Middle Earth: Shadow of War is Announced

Monday Warner Brothers announced the sequel to the critically acclaimed Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor with an epic cinematic trailer that you can view below.

The trailer shows Talion and Celebrimbor, the protagonists of the first game, forge a new ring of power inside Mount Doom. How this will effect gameplay, we have yet to find out, but seeing how the rings of power are such an important part of the world of Middle Earth as written by J.R.R. Tolkien, this is a major bit of news about the new game.

Also shown in this trailer are more human characters defending a city, which appears to be Minas Ithil, known by fans of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy as Minas Morgul home of the Witch King. Die hard fans will know that the city was named Minas Morgul after (spoiler alert) it was taken by The Witch King, a Nazgul and servant of Sauron, from the people of Gondor, and seeing as we see the city under attack from Nazgul, it is a safe bet to say that we will get to see this happen in Shadow of War.

Another interesting reveal for Tolkien fans is the Balrog (fiery horned demon-like creature) seen with the forces of Mordor in the trailer. Fans of The Lord of the Rings will recognize this as the same type of creature that Gandalf fights with. Even though Balrogs have never been shown to serve Sauron, in Tolkien lore Sauron and the Balrogs were both servants of Morgoth so it makes sense that they would work together again.

As a long-time Middle Earth fan, the prospect of possibly fighting both Nazgul and a giant Balrog in Shadow of War is both terrifying and exciting. Seeing Minas Ithil/Morgal in its glory is also thrilling. We will see exactly what the developers have planned for these characters and places as well as what having our own ring of power means in the future.

We do not have that long to wait for some of our questions to hopefully be answered, for as the reveal trailer says, we will be getting a gameplay reveal trailer on March 8.

Tolkien’s fantasy world of Middle Earth has many diehard fans, myself included, and Shadow of Mordor did not only make good use of that IP, it was also an extremely fun and innovative game. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor was a critically acclaimed game, winning the Game Developers Choice Awards game of the year. One of the things that stood out about the game was it’s innovative Nemesis System that allowed for unique and interesting orc captains to be randomly generated in the game. The orc captains would also build enmity with the player character and remember the player’s actions.

It is unclear as of yet if there will be any more innovations, but if the great mix of combat and stealth in the first game, along with the Nemesis System, make their way back into Shadow of War, it’s safe to say that it will be another fun game.

Thankfully, it looks like gamers will not have long to wait to step back into the hostile battlefield of Mordor, as Middle Earth: Shadow of War is given an August 22 2017 by the trailer.

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5 Hardest Things About Being a Christian Gamer

In no particular order…

1. Explaining to Christian Friends

Some of us have grown up with very fundamentalist Christian backgrounds. Some of our friends have very, very conservative ideas about video games. That’s okay. I mean, I am pretty conservative myself, but I like video games and see them as harmless. Not every brother in Christ will share that opinion though. The trick is to still treat them like a brother in Christ and not hold them in contempt. They have their beliefs, and we should respect that. It just is annoying if they ever argue that the games that you are playing are sinful, and it is even tougher if you are young enough to still be living with parents, and they are the ones who are against games.

2. Learning to Balance Time

Games are fun, but Christianity has a lot to with balance. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Video games help us relax, and they help us experience other’s creativity. They are fun, and there is nothing wrong with fun. Sometimes, though, gaming can get in the way of responsibilities and even get in the way of our relationship with God. As a Christian gamer, it can be a struggle to keep that balance.

3. Dealing with other Gamers

Most of the time, the gaming culture is a welcoming and fun-centered community, but no matter where you go, there can be hate. Whether online, in videos, or meeting other gamers in person, non-Christian gamers can be insulting to the concerns of the Christian faith and not understand the issues we may have. There is a large liberal atheist community in gaming, and they can routinely insult Christians and out beliefs as a form of humor. We can also get unfairly lumped in with politicians who try to enforce gaming bans in the name of religion. Overall, gamers are friendly, but dealing with people always brings the risk of disagreement.

4. Managing the Conscience

One thing non-Christians can not understand is the demands of the Holy Spirit. Many Christians do not really understand or follow their own conscience. The thing is, a certain game could be completely fine for one Christian without bothering them at all, while the Holy Spirit can convict another Christian strongly against playing that same game. The Holy Spirit can convict you against the content of a certain game because it will lead you to sin, and it can be tough to figure out exactly what the Holy Spirit is convicting you of.

5. Going to Church After Staying up Late

This is a less serious one, but a genuine struggle. We’ve all been there. Up late saturday night, enjoying our weekend and playing through level after level. Tomorrow is not a work or school day, so it can be hard to remember that there’s church in the morning. Maybe we are playing online with friends who plan on sleeping through the rest of the day, but we have something to do in the morning. We need to fellowship with other believers, we need to put money in the offering plate to support missions, and we need encouragement and conviction from our pastor. Those things are hard after a long night of gaming, though.

Nintendo Switch: Pros and Cons Before Release

Cover photo credit: Nintendo

The Switch appears to be changing everything when it comes to mobile gaming. The system is doing things that have never been done before. However, not everything is perfect about this new console, and there are a few things that should be looked at before putting up the $300 for the new console.

1. Power

The Nintendo Switch promises to have more power than a 3DS, and the games that have been shown to play on the Switch look beautiful, so graphics and power may not be that much of a concern. However, the Switch is not just a mobile gaming device, it is Nintendo’s new console, so if one were to compare it to the PlayStation 4, or Xbox One, it does not stack up. It falls so short that the developers at Respawn laughed at the notion of making Titanfall available on the Switch, and many other developers see it as a problem too. Now, to many gamers, like myself, graphics are not the most important part of games, so this is not an issue; but many players consider graphics to be very important, and they might want to think twice about the Switch.

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2. Battery Life

The stated battery life of the Switch is 2.5-6 hours of game time. This is a problem for some people because larger games like Zelda are most likely take up the most power, making it closer to that 2.5 hour margin. That may seem like plenty of time until one considers that many wish to use the Switch because they travel a lot and don’t have access to outlets in a plane or on the go. This is also less battery life than the 3DS which lasts a minimum of 3.5 hours. Fortunately, though, the Switch is easy to charge. The device itself charges when put in the doc, and the controllers charge when attached to the device. It also looks like there will be a car charger available for purchase. The whole charging process is pretty streamlined, but if the 2.5 hours of battery life is too short for you, this might not be the mobile gaming system of choice for you.

Joy Con Pair Blue/Red

3. Pricing

The Switch comes with the dock, console, two Joy-Con controllers, Joy-Con grip for playing with the system docked, an HDMI cable, an AC adapter and wrist straps for the controllers. This is all for only $300, which is a nice, generous price, especially at launch. The only problem is if players want to expand their arsenal of accessories. A set of two Joy-Con controllers sell at a steep $80, and one Joy-Con (either right or left) can be bought for $50. These are pretty steep controller prices especially considering how small they are. The Switch’s Pro Controller, which is comparable to a $60 Xbox One controller is $70. Also, with the Switch’s mobility, it would be nice to be able to have multiple docks at different TV’s, but the price of the dock and it’s cords alone is a whopping $90. Of course, being content with everything that comes with the $300 price tag is an option.

4. Games

The most important part of any gaming console is the games available on it. Sadly, just as was the case for the Wii and Wii U, the Switch is missing much 3rd party support, so do not expect to play your favorite non-Nintendo games on the console. Bethesda and Ubisoft have said they would make games for it, though. More importantly, many exciting Nintendo properties are coming. Breath of the Wild looks absolutely breath-taking (pardon the pun). A brand new 3D Super Mario is on the way too, and it looks gorgeous. The fact is, there is no other place to play great Nintendo games than on a Nintendo console.

Summary

Whenever it comes time to make a purchasing decision, one must figure out what is most important to them. If someone wants the most cutting-edge graphics quality system, the Switch is not for them. The Switch is, however, the highest level of mobile gaming ever seen, though, and it looks to have beautiful games. Sadly, the price of accessories are steep, so it may be worth the wait to see if Nintendo lowers the pricing in 6 months or a year.  Also, it is always smart to wait until something has been released and other people have the chance to try it to give their opinions. However, if the games at launch look interesting to you, and you think the $300 is worth it, go ahead and give it a shot.

Thanks for reading, and God bless.

Why Halo Games are Great

On November 15, 2001, Halo: Combat Evolved was released to become the flagship game of the new Xbox. It was the game that put Microsoft’s console on the map, and it was the game that brought first-person shooters to consoles.

Many of the norms of FPS games today were set by Halo (the two-stick movement, holding and switching between two weapons, regenerating health). This was one of the games that had a huge impact on the entire gaming world, and the series of games that followed is one of the pillar franchises in gaming.

I believe there is more to the greatness of Halo than those bits of history, though. It is my personal belief that the Halo series has the most quality, cost-effective games that a gamer can buy, and they are a perfect choice for Christian gamers.

The reason Halo games give you the most bang for your buck is how many features are included in their games.

The Campaigns in the Halo series are amazing. The stories are great. The characters are colorful. The gameplay is superb. The music is some of the best you will find in gaming. Look, the lore in the Halo universe is expansive, and (although you do not need to know this lore in order to enjoy the games) it really shows in the story and world of Halo. Especially in Halo 2, you get a sense of a galaxy full of history and colorful, varied cultures. Master Chief is one of the greatest protagonists in gaming. He is a cold killing machine that says little, but sacrifices much. The series will suprise you with heart even though the two main characters are a man-of-few-words super soldier and a computer AI.

Some might argue that the story is not as nuanced as other FPS campaigns, like Bioshock, but what it has better than just about any other FPS campaign I’ve ever played is great game play and enemy balance. Halo games make use of the fact that you are shooting aliens extremely well. Grunts, Jackals, and Elites all have different attacks, movements, and health amounts. No single enemy feels like a boring, bullet sponge when fighting the Covenant. The Campaigns of Halo are a great adrenaline rush, and the soundtrack helps with that immensely.

I know some would disagree with me about the Halo campaigns having the best gameplay, but they are wrong (just kidding). No one can argue that the Halo games do not have a record of great campaigns, though.

If you don’t believe me, check out this awesome video by HaloFollower that shows some of the great moments in Halo (spoilers).

Besides the campaigns, there is multiplayer. Halo 2 brought some of the first online multiplayer to the Xbox, and the arena-style shooting multiplayer has been amazing since the beginning. The maps are well-balanced, every player has the same weapons (except in Halo 4), and the red and blue team colors make it easy to distinguish friend from foe.

There are games out there that have a better reputation for online multiplayer, but Halo always has a very active and very loyal community for each of its games. You can log onto Halo: Reach today and still find a game quickly.

Now, here’s why Halo has such value. There are many FPS multiplayer shooters out there, but many of them either have no campaign, or a really boring campaign, and very few people care to play it (Overwatch, COD, Star Wars: Battlefront). There are also plenty of FPS single player games that either have no multiplayer, or their multiplayer has very few active players (Doom, Bioshock). My point is, no one combines multiplayer fun, and single player FPS campaign gold like Halo.

I have not even mentioned split screen co-op and competitive multiplayer that has existed in every halo game except Halo 5: Guardians (and I hope they bring it back in the future). I haven’t mentioned the unparalleled detail in the Custom Games’ settings where you can craft any sort of unique game to play with your friends. I haven’t mentioned the different special co-op game modes like Firefight and Spartan Ops that are in Halo 3: ODST, Halo: Reach, and Halo 4. I haven’t mentioned the absolute ridiculous cherry on top that is forge mode, where, ever since Halo: Reach, players can create their own maps with a wealth of options (there has been some seriously good maps made in the community, and Halo’s developers have always been good to highlight the best ones and make them available).

Honestly, I am not sure of any game series that gives its players the wealth of options of play that Halo does. There are definitely no FPS games like it.

So, that wraps up the value section, now on to why Halo is great for Christians.

Halo games are usually rated M, but anyone who has played a Halo game thinks that is ridiculous. The blood and gore is subdued for an FPS, and the language is, over all, pretty mild. There are no real sexual themes, and the worst sexual aspects to the game is that Cortana, the AI, appears as a blue hologram of a woman in blue, form-fitting tights.

My favorite part about the Halo games is their main protagonist, Master Chief. The man otherwise known as John 117 is a very noble hero that is willing to sacrifice anything to defend humanity. He is shown to be the absolute epitome of manhood, and he is a virgin.

Well, this is not fully acknowledged unless one were to read the background lore, but it is true.

Most “manly” video-game heroes are depicted as womanizers who do not value the opposite sex at all or, at least, very little. In contrast, Master Chief is a very Christian example of what true manhood is. He has never committed fornication, and in today’s media, that is very rare to find.

This is something so rare, that I can not help but write about it. I truly appreciate the example that Master Chief sets.

Also, you shoot aliens in the games, not people, so if violence is a problem for you, it’s better when you know they are not human.

All in all, I believe Halo is an excellent choice for Christians who are fed up with the negative messages in games, and also a great choice for parents who are wary of allowing their children to play violent games.

As far as FPS games go, you can’t beat Halo.

Thank you for reading, and God bless.

Playing Games Online

Modern technology has allowed people to connect in ways they never could before. People across the country are now able to play games together via the internet and online gaming services. I know that I personally appreciate the ability to play Halo with my close childhood friends who now live in different states.

Online gaming also gives us the opportunity to meet people who play and enjoy the same games that we do. I have made friendships by playing a few games with strangers and then continuing that relationship.

The only downside to this whole thing, is that you cannot control the people you encounter on the internet. Often the people using mics are, to put it nicely, less than polite (to put it more accurately they are deranged, hate-spewing children).

Anyone who has played an online game like Battlefield or Titanfall has probably encountered a screeching, pre-puberty voice that swears worse than a drunken sailor, someone playing heavy metal loudly over their microphone, or a player who yells at his teammates or sends messages of hate.

So, is navigating the toxic wasteland of what online gaming can be worth it?

That’s your choice.

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Double kill! -A screenshot of my Halo 5: Guardians game play

However, I believe that playing online does not have to be a negative experience. Most games like Halo allow you to mute or block negative players, and some games give you the option of disabling chat altogether. If you do not want to run into annoying people, deactivate chat, and if you have it activated and run into someone who is negative or swears all the time, use the mute button.

The fact is, we can no more avoid negative interactions with people in gaming than we can in real life. Bad experiences with people happen in life. They just do.

I personally believe that the benefits to online gaming out way the negatives.

Not only am I able to play games with friends in faraway places, I can meet new friends too.

Working with people to accomplish a goal in an online environment helps us practice real-life skills, just like sports can.

I find it interesting when I hear Christian leaders talk about the benefits of sports: the team-building, the mindset of never giving up, the competitiveness. These are all things that online video games can give us.

If you like competition, than online gaming is one of the best places to find real heart-pounding competitive environments.

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Getting play of the game in Overwatch is always fun, especially when your knocking a couple players off the map as Lucio!

Another aspect of online gaming to be aware of is its opportunity for witnessing as Christians.

I once struck up a conversation with a gentlemen I met while playing Halo: Reach who had the word “atheist” in his Xbox gamer tag. We had a good talk, and I was able to explain to him what I believed, and I was able to answer many of his questions.

I never would have had the opportunity to meet him if it was not for online gaming.

My sister streams Destiny and Overwatch on Twitch. She has had many conversations about the Christian worldview with both players she meets and viewers who watch her stream.

As Christians, interacting with non-believers in any environment should not scare us. We have been called to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15 ESV).

“All the world” includes the internet, in my opinion.

Thanks for reading, and God bless.

Video Games as Art

Video games are fun. No one can argue that. What is argued, however, is their impact on our lives.

Video games are a truly brand new form of media when compared with much older media such as recorded music and film and even older newspapers and books. Since they are so new, video games have yet to be taken very seriously.

Just as it took time for films to be considered a form of art, games were not viewed as art at their conception. For years, though, gamers have been buying and enjoying many games not just because they are challenging, but because of the emotions that these games invoke.

Art is anything that is created by an individual that invokes emotions in another person. The most classic interpretation of this is in the form of visual art, such as paintings or sculptures.

Many games have created stunning visuals and environments in either realistic three-dimensional detail, or more abstract and (for lack of a better word) artistic interpretations.

It’s easy to see the art of certain hand-painted indie games like Banner Saga. Developers poured their time and effort into making something beautiful, but also playable.

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An example of The Banner Saga’s gorgeous, hand-painted art-style

Even if a game is going for realistic visuals, though, does not mean it can’t be artistic looking. The painstakingly detailed forests of Rise of the Tomb Raider (pictured in cover image), and the rusted, dilapidated city ruins of Fallout 4 are beautiful, and they trigger emotions like only art can.

And let’s not forget about music. Games now use music much like movies have. The way soundtracks can intertwine with gameplay to create a feeling that the developers want is unparalleled. I still get an adrenaline rush when I hear the electric guitar-fused soundtrack of Halo, just as the piano-rich sounds of the opening scenes of Mass Effect 3 can bring tears to my eyes.

One of my favorite parts of video games, of course, is their stories. A great narrative is as much an art as anything, and the gaming industry is full of examples of great stories. Who can play games like The Last of Us or The Walking Dead Season 1 without getting almost unhealthily emotionally invested in the story and characters? (I would also like to mention that 2015’s Quantum Break is, in my opinion, a very underrated game that has an incredibly emotional and interesting story with great twists.)

Ultimately, though, it is neither the sounds or visuals that truly make games art. It is their ability to transport a player into another world in a way no other medium can. Games not only bring you to a new place, like a movie or a book can, but they force you to interact with that world and be a part of it. They affect your emotions in a way that reflects real life. The games that allow you to make choices, like Fallout or Mass Effect, are arguably better at this, because the player feels like his choices impacted the game.  This is something no other medium can achieve.

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A taste of the beautifully creative and quirky splendor that can be found in the Fallout series (Fallout 4)

Viewing games as art is important to Christians. Art is often subjective, we can take what we want out of it. This means that Christians can gleen good messages from games if they really want to.

Art is meant to be appreciated. God, after all, is the ultimate artist, and he made humanity in his image. Part of that means that we are to create too. There is something beautiful about appreciating the art of others.

Thanks for reading, and I hope this post helps you understand that video games are art, because art is what you make of it.

God bless.

(All pictures on this post are screenshots taken by me from the games that I have played)

Assassin’s Creed: Playing an Anti-Christian Game Series

Few game series have reached the success and renown as the Assassin’s Creed series, selling more than 93 million copies of its nine main titles worldwide.

It’s easy to see why the series has been so successful: painstakingly recreating historical settings and effortlessly blending open-world free running with counter-based combat and stealth.  I personally fell in love with the series for it’s varied game play and historical settings, and it functioned as sort of a gateway for me to start playing more stealth-focused games like Dishonored.

There is a big problem with the series, however, and that is that the games seem to have a certain bias. Any Christian who has played an Assassin’s Creed game has probably winced at some point due to the often subtle but sometimes very blatant slant against Christians.

Each Assassin’s Creed games have featured a similar message about being developed by a team of “various religious faiths and beliefs,” (shown below) as if to say that there is no religious bias in the games.

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However, the series is hardly unbiased in it’s portrayal of Christians.

Let’s look at some examples.

The very first Assassin’s Creed game focused on the fight of the secret brotherhood of assassins against the evil Templar Crusaders of the 3rd Crusade.

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Combat of the original Assassin’s Creed

These cross-bearing punching bags become the enemy throughout the entire series, representing everything “evil” in the world such as *gasp* law, religion, and capitalism.  Still, Crusaders are easy to paint as villains, and most Christians would not claim them or condone their actions (Crusader’s couldn’t even read the bible anyways, unless they knew Latin and actually were literate). So, yea, making Crusaders villains does not automatically make a series anti-Christian.

Don’t worry, though, there’s more.

One of the main villains and assassination targets of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is Pope Alexander VI, the head of Christendom of that time.  Assassin’s Creed: Revelations takes place in Istanbul and paints the few surviving Byzantines as the villains (Quick history lesson: Byzantines were the Christian people who lived in the city before the Muslim Ottomans came and killed them all and took over), once again painting Muslim peoples as the heroes against Christians.

The Assassins are a secret group that exists to push against established powers and create anarchy.  Almost every Assassin’s Creed game takes place in a time and location where Christianity is the established norm, so Christians are the villains and those who oppose them are heroes.

In Brotherhood, the actual titular Creed of Assassin’s Creed is repeated over and over whenever you recruit a new Assassin.

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Ceremony in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

Part of this Creed states: “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.”  This is an obviously anti-Christian humanistic statement.  On a side note, it is ironic that the Assassin’s say that everything is permitted, but their whole job is killing people who do things that the Assassin’s deem wrong, like upholding law and order.

If that was not enough, the background lore of the series is that ancient aliens left behind relics that mankind found after they had “evolved.”  These relics are worshiped and called “Pieces of Eden,” and feature objects such as Apples of Eden, the Shroud of Eden (Jesus’ shroud), and one is housed in the literal Ark of the Covenant.  Yea, a little blasphemous.

The evil Templars are shown using Christianity to lie about the Pieces of Eden and oppress people.

It should be clear to you now why people like me have gotten the impression that the Assassin’s Creed series does not like Christians, so some of you may ask the question, “Why would a Christian play these games?”

Well, they’re really fun.

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Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag’s hero, Edward Kenway, taking a dive from his ship’s mast

Seriously, the games are amazing (especially AC II!), as I have explained already, but I’m not here to write a review.  I’m here to give a Christian perspective.

If I were a parent, I would not let my kids play these games. They have philosophies that are just too damaging. Any parents reading this may disagree with me, and that is okay, because this is just my opinion.

As an adult, however, I feel it is up to the individual. Playing Assassin’s Creed did not turn me into an atheist, and the story will be the same for anyone who is strong in their faith. Our world is full of anti-Christian messages, and it is our job as Christians to wade into that world and put forth the voice of truth, not just hide in the corner.

Jesus said in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (ESV)

It is impossible to avoid insults to the Christian faith. Persecution is inevitable, and if the worst persecution you ever endure is the occasional insult or blasphemy from a video game, you are a very blessed Christian.

The real question is, can a Christian enjoy Assassin’s Creed games? Or can we ignore the evil messages and focus on the great game play and historical settings?

That’s up to you to decide.

If you pick up Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, the newest of the series, and as soon as you hear a rant from an “evil” Templar saying how he wants to thwart science because science and Christianity can’t go together (tell that to Isaac Newton, dude) and it puts you off to the point where you are no longer having fun, I completely understand it if you don’t want to play anymore.

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Sir David Brewster, the man AC: Syndicate uses as an example of an “evil” Christian who must be clearly “anti-science” because of his beliefs

I, personally, have been able to focus on the enjoyment of the games. Beyond that, I believe that I have gained a better understanding of how the world views Christians. It is helpful to understand these things, so that us Christians can prove the world wrong and spread the message of truth.

That is the true benefit from playing Assassin’s Creed, if that is what you decide to take from the experience.

Thank you for reading, and until next time, remember: video games are art, and art is what you make of it.

God bless.