Could 2015 be the year of the MMO Journalist?

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I recently finished one of Malcolm Gladwell’s pop studies, titled, Outliers, which explores some of the biggest successes in sports, business, music and more.

One of the discoveries that Gladwell makes is that, “Outliers” – people who appeared to be miles ahead in their field, had much more than simple talent driving them forward. One of the most significant contributors to the successes of big hitters in their field spur from the fact that they’re very experienced in an unpopular field at the exact moment that society flipped and decided that it was needed.

This is not such a time, not exactly; society isn’t crying out for MMO journalists. Infact, MMO gaming isn’t really crying out for MMO journalists – gaming journalism is crying out for journalists like MMO journalists and, frankly, there’s nobody else that can fit the bill.

So what’s changing in gaming journalism that MMO journalists can fix? The bottom line, which has even been expressed by some of the industry’s top players, is that gaming news is, on the whole, boring right now and the format of how games are reported on needs to change.

Back in the days of traditional gaming media, with magazines like Games Master and Arcade, this wasn’t such an issue. Gaming in the 80’s and 90’s was new and exciting with new technology, new experiences and seemingly endless potential. Here, in 2014, this simply isn’t the case. New consoles, for example, are now treated in the same way now that upgrading a PC has been seen since the mid 90’s. Hype boils down to stats, launch titles and exclusives and it’s all pretty clear-cut how capable a console is going to be. Furthermore, the role that gaming press has changed from being purely consumer advice and insider information into virtually a PR service for manufacturers and game developers.

The tail, in a way, is now wagging the dog and the majority of gaming journalism is done behind closed doors, in early access tests and interviews before a game has been released. Post-release feedback is handled, for the most part, by the player and by social media bloggers and vloggers and is only really placed back in the hands of the professional journalists in the run up to an expansion or a DLC launch.

It almost seems like gaming journalists no longer do any of the actual gaming. Gamers want the reviews before launch. Due to pressure from developers to begin making money before a game launches, through the means of pre-orders, paid-for beta access and founder’s packs, gamers need to know how good a game potentially is months, even years, before release.

So, what does this mean for journalists? It means a lot of fast, potentially pivotal decisions on a game, from as early as possible so that when a game begins to approach the radar, reviews are ready, gamers are informed and the cashflow has already began for the game, so that the publishers and investors stay off the developers’ backs during crucial development phases.

That’s a lot of responsibility for writers and it’s a bit of a touchy subject for many, since it’s not a role they signed up for and it’s dramatically shifted the expectations of journalists in the industry. As mentioned before, it also makes professional gaming news boring. Journalists are merely sharing PR information, reviewing developers and generating an abstract opinion on an unreleased version of a game.

The hard work of exploring the game is placed on the player and the senior editors and journalists are beginning to see a very bleak endgame for journalism, if gaming continues down this path. As a result, some of them have began to take some of that power back.

In a recent interview with TotalBiscuit (aka Cynical Brit), Kotaku’s Editor In-Chief, Stephen Totilo expressed his own opinion on the current stance of gaming media, with him and Mr Biscuit both agreeing that “boring” is an overruling sentiment. According to Totilo, Kotaku have been restructuring their own websites standpoint over the past few months, swaying their writing to focus more on post-launch articles explaining that the most interesting news of this year has came from titles like Borderlands The Pre-Sequel, Driveclub and Destiny as their communities strive to find exploits, improve their experiences and, in short, play their games.

At this point, a couple of things had piqued my interest. Firstly, Borderlands, Destiny and Driveclub. These games are all forerunners in the new generation of MMO gaming. Many question the definition of what makes a MMO game these days, including Destiny’s developer, Bungie, who were intent on separating themselves from the genre prior to launch. However, in the eyes of the gamer, the Destiny and Borderlands franchises rest under the MMOFPS umbrella and Driveclub revs alongside World of Speed and The Crew in the Racing MMO genre. MMO games, according to one of the World’s most recognized gaming editors, make interesting news. As a MMO gaming journalist myself, I can whole heartedly agree. These games create continuous content; in some cases, for as much as a decade and, on top of that, their communities create their own entertainment too. This provides a wealth of post-launch news, far more than any other genre and continually playing and talking about a game keeps the game relevant, keeps the medium of gaming relevant and, of course, keeps gaming journalism relevant.

In the realm of MMO games, journalism isn’t all about PR and reviews, it’s about what the players are doing now and it’s about what the developers are doing next, rather than simply interviewing the devs pre-launch and throwing out exactly the information that they want the consumers to see. This means, for the journalist, that continuous engagement with their games is required along with a fair amount of contact with the developers and the communities that they create for. Granted there’s still a huge amount of talking about pre-orders, micropurchases and beta tests – that’s simply the nature of the free-to-play-dominated beast the MMO gaming has become, but the important thing is that MMO journalists are already aware that there’s life after launch.

The other thing from Totilo’s statement that got me thinking, was that writing more post-launch articles had been their agenda since at-least the summer. Going back through the archives, he wasn’t wrong. I even noticed articles I’d found at time of press and hadn’t realized the significance, at the time. This style of writing is already knitting its way into their culture. So, which other non-MMO sites are at it? Joystiq, with strong influence from satellite-site, Massively were a no-brainer, but the same behavior can be observed in other sites. Eurogamer are continually exploring games, post-launch, with head-to-head tests, Sticktwiddlers are heavily integrating themselves with the Youtube, “Let’s Play” culture, Destructoid are posting multi-episode, reviews and Siliconera are covering discount sales and reviews after launch and, lastly, several sites, including GameTrailers, are posting ever-popular videogame retrospectives.

A demand for continual game coverage has been identified, media outlets are straining to provide content and MMO games have been recognized as a tappable resource. So, what happens now? Do sites turn towards MMO games for this continuous coverage? Maybe a little, but the fact is, readers want all of their favorite games to undergo this treatment. They want to see newfound secrets, easter eggs, glitches and they want their games to stay in discussion for longer than an E3 weekend. The level of hype in the build up to a game, compared to the deflation that follows launch day is jarringly noticeable. In addition, it fuels the fire of the more negative gamers; happy gamers post the occasional “OMG Aw3som3! #BestGameEver” tweet when they get their hands on the game, but it’s no secret that disappointed gamers are the more vocal party and an overall good game can be dragged down, due to a minority of unhappy gamers acting as the only long-term source of feedback. The shift in press could remove this.

I think this drive for post-launch coverage will pull MMO games back towards the mainstream, but I also think that non-MMO journalists need to see this as an opportunity to look at the likes of Massively, MMO Champion and Ten Ton Hammer as examples of how they need to push their own journalism forward. These guys have been doing it for years, they know how to talk about a 10 year old game like it’s brand new, they know how to make the fans feel valued and like their investment in a game was worthwhile and it means they always come back, week after week to talk about videogames that they’ve already bought. Do publishers care? Short term, probably not, they’ve made their money at this point and are onto the next game. However, this is exactly why journalists need to push for it. Publishers can’t keep dictating the games – that should be the gamer’s job and by encouraging gamers to keep enjoying their games and keep talking about their games after launch-week, you’re encouraging the culture as a whole.

Unlike the rest of gaming journalism MMO gaming journalism doesn’t have to take this power back – they never let go of it in the first place. Now it’s time for everyone else to play catch-up.

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The Scariest Thing, This Halloween, Is #GamerGate

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I’ve been writing in the professional gaming media for around 18 months now and have been dialling back my involvement more and more.

My removal from the games industry had nothing to do with #GamerGate or the state of gaming media, but was simply a life choice. The amount of work put in to gaming journalism, for the amount you get out of it, in terms of earnings, acknowledgement and even simple interaction is a bad trade-off and I can safely say I’ve put a lot more in than I’ve gotten out of it. As a small-time writer, this shouldn’t come as a surprise and I’ve shared this sentiment with many a part-time writer along the way – it’s not a career, it’s something you have to love and live, in order to take part in it.

So, as you may have noticed, my blogging on here has been reduced, my articles and editorials on my amateur site, DownRightFierce.co.uk has been cut right back, I’ve ceased writing for Hadoken and articles on mmo-play have gone down from 3 per day to 2 per day, not to mention I no longer write editorial columns for them. These things were all my choice, I wanted to play more games, focus on my main career and live my life. The rise of the #GamerGate movement has dragged me back though, as it is putting the entire gaming industry (not just gaming journalism) at risk. Like I said, I love gaming more than gaming journalism, so when journalism was getting flipped on it’s head, all I did was brace for impact and let the machine drive on. However, this week the #GamerGate movement has reached its second peak, with mainstream media sinking its filthy, tarnished teeth into the industry and taking its own stab at what’s wrong with gaming industry.

You may have noticed that every time I write #GamerGate, it’s prefixed with a hash tag. That’s because that’s all that #GamerGate is – a hashtag. Like all of the big, social-media-driven revolutions of the 21st century, from #Occupy to #Anonymous, the ultimate desire of the group falls victim to being steered by outside participants, trying to use a larger movement as a vessel for their own.

#GamerGate has been about everything at one point; from disclosure, to feminism, to the juxtaposition of the review system to all-out, ugly media collusion on both sides of the fence and the amount of subgroups flying the hashflag is staggering, with many actually holding opposing views. Due to the speed of trending news, this will only become more and more the case. Observers now need to find a trending issue, hopefully research it and then contribute in a very compressed amount of time, so the issues quickly becomes about their own needs, regardless of the initial intent of the movement.

This has turned a potentially legitimate opportunity for discussion into a perpetuating, poisonous vat of gamers and (most importantly) non-gamers arguing about what gaming and gaming journalism should or shouldn’t be about.

A large source to this problem spurs from the strength of amateur media. I put myself under this banner and I’m fortunate for my place in it, but, the fact of the matter is that anyone with an internet connection has the potential to draw a lot of people towards their own opinion of gaming and can, in some way, become a journalist, blogger or other influence on the industry. So, to appear like someone with a professional opinion on gaming these days, what qualifications do you need? I personally hold nothing relevant. Besides a couple of high school language qualifications, I have nothing that says I should be a writer, no training in corporate responsibility, literature, media…it’s a bit slanted that I can write something powerful enough to get hundreds or thousands of shares on facebook. Yet, here I am and, albeit a pittance, compared to many, I’ve already had my share.

To the same extent, I can look at the guys and girls who are qualified in this stuff and act just as exclusive on my own part – how many games do you have to play before considering yourself a gaming blogger or before someone can employ you as a gaming journalist, or before you end up on TV talking about gaming ethics. The answer is none. As many a politician has proven, since the dawn of the “video game”, you can get a game completely condemned without ever playing it.

This is where my fear begins with the current state of gaming media. There’s been a heavy push, with the rise of #GamerGate, that journalism needs to take responsibility for the political, ethical and ideological needs of its demographic. Are the people asking for this the demographic? A lot of them actually aren’t. For example, if you ask part of a feminist faction of the #GamerGate camp if they play a game like Duke Nukem or Tomb Raider they’ll say of course not, it’s disgusting. They will, however, argue to get the game taken off the shelves, revised or highlighted negatively by the media for being disgusting trash that exploits women, promotes a false set of standards for young women and casts an illusion over the eyes of young men, regarding their expectations of women. The only trash here, is those beliefs.

It takes a moment of playing these games to understand them and their purposes. Duke Nukem is clearly a parody, Tomb Raider is, in its entirety, promoting female empowerment, and struggle in a patriarchal society. If they played Tomb Raiders latest game through, experienced playing as a young girl being victimized by a dangerous, misogynistic group of wrong doers out out man and out gun her, only to see her overcome her adversity how would they justify their claims? It’s sexist because she’s hot? It’s sexist because she’s gratuitously sexualized in her short shorts and grubby tank top? Those things are a product of her position in the start of the game and, despite being a nod to a more teenage-boy-exploiting past, are far less flattering and serve to create a feeling of armorless-ness in an already hostile environment. The purpose of the game is to make the player feel unsafe and as an unprepared, ill-equipped teenage girl you should be exactly that, but despite that, as Lara Croft, you find yourself better equipped than the tank-shaped men of Gears of War, somehow. I could talk all day about the intent of gaming designers and the impression it’s supposed to cast on the consumer, but it’ll only fuel the wrong fires. Of course, I’m saying this as a male in my 20s and in #GamerGate, that’s putting me at a disadvantage that most real gamers don’t even consider. Sexism isn’t rife among gamers, good gamers vs bad gamers, pros vs scrubs, how good you are and how you behave is how gamers gauge each other and content and gameplay is how they gauge their games.

This brings me to the big issue of this week – The Sarkeesian, Colbert discussion. Like many of these discussions, it was poorly prepared on both sides and, in my opinion, a loss for both sides too. Pitting an uninvested talkshow host against a well-practiced, aggressive and equally uninvested feminist put the Gamer side of the argument at a serious disadvantage. Fortunately, despite the potential for devastation, Sarkeesian did a terrible job at even explaining her purpose, let alone answering Colberts questions (although, admittedly they were as distracting and ceremonious as her arguments were contrived and trivial). When asked for examples of sexist games, she merely treaded water stating she was looking at many games (not necessarily playing them), that it wasn’t as simple as there being sexist games out there and eventually, that Grand Theft Auto was an example of a sexist game (which, again, it isn’t). She went on to state that #GamerGate wasn’t about ethics and journalism, hitting the final nail in the coffin of #GamerGate’s original purpose and the thing that’s actually at stake.

The bottom line, however, is that it’s hit TV. Between Sarkeesian gaining coverage on Colbert and Quinn crying to the BBC, the attention seekers who are willing to sacrifice gaming for their own personal gain have gotten the coverage they wanted. A message that gaming and gaming journalism can be exploited by casual outsiders has been sent and they’ve achieved something that more powerful people before them had failed at. Others will come. Others will use gaming to complain about political differences, economics and big business and the face of gaming and gaming journalism will become less and less legitimate with each #GamerGate swarm.

Gaming is a force of worldwide entertainment rivaled only by the likes of gambling, surpassing TV and Film as a medium in terms of participants and revenue. However, it lacks the regulation of these by a long shot and this has meant that when it takes a knock, nobody is there to steady it. As gamers and as writers, if you hear an opinion about gaming it is your responsibility to question it. Is the portrayal of a goddess in a game sexist? Or is the depiction just historically accurate? Is a physically fit woman in a game any more or less damaging to a persons perception of their gender than a 7 foot tall muscle-clad male protagonist? Should journalists bring politics and ideology into their videogame reviews? Should a reviewers opinions of a game or a developer affect their score of a game? Should games even be scored in the first place? Or, should a review merely be prose, based on personal experience with the game, left up to interpretation? How should a developer and a reviewer interact? There are too many non-gamers throwing in their two cents about gaming right now and suffocating the real needs and expectations of the industry. They’re more than welcome to put their opinion into the hat, but if it isn’t questioned, if fallacies aren’t corrected, if unfair, loaded arguments aren’t called out for being unfair and loaded, then bystanders consider them as valid and that’s when gaming as a whole – genderless, raceless gaming, becomes the thing that’s being exploited.

 

 

Anime! – Knights of Sidonia

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Recently, I’ve gotten back into anime, as a means of improving my Japanese vocabulary. Without realizing it, I’ve fallen down a rabbit-hole of Shoujo, space travel and spiky hair.

With the rise in popularity in titles like Attack on Titan and the soon to be cult-cancelled, Legend of Korra some great titles are coming out of the woodwork and bringing anime back into the media mainstream for the first time since Spirited Away picked up an Academy Award.

One title in particular, that shows just how far anime has risen in the West is Netflix exclusive, Knights of Sidonia.

Based on the Tsutomu Nihei, Knights of Sidonia is a story of friendship, perseverance and salvation. It tells the story of a boy who, after spending his entire life underground, playing a flight simulator and emerges into a dystopian After-Earth space colony called Sidonia to be selected as one of its guardians.

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Sidonia itself is one of the last bastions of human existence and the artwork in creating a surviving, futuristic, but still melancholic setting is something to be applauded. They clearly know this too, and the series is regularly cut up with brief, frozen art-cards, showing the many sides of Sidonia and its residents.

The series combines all of the core elements of a good Seinen manga; combining mecha, sci-fi, deadly parasites and the occasional dose of avant-garde to create a thoughtful and moving series that dispatches monsters, asks philosophical questions and cheers for an underdog.

Artistically, it covers all of the modern bases, with lens-flares and shaking “cameras” galore; granting an almost documentary-like feel to the animation. In addition, it would appear that for some scenes, particularly those in space, the 2D characters have been drawn over 3D models, which makes for some breathtaking pans and immersive battle scenes.

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I’ve been out of the scene for a while and I’m only just warming to it again, but can really see KoS becoming a favorite of mine. It’s paced well and, despite all of the action, maintains a relaxed approach to storytelling, meaning it can be watched over and over, quite casually, without feeling too beaten down by it.

Whether you’re new to anime or so deep into it that you need to take a break, Knights of Sidonia is a great entryway. It’s not overly deep, but likewise provides more than enough to let you create an investment with each character.

I’m yet to check out the Manga, but already get a feeling that there’s much more to see in Sidonia than what lies on the surface.

The second series is currently under production, following a warm reception of the debut, so hopefully we wont have to wait too long before seeing Nagate piloting another Guardian.

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Expansion Review – Hearthstone: Curse of Naxxramas

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At long last, the game mode that Hearthstone fans have all been waiting for – Curse of Naxxramas is finally here! Hearthstone has taken the gaming world by storm, bridging the gap for everyday gamers to engage in competitive card gaming and pave the way for a more casual CCG option. Until Hearthstone launched, the majority of competitive card games were viewed, from the outside, as being complex and difficult, with wave after wave of convoluted game mechanics, meta-rules and procedures that, for many, created a barrier to learning the game properly. Titles like Magic: The Gathering and Duel of Champions have done extremely well, but over the course of Hearthstones launch week, it quickly stomped over its competition, creating an eSports following, fansites, deckbuilder apps and all sorts; it truly solved the CCG problem.

One thing, however, was missing. Most competitive card games teach players the general rules through a story mode, or a campaign, that lets you ease yourself in and enjoy the game, with the pleasant distraction of a plot, to break the game into more digestible chunks. Despite Hearthstone’s ease of access, you really didnt have much choice when it came to how you player the game – play the computer, or play the community, in exactly the same manner. Or, at best, play “Arena”, which has a few minor differences, plus the added thrill of pseudo-gambling, but it really wasn’t a far cry from the standard game mode. That’s where Curse of Naxxramas came in, promising to give the World of Warcraft themed game some lore unto its own, a plot and some substance, for players to get stuck into.

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After playing the trial for most of its launch day, I was disappointed, and have remained underwhelmed by it ever since. Naxxramas, admittedly comes with a bunch of new stuff and the new cards are a refreshing addition to the game, but was the campaign itself all that it had been played up to be? Not a chance. Other CCG videogames take you on vast adventures across maps; creating rivalries, telling stories and giving hour after hour of enjoyment, as you lead your card-wielding protagonist through a labyrinth of tests.

Hearthstone: Curse of Naxxramas, by comparison, was a straight line. You are introduced to very few new characters, a couple of slightly tweaked mechanics and literally no plot at all, besides a cursory speech bubble at the start and end of each battle. Within a day I had grown bored and, even with all of the new cards and combos to experiment with, got the feeling that the other pay-to-play chapters of the game would be left to gather dust for some time.

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On the plus side, there are a couple of nice features, such as the “home advantage” given to your opponents and the challengin Heroic mode, which will teach you a thing or two about deck building along the way, as you regroup, in search of its coveted, new card-back. The new content is nice, especially since it’s free, but the $6.99 expansions are less than attractive right now and, from a competitive perspective, the time in the Naxxramas Necropolis feels like it could have been better spent in the Arena or in Ranked.

The second wing of the Curse of Naxxramas expansion goes Live tomorrow, and you can still get the first part for free, but, be sure to try it before sinking money on the sequels.

Book Review – Orange Is The New Black

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I’ve been a huge fan of the Orange Is The New Black TV series. Frankly, it’s the only reason I have a Netflix membership. The TV series has sailed a perfect line between grit and humor, all with some great, distinguishable characters that make you watch episode to episode. The hashtag #OITNB is almost synonymous with the new, digital-era craze of binge watching.

With this in mind, I was really happy to see Piper Kerman’s real-life memoir appear in my reading list on Amazon and delved in headfirst; keen to read the true tales of a middle-class prison inmate.

For anyone who’s missed out on the whirlwind success of OITNB; it’s based on the real-life events of Piper Kerman – a middle class woman who dabbled in drug-muling in college, for fun, and was convicted 10 years later, after straightening up, finding a good job, a fiance and a normal life. The rug is pulled from underneath her and she finds herself in a minimum security prison for a brief stint of justice and self discovery.

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Typically, with a “New York Times best seller”, I’m wary, but held faith in Orange Is The New Black, simply due to the standard of the TV series.

The book is a memoir, and despite most memoirs being, in some way, exaggerated, for entertainment value (James Frey, anyone?), the Orange Is The New Black book is incredibly underwhelming.

I’d recommend the book to any fan of the Netflix exclusive, simply so you can draw parallels and read the true accounts. It is, however, disappointingly uneventful by comparison…and even then, it comes across as embellished.

It should have been obvious, but a middle class account of life in prison is…well…middle class. Kerman’s brief, eventless stay in minimum security featured a significantly large pile of books, exercise routines and the middle-class past-time of trading favors and using others to her advantage. Her lectures on the virtues of yoga and how to choose a good pedicurist while in the clink are painful to read, as are her attempts to roughen her edges by discussing a newfound love of rap (with lyrics) and recounting that one time she kind-of almost shouted at another inmate. The most vanilla of moments are dragged out and often chapters are built up to crescendo-less endings.

Unlike the TV series, there are little to no conflicts, no controversy and no excitement. Piper romanticizes her crime and seemingly coasts through her time in prison, frequently drawing attention to the fact the inmates and wardens alike thought she shouldn’t have even been there. All the book does is highlight that she felt no consequence to her actions, other than the mild inconvenience of having to find a new hairdresser and tailor.

What’s interesting, is reading the revelations of just how broken the “system” is, particularly from a female perspective, and these moments are frequent, insightful and unbiased. I’d go so far as to say they’re a redeeming quality of the book, since the biographical elements, unless you too are a middle class woman are aggravatingly fruitless.

In conclusion, reading the book makes you really appreciate the fact that it was made into a TV series, since the prose itself makes a very poor argument. If you’re a fan of the TV series, it’s nice to read as a comparison piece and to achieve a little more depth, but if you’re on the outside looking in; it’s really nothing special.

Reamde by Neal Stephenson – Book Review

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*Spoiler free*

Recently, I reviewed a MMORPG themed book from the World of Warcraft franchise, and gaming wise, there are plenty of books out there. Reamde, however, hits the gaming book genre from a completely different angle.

Unlike other gaming books, that typically show you the world solely through the eyes of the in-game characters; Neal Stephenson’s Reamde shows you the world through the eyes of the characters, the players and the developers themselves, inside the screen and out.

MMORPG games connect people the world over and often, when you’re playing, you have no idea who’s on the other side of the screen, playing alongside you. In Reamde, Stephenson experiments with how far away your in-game actions can be felt, and shows just how far that concept can go.

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So, how far away can your actions be felt in a MMO? If Reamde is anything to go by: very. Stephenson takes you around the globe, seeing the game at the hands of American fans, English authors, Chinese hackers and Russian crimelords, showing that a couple of bad decisions in online gaming can change your life forever.

Neal Stephenson has done his best to research everything in his book, from computing and gaming terminology to English and Chinese culture, to ensure he provides an authentic experience to his readers and, despite doing a great job at it; he may have been slightly overly-ambitious, and to a learned reader, some of the terms and facts he throws in either miss the mark, or appear unnecessary, as if to say “look at how much research I did” and nothing more. This hardly hinders it, though, and once you see past some of the minor content, the writing itself is very well constructed and entertaining throughout.

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The book splits into several sub-plots quite early on, so you’re constantly seeing a change in scenery, but you never feel lost, and the constant changes serve as a great mechanic for separating the giant and complex book into easy-to-follow chunks. Again, this has a downfall towards the end, as the different storylines begin to emerge, and it slows the ending down with repetition and deja vu. A lot of other reviews of the book complain about the size of the book and argue that it could have been halved, but if you invest in the characters and treat the book as a thriller; you find yourself encouraging the detail, and using it to place yourself into some of the tough, seemingly inescapable scenarios that the protagonists have to face.

As a gaming book it’s truly unique, and despite a couple of hurdles was an incredibly enjoyable read, with some great, engaging characters and some unlikely scenes and twists from start to finish.

A rare find, as far as gaming books go, and a must read for fans of the genre.

World of Warcraft: War Crimes – book review

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***This review is spoiler-free to up-to-date fans of the World of Warcraft in-game plot and will only mention elements of the new book that can be derived from the game and the book cover. Read with confidence***

Videogame based books are a lot like videogame based movies…or movie based videogames. When it comes to picking one up, there’s a high likelyhood that it’s a bad one. Any media crossover like this runs the risk of providing its developers with a cushion of safety – they don’t have to make it the best game/book/movie ever, after all; it already has a brand and a committed following before it comes out! This guarantees a scintilla of launch-day success, due to fans of the franchise showing their support, regardless of how it’ll play out. As a result, the plots of these crossovers is typically a poor, recyled cookie-cutter story, with misplaced, misinformed lore, and continuity errors, where merely they’ve replaced “Romeo” with “The Orc”, and scattered around a bunch of buzz words to keep the franchise fans’ interest. We all remember the great Mass Effect book burning of 2012.

Christie Golden’s World of Warcraft series is not that kind of book. She’s been writing Warcraft lore for over a decade, and you can tell that Blizzard have a huge deal of faith in her, granting her a vast breadth of creative license to stitch together different events from the realm, immortalizing characters and moments along the way.

Even to some of the most committed World of Warcraft players, Azerothian lore can break down to a simple dichotomy of Alliance vs Horde, but there’s so much more there than a good vs evil story, and the novels are a testament to that. I, admittedly am one such player, a “dialogue skipper” that just wants an objective and something to fight. If, like me, you have a habit of jumping from event to event without stopping to take a look around, I’d fully recommend reading the World of Warcraft books; they’ll change the way you look at the mmo and you’ll quickly find yourself immersed in the realm amongst the Bloodhoof’s and Proudmoore’s, making them more than just mission-giving NPCs.

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World of Warcraft: War Crimes begins where the in-game expansion, Mists of Pandaria left off, and acts as a precursor to the upcoming, Warlords of Draenor storyline, which is promising to give the Horde its “finest hour”.

The book documents the trial of the former Warchief, Garrosh Hellscream as his atrocities are weighed up by the Alliance, Horde and Pandaren, in order to decide his fate. As you can imagine, that makes this book relatively dialogue heavy and lean on the action scenes. What it lacks in action, however, it makes up for in emotion, as you look into all of the key figures of Azeroth as they discuss their own interpretations of right and wrong, and each cope with the aftermath of Mists, Cataclysm and the Wrath of the Lich King.

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I picked up the audiobook version on Audible, which was narrated by the award-winning Scott Brick, who is fast becoming my favorite narrator; he could probably read a Volvo owners manual and still invoke some kind of emotion from the listener. I was expecting his voice to struggle in a fantasy environment, but his voice acting makes each character stand out, sound authentic and come to life.

The plot is quite heavy, due to some of the horrible things that have occurred to the characters at the hands of Hellscream, and as they recount them in court, some of it can be quite tough to hear. Whether you’re on the side of the Alliance or the Horde in World of Warcraft, prepare to be surprised; because in War Crimes, you’ll find your allegiance continuously shifting sides as accusers and defenders begin to show their true colors.

As much as it is a precursor to the Warlords of Draenor expansion, the focus is very much on giving Mists of Pandaria a full and proper send-off and fans of Warcraft-old will be given plenty of opportunities to reminisce on Pandaria’s highlights.

Christie Golden has done an excellent job with War Crimes, in creating a near-perfect book, despite running several gauntlets. She has based a book on a popular, lore-filled franchise, provided little to no action in a book aimed at an action-hungry community and made the main theme of the book martial law…and came out the other end with a book that all fans will be thankful for.