Monday, May 25, 2015

Assassin's Creed: Unity: Dead Kings DLC review

    Warning - this will contains spoilers for Assassin's Creed: Unity.

    Assassin's Creed: Unity was a very flawed game. It had an amazing set of graphics, fun gameplay, and a lot of bonus content contrasted with a vanilla protagonist who bounced his way through a brutal misrepresentation of history. One thing which really bothered me, though, was that Arno Dorian's storyline didn't really resolve itself.

    It just stopped.

    When last we left Arno Dorian, he'd just lost the love of his life and been drummed out of the Assassins. An epilogue revealed him wearing the robes of a Master Assassin and still working with Napoleon Bonaparte but this didn't provide any context to what his current situation was. There was a rather confusing voice over about what he believed the Assassin's Creed meant but that just added more questions since none of the events in the game related to his conclusions.

    In short, it felt rushed and half-finished.

I wonder what the Assassins DO with the Pieces of Eden.
    Assassin's Creed: Unity: Dead Kings is a free DLC from Ubisoft which provides a number of answers to the game's emotional questions if not the overarching plot. Much like the Siege of Foril and Bonfire of the Vanities, Dead Kings feels like an actual part of the story. I don't think the game is really "complete" unless you choose to play it.

    So it has that recommendation.

    I should note, though, Dead Kings wasn't originally meant to be free. It was originally part of the Season Pass of the game. However, Ubisoft decided to make it free to all purchasers of the game as a means of apologizing for the dicey launch of Unity. I've got to say that it goes a long way to winning over my trust, especially knowing that purchasers of the Season Pass get a free game instead.

    So what is the premise?

The Marquis de Sade is an odd choice for Arno's sole remaining friend.
    Arno Dorian is sick of France after the death of Elise at the hands of Germaine. Contacting the Marquis de Sade, he asks for help in getting to Egypt. Why Egypt? Maybe Arno wants to climb the pyramids. Anyway, the Marquis' price is the recovery of a treasure map which gets him involved in Napoleon's plot to recover another Piece of Eden. Along the way, Arno befriends a small boy named Leon who helps him recover a sense of purpose about what he's supposed to be doing with his life.

    There's a lot wrong with this premise, ranging from the fact I don't see why Arno Dorian needs help from a crime lord to get out of France when he can just buy a ticket. There's also the fact I'm not sure what the Marquis wants versus Napoleon versus everyone else. I'm sure it was explained but the plot seems to be almost an excuse. Plus, any time a story depends on the idea of the main character teaming up with a bratty adolescent--you know there's going to be problems.

    Yet, despite this, I liked it.

The bats are an annoyance as is the constant need to refill the lamp.
    The biggest thing this DLC has going for it is Arno's new cynical hard-edged personality. He actually emotes more than smug arrogant swashbuckler. Really, I'm kind of sad the storyline is about him regaining faith in the Assassin cause because I liked his new personality. Leon also serves a decent role as symbolizing Arno's lost idealism.

    Really, the entire DLC is nothing but one gigantic scavenger hunt for yet another Piece of Eden. It's about the laziest plotline you could conceive of for Assassin's Creed. Still, it's a well-done lazy bit of plotting with lots of strange puzzles and Indiana Jones-like scenes. It also culminates in getting a chance to use a Piece of Eden against the hordes of annoying bandits you faced in the previous levels.

    The graphics are well-done, too, with the city of Saint Denis being a fog-encrusted town filled with ruined churches and creepy cemeteries. The creepy sense of the macabre and decay contrasts with the relatively uplifting story, giving the game a unique feel. The addition of a lantern mechanic doesn't add much to the story but I enjoyed the new enemy types who are the first in the history of the franchise to realize fighting a superpowered ninja is stupid.

Leon could have easily been as annoying as Scrappy Doo but, shockingly, isn't.
    The biggest addition for the game is the "Guillotine Gun" which is a bazooka which can also serve as a spear. It's a kind of bizarre weapon that's out of place in the game but given it's shown up in the inventory of the main game from the beginning, a lot of us were looking forward to it. While useless to those of us who prefer to minimize casualties, it's wonderful for mass mayhem.

    Overall, I'm going to compliment the DLC as being slightly more enjoyable than the original, accent on slightly, even if it is derivative treasure hunt.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Zombie Attack!: Army of the Dead review

    The Zombie Attack! novels are a series of Young Adult novels by Devan Sagliani about the adventures of Xander Macnamarra. a seventeen-year-old martial arts student with a katana, and ex-child star Felicity. The two of them and their companions travel across the ruins of the United States, trying to avoid outlaws and the ever-hungry hordes of the undead scavenging across it.

    The premise of this book picks up immediately after Curse of the Living. After the capture of Xander MacNamarra, Felicity, and Sonya by an old enemy--they discover there is a secret cabal working to overthrow the government of the United States remnant plus an alliance with the local bandits. Joining forces with Xander's brother, Moto, they try and thwart this plan before the last bastion of civilization in the world is destroyed for good.

    I very much enjoyed Army of the Dead. It's a story which manages to wrap up Xander and Felicity's story for a second time. I would very much like to see their continuing adventures after this book but can understand why, after the announcement at the end of the book, why this would be difficult.

    The coup de'tat plotline is one which I could take or leave. While an excellent concept, calling into question how much Xander and his brother should have trusted the United States armed forces (especially when they don't answer to any civilian government), I wasn't really sold on them. We never got a really good confrontation moment between their leader and Xander, so he remained mostly a caricature with a supervillain-esque plot.

    Despite this, I liked the book had a running theme. The survivors of the zombie apocalypse have all managed to cordon themselves off into little self-sufficient kingdoms. All of them want to reform the United States but the villains have the idea this can only be done through conquest. In truth, it probably only can be because not too many people have much respect lingering for the US of A (which failed to stop the zombies). It's just that creating the USA by conquest is exactly the opposite of the way it should exist (history aside).

    Doubly so, if it involves unleashing zombies on your neighbors.

    I liked the expanded role of Sonya and Moto in the book, who form an excellent couple of badasses. I would happily read a book about them, even if they're kind of old for the role of Young Adult heroes. I would love to watch them as actual novel protagonists, though, since they're a post-apocalyptic samurai and bounty hunter.

    My inner twelve-year-old loves that.

    The villains in the book are delightfully scummy. While I'm a big fan of moral ambiguity in zombie apocalypse stories, sometimes it's great to just enjoy good guys fighting bad. I love the fates which befall all of our bad guys this time around and they are suitably imaginative. I'm not a big fan of "super zombies", at least outside of Resident Evil but their appearance in this book worked well.

    I also liked we got some insight into the reasons for the zombie apocalypse. The author could have easily made the creator of the virus a complete monster but he chose to go a more interesting route. I kind of regret we didn't get a chance to see how someone does live with the guilt of destroying the world but, I suppose, "you don't" is a good enough answer as any.

    One thing I do object to is the decision to move Felicity and Xander's relationship forward even more than it already had been. The pair had been running into problems because they got married to soon in the second book, only now for the next step in a relationship to occur when they resolved that. I would have appreciated if the author had taken the time to let their marriage settle before rushing into things but, hey, these things happen.

    In conclusion, I found Zombie Attack!: Army of the Dead to be a great end to the Zombie Attack! trilogy and Xander MacNamarra's adventures in particular. It had some flaws but it was pretty enjoyable all the way through.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Zombie Attack!: Curse of the Living review

    I liked the light-hearted but still serious Young Adult novel Zombie Attack!: Rise of the Horde (reviewed here). I'm a great believer that those years from thirteen to eighteen are when kids develop a desire for more mature content and it's the obligation of writers to provide them with that. Having enjoyed the original novel, I was pleased to hear that not only had Devan Sagliani written a sequel but having finished it, he decided it was worth splitting into two novels and expanding into as series.

    So what is the premise?

    Xander MacNamarra has survived the zombie apocalypse, managing to join up with the United States military's remnant on the California coast. This has its ups and downs as while it's given him the stability to marry his girlfriend, Felicity, it has also resulted in his recruitment. Because of his relationship with his high-ranking brother, Xander is promoted to a leadership position over men twice his age and put in charge of defending one of the civilian camps despite not being ready for it.

    Command doesn't agree with Xander and he quickly alienates the people he's supposed to be protecting. Paranoia, mistrust, and a series of unfortunate events result in him on the run with his bride across the zombie and outlaw-filled wastelands once more. Add in a new friend who might be a foe, bounty hunter Sonya, and you have an excellent basis for a story.

    The start of the book is the weakest portion, forcing a believable but boring jealousy plotline to emerge between Xander and his wife. Xander becomes insanely jealous of Felicity's friendship with a male coworker for the first half of the book and the second half reverses to her being jealous of Xander's relationship with Sonya.

    This isn't unrealistic as seventeen-year-olds are stupid, I know, I was one once, but it's annoying. I'm also not fond of the resolution given I'm not a big fan of, "You can't be jealous of X, because he's gay!" As if it's less wrong that he's jealous of a heterosexual male friend. As for the second bit of jealousy? Well, that would be spoiling a major subplot so I'll just say it was obvious to me what was really going on.

    Despite this, there's a lot to like about both the novel and its characterization. The original novel felt like a stand-alone  but the author expands on both the world as well as its central couple. The addition of Sonya is welcome given the decided lack of estrogen in the original novel. Besides, who doesn't like a blonde Samus Aran-esque bounty hunter in the post-apocalypse world? Sonya is a great character who reminds the audience that, yes, adults can be awesome too.

    The heart of the novels, though, is the main character and his internal monologues. Xander MacNamarra is a capable swordsman, intelligent, and tough but he makes mistakes. He's also overwhelmed by people who are stronger than him or multiple opponents. With so many youthful protagonists being unbelievable badasses despite their age, it's nice to have someone who is authentic feeling.

    I'm also a huge fan of Felicity, who despite being a child star, also comes off as someone I could see existing in real-life. She's intelligent, brave, and quite a good deal smarter than Xander. Felicity isn't an action girl like Sonya but manages to impress with her strength of character and compassion. She's never weak or a load on the characters, too, so I'm quite willing to think of her as Xander's equal despite her needing a weapon of some kind. Maybe she can take pistol training in the upcoming books or something.

    I will give props to the author for the fact he managed to turn around a scenario I thought was a mistake. When the pair married at the end of the first book, I thought it was a trifle unrealistic given their ages. Of course, seventeen-year-olds make mistakes like this all the time. Perhaps not quite as bad but the pair's parents aren't there to haul them back either. I applaud the author for being honest that marriage wouldn't be all sunshine and roses even if I didn't quite like the way he went about it.

    The setting is also great and the author gets a chance to expand on it much more than the first book allowed. It's a weird combination of science-fiction apocalypses with zombies being a lesser problem than the roving gangs you'd find in, say, Mad Max. This would make a pretty decent video game setting as the environment provides very different sorts of challenges for our heroes.
    The world is still mostly-civilized but it's broken up into dozens of smaller nations with countless outlaws living on the fringes of society. Zombies are a common problem but not an insurmountable one, just one which is preventing rebuilding. I like that many of the warlords and leaders of the post-apocalypse world have plans for rebuilding society--it's just they have very different ideas about what said society is going to look like.

    In conclusion, Curse of the Living is a very good entry into the genre. It's not perfect but I think it's very good. It also does its job of making me think there's a full-fledged series worth of material here. As for myself, I'm interested in reading the Adventures of Mr. and Mrs. MacNamarra for many books to come.


Buy at

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dead Eye: Pennies for the Ferryman review

    Ghosts are the red-headed stepchild of the monster world.

    The problem with them is inherent: people want ghosts to exist. You can't say that about vampires, demons, or werewolves. Everyone, though, would like there to be proof positive of an afterlife. Also, ghost stories rarely have much of an impression. They're usually restricted to a singular haunted house or possessing people at their worst. This is far from the level of danger that a vampire represents to life and limb.

    Jim Bernheimer's Dead Eye solve most of these problems.

    He might not have written the ghostly version of The Dresden Files, mostly because Jim Butcher already did that with Ghost Story, but he's written something which is in the same ballpark. Dead Eye is a fun, witty, and engaging comedy-horror series. The first novel is a great start to what I hope is a longstanding series.

    The premise is Mike Ross, Iraq War veteran, has lost his eye due to a roadside bomb. Getting an cornea transplant from a psychic, he discovers this awakens his own latent potential. Mike is soon deluged with requests for help from the local spirits ranging from helping them solve their own murders to protecting loved ones. Soon, Mike discovers the spirit world is full of the same sorts of predators the living world is, including a set of powerful warlords who have divided the United States between them.

    Mike Ross is an excellent protagonist, possessing a dry understated sense of humor and a reluctant sense of humor. Mike is more interested in making money with his gift than being a monster hunter but he's not going to prey on people's grief either. While an army veteran, he's not a combat expert either. As such, Mike Ross is a perfectly "believable" hero overlooking his magical eye.

    I also like Mike's supporting cast of living and dead assistants. I'm particularly fond of his potential love interests Jenny and Candy. Jenny is an enthusiastic young woman who loves the idea of involving herself in the supernatural world. Candy, by contrast, is a fun-loving police officer who helps Mike through his problems. Of the two, I much preferred Candy but it seems the author prefers Jenny.

    The book functions as a series of events more than a single coherent narrative, putting Mike through a series of increasingly-oddball situations. We get to follow him as he slowly develops confidence in his abilities, figures out the origins of his powers, and copes with their effect on his mundane life. I especially liked how Mike deals with the fact his mother thinks he's either becoming a con man or gone insane.

    I'm a big fan of the book's episodic storytelling as it manages to give us a sense of the character through multiple adventures rather than just one crazy day. Jim Bernheimer has an eye for detail as to how an ability like Mike's would slowly take over his life. We see the ups and downs through cases both big and small. I like, also, how some people are more skeptical than others while no one reacts in a way which would make me think this wasn't taking place in the quote-unquote real-world.

    Despite this, the author lays the groundwork for a larger plot involving the Arlington National Cemetery Warlords and a being called the Beast. There's plenty of set-up for an entire series of books and I would find them very interesting to read. While ghosts are the only "monster" variety in the Dead Eye world, there are multiple types of ghosts with varying ranges of ability.

    The fact some humans are vulnerable to possession and capable of being affected by ghosts gives spooks some bite. I also like how ghosts are no different from the people they are in life. Some are good, some are evil, and most fall somewhere in-between with their moralities tending to reflect the time which they died. There's quite a few humorous scenes influenced by the fact Mike is dealing with people who grew up in the 19th century.

    The American Civil War plays a big role in the setting's history, providing several historical and pseudo-historical figures to series' mythology. An ongoing subplot is ghosts draining energy from their memorials in the living world. This helps with the realism of the book, showing a world where the living and the dead are still intertwined. It's imaginative world-building like that which makes the book a cut above typical examples of the genre.

    The book has some flaws. For instance, I thought the author telegraphed too much that he didn't think Candy and Mike weren't right for each other, not allowing their relationship to progress believably. A series of unbelievable obstacles threw themselves in their way for seemingly no other reason than to prevent the two from getting together. Likewise, I felt the climatic confrontation between Mike and the Beast was unnecessary. The book had a perfectly sound climax with villain "Lord Justice." I believe the later third of the book should have been an entire volume in itself. I don't think the book is all that worse for either, though.

    This is a great urban fantasy novel and I think fans of the genre would really love it. Its got great world-building, characterization, humor, and action. I recommend anyone who wants a quick enjoyable paranormal read to pick it up.


Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood review

    Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is the sequel to Assassin's Creed 2, continuing the adventures of Ezio Auditore. Originally slated to be a DLC, it proved to have enough material for an entirely new game.

    The premise is Desmond Miles and the other Assassins have to flee their base in order to continue probing Ezio's memories for clues about the First Civilization. Taking up residence in the ruins of the Auditore mansion, they bond over the danger they face from the Templar's global sweep for them.

    Back in the past, Ezio returns triumphant from defeating Rodrigo Borgia's attempt to open the First Civilization Vault at the climax of Assassin's Creed 2. Unfortunately, Ezio overestimates the damage he's done to the Borgia family as Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia lead an army to avenge their father. His uncle killed and adopted hometown leveled, Ezio decides to pay the Borgias back by journeying to Rome and undermining their rule by taking out their supporters one-by-one.

Cesare and Lucrezia were the perfect choices for a follow-up story and historically accurate too.
    Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia are fine villains, despite being extremely over-the-top. Realism isn't always the best thing for a character, however, as sometimes you just want to deal with a pair of incestuous power-hungry weirdos. The fact neither villain is portrayed as particularly smart or capable of dealing with Ezio's plans works surprisingly well. You get to dismantle their empire like a Renaissance Batman and the story is profoundly satisfying.

    Ezio's supporting cast this time around includes the unexpected addition of Machiavelli, who provides a cynical contrast to Ezio's humanist optimism. There's also Le Volpe, a lovable rogue who provides a hot-headed contrast to Ezio's intelligence. Ezio's sister Claudia, who played only a minor role in the previous game, also ascends to become an Assassin herself.

    Much of the game is devoted to following Ezio's emotional journey from a hotheaded young man to the Mentor of the Assassins. The game wouldn't be nearly as emotionally poignant or powerful if we hadn't followed Ezio's journey from his teenage years to adulthood to middle-age. We see Ezio grow into his role as a Master Assassin and it feels earned, unlike so many games where you become the Listener or Archmage of a Guild after just a few favors on behalf of your bosses.

    Yes, I mean Skyrim.

Rome isn't as diverse as AC 2 but still a very satisfying open-world environment.
    The heart of the game, though, isn't the characters but Rome. The game nicely captures the fact that, far from being the center of the world, Rome during the Borgias was at its lowest point. About the only thing missing is the incredible prevalence of syphilis afflicting the city at the time. Rome is a great city to climb around with plenty of ancient monuments, ruins, and so forth to climb around. Indeed, such attention to these is paid that it sometimes makes Rome feel like a series of quaint little villages built in the ruins of a once-grand city   

    The big addition to the gameplay is that Ezio isn't just going to rooftops to synchronize his viewpoints this time around. No, he has to go to each district of the city and destroy a Borgia fortress after assassinating its Captain in order to liberate it. The game makes you feel like a big hero by having the regions be economically depressed, suspicious, and depressed looking places before becoming vibrantly alive ones you can refurbish if you free them. Historically accurate or not, it makes you feel like a big hero.

    Another feature added to the game is the titular Brotherhood. Ezio can recruit Assassins by rescuing them from the Borgia troops and then sending them on missions across Europe to undermine the Templars. He can also utilize them as weapons against the Templars in the city proper, calling them down like air strikes once you've built up your Brotherhood enough. It can be a bit game-breaking but the sensation of being the Mentor is more than worth it.

Going supervillain on Cesare's forces with Clockpunk mad science is my favorite part of the game.
    There's a trio of wild missions where Leonardo Davinchi sends you on quests to destroy his weapons designed for the Borgias. These are just completely insane and set you against wooden tanks, airplanes, and other devices in hopes of preventing Cesare from taking over the world with them. I loved them. The fact the game remembers Leonardo worked for the Borgias is a nice little bit of historical accuracy (as is the fact the Prince was possibly meant to be an insult in its dedication to Cesare).

    The game isn't without its flaws. Traveling around Rome can get tedious, even with the addition of a horse to speed up travel. Likewise, the game's system of having Ezio buy up land for development seems like a rather curious diversion for Renaissance Batman. The DLC for the game is less necessary than in Assassin's Creed 2, consisting primarily of a story about Leonardo being kidnapped by mathematician cult. I was also annoyed by the fact Ezio gets his character model updated while Claudia's remains the same as from when she was a teenage girl. These are minor flaws in the grand scheme of things, though, and ones I barely noticed.

This could have been a great finale to Ezio's adventures.
    In conclusion, this is a fabulous game. It's hard to separate it from it from Assassin's Creed 2 in that it's all just one gigantic story. Unfortunately, this isn't the last we see of Ezio as there is too much of a good thing. I'll get to that in Assassin's Creed: Revelation's review. Despite this, I can't help but give this game glowing remarks. There's no point in playing the game without having played its predecessor but both form a beautiful duology. Also, the ending of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood's modern campaign will shock the hell out of you.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Assassin's Creed 2 review

    In honor of the Assassin's Creed: Syndicate trailer release, I've decided to go back and try to finish all of my reviews for the Assassin's Creed games up to the present. It's a bit late for most but, if nothing else, they'll hopefully be fun for readers who remember the games fondly.

    Assassin's Creed 2 remains, for many fans, the benchmark by which other Assassin's Creed games are judged. Its protagonist, Ezio Auditore, has surpassed Altair for most recognizable character of the franchise. He was so beloved that he starred in not one or two but three major games with a CGI movie epilogue for his adventures.

The architecture you get to run around on is gorgeous.
    Likewise, the game was considered a massive improvement over the original in terms of gameplay as well as storytelling. Praise was not universal for the sequel, though, as many felt the series also backed away from its more controversial themes regarding religion and moral relativism.

    The premise is divided into two separate stories, the same as most games in the series. In the present day, Desmond Miles has just escaped Abstergo Industries and discovered he is the key to finding a the legendary Pieces of Eden (technological artifacts of immeasurable power). Introduced to fellow Assassins Shaun Hastings and Rebecca Crane, Desmond must continue to probe his genetic memory to gain further clues to the Pieces of Eden's location.

    This leads us to Desmond's ancestor, Ezio, who is a stark contrast to the dour and humorless Altair. Whereas the original game was overly serious and somber, Ezio's adventures have the general theme and attitude of a swashbuckling historical epic.

Desmond gets a lot of character development this time around and I really started to like his story here.
    Without spoiling events, Ezio starts out his life both happy and carefree with a family that quickly ingratiates itself to the player. Events quickly disrupt that life for Ezio and he finds himself on a collision course with the most infamous corrupt Pope of all time: Rodrigo Borgia. Ezio must work behind the scenes to thwart Rodrigo's attempts to take over Italy from behind-the-scenes and weaken him enough to strike directly.

    This involves stabbing, parkour, and more stabbing.

    The game is a little more scripted this time around than in the Holy Land, giving you basically one or two paths to successfully reach the majority of your targets. There's a few exceptions to this so it doesn't feel like you're being confined but I felt a slight restriction in my freedom from the original game. This is compensated for by giving Ezio a great number of new weapons and devices, most of which are made by the game's most famous guest-star, Leonardo DaVinchi.

The parkour and stabbing was improved from the original game as well. Albeit, you still stick to walls when you don't want to.
    I give props to Assassin's Creed 2 for creating an eclectic cast of supporting characters to prop up Ezio's journey, too. The game wouldn't be nearly as entertaining if not for Claudia, Leonardo, Uncle Mario, Caterina Sforza, and your various Assassin mentors. Even minor characters like Christina and Lorenzo D'Medici make an impression for their short time on camera.

    The game has a surprising number of strong female characters, which is something that a lot of games are lucky to sport only one of but which Assassin's Creed 2 has several. Some are love-interests but quite a few simply are important members of the plot with their own agendas. Caterina Sfroza is a character I never expected to be a love interest of a video game protagonist but it works wonderfully in the context of the game. Really, I regret the games didn't do this for other historical female characters (or male in Aveline's case).

    The cities are not as advanced as they would be in later games, obviously, but I enjoyed the sheer variety of the locations you manage to visit. You get to Florence, the Vatican, Venice, castles, dungeons, palaces, secret thieves guilds, and carnivals. The graphics may not be eye-popping anymore but they're perfectly sound and that is better than a lot of games of its period. The sidequests and collecting is not as as advanced as it would be in this game but there's plenty of fun to be had tracking down every collectible on the map. The only ones I object to are assassination missions for Lorenzo D'Medici since, really, killing his political enemies is hardly heroic.

    I should mention that Assassin's Creed 2 is one of those games which benefits strongly from purchasing its DLC. The Bonfire of the Vanities and Siege of Foril were originally supposed to be part of the game and it shows. When played together, they add some truly epic set pieces which are a shame to play the game without (even if they're not strictly necessary). The fact Salvanarola was portrayed as a religious reformer who went too far rather than a complete caricature was a welcome bit of historical accuracy.

The opportunity to get in a fist-fight with a corrupt Pope is not to be missed.
    Speaking of history, its presentation in the game is better than I expected. While something of a gross simplification of Renaissance Italy's politics, here's plenty of legitimate scholarship on display here. While Rodrigo Borgia wasn't the papal version of Lex Luthor, the fact the game educates about things like the Pazzi Conspiracy is a definite feather in its cap. As I mentioned it to my students, there's nothing you do to make real history more bloody and exciting.

    In conclusion, Assassin's Creed 2 is just an awesome game. It's the perfect sequel for launching a popular but mixed-reception game into the multi-game global franchise it's become today. This game stands well on its own but also led to the equally-excellent Brotherhood, which we will be reviewing next.


Star Wars: Legacy (hardcover) volume 3 review

    The third volume in the Star Wars: Legacy omnibuses is is the end of all the major plots from the beginning of the series. The original series managed to get up to fifty-issues before being abruptly cancelled but Dark Horse comics was kind enough to allow the creators to have an extra six-issue miniseries, entitled Star Wars: Legacy: War, in order to wrap up its outstanding plot threads. The fact they would eventually revive the series afterward before losing their license to Marvel comics makes this decision quite curious but that is neither here nor there. Volume 3 includes all of the remaining issues up to and including War which gives it a complete, if rushed, epic finale.

    In retrospect, it was clear they were laying the groundwork for the grand finale of the series from the very beginning. While Cade Skywalker remains as obstinate as ever, the alliance between the Empire/Jedi/Galactic Alliance is coming together in the background while the Sith have a new leader in Darth Wyrrlok. I'm a big fan of Darth Wyrrlok because he's a much more intelligent-seeming antagonist than Darth Krayt. The fact he has the ambition to convert the entire galaxy to the Sith way is both brilliant as well as insane. While it's no spoiler that Darth Krayt eventually returns for War, due to being on the cover and all, it's kind of a shame because Wyrrlok outshines him in virtually all respects.

    Much of the volume before the War portion of the book deals with the aftermath of Dac's poisoning by a Sith mad scientist named Vul Isen. The Mon Calamari have been a mainstay of the Star Wars Expanded Universe since Return of the Jedi so watching them forced to flee their homes is a heartbreaking development. Cade decides to split the difference between actually doing something with his life and pursuing the very high bounty on Vul Isen's head. I suppose if you're going to continue being a complete waste of space, then the best thing to do is do that while hunting Space Nazi war criminals.

The art is, as always, masterful.
    Darth Maladi intervenes during this period and we get some insight into her character as she tries to hunt down Cade Skywalker for her (new) master. On the Imperial side of things, Marasiah Fel is threatened (again) and it falls to Ganner to find out whether his loyalty is to her or his master. I could have done without that bit of story recycling since I was hoping Marasiah Fel would prove more competent than she's proven to be. She's less Leia and more Padme in this series.

    Really, though, most of these plot developments are just counting down for the grand finale. Darth Krayt's return, his revelation of a new group of Sith entirely loyal to him, and his genocidal plans for the galaxy. With the destruction of everything threatened by the One Sith, can everyone put aside their differences to defeat the Dark Lord? Can Cade Skywalker prove himself great enough to save the universe?

    Of course. This is Star Wars, not Warhammer 40K.

     I can't say I'm very pleased with Darth Krayt's transformation from a well-intentioned extremist who believed he was reformer the Sith to be less prone to infighting into a literal omnicidal maniac. He was always a genocidal monster but I was hoping he might keep some depths until the end of his journey. Likewise, neither Darth Nihl or Darth Talon ever get much character development. We also see a reverse of Darth Vader's rise from grace with the increasing instability and insanity of Roan Fel. His fall to the Dark Side had been telegraphed from the very beginning but was still disappointing in the end.

    The Jedi's role in the conflict was also minimized, keeping the focus squarely on Cade Skywalker's ability to defeat the Dark Lord. When I first heard about the Sith's return, I was hoping that we would get regular battles between the Jedi and their counterparts ala The Old Republic. Instead, they have ever remained the perpetual victims in this volume with the exception of Wolf and Shado. This was disappointing but not entirely unexpected. I have the feeling they wanted to tell a story about the Jedi Knighthood near-extinction but were forced by fan reaction or simply the sheer number of Sith to back down.

    One thing I appreciate in the story is its focus on redemption: both Nyna Calixte's and Cade Skywalker's. Both individuals have been hovering on the Dark Side for some time and it's a good thing to see them realize that's not where they wanted to be. I would have preferred seeing a truly evil character come back from the brink but that's just quibbling over details. The finale of the series gives everyone a chance to shine and there's plenty of other good stories spread throughout the volume.

     The art is, as always, very beautiful. It manages to capture the newly-healed Darth Krayt in a way which is both menacing and understated. I also like the fabulous renderings of characters whether they're in space, in jungles, on spaceships, or in cities. Dialogue is crisp and well-written with none of the franchise's usual clunkers.

Darth Krayt's new visual design is stunning.
    So what did I think of Legacy in the end? Mostly, I think it was a successful experiment. We got to tell a slightly darker, more-adult version of the franchise's story. Not everything was successful as the repetition of the Jedi Purge, Cade Skywalker's unearned status as the hero, and the sidelining of Marasiah Fel hurt the narrative.

    A story about a drug-addicted Skywalker who comes to terms with his unwanted destiny to become a better man seems like it would make a better novel than a comic. Also, it would have been better appreciated if the entire galaxy wasn't at stake. Given it's shown that Cade could have killed Darth Krayt at any given time, it's kind of underwhelming when he finally has his fatal confrontation with the man. As a certain President once said, "the only thing to fear is fear itself." Never was that more true with a Sith Lord who regularly got his butt handed to him by Cade.

    Ultimately, Volume 3 is a satisfying, if not spectacular, ending to the Legacy saga. I would have preferred if they hadn't gone with the very obvious direction they had with Cade Skywalker's journey or sped it up, either way, but it's still an appropriate ending. I also give props to Dark Horse comics for coming up with a fifty-six issue epic. It wasn't always hits but it was rarely misses and what other comic can say that, consistently?

    Only a few.