10 Great Metal Albums From 2017

2017 felt like an eternity. This past year was full of emotional highs and lows that seem to finally be tapering off a few weeks into 2018. During those light and dark times, there was a ton of metal to turn to for solace. Here's 10 of my favorite albums from 2017 in no order except alphabetical. But first:

Acknowledgements

Attic - Sanctimonious

Attic gives King Diamond a run for his fucking money. I may have missed others over the years but this vocalist is the closest attempt at the King's otherwordly shrieks and chants I've heard. The music rips pretty hard too - the album just feels a bit too long for its own good.

Gwar - The Blood of Gods

Rest In Power Dave Brockie. I sort of missed the last 3 Gwar albums and then Oderus Urungus left us to conquer other dimensions. The Blood of Gods is just another fun Gwar album that shows they can still hang without their leader.

Impetuous Ritual - Blight Upon Martyred Sentience

Impetuous Ritual is unnerving chaos from an impossible realm.

Lantern - II: Morphosis

I loved Lantern's debut, Below, and had a lot of expectations for their follow up. Morphosis is a solid death metal album with Black Miasma and Cleansing of the Air as standout tracks (and the singles they released prior), but overall the album feels like a bit of a mess with the occasional stellar riff.

Pillorian - Obsidian Arc

Only a year ago, I'd have slapped you if you told me I wouldn't adore anything John Haughm did post-Agalloch. But Pillorian really didn't land for me. Again there's a few tracks here that are excellent (A Stygian Pyre is one) but it's pretty damning when I find myself not listening during parts of this album. It's not bad by any means - just ok, especially compared to past stuff with Agalloch. Here's hoping to the future of this band.

Sabbath Assembly - Rites of Passage

Sabbath Assembly is occult rock that fucking rocks and walks the line of 'heavy metal'. They're awesome live and recorded and this album is great.

Black Anvil - As Was

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I had the pleasure of witnessing Mayhem perform De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas live in its entirety in 2017 and opening for them was a band I'd never heard of: Black Anvil. These New Yorkers came out swinging with a fury that I instantly appreciated. Black Anvil takes black metal riffing and wraps it in catchy, melodic grooves that make their songs more approachable while staying heavy (such as in May Her Wrath Be Just). The album as a whole is varied and engaging and I love how they mix harsh and clean vocals. Some songs feel like they meander a bit longer than they should but it doesn't take away from the experience. Unfortunately, I don't recommend digging into their backlog but the future of this band looks bright.

Bandcamp. Favorite track: Ultra

Cloak - To Venomous Depths

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Heading into 2018, I was nervous about two forthcoming albums from Watain & Tribulation. Watain produced a solid album in Trident Wolf Eclipse, but the verdict is still out on Tribulation. Thus enters Atlanta's Cloak. Cloak takes the best of both worlds: an energy that reminds me of a Watain live show married with the composition of Tribulation's last two albums. But I wouldn't call Cloak a copycat. Instead, they wear their influences on their sleeves proudly and create their own blend of black/thrash/heavy metal, with an album that has a really solid mix and just fucking rocks. To Venomous Depths is an unlikely pairing of sinister and fun and I'm looking forward to what comes next for these guys.

Bandcamp. Favorite track: In the Darkness, the Path

Enslaved - E

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I love Enslaved. It's beginning to look like they can do no wrong for me. E is honestly not too different from their last few albums but I just love it (this is the first one that took a few listens to hook me, though). This time, Enslaved has a new keyboardist/clean vocalist whom I was initially against but grew to appreciate. These Norwegians trick you into thinking they've lost their black metal roots until they transition from a slow, dreamy lilt to an utterly crushing assault. I described In Times as 'airy' and I think that still applies - Enslaved has had this specific sound for awhile now, where it feels like floating through the clouds amidst the growls.

Favorite track: The River's Mouth

Krallice - Go Be Forgotten

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Krallice released two albums in one year again. This time only one really hit for me. Don't get me wrong, Loum is solid with guest vocals from Neurosis's Dave Edwardson. But Go Be Forgotten is yet again another example of how versatile Krallice can be. It's more melodic and atmospheric this time, easing up (a bit) on the dense technicality that I've grown accustomed to. Go Be Forgotten feels more experimental, with more synths and even interludes, breaking up some of the suffocating-but-controlled cacophony. Like their entire discography, this one requires multiple listens before any sort of understanding reveals itself. But it's worth it.

Bandcamp. Favorite track: Go Be Forgotten

Lorn - Arrayed Claws

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Arrayed Claws is my favorite surprise of 2017. At first glance, Lorn sounds like a me-too discordant black metal band. But their authority of the chaos quickly reveals itself as something really special. The incessant drums and ringing guitar lull me into a trance where the subtle changes in tempo make me forget what was just happening, basking in the discomfort. Arrayed Claws is tense and enveloping with ambient keyboard interludes as reprieves. This is also a great example of the artwork complimenting the album: squirming beasts vying for a better position like thoughts in the mind clamoring for attention. Lorn captures the experience of sudden impulses of fear and doubt on Arrayed Claws, providing a catharsis I didn't realize I desired.

Bandcamp. The entire album is excellent.

Suffering Hour - In Passing Ascension

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Suffering Hour is another surprise for me this year. Man, did their debut ablum, In Passing Ascension, hit hard for me. Suffering Hour crafts dissonant, blackened death metal, unafraid to let a riff build tension only to have it explode into something completely different within seconds. The guitars have a bounce to them - going one way, then another, seemingly at random. They make me consider what Deathspell Omega would sound like if they lightened up a bit. The vocals are mostly standard death metal guttural affair, the only negative I can muster about In Passing Ascension, because the rest of the album is a trip.

Bandcamp. Favorite track: For the Putridity of Man

Sunless - Uracca

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If Suffering Hour wasn't jarring enough for you, might I suggest Sunless? Urraca reminds me of Gorguts's return, Colored Sands, with stutter-y guitar rhythms that captivate and suddenly change. I love that the songs are rather short for music of this ilk, getting in and out before you realize what happened. Within this short period, Sunless creates an eclectic atmosphere that leaves me breathless.

Bandcamp. Favorite track: Abberant Clime

Venenum - Trance of Death

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Trance of Death is a fitting follow-up to Venenum's self-titled EP - a debut that showed signs of forward-thinking amidst standard death metal. Trance of Death expands upon the trippy, contemplative nature established by Venenum's EP, tossing the listener into an even more chaotic dimension. The crushing sections of this album blend exceptionally well with the dreamy and emotional slower passages. Venenum tells a harrowing tale about the act of dying, providing an intense glimpse into the confusion and horror of what may lay beyond.

Bandcamp. Favorite track: There Are Other Worlds

Wintersun - The Forest Seasons

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Wintersun is one of the first bands I discovered that led me down the path of extreme metal with their self-titled album - an album that will forever be an all-time favorite. I was very disappointed with their follow up, Time I. I had waited so long for another album, only to be left wanting. As it turns out, I just needed to wait a bit longer for The Forest Seasons. The concept of each song focusing around a season is just cool and the mood is established perfectly for autumn and winter. It may seem lackluster compared to other releases this year, but Wintersun has made a triumphant return for me personally. Symphonic metal bands are very hit or miss, but Wintersun manages to capture the beauty and grandeur of nature on this album with an epic blend of death and black metal.

Bandcamp. Favorite track: Eternal Darkness (Autumn)

Wolves in the Throne Room - Thrice Woven

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Wolves in the Throne Room is another special band that goes back years in my development as a metal fan. I fell in love with their long-form conjurations of nature worship spoken through black metal well before I discovered the depth of the genre. After Celestial Lineage, Wolves released an ambient companion album, Celestite, before announcing a hiatus. I was surprised to catch them live last year, and Thrice Woven was even more unexpected. Wolves is back with better production and a more aggressive approach while maintaining their signature magic. The songs are punchier while hearkening back to their fuzzy beginnings. While another album that took me a few listens to appreciate, Thrice Woven shows that Wolves is still capable of grand, sweeping epics in a style only they seem fit to produce.

Bandcamp. Favorite track: The Old Ones Are With Us

Thanks for reading, and let me know your favorites from 2017! Here's my past lists in case you missed them and need even more to check out: 2016, 2015, 2014

- Nick

@_nickhead_

originally posted at @2v1podcast

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My Favorite Metal Music of 2016 (Top 10)

I'm a little late on this one. 2016 is the first year where it feels like music sort of slipped away from me. Heavy and fast music has been a part of my life for so long now that I almost take it for granted. Many times this past year I thought to myself "I'm not actively listening to many albums" which is a really strange feeling - and it was another great year for the metal scene!

While music took somewhat of a backseat, there were still plenty of albums I spent some time with. I was surprised that I had managed to still hear enough to have trouble narrowing it down to 10. Like last year, there's no real order.

First, some shout-outs:

Winterfylleth - The Dark Hereafter

Their previous album was my 2014 album of the year. Something about Dark Hereafter just didn't grab me. There's some good stuff here but I'm wondering if they maybe peaked (personally) with Divination. Either way, another competent, atmospheric folk black metal record.

Destroyer 666 - Wildfire

I love this band - but don't listen to them much. There was a period where I listened to them a ton and then suddenly stopped. I'm so glad Wildfire rekindled my appreciation of their anthems to our inner animal. Unforgiving while light-hearted black thrash that makes you pump your fist.

Grave Miasma - Endless Pilgrimage EP

I really liked their debut album, Odori Sepulcrorum, and Endless is another great experience in 'cavernous' death metal. Death metal in general had a pretty standout 2016 which is why this isn't in my top 10.

Bölzer - Hero

I was anxiously waiting for a full length from these guys after 3 highly enjoyable EP's. They're a weird band - blending death/black/psychedelic rock into something pretty special. Hero is quite different from their EP's, and I love when bands experiment and grow, but some parts just don't work for me. Still worth checking out.

Abbath - Self Titled

It saddens me there was some strife within Immortal that led to the main man, Abbath, departing. Immortal is one of the oldest - going all the way back to the beginning of Black Metal as it's known today. Abbath put together basically the next Immortal album under his own name and it's a good one.

Inquisition - Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith

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Inquisition returns with another mouth-full title exploring the realm of cosmic black metal that exists beyond the veil of our pitiful mortal existence. A two-piece that has been consistently improving on an aging genre, Inquisition delivers possibly their heaviest record yet. I have a hard time wrapping my head around some of the sounds a single guitarist can produce (I can't wait to see him do it live this year with Mayhem) and the drumming is so thunderous that Bloodshed is a really standout release in an extensive discography. I think Dagon really found the right tone for his vocals on this one, too.

Sumac - What One Becomes

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Sumac took my breath away with their debut, The Deal, in 2015. The Deal was easily one of my most-listened-to albums last year - a blast of sludgy riffs and heart stopping drums that wasn't afraid to revel in long droning passages. What One Becomes is an outstanding follow-up. Where The Deal felt like Sumac was trying to prove themselves, What One Becomes feels like a self-reflection on where they might be going. It makes me anxious and calm at the same time. It allows me to explore the things that make me uncomfortable. I can't wait to see what this band does next.

Deathspell Omega - The Synarchy of Molten Bones

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Deathspell Omega is a band that requires study and many listens before any sort of understanding can be gained. Their style is discordant black metal - experimental, swirling and abrasive. We haven't heard a peep from them for 4 years since their last EP, Drought, which came after they completed their trilogy of albums studying the fall of Lucifer from heaven. DSO takes their work quite seriously and it's apparent in the music. Synarchy is a continuation of the more technical and aggressive stuff seen on Drought. They have a unique energy that I adore but requires a specific mood for listening.

Blood Incantation - Starspawn

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Here's a gem I missed until I saw it on tons of lists this year. I won't pretend to know anything about this band - except this album deserves the recognition I've seen. It quickly became a daily listen leading up to this list. Starspawn bounces back and forth between traditional death metal and progressive sensibilities. It's diverse, engaging and just fucking rocks. At times it reminds me of Death, one of my favorite metal bands of all time. Starspawn is dreamy, terrifying and uplifting. It's short and to the point - there isn't a second wasted.

Chthe'ilist - Le Dernier Crepuscule

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This is a weird one, I'll admit, and no I don't know how to pronounce the name. Plenty of bands go for the cosmic horror/Lovecraft influence but this is one that actually sounds like it hails from one of those unfathomable dimensions. I listened to Le Derneir Crepuscule a lot this year, and I'm not totally sure why. For the most part it's pretty traditional, murky death metal. But there's just something odd happening on this record that is extremely appealing to my ears. The riffs are oppressive, the vocals other-worldly at times and just overall dark as hell. But sort of bouncy and fun too? And gross.

Krallice - Hyperion/Prelapsarian

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Krallice is another band that requires study. Their songs are dense, layered and chaotic. I had their 2015 album, Ygg Huur, on my list last year. While I enjoyed that album, it was rather different than their typical style of long-form, technical black metal. They began 2016 with Hyperion and ended with Prelapsarian, both of which are a return to what I typically expect and I like both so much that I couldn't just choose one.

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Everyone involved in Krallice is an absurd musician, juggling multiple projects at once, while still managing to produce these self-contained examples of sonic assault. I still can't really explain this band. I'm not musically trained and most of what's happening is probably lost on me. That sounds like weird praise - but the way they build atmosphere without ever letting their foot off the gas is consistently appealing. It feels like a triumph when I find myself in tune with a rhythm.

Urgehal - Aeons in Sodom

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How about a breath of fresh (stifling?) air after all these technical bands? Urgehal's main man passed away a few years ago and it left me wondering if they'd retire the band. Instead, they did one final tribute to him by collecting some of his unreleased tunes and gathering tons of black metal legends to provide guest vocals. Aeons in Sodom is just pure, black-thrash fun. Urgehal has always come off as tongue-in-cheek while still producing some of the most rocking black metal - and Aeons is more of that. A fitting farewell.

Vektor - Terminal Redux

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The end of 2016 brought a sudden change in Vektor's lineup - all but the vocalist/guitarist have moved on from the band. Which seems strange seeing as Terminal Redux is an incredible album that appeared to be launching them into the spotlight. Internal strife aside, Vektor's third release is a thrash metal journey into science-fiction and space. Easily their most ambitious outing - it tells a story of transcending the human form and what perils that may bring. And it seems that Vektor experienced some form of transcendence themselves. Playing with clean vocals, slower passages and occasionally some black metal, Terminal Redux is a triumph and shows considerable maturity compared to their first two albums.

Gorguts - Pleiades' Dust EP

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Ok so it's an EP and not a full length, but it's still 30 minutes long and just as impressive as a full album. Gorguts returned to the scene after a long hiatus in 2013 with Colored Sands - an album that floored me. I didn't do a long form written list back then but it could have easily been my album of the year. Pleiades' Dust is the long-form continuation of what we saw on Colored Sands: precise, dynamic and absolutely crushing death metal. I think Gorguts is one of the most exciting bands in this realm. Luc Lemay gathered up some of the best talent (including a guitarist from Krallice!) and put together something really special. I cannot wait to hear the next full length.

So I said I wasn't numbering this list, but there is a clear #1 for me:

Album of the Year:
Darkthrone - Arctic Thunder

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Darkthrone means a lot of different things to many people that appreciate extreme metal. Influential doesn't even begin to do them justice. If you haven't heard of them, you have some catching up to do. But a good starting point is surprisingly their newest album, Arctic Thunder. For the past 10 years, Darkthrone had struck some vein of crust-punk influenced heavy metal that I seriously love. It turned off some 'true kvlt' fans but fuck them. Darkthrone does metal in the best of ways: with utter devotion and adoration of the form. Their entire discography is a love letter to heavy music. I'm gushing.

Arctic Thunder is a return to the era when Darkthrone was doing, what I feel, some of their heaviest work (Ravishing Grimness through Sardonic Wrath) while still keeping a foot in the door of the past 5 albums. Arctic Thunder just fucking rocks with some solid riffs that beg for you to bang your head. Every song is something special, with a driving rhythm that never gets old. I've listened to this album a disgusting amount of times this year and it's one of my favorites from Darkthrone ever. If the underground scene has never done anything for you - this is the one to give a second chance.

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Far Harbor Review

My feelings on Fallout 4 are mixed. While I loved my time with Fallout 3 and New Vegas, I was hoping for a little more innovation with the most recent iteration. But what we got was ultimately more of the same. Did that stop me from spending about 100 hours wandering the Commonwealth? Nope, and I was definitely looking forward to the first big expansion: Far Harbor.

After receiving a new case from Nick Valentine's detective agency, the player sets out in search of a missing girl, Kasumi. Fast forward a bit, we learn that Kasumi believes she might be a synth, causing her to flee to Far Harbor where there is apparently a haven for Synths. Immediately, this was a more interesting plot than most of the base game. I felt that the Institute's motivations were never fully explained and I was constantly wanting more from the idea of Synths in general.

Imagine waking up one day thinking you're no longer human. Were you ever human, or were you replaced? Does it ultimately matter? While a different approach, with different subject matter, Soma was a great example of a game that posed all of the right questions about what it means to be human and conscious. I kept thinking Fallout 4 was leading the player in this direction with the Institute and synths - it was the right hook I needed to be excited to travel to Far Harbor.

The High Confessor is insane.
The High Confessor is insane.

Upon arrival, the player is met by the citizens of the titular town about to be attacked by some creatures from "The Fog". After surviving the onslaught from fish men, Far Harbor opens up for the player to explore, presenting a new decently sized map littered with plenty of new locations to sift through. The player can take on new sidequests from the citizens of Far Harbor, the synth refugees of Acadia, as well as the mysterious bomb-worshipping fanatics, the Children of Atom. Getting embedded with The Children of Atom was an enlightening experience because previously, they were just another enemy to kill.

Far Harbor manages to wrap a nice little story within these factions that feels localized in a realistic way. This little island is torn in a few directions, with each group facing their own struggles as well as conflict with each other. There's definitely history here that made me feel more attached to each faction.

As far as gameplay, it's very much more Fallout 4. There's a few new enemy types focused around marine life, such as a giant hermit crabs living in trailers, giant lobsters, giant fish people, etc. Far Harbor also adds a new "raider-esque" enemy with the Trappers, driven mad by the radioactive Fog, who are only concerned with hunting the island's wild life (and people). The Trappers don't really bring anything new to the table other than a harpoon gun, which is actually a lot of fun to use and can be upgraded in a few different directions. Settlements are still present as well, with a few new spots sprinkled around the island to dump all of your junk and toss together some shoddy buildings. It's also possible to establish a supply line between commonwealth settlements and Far Harbor, so you don't have to start from scratch, which was a nice touch.

In the Commonwealth, locations were tightly packed, without much traveling in open terrain before stumbling across something of interest. This was an aspect I really enjoyed versus the semi-boring wastelands of Fallout 3 and New Vegas. In Far Harbor, points of interest are spread out once again. I didn't even fight many enemies as I was traveling around. The Island feels a little...lifeless and traveling to undiscovered locations was mostly uneventful. The Fog that I mentioned earlier is constantly talked about almost as if it has a life of its own, choking the island and spawning monsters. But really it just seemed like a crutch to mask otherwise same-y landscape you'd see in the Commonwealth.

Moments with light shining through trees shrouded in Fog occur often but always look cool.
Moments with light shining through trees shrouded in Fog occur often but always look cool.

Contrasting Far Harbor with Fallout 3's excellent Point Lookout, which felt like a very realized swampy, backwoods locale, just shows how similar Far Harbor looks to the base game. There isn't much to set it apart from the Commonwealth, visually, other than the oppressive fog and the occasional harbor town. I don't really know what I was expecting, and I can't knock it too much for this, but it would have been nice to see some different scenery somehow. That said, the ever-present fog would occasionally result in some beautifully eerie lighting situations that made me hesitant to press on - in a good way.

Far Harbor is 24.99 alone, which feels like a fair asking price for the content available - assuming you're looking for more Fallout 4. Throughout the localized quests, the player will encounter a majority of the island's locations, though there were still plenty that I did not pillage in my 10 hours of playtime. All told, I enjoyed the story quite a bit. Once again, the player will be given a choice between the factions, allowing for multiple endings - but this time I actually felt connected to each faction, versus the paper thin relations built in the base game with the Minutemen, Railroad or Brotherhood of Steel. My issues with the main game aside - Far Harbor was a fun ride, with an interesting and diverse cast of new characters that manage to bring the desolate landscape to life.

You can see some more of the environments and enemies in my video review - it's mostly a repeat of what I wrote here.

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Top 10 Metal Albums - 2015

Last year's list was quite a success, so I figured I'd do it again! Here's some of my favorite heavy music from this year. This time, I'm abandoning the numbering because frankly, I can't decide. There was a lot of great releases this year - with a few surprises I didn't see coming. Let's go!

First, a few albums I enjoyed but don't have much to say:

Horrendous - Anareta - A fresh take on old school death metal. This is a young band making big moves in a short period of time.

Drudkh - A Furrow Cut Short - Epic-but-ambient black metal from Ukraine. These veterans still got it, I just didn't give this one enough time this year.

Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats - Night Creeper - Not metal, but dark and groovy rock with big riffs. A competent album but I can't shake the fact that they may hit their high point with their sophomore, Blood Lust.

Lucifer - Lucifer I - Another non-metal band, this is more classical rock with a beautifully-voiced female lead. Check out her short-lived but amazing other band, The Oath, too.

Sivyj Yar - Burial Shrouds - A lone Russian crafts some excellent, heartache-inspiring music. This isn't in my top 10 only because his vocals have never really done it for me but man, the music is great.

Melechesh - Enki - Mesopotamian black metal. These guys wear their middle eastern heritage on their sleeves - producing a unique and fun sound in the genre.

And in no particular order, my 10 favorites:

Akhlys - The Dreaming I

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One of the surprises I mentioned - a band (single guy again) whose previous work I am unfamiliar with. This black metal album has an atmosphere that is disconcerting with a relentless pace full of blast beats and kick pedal. Don't let that turn you away, though, because the fast drumming is often paired with melodic guitars (in between the utterly blistering riffs). The Dreaming I drops the listener into a nightmare that twists and turns when you least expect it, with some great production quality that doesn't sound plastic. I love the album art, too.

Bandcamp, favorite track: The Dreaming Eye

Obsequiae - Aria of Vernal Tombs

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Another surprise: Obsequiae are the medieval black metal band I didn't know I wanted. I really dig the effect this band is using with their guitars - they use a weirdly buzzing grind that produces an almost old-sounding feel that maybe wouldn't sound out of place in the 15th century (if they had electric guitars). Aria of Vernal Tombs evokes the sound of traversing the landscape on horseback while the sun glistens off ruins (they nailed that album cover). The vocals are harsh, as one would expect, but aren't at the forefront. Instead they take a bit of a backseat, echoing off the guitars as a compliment. The metal outings are broken up by a few instrumental tracks featuring only a harp. These often reminded me of the ambient music in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which is never a bad thing.

Bandcamp, favorite track: Anlace and Heart

Ghost - Meliora

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I definitely thought it was over for Ghost in terms of my interest. Their debut was the catchiest satan worship I had ever heard - I listened to Opus Eponymous on repeat for months. Infestissumam, the follow-up, was...ok, but nowhere near Opus. After a few singles were released for Meliora, it seemed like the gimmick had run its course, leading me to think I'd skip this one. I was wrong. Once the full album was available, the previously-lackluster singles took new meaning, fitting perfectly into the band's most ambitious record yet. It feels like an apology for Lucifer - an earnest and heartfelt explanation for embracing the dark side. Maybe the fallen angel wasn't such a bad guy.

You probably know what Ghost sounds like, even if you don't like heavier music, but here's the official full album.

Krallice - Ygg Huur

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Krallice is a challenging group. Upon first listen, you may only hear noise. Admittedly, it took me almost a year to appreciate their debut, self titled album. This is a band that has a whole lot going on in their typically-lengthy songs, but you can almost always find some new aspect to appreciate on every listen. This year's stealthily released album, Ygg Huur, is actually a breath of fresh air, featuring much shorter songs. Compared to their past work, these songs are a little choppier, packing a broad range of sounds into a small amount of time. Krallice is hard to explain, just give them a shot.

Bandcamp, favorite track: Tyranny of Thought

Sumac - The Deal

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Here's a band completely outside of my typical style - and it's one of my most listened-to albums this year! Sumac is primarily a two-piece, featuring only one member I recognize, Aaron Turner (Isis), on guitars and vocals. This is seriously one of the heaviest albums I've heard this year. Sludge, post-metal, maybe some black or death metal - there's a lot here. The riffs are so thick you can chew on them, backed by a drumming whirlwind of technicality that leaves me dazed. The Deal is just absolutely crushing.

Bandcamp, favorite track: Blight's End Angel

Leviathan - Scar Sighted

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Leviathan is another one-man black metal band who has been in the game for quite some time. Fun fact: Wrest (as he's known) actually collaborated with Aaron Turner^ on a supergroup of sorts, Twilight. I've flirted with Leviathan's previous albums, never really sticking around long, because this is some dark stuff that really requires a specific mood to enjoy. However, Scar Sighted feels a little more ambitious and, dare I say, approachable at times. It's more experimental, but is still chock-full of Wrest's signature self-loathing. Its a great evolution in direction that I really hope he continues. Also, he's a talented artist that has done his own album artwork (and some others), with some really cool stuff done for Scar Sighted.

Bandcamp, favorite track: Wicked Fields of Calm

Abigail Williams - The Accuser

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Abigail Williams has seen many lineup changes and many style changes over the years. They started out weirdly as metalcore with a black tinge, got a little symphonic, went full on atmospheric a la Wolves in the Throne Room on their third album, until this - The Accuser. This album is a dirty and angry blast of speed full of raw emotion. Abigail Williams finally feels like they found their own thing instead of aping typical styles. (Don't get me wrong, I appreciate their previous stuff, too). I'm hoping they stick with this direction.

Bandcamp, favorite track: Godhead

Tribulation - The Children of the Night

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Tribulation is doing something special. Progressive black/death/(goth rock?) We can throw around a lot of genres with bands this year, it seems. But in reality that's a wonderful thing - that a lot of music in general is getting that much more difficult to define. The Children of the Night really is nailing it from the metal side of things. The vocals are still harsh, but the music is a bit poppy. There's still heaviness to be heard, there's some psychedelic trance inducing passages, there's glam metal solos. I had the pleasure of seeing them open for Watain once and they reproduce this quality production in the flesh.

Favorite track: The Whole Album

Enslaved - In Times

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Enslaved is one of the oldest black metal bands. They're partially responsible for making the genre what it is today. After 13 albums now they are still killing it. About half way through their career they transitioned to a more progressive sound, while holding on to their viking/folky roots, in one of my favorite albums Below the Lights. In Times very much reminds me of Below the Lights: crushing rhythms backed by airy, chanting vocals that devolve into guttural growls, 'big' soundscapes, the folk chants. It's all here, and never ceases to be compelling after multiple listens.

Favorite track: One Thousand Years of Rain

Panopticon - Autumn Eternal

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Panopticon is a band I've known of for years, but never really was hooked by the more southern-folky crusted take on black metal. Yet again a one-man band, and only a year between the past release Roads to the North, Austin Lunn finally delivers an album I can wholeheartedly say I really like. This feels like the culmination he has been working towards: still incorporating his folk and hardcore-riff roots, but expertly placing them to make the album more cohesive. A real gem.

Bandcamp, favorite track: Into the North Woods

Thanks for checking this out! What heavy stuff did you like this year? There's plenty of other things I didn't get around to hearing yet, but I'm sure I missed some gems.

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I Played So Many Games in 2015 (GOTY)

I played a lot of games this year, including plenty of 2015 releases that couldn't make it in my top 10. I briefly want to acknowledge a few of those as this was easily the most excited I've been about video games in quite some time (certainly due, in part, to my podcast). This year was just great for the medium all around.

Mortal Kombat X - More of the same after the wonderful MK9 reboot, MKX was still a blast to play, with a decent story mode and surprisingly fun, new characters.

Crypt of the Necrodancer - A truly unique spin on the roguelike-like genre using beat-matching to an amazing soundtrack in order to move and attack enemies. This game is hard - I still haven't beat it, and honestly haven't devoted enough time to it.

Massive Chalice - I love that I failed to finish this game. Literally - I made it to the final battle and my kingdom was too weak and I liked that. The time mechanic was fascinating and expertly done and I couldn't stop playing all the way til the end.

Rocket League - This soccer-game-with-cars is so fun to play and its simplicity is beautiful. I will most likely have this on my 2016 GOTY when I can play it on Xbox One with more friends.

Volume - Volume takes the old form of Metal Gear Solid stealth and makes it a puzzle game. The simplistic art worked much better than I expected and the desire to speed run levels recalled my ultimate love: Super Meat Boy. Perfect.

Downwell - Another roguelike-like that managed to deliver a new mechanic in a sea of similar titles. Fast, frantic, difficult and makes a tri-color palette look great in a modern age.

Fallout 4 - Fuck this game. No seriously - I love Fallout 4 and played it for days, but it has no place in 2015. Bethesda has a lot to prove to me as a long time fan with their next game.

The Beginner's Guide - You spend more on a single meal that might take 15-30 minutes to eat than the cost of this 90 minute experience. The Beginner's Guide is a must-see. It's frustrating, eye opening, not a game, a game, sad, funny and more.

Soma - This is easily the most interesting thing I experienced this year. I played only a bit myself and opted to watch a Let's Play (@patrickklepek's) as I seriously hate the "hide from enemy" mechanic that caused me to never finish Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Soma is disturbing in an almost too real way - evoking not only a minor existential crisis from me, but also making me think about our future downfall to artificial intelligence in a way I never considered. There were a few story beats where my mouth was agape, horrified at what I was witnessing. This is truly a must-experience story for any fan of science fiction, whether playing it or watching someone else play it. The setting, art direction and voice acting really nailed the themes presented. Soma poses questions that any human should consider at some point in their lives and I'm pleased that a simple video game furthered my understanding of difficult subjects.

Can you believe there's 10 more games I loved this year?

#10 - Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin

Nothing beats grand views of castles and dragons.

It goes without saying that the Souls series does something special for me. DS2 was my 2014 GOTY and still made its way to this list. SotFS is technically a 2015 release and deserves some credit for refining the jumbled mess of the original and including 3 hearty, difficult content packs. DS2 is a straight dungeon crawler where I wasn't looking for narrative - I just wanted more scenarios to bang my head against with a ton of different playstyles. I dumped hours and hours into this title again. This is a great package and that 60 frames per second really goes a long, long way.

#9 - Dirt Rally

Whoops.

I'm glad this game made its official release this year, because I played a whole lot of it. I'm not a car enthusiast in any way, and in fact, despise actual driving in real life. But rally games have always held my attention due to the focus on time trials. Dirt Rally is a return to Codemasters' previous experience with rally simulations where there's no flashy X-games events, just straight point to point racing (and some other stuff too). Every turn or bump in the road can spell disaster in a split second, making Dirt Rally a thrilling ride. As my first Early Access experience also, it was great to see how much Codemasters listened to the fans while also continually delivering new content. There's a lot to do here for any racing game fan - look for this game to come to consoles in 2016.

#8 - Rare Replay

The gang's all here...except James Bond.

Rare Replay is a lot of games in a single package and was one of my favorite releases this year. Rare really hit their stride with me during the N64 era where I was just old enough to voraciously consume video games. Much of my feeling for this package is based purely on nostalgia, but this collection also added some fun, extra morsels to squeeze out more enjoyment from very dated games. The snapshot challenges, milestones/stickers that are achievements I actually want to pursue, unlocking "making of" featurettes and getting to experience the few Rare games that I actually missed (there is some genius in those ZX Spectrum games!), made this $30 well worth spending. Also, this is my last legitimate chance to have Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts on a game of the year list. Why haven't you played Nuts & Bolts yet?

#7 - Tales From the Borderlands

Loader Bot is my homie.

One free episode convinced me to immediately purchase the season of Tales. I like the Borderlands games but never would have guessed a narrative focus set in the same universe could be so damn fun. I was down on this idea from TellTale the minute it was announced but the lighthearted-while-grim subject matter of Borderlands was captured perfectly by the characters and plot. I felt connected to everyone and the decisions felt impactful. The engine of these games needs a massive overhaul but I was so wrapped up in the story that I didn't mind. Tales is the one game on this list that lived and died by the story - and it delivered. Also, the title sequences for each episode were just incredible.

#6 - Ori and the Blind Forest

Don't give up.

Ori is a very by-the-numbers Metroid game. There's a big map that holds many secrets hidden behind ability driven barriers. What sets Ori apart is the addition of challenging platforming that requires the occasional pixel perfect precision. I really enjoyed the difficulty of this game - it never felt too punishing and constantly brought to mind my experience with Super Meat Boy. The whole thing was wrapped in stunningly beautiful artwork that always looked great throughout, and the story, (while typical), ended on a wonderfully high note.

#5 - Undertale

The only game this year featuring a flirtatious (but shy) airplane.

Undertale gives old school turn based RPG's a new twist by introducing an action to talk to the enemies instead of fighting them. This idea made the game such an enjoyable experience because almost every encounter was different in some way. During those encounters, a level of stress is introduced with oddly challenging bullet-hell segments that gave the player something to do during the enemy turn - an aspect I really appreciated and kept me engaged during what normally might get boring in other turn based games. The writing was smart and charming, with loveable characters that warmed my heart.

#4 - Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number

Long night...

Many thought HM2 suffered by incorporating more puzzle elements (and more guns) instead of continuing the frantic, variable, melee-focused blood orgy seen in the first game. But in reality HM2 delivered another amazing soundtrack, a bigger emphasis on plot, and a more refined approach to level design. Moving the focus to more guns didn't bother me because I actually enjoyed taking a step back and determining my next move. That sounds sacrosanct to the genius of the first game, but if Dennaton had just done more of the same, I wouldn't have liked it as much. Stepping out of an elevator dual wielding SMGs right when Carpenter Brut's "Roller Mobster" hits with a heart-stopping blast of heavy synth will forever be one of my favorite moments in video games.

#3 - Axiom Verge

AV is the product of a single person who clearly loves Super Metroid. The player moves through static screens, slowly filling in a tiled map that hides secret upgrades that aren't immediately within reach. AV is special due to the oppressive sense of atmosphere. This world is a disorienting trip of fusions between flesh and machine with glimpses of a lost, highly developed civilization at every turn. The player is out of place, and this game brilliantly explains that by building a foreboding (while slightly confusing) narrative. Axiom Verge got under my skin so much that I was constantly thinking about it. If I wasn't playing, I was listening to the soundtrack or drawing imagery that I couldn't get out of my head. No other game this year had it's claws so deep in me and it will always be a special experience I'll never forget.

#2 - Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

I'll try to keep this short: Phantom Pain ultimately comes down to gameplay in terms of my total enjoyment. I played the hell out of this game and got deep into the Forward Operating Base stuff for a period of time. I loved infiltrating other bases and stealing people's shit. Yeah, I was that guy who ruined your day - deal with it, this is war. The reason it was so compelling was because Kojima Productions just nailed the stealth and control of Snake. I felt like I could do anything and was never struggling to stay hidden or to even flee once discovered. Sandbox game design has a new benchmark to meet in future games. So the story? Yeah it kind of fell flat and what was there was a jumbled mess. I loved how it wrapped up, though, and some major story beats really hit hard for me. It's a divisive game, but what Metal Gear hasn't been?

#1 - Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

My favorite love story that was lost on (probably) almost every player.

I'm a big fan of the Witcher series, so much that Wild Hunt finally convinced me to read the books that the games are based upon.

I'm probably biased.

Wild Hunt is the first (and last?) of the series to make the jump to a massive open world. Too many similar RPG's rely on useless collectibles and side quests that require the player to go fetch a thing, resulting in a huge map feeling empty and lifeless. Witcher 3 still has those things. But on top of that, it brings much more depth in terms of branching side quests with engaging characters and writing. The world of the Witcher is harsh - the land is constantly wracked with war, monsters lurk in every corner and there's whispers of an impending doom in the form of the Wild Hunt. Geralt's world feels so tangible even though it drips with fantasy tropes: grieving loved ones looking for their lost sons who rode off to war, jilted lovers that turn to dark magic to win back their partner, and humans that are more monstrous than literal beasts.

The game just sucked me in (more than the first two games) and I've talked at length about my love for it on the podcast. The gameplay left much to be desired, but that's not what I was looking for anyway. The way this game naturally fed optional quests to the player felt unique. A lot of it came from just experiencing the world or talking to NPC's, which went a long way in making me feel like I was living as Geralt. Riding your horse around the beautiful landscapes was a joy in itself. I adore the content of this universe, so I may be wearing rose-tinted glasses, but Witcher 3 is something special for fantasy fans that I feel has changed the course of how any forthcoming open world RPG's will be designed. At least, I hope other developers take note.

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Destiny: A Personal Reflection & Revelation (6/1/15)

I took a break from writing a...weekly-ish blog to see if I'd feel the urge to return. I realized that my attempt at trying to cover a lot of ground within a single week of playing games led to me rambling with no focus. Instead of digging into what really impressed me about a game, I'd spend paragraphs explaining more broad feelings about what I liked and didn't like. I was basically repeating what my friends and I would discuss in our podcast.

In order to get better at writing, I should try and explain myself in more detail - let's start with my return to Destiny and the House of Wolves DLC.

Or
Or "expansion" if you will.

What hasn't been said about Destiny? Bungie's enormous marketing campaign penetrated any form of media a consumer might come across with promises of an expansive universe to explore with your friends. It would be an MMO first person shooter, and it would be around for at least 10 years. Many felt it didn't deliver.

I also denounced Destiny after only a short period with the beta. The small taste of what this game offered was a big red flag in terms of how much content would be available out of the box. From the ads, my heart wished "galaxy spanning rpg-shooter romp with buddies." From the beta, my gut screamed "minimal content, with a focus on grind." No thanks.

Fast forward a few months to me buying an Xbox One in anticipation for Halo: MCC. Whoops. My expectations of jumping back into a series I spent countless hours playing with friends was dashed by poor launch planning and game breaking server problems. I now had a console I'd never really use. One of my good friends had been a slave to Destiny prior to this, so I figured I might as well try it since it was a console exclusive and I happened to have one of those consoles.

After 200 hours with the game, you might say I like Destiny. My playtime probably pales in comparison to the more rabid fans (my friend included, who has almost 500), but for me, that is a huge investment. One might think after that amount of time I'd have nothing negative to say, or rather, that I had accepted the flaws and moved on. For the most part, that's true. But prior to House of Wolves, I was ready to be done with Destiny until the next major installment, or possibly for good.

Crota initially seemed really interesting.
Crota initially seemed really interesting.

The first expansion, Crota's End, didn't offer much in terms of actual content. I was most excited for a new raid, since Vault of Glass really impressed me. At first, Crota's End was another similar adventure where you completed a ritual to summon an alien god in order to destroy it. Thinking of both raids in this way really made the experience for me, because honestly, deicide is pretty fucking cool.

Crota's End fell apart when the internet hive-mind (HAHA get it?!) figured out how to break the puzzles, multiple times, trivializing the whole experience. The raid became a weekly chore to sprint through, fight Crota for 20 minutes and see if you got any raid armor to get to level 32 and run through the raid again and see if you got the hard mode drops...and...then what?

Vault of Glass required a fair amount of coordination and was never easy (at least for me and my friends), and again, as far as I knew, only had one minor cheese that didn't break the raid but made it go more smoothly. It was always interesting. Crota's End was boring after the 3rd time I did it. I began to have an existential crisis with Destiny. Why had I spent so much time playing this damn game? What was the point of amassing all this gear? Why did I pay for the 2nd expansion so far in advance without knowing I'd want to keep playing?

I stopped soon after. I didn't finish leveling up the gear I had - even when I had just got the coveted Suros Regime. House of Wolves was months away and my interest in the game had skipped town.

My Xbox One sat dejected for a few months, getting occasional use out of arcade games and Mortal Kombat X for about 2 weeks. I swore I didn't care about House of Wolves, and would only check it out because I had paid for it. I was part of the crowd that was very against the exclusion of a new raid. I felt ripped off, which wasn't a great way to start off a new round of content. My expectations were pretty low.

I love you. I hate you.
I love you. I hate you.

Instead of a raid, House of Wolves added the new horde-esque mode, Prison of Elders, and a highly competitive PvP mode, Trials of Osiris. I was underwhelmed initially by both, until a pivotal moment resulting from me being kicked from Destiny's servers - just as my team finished the level 32 PoE. As the final boss fell, I was kicked from the game, and unable to rejoin. I did not get the weekly rewards, nor did I get the thrill of opening the final rewards chests. Essentially, the hours I had just spent playing the game resulted in...nothing.

Fury doesn't describe what I felt. It was seething, quiet, rage. I didn't scream. I didn't pound my fists. I sat and fumed. I told my buddy "I think I might be done with this game for good."

A day passed. I realized getting so angry over not getting loot was incredibly silly. Up until that point in Prison of Elders, I was having a blast with the gameplay and challenge alone. I wasn't even considering what gun or armor I'd get. That wasn't the point because I had enemies to dispatch and objectives to complete in a limited amount of time. A total reversal of how I viewed Destiny was taking form.

I wanted to play the game again. My hope and desire was renewed rather quickly, and the weekend was coming up, meaning the second round of the Trials of Osiris. My first outing during the week of release was a poor showing. My buddy and I, as well as a rotating third person from DestinyLFG, never even reached 3 wins, but I wanted to give this mode a chance. I spent a good bit of my Destiny time playing Crucible. I'm still surprised that it didn't catch on with a majority of players, as I think the smaller maps and 6v6 feels great. To each their own.

Our second attempt at Trials this past weekend was both a major success and a major failure. Twice we got up to 4-0, only to lose the next 3 matches in a row. At 5 wins, I'd automatically get a piece of gear that helps increase my overall level, thus opening up more challenging levels of Prison of Elders. (Yes, the vicious Destiny cycle is still in full effect.)

These heart-breaking losses, however, brought my new way of thinking full circle. I wasn't mad that we had lost, and I had missed a chance to further my character with new loot, and that I'd have to wait another week to try again. Instead, I was relishing the high we felt as we swept teams in 5 rounds. I was fully experiencing the tension of reviving team members while under fire. The strategy of when each of us would use our super ability throughout the match, or which way we'd go in the map, was a level of planning I have never experienced in a multiplayer shooter. Even when we lost, our elation deflated, uttering phrases such as "fuck this game," "I don't want to play this again," I was appreciating the feeling.

No shooter has made me feel so invested in the competition alone. Forget the loot and light level and materials and whatever. Looking back, my enjoyment in Destiny has come solely from the gameplay, and the feel of shooting a fairly varied arsenal of weapons. Even mowing down waves of AI-controlled enemies was a blast, which is now refreshed in the more challenging Prison of Elders.

Destiny may have disappointed many - myself included, initially. It was a profound realization that I don't need an end-goal to enjoy a game. I've been so conditioned by the lust for loot over many years of playing rpg's that I let that desire mask what is really great about Destiny - the gameplay. I spent an unbelievable amount of hours playing multiple shooters online, with no goal - why should Destiny be any different?

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How Was Your Weekend? Dancin' in the DiRT (5/4/2015)

Up until this weekend, I had avoided Early Access games like they were a plague. I've been interested in a few, but never interested enough to take the leap and possibly toss a few bucks down the drain. One of those games was Crypt of the Necrodancer, (more on that later), which presented a fun new spin on the rogue-like-like whatever, genre. But for some reason I just couldn't stomach the...what? $15 entry? Worrying about the cost of games is something I'm making a conscious effort to avoid now that I'm an adult with a full time job. I don't have to hoard my lunch money anymore to save up to buy the next big release.

Value is one of those arguments that can never really be resolved because it depends so much on personal opinion, so let's forget that for now. So if there's a game that grabs my interest, why should I let the initial cost turn me away? How would I ever know for sure whether or not it was worth it, or had something that I'd enjoy?

DiRT Rally (PC, early access)

Of all the types of games I play, I never would have guessed a racing game would be my first Early Access title. I spent my younger years pouring hours and hours into Gran Turismo, (those endurance races...man) and messed around with some more arcade-y racers like the Need for Speed series. But the type of racing that interested me the most was rally. The fact that a driver and a navigator were barreling down dirt roads barely wide enough for a single car at breakneck speeds, going for the fastest possible times while narrowly avoiding trees, rocks, and mountain cliffs was thrilling the first time I learned of the sport. I spent the most time with Rallisport Challenge 2 and I loved the first Dirt, but unfortunately never tried the Colin McCrae series. After Dirt 2 and 3 were a real departure from what I wanted, I sort of gave up on rally racing games.

Enter DiRT Rally, which just sort of appeared on Steam Early Access. The minute I heard about it, and that it was a rally sim more so than a rally arcade racer, I needed to know more. All I wanted was the time trial, point to point stuff, and that's what this seemed to be. After watching a single gameplay video, I was sold.

Wait...I wanted to play this?
Wait...I wanted to play this?

Yes I very much wanted to play this. I'm not someone who wants to play with a steering wheel, the controller is fine for me. It took a bit to get used to the feel of the game since making minor adjustments with control sticks is a little tough, but right away I could tell the difference between driving on different road conditions, such as mud, gravel or ice, and that's exactly what I wanted.

Being an Early Access game, I figured there would be barely anything to do. There's 3 different areas so far, with those 3 areas chopped up into 36 stages that can be paired with day/night cycles and varying weather effects. The car roster sits at 17, and after a few hours of play I still only have one car, so I have plenty to work towards for the time being. Single player seems to be based on what year of cars you're using, so I'm currently tied to a single championship series with my one, 1960's car. That series cycles through the 3 areas, with 4 stages each, and you must complete the entire 4 stages to earn credits.

Did I win?
Did I win?

Online play is also available from the beginning, with daily and weekly challenges. The weekly challenge picks a certain stage and certain car, which was pretty cool because it let me play with a more high-end car that I won't unlock for quite some time. There's also the option to create and join leagues, which I was glad to find there is already a Giant Bomb league. I flew off the track in the second stage of last week's league series, and fell out of the races (hehe) immediately. But I'll be back!

Outside of the racing, there's a team to manage. You're assigned a crew boss at the start of the game, and from there you have a few slots to hire engineers, who have a long list of stats pertaining to aspects of your car's performance. These crew members are not permanent, and have contracts based on a number of races. In between stages during a series, you have the opportunity to fix up your car, and the speed of your repairs depends on your crew.

I can't afford more than one engineer, currently.
I can't afford more than one engineer, currently.

So for my first Early Access game, I'm having a pretty good experience. Maybe that's because I have nothing else to compare it to, but for what I'm getting out of it now, I'm pleased. I may try to keep a log of updates outside of my weekly blog, since this is a new experience for me. Time will tell, but I'm really looking forward to see how this process works being involved during development.

Crypt of the Necrodancer (PC)

I mentioned earlier that I wanted to grab this when it was on Early Access as well, but I held back. This was due to the amount of content available when I first heard about the game here at GB. There was only one level, and for me, that wasn't enough. I chose to wait for the full release, which recently came to pass. I bought it immediately because I loved the concept, and also I loved the man responsible for the soundtrack, due to his work on Super Meat Boy.

I am awful at this game, but I don't care, I'm still having a blast. The point I wanted to make is that the single level that was available during my initial interest is the level I still can't beat - the very first one! I should have just grabbed it during Early Access and now I feel guilty for not supporting it earlier.

The one aspect I'm afraid of is that I will tire of the soundtrack by the time I finish any of the levels, since I already have to repeat them so often and the songs are short. Luckily there's an option to import your own music. Maybe I'll see what that bumping Hotline Miami soundtrack is like...

Misc.

- I'm still really enjoying MKX. I'm keeping it fresh by trying a different character everyday, and tackling the challenge towers.

- Getting 3 stars in every Geometry Wars 3 level is an insane undertaking.

- Episode 24

So how was your weekend?

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How Was Your Weekend? Fatality Edition (4/27/2015)

I had to skip a post last week as I was lazy and didn't play much. This week is a different story!

Mortal Kombat X

Part of the reason I didn't get to play much last week was because I was waiting for my copy of Mortal Kombat X to arrive (damn you Amazon for taking away release date delivery however many years ago, I'm still bitter about it!). I'm most definitely not a big fighting game fan but Mortal Kombat has always been a series near and dear to my heart solely for the universe, and not so much the mechanics. After the awesome re-telling of the first three games in 2013's MK, I was really looking forward to getting back into the series with X.

Mortal Kombat is definitely still Mortal Kombat, and my lack of fighting game knowledge means I don't want to spend time talking too much about the actual gameplay. Scorpion still throws a spear by pressing back forward X - enough said. What I enjoyed about getting back to the universe of multiple realms was again, the story. This time around wasn't as compelling as MK9, but I still had a blast, and was engaged the entirety of the story.

This iteration of the series introduced a little smattering of new characters, 4 of which I originally thought were lazy cop-outs. The children of Johnny Cage/Sonya Blade, Jax, Kung Lao and Kenshi just seemed so bland at first. I prefer the weird underworld/sorcerer/elder god/mutant characters of MK much more than the Earthrealm fighters. The classics will always be classics for sure, but how different could their kids be? Turns out, different enough that I really grew to like each one of them. By forcing me to play as each new Special Forces agent in the story, the game allowed me to get to know their move lists, as well as their personalities, in a relatively rewarding way.

I didn't get to play with Erron Black much yet, the Dvorah story arc was cool and her entire character just grosses me out (a positive), I didn't enjoy playing as Kotal Kahn and I have no interest in Ferra/Tor due to never liking larger characters in fighting games.

I'm still ok with seeing mostly familiar faces with this series. I know by the 10th game now this may seem boring or lazy, but Scorpion and Sub-Zero will always be cool as hell in my book. I've completed the story and will just be getting my ass handed to me online, while making my way through the Krypt. The amount of Koins needed seems to be ramping up really fast, so I doubt I'll ever complete it, but for now its a fun objective.

Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions

I mentioned a few weeks ago how much fun I had with coop, and I finally grabbed the game for myself. The drones and super attacks add just enough variation for the 3rd (4th?) entry in the series to feel fresh. I hate the boss levels, they add nothing to the experience for me, especially when paired with some of the more frustrating level designs where you can't see around corners. But, I plan to score attack for awhile. If anyone is playing on Xbox One, feel free to add me, I need more people to beat! My gamertag is NlCKHEAD (that's a lower case 'L' as the 'i').

Misc.

- Snowpiercer had such an interesting premise, with some really cool scenes, but dragged and ended terribly. I can't really recommend it other than it's...unique.

- Everyone should watch Silicon Valley on HBO.

- I grabbed Crypt of the Necrodancer on a steam sale this week, as it is now fully released. I'm very excited for this game, especially the soundtrack.

- 2v1 Podcast Ep. #23

So how was your weekend?

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How Was Your Weekend? Mine was KILLER (4/13/2015)

I didn't have much time for games outside of Majora's Mask or Dark Souls 2 this week, but I did spend a few hours with...

Killer is Dead (PC)

Let's get gigolo mode out of the way: I don't like it - not so much for what it represents (though it did make me feel a little uncomfortable), but for how unnecessary it is in this style of game. Suda51 says himself it was a mode originally meant for Shadows of the Damned, which still doesn't make sense but at least that game had the suave, hispanic main protagonist who probably was good at picking up girls even though the point of that game was to save your girlfriend... However, I could contradict myself by saying a lot of what Suda51's games bring to the table don't make sense, so take that as you will.

Now for the fun stuff! I've tried to keep up with Suda's games ever since I first picked up Killer7, which really tickled my fancy as a teenager with the off the wall violence, insane narrative, and cel-shaded style that was all the rage during the PS2/GC/Xbox era. Killer is Dead really reminds me of Killer7, (despite Suda's attempts to distance the two), though I can't quite explain why. Its basically a blend of No More Heroes' "kill a bunch of named people because you're an assassin or something" + Killer7's more surreal, dark and complex cast of characters.

All you need to breathe on the moon is a helmet because WHY NOT
All you need to breathe on the moon is a helmet because WHY NOT

I've learned to love the approach of "this is just how things are" in some Japanese games - I don't need to know why everyone is so infatuated with the Moon in KiD, or why the enemies you spend most of your time fighting, the Wires, even exist. It doesn't matter. I love reveling in the madness, questioning everything, and constantly being surprised. Mondo Zappa is an amazing name for a protagonist.

Gameplay wise, KiD is a very throwaway hack'n'slash. I don't think it feels particularly great, there isn't a lot of variety, and I avoid using Mondo's gun arm as much as possible. But luckily, none of the episodes last very long and I've yet to get frustrated. If I can keep cruising my way through just to watch the cutscenes, I'm ok with that, because that's really all I'm here for - to see just where this thing goes. I haven't been let down in this respect, because the weirdness of the story has kept me engaged and there have been some excellent shots during some of Mondo's battles with his targets.

Art.
Art.

I only have a few missions left, so I'll have a final verdict next week. I grabbed this on a steam sale, and I've already got what I wanted. It isn't fun to play, but its insane and enjoyable to watch. Sometimes I wish things like this were just a well produced anime series.

Heroes of the Storm

I played some Dota 2, and I spent a lot of time with Heroes of Newerth for some reason. Moba's are interesting to me, but what turns me off is when my team starts telling me what to do, (unless I'm playing with close friends). I'm just not competitive enough to care too much. 'Tis just a game. Heroes of the Storm has been pretty easy to jump in and out of, with little conflict, and that's great. We'll see how much I actually play, but I've been liking not having to worry about building items or anything.

2v1 Podcast - Episode 21

So how was your weekend?

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How Was Your Weekend? Hot Springs and Sins (4/6/2015)

I love the Souls series and I don't have a Playstation 4 - so that leaves a big Bloodborne-hole in my life. Luckily, Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin came out for PC last week! And that's mostly what I've been playing.

Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin (PC)

Long story short: this is the first Souls I get to play on PC and it looks great. The smooth framerate was worth the purchase alone after putting up with awful framerates on the console versions.

I'm in the minority (at least, from what I've seen online) in that I enjoyed Dark Soul 2 quite a lot. DS1 is definitely a top 5 game of all time for me - it truly deserves its praise for not only refining what started in Demon's Souls, but for the cohesive world and level design that were apparently missing in the sequel. DS2 took what seems to be a step backwards by stripping away the open-ended, interconnected nature of DS1, and using the hub-world design similar to Demon's Souls.

The other common complaint of DS2 is that it was easier and that there was more quantity, than quality, of bosses. I can't disagree with these points, but I never looked at them as a detriment to the experience. Honestly, my initial run? I didn't even stop to consider how many bosses I was fighting, or that Majula was a hub like the Nexus in Demon's, or that I was breezing through the game. I was just having fun, which at the end of the day, is what I want from most games.

Part of what made the shortcuts sprinkled around DS1 so compelling was that they were legitimate shortcuts, that allowed the player to save a lot of time in traversing the world prior to acquiring the Lordvessel. Well, DS2 gets rid of the need for them by allowing fast travel to all bonfires reached, at any point. I really enjoy the lore and atmosphere of these games, but saving time is huge for me, no matter the game, so having to literally run between areas didn't add that much to the DS1 experience.

Now let's actually talk about Scholar of the First Sin. Immediately, this version is more difficult than the original release, which I agree was needed. I've played about 15 hours now and the difficulty mostly just comes from tougher enemies being introduced earlier, in abundance. Initially I thought this was lazy, but I'm finding that in a few spots, the additional enemies actually make sense in terms of the world of Drangleic.

Two quick examples: the Heide Knights, who were kind of just...around previously,now appear in Heide's Tower of Flame, and The Pursuer boss actually pursues you and shows up in other levels as a mini boss, sometimes when you least expect it. From the game, "The Pursuer, who seeks the bearer of the sign, will not rest until his target is slain. The Pursuer hunts down those branded by the curse, as if each Undead soul that he claims will atone one of his sins." I know I know, small examples, but the small stuff is what makes these games great! Especially in terms of atmosphere and world building.

There will be plenty more to discuss as I work my way through, (I didn't play the DLC at all yet), but if you're a souls fan and on the fence, this is a great edition of DS2.

Majora's Mask (3DS)

Snowhead temple took me up until the very end of Day 3 to complete, because I spent the whole first day looking for the damn hot spring in Darmani's tomb. I said before I needed a guide when I played this 15 years ago as a kid. Well, that little aspect of the Mountain sequence was still not apparent to me as an adult. Damn it.

Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions (XBONE)

This game has a coop mode which is something I never realized I wanted from Geometry Wars. I had a blast playing this with a friend, even though it was pretty short. I'll be picking up the game for myself at some point, as this series is one of the few examples of me wanting to score attack and beat people on my friends list.

A pod was cast.

So how was your weekend?

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