“Carelessness will find no clemency in this place.”
The voice of Darkest Dungeon‘s Ancestor relentlessly worms its way through my brain as I read Mike Shel’s Iconoclasts series – a dark/high/epic fantasy series focused on a league of adventurers whose purpose is to explore and plunder the ancient ruins of a long-lost demonic gods-worshipping civilization. The Syraeic League pursues knowledge above all, though a fair bit of wealth comes with the job.
Our protagonist is Auric Manteo, a retired League swordsman of some renown who must pick up his sword once again in order to put to rest a curse that plagues the Citadel, as well as his only daughter. Now stop. This story isn’t your clichéd “We need you to come out of retirement boss, you were the best once, you can be again and only you can save us all!” kind of deal. Auric didn’t retire due to accumulating enough wealth and success to call it quits. He wasn’t the best. Auric’s last expedition ended with him being rescued from the haunted Barrowlands, covered in blood, madness in his eyes and conversing with the severed head of his closest friend and Syraeic sister. The sole survivor of his party.
Now Auric must return to the Barrowlands to return an accursed artifact that poisons the Citadel and his last remaining family. The Syraeic League’s numbers have already been devastated, and there are few able adventurers left whom haven’t succumbed to the supernatural blight.
“Reeling, gasping, taken over the edge, into Madness!“
Plots progress. An adventuring party forms with each member fulfilling a specialized role intended to increase their chances of success. Provisions are prepared. Accounts of past expeditions are retold and relived. Auric fears his insanity will reemerge upon reaching their destination, his mind actively plagued by the threat of stress overwhelming him.
As Iconoclasts sunk its claws deeper into me, an urge I hadn’t felt in years tore through me. I really friggin’ wanted to play Darkest Dungeon. It had been years. ~150 hours poured into it once upon a time, but never completing the game. I redownloaded it on my Switch with renewed vigor, and named my hamlet “The Syraeic League”.
The flavor of Iconoclasts mixes beautifully with the brutally dark dungeon crawling that comprises Darkest Dungeon. Stress, doubt, fear of madness. The scars of past expeditions. Constructing a party of adventurers, each their own type of specialist. The very real threat of death due to the smallest misstep. A league of adventurers dedicated to dungeon crawling, learning of what is buried, and retrieving riches from devious depths.
These two worlds feel almost intertwined, as if Darkest Dungeon‘s hamlet exists as a Syraeic outpost in some far off corner of the world Mike Shel created.
“This expedition, at least, promises success.”
After finishing Brian McClellan’s In the Shadow of Lightning, I was hungry for more stories taking place in a wonderfully realized fantasy world. Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I wound up picking up Iconoclasts. Figuratively at least – I have the audiobooks.
I knew nothing of Mike Shel going into Aching God. Though as I near the conclusion of Iconoclasts, it’s obvious he’s got the chops for writing engaging fantasy. There’s an epilogue in the audiobook of Iconoclasts book two Sin Eater, where Shel talks a bit about his writing journey. He’s grounded and humble, and wholly relatable to one such as myself – a fellow D&D nerd with aspirations of becoming a fantasy writer.
“Aching God was itself a small miracle”, Shel says, “I had dreamt of writing fantasy novels since I was a teenager, but had never managed to overcome my pathological compulsion to edit what little I had written until it was squeezed dry of every ounce of joy and inspiration. I lost count of the sad, aborted attempts at crafting my own stories and more or less surrendered to the improbability of ever realizing that dream.”
Until 2009 when Shel discovered that a D&D adventure he wrote in the 90’s was very well received, even after being republished in 2007. He offered to write Pathfinder modules and more for Paizo Publishing, and was welcomed aboard. One campaign he pitched, “In the Belly of the Aching God“, was repeatedly turned down for not aligning with Paizo’s direction, yet went on to transform into the first novel of Iconoclasts.
“Beacons in the darkness, stars in the emptiness of the void.”
Learning of Shel’s story – to see his journey as a fantasy author – inspires me. There are so SO many excellent books out there, many of which don’t receive the attention they rightfully deserve. They float in the aether, lost amongst the noise of content that floods our senses every moment of the day. I don’t know the extent of success that Iconoclasts has had, yet I wanted to seize the fire it lit within me and shine some extra light on this awesomely dark fantasy series – and the similarly excellent Darkest Dungeon.
With my Iconoclasts journey drawing to a close, I’ll soon be on the hunt for a new fantasy epic to sink my teeth into. Until then..
“A moment of respite, a chance to steel oneself against upcoming horrors.”
Also, a big shout out to Simon Vance, the narrator/voice actor for the Iconoclasts audiobooks, whose voice acting is simply brilliant.
Thank you for reading fellow players / readers! Check out Mike Shel’s website for more info on Iconoclasts as well as his other work. Darkest Dungeon can be found on pretty much every digital game store, and is well worth the time.
Developed by Cold Symmetry, Mortal Shell is a brilliant love letter to the Soulsborne series and free on PS Plus this month. In my recent journey through this bleak yet charming world, I found that the photo mode has no boundary – which could lead to exploring ahead with no risk at all.
Extremely minor spoilers ahead, in the form of screenshots of settings
I hadn’t noticed this function until I was roughly 3/4 through the game, while exploring one of the game’s “temples”. The setting was so jarring yet beautiful, truly making you feel like an insignificant trespasser in an alien land. I wanted to capture that scope, that gravity, so I opened up photo mode and started zooming out. And I kept going. and going. and going. AND GOING. I started chuckling, thinking I had glitched the game somehow.
I snapped my shot and moved on. Soon after, an enemy hiding around a corner ambushed me – as it happens often in Mortal Shell – and again a minute later. Then a devilish thought struck me.
“Let’s see if I can look around the next corner in photo mode”
So I did, and found my next encounter hiding as expected. I kept floating forward, feeling like a spirit exploring a world frozen in time. Then I moved straight up into the sky and got the birds-eye view, taking in the lay of the land. This function was no bug. I could fly around this frozen world all over. The lack of boundary was definitely intentional, and I was NOT using it as I imagine the developers intended it to be used.
Feeling like I just accidentally became an omnipotent god, I couldn’t help but revel in my newfangled ability for the next hour or so of gameplay. I foiled many an ambush, and plotted my routes rather than relying on pure reaction and whim. After that hour, a feeling washed over me. Or rather, a feeling ebbed away from me. I was having way less fun.
The surprise, mystery, adrenaline, were quickly dissolving at the hands of my newfound power. Every triumph now felt hollow. Each victory now a shadow of its former glory.
I stopped abusing the photo mode for nefarious purposes, cold turkey. My skeletal avatar trudged forward as the game intends – slowly and steadily conquering the bleak and otherworldly obstacles ahead. And as I journeyed on again, satisfaction and fun returned in spades. Play how you will, but this was the experience I found most rewarding.
Thanks for reading my fellow players!
I highly recommend giving Mortal Shell a shot, and will release a full review in the coming days. After recently beating the main game, i’m sorely tempted to purchase the full version to experience all that the DLCs have to offer.
Final Fantasy 2. Why FF2? What hidden nugget of knowledge did I find amongst the internet’s sea of information that points to this old entry receiving the AAA makeover? It’s not a nugget I found online, but a detail I noticed while replaying Final Fantasy 7 Remake on hard mode.
Minor FF7R Spoilers ahead:
In the mission where you accompany Jessie to her parent’s house in order to steal her father’s Shinra ID card, there’s quite a lot of detail in this tastefully decorated room; pictures of Jessie from her acting days, a slew of medical devices, knick-knacks, mementos. One area that’s a bit sparse are the books – except for one small set of books on a dresser.
The books appear identical except for the titles on their bindings, implying that they are part of a series. Their titles are roman numerals one through seven, with number two missing, as if someone has pulled it out to review.
A little spark lit within my heart. Could this be a sneaky tease from Square Enix?! Pretty cool if so, and quite suave of them to hide it within their first major remake! I continued my replaythrough, and found the exact same set of books within Aerith’s house.
Yeah yeah it’s likely just an asset being reused throughout different portions of the game. Or maybe Square Enix pulled FF2 off the shelf for a look.
I consider myself a major Final Fantasy fan, having played all of the main entries except for FF2 funnily enough. And I don’t think I’m alone in that. One thing I’ve noticed is that you generally don’t hear FF2 come up as anyone’s favorite in the series. I’ve never heard much about the plot, its characters, its systems, hell anything really. To all of you FF2 diehards (if such a thing exists), no offense but it’s just observation.
If Square Enix decides to remake FF2 next, they would have a freedom that was impossible with FF7R. FF7 is often considered the fan-favorite of the series, having hit PS1 in ’97 and holding a firm place in our hearts since. When remaking a beloved classic like that, one with its own universe of spin-offs, the stakes are about as high as can be. You succeed, you make that sub-franchise shine even brighter. You fail, you tarnish the once-pristine reputation of a universally loved game and immediately afflict your fanbase with berserk. Square Enix succeeded, and they’ll have to face the equally high stakes when FF7R-2 emerges from development.
The stakes for FF2R would be nonexistent in comparison. They can experiment with new systems, plot points, graphical styles, whatever. It would only be beneficial to FF2 – I mean what’s the worst that can happen, FF2 fades even further into obscurity? Doubtful.
This theory is of course wild speculation based upon a single detail I noticed. But damn wouldn’t that be cool if it wound up being true. Game developers do have a way with hiding hints and easter eggs within their works, maybe this is one in the making.
After exploring the idea a bit, it kind of makes sense. A FF2 remake would refresh a main entry that has otherwise remained unloved and unseen, while giving Square Enix the chance to try something new with something old.
Like anything in life, a Dungeons & Dragons session ebbs and flows with energy. And what really gets that energy pumping is when you almost die. In-game of course. I highly recommend it! You can trust my word – after all, I almost bit the dust in my last session! Hell, we ALL almost bit the dust! It was awesome, and made it one of our best sessions to date. I’ll regale you with the tale in a few moments, as it embodies all the good that can come from it. In my humble opinion, it simply makes a session better.
“Why would near-death experiences benefit a session?” you may ask. You pour hours and days breathing life into this character that started out as chicken scratch on a piece of paper, why in the hell would the threat of losing that bond be a good thing?
High stakes baby! Imminent death focuses the party and brings them together. When someone is rolling death saves, the true spirit of teamwork shines through. A buddy is down, time to band together like true heroes (or villains, no judgement) and save your bud.
Less time for metagaming. Now this factor depends on your DM. My DM isn’t one to let you mull a decision over in combat for however long you like. Time is of the essence. Your turn is technically 6 seconds of combat, so you can’t spend a half-hour fully exploring every possibility. What would your character do right now based upon what they’ve seen and know?
Leads to some truly wild and epic moments. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of a controlled and tactical approach to get to your dying companion. Sometimes you gotta pull out all the stops and and fuckin’ GO. The alternative is to lose your companion forever, and you don’t want to look back thinking you could’ve done more.
Makes the victim contemplates their actions. As you roll your death saves, you’re forced to consider if you could’ve avoided arriving at this moment. Maybe I really should’ve used that final Luck point.. or retreated to a safe distance instead of facing a giant monster head on.
Okay okay enough listing off reasons why it’s dope, and here’s it all put into action:
The story of how my level 14 Fighter almost bit the dust
We’re about two years into our homebrew campaign, and are entering the final stages of its plot. Our party of adventurers are:
Rolen Rana – Gunslinger / War Priest – Wood Elf (This is me. Fighter 12 // Cleric 2)
Alduin – Path of the Storm Herald Barbarian – Dragonborn
It began with a fetch quest – as these things do – and a damn cool one. Our patron for this quest is Coletta Delthane, the Highlore Master of Lagas and newly crowned ruler of our home city. We were to travel to the Abyssal Maw – a land ravaged by a centuries-old cataclysm – to obtain and protect the “Planecaller’s Key”. This ancient artifact has the ability to open gateways between planes of existence, and was thought to be lost to the ages. Chaotic energy bursts and minor dimensional rifts erupt from the Maw once again, and Delathane thinks the Key may have been uncovered, causing these events. She contracts us to get that Key in order to prevent what may be the beginning of a new cataclysm.
I’ll skip all the travels and get to the good stuff.
We’re deep underground inside the Abyssal Maw, and find ourselves at an enormous stone bridge. Roughly 100ft long, it’s the only path over the inky darkness below. Harold dashes across the bridge, narrow avoiding glossy webs hanging down over parts of the bridge (mmhmm, I wonder what’s coming). Jenna swiftly navigates across the bridge, followed by Rolen. Dopey and Alduin begin to cross, yet unfortunately Alduin’s Danger Sense isn’t enough to prevent him from getting webbed up.
OF COURSE a giant fuckin’ spider crashes down upon Alduin.
On the landing across the bridge, an enormous rock crashes down beside Harold and Jenna. Oh shit.. that’s no rock, it’s a motherflippin’ Stone Giant.
Sweet tasty CHAOS!! Initiate battle music! We all begin duking it out. Alduin, Dopey and Rolen focus on the Spider while Jenna and Harold take on the Stone Giant.
Landing Stunning Strike after Stunning Strike, Harold bashes the everliving shit out of the Stone Giant’s ankles, followed up by Jenna flinging spells at that bastard’s face.
Meanwhile the battle on the bridge is going almost just as well. We’re messing this spider up right good! Mr. Daddy Long Legs is getting wrecked by the collective might of a Barbarian, Paladin, and Fighter. Until…. our DM smiles wickedly (oh no).
The Spider, realizing it’s in a bad spot and isn’t gonna be able to easily eat some tasty morsels right here, decides that one of the great forces of nature can do the job better than it. And that force is gravity.
The spider charges forward, swiping its powerful legs to sweep the bridge clear – left, right, left, right.
Alduin gets swiped, then Dopey, and then Rolen (me).
“Okay here’s how this is gonna work,” our DM says. “You’re gonna roll a Strength save to try and stay on the bridge. If you fail, you’re knocked off and you’ll have to roll a Dexterity save to see if you can grab a hold of something at least.”
Alduin fails the STR save, but makes the DEX save. Dopey does the same, but a little worse. Alduin falls roughly 10ft, Dopey about 20ft, both of them able to catch hold of the cliffside and dangle above the darkness.
Alright, my turn. I roll, and fail my STR save. C’monnn DEX save! I roll a whopping three. Shit. Not great, not at all. A part of my mind lashes against the three. I have one last Luck point left, should I use it!? Mmm nah it’s probably not thatttt high of a drop and I’ve still got a decent amount of Hit Points. I’ll save it.
DM sees I’ve made my decision, and says, “Roll a d6 for me please.” “What’s this for?” I ask as I juggle the die in my hand. “Whatever number you roll will be how many hundred feet you fall.”
A brief silence overtakes our group.
“Hahaha” I laugh nervously, “well here goes nothing!”
The die lands firmly. I’m transfixed upon the number for several silent seconds, unable to shift my gaze. A big. Fat. Six. A six-hundred foot drop. The group immediately breaks out into a chorus of “Oh fuck”, “Shitttttt”, “Whaaaaat”. I alternate between laughing and saying “Fuckkkk” a lot.
The party sees Rolen’s body plunge into darkness, unknowing of whether he’ll survive the fall.
The DM gleefully pulls out a hefty sack of d6’s, excited to roll more dice in a single motion than he’s ever done before.
“It’s possible you may straight up die right here!” He pauses, “Though fall damage maxes out at 20d6, so on second thought you won’t DIE from this.” He says. “But there’s a very high chance you’ll be knocked the fuck out from splatting on the ground!”
I have 70hp left at this point, with my max being 105hp. I’d have to take 175 dmg to instantly die, which is impossible here thankfully. Rolen says a quick prayer to his god Tempus before hitting the ground with a sickening thud, taking 95 damage and falling unconscious very, very far away from the party.
Phew, okay. Scary stuff, but I’m not dead! Crisis averted. Good times!
The battle rages on above as Dopey and Alduin climb back upwards. As they ascend, the Spider skitters down over the edge, passing them and descending vertically along the cliffside. Oh.
“There IS a delicious meal waiting for him down there after all!” the DM exclaims.
SHIT. Crisis NOT averted! HELP.
A metaphorical fire ignites under everyone’s asses at that instant. I am on a silver platter, an apple in my mouth.
Jenna decides that this Stone Giant needs to go away NOW, and Twinspell Disintegrates that big boy into a cloud of dust. Dope as hell.
Harold, now free from the fight, dashes towards the cliff’s edge and without missing a step runs vertically down the cliff after the Spider. Monks are effing cool man. With his insane movement speed, he makes it to the Spider, jumps on its back and Stunning Strikes it. The Spider, unable to stay tethered to the cliffside, begins to fall with Harold riding the spider down like some insane adrenaline junkie.
Alduin makes it back onto the bridge, baffled at seeing one friend ragdoll into the depths, and another friend surfing a paralyzed spider into the abyss. Jenna runs up to him.
“Do you trust me?!” She asks hastily.
“Yes…?” Alduin replies in his Russian accent.
“Good, now hold on.” says Jenna while grabbing a hold of Alduin and pulling him into the Dimension Door she casts. They vanish from the bridge, and emerge into thin air 500 feet below their position, plunging the last 100ft with Alduin yelling all the way down in surprise.
Dopey, having just clambered back onto the bridge, is at a loss for a moment. He saw Rolen fall, that seemed really fuckin’ bad. Rolen could be friggin’ dead! He saw Harold riding a spider through the air, which was totally sick as hell. But he could be in trouble too! Then Jenna and Alduin just teleported way down below, based upon Alduin’s screams. Rolen may not have much time left, and there’s only one way Dopey can get down there in time to help. Dopey jumps.
Harold releases his grip of the Spider in mid-air. He’s got that sweet slow fall ability and doesn’t need to fall at that high speed anymore. Style points achieved, time to enjoy the ride. The spider crashes into the ground near Rolen’s body, spraying ichor and taking severe damage. Jenna and Alduin land in a heap nearby seconds later, followed by the thunderous boom of Dopey hitting the ground in his hefty plate mail. Harold lands lightly on his feet, barely making a sound.
Alduin brushes himself off while cursing in Russian, strides over to the Spider’s writhing body and slams his axe into its face. *Cue Final Fantasy victory theme*
Dopey, still standing since he’s an absolute beast, runs over and Lay on Hands some HP to Rolen, reviving me.
We survived and made extremely solid progress on our descent! Everyone was a little frazzled from the excitement, and raved over how much of a blast that just was. Even though I was close to dying most of the time, man was it fun enjoying that adrenaline kick and watching the party come together and make some truly epic moves.
That’s my near-death tale and how much fun it was as a group to go through… Oh and that’s right, all of us almost died soon after when it turns out we were double-crossed by our quest patron and the Planecaller’s Key was used to open a rift that a motherfucking BEHOLDER emerged from so we sheltered in a small cave as it guarded the exit and repeatedly blasted laser beams at us to try and force us out of hiding and Dopey and Jenna tried to escape on a pegasus but the Beholder almost fried them so they came back to the cave and the only option for escape we could think of was for Jenna to use her only 7th level spell – Plane Shift – using the only item we had that was attuned to another plane… an Infernal weapon of Dopey’s.
So yeah, we ended last session by escaping a sure death via Beholder and landing in the sixth circle of Hell.
“WELL,” the DM exclaimed, chuckling, “We’ll have to stop there for the night since I was NOT expecting you all to wind up in HELL and I have nothing prepared for that.”
Gotta love throwing your DM for a loop! Until next time fellow players!
PS5 is here, though somehow it’s still more elusive than my commitment to work out consistently. Your trusty ol’ PS4 may soon find its spot in your entertainment center taken over by its futuristic descendant (if not already). Before or after that eventual console coronation passes, take some time to embark on these essential PS4 gaming experiences. Yeah yeah PS5 has backwards compatibility – and these games aren’t going anywhere – though as time rolls onward a new generation of games will blossom into the market and demand our attention. Before that time comes, dedicate some of your sweet sweet gaming sessions to these games and you’ll be damn glad you did.
Take the following journey in no particular order, it’s all excellent. Many of these are in the PS Plus Collection thankfully, and some have free PS5 upgrades if you own the PS4 version.
NO spoilers ahead – just quick innocent details.
God of War
The intro will suck you in with its beauty and depth. So few words spoken, yet every scene is steeped in meaning. Each setting is immaculately detailed. Challenging combat leads to amazing progression. Level design encourages exploration. Engaging characters spout entertaining dialogue. Beautiful storytelling synced with touching character development. Play it, love it, then do NG+ on “Give Me God of War” difficulty to truly become a god in your own right.
Plot in a pinch: After settling into a peaceful life on Nordic lands for many years, the Greek god of war Kratos must embark on a journey with his son to fulfill the last wish of a passed loved one while eluding the native deities.
A paranormal mystery-thriller packaged into a brilliant third-person-shooter with sharp impactful gameplay, Control swiftly became my favorite game of 2020 AND 2021. The suspenseful eerie tone lures you into a setting you can’t walk away from. Every bit of lore pulls you deeper and reveals disturbing details, sometimes making you laugh and sometimes making you say “What the absolute fuck?!“. Control’s story and gameplay are top-notch, eventually making you feel like a badass Jedi gunslinger which will absolutely leave you wanting more. Luckily there are two DLCs to scratch that itch. This game consumed me until I finished it. I could not play anything else. It had assumed control.
Plot in a pinch: Jesse Faden ran from the law most of her life, but now walks through the front doors of the Federal Bureau of Control. These people were responsible for the disappearance of her brother, and they somehow know of the otherworldly presence that guides her. Enough running, enough mystery. Jesse decides to take control.
Dark Souls 1 – 3
Modern classics that invented its own sub-genre. If you haven’t played them because you’re scared of them being too hard, kindly get over it and play these action-adventure-RPGs. The sense of accomplishment FromSoftware games give you is unlike anything else. It may sound odd, but playing Dark Souls very much feels like coming out of a dark spot in life – and many players have lauded its ability to combat depression. You will fail over and over, but as long as you get up and keep trying you’ll find that you’ve had the strength all along to reach a better place. And ohhhh man that sweet taste of victory after trying and trying and trying – Pure happiness and pride. Conquer the creatures of dark, forge your own path, and praise the sun!
Plot in a pinch: The Age of Fire nears its end. Will you, a lowly dreg barely holding onto its own sanity, conquer the challenges ahead and reignite the First Flame to extend the reign of Fire — or let the fire fade, and usher in an age of darkness?
A PS4 instant classic, and heralded as one of the best PS4 games ever released. Yep it’s a FromSoftware title in the vein of Dark Souls, but more brutal!!! So get immersed in this beautifully horrific Lovecraftian world by throwing on your victorian-era cloak and pouring yourself a glass of blood (what?), because Bloodborne’s environment will leave you drenched in awe. It has everything Dark Souls has – top-shelf level design, tight combat, incredible lore, abso-fucking-lutely brutal difficulty – yet managed to bore its way into its own cozy niche. Cease your hunt for the next epic game and dive into this dream of a journey.
Plot in a Pinch: A blood-borne disease plagues the city of Yharnam, where your journey begins. You – a seemingly immortal hunter – are spiritually bound to the Hunter’s Dream, the city itself, and the task of finding the source of the plague. A frenzied hunt for the infected seizes the population, ushering townsfolk and hunters alike into the madness that consumes the city. Unable to truly die, your hard-fought footholds and discoveries may lead to peaceful enlightenment, or uncontrollable insanity.
Persona 5 / Personal 5 Royal
If you enjoy JRPGs or turn-based RPGs in general, take a leap of faith and buy this game. I did solely because GameInformer’s January 2018 article “The Top 100 RPGs Of All Time” ranked it at #19, right behind the original Final Fantasy 7 (my all-time fave). Now P5 was released worldwide in April 2017, so claiming a spot that high on the list in such a short time demanded respect. And holy shit, it deserves every ounce of that respect. P5 overflows with style, immense narrative depth, and is unfalteringly captivating. The art direction makes every action a visual joy, and the soundtrack — THE SOUNDTRACK DUDE — is so good that you’ll be listening to it for weeks after you finish the 100+ hour campaign. Well-rounded characters and heartfelt storylines make it impossible not to get pulled into this world.
Plot in a Pinch: Some adults think they can get away with anything. Abuse power, abuse people, take anything, charge you with assault even though they committed it themselves, it goes on. There’s gotta be a way to make them realize their flaws and reflect… to change them from the inside out. It’s up to you — a high-schooler on probation in Tokyo — to band together with a few fellow rebels and face the dark hearts of the city’s elite, changing society for the better one heist at a time.
Final Fantasy VII Remake: Even if and especially if you never played the original FF7, this game deserves to be played. I kept it down here since otherwise the entire article would be about this game. Gorgeous, fun as hell, it doesn’t miss a beat from the OG game.
Ghost of Tsushima: The Director’s Cut version just came out – and while I haven’t played that part yet – the main game is simply phenomenal. Holy shit I’ve never taken so many screenshots in a game. Breathtaking beauty combined with satisfyingly smooth gameplay.
There are so many others that could be included here, so list ’em off in the comments if you want! Thanks for reading!
“Water, Earth, Fire, Air. Long ago, four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the fire nation attacked.”
That introduction stokes the fires of nostalgia in the hearts of fans around the world. Nostalgia that fueled content across every medium and continues to do so. September 2018 reignited those flames hotter than they’ve been in years thanks to Netflix’s live-action adaptation announcement. Then July 2019 gave us The Rise of Kyoshi – the first of two canon novels about Avatar Kyoshi’s life. It’s finally happening – Avatar: The Last Airbender content is surging back, and as more of it emerges, one thought continues to gnaw at my mind – there needs to be an Avatar video game that truly embodies the brilliance of the series, and there’s no better time to make one than now.
The first Kyoshi book is basking in glowing reviews. Avatar graphic novels and comics continue releasing to positive fan response. Fans maintain a healthy blend of optimism and fear in regards the live-action series – for good reason – though the original showrunners at the helm inspire hope. It’s only a matter of time before another video game is attempted, and damn it, it needs to be done right this time.
Five console-based Avatar games have come out since 2006, the most recent attempt in 2014 with The Legend of Korra for consoles and PC. Critics universally roasted every single release, with users a smidge more lenient than their professional counterparts. Korra was the most divisive of the bunch, scoring the highest Metacritic score in the game series with 64/100, while many major outlets like IGN and GameSpot scorched it with abysmal reviews. Regardless of scores, all reviews revealed two common threads – the story was poorly executed, and a deep well of potential unfortunately remained untapped.
Avatar’s video game counterpart should be a distillation of its greatest qualities
The Avatar television series has some of the most consistently excellent writing of any show out there. Characters are dynamic, nuanced, and wholly relatable. The world is magical and immersive, yet realistic and complicated. Childlike and wondrous, yet steeped with emotion and humanity. Not utilizing its best qualities is like making a Mortal Kombat game with shitty fighting – what the hell is the point, and who would waste time playing that, let alone making it? The Batman and Spider-Man games sold well because they made you feel like an integral part of that world (on top of a dozen other great qualities). A well-made Avatar game should invoke that same feeling. What comes to light here is that neither THQ nor PlatinumGames have delivered a quality Avatar game, and the reins should be passed on to another studio.
A solid Avatar game isn’t impossible, it just requires some proper building blocks:
A studio unrestricted by a hard deadline
Original show writers like Tim Hedrick jumping back in, or writers who are truly passionate about the source content
A satisfying combat system true to the bending and martial art forms
A world ripe with the lore and narrative that the television series delivered in spades
Draw upon the beauty and depth of The Witcher 3’s world-building and narrative. Harness Skyrim’s encouragement of exploration and channel it into every kingdom. Really focus on a combat system that feels good, impactful, and true to form.
Personally, I’d love to see a RPG-style game where the player can forge their own story in the world.
Imagine starting as a fisherman from the Southern Water Tribe. An Earthbender from Ba Sing Se, or a hunter from a village in its kingdom. A vassal in service of a Fire Nation lord, or a blacksmith within its capital. An Airbender of the Air Nomad Tribe, or a resident of Republic City having just discovered their powers. Maybe you’re none of them, and simply a fledgling martial artist focusing on Chi-blocking to counteract benders. You could be the Avatar, or you can opt not to be at the game’s start, knowing they’re out there somewhere and you may need to help – or fight – them one day.
The animated series is so full of heart; it charms viewers young and old. Avatar’s video game counterpart should be a reflection of its greatest qualities – a pure distillation of its spirit that any fan can enjoy. Instead, all we’ve seen up to this point are half-hearted husks with an Avatar paint job. This incredible series and its loyal fanbase deserve better than that.
What sort of game do you think would work best for the Avatar universe? What studios would you like to see give it a shot?
Thanks for reading!
Image Credit: Google Images — If you know the artist, please reach out and I’ll add attribution.
Hey everyone, I’m PJ — a 30 something year-old video game aficionado with a love for writing.
Take a short rest and enjoy some articles on video games, tabletop gaming, books, TV and so on. But mostly video games – what makes them as awesome as they are, how they can be improved, what would make them MORE awesome, you get it.
Why am I doing this?
Video games friggin’ rock, and I’ve been gaming for as long as I can remember. One of my first memories is playing Super Mario Bros 3 on SNES on my 4th birthday.
I studied Journalism in college, and don’t really get to flex those muscles so much now that I’ve been fully integrated into the 9-5 corporate life for the past eight years.
Because it’s incredibly fun.
Video games are an art form unlike any other. It is art that you actively experience. You explore impossible worlds, while embarking on adventures beyond your wildest dreams. These journeys can be fraught with danger, love, humor, and horror. You’ll make choices that bring you immense glee, or cold dread. It’s modern day magic. I want to express my love for the genre here.
You gotta start somewhere. I want to get involved in video game writing, and this is my camp at the base of that mountain.
I’ll be updating this blog when I can with new content. Feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com.