls out his lightsaber in The Clone Wars you’ll be saying to yourself “Yeah! Let’s do this shit!” instead of “Oh God, not again!” like you probably said in the prequels.

"Can we hurry this up Ben? I'd like to kill you and go home before my kids enter college..."

“Can we hurry this up Ben? I’d like to kill you and go home before my kids graduate college…”

It’s in Season 5 and 6 where this show goes from excellent to downright exceptional. The show begins tackling issues that Star Wars has usually been unwilling to address, such as: the Jedi’s use of children as recruits, their role in galactic affairs, and their use as a military force. Finally, without giving too much away, season 5 sees the completion of Ahsoka Tano’s character arc. Ahsoka probably grew the most as a character throughout the show, going from an overly enthusiastic and naive kid to a capable and effective Jedi. In fact it’s through her eyes that we really get to see how the Jedi order operates, and through her experiences that we get to see the flaws in the Jedi teachings. She turns out to be the wisest character in the show and watching her grow throughout the show was probably one of the best parts of the show.

Season 6 is where the show really hits its stride, and the beginning episode arc of Season 6 is absolutely phenomenal. Since Order 66 is known to everyone I’m gonna go ahead and say that the first four episodes are about Order 66 and one of the character’s brave attempt to uncover it. You might think that, knowing Order 66 is executed successfully, it would be a boring episode because you know the outcome. But then you’d be wrong. Knowing that the character fails in his mission is what makes these episodes so emotional to watch, because even though you know he has to fail, you’ll be rooting so hard for him to succeed and watching him fail will so much more difficult for it. His bravery and creativity in the face of overwhelming odds is truly one of the shining moments of the show.

And there are so many shining moments.

And there are so many shining moments.

The Clone Wars is not only a worthy successor to the Star Wars canon, but in many ways exceeds its predecessors. There a few bumps here and there; some of the episodes appear out of order, Palpatine’s voice actor changes for some reason in a couple episodes, and of course there are a few goofy episodes that don’t add anything to the story. These are all minor ripples compared to the one big ripple that disrupts what was an otherwise enjoyable saga: Disney’s acquisition of the Star Wars brand. Now don’t get me wrong, I think Disney buying Star Wars might do wonders for a series that was on the edge of becoming a self-parody, but it came at an inconvenient time for The Clone Wars. Following their purchase of Star Wars, Disney put a hold on all current Star Wars productions, which unfortunately means The Clone Wars ended without having the opportunity to wrap up several important storylines or include any kind of closure whatsoever. So you’ll end up getting involved the show only to have the carpet ripped out from under you and leave you crying for more.

Though I don’t appreciate the abrupt ending, it might be for the best because in the end I’d rather be left wanting more, and the final season of the show happens close enough to the events of Episode III that you’ll be able to pretty much guess what would’ve come next.

The Jedi Temple after the Massacre in Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith

Though, no lie, I would kill to have seen this recreated in The Clone Wars.

Though I admit I would have liked to have seen Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader occur in the show, if only to give us the tragic downfall of a good man that we were robbed of in the prequels.  And if Disney can get the same writers and cast back to do a new season I certainly wouldn’t say no.

If you’re still not sure about the Clone Wars, you can check out my review later this week which will cover what I thought were the best episode arcs. I’ll also be comparing and contrasting The Clone Wars against Revenge of the Sith to illustrate how they both attempted the same thing, and why only Clone Wars was successful at it.

 

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