Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt – a review

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I was struggling to find a book to review this week: okay, I have some with short reviews to expand on, but I can’t fully remember the key points that I had to make. And I am behind with my reading as I’m struggling with finding characters I like. I also wondered if anyone would notice me missing a week.

Would you have missed a review? Or are the reviews interesting?

However, I was determined to write something. I never said these reviews were exclusively about books so how about a game instead, I decided. This felt inevitable back in April when I posted W is for Witcher, looking at the origins of the Witcher games. That post looked in depth at some of the elements, but my experience playing the game was limited back then – but not now.

Let’s don our armour and sharpen the swords then.

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The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is an action-adventure RPG based on The Witcher series of fantasy novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, it is the sequel to the 2011 game The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, in which the player becomes Geralt of Rivia, the titular Witcher – a monster hunter for hire. He possesses superhuman abilities and is a master swordsman. a dying breed that makes their living killing the monsters that threaten people.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (Polish: Wiedźmin 3: Dziki Gon) is the third and final instalment in the series of games developed by CD Projekt RED featuring the witcher Geralt of Rivia. The game was originally scheduled for release in late 2014, then pushed back to 24 February 2015, and finally released on 19 May 2015. During the first two weeks since release it had sold more than 4 million copies worldwide, more than doubling the total sales of its predecessor The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.

The game has proved to be one of the most successful and popular games of recent years – if not ever.

Review 4.9 Stars:

Back in April, I was new to the game, but I was sucked into The Witcher world – and just starting out on my journey. Since then, I have logged over 500 hours of playtime, finished the main game and the two ‘expansions’ – Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine. I am now on my second playthrough, using the New Game + feature, whereby a player can start the story afresh but with the level reached at the end of the first playthrough – so my Geralt was level 55 and the monsters were boosted too.

In deciding to re-play, I had to have found the game more than just entertaining – in fact, the storyline is engrossing with multiple endings possible and the settings are brilliant. That excellent storytelling has been great, underpinned by reading the 1993 collection of short stories by author Andrzej Sapkowski as well as his second series – see my reviews of The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny.

CD Projekt has built on the world of Sapkowski, and there are plenty of references to past events within both the main quest line and in the side quests – and the overall world-building is impressive. There is a clever aspect to this game – cheeky at times even as the depth of the narrative produces amusing references to other games, books, artwork etcetera. What other game would have a major-domo called Barnabas-Basil Foulty.

Graphically the game is immersive and, well-not exactly beautiful, except in the final region of Toussaint, but the settings reflect that this is a world ravaged by war as well as monsters. The countryside and cities – rough, bleak and vibrant – feel real albeit not cinema-realistic, but I never expect that in a game.

The gameplay element is more complex than other games with a lot to learn and master – and that has been ratcheted up in my second playthrough as I have decided to tackle it on the hardest setting – Death March. This time, I must prepare Geralt for battle and not plunge in all gung-ho – or he dies too easily. Some of that though, is down to oddities in aspects of the game mechanics, like Geralt’s a habit of auto-finishing enemies off while there are others still alive.

The quirks in the mechanics have been annoying – like his inability to jump more than a few inches – but these are very minor compared with the massive number of pluses. One minor irritation in the main game is the NPCs wandering the world who tend to bump into Geralt or his mare, Roach. In Toussaint, the people have more manners (or the developers improved the AI).

Some players have had issues with Roach floating in the air – but I had no problems, so I suspect this glitch was sorted in a patch. My Roach seems to wander off, but she is usually looking for something to eat or drink when Geralt is busy – extremely sensible. It would be cool to build houses but that is not an essential, although Geralt gets a vineyard to do up in Blood & Wine – with BB’s help. By then, you can also dye Geralt’s armour.

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I must end this lengthy player-review by saying that my favourite aspect must be Gwent. This is an in-game card game that is popular in the Witcher world and was invented by the dwarves – they get annoyed when a new deck is introduced in Blood and Wine, initiating a clever side-story. Most innkeepers, merchants and even central characters play Gwent, and some sell individual cards. Geralt can collect cards and take part in Gwent quests and tournaments – with trophies. I must admit that I even have a physical Gwent set with the game board and all five sets of cards. Does that make me a card-geek?

In summary, a great game that has justified the countless awards and accolades received. I will be enjoying Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt for many more hours playing on Death March – despite the quirks and glitches. I’m eagerly anticipating the rumoured Witcher 4 – even if it will be some years before it emerges. Plus, I still have five more of Sapkowski’s Witcher books to read.

Setting: 5*

Storyline: 5*

Gameplay: 4.5*

Graphics: 5*

Entertainment: 5*

Features: 5*

 

The Death of Mrs Westaway – a review

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This week’s Thursday Creation Review is somewhat unexpected in that I had something else put aside to read. That novel had to wait as this book shot to the top of the reading pile. Read on and find out why.

DeathOfMrsWestaway

The Death of Mrs. Westaway

by

Ruth Ware (Goodreads Author)

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark WoodThe Woman in Cabin 10, and The Lying Game comes Ruth Ware’s highly anticipated fourth novel.

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, this is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

Review 5 stars

This novel derailed my reading plans, and I have no regrets. After reading a blogged review, I had to discover more so I read the sample and was swept into Hal’s world.

I felt her dilemmas as she struggled to make finances stretch – and fend off loan sharks – as she side-stepped through life as a tarot card reader. Like Hal, I lived in Brighton – although never all-but-on-the-streets. Full marks to Ruth Ware for resurrecting the West Pier – artistic licence at its best. Plus, I’ve had experiences with tarot cards – but not as a card reader.

Anyway, I knew that the answer must lie in the mysterious letter that Hal receives, tempting her with an inheritance that she knows isn’t hers. She had to attempt to claim the money, so I had to buy the book as I needed to keep reading.

She entered another world, Trepassen House, facing another class, one where money seems to grant advantages, even privileges – but there are consequences. Love can be a rarer commodity in such circles, unlike Hal’s childhood, ironically.

However, Hal and the reader are plunged into the menacing world of the country house – Gothic with wonderful details that rang true for me. I grew up in that world, so the house and its occupants came alive – except that was as much the author’s words and their phrasing.

Hal isn’t fully prepared for the Westaway family and all the secrets. Yet, she has the skills to adapt to the situation – not an easy feat as even I would struggle. Families and inheritance can be vicious whatever is at stake – I’ve been there, and it never ends, for some. I recognised too many of the family members and aspects of key supporting characters. I wanted to discover what those secrets were, and who was determined to stop Hal at any cost. Mrs Westaway might be dead, but she had left a legacy that posed questions. Why did she make that will? What did she know? What happened at Trepassen?

There were elements that were pure Daphne du Maurier, so I was amused when someone mentioned Mrs Danvers. But this was gothic intrigue meets internet revelations – but only when there was a signal and no distractions. Trepassen’s remote Cornish setting – another Rebecca echo – with its charming magpies, adds to the menacing atmosphere.

Although the third-person deep POV of Hal carries the main story-line, the unidentified first-person diary entries are a clever addition. For me, that diary added new questions and new scenarios. The entries also added red herrings for unwary readers like me. At one point, I thought I had identified the writer and resolved what was happening. Wrong. Yes, I realised before the end, but not entirely. So, I was pleasantly surprised at what had really happened, especially as all the clues were there – just cleverly disguised.

Five days after Hal pulled me from Brighton to Cornwall, I had finished this novel – that’s fast for me. I was tempted to drop everything to discover what the author had so artfully contrived – and I was never disappointed.

A well-deserved five stars.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

 

Look the Other Way – a review

Thursday_horizons

Kristina Stanley is among my favourite mystery authors and when her Stone Mountain series closed with Avalanche, I wondered where we would be swept to next. (Well, if I was truthful, I had an inkling as Kristina is one of my gurus.)

So, in the next mystery, we are transported in Look the Other Way from the mountains, we are now afloat.

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Look the Other Way

by

Kristina Stanley (Goodreads Author)

SUBMERGED BENEATH THE DEPTHS IS A SEA OF SECRETS…

A year after her Uncle Bobby mysteriously disappears in the turquoise waters surrounding the Bahamas, Shannon Payne joins her grieving aunt to trace Bobby’s last voyage. Shannon hopes the serenity of the sea might help her recover from a devastating breakup with her fiancé.

Sailing the 38-foot catamaran, A Dog’s Cat, is Captain Jake Hunter, a disillusioned cop who has sworn off women. While Shannon tries to resist her growing attraction to the rugged captain, she uncovers dark truths about her uncle’s death that might send them all to the depths.

Review 4.6 stars

I’m always ready to pick up another Kristina Stanley mystery and I wasn’t disappointed with this one.

She takes her diverse life encounters and creates great stories from them – this time tapping into her sailing experience. As a result, the characters, settings and situations ring true, and I was with Shannon Payne in the Bahamas, sailing A Dog’s Cat, attempting to resolve what happened to her Uncle Bobby, and I had to wonder when something might happen with rugged Captain Jake Hunter. Is he what he says he is?

The novel was well-structured, balancing mystery and romance while weaving the plotlines together. As a mystery writer, I attempt to unravel the threads and there were more than enough to keep me reading – even after I worked out who the antagonist was, sometime before the end.

From that point onwards, the suspense element went up some notches as my concern for Shannon’s situation grew. My mind was trying to keep ahead of her…and the villain. Getting that revelation moment right needs skill as not all readers ‘click’ in the same place – keeping them on board takes craft, and Stanley has that in boatloads.

Also, there were some clever red herrings that kept my ‘little grey cells’ buzzing for page after page. All the characters had backstories and depth, with various reasons to suspect them of committing some crime. Their actions were sometimes deceptive and there were plenty of misunderstandings as in all good mysteries.

The Bahamas setting was both enticingly exotic and hidden with subtle threats. Many of the places must be real – or felt that they should be. The author’s knowledge of boats and sailing lent the writing an authentic vibe – and from my limited experience ‘mucking around in boats’, I felt swept along with events of a maritime nature. And the characters’ relevant skills varied appropriately from those that knew their charts to those needing a bottle or a life-jacket – or both.

Look the Other Way is another excellent Kristina Stanley novel that kept me thinking, so if you like a good mystery plus sailing and romance, I would recommend this book – 4.6 stars raised to Five.

I suspect that if this isn’t meant to be the start of a new series, then popular opinion might demand the return of Shannon Payne. However, until then we can anticipate a new Kristina Stanley mystery that is in the works. For now, I’ll just recommend each one she’s already written.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

#TheIWSG Ultimate Writing Goals

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Is it really July already? Where did June go? Is it time for another Insecure Writer’s Support Group monthly blog post? In fact, this post is a day early due to the US Fourth of July Holiday. Does that mean we all get to celebrate? Oh wait, I’m a Brit living in the US, so I must acknowledge this celebration of when the US got rid of the British Empire. Or did we Brits get rid of the damn tea-dumping, pesky colonists?

On to the IWSG brain-teaser:

July 3 question – What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?

Those ‘ultimate writing goals’ are still moveable feasts.

First off, my goals are not what they were when I was in my teens, churning out scrappy shorts and dreaming of publishing multiple novels. When I was a working journalist, I had scaled back to one equestrian mystery with possibly two sequels.

Now I’m coping with health issues that make my goals move each day/month/year. OK – July 2018…goals = continue blogging for IWSG once-per-month, my Thursday Review every week – plus the odd blog hop/article/interview. And as for the fiction writing, attempt to write the three short stories linked to my Snowdon Shadows series. Perhaps I can dream of publishing one more novel – even if the first was a damp squid.

Is it wise to retire after one published opus?

Despite the brain fogs and jumbled thoughts, I still have urges to write – just not with any real hope of publishing anything else.

As I asked last month, is it time to just read and dream? (And become a ‘reviewer’.)

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The awesome co-hosts for this July 3 posting of the IWSG are Nicki Elson, Juneta Key, Tamara Narayan, and Patricia Lynne!

Purpose of IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting! 

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG