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.

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Humble Book Review: Hearts In Atlantis

Hearts in Atlantis is quite a unique Stephen King book. It’s not really a standard novel, and not really a collection of novellas or short stories. It’s his first take on something akin to an anthology – four stories of varying length, all loosely linked to the same group of people as they grew up and experienced an important historic moment in American history; Vietnam.

In the first tale called “Low Men in Yellow Coats”, we meet Bobby Garfield, an 11 year old boy growing up in 1960, living with his widowed and “tightwad” mother, and hanging out with his friends Carol and Sully-John. But an elderly newcomer, Ted Brautigan (if you’ve experienced the Dark Tower, that name may seem familiar) moves into the upstairs apartment. The scholarly gentleman is a bit odd – he seems to know more than he should, and he confesses to be in hiding from the titular Low Men. Just who these low men are, and what their purpose is, is something critical to the main Dark Tower narrative.

Hearts are broken, as they often are in King coming of age stories. This then gives a good segue into the next tale called “Hearts in Atlantis”. Set in 1966, tensions are building in Vietnam and at home, where college kids are afraid if they drop out they’ll be shipped overseas to contribute to the war. Peter Riley knows this, yet still lets his grades slip after becoming addicted to playing Hearts for money. During this time, one of his withdrawn classmates discovers a powerful symbol to aid protesting the war.

In the next two tales, “Blind Willie” and “Why We’re in Vietnam”, it follows two characters we met in 1960, and their troubles with life after their experiences in Vietnam, each with different methods of coping.

Finally, we revisit Bobby Garfield again in 1999 with “Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling” in a brief epilogue.

I loved this book for two major reasons. Firstly, showing the inextricable fates of all those characters we met in 1960 and 1966 is an incredible storytelling method. The first tale could exist as it’s own novel, it’s that long. But to continue on with other tales years after these events is great in having this emotional investment – you truly want to know the fates of these people as you follow them. Really, the central character that ties each of these tales is Carol Gerber – the girl with the heart of a lion. To see how she had affected so many people from their own points of view was amazing.

Secondly, it’s hard to look past the very strong tie-in with The Dark Tower in “Low Men in Yellow Coats”. The vivid detail of these low men, the disgust and pure terror they induce in Bobby is something not as well detailed in the Dark Tower series itself, so it is a shame I hadn’t read this first. But knowing the history of a pivotal Dark Tower character made me only more eager to re-read the series.

I believe this book is greatly underrated – there is some terrifying horror aspects at the beginning, but mellows out into dealing with the human condition with respect to traumatic experiences. Also, there is a beautiful scene towards the end of “Why We’re in Vietnam” that I wont forget easily, with vivid imagery of a man coming to terms with his guilt.

A must-read for DT fans, and Stephen King fans in general. There is also a 2001 movie of the same name, starring Anthony Hopkins and a young Anton Yelchin, focused on stories related to Bobby Garfield. Well worth the watch.

Humble Book Review: The Art of War

Sun Tzu’s overall assertion in The Art of War is that a warrior is wise to not engage in conflict at all. And if winning a war without conflict is not possible, then you must analyse the conditions, and develop strategies in such a way that defeating the enemy is the only outcome.

It is interesting to read through this seed of a book, planted 2000 years ago. The teachings from Sun Tzu’s collection of inscribed bamboo strips has blossomed into countless real war strategies for many diverse military leaders, and also used in a myriad of fictional works in film, television, books, and plays.

While the details listed in The Art of War may not be pertinent to today’s military leaders – the concern for managing resources for ten thousand foot soldiers in formation isn’t relevant with today’s technology, for example – the underlying message of steadying your own position to make it impenetrable, while scoping for the enemies weaknesses is what determines the success of any war.

The great things about this book is that it carries with it an air of timelessness. It seems that humans will always be in conflict and waging wars with one another. His teachings will remain relevant for a very long time.

And of course, this isn’t just a guidebook for plotting military strategies, or understanding historical wartime strategies better – The Art of War has been used very effectively in a metaphorical sense. Some of the most high profile people in business, including CEOs, refer to the allusions this book teaches, to better their position in the workplace.

For me, since I’ve seen nearly every strategy mentioned in the book played out either in fiction or in known historical events, there was not much that was new to me, or that wasn’t obvious. But like looking at a decorated war veteran’s aged photo of his first day being enlisted, it is interesting to see where it all began.

Grab a copy of the amazing Penguin Pocket Hardback version here.

Humble Book Review: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

Had you ever been separated from family or familiarity as a child? Couldn’t locate your parents in a busy mall, or walked a few blocks in the wrong direction and lost your bearings? At a young age, this can be a very scary thought – you’re mostly dependant on the care of others. When that link is severed, even momentarily, panic soon sets in.

That’s the basic idea behind The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, where nine-year-old Trisha becomes separated from her mother and brother while on a hike in the wilderness. With each failed attempt at reasoning for the best course of action, she finds herself deeper and deeper into the woods, all alone.

That sense of loneliness slowly begins to dissipate, however, when she discovers she packed her portable radio and can tune in to baseball matches featuring her hero, Tom Gordon. As her mind starts to slip, she imagines him by her side, comforting her.

At the same time, a malevolent presence stalks her, feeding off her fear, waiting for the right time to show itself…

I loved this book exactly for what it was – a focused, self-contained popcorn novel. No external factors to complicate things, just the story beginning with a girl going on a hike. We get shown some of the family dynamic, but after the point of separation, it is just a story of a young girl fighting for survival in unfamiliar territory.

Trisha is a well-sculpted character, everything she does is believable for her age. The addition of imaginary dialogue between her and her hero also means the book doesn’t resort to strange self-narration, due to being the only character around.

It felt a bit like a departure from King’s norm, in that the main character stumbled onto the home of this malevolent spirit, not the other way around. It took a very passive role overall, unlike the majority of King’s antagonists. Arguably, the main antagonist wasn’t the spirit, but more the natural elements themselves.

Still, a great read and like the story itself, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon was disconnected from the larger Stephen King Multiverse – but in a comforting way.

Humble Book Review: Civilization and Its Discontents

Civilization and Its Discontents is a brilliant summation of most of his former works. His explanations for human nature involving the id, the ego, and the super-ego structure pairs up with the individual’s struggle to exist in a civilization.

According to Freud, we are defined by opposing forces Thanatos (death drive), and Eros (sex drive). These internal struggles lead to human aggression, showing itself either internally or externally, depending on the makeup of your idand super-ego. These individual discontents eventually manifest themselves into human aggression on the civilization level, and the question is posed whether we will ever be able to overcome these frustrations.

This was a very engaging read, primarily because it opened up and formally collated many disjointed notions of the world I’ve held before. My thoughts on civilization and my micro-frustrations towards it, along with the way the world is, were only fleeting across my consciousness. But I knew they existed. Having read this text, I can at least bundle them together and assign them as something that we all supposedly go through, which provides more comfort.

Will we ever be able to overcome the aggressions Freud discussed? It’s a weighted question. Given that these aggressions tie to our fundamental human nature, it seems very unlikely to change.

Humble Book Review: Bag of Bones

Recently, I counted all the Stephen King novels, short story collections, and non-fiction books. It comes to a grand total of 71. If there’s anyone who can claim they can write like the Devil, it’s King.

With completing Bag of Bones, I’ve now reached 41 books read. I’m on the home stretch! Now, to hope that I can keep up my reading speed with his writing speed…


Stephen King always seems to combine two distinct themes in each of his works; one natural, and one supernatural. In The Stand, it was about rebuilding society after it’s collapse (natural), and the war between omnipotent good vs evil (supernatural). In It, the central characters had to acknowledge their childhood and overcome their fears (natural), facing a powerful entity not from their world (supernatural).

This is no different for Bag of Bones which vaguely divides into two distinct themes: haunting, and conspiracy.

Mike Noonan, a novelist, finds himself unable to continue with his profession with the passing of his wife, Jo. After several years of sickening writer’s block, and nightmares relating to their summer house on Dark Score Lake, he decides to return to this home away from home to alleviate both of these issues.

He stumbles across a young widowed mother, Mattie, fighting a hopeless custody battle over her daughter, Kyra, against her withered yet relentless millionaire step-father, Max Devore. As Mike steps in, he begins to unravel a much larger conspiracy that seems to be connected to his restless summer home.

King needs to be congratulated for being able to tie all of the many mysterious threads together towards the end, because my initial gripe with the book, halfway through, was that I had no idea how everything fit together. He threw a jigsaw puzzle to the ground, and while I assumed the completed picture would be incredible, I resigned myself to the fact that some pieces would have scattered under the couch, or down a few cracks. However, there is an unusually satisfying conclusion in Bag of Bones which answers more questions than you can shake a plastic owl at.

There is a little weird vibe of creepiness, though, with Mike’s pseudo-relationship with the young Mattie even though he is pretty much old enough to be her father. He is aware of this, but sometimes the way it is written, it comes off as creepy uncle-type stuff. The town talks greatly of this, which I suppose mirrors the gossip of real life small towns.

This is a great take on a Gothic style novel, showing a town full of secrets that you really want to unravel. Just don’t expect everything to make sense until towards the very end.

WOTH: Platinum #18 – The Wolf Among Us

“You’re not as bad as everyone says you are…”

The Wolf Among Us is an episodic Telltale game, centred on the enigmatic Bigby Wolf, perhaps better known as the Big Bad Wolf from the old fables. He’s somewhat unrecognisable from those fables, since he along with every other fable character, moved to an area called Fabletown in the Bronx in the mid-80’s, and needed to blend in with the local population by appearing human. For some characters, such as Snow White or Ichabod Crane, that’s pretty easy. For others like Mr. Toad, or the trolls, it requires the constant and expensive use of glamours – a method of appearing human via magic.

Bigby, the Fabletown sheriff, stumbles upon an argument which later turns into a gruesome murder. As he digs deeper into the case, with Snow White at his side, he uncovers an intricate web of corruption and deceit. Almost nobody can be trusted in this unique spin on an old detective noir genre.

Very few video games capture my interest as much as The Wolf Among Us  did, for two major reasons. First of all, this is an immensely interesting universe that has been created – answering the question of “What if the old time fables coexisted in the present day? How would they interact?” And wrapping this premise up in a genuinely thrilling detective noir plot makes it all the better. This gives countless chances to meet new characters, but characters that you faintly recognise from old fables you’ve read as a child. It brings me great pleasure when Bigby mentions someone, for me to go “oh man, I know who that is!”

Secondly, Telltale’s story-driven and narrative choice gameplay really shines here. Looking back at their major game The Walking Dead, that focused more on your emotions when faced with life or death choices. It’s mostly heart-breaking to know your choices affect the mortality of your friends, but there are some rare happy moments. With The Wolf Among Us however, it is less about mortality and more about deciphering what is ultimately a continuous morally grey area. Are your actions just? Do you know enough to accuse individuals of crimes they may or may not have committed? And are the punishments fitting for what you know at the time? After you’ve dealt justice, only to learn new facts about the accused, that makes your choices all the more painful.

Morality and justice are very subjective topics, and they are handled extremely well in this game. Are you the type of person who acts first and thinks later, setting an example for others? Or do you play the long game, waiting until you know more before accusing people? The ending is crafted particularly well, forcing you to scramble and decipher what the very last and unexpected piece of the puzzle means, especially after you’ve already acted upon what you thought you knew.

This is definitely a good game to pick up, especially if you enjoy narrative-driven games. There are also many quick-time action events, to break up the dialogue. I only suggest you play this on the PS3 or PS4, since the PS Vita version struggles to run smoothly, and it might break the experience.


Currently playing:

  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PS4)
  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (PS4)
  • Borderlands 2 (PS4)
  • Lemmings Touch (PS Vita)

What are you playing?