Odds and Ends: Venom, ESO, Hard in Hightown

I’ve had a few topics I’ve wanted to discuss but which didn’t seem meaty enough to fill a blog post on their own, so I’ve decided to cram them all into one Frankenstein monster post.

Venom mini-review:

A shot from the movie Venom, starring Tom HardyI wanted to do a full review of the Venom movie, but as I’ve said before, mediocrity is hard to review, and I just don’t have much to say on the matter.

It’s not a bad movie in general terms, but it may be a bad Venom movie. I’d expect Venom to be a very dark, gritty story, but instead it’s more of a light, campy romp. As light, campy romps go, it’s actually pretty fun, but it just doesn’t fit the character very well.

I wouldn’t advise against seeing it, but it’s definitely not a must-see, either.

Overall rating: 6.9/10

ESO’s bribery:

Despite my griping, I’ve been playing a fair bit of Elder Scrolls Online lately. This is in large part due to the fact Zenimax has been showering players with a number of incredibly generous giveaways as of late. It’s shameless bribery, and it’s working.

Probably the most notable giveaway is the palatial Grand Psijic Villa home. Given how over-priced housing in this game usually is, giving away a house of this scale is kind of incredible. My previous home in the Rift and its yard could comfortably fit in the Psijic Villa’s main hall.

One of many beautiful views from the Grand Psijic Villa home in Elder Scrolls OnlineMy focus lately has been furnishing the new dwelling, which given the high costs in gold and crafting resources of furniture is actually quite a challenge. Not even sure why I’m bothering given the total lack of practical functionality for housing in this game, but there is something satisfying about it. It’s a pale shadow of the creativity I got to display back in Landmark.

It has had the side effect of helping me learn to earn gold more efficiently. I’m trying to get in the habit of doing crafting writs every day. That’s easy money. Along the way I’ve been developing my crafting skills further. I had already maxed out woodworking, clothing, and blacksmithing a long time ago, and I’ve now maxed my provisioning skill, as well. Enchanting, alchemy, and jewelry crafting are lagging behind, but they’re a good source of writ income if nothing else.

While the story of Summerset may have disappointed me, it remains a beautiful zone, and Alinor is a very conveniently laid out city, so I’ve made Summerset my “home” for the time being. I spend most of my time there, doing dailies and farming.

I’ve also been playing my warden a little.

Oh, yeah, I have a warden.

Don’t think I’ve mentioned her before — probably because I haven’t played her much — but yes, I have a High Elf warden. When I pre-ordered Summerset, I got Morrowind for free, and while I haven’t explored its content yet, I did want to try out the new (to me) class.

My High Elf warden in Elder Scrolls OnlineThe warden marks my third attempt to play a pure caster, the previous being a Khajiit dragonknight and a Breton nightblade. It finally seems to be sticking this time. I think it may be because I’m building this one as a healer.

One interesting — if possibly unbalanced — quirk of healers in ESO is that they use largely the same stats and gear as magicka DPS, meaning there appears to be little penalty to doing both on the same character, which is exactly what I’m doing with my warden. One action bar uses a resto staff and is pure support, while the other uses a destro staff and is pure damage.

One thing I’ve learned from D&D is that a hybrid of support and damage may just be my ideal RPG playstyle, or at least as close as someone as indecisive as me is ever going to find.

A final interesting note about my warden is that although she’s now well into her 20s, I have yet to do any significant amount of questing with her. And honestly, I haven’t missed it. There may be a whole post to do about that…

Hard in Hightown thoughts:

Finally, I recently finished reading through the physical copy of Varric Tethras’ Hard in Hightown. Yes, the book you can find chapters of in Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s a real book in the real world now.

Cover art for Hard in Hightown by "Varric Tethras" (really Mary Kirby)Well, for a certain definition of “real book,” anyway. There wasn’t actually that much effort put in, sadly. The whole thing is only about seventy pages, and it’s barely been fleshed out any more than the chapters you could find in Inquisition. In the end it’s more of a gag collectible than a book that’s worth reading on its own merits.

It does have some cool illustrations, though.

Overall rating: 5.8/10


Review: Dogs of War

A few weeks back, Adrian Tchaikovsky held a contest to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Shadows of the Apt. Fans were invited to email in with concepts for kinden that weren’t in the books, and those he liked would win autographed copies of some of his non-Apt books.

Cover art for Dogs of War by Adrian TchaikovskyMy pitch was for Daddy Longlegs-kinden. Given daddy longlegs are creatures which are often mistaken for spiders, my concept was that Longlegs-kinden would superficially resemble Spider-kinden. My thought was perhaps Longlegs are the same as Spiders, except they’re Apt, and as a result have been banished from the Spiderlands and scrubbed from history as a shameful secret.

Apparently, Mr. Tchaikovsky liked my idea, because shortly thereafter I received a package from him containing an autographed copy of a sci-fi novel of his called Dogs of War.

It’s the story of Rex, a genetically engineered “Bioform” soldier. Based on canine DNA, Rex is a massive, highly intelligent (for a dog) super-soldier created as a weapon of terror and destruction. But at the end of the day, all he wants is to be a Good Dog.

Rex fights alongside other Bioforms, including Honey, a bear whose frightening intelligence vastly outstrips anything her creators ever intended, and Bees, a Geth-like distributed intelligence taking the form of a swarm of insects.

Rex and his Bioforms are viewed by the world as monsters, but it is their human master who bears the ultimate responsibility for the horrors they unleash over the course of an anarchic counter-insurgency war. Over the course of the book, the true natures of Bioforms and their role in the war are brought to light, with the potential to reshape society as we know it.

If it sounds like a strange premise, you’re not wrong. Dogs of War is definitely different. Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t fully deliver on the potential of its premise.

Considering the vast scale of Shadows of the Apt, it’s amazing how rushed and incomplete Dogs of War feels. There’s at least a trilogy’s worth of story here, but it’s all crammed into just 350 pages. Nothing is described or fleshed out enough. The story never has room to breathe.

There’s a lot of commentary on relevant real world issues here, but maybe that’s the problem. Dogs of War tries to tackle too much at once: the mentality of a soldier “just following orders,” the effects of AI research and cybernetics, and corporatocracy, among others. It’s spread too thin, and none of the issues get to be explored in the depth they deserve.

It doesn’t feel good giving a negative review to a book I won for free. And don’t let me send the impression I hated it or anything. It does have its strengths, such as the aforementioned originality of the concept.

The main highlight, I would say, is Rex himself. He’s a very well-realized character. He captures the essence of a dog’s temperament very well, tempered with a horrifying level of higher intelligence. There’s this odd emotional feedback loop around the character where he’s terrifying for what he is capable of, yet still lovable because of his simplistic canine worldview, and yet all the more terrifying for the fact that he’s so likable even when he’s doing monstrous things.

Still, it’s not a book I can give a glowing recommendation to, much as I’d like to.

Overall rating: 6.9/10