Outer Range – Season 1

I love good science fiction and the premise of Outer Range is intriguing. A rancher in Wyoming finds a giant black hole in his pasture and wants to keep it secret, but why? (Not like an event horizon gravity-well black hole, just an inexplicable hole in the earth/reality.) Outer Range is kind of Yellowstone setting meets a Twin Peaks premise. It has very strong acting, characters, setting, and a lot of mystery. I can’t think of a time I was disappointed in seeing Josh Brolin. I really enjoyed all of the actor’s performances. I watched the whole season in less than a week. Now, I like to think of myself as someone who is a patient viewer. I can appreciate a slow build over 8 episodes, if it has a big payoff in episode 9. I can even appreciate a good cliffhanger setting up the next season, but Outer Range season 1 is something else.

There is not a payoff here and the show is already pretty slow-paced.  They explain some of the mystery, but not much. I still have a lot of questions. As far as a cliff hanger goes, it feels more like a pause mid plot-arc. I definitely want to know what happens next, but it ended at a very unsatisfactory point. Even beyond the mystery, I am honestly pretty confused when I think about where some of the characters are. The worst part is they haven’t announced a season 2, yet. I definitely enjoyed season 1, but it’s hard for me to recommend it at this point. I just have so many questions. The biggest of which is, will any of them be answered?

Salt and Sacrifice

Salt and Sacrifice is an indirect sequel to Salt and Sanctuary. A 2-D souls-like that came out in 2016. A game I played into the ground that was only missing one thing; online Co-Op. When I saw that Sacrifice had a fully supported Multiplayer system with summoning and invasions, I just bought the game. I didn’t look into any further. Salt and Sanctuary with Co-Op is all what I wanted. The Co-Op is glorious. It’s quick, saves progress between worlds, and was implemented beautifully. Ska studios really did a great job with this feature and should be commended. I just wish Salt and Sanctuary with Co-Op would have been the goal. It seems the team bit off more than they could chew, because there is a lot in this game by way of “improvements” that leave the game overall feeling rushed, half-baked, & not well tested.

For example; the “Monster Hunter-esque” mage hunting. You have to chase these mages through the levels and they are the only means of new gear. It is fun at first, but it’s like 2/3 of the game. Most of which is dealing with finding the mage for it to immediately teleport back to where you just came from or dealing with enemies that are worse than the mages. When you are looking for a specific item, you may or may not find the mage you need. Also, the inventory system is completely broken. I can put the gear I can’t use in a chest to clear my inventory, but then it appears in the menu to upgrade, crowding it so I can’t easily compare the items I can use. Adding the ability to sort items by type when crafting would be a massive improvement. Then the actual gameplay. The amount of deaths that are cheap, unavoidable, and juggle you so much you want to scream is too high. Having a friend laugh at the absurdity is the only way we got through it. I was hoping for a Co-Op Salt & Sanctuary. If that was released to day, I would buy it.  Unfortunately, other than the multiplayer, this game is worse in every way.

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty – Season 1

I’m a sucker for a good sports story. I’ve watched a lot of the ESPN 30 for 30 specials, more baseball documentaries than I can count, and of course, the Last Dance. When I saw the preview for Winning Time, I didn’t question it at all; I was going to watch it. I’m glad I did, because I really enjoyed the characters and performances, even though everyone claims it’s not accurate. Honestly, everyone is great! My surprise favorites were Jerry West as a rage-aholic. It is something to behold and Jason Segal and Adrian Brody play the two most sympathetic characters in the show. There’s controversy as to the accuracy and depiction of most of the people, it’s probably justified, because everyone is almost cartoonish in their personalities. There’s an emphasis on entertainment, not accuracy. The basketball was fun, the story is good, but the unique thing is how it is filmed. They did some very fun things to make it look vintage. A lot of it looks like it was actually shot in the early 80s. Winning Time has a lot of style, for sure!

I did leave the show somewhat dissatisfied and I’ve tried to figure out why. The show starts with Magic going to the doctor to presumably find out he has HIV. That was in 90-91. Then the show goes to 1979 and never mentions it again. Why did it start there? It made the entire show feel like a dramatic bomb would drop at any moment, but it never does. Magic definitely gets around in the show, but that’s a dour note to start the show, that isn’t going to deal with it. It’s essentially sitting an elephant in the room. Also, Winning Time treats women very poorly, which I assume is to be period accurate, but when one time someone is called out for being horrible, he says, “That’s enough!” and seems like he’s about to learn a lesson. Well, the next time you see him, he uncomfortably forces himself on the woman he was called out about. There is no recourse. No lesson. No follow-up. In a show that is happy to take liberties with characters, why not take a few more liberties to make things less awkward? It’s a weird choice. So while I love the premise of the show and I found most of it quite enjoyable, the show is quite surface level, except when it isn’t, and then it feels a little incomplete. In the end, the show is worth watching for the Larry Bird portrayal if nothing else. Which, even if it is completely made up, is perfection.

Elden Ring

This review is coming from a big FromSoftware fan who really likes the sense of achievement from a really good boss fight. If you dislike boss fights, FromSoftware games are not for you. If you dislike boss fights and still want to play one of the biggest and most interesting games I’ve played in years, Elden Ring is for you! The reason I bring this up is that there are more ways to get through this game than just throwing your corpse at a boss for hours. You can spend an hour or two, quite early in the game, grinding for some levels and items and just exploring. I lost track of the number of times I was astonished by the scope and size of the game and was continually surprised by all the content and how varied it was.

The thing about Elden Ring is that you can customize your play style better than most RPGs I’ve found. You can be a wizard, a brute, an archer, Sonic the Hedgehog (google it), whatever your imagination can come up with. I watched a video of someone beating the entire game as a pacifist. He beat the entire game without ever doing direct damage to anything in game! You can make Elden Ring your own in ways other RPGs only dream. FromSoftware gives you more tools than ever to be successful and “getting gud” is entirely optional. The most inaccessible part of Elden Ring is the lore. It’s buried in the item descriptions and in the world building. Some of my favorite parts of experiencing this game was watching explanations of why things were a certain way after playing it. There is a much deeper meaning than, “That guy is a snake” if you want to look for it. That being said, I spent hundreds of hours beating the 160+ bosses blissfully unaware of what any of it meant, then I watched a couple videos explaining things and the richness of it all helps me enjoy it more. Story is optional. I can’t recommend it highly enough, that is, if it’s your thing.

Demon’s Souls

The Soulsborne games are what they are and I’m not going to go into the merits of the difficulty of the games or obtuse nature of the storylines/ plots. Just know that I really enjoy these games. I love them. I have achieved a platinum trophy in all of them and then kept playing. I might have a problem. E.g., I played Demon’s Souls on the PS3 a little over a year ago and even though it was 10+ years old, required hours of grinding, a completely deserted online component, and old janky, broken-ass game mechanics (tendencies are the worst), and really not being all that fun, I liked it. As I age and become more cynical, I often wonder if I even like video games anymore, because I just don’t get excited about them often. When the PS5 version of DS was announced as a full remake, it became my most anticipated game of the past few years. I couldn’t find a PS5, so I watched hours of people playing it on Twitch to glean some of the experience. I had never watched Twitch for more than a few minutes previous. I was excited.

It drove me to push for an early PS5 and the game is an amazing remake. It’s all positive. BluePoint made a very careful game that improved the visuals, mechanics (tendencies still suck), items, jank, and even added some really cool Easter eggs. They took an unfun game and made it better, but it is still just as unfun! This time I used an early exploit to get endgame gear first thing and just ROFLStomped everything the whole way through. (Soulbrandt FTW!) I wasn’t stressed or worried at all. Combine that with playing with friends and an online community with lots of invasions and it was easily the most fun I’ve had playing a game in a long time. I would highly recommend trudging through Boletaria to you, if these games are your bag. If not, well, it still is what it is.

Star Trek Discovery – Season 2

Season 2 is kind of dumb. Not entirely, but instead of focusing on one really good plot and story line, the show goes all over the place like a traditional TV show. If I am paying for your stupid app, I expect better. Every character gets an episode and every episode seemed to takes our heroes to the most extreme dangers with universe-ending danger only to save it by the end. The problem with this tired formula is that I never felt any of them were in real danger, so I sat there and waited for Pike or Spock to come back on. Those two are great additions and are worth watching, but everyone from season 1 I sort of despise now. It just doesn’t seem like consequences of the first season seem to matter. It feels like their “character progression” is more like complete betrayal of who they were.

I loved parts of this season: The truth about Saru’s home world. Burnham and Spock’s backstory. Pike facing his destiny. Also, I’m a sucker for any time we get to deal with a hyper intelligent AI. There were 14 episodes this season with about 7 worth of decent content. A really great Sci-Fi Star Trek is there, I just had to wade through a lot of shit I didn’t really like to get it. I gave it a lot of chances, and I even like they way things tied into the original Star Trek Series. I just wish it was better. If I’m honest, I hate-watched most of this season. I don’t think I’ll be back for the next one.