Roadtrip of the Rings – Onward Review

(Disney/Pixar)

Although Disney Pixar’s Onward isn’t the type of film that usually draws my attention, I was pleasantly surprised with the recent release on Disney+. Besides being a genius marketing strategy for their new streaming platform, Onward is also a wholesome and heartfelt road trip movie for the whole family starring Tom Holland and Chris Pratt.

The two brothers, Ian and Barley, live in a world very similar to our own except that it was once full of magic and wonder. Now that the magic is gone, however, capitalism has taken over, leading to the formerly-mystical creatures getting day jobs. The Lightfoot brothers, who just so happen to be elves, find themselves getting wrapped up in an epic quest with a surprisingly compelling twist. With stakes rapidly escalating, jokes throughout, and heartstrings being pulled like only Disney knows how, Onward completely shattered my expectations. Whether that’s because I had extremely low expectations to start with is still up for discussion.

Onward completely shattered my expectations. Whether that’s because I had extremely low expectations to start with is still up for discussion.

Without spoiling too much, Onward is set up as a very standard family-friendly animated flick but ends up taking some interesting creative twists that surprised and delighted. The fact that the story had so many emotional moments that hit close to home for me definitely helped. It’s hard to dislike a movie when you’re bawling your eyes out and clutching your significant other’s hand at the sight of two cartoon elves hugging. That’s got to take some kind of magic in and of itself, to be honest.

Although I enjoyed the movie, it’s definitely not without its flaws. Both Ian and Barley took a while to grow on me, which I partly attribute to the film’s pacing and writing. Chris Pratt is really the only actor given enough of a personality to warrant an especially expressive take, but his lines are wasted, at least at the beginning, on a lackluster Jack Black impression that he eventually grows out of. As Holland and Pratt are given more to work with, their performances drastically improve.

For the price of already having Disney+ to rewatch the Mandalorian and an hour and forty-two minutes of your time, Onward is the kind of wholesome, magical adventure that we all need in these difficult times.

Stay safe.

5 Tips for Staying Healthy While Social Distancing

As someone who is privileged enough to work remotely, I’ve developed a handy set of tools and strategies for dealing with some of the issues that come along with spending most of your time at home. During this growing coronavirus pandemic, it’s paramount for people to stay home, practice social distancing, and avoid putting yourself or others in danger unnecessarily. Many are forced to stay home or at least severely limit their normal activities. These challenges are only made more daunting for parents of small children and the immunocompromised. Since we’re only going to get through this together, I thought I’d lay out some of the lessons I’ve learned for working from and staying at home without losing your mind from loneliness or boredom.

5. Exercise & Meditate

With all of the craziness going on, it would be understandable to forget some of your normal routines. Among brushing your teeth and flossing, I suggest you specifically take time out of your day to exercise, and maybe even meditate, to help yourself let off some steam, relax, and keep your body fit and healthy. You may not be able to go to the gym, but there are plenty of options for you to exercise while practicing social distancing, even if you don’t have enough space to lift weights at home. Try going for a hike in the woods or a jog around the block, making sure to stay away from crowded areas. Yoga or other exercises that can be done in the home are great for keeping your body and mind happy, healthy, and ready to tackle your to-do list for the day.

4. Go for a Drive

I grew up in a rural farm town, so I’m very familiar with the concept of “going for a drive” whenever I was bored as a kid. My friends and I would drive down to the beach, drive to a nearby town, or drive in any direction and see where it took us. Although some of us can’t leave the house for non-essential reasons, others may find solace in getting out of the house for a bit without putting themselves in danger of contracting the coronavirus. Getting out of the house may sound counterproductive, but as long as you practice social distancing and stay safe, going for a scenic drive might be exactly what you need to overcome cabin fever.

3. Read a Book

With all non-essential workers staying home, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stream high-quality video or play games online thanks to folks hogging the bandwidth. Do you know what doesn’t require bandwidth to provide endless entertainment? Books. I’m sure you have a list of books you’ve told yourself that you want to finish reading, but you just never find the time. Now you have the time. Better yet, start a book club or invite a friend to read something along with you so that you have something to discuss over video chat. Whether its fiction or nonfiction, classical or contemporary, I can guarantee you that there is a book that you will enjoy out there. If money is an issue, there are communities entirely focused on sharing free e-books online (/r/freeebooks for example) where you can find plenty of material to peruse through.

One of my New Years’ resolutions was to read a book each month, and although I’m a little behind thanks to everything that’s happened these past few months, I’m making a lot of progress and enjoying every second of it. I still enjoy Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and CBS All Access, but given we don’t know whether capitalism will survive this mess, you better start enjoying books because they’re going to survive long past all of this other crap.

2. Start a Collaborative Project

A big part of staying sane during this quarantine is making sure to communicate with others despite social distancing. Video chats and Discord are great options for staying connected, but if you often struggle to come up with something to talk about, consider starting a collaborative project with someone. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy, but giving you and your friends something to work on is a great way to bring everyone together towards a common goal. I’m personally working with my friends on a few game development projects and chatting with my writing group about the progress we’re making on our individual stories. Whatever gets you and your friends engaged in something happy and productive will do wonders towards defeating the ever-encroaching cloud of loneliness following us all through this quarantine.

1. Create Divides Between Work and Play

A big part of my success in working from home for the past 5 years is separating my “work” environment from my “home” environment, both in terms of physical space and in terms of my state of mind. Having an office, special chair, or even just another device (if you work with computers, try using your desktop for work and your laptop for play, for example) can help you be more productive, stay focused, and feel better once work is finished for the day. Being able to “turn off” your work brain and relax is essential to feeling comfortable while working from home.

If you use emails or instant messaging for works, set a specific time reserved for reading emails and responding to messages. This will help cut down on distractions and keep you from checking your phone/email unnecessarily while you aren’t working. Set up silent alerts on your phone if you have to, but be careful about giving up too much time “off the clock” if you aren’t being compensated.

Needless to say, we’re all in this together, even though if we’re trying to keep our distance. Stay safe, check in on your loved ones, and think of others who are less privileged than you during this crisis. The only way we’re going to kick this virus’s ass is by working together by staying at and working from home.

Combo-A-Day Project: Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 Combo Videos

During these trying times, I’ve found myself taking solace in the training mode of my favorite fighting game to lab, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3. While my combos may not be perfectly optimal or stylish, I tried to take a different character/team for a spin each day and see what I could come up with. If you’re interested to see some lower tier representation rather than the same Dante/Vergil/Zero THC combo over and over, then check out my two latest combo videos below.

If you’d like to see more videos like this, consider subscribing to my YouTube Channel and following me on Twitter @mohastgridlock.

WAAAARRRRGGHHHH – Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning Review

While I’ve never officially studied law, I recognize the effects that intellectual property rights have had on the preservation of gaming history. This is why I’ve supported private servers for MMORPGs for years, namely because profits stand in the way of maintaining important video gaming artifacts as they were intended to be played. MMOs that have been long shut down by their copyright holders have found new life in private servers that often break the original game’s terms of use. One such game has benefited greatly from the popularity of a private server: Warhammer Online.

Like many MMORPG projects of the time trying to find their niche, Warhammer Online takes many of the best qualities from its predecessors and adapts them for a more PVP-focused approach. Although I didn’t have a chance to play it on its initial release, I’ve wanted to jump into the world of Warhammer for a long time to see what inspired some of my favorite features from Rift, another MMO from times gone by. Public quests, in particular, piqued my interest, as they offer a unique play experience for players who prefer fighting NPCs rather than players of the opposite faction. Like most theme park MMOs, Warhammer seemingly has something for everyone but appeals specifically to those who heed the call to war and fans of the well-established IP.

When the game was originally being marketed, a large part of their outreach went into a series of production updates and videos that highlighted their design decisions and delved into specific details for all of the classes and specializations. This was when I originally heard about the project. The first class that jumped straight out at me was the Chaos Marauder, a melee class who specializes in mutating their body into various horrific forms. Similar to stance dancing as a Warrior in World of Warcraft, the Marauder can switch between several mutations to quickly adjust their playstyle. Needless to say, the first toon I rolled up was a Marauder with a giant mutated arm, so I christened him Fisterroboto.

Chaos mutations sold separately.

Once I got over the dated graphics, I was absorbed into the world of Warhammer and wanted to explore all that it had to offer. The normal questing experience is very similar to pre-Cataclysm World of Warcraft, asking players to navigate through areas with plenty of monsters to slay, quests to complete, gather resources, and larger obstacles to overcome as a group. What makes Warhammer Online stand apart, however, is the ability to begin PVPing straight out of the gate and teleport around the world to where the action is actually happening. After leveling from 1 to 10 and figuring out how to play a Marauder effectively, I entered a player versus player zone to see what all the fuss was about.

The War Report offers players the ability to see exactly what is happening on the server at that time and teleport to whatever area or event might interest them most. Seeing that a nearby PvP zone was contested against the Order, I decided to lend my allies aid in battle. After wandering around and sneaking through caves, I found myself teaming up with a few other Destruction players to capture objectives, gather war supplies for our side, and slay oncoming Order players. Although we were outnumbered, my Squig Herder pals and I fought valiantly, using guerilla tactics to target players left out from their group and cut off supply routes for the enemy forces. After gathering a small war band and sieging an enemy watchtower, we were unfortunately defeated by another zerg of Order players. They not only outnumbered us, but they also had plenty of support and healer classes to help keep their melee players alive. After regrouping at the respawn location and trying again a few times, I called it quits and tried a few different classes.

With my melee DPS character out of the way, I wanted to try some of the ranged classes that Warhammer has to offer. First on my list was the aptly named Squig Herder, the Destruction’s ranged pet class. Like many of the class designs in Warhammer Online, the Squig Herder has a unique ability that drastically changes their playstyle on the fly. Called Squig Armor, this ability allows the Goblin player to be swallowed whole by one of their pet squigs while controlling it from the inside of its mouth. Being able to switch from a ranged DPS class to a giant angry meatball at my whim was worth trying out the class alone. I also tried my hand at the Order’s Shadow Hunter, the Elf equivalent of the Squig Herder sans an animal companion. The Shadow Hunter swaps between stances, including a ranged stance for sniping, a melee-oriented stance, and a short-ranged stance as well. Finally, I tried my hands at the Warrior Priest, a melee healing class for the humans. Surprisingly, even the heal-bots have interesting mechanics to juggle while ensuring that their teammates are topped off. The Warrior Priest’s abilities generate Righteous Fury which can be spent on healing spells or buffs, transferring the player’s offense into defense for their party.

If I had any complaint while leveling my various characters, it was that itemization felt strange at times and there weren’t enough reasons to explore my surroundings besides finding a stray public quest across a zone or searching for an opposing player looking to throw down. When a monster drops loot in Warhammer Online, there is a chance that it will not be an item you will be able to use. Since classes are so specialized, both in terms of playstyle and in terms of their equipment, most pieces of gear are only able to be used by specific classes. This means that after an adventuring session, a player may have collected one or two items that they’ll actually be able to use and eighteen others that they can sell as vendor trash. While this felt strange at first, it could just be a case of MMO culture shock since World of Warcraft had me selling just as many gray items to vendors and I couldn’t even trade those off to other players if they really needed them. Theoretically, the design should encourage players to interact, trade, and, hopefully, build connections, but I couldn’t be bothered and ended up selling most of the gear I collected for the spare change they were worth.

Warhammer Online’s streamlined design offers players who are accustomed to World of Warcraft’s quality of life changes plenty of ways to navigate the world with ease. This, however, diminishes the feeling that there is a thriving world out there in the first place, rather than a series of zones connected by flight paths. This isn’t to say that the game lacks areas to explore, but that there just doesn’t seem to be much reason to do it. Thankfully, the landscapes and outposts are well designed both in aesthetics and in function. There’s something oddly thrilling about riding your trusty steed over a demolished siege weapon and up onto the broken wall of an enemy fort or sneaking through a deserted cave to assault the enemy from behind.

After taking a good share of Order and Destruction classes for a spin, I think it’s safe to say that I really enjoy Warhammer. Sure, it has plenty of faults, chief among them that the only way to play it currently is on a private server, but what it loses in graphical fidelity and strange mob pathing/animations, it makes up for tenfold in style, charm, and its overall presentation. For a twelve-year-old PvP-centric MMORPG based on a franchise that has seen better days, Warhammer Online still stands the test of time against stiff competition in the MMO space. The fact that I’m actively playing it over other modern games that I’ve spent a considerable amount of money on is a testament to how well the game was made and how much passion and hard work the community has put into keeping it alive all this time. If you’re willing to delve into the world of private servers, you owe it to yourself to give Warhammer Online a try regardless of whether you’re a returning veteran looking to claim a few more skulls for your throne or an MMO fan looking to sink their teeth into something new.

A Galaxy Far, Far Away – The Mandalorian Review

Star Wars is one of those franchises that I struggle to maintain interest in despite having a deeply held nostalgic attachment to nearly anything set in the galaxy far, far away. Although I successfully avoided seeing the latest mainline episodic movie Rise of Skywalker, I’m only a man and could not resist watching Disney’s The Mandalorian when it was released on their newly minted streaming service. After a series of disappointing films, I was fiending for a television show with a budget set in the Star Wars universe that had nothing to do with the Skywalker family and I just didn’t know it yet.

The story follows a mysterious bounty hunter, called the Mandalorian or Mando for short, who befriends a small alien child. Instead of the series’ signature epic space battleship battles and lightsaber duels, The Mandalorian opts for a more steady-paced adventure with plenty of time to stop and smell the roses. The episodic nature of the show gave plenty of room for the writers to develop specific characters and relationships, something that is often lacking in the films with strictly rationed 2 hours and change runtimes. Like most experiments, what begins as a novelty slowly starts to drag in places, but other than a few episodes that felt more like the plot to a videogame than a TV show, the slower pacing was a welcome reprieve. 

For a show with an anonymous and enigmatic protagonist who refuses to reveal his face from under an ornate helmet, Pedro Pascal puts in a remarkable performance despite the obvious limitations. All of the actors, the nearly perfect casting, and the special effects combine together to fully capture what it would be like to live in the Star Wars universe outside of the sphere of influence of the main story’s protagonists. The set and costume designs perfectly replicate the lived-in sci-fi aesthetic of the classic trilogy while offering plenty of new twists on old themes, such as the designs of each Mandalorian’s individual set of armor.

If you’ve somehow avoided getting swept up in the Baby Yoda and Kuiil memes and have a passing interest in Star Wars, give The Mandalorian a shot. If you don’t enjoy following the adventures of a ruthless bounty hunter turned babysitter after an episode or two, then wars in the stars may just not be your cup of tea and that’s totally acceptable as well. For everyone else, brace for “I have spoken” and “this is the way” jokes during watercooler conversation again as soon as season 2 is revealed.

The Mandalorian is now streaming on Disney+ with a second season currently in the works.