A Introduction to Skyrim and Why I’m Obsessed

I learned a new word today: Dovahqueen. That perfectly describes me, because Skyrim has so fully captivated me. I have a shadowmark tattoo on the back of my arm. I’ve purchased the game three separate times. I’m always fighting the urge to replay it, but my backlog of games is so substantial that I really don’t have the time to revisit my favorite video game fantasy world.

There are many reasons why I’m in love with Skyrim, from the lore to the character creation, to the gorgeous setting and gameplay. This almost ten year old game still holds the gold medal for best game and I’ll admit, I’m a little obsessed.

In this post I’m going to explore what makes this game so amazing and why I rank it my highest score of 5/5.

 

The World Building

My father was one of those nerds in the 70’s who played Dungeons and Dragons (he still plays today with is brother over Skype), so I was raised with a heaping dose of love for high fantasy. The Lord of the Rings are my all-time favorite books and movies, so deep dives into dense historical backstories, completely fleshed out fictional languages, and highly detailed maps are what I live for. The Elder scrolls games are full of lore, and Skyrim is no exception, from the may books you find throughout your adventures, to the tales in-game characters tell, to the factions you fight for and against.

Like previous games, you start off as a prisoner, awakened only to find you will soon be Skyrim openingexecuted. Hints of the greater story are told; you hear something about the Empire and a rebellion. One of your fellow prisoners is Ulfric, the apparent leader of said rebellion. You are both set to be beheaded, but some fortune smiles upon you and before the Imperials chop your head off, a dragon appears and you and the Jarl escape.

From then on you are thrust into a world of magic and dragons and you soon learn you are the Dovahkiin, or Dragonborn, meaning you can harness the power of dragons. Pretty neat right? Now it is your task to learn these powers from the Greybeards perched on their mountain called High Hrothgar, and defeat the ancient dragons awakening all over Skyrim and wreaking havoc across the snow covered land.

Along your journey you discover The Blades, a group of ancient dragon slayers, and as Dovahkiin you team up with them to uncover why the dragons have returned and how to stop them. Along the way you discover the Thieves Guild, The Dark Brotherhood, the Thalmor, The Companions, The College of Winterhold, and the list goes on. Needless to say, all these entities have their own backstories and desires for the future, which the Dovahkiin quickly becomes entangled in.

 

The Setting

Dungeons, mountains, shrines, villages, hollows, mines, farms, temples- these are just a few of the different locations the Dovahkiin uncovers on his adventures. The map of Skyrim is pretty massive and the more you explore, the more you find. On my last playthrough, I tried to traverse every inch of land I could, and I was surprised at the amount of icons that appeared, and I’m sure I left a lot undiscovered.

Skyrim map

While the option to fast travel from one location to the next is always handy (and much appreciated), I find it pretty exceptional, and sometimes therapeutic, that I can run from city to city, through the plains or over mountain passes, all to my heart’s content. Skyrim is truly open world and fully interactive. You never know if you’ll encounter bears, frost trolls, bandits, assassins, or worse, and so really, it’s quite easy to abandon all your quests and Dragonborn responsibilities for a while to simply explore.

One of my favorite parts of the setting are the cities. Each one is unique with its own scenery and set of problems. Whiterun sits atop a hill on the plains of Winterhold and on the highest point of that hill is Dragonsreach, a building constructed to imprison a dragon. Sitting on the eastern edge of Lake Honrich in the easternmost region of the Rift is Riften, much of which sits on wooden piers over water. Lurking beneath the city in the Ratway hides the infamous Thieves Guild. Markarth, although it is also full of its unscrupulous characters, is one of my favorite cities, because it’s been carved out of a mountainside. There are endless more cities and towns, but I think you get the idea. 

 

The Character Customization

Although it may not hold up as well today as when it was released in 2011, Skyrim’s female imperialcharacter creation allows for some fun customization. So far, I’ve created a hulking Redguard male with fierce blue eyes, an alluring female Imperial with a mohawk, and a mysterious male Dunmer built for stealth. Besides these three choices for race there are a lot more: Bretons, who are adept magic users; Nords who hail from Skyrim; Khajiit, the cat-like people from the deserts of Elsweyr; Argonians, who look like humanoid reptilians, and not to mention the High Elves, Wood Elves, and Orcs, and each of these have many different aesthetic customizations to make your character exactly to your liking.

In game, you also have several options for who you want your character to be. In Skyrim, you aren’t limited to picking a single class. Throughout your playthrough you are free to switch between melee, magic, and long range. I usually play using mainly a sword and shield, but if you fancy yourself a battle mage or an archer, you can play that way. 

Along your travels you pick up a myriad of items, weapons, and armor giving your character different looks. Between the swords, maces, axes, bows shields, different clothing and armor (hide, iron, orcish, scaled, Dwarven, etc.), and the various rings, necklaces, and amulets salvaged and bought, you can essentially have your character look however you want.

 

The Factions

College of Winterhold

Part of what makes your character unique, and each playthrough different are the many factions you can join or fight against. Here are the main ones.

The Thieves Guild

Situated in the bowels of Riften, the Thieves Guild is but a shadow of its former self when you first discover it. If you so choose to help them out, Mercer Frey and company will have all sorts of devious things for you to do like changing business ledgers, stealing valuable items, or pickpocketing specific targets, not to mention the main thieves questline of restoring the guild to glory.

The Companions

This is a ragtag bunch of fighters who have a secret. Their home is in Whiterun, and many of them become companions who can accompany you on your journeys. If you investigate them and their questline, and uncover their secret, you have the option of becoming a werewolf.

College of Winterhold

Many of the locals are distrusting of the College, as they blame it for Winterhold’s transformation from a once great city to ruins, and as you found out, the school is for magic-users, most of which are not viewed fondly by the people of Skyrim. If you follow this questline, eventually you can become the Archmage and leader of the college.

The Dark Brotherhood

We knowBesides mysterious notes and assassination attempts, Dovahkiin’s initial introduction to this faction is waking up to his captor gloating down on him. Then she forces him to choose which of the other prisoners should be killed. If you so choose to join this band of assassins, you’ll find yourself dealing with the Brotherhood’s deity, the Night Mother, said to be a daedric prince incarnate.

The Imperial Army vs. The Stormcloaks

Many of the factions quests you can take or leave, but if you continue along this questline, you will eventually have to choose between one of these groups. In the beginning of the game, we learn about the Stormcloak Rebellion against the Empire, and you can decide if you prefer Imperial rule, or if you want Skyrim to be sovereign and reinstate its many traditions including the banned worship of the Nord god Talos. 

 

As a Dovahqueen, I could ramble on and on and on about my obsession with Skyrim. If you’re a fellow fan, maybe some of my points resonated with you, or maybe you are reading this wondering if you should give the game a try, and I hope I have convinced you that Skyrim offers more than just a simple playthrough. It’s a game that can be enjoyed time and time again.

 

 

My Pottermore Experience

 

If you’re a huge Harry Potter fan, you may have heard about the website Pottermore.com. The old site offered a true wizarding world experience allowing you to become a student at Hogwarts. First you visited Diagon Alley to chose your pet and your wand and then made your way to the Hogwarts great hall to be sorted into one of the four famous houses. Members could then spend time in their common rooms, go to potions class, and do all kinds of fun things that witches and wizards do. Sadly, the old Pottermore is gone, but a new site is in place and provides some of the same attractions as well as new Harry Potter related content and news.

My Pottermore experience was interesting, to say the least. Instead of simply being a fun time at virtual Hogwarts, it turned into an introspective look into the person that I am today and who I might become in the future; and it was all thanks to the sorting hat. I began the quiz, knowing that this was the house quiz to end all house quizzes. This was the true, J.K. Rowling recognized way to forever determine which Hogwarts house I belonged in.

I tentatively answered the questions, doing my best to be as honest as possible. Everything was going well and I was excited to finally find my true house, and then the unthinkable happened: I was sorted into Slytherin. Now, I’m no housist, and I realize not every Slytherin turns into a slimy, scheming, evil wizard bent on controlling the world, but several of the qualities that make a good Slytherin are completely absent or the exact opposite of my personality.

Slytherins are known for their determination, their competitiveness, their desire to win, and to be the best. They are cunning and motivated and oftentimes individualistic in their pursuit for success. They value tradition and are prone to form elite cliques with their fellow Slytherins. While I can perhaps admire many of these traits, I possess none of them. I’m shy, quiet, I don’t like competition in any form avoiding it at all costs. I imagined that if I were to be sorted into Slytherin, I would be eaten alive.

So, being truly terrified of having to spend my life amongst such determined young people, I decided I would retake the test. Now, this may seem shameful, and many people may be upset with me and cry foul, but hear me out. We all know that when the sorting hat was placed on Harry’s head, the hat thought he would make a grand Slytherin. If it weren’t for Harry’s protests, perhaps he would have been sorted into that house rather than Gryffindor. So, if Harry could argue with the hat and resist its desire to put him in Slytherin, I figured I could have a do-over.

I retook the test. And this time I became a Ravenclaw, and that sat well with me. Ravenclaw is said to be the wisest of all the houses. Its members value intellect, wit, and learning. Ravenclaw has some of the most eccentric witches and wizards making it one of the more tolerable houses for all kinds of people. Ravenclaws are perhaps less social than the out-going Gryffindors and friendly Hufflepuffs, and as an introvert, I felt this was a good fit for me. While I wouldn’t necessarily think of myself as all that wise or intelligent, I do possess a great love for learning.

Well, in my haste to dispose of my Slytherin account, not wanting to have anything to do with the house, I accidentally deleted my new Ravenclaw account. So, unfortunately, I had to retake the quiz once more. This time, I was presented with a choice: Ravenclaw or Gryffindor. I immediately chose Ravenclaw. Being sorted into Gryffindor would be about the same for me as being a Slytherin. Gryffindors are known for their bravery and heroism, and, like Slytherins, they are determined and motivated people. They value courage and justice and are outgoing, charismatic people. While I respect their attributes, Gryffindor is certainly not a good fit for me.

I did feel guilty about my retaking of the sorting hat quiz, twice, but I still stood by my insistence on not being a Slytherin. However, it got me thinking about some seriously deep and disturbing questions. What if I really was meant to be a Slytherin? What would that mean for me, for my character, my personality, my future? I thought about one of our favorite Hogwarts students, Neville Longbottom. Being placed in Gryffindor must have been just as confusing and terrifying for Neville as being placed in Slytherin would be for me.

For the first few years of his time at Hogwarts, Neville seemed truly out of place. He was a shy, awkward, clumsy boy surrounded by charming and brave students. Neville didn’t seem to possess any of the qualities that make a Gryffindor, however, he became one of the bravest wizards Hogwarts has ever seen. If he were placed in another house would he have become the courageous wizard that we know and love? Were Gryffindor qualities always in him, but just hidden underneath his awkwardness? I’m sure the answer is yes, as the sorting hat saw those attributes in Neville even if he couldn’t quite see them in himself.

So perhaps, if I stayed in Slytherin, maybe my story would be like Neville’s. I would feel out of place at first, and awkward, and I’m sure many fellow Slytherins would do their best to make my life difficult, and I would be terrified every time I had to go to the dungeons to my common room, but maybe by the end of my schooling I would emerge as a more ambitious, strong-willed person. Maybe I would have the motivation to obtain my dreams no matter the cost. It’s a future I can hardly imagine, but maybe it would have been possible if I accepted my destiny as a Slytherin.

Being in Ravenclaw felt much safer though, but it still didn’t feel right. So my thoughts turned to Hufflepuff, my first unofficial Hogwarts house. Before Pottermore, every time I took any sort of sorting hat quiz I was always a Hufflepuff. Hufflepuff’s are loyal, patient, down-to-earth individuals who value hard work, kindness, and dedication. Like Gryffindors, they tend to be outgoing and social, but they are far less likely to develop rivalries or to experience conflict with each other. They enjoy comfort and harmony amongst their peers and that’s why Hufflepuff is the most accepting house of the four.

It’s so inclusive that the sorting hat will sometimes place students into Hufflepuff because they do not possess qualities of the other three houses, leading people to believe and to jest that Hufflepuff is a house for talentless misfits. Of course, this isn’t true as there are plenty of talented witches and wizards in the house like the well-loved Cedric Diggory, Nymphadora “Tonks” Lupin, and Newt Scamander, writer of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It proves that Hufflepuffs are some of the friendliest students at Hogwarts and value a person based on their character more than their skills.

I had a brief identity crisis, struggling to decide which house I truly belong in, but Hufflepuff has always been my home. My personality, my characteristics, they are Hufflepuff to the core. Even though I admire attributes from the other houses, like Ravenclaw’s wisdom, Gryffindor’s bravery, or Slytherin’s determination, what I value most are qualities that are strong in Hufflepuffs, and it’s where I feel most comfortable. A wave of relief washed over me once I settled back into my Hufflepuff identity. I felt a true sense of belonging, and was happy to know I would be surrounded by kind people, people who are not afraid of differences, people who treat others with respect and fairness.

There are so many other things about being a Hufflepuff that I love, one of them being the great location of the common room so near to the kitchens. I can just imagine waking up everyday in my dormitory to the scents of breakfast, coaxing me out of bed. Maybe I’d spend an hour or two reading by the fire in the cozy, basement common room before I started a day full of classes, and once the day was done, I’d return to the hobbit-esque dorm to do some studying or to spend time with my kind and caring friends. It’s certainly a life I’d enjoy.

I may not have been placed into Hufflepuff by Pottermore, but it is only an online quiz after all and not a magical sorting hat with the ability to assess your traits, attributes, and feelings. It was a fun quiz to take and has some interesting questions, but for me, it didn’t put me in my true house. If you’re happy with where you were sorted, than great! I’m happy for you, but if you feel like you should be in another house, I think it’s safe to say you know yourself better than a short test. Whichever house you are in, be proud of what it represents. Without a doubt I can say, I’m happy to be a Hufflepuff.

 

The Hobbit: A Disappointing Trilogy

 

I have been a massive Lord of the Rings fan ever since I saw The Fellowship of the Ring when I was just a small, awkward, nerdy ten year old (okay I’m still short, and awkward…and nerdy). The film was beyond magical, and after that fateful night at the movies, my long journey of becoming an obsessed LOTR fan began. I quickly immersed myself in the world of Middle Earth, reading anything and everything by Tolkien and about him. Cara and I spent much of our childhood watching the movies along with documentaries concerning hobbits, elves, dwarves, orcs and the actors and people who made Tolkien’s fantasy world come to life.

I say all this to make it clear that my views on The Hobbit are personal. It’s impossible for me to see these movies objectively as Tolkien’s books and the world that he created have shaped me into the person I am today. For me, and for other fans, The Hobbit had high expectations to meet, and it fell miserably short. What is meant to be a fun, light hearted adventure turns into a complicated mess crammed with contrived plots and sub-plots not found in the book. The most disheartening aspect about these movies is that they would have been fantastic adaptations if it were not for the departures from the original story, and the messy additions that hide the real gems, or Silmarils, that do exist in the films.

The Shining Silmarils (What I Liked)

Bilbo Baggins

HBT1-ss-327791.DNG

 

 

I enjoy Martin Freeman’s depiction of Bilbo, his quirkiness, his hobbit-ness, brings the Bilbo I remember to life. Bilbo’s dual nature of being a hobbit who loves the comforts of his safe home in Hobbiton, yet having a desire for adventure is so fun to see on screen. He’s silly, lovable, and relatable, and although Freeman finds himself on a difficult journey, not only as Bilbo, but as an actor in a mess of a trilogy, he really is one of the Silmarils shining in all three films, and we get to see that great transformation of Bilbo’s character. Even at the worst of times, I still find myself enjoying Freeman’s performance, and I can’t help but love Bilbo.

 

The Dwarves

the dwarves

 

Not all of the dwarves are as memorable as some of the others, but all of them have distinct personalities or characteristics that differentiate them from their fellow dwarves, and I love that. Grim Thorin, leader of the Company, rightful heir to Erebor; brave, energetic Fili; young, attractive Kili, wise and thoughtful Balin, gruff and tough Dwalin. There is fat Bombur, the funny and carefree Bofur, and silent Bifur; out-spoken Gloin and his older brother Oin, always seen with his ear trumpet; cranky Dori, Nori and his three beard braids and hair spikes, and shy bookworm Ori. They are certainly amusing, but also well-rounded characters made complete by their grim quest to reclaim a homeland for themselves and their kin. I also love their outfits.

 

Thranduil

Thranduil

 

I love Thranduil so much that I would go so far as to say he’s one of my favorite characters even when compared to those in The Lord of the Rings. He is beautiful, fabulous, a bit mysterious, and surpassed all my hopes and dreams of what I thought the live action Thranduil might be like. Lee Pace does a magical job of capturing the Elvenking’s nature, being a Sindarin, or Gray Elf, amongst Silvan Elves who not only mistrust the Dwarves of Erebor but also are generally reserved when it comes to dealings with any who are not their own people. While he is more standoffish and stubborn in the films than in the books, I still really love him.

 

Tauriel

Tauriel

 

I was utterly against the addition of Tauriel into the movies because I felt it was a great sin against Tolkien to create a character not found in Middle Earth. However, I like her. Even though she’s made up, even though she’s played by Kate from Lost, I like her. I do not like many of the events and plot devices surrounding her character, but I like Tauriel. When so much went wrong in The Hobbit, when it felt like so much of Tolkien’s ideas had departed from his Middle Earth, Tauriel stands true to Tolkien themes and concepts. She is a pure character, embodying all that is still good, true, and right in the world.

 

The ‘Unexpected Party’ Scene

the unexpected party

 

This is the first chapter of the Hobbit and one of the first scenes we see in the movie. I was thrilled to see that this was literally translated straight from the book onto the screen. Bilbo repeatedly answering the door to find more and still more dwarves parading into his home; Bilbo having to run back and forth from pantry to table to feed all these boisterous, bearded dwarves and being more than flustered at their raucous noise and laughter; the dwarves singing a merry song as they proceed to toss and throw Bilbo’s plates, yet efficiently cleaning their mess: I remember all these scenes from the book and was ecstatic to see it all come to life. And holy cow, what about their song? Hauntingly beautiful.

 

The Necromancer Story Line

The necromancer

 

All the scenes dealing with Dol Guldur and the Necromancer plot line are, in my opinion, some of the gems that really stand out throughout all the movies. We only hear mention of anything relating to these subjects in the books, so there are periods of time when Gandalf simply disappears for a while. As proven in the films however, the Necromancer narrative is excellent to explore. Although it adds a darker tone to what is meant to be a children’s story, it is an important thread of the grander story of Middle Earth. The Necromancer’s dark, menacing figure is truly terrifying, and I love seeing dark yet stunning scenery of Dol Guldur as well as those eerie tombs Gandalf and Radagast venture into.

 

The Junk in the Dragon Hoard (What I Did Not Like)

Azog

azog-lotr-hobbit-orc

 

The pale orc and his pursuit of Thorin and Company does not happen in the book. He is killed before the events of The Hobbit take place, and it is his son, Bolg who leads the orcs in The Battle of the Five Armies. Perhaps the filmmakers thought it would be more interesting to have Azog as direct opposition to Thorin, being the one who killed his grandfather,and maybe his pursuit is meant give a greater sense of urgency to the story, but the plot with Azog only jams more unnecessary characters and events into an already crowded movie.

 

Legolas

Legolas_with_Orcrist

 

Since Legolas is the son of Thranduil and Prince of the Woodland Realm, it makes perfect sense to include him in the movies although he did not appear in the book, and as my favorite character from The Lord of the Rings, I was thrilled that Orlando Bloom would be reprising his role.However,he is not the same elf that I remember. His personality is stripped of what makes him such a lovable character, leaving behind a stern, grumpy, even snobby Legolas. He is more of a slave to duty than a lover of nature and beauty, and his calm, graceful demeanor isn’t even a part of his character anymore. Tauriel feels more like the Legolas I remember. I’m not sure if bad writing or bad acting is to blame, but either way, it’s a shame that such an interesting character becomes someone I couldn’t care less about.

 

Saruman and The White Council

the-white-council

 

In one of the many council scenes, Saruman is talking and Gandalf and Galadriel act like silly children passing notes under the teacher’s nose, all while mocking their wiser counterpart. I felt these silly elements were added only for the sake of the laugh, and are not true to any of the characters. Saruman, before he joined forces with Sauron was the wisest of the wizards and one of the wisest beings on Middle Earth. He would have been respected, and both Galadriel and Gandalf, also two of the wisest beings on the planet, would certainly be paying attention to Saruman’s counsel, even if they disagreed. This scene made the White Wizard seem to be nothing more than an old man lost in his musings, not the powerful and cunning wizard we know from The Lord of the Rings.

 

Bilbo finds the Ring

bilbo finds the ring

 

Not only was this scene different from the book, but it was also different from how it was depicted in The Fellowship of the Ring film. In the book, Bilbo falls down through goblin tunnels into a pitch black passage below. As he is feeling his way around he finds the Ring, which Gollum unknowingly dropped. In The Fellowship of the Ring, this is what appears to have happened as well. It’s just a small scene with the Ian Holm Bilbo. He is clearly in a dark passage feeling around on the ground when he discovers the ring. In An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo falls down the tunnel, gets knocked out, conveniently in a patch of glowing mushrooms, and when he wakes up he sees Gollum drop the ring and then goes and picks it up. It may not seem like a huge difference, but when you’re doing everything you can to connect LOTR and The Hobbit, even down to the same characters, scenes, and even repeating dialogue, why change a scene so drastically?

 

Mirkwood

mirkwood

 

In the film, it feels like Thorin and Company are in the forest for only a very short time before they run into the spiders, but in the book they spend a month navigating the mysterious forest. Mirkwood is one of the most fascinating settings of the whole book. It’s a dark, dense forest full of peril including an enchanted stream that the company is warned not to touch, but of course Bombur falls in causing him to fall into a deep sleep. This scene would not only add a bit of that Middle Earth magic to the movies, but it would be hilarious watching the rest of the company struggle to carry the fattest dwarf. They are also warned not to leave the path, and of course they do, trying to reach what appears to be a feast happening off in the woods, but every time the hungry company enters the ring of lights, they shut off. Eventually the spiders find them, and then the elves who capture them thinking they were trying to attack their feast.

 

Lake-Town

LakeTown

 

Most of the events that take place in Lake-Town are pointless filler not found in the book. First of all,instead of the Company going straight to the Master of Lake-Town as in the book, they pointlessly sneak around and hide. Perhaps this is to create tension between Bard and the Master, or because Thranduil is much less forgiving than in the book and Bard fears he will be angry for harboring his prisoners, but once the dwarves finally present themselves to the Master, he agrees to support their quest, much like he does in the book. The Master is a greedy politician, but he is no antagonist and he and Bard are actually meant to be on friendly terms.

 

Bard

bard

 

The changes to Bard’s character make him less interesting as well. In the film he is a bargeman who is at odds with the Master who fears he is the leader of a rebellion. The book’s Bard, however, makes far more sense to the grander story. He is the descendant of the Lord of Dale, and he is also a captain of a company of town archers.Not only is he a skilled archer, giving him the ability to fight Smaug, but he has as much of a claim to the treasure as the dwarves, being the one who killed the dragon, and the true heir to another city destroyed by Smaug, just like Thorin’s old home.

 

Alfrid

alfrid

 

Alfrid is an exceptionally annoying addition to The Hobbit. He is basically a clone of Grima Wormtongue, and unless there is a race of Wormtongues running around Middle Earth that I have never heard about, it does not make sense to create a new character who is exactly like another character within the same world. It’s simply lazy and unoriginal.

 

The Fight with Smaug in Erebor

fight with Smaug

 

The great fight between Smaug and the dwarves never happens either. It’s another superfluous action scene. Sure, we see more of the dwarf kingdom, we witness more of Smaug doing mean dragon things, and we see the dwarves actually battling the dragon, but my logic with these scenes as with the events in Lake-Town is that if the film is going to maintain the same main events that occur in the book, why then make up random events that only delay the outcome, yet do nothing to advance the plot in any interesting way? This fight does not happen in the book, and nothing significant happens during the fight in the movie, and just like in the book, Smaug leaves The Lonely Mountain. If there is something important that happens during the fight that the filmmakers decided to add, then perhaps it would make more sense to include such a long, drawn-out scene, but this isn’t the case.

 

Love Triangle

love triangle

 

I love Kili, I love Tauriel, but I certainly do not love their romance. I can understand Kili thinking an elf is beautiful, I mean, Gimli became quite smitten with Galadriel after meeting her, but why would Kili fall in love with her so fast, especially when he’s on a mission to reclaim his homeland. He’s a young, brave, stubborn dwarf and his quest would come before anything, including love. And why would Tauriel ever fall in love with Kili? Why would she abandon her feelings for Legolas and decide to love a dwarf she doesn’t even know? This added romance is a real shame because the relationship between Tauriel and Legolas is quite interesting and seemingly complicated, and then this contrived plot line completely undermines it.

 

The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies

batle of the 5 armies

 

While there are some good parts of this movie, much of it is just a mess. There are far too many plots to tie up. There’s Smaug, the Necromancer, Azog, Bolg, there’s the love triangle, there’s what’s going on with the Master, Alfrid, and Lake-Town, there’s 13 dwarves to keep track of and Thorin becomes an absolute nightmare possessed by the Arkenstone, there’s Thranduil and Bard and all their armies, there’s another dwarf riding a hog, there’s worms that show up once never to be seen or heard from again… literally it’s a mess. The creators were far too ambitious, and committed some kind of hubris thinking it was fine to change The Hobbit so much, but it back-fired as seen with this last bloated movie. Peter Jackson managed to fit three giant novels into three amazing films with The Lord of the Rings, yet for some reason felt it was okay to stretch one children’s book into three giant films.

I could go on forever about these movies, mostly about what I don’t like, but that’s not to say I entirely hated every minute of them. I do like the first movie, since it introduces many of the characters I enjoy and doesn’t have a chance to become as complicated as the following films. Even the last two have some redeeming factors, but I will never understand why so much was changed and why so much nonsense was added. I’m sure I’ll continue to watch them from time and time, but I can’t help but feel disappointed when I think about how great The Hobbit could have been.

Gandalf vs. Dumbledore: Which Wizard Wins

There’s no doubt that Dumbledore and Gandalf are two of the greatest wizards the world has ever seen. Not only do they possess great power, but also great determination to stand by those who fight against evil. Both are mentors to many and beacons of hope to all those who wish to see good prevail. And not to mention, they both have mad old man style. It’s hard so say who would win between two such noble wizards, so please, take off your hats, bow your heads in reverence, and let’s show these two some respect as we do our best to compare their wizard might.

There are a few different categories we will look at to help define what exactly constitutes a good wizard. Here’s what we will cover: magical spells, magical weapons and items, renown, allies, knowledge, and overall power. I would add a riddles or stories category, but Dumbledore and Gandalf would go blue in the face trying to out wit and one up each other, and we don’t have that kind of time. So before we begin, let’s learn a bit of history about these two wise wizards.

Gandalf

Gandalf is one of the many Ainur, or spirits who were created by the god Ilúvatar to help in the shaping of Middle Earth. He is also one of the Istari, or wizards, who were sent to dwell in the physical world to aid against evil-doers like Morgoth and his successor, Sauron. Yeah, Gandalf isn’t even a real person. He’s some kind of angel type thing sent by god to help the lowly peoples of Middle Earth. Gandalf has proven himself time and time again to be instrumental in many of the great events that have shaped Middle Earth; but of course, Gandalf’s greatest task, probably the reason he was sent, was to be an aid in the destruction of the One Ring. He was the leader of The Fellowship of the Ring, while it lasted and after becoming Gandalf the White, he continued as a great leader to all the free peoples of Middle Earth. He fought in such battles as Helms Deep, The Battle of the Pelennor, and the Battle of the Morannon at the very gates of Mordor. Gandalf is quite the stern old man, but he also loves engaging in cheeky banter.

Dumbledore

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore was born a half-wizard in the summer of 1881 in Mould-of-the-Wold, England. With a name such as that, you know he has to be something special. He began studies at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft of Wizardry in 1892, and was sorted into the Gryffindor house. During his seven years at the school he had many notable achievements including publishing papers, winning the Barnabus Finkley Prize for Exceptional Spell-Casting, becoming a prefect in his fifth year, and being made Head Boy in his seventh year… yes, he’s quite the over achiever. Later he returned to Hogwarts as Professor of Transfiguration, and as we well know, went on to become headmaster of Hogwarts. He has many other noteworthy accomplishments including the discovery of the twelve uses of dragon blood, and the founding of the Order of the Phoenix. It was also his planning and foresight that set events into motion allowing for Voldemort’s defeat. He can also be a stern, terrifying man at times, but he’s also a silly old wizard with a love for candy.

Now that we know a bit more about our good wizards, let the battle begin!

Round One: Magical Spells

The most important aspect of a wizard is magic! We all know this. While both wizards have a formidable command of magic, Dumbledore has more spells in his bag of tricks. With the wave of his wand he can unlock doors, make water appear, disarm foes, create light, or even kill someone if he so desired. There are probably an endless amount of spells at Dumbledore’s bidding, and he undoubtedly has the ability to learn any new ones or even create his own. While we do see Gandalf do some cool spells like shoot light from his staff and ward off fire attacks from the Balrog, he still can’t apparate or turn people into animals, even though he may threaten it. Gandalf is a great wizard, but when it comes to spells, he needs to take some classes from professor Dumbledore. Sorry Gandy, this round goes to Dumbledore!

Gandalf: 0

Dumbledore:1

Round Two: Magical Weapons and Items

A wizard also needs certain tools and instruments to aid in his magical prowess. Gandalf’s main weapon is his staff. He also wears the ring of fire, Narya. This is no small trinket, but a mighty ring of power that was gifted to him by its original Elven owner. That’s how cool he is. Elves just give him magical ruling rings to wear. However,

The Elder Wand

The Elder Wand

Dumbledore also wields a mighty weapon: the Elder Wand. It isthe most powerful wand known to exist and is rumored to have been created by Death himself. Dumbledore also has a huge collection of interesting magical objects like the deluminator, which can steal light and then replace it; magical pictures that move and interact with anyone in the room; and the pensive where he stores memories. Gandalf would be be speechless in Dumbledore’s office with all the magical trinkets, and would probably want to carry a few off for study. I’m not sure if we really ever seen Gandalf completely flabbergasted by something, but this would be the one time he just wouldn’t know what to do with himself. Good job Dumbledore!

Gandalf: 0

Dumbledore: 2

Round Three: Renown

What good is a wizard if there are no tales of his deeds? He cannot inspire hope into people if no one knows who he is. He cannot have any power over a situation if people cannot put their trust in him. We know this isn’t the case for our two good wizards. Both are known far and wide throughout their respective lands. When troubling times arise, everything seems hopeless until Gandalf and Dumbledore arrive on the scene; then those around them feel as if they can conquer anything, and their dark foes tremble at their sight. It’s probably quite annoying sometimes, having to run all over the place in Gandalf’s case, or meticulously plot out plans like Dumbledore does. But they don’t complain…much. Gandalf’s many names are a true witness of his great renown; everyone calls him something different depending on tales of his deeds. Word of Dumbledore’s fame is so powerful that he is said to be the only wizard Voldemort ever feared. For this round, it’s a clear tie.

Gandalf: 1

Dumbledore: 3

Round Four: Allies

Wise wizards surround themselves with wise friends. Both Dumbledore and Gandalf know this, and know that the power behind good friends and good counsel goes a long way against the forces of evil. Dumbledore has many close friends who helped him in hard times and who were loyal to him, even to the point of death. Such wizards included McGonagall, Snape, Lupin, the Weasley’s, and many other powerful and wonderful witches and wizards.

Aragorn, Elrond, and Galadriel

Aragorn, Elrond, and Galadriel

Although I am partial to Dumbledore’s allies, as they are all very lovable, Gandalf wins this round. Some of his notable allies include Elrond, Galadriel, Thorin Oakenshield, Theoden, and Aragorn, all of which are kings and queens of respected kingdoms in Middle Earth. Those are definitely some friends in high places.

Gandalf: 2

Dumbledore: 3

Round Five: Knowledge

One of the last, yet most important aspects of a wizard is his knowledge, or how wise he is. We’ve stressed, several times, how incredibly wise both these wizards are, but is one perhaps wiser than the other? I will argue that Gandalf is by far the wisest of the two. Not only was he created before Middle Earth, but he spent much of his time learning from Elves who are also immortal. No amount of knowledge that Dumbledore possesses can compare to the vast amount of information that Gandalf has learned from Ilúvatar, the other Ainur, Elves, the other inhabitants of Middle Earth, books, scrolls, and other artifacts recounting he history of the world. Like we learned before, Gandalf is a spirit. He’s immortal. He pretty much knows everything there is to know, or has the means to access it.

Gandalf: 3

Dumbledore: 3

Final Round: Overall Power

We’re on our last round and our two wizards are tied! It’s been a close call so far, and I’m sure, Depending on preference, either wizard could win for most people. But I do believe we have a clear winner, and that is Gandalf. Although he may not seem to have the most or even the best spells or the best magical items, a human wizard like Dumbledore just can’t compare to an immortal being like Gandalf. His skills as a wizard are not something that he studied and learned. These were given to him by Ilúvatar. Gandalf is not a mere man who knows how to do magic, he is a spirit or something equivalent to an angel. And let’s not forget, Gandalf is immortal. He was indeed slain by the Balrog, but was sent back as Gandalf the White to finish his task. As powerful as Dumbledore was, he could not achieve immortality. I do think that if it came down to a fight, Dumbledore could give Gandalf a run for his money, but I still don’t think all his skills and might are a match for an Istari. Actually, if it came down to it, instead of fighting, the two would probably just go to a local pub, Gandalf with his pipe and Dumbledore with some licorice snaps and butter beer, and they would share stories as old wizards do.

Gandalf: 4

Dumbledore: 3

GANDALF WINS!

hobbiton13

My Top 10 Games of All Time

With so many great games in existence, it’s hard to pick which ones make it on a top 10 list, but we all have those specific games we hold dear in our hearts. Whether they strike a chord of nostalgia, reminding us of simpler days, or whether they have captured us with their excellent quality, certain games leave a mark and we find ourselves replaying them time and time again. I have 10 games that have been my favorites for years, and probably will continue to be for many years to come.

10. Minecraft

minecraft-1106252_1280

Yes. Minecraft. It made my top 10. Although I’m no longer married, the first time I played this game was on the eve of getting engaged, and it quickly became one of my ex’s and my favorite past times, so I have many fond memories of playing. I’ve continued to play throughout the years, either solo, or with others, usually kids.

That’s one reason I love this game so much. It’s completely accessible to people of all ages, backgrounds, and play styles. All you have to do is jump into the game and a vast world of adventure and endless possibilities unfold before you. You can explore, create, fight hoards of mobs, build a portal to the nether, kill the Ender Dragon, or if you have the skill and the patience you can build masterpieces like castles or settings from movies.

My favorite thing has always been to start a world in survival mode, gather supplies, and then build a house. It sounds mundane, but that’s the beauty of the game, because each time I play, my experience is different. I usually play good old vanilla minecraft, but mods are another great way to add even more versatility to an already excellent game.

9. Legend of Mana

legend of mana

I first played this game on the Playstation when I was a kid, and I can still remember how I felt transported into this rich world. The art, the music, the stories, the characters; everything in this game melds together to form nothing short of a masterpiece. After my initial playthrough, I probably hadn’t thought much about the game for many years, as I had many other games to take up my time, but Legend of Mana flitted back into my consciousness and I’ve replayed it multiple times since.

This game involves many different aspects you can choose to partake in like raising pets who can fight alongside you, crafting weapons, armor, and items to aid in your quests, and making musical instruments used to entice spirits. Your character also receives artifacts from different characters that you then must place on a world map to form brand new settings to explore, each with their own set of unique characters and quests for you to interact with.

Each playthrough, I’m still fascinated by these different characters, all with their own interesting stories that you become entangled in. There’s pirates at a lake with an insecure captain, fairies in the forest who mistrust humans, students in a desert who are fed up with school, thieves in search of the cores of a mysterious race called the Jumi, and so many more, all who make the world of mana vibrant and magical to explore.

8. Jak II

jak2

I still remember the first time I saw Jak and Daxter on the PS2. Already being a fan of cartoonish platformers like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, this game peaked my interest and far exceeded my expectations. In what other similar games could you stand on the beach and watch the sun rise and set? The world of Jak and Daxter, full of eco, dark matter, and strange creatures was, and still is, exciting to explore.

So when Jak II came out, of course I bought it, and I was even more surprised. Naughty Dog transformed a simple, kid’s platformer into an open world shooter, perfectly blending aspects of some of my other favorite games. Instead of a singular and linear story, now Jak and his furry friend receive missions from and for a gang of some rough-around-the edges characters. Their mission is to take down the Baron and to expose his links to the treacherous metalheads seeking to overrun the city.

The world is fun to explore. There’s missions that take you out into the wilds of the world, like the pumping station or the metal head infested Old Town, or down into the sewers, or even into the Baron’s fortress. There’s side missions like orb collection or races through the city on your zoomer or hoverboard. I’ve played this game so many times, on PS2, Vita, and even PS4, and I’m sure I will continue to play it for years to come.

7. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

halo

Not only did this game revolutionize the gaming world, but it changed my life. Ok, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but it’s also kind of true. Up until this point I avoided first person shooters because I was terrible at them, but I picked up this game and never wanted to put it down. It also tore me away from my Playstation 2 and for years to come I became an Xbox player.

I have fond memories of playing this game with friends, and I still remember the parties my brother had. He and all his high school friends gathered in my parent’s basement with such teenage delights as pizza, mountain dew, and snacks, and then they proceeded to play halo into the wee hours of the morning. On my summer breaks, I would play Halo all night until the sun came up.

Besides the fond memories and excellent gameplay, Halo has a great story that unfolds as you play as the epic Master Chief, stranded on an alien world with a dark secret. Each level is filled with Covenant buildings and artifacts that draw you deeper into the world. I became so invested in the lore that I read many of the books and of course I bought each subsequent game, and probably will until they stop making them. I absolutely adore Halo: Combat Evolved, but Anniversary is an amazing update to an wonderful game.

6. Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2

This was the first, and honestly only MMORPG that I have ever gotten into. I do play Elder Scrolls Online from time to time, but Guild Wars 2 completely captured me for a long time, and I still find myself playing. I’ve tried others, even World of Warcraft, but I could never justify paying monthly subscription fees. It’s funny I say that because besides throwing down some serious cash for Guild Wars expansions, I’ve paid extra money for character slots and costumes. That just goes to show how much I love this game.

I’d spend days on end playing for hours at a time, oftentimes all night long. I’ve played through the main quest many times with my different characters, I’ve played the expansion quests, and I’ve worked my way through a lot of the additional quests and achievements. I have every profession and I level each one up to completion, including both specialties.

This game rises to the top of MMO’s for me mainly because of the gorgeous graphics. The world is flush with beautiful scenery from the lakes and forests of Kryta, to the jungles of Maguma, to the frosted mountains of the Northern Shiverpeaks, and the sandy wastelands of the Crystal desert. Like many of my favorite games, the world of Guild Wars 2 is full of NPC’s with different events and tasks for you to do, and I know, until they release a new game, I’m going to continue to play for a long time.

5. Fable 2

Fable II

Along with the Halo franchise, Lionhead’s Fable games were another reason I became bound to Xbox. After experiencing Fable, I had to keep playing any other releases, because I don’t think I had ever quite played anything like them before. I used to think Fable was my favorite of the trilogy, and I still enjoy it, but it’s more of a nostalgia trip. Fable II, on the other hand, is a fantastic game that still holds up to this day.

The creators took successful elements from Fable and expanded on them creating a full and immersive game. It’s open world, allowing you to explore the many different areas, like the picturesque Bower Lake, or the eerie forest of of Wraithmarsh. The legends of the Heroes Guild are faint, but enough for you to pick up the threads and guide you along as you learn to use your Hero powers in order to stop Lucien, the main antagonist.

Like in Fable, you can choose to do good deeds or bad, and the way the characters and world responds to you varies by your choices. You can also use your different gestures- learned as renown grows- to affect people’s perception of you and many characters will give you gifts and even fall in love with you. Buying buildings throughout the world is another option and your Hero can set rent prices. Honestly, there are just so many fun aspects of this game, and I always look on it fondly.

4.Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Zelda

Picking a favorite Zelda game is like picking your favorite child, but I figured for my purposes, I probably should make a choice. So, it has to be Ocarina of Time. I actually was never fortunate enough to have an Nintendo 64 until I was in high school, so I probably didn’t play Ocarina until around 5 years after its release, but I was still blown away. I had played a few of the older Zelda’s and I watched my dad play the original on Nintendo many times, so playing Ocarina and experiencing Link and the lush world of Hyrule in 3D felt truly special.

Ocarina still provides all the classic Zelda elements like puzzle solving, dungeons crawling, the well-known characters: Link, Zelda, and Ganon; and of course, it has the familiar story of a young swordsman saving a princess who has been captured by an evil, shapeshifting monster. This game, however, introduces some beloved elements like Link’s trusty steed, Epona, and of course, the ocarina. Playing songs to unlock different areas and items is such a fun mechanic, and those songs and the ways to play them are still stuck in my head.

The characters are fun and memorable like your helper Navi and her “Hey, listen!” There’s the Gorons, a clan of rock people who make another appearance in Wind Waker, the Zoras in their water kingdom, and the mysterious Sheik who aids you in your quest. When I think of Zelda, many of these characters are what pop into my head first, making Ocarina of Time one of the most memorable and best games I have ever played.

3. Grand Theft Auto: V

GTA V

When I was a kid, I played the hell out of Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City, so much so that I had the maps memorized. I played much of San Andreas, and somehow missed IV, but V came out with a bang. It’s the biggest, baddest, and best of the franchise and its arguably one of the best games ever made.

If you haven’t noticed, I love open world games, and this might be one of the largest maps I’ve ever played, so for me, its absolute bliss to get to explore that vast world of San Andreas. As a kid I mostly just drove around and let my brother beat missions to open up the bridges to other islands, but with GTA: V, I wanted to play as much as I could.

This is the first game in the series that has 3 playable characters which makes for nothing short of an interesting story. Franklin is my favorite character. I feel like he is the most honest of the three, but watching Michael deal with his crazy family is entertaining, and I can’t deny that even Trevor’s psychotic antics are captivating, even if its like watching a literal and proverbial train wreck. With GTA V, it’s always a good time.

2. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

I love my RPG’s, I’m sure that much is evident by now, and The Witcher 3 is only one of the greatest role playing video games ever made. I actually had never played the previous games and was unfamiliar with the story, but this one looked too good to pass up, so I quickly immersed myself in the Witcher world, and I’m glad I did. I love dark fantasy, so this right up my alley. I definitely wouldn’t want to live in this tough world, but to play as the badass Geralt, is definitely a treat.

As a witcher, it’s your job to help the people of The Continent deal with all sorts of mystical and magical creatures like vampires, spectres, cursed ones, draconids, and the list goes on. This bestiary is full of D&D like monsters, many of which are pretty spooky, to say the least. The Wild Hunt, the biggest antagonists present a formidable force for Geralt and friends as well.

Not only is Geralt an alluring character, but so are the many other people you come across in your travels like the mysterious sorceress Yennefer, who obviously has some kind of connection with Geralt. Then there is Triss, another sorceress who also has some sort of relationship with Geralt, saucy, I know. We can’t forget the frivolous Dandelion, who is something else, to say the least, and then there’s the serious Ciri, the person that Geralt spends most of the game searching out. And let’s not forget about the exceptional DLC that adds even more content to this already substantial game.

1. Skyrim

Skyrim

I’ll admit, I never played any of the earlier Elder Scrolls game because I just never got into them. As I mentioned, I do play Elder Scrolls Online occasionally, but that’s mainly to keep me from playing Skyrim over and over again. I’ve played it three times so far, on the Xbox, PC, and PS4, and one of the reasons I’m looking forward to getting the Switch is so I can have a portable Skyrim. Yep. The love runs deep.

I bleed RPG and this is the master of them all. The game is almost 10 years old and still holds up, and still holds the top spot for greatest RPG ever. Although we do see better graphics today, when it came out in 2011 it was revolutionary, and I think it still holds up alright. What really makes Skyrim rise above the rest, though, is its replayability. From your character choices to the many quests available and the different factions you come across, you can have a unique playthrough each time. So far I’ve made a Redguard, an Imperial, and a Dunmer and each have been a part of different factions and have had varying choices affecting who the game unfolds.

Beyond the graphics and the gameplay options, one of the best parts of Skyrim is the lore. I love big, fleshed out worlds (The Lord of the Rings are my favorite books and movies), and Skyrim offers up a setting that truly feels lived in. There’s towns full of people with shops, gods and goddess to worship, family secrets, and quests sending you off to explore. Between the towns and cities lay a vast wilderness with caves, mines, mountains, shrines, and all kinds of locations to discover. I’m also obsessed with the books you find, offering up more of the Elder Scrolls lore. I could go on and on about Skyrim, so I’ll end here by saying, FUS-RO-DAH!