The Mule – Movie Review

Clint Eastwood’s final ride. An honest confessional, gritty and hard hitting piece about the importance of family, changing times and the price of redemption.

Clint Eastwood is one of the hardest working and most well respected and influential film makers in the business, period. After many years of solely being behind the camera, directing mostly bio-pics such as; Sully, The Jersey Boys and the 15:17 to Paris, Eastwood returns to acting/directing in lead role for The Mule.

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The last time we saw Eastwood on screen was in 2013’s baseball flick Trouble With The Curve, prior to which was 2008’s renowned Gran Torino, the latter being more relevant to this new release, at least for certain story cues and overarching themes. More on how that ties in later.

This film sees Eastwood as Earl Stone who’s a respected, popular and award winning horticulturalist who always seemed to put his career before his family. Throughout the movie we see the effects and the leading double life that ends up taking on new meaning when he loses his farm and eventually gets involved in drug trafficking for a shady Mexican drug cartel.

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It’s a story of an evolving climate and how the world around our leading man has changed so much throughout the decades and this is expressed in a multitude of ways in the movie, both in subtle and nuanced ways and also in very crass, blunt and blindingly obvious statements and observations.

What we know about Earl is that he is far behind on the times, he hates the constant use of smartphones, the internet, the lack of meaningful social interaction and the climate of PC culture. All of these points are addressed through different methods and at times, whilst it can seem shocking or offensive to some, with Eastwood’s character throwing around racially insensitive slurs towards Mexicans, black people and other minorities as well as casually remarking about dykes on bikes, it fits the character well and adds to the gritty realism of the picture.

Desperation and wanting to hold onto glory are big themes throughout the film and naturally this transpires from award winning flowers to essentially becoming the most successful drug trafficker, enjoying the spoils and savouring a taste of being filthy rich and taking risks and the price of infamy, all in the cost of making a name for one’s self and being a somebody.

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A cost however, not only in a monetary sense. Earl Stone neglects his family, he misses his daughter’s wedding in the introductory moments of the movie and this sets up the fact that he wasn’t there for them when they needed him to be a father, or even a grandfather. Despite his best efforts to change and the extreme lengths he goes to throughout the picture, completing a total of over ten high risk and reward runs for the cartel, Eastwood proves that no matter what you can’t buy time, you can’t just purchase happiness and that the cost of redemption ultimately comes at the steepest price.

With all that said, It’s a beautifully directed movie as one would expect from someone with Eastwood’s extensive pedigree. This is a Malpaso/Warner Brothers production after all, behind or in-front of the camera, the man is always doing an exceptional job and has done ever since his earliest directorial efforts with 1971’s Play Misty For Me and 1973’s High Plains Drifter. Despite it’s more small scale and grounded setting, Eastwood’s typical sharp style and flair is present throughout. It feels real, we are dragged into this world, into this situation and it is at times intense which only ever adds to it.

Eastwood isn’t playing a gunslinger, he isn’t a bodyguard for the president, nor a no-nonsense San Francisco cop, but an old man doing anything and everything he can to make things right. The duality of the movie’s core themes is expanded upon with the cat and mouse chase as opposing rival DEA special agent, played by Bradley Cooper (American Sniper) is hot in pursuit. Eastwood and Cooper’s interactions for me were in my eyes some of the most standout moments throughout the picture. Every time these two were on screen together exchanging words it felt entirely sincere and genuine, especially towards the end. The chemistry on screen and the sharpness of the writing does not dull for a second, the cast here in general are truly standout throughout, especially with Eastwood’s daughter Alison, who brings a whole new dimension to the grit and realism on screen.

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The pacing of the flick moves along nicely that allows the slower moments time to breath but also glosses over the less important details. It’s the rule of show don’t tell, and this is form of visual storytelling and symbolism is explored in clever ways that will make you appreciate certain parts of the film; mostly each drug run and the way the rise and fall arc is presented here.

Some of the greatest parts of this film are the small details which Eastwood always has a genuine talent for in many of his directed pieces, from the way that Earl casually sings along to songs blasting from his Lincoln on every run, to the Korean war veteran sticker on the back of the car, subtly telling the audience that this man isn’t someone to fuck with. There is depth and subtext to a movie which is quite simple in scope and premise.

Here’s where the subtext began to bleed in whilst I was watching the movie, It’s in everything from how Earl thinks and speaks to the relationship with his family. Eastwood himself was always working and essentially put film making before his own children at certain times of their lives, he’s been married several times and even has a total of eight children himself. Through Earl I believe Eastwood echoes the sentiment of sincerity and almost uses this film as a platform to do so.

The times are changing and he’s older generation, he wasn’t there for his family and now in the twilight of his life he is making up for that lost time and doing right by them. In many ways, the violent and drug fueled story presented in The Mule feels like an allegorical way for Eastwood to say all the things he feels that were previously left unsaid and to make a change.

I really do not want to ruin this movie for anyone and there’s no accounting for personal taste, but I genuinely really loved The Mule. It’s gritty, powerful, moving and real. It tells a story of loss, pain, family and redemption and it’s masterfully acted, directed and acted by all involved. It’s a must see for any Eastwood fan or film goer in general who can handle some old world thinking. Don’t let PC culture dampen your expectations for the film, go with an open mind and come out with your own thoughts.


Soilwork – Verkligheten Album Review

Swedish melodic metallers return for a solid, if inconsistent, neon soaked inspired journey through a retro backdrop.

Verkligheten (Translated from Swedish meaning ‘Reality’) marks the longest duration between major releases in the band’s history, a gap of just over three and a half years, following on from 2015’s The Ride Majestic. In that time, frontman and vocalist Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid, released three albums under his classic rock project, The Night Flight Orchestra, and it is clear that the influence shows and the lines between the two bands begin to blur.

The album starts with a beautiful and uplifting, but brief, instrumental synth piece leading in to arguably the album’s best song, Arrival. This was the first single to be released alongside the announcement of a new tour, and the album cycle release and it set the bar for a high standard. Right away, the soaring lead playing and bright upbeat energy of David and Slyvain’s masterful guitar playing, coupled with the powerful blast beats of album newcomer drummer Bastian Thusgaard set up Bjorn’s charging growls excellently from beginning to end. Bjorn, as ever sounds amazing.

Arrival was the barrier to entry as far as I was concerned and I become somewhat worried with the release of the two other singles that followed, Full Moon Schoals and Stålfågel. These two songs represent a progression to a tamer but tighter focus on the main chorus hooks as opposed to the rest of the song, where the intros in both of these tracks, coupled with verses, felt like a means to an end rather than the main event.

That said, both of these songs feature ear-worm choruses that sound big, anthemic and are among some of the biggest highs on the album that are bursting with passion and feeling. This is however where the album begins to show its biggest weakness, and in short, it is the fact that the beginning being so promising only sets up the middle portion to ultimately fall behind as a result.

The mid portion of the album, largely spanning the length between tracks; When the Universe Spoke and Witan, in my opinion blend together in a way that makes them hard to distinguish and analyse entirely on their own. When every song on this release features a stellar chorus that bolsters them from being average, it can be hard to get too excited about Soilwork just going through the motions and playing to their formula strengths a little too closely to their chest.

It is the last few songs here that not only excite and invigorate, but also serve to essentially pump a breath of life into an album which would otherwise feel too long and too samey for the sake of it. The Ageless Whisper and Needles and Kin are classic Soilwork to a tee, benefiting from that fresh gleam of paint and their cleaner production as of late. It makes me wish that we got more songs here that played to the unique strengths of the band’s more memorable elements rather than seemingly flying through on auto-pilot.

I mentioned The Night Flight Orchestra earlier, and the amount of albums released in such a short time, because there is clear NFO influence bleeding through into Soilwork here. I for one am a massive fan of both bands, however I feel that in removing some of the grit and sharp edge to the guitar tone, the impact of some of the riffs is diminished in places. It’s very clean, almost to a sterile shine that, whilst fitting in astoundingly well with Bjorn’s angelic and moving clean vocals, unfortunately weakens the power and effect of his growls and harsh vocal performance.

What we have as a result is a fun, enjoyable album that does not quite reach the heights of what I believe to be their finest hour, 2013’s double album The Living Infinite, or is it as aggressive or dark as their previous album, 2015’s The Ride Majestic. Soilwork are a band that have carved out an identity all their own, it seems in trying to shake up their tried and true formula, they may have sacrificed some of their core as a result.

I read one review saying that this would be the darkest and most epic Soilwork album ever written, and whilst I can see where they are coming from, I cannot compare Verkligheten’s themes, instrumentals etc. to prior works like The Chainheart Machine, Stabbing The Drama or A Predator’s Portrait, at least when it comes to what to expect.

This is a newly refined and hungry version of Soilwork, adapting and learning from years of outside influence and once again carving out their own path as they forge ahead anew. This album takes risks and simultaneously takes it safe in places, however you can never move forward and make progress without a little trial and error. In conclusion, this is a catchy, fun and heavy album that does just enough to carry through its lengthy fifty minute run-time whilst losing a little identity in the progress, and the band’s bravery should be commanded. Sail on Soilwork, sail on!

The Best Metal Albums of 2018

The previous year brought us some outstanding releases from bands old and new, especially in the field of extreme metal, which is largely what we will be focusing on tonight.

It’s taken a long time for me to compile my thoughts and reign in what I believe to be the best of the year, with that said and in no particular order; Pit of Plagues presents the best metal albums of 2018.


Mol – Jord

In April, Mol finally released their debut album Jord, a crushing mix of black metal riffs and atmospheric beauty, in the vein of bands such as Deafheaven and Alcest. However, what sets them apart is the emotional range of vocalist Kim and his unique approach to extreme vocals. The swelling depth to the masterful guitar work which weaves so eloquently in with the powerful reverb-heavy double kicks and blast beats, all culminates into a truly moving and beautiful experience unlike any other. I also had the pleasure to meet the band after their set performance at Damnation Festival which is what truly sold me on their style. Do not miss out on this band, they are something special.


Uada – Cult of a Dying Sun

Melodic black metal newcomers Uada return with an astounding second album, Cult of a Dying Sun. This release is something which genuinely caught me off-guard as before Cult, I never knew of the band and quickly fell in love. Dripping with punishing choking melodies, brutal rhythms and a horrific blackened demonic vocal performance. The album has elements of latter-era Paradise Lost with the slow-winding lead playing coupled with the edge of Dissection and technicality of Emperor. For fans of melodic metal, this is for you. For people who enjoy their metal black, this is for you. It is almost transcendental of genre due to the magnitude and scope of the release and should not be skipped over.


Gra – Vasen

Over the last year or two Gra have genuinely become one of my favourite bands and their brand of cold old-school black metal is something that I cannot get enough of. Known as the vocalist of Dark Funeral, Heljarmadr’s guitar playing and outstanding voice lend itself beautifully to a vicious attack on the senses. It is a little more melodic, tamer and composed than Ending but the Norse blood runs cold in these veins. It will not re-invent the wheel but it just might set the world alight.


At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself

The masters of Melodic Death Metal return. Gothenburg’s lasting legacy is safe in the hands of At The Gates and on album six they prove it with flying colours. Following up on 2014’s comeback album, At War With Reality, Drink has more of a sharp edge to it. The refined old-school riffs are reminiscent of The Red in the Sky is Ours especially but with the benefits of time and modern production. It’s fierce and does not sacrifice what made them the monumental name in death metal that they became. It’s everything you could ever want from them perfected to a tee.


Obscura – Diluvium

The level of technicality and in-your-face guitar riffs make this album a stand out in and of itself. As far as technical death metal goes, of recent years many bands in that genre have began to sound so similar. Where the level of playing and showman performance outshines and washes out the potential for strong songwriting. Obscura have managed once again to write a catchy, heavy and impressive album that empowers the listener like few other albums I heard last year. Immense would be the best way to describe the layers and depth to what Obscura have dropped.


1914 – Blind Leading The Blind

Horrifying. That’s the only way to accurately try to summarise my thoughts on 1914’s latest album. It’s a release that has genuinely haunted me since I first heard it months ago, and this is due largely in part to the brutal riffs, the hollow agonised screams and the expert use of sampling that features throughout. This album tells a grand story on both sides, the futility of The Great War as pictured for both the Axis and the Allies. I can’t say I enjoyed every moment of it, I think enjoyment is not the right word. It’s an experience, it’s visceral. As dark and savage in tone as subject matter, this is essential listening.


Behemoth – I Loved You At Your Darkest

I still cannot put into words what this album means to me. From the album title itself, the fact I have their symbols inked on my arms, and the overall message is clear to me. As Nergal said once, they couldn’t top The Satanist, at least in terms of the title and its impact, so they went a different direction. Darkest is tamer in places and features acoustic guitar parts, clean singing in choruses and less sharpness when it comes to guitar tone and production. However, all of these artistic choices culminate together for a more refined, mature and artistic album as a result. It is catchy, It is memorable and it gets their new message across. The Satanist was the band proving they were back after Nergal was diagnosed with Leukemia, that they were defiantly taking a stand. Darkest is more comfortable, Behemoth are back on top and more free with nothing to prove anymore.


Sargeist – Unbound

The best that Finland has to offer, a band which has never done any wrong. Sargeist have never strayed far from their roots of second-wave black metal but have become masters of the craft. At the end of the night, it’s all about the riffs, blastbeats and shrieking vocals. Unbound is the latest step closer towards perfecting their sound and coming into their own. They haven’t done anything to massively shake the foundations of the genre, but they will never have to. Hail Sargeist!


Dir En Grey – The Insulated World

Perhaps Japan’s greatest and most diverse metal band, Dir En Grey’s latest offering following up 2014’s Arche, is a triumphant return to their older style met with the grandiose scale of their last two albums. This album pulls its influences from all over the place, It’s impossible to nail down and pin point exactly what and who they are. Same time, Dir En Grey’s versatile approach to music is as fascinating now, ten albums in, as it was when they first hit the scene and all that they achieved throughout. The production is so off-kilter in an interesting way, Kyo has never sounded better, the guitar work is so varied and emotes so powerfully. It’s an album you have to hear to believe and its up there with Withering To Death, Gauze and The Marrow of Bone as their best. I had the pleasure to finally see them live back in October and they truly are one of the best bands in the world. Long may their chaos reign.


When Plagues Collide – Tutor of the Dying

Melodic, symphonic, brutal and overall heavy as fuck. When Plagues Collide’s debut album is absolutely outstanding. It’s dark and disgustingly gritty, paired with the violent vocal performances, pounding drums and savage guitar riffs. It’s modern, if this is the new age of Deathcore then I am fully supportive of a new rising blend of darkness.


Abandoned By Light – Our Fortress is the Rain – The Angel Experiment Part II

An outstanding masterclass in melancholic black metal from one of England’s most prolific creators of the cold and the dark. Not too much I can say on this one here as to not repeat myself but full review available on the site here:

Honourable Mentions:

Ghost – Prequelle
Megaherz – Komet
Abigor – Hollenzwang
Bloodbath – The Arrow of Satan is Drawn
Korpiklaani – Kulkija
Aborted – Terrorvision
Groza – Unified in Void
Watain – Wolf Trident Eclipse
Cryogenic Defilement – Worldwide Extermination

Ghost – Prequelle Album Review

The not-so Dark Ages, the Swedish metal outfit’s take on the black death.

It has been a difficult and troubling time for Ghost leader Tobias Forge in the last two years, following a very public lawsuit leading to his ghouls being fired and him taking up arms to helm an album entirely of his own vision with new talent onboard.

The resulting release is the 2018 album Prequelle which follows three years after the highly successful breakthrough album Meliora and is headed by Cardinal Copia (Forge) as the cult’s newest leader.

How does everything come together? Well in a word, polarising. There’s no doubt that what we are hearing is that of Ghost, there is the same focus on the old school sound and of course Forge’s operatic high vocals soaring across every track. However, It’s the song structures that have changed the most, as the sinister atmosphere and depth of prior records have been somewhat reduced and lost in translation in favour of more sweeping catchy choruses and conventional songwriting.


Instrumentally, Prequelle boasts some of Ghost’s best work yet with a real influence on the technical and rhythmic side being brought to the forefront as the 1980s flare is worn on its sleeve. Ghost are no longer a band mimicking that of Mercyful Fate or Blue Oyster Cult, this is instead a whole new interpretation of the material and it is demonstrated as that of an experience, a singular flowing dark show of epic proportion.

Yet it is in that side of the presentation where some of the cracks begin to show on the record. Prequelle’s high points are some of the highest that the band have ever reached before, case and point; Rats, Dance Macabre and Life Eternal taking center stage as quintessential songs from the band that can stand on their own as flawless metal tracks in their own right.

With that said, the songwriting takes a severe hit in the lyrical department. Unfortunately, the backstage drama of the last two years has crept its way into the songs on this album too in a way that is difficult to look passed. See the Light is about Forge coping with people giving him abuse online and tarnishing his reputation following the accusations brought up against him and it is presented in quite an unpleasant way where Forge is almost adding insult to injury.

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This is a different Ghost and this is very much Forge’s vision now wholly, he stated in interviews that the album would tackle a lot of dark subject matter and would do it whilst being bright and optimistic at the same time; wearing its heart on its sleeve and with a tongue firmly planted in cheek.

What we have here is a fantastic album but it leaves me wanting a lot more and asking where the other third of the release really is. There are two main instrumentals and whilst both of them are wonderfully performed, they mainly serve as roadblocks to halt the steady flow of the album. As a result, there is never a consistent tone or speed to a lot of what we hear. The release starts really strongly and winds up at the very end with a beautiful and moving closer however that still leaves the middle portion lacking.

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Pro Memoria for instance starts strongly but goes on for way too long and the instrumental lead in is used several times to daisy chain the other songs to it as if its being led up to. Yet, the song itself does not really go anywhere special in its almost six minute long run time. It’s equally as confusing when considering that it is sandwiched between the great Dance Macabre and the haunting, classic sounding Witch Image.

To summarise, Prequelle is a valiant effort that has a lot of good ideas and isn’t afraid to step out of the comfort zone and try something new and daring. Not everything pays off and the execution and questionable choices leave room for speculation, but these small issues do little to tarnish what an intriguing and catchy album that this album truly is. Sometimes when taking a bold step forward you have to take risks and not everything will pay off and I admire Ghost for taking that step, and I cannot wait to see what comes next.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins Game Review (PC)

Game reviewed before finishing The Hidden Ones DLC.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins redeemed my faith in the franchise following several iterative but enjoyable releases.

I went into this game with low expectations as I had been let down by the two prior games Unity and Syndicate especially. Origins changes a great amount of exactly what defines Assassin’s Creed and; in the wake of a movie, a sidescroller spin-off and a remaster collection, Origins innovated where it absolutely had to in order to keep the franchise alive.

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It’s an RPG now and plays similarly to something akin to The Witcher III: Wild Hunt and, while the obvious inspirations are clear, I believe that Origins does a lot of what Wild Hunt does better, this is mostly because of the benefit of time and Ubisoft’s much bigger studio and budget.

Sequences are gone and the modern story is all but non-existent. Throughout this experience missions can be tackled in any order that the player sees fit. This is where a major strength and weakness rears up, leveling. As stated previously; It’s an RPG, and with it comes all the trimmings and limitations of such a game type. On one hand, now your level actually matters (unlike in Syndicate or Unity) which makes the feeling of progression all the more noticeable. Throughout the game as you upgrade your health, armour, hidden blade and so on, you feel Bayek growing stronger and you grow with him as a player. It’s a welcome change.


That’s also where the major weakness truly comes into full force. Grinding is now a requirement in order to get your level up to participate in main story quests and in order to have a fighting chance in more advanced, and mostly more interesting side missions. I usually despise side missions in any open world game be it Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed or what have you and choose to ignore them 90% of the time. However, the grind of Origins was made all the more pleasant by the core gameplay loop being almost impossible to put down, everything plays so slick and smooth that the essential time-wasting you have to do honestly doesn’t feel like a chore, and here’s why.

They built everything from the ground up, the team behind the highly praised Assassin’s Creed IV : Black Flag poured everything they had time and resource wise into creating a truly unique experience. Individually the sum of its parts seem iterative of other properties, and that’s largely because they are, but it’s how it all comes together that makes everything so blissful. The combat, now completely redone, and sharing a lot in common with From Software’s Dark Souls. This time around; you have your two main selectable weapons and you have a light/heavy attack (mapped to the right trigger/bumper) as well as a drag step/slide/roll (dodge) button and a parry. Much like in Dark Souls, the shield functions much of the same way with blocking and parrying. The weapon selection this time around is plentiful and diverse more akin to the likes of Unity than the bare bones bore of Syndicate with; regular swords, sickle swords, dual swords, maces, two handed swords, spears and more. The combat takes a while to get used to and to some feels floaty and unfinished. In my opinion, from watching the combat you would probably think that too, it’s really something that you would have to play to properly grasp. More on that later.


Instead of the bombs of Revelations or the revolvers of Syndicate, this time around Bayek sports a whole fleet of varied bows as his main projectile weapon, and they work perfectly. You have a whole slew of differing types, which for the sake of time I will generalise in a modern context; Warrior bow (Fires four arrows at once, it’s basically a shotgun), Predator bow (one bolt-like arrow that is used like a sniper) Light bow (the rapid-fire sub-machine gun option) and your standard bow types. All are incredibly situational and fun to use.


Another major change to the formula this time around is in the scope of the game world. Black Flag was monumental upon its release and allowed you to travel massive distances across the Caribbean, Origins gives you the majority of Egypt to roam in and it is immense. Egypt’s game world is monolithic in a multitude of ways from the varied geographical differences you’ll encounter; crossing entire deserts, swamps, oceans, forests to the many civilisied towns you’ll find on your vast journey. It’s a very impressive technological feat for one, and the practicality of the game world as a whole makes exploring never feel pointless. If you’re not on horseback travelling to a mission, then you’re hunting wildlife for gear upgrades, diving below the water for sunken treasure, deep below a tomb discovering lost secrets of ancient times etc. It is a marvel to behold.



That’s everything Origins does differently, but what about what it keeps the same? Well we have a likable male protagonist who befalls tragedy which sends him on a revenge mission where he ultimately becomes something much bigger than himself. Sounds familiar right? It’s essentially the exact same setup that sets the stage for Ezio Auditore, Arno Dorian and arguably Connor Kenway.


That’s the major weakness of having a game of this size and scope with the approach to non-linear mission progression. Because everything isn’t in order, we just don’t get a story which is very evenly connected and as a result, we get a conclusion which will be lent over to DLC in order to properly conclude. As a narrative goes; It is simple and servicable but it’s frankly too disjointed to ever fully get engaged in, this is mostly due to the lack of direction and flow that work in tandem with gameplay and story, they just don’t gel well together. While I really like Bayek, Aya and the main cast of characters, there was little really keeping me invested in what exactly the story was.

In my mind, I had a set of targets to go after and kill. They were the highlight of the game, the assassination targets were more memorable than any of the cutscenes I sat through concluding the task. I remember the events leading up to a climatic battle with The Hyena, the satisfying victory over The Lion and the swift death of The Crocodile a lot more than I do the long and drawn out conversations with Cleopatra and Caeser.


That’s my main point really; It’s all in the gameplay this time around. If you have come for a satisfying story then you may leave empty handed and yet while the narrative may only be servicable at best, it’s the core gameplay loop that will keep you playing. Is that a bad thing in an AC game? I don’t think so. With that kind of scope, with this kind of world, it would be crazy to expect the same kind of narrative tightness that held Ezio’s three game linear journey together, especially as the gameplay of the older games faultered a lot more than it does now.

With all that said, that’s why this game has consumed so much of my life in recent weeks, because I am also finding new things to explore, missions I haven’t yet touched yet and competing in events such as finishing off the elite gladiator challenges or chariot races. I’m in love with how the game plays and it’s left me with a hunger for more as I get closer to finishing off The Hidden Ones DLC and begin looking forward to what’s promised with The Curse of the Pharaohs a little later in the year.


It’s really difficult to exactly nail down why I love this game so much, and I feel like you could do all the reading in the world about it, you watch every story cutscene on the internet and yet come away knowing little to nothing about the experience until you actually play through it yourself, and I encourage each and every person to. It’s a game you won’t soon forget, it won’t remain in your memory for the same reasons as the Ezio games but It is a great standalone RPG, a fantastic RPG and a bold leap forward for Assassin’s Creed, and in a direction that I hope they continue to innovate on in the future.

*All images used were taken in-game by me via Steam Cloud’s screenshot uploader.*