Joe Abercrombie – The Blade Itself Review

I’ve just finished reading Joe Abercrombie’s first book – The Blade Itself. It’s book one of the ‘First Law Trilogy’ and a world which I first came across with the stand alone sequel ‘The Hereos‘ a few years back.

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I’ve also recently got into Joe Abercrombie’s latest series ‘The Shattered Sea‘ which is definitely in the same vein as the First Law but in a new world, a grittier viking themed world. The First Law is a bit more traditional fantasy, but in Abercrombie’s signature style and whit.

So, The Blade Itself.

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The Blade Itself centres around an ensemble cast who ultimately spend the course of the book all heading towards their meeting at the end of the book.

Each character is strong in their own right. There’s the ever-suspicious Inquisitor Glotka, once a famous swordsman turned torturer for the king after his own torture which crippled him. Even Glotka’s supporting cast of heavies, Practicals Frost and Severard, are memorable in their own right.

Captain Luthar, pompous young son of a noble training to win the illustrious annual fencing competition in the capital. He ends up realising that he is a pompous ass when he falls for his ‘commoner’ comrade’s sister. Not before she endlessly mocks him though.

There’s also Logan Ninefingers, exiled from the north by the self-made king Bethod. Once his champion, Logan is now trying to forget his past. Until he meets Bayaz, First of the Magi that is.

Bayaz is a wizard, but not your stereotypical wise old wizard of most fantasy. Bayaz is an aging, slightly podgy, mage who regrets what’s become of the world. One of the best moments of the book for me has to be when Bayaz makes an enemy spontaneously explode – while totally naked as he had been in the bath previously. An interesting wizard!

The world of the First Law is interesting as well. I mean, there’s plenty of standard fantasy tropes in there, as with the characters. You’ve got the barbarian style north, being harassed by a semi-magical foe to it’s north, and an exotic threat to the east. Sounds almost like Game of Throne’s world, yet I found this one far better executed.

The bit that I really liked that was a bit unusual was the ‘Union’ at the heart of the world and the story. The Union has become complacent with it’s safe monopoly of power in the centre of the world unchallenged for so long, and they have yet to realise the full danger of events going on abroad. I liked the characterisation of the Union, and I found the bits where Logan describes how alien he finds the place on his first visit very interesting.

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I realised something else about the series and it’s world – there’s no map. I’ve become very spoilt with fantasy books when it comes to maps, and I always like to see one.

Of course, a map can be almost imperative to keep track of a story with a complicated world like Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings. Yet, the First Law, and it’s lack of a map, makes me realise that fantasy as a genre has become over reliant on maps. They’ve become an excuse to skip good description and world building – which Abercrombie does with such skill you don’t miss a map at all. So extra kudos there, and I hope the rest of the fantasy genre take it a little easier on the maps, as it actually can make the story worse off for it.

I really enjoyed the Blade Itself and I’d recommend reading it. You can pick it up online for next to nothing after all!

Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

 

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Returning to Guild Wars 2

I’d been tempted to load up GW2 ever since I got my new pc back in January. The game had lost its charm for me a while back, and nothing that had happened since had really been any draw for me. I was envisioning a quick load in to remind myself of my beloved characters and see them in fancy graphics. Turns out, it didn’t quite go that way.

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It’d been pretty much 2 years since I’d last loaded in to GW2. What should’ve been an age away, where I was some sort of retro throwback totally out of the loop hasn’t really been the case. I’m actually grateful for that, but I can see why it’s driven older players away in their droves.

I think GW2 is an MMO that survives on quite high player turn over, and the recent switch to Free To Play fits with that. People sign up, want their characters to look cool so spend some real money and then it doesn’t really matter if they drop it because you’ve made your money. The visuals remain stunning, and plenty enough to keep new players coming for now.

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How’ve I been finding GW2 to play though?

Well, I’m taking it easy. Back in the days where I played it pretty non-stop for a little over a year from release, I racked up well over 1000 hours. That’s an immense amount of time to put into it, but it didn’t feel like it at the time. I had a lot of spare free time and a lot of good real life and online friends who I shared the experience of GW2 with (heck, I even made some really great new online friends through GW2 as well!)

GW2 is a totally different experience for me now. No-one I know plays anymore. In fact, of the dozens of friends on my friends list from back then, only one still plays and I only faintly knew him as he was a well known player across our server. So, it’s more of a solitary experience now.

I also really, really, really don’t have the same kind of spare free time I had back in the early days of GW2.

All of this means that I’ve been approaching GW2 in a totally different way. I’ve been playing in hour chunks roughly every day, so a little and often approach, and making sure to do whatever I fancy doing.

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At the moment I’m mainly focusing on levelling up my re-rolled necromancer. My little evil asura, called Obitex, is fast levelling up thanks to the vastly increased drops of ‘Tomes of Knowledge’ (essentially a free level up). It also doesn’t seem as much of a grind if I pop on and get a level once a night.

I’m really enjoying playing some Edge of the Mists World vs World. Often it’s just a glorified champion train (which is great for levelling up) but just when you get settled into the swing of it there’ll be one server that decides to make a stand to spice things up. So far, I’m enjoying the pace of it and I’m hoping to finally get round to saving up enough money to buy a commander tag so I can lead groups of my own in World vs World.

Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

Personality

I recently did one those personality tests that you find all over the internet. Based on the Myers-Briggs type indicator test, it gives you a four letter result which, not too unlike a horoscope, its supposed to explain the inner workings of who you are.

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About 4 years ago I did the test as part of a university module and got INFJ – Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, Judging – known as the ‘Advocate’.

I did it again this week and got ISTJ – Introversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judging – known as the ‘Logistician’, practical and fact-minded individuals, whose reliability cannot be doubted.

I’ll take it with a pinch of salt mind you. Whilst not quite as generic as a horoscope, there’s certainly still limits to what these tests can say about someone. Still, it gives me the warm glow of knowing that I apparently share the same personality type as George Washington!

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If only I could be that badass.

The strengths I (supposedly) have as an ISTJ are: Honest, Dutiful, Responsible, Calm, Create & Enforce Order, Jack-of-all-trades.

Weaknesses: Stubborn, Insensitive, Always by the book, Judgemental.

I’d probably agree with most of those. I’ve definitely had most of them said about me in varying degrees. I can’t help but feel like it makes me sound like some kind of Robocop mind you. I do have feelings – honest!

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What I’ve discovered most of all from this exercise though is that I’ve changed (quite a lot in some ways) over the years and that’s totally fine. We don’t stay the same, we evolve and we grow, and that’s a good thing!

What personality type are you? Do you think it’s changed over time?

Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

Quick Update

I’ve been appallingly bad at blogging over the past couple of months. What can I say, life gets busy some times!

In the world of all things Digital Salad, I’ve been promoted at work. I’m now officially a Manager in charge of a team. Not bad at the tender age of 24, but now it’s the hard work of actually proving I can do it!

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Work hasn’t been the only thing I’ve been up to though. Although I’ve got the time to game, and even the money to put into it if I wanted to, I’ve been more and more of a ‘filthy’ casual gamer recently. I’m still in a bit of a transition with my gaming, but a quick run down of what’s been happening:

  1. I uninstalled GTA V pretty spontaneously back in August and haven’t looked back since. I took a hard look at whether I was actually having fun and decided it was far from it! Not to say it’s not a good game, I just wasn’t enjoying it anymore. I uninstalled it and haven’t looked back, I’ve not wanted to play it for even a second since – which is far less regrets that I thought I’d have about it.
  2. Guild Wars 2 has made a come back! I’ve reinstalled it and been playing it for the first time in two years. Not that much has changed and I’m really enjoying taking it easy and playing a little bit here and there. giphy (1)
  3. I’m also really looking forward to the full release of Prison Architect this Tuesday. I’ve been following the game in alpha for ages and it’s great to see it finally reach the finish line. I’m looking forward to setting up a new prison full of gangs and (most likely) a lot of chaos.
  4. We’ve also invested in a PS4. A little late to the party, but better late than never! We’ve been really enjoying getting back on to the console gaming train. In particular we’ve been enjoying Assassin’s Creed Unity, which although rightly ridiculed for being so buggy on release, is without a doubt the most fun Assassins Creed game to date if you ask me. I’m really enjoying powering through it, and the multiplayer is even quite fun!
  5. Now that we have a PS4 I’ve also been looking into the many games which are slated for release prior to christmas. I’m definitely interested in Assassins Creed Syndicate and Star Wars Battlefront, as well as some others, but I’m going to wait and see how they’re received on release. I’m a patient gamer these days! giphy (2)

That’s the run down of my gaming, but I’ve been up to far more besides! I’ve been reading Joe Abercrombie’s first book The Blade Itself. I originally discovered the series from the stand-alone sequel The Heroes – which is one of my favourite books ever. I thought it would be a good idea to read some more of Abercrombie’s stuff and I’ve not regretted it at all – I love Abercrombie’s fantasy worlds. I’m hoping to do a review once I’ve finished it.

I’ve also been watching Star Trek Deep Space 9 on DVD. I’ve blogged before about my love of Star Trek The Next Generation since childhood. Aside from TNG I’ve only watched the occasional episode of other series in the canon, so I’ve set to watching Deep Space 9. It’s no Next Generation, and Sisko is no Picard, but its been fun. I’m also hoping to do a blog post about my thoughts on Deep Space 9 once I’ve finished it as well! 
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Last but not least, Life As A Digital Salad has a new look which I’m excited about! Hopefully you’ll be hearing more from me soon.

Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

TMGR [6 + 1]: GTA Online

This 20min review is more of an add-on to last week’s, hence the 6+1! I played this 20mins straight after I played the 20mins of GTA V’s single player. Baring in mind how much I didn’t enjoy that 20mins, that’s probably affected how I felt about this 20mins in comparison.

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I spawned into the same world as before, but after a much longer 4 minute loading time (not as bad as feared but certainly way too long!).

The first noticeable difference was, I was me, DigitalSalad in his biker jacket with his bright pink guns. I was playing as my guy, with the personality I gave him and it felt so much better than the single player straight off for that reason. I’ve definitely been spoiled by the level of personalisation out there in games these days. I completely understand why GTA V’s single player restricts it in the name of the narrative, but GTA Online’s customisation options felt like a genuine relief in comparison. 

First thing, I checked what the daily was. ‘Steal a vehicle from the military base’ popped up – one of my favourite things to do whether it’s a daily task or not. Cue a few minutes drive to the military base in my armoured car, a jump over the fence and I was away in a stolen fighter jet – part 1 of 3 for the daily done. Someone else was around in their own stolen fighter jet from the base as well, so we had a quick dogfight that ended up with both of us dead – good fun with another player which I’d begun to lose hope with all the hackers about.

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Part 2 of the daily I chose to do was a ‘Flight School’ mission. I chose to do one where your engine cuts out in a jet plane and you have to land safely on a runway without power. Quick and easy – I always love trying to land planes in extreme conditions on GTA. The flying is one of my favourite activities, alongside the off-road driving.

All of that stuff done and I still had a big chunk of time left! I filled this up with a mad rampage (what can I say!).

A little flavour of my mad rampages
A little flavour of my mad rampages

All in all, GTA Online felt so much better than the single player experience I’d had in the 20 minutes beforehand. I actually had a good experience with the other players as well for a change. That said, I really need to learn that I can play Online solo. It seems to me like that’d be a good option as my go-to play style for GTA V. I much prefer playing Online – but I can do that without other players irritating me or hacking the game!

As always, it’s time for the score.

Compared to the single player experience of GTA V, Online was miles better. It also helped that I had a particularly good experience in this 20mins of Online compared to a pretty rubbish experience of regular offline. If GTA Online could always be guaranteed to be as fun as it was in this case, in such a concise and time effective way despite the huge load in time, I wouldn’t hesitate to load it up again for many more 20min sessions. The trouble is, in reality I know it isn’t always that way. The rules are the rules though, and my rating is based purely on the 20mins of play that I had.

For this 20mins I’m going to give GTA Online a very well deserved 4.5/5. GTA remains a great game even this long down the line, and still has some great moments. I was lucky enough to have one of them in my Online 20mins.

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Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

Salad Saturday Screenshot [28]

The week it’s a screenshot from Napoleon: Total War.

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I recently loaded up Napoleon: Total War again for the first time in a long while to do a 20min review (soon to be posted!). I’d missed the game and jumped straight back in with a naval battle.

I love the naval battles of Total War and especially taking on huge enemy fleets in my tough little ironclads.

In this case I’d picked 4 British iron clads against a super strong fleet of a dozen or so top of the line French ships. Massively out gunned – it was always going to be a tough fight and just what I was looking for.

This screenshot gives you a bit of a flavour of how it all ended. One of my ships caught a cannon ball to it’s magazine pretty early on and went up in a giant blast. It was even more of an uphill struggle as my 3 remaining ships took broadside after broadside from the French line – hundreds of cannon balls pounding away at my much smaller ships.

A good few French ships surrendered, and their Admiral fully sank, but it was too much punishment for my plucky little ironclad ships. This screenshot’s what happened to the flagship and Admiral Digital Salad on board. It was definitely an exciting battle, even if I ended up sinking to the bottom of the Atlantic!

Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

TMGR [6]: GTA V

I’m no stranger to GTA V, I’ve completed the single player before on the Xbox 360. I’d never done GTA Online before I picked up the PC version of GTA though, so that was the biggest pull of the PC version for me. That said, I really wanted to give the single player a go and do it ‘properly’ – crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s. This is my 20 minutes with the single player, offline, PC version of GTA V.

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Giving myself the 20mins time limit was not only damned difficult on GTA V but also a real eye opener. Besides the obnoxiously long load in that anybody who has played GTA V will attest to (in this case over 2mins for the single player), I only got one mission and one rampage done.

I loaded in as Franklin, went to a gun shop, bought him a delightful pink gun, did a really short mission where you shoot up some gangsters in an alley way, got into a fight with the police, died … and then time was up!

When it comes to things GTA, I really enjoy the missions Rockstar have created, but I only play it in short stints. I’ll do a mission or two and then do a mad rampage or two until I die and call it quits – I don’t take it too seriously.

In my 20mins I only managed a segment of the relatively small amount I usually do, so it seems GTA is far greedier on my time than I thought – even when I was only doing single player. I like my spare time, I don’t like games that greedily try to steal it from me! It’s certainly not a feature you want in a game when you only have 20mins to spend with it, and that’s without even considering the massive load times!

It was also kind of boring playing GTA single player again, I hate to say. I’d done the mission before on the Xbox, but I fear it’s a bit more than that. I’m worried I’ve been spoilt by the personalisation of GTA Online. For all the negatives of the GTA Online game and community, the world they’ve created there is more dynamic and more fun to play in. It’s a shame, because I really want to do the single player through again but the 20 mins has actually left me wondering whether I have the stamina and patience to go through it all again!

Unpopular Opinion Puffin time!

I realise I don’t really like any of the pretty universally adored characters in the single player story. I don’t even like the support cast like Lamar or Lester. I’m not totally sure why either, but rather than the mesh of like and dislike that Rockstar try to make you feel for each character, I just find that they all irritate me. Maybe that’s more me though!

Any who, as with all 20min reviews it’s time to do a score.

These scores are always based on the rigid 20mins I have with a game, and this 20mins wasn’t a good one for GTA V’s single player.

Combine being at the start of the game, with a boring experience (which was partly the luck of the draw of missions) and I have to say it’s not all the game’s fault. I know part of it’s me as well, especially having done it all through once before. That said, despite all that I still don’t think GTA V’s single player is a good game to play in a small amount of time. It wants to draw you in, and if you’ve not got time to do that it leaves you feeling pretty crap when you tear yourself away part way through something.

So, all said and done GTA V’s single player gets 2/5. Stay tuned for the GTA Online TMGR soon!

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Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

Salad Saturday Screenshot [27]

This week’s screenshot is from GTA V.

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That’s me doing one of the things I enjoy the most on the game – taking my off-road vehicles and tearing around the swamplands in them until they’re completely broken. In this case, my car had lasted most of the way across the river pretty much totally submerged before cutting out just then when it was within reach of the opposite bank. So close, yet so far.

That’s the other reason I decided to choose this screenshot for this week, because it’s a nice illustration of how I’m feeling about GTA at the moment. I feel like I’m starting to drift away from it. I’ve had some fun on my own, I’ve had some great fun with friends. I’ve even very occasionally had fun with random people I met in the game! I’ve now got to the same stage as a lot of people though, and I’m fading away from it.

The game is fantastic, but as it stands it’s just like my car – broken down within reach of dry land. Such a good game, but the completely free hand that hackers have online is ruining the experience. Any server you join will have a hacker either spawning millions of dollars, or killing everyone for the giggles. The hackers operate with impunity, and it’s just not fun any more as a consequence. I really hope they fix it, and fix it soon, but it doesn’t look like things will change soon.

As for me, I’ll keep going with GTA for the time being, but I fear that I might be completely going off it. I’ve recently done a 20minute review of the game though, which I’m hoping to publish in the next week or so, and I have so many screenshots I might also do a special bumper Saturday Screenshot of my favourites at some point. So keep tuned!

Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

TMGR [5]: Spintires

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I think that Spintires is a really good game. It’s an off-roading simulator, and I do really enjoy off-roading in games, particularly in GTA V at the moment.

I loaded into the game pretty quickly and decided to play on a map called ‘The Flood’. It basically does what it says, it’s a flooded countryside area, where your task is to deliver supplies to areas that need it in specially off-road adapted lorries.

I tried to cross the massive flooded river in the first lorry I had available and it ended as you might guess:

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That blue lorry half submerged in that picture was my first attempt.

Time to try again in my back up lorry. I tried encourage the other lorry out, but it just wouldn’t budge. So I thought I’d give crossing another go – trying to keep as closely to the submerged road as possible so that I didn’t sink in the mud.

Almost entirely predictably, I ended up stuck in the mud again when I slightly left the road for a moment.

And that was it, 20mins over. 20mins and all I’d managed to do was get two lorries stuck in a flooded river!

Spintires, whilst a great game, is too tough for a decent 20mins of gameplay. I think that’s potentially the curse of being a simulator game. Simulators eat up your time greedily, without so much as even a guarantee of anything coming out of all that time. You could well come out of 2 hours of Spintires and still not have crossed that river.

These 20mins reviews have helped me to understand a lot more about what I like in a game. It’s helped me realise that whilst I enjoy time greedy games, and Spintires is a great example, I don’t enjoy the feeling afterwards when I haven’t accomplished much for all the time spent on the game.

I’m not afraid to admit that I prefer the quick and simple arcade style off-roading to be had in GTA V to Spintires. That’s not so much a reflection on Spintires as a game, but more about me getting to know what I like and going with that.

All that aside, it’s time for the score as always. Trouble is, it’s a little trickier than usual this time because it’s the first TMGR that I uninstalled afterwards. I decided Spintires wasn’t really adding much special that wasn’t already covered in my gaming library.

That said, Spintires is still a great game, that’s really well made by a dedicated development team; I’ve just recognised that it wasn’t for me.

Given all that, I’ll give Spintires a 2.5/5.

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Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

Salad Saturday Screenshot [26]

A new game for my blog this week – Diablo 3. Screenshot001

I’m relative newcomer to Diablo 3, but CakeBoxFox has been a long time fan. There’s bits of Diablo I don’t like, but don’t get me wrong, I can definitely get behind slaughtering hordes of monsters!

This screenshot is from my first Greater Rift, some real top difficulty end game content. I’m the dazzling purple lady wizard in the middle, CakeBoxFox is the buff monk to my right, and the scary witch-doctor on the left is the one who willingly dragged us like an anchor holding him back the whole way through and is our real life friend TheDope.

I’m pretty amateur compared to many players, especially our guide TheDope. Still, I had a lot of fun, and many mobs were slain in true Diablo style.

The main thing I did learn though, is that my first class choice, the Wizard, whilst fun, is just not for me. I’m already over half way there to levelling up a very melee focused barbarian for completely different feel. But here’s to my first top level character and my first greater rift!

Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com