Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thor 2: Dark World Review (Spoiler Alert)

Spoiler Alert
Back in August, when the last trailer for Thor 2 premiered, I made a prediction based solely on that trailer about what I would see. I ended up not being far off. Rather than the Dark Elves invading London in the beginning, it happened at the end. Rather than joining Malekith, Loki takes out Odin (how, we don't know) on his own. Other than that, the sequel was what I expected: Thor, in bone-crushing fashion, saved the day and Jane Foster.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy Thor 2 or that the movie didn't hold any surprises. The two best twists came at the very end. First, Loki faked his death, which, as long as you were paying attention to when they showed a random Asgardian on Svartalheim, was visible soon after he "died." Ultimately, the twist was the villain triumphs; Loki takes the throne of Asgard. Second, during the credits, Sif and Volstagg take the source of the Aether to the Collector, who is played by Benecio del Toro. What was interesting about this scene was finding out the source was an Infinity Gem that had to be separated from another gem in Asgard. While this doesn't necessarily set an Infinity Gauntlet movie in stone--maybe, Avengers 3--it does make the prospect a possibility. After all, the most notorious villain to ever get his hands on the Infinity Gauntlet and the gems is Thanos, who was shown at the end of the Avengers and will make another appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy. I definitely have my fingers crossed. Due to copyrights, Marvel and Disney will never be able to create an exact copy of Infinity Gauntlet, but they could come close, especially if the next Fantastic Four movie bombs and they reacquire the rights to an important character like Silver Surfer.
Another great surprise in Thor 2 were the cameos. I always enjoy hunting for Stan Lee; this time around, they made it easy. And in a funny scene, Captain America, played by Chris Evans, made an appearance. Well, to be technical, it was Loki playing Captain America...played by Chris Evans. I wasn't expecting it at all, even when Loki started shifting in and out of illusions to mock Thor.
In fact, Thor 2 was loaded with jokes. One of my friends snorted in the theater for half the movie, and she asked afterwards if Marvel comics were as funny as the movies--I told her a lot of them had jokes throughout the issues. I think I laughed more during this film than majority, if not all, of the comedies I saw in 2013. I really got a kick out of Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) too, who had lost his mind since the events of Manhattan.
And, of course, there was a lot of action. Mjolnir flew about, smashing. Thor and Kurse pummeled each other. Creepy Dark Elves poured out of spaceships firing high-tech guns. Malekith and Thor hopped through dimensional rifts as they fought.
If I had one complaint that really threw me off, it was after Loki's "death" scene. Thor and Jane Foster found themselves stranded on Svartalheim, homeland of the Dark Elves. There was an entire realm, yet they wound up in a tiny cave that happened to be the portal they needed to get back to Earth in time to stop Malekith from obliterating the universe. It was a stretch, even for a movie with Norse gods.
Par for most superhero movies, the plot didn't make me think deeply. It wasn't meant to. Thor 2 was a popcorn flick, designed to fill our eyes with CGI and explosions, give us a laugh or two and expand upon characters we may or may not already be familiar with. I liked it. I thought it was better than Iron Man 3 and superior to its predecessor. It definitely gave me hope for the future of Marvel films, particularly Winter Soldier.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

X-Men: Days of Future Past Trailer

Once again helmed by Bryan Singer, this is the first glimpse of the latest X-Men movie. I'm hesitant to say it looks good, as I've been burned in the past, but I was excited to catch a glimpse of Bishop. I was wondering when one of the futuristic X-Men would make an appearance. I just hope he's going to be more than just a cameo in the opening sequences, when they show how the war ravaged Earth.

The trailer, unlike others, doesn't divulge too much about the movie. I appreciate that. It leaves a lot of mystery, especially in terms of action and, of course, the Sentinels, yet still gives us the plot and a slew of characters. As someone that wasn't huge into X-Men growing up I didn't even recognize a few of the mutants; I did spot fan-favorite Beast (will Kelsey Grammer have a cameo?), Rogue, Mystique, Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Blink, Storm, Bolivar Trask--I can't wait to see Peter Dinklage as the villainous genius behind Sentinels--and Wolverine, who looks to be a co-lead with Professor X and Magneto.

It'll be interesting to see how Singer weaves such a large cast into the movie.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Trailer

Here's the first trailer for the next Captain America movie. Unlike a lot of people, I was a fan of The First Avenger, particularly the first hour, and its sequel appears to have improved the franchise with a darker tone and a more serious theme.

Again, I think this trailer shows too much of the film--I wish both the helicarrier crashing and the elevator scene had been kept a secret until release, but at least they didn't reveal (for those who haven't read the comic) the identity of the Winter Soldier. Hint: it's not Captain America.

What I enjoyed the most about First Avenger and will probably enjoy in this film as well is the involvement and growth of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters and Black Widow. It's good to see the introduction of new characters as well: Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and Anthony Mackie as The Falcon, who could possibly make an appearance in Avengers 2 or even Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In the comics, the Falcon has ties to the cosmic cube, Black Panther, the Secret Avengers, and even replaced Steve Rogers as Captain America for a while, so there's a lot that could be done with this character.

Actually, the Black Panther helps design the Falcon's wings; I'd be ecstatic if he had a cameo.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Marvel Heroes: Patch 1.3 Review

Initially, Patch 1.3 was loaded with bugs, so I waited on my review. Its follow-up patch to correct bugs and adjust spirit and defense was practically unplayable, causing disconnects whenever entering terminals, treasure rooms, or different zones. I was sentenced to Avengers Tower for twenty-four hours, but as of yesterday night, the problems are mostly fixed.

One of the big arrivals to Marvel Heroes is Synergy. This system allows for passives on each hero, unlocked at both level 25 and 50. Once you reach that goal, they can be toggled at level 1 for any hero you wish or all your heroes. While it's a wonderful addition, granting bonuses to energy damage, health, rarity/special find, and even XP, I find it tedious to level a majority of my heroes beyond that first level 25 mark. The leveling, at least for me, is still grueling from 25 - 50. I have 15 heroes and only one is at level 60. The rest are 30 or lower, excluding a level 47 Iron Man. Synergy essentially promotes the usage of multiple heroes and alts yet the rate of leveling dissuades me at the same time.

Speaking of Iron Man, he saw a complete revamp. Along with new skills such as Wrist Rocket, an aoe missile attack, and One-Off, a laser attack taken from the movie Iron Man 2 (this skill is absolutely amazing and clears the screen), he now hovers when moving, instead of running. I do still find him a bit squishy, making a melee build impossible at higher levels where red terminals are desired to level faster, so some of the new skills are pointless until he is tuned. I've spent a few retcons on him, toying around with builds, checking out the different skills. He's fun, yet I still find other heroes such as Deadpool and Human Torch more fun to play. Others are loving Iron Man, especially the diehard fans of him.

A Prestige Mode was also introduced; it's akin to prestige in Call of Duty, where players with a level 60 are given the opportunity to start over from level 1. I said previously that 25 -50 is grueling for me, so I have no desire to even attempt this mode. It can be done up to 5 times. I can barely get a hero to 60 once. Unless they drastically change the speed at which one can level without buying loads of XP potions, I can't imagine very many players will endure this mode, especially since the only benefits are pets you can buy and a change in the color of your name. Maybe when achievements are implemented Prestige Mode might appeal to more people. I doubt it ever will for me.

Legendary Quests were implemented to assist the leveling experience. They're a randomized auto-pickup, starting in Heroic Mode and sending you to different zones and terminals to accomplish a list of goals. Once completed, you gain experience and pick up Odin Marks. These marks are spent at the crafter, improving artifacts. At first, the quests did not give anywhere close to the promised "best experience" in the game. When players complained on the forums, the amount was adjusted. They can be a tad time consuming; I find red terminals remain the best way to level, if your hero can survive the insane damage output of the mobs within them.

Along with the Odin Mark upgrades, artifacts can now be Advanced. They're supposed to be superior, but I haven't found any of worth--they've all gone to my crafter, which I'm tirelessly leveling...still.

On top of the hunt for Advanced drops, a slot for team insignias was put into the hero gear sets. These little perks, ranging from uncommon to epic, drop at random and not only give boosts to your hero, they boost those on your team. There are several types of insignias. Since my Human Torch has only ever been part of Fantastic Four in the comics, he is limited to Fantastic Four insignias and S.H.I.E.L.D. insignias (any hero can use S.H.I.E.L.D. insignias). Other heroes like Spider-Man and Iron Man have more options.

As usual, Gazillion continues to slowly but surely improve the overall depth of Marvel Heroes, demonstrating the game's potential. Their patches come fast, one or two majors a month, and every major patch seems to bring a new hero. This time around it was Luke Cage, who I haven't had the time to play, even though I received him in a random splinter box.

Unlike other ARPGs, I don't find myself getting bored to the point that I start searching for another game. It's probably due to the amount of patches and updates and heroes and bonus weekends. Plus, if the developers stay true to their word and start bringing in new zones (Asgard is slated to arrive soon), as well as raids and PVP, I may have no time for other games at all. My Xbox is dusty and lonely this morning, yet I'm about to log back into Marvel Heroes.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Review (Potential Spoiler)

My original fear was Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was going to be Heroes with a Marvel logo on it. While they do share a key element: superheroes living secret lives amongst regular people, the most interesting aspect of ABC's show is that it follows normal, albeit highly intelligent/trained agents, hunting down, saving, or stopping superheroes. There's also a technological flair and espionage-driven story inherit in this fictional universe, and I don't feel every episode will have to focus on superhuman feats, shifting to plots about rival secret agencies and the characters within them.

As a huge fan of Marvel I was hooked with the opening shot, because that particular scene, a kid looking into the window of a toy store filled with action figures of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America, demonstrated to me the potential of the show. In the pilot, there were already crossovers and nods to Iron Man 3 (the pilot's antagonist is infected with the Extremis virus) and Avengers. I suspect each episode will continue in this fashion, possibly containing Easter eggs. The show even has the capacity to introduce new villains, new heroes, new side characters, and new plots that may or may not spill into the movies, as well as leave the door open for major cameos or the development of other characters, something they delved into by recasting Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill. I, like most Marvel fans, am hoping a major star such as Chris Evans or Samuel L. Jackson makes an appearance. It's a small possibility; it would take a lot of convincing and probably a lot of money, yet there's a chance.

The show's longevity is not dependent on A list actors doing cameos. They have Clark Gregg, and he's fun to watch. I have liked the Agent Coulson character since the first Thor movie and his lines, "It's not easy to do what you did. You made my men look like a bunch of minimum wage mall cops. That's hurtful." Gregg has a unique charm in his delivery, and it's entertaining even when the show ripped a scene from Back to the Future. I half expected for Coulson to say, "Where we're going we don't need roads," when the pilot ended with a flying car zooming at the camera. Despite his many appearances, Coulson is still a mystery. He has had little to no backstory, and the show can explore his origins.

I hope I'm not ruining this for anyone that enjoys the show yet has never really been into Marvel comics or video games, but I'm 99.9% positive (POTENTIAL SPOILER) Coulson is a LMD, which stands for Life Model Decoy. For those that don't know, S.H.I.E.L.D. is infamous for employing LMDs, particularly Nick Fury. It's an android double of a person that can be used to hear or see and can also be controlled by the owner--my theory is that the writers might make it more of a clone than a robot, because if it was being controlled by the real Coulson the other agents obviously wouldn't have to lie to it and make up a story about vacationing in Tahiti.

One of the biggest distractions I had throughout the show (other than Chloe Bennett's hotness) was the science duo of Leo and Jemma. They had cool gadgets, brought up interesting ideas, but I missed half of their dialogue due to repeatedly talking over one another. I had the sense they were trying to go for the quirky, fast-paced back and forth and hint of unspoken sexual attraction akin to Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, but it failed. I was more annoyed than delighted, and half an hour into the show, I rooted for their demise.

The pilot wasn't a flawless start. The show has a few kinks to work through, the biggest being the cast interactions. Some actors brought their best while others seemed to still be in the process of finding their groove. There were awkward moments and lines that didn't quite feel right to me, jokes and a few scenes that ultimately flopped (the interrogation room with the truth serum, for instance). I've read a few reviews from other Marvel fans that somehow expected Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to have the action of a blockbuster. Please, don't expect that. This is television, where the CGI isn't as advanced (this show probably has better CGI than most other shows), and the budget isn't as grand as a fully produced, 200 million dollar+ movie. If given enough time to develop, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has all the makings of becoming a stellar show, finely tuned for hardcore Marvel fans and the average viewer alike. It just needs a little tweaking.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sleepy Hollow Review (Spoiler Alert)

Last night I watched the premiere of Sleepy Hollow, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Throughout the pilot I likened the premise to shows like Supernatural and Castle, where Ichabod Crane, freshly awakened in the future after sleeping for over two hundred years, and a skeptic cop named Abbie Mills team up to solve supernatural mysteries in the town of Sleepy Hollow.

A lot of the charm of the show comes from the relationship between Ichabod and Abbie, as he's prone to make unintentionally rude comments such as, "Since when do women wear trousers," and, "You've been emancipated, I take it." More than the witches and demons and the yarn about the coming apocalypse, I found myself entertained by Tom Mison's portrayal of Ichabod as he adjusted to modern society yet maintained a calculative nature. He's more interested in the world and gadgets, asking about Starbucks across the street from one another and looking into a flashlight. I do hope this is a persistent aspect of the show, for Ichabod has more than two centuries of history, social changes, and technology to catch up on. There's a reverse Life on Mars feel to it, where Ichabod is thrust forward in time rather than back, and a lot can be explored as he comes to grips with the modern world that's so different from the one he left.

I thought Nicole Beharie was a good choice for the co-lead as well. The back and forth between Ichabod and her gave me a few laughs, even when they delivered lines that were full of cheese, and it's hard for a show that deals with headless killers and witches and the four horsemen of the apocalypse to not have cheesey or awkward lines, but the actors did enough for me to buy the premise and be entertained, including Orlando Jones, who plays a more serious role than I'm accustomed to seeing from him.

Neither is Sleepy Hollow on the level of shows like Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, nor does it pretend to be. This is a show with action (a taste of what's to come was a quick showdown with a priest casting magic and the Headless Horseman sporting a shotgun) and a bit of mystery; it's sometimes dark, sometimes comedic. It's very much a show designed for pure entertainment, not introspection or a commentary on society, and if the viewer is looking for a faithful adaptation of Washington Irving's tale, this is not where to find it.

My one major complaint so far is that during the premiere they had two great actors, John Cho and Clancy Brown, that were killed off. There was little to no development with their characters, which means there was a brief window of mystery surrounding them, though I suspect Clancy Brown will be doing voiceovers throughout the series. It really irked me to have these characters introduced and killed by the Horseman almost right away. I feel as if it was a ploy to get people to watch the pilot by advertising a great cast, then having half that cast be nothing more than cameos. Of the six major characters shown in the first episode, half of them are gone--seems like a wasted opportunity to me.

All in all, the pilot was solid, and I'm a sucker for supernatural shows. While I could do with a little less of the cop show aspect, I look forward to new episodes and seeing where Sleepy Hollow takes me.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mists of Pandaria: Patch 5.4 Review

Earlier this week, the last major patch for Mists of Pandaria released. A slew of changes and additions came with the final raid in Ogrimmar to bring down Garrosh Hellscream. Since the first section of LFR doesn't come out until this Tuesday, Connected Realms are still in a test phase and not yet implemented on dying servers such as mine, and my friends on another server went ahead and did a Flex Raid without me, I haven't had the chance to see the Siege of Orgrimmar raid yet, but there's plenty to do and see this patch in the meantime, unlike 5.3.

First and foremost, there's the Timeless Isle. It's a sandbox loaded with hidden treasure chests, mini-events, rares and elites that are sure to challenge even the most skilled and seasoned players,  five world bosses, and a pet battle tournament. In this modest-sized area, item level (ilvl) 496, bind-on-account gear drops like rain in Seattle. Within a couple of hours of landing on the Isle, I received enough loot to raise the ilvl of my alt Shaman and Lock to get them into Throne of Thunder LFR and raised my Hunter's ilvl enough to get him into the Siege of Orgrimmar LFR (once it releases), all while playing on my Druid and Mage, who are both ilvl 505+. Catch up on alts is easier than it has ever been. I've received so much gear for alts this weekend that I groan when a leather specific item drops, as I have no need for them anymore.

Any piece of gear found on the Isle can also be upgraded into ilvl 535 loot, should you collect 50,000 coins, which is accomplished by hunting down treasure chests, killing rares...well, killing just about anything you see on the Isle, including the opposing faction as well as your own faction. The latter has caused an uproar through the community, and I experienced the griefing firsthand. My server is predominately Horde, so I figured I could travel around unscathed while coin collecting. I was wrong, and I was killed repeatedly by my own faction. Some servers have countered the killing of your own faction via bans, guild kicks, and blacklists, but this isn't the case on all servers, and the forums are ripe with complaints.

The Isle has a reputation faction called Shahao Emperor as well, which I haven't done much with. I have avoided this grind because it requires killing hard-hitting elites. A group is basically required to kill scores of servants of Ordos and slowly, painstakingly grind that rep. It's an old school grind like killing pirates for cartel rep, and I've never been a fan of such endeavors. Maybe next expansion when the level cap is raised I'll return to the Isle to grind the rep, since the faction offers nothing more than vanity items.

And, of course, with a new area comes new battle pets to collect and fight. There are three types of moths found on the island in the wild, as well as eleven drops from rares. I have yet to nab a rare drop, but from what I've seen on Wowhead, they look interesting. There's also a crane found randomly in their nests, and a Hozen with boxing gloves found by opening chests in a cave, where a vendor named Kukuru appears to sell keys for coins. On top of that, four miniature versions of the celestials can be achieved through the tournament.

I dabbled with the Celestial Tournament, giving up quickly. I do not have enough of certain pet families to run through the gambit of battles in this scenario, for players are not allowed to heal their pets. Round One requires defeating three teams of three legendary pets. Round Two, still not being able to heal, requires taking on four legendary elites. To win the tournament, I'll have to level at least three of every family to 25, because the Round One compositions change week to week. Not being able to heal or revive pets against legendaries also means there's a lot of casualties during the course of the tournament, and it's doubtful a pet would be used more than once.

Speaking of casualties, I attempted the daily Lil' Oondasta pet battle and had my ass handed to me. He's legendary, elite, and hits like a truck, dealing chain attacks to the back row. Having only one mechanical pet at level 25, I need two more to even stand a chance against him.

There are other ways to spend time off the Timeless Isle, such as Proving Grounds. I reached gold ranking for DPS and was one wave from unlocking Endless, garnering achievements, and that's as much as one can gain with this scenario. It's a practice mode, which doesn't offer titles or vanity items. For the most part, it was interesting and fun, yet I wish Blizzard had done more with it.

Though the new PVP season doesn't start until next week, I've played a good portion of battlegrounds. There were a lot of class changes for 5.4, and they were evident early on. I've already given up on my Boomie for PVP, deciding to focus on my Mage until Balance's mobility is improved. At this point, I may switch to my Mage full-time, and I'm growing exceedingly tired of the constant changes to classes. Having not played my Lock for months, it was frustrating returning to him and having to relearn my specs. Back and forth, the classes never seem to balance out. They continue to change and some of those changes are head-scratchers, such as making Boomies less of a DoT-spam class and more hard-casting, stationary fodder or putting a Mage's Ice Floes into stacks, making their combat clunky, or removing Destruction's ability to refresh Immolate with Fel Flame, forcing reapplication, as well as nerfing their mobility. Seriously, why is it so difficult for Blizzard to balance classes? They alter the course of every spec every patch with different design philosophies; the developers need to make up their minds about what they want out of every spec, stick to that decision, and solidify the playstyle, then scale damage, healing, etc. from there, not flip-flop with every single iteration of the game--it's infuriating. Oh, and I'd be extremely grateful if they'd ditch hard-casting all together and allowed every spell to be cast on the move the way it is in Guild Wars 2.

In 5.4, a bunch of glyphs were added. Many of them are minor glyphs with cosmetic changes like turning my Mage's Water Elemental to a meaner-looking Unbound Elemental, so scribes should be busy. They won't, however, be as busy as other crafters. Once again, Blizzard introduced a new set of daily cooldowns with scores of recipes learned via grinding and crafting mats. The best additions I have seen are for Engineers, who can craft two unique pets and an amazing mount called a Sky Golem that not only looks similar to a Shredder, it flies and can harvest while mounted. I look forward to owning one, for its mats aren't crazy or expensive but they do take a month of daily cooldowns to obtain.

Overall, I'm moderately pleased with 5.4. I feel as if I will be happier once I start raiding in the near future or can at least get my characters into LFR. Once my server is connected to another and healthier, I may even be ecstatic for a while, but I have to wonder how long the glow of a new patch will last. The upcoming transition into another expansion is going to be crucial to the continued longevity of WoW, because like myself, players tear through content quicker than before, and if we're still raiding Orgrimmar six months to a year from now, as we did in Dragon Soul, few of us will be happy...assuming we're still around.