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Shadows of Mordor's Sequel, Gaming and Gambling

Shadow of Mordor 2

So the sequel to the popular Middle-Earth: Shadows of Mordor has micro-transactions. They are loot boxes; for folks who may not know, they are randomized rewards. You have no control over what you'll get. Now you'll find opinions, fact articles and many other thoughts on the sequel in general and micro-transactions. Yet here I want to talk about gambling. No matter your stance on gambling, I feel this will slowly become a more prevalent thing in mainstream gaming, adding random loot box prizes or card packs. So here we are going to talk about gambling from a faith based and business perspective.

Luke 12:15: Take heed and beware of covetousness - for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses. It is this quote that fits gambling best I would say. Too often people associate gambling to the slot machines and roulette wheels only. Remember, no matter your stance on gambling, it will lead to covetousness: you will want that skin, that rare card. Those who delve into this vice will risk becoming enveloped in the sins of envy and greed. Do not write it off as a phase just because it's not gambling for money.

Whether you feel gambling is a vile thing or not, understand that activities that involve playing the odds in anything requires a certain amount of mental toughness. If you let yourself get addicted to gambling, you won't have any medicines or physical therapies you can do to get it out of your mind. Gambling is a very strong addiction if you let it become one. Yet whatever's making money is going to follow in business. These game publishers know people will pay to make a game faster and they will exploit that without a care about someone's risk to gambling addiction. On record I’ll say that I am against loot box style micro-transactions in retail priced products that are not cosmetic only. These randomized rewards are usually designed into the game to test the gamers patience in earning them by grinding in game. Also on record, keep in mind whether you hate gambling or not, casinos are regulated in many ways including age restriction and government regulation to make sure the casino isnt cheating folks out of their money. The exploitation of those who will spend money to take a gamble at getting that "legendary" prize will most likely become more common in the games industry.

However, if you're a parent with a little gamer, keep these things in mind if they are spending that allowance on any loot box micro-transaction no matter the game.

Talk to your kids about the odds and reality: teach them that unlike buying a in-game skin or toy directly, they might not get what they want if they take the risk. Tell them if they spend their whole allowance on a loot box or card pack and they don't get what they want, that's on them. Don't let them expect an extra twenty if they didn't get the prize they wanted. Make sure they understand as well, unlike a investment or solid item, if the game shuts down, all that money they invest in randomized digital items gets flushed down the toilet.

Consider monitoring what your kids are spending money on: hey, I get kids need a little bit of room and trust, especially when learning the value of a dollar, yet if you know your little gamer has a bit of a self-control problem, keep watch on what they are buying. If they are spending a bit too fast on loot boxes or card packs, intervene as necessary.

Teach them about the tough sides to the value of a dollar early: tell your kid that if they spend their allowance fast they lose out on a lot. This can be things such as not having enough for a bag of chips on the way home from school or missing out on a sale. They are out of luck, aren't they? If they learn fast then responsibility will surely follow. Some people may find this a bit mean, but tough love can work.

So while a lot of discussion is already going on about the Shadow of Mordor sequel or loot boxes in general, please at least keep in mind that one way or another any randomized micro-transaction is still gambling. No matter your stance on if it's OK to spend money on these things or not. Please be responsible. After all if you can't provide for your family, according to Timothy 5:8, maybe that makes you worse than a non believer? Even if you're not a person of faith, sure would stink if you couldn't eat that day because you spent your money to try and get some "legendary" equipment or a skin in-game, right?

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Should You Still Play Fallout 4?

When you work for any games publication, you're gonna play a lot of games. Shocker right? As games have evolved over the years, one of the biggest game changers is story. Long gone are the days where you simply had to pretend the pixilated dots on screens are airplanes and missiles. Sure we have great indie games that can draw you in with even the most minuscule or goofy plots on a meaningful level, yet how much of it is the gameplay and not the story? Likewise, can a game be ruined by a mediocre story, or can the gameplay carry the experience? I thought I'd do a few look overs of older games and see if they are worth playing purely on gameplay vs story. The first game I will look at is Fallout 4. This title has already been reviewed by our big boss lady Cheryl Gress, you can look at said review here. Today is just a journey to see if this game is good as a game despite supposed controversies of the story.

So let's start with the game's story. Long story short? It wasn't fun. In previous Fallout titles, whether the early top down RPG games, or Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas, you can easily pretend your character is whoever you wanted it to be. Yet Fallout 4 decided to do a fully voiced protagonist with a large backstory. It doesn't pan out well. The more you give a character a face, the more you have to put effort into emotional investment. Allowing me at least 10 minutes to enjoy my apparent married status and child before the nukes are dropped doesn't help me get invested in my fake family. Sure I am a married man in real life, so I tried to pretend that I was playing as myself and it did nothing to help the investment. Trying a different character file did nothing to help immersion either. Whether I was male or female, I was a lone parent hunting for my child that might not even be alive.

Some people may say, "wait were the previous stories in Fallout games really that good?" If they were stand alone books or movies, no, they would be rather mediocre. Yet by giving the player choice on how to approach a game you manage to bring that much more interest in the investment of the story. Previous Fallout games made you the story; Fallout 4 does not. Wide focus doesn't work for a book or a movie, yet we have many famous games that tell rather fun or compelling stories when it allows you to choose how much you want to care.

The reason character builds in previous titles helped define the character was due to that use of imagination. When I made the person with one strength but 10 agility in Fallout: New Vegas, it was not about playing optimally or providing a challenging. It's because I was playing as the skinniest, weakest gunslinger in the post-war west. No matter what gender, shape, or build I had in Fallout 4, I was a concerned parent that had to get by while dealing with other people's problems. It doesn't help that unlike the other games, you'll have to deal with most of these problems from other people whether you like it or not. If the game is still a ”RPG” then at the very least let me find my son first.

Now let me do another long story short. As a game Fallout 4 is still a top notch experience. I find the settlement management side of the game rather relaxing for when I don't feel like exploring. The loot system is fun, crafting is a joy and the game combat is enjoyable. Exploring the world just to loot and survive is still just as fun as in previous Fallout games. This is a case where I can say the weak story did nothing to prevent me from enjoying a game  as a game. Maybe one time I'll run through Fallout 4 on mute with my own music and I will just make up my own dialogue for the characters.

Modding communities should not make or break a game's review score, yet that doesn't mean modding isn't valuable. Fallout 4 has thousands of mods to extend the life of the game; this includes new quests and dialogues for characters. Even at the age the game is now, you'll get your money's worth from the game and its DLC.

The story is not good, yet the game is better than people may give it credit for. It can have some interesting thinking points in the game as well. Fallout 4 is still a great game to pick up to this day despite its problematic story.

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Power Rangers 2017 Movie Review

Go Go see a different movie. That's all I can say about the 2017 Power Rangers movie. It was truly an odd experience for the ages. I want to make a few things clear before I write why it was so awful to me. Power Rangers has always been a guilty pleasure of mine, so I guess you could consider me a fan of the series. This includes what Power Rangers is based off of: the Super Sentai series in Japan. I would also like to make it clear that I am working with a slight bias: while things like the Power Rangers should be meant for a younger audience first, this doesn't mean I can't enjoy things not targeted towards me. So let's rush to the command center; this is a Power Rangers movie.

Power Rangers starts with Zordon, leader of the first team of Rangers on Earth 65 million years ago. His Green Ranger, Rita Repulsa, has betrayed her team and she is ready to rip out the source of Earth's life, the Zeo Crystal. After Zordon hides the power coins, he calls on Alpha 5 to send a meteor crashing down to Earth. We then fast forward to years later when our first protagonist, Jason, is caught stealing the football mascot of a rival school. As punishment, he loses all opportunities given to him and is forced to attend detention every day as a troubled student. Along the way he meets the four other future Rangers. The characters Billy, Kimberly, Trini, and Zack end up in the same spot the coins are hidden. When they try to escape gold mine security, they end up getting hit by a train. Though it seems this is the moment they die, they wake up at home faster, stronger, and better. Eventually they meet Zordon and Alpha 5, who warn them Rita Repulsa will return. If they can't learn to morph and work together within eleven days, the world shall end.

So first let me give thoughts on the two elephants in the room. Billy is made to be an autistic kid, and they let you know very earlier on how different he is. Speaking as an autistic man, it seemed more like they were playing autism like it was down syndrome. He would constantly remind the movie audience that he was autistic. He would also have a lot of strange quirks that replaced character. Not only was he token, he was a poorly developed character. Trini, the lesbian character was a much bigger token. I'll hate myself later for putting it this way, but she was a “millennials'” version of coming out. In the scene where she admits to her team she's gay, she says, “My family is just so normal, all they care about is labels.” This story arc doesn't go anywhere and it seems to be just thrown in for brownie points. While it seems people on different sides got worked up over these characters, the controversy wasn't worth it. They used these things to replace actual character. The theme song could have been "Go Go Token Rangers anyway". Jason was token jock, Zack was token smooth talking loner and Kimberly was token cheerleader brat. 

The Rangers might as well have been a super hero retelling of the Breakfast Club without any real character development. Despite a scene around a bonfire sharing their deep dark secrets, none of them really have any reason to work together and the audience doesn't really know them. Like I said early, they go through the movie as character traits, not characters themselves. By trying to make these Rangers more “realistic and relatable” they come off as more fake and unrelatable. They hate their town right until they face Rita Repulsa. Most of their time as Rangers are spent training in montages. When they can finally work together, they spend about 5 to 8 minutes of time fighting in the suit while the rest of the climax is a long zord battle. The only two characters that at least tried to be a little fun was Zordon and Rita. I actually found it quite interesting that they tried to set Zordon up as a previous Yed Ranger. While Rita was slow in the beginning, she became a corny, over the top and insane villain, and that's what a Power Rangers villain should be. Yet Zordon's potential was thrown out when you realize they set up this idea of him being revived only for him to sacrifice himself so he could revive Billy when Rita drowns him. Rita’s monster, Goldar, did not look threatening at all; living molten gold doesn't look good no matter what you do. 

The cinematography didn't do anything for the movie. If it wasn't just shaky cam, they had a lot of close up shots to the face during emphasized dialogue. Someone must really hate lighting in this movie as well. The colors of the movie seemed to have had to fight to really stick out from all the grays and dark lighting of the movie. It seems modernizing a story means trying to force it to be dark and edgy without reason. Not every superhero has to have a miserable background before becoming a hero. Inspiration can come from the top.

Morality wise, aside from the implied homosexuality of the Yellow Ranger, this movie has low brow humor and a lot of rage and hatred that border between teen angst and blind rage. You're constantly reminded until the very end of the movie how much they hate their town and their own situation. This idea of being a bad kid, an outcast in detention is slightly glorified as well.  They push that whole 'it's cool to be different from the crowd' ideology in the wrong way. It's sad this is being pushed so hard towards kids. I say the movie earned its PG-13 rating at least.

This movie definitely has the crowds divided. Critics hate it and most audiences adore it. Its opening weekend scored the movie a strong $ 40.5 million. All I ask is for readers to remember that high sales does not equal quality. Some of that old Power Rangers camp might have actually made this movie better. For this writer, I give it a 3/10. Effects are cool the first time you see it but the rest of the movie is a shallow cash grab banking on nostalgia and ”relatable teen” story tropes. Go Go far away from this movie.

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Battle Princess Madelyn First Impressions

The way of the knight is a path of honor, duty, and cute graphics. At least that's what it is according to Battle Princess Madelyn. This knight in training and her kingdom fall under siege to the forces of a cruel wizard. With her ghost dog Fritzy, fight, jump and bite your way to saving your kingdom.

The first thing this game says is that it is heavily inspired by the Ghosts and Goblins franchise, and this is true in every step down to the way Madelyn runs. While she tosses spears, she can either have her dog shoot balls of energy to stop her foes or she can channel his power to charge at enemies to devour them whole. 

The first impressions are great so far. The story isn't trying to be some deep and complicated trek into Madelyn's world and yet I was invested into the introduction of the game. The combat was simple, but it felt satisfying and fun. My spear wasn't too weak and the trusty ghost dog didn't make the enemies in my way super easy. The artstyle is visually pleasing; people may say doing retro graphics is a lazy indie trope, yet the team behind Madelyn worked hard to make sure the world pulls you in. 

The most important aspect of these sorts of games is the challenge. Despite my own experiences with Ghosts and Goblins, I had a hard yet fair adventure with Madelyn. The enemies were paced well, I didn't get to a point where I felt I could just rush through the game. The enemies were varied and unique. This game doesn't suffer from “enemy recolor number 1000” syndrome. I started my journey with Madelyn in a unkempt graveyard. I had to climb through an Underground Mausoleum and it ended with a boss battle with a giant skeletal knight. When a game is challenging, the satisfaction of beating a level or a boss is all the sweeter. 

I can't completely critique a game that is far from finished so I’ll talk about what should be improved or what I hope stays strong. The music for the first few stages was not what I’d call memorable. While the artstyle pulled me in despite being based on retro graphics, the old school music just didn't do the same thing for me. I hope that the rest of the tracks are more immersive as the game progresses. While the enemies were varied in my playthrough of Madelyn, I hope this stays true throughout the game's development. Recolored enemies can make or break a game; that's why I hope enemy design remains unique throughout the levels. 

Morality wise, you'll see themes of necromancy, and evil magic being used against this girl. Some people may also be bothered by the idea of her loyal friend coming back from the dead with the same evil magic. Though it could also be seen as a pure dog willing to help the hero. From the preview build, Madelyn didn't use any magic herself, this may or may not change. Though as it is now, I have a feeling that this game will be for most people.

I have confidence in Madelyn's development team; I have a feeling it will join Ghost and Goblins in my yearly halloween knight charity run. Best of luck to Casual Bit Games.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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