Part 26: Thorn Brenin and the Crippling Lack of DirectionThorn Brenin and the Crippling Lack of Direction
So I'm gonna be honest, the next couple updates don't have much to vote on. Sorry goons. It also kinda turns into rambling about characters we don't care about, so I'm gonna talk about another structural failure of the game's story.
: Use the spell anyway.
: You'll have to put every Ursus jailer to sleep and inform Thorn of your plans, lest he miss the opportunity to escape. It'll be tough, but the decisions been made. There's no going back now.
A lot of narratives, video game and otherwise will have some kind of powerful individual or set of hardships that stand in the way of the protagonists achieving their goals. It's an excellent way to define a character because who or what someone stands against can define a person just as surely as what they say or do.
: The innkeeper calms down instantly. He'll only remember what you told him. "I've just had a bad dream," he says, lifelessly. "I had a knot in my stomach because I drank raw water. Sir Rouley's been fast asleep all night."
So, can anyone identify the antagonists of this game? We are halfway through the game and no closer to understanding what the antagonists are or who they want.
We know there is some crap involving the menhirs gathering energy from people being tortured and killed and this is supposed to do a Super Duper Mega Bad Thing that the game is being remarkably coy about. It will surprise no one to learn that the SDMBT is one of the most cliched villainous plots in all of fantasy..
Now Thorn's direction right now is to try to save his kids, one of whom he handed off to the followers of a Reaper (hooray for clumsy foreshadowing) and the other who is going to be eaten by cannibals.
: You leap to your feet and find yourself facing Andra, who has managed to free herself. She stands next to... her mirror image. It must be Foshta, the twin sister she'd mentioned.
Now in the hands of a competent writer we would be emotionally invested in Thorn's escape, but we're not because there's no clear arc here. Hopper is told that Thorn is some kind of crappy whipping boy for destiny who needs to get to Opacum for reasons and can resist the Reaping because of magic bullshit. A narrative about Thorn trying to keep his children and friends safe in a broken world would be interesting, but this is explicitly not that.
: I cannot trust you and I'm not coming.
Goons voted not to trust Andra. I can't really say more without going into wink wink nudge nudge shit, but rest assured that their allegiance and characterization is later handled in the most idiotic way possible. Remember, these guys worked for Uncle Mammon.
: Too bad for you! No concern of mine. Can I at least count on your silence?
So right now we know that there is some kind of evil plan carried out by forces we personally will not interact with, in a world that I think is supposed to be fundamentally broken but the authors are incapable of presenting as such.
Remember how this game was a ripoff of Banner Saga? The game itself will try to be cute about this at certain points -
This is not the worst offense, but it is certainly something posted:
Presenting people who call you out on your lack of originality as violent fat drunks is certainly one way to handle criticism. Their choice to have the optimal solution be to attack their critics who rightfully call them on incompetence is also...something.
-but ultimately the Banner Saga writers were actually competent at setting the stakes and conveying that the world is fundamentally broken in a way Ash of Gods is not. In the Banner Saga the sun has stopped, the gods are dead, and the protagonists Rook and Alette are put into leadership positions leading a caravan of refugees fleeing an invasion by supernatural stone men. Constant battles with the stone men and the desperation of finding food in a literally dying and broken world sets the tone and stakes wonderfully in a way Ash of Gods just doesn't. Starvation and infighting break apart the remnants of civilization as it attempts to confront a supernatural threat in the absence of a higher power.
Now, this might sound suspiciously close to what Ash of Gods is trying to emulate with its millennial plague and weird masked weirdos committing mass slaughter to do a Bad Thing, but it completely fails to stick the landing. The Enses are clearly supposed to be the equivalent of the Dredge (the stone men) except we learn why the Dredge are antagonizing us and they're surprisingly human in motivation.
: You can't bring yourself to trust Brann's former mercenaries, so the sisters leave without you. Was that your only chance of escape? All you can do is entrust your life to the gods... and wait. Eventually, you doze off.
: You awaken with a jolt, as if you've been scalded. One glance through the bars is enough to confirm that your dream was truthful. The guards that had been patrolling the corridor are now sprawled unconscious on the floor. All you need to do is get out of your cell.
I suppose there is not a prison break (to my knowledge) in Banner Saga but I would rather have the competent character writing. Anyway, the Enses don't particularly fill in for the Dredge very well because while the Dredge turn out to be desperate refugees fleeing more of the broken world the Enses are just bad guys who build pyramids of blood that they literally murder children in front of. It's so sadistic and evil that I don't really care what explanation the game has to offer. In the hands of a competent writer they would be a satire at best.
Wow, fuck this game. Rather then having us just grab the keys off the sleeping guard, we need to break down a steel barred door and eat an injury in the process. Incidentally this means that Thorn is one KO away from permadying, and boy will that bite me in the ass later.
It doesn't matter what you pick here, you still get trapped into one of the worst fights in the game.
Anyway, where was I? So the Enses are irredeemably evil with no clear goals besides kicking puppies for Satan, and the Reapers are no better. Nakoma/Atraakh is having people killed for entertainment, but also having his inept commanders murder each other to command an invasion army to do an evil bad thing. I have no idea what the point of Dorpkhal was other than to show up and tell Thorn and Gleda how special they were.
Oh look, surrounded by the enemy with the worst party in the game. Don't mind me, there are going to be a lot of restarts here.
Unfortunately me leaving Thorn to die would not be canon and I suspect would be seen by the thread as a cheap cop-out.
Now we are going to compare this to the book of Job, which does the same things - a man struggles with God's will and the unfairness of the world. If you are being extremely generous you can compare the Reapers, Enses, and The Plague Not Appearing In This Game to how Job is basically punished on God's whim to test his faith.
I end up cheesing the fight by having Fisk put up his counterattack aura, buffing him to invincibility, and abusing the AI's tendencies to attack the character with the highest attack stat to have them all counter themselves to death. It's as boring and tedious as it sounds.
I fuck up here again.
I assume Thorn's constant ranting about the mercilessness of the gods is this game's counterpoint to Job's finally breaking down and questioning why God is inflicting this suffering on him, but the comparison falls apart because, well:
The Book of Job posted:
Then answered the LORD unto Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Gird up thy loins now like a man: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous? Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him? Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty. Cast abroad the rage of thy wrath: and behold every one that is proud, and abase him. Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low; and tread down the wicked in their place. Hide them in the dust together; and bind their faces in secret. Then will I also confess unto thee that thine own right hand can save thee.
whereas in Ash of Gods the gods are...less present and let their servants run amok freely. The Temple is present, the "angels" are present, the gods are silent. A better game would have something to say about the nature of faith, but instead we're treated to insane ramblings.
I miss a screenshot of how the owner basically takes our money for silence and then we run into more uninteresting mercenaries.
I mispoke earlier. The generic warrior has a brown hat, while Sopp has a silver headband and hair. I suppose I should apologize for saying the sprites are completely the same when they're not. I am a drunk fat man who deserves to be thrown out of the tavern while the innkeeper gives Thorn free drinks because he is just that awesome.
Same strategy, same lack of interest.
Anyway, we hit up Teek's inn next. Supposedly it's possible to skip the jailbreak sequence by just hiding out with Teek. It's also possible to get Thorn executed by having Hopper do nothing and telling the girls to fuck off, I will probably show that off at some point.
: Teek tries to leap to his feet and yell in surprise, but you grab him and put a hand over his mouth before he's able to. You gesture for him to be silent. The innkeeper nods nervously, and you remove your hand.
Oh no Teek is a criminal, unlike Thorn who just murders helpless old men.
And we just couldn't get through ONE update without a grammar error, could we?
: You shake your head. "What you do here is your business. My company, on the other hand, needs to get out of the city. Do you happen to have any strixes among this junk?
He gives us 20 strixes for that, and we might be able to actually get through the game without people dying.
I grab the Bear Claw Amulet, the Temple Ring (more strixes!), and the two Stone Skin Pieces for buffing Fisk with 20 defense. Did I mention you can't actually sell things in this game, because it sucks?
Time to go.
Oh look, it's the wonder twins! Aren't they interesting? Don't you care about them?
So for the crime of daring to work as private security for a rich man, we must sentence them all to death. They are the bad mans, unlike us.
Remember how the blurb for the story promised moral ambiguity and a look into the nature of man? I remember.
Yea, they join the battle party.
: She and her twin sister are, to no one's surprise, the exact same unit. They have ranged attacks and a bunch of attacks based around lowering enemy attacks. This sounds kinda awesome until you realize that debuffing one unit means you can still get jumped by the rest who are unaffected and that damage resistance is kind of a rare god stat in this game. They can hand out a bit of that...randomly. I usually end up using them because the rest of my party is fairly battered at this point and they show up uninjured.
Blah blah blah Fisk baits blah blah blah masturbation joke blah blah blah.
: When the fight is over, you, having given up attempts to tell the sisters apart, approach one of them. "How'd you manage to break out of jail?" you ask.
: You brush aside the notion. "If it's sorcery, it's not of my doing. If I could pull off such trickery, I'd never have ended up in a cell. Wouldn't have needed your help either. As it stands, I'm glad we've met, and I am grateful for your assistance.
: Andra draws closer. "Don't you trust us after all this? Do you still think we serve Brann Vichti?"
I want you all to know this particular subplot gets resolved in the stupidest way possible, because, dear readers, I have lost any respect I have had for this game.
: A cunning expression creeps over Foshta's face. "We're in the same boat, Thorn. The gods themselves must have arranged our meeting. If it's going to be this much fun the whole time, we'll tag along."
I'm not sure if the obey me or die thing really is a mistranslation or we're supposed to think of Thorn as a petty tyrant.
: Foshta purses her lips, but before she can object, Andra interrupts, smiling. "No one's arguing, Thorn. We agree!"
Yea I'm gonna spoil it here, the sisters are characterized by Foshta disliking Thorn and Andra wanting to fuck him.
Surprise pov shift!
: Brann Vichti whispers something to the herald, who shrugs and unrolls his parchment. His voice carries across the square, hushing the onlookers.
: You fold your arms. The convicts aren't there yet. The executioner looks around, and the guards remain where they are. Brann Vichti paces the length of the dais, as if orchestrating the whole thing.
: A soldier nimbly climbs the dais and whispers something into Brann Vichti's ear. Rubbing his hands together, Brann moves center stage. He locks his fingers together, resting his hands on his stomach, and gives the crowd a sweeping gaze. Suddenly, he begins to holler.
: The crowd stirs and murmurs at Brann's words, making it hard to stay put. A short distance from the scaffold, you see Sheck giving orders to his men.
On an unrelated note, did you guys notice how despite this being a low magic world there were monks with magic healing powers embedded with the mercenary troops? These guys are apparently common enough that you can just embed them in street patrols, but can also use actual magic.
I'm also a little unclear as to why these monks are allowed to serve as mercenaries, but I think I put more thought into it than the game designers did. You would think butchering the monks would also piss off the church as well, but that is a level of thought not exercised by the developers of this game.
: (Leaning into you) I've no idea how Thorn managed to break out of jail, but he really pissed that son of a bitch off. Believe me, I'd bust Thorn out of jail every day, knowing it makes the slug scream like that.
: (Shaking your head) There's something fishy about Thorn's escape. It's made Brann Vichti overenthusiastic. Let's go, Ake. Nothing else for us to do here.
I just noticed that silhouette in front of us is apparently wearing a KKK hood. I don't even know.
And on that desperate attempt at being deep, we end Thorn's PoV and our update here.