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Game Review: Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth

Many fantasy RPGs use the medieval era as a backdrop or inspiration to build their worlds: think The Witcher, Dragon Age, Divinity, Dark Souls. But even without the dragons, magic, witches and warlocks, there is something inherently fascinating about the era – it was, after all, a dangerous time rife with political intricacies, brutal wars and religious dogma; a time of towering castles, jousting knights and tyrannical kings.

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Enter The Pillars of the Earth, a story-driven point-and-click game set in 12th-century England. Based on the critically acclaimed 1989 novel by Welsh author Ken Follett, the game is divided into three books spanning 21 chapters and revolves around several characters, whose fates and lives are intertwined around the town of Kingsbridge. There’s Tom Builder, the mason whose life’s dream is to build a grand cathedral that will stand the test of time; Philip, a kind abbey prior who inadvertently gets dragged into a war involving two English lords; Jack, a young outlaw who grew up in the forest with his mother; Lady Aliena, a disgraced noblewoman who finds love in a most unexpected place; as well as a whole host of colourful, secondary characters.

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The world of Kingsbridge is one of upheaval and strife from the get-go. The country is in the middle of a war after the death of King Henry I, as two opposing factions vie for the crown – and the characters you play will all be embroiled in it one way or another. You start the game as Tom Builder, leading your family through the woods to seek job opportunities elsewhere. Your wife is pregnant, it’s the middle of a harsh winter, and you’re low on food and supplies. As things go, your wife dies in childbirth, and out of grief, you abandon your baby in the woods. Yep, this game pulls no punches – and this is just a small taster of what to expect in the following chapters.

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The real ‘star’ of the story, however, isn’t in its characters (although they are certainly unique and rich, with multiple layers). It is in the building of Kingsbridge Cathedral and what it represents. Ken Follet himself in interviews has said that his inspiration for the novel came from his fascination of medieval communities and their obsession with church-building. In medieval England, building a large and beautiful cathedral was seen as an everlasting monument to God, a way for them to make meaning of their lives and show their religious devotion. But at the same time, the church itself was a place rife with corruption, where bishops plotted to murder. Playing the game, I felt as if the characters are there to tell the story of the cathedral, rather than the other way around. Characters would live and die – but the Cathedral, despite being destroyed and rebuilt time and time again, would endure; the task of building it taken over by future builders. All this is beautifully brought to life with hand-painted portraits, each bursting with detail that makes each scene seem alive.

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That being said, TPoTE is not for everyone. The pace is extremely slow, and there aren’t a lot of climatic moments – it’s really more like reading a historical novel than playing a game, really. There isn’t much to do apart from interacting with objects. Your choices are not that important when it comes to the overarching narrative, but they do matter in relation to the fates of several characters and whether they live or die. You don’t get to solve puzzles other than a few easy ones which have more to do with using items in your inventory to interact with certain things on the screen than actually cracking your brain. And of course, once you’ve finished the game, there is very little replay value. Still, it offers good value — I completed mine in 12 hours, and I since I bought it on sale on Steam for RM15, I can’t complain.

Rating: 6.5/10

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Time Princess: A Different Kind of Otome

When I was growing up in the 90s, paper doll cutouts were all the rage. 

For the benefit of my younger readers, these were basically booklets containing figures (mostly girls, but sometimes they had boys too), which you could cut out and dress up with outfits. The ‘clothes’ were held in place with folded paper tabs. 

Thinking about it now, it’s brilliant how something so simple could provide hours of entertainment – all you needed was a pair of scissors, and a whole lot of imagination. The best part was that they were inexpensive: you could buy them from the stationery shop for a couple of ringgit, or better yet, make your own. It certainly helped me as a child to exercise my creativity, especially when ‘designing’ my doll costumes and coming up with storylines for my doll theatre lol. 

As you grow older, you tend to grow out of things too. Your dolls. Your cooking sets and toy soldiers. Your cars and action figurines. Even video games. But once in a while, something comes along that takes you back to simpler times. 

So a couple of months ago, out of boredom, I downloaded this mobile game called Time Princess. Yes, I’m fully aware that I’m a 30-year-old playing a dress-up game targeted at tweens and teens. (At my age, my parents were saving up to buy a house and planning for the future lol.) BUT. These are different times, and if there’s one thing I learned over the past 1.5 years of being stuck at home – having to care for a sick, aging parent, taking over the role of breadwinner, being separated from my s/o, worrying about my loved ones getting COVID  – it’s that life is short and you should just do whatever you want, and whatever helps you cope. If playing a game helps to keep your sanity intact, so be it.

And to be perfectly candid, despite the childish-sounding title, Time Princess is actually a well-thought out game, with beautifully designed characters and rich plots themed around history and fantasy. 

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As the heroine, you inherit a magical storybook, which absorbs you into its pages ala The Pagemaster. You’ll get to play historical figures like Queen Marie Antoinette, as well as characters from popular literature such as Christine Daee from the Phantom of the Opera, Jo March from Little Women and Helen of Sparta.  There are also stories adapted from fairy tales and folklore, such as the Magic Lamp, Swan Lake, and Romy and Julius (based on Romeo and Juliet). 

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Like most otome games, you encounter characters that you can romance in each story. Depending on choices you make throughout the story, you’ll get different endings. But what differentiates Time Princess from other games of its kind is the dress up element: in order to clear stages, you’ll have to dress up your character based on the required theme. Clothes can only be crafted by gathering certain items either through mini games or gifts. Think of it like the gacha system for other mobile games like Genshin Impact. 

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But what I like are the stories. They’re all well written; the dress-up element is woven nicely into the narratives, and the characters are well fleshed out and don’t feel one dimensional. The Queen Marie storyline, for example, has some pretty tragic and bittersweet endings, forcing you to ‘make’ difficult choices.

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The stories are also peppered with interesting historical and cultural references; sort of like how you would find historical nuggets in the Assassin’s Creed series. For example, the Gotham Memoirs storyline, where you play a tenacious reporter in 1920s New York, highlights the rampant corruption that was prevalent among politicians and the law enforcement in that era, as well as the mafia and their crimes (drugs, human trafficking, murder) – which imo is pretty dark for an otome game. 

Another thing that Time Princess does right is the art. The animations are beautiful and fluid, and the costumes are gorgeous. You can tell a lot of thought has been put into designing each piece, and they’re just really pretty to look at. 

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The downside? The game is an absolute money sucker. It is designed to make you pay. Actions like gathering resources and reading each chapter require energy, so if you’re impatient like me, and want to read more of the story quickly, you’ll end up spending a lot of money. I’m still waiting to finish reading some stories because I don’t want to spend any more than I have, and it can be a damper/take away from the immersion when you can only unlock one chapter at a time. Still, if you’re patient, it can be a fun experience – there are mini games to keep you occupied, and they have in-game ‘events’ where you can win and collect prizes. While it’s not one of those games that you need to spend days grinding over, it’s a nice 10-15 minute escape that you can pop into every few hours. 

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Minigames that you can play for added bonuses and crafting materials.

So yeah. This was an otome game review by a 30-year-old. And I’m not ashamed to say I play what others may call a ‘childish’ game. Some friends my age talk about being productive, achieving something in life, and chasing their dreams. And if that’s what they want in life, more power to them. 

As for me, I’m perfectly content taking on the days one step at a time.  The next day will bring me another chapter to look forward to. And that applies both for the game, and life. 

You can download Time Princess on the Google Play store for free. In-game purchases apply. 

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Let’s Talk About Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: What Could Have Been A Great Game

I rarely buy games when they first come out. 

Previously, it was because I didn’t have a gaming device powerful enough to run them. But even after buying a new gaming laptop last year, I’ve only gotten older titles, because: 

  • they’re much cheaper, and 
  • if you haven’t played them before, what does it matter if they’re ‘old’ or new? 

Assassin’s Creed: Origins was one of the first games I played on my new laptop, since Steam had a sale. After that, I was hooked. I bought Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey as soon as I finished Origins, and I enjoyed it as much as the first. So when AC: Valhalla was released in November 2020, I was thrilled and bought it immediately; because unlike players who had waited for years for the new game, my AC journey felt continuous, so to speak. 

While I wouldn’t say I regret forking out RM200 for it, I can now understand, at least in part, why many players caution against buying games right off the shelves, especially if they’re from Ubisoft (apparently the company gets a lot of criticism from the gaming community due to lack of quality, bad business practices, etc. I can’t say for sure because I don’t play enough of their games to comment). But personally, comparing my experience playing this latest game versus Origins and Odyssey, Valhalla is definitely a ‘downgrade’, in terms of overall story and gameplay. And the BUGS. Oh, god, the bugs. More on this later. 

In previous installments, we played a righteous Medjay in Egypt, and a half-god mercenary with questionable morals, fighting for glory and riches in ancient Greece. This time around, we follow Eivor the Wolf-Kissed, a fierce Viking raider whose sole loyalty is to her clan and people (Like in Odyssey, you can choose between a male or female character. I chose to play a female). 

The story kicks off in the fjords of Norway, where a young Eivor watches as her entire family is slaughtered in a brutal attack by a rival clan. Saved by her friend Sigurd, whom she later calls brother, she is raised as a warrior of the Raven Clan, and exerts revenge on the leader of the rival clan who murdered her parents years ago. Returning triumphant, Eivor and Sigurd are shocked to learn that their father the jarl has yielded to King Harald, who intends to unite all the scattered clans of Norway under his banner. Refusing to live under another’s rule, the siblings renounce their father and board their longboats, seeking fame, glory and fortune on Anglo-Saxon shores, ie Britain. With no allies and very little influence in a new and unfamiliar land, Eivor must help her clan forge alliances and ensure a stable future. Along the way, however, she encounters a mysterious Order, whose influence seems to stretch all across Britania. And for some reason, they seem keenly interested in Sigurd… 

STORY AND CHARACTERS

When I played Odyssey for the first time, I didn’t like the protagonist, Kassandra. As a ruthless mercenary who only cared for money, she was so different from Origin’s Bayek of Siwa, who was a protector of the people and saviour to the oppressed. Eventually, though, she kind of grew on me. 

Image: Ubisoft

Valhalla’s Eivor is a different character altogether. She is rash, quick to anger and her solution for everything seems to be to rush headlong into a brawl. Fists first, questions later. But true to the Viking Code, she is also courageous, disciplined and places honour and loyalty above all else. Throughout the course of the game, she matures into a stronger leader, one who is more level-headed, takes advice, and can make difficult decisions in order to secure the future of her people.  So even though initially, like Kassandra, I did not like the character, she kind of grew on me too.

Most of the other characters in Valhalla are well-fleshed out. I really enjoyed the story arcs where players have to forge alliances, as you’ll get to meet some pretty interesting characters inspired by real life historical figures, such as Alfred the Great of Wessex (a king who led his people against Norse invaders) and Ragnar Lothbrok (a legendary Viking warrior who was called the scourge of England and France). Narratives are rich in Norse and Anglo-Saxon culture, and you’ll learn more about the dynamics between these two groups and how they struggled to live alongside each other during the Danish conquest of England; the political intrigue, the power struggles, the plots and the scandals. 

Of course, this being an AC Valhalla game, the Isu – the technologically advanced alien race that existed millennia before humans came to be – will also factor into parts of the story, but personally, I find the conquest of England arcs to be more interesting. 

As with previous instalments, players will also take a deep dive into mythology, and battle a mythical beast (in Odyssey it was Medusa/the Minotaur). There’s a segment where you get to play as Odin and explore the fictional realms of Asgard and Jotunheim.

**PS: I find Sigurd’s character infuriating, especially after a certain point in the story. Dude just seems like an asshole lol. 

GRAPHICS AND SETTING

Image: Ubisoft

No matter what you say about Ubisoft, one thing you can’t accuse them of is a lack of detail in the worlds that they create. Valhalla has plenty of breathtaking scenery, from the icy fjords of Norway with its sparkling peaks and colourful auroras, to the lush greenery and gentle woods of England, ripe to bursting with fertile farmland and rivers bubbling with fish. Asgard is absolutely stunning and includes everything you see and read about in mythology: the rainbow light bridge, the gigantic tree of life Ymir, the wondrous feast halls filled with mead and dancing. Granted, the setting doesn’t feel as culturally diverse compared to Origins and Odyssey (there’s a part of the story where you’ll have to travel to Vinland though), but it’s still immersive and a joy to look at. That being said, the map is huge and fast travel points are few and far between, which can make travelling from point to point cumbersome and boring, since the landscape doesn’t change much. 

GAMEPLAY

AC Valhalla largely follows the formula of its predecessors, with a few additions. Some of them are improvements; others feel somewhat clunky and awkward. I’ll start off with the ones I like. 

Raiding. Unlike other AC titles, which rely largely on stealth, Valhalla switches it up with raids. You travel around on a longboat for most of the game, since there are many rivers around England, and whenever you spot an enemy encampment or a monastery, you can blow a blast on your horn to have your crew raid the place and rob it of its treasures. This means dashing in to hack and slash your enemies, true blue Viking style. You can still go the stealth route if you want, but I personally find raiding much more fun. 

Social Blending. The game brings back the social blending aspect where you can blend into a crowd by hiding amongst people, pretending to do certain tasks like weaving or grinding, sitting on a bench, etc. It’s a blast from the past for those who have played older games like Assassin’s Creed 3. 

Mini Games. There are several mini games that you can play as Eivor, including drinking contests, Flyting (where you test your rhyming skills and gain Charisma points, which are required to access certain points on the map) and Orlog, a dice game. I find these mini games good for making more coin, and they’re a welcome distraction from the main story. 

Building your Settlement. When Eivor and co first arrive in England, you start off with just a couple of buildings, which you can upgrade to expand your village. You do this by gathering resources, which you get from raiding. Upgrading shops and buildings gives access to better equipment and items. 

Fishing and Hunting. Another nice distraction if you want to take a break from the story: you can basically fish in the river or hunt for animals and gather items in exchange for runes and equipment. 

Different kinds of enemies. There are many different enemy classes, each with their own attack style and specialties. If you’re playing for combat, then this will provide a good challenge.

Raiding a monastery for that sweet, sweet loot. Image: Ubisoft

Now for the ones I don’t like: 

Puzzles. Some of the puzzles are not intuitively designed. For example, sometimes you get obstacles which you’ll have to blow apart in order to get to a certain treasure. In most cases, there will be an explosive pot around that you can hurl at the obstacle, but at other times, you’ll have to shoot at something in order to clear it. The game doesn’t tell you which is which. There were times I ran around in circles for an hour trying to find a pot, only to look up a walkthrough and find out that I had to shoot something instead. 

I also hate the Anomaly puzzles with a passion. They’re puzzles that you can complete to find out more about the Isu, but boy oh boy. There’s a lot of repetitive jumping and climbing involved, plus puzzle combinations that no average person could have figured out on their own without looking at a walkthrough. 

Synin. Your raven is basically useless. It can’t attack enemies like how Kassandra’s eagle could do. I also felt like it was not as good as locating items, as compared to previous AC games. Some people actually prefer it this way, because they say it makes the game less “hand hold-y”.

BUGS 

I’ve dedicated a special section to this because the bugs in AC Valhalla are an absolute nightmare and makes the game almost unplayable. Bugs in a new game are normal, but Valhalla is on a whole new level. Makes one wonder why Ubisoft would even release it in the first place if they had this many issues … kind of solidifies the impression that they’re this money-grubbing company lol.

I don’t mind bugs if they’re funny, but not when they make the game unplayable.

For me, my problems started after they released this Christmas special event called Yuletide. It basically involves a party in your village, with drinking and archery contests, games and whatnot. What happened was that it broke my game: after participating in one of the drinking matches, my character would wake up drunk, even after reloading, and even when I wasn’t in my own settlement. The drunkenness would wear off after a bit, but the woozy, out-of-focus screen was annoying to look at, and the character wasn’t able to jump into action right off the bat. 

What really annoyed me, though, was when my fast travel broke. I could not fast travel AT ALL. Every time I did, my character would remain stuck in place, and I’d have to reload. Apparently this is a known issue and happens frequently to other players, because the game registers that you’re still in a raid or battle, even if you’re not. Now, if you know AC games, you’ll know that most of the time, the map is massive. I ended up travelling to each region on horseback. Sometimes a waypoint would be 6,000 metres away from my settlement, and I’d spend a full 15 minutes just riding my way across the landscape. This isn’t Death Stranding FFS.

Speaking of waypoints, some waypoints would not show up where they were supposed to be, cutscenes wouldn’t trigger, and NPCs that were supposed to be there to further the story did not appear. I’ve also had instances where my raiders turned into their base models (grey, faceless ones that looked like nuns), floated off the boat at the raid command, and Eivor would get stuck and die out of nowhere. Pretty creepy. 

I think they recently fixed the fast travel issue with a patch, and I was able to fast travel again and complete the main story. I got stuck in the Asgard arc, though, as it refused to let me battle with the mythical monster – the screen gets stuck and there’s nothing I can do except reload. After reloading for the umpteenth time, I gave up and uninstalled the game. So no 100% completion for me this time, which as a completionist, is frustrating. 

So in conclusion, bugs galore. If you still haven’t purchased the game, I suggest waiting for a few more months so that they can iron out all the kinks. Else, be prepared to want to smash your computer lol. It’s disappointing, as it could have been a great game otherwise. Now, it’s just …. Good (?). Considering the fact that there is so much content and that I only paid RM200 for it, I’d still say it was worth the purchase. 

It’s obvious Ubisoft has tried to inject a breath of fresh air into the game by adding certain mechanics, but it still feels very safe and formulaic somehow. Now that I’ve played three in a row with a similar format, I don’t think I would enjoy it as much if they came out with another AC title that plays the same way. If the franchise is to continue thriving, perhaps it’s time for Ubisoft to relook at what the series will be like moving forward.

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I Finally Played Assassin’s Creed – Here Are My Thoughts

The Assassin’s Creed series is one of the most popular games in the world, with 11 installments under its belt and over 140 million copies sold. While I have heard many good things about the game, I never had the chance to play it until recently. Steam was having a sale on all AC titles, some of which were going at half price – and after looking up reviews, I settled on AC: Origins.

Only regret? I should have started playing sooner.

AC Origins is set in the last days of the Ptolemaic dynasty in ancient Egypt, and follows Bayek of Siwa, a Medjay whose duty is to protect the people – sort of like a modern day sheriff of sorts. A dangerous job begets dangerous enemies, and Bayek and his son Khemu are captured by mysterious masked figures from The Order of the Ancients. They demand Bayek open the Siwa Vault, but Bayek was actually oblivious to the vault’s existence, a fact the Order of the Ancients refused to believe. In the ensuing scuffle, Khemu is accidentally murdered by his own father. 

The story picks up one year later, with Bayek returning to Siwa after successfully killing The Heron, one of the Order. Bayek and his wife Aya are hell-bent on revenge, and they have a list of targets from which they intend to eliminate. However, the more Bayek investigates, the more he realizes that toppling the order isn’t simply about assassinating a few men, as the organisation is not only firmly entrenched in society and politics, but also wields enormous influence. They also discover that the Order is actually after powerful relics – which is why they wanted access to Siwa Vault – and use these powers to subjugate the population and bring peace and order to the world. 

To counter this, Bayek and Aya found The Hidden Ones, the precursor to the modern Assassins. Like the modern version, the Hidden Ones are meant to represent peace through freedom, whereas the Order of Ancients – a forerunner to the modern Templars in other AC games, represent peace through order. These two secret societies will battle each other through the ages: one determined to seek out relics for power, the other to prevent the subjugation of mankind. 

The Story and Characters 

If you’re a fan of historical fiction (like Dan Brown), you’ll love how the story weaves Bayek and the Hidden Ones into real-life events in history. There’s even a mission where you help sneak Cleopatra into Ptolemy’s palace, so that she can meet Julius Caesar. The main story isn’t all that long, but there are plenty of side missions to keep you occupied. Some have interesting plots and add to the overall story; others are mundane and involve things like fetching items. As much as I like the game, I found the side missions tedious and repetitive after awhile, but kept going because I’m *hangs head in shame* a completionist and it bugs me when there’s an incomplete mark on the map lol. 

Bayek as a character is quite likeable, albeit a little naive (he often takes what people say at face value, then (insert Pikachu face meme here) is shocked when they betray him. Bayek’s guilt at Khemu’s murder ,his helplessness at being unable to protect his son and family, is also well written and portrayed through small side missions, like the one where you can complete puzzles and be rewarded with some dialogue about how Bayek and Khemu used to go star gazing.

I also think that the theme of revenge is conveyed really well. Bayek feels that by killing the people responsible for his son’s death, as well as those who have wronged Egypt and oppressed its people, he will be able to feel at peace. We see that this is not the case. 

Whenever Bayek makes a kill, the player is transported to a dark space where Bayek has a conversation with his victim and passes judgement for their sins, before they are sent to the afterlife. But as the player observes, Bayek is not always happy, even after his vengeance is complete, because deep down he knows that like Hydra in Greek mythology, cut off one head and another appears. There will always be oppressors, just as how there will always be the oppressed. It isn’t until he realises this and finds a greater calling – to protect the people through the Hidden Ones and leave a legacy that lasts beyond his own life – that he truly finds purpose. 

Graphics and Setting 

Image via Ubisoft

I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Egyptian history (one of my dreams as a kid was to go see the Pyramids of Giza), and AC Origins delivers with breathtaking visuals. It’s one of the prettiest games that I’ve played, aside from Detroit Become Human. 

The immersion is wonderful; at times I felt like I was actually exploring ancient Egypt in Bayek’s shoes, checking out tiny details on the buildings and statues,soaking in the culture and colourful tales of their gods and myths. The costumes are amazingly detailed and reflect the different stations of its characters, from the everyday people and the priestesses, to soldiers, merchants and nobility. You also get a nice mix of Egyptian, Greek and Roman culture, as during the Ptolemaic period these three were intertwined (Rome invaded Egypt in 30BC, ending Cleopatra’s rule and the ancient Egyptian dynasty). As Bayek, you visit important cities such as Alexandria, Krokodiliopolis, Thebes and Memphis, each with their own unique architecture.

Gameplay 

I have to admit – I was rather miffed at the lack of a ‘jump’ command when I first started playing, because it seemed like such a basic move that players won’t be able to do at will. Instead, you vault over obstacles when Bayek’s avatar is close – but you kind of get used to it as the game progresses. As the AC series is all about stealth, you’re not supposed to be running through hordes of enemies hacking and slashing, relying instead on hiding yourself in bushes, around pillars and timing your attacks so that enemies won’t raise the alarm. Overall, the gameplay feels smooth, even though sometimes I would accidentally release myself from a ledge and watch as Bayek falls to his doom wtf haha. That being said, the game allows you to move and climb virtually anywhere. The use of your hawk Senu to hone in on hidden treasure and enemies is a nice touch, and is apparently a hallmark of the AC games (can’t compare because I’ve never played the other ones). 

I feel that it is a good thing that I started with AC: Origins. Not only does it start in the ‘correct’ chronological order ie how the Assassins came to be, thus giving the player plenty of backstory, it’s also touted as one of the best AC games of all time. Because I had so much fun, I purchased AC: Odyssey, which is the latest one in the franchise and will be checking it out as soon as I have more time – and I’m planning to get some of the older games too.The thing about that, though, is that the new games tend to be improvements over old ones, so you just can’t get into them once you’ve played the new (case in point: I played Witcher 3 first, and Witcher 2 just sucked in comparison. Same case with Borderlands 2). 

Have you played any of the Assassin’s Creed games? Which one is your favourite? 

Why Playing Kingdom Come: Deliverance Is a Video Game Trial By Fire

Video games are meant to be fun. They’re meant to be a place where you can escape from the real world; where you can be a cat-eyed mutant who kills monsters for a living (but dies when falling off an eight-foot-high wall), or an elf trying to stop spirits from crossing over into the physical realm and tearing the world apart. Maybe even an annoyingly perky tween who throws his balls at every wild creature to cross his path, then force them to battle against their own kind in bloody gym battles.

Video games are fun because they require a suspension of disbelief. 

But what happens when you have a video game that tries to ground itself in reality?

You get Kingdom Come: Deliverance. 

I’ve always been fascinated by medieval European history and its tales of brutality and war, of politics and glory and knighthood and chivalry. I’ve often wondered how I’d fare if I was born in that era, or if a time machine was invented and I could go back and observe how things were like (ala Timeline by Michael Crichton – although we all know how that turned out for the characters lol). So when independent Czech studio Warhorse released KC:D in 2018, I filed it as one of the games I’d play eventually (didn’t have a good enough setup at the time). A couple of months ago, I finally upgraded to a decent gaming laptop, and promptly bought the game which was on sale on Steam, for RM60+.

Like a fat kid settling down to a buffet after a day of fasting, I gleefully start off on what I thought would be an epic adventure. Instead, I found myself questioning my very worth as a gamer, as my Henry – the character players control in most of KC:D – gets brutally hacked to pieces for the seventh time in a row by bandits, while innocently travelling on the road. The worst part? Having to replay two hours worth of game play, because KC:D has one of the shittiest save systems in the history of gaming.

HENRY WHO?

You play Henry, son of the Skalitz blacksmith in the Kingdom of Bohemia. The realm is in chaos due to feuding between King Wenceslas (a useless layabout who only cares about women, drink and the hunt), and his half brother the Hungarian king Sigismund, who wants to bring ‘peace’ to the land by force and subjugation. Anyhoo, you don’t really give a shit because hey –  you’re just an apprentice blacksmith, your village is peaceful, and you’re going to the dance with the tavern wench later in the evening. Speaking of shit, one of the first objectives you can do in the village is throw a bunch of it at the newly whitewashed house of your neighbour, because he’s been talking shit about King Wenceslas, the rightful king. Your dad also asks you to help get some stuff so that he can forge a sword for the lord of the town, Sir Radzig Kobyla, which you will have to deliver once it’s done. Of course, you never get to do so because Cumans – savage mercenaries hired by Sigismund – arrive to pillage and kill. Your world crumbles into chaos. You attempt to run to the safety of the town’s fortified walls, only to watch your parents being brutally slaughtered, along with the rest of the villagers. Jumping on a horse, which you don’t really know how to ride well because you’re a peasant and not a knight, you flee towards Talmberg, the next big town, to warn them – all the while being pursued by the marauders. You survive the ordeal – but the face of the general who cut down your parents burns bright in your mind. You vow to avenge them and regain the sword your father made, which was stolen by bandits.

WELCOME TO BOHEMIA 

KC:D is set in 1403 Bohemia, aka what is now the Czech Republic. Most of the characters in the story are based on real people, like Wenceslas and Sigismund, as well as Radzig of Kobyla, Hans Capon, Hanush of Leipa and Divish of Talmberg – powerful lords whom your character will have to run errands for throughout the game, including (but not limited to) eliminating bandit camps, fetching stuff, and distracting the butcher by singing so that a lord can have his way with the daughter lol. The game prides itself in historical accuracy – the devs even consulted historians and architects on things like weaponry, clothing, combat techniques and architecture, to ensure they made the game as close to real life as possible. The result is breathtaking. The landscapes are beautiful and you can see the meticulous attention the devs have put into everything, from the swaying of trees to the detailing on buildings.

Fookin beautiful Czech scenery, pardon my French

Speaking of which, realism is a big thing in KC:D. Your character needs to sleep and eat or you’ll get tired and hungry, which will eventually lead to incapacitation (even death). You have to wash frequently and clean your clothes, because no one likes to talk to a dirty hobo, let alone trade with you. If you keep food in your pocket to snack on and forget about it, it will rot and cause food poisoning. NPCs go to sleep at night, so you can’t go barging into their homes to complete a quest – gotta wait for morning. Want to go the route of the antihero? You can even steal, pickpocket, lockpick chests and pick fights – but if you’re not smart about it and get caught by guards, you’ll have to answer to the law with a fine or jail sentence. People will remember it to and your reputation will suffer. And if you’re thinking that you can slog through this game’s enemies Rambo style.. well. You’ve got another thing coming.

THE GAME THAT KEEPS ON SHITTING (ON YOU) 

When they call you a peasant, they weren’t kidding. Other than having the most punchable face, Henry starts off with no skills or redeeming qualities whatsoever. Heck, you can’t even lift a sword properly, and will have to run away from most enemies until you’ve leveled up your swordplay a little. Even then, you’re useless against any battle which involves more than one enemy,  because the AI in the game is pretty intelligent and will 100% stab you in the back while you’re distracted with the bandit in front of you.

I learned this the hard way after trying to play the hero in the beginning of the game, bravely facing off against three Cumans who were attempting to rape the mill wench during the Skalitz invasion. “This is what heroes do!” I thought as my Henry jumped off the saddle, sword in hand. I promptly got cut into ribbons. I didn’t even have time to get back on the horse to flee. An hour later (which is probably more than what animal trainers use to train animals not to do something lol), I finally realised that being a hero does not pay off. Not when you’re a weak peasant armed with a stick and a lot of courage. Sorry, Theresa. flees (PS: I found out later you can actually whistle to distract them, without having to fight them. Whew) 

That “oh-shit” moment when they leave the girl you like alone but are going to murder you instead

After the invasion, you start off completely broke, with just the clothes on your back. You can’t even buy a decent knife, let alone a sword and shield to practice with – unless you go for training at the combat arena where they kick your ass over and over again. If you don’t want to die repeatedly from being ambushed by bandits, though, this is the only way that will give you at least a fighting chance (haha, get it?) to survive any unpleasant encounters you might have on the road. You will spend 10 or more real-life hours (at the very least!) honing your fighting skills before you can even think about facing any enemies, and not die while trying to run away. Even if you’re a proficient fighter, one slip of the hand – and your enemies might just hack you to pieces.

Swordplay isn’t the only thing you have to master. You can fight with bows, maces, axes and bludgeons, all of which have their own pros and cons. When the direct approach doesn’t work, stealth is often the best – but at level 1 you’re a bumbling idiot who can’t conceal himself properly so you often get caught and thrown in jail, or discovered by enemies and killed. So you have to spend time leveling that up as well, and getting dark coloured gear to avoid detection. Lockpicks break while you’re attempting to open a trunk? Killed / thrown in jail. Not good enough at pickpocketing? Killed/thrown in jail. Carry stolen goods around and don’t have a high enough rep to weasel your way out when stopped by guards? Killed/thrown in jail.

“Henry: fuck this shit I’m joining the monastery”

There are also plenty of other skills to hone which will help you in your quest to become Bohemia’s No.1 errand boy. Picking herbs helps you level up herbalism, so you can collect them to make potions for buffs (Trust me, you need every little advantage you can get in this game). But wait! You can’t brew potions without alchemy, and for that you need to learn how to read recipes. Henry also gains speech and intimidation points over time. The higher the points, the better equipped you are at dealing with situations that arise, and the higher the chance you can avoid any unpleasant fights. There’s also horsemanship from riding, and you get to train your trusty companion, Mutt, whom you can sic on enemies or teach to fetch and hunt.

If this doesn’t sound complicated / difficult enough, there’s also the absolutely shite save system. Unlike games where you can simply reload from the last (convenient) save point, KC:D deliberately makes it difficult for you to save – you can only do so by sleeping at an inn, one of your home bases, or by drinking a Saviour Schnapp (alcohol – which is expensive unless you know how to brew it – hence why it’s good to level up alchemy ASAP). There were times I wanted to rage quit because I could not save my game in between quests (inn was too far away, no Saviour Schnapps in bag, etc) – only to get killed while travelling between towns and losing like 1.5 hours of gameplay.  It’s as if the devs made this game solely to punish you for daring to be a serf in a medieval game where everything and everyone is out to kill you. Which is probably how it really was irl. If you weren’t a lord or royalty, you probably had to work from dawn to dusk just to get enough food on the table – and even then you’d still be held to the whims and demands of your liege lord.

THY KINGDOM COME

You’re probably thinking “this sounds like an awful lot of work and stress for a  game. I want to enjoy my downtime, not add to my anxiety.” And you’re 100% right. This is not a game where you can sit down to enjoy a couple of mindless hours of entertainment after work. KC:D requires dedication – and time – which many of us with busy lifestyles might not have. It needs grinding in game, in multiple disciplines, so you have to be prepared to spend at least a few real life hours improving your skills. Coupled with how weak you are initially (and sometimes well into the middle of the game if you have no patience like me and just want to get through the story), you’re probably going to experience a tonne of frustration – from not being able to complete quests and just dying. A lot.

But. 

If you stick with it, you WILL be rewarded. As much as I hated the combat and the save system (in the early stages), I stuck to the game because it is refreshing to play a medieval game based in real life – without the magic and dungeons and dragons lol. You get to learn history in a fun way, like why the royal brothers were feuding and how war affected the life of the citizenry, the types of armour and weapons they used in battle, how medieval towns were laid out, etc. Imagine if Malaysians had a game like this on Hang Tuah – like you had to go fight with Jebat or something – students would be so much more apt to remember history. And of course, the game is absolutely beautiful. 

Not so subtle intimidation once you’ve honed your badass skills, because why not

Henry and his punchable face (sorry, Tom McKay!) kind of grows on you as well. As frustrating as it was in the beginning, I started to enjoy leveling him up, and got real satisfaction from developing the character into a decent man-at-arms. The first time I was able to defeat three bandits on my own, I was ecstatic. It felt like the time and energy I had invested was finally paying off (Now if only I had the same zeal when it comes to real life lmaooo).

In short, KC:D is not a game for the faint-hearted, where you can hack and slash your way to glory. It is a game that requires skill and intelligence, not just in the way you complete quests (which can sometimes be resolved in multiple ways ie through violence or peaceful means), but also knowing which battles to fight, and when to fight them. In a funny twist of irony, this game teaches you that you need to work and put in the time in order to be good at something – exactly like real life. 

 

*Course, the game can’t be 100% realistic. There are some pretty funny things that can happen (including bugs). One of my favourites was raiding a bandit camp and murdering everyone, then sleeping in the camp surrounded by their corpses (after looting them, of course) because my character (and the player, yours truly) was just too drained after all that fighting. 

 

 

Why Battle Arena @ The Jaya Shopping Centre Is The Ultimate Gamer Heaven

Battle Arena at The Jaya Shopping Centre has been open for over a year now, but it was only a couple of days ago that I managed to pay a visit. Boasting over 17,000 square feet of space, the futuristic-looking space is dedicated to e-sports. When not hosting tournaments or events, the arena is open to both professional and casual gamers, and comes equipped with state of the art gaming computers and even streaming equipment.

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You register as a member at the counter and pay upfront to get a username/login as well as  credit. Payment is charged by the hour, and this will be deducted according to time until you’re logged off. There are several categories to choose from, the cheapest being RM5/hour.

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The layout features an open space in the centre, with large screens, two battle ‘stations’ housing five seats for each team, and beanie bags for spectators. The space is surrounded by catwalks and more pods on the upper level.

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The metallic steel-like structure resembles a cage, giving it an arena-like feel where spectators can watch from above while their favourite teams duke it out. The lower floor also has rooms for privacy, or for when you’re training with friends.

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The regular stations. Wasn’t too crowded on a weekday night – I imagine it’s busier on weekends.

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Before you choose your computer, you are given a ‘mouse’ menu with several different types to choose from, so you can select the one that fits your hand and playing style best. Everything is sanitised once the player leaves the station, so it’s clean and ready for the next player.

Games-wise, they carry mostly multiplayer games such as Dota, Overwatch, PUBG, Starcraft and Hearthstone. Not my cup of tea because the online communities are usually unforgiving if you’re a ‘noob’, so I ended up playing Diablo 3 and surfing the net for 3 hours lol. You can also order food and snacks from downstairs, which they will deliver right to your table.

Ignoring the shouts of “Fck him Up! Kill him!” coming from my left and right, the place is quite a pleasant environment to game. If you enjoy multiplayer games, this might hit the right spot.

BATTLE ARENA

Lot 5.08-11 Jaya Shopping Centre, 26A, Jalan 14/17, Seksyen 14, 46100 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

Business hours: 12PM – late

Phone: +603-7932 1199

battle-arena.my

 

 

Mystic Messenger: This Game Will Ruin Your Life

… Well, not ruin ruin… BUT you will:

  • lose sleep
  • spend lots of money
  • ignore everything else. Like life. lol.

Hey guys! I know I’ve been away from this space for a pretty long time. It’s mostly coz I’ve been busy with work, but it’s also because I’ve been spending every waking hour playing this seriously addictive game called Mystic Messenger. It’s a South Korean otome (story-based video game targeted towards women, where the goal is to develop a romantic relationship with one of the male characters).

An otome game wtf Eris I know it’s so not like me to play this genre but hear me out.

So this game came highly recommended by JW at the workplace, who said she spent over a thousand bucks on it. I was like ??? As fun as a game is, I doubt I’d fork out that much just for a game (I think twice if a game is over 50 bucks; and I only get games on Steam when it’s summer/winter sale lol) but it piqued my curiosity so I downloaded it onto my phone.

I ended up being a sleepless zombie for the next few days because I kept staying up (sometimes til 4AM… and then go to work the next day at 7AM wow poor life decisions). I told myself “just one more chapter!” but couldn’t stop pressing next until I finished the entire route lol.

Plot: 

You play a girl who downloads a mysterious app that leads you to a ‘secret’ apartment owned by someone called Rika, who is the founder of a charity organisation known as Rika’s Fundraising Association. In the app, you’ll meet six other characters, who tell you that Rika has passed on, and they want you to take over her role as party organiser. You interact with these characters through the chat room, text messages and calls. You’ll also be responsible for replying emails to guests that are invited to the party, correct answers of which will get them to attend your party on the final day of whichever route you chose.

There are seven playable routes. Each one has its own story, and depending on how you’ve interacted with the characters, how good your relationship is with your chosen beau, and how you’ve replied to party guests, you can get different endings.

What makes Mystic Messenger different imo is that events happen in real time; as if you are interacting with actual people. A chatroom may open at 3AM, and if you miss it, you’ll have to use hourglasses (in-game credits) to replay it (this is what I meant by losing sleep). It’s a unique game play that I’ve never seen before, but requires a lot of commitment. If you’re impatient, like me, you’ll find yourself buying hourglasses. Each route takes a whopping 11 days to finish.

So, I’ve played four routes so far and gotten the good endings thanks to hourglasses – but I’ve finally come to my senses and decided to just go at a slower pace lol.

And now, time to introduce you to my MM baes:

YOOSUNG

My first route was Yoosung‘s, which is apparently the easiest and most popular route for first timers. He was Rika’s cousin and her death threw him into despair. Previously a diligent student, he became addicted to games and uncaring of his studies in general. Your goal is to lead him back to the right path, and also help mend his damaged relationship with V, Rika’s ex-boyfriend, as YS felt betrayed by him after Rika’s death.

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Yoosung has bleached blonde hair, violet eyes and a naive disposition. He often gets picked on by other RFA members, especially Seven, who pranks him constantly. ‘Dating’ Yoosung will remind you of your first love, where everything was innocence and sweet messages late at night.

Gah I feel like such a cradle snatcher 

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I know it’s a game but kyaaa

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Yoosung will also call you. The voice actor plays him to a tee!

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You will be rewarded with this sweet picture if you end up with YS. The final days of the route were surprisingly nerve-racking and suspenseful, which I did not expect from how saccharine sweet everything was in the beginning. Kudos to the script writers for a great plot.

ZEN 

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My second route was Zen, an aspiring actor. He was initially my first choice, but I got so sick of his narcissism that I picked Yoosung instead LOL. Zen is aware of his good looks, but in spite of his flirty demeanor, he is a workaholic who is too busy to date.

I wish I had given this route a try the first time, because it gets really interesting as the story progresses. Zen is a bit of a bad boy, implied from his smoking habits and love for motorbikes. He is brash, hot tempered and constantly at loggerheads with another bachelor you can choose, Jumin. Their conversations actually make for some of the most hilarious ones in the game.

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Like this one about getting it up

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Or this argument about Parmesan cheese.

Zen’s interactions are the most sexually charged, so you get calls like these:

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There’s a scene where you actually go and meet Zen and things get hot and happening. The ensuing ‘aftermath’ is hilarious

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Once you’ve gotten close to him, Zen will shamelessly flirt in front of all the other RFA members.

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Zen’s happy ending. I liked the good ending because Zen saves you from danger in a touching display of bravery.

IRL, I think I avoid pretty boys (not that they’ll give me a glance lol js) because speaking from experience, I think most of them are pretty vapid and self centered coz they’ve had female attention all their life lol. Same goes for beautiful women.

MY PERSONAL FAVOURITE – JUMIN 

We now come to my ultimate BAE, Jumin Han. Jumin is only unlockable in Deep story mode, so I had to gather enough hourglasses to unlock his route. Born to a rich family, he helps his father, the chairman of a large company, to run the business. Because of his father’s womanising ways, Jumin has internalised his feelings and is unable to express himself properly, so he acts and talks like a robot. In the beginning, he often says that ’emotions’ are impractical and useless – so it’s all the more sweet when you manage to crack his icy exterior and encourage him to open up more.

Jumin is also extremely obsessed with cats, and has a pet cat called Elizabeth the Third.

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Personally, I like Jumin’s appearance the best among all the bachelors. Who doesn’t like a tall guy in a suit and tie ? 😀 winkwink

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After losing his cat Jumin goes through a neurotic phase where he becomes extremely obsessed with you instead. He locks you in his apartment after you visit him and only wants you to be by his side. This will make me sound like a freak but I wanted him to get possessive with me lol. Of course, if you give in completely you’ll get a bad ending, so you have to help him overcome his obsessive tendencies.

Among all the routes I’ve tried, Jumin’s was the hardest because the choices you have to make are not always clear cut. It also went against answers I would have naturally given irl.

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Once Jumin realises he’s in love with you, he gives you some of the sweetest interactions ever! He also changes his profile picture to one featuring your character’s face. It’s so satisfying to see the icy prince become an adorable bunny muahahaha.

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Story aside, I like how organic the conversations are in the game; as if you are talking to friends. This is very well done, as they all have different personalities and sound like real people.

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One more for the win! ❤

SEVEN (707) 

Friends who have played MM all recommended I try Seven’s route. I left it for last because Seven is actually my least favourite bachelor lol (I know I’ll get a lot of hate for this). That being said, he has one of the most interesting backstories, and is quite a challenge to play.

Seven is a hacker working for an intelligence agency, and is also responsible for the RFA’s  classified documents.  His personality in the chatroom is that of a cheerful prankster who is constantly making jokes and never takes life seriously. I think it’s because of this that I found interacting with him really exhausting. I’m super introverted and interacting with people like this IRL tires me out. 

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If you choose his route, however, he turns into this super emo dude who constantly tries to push you away because he is afraid of endangering you with his work. Seven has a dark past, and if you choose his route, you’ll have to be very patient even though he constantly says things to hurt your feelings.

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If you eventually touch his heart and make him understand that he doesn’t have to be alone, you’ll get the Good Ending. To be honest, I was disappointed with the good ending because it felt inconclusive; like a cliffhanger. Seven’s story will be expanded on in Another Story mode and two Secret Endings, so maybe the developers want to hook you with that and get you to pay more lol. 😛

 

Other routes that I haven’t played include the one featuring the only female member, Jaehee. Some woman and woman love right there; I respect that, but it’s not my thing 😀 Playing it right now but I’ll just patiently wait to complete the route without paying.

There are two more bachelors you can hook up with, namely V, the mysterious older member of the team who was Rika’s ex boyfriend, and Ray, who is responsible for leading you to the RFA in the first place. You need a whopping 550 hourglasses to unlock them, and since 1000 hourglasses cost RM100; I think I’ll pass.

 

All in all, I think it’s safe to say that Mystic Messenger is one of the best otome games out there. I really like the unique game play which is done through real time chat (although it’s designed to make you pay money :P), the stories are superb and characters well fleshed out.

Now excuse me while I go stare at my Jumin wallpaper. 😀

Day Out @ World Of Fun, St Lucia East Grand Mall Cainta

Now, now. Am I REALLY going to blog about going to an arcade?

Yes. Yes I am. 😀

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While I enjoy the finer things in life once in awhile (like an expensive, romantic dinner date), I’m not averse to a fun day out at the arcade either. In fact, there’s nothing I like more than a guy who can play some FPS or shoot a few hoops with me – so it’s great that the Boy is one of those that doesn’t mind my childishness. 😛

After lunch at Razons, we went to kill some time at World of Fun @ St Lucia Mall, a massive entertainment center that’s almost like a mini theme park, complete with a small roller coaster, bumper car rides, ghost house and merry go-round. There was also a section dedicated to carnival games where you can win prizes like stuffed toys, and the clippy vending machines where you can try your luck fishing out ice cream, sweets and other goodies.

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I’m impressed with the variety of machines and games here! It’s rare to find such a large arcade in Malaysia.

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Convinced the Boy to go on the small roller coaster; no mean feat since he has a fear of riding in coasters. We survived!

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Managed to finish the Walking Dead arcade game, then spent the remaining coins trying to grab ice cream from the pincer machine but failed. 😀

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There was a karaoke corner where you can go on a mini stage and ‘perform’ to a crowd.

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Random PS: Ended the trip with a visit to KFC because the Boy says that it’s different in Manila vs KL because they have awesomesauce, unlimited gravy. Agreed – the chicken was tastier, somehow, and less greasy.