Zombies vs. Unicorns (Edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier)
So Holly Black got into a blog war with Justine Larbalestier over whether unicorns or zombies were better, or more important to human culture, or make for more interesting stories, or whatever, the narrative keeps changing. Several other authors jumped in, and twelve of them got together to write six short stories for each creature, and after reading all twelve stories you're supposed to decide which side won. Next time somebody tries something like this, both sides should try bringing their A game.
Team Unicorn had my two favorite stories in the collection, those being "Princess Prettypants" in which an unpopular high school girl who's done some scummy things trying to fit in with the cool kids gets a unicorn for her birthday, followed by "The Purity Test" in which a unicorn recruits a street-smart homeless girl to help him save some baby unicorns. But even those I wouldn't describe as much better than "cute." Team Unicorn also had two stories that completely pissed me off. In one, a unicorn knocks up a princess and gets her, the baby, and some kid who was in the wrong place at the wrong time killed, which Black apparently thought was a point in favor of unicorns. The other was the about unicorns being evil and a girl with magic powers and evangelical Christian parents raising one, playing with the nature-nurture theme, which was actually okay... until the unicorn eats somebody's pet cat, and I was out like that .gif of Abraham Simpson in the Maison Derriere.
Team Zombie never delves into felinicide, but when half of them are about zombie apocalypses they kinda blur together. My favorite of the zombie stories was one where a college student stranded in Europe babysits a Madonna proxy's zombie children, although I would have liked the chance to catch onto the idea of being imprisoned in your own body without Black and Larbalestier spelling it out in the intro.
And it's hard to root for Team Zombie when Larbalestier is so insufferable. Each story is introduced with a short dialogue between her and Black, and while Black generally acknowledges the merits of zombies but just thinks unicorns are better, Larbalastier is always going on about how lame unicorns are and the people writing about them are secretly on Team Zombie. She sounds like one of those "hardcore gamers" who says Mario is for babies and real gamers only play Halo and Call of Duty. You might say she's exaggerating or teasing or playing the heel, but there's a point where "hyperbolic" becomes "irritating." I also want to blame her for the shittier unicorn stories which felt like they were trying to meet Team Zombie halfway by showing how unicorns can be edgy too.
So, how about that goal of determining whether zombies or unicorns were superior? Well, nothing here particularly impressed me but I was more interested in digging out a couple of unicorn books from Bruce Coville I had than hunting down anything zombie related.
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands (PC)
I'd Have Shitcanned WoW If Not For My Guildies II: Electric Boogaloo
The latest expansion takes us to Warcraft's afterlife to sort out a disaster that's causing all the newly dead to get sent to Hell as part of some never-before mentioned bad guy's plan to remake reality. Seriously, nobody gives a shit about this guy because Shadowlands's story is so slow and poorly defined we've seen more of him in memes, singing "Up There" from the South Park movie and getting punked by players, than doing anything in the actual game.
In Legion the big power mechanic the game was built around was the artifact weapons, and in Battle for Azeroth it was the unlockable traits on select armor. In Shadowlands you have to pledge yourself to one of four covenants - let's call them the angels, the zombies, the fairies, and the vampires - which grants access to two abilities and three talent trees unique to that covenant (in theory, several of the class spells are "push a button to shoot a colored blast"). This has been a headache for players because different covenant spells are better for different situations, such as your class spec, whether you're raiding or focusing on Mythic keystones, or if the fight is single or multi-target. And what if Blizzard buffs/nerfs an ability down the road? And what if you want to sign up with a certain covenant for personal reasons, but their class ability sucks? There is a way to switch, if you don't mind disappointing a bunch of 1s and 0s and having to regrind your talent tree.
I myself got bit in the ass by this. At launch I mained a Frost Death Knight and pre-release data pointed to the fairies being best for Frosties, so I signed up with them. Then Blizzard made a change to the zombie DK ability that made them the best for all Death Knights, but tough shit, I was already in with the fairies and my DPS will always be lower than somebody who went with the zombies. Wait, you ask, why did I said "mained," in past tense? Because after repeatedly getting benched for low DPS and seeing both world first Mythic kills use four or five Unholy DKs, I bit the bullet and went Unholy* which the zombies were always listed as best for.
* And instantly did 50% more damage facerolling than carefully trying to get the stars to align to get the most out of Frost.
It's not all terrible, though: the fairy DK ability buffs a standard ability instead of adding a new one so I don't have to worry about fitting it into my already bloated spell bar; the fairy covenant ability is a movement increase which DKs always appreciate; the fairy story campaign sees more of Bwonsamdi, the best thing about BfA; the zombie DK ability is a major liability in the Castle Nathria fight with the phoenix dude because it keeps pulling in adds you need to keep out of the group, so when the other DKs kept setting us on fire I could point and laugh at them as I burned to death; and I just find the idea of a Death Knight skipping around the raid sprinkling fairy dust hilarious.
It's fitting that this take place in the land of the dead, because exploring the Shadowlands is a dull, lifeless slog. Part of this might be Shadowlands' heavy use of raytracing which doesn't work on Windows 8.1, making the game look foggy and blurry on my machine, but I don't think that explains every zone being one color and texture. The first stop in the main story is the angel's area, a whitey-blue field full of NPCs who had their personalities sand-blasted off as part of their initiation ritual. I'm not making a hyperbolic joke, they literally purge their memories to earn their wings. And maybe I'm nostalgic for Legion being my first real WoW journey and BfA followed the Legion high, but the Shadowlands dungeons are fucking boring. I will give it the Theater of Pain, and De Other Side was a cool idea that might have worked if you actually spent it in Bwonsamdi's realm instead of random places that aren't Bwonsamdi's realm. But three zombie-themed dungeons is overkill, the Sanguine Depths is a claustrophobic series of hallways and the Halls of Atonement aren't much better, I keep forgetting the Spires of Ascension exists, and nobody likes the misty forest maze dungeon.
In the past it's taken my guild about two months from the release of a raid, with two raid nights a week, to clear Heroic. Castle Nathria took almost four. It has more bosses than previous first raids of an expansion, but this was mostly because of how stingy the loot drops were at launch. One time a group of 15 of us beat Hungering Devourer and one person got some shoes, I think. Blizzard claimed they wanted to "make loot matter" which is some "pride and accomplishment" bullshit, but all it did was create a spiral of people burning out and dropping raid which meant it took us longer to progress, causing more people to burn out and stop coming, making it take even longer and causing even more people to burn out and so on. The night we finally beat Heroic Denathrius we had to bring in four or five random recruits (the in-game term is pugs, or "pick-up gamers") to fill the roster.
The loot shit also gave us high-horse apologists calling everyone complaining about the lack of loot drops entitled crybabies who need to learn to appreciate raiding for its own sake. Look, assholes, if loot was just glorified trophies to bash out of bosses I'd be happy to keep using my Legion shit. But the reality is people need gear to raid, and it's maddening to be walled for weeks, refighting bosses you've already downed five times, trying to get the permission slips to proceed deeper into the raid. Blizzard finally buffed the drop rates maybe three months in, which is when we were finally able to get the equipment to finish the godforsaken place.
Another flop from Shadowlands is Torghast, Tower of the Damned, WoW's take on the roguelike. There are some funny power combinations, like one for the Death Knight where every attempt on an enemy's part to cast a spell results in them getting blasted in the face by a zombie dragon, but there's a reason everybody calls this place "Boreghast." It's slow, you'll have seen everything after a handful of runs, and if you want a roguelike why would you play this instead of Binding of Isaac or Hades? Oh right, because you have to grind this fucking place for an item you need to craft your Legendary gear. So of course for the second raid, Blizzard introduced a gear system that tied up the head, shoulders, chest, and two more that vary from armor type, so if you spent hundreds of thousands of gold and fuck knows how long in Torghast to craft a Rank 4 Legendary that went into any of those slots, FUCK YOU. Some people handwave this away by saying you'll be getting plenty of Soul Ash while grinding for the new Soul Cinders needed for ranks 5 and 6, but you're still out the hundred-thousand gold and/or hours of resource farming you dumped into the base item. Is Blizzard making this expansion up as they go along?
There's so much else I want to bitch about, from the godawful leveling experience for alts, to the story campaign for the fairies being an incoherent game of round-robin between three substories, to Sylvanas' reason for siding with the Jailer being "the world isn't fair so I'm going to remake it into a just one" which is "deep, complex" hack anime antagonist writing 101, to the dull music, to the constant MOTHERFUCKING BUGS, but this is already getting long. My original plan was to make this a "First Impressions" and write a quickie every major patch, but when Sanctum of Domination released in July, nobody in my guild gave a shit. Several people had gone to Final Fantasy XIV after Nathria and had no interest in returning to WoW, and everyone else, including myself and our main tank, was just sick of Shadowlands' shit. I myself have not delved into FF14 because my idea of quitting cocaine is not replacing it with heroin.
Holy shit, when Sylvanas announced she was going to "set us all free" in the Shadowlands trailer, she actually meant the players from WoW itself.
A Wolf Called Wander (Roseanne Perry)
This is an interesting counterpart to a book I read years ago, There's An Owl in the Shower. That book put its environmentalism first, by demonizing the logging industry for a hundred pages and throwing in a few owl facts, and just came across as preachy. A Wolf Called Wander tells a story first, about a wolf separated from his family when a rival pack of wolves seized their territory, killed his father, and displaced or conquered the others, and is now trying to find his place in the world. And within that story it weaves in its conservation message of "wolves have enough problems to deal with, they do not need your or anyone else's bullshit" and is more effective than trying to guilt you for buying wood products (which I repeat, coming from a book makes it sound like you don't know where paper comes from).
One-Eyed Kutkh (Switch)
This is a folk tale in video game form, telling the story of an alien creating the day-night cycle by starting a fight between the sun and the moon while trying to find a way home, and a human having to set things right. The actual game is a half hour of walking around a tree and clicking button prompts so once again, cute little story, shame about the game. And I'm not sure if it was the bright colors on a dark background, the ambient electronic noises for the background music, or both, but I got dizzy playing this.