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

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Review: Black Panther

At this point, I think it’s well known that I don’t think that much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The movies I’ve seen were all mediocre at best. But Black Panther did look to have some interesting visuals, and my friends kept pestering me about it, and I figured paying for a movie with this many black people was a good way to irritate racists, so…

An action scene from Black PantherSince I’m pretty much the last person in the Western Hemisphere to see Black Panther, it’s probably not worth bothering to summarize the story. I figure you already know.

I will say this much: Black Panther is easily the best MCU movie I’ve seen yet.

The thing I really like about it is it’s not really an origin story the way these usually are. T’Challa is already pretty comfortable with his powers and feels pretty well-established as a character. Maybe they already covered his origin in one of the many Marvel movies I skipped. I don’t know. Don’t care.

The important thing is that this allows us to skip the tedious origin story tropes Marvel always seems to cling to, and go straight to the real story. It’s a fairly long movie at nearly two and a half hours, but none of it feels wasted. It’s got a really good balance of character development, world-building, and action.

It’s a visual treat, too. While it’s not stated in so many words, the conceit seems to be that Wakanda’s isolation has allowed technology to develop in entirely different directions from the rest of the world, leading to some very unique and interesting gadgetry, such as vibranium-infused cloaks that can conjure force fields at will.

It doesn’t really affect the plot, but it does lead to some very creative art design.

It leaves me wistful for all the cultures and mythologies, all the stories and artistry, that have been strangled by colonialism. Western culture is full of beauty, too, but its aggressive dominance has cost the world so much…

The cast of Black Panther.Anyway.

Black Panther is also helped along by a very strong supporting cast — with the notable exception of T’Challa’s insufferable kid sister. My personal favourite was Danai Gurira as the badass, honour-bound General Okoye. Any chance she can get a solo movie?

I also quite liked Lupita Nyong’o’s character, though it’s a bit of a shame she was relegated to be little more than a generic love interest.

That’s not so say I loved everything about Black Panther. It leans less heavily on Marvel’s bad habits than I would have expected, but they’re still there. The humour is cheesy and often feels forced. The ending is a little too quick, too neat and tidy. And the cyber rhinos were a bit much.

The themes of the movie are pretty muddled, too. It seems to want to provide an aspirational tale for people of African descent — a most noble goal — but this is somewhat undercut by the fact that Wakanda is, at its heart, a pretty terrible country, being rife with xenophobia and controlled by archaic and oppressive forms of governance.

Perhaps the idea was to offer nuance — to make Wakanda not entirely good or entirely bad — but when it’s presented as an enlightened paradise half the time and corrupt and brutal the other half the time, the end result is only confusion.

Mind you, I’m not exactly the target audience for Black Panther’s messages, and it does seem to have been very inspirational to a lot of people, which I respect.

Either way, I didn’t go to a MCU movie for intelligent social commentary, and I will at least give it credit for tackling racial politics and the dark legacy of colonialism in a very blunt and brave way. That’s more than I expected.

So I wouldn’t say Black Panther is a masterpiece or anything, but it’s the first MCU film I don’t feel any regret over watching.

Overall rating: 7.7/10