King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

There are few movies of late that I have dared hope greatness from. A movie set in Arthur’s, uh… Londinium… was one such movie.

 

Start of the plot:

Some powerful mage almost destroys some powerful kingdom which was supposedly protected by some king with some incredibly powerful magical sword. The mage is piloting some siege elephant (which is so incredibly massive that it shows that Guy Ritchie probably hasn’t actually seen an elephant before), but he then dies without even pretending to fight back, even though it was his siege against what was apparently some last resisting stronghold.

The night after this apparently-hard-fought victory, the charismatic, well-loved, powerful-magic-wielding king is betrayed by some guy who gets nosebleeds while watching battles from afar. The king somehow has no friends, and is defeated without any real fight. His queen is also murdered. His son, floating away very slowly in front of his father’s defeater in an unprotected boat, is completely ignored so that there can be some further two hours of film.

During a minute of decently-done growing-up montage, the escaped son becomes a formiddable street fighter and brothel protector. He then goes into the room of some prostitute and hands her a pouch of coins he took from some Viking who’d beaten her.

Some guard knocks on the brothel door and tells the son that he beat up some protected guy and asks why, in response to which the son provides a Sherlock-Holmes retelling of how he woke up and then had some breakfast and then talked to some people and then talked to some other people and then talked to some people he’d forgotten to mention the first time and then talked to some other people and then cut some Viking’s braid off and then gave some coins to some beaten-up prostitute.

Then some tide goes out very quickly and the nosebleed-usurper gets worried because some sword in some stone is suddenly visible. He talks to some strange slithering part-woman creatures (technically cecaelii, but listed as “syrens” – a misspelling of “sirens” – in the credits), who tell him that he probably has to to kill someone and that they’ll need some sacrifice if he wants some more power. He’s building some tower that makes him stronger as it gets taller, though, so he files the thought away somewhere for a while.

The son is woken up by some merry-man companion who tells him to run because some guards want to catch and maybe even kill him. He gets out and then is nabbed by some patrol who takes him on some boat to take him to some previously-unmentioned branding ritual.

The son shoulders his way through to the front of some long, long line of people waiting to be branded and finds out that they are all supposed to try to pull some sword out of some stone first. He walks up and grabs the sword and pulls it out and falls asleep.

Then the movie tries to convince us that it’s woven a pretty smart tale thus far by having some guys who want to kill the son decide to wait for a while until he wakes up and some rebels are ready with a plan before they try some public execution for the son after killing some people he was close to.

From then on, the son tries to defeat the nosebleed guy.

 

Reaction:

It’d be lovely to have something nice to say about the film. I suppose it was nice to see Eric Bana playing Uther Pendragon, but apart from reappearing in some severely-recycled footage, he’s probably only on the screen for five unique minutes.

The story should have been easy to write. Arthur and Excalibur have been written about extensively. Not all stories are equal, sure, but where big budgets lie… so, too, should at least decent writing.

Scenes and dialogues change allegiance mid-film; sometimes jumping to gaudy, self-infatuated stop-start action sequences, sometimes taking refuge in face-locked chase sequences, sometimes panning across Middle-Earth landscapes, sometimes stooping to drug-bend-accentuation cinematography.

Characters are unloveable, apart from the ones that die at the start. They also (apart from a sullen mage who never changes) refuse to adhere to the logic of their own selves. Arthur, who has been seeking ways to beat up thugs and bullies ever since he escaped his parents’ death, gets upset that bullies and thugs still exist when he gets Excalibur and thinks that throwing the sword away will help things get better. The people who say they care about Arthur decide to tie him up and blindfold him and smack him around while telling him how much they care about him. Vortigern keeps killing his loved ones instead of killing the person he claims to want to kill, even though he is constantly provided with situations where he has the ability and power to do so. A mage (because mages have never been in film before and druids certainly weren’t a thing in Arthur’s time) displays stunning levels of power that could have been used to help things long before Arthur was found. Merlin simply refuses to show up.

Even the magical logic was confused. Aside from the aforementioned ignorance of the fact that it should have been druidry rather than magecraft, references are consistently made to towers that, the bigger they are, the stronger a mage’s magic is. Destroying the antagonist’s tower is in fact the crux of the protagonists’ plan to defeat him. But of the three characters who wield magic throughout the film, one is a woman who (perhaps to include silent feminism commentary) does not appear to have a tower, and another is Arthur, whose incredibly powerful magic stems from a sword that is probably two hundred times shorter than Vortigern’s tower. And yet Vortigern’s magic never matches either of theirs.

The film had a great cast. It had solid visual effects. It even had a brilliant musical score. It shouldn’t have been able to go wrong. But somehow, the movie kept refusing to grab hold of and run with its strengths. It even ignored the opportunity to be a decent non-Arthurian story. More’s the pity – historical fantasy set in England can be a lot of fun to watch.

As a retelling of the Arthurian legend, it falls far short of any recognizable mark. As a piece of standalone fiction, it… could possibly be submitted as part of a first draft.

 

Pros:

  • The Lord of the Rings footage
  • Sherlock Holmes footage
  • Sons of Anarchy footage
  • Star Wars footage
  • Tove Lo’s “Habits” music video footage
  • Robin Hood: Men in Tights footage
  • 300 footage

Cons:

  • None of the pros in their respective films
  • No Merlin
  • No Camelot
  • Druids replaced by mages
  • Story/character logical inconsistencies
  • Flashback expositional explanations for every unimportant question
  • No explanations for any important questions

The Morning Bell Podcast 2016: In Review

 IMG_1910.JPG
As befits review, I’d like to give honorable mention to a new addition to our little team: this year we welcomed on a new co-host, Ian (pictured above on the left), and he’s been a pretty swell (I think) chap to have along. Joel tells me he’s Luke v2.0, so maybe I’m getting the sack, but Ian’s fun enough to have along that you’d probably not really notice if that happened (#silentfarewell). Well, fear not, I’m not gone yet!
I’ve found The Morning Bell Podcast to be quite a fantastic opportunity. We get to talk to all kinds of writers, editors, publishers, developers and more about the cogs and gears of their jobs. It’s insightful stuff, and it’s all done in a laid-back, friendly atmosphere that lets everyone feel comfortable. We don’t (except on special occasions) dissect pieces of writing at great length; we converse about topics that (usually) are right up the guest-of-the-week’s alley, so that we can provide you (and ourselves) with a trove of interesting inside knowledge. Some days that means talking about what makes dystopian fiction so attractive to contemporary audiences; some days that means talking about how to write game narrative (and how different it is to normal prose); other days that means discussing subjects like relatability and inclusiveness in novels. It’s a lot of fun picking experienced people’s brains for information. I hope you guys find it as interesting as we do!
Joel is the dedicated constant of the podcast. Always there, always answering emails, always reliable and approachable, always making sure everything flows smoothly and everyone remembers when and where to go, setting up and maintaining the equipment – and then formatting and publishing the podcasts as well. My hat (if I wore one) well and truly off to him.
If there’s one thing I would like to see happen next year with the podcast, it’s some kind of industry funding. There are plenty of funds and grants that apply to what we do, and Joel (more than the rest of us) puts in so much work and money that I think he really deserves to get some back – but funding for The Morning Bell Podcast wouldn’t be as much about cash as it would be about career recognition by the arts industry. Whether or not that happens, though, Joel will soldier on and you’ll all get to keep hearing awesome interviews with interesting people.
All the best for the new year, and see you there.

Bullet Train – Part 3

The sound was muffled. Cushioned. It was coming from the middle of the carriage.

Thud.

KL-33 steadied his breathing, steeled himself, and walked straight toward the source.

Thud-thud-thud.

One of the safety pods was sealed: a Type-10 Kulov with a modified strap. A child seat! Only a god – though which one was up for constant review – would damn fortune such that a child should see the ruin of its parents before their time.

He ran to the pod and pressed the emergency release. A young boy looked up at him with pale green eyes and a stark white face. KL-33 flipped through the passenger records on his wrist panel. Daniel K. Sarthers. Born in France. Four years old.

“Speak English, kid?”

The child made no response, in English or otherwise. The only indication he gave that he’d heard anything at all was by blinking. 

He then looked around the carriage. “Maman?”

“Come this way, kid,” he said, and beckoned as he walked toward the next carriage. The engine. He hoped the boy wouldn’t go the opposite direction.

He checked the environment controls for the cockpit before opening the door. No breathable air. Pressure leak. Damn it. He motioned for the boy to wait, but found that the boy was still sitting in his pod. Glancing at the previous carriage to make sure it was closed, he put his helmet back on and sealed his suit, then opened the first door, stepped into the pressure chamber, and sealed the door behind him.

The second doorway hissed as the air was sucked out of the pressure chamber. The temperature dropped immediately. KL-33 stepped through the gap.

Debris clung to the back of the carriage. Shards of glass, dented metal mugs, a book, and the two drivers. A small cabin on the right housed the engineer, and a longer one on the left was for the steward, stewardess, snacks, and beverages. The front of the carriage featured the panels and instruments used to control the train. Most of these were shattered and splintered. The loose track ran across and through the middle of the train’s nose. The tail of this appeared to have pierced the engineer’s cabin, rending any emergency pressure system in that room non-functional. 

KL-33 pounded his fist against the doors to the cabins. A faint ping returned from the left cabin. He opened the engineer’s door, pushed the floating corpse gently aside, and reached for a canister marked “Xeseal”. He then switched the environment controls to reboot and sprayed all the cockpit’s holes with the canister’s long nozzle. Air started to gush back into the room via the ventilation and hiss out through a couple of gaps he’d missed. He continued to layer the spray over all the shattered surfaces until the hissing stopped.

After half a minute, the environment controls beeped at him. He took his helmet off and opened the left cabin door.

A stewardess stared up at him from where she lay on the floor. Her left arm and leg lay limp and crooked.

“Do you know what happened?” KL-33 asked.

She shook her head slowly.

“Everything’s going to be okay,” he recited.

He flipped open a medical pack on the wall, pulled out a stabilization needle – he didn’t know the technical term for the needles, only that they worked – and tossed it to the woman. 

Then he went to the drivers’ seats and connected to a maintenance data port. He played the archived footage. Spinning, turning, winding through space. Hours of it. It had taken that long for the slack to be detected at the Mars port.

He rewound to until he found the crash anomaly. The train had been gliding along as normal, until – with the replay slowed to thousandths of seconds – he saw it. A snap in the track. The broken track latched onto the whole one. And the engine carriage hit it at full speed. A split thousandth of a second where KL-33 saw the jagged end of the track. He paused the footage. Impact damage. A comet, perhaps, or some other large debris. An unlucky hit. A near miss in the infinite expanse of space. A few trillion dollars of repairs. Not to mention the cost in lives.

KL-33 set to work narrating his report while repairing what he could and preparing the ruined train to be towed home.

Pathrider

I had the privilege of speaking with the pleasant Mrs Edna Bruce just a few days ago. Edna was born and raised in Bairnsdale, Victoria, where her father had moved, along with her mother and two older brothers, in 1932. She was born a little over a year after they settled there.

Edna, now eighty-four years old, still lives on Macleod Street, although not in the same house. She takes her four-year-old great-granddaughter shopping with her every second Wednesday. This day was as normal as every other time had been: Edna sat on her Pride Pathrider 10 Deluxe mobility scooter (a recent acquisition, as it was gifted to her by her son-in-law to replace her old scooter), and her great-granddaughter sat on the front basket. She then drove them along Macleod Street, left onto Bailey, and then right onto the Princes Highway. Once on the Princes, she urged the scooter up to a frisky seven kilometers per hour and pointed the nose of the scooter toward the supermarket.

This day, though, she didn’t quite make it. A police car drove up beside her, lights flashing, and indicated that she should pull over. The two officers who stepped from the car gave her a stern reprimand and a $500.00 fine. This in itself astonished me, but when I questioned Edna further, the facts were in fact even more absurd. The officers looked her and her great-granddaughter over, then asked her if she realized what speed she had been driving. The fine was for driving too slowly.

I found and had a brief interview with the officer who had pulled her over. The officer (name withheld for security purposes) said it was not the first time he had given out a fine for slow driving, but that he had never expected that Edna would earn one. “She always seemed like such a law-abiding old lady, you know?” I asked if he had considered any other details about her circumstances, to which he replied: “Well, I did mention in passing that she should probably fit a seatbelt for the little girl, but I didn’t want to upset her too much.”

When asked whether Edna should have been cautioned against driving her scooter on a highway, the officer’s senior constable (name also withheld) answered: “We’re not about to tell someone what they can or can’t drive, nor where they can or can’t drive it. We simply want to make sure that wherever people are driving they are keeping in line with TAC and VicRoads policies to keep roads safe. If she wants to drive on the road, she’s simply going to have to drive at or slightly below the speed limit.”

Edna is already planning for her next trip with her great-granddaughter. “I’ll keep an eye on my mirror when I’m on the roads,” she said; “if I catch them coming up on me again like that, I’ll really put my foot down.” Putting your foot down on a Pathfinder 10 Deluxe amounts to something close to nine kilometers per hour. After a moment of unprompted reflection, though, she reconsidered this. “Or maybe I’ll just wear a scarf or sunglasses something. If I put my foot down they’ll probably put a ticket under my door. That’s the problem with such small communities where everyone knows where everyone else lives.”

(Author’s note: fiction.)

Bullet Train – Part 2

KL-33 then noticed that the train was still moving. The front was nosing forward at an agonizing – he did a burst of arithmetic in his head – roughly 200 kilometers per hour. Judging from the train’s distance from his target point, the tail’s magnetism must have been slowing it for quite some time. At its current speed, the train wouldn’t reach Mars for another 5,600 days at least. Trains were usually equipped for a few months at best.

Then he caught a clear glimpse of the front of the train. It was thoroughly wrapped in track cable. The magnets had latched onto the carriage somehow. That meant that one of the cables had come loose or snapped somehow. With the lack of magnetic balance, it was no wonder the tail had swung out so far.

With his suit magnets balanced, KL-33 slowly pulled himself over to the line at his left – closest to the train – and wrapped his arms around it. He shifted his way around to the outside of the magnetic field, and adjusted his suit to cope with the change in polarity. Then he ran another calculation, lined himself up with the tail of the train, and pulled a trigger at his side.

A tongue of flame licked briefly out of a pack strapped to his back, and the propellant sent him floating sluggishly toward the tail of the train. As he neared it, the magnets started to tug at him and pull him in faster. He compensated for the pull to avoid heavy impact.

When he connected to the tail of the train, he polarized his boots to allow himself to walk along the carriage. In this manner, he made his way to the nearest service hatch. He ensured no one was inside the transition chamber, then flipped open an engineer access panel and dialed a lock override for the outer door. The hatch slid open. KL-33 swung down inside, closed the hatch above him, initiated atmospheric restoration, ran quick verification that the air was safe, and slowly detached and removed his helmet. The carriage was empty of life.

The panels worked fine; the train appeared to be in working order. His wrist panel told him that the power levels were steady. He turned the train’s internal lights back on.

KL-33 went to the door to the next carriage and opened it. The first passenger carriage. The scene before him starkly contrasted from the one behind him; there were people in this carriage, and they were a mess. Blood, bones, and clothes formed a sickening heap on the forward-left side. Most would probably not be physically recognizable ever again. Nothing moved.

KL-33 staggered and squeezed his eyes shut. This was caused by the train’s sudden stop. There were supposed to be safeties for this kind of thing. Procedures. Knowing that those must have been in place on the vessel (the inter-planetary rail service was implacably strict) didn’t ease KL-33’s stomach. He took a deep breath and another step forward.

For the briefest of moments, a tiny eye blinked at him. His skin crawled. His heart battered his ribs. His mind flicked back to all the science-fiction he had read over the years, and he wished he had a lazer gun. And that they existed. Then he spotted the eye – a CCTV camera – and breathed again.

One of the twin chairs had a holographic board still switched on. A chess game. White’s turn. Four moves from white claiming check-mate, KL-33 noticed – if the player was cunning enough. He re-evaluated. No, not four. A single move. He considered making the move, to help settle his mind, but decided that the unfinished game might accommodate his mind better than the pile of corpses. He swallowed, and took another deep breath. He needed to find the train’s security footage.

He briefly disabled the gravity compensation in the carriage, then gently pushed aside the sticky compilation of what seemed to be the remains of three passengers to clear the doorway to the next carriage. He returned gravity to the train before proceeding.

This time he was a little more prepared for the gruesome sight; it nearly mirrored that of the carriage behind him. He returned his thoughts to the game. If he was playing as both players, he… no, the result would still have been the same. White had the upper hand. Black had been foolish enough to lose both knights. He wondered what turn they had been at when they died, but the movement possibilities were endless.

Then his blood chilled. He heard something.

His breath staled in his lungs while he listened very, very carefully.

Thud. Thud.

Walking the Straight and Narrow

There are three particularly prolific strategies to pick from when someone is approaching you from the opposite direction in a narrow passage or hallway (such as at work).

First strategy: set your shoulders and lock yourself into your lane. If they get run over, that’s their problem. You were there first. Probably. This is the second-most aggressive form of walking (the most aggressive I will mention in this post), and can be assumed by pretty much anyone who is bigger or more concrete than the average opponent. It’s occasionally the walk of the daydreamer, too, but daydreamers are generally flattened by streetlamps or cars or somehow-inconspicuous brick walls.

Second strategy: come almost to the point of walking into the other fellow, then stop, swap sides of the road (as does your opponent), swap again (him again as well), and then close your eyes and stand very, very quiet and still and hope above all hopes that he will pass you by. Might not hurt to bring some gold coins to drop when he passes, so that you can hurry away while he’s distracted.

Third strategy: plan ahead. With someone in the lane ahead of you, why not use an altogether different lane? Cross the road? Turn around and go back where you came from? Sure, you weren’t planning to take another road, and who knows – you might even get lost. Couldn’t hurt that much. You’ll probably learn something about another neighborhood at the same time as avoiding running into the fellow. You always wondered what the dark underpass was like anyways.

Top Five Coffees

There are five (alive) people I would love to have a lengthy, friendly talk with over a coffee (or three) about their lives. Chances are slim that I will ever get the chance to, so I’ll at least give them honorable mention here. There are, of course, more people I would like to do this with, but as the list might take up a few books, I’ll stick to this five for this post.

Sean Bean and Ewan McGregor

Both have amazing accents and both are naturals on the screen. Both have played wide varieties of characters. Both are awesome human beings. Ewan’s gone motorbiking across Asia (Long Way Round). Sean’s died heroically in nearly all his films. ’nuff said.

George Lucas

George Lucas directed Indiana Jones and he birthed Star Wars. Star Wars alone was the achievement of a hundred lifetimes, but adding Indiana to the list just added to his glory. A lot of people like to put George down for things he did with Star Wars, but I’ve yet to see a film-originated fantasy series that has broken as many records, inspired as many spin-offs, or enchanted as many fans. George’s legacy will stick around for several hundred years to come, and I’m proud to have lived through the prime of the Star Wars film and literature days. I won’t talk about Disney’s new regime. Curiously, I might have had the chance to talk to George over noodles lately in Adelaide, had I driven over there and gone to the right shopping center at the right time.

Matthew Reilly

Matthew Reilly’s a nice guy, and he writes stories protagonized by nice guys who double as decent role models. His books are a little overly popular, perhaps, but he has a life-size Han-Solo-in-carbonite at his house. All sins forgiven. That aside, though, I’ve been to one of Matthew’s events in Melbourne and he’s a cool guy as well as a writer of fun – and stupidly fast-paced – stories. His writing style has affected the way I approach action scenes in my own writing, and I’ve no regrets whatsoever about that.

Andrzej Sapkowski

I’m not sure what kind of a person Sapkowski is, but I’ve got to hand two things to him: The Hexer (Witcher) boasts one of the most amazing settings out of any book or series I have ever read (or played), and Sapkowski colored me stupidly intrigued by Slavic mythology/folklore and Polish culture. I’ve always had a (probably blood-related) thing for Celtic and Norse culture and mythology, but Polish/Slavic is pretty freakishly interesting as well. And Geralt is just a fantastic fellow.

As I mentioned at the start, there’s more people I’d like to buy a coffee for, but these five sit at the top of my list.

Melbourne Central myki Reader

File implementation complete. BiOps functions added.

Rebooting system…

Reboot complete.

Sensor activity: touch off
myki card number: 50843517966463
Balance: $5.70
Customer name: Hayley Michaels
Profile: unpopulated

Fetching profile…

myki profile fetched.

Profile: Sex- female. Age- error.notfound. Nationality- error.notfound. Status- single. Misc- student of Bachelor of Design at Melbourne University. Part-time employee at Box on Collins.
Criminal record: Active- no offenses. Inactive- no offenses.

Resolving errors…

No resolution available. Cross-reference against police records? (Y/N)

N

No system flags. Customer clean. Clearing cache for next activity…

Cache cleared.

Sensor activity: touch off
myki card number: 60243558366421
Balance: zone 1 + 2 pass (expires 08/11/2016), $20.80
Customer name: Christopher Locke
Profile: Sex- male. Age- 42. Nationality- Australian. Status- divorced. Misc- osteopath at Mind and Body Osteopathy. Graduate of RMIT University.
Criminal record: Active- no offenses. Inactive- three red light offenses, one drink driving offense.

No errors found. Cross-reference against police records? (Y/N)

N

No system flags. Customer clean. Clearing cache for next activity…

Cache cleared.

———————————

System.process.broadcast.mykiReminder(“When traveling with myki, remember to touch on at the start of your journey.”)

———————————

Sensor activity: touch off
myki card number: 20543268394127
Balance: $1.30
Customer name: error.notfound
Profile: unpopulated

Fetching profile…

myki profile not found.

Camera system activated. Image captured.

Cross-referencing image with database…

Near match located.

Image.crossReference(110333302396.png, cache.2893.png)

Match? (Y/N)

Y

Storing cache.2893.png…

New file name: 112203892375.png.

Associating 110333302396.png and 112203892375.png in database….

Done.

Cross-reference image against police records? (Y/N)

Y

Cross-referencing…

1 match found. Display details? (Y/N)

Y

Display.policeRecord(case43X1544)

Associate myki number 20543268394127 with this police record? (Y/N)

Y

Populating myki profile…

myki profile populated.

Customer name: Marcus Gatolin
Profile: Sex- male. Age- 27. Nationality- error.badformat. Status- single. Misc- ex-student of Bachelor of Commerce at Deakin University. Ex-employee at Telstra. Dangerous.
Criminal record: Active- manslaughter [details: error.badformat], murder suspect [details: error.badformat], wanted by authorities [details: error.badformat]. Inactive: no offenses.

Resolving errors…

Unable to resolve error.badformat. Manual correction required. [profile.nationality]

Unable to resolve error.badformat. Manual correction required. [criminalRecord.active]

Unable to resolve error.badformat. Manual correction required. [criminalRecord.active]

Unable to resolve error.badformat. Manual correction required. [criminalRecord.active]

4 system flags unresolved. Printing log for manual correction…

Print successful.

Active criminal record detected. Alerting myki officers to intercept…

BiOps notification successful. Cell 12F8 prepared. Enforcers en route.

Alert police? (Y/N)

N

Clearing cache for next activity…

Cache cleared.

Bullet Train – Part 1

Silence. Astounding speed. Sheer, absolute calm.

100,000 kilometers to target.

The engineer pressed a button on his suit. Magnetic slivers on the center of his suit began, slowly, to reverse. The effect was two-fold: first, the color of his suit started to change from black to white. Second, the altered polarity reacted to the magnetic tunnel the engineer was traversing.

90,000. 80,000. 70,000. 65,000. 60,000.

More slivers joined the first strip, and the polarization started to spread out in a less linear – but still highly methodical – progression. Miniscule, spread-out changes presented minimal risk of injury to the high-velocity engineer.

The engineer’s eyes passed briefly across the view. While impressive for the first few hours, panoramas in space eventually lost their astounding charm. The stars were as beautiful as they were unexciting and constant. Planets looked more or less the same this far into nothingness. Smaller details of anything were indescernible at such speeds. His eyes flicked back to his helmet’s screen overlay. The last information the station had relayed before sending him out was tagged red and locked at the top corner of the display. Anomalous vibration from left track of inward line. Cable slack at 0846 Earth GMT. Assigned engineer KL-33 to locate anomaly and repair if feasible, else commencing reel at 2030 Earth GMT.

KL-33 checked the time – 1858 Earth GMT – and then the distance again. 45,000 kilometers to target. A red light blinked on his right glove. The proximity light. KL-33’s eyes widened in horror. He flipped the safety off his brake button and slammed his whole gloved fist into it.

All the technology in the universe couldn’t have saved him – alone in a one-man space suit – from blacking out.

With magnetic protestation, his suit balanced itself in the magnetic field at 84% white and 16% black. He came to a complete stop. The top right of his display showed 43238.01868 kilometers. The proximity sensor on his glove remained lit.

After KL-33’s heart rate had slowed sufficiently, his suit recognized that he was unconscious, and delivered a quick pulse through him. A soft warning tone hummed in his ears as he regained consciousness.

He looked around. He told himself that it was too far from the target, and after checking that he was in no immediate danger, he very nearly resumed his trip. Then he saw the train.

The inward and outward lines were set two kilometers apart, and for good reason. Both were built out of thick cable, two tracks each, and had chair-sized magnets implanted at regular intervals in them at a forward angle. If the lines were too close, their opposing magnets would latch onto each other. The trains themselves were designed with loops on both sides of the front three sections. The track cables ran through these. Only the foremost section – nicknamed the engine simply because drivers and crew sat there – would actually be magnetized during travel; this helped avoid conflict if a carriage were to sway even slightly. The rear section was equipped for braking only, but relied on electromagnets to do so. Emergency brakes lined the entire train.

From KL-33’s perspective, though, one thing was immediately apparent: the train was almost completely horizontal. The tail end of the train was what had set off his proximity sensor – it was tugging at the magnets of the outward line KL-33 had traversed. The train wasn’t long enough to bridge the gap completely, but tug it did.

And all the lights were out.

Guild Wars 2

GW2_Logo

It’s time to tackle a big one. An MMORPG. Take a deep breath and relax.

To be fair, I’m going to approach Guild Wars 2 as a sequel to Guild Wars 1, even though the gameplay differs quite a lot. I’ve followed the trek of the Guild Wars teams since just after Eye of the North was released, and I racked up ~2k hours in the original before its sequel came out.

As a sequel to Guild Wars 1, the opening of Guild Wars 2 was a trip through story lane; lots of things happened and lots of things changed in the world. Many lands became inaccessible through politics or other means. Some kingdoms isolated themselves. Some races got over their differences (this began in Eye of the North). Some places (like Lion’s Arch) remained in the game for nostalgic/historical purposes. Lore-wise, the intro presented a pretty reasonable and curiosity-raising transition.

A few minutes into the game, it becomes chillingly apparent that you are (apart from the occasional human you bump into) completely alone. This is less troubling in explorable areas, but story gameplay and the very way your skills are designed beg the question: where did all our little AI party buddies go? It was quickly made clear that to survive, we would need to rely on a single, profession-specific self-heal skill. No tanking DPS while a monk tops us up, no making conditions backfire on casters, and very limited capacity for restoring party health. Guild Wars 2 is a lone-wolf design. Sort of. More on that later.

Guild Wars 2 tried, somewhat over-ambitiously, to market the idea that each player could (to paraphrase) have a different story. It’s neat that they thought so, but it simply didn’t happen. The game is an MMO, which logically cannot provide different stories to its players. Not unless a lot more thought is put into the design. Sure, you can branch out and choose which race to play as (this gives you about two hours of slightly disconnected story gameplay) and then the sub-faction you want to follow the main story with. This allows you to hear slightly different conversations, but the gist and the plot remains pretty much identical to every other player’s. Don’t get me wrong – it was a neat idea, and I pick the The Vigil every single time – it just can’t feel as organic as it was marketed, because if your world instance looked different from other people’s, synchronization of the MMO world would be pretty tricky.

Dungeons are strange things. They’re fundamental to the MMO experience, and they’re challenges for the semi-educated gamers to hone their co-ordination and tactics… but I’m not convinced that GW2’s combat system is designed for them. I’ve yet to see a dungeon taken conventionally (okay, I did see it happen once, but I’m not sure if players are supposed to die quite that often in any game except Dark Souls). Dungeons are run using hack-style mechanics, like stacking in tiny corners or pulling single enemies at a time and praying (with crossed fingers) that ArenaNet has not buffed the dungeon mobs yet again. With the recent expansion, dungeons also (for no apparent reason) became unprofitable. When both unsupported by combat mechanics and unprofitable… dungeons became unpopular places. I’m not sure if ArenaNet quite understands that players choose to use hacks simply because the experience isn’t fun to play conventionally. They certainly didn’t realize people were primarily running dungeons for the gold.

To support my concerns regarding dungeon combat in GW2, I ought to discuss the combat system next. Combat changed heaps between GW 1 and 2. Some of the changes made things smoother – combat flows better in GW2, for instance, and combinations such as shooting arrows through walls of fire (which makes fire arrows) are nice features – but a lot of things were made worse or removed. There is less synergy and less customizability in GW2. Skills are determined primarily by our equipped weapon, which generally has a couple of decent skills, a couple of mediocre ones, and the “spam 1” – an attack chain that defaults with auto-attack as it has no cooldown and replaces the basic attack from GW1. Each character can equip three class skills, an elite skill, and a single heal skill. For most classes, this is strictly a self-heal (rangers are an exception). Guardians can strap on a couple of level-based sidegrades to add minor healing to some of their AoE skills, and they have an optional elite skill (more on these shortly) that fully heals themselves and up to four other players. Elite skills are a disappointment. In GW1, elite skills were these fantastic skills you could obtain by defeating an enemy champion (which involved both a hunt and a battle challenge). They weren’t the be-all-and-end-all in battle (they aren’t in GW2 either), but they felt like they made a difference and made your character significantly more useful. They also acted like improved versions of regular skills. In GW2, elite skills are obtained by leveling. They are useful, but generally underwhelming. Most particularly, though (and unlike in GW1), they take a very, very long time to recharge. You won’t be using them twice in a fight. Maybe not even twice in two fights. Your character’s usefulness is shaved by an entire skill slot every four to six minutes. Water combat is still viewed on the whole as something of a joke. It’s a 3D, weightless combat system that generally allows you to spend all your skills without hitting anything due to average visibility and could-be-improved targeting on AoE skills. But as to the feel of combat, it certainly plays smoother in GW2. It’s a pretty nice feeling to be able to cast/attack/use skills while moving. You generally don’t have to stand still unless channeling something big.

When it comes to teamwork, it feels like the ArenaNet chaps groaned and said “if we have to”. Apart from a few combo effects, characters are designed to function on their own. There are very few support skills, and there’s no way to target specific allies with your skills (any skills you have that affect allies will prioritize your squad, so long as they’re within range). Targeting, supporting, buffing, and assisting were all key elements in GW1. If you didn’t work as a team you’d likely fail. This was because mobs in GW1 usually came attached to groups. None of this “one wolf spawns in the middle of nowhere and waits to be killed” stuff; foes came in squads, and generally were capable of buffing/saving each other while your group tried its best to do them in. GW2 comes with a “live alone, fight alone, die alone” feel, which effectively kicks teamwork out the door.

The maps are quite pretty. Ascalon (and north of it, in GW1) was my favorite landscape in the Guild Wars universe until the Charr came along and conquered it and then settled it, but it’s still the most charming biome in the game. It’s the way a fantasy kingdom should look. Big trees with leaves that turn orange and red and purple around harvest, rolling hills, rivers, fields, castles, keeps built into the sides of cliffs. Praise aside, though, I feel like GW2 is small. A lot of the places we had access to in GW1 were removed, and only some were replaced. As an explorer gamer, I really want that space back – and some more places to visit! (Pardon the pun, but one reason I went from GW2 to Elite: Dangerous was to explore more – the game is, quite practically, based in space.)

To showcase the new (and controllable) jumping mechanic in Guild Wars 2, ArenaNet set up jumping puzzles. It’s a little challenge with a souvenir at the end (usually just an achievement and a chest of stuff worth a couple of silver). Nice idea, as they are completely optional minigames. There are a couple of jumping puzzles that take hours and hours to complete because of that one jump you can’t make, but that just makes it all the more worth it when you make it to the end. Pity the rewards don’t scale based on how many times you fell down and died or nearly died.

Crafting is the economy driver. Gather resources, sell them to crafters. Crafters take materials, make junk, sell it cheap, then level up and sell things of more value. Higher level materials are (generally) worth more, so the higher the tier, the more return for gatherers, and so on and so forth. Crafting isn’t foolproof (the workbench does not have the most user-friendly layout), but it’s fine. Average. Nothing worth any special praise.

Guild Wars 2 has an average trade function (I’m pretty impressed by the paid-mail system in Elder Scrolls: Online). Trading in GW2 means either sending things directly to other players and not expecting anything back, or listing on the trading post. This is (amusingly) taxed heavily. In-game money, sure, but what in the world does ArenaNet do with the 10% of in-game money profit they tax on transactions (not to mention the listing fee)? In GW1 you could trade from person to person. Granted, you had to stand next to them, but that’s a small price to pay compared to 10% of a nice fancy 40-gold item.

Guilds are not as big a focus as the game’s title makes them out to be. Emblems are cool, guild halls are damned pricey, tiers are average and (nowadays) grindy, but it is nice to have guilds simply to collect your friends and fellow gamers. Guilds are chiefly hamstrung by one thing, in my opinion: items are one of the following: not bound, account-bound, and soulbound. There’s nothing for guilds specifically. There’s guild halls (kind of), but they don’t appear to be incredibly useful (yet?). Basically, guilds are just friend lists with politics.

World vs World is something I found to be a lot of fun. Ever wanted to play out a 100 vs 100 medieval fantasy battle? I did. And I had a ball doing so. Waves of allies crashing into banks of foes, pulling back, smashing into them again, popping buffs and consumables, crashing into them again, forcing them back, cutting off their retreat, circling and wheeling and crippling and knocking your foes down until the battlefield is littered with foes and little bags of loot (not kidding – WvW player kills actually drop items called bags of loot). Recent updates cut WvW back slightly, by replacing a nice map with an unattractive (well, some like it) and unpathable (I’ve yet to see someone say it’s fun to navigate)  map. Still, WvW is the focal point of guild fights, and almost lives up to the game’s title.

ArenaNet recently (well, last October) released the Heart of Thorns expansion for GW2. It added gliding and it added jungle maps. I’m not a jungle fan, but for the sake of somewhere new to explore I took them on. A lot of minigames were added to the new maps, as well as a lot of map restrictions (removed by progressing huge, map-wide events). It’s pretty tricky to get anywhere unless the map is highly-populated – and that brings us back to combat, which was not designed for teamwork. But gliding was a lot of fun. ArenaNet later added gliding to the vanilla maps as well, which is refreshing when traversing favorite old maps.

 

Pros

  • Good optimization for PC (this was hamstrung by the Heart of Thorns expansion, but hopefully that will be fixed by the time you read this)
  • Living World events and quests
  • Nice musical scores
  • Nostalgic locations reimagined and redesigned
  • Pretty landscapes
  • Solid, consistent, enjoyable setting
  • Smooth combat mechanics

Cons

  • Combat and teamwork hindered by restrictive skill design and capacity
  • Low focus on guild play (other than farming guild hall materials)
  • Poor selection of trade mechanics
  • The world feels small after its prequel
  • Tons of items that don’t need to be soulbound/account-bound
  • WvW has had some poor design choices, even though it is one of GW2’s most unique aspects