the creature awakens

[Insert standard intro apologizing for long delay, explain that everything continues to be terrible, make flippant joke about how the news keeps getting more and more depressing, then quickly segue into how because everything sucks, it becomes more and more important (and also more and more difficult) to allow yourself the opportunity to escape), and how time is short, and if you’re reading or watching or listening or playing something that isn’t working for you, you have permission to move on to the next thing.]

BOOKS:

One of the only things I’m looking forward to at year’s end is a full recap of all the books I’ve read this year; I’ve certainly put down my fair share of books that simply weren’t working for me, but I’ve also finished a lot more books than I’d ever anticipated. And quite a few of the ones I’ve finished are excellent.

Wanderers, Chuck Wendig. This was supposed to be the big behemoth of the summer, a 900+ page modern quasi-retelling of The Stand. It works, for the most part, and for a 900+ page book it moves very quickly. It’s also a bit forgettable, and some of the characters, while entertaining, could be completely removed from the story and literally nothing would change.

This is How You Lose The Time War, Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone. I am a sucker for the epistolary novel, and this is one of the better ones. Two enemy spies in a time-travelling war leave love notes for each other.

In The Valley of the Sun, Andy Davidson. A gorgeously-written monster story, but to what end? I mean, the prose in this book is fantastic; it’s just that the story never quite goes anywhere, and there’s not much pushing the action forward.

Daisy Jones & The Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid. I genuinely loved this, and I think the only thing stopping me from loving it even more than I already do is that I’ve never had a reason to give a shit about Fleetwood Mac. There are a lot of familiar tropes here, but my favorite is probably the one rhythm guitarist who hates everything and everybody and is also the one guy not getting laid while everybody else in the band is neck-deep in ass and grass and coke and paranoia.

Mindhunter, John Douglas. Much like the Netflix series that it spawned, this works best when it’s focused on the work. The various asides about the author’s personal life are distracting and pointless and unnecessary, just like they are in the show. Everything else is lurid and riveting and horrifying.

FILM:

The wife and I don’t get to the movies as often as we used to, and when we do it’s either something family friendly or it’s something Marvel / Star Wars related. So it was a real treat to be able to go to the local fancy dine-in movie theater with reclining seats and see Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. It’s been a few weeks since we watched it, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I don’t know if that means I liked it or not; it’s a bit of a shaggy story, and it’s one that is more than content to meander and soak in all of QT’s indulgences, right up until the wildly insane final 30 minutes or so. Is it my favorite QT film? No, probably not, but it’s not like he’s ever made a clunker.

GAMES:

I’m in that zone where I’m kinda done with everything, or else I’ve hit a wall with everything.

I finished all three side islands in Dragon Quest Builder 2, and now there’s one last building for me to build and I just don’t give a shit anymore. As much as I appreciate the guided experience it gives (unlike, say, Minecraft), it’s also very tedious and clunky and the energy system is a huge pain in the ass.

I also finally dinged level 30 in Division 2 and I continue to tinker around in the final gauntlet before the endgame, and I really just wish the game was slightly better balanced in order to solo it without too many problems. I get that the game is meant to be experienced online, but I don’t know anybody else who plays it, and the game is mostly OK to solo except for the final wave of every mission, where I inevitably wipe out and have to do the whole goddamned thing again, until I quit.

As money continues to be tight I’ve resolved to use my Gamefly account more aggressively, and so while I’ve rented a bunch of notable titles, nothing seems to stick. The new Fire Emblem… is a prettier version of a genre that I’ve never been able to get into in its earlier iterations; Age of Wonders Planetfall is a very pretty Civ-esque type of game that feels clunky with a controller; Wolfenstein Youngblood looked promising but it kept overheating my Xbox One X multiple times; Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 just felt janky and shitty, and I turned it off before it could disappoint me any further.

And that’s basically it, as far as I’m concerned.

weekend recap: too much is too much

current status: that thing where i buy too much stuff all at the same time and thus can’t concentrate on any of them because i’m trying to give them all an equal opportunity and i end up going to bed early because i’m mentally exhausted and also feeling guilty for spending money that i don’t have

Look: the release of the Mueller report is depressing and disheartening and the Barr summary is absurd, and it’s hard to maintain optimism when the President of the United States is gloating like a schoolyard bully who won a punching contest with a 1st grader. In these troubled times, I end up doing what I usually do; I spend way too much money on stupid shit. And so I bought a bunch of games this weekend, and barely had time to play any of them.

I died 4-5 times in the tutorial section of Sekiro. I am intrigued and I want to continue, but I will need patience (which is in short supply) and a long stretch of uninterrupted time (which almost never happens).

I made it to the first real checkpoint in One Piece. I don’t know why I bought this game; I’m not an anime fan, and I’d never even heard of this franchise before a week or two ago. But I saw some rather intriguing preview footage, and lord knows I could use some colorful nonsense these days.

I’m up to chapter 5 in Devil May Cry 5. I’m not that much of a DMC fan; the only game I’ve played and actually liked is Ninja Theory’s DmC from a few years ago, and that was mostly because it was visually stunning. (The setpiece where you jump inside the graphics of Fox News is still one of my favorite things ever.) DmC5 is thoroughly ridiculous, and to that end I suppose it’s entertaining enough because it refuses to allow you to take it seriously. But I’m not particularly good at it, either, and my “style points” aren’t anything to brag about, which kinda defeats the purpose of the game.

I’m level 14 in Division 2. So much more to go, so much more left to do, and yet I appreciate that I can jump in and mess around for an hour and then jump out and feel like I accomplished something. Still trying to figure out a good weapon loadout; assault rifles don’t do enough damage, but rifles fire too slowly and have small ammo capacity. Weapon mods can only mitigate these issues so much. At least I’ve settled on the drone and the hive as my skills; the hive is very necessary for saving armor kits while being engaged in drawn-out firefights, and the drone is far more versatile than the turret in terms of keeping enemies occupied.

Quality Brain Food

If this blog is to ultimately serve as a diary of my media consumption, well, that makes it a bit easier to figure out what to write. Especially on days like today, when I’m feasting on the good stuff.

SO:

Last summer I wrote a thing about falling in love with a song, and it appears to have happened again. In this case, it’s “Plimsoll Punks” by Alvvays, and while I don’t necessarily need to do a moment-by-moment breakdown of it, I would like to point out a few highlights.

#1: That opening is straight out of The Smiths, and I adore it.
#2: The “You’re getting me down, getting me down, getting me down” hook is killer.
#3: Again – the guitar work all over the place is straight out of Johnny Marr’s playbook, and I have no complaints about that.
#4: Listen to the bassline at 1:53 or so, the way it hits the third instead of the root. UGH. That shit melts my brain.
#5: The singer’s voice in the third verse is so gorgeous.

_____________

[I was going to write a much longer First Few Hours-style post about The Division 2, but I don’t have the mental bandwidth today. (I feel like I haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep in about 3 months.) And in any event, while I have put in a solid dozen or so hours into it already and just dinged level 12 last night, there’s still so much more to do. In any event, what follows is what was in my drafts folder from the other day:]

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – I’m generally not into online games. I am a curmudgeon and a hermit and have no need to trade insults with young, racist whippersnappers. I like the single-player experience because it’s like playing a book. It’s made for me. I get to experience it on my own terms. And I also need to pee a lot, so I need a game that won’t punish me if I need to pause it.

When I have dabbled in online games, it’s generally for a co-op, PvE experience. The two notable exceptions to this were a several month-long phase when I had a somewhat unhealthy addiction/obsession with World of Warcraft, which needs its own post at some point, and when my Gamespot forum buddies and I would play Burnout 3 every night.

But I digress. I’m not good enough to play competitively, which is why I tend to shy away from both traditional deathmatch stuff and also the newer battle royale genre. Never cared for it, and that’s fine.

That hasn’t stopped me from playing stuff like Destiny or Anthem, or, also, the topic of today’s post – The Division 2. While they’re obviously meant to be played with groups, you can solo these games without getting unduly punished, and you can also join in with strangers rather seamlessly to take down the game’s enemies. Sure, the endgame probably won’t be as interesting if you remain a solo player, but to be honest I generally never get that far. I’ve beaten the vanilla campaigns of both Destiny 1 and 2 and The Division 1, and I got my money’s worth.

[That’s as far as I’d gotten.]

So the point that I was eventually going to get to is that The Division 2 is really and quite unexpectedly terrific. I can’t seem to get enough of it. AND THAT’S WEIRD, because, as noted above, I normally don’t get this attached to this particular genre. Playing solo is fine, though a bit more challenging than I’m happy with – but that usually just means that I need to tweak my loadout and realize that I’ve been using a wildly under-powered weapon, or that I should probably use a drone in a particular fight instead of a turret. Playing in a group with random people is, to my great surprise, A LOT MORE FUN. We’re all using different perks and playstyles and we end up complementing each other. I tend to hang back and snipe and heal, and my run-and-gun comrades end up needing my services, and I actually feel useful for a goddamned change.

Now, is the story good? OH, MERCY, no it is not. But narrative is totally unnecessary for this experience. I open the map and see that I have a mission, and in that mission I will acquire loot, and that is my primary motivation. And that’s enough. The more missions I complete, the more I can improve the quality of my safehouses, and then I can acquire better gear there, too.

And DC – as Manhattan was in the first game – is a wonder to explore. So many nooks and crannies! So many hidden caches and crates to discover! If I don’t feel like engaging with the many feral gangs roaming the streets, that’s totally OK. I mean, I’ll have to deal with them eventually, but in the meantime there’s this whole entire building that I can sneak into and pilfer to my heart’s content. It is glorious.

The whole package seems genuinely well-thought-out and put together, in all the ways that Division 1 wasn’t, at least at launch. I’m gonna be playing this for a long while.

If you want to hook up, I’m generally on during weeknights after 8pm on Xbox; my gamertag is JervoNYC. As noted above, I believe I’m at around level 12 or so. I’m always happy to tag along with fellow Agents; shit, I might even be persuaded to put on my headset.