Philosophy

Fate

Fate or destiny is this idea that our futures have already been planned; rather than working as sentient forces that are able to drive themselves towards their desires, we are rendered powerless by “the powers that be”. A belief in fate is a belief that we are actors that play their own part in the puppet-show that is life. It’s a truly fascinating concept that is able to place people in a sort of opposition with one another, regardless of their religious views.

While studying psychology last year, I came across an idea that put people into two separate camps: those who believed in the supernatural, or in fate, were to be considered sheep, while the seemingly more rational people who rejected this idea were dubbed goats. Due to the connotations that come with each animal, I don’t necessarily agree with the method of labelling, but setting up these two categories also leads us to another concept called the “locus of control”. If an individual possesses a high external locus of control, it means that they believe their life to be in their own hands; there is no such thing as fate, or magic, and you essentially reap what you sow. Those with a low external locus of control were far more likely to turn to such institutions as organised religion because they considered their lives to be out of their hands and required someone to tell them that it would be alright.

One particular factor that dictates whether a field of study is a science or a pseudoscience is its ability to be proved wrong; the scientific process thrives on being able to take a hypothesis, test it, and present results, even when they show that the original idea was false. In proving things wrong, we progress our understanding of our reality in the same way that we would had the initial idea turned out to be correct; however, many elements of the supernatural have been in a position in which the ideas that are presented are irrefutable. A God or an afterlife cannot be disproven because the only way to find out whether those things are real or not is to die, and thus cut ties to our world; this does not mean that any given religion is definitely correct because we cannot disprove it, but simply that it is in a state of limbo. This same idea can be seen in fate, but rather than it being the product of an omnipotent entity that can change the rules as they see fit, it is down human ignorance, and the present impossibility for us to see anything but the present.

One element of fate is that we cannot change it. What will be will be, essentially, and there is absolutely no way for us to alter that fact. You can understand quite easily why the “goats” wouldn’t want to believe in such an idea, because it removes their power from the equation. The notion of taking away their ability to choose their path and mould their future makes them naturally uncomfortable, and so they reject the idea completely. However, the typically adopted meaning of the word fate refers to our future being outside of human control; we cannot alter it, and from the initial inception of the universe, our lives have already been set out. I remember hearing quite an interesting idea referring to fate in the context of The Big Bang. Imagine that everything, all the stars and planets, were set up in a large pile before being exploded out across the universe. Everything has been set out on its course through that first propellant motion: in this way we can predict when that meteorite will pass through our solar system again in a billion years, or that on the twentieth of the eighth in a thousand years time, all of the planets will align and there will be a solar eclipse for all planets at once (don’t go and check that, I made it up). We can predict the movements of the planets and the stars because of that first explosion, and every possible action has been already foretold because there are no entities to interfere with these movements, because they too would have been set on their course through the same means as the planets. Still with me? The idea is that, although humans consider themselves to be powerful in their volition, they are still subject to the same laws that govern the planets, and that every one of our movements have also been predetermined by that first spark. The notion seems to be utterly abstract at first, but with a little bit of thought, I’ve begun to wonder whether or not the idea is as farfetched as I first put it down as.

All of that’s well and good, but I want to finish with a softer concept of fate that I concocted in the shower this morning. Humans are unable to see into the future (perhaps you believe in the tarot or what have you, but people are typically under the impression that we are temporally sightless), and so are unable to shift their destiny. Our history, our temperament, our friends, our foes all work towards impacting the choices that we make, and because we have no knowledge of what those choices will result in, we will choose in the way that our personalities dictate. It’s like running through an RPG for the first time, and choosing the options that you would in real life; it’s exactly the same concept, because unless you are also looking at a walkthrough, your choices don’t mean anything in the here and now. In this way, our future isn’t dictated by some external supernatural force, but by ourselves; however, until we are able to definitely see into the future, we will not be able to alter our fate, because as long as there is a future, there has to be an outcome. What you will do in the next few hours, months or decades will happen, and you won’t be able to change what happens because you will always make those same choices for as long as you can’t see their outcomes.

I know, it’s a convoluted topic, but I hope I didn’t get too confusing (or confused) in its presentation. Philosophy remains to be one of my favourite topics, and if anyone has any counter-arguments they would like to put forward, or even any topics they’d like to see covered in the future, I welcome them with open arms.

Gaming, Review

Dark Souls 3 Review

Oh, I know – everyone and their mother has put out a review for the latest entry in the Dark Souls franchise. The game released a little while back in the UK, with it being the first game for me to ever pre-order, and since the official reviews had all been taken on by other writers over on GameGrin, I was able to play at my leisure. Saying that, I’ve clocked several hundred hours into the title already, and it’s about time The Iguanapus made his feelings known.

Dark Souls 3 was disappointing in a lot of ways for me, mainly because of the comparison that inevitably had to be made between it and the other games in From Software’s library (except Dark Souls 2 – it still beats that one). Dark Souls has been given a huge amount of praise since its release because of the way it functioned; level design was intuitive and interesting; narrative was surreptitiously implemented, but evocative enough to cause high levels of emotion once it was discovered; and, of course, gameplay was hard but fair. The original was a gem, and many reviews have said that the latest helping just doesn’t live up to it – I, on the other hand, believe that this is just what everyone expected to think. Dark Souls 3 definitely doesn’t match its predecessor when talking about narrative or level design, but it absolutely trumps it in every other aspect that I can think of, even if just by a little bit. Let’s take combat: in the original, players were restricted to a four-directional dodge while locked on, severely limiting their mobility and almost necessitating the use of a shield (I say almost – if you can parry, dodging stops being your only evasive manoeuvre). Hiding behind a massive shield and waiting for the right moment to strike grinds gameplay right down to a speed that only grazes what I would call exciting. None of my playthroughs of Dark Souls 3 have used a shield, and I didn’t particularly feel that I was penalised for that choice in the same way I was in the original. In the same way, a lot of the music really felt far more alive than it did in either of its predecessors – go ahead and compare something like “The Centipede Demon” to “The Old Demon King” and see just how more involving the soundtrack is.

As I mentioned, though, it isn’t all sunshine and roses; Dark Souls 3 is a game that wallows in its history. I’ve said in the past that I like a game that isn’t afraid to try something different, and perhaps even try to reinvent itself along the way. Seeing places like Anor Londo and meeting the latest onion knight was fun at first, but when considered a little more deeply, it comes across as being a symptom of the failing imagination (possibly why Miyazaki has ruled out his involvement in future titles). This game is an end cap, and it feels like it – I saw this most strongly in the final boss. Gwyn’s theme booted up after half an hour of fighting that thing, and it hit me all at once that this was a celebration of four or five great years of gaming (even then, it manages to come across as masturbatory). There were obviously good ideas that went into this title, but they’re bogged down in its obsession with cycles and repeating patterns; the narrative here isn’t as dire, because it is outright stated that whatever happens, all of this will happen again anyway. In trying something clever, they lessened the impact of what they were trying to achieve, and may have even harmed what Dark Souls had going for it in terms of its ambiguity.

Overall, however, gameplay pushes this one above the other two owing in main to the inclusion of weapon arts. My first build consisted of a longsword in the right hand, with a light crossbow and pyromancy in the left. The sheer variety of moves and techniques that I was able to try, such as the shield breaker, made every fight feel that much more alive; my faithful crossbow had been upgraded from other variants so that I chose when to reload; then we have things such as faster slow rolls and directional dodges to make the game feel so much more nimble. If someone asked me to go and play the original again, I’d feel inclined to tell them to sod off, because the new one just feels so much better to play.

That’s it – comparison over, the verdict has been made. But, around October time, I published a review of another From Software game that puts this one to shame. Bloodborne is a superior game as far as I am concerned. Dark Souls 3 did a great job of bridging the gap between its progenitor and its viscera-obsessed cousin, but it does seem to take a step back in many areas. Visually, Bloodborne was astounding – my characters look far prettier than the monstrocities I was able to craft with the latest character creator, and the blood spatters actually looked like blood rather than dirty water. Some of the environments were far more interesting to walk around as well – take something like Hemwick Charnel Lane, and tell me it doesn’t look more authentically horrific than the Undead Settlement. Again, Dark Souls 3 attempted to take from its best moments, and placed some really out of place flowers in the final boss arena that looked much more comfortable under Gehman’s cultivation.

Despite having fewer weapons, Bloodborne’s combat was more versatile, including separate animations for things such as backstep strong attacks, or the difference between a gunshot coming out of a quickstep and a gunshot coming out of a roll. This was on top of transformed weapon attack animations, different animations for pistols and rifles, all while maintaining the speed that that game required – yeah, there wasn’t any poise in this game either, but it was all handled a little better and in a way that felt planned from the very beginning unlike Dark Souls 3. A lot of “Souls Veterans” have denounced the blood gems and chalice dungeons, but they were the closest we will likely ever come to a Souls series roguelike, and they were pretty fun if you wanted something to do while listening to a podcast. The first thing that immediately disappointed me about Dark Souls 3 even before its launch was a regression to the composer who worked on the series before, rather than keeping on the ones from Bloodborne. “The Cleric Beast” or even “The First Hunter” themes are so evocative and so enthralling that they just went above and beyond everything I had heard from From Software before. I suppose I should probably say that I’m a sucker for the Gothic as well as Lovecraftian horror, so that’s definitely tinted my vision – but even then, Bloodborne just looked, sounded and handled so much better.

The past few years have been exciting for From, and now I think they deserve a well-deserved nap. I know that most of the Dark Souls community would jump down my throat for saying that anything was better than the original, but Dark Souls 3 just is when taken on its own level. In terms of looks, soundtrack and gameplay (which is always the most important element for me), this one is vastly superior, so it’s such a shame that they took a step backwards from Bloodborne. How can an earlier game look so much better than a later one? – no, I still won’t acknowledge Dark Souls 2. With the promise of two shiny new content packs on the way, this one still has a lot to give; in the meantime, however, I’ve still got dungeons to explore.The sweet blood – it sings to me. It’s enough to make a man sick.

General

The EU Referendum

It’s been a long time since I last broached the subject of politics, but with the EU referendum looming ever so near, I felt that I should throw in my two cents. So how will I be voting? I still have no clue, and that’s how I want to preface this piece – I have quite literally no idea what I’m talking about: I’m currently halfway through a glass of neat rum, it’s ten o’clock in the evening and I’ve never had that experience of what state Britain was in before joining Europe. Anything I say is just parroted from any number of sources, and any opinions will be jaded and cynical because I’ve been playing a lot of The Witcher lately. Here we go:

Europe is a team: everyone puts resources in, and everyone earns benefits as a result of being a part of that team. If there was no benefit, then the people that govern the country would not be saying that we are better off inside the EU. One common argument from the Leave campaign is that we put so many pounds into the EU as a part of our membership and, as a result, we are unable to spend as much money on things such as the NHS. However (coming back to those benefits), I remember hearing that even though we put a huge amount of money into the EU, the amount that we receive back from our membership is several times that number.

We come to the inevitable problem of people attempting to push forward their own agendas and trick people into voting for a cause by not giving them all of the information. Trickery is always something that we need to bear in mind when considering these big votes, and it isn’t only the Leave campaign that is guilty of these sorts of shenanigans: the Stay campaign, from what I can understand, works more on the basis of fear. As I’ve mentioned in the past, the greatest fear human kind can experience is that of the unknown – it is ambiguity that makes demons and movie ghosts so terrifying to an audience – and so the prospect of leaving what we are already comfortable in is always going to be frightening. In relation to this vote, my mother said that it is often better the devil you know, and so countries such as the US and France are able to force us to vote in by saying things such as “Britain will be placed at the back of the queue for trading” or “we won’t be able or willing to regulate immigration as efficiently as we are currently” and we will have no choice but to believe them because we cannot know. Realistically, Britain imports more than it exports, and countries will never be unwilling to sell to us, and likewise unless France are going to gift prospecting migrants with rafts, I don’t see how France should be able to use that as a threat.

Immigration is a huge topic that people are worried about – I’ve heard people saying that if we leave the EU, ‘The Jungle’ of shanty towns dotted around the coast of France poised to leap over the channel at the drop of a hat will all of a sudden appear in the south east (which is where I live, and so quite intimidating); but, like I said above, France can’t actively encourage refugees to hijack vans and put themselves at risk walking the tunnels. The EU is able to dictate to the countries within its power how many foreign immigrants they need to take on – it isn’t something that the country itself can make up its own mind on – and so this leads to issues of unskilled British labourers being unable to find work and, with an island as small as ours, overpopulation. Having just left full time education, this is something that worries me a lot – I have no intention of going to university straight away if ever, and so needing to apply to thirty or forty jobs to only receive one interview is not something I want to be a part of my early life (I want to particularly emphasise here, this is hearsay – I have literally only just finished my last exam, and so have no first hand evidence). Overpopulation affects housing and just how many people can fit into a given area – the cheapest options are no longer going to people like me, who are perhaps at that stage of looking for affordable residence, but are taken up by the masses of different ethnicities and social backgrounds from other countries because it is also the best option for them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying cultural diversity is bad; but, at the same time, I don’t want to be outnumbered where I live or where I work by people that are not British.

Even here, with this black and white argument of “Britain for Britain” we have grey areas – my father is a plumber, and he was doing a job in this BnB. It was owned by an elderly couple, who had employed two women, of similar ages, to make the beds, deliver tea, etc. One was from England, and one was from Hungary. The English woman sauntered around for a bit without really doing much – she had a hangover from the previous night – while the woman from Hungary bustled about making beds, bringing my father cups of tea and generally doing her job to a high standard. When the elderly couple went down the road to do the shopping, the English woman left not so long after and didn’t come back – according to her co-worker, this was a regular occurrence. Anecdotal evidence should not be taken to mean anything more than “here’s a nice story for you”, but I feel as though we could learn a thing or two from this: by closing our borders and making it considerably harder for the hardworking people such as that woman from coming and earning their keep, are we giving those jobs to undeserving English people who have become decadent and lazy over the years out of simple and misguided moral values? Like I said, this isn’t evidence either way, and you must bear in mind that that English girl is not representative of the general population (I’ll need to get a job like that soon, and I’m not too lazy!), but it is an interesting perspective that we don’t often hear from the Leave campaign.

The EU and its governing members are not voted in, I learned a few hours ago – if we don’t like the government, we vote it out and try our luck with some new people, but we don’t get that luxury with the greater European Union. We can’t object to their rules, and so we cannot properly govern our own country. If I’ve learned anything from psychology (I’ve learned a lot of things from psychology, whether my exam grades show it or not) it’s that different cultures are, unsurprisingly, different, and one cookie cutter rule template is not necessarily going to work for every country to quite the same degree. As much as I object to a conservative government, I’d like to think that they know what they are doing with our country a little better than some panel nestled away in Brussels. My last point – and it’s a surprisingly petty one all things considered – has significantly impacted my viewpoint on the way that the EU governs us, and it is to do with food. I don’t actually like eating, so it’s rather strange for me to get up in arms about it, but here we are – the EU’s laws on grown food and how it should look causes a huge amount of wasted produce that isn’t allowed to be sold by supermarkets. If a cucumber is too bendy, it is thrown away, meaning less profit for the farmer, less food for the masses and a rather large heap of rotting vegetables (fruit, I know, but I don’t care) that is absolutely good for nothing. This is all because of the EU dictating to us what is right and what isn’t. I don’t know about you, but a massively bendy banana doesn’t sound all that unappealing – I’d search high and low for one that I could wear as a bracelet.

If you’ve read this far, congratulations – this is more that I usually write for a review, but it is a massive decision that we all need to consider rather deeply. Personally, I don’t mind what happens and I don’t necessarily know that I’ll be voting, because my neutrality is something that I hold quite dear; however, a decision must be made, and if everyone sat on the fence, nothing would ever get done. All I can say is this: our future, as a country, is unforeseeable. More countries will be accepted into the EU, creating a greater party for the spoils to be shared out to, and meaning that more people from more countries will be clamouring to reach a country that is better off than their own. If we leave, we sever ties with our allies – we leave ourselves stranded and defenceless until we are able to repair trade routes and relationships. Whether that means we will be more open to terrorist attacks, I couldn’t say; right now, I’m more worried about that egotistical moron attempting to create a “Borris Island” that will directly affect me.

Make your decision – but don’t blame yourself or anyone else if it turns out to be the wrong one. No one can say for definite what will happen, and that is what makes this decision so scary, and so exciting.

Gaming, Review

Salt and Sanctuary Review

I’ve noticed myself struggling to go any length of time at all without mentioning the Souls series, which makes me sound like a preacher for the new church of Miyazaki. Yes, I like Dark Souls, but all games should be treated on their own terms: fortunately for me, Salt and Sanctuary doesn’t want to play on its own terms, and is happy to nestle blatantly in its inspiration.

Salt and Sanctuary is a 2D hack and slash RPG that has the player take control of a shipwrecked sailor as they attempt to rescue a princess. After creating my character, I was thrown into a battle with several pirates and an unkillable death machine with next to no explanation as to the controls, gameplay mechanics or even so much as what my healing items were. This game does a very poor job of explaining itself, and without so much as a help screen, there are still elements of the HUD and levelling interface that leave me stumped. The combat in this game is about as great as I’d expect from side scrolling hack and slash, but in terms of feel and general variety Salt certainly has its moments. Every kill feels weighty and visceral, sending blood spatters up the walls and heads rolling. When my paladin is faced with clumps of weaker enemies, her claymore sails through them with a satisfying crunch that makes me smile far wider than it should. Although I’m typically more reserved in my weapon choices, the game makes clear differentiations between each one, and incentivises exploration of any given playstyle.

Salt’s lack of superficial originality is a real shame, because when the game did decide to do something vaguely unique, I found myself really enjoying it. Spell casters, for example, are restricted to using a set number of spells, with that number being seemingly matched to the player’s stamina (again, I can’t quite say, because I was never informed either way). As the player uses more spells, their maximum stamina drops, restricting all other actions that require the use of that blue bar. Penalising the player in this way evokes a far more strategic mode of play, especially considering the sparsity with which sanctuaries are scattered throughout the world: as maximum stamina isn’t restored until reaching these more homely bonfires, using magic on the run up to a big fight probably isn’t the best of ideas. Levelling is also painted with a brush of personal ingenuity; when the player levels up, they are gifted with a special item which must be slotted into a skill tree. This tree goes up several interweaving paths that allow for a more visual method of building a character than is offered in the Souls franchise: I can actually see that I’m moving towards a knight class rather than a hunter, and can therefore adjust myself accordingly. By using these skill pearls rather than loose experience, players are incentivised to spend their EXP rather than horde it; the dilemma of not wanting to risk EXP, but not wishing to commit to a certain stat just yet is completely removed, as the choice can be held off until later. Another neat feature is that weapons and items can be bought separately with gold coins, rather than being lumped in with the level-up dust. Coins remain with the player through death, unlike salt which is lost entirely; however, the cleric that revives the player does extract his fee, leading me to the suspicion that either he’s a ‘Trusty Patches’ cameo or that I’m just getting mugged.

Unfortunately, the 2D aesthetic, although charming in itself, leaves new players vulnerable to getting themselves lost with frightening regularity. This isn’t helped by the fact that most environments (or at least those that I have seen so far) all tend to look dishearteningly similar, and I’ve found myself on multiple occasions just breaking down because I can’t find my salt/souls/blood echoes, let alone retrieve them. I do like dark and gritty, but when that lends itself to becoming labyrinthine and unintelligible, I may as well be playing Daggerfall. When coupled with its borderline unfair difficulty, it makes playing the game quite the chore after a certain point. I don’t know where the princess is anymore or why I’m trying to save her; honestly, I’d rather just call it quits because I can’t even find the save point any more.

Salt and Sanctuary is at its core a 2D reimagining of Dark Souls that is actually quite enjoyable in places – it keeps to the formula where fans would expect it and deviates when it makes sense. It does sadden me, though, that the developers didn’t work harder to put their own stamp on this game, because they clearly do have good ideas that are simply swamped in a desire to be like their heroes. As it is, I can’t take it as anything more than a well-made Souls clone that is just interesting enough to tide me over until Dark Souls 3.

Salt and Sanctuary is what happens when originality is sacrificed for established franchises. Buried deep within this blatant Souls clone is a fundamentally good game that is certainly worth your time if you have the patience to excavate it.