Humble Book Review: Guns, Germs, and Steel

Guns, Germs, and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years is a fascinated read for anyone interested in human history, in how we have developed and spread as a species, and just how certain civilisations conquered others to arrive in the states that they are now.

Specifically, Jared Diamond attempts to answer a very important question; why was it that Eurasian civilisations were able to survive and conquer other nations, instead of the other way around? Presumably, 13,000 years ago, each of our human ancestor settlements across the globe were in the same position with respect to technology, so why was Eurasia successful? While answering this question, Diamond also refutes the controversial idea that Eurasian rule is due to any form of inherent advantage in Eurasian intellect, morals, or genetic superiority.

Tackling the aforementioned refutation is particularly important, as unfortunately, many people in well off societies seem to believe it.

Diamond quite successfully argues that rather than inherent advantages, gaps in power and technology stem from several opportunistic advantages in geography and environmental standings, which caused some positive feedback loops, resulting in auto-catalytic growth.

What started it all, was the slow migration from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies, roughly 13,000 years ago. From being able to domesticate various plants and animals, tribes could begin to stock surplus supplies, and provide for non-food producing members, such as chiefs, scribes, etc. Once you free up time to focus on non-food related activities, societies can begin to expand, giving rise to population booms.

With population booms come epidemics, which, over time, survivors develop a resistance to. When these disease-resistant members invade small tribes in other parts of the world who have never been exposed, the germs can decimate untouched bands and tribes, often well in advance of the invaders themselves.

Back to the question; why was Eurasia so fruitful and not another part of the world? This mainly rests on the abundance of domesticable plants and animals compared to other continents, and the fact that Eurasia lies on an east-west axis, as opposed to north-south like the Americas or Africa. With different latitudes, comes different suitability of crops. They could not expand north-south, due to snowy regions, unseasonable tropics, or harsh deserts. But they could expand east-west, which Eurasia could accommodate.

All of this is quite fascinating, and my modest summary simply cannot do it the proper justice. However, it seems that Diamond goes over some points laboriously, to really drive home a small point, or will revisit an answer several times. Either that, or it’s been a while since I’ve read such a long non-fiction book! But I guess it helps, I could sum up the book pretty well, as it was drilled into me.

This book was mentioned by the great Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, known for his book & online course Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. I strongly advise you check out his work before this, as he sums up the agricultural section of humankind quite well – Guns, Germs, and Steel is a great knowledge addition to it.

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WOTH: Platinum #25 – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Oh my, what an absolutely stunning game.

Before, I would have adamantly answered to anyone asking (please ask, nobody ever does) that my favourite RPG of all time was Dark Souls. Now, after completing the base game of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, that position is threatened. It is an incredibly crafted experience on an ambitious scale, which gets oh-so-many of the main RPG elements right, where other games always seem to falter on one or two points.

Let me begin with the set-up, if you’re unfamiliar with the franchise. You are Geralt, a salty old Witcher. In this old world of swords, sorcery, and scandal, the Witcher trade is a rare one. You hunt down and slay monsters of all types while accepting coin for your services; however the townsfolk consider Witchers as either a curiosity, or not too far removed from the very monsters they kill.

Geralt is on the trail of Ciri, a long lost friend who is more like a daughter to him. Along the way, he meets old friends associated with old flames, new and old foes to coerce, all while uncovering the prophecy of the Wild Hunt, which brings with them a new and bleak age of white frost.

The first thing that needs to be mentioned is just how amazing the game looks. After the dream-like tutorial, you drop into the story at a campsite, get attacked by a few ghouls, then ride off to the nearest town while a magnificent sunrise pierces through the swaying trees. That’s the first thing of beauty that smacks you in the face – the amazing lighting. At times, when you are in the forest just having a chat with a hunter or concerned citizen, the shadows of individual tree leaves dance across your face – something I’ve not seen done so well in other games. The draw distance is far reaching, so anything you see you can get to. And the locations are incredibly varied – the quests will take you across sunlit fields, jagged city streets, ominous caverns, and windswept mountain peaks, all swashed with vibrant colour. Through all of these locations, dynamic weather plays a big part as well. If you stop to converse with someone in pouring rain, you wont look as you always do, rather your clothes will have that drenched look, adding another layer to the immersion.

And the quests – never before have I been so invested in all of the side quests! Usually, RPG side quests ask you to either fetch 20 flowers, or assassinate some big baddie in a cave while a slow but required companion follows you and gives away your position. Not here – the stories crafted in each and every mission feel unique, and the people feel like they actually existed before you arrived, and not just to wait for you alone to fetch them a teapot. Granted, there are a couple of quest tropes thrown in, but they are done a little tongue-in-cheek, aware of the cliche they are mimicking (looking at you, Princess the goat!).

The combat is actually quite refreshing, given the amount of content. Each of the different enemies you encounter will have some sort of weakness you can exploit with the Witcher signs, oils, and bombs at your disposal, along with your two standard swords – silver for monsters, steel for humans. Being able to dodge, counter, and fire crossbow bolts adds a great amount of variety, so you can craft a play style that suits you.

I also cannot forget to mention the brilliant game within a game; Gwent. This is a tabletop card game many people in Geralt’s world play, including himself. Although initially simple, there is quite a bit of strategy involved which only opens up further as you either buy cards from merchants, discover them as loot, or win them as prizes for challenging certain people. It’s so popular that it will soon be expanded and released as it’s own separate game outside of The Witcher, so look out for it!

Now, gushing aside, let’s talk platinum difficulty. It’s a massive game, and took me about 120+ hours to achieve the platinum trophy, across two playthroughs. I advise that you try to cover most of the trophies in your first playthrough on any difficulty,  being very conscious of collecting all the Gwent cards you come across. Having a guide for collecting them is paramount, as there are quite a few missable ones. Have a general guide handy for the remaining trophies, as there are other missable trophies. Many of them are just killing foes using x method, or completing Witcher contracts, so it shouldn’t be so bad. Then, after you’re mostly done, it’s best to have another playthrough on the toughest difficulty. The early stage of the game on this difficulty is quite frustrating, but there are guides to help you choose the most efficient character traits.

To wrap up, I had an incredible time, and the 120+ hours to obtain the platinum didn’t feel stretched out at all. I will certainly be investing in the two expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine in the near future.

WOTH: Platinum #24 – Goosebumps: The Game

In this installment of the Well Overdue Trophy Hunt, I stepped back in time to the glorious 90’s, and relived the amazing Goosebumps universe – much like I had done with the recent movie starring Jack Black, generic American boy and girl combo, and Screamy McPubertyface.

There are no live actors in Goosebumps: The Game, however, as it has gone for the classic painted 2D Point and Click Adventure approach. This feels like it gave the source material the best possible justice, as every scene you move through looks like it came straight from the cover of one of the many original books.

And because there is so much source material, there are so many references to discover, which is always the fun part of these sorts of games. Some of them are obvious, like Slappy being the main antagonist, while some other little gems will be just as fun to find, like the jar of Jellyjam found when you open a fridge.

Regarding the content and difficulty – I used a guide, so it inevitably was super easy. There are a few different endings you need to obtain the platinum trophy, but as long as you follow the guide well, and save when asked to, the platinum trophy shouldn’t take longer than 5 hours to get. If you go into it blind, you may find quite a few points where you become stuck, but just try to pick up every item you see – most of them are useful in some way.

It’s very young adult humour, but hey – what could you expect!