Check Up: No Man’s Sky (1.5 NEXT Update)

The long awaited multiplayer update to No Man’s Sky is finally here. This is the one that everyone has been waiting for. To call this simply a patch is almost criminal. This update completely transforms the game from the bottom up.

In truth, I really don’t know where to begin. I suppose I’ll start with the first two most obvious changes; REAL multiplayer and a new (default) third-person perspective. 

That’s right, long promised by the developers – No Man’s Sky now has honest-to-goodness multiplayer. You can meet up with other players in this living, breathing galaxy – for better or for worse. You can work together or, in a move that’s certain to be controversial, even attack each other. Hello Games has made it easy to join up with either friends or random players. Of course, if you prefer to play alone, you still have the option to lock other players out of your game.

The next thing, or maybe the first thing, players are likely to notice is that No Man’s Sky is no longer a first person game. That’s right, you can now see your character from the third-person. Of course, the option still exists to play in the first person if you choose. But it seems that the developers made the bold move of actually making this new perspective the default experience. This was likely the result of now having a number of character customization options. 

While these are obviously some pretty big changes, that’s not all. Nearly every aspect of the game has been revamped in one way or another. Everything from ship designs, to crafting and gathering have been overhauled in this new version. And in a good way too. For those of us who have been playing from the beginning, we’ve seen this game grow from a barren, boring universe to a what is now a vibrant, living community. 

The storyline that was introduced in the ATLAS Update has been refined even further, to the point of being near perfection. The changes to the crafting system have made base construction more meaningful and interesting. I can’t being to explain just how much this game has evolved with the introduction of this patch.

If you are an old player who gave up on the game in its early days. Or even if you’ve been interested but were afraid to take the plunge, you owe it to yourself to give No Man’s Sky a look now. Not since Final Fantasy XIV have I seen the developers double-down on their promise and turn a game around in such a drastic way. In my opinion, No Man’s Sky is now the game that was originally promised to us years ago. 

So what now? Well, Hello Games isn’t stopping with the NEXT Update. They’ve promise to continue releasing content updates. Next on the agenda is something called the “Community Season”. We’ll have to wait and see what they have up their sleeve. In the meantime, there’s no better time to reacquainted with this game.

Review: Forsaken (Remastered)

Wow. Here’s a game I never expected to review, Forsaken. That’s right, out of nowhere, this classic title has been remastered and is now available to a whole new generation of gamers.

Forsaken was a game that I actually enjoyed in my younger days. A friend and I both owned the PC version. And together, we spent many hours blasting our way through multiplayer matches. Despite our love for it, the PC release of Forsaken never really seemed to take off with the general public. Instead, most players are familiar with the Nintendo 64 version of the game.

When I started working on my backlog reviews, Forsaken was a game that I desperately wanted to revisit. However, I found the original release to be riddled with compatibility issues that made it nearly unplayable on modern systems. For this reason, I decided to put it on the back burner. But now, with the release of the remastered version of the game, I jumped at the chance to dive back in.

Admittedly, Forsaken is really nothing more than a Descent clone. In it, you play as a futuristic treasure hunter in a hovercraft. You zoom through cramped corridors, blasting other pilots and enemies – with the goal of collecting the treasure and making it out alive.

Like Descent, you can pilot your ship in a full 360-degree range of motion (well, “six-degrees”, if you want to get technical).  The biggest difference here is that you can choose to play as a number of different characters, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. For example, one pilot might have a faster ship, but with a weaker hull or with less maneuverability.  Each pilot also has their own personality that is expressed through a series of audible taunts.

At the beginning of the game, only a handful of pilots are available to play. More are unlocked as you encounter and defeat them throughout the game itself. Now, perhaps it is my faulty memory, but I don’t seem to remember this mechanic in the original release of the game. I seem to recall having a full roster of characters right from the start. Perhaps I’m incorrect on this. Either way, this time around I actually found unlocking the characters to be enjoyable and motivating.

As for the gameplay itself, if you are familiar with any of the Descent games, you already know exactly what to expect; fast paced, flying action. Enemies will swarm you, forcing you to glide your ship behind corners for cover, only to dart back out in attempt to squeeze off a few shots. I found that controls handle very well. In fact, I daresay the playcontrol in Forsaken is an improvement over what was found in Descent.

The remastered version of Forsaken takes all of the content from the original PC release and the exclusive levels from the N64 and puts them all in one game, making this the absolute definitive version. The N64 levels are hidden, and must be unlocked by discovering secrets tucked away within the game’s main levels.

If you’re the type of player that likes to hunt secrets, that’s not all. In fact, this version of Forsaken also rewards players with “cheat codes” if they manage to find all of the gold bars that are hidden throughout each level. These codes can then be activated from a menu, providing players with everything from invincibility to alternate textures.

The single player content is entertaining in itself, but the multiplayer mode is arguably the most popular way to enjoy the game. Back in the day, I spent an embarrassing number of hours playing this game online with friends. Naturally, I was excited to try out multiplayer on this new remaster. However, every time I entered the lobby, I found it to be empty.

It seems that the Steam and GOG releases of the game do not share multiplayer lobbies. As a result, you are restricted to playing with others who use the same platform. This seems to be the main issue finding active multiplayer sessions. There’s just not enough people interested in a twenty year-old title. To say that this is a disappointment is an understatement. Despite the potential multiplayer troubles, Forsaken is still a game worthy of attention. Especially for six-degree shooter fans.

Difficulty: Variable – This game offers a number of difficulty settings, ranging from easy to nearly impossible. The settings affect both the number of enemies, enemy AI and even item placement. I found them all to be appropriate. There’s a setting for nearly every skill level.

Story: Games like this do not really need much of a story. The set up here is basic; post-apocalyptic Earth and scavengers.  It is simple, but for a game like this, more than enough.

Originality: Forsaken certainly did not invent the six-degree FPS genre. But it did manage to improve on it. By adding a little personality and some improved graphics and sound, this game brought the genre to a new era.

Soundtrack: One of better highlights of the game. The score for the game is catchy and appropriate; featuring high-energy techno tunes. The voice acting is over-the-top and ridiculous. This remastered version of the game incorporates the “adult themed” voice pack that was previously available as an add-on to the original game. Be warned.

Fun: If you enjoy futuristic, fast-paced FPS games, you’ll feel right at home with Forsaken. Sadly, due to the fragmented state of the multiplayer, it might end up feeling a little lonely.

Graphics: The original game was frequently bundled with graphics cards as a way to show off some of the (then) state-of-the-art dynamic lighting and Direct-3D rendering. These days, the graphics are nothing special, but they still look amazing in their presentation. Forsaken is a beautiful game.

Playcontrol: I found the controls in this game to be a huge improvement over Descent. Something about the default controls here just feels right. If I had to find any criticism, it would be with the UI and weapon cycling. Sometimes the UI seems a bit gaudy and overly large. But, it works.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: YES. Adult language, innuendo, and some nudity. (Nudity enabled via cheat code)

Value:  Forsaken Remastered is available for $19.99. Despite being an excellent game, I have a tough time recommending it at this price. The amount of a content is appropriate. But when considering the iffy multiplayer, this one might seem more appealing when on sale.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Forsaken is a long forgotten gem. It is a game that actually deserved the remaster treatment. For the most part, there is little to complain about. The game looks better than ever and is playable on modern machines. However, the best part of the game, the multiplayer – is damaged by the cross-platform wars.

Available on: Steam, GOG, Xbox One

Review: The Legend of Zelda – Oracle of Seasons/Ages

Nintendo fans rejoice! My long awaited review of the “Oracle” games is finally here. This review also marks the first of my GBC/N64 era “Final Four”. It has been a long time coming, but I’m proud to finally discuss these two classic titles.

Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages are two titles in The Legend of Zelda series. They were released simultaneously and as a result are very similar. In fact, they are actually designed with a special “linked game” mode that allows players to import progress from one game to the other. (More on that later).

At first glance, these games seem very similar to Link’s Awakening. The overall art and sound design are almost identical. But, the Oracle games take full advantage of the Game Boy Color’s graphics – resulting in a much better visual experience than even the DX version of Link’s Awakening.

The two games are nearly identical in terms of play. However, Oracle of Seasons tends to focus more on action, while Oracle of Ages shines a bigger spotlight on puzzle solving. The games are designed to be played in any order. But, for those that want to get technical, it is generally accepted that Oracle of Seasons should occur first in the timeline, followed by Oracle of Ages.

Once a player has completed one of the games, they are given a special password. When starting the second game, this password can be entered to enable the “linked game” feature. As the player progresses through the second title, they will be occasionally prompted to enter additional codes. These codes can be obtained by revisiting the completed first game and talking to specific NPCs. Once entered, these codes will grant perks or unlock special items/weapons in the second game. Thus, allowing the player to benefit from having already completed one of the games in the series.  If playing  these games on the original hardware, this same functionality is also available by using the link cable. But, most modern gamers are likely to be enjoying these courtesy of the 3DS Virtual Console.

It is also important to note that if playing a “linked game”, reaching the end of the second entry will activate a special final chapter. This definitive ending is only available for players who manage to tackle both OoA and OoS.

The storyline for the games start off in a similar way. Link is summoned by the Triforce, which then teleports him to a strange land. In Seasons, he finds himself in the land of Holodrum. It is there that he learns about a terrible creature named Onox who has shrouded the land in chaos. Seasons change on a whim and the people are fearful for their lives. To stop this, link must search for the eight Essences of Nature. Once collected, he will be able to defeat Onox and set things right.

In Ages, Link finds himself in the world of Lybrynna. It is here that Link discovers that the Oracle of Ages, Nayru has become possessed. As result, the flow of time has fallen into an erratic mess. This time, link must quest for the eight Essences of Time. Only then can he save Nayru and restore the flow of time to its proper path.

As mentioned above, completing both games unlocks a final chapter that puts a capstone on both adventures and reveals the true villain behind both games.

For the most part, both games play very much like any other Zelda title. Link explores various dungeons, recovers treasure and defeats bosses. The treasure he finds enable him to progress to new areas, etc. The big difference in these games are the introduction of the Seasons/Time mechanic. In OoS, Link gains the ability to change the seasons at will. This is useful in a number of ways. For example, in winter a mountain path might be blocked by drifts of snow. But, Link can change the season to summer so that the path will be clear. OoA works in a similar fashion. Link can travel through time to overcome obstacles much in the same way.

At first, one might think that by releasing two games side by side, Nintendo was simply trying to cash in on the concept made popular by Pokemon. But in reality, these are two completely separate games. The “linked game” mechanic does not come off as gimmicky at all. Instead, it actually feels very revolutionary, even by today’s standards.

In closing, I found both of these games to be flawless works of art. They certainly live up to the high standards set by the previous entries in the Zelda series. No fan;s library is complete without them.

Difficulty: Medium – The difficulty level for both of these games is pretty even. Neither is much harder than the other. I found both of them to be of average difficulty. Some spots, especially boss fights, can prove a bit troublesome at times. But in almost every case, there’s usually a weakness or strategy the be found.

Story: The storylines here are not as in-depth as what was found in the N64 or SNES Zelda titles. But, there’s enough lore here to keep things interesting and to drive players to completion.

Originality: In design, these games borrow heavily from the prior Game Boy title, Link’s Awakening. But the introduction of the Ages/Season switch mechanic, as well as the “linked game” option, really add a breath of fresh air that keep these titles feeling new and interesting.

Soundtrack: For a large part, the soundtrack for both of these games was lifted right out of Link’s Awakening. But each game also offers some of its own unique music. All in all, the new songs are fitting and appropriate, but they don’t reach iconic status of some of the previous titles in the series.

Fun: If you’re a fan of the Zelda series, these games will undoubtedly be enjoyable. The developers did a great job adding Easter eggs from the N64 titles into the these games. Seeing these brought a smile to my face more than once. Plus, It was just plain fun to figure out many of these classic-style puzzles again.

Graphics: There’s only so much you can do with the GBC hardware. But, these games manage to whip out every trick in the book. They are colorful and detailed, despite being held back by ancient technology. These two titles pretty much represent the pinnacle of GBC graphics.

Playcontrol: Overall no complaints. The controls are very precise and accurate. As with Link’s Awakening, the constant menu switching  can get a bit annoying, but it’s a minor complaint.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: No

Value:  Digitally, these games are available on 3DS Virtual Console for $5.99 each. At this price, they are well worth the money. Collectors can expect to pay anywhere from $10-$30 for original copies of the game.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Despite having farmed out development of these games to CapCom, the quality of both games matches that of any first-party Nintendo title. The Oracle titles are worthy of the Zelda name and I consider them a must-buy for any fan of the series. I played Oracle of Seasons many years a go, but this was the first time getting my hands dirty with Oracle of Ages. To truly appreciate these games, they must be enjoyed in tandem. I can’t recommend them enough.

Available on: 3DS Virtual Console

Other Games in this Series: 

LoZ –  LoZ II – Link to the Past – Link’s Awakening – Ocarina of Time – Majora’s Mask – Oracle of Season & Ages – Wind Waker – Four Swords – Minish Cap – Twilight Princess – Phantom Hourglass – Spirit Tracks – Skyward Sword – Link Between Worlds – Breath of the Wild

Update: Turn of the Century Wrap-Up

I know… I said it last December. But this time I mean it. My “turn of the century” playthrough reviews are almost at an end. I thought I’d be done with these reviews at the beginning of the year. But, my plans were delayed by the building of my new PC. Then, a change to my work routine caused a huge reduction in my gaming time. Plus, every time I think I’m coming to a reasonable end of my backlog, a few games pop back up on my radar. But finally, the end of the PS1/GBC/N64 era is upon is. I am down to what I call the Final Four.

By the end of this month I will be posting three reviews:

For GBC: The Legend of Zelda – Oracle of Seasons/Ages

For PS1: Legacy of Kain – Soul Reaver

For PC: Forsaken (Remastered)

The Zelda titles have been on my list from day one. Soul Reaver should have been, since I reviewed the original game a while back. But somehow I overlooked it when making my list last year. Forsaken was a bit of a surprise. This was a game I enjoyed when it was originally released, but there just wasn’t a decent way to enjoy it on modern hardware. Then, out of nowhere a remastered version was announced and released by Nightdive. This update merges content from both the PC release and the N64 version of the game. I simply couldn’t pass the opportunity up, so I added to the queue.

The end of this month will also see  the long awaited release of the Shenmue I and II remasters. I never owned a Dreamcast, so I totally missed out on these classic games back in the day. Since they also fit into the era of games I’m currently reviewing, I naturally decided to include them. I have them preordered and I plan to dive into them on day-one.

Once these Final Four reviews have been posted, I can finally close the door on this era of my backlog. However, before jumping into the Game Cube/ GBA/PS2/Xbox generation, I do have a few miscellaneous things that I would like to do. 

Before proceeding, I’m going to do a quick “catch-up overview” of the previous eras that I’ve covered so far. For example, while discussed, I never had the chance to fully share my thoughts on a handful of ATARI 2600 classics for example. I also want to cover a few of the more obscure PC and console gems that I might have missed the first time around. Of course, I’ll still be peppering in a few modern reviews here and there.

In a nutshell, I fully expect to begin the 128-bit era at the beginning of next year… Yes, I know. A year later than expected. But I’m getting there!

 

Star Wars: Canto Bight – Various Authors

Next up on my list of unread Star Wars novels is Canto Bight, a collection of short stories that take place on the casino world of – you guessed it, Canto Bight.

Now, I know that in the eyes of many (myself included), the Canto Bight sequence of The Last Jedi was probably one of the low points of the film.  But, I usually enjoy the Star Wars short story collections, so I decided to go into this book with an open mind. Sadly, it seems that even the printed word can’t save Canto Bight from its cursed reputation. 

The tales included in this collection try really hard to entertain. Collectively, they all do an excellent job of providing backstory to the infamous casino city. But the content of the stories themselves are pretty shallow. I found many of them to simply be nothing more than classic heist tropes, or high stakes Vegas drama wrapped in a Star Wars skin. At points, some of the stories manage to be interesting, but they almost always fall flat in the end.

If you’re a fan of capers and con-job tales, you might actually find quite a bit of enjoyment in this book. But general fans are likely to be left rolling their eyes. Canto Bight is already unpopular with a majority of Star Wars fans and this book doesn’t it any favors.

Story: This collections feels largely uninspired and is often downright silly. There are certainly entertaining moments to be found, but overall, I was very let down.

Recommended:  Fans of capers and pulp heist stories might feel right at home with this collection. However, the general Star Wars reader base is likely to find nothing but disappointment here. 

D&D: Family Game – Lost Mine of Phandelver (pt 1)

If you follow the Dungeons & Dragons posts on this site, then you’ll know that my ultimate plan has always been to chronicle an ongoing D&D campaign. Ever since I was first introduced to the game as a child, I’ve been a rabid fan. However, my desires to play were often squashed by my inability to find other like-minded people. Growing up in a rural area certainly contributed to this. And, when I did manage to find other people interested in the game, I was often put off by various things about them. For example, their immaturity, drug use, or sometimes even their personal hygiene. Yes, as sad as it is to admit, many of the stereotypes about greasy, neck-bearded nerds are sometimes very true. Thankfully, with the popularity of the Internet, it is easier than ever to find normal people to play with. Of course, my biggest obstacle today is finding the time to actually sit down and play the game. So, I decided to take the problem into my own hands and start a game at home. This way, I can play with my family on a timetable that works for us.

I’ve toyed with launching a family campaign for quite a while now. Of course, I needed some time to collect materials, brush up on the rules, and prepare myself mentally for the task of hosting the game. Now, I feel that I’m finally ready. Yesterday afternoon, I sat behind the Dungeon Master’s Screen for the first time in over twenty years.

Our family game consists of myself as Dungeon Master, my lovely wife (who has never played D&D), as a tiefling sorcerer, my fourteen-year-old son (who has played), as an elf sorcerer, and my-ten year-old (who also has never played), as a human fighter. To simplify things, I helped my wife and oldest son create characters several weeks ago. We then revisited them a few days ago to tweak some of the smaller details, (character backgrounds, flaws, etc).  For my youngest son, however, I decided to simply provide him with a pre-generated character. (His focus is on the actual experience, and not the number crunching).

Considering that it had been a while since I last played and that most of my family was new to the game, I decided to start with a simple adventure scenario. In this case, I chose the Lost Mine of Phandelver module that is actually included with the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set. This scenario is written specifically for both new DMs and Players. The text itself offers a little hand-holding so that new DMs will be able to ease into their role. I spent about a week reading over the module in my free time, so that I would have a pretty firm grasp on the material.

Despite all my preparation, as soon as I sat down behind the DM screen, I began to feel apprehensive. In fact, I was downright nervous. I suddenly felt extremely unprepared and I was worried that I wouldn’t live up to my oldest son’s expectations. A part of me wanted to retreat and call off the game, but I knew he would be even more disappointed if I did – so we continued. Before beginning, I gifted each one of them with a polyhedral dice set to call their own. I broke the ice by having everyone discuss their character backgrounds a little. We fleshed out how the characters met and I provided the set up for the adventure.  

Like all of the early 5E content, this adventure takes place in the Forgotten Realms.  I toyed with the idea of converting it to a homebrew world, but in the end, I decided to keep things as simple as possible. 

Now, if  you have not played this scenario and plan to, you may wish to stop reading now. The next couple paragraphs are going to be very spoiler heavy. You’ve been warned! Spoiler alert!!!

In the first part of the adventure, the characters are tasked with escorting a supply wagon from the city of Neverwinter to the small mining town of Phandelver to the south-east. The journey is largely uneventful until the party is a few miles from their goal, where they come across evidence of a previous ambush. While stopping to investigate the scene, the party is attacked by four goblins lying in wait in the forest on the side of the road. 

This encounter serves as an early introduction to combat. Having never refereed combat in this edition of D&D, I was a bit worried that I’d mess something up, but we took our time to read over the rules and it didn’t take long for things to click. The party was able to defeat the goblins with little effort. It was after this encounter that we ended the game for the afternoon, with plans to pick it back up Thursday evening. 

All in all, I felt our first session went pretty well. Looking back, I was able to identify some mistakes that I made when presenting some of the material. For example, during the goblin encounter, two goblins were supposed to rush forward and attack the party while the other two were supposed to keep their distance and attack from afar. In the heat of the moment, I overlooked that block of text and had all four rush out to meet the adventurers.

As for my family, everyone did wonderfully. My wife enjoyed herself more than she expected to, and both of my sons were very excited to play. I was glad to see that my youngest was attentive and actually thought things out before simply rushing in blind. In closing, it was a very positive experience! 

I’m excited to see how things progress and I will post an update after a few sessions.

Nerd Fuel: Green Mountain – Breakfast Blend

It has been a few months since I posted a Nerd Fuel review. So this time, I decided to go back to basics. No fancy foreign coffees, no seasonal blends, etc. I just wanted to try something simple. This morning I took a trip to the local grocery store and picked up one of those small three-pod boxes of Green Mountain’s Breakfast Blend. It doesn’t get an simpler than a “breakfast blend” brew.  “Breakfast Blend” coffees are typically defined as light or medium-light roasts with very balanced taste profile. They are not particularly strong and they go well with most morning meals. Green Mountain’s Breakfast blend is exactly that.

Now, just because this isn’t an elaborate, exotic-origin coffee doesn’t mean it is not a quality product. As soon as I started the brew, I could tell from the rich aroma that this was actually going to be a pretty decent cup of coffee. It had a very silky and rich aroma, not the dank “wet paper” smell some brands give you. Being a light roast, I was surprised at how aromatic it was. I was equally as pleased with my first sip. The coffee itself has a very mild, but well balanced flavor. It’s smooth, with a bright – almost sweet/woody essence to it. To be honest, it was much better than I expected.

I usually prefer bold and flavorful coffees. But I really wanted to try something outside of my comfort zone. Regardless, I honestly went in to this review expecting to find a bland, boring cup of joe. I have to admit, I was proven wrong. In fact, I think this might end up in my top ten list. If you’re a K-Cup addict, you owe it to yourself to try this. Don’t let the boring name fool you.

Score: 4 out of 4

Would Purchase again?: Yes! This is a quality product. The blend borders on perfection for a “general purpose” coffee. I was pleasantly surprised by this one. A must try!

Star Wars: The Legends of Luke Skywalker – Ken Liu

For the last two months I’ve been making an extra-long commute to work. This has cut into my gaming time drastically. But on the upside, I’ve had more time during the day to read. I’m still grinding through “The Last Jedi” companion novels, but I’m almost to the end. Today, I’m going to share my thoughts on an interesting little book; The Legends of Luke Skywalker.

This is a strange entry in the new canon. Here, we have what is essentially a collection of short stories – all about Luke Skywalker. However, instead of being completely factual, the tales found in this book are presented as myths or “legends” if you will. Like someone who might hear these tales recited at a table in some far away cantina, the reader has no way of knowing if the content of these stories is historically accurate or not. The only thing “canon” about the tales included in this book is the fact that they represent the type of tall tales passed around the galaxy regarding the now infamous Luke Skywalker.

In total, this book contains six separate stories They vary from plausible to completely ridiculous. Having read these, I believe it is intended for readers to feel that some elements of truth can be found in most of these stories, but I also tend to think that each tale also contains a bit of embellishment by the storyteller. I found the concept to be quite original and entertaining. Most importantly, this book establishes the fact the the heroic deeds of Luke Skywalker are known to many beings across the galaxy. Many believe in him, but just as many consider him to be nothing more than a myth. When you think about it, this provides the perfect set up to Luke’s presentation in The Last Jedi. Something that I feel the fan-base desperately needs.

Story: Entertaining, with a good presentation. Some of the tales are more interesting than others. But all of them are very well done.

Recommended:  This is a must-read for older fans who are struggling with Luke’s portrayal in The Last Jedi.  Also recommended for general TLJ fans. More casual Star Wars fans may not get much from this type of book.

Dungeons & Dragons: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes

I’ve been waiting a couple of months before posting a discussion of this book so that I could fully digest its contents. Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is not your everyday D&D release. Aside from a few optional races/subraces, there’s not much here for players to enjoy. Instead, it is a book that is aimed mainly at Dungeon Masters. If I had to describe this tome in a nutshell, I guess I’d say that it is mostly a lore book filled with campaign-building material. However, the last section of the book is filled with stats for new monsters  (many of which are found in the outer planes).

Yes, I said the outer planes! One of my favorite pieces of D&D lore. Long have I waited for a 5th Edition Manual of Planes. Well, this book is NOT that, but it’s the closest we’ve seen so far. This books is broken into six chapters. The first chapter focuses heavily on outer planes lore, namely 5th edition details for the Blood War. Fiendish lore has long been a favorite subject mine when it comes to D&D. Ever since the old days of 1E, I’ve been fascinated with the war between the Demons and Devils of the lower planes. This section of the book provides plenty of details regarding the current state of the war, and it does not disappoint.

The second thru fifth chapters focus on lore and background information for some of the various races in the game. These chapters also include optional rules for playing some of the the more obscure, but long requested subraces. For example, Eladrin, Deep Gnomes, Duergar Dwarves, and even a whole chapter dedicated to Gith. These subraces can certainly add color to any campaign, but playing characters of these heritages can often prove troublesome. That being said, it is great to finally have some official rules and stats.

The sixth and final chapter is a bestiary. It is comprised mostly of monsters related to the first five chapters of the book. That means there’s plenty of outer planes baddies as well as a number of subrace specific monsters. This chapter alone makes the book worth getting for nearly any DM.

All in all, I was extremely pleased with this book. It is refreshing to see WotC ramping up their D&D release schedule. They’ve already announced a pair of upcoming adventures for this fall, and I can’t wait to see what supplements they provide in the future.

 

Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition Products:

Starter Set

Core Books:  

Player’s Handbook   –   Dungeon Master’s Guide   –   Monster Manual

Supplements:

Volo’s Guide to Monsters    –   Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide  – Xanthar’s Guide to Everything – Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes

Adventures:

Hoard of the Dragon Queen   –  Rise of Tiamat    – Princes of the Apocalypse  –  Out of the Abyss   – Curse of Strahd   –   Storm King’s Thunder  –  Tales from the Yawning Portal  – Tomb of Annihilation  –  Waterdeep: Dragon Heist   –   Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage

Record Shop: Nirvana – Bleach

Today is my 40th birthday. Taking that leap from your thirties to the big “Four-O” is a bit daunting. I mean, I’m officially a “middle-aged man” (depending on who you ask). While my body certainly feels the effects of my age, my mind functions just like it did twenty or thirty years ago. When I started the Record Shop posts on this site, my goal was to share the music that I loved with the world. The first entry in that series was for Nirvana’s Nevermind album – a record that literally changed my life. Despite the fact that I’m now many years older, I remember my introduction to Nirvana like it was yesterday. For many, myself included, Nevermind was the album that introduced the world to Nirvana. But in reality, it was not their first release. Nirvana’s debut album, Bleach, dropped two years earlier. After having fully consumed every lyric and note that Nevermind had to offer, I found myself hungry for more. Once I learned about Bleach’s existence, I made it my goal in life to find a copy.

At the time, none of my local record shops had a copy of Bleach in stock. I actually had to drive nearly an hour away to the city of Atlanta to find a copy of this rare gem. I remember holding the jewel case in my hands, seemingly hypnotized by the negative image/monochrome color of the album art. I knew that the CD I held was going to represent a band I have come to love, but a version of them that was less polished, and perhaps a little rougher. I couldn’t wait to get home and dive into it. So, without further ado, let’s do just that.

1: Blew – The record starts of with a rather raunchy-sounding bass line. It is immediately followed by a beep of feedback and Cobain’s buzzy guitar. Kurt Cobain sings his melody in tandem with the guitar riff until the chorus hits. The chorus features his now-famous guttural growl. After the second chorus we are treated to a classic sloppy-Cobain style guitar solo… Everything about this track screams “Nirvana”. This opening song actually ends up being the perfect blueprint for the sound that ultimately makes the band famous.

2: Floyd the Barber – This is one strange song. The riff is catchy and grungy. The lyrics paint the picture of a twisted scenario in the world of Andy Griffith. This song is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but personally it is one of my favorites from the record.

3: About a Girl – This is arguably the most famous song from Bleach. It was introduced to the world as part of Nirvana’s Unplugged concert. It’s a sappy pop-song featuring Cobain’s classic clean-twang guitar sound for the verses and the fuzzy distorted chorus. A fan favorite.

4: School – Another fan favorite. Also, a favorite of the band’s. “School” is a song that stuck through Nirvana’s concert set list all the way until the very end. This track is one of the rare occasions that actually gives listeners a glimpse into the mind of Kurt Cobain. In it, he depicts his disdain for his high school years, among other things. It is a Nirvana classic.

5: Love Buzz – This track is actually a cover. Originally performed by Shocking Blue, Nirvana takes this track and makes it their own in a way that only they can. Another fan favorite.

6: Paper Cuts – Here’s where things start to get weird. “Paper Cuts” is a funky, drumbeat-driven noise jam. The lyrics are obscure, yet nonetheless disturbing. The pounding rhythmic verses are littered with feedback and random noise only to break into a strange hypnotic pre-chorus. On the choruses themselves, Cobain wails and grunts like a constipated banshee. The end result is a very odd, but unforgettable song.

7: Negative Creep – Here we have a driving grunge jam with a catchy chorus. The vocals alternate between Cobain’s raspy scream to more banshee-like shrieking. This track was another staple at live shows for many years.

8: Scoff – This track is another drum-heavy grunge jam, not unlike “Floyd the Barber” or “Paper Cuts”. Catchy, but weird enough to be ignored by casual fans.

9: Swap Meet –  This track is considered by many to be one of the weaker tracks on the album. But personally, I’ve always found it to be one of my favorites. Many of the tracks on Bleach have a very unique sound, this is a perfect example of that sound.

10: Mr. Moustache – Another “throwaway” track in the minds of many. But again, one of my personal favorites. This is a grungy, groovy rock song and a favorite riff of mine to play for warm-ups.

11: Sifting – Here we have another mellow-but-heavy groove song. It is another perfect example of the “Bleach” sound.

12: Big Cheese – This is another fan favorite track. “Big Cheese” is infamous for being a stab at the personalities behind Nirvana’s record label, or so the legend goes. This was a song that I used to jam on with my garage band back in the early days.

13: Downer – This song is technically a bonus track, but I include it here because it’s featured on nearly every release of Bleach you can purchase today. This is probably my least favorite track on the record, but one of the more fast paced.

Personally, this is one of my favorite Nirvana records. But it’s not one that most casual fans are going to enjoy. The production is not nearly as polished as Nevermind and the songs are much less radio-friendly. Despite that, it is a record that every serious Nirvana fan should own and cherish.

When listening to albums, I always suggest enjoying them on a nice Hi-Fi stereo system, or on a portable device with a good pair of headphones. The original release of Bleach sounds just fine in my opinion. But some listeners might be tempted with the more modern “Deluxe Edition”. This remaster cranks up the volume to a point that, to me, makes the album nearly un-listenable. So, buyer beware. As is often the case, the “remaster” actually ends up being the inferior product.

When listening to a record, always listen from start to finish. Some songs tend to be more enjoyable when following the song preceding them. Put the record on while you’re driving, or doing house work. Let it play in the background. Listen it to a few times. Some records need to grow on you. Bleach is a prime example of this. Don’t skip around. Even if a particular song doesn’t grab you right away, let it play through. Your opinion may change.