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1

Finally Playing the First Assassin’s Creed

I know that I'm getting the Ezio Collection on PS4 (annoyingly cheaper on Amazon than usual) for Christmas tomorrow because my Wife has enjoyed playing Unity, Syndicate, and Origins with me so much that she wants to go back and see how the series got started.

But wait! Could this be the opportunity I've been waiting for to actually trudge through the very first Assassin's Creed?! My wife said it made the most sense to her to start at the beginning, so we're doing it! 

Continue reading
2

Assassin’s Creed Origins Review

I just finished up most of my play-through of Assassin's Creed Origins, and I have A LOT to say about this newest installment to one of my favorite franchises.

Origins changes quite a few things that AC veterans may find uncomfortable -- I did -- and also introduces a few new mechanics that I think you'll really enjoy. My review is going to cover general topics, and I'll dig into the micro of each of my points within those categories.

Story

First we have the story, which I have always found in AC games to be compelling and overly complex. Origins takes place in Egypt during the Ptolemaic period (48 BC). This is the time when Cleopatra's brother Ptolemy was pharoah, but the country was heavily dominated by Roman incursions and influence under the rule of Caesar (the one who was stabbed by the Senate). 

The main story focuses around Bayak, a Medjay (like a peace keeper), and his wife Aya, as they work to try and protect the kingdom from all sorts of bad things. Their son, Khemu, was murdered by a group of masked men who we know all too well to be The Order of the Ancients -- forerunners to the Templar Order. This drive for vengeance consumes Bayak, while his wife Aya is consumed by the call of duty to Cleopatra, who she believes to be the true pharaoh.

On the real life side of this story is Layla, who is working for Abstergo as a researcher looking for a relic in Egypt. She stumbles onto a tomb containing Bayak and Aya, and relives their memories using her modified animus. That's essentially the only "real life" part of this story that we see. 

In general, a good story, though I wished for more. See my critiques in the expandable section below.

Spoilers & Story Critique

Combat, Gear, & Skills

Combat radically changes in Assassin's Creed Origins. There's no counter system at all, and combat feels a lot less fluid. Instead, it's based on a more real-time feel where the enemy is just going to outright keep attacking you, and you can do the same. There's the ability to block and parry somewhat, but mostly it's about finding opening to execute combos and attacks before the enemy can get in theirs. 

I did not like this combat system nearly as much as past games. It felt at times uncontrolled, chaotic, and really unrefined. I'm used to playing as a skilled Assassin, and not a sword-and-board gladiator feel.

Character progression is tried to skills you purchase with ability points which are earned every time you level up and from finding ancient tablets. I felt like by the time I finished playing the main story, I had all the abilities I wanted. There are three trees, one focusing on ranged, one melee, and one 'tools' or 'different' abilities. I liked all the skills well-enough, and the system was neither make it or break it for me.

Gear was cool because it was a big step up for the series. You could choose two bows, two melee weapons, a shield, a tool, a mount, and a cosmetic outfit. For stats outside of weapon damage, you upgraded your hidden blade, ranged damage, melee damage, armor value, and ammunition count. I like how this system provided a loot drop mechanic that meant something, while also incorporating a hunting system.

In order to upgrade your gear you had to spend a significant amount of time hunting wild animals. At first, I thought this was a little tedious. I quickly picked up on using Senu to spot game everywhere I went. You also need things like ore and wood, all of which comes dominantly from taking out caravans -- super easy, just come up behind them and stealth kill your way to victory.

Overall, combat was meh. Gear was great. Skills fine. Upgrading gear and character power was neat and new.

Senu - Origins' Version of Eagle Vision

Want to know how eagle vision was invented? Well, Bayak has a eagle named Senu who can fly high above and spot everything. Tada! That's how it got its name. 

Senu can spot enemies, harass them (when upgraded), find wild game, find obejctives etc. Senu is a 100% mandatory key/crucial component of the game. Senu's perception is upgraded as you find more eagle points.

While a really, really cool mechanic to take control of Senu and fly around freely, I desperately missed the ability to flip on eagle vision and see through walls. Senu was more of a drone that would tag enemies for you. Not quite the same.

World, Setting, Missions, Progression, etc

The world is bigger than any past Assassin's Creed game. I think it feels bigger than even Black Flag including the ocean. Sure, a lot of it is open desert that seems unused, but it's huge. 

From climbing the great pyramids, to sailing the Egyptian rivers, to exploring the streets of Memphis, it's all very cool.

There are times I felt a little bit of what i call open-world fatigue. It hits when you constantly have to run around and travel back and forth to places which happens a lot of AC Origins.

Side missions are all over the world. As you discover a new area, chances are you'll uncover quite a few side quests that just pop up for ou. 

Main story missions will send you around the world to some degree, but a lot of exploring really falls on you as the player. You'll want to be sure you go out of your way to reveal those areas that might have more quests. Numerous times I got bored of side quests and progressed my story to the point of needed 3-4 levels before I could progress further.

Overall, the world is gorgeous. It's more 'living' than any other AC game. It's huge. Missions take you around, but there's plenty to explore. I think the side missions get boring, but they yield good rewards, some nice lore, and do give you the progression element you need.

Missing the "Assassin" Feel

This is my biggest gripe with Assassin's Creed Origins, but it's a problem inherent to a game that tells the story of how the Brotherhood came to be: I often didn't feel like an assassin. I didn't feel that 'badass' feeling I crave.

Many times I missed my double assassinate. I missed peaking on corners. I missed sneaking around and having to complete missions without being detected at all. I missed blending in with crowds, throwing money on the streets, the clandestine meetings, assassination contracts, etc. I missed being feared and known.

My wife is getting my The Ezio Collection for PS4 for Xmas so she can play through AC2, Revelations, and Brotherhood with me. Those are such good games, and after that we're playing Black Flag. I need to feel like an assassin again.

The Verdict

Bottom line: Really good game. The story bothered me at times, but I get it. Combat was good in its own right, but I missed being that stealthy assassin. The world is absolutely gorgeous and huge. Progression is better than all the past games with how gear is handled, and hunting actually made sense to me for the first time. I'm obviously going to recommend the game to anyone who has played past AC games, but I think this stands alone more than any previous AC game for newcomers to the franchise.

thumbs-o-up

Time Played: 43 hours
I want to go back and complete a few more missions and max out my character's level so that I am ready for the DLC coming soon!

Pros

  • check
    Gorgeous world and setting of Egypt captivates.
  • check
    Main story has its ups and downs, but succeeds in telling the story of how things begin.
  • check
    Character progression works really well for the style of gameplay, and creates a baseline model for the franchise.
  • check
    Senu was a really neet way of exploring and seeing a true birds-eye view.

Cons

  • minus-circle
    While fitting for the character and time period, I didn't like the combat nearly as much because it was too aggressive and lacked that counter-kill feel.​​​​
  • minus-circle
    I wanted to feel more like an assassin.
  • minus-circle
    Despite thinking Senu was neat, I missed Eagle Vision.
  • minus-circle
    I wanted there to be more "real life" stuff to further the overarching story.
5

Assassins Creed Origins: What a Wondrous World

As a devout fanboy of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, you better believe I’m diving head first into Assassin’s Creed Origins. Set in the Egyptian era, and featuring some of the first (in a long time) major innovations for the series, Origins has me completely engulfed in its wonder.

A formal review will eventually come (before the end of the year), but to lead up to that review I want to write about things I love and experience as they happen.

I want to really emphasize the world in Origins. The Egyptian setting features places like Alexandria, Siwa, Giza, and Memphis. There are all sorts of deserts and crypts and open-world areas to explore. There are waters with boats, huge open deserts, grand ancient cities, and deep tombs. There’s so much to explore and see that some may even find themselves suffering from open-world fatigue.

The best way to explore the world and experience Origins first hand really is to just set off in a direction (generally toward a major story objective) and just see the world as you go. If you play to “complete” the world, you’ll burn out. Play to live the journey, on the other hand, and you’ll see the world naturally unfolds around you.

The world itself really plays a part in the experience. Traveling through the desert, I’ve already be faced with a burning bush (yep), mirages, hallucinations, ambushes, heat exhaustion (that I feel like quite literally lights you on fire), and even curses — yes, it was raining frogs at one point.

You’ll also feel immersed in the world by having to hunt animals to upgrade your gear. There are more RPG elements I’ll go into in another post at another time, but suffice it to say you have to have leathers, hides, pelts, wood, and ore to upgrade your gear — and you NEED to upgrade — so you’ll have to hunt to get those resources.

The last part of the world that I find so wonderful is your eagle, Senu. This eagle companion has replaced your dormant sixth sense that you had in past Assassin’s Creed games, and literally become ‘eagle vision’. You take control of your eagle and fly through the skies. This provides both an aerial view of what’s happening below, and an awe-inspiring view of the scenery around you. I sometimes take flight just to look around and explore the big picture.

If you like open-world games, Assassin’s Creed Origins definitely scratches that itch for me.

7

The Rest of the Year is Full of Blockbuster Games

There are so many blockbuster games coming out in the next couple of months. This year is going by so far that many of them snuck up on me. I checked Amazon last night for something random I needed to buy, and then suddenly I realized all these games were releasing within months or even weeks.

Uncharted the Lost Legacy

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Release Date: August 22, 2017

Status: Pre-Ordered​

Why It's On My List
I fell in love with the Uncharted series only a few years ago. From the moment I actually (finally) sat down and played the first, I was hooked and quickly finished all of the games that were out. Last year, Uncharted 4 brought the end of the story line featuring Nathan Drake, paving the way for new Uncharted games to feature other characters. In The Lost Legacy, we'll be playing as Chloe and Nadine -- a very interesting combo. I'm eager to see how the gameplay and story play out.

Destiny 2

Destiny 2

Release Date: September 6, 2017

Status: Pending

Why It's On My List
Graev and I played the original Destiny through the storyline. I enjoyed the game because of its co-op shooting experience, but didn't stick around for any of the end-game gear grind or "raiding" or multiplayer pvp gameplay. Destiny 2 is on my list to get if Graev takes the plunge.

Assassin's Creed Origins

Assassin's Creed Origins

Release Date: October 27, 2017

Status: Pre-Ordered

Why It's On My List
I love the Assassin's Creed franchise. Similar to the Uncharted series, once I played one of them (Black Flag) I was hooked and went back to play the entire series. I've been waitng for an Egypt setting for years! Super excited to see how they improve upon the AC franchise in Origins. I'm definitely hoping we see more holistic improvements and less emphasis on sub-systems. Advancing the story is also on my wish list.

Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey

Release Date: October 27, 2017

Status: Pre-Ordered

Why It's On My List
We are so, so long overdue for a good Mario 64-style platformer. I'm excited for two reasons: (1) It's on the Switch, and (2) It's going to have awesome graphics compared to previous Mario games. I'm apprehensive about the bizarre setting and real-world juxtaposition, but from what I've seen in previews there's still plenty of traditional Mario platforming. Then there's the "no game over screen" concept that fascinates me.

Battlefront 2

Star Wars Battlefront 2

Release Date: November 17, 2017

Status: Pending

Why It's On My List
Battlefront (the original re-release) was just 'okay'. In a way it was a big let-down from the memories of past Battlefront games. Battlefront 2 appears to be trying to solve the issues (one of which being those stupid tokens). I'm hoping for a reboot of their ideas. Something with more cohesive multiplayer. Something with better maps, objectives, and a better overall experience. Graev and I would definitely play together. This remains Pending until we get a little closer to release.

These are just a few of the big ones that I have on my radar and pre-ordered or closely pending a pre-order. Did I miss any on your list?

2

Assassin’s Creed Movie Trailer

The Assassin’s Creed movie trailer debuted yesterday on Kimmel of all places. Let’s take a look.

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My first thought (and Graev’s) is that it doesn’t look nearly as bad as I thought it would. Seriously, I wasn’t expecting much at all. This piques my interest significantly more than I initially expected. The Kanye track was ridiculous though, and whoever forced that noise into the trailer for a game’s franchise with such a rich musical legacy should be ashamed.

The movie is taking quite a bit of liberty with the story. The “real world” part of Assassin’s Creed has always been polarizing; You either love it or you hate it, and I happen to find it fascinating. AC games have always been confusing to the point of needing a Wiki to truly understand wtf is going on, but it’s gloriously complex. I hope it’s just the trailer conveying an odd Templar/Animus interpretation and that they stayed true to the story.

I can at least look forward to seeing it now.

2

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate: Jack the Ripper DLC Review

Jack the Ripper DLC

I was able to get a pretty good deal on the special edition of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate which means I get at least all of the first DLC and somne goodies at no (additional) cost. The first main DLC for Syndicate is Jack the Ripper, a look into the mystery surrounding one of London’s craziest and creepiest serial killer bad guys. For the purposes of this review, there will be spoilers.

A little backstory for you…

Jack the Ripper DLC takes place 20 years after the main storyline in Syndicate. Evie has been in India with Henry Green working with the local chapter of the Assassin Brotherhood. Meanwhile, Jacob stayed in London all these years to build up the brotherhood there with plenty of new Initiates. After the death of Starrick, Jacob liberated the Aslyum and took on an Initiate named Jack the Lad (can you guess who he becomes?). Jack’s mom was killed by Starrick’s Templars, and he was committed to the Aslyum and pretty much ‘jacked up’ by the people there. So of course it makes perfect sense to train him as an Assassin…

A few years later, Jacob and his initiates meet up with the Indian Brotherhood where they learn this new fighting tactic which involves filling people with ‘fear.’ It’s less gruesome — so less stab stab and more about street magic and scaring the crap out of people. Fear bombs, spikes to pin people to the ground, etc.

After Jacob and his initiates return, having just learned lots of Jack the Lad loses it and begins killing … just about everyone in the London Assassins. He takes over the Rooks and turns them, along with anyone else he can manipulate, into groups of baddies.

The Autumn of Terror

Here’s where we come in — right in the Autumn of Terror — when Jack has just killed a lot of women (who were Assassin Initiates, shhh) and Jacob has been trying to stop him. We learn a lot of this backstory I told you above as we go along, but it’s all really, really poorly developed. Jack’s goal is to spread fear through London — great that he has learned so many techniques on how to do it from the Indian Brotherhood. Jacob ultimately fails and is taken prisoner by Jack, but not before he is able to let Evie know that she has to come back to help rid the world of this monster they created before Inspector Abberline (who knew the twins from the main Syndicate story) is forced to arrest Evie on the grounds that everything is starting to point back to the Assassins (which, of course makes sense — it DOES!).

Unfortunately, most of the story is really underdeveloped and sadly drags on with boring/mundane side missions. The memories themselves should have been way less convoluted and repetitive. I’m surprised to say that I think it should have actually been shorter. The story begged for closure, but never gave any.

Gameplay

The majority of the gameplay is from Evie’s perspective. She has aged quite a bit, now fights using these fear tactics rather than stealthy Assassin stuff. I really, really dislike this style of fighting — especially for Evie. The Assassins are so much cooler when they are about staying in the shadows and being undetected. The skills in fear fighting are all about making sure your enemy sees you and sees you taking down others. It’s this bizarre juxtaposition.

Periodically throughout the 10 Memories comprising the DLC you get to play as Jack the Ripper. Now here is where the fear style makes sense. He’s supposed to scare people. Playing as Jack is really well done because his sociopathic psychopathic tendencies are well-translated with effects. I thought Jack was very well done.

I felt like everything I did in the main story was ditched or tossed aside. All of my skills are gone and replaced with only a handful of passive upgrades to my fear-inducing items.

Setting up the Future?

Jack the Ripper DLC did a nice job of giving me more about the Frye Twins. I loved seeing them 20 years later with gray hair and wrinkles. I liked knowing what happened to them and how they went on to do things in different regions.

Could we have been given a taste of a future AC game here? Should we expect India? Perhaps during the Sikh Empire? Honestly, I just hope they do not ever, EVER, bring back this fear-inducing fight style. It’s just awful.

A Nice Try that Falls Flat

Overall, Jack the Ripper had tons of potential. Had these events not been 20 years later, this would have been a perfect set of side missions. Unfortunately, we were given a set of rushed (yet too long and boring) memories for an underdeveloped story, and gameplay was marred by a fighting style that conflicts with the core of what it means to be an Assassin.

Here’s where I’m torn. Is this worth $15? Yes. There’s plenty of content to justify the price, but the execution leaves much to be desired.

9

The Best Games of 2015

Unlike most years, 2015 was jam-packed with amazing games. In fact, there were simply too many amazing games for the average gamer to play them all. What a marvelous problem to have after so many years of needing to come up with a reason to like more than one or two games. I could simply list off the big releases and call it a day — for that check out our 2015 Holiday Buyer’s Guide for Gamers — but instead I’m going to cite a few of the games that made my own personal gaming time special in 2015. These are my most memorable games. So let’s call this a list of ‘the best games of 2015 for ME.’

ac syndicate

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

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The AC franchise hit a home run this year with Syndicate. So many quality-of-life improvements went into refining the experience of traversing the world, and the beginnings of customization system that makes sense are starting to emerge. The story was intriguing and the side missions worth doing — overall not a dull moment. My wife, who doesn’t normally go for the violent games at all, was very interested in the presentation and setting, along with the interesting story points. Playing together was a ton of fun as we completed nearly everything there was to do in the game.

Disney Infinity 3.0 Play Sets

Disney Infinity 3.0

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The toys-to-life genre exploded in 2015. I could have easily put Skylanders on this list, and perhaps LEGO Dimension will be once I get to playing it (see the end of this post) but I decided to go with Disney Infinity 3.0 because of how much the presentation and stories captured my interest. Being able to play through the familiar Star Wars settings was a blast, and I like how each one has a slightly different take or another angle to go along with the main story we all know. I enjoyed making a little youtube series following my progress through the first playset (Twilight of the Republic). I have plans to do the same here very soon for Rise Against the Empire and the brand new Force Awakens playsets that just released.

splatoon-combat

Splatoon

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Nintendo’s first real foray into online shooters did not disappoint. Splatoon was a breath of innovative fresh air. The inking system, weapons, and presentation were all very enjoyable. Nintendo’s constant stream of updates, especially in the first two months, made each week exciting to see what new maps, weapons, and outfits were added. Nintendo captures the spirit of gaming in Splatoon, and honestly that can be said for the other great games they released this year like Mario Maker.

EQ Classic Ragefire Server

EverQuest

Why is this on my list you ask? Why do I keep bringing up a game that is nearly 20 years old? Because I put over 280 hours into the game in 2015, and gave the company who made it almost as much money as I gave to Disney and Nintendo.  Both Ragefire and now Phinigel have given me more MMORPG enjoyment than I’ve had in years. People used to love to sling the “if you love it so much why don’t you go back and play it” line at me. Well, I did. And guess what? It’s awesome. Still going strong on Phinigel.

The Backlog is Real

Now I should note here that I still have a backlog I’m working through, and several games on my Christmas List. Here are just a FEW of the games I still need to play, which could have easily been on this list had I been able to get to them.

  • Xenoblade Chronicles X – Wii U
  • LEGO Dimensions
  • Just Cause 3
  • Legacy of the Void
  • Pillars of Eternity
  • Witcher 3 (potentially, though I haven’t played 1 or 2)
  • Fallout 4 (Have to finish it)

Did I forget any games I should have mentioned in my backlog that you haven’t seen me cover before? Should I be adding more to my backlog? Let me know what you think were the best games of 2015.

4

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate Review

ac syndicate

I’m finally ready to review Assassin’s Creed Syndicate! I say finally because I am finally at a point where I have finished the main story and achieved a completion percentage higher than I’ve ever had in any previous game in the franchise. As always, I like to start my reviews off by portraying the overall sentiment: Syndicate was a phenomenal game, and one of the best in this franchise.

Story, Setting, and Overall Presentation (No story spoilers)

I’m a huge fan of the Assassin’s Creed story arch. You either love it or you hate it, and I think it drives these games forward and allows Unisoft to create relatively similar titles one after the other without them being too stale. Unlike Unity, which had absolutely no connection to the modern day world, Syndicate at least uses cutscenes between sequences to progress a story.

You’re once again the nameless “player” in the “game” working to uncover a secret from the past that will help the present-day Assassin’s uncover information about a relic. At the end of the game, these sequences finally tie back to the overall story we last saw back from Black Flag. I really liked the revelations in the end.

ac syndicate train base

The setting of London is fantastic, and Ubisoft’s presentation of the city and its boroughs has set the bar so dang high I can’t help but worry that the next game’s city-play will disappoint. London is undergoing its industrial revolution. Gangs, child labor, and socioeconomic disparities abound. This time and place, despite the horrific atrocities, make for an awesome setting that (hard for me to say) beats even the great pirates of the caribbean motif from Black Flag.

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London is divided into boroughs that each do a great job of telling the story of what’s happening in the city. Taking over the boroughs requires you to complete a variety of missions like killing a named templar, defeating a stronghold, kidnapping someone (cool new feature), or rescuing orphans. Side missions also play a huge role in defining the setting too. Marx, Dickens, Darwin, etc., all make appearances and have missions throughout the city.

Oh, and your base of operations is a friggin personal train that actually moves around the entire city. ’nuff said there! Continue reading

1

Assassin’s Creed Rogue Review: A Must Play

Assassin's Creed Rogue Story

This post will contain spoilers for Assassin’s Creed Rogue, Unity, III, etc.

Assassins’ Creed Rogue launched the exact same day as Assassin’s Creed Unity, received absolutely no press, and launched on “last-gen” consoles. Rogue’s fate was sealed before it even launched, and for whatever reason fell by the wayside as a game I had not even heard of — even as a major fan of the franchise — until just a few months ago. I’m glad I played because Rogue is easily one of the best in the entire series.

A Return to Great Storytelling

You’ll recall from my Unity review that I felt like Ubisoft abandoned the fantastic (and horrifically complex) story they’ve been telling for so many years. Rogue doesn’t suffer from these issues. In fact, Rogue not only bridges entire series into a complete package that actually makes sense — it actually brings clarity to Unity’s story!

You play as Shay Patrick Cormac, a novice to the Assassin order. After the Assassins keep making terrible decisions regarding the pieces of Eden and implementing an end justifies the means approach, Shay decides he has had enough and tries to put a stop to the needless bloodshed. He goes against the Assassins and ends up unknowingly joining the Templars as he seeks to help the British colonies defend themselves against the French. Ultimately he realizes he has more in common with the Templars, joins their ranks, and becomes instrumental in obliterating the Assassin Order in the colonies. Continue reading

4

Assassin’s Creed Unity Review

Assassin's Creed Unity

My original plan was to forgo an Assassin’s Creed Unity review, but after finally completing the game I feel like I need to write up some of my thoughts.

My wife was a major contributing factor to my enjoyment of Assassins’ Creed Unity because, for the first time ever, she sat next to me for every single minute of gampeplay. Although she’ll play the modest card and deny it, she’s fluent in French and an encyclopedia of French history. Throughout my play-through I would turn to her with guidance with what the heck is going on in this thing called the French Revolution. Having been to France and loving the city of Paris, she was a great tour guide helping me figure out puzzles and helping me to understand the nonsensical mumblings of the French language.

Story

Assassin’s Creed is one of my favorite gaming franchises because I love how Ubisoft plays with the facts of history to twist our world into one big shadow game of Templars vs. Assassins. Unity does not disappoint in terms of history — especially if you’re into the French history like my wife — but doesn’t keep up with previous AC titles’ ability to create a story bigger than life.

Almost all (like 99%) of the “real life” story has been cut out of the game, leaving the player in control of Arno Dorian. The actual story of Arno is rather dull. He’s the son of an assassin who is killed within the first minutes of the game leaving him to be adopted by a prominent Templar family. Revenge drives Arno’s decisions through life as does his love for the daughter of the man who adopted him.

The player is (ready for this?) only known as “the player” of Helix, a game by Abstergo (Templars in modern day) once again using genetic memories for entertainment and their nefarious purposes. (Obtaining artifacts and pieces of Eden, etc.) Your gameplay feed is hijacked by Assassin’s and you’re asked to join the order as an initiate. It’s actually weaker and even less cool than I’ve made it sound here.

One of the more intriguing sides of the story in Unity is how the Templars and Assassins were trying to broker piece, and how such an act caused rifts within both organizations. How that plays out drives a great deal of story. Continue reading

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