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Game Review: War of the Vikings

Imagine, if you will, a superb third-person online combat title. Now spice it up with rich Nordic-Germanic lore (Vikings versus Saxons) as well as fast-paced skirmishing. Then, toss in some beautiful maps and […]

Imagine, if you will, a superb third-person online combat title. Now spice it up with rich Nordic-Germanic lore (Vikings versus Saxons) as well as fast-paced skirmishing. Then, toss in some beautiful maps and enough customization options to make a drag queen drool. Well done, young raider, you now have my next game review title, War of the Vikings. This is no slouch of a title either, as you will be tried, tested, and found wanting upon the virtual fields of battle. However, with time and patience your skill will improve granting a satisfying experience that will have you returning to swing your axe again and again.

War of the Vikings is an online multiplayer medieval combat and action game from Fatshark and Paradox Interactive. It features up to twelve-versus-twelve deathmatch and conquest game types over server connections featuring a deep loadout customization system and a unique combat control scheme that has a bit of a learning curve, which I enjoy as it makes for a deeper play experience that requires the player to invest time and strategy versus the usual brainless button-mashing of most modern games. (Tekken, anyone?) Anyone who is familiar with the Mount & Blade game series will feel right at home with the controls and anyone new can jump in and pick up the gist quickly but will find that only the truly dedicated rise to really become a force with which to be reckoned.

Rounds play out quickly, keeping the flow from becoming stagnant while a variety of maps to learn will keep a player on their toes as they find the best places to fight and the best times to retreat. Death comes easily in War of the Vikings as the weapon mechanics mirror their real life counterparts and while Call of Duty might think ten shots won’t kill you this game says one axe to the face (or chest) and it’s off to Valhalla with you. Players are given a wide range of tools to draw blood, from swords to spears or axes as well as throwing weapons and bows for those wanting to keep their foes at a distance. Couple this with a decent perk system and you can truly forge your very own custom Viking or Saxon death machine. It sounds brutal — and it totally is.

Now while the game doesn’t have a campaign mode, it does fully invest in the multiplayer aspect of the experience. Starting a round as the Vikings and hearing the announcer screaming for you to send all the Saxon scum to their White Christ gets the blood pumping for some wholesale slaughter and makes you feel like the developers actually read a history book (for once). The Saxons are no pushovers either. On their side, you’ll hear the announcer screaming to send the Pagan devils to Hell (good luck, sucker; this Viking doesn’t go down without a fight!) and shows that both sides of the conflict are faithfully represented.

Once you are over the slight learning curve and gain a few ranks, players will find the bread-and-butter of this game is the joy of the combat itself (hurrah for awesome content!). Nothing is better than facing down three foes and finishing them all off with sheer skill, a boast most games can’t make. Customizing your own warriors gives a feeling of accomplishment, in addition to satisfaction when a new perk and weapon combo really goes your way. All in all, it’s a game in which you’ll find yourself spending hours hacking and slashing away to your heart’s content. Given the support of a decent community and hardcore player-base, this game will challenge you and make you actually feel your growth as you become more and more skillful.

So, my rating on this one is between ‘Raid It!’ and ‘Buy It!’ In other words, try it for free and then, if you like it, pay for a licensed copy — or ‘Try It!’ for short. This is a firm Try-It title.

In my companion video I mention a very similar free to play game called War of the Roses by the same company and encourage those on the fence to try that title first. It’s technically not raiding then buying, because you’re just trying a similar game that’s free-to-play, but it’s as close as you’re going to get and it’ll give you an idea of what you are getting into. For some the learning curve can lead to frustration and this method allows you to test your inner ‘rage quit’ limits before you plunk down your hard earned cash on War of the Vikings. But for those with the patience and the valor to brave the battlefield this game can be an awesome experience.

Thanks again to everyone out there I will return soon with yet another awesome review and video so until then this is Thorgrim Gunnarson, the Viking Gamer saying hold the line, my fellow raiders!

…And, of course, skol!

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Game Review: Shadow of Mordor

Thorgrim Gunnarson gives the new video game <em>Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor</em> the Viking treatment.

For my first ever review I’ve chosen carefully. I wanted something fun but concise, a game that was visually appealing, but also well-made and well-written. After some thought and careful evaluation I have chosen Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor to draw first blood. Besides this written review, I’ll be providing a supplementary gameplay video below as part of the reviewing process.

For those unfamiliar with the game, Shadow of Mordor is by far the best Lord of the Rings game ever made. Yes, even better than Battle for Middle Earth one and two. (Hear me out, before you grab your clubs, torches and pitchforks!) It combines the rich storytelling of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books (and their movie adaptations) with character-driven gameplay, putting you in the boots of Talion, a ranger who was stationed on the Black Gates of Mordor (huge gonads much?) when Sauron made his huge fiery-eyeballed return to Middle Earth. Long story short, our ballsy protagonist becomes a sacrifice in a nasty ritual to ensnare the ancient spirit of a noble elf. Instead, the elvish spirit bonds with Talion and resurrects him in order to discover what sinister plot is afoot, all while wreaking epic levels of havoc on Sauron’s army north of the Black Gates. The game delivers on the story like any other LotR franchise title, with full cut scenes and an engaging plot, but also delivers solid action and stealth gameplay as well as a decent leveling-up system with many hours of content to keep your thumbs very busy. Gameplay-wise, in any case, the most impressive aspect of the game — by far — is the Nemesis System.

As you make your way around the sizable map dispatching orcs and goblins aplenty, searching for collection items, and otherwise having a blast wreaking havoc at levels that would make Gandalf blush and then piss himself (I’d pay to see that—just saying), you’ll find that your foes develop as you do and as the story does. This, friends, is the Nemesis System I mentioned and it is one of the major interactive features of the game. The captains and so forth of Sauron’s army feel like living, breathing, learning entities — and the evil forces of the Great Eye accordingly evolve as you progress. A new orc is appointed captain, you engage him, and he kills you (this will happen); in-game, time will pass and that orc will gain power and prestige, and even be promoted to a higher rank. He is now a revenge target but will also be stronger than before. Each one of these leadership characters has his own strengths and weaknesses (a list sometimes ten or more stats long, so do your homework!) and the info doesn’t come free. Yes, Talion must hunt down other captains or orcs that have information (i.e. green snitches) to gain essential intel and plan against harder foes. This system lends a depth which I’ve not previously seen before in a game of this type — or really any game ever, for that matter.

Naturally, the next consideration after finding your enemies is the whole question of combat mechanics. The game delivers on that score too.

Stealth and open combat flow seamlessly. One moment you’re in the bushes attracting an enemy for a quiet kill, the next you’re raiding an execution or a feast and taking on an entire horde of raging, green, killing machines. No, Shadow of Mordor doesn’t disappoint. Talion, in the hands of a skilled player, becomes a flying razor dispatching numerous foes and looking damn good while he’s doing it. The wraith bonded to him grants spectral powers that aid in stunning foes or even countering two attacks at once (which is so satisfying). It leaves you with a sense of being both bad-ass but also well-put-together, not an overpowered death-god. The game is thus able to hold interest. Skill and quick reflexes really do make a huge difference. Poor planning or laziness in combat will end in death every time, as one does not simply button mash into Mordor!

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Now let’s be real, what is a Ranger of the Black Gate without his weapons? And this game has you covered. Talion has his sword, bow, and dagger to rain destruction on his foes and, like all LotR weapons of note, Talion’s arsenal is special. Each of his weapons has multiple rune slots that can hold augmentations that will enhance various aspects of combat, lending that little edge when you take on three captains and/or a Warchief and hope to survive the fight. Everything from increased damage to elemental effects or even increased health recovery (indispensable in the heat of battle) can be slotted into your weapons at will. All of the varied and original content offered in this rich title definitely helps the player to feel like everything has a place and serves a purpose in Shadow of Mordor. This allows a complete and robust gaming experience with an equally detailed and lavish story arc to enjoy along the way.

How did I rate the game? Well, I score games as either ‘Raid It’ (which means torrent away, as paying for trash is not cool and gamers have it hard enough) or ‘Buy It!’ (which means even if you do torrent it first, I’m betting you really will enjoy it and, in that case, the developers deserve your support). So, what is my verdict for this first review? I think Shadow of Mordor is one you’ll really enjoy, so I say ‘Buy It!’ or go home. The content is decent and the gameplay superb; that, paired with all the bells and whistles expected of something in the Tolkien franchise, means that you really can’t miss with this title. So, stay tuned, little raiders, as this show has only just begun. Thorgrim Gunnarson, your stalwart Viking Gamer, will soon return with more awesome reviews and videos for you to enjoy. Thanks for your support and please subscribe to my YouTube channel and ‘like’ my videos.

Until next time… Skol!!!

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Lawrence Brown’s The Might of the West

Lawrence Brown's long-lost milestone in the Spenglerian tradition of historionomy is dug up and astutely reviewed by the Good Count.

Most if not all good Europeans of our time have read or at least are familiar with the cyclical, cultural-organic philosophy of history developed by Oswald Spengler in his masterpiece The Decline of the West. They will also probably know of Francis Yockey’s further development of this model in Imperium. Strangely though, this work we are discussing, The Might of the West, published in 1963 by another American Spenglerian, is little read and talked about today, despite having received a rave review by Virginia Kirkus when it was first published — indeed, this reviewer has been unable to ascertain whether or not the author, Lawrence Brown, is alive or deceased, nor any biographical information on him besides the brief mention on the book cover that Brown is a journalist and an engineer. Brown and his work do not deserve the obscurity which they have fallen into, and The Might of the West is well worth a read if you can find a rare copy of it.

Taking Spengler as his point of departure, Brown’s work focuses on the question “What makes the West special, sets it apart from other cultures, in other words what is the West’s soul?” His answer is that Western-ness is a worldview in which the universe is logical and orderly wherein all occurrences follow set laws and patterns that can be known and observed; and this worldview is what connects all of Western thought from mediaeval scholastic theology to modern physics. After having read Brown’s 550 pages of small-print text, I came to agree with his conclusion by following the sequence of his argument. His first chapter is a re-telling of the Spenglerian thesis — though dense, Brown’s writing style is typically American: to the point, professional and scientific. For those more accustomed to flowery German prose in which Spengler indulges, Brown’s style will come as somewhat of a relief in terms of clarity and comprehension. From this very first chapter, the reader will find it an easy matter to follow and grasp what the author is proposing.

In the second and third chapters, Brown explores the other 7 civilizations that preceeded the West (namely Egyptian, Assyrian-Babylonian, Indian, Chinese, Native-American, Greco-Roman and Levantine), showing their defining features and their utter alien-ness to the Western spirit. In regards to the Greco-Roman civilization, this might seem strikingly odd and counter-intuitive. However, Brown’s line of reasoning, following Spengler, is very persuasive: that this society which prised the immediate, the sensual, the pleasurable, the superficial, bears little in common with we whose values are forward-thinking, chaste, self-sacrificing and deep. It is in regard to the Levant that Brown is perhaps most controversial — he proposes that the Jews, Moslems, and Orthodox Christians form a common civilizational culture, sharing core values of fatalism, belief in magic, occult knowledge as the only means of understanding the universe, a coming end of the world, and religious belief as the determinant of nationality.

Brown takes some length to describe what he perceives as the original teachings of Jesus and places them in the context of this culture, to show that Jesus’s beliefs are not truly part of the West at all, but have been only a misunderstood veneer over our traditional rational thinking. Christians will understandably find this hard to bear. Likewise though, non-Christians may not like Brown’s description of how the Frankish peoples, in the process of creating what would become the West, over the course of the 5th through the 8th centuries transformed Levantine orthodoxy into what is now known as Roman Catholicism, a purely Western belief system that was the foundation of Western culture and identity until the Reformation. Even while seeing Catholicism ultimately as a failure due to its inability to combine successfully the thinking of the Western soul and Biblical tradition, Brown admires it — especially the philosophical attempts of St Thomas Aquinas to systematise all rational and Biblical knowledge into one logical philosophical system — and believes the Reformation was a decline and a break of the former religious unity of the West. Likewise the Renaissance, with its abandoning of the Western spirit for an imitation of the dead Greco-Roman tradition was also a decline. After having outlined what is Western and what is not, Brown ends his work rather abruptly by simply stating in a few sentences that the French Revolution, democracy, socialism and the build-up and results of the world wars are a result of Western man’s abandoning the Western soul. Since the rest of the book proceeded at a steady pace that kept up attention without sacrificing any facts, the ending was disappointing. The dust jacket states that Brown was intending to write a series of books, none of which was ever published after this one. It would be intriguing to know why Brown ceased his work after a spectacular start with The Might of the West, but for the time being at least, this reviewer will have to keep guessing.

All in all, The Might of the West is a very important read because it will serve as an aid for the modern Westerner, divorced from his heritage, to discover what his ancestors believed and thought and why the bright world they created a thousand years ago became the chaos it is today. Brown cannot be boxed into any of the categories of pseudo-philosophical, trash-mongering, political writings that exist today, which will make reading him with an objective mindset an enlightening, enriching and thought-provoking experience.

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Great Dives of New England #3:
Dorrian’s

Last weekend, I journeyed down to New York City in order to visit friends and take in the Park Avenue Armory art show. I occasionally visit Manhattan for cultural events […]

Last weekend, I journeyed down to New York City in order to visit friends and take in the Park Avenue Armory art show. I occasionally visit Manhattan for cultural events and typically enjoy my visits. I briefly lived in Hell’s Kitchen in my mid-twenties and still have fond memories of that period in my life. I lived on West 39th and 9th streets in a cold-water, walkup apartment. My immediate neighbors consisted of three Puerto Rican blue-collar working families, a friendly expatriate Irish couple and two attic-dwelling Brazilian homosexuals who also performed as a duo drag act on the weekends. This disparate collection of humanity did not know what to do with me at first and we maintained an uneasy coexistence. I first broke the ice by killing a cockroach on the hallway floor after one of the wives had seen it and screamed. After dispatching it with a size eight cordovan, we started conversing and became friendly.

I was clearly an enigma to them as I kept regular hours and left every morning wearing a Brooks Brothers grey suit,  a white shirt and a regimental tie. I found out later that they initially thought I was a Mormon missionary because of my Nordic features and conservative dress. I burst out laughing when one of the Puerto Rican mamas told me this and assured her that I was NOT a Mormon and that I also found the Church of Latter-Day Saints just as banal as they did. After this we all grew close and I would occasionally be greeted with kindly calls of “Hey Peeta, what’ choo doin?!” as I went grocery shopping and on weekend bar excursions around the neighborhood. Although I became quite comfortable in the local streets, I often found myself on the Upper East Side for socializing and recreation. While there, I became a regular at Dorrian’s Red Hand Restaurant and I decided to revisit an old stomping ground on my most recent trip to the city.

Dorrian’s is a legend in its own right. Situated on East 84th and Second Avenue, its mahogany paneled doors have welcomed generations of overprivileged, WASP children from the Upper East Side, Newport, Beacon Hill, Georgetown and Greenwich. It serves a wide variety of beers and pours Scotch quite generously. Its menu offers typically American fare with cheeseburgers and New England clam chowder proving quite popular choices. Red and white checked tablecloths are festooned throughout the dining room and various Eighties tracks waft through the air. Predictably, singles by Foreigner, Journey, Phil Collins and Genesis are frequently played on the imposing jukebox located in the rear dining room. Dorrian’s is also infamous for being the former haunt of Robert Chambers, the Preppie Killer. This past history clouds its reputation and dissuades some people from drinking at the bar.

Chambers was a minor celebrity in the mid-Eighties. A native Upper East Sider, he was also a brute and misogynist who had been kicked out of several prep schools and Boston University. In the hot summer of 1986, he left Dorrian’s with a young coed in tow and promptly strangled her to death during a fit of anger in Central Park. When confronted by the police over his facial wounds from her fingernails, Chambers explained that she’d clawed him during throes of unwanted passion. This prompted the acerbic investigating attorney to remark that Chambers was the first man he’d met who’d been raped by a woman in Central Park. He was released on bail while the court assembled a jury and began proceedings.

The resulting deliberations were avidly covered by both New York newspapers and the national media. During the trial, a videotape surfaced that showed Chambers at an apartment soiree. Drunkenly clutching a Barbie doll, he twisted its head off and loathsomely remarked, “Oops, I think I killed it!” to the raucous partygoers. Public opinion turned against him, the jury found him guilty and Chambers was sentenced to fifteen years. He proved a violent inmate and after serving his full sentence was later tried and found guilty of cocaine distribution. He is currently serving nineteen years ‘up the river’. All of this clouds Dorrian’s and gives the restaurant a reputation for snobbish, chauvinistic prep school lacrosse players, younger Wall Street bankers and the blonde, Coach bag clutching gallerinas who love them.

I very much enjoy that subculture.

Above all, Dorrian’s is quite refreshing because it attracts a reliably white, educated and conservative crowd. Boys will wear Lacoste polos, Ray-Ban Wayfarers and Sperry Topsiders WITHOUT attempting to be ironic. Girls will attempt to look like their mothers and even wear their grandmother’s pearls. When you speak with someone, they will either be outgoing or dismissive depending on their interest, (intellectual, familial, sexual) in you. However, they won’t subject you to the kind of passive-aggressive, mocking tone that passes for discourse in SWPL circles. It’s one of the few places in Manhattan where I can get a good Scotch, a decent bowl of clam chowder and can avidly talk about small coastal towns in Maine with another young person. Many of the girls are assistant editors for publishing firms or auction house art specialists so I can discuss English literature and art history. There’s a sense of genuine camaraderie at Dorrian’s for white Americans of a certain class and age, which is so refreshing in the Big Bagel.

This past Friday, I left the Waldorf-Astoria wearing a navy blazer, blue shirt, repp tie and faux-Gucci (Cole Haan) loafers. I took a taxi to Dorrian’s, entered and spent the next three hours socializing and conversing with the bar’s customers. I met a lovely young girl who graduated from Bryn Mawr and was working for a smallish publishing house specializing in British literature. She reminded me of Chloe Sevigny’s character in Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco. I also spoke to a bright young man who was working for the Met as an intern in their European paintings department. Later on, the night became much more wild as phalanx after phalanx of baseball cap wearing Duke University and Trinity College boys descended on the bar. The songs became louder as did the patrons. Politely excusing myself to visit the gents’ room, I found that I had to delicately step over a puddle next to the urinal caused by the drunken incontinence of patrons and faulty plumbing. I always find the antics of youth so amusing. After finishing my Laphroaig, I took my leave and exited into the brilliantly-lit Manhattan night.

I am drawn to Dorrian’s for the same reasons that hipsters are repelled by it. It’s preppy, conservative, ‘heterosexist’ (?) and provides a wonderful chance to meet other young people. Although I’m now at an age when I prefer Swifty’s or La Grenouille, Dorrian’s still provides a good night’s merriment and potential companionship for the rest of the evening!

Rating:

Five shots out of five.

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Great Dive Bars of New England #2:
The Main Tavern

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“When the Falcon was opened in 1973, Elmer Curtie thought his clientele would consist mostly of bus-riders–the terminal next door serviced three different lines: Trailways, Greyhound and Aroostock County.”
Stephen King, (1986)

The Main Tavern occupies an especial place in the hierarchy of Bangor’s bars. It is NOT for the respectable doctors, lawyers and old Yankee families in their Greek Revival and Italianate mansions on West Broadway. Nor is it for the teachers, nurses and shopkeepers who make up the town’s middle classes. The college kids from the University of Maine at Orono avoid it and even fisherman flush with cash on payday will not drink there. People speak of it in judgmental tones and being seen entering it will damage one’s reputation. Mothers when walking down Main Street will cross to the other side and pull their children along; presumably to escape its harmful vapors. It’s seen as a ‘bad’ place and potentially quite dangerous.

Needless to say, I love it.

The Main Tavern opened in 1948 and has been continually owned by the Brountas family. What makes it so unique and supposedly disreputable is that it is right next to the city’s bus terminal.  Bangor is also the final stop on Greyhound’s Northern line. After this, travelers board the Aroostook County line in order to reach impoverished villages spread like a spider’s web towards the distant Canadian border. So, for many people Bangor is the end of the line both literally and metaphorically. They have run away from their past lives, lovers and families to find themselves in an old logging city along the Penobscot. Greyhound stations attract people from all walks of life; including drifters and bums. Down to their last two dollars for a Pabst blue ribbon, they stumble next door into a dimly lit cavern and a smiling bartender. There, they soak up what little happiness they can create amidst a miasmic haze of cigarette smoke mixed with a trace of marijuana and the faint, acrid smell of spilled meth. It’s actually a very friendly place with the companionship you’d expect to find among the dead and damned.

I first ventured into the Main Tavern while on an epic pub crawl in downtown Bangor as a young man. I had been drinking at a respectable Irish pub across the street and asked the bartender where I could find a local place with colorful characters. I said that I wanted a ‘working-class place with people who had no teeth and just enough money left for one domestic beer’. He immediately pointed across the street and said, “That’s the place you’re looking for but it’s not for upscale guys like you.” I should point out that I was wearing grey suit trousers, a blue buttoned-down shirt with a Brooks Brothers striped tie, a double-breasted blazer with gold buttons and matching faux-Gucci loafers (Cole Haan) with gold straps. I conceded his point, took off my tie and unbuttoned my shirt collar. I said, “Now I’m ready” and sailed out the door leaving an astonished bartender behind. I walked across the street, sidestepped past a couple of emaciated townies in trucker hats and flannel and made my way inside.

When stepping inside, I immediately noticed the dark haze of cigarette smoke and Billy Idol wafting through the air. I walked past two gentlemen in Red Sox baseball caps drinking at a little table just inside the bar. As I made my way to the bar on the left, I noticed that the room was actually quite long. There was a pool room in the back with a few, half-interested players. I sat down at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic from the bartender. He immediately asked for my ID, which I of course took as a compliment. I am twenty-nine years old and still get carded regularly. Once he peered at it with the aid of a Maglite, he complimented me on my youthful looks and served me. After taking a first gulp of the house gin (rotgut) I turned and peered into the darkness. The various townies and troglodytes were clad in the best Northern New England garb imaginable! Carhartt jackets, Lee Jeans and Budweiser caps abounded. I watched the pool game for a few minutes and then turned back to the bar to engage in conversation.

The person to my immediate right at the bar was a mature sixtyish woman with a walker and a pink fleece tracksuit. She wore her hair back in a bun, peered out at the world through round glasses and was drinking a Bud Light. We fall to talking and she informed me that she was the owner’s mother-in-law. For the next two hours we discussed Maine culture, politics, race relations and sports. I learned that she had six children and came from a large family herself. Working from the age of fourteen, she had managed to raise a successful family. She reminded me of those tough, working-class Maine women in Stephen King’s fiction. Her mannerisms, slang and accent with its ‘ayuhs’ all resonated within me. In the words of a local author, “It’s not Vacationland for most of us, it’s work your ass off for nothing land.” Maine can be a hardscrabble life but its people are just as tough. I sipped my gin and tonic while listening to her stories about the city and its people and it was with reluctance that I finished my drink and slipped out of the bar at midnight.

The Main Tavern is an institution in Downtown Bangor. Its dark interiors, colorful characters and Eighties jukebox all appeal to me. I am brought back to the New England of my childhood and love it immeasurably. For a good night and wonderful memories, give it a try! You’ll see the real Maine writ large and it will open your eyes.

Rating: Five shots out of five.

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