Destiny 2 review: Incredible improvements, still a ways to go

Three years ago, Bungie introduced an interesting, but somewhat empty, world in Destiny. Players were tasked with defending mankind against enemies such as the Vex, Fallen, and Hive on various planets in the solar system. Over the lifespan of Destiny, the developer addressed these concerns and added appealing new content, starting with The Taken King. Many had high hopes for Destiny 2, but still felt the need to have some reservations about the sequel so they wouldn’t get burned again. Luckily, Bungie has continued to learn from their early mistakes and Destiny 2 is in a much better starting point than its predecessor.

The biggest improvement, and quite possibly the most important, is the campaign. There were countless times during the first game’s campaign when I questioned what exactly I was doing and how this helped the overall story. Why did the Traveler select humankind to guard? How did the Vex, Fallen, and Hive come to our solar system? Why do they hate humanity? Granted, some of these questions might have been answered via Grimoire cards. These cards were meant to provide more in-depth background lore about Destiny, but the problem was that they only appeared on a specific website. Destiny 2 does a phenomenal job of constructing a very fluid and engaging story that makes you actually care about what’s going on.

One major factor in establishing an engaging plot is the villain. Destiny 2’s big baddie, Dominus Ghaul, is the Cabal leader of the Red Legion, hell-bent on obtaining the light powers of the mysterious Traveler. Ghaul believes the Traveler picked incorrectly in bestowing its powers on the human race, and is determined to change its mind. The opening mission, the same mission from the beta, shows Ghaul and the Red Legion utterly destroy the Guardians’ Tower and securing the Traveler. This leaves the Guardians powerless, weak, and virtually unable to mount a counter attack. Not to mention, Ghaul has a Death Star-type weapon aimed directly at the Sun with means to wipe out the entire human race.

The second major factor that complimented the storytelling is the soundtrack. The music from the Tower siege up to the final showdown against the Cabal leader is absolutely engrossing. Not once did the music feel out of place or unnecessary; on the contrary, the sound selection felt perfect for every given scene throughout the campaign. Tremendous credit to the sound team at Bungie for further enriching the experience.

Bungie’s sequel does not do away with all of its faults. An important cut scene in the campaign showed the Speaker possibly being killed by Ghaul’s mentor, the Consul. The Consul was worried that Ghaul was becoming soft after he had insinuated that the Traveler must be reasoned with and not to take the light by force, as originally planned. Subsequently, Ghaul seemingly crushes the Consul’s skull. The main issue here is, we don’t know for sure if the Speaker is dead because they fall to the ground semi off screen. Not exactly sure why Bungie would showcase it like that, especially because the Speaker is a pretty important supporting character. If the Speaker is indeed dead, I wish Bungie would’ve given him a more impactful sendoff.

Once the campaign has been completed, the end game offers plenty of activities for players (much of the side activities, otherwise known as Adventures and Public Events, can be done side-by-side of the main campaign). The downside though? Much of the end game activities are simply not worth doing. During my run of the campaign, I completed a lot of the available Adventures that increased my Titan’s levels exponentially. Players have two different levels: overall level and their power level. There’s a cap of 20 for the overall level and roughly 300-305 for the power level. Around 265-270, it becomes extremely difficult for players to gain additional power level. Currently, the only ways to obtain more advanced gear and weapons is to either get lucky during loot drops in Public Events, completing the Leviathan raid and the Trials of the Nine Crucible mode, or waiting for the milestones to reset every week. The milestones are typically easier to achieve powerful gear, they either revolve around completing Public Events on a certain planet or participating in Crucible.  After those milestones, however, it becomes a bit more difficult to raise your power level. Exotic Engram drops are extremely rare and odds are that the gear or weapon you decrypt from it won’t be useful to you. One solution to this is to infuse different pieces of gear together to increase the level of it, but even that is a bit more challenging than what it seems. Trying to secure loot from the Trials of the Nine mode and the Leviathan raid are equally as challenging. In order to participate in either Crucible mode or raid, you must have a Fireteam of four and six respectively. You cannot simply go into matchmaking and randomly hook up with another Fireteam. This can be very frustrating for players that don’t have any friends who play Destiny, effectively restricting them from playing through important end game content.

Other than the Trials of the Nine Crucible mode, normal quick play and competitive Crucible modes have returned. While I fully expect Iron Banner to return, the Crucible mode where the players’ guns and armor stats take effect, there isn’t much incentive in playing Crucible. While Destiny 2 does incentivize the player in completing Crucible modes through milestones, after those are finished it’s hard to return until the milestones reset. I imagine players can get engram drops, but that’s the same possible reward for completing Public Events. Maybe if Bungie incorporated some sort of ranking system with the competitive Crucible mode alongside the milestones that would make it a bit more appealing, but in its current state I don’t see any reason to spend much time in it.

If there’s one word that I would use to describe Destiny’s existence it would be “evolution”. Bungie did an amazing job of listening to criticism early on with the first game and has built off that criticism to deliver a solid sequel. The storytelling and soundtrack are a major improvement from the first entry. Destiny 2’s biggest fault is the sudden plateau at power level 265-270, especially because it’s relatively easy to reach that milestone. The insistence of completing the Leviathan raid and Trials of the Nine is expected, but the necessity of being a part of a Fireteam is a major downer. Hopefully Bungie increases the level cap, allows solo players to join up with random Fireteams, and ushers in more compelling and rewarding end game content. Otherwise, Destiny 2 might fall into another case of redundancy that vanilla Destiny fell victim to until the release of The Taken King.

Final Score: 8.25/10

Disclaimer: I have not yet participated in the Leviathan raid and Trials of the Nine Crucible mode. Score may change after completion.

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IT Review: Stephen King’s Pennywise floats to success

The list of classic horror movies that I’ve seen in my life thus far is embarrassingly short. I’ve only recently watched Child’s Play, The Nightmare on Elm Street, The Shining, and most importantly, IT. In a world full of reboots, it was only a matter of time before Stephen King’s frightening dancing clown was redone with modern technology. Luckily, the new adaptation separates itself enough from the original to be viewed as a terrifying standalone thriller, but at the same time still gives homage to the 1990 miniseries.

One of the main differences, for good or for bad, is the appearance of Pennywise. Tim Curry’s iteration of the clown in the 1990 miniseries was more friendly-looking, using his charm to entice the children of Derry. Bill Skarsgård’s approach to the character was a bit darker than his early 90s counterpart. While Curry went with the seemingly “catch more children with honey” strategy, Skarsgård was just plain creepy throughout the entire movie. The 2017 version of IT was not meant to be a direct reboot of the miniseries, but it is understandable to mentally compare the two, especially during the infamous Georgie scene.

In both adaptations, young Georgie is as happy as a clam when his brother, Billy, helps build him a paper boat to sail in the rainstorm. The boat sails for quite some time until a sewer grate swallows it up. And that’s when the young boy encounters Pennywise. Being a six-year-old boy, Georgie may not fully realize how absolutely disturbing it is to find a clown hanging out in the sewers during a storm (if not in general). The scene continues with Pennywise tricking Georgie into reaching for the boat, the clown biting the boy’s arm clean off, and then pulling him down into the sewer. Here, it’s easy to compare the two scenes and come away wishing Skarsgård’s form as the clown appeared a tad bit more welcoming like Curry’s, but the tone of the 2017 movie is more suited for Skarsgård’s Pennywise.

Other than the appearance and personality of Pennywise, the biggest change between adaptations is the flow. The 1990 miniseries was centered on the kids already grown up in 1985, with flashbacks to their first battle with the clown in the late 1950s. The new IT, also known as Chapter One going forward, revolves around the kids entirely, but in this one, they were kids in 1989. We see from start to finish how each child comes into contact with Pennywise, how the children band together to form the Loser’s Club, and how they overcome their fears to defeat the clown. After the kids have seemingly vanquished the clown, they make a blood pact to return to Derry if Pennywise ever returns. Chapter Two will assumingly pick up 27 years following the kids’ first battle with Pennywise. Director Andy Muschetti has also confirmed that the sequel will return to the 1980s (presumably through the use of flashbacks), and may also touch on the clown’s origin. I hope Muschetti does go into a little more detail on the background of Pennywise and the lore behind the clown’s existence.

Skarsgård’s portrayal of the dancing clown was not the only bright acting spot of the movie. The child actors were all phenomenal in their own unique way. Finn Wolfhard, best known for his role in Netflix’s Stranger Things, was amazing as the smartass, joke-cracking Richie Tozier. At times, Tozier’s comic relief may have felt a bit excessive at times, but overall, having him there to deflect the dread of Pennywise was a nice touch to the film. The other standout performance to me was Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh. Lillis depicted a slightly different Bev compared to the miniseries, with her counterpart having a bit of cool, badass vibe to her. The 2017 film stressed that her father sexually harassed the young girl. It’s amazing to see a young actress have the ability to perform under those types of circumstances.

Stephen King’s work has terrorized, frightened, and drawn immense success over the years; nothing’s changed with IT. The 2017 adaptation racked in an estimated $123 million, breaking numerous records along the way: biggest opening weekend in September, biggest opening weekend for a horror movie, and biggest opening weekend for a Stephen King adaptation. I fully expect the dollars to continue pouring in for the film, because IT was a horrifying experience. Skarsgård’s take on Pennywise is a chilling performance; seeing him terrorize the kids by exposing them to their greatest fears is masterful and chilling. Also, seeing the clown’s disembodied victims literally floating in his sewer liar is enough to induce night terrors. With an overall great cast performance by the Loser’s Club and impressive CGI work, IT is poised to be one of the best movies this year.

Final Score: 9/10

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe review: Racing to the top

Ever since the Nintendo Switch was announced, there was one game I was most looking forward to playing. Surprisingly, it was not The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It was Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Don’t get me wrong, with so many people already crowning Breath of the Wild as Game of the Year, I was very interested in trying it out myself, but the allure of Mario Kart will always have a firm grip on me.

My girlfriend, Blanca Garcia, got the first real crack at the game on our way to Vegas, as she spent a good amount of time on the raceways. After she made her first difficult decision of character selection, ultimately siding with the cosmic Princess Rosalina, the real fun began.

We were overwhelmed with the high level of vehicle customization. You can choose between different kart types, wheels and paragliders (first time I’ve ever seen these). An important aspect to constructing your kart, something that would have been great to know in a tutorial, was that each kart, wheel and paraglider has its own stat attribute increase and decrease. By clicking the “+” or “-” buttons, an attribute menu pops up where you can see the different categories being affected: speed, acceleration, weight, handling, and traction.

In addition to not knowing about the attributes, the game didn’t really explain Smart Steering, tilt turning and auto acceleration. While the turning and auto acceleration are self-explanatory, the Smart Steering was something that was brand new to us. Having the option on enables you to stick to the track without fear of falling off, however, it will not allow you to go anywhere but forward. If you spot a shortcut a second too late, you can’t turn around and go back.

Once we learned most of the tracks, there’s a whopping 48 race course divided into 12 cups, we decided to turn off Smart Steering. The difference in racing with and without Smart Steering is tremendous; utilizing the break mechanic and knowing how to drift is detrimental to your success. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is not forgiving when playing on 200CC without Smart Steering, so only attempt this if you’re confident in your racing abilities or if you love flying off the sides of the courses. It’s a new dynamic that I haven’t experienced in a Mario Kart game, but it’s definitely something that brings me back to the game.

One of the more frustrating parts of the game is the lack of item distribution. Blanca and I have put in close to 20 hours into the game, and I think out of both of us we’ve only had a couple stars, one Bullet Bill and a handful of blue shells. It doesn’t make much sense to be in ninth-place and get a double fun box, only to be disappointed with a green shell and a bundle of bananas. I’m not entirely sure if the increased level of CC dictates item distribution, but it’s mind-numbing when the CPU is dropping lightnings and red shells while we’re left with the garbage.

Another minor feature in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe that I was unfamiliar with is unlocking the cosmetic items. During the race, drivers can collect Mario coins throughout the courses and finish with a max of ten. These coins are used toward an overhead-type wallet that unlocks different vehicle cosmetic parts for further customization.

When playing couch co-op, Blanca and I only used the Joy-Cons with the Switch propped up on a table. We’re still figuring out many of the Switch features and how to exactly connect the Pro Controller along with the Joy-Cons on the actual TV. While playing with one Joy-Con apiece on a 6.2 inch screen is fun, the possibility of playing with full controller functionality on a 40 inch screen is tantalizing.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a must-own title for any and all Switch users. The roller coaster of emotion from a race that sees you go from first-place to seventh-place and back again in the matter of seconds is an adrenaline rush you won’t find elsewhere. Mario Kart 64 will forever be my favorite iteration in the franchise, but the Switch version is making a serious run for the top spot. The desire to win gold in each of the cups, the remastered designs of past Mario Kart race courses and the seemingly never-ending quest to unlock all the cosmetic items will keep us coming back to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for a long time to come.

Final Score: 9.25/10

Blanca Garcia contributed to this review.

Nintendo Switch Review: Charming, but incomplete, piece of hardware

The Nintendo Switch is a fascinating piece of hardware. Being able to seamlessly transition from playing docked on your home TV to in your hand is one of the most amazing things I’ve come to witnessed in my gaming experience. While Nintendo’s newest console doesn’t go without its fair share of shortcomings, the overall experience that I’ve had with the Switch has been delightful.

Full disclosure: the last Nintendo system that I owned was the Game Boy Advance and the last home console was the N64. So, you could say that I’ve been a bit out of touch with what Nintendo has been doing nowadays. Once I saw a quality bundle, I pulled the trigger and purchased the neon Joy-Con Switch that came with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Arms.

Upon receiving the Switch and holding it in my hand, it felt strangely right. I was surprised by how comfortable it was to hold and maneuver the Joy-Cons. The only negative about the Joy-Cons is how terribly small they are if you play couch co-op. My girlfriend Blanca and I played Mario Kart 8 Deluxe together and holding a single Joy-Con made me realize how it would feel to be a giant. Other than the small Joy-Cons, the only other caveat to having the Switch in handheld mode is the battery life. On average, my Switch has about four hours of battery life un-docked. While that might not seem a lot, especially with the DS having nearly 10 hours of battery life and 19 hours if you turn off the back-light, having only four hours isn’t a deal breaker. The only instances where I would play the Switch for that long a period of time in handheld mode would be on a long car ride or flight.

After seeing how gorgeous the screen looked in handheld mode, I was eager to see how the Switch would look on my normal TV. Before I tested it out though, a co-worker informed me of the high possibility that my dock might be warped. He said many Nintendo Switches have been shipped containing a defective dock that slightly warps the screen. Luckily, my dock did not appear to be a faulty one, but how does a manufacturer release a product like that? With the long list of features missing from the Switch, including the highly-touted Virtual Console, it doesn’t help matters when there are multiple cases of defective pieces of hardware. Various reports have indicated though that Nintendo is making an attempt at repairing consoles that have had a warping issue.

It was important to me that my dock wasn’t warped, because I ordered a Pro Controller for my Zelda adventure. I’d read that the Pro Controller was actually pretty nice compared to Nintendo’s previous controller iterations; possibly, because the Pro Controller a standard gaming controller. Essentially a Xbox 360 controller with the Nintendo stamp on it, the Pro Controller felt really nice in my hands, comfortable and sturdy. I’m glad Nintendo released a more “normalized” controller, it’s a great option from the gimmicky Joy-Cons. But please, to whomever is in charge, can we talk about the button placement? We have three different console manufacturers in Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo all using very similar buttons but all placed differently; not like that’s confusing or anything. The big issue with Nintendo’s controller design is how they have the “confirm” button on the right and the “cancel” button on the bottom, while PlayStation and Xbox have their “confirm” buttons on the bottom and their “cancel” buttons on the right. The amount of times I’ve selected something to confirm but canceled and vice versa is a ridiculous amount. I know it won’t ever happen, but how nice would it be if these three companies came together to agree on a singular controller design? Oh well, a guy can dream.

Aside from the controller design, my biggest gripe with this console, the Nintendo Switch is a quality piece of equipment. I was skeptical to say the least when it was first announced, but given my time with it I’ve come to see how unique it is. My personal satisfaction with the Switch might be tailored differently, because I don’t plan on utilizing any online features with it. I’ll stick to my PS4 and Xbox One S for my online gaming experience, but the Switch does an excellent job filling in that premier solo/couch co-op vacancy in my heart. And that’s why the Nintendo Switch is both a perfect, but imperfect system. Put in the right situation, the Switch checks off all the boxes and excels as a high-quality, secondary console. It will not, however, be a primary option for gaming. Even with its killer software, Nintendo has far too many annoying little imperfections that restrict it from achieving true premium console status. If Nintendo embraces this newfound role in the gaming landscape, the Switch will continue on this torrid pace out of the gates and sustain an enjoyable life.

Final Score: 8/10

Destiny 2 beta: Welcome back, Guardians

Bungie’s anticipated follow-up to Destiny, Destiny 2, finished its open beta on July 25. Thousands of players logged in to get their first taste of what’s to come in early September. The beta featured the opening campaign mission, Homecoming, as well as a strike mission and limited Crucible action.

One of the glaring issues with Bungie’s first entry was the lack of a compelling campaign. Many players, including myself, were left disappointed and slightly confused as to the type of story that Destiny was trying to convey. It wasn’t until after Bungie released various downloadable content did the overall story begin to finally take shape. However by then, the Destiny community had already begun to fall off a bit. If the sequel’s campaign is even remotely like Homecoming, Bungie has answered many of its players’ prayers and will deliver on their initial promise of providing a hardcore first-person shooter with fantastic storytelling.

Homecoming opened up with the Tower being assaulted by the Cabal. Players may remember the Cabal as the main enemy you face on the red planet Mars from the first game. While the Cabal didn’t necessarily play a very important role in Destiny, it appears that they will be the main baddies in the sequel. The Cabal Red Legion, led by Dominus Ghaul, is hell-bent on stealing the Traveler from the humans, because they feel they should be the rightful owners of its power.

As you make your way through the burning rumble of what remains of The Last City, Earth, the Red Legion is seen off into the distance preparing to take the Traveler away. Once the mission completes, Ghaul appears and does the typical bad guy routine of having a monologue explaining his intentions, then promptly kicks you off the side of the Tower. The level of desperation and loss of hope right at the beginning is a shot to the gut, but firmly cements the tone for what the rest of the game is sure to bring. I’m extremely excited to see how the Guardians regroup after this preemptive strike on their home, and how they plan on regaining the Traveler and their stolen powers.

The Inverted Spire Strike was a nice addition to the beta. I didn’t participate in many strikes in the first game, but the beta’s strike is a good indication that I plan to change that. Guardians begin by battling against waves of Cabal and Vex as you make your way deeper into the planet. Possibly my favorite part of the entire beta came about halfway through the strike. Players come across a giant drill and you must make your way on the sides of a rocky mountain, trying to avoid the drill. Honestly, I died probably seven times to that damn drill, but they were the most enjoyable deaths I’ve experienced in a game. Not only are you trying to avoid the drill, but various enemies are also trying to kill you. Once you’ve survived the deadly machine, the strike boss appears as Protheon, Modular Mind. Protheon is a giant Vex that can be a handful, because it summons an army of Vex to accompany it in battle. After shooting off pieces of its body, the giant Vex will eventually die and you’ll receive a piece of armor and weapon.

The class system is essentially the same with some slight improvements. Players will still choose between three classes: Titan, Hunter and Warlock. Having played exclusively as a Titan in Destiny, I kicked off the beta as a Titan. The Titan is mainly a meat shield, as they possess increased defense over the other two classes, but deals out an adequate amount of damage. Players can choose to either have a bubble shield as their super attack, meant to protect yourself and fellow teammates from damage, or a Captain America-esque shield. Just like Marvel’s Hallmark hero, you can throw the shield at enemies from afar, or get in close to wreck havoc. Titans can also create a mini wall to crouch behind for added protection.

After completing Homecoming with a Titan, I went back and tried my hand with a Hunter. Hunters are the most agile of the trio, as they have a dodge move instead of the Titan wall to evade incoming projectiles. While I preferred being a Titan, and I plan on selecting the Titan class when Destiny 2 releases, I did like the exotic handgun for Hunters. It’s similar to the Boltok Pistol in Gears of War where it’s a one shot handgun and seems to deal out roughly the same amount of damage as the Gears of War counterpart. Instead of the jet pack that Titans and Warlocks have equipped, Hunters have a standard double jump to reach higher heights. Unfortunately, I was unable to use the fire pistol super attack, I did use the super attack that gives Hunters a long staff to deal solid melee damage.

Final time I went through the campaign mission was as a Warlock. Ultimately, I thought the Warlock class was the most inferior of the three. Warlocks have a jet pack, but it’s a weird suspension jet pack like you’re floating. Seems that makes you an easy target for enemies that can actually hit their shot unlike the Stormtroopers from Star Wars. One thing that was interesting was the Warlock’s ability to create either a healing circle or an empowerment circle to give extra damage to anyone that’s in it. The heavy weapon you use is a sniper rifle, and unless there are far bigger maps than this mission, which I fully expect, it was borderline useless in Homecoming.

My time in the Crucible was short-lived, but I still got the jist of it. The game mode was a defuse and set charges, similar to Demolition in Call of Duty. If you are attacking, there are specific points on the map that you must set a charge on to detonate, and the same goes for defense but to protect. The attacking team can outright win the round if they eliminate the opposing team without having set a charge. The Crucible rounds are now a four-on-four affair, as opposed to the previous six-on-six matches from Destiny 1. Other than the change in team size, Crucible seems to be a typical online experience that you would have in any first-person shooter.

Final thoughts

Bungie’s beta for Destiny 2 did everything that it set out to do. It presented a clear change for the better regarding the campaign, increased the customization of the three classes but still kept much from the first game and reinforced the value of completing strike missions. If Bungie is good at one thing, it’s listening to its fan base. The latter half of Destiny 1’s life showed a completely new experience that vanilla Destiny did not when it released, and it seems that has seeped over into the sequel. The developer is focused on providing players an amazing experience in Destiny 2 and if this beta is any indication of the future, I think everyone is in for a treat.

Destiny 2 releases on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on September 6, 2017, while the PC version will release on October 24, 2017.

D23 Convention recap: Finally time for Kingdom Hearts 3?!

The bi-annual convention held by Disney at the Anaheim Convention Center reared its beautiful head this year. I attended D23 for the first time and needless to say it was amazing. Moreover, the news that came from the convention regarding the long-awaited Kingdom Hearts 3 and much-anticipated Avengers: Infinity War were more than enough to crank the hype level to an 11.

Square Enix released a new trailer that revealed a new world for Sora and his Disney companions: Pixar’s Toy Story. Andy’s house joins Tangled, Big Hero 6 and Mount Olympus as only confirmed worlds. The video showed Sora interacting with sheriff Woody and intergalactic ranger Buzz Lightyear. Interestingly, the video also contained battle game play that confirmed that players will not be forced to swap Donald Duck or Goofy for a character in the world they’re in, like substituting Donald for Hercules on Mount Olympus. A player’s party seems to be unlimited, as the video showed Sora, Donald and Goofy fighting Heartless alongside Woody and Buzz.

The end of the trailer also revealed that Kingdom Hearts 3 will, hopefully, release sometime next year. Following the trailer, co-director Tetsuya Nomura hinted at the possibility of the player controlling a second character other than Sora.

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What’s becoming arguably the most anticipated movie of this decade, it’s hard to imagine Avengers: Infinity War garnishing any more hype than it already has. Well, I stand corrected. Marvel and Disney showcased a trailer of the ultimate superhero mashup that answered many key questions, one being how the Avengers meet up with the Guardians of the Galaxy. The video, which has yet to be released to the general public, showed the Guardians arriving at an undisclosed location. Once they arrive, a body hits there windshield, and it turns out to be Thor Odinson. The trailer also showed various battle sequences of different Marvel heroes going up against the Mad Titan Thanos. It was revealed that Thanos will have the Black Order by his side, otherwise known as the Children of Thanos in the movie.

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For more information regarding the aftermath of Disney’s D23 convention, and all things entertainment, be sure to follow Avery Feyrer at @CoffeeBlack_910 on Twitter.

D23 Convention: Where the Magic Comes Alive

Viewing a large convention event of any kind behind a screen versus physically participating in one can be a bit of an eye-opener. The grand scale of the amount of people you encounter, the volume of information your brain tries to process all at once and all while your five senses are being overwhelmed is something you can’t truly prepare for. Thinking that I was ready for what was about to transpire, I tackled Disney’s D23 Expo as my first ever convention with a feeling of adventure, but not to get my hopes up. After experiencing only one day of the Disney festivities, I have to say that D23 completely blew any expectations I had out of the water and was the perfect first convention to hang under my belt.

Now, just to clear one thing up: I did not initially want to go to D23. About a year ago, my girlfriend, Blanca, asked if I wanted to go with her to the convention. I like to see myself as being a Disney fan, but compared with her there isn’t a competition. Disneyland is like a second home for her, so of course she wanted to go to a convention specifically for Disney. Being the idiot that I am, I declined the offer, using the excuse of “I’m not sure what I’ll be doing a year from now”. A few months later, however, my good boyfriend sense of mind finally came into effect and I purchased myself a ticket.

So, on the morning of July 14, 2017 at 2 a.m., Blanca, her sister and I made the trek to the Anaheim Convention Center. Up until that morning, I had received countless emails regarding the convention, so my general perception of what I was about to witness had begun to take form. I expected to see a few people in cosplay, the occasional “ooh” and “ahh”, but other than that, I was more looking forward to buying some souvenirs.

As soon as we reached the center, my heart began to sink a bit. The line was at least 3,000 people in it, moving incredibly slow and I started fearing this was all for naught. I don’t know if the ghost of Walt Disney felt my concerns, but it was at that moment when I realized the day was going to be one of the best. Whether I turned my head left or right, I saw countless people in various costumes, all of them looking magnificent in their own way. It didn’t matter if I saw seven different Ariels walk by, each had their own personal take on the mermaid. Instead of dreading how much longer this line was going to be, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to marvel at all the incredible cosplay designs people had thought of.

Upon entering the facility, I could feel my eyes widen like a kid in a candy store. Everywhere we looked there was something that begged to be investigated. Blanca suggested that we start in the middle and work our way to the outside of the convention room. (At the time, I thought the part of the convention that we were in was the entirety of it, so Blanca’s suggestion made sense to me…until I realized how truly big this convention center was.) Our first stop was this Animation station area that showed the various degrees of how the animated movies evolved throughout the years. It was incredible to see how far Disney’s creations had come. We spoke to a gentleman about an upcoming tour with the Imagineers, Disney’s magic workers that make everything special, so we promised to return.

After taking quick peeks at the recently announced Star Wars land and the Pixar area, we made our way to the place I was most excited for: Marvel’s stage. Beautiful costumes from the upcoming film Black Panther were on display, as well as some intergalactic gear from Thor’s next adventure. The art work on these outfits were wonderful to see up close, especially after watching them on the big screen. Aside from the costumes, there were also a few gaming stations that had Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, Marvel Heroes Omega and Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2. Blanca and I took a crack at Marvel vs. Capcom, my first time ever playing one of those games. I chose an unlikely pair in Thanos and Iron Man, don’t think they’ll be friendly in the next Avengers movie, and Blanca selected Captain Marvel and Rocket Raccoon. Despite many negative comments regarding the character design, the game felt very smooth and efficient. Most of the time I was simply button mashing, but some of the random attacks were awesome.

Once the battle for the Infinity Stones was over, we made our way back to the Imagineer tour. Seeing what goes on behind the scenes in making these classic rides, characters and movies really gives you a new sense of appreciation. There is so much work that needs to be done by so many different people to make the magic happen. Disney has people working on sound, 2D and 3D designs, there was even a guy who had a virtual reality machine to help envision the parks and rides. They have so many resources at their disposal to enhance fan experience and they do a fantastic job doing it.

Nearing the end of the tour, we were appropriately directed toward a gift shop. Seeing how my main goal for the day was to spend extreme amounts of money, I happily obliged. While waiting in line, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed to see what I had missed (trying to conserve battery) when I see the Marvel account tweet that Chadwick Boseman is over at the stage near Blanca and I had played Marvel vs Capcom. I tell Blanca and her sister to stay in line, as I race back to the stage and luckily, I’m able to snap a quick photo of him from afar. As I made my way back to the gift shop line, I spotted another celebrity out of the corner of my eye: Janina Gavankar! If you don’t know her by her real name, don’t fret, I didn’t either. What I do know her by is another name: Shivakamini Somakandarkram, otherwise known as, The Shiva. Gavankar played Somakandrakram in the fantasy football comedy The League, and is now recently the lead character of EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II. It was strange, though, because there were hardly any people near her, so at first, I questioned if it was really her. After checking her Wikipedia page, a handful of times, I safely took a few photos as well.

Feeling pretty good about myself after those two celebrity sightings, I let loose in the gift shop. Never had I ever shopped without looking at the price tag until that moment. It was glorious. I thought, “This is what being rich feels like, isn’t it?” I came away with some good quality Disney memorabilia, but of course I would find more in another larger shopping center that I thought did not exist.

To wrap up our extensive day, Blanca and I stumbled upon an elderly woman signing autographs and speaking with people. Curious, we went over to do some more investigating and learned that she was in fact the 1953 model for Tinker Bell, Margaret Kerry. Excited to meet an actual Disney legend, we waited in line for what seemed for ages, lots of people love chatting to Tink apparently. Kerry was an absolute delight. When I told her my name, she said that she’d never heard of an Avery before, and asked if I told people I owned that label company. It’s funny because I would tell everyone that that was my company when I was younger.

Following our conversation with Kerry, we decided it was time to call it a day. There was just too many things around us to spend money on and we were satisfied with our purchases. Overall, D23 was an experience I will never forget. If I could go back in time to when past Avery had originally declined, I would slap him in the face. Being someone who wants to attend many other gaming conventions, going to D23 was an eye-opener and set a standard for what I should expect. It’s unfortunate that the Disney convention is every other year, because I miss it already. In 2019 though, I vow to be a part of the cosplaying community and then people can ask for my picture.

Final Score: 10/10