Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The OA

Title: The OA
Outlet: Netflix
Net: A show built on a mystery, centered on a character you want to understand.

As I said in the post which contains The List, I realized, as I was discussing "TV" shows with people, I had begun to forget to recommend "The OA."  And that's too bad!

The problem with trying to get people to watch "The OA" is that telling them almost anything about the plot spoils something which gets revealed in such an entertaining way, often in such a profound way, that it seems unfair to do that to a friend.

Here's kinda what I mean.

When Sherry and I started the first episode of "The OA" the ONLY thing we knew about it was that it had been recommended to us by people who we trust - people who know the kind of thing we enjoy watching.  Whoever it was (please take credit if you were among the people who recommended it; I simply can't recall; I have this feeling it was Lucas and Amelia, but maybe not...) also told us to watch it without knowing anything.  And we did.

Each episode unwraps more and more of the mystery -- while, of course, adding new mysteries which need unwrapping -- without ever (ever!) seeming like a typical "red herring driven" or "you know this is not the answer because there's still 20 minutes left in the episode" mystery.  This is not some "whodunit?"  It's a "what's going on?!?"

Did you ever watch "Lost?" If you did, and you were drawn in as so much of the viewing public was, the "hook" of that show was the surprise endings that might have sorta/kinda answered some small part of a mystery, while at the same time shocking you with a NEW mystery you couldn't wait to see unfold next week.  Well, at its best, "Lost" was good at that.  "The OA" is at least that good.

Now I know at least one person who was not hooked after watching an episode or two, so I must accept that this show is not for everyone.  But I think if you just start watching episode one on a Friday night, and you give it your full attention, you will finish the season by Monday.  At least for us, it was binge-worthy on the order of "Stranger Things."

And I still haven't told you what it's about.  Maybe, someday, I'll add some spoilers to this.  But not now.  I will not spoil the thrill you can get if you walk in with just a recommendation.

It's good.  Start it.  Pay attention.  

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Title: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Outlet: Amazon Prime Video
Net: Great story; lots of laughs; wonderful characters; Almost everyone will like this!

Introduction: Miriam Maisel has the perfect life as the perfect Jewish wife in New York in the 1950's.  And it's no wonder - she's been working at it for years, and she's very good at what she does. She has two children (a boy AND a girl), an apartment in the same building as her parents, and a husband with a good job. Her husband even has an unusual interest in addition to his good job, so Miriam supports him, working her Midge magic to get him better opportunities.  Everything is perfect.  Until it isn't.  Her perfect life is thrown into ruins -- at least, "ruins" using the definition she, her friends, her family, and her upper-class Jewish culture all agreed on. Now what?

OK, folks, here is one of the "reviews" I'm going to write which will be in two sections.  This first part contains no spoilers.  I bet if you've heard even a little bit about this show, you know more than I'm going to tell you in the non-spoiler section.  But there are some things I can say without spoilers.

This is a very funny show!  The writing is crisp, the comedy very well built on reality, on pathos, on character.  Speaking of characters, there may be no more lovable character in the shows on The List than Miriam Maisel.  And her father is played by Tony Shaloub of "Monk" fame.  Think about this: have you ever seen Tony Shaloub in something and not enjoyed it?  He plays a college math professor, completely entrenched in the 1950s role prescribed by his job, culture and status as father and husband.  Though he is not the primary character in this show, he has foils in his daughter, his wife, and his wife's father-in-law, and those interactions are worth the price of admission.

But it's Miriam's show.  Sometimes called "Midge," Miriam has to figure out how to adapt to a very different life than she planned, while dealing with the outrageous (but historically and culturally accurate) expectations placed on her.  As you'd expect, she faces trials and roadblocks, but she starts to find her way into a new normal -- a normal that is quite abnormal, in the eyes of everyone she knows.

I can recommend this show to everyone.  Now, admittedly, there is a little brief nudity, so if you are completely put off by that (I think there are still a few people in the world) then have someone tell you when to close your eyes for 2.7 seconds.  The nudity is actually important to the story.  And, yes, there are some "bad words" but nothing out of the ordinary for mature fare these days.  And a few sexual innuendo comedic moments.  But seriously?  You will laugh.  And you will fall in love with Mrs. Maisel.

(This post is part of The List.)

OK, now I put in the SPOILER buffer so I can say a bit more to people who don't mind that sort of thing, or who have seen the show and want to see what I have to say about it.

    * * * S P O I L E R S * B E L O W * * *

    * * * S P O I L E R S * B E L O W * * *

Most of what I'm about to write comes from the very first episode.

Miriam's husband, Joel, wants to be a stand-up comic.  Or, at least, he wants to work at it enough that he and Miriam leave the two children with her parents and their housekeeper on some evenings and go to a club where he can try out his act. After one disappointing night at the club, Joel informs Miriam that he doesn't like the life he has, and leaves her.  Just like that.

Now, Miriam is suddenly a woman whose husband has left, and is on a path to becoming a divorcee.  This is not the path she planned for.

There is nothing about this situation which is Miriam's fault.  Yet, in the 1950s social web in which she lives, the repercussions fall hard on her, as does the blame, and the responsibility to fix her situation.

Overwhelmed by her complete lack of control, Miriam gets very drunk, goes to the club where Joel had performed, gets on stage, and tells the audience her troubles.  And she makes them laugh.  Oh, does she make them laugh!

She also gets arrested.

For the rest of the 10 episode season, the consequences of that fateful sequence of events transform her life, as Miriam has to figure out what to do now that she is not the wife in a married couple, and now that she has seen a skill in herself she had never dreamed she had.

A couple of other character notes.

Alex Borstein plays Susie Myerson, who recognizes the raw talent Miriam displays, and wants to throw her lot in with the hero.  But she is no ordinary sidekick.  Not by a long shot.

Luke Kirby plays Lenny Bruce.  Yes, THAT Lenny Bruce.  I want to believe this show is based on history just so I can imagine this is what Lenny Bruce was really like.

And Jane Lynch! Jane Lynch has a role I am not going to spoil.

If this show only had one season, it would be a great show.  But I am pleased to say it has another coming out soon.  Thank goodness!  I'll laugh and laugh and love Mrs. Maisel.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Chilling Adentures of Sabrina

Title: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Outlet: Netflix
Net: Not for everyone, but if you enjoy creative horror and can handle gore, and blatant Satanic mythology, you will find creative ideas and a very likeable hero.

Introduction: Sabrina Spellman is a young half-witch living in Greendale. She attends a normal high school with her mortal friends, but lives with her witch aunties, Zelda and Hilda, in their house, which is also the town mortuary.  As the series begins, she is approaching her sixteenth birthday, which naturally (or supernaturally, I suppose) occurs on Hallowe'en when a blood moon will appear.  On that birthday, she will be expected to sign her name in the book of the Dark Lord, and leave her mortal world behind.

None of what I've written so far is a spoiler.  You learn all of this within the first act of the first episode, and presumably you've started watching this show because of its premise.

Here are some other things you might know, or you might not.  They helped me decide to give this series a try.

Sabrina, the character, is from the "Archie" comic universe.  A very wholesome universe in the comics.  She was far more interesting a character than most of those found in Archie's hometown of Riverdale.  And, from my recollection, she was sweet and good-hearted.

Sabrina has had at least one other TV adaptation. I won't go look it up to see if there were more because the one I remember, which influenced me to try this one, starred Melissa Joan Hart.  It was a sitcom, and was, like the comics, sweet and wholesome.  (Hart was the perfect match for this, having come from Clarissa Explains It All, a Nickelodeon show which was one of the best "children's shows" which existed while my kids were growing up -- but I digress.)

Now, before you get the wrong idea, I was pretty darn sure that this new interpretation of the world of Sabrina was not going to be wholesome.  I've heard of the WB show Riverdale, and what I've heard makes it clear that it does not have a typical "Archie" flavor.  I have not seen it, at all, but I've been told.  So, I expected the new "Sabrina" to push the envelope.

Boy, does it!

Caveat:  At the point when I am writing this, I have only seen the first 5 episodes of the ten-episode first season.  If I decide to revise this review after seeing the full season, I will add to the bottom of this review.  Right now, at this moment, having finished 5 episodes, I wanted to capture my feelings.  I think it's important.  Here's why.

I almost stopped watching this series three times before episode five finished.  But now I am hooked.

As I said above, the Archie-verse, in the comics, is wholesome.  Even Sabrina, in the comics, though she's a witch, never deals with the evil side which is part and parcel of witchcraft in lore, legend and culture.  I knew this Netflix-produced show would be able to break through and incorporate some traditional horror.  I just didn't know how deeply they'd wade into that material.

They don't wade.  They dive!

The Witch Coven of Greendale serve the Dark Lord, but they don't just leave him with that name which has also meant Voldemort and other fictional enemies.  No.  They name him: Satan.  Well, OK, then.  This show is going to just flat out jump into Judeo Christian mythology.  (The real world Church of Satan is already angry at the show.  Google it if you want to find out why.  At this point, I don't know, nor do I care.  At this point.  Maybe in the future.)

OK, so bringing Satan into the mythology is going well past wholesome.  Would that stop me from watching the show?  No.  So, what else made me pause?

The overt grotesqueries involved in the witch world.  Like what?  Well, see, on her birthday, Sabrina is going to participate in a ceremony.  Auntie Zelda matter-of-factly states that blood is needed for the Dark Baptism, and human blood is best, so isn't it a good thing a fresh body has come in to their mortuary just a couple days ahead of time?  Yuck!  I've only mentioned this one thing, but there are many, many more.  And they almost made me stop watching after Episode 1.

Sabrina is played by actress Kiernan Shipka.  I've never seen her before, but she is very pretty, very young-looking (playing 16 at age 18, I think) and plays Sabrina as a kind, sweet girl (most of the time.) Yet she also seems completely accustomed to the unique environment in which she is being raised.  And she shows glimpses of being a bit more than your typical wholesome heroine, even in Episode 1.  So I gave the show a break, but I came back.

As I said, I almost gave up on the show more than once.  Another aspect which pushed me towards dropping the show was the gore.  Some horror productions imply gore, some have bits of gore, and some embrace it.  At the beginning, I thought this series was going to imply it, then it moved to bits, and by the third episode or so, it was embracing gore.  Here's this sweet, pretty teen-aged heroine, and she's in scenes with guts and ... well, gore.  So, if you cannot handle gore, you will not get through this show.  I'm sure WB (the network home of "Riverdale") decided to create this on Netflix rather than on their network for many reasons, and the gore was certainly among them.

So if I'm so disturbed by those aspects of "Sabrina" why am I still going on?

Episode 5, and "Sleepy Hollow."  Let me deal with those in reverse order.

A few years back, there was a network TV show called "Sleepy Hollow."  Very few people I know watched the show, but I really liked it.  It was a "horror" show loosely based on the mythology of the Washington Irving story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," mixed with the concept that the supernatural world was very much a part of the world during the American Revolution.  Ichabod Crane (the "protagonist" of Irving's story) pulled a Rip Van Winkle -- slept for a couple hundred years, and woke up in modern day New England, where he ended up partnering with a very capabile police detective, and soon they were fighting supernatural evil in and around Sleepy Hollow in the 21st century.

Being a network (Fox) TV show, it could not go very far in its gore, sex, religiosity and so on, but each week the story arcs advanced, and each week history and the supernatural were cleverly blended to build a mythos and give our heroes quests and enemies.  It was great fun.  I don't know where you can stream it, but if it sounds fun to you, I bet it will be.

Anyway, the first season of "Sleepy Hollow" dealt, primarily, with a story arc which arose from the premise of the show: Ichabod Crane had faced the Headless Horseman during the Revolutionary War, and now the Horseman was back.  But, the show also found a way to tell tangential horror stories.  These stories were primarily one-off episodes.  You could watch them without having seen the full story so far and enjoy them for their clever ideas.  Want a story about a Banshee?  A Will-o-the-Wisp?  There you go - you have one.  Now, for the series faithful, the one-off episodes would drop in a bit of information to advance the big story plot, but these single story episodes were well done.

That's Episode 5 of Sabrina.   If you have reached the end of Episode 4, as I had, and you think "I'm not sure I can go on" try episode 5.

It's still gory.  You have to accept that.  And by this point in the series, "wholesome" is out the window (except, not really -- it's still there, as long as you can separate the heroic from the Satanic.) But the story -- the story -- is great fun.

Anyway, I'm going to keep watching this series through the end of its first 10-episode season.  I'm not exactly sure what they are trying to accomplish in this first main story, but it certainly has something to do with our hero growing up a bit and dealing with the consequences of sticking to her principles -- a common theme, to be sure, told in an uncommon way.

This show is not for everyone.  But for now, I think it's for me.

Addendum: I figured out one more thing that bothers me about this show.  Auntie Zelda (and a couple other characters) are as pious in their Satanism as the most stereotypical Evangelicals are pious in their Christianity.  It bothers me to hear "Praise Satan" every time something happens that Zelda likes, just as it would bother me to hear "Praise God" if the character were Christian.  I wonder if that's one of the points the writers are making?


This post is part of The List.

Shows I've Watched - Anchor List

This is the list of "TV" shows I want to talk about in the blog, and remember for the future.  Need more explanation?  See the Explanatory Post.

The List
  • The OA (Netflix) - the show I realized I was forgetting about when talking about great shows I had seen.
  • The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Netflix)
  • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime)
  • Sense8 (Netflix) 
  • Jessica Jones (Netflix)
  • The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix)
  • Godless (Netflix)
  • Stranger Things (Netflix)
  • Orange is the New Black (Netflix)
  • Longmire (now Netflix)
  • Game of Thrones (HBO)
  • The Crown (Netflix)
  • Downton Abbey (BBC/PBS available on Amazon Prime)
  • Altered Carbon (Netflix)
  • Breaking Bad (AMC available on Netflix)
  • House of Cards (Netflix)
  • Salvation (CBS available on Amazon Prime)
  • Penny Dreadful (Showtime available on Netflix)
  • Mr. Robot (Amazon Prime)
  • Black Mirror (Netflix)
  • This Is Us (NBC) - because way too many people don't watch "network TV" anymore, and they are going to be sorry they are missing this!

That's The List as of now.  I am quite confident I have forgotten at least one show that should be on The List.  I am also certain I will watch shows in the future which should get added to The List.  I hope to remember to do that.  But for now, The List is full enough I can start writing "Reviews" of them.  When a Review is written, I plan to come back to this post and put the link to the Review post.

One more thing: I KNOW that there are some shows which would belong on The List if YOU wrote it.  Many people have seen "13 Reasons Why" and "The Man in the High Castle" and "Making A Murderer" but I have not.  So those shows are not on my list.  The only shows on The List which I have not watched fairly completely (so far) are Game of Thrones and Mr. Robot.  GoT is a special case. Mr. Robot is a show I had forgotten I needed to get back to watching until I started putting The List together!

So, you are welcome to comment on this post and recommend something I should see.  If I HAVE seen it, I will be grateful for the reminder.  If I have NOT seen it, well, maybe I'll start another List Of Shows I Should Try Sometime.

Anchor Post Exposition - Shows I've Watched in this Golden Age

 I'm not the first to say it, but I certainly believe it -- we are in a "Golden Age" for what are typically called "TV" shows.

There are so many outlets for "TV" shows these days, and so many of those outlets are investing heavily in creating their own new content, that the number of shows is almost unbelievable, if you are old enough to remember a time before HBO started creating its own content -- outside the boundaries of the "Big 3 (or 4 or 5 if you counted Fox and whatever other then-lesser networks were around -- UPN, I'm talking about you) plus PBS."

But I did not start this post to talk about the past.  Everyone who enjoys watching "TV" these days knows that some (most?) of the very best television is created outside the broadcast networks.  With streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and the like competing with networks and the film industry for our leisure time, many stories are being told which never could have, under the old Network options.

So, like most of you, I have watched some of them.  We can't, any of us, watch them all.  But I've watched quite a few.  On this most recent business trip, it occurred to me that I was beginning to forget that I had even watched some of them.  I don't want to forget!  So, what should I do?

When I first started this blog, one of the staples topics was Micro-Reviews.  I wrote micro-reviews primarily for the purpose of remembering.  If I wrote a micro-review, I was more likely to remember more about the film than if I did not.  And yes, I enjoyed knowing that a few other people would read my reviews and might enjoy them.  But the instigating goal was helping me remember.

So, since I am now starting to "forget" the shows I've watched, I decided I may as well take some time, while on a trip, to record my thoughts about various series I have seen.

This entry will be the Anchor.  As I write this post the first time, I will list the "shows" I'm talking about, and then over time I hope to write "reviews" about them.

And, because I think most people who will read this in the future (including myself) will not want to scroll down through this overly long introduction to get to my list, I will create a post which is the Shows I've Watched - Anchor List.

If you've read this far, thanks.  I hope the list and the reviews I plan to write are worth your time.  But if you find they are not, just remember -- you don't have to read them!  We each only have so much leisure time in our lives, and if reading my blog is not worth your time, go find something else to do!  There are many options.  Like the shows in my list, for example!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Zelda: Trial of the Sword Complete

I know, I know.  I don't blog anymore. (That may change; I miss it.)  But I have to mark this milestone.

Last night, we finally completed the Trial of the Sword in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

It's one of the quests added by the expansion downloadable content, and it is easily the hardest thing we had to do in the game. Battle strategy, adaptation, resource planning, honing skills, using every resource you have, learning from your mistakes -- it was amazingly difficult, and thus, in the end, gave us a real sense of accomplishment.

We did not read any of the hints available on line, so we really felt like WE did it. (The "we" includes Sherry, who strategized with me, and who kept an eye out for things in the environment on each level and warned or advised me. Video games are a two-player thing for us.)

Anyway, this challenge is broken up into three stages. Each was tough, and each subsequent stage was tougher than the previous. The final (third) stage took us more than two nights to master. What frustration! What FUN!

If you bought this game, there are several great reasons to get the $20 DLC. This quest is the best of them. Oh, sure, the game-play enhancements are very useful (map & teleport enhancements make it worth the $20 alone) but here's why I say this is the best:

By the time many of us face "The Boss" in this game, we've advanced Link to a point where fighting Calamity Ganon is fun, but it's not likely to make us feel like we're challenged.
The Trial of the Sword is CHALLENGING!

Great expansion. Great game.

==============  Link (hah!) and Image and Spoilers ==========

Here's the link to the page that advertises the expansion, and a picture of the fully powered Master Sword.  I will try to get around to writing some spoilers -- things you should NOT read if you want to play the quest without knowledge.  I'll post those below the sword picture.


=====  Design discussion with Spoilers  =====

Zelda: Trial of the Sword Play Notes

OK, so for the rest of this blog, I’m going to just write about the Trial of the Sword, with no attempts to limit spoilers.  There are things I want to say about how the Trial is put together, about how we approached it, and what made it so challenging.

General design:

There are three phases to the Trial.  After successful completion of each phase, the Master Sword increases its damage strength by 10, so by the time you’ve completed all three, the sword will progress from a decent 30-strength, to an impressive 60-strength (which doubles around Ancient technology to an overwhelming 120-strength.)  That is the in-game reward for completing the quest.  The REAL reward is knowing you figured out how to get through these trials.

Each of the phases has these similarities:

  • ·         Link is stripped of all material possessions at the start of level 1 of the phase.
  • ·         Link can keep any objects he finds in one level to carry forward to the next, limited by his current capacity at the time he enters.
  • ·         The weapons carried by foes in the levels are constant, but the contents of containers in the levels are only mostly-constant.  There is some randomness.
  • ·         Each phase has sub-phases – after a certain number of battle levels, there is a replenishing level. 
  • ·         The replenishing level is directly preceded by a mini-boss fight.
  • ·         Link loses all possessions gained when he completes each phase.
  • ·         If Link dies during a level, he must start the WHOLE PHASE again, from the beginning.
  • ·         You CANNOT SAVE during a phase. 

Each of these design points has significant effects on what strategy and tactics you need to adopt.

From here on, I am going to talk about how each of those design points affected our game play.  I am sure others will approach the challenges differently, but this is what we learned, and what we did with what we learned.

Link is stripped of all material possessions at the start of level 1 of the phase.

The quest tells you this as you start, so it’s not really much of a spoiler.  But how do you deal with this fact?  Is there anything you can do to mitigate some of the loss you experience when everything is taken away?

We did two things before entering each phase:
·         We ate a meal which over-filled our hearts.. Generally, this was a +5 meal.
·         We consumed something that increased our defense for a long period of time.

You see, it’s going to be tough to get healing in the phase. There will be chances – I’ll get to that – but every fractional heart you bring in will be important in the long run, and for us, adding extra hearts (the more the better, clearly) and preventing loss of hearts was more crucial than being able to attack better or than having some resistance. 

But we learned early on that this is basically one of the only ways you can use what Link has gained outside the Trial to help inside the trial.

But here is a very important point – while Link is stripped of material, and (sadly) stripped of the powers granted him by each of the Champions, he still has all of the powers he gained at the beginning of the game – two bomb types, magnesis, etc.  These powers are, in my estimation, crucial to survival.

And also importantly, the size of Link’s “pack” – the number of weapons, bows & shields – remains as well.  So, the farther these are advanced, the more options you’ll have.  We were maxed out on Bow pack, and had almost all the spaces for weapons.  This was very helpful.


Link can keep any objects he finds in one level to carry forward to the next, limited by his current capacity at the time he enters.

Items are scarce during the Trial.  Things you would never pick up when playing an advanced Link in Hyrule will be helpful during the combat levels.  We found ourselves using “arms” – you know, actual stal-creature arms! – as our weapons early on, because they were the best things Link could find, and you need to have something to attack with.  And though you might never use an acorn to cook in Hyrule, they help boost you when cooking the limited meal options you’ll have in the Replenishing levels.  More on that later. 

Our advice – don’t leave anything behind, until you don’t have space to carry more.

The weapons carried by foes in the levels are constant, but the contents of containers in the levels are only mostly-constant.  There is some randomness.

Because Link can only use items he finds, it’s very helpful to know which weapons he’ll have the chance to get as he progresses.  We found, as we repeated the Trial several times, that we needed to analyze which weapons we ought to use for which situations.  Using the strongest weapon available was definitely NOT the best strategy.  If you wear out a 48-strength one-handed sword in Level 8, you’ll be frustrated in level 15 when you’re using rusty broadswords.

However, weapons are not the only things you pick up.  You can get ingredients and arrows from barrels and crates.  Most of the time, the contents of those are consistent.  But there is a bit of variability. By the time you get to a Replenishing Level, most of the ingredients you have will be the same, but sometimes you will be able to create speed boosts, and sometimes you won’t.

Oh, and some levels have chests.  Do not miss them!  I should have mentioned this earlier, but for us it was critical that we had our Sheikah Slate set to detecting Treasure Chests when we entered the Trial.  This allowed us to ensure we did not miss any chests.

Each phase has sub-phases – after a certain number of battle levels, there is a replenishing level. 

The replenishing levels give you a chance to cook food and pick up equipment.  The first thing to do is look to see if a Fairy is hovering around.  If so, sneak up on it (or them) and get it (or them.) 

After that, we made sure to take absolutely everything we could into our inventory before we cooked some meals.  You’ll make different decisions than we did, I’m sure, but we tended to maximize hearts in our meal preparation (so it helped a lot to have experimented with this, and kept notes, while playing the game.)  The exception to this is for specific “boosts.”  There are some levels where resistance to specific dangers are important.  When that’s true, the ingredients you find in the Replenishing Levels make such boosts possible.  If you find ingredients to make cold resistance, you can be pretty sure you’ll need it.

The replenishing level is directly preceded by a mini-boss fight.

Oh, you can just count and you’ll know when the last combat level of a subphase is upon you, but it’s important for you to know that you’re going to be facing a mini-boss.  You can guess the kinds of creatures which are mini-bosses – they’re the ones you face in Hyrule that pop up as special fights: Hinox, Taluses (Talusi?) and so on.  Find a way to defeat these, and you get to Replenish (or you get to finish the Phase, and the Master Sword gets stronger.)

Link loses all possessions gained when he completes each phase.

This doesn’t matter so much from a full-game point of view.  You’re not going to get anything in the Trial that you couldn’t get elsewhere, and most of what you have left when you’re done with each Phase is no better than what you probably have in inventory already. 

But, it does mean this: after you’ve finished one phase, and the Master Sword gets stronger, and you decide to go on to the next phase, you start all over again.   With NOTHING. 
Each successive phase is different from the preceding one.  It’s longer.  And the levels are harder.

And you start with nothing.

So you have to learn all over again.   It’s frustrating.  And it’s great.

If Link dies during a level, he must start the WHOLE PHASE again, from the beginning.

This is the crux of the challenge, of course.  Get beaten by that final mini-boss before you can enhance the Master Sword?  Start over again at Level 1 of the phase.  You don’t realize how casually you’ve been treating death until you don’t have an autosave point.  Which brings up the final design point.

You CANNOT SAVE during a phase. 

Period.  Once you’ve started, you just keep going.  Oh, sure, once you’ve been killed, you will be sent back the Korok Forest and you can decide to leave and try again later (we did this after each phase, and in fact gave up for a while after trying the final phase a few times so we could go get another couple shrines to get one more heart.)  But, during the levels of the phase, there is no saving.  So, make a mistake and let that bokoblin hurt you for three heart on level 3?  Sorry.  You can start all over again, but you can’t start just before level 3.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Skyrim - Main Quest Complete

In the middle of April, 2017, we completed the "main" quest line of Skyrim.

I had a fantastic time -- pun intended -- living inside this character, choosing the direction of his growth, and fulfilling the Dragonborn destiny.

The game is not "done" as far as I am concerned. I'll keep playing to see more of the world and accomplish more quests, but I do want to pause for a moment and take note of some items as we reached this point.  (I say "we" because most of the time, I was using the PS3 controller, but Sherry was sitting next to me watching, advising, and helping with puzzles and strategy.)

Character Name: Will
Level: 53
Game Days: 396
Calendar days: 66

My game was helped tremendously by having the Sanguine Rose staff, which allowed me to have access to a summoned Dremora, who was always tougher than any Atronoch I could summon.  Sure, I kept having to recharge the staff, and sure, the Dremora (we called him "our demon") had no ranged attack, but generally, if "Atty" (the Flame Atronach) or "the Storm Trooper" (the Storm Atronach) were not being as helpful as we'd like -- particularly in a Boss battle -- we called on the Demon.  We acquired the staff at the end of a quest called "A Night to Remember" which starts with a drinking contest between my character and a guy I meet in a bar.  So, yeah, there are always opportunities in this sort of game to do things which are out of character for me, as a person.  I played mostly "heroic" -- choosing not to Join the Assassin's Guild, for instance -- but could not be saintly.  This game has a story in which there are many times when the "good" choice either doesn't exist, or is not obvious.

I used Lydia as my follower right up until I married her, at which time I recruited Jordis.  Lydia and I adopted Lucia and Samuel.  I owned Breezehome, from early on, but the family never lived there.  I owned Proudspire Manor, which is where the family spent most of the time, until I built Lakeview Manor, at which point we moved there.  Late in the game, I also bought Honeyside, but honestly, once you've lived in Proudspire or Lakeview, who would want to live in Honeyside?  Even when it's fully outfitted, it's crowded and seems a bit dirty -- not unlike Riften, the city it's in.

I "finished" wearing a set of double-enchanted Dragonscale Armor, with a double-enchanted "damage + health-stealing" sword option, and a "damage + soul-stealing" sword option.  By the end, I was typically casting Icy Spear in my right hand, and wielding one of the swords in my left.  I typically used the Ice Form shout in normal battle, though Fire Breath was situationally useful against things which burned easily, and I almost always used Dragonrend, once I got it, when in a battle with a dragon.

Skills: Primary skills I focused on are above the line.
  • Destruction: 100 - though I never used, or even acquired, the Master level Destruction spells before completing the main quest. 
  • Conjuration: 97 - For a long time, Conjuration was higher than Destruction, but it levels as your summoned creatures do damage, and it's much easier to make sure you, yourself, do damage with Destruction spells than it is to make sure your Atronach gets its licks in.  Oh, and I never used the necromantic Conjuration spells.  It's not my style. 
  • Smithing: 100 - Worked hard to advance this, wanting to do Dragon Scale armor.  I focused on the "left" side of the Smithing tree. I only took a "right" perk to be able to use the Dwarven metal we kept finding.
  • Enchanting: 100 - I decided early on that I would not try to finish the main quest until I could double-enchant.
  • Light Armor: 84 - focused on this skill late, as I wanted the Dragonscale Armor to become "weightless" to wear, and then to provide more protection.  For most of the early and middle game, I wore the Arch-Mage Robes rather than armor, but switched once I could do the Dragonscale smithing.
  • One-Handed: 73 - also a late focus, as it became clear I needed to balance my Magika use better.  For a long time, I stayed out of hand-to-hand range, letting my follower and my Atronach handled the close fighting, but I'd run out of Magika if the battle lasted a while, and I decided I wanted to be able to fight continuously.  I couldn't, though, until I was wearing armor. 
  • Alchemy: 76 - I remember buying training in this a few times, but most of the levels were gained through experience.
  • Speech: 80 - Worked on advancing this skill early, to make money faster and more efficiently.  Once I got the perk which allowed me to invest in businesses (which meant I had also gotten the perk to allow me to sell any kind of item to any vendor), then I just let it grow through experience.
  • Lockpicking: 73 - never bought a level of this; books and picking locks got it this high.
  • Restoration: 58

Aside from the Main Quest, the only other major questlines I completed were the College of Winterhold (I gained character level 12 in the final battle which made me the Arch-Mage) and Dawnguard.  I never chose a side in the civil war, though, I will likely do that as I continue playing.

Here are some stats from this point in the game.

Skill Increases: 801
Skill Books: 56
Dragon Souls Collected: 68
Words of Power: 52
Shouts: 22
Soul Gems Used: 231
Souls Trapped: 303
Locks Picked: 163
Largest Bounty: 1000
Lifetime Bounty: 1045
Items Stolen: 8
Spells Learned: 56

Quests Completed: 82
Misc Objectives Completed: 205
Questlines Completed: 3