james debate
james debate

Monday, 28 August 2023

Another football season is underway, with fascinating competitions and narratives in store all up and down the table. From the rise of Newcastle, the up and coming clubs of Brighton and Brentford, to the chaos and drama at Wolves and Chelsea. Increasingly, the Premier League is proving to be such a tight and competitive league. Arguably any of the top ten clubs could push for Europe, and equally there's no one side seemingly destined for relegation. One outcome that seems in little doubt is the prospect of Manchester City winning yet another title. But this is football and anything can happen. Watch this space.

premier league 2022/23 preview

Premier League 2023/24 Predictions in a nutshell:
Champions: Manchester City
Champions League qualifiers: Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool
Relegated: Sheffield United, Everton, Luton
Golden Boot winner: Erling Haaland (Manchester City)
Golden Glove winner: Ederson (Manchester City)
Player to watch: Erling Haaland (Manchester City)
New signing to watch: Sandro Tonali (Newcastle)
Young player to watch: Levi Colwill (Chelsea)
First manager to get the sack: Paul Heckingbottom (Sheffield United)
Shock of the season: Sean Dyche to flame out and get sacked early by Everton

Nickname: The Gunners
Ground: Emirates Stadium
Capacity: 60,000
Position last season: 2nd
Manager: Mikel Arteta
Last season saw a huge step up from this club. For the first time in a generation, Arsenal looked like genuine contenders, and only a late collapse saw them what miss out on what would have been a first title in twenty years.

The response to narrowly missing out on the title has been to, once again, spend big. Arsenal have spent some £200 million on players this summer, most notably on the former West Ham midfield dynamo Declan Rice, and the Chelsea midfielder who has inexplicably been pretending to be a striker for two years, Kai Havertz. These are very fine signings. I have no doubt that playing Kai in his correct position will elicit improved performances from the player. Along with Martin Odegaard, this may well be the best midfield trio in the league.

The problem that Arsenal face is that their potential rivals have improved to an even greater degree. One could argue that their formidable title charge last season owed as much to the relative weakness of the other contenders as to Arsenal's own brilliance. If the other big clubs manage to hit the ground running this year, Arsenal may not enjoy the same heights as last season.

Key Signing: Declan Rice
Key Man: Martin Odegaard
Verdict: Possible title contenders, but against improved opposition they may struggle to keep pace.

Nickname: The Villans
Ground: Villa Park
Capacity: 42,095
Last season: 7th
Manager: Unai Emery

Predicting big things of Aston Villa, only for the Birmingham club to disappoint, seems to have become a bit of a yearly tradition. The Villans have spent big in the past few seasons, with ambitious plans afoot to finally give England's second city a club worthy of that stature, but a series of false dawns and stuttering starts have so far seen them fail to deliver.

This year there is, once again, great optimism around Villa Park. This is mostly attributed to manager Unai Emery, and the drastic turnaround that took place after his arrival last season. In just six months, the Spaniard transformed the club from a relegation risk to European qualifiers. There is excitement to see what can be accomplished with a full pre-season to prepare.

The headline signing to date has been Moussa Diaby, Emery's primary target and a pacey attacker who can contribute both goals and assists. Equally shrewd has been the free transfer of Youri Tielemans from relegated Leicester City, a midfielder of known Premier League quality in his prime years.

Key Signing: Moussa Diaby
Key Man: Ollie Watkins
Verdict: Optimistic times at Villa Park, who will be targeting a top seven finish.

Nickname: The Cherries
Ground: Dean Court
Capacity: 11,364
Last season: 15th
Manager: Andoni Iraola

It was a difficult return to the top flight for Bournemouth, one that they just about survived. Now the club is ringing the changes, with the aim of consolidating their position.

This started with the appointment of Andoni Iraola, the club's first foreign manager, and continued with the spending of more than £100 million on reinforcements, including the likes of Justin Kluivert, Max Aarons and Hamed Traoré. But the stand out among the new business has to be late signing of Tyler Adams from relegated Leeds, a player who had been linked with high profile clubs such as Chelsea and Liverpool over the summer.

Despite the investment, this still looks among the weaker squads in the league. Defence was a problem last year, one which new manager Iraola seems to believe will be solved by a more attacking playstyle. I suspect he may be in for a rude awakening.

Key Signing: Philip Billing
Key Man: Tyler Adams
Verdict: A prime relegation candidate.


Nickname: The Bees
Ground: Brentford Community Stadium
Capacity: 17,250
Last season: 9th
Manager: Thomas Frank

It's been an impressive few seasons for London's newest representative in the top flight. Brentford increasingly look at home in this league and weren't far off from European qualification last season.

The Bees would do well to temper their ambitions however. The top half of the league is increasingly competitive, and with the club's talismanic striker Ivan Toney sidelined until January they could struggle in these early stages. A great deal will rest on Yoane Wissa, the man who, ostensibly, is set to step into Toney's place. 

The club could also struggle with the loss of goalkeeper David Raya to Arsenal on a season-long loan. Raya was one of the most impressive shot stoppers in the league last season and new signing Mark Flekken has some big shows to fill.

Key Signing: Mark Flekken
Key Man: Ivan Toney
Verdict: Should be safe in midtable, but a season of consolidation could be seen as a victory.

Nickname: The Seagulls
Ground: Falmer Stadium
Capacity: 31,800
Last season: 6th
Manager: Roberto De Zerbi

Brighton's success has been the story of the Premier League in recent seasons. A well run outfit, whose progress up the league system in recent years has made for a remarkable story. Flush with cash and one of the most successful scouting outfits in the country, Brighton find themselves in an enviable position to push on, but how far can they go?

The club is rightly riding a high after last season's record finish, which saw Brighton qualify for their first ever Europa League campaign. But that extra fixture congestion can be a curse as much as a blessing, and Brighton will pay for their success with the additional strain that is normally endured by wealthier clubs with deeper squads. 

It also can't be ignored that the club has lost two huge stars of last season, Alexis Mac Allister to Liverpool and Moises Caicedo to Chelsea. Brighton have spent big to bring in nine players this summer, including club record signing João Pedro from Wolves, but it remains to be seen whether these reinforcements will be able to bring the same kind of success.

That is not to say that Brighton are in store for a bad year, but with these additional challenges they would do well to match the high finish of last season.

Key Signing: João Pedro
Key Man: Pervis Estupiñán
Verdict: Matching last season's feats will be a tall order, but should achieve a solid top half finish.

Nickname: The Clarets
Ground: Turf Moor
Capacity: 21,944
Last season: Promoted (Champions)
Manager: Vincent Kompany

Second tier champions last season, with a whopping 101 points earned. Led by a manager considered one of the hottest in British football and a legend of the sport as a player. The momentum is very much with Burnley, but the Premier League is a different prospect entirely, and they face a steep challenge to stay up.

For those who don't watch much Championship football, be warned that this is not your father's Burnley. This is not Sean Dyche anti-football. Kompany has transformed Burnley into an adventurous, attacking side. If the club's summer signings are any indication, Kompany is looking to emphasise this focus, with additional firepower being brought in with Swansea's Michael Obafemi and Swiss youngster Zeki Amdouni. But anyone who watched Burnley last season will tell you that the key signing so far has been that of defender Jordan Beyer, on loan with the club last season, now signed to a permanent deal.

Otherwise, the club has done well to keep ahold of its key players, midfield Joshes Brownhill and Cullen chief among them. It's a squad with some promise, but whether they can step up to this level remains to be seen.

Key Signing: Jordan Beyer
Key Man: Josh Brownhill
Verdict: Great optimism surrounds the club, but they remain a relegation risk

Nickname: Blues
Ground: Stamford Bridge
Capacity: 41,837
Last season: 12th (not a typo)
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino

Round 2 in what has got to be the most disastrous tenure in the history of Premier League owners. Mike Ashley will be looking at this and thinking, "Yeah, I did ok actually."

I've been reading a lot of pundit analysis tipping this Chelsea side for a comeback, for great things, and I just can't believe what I'm reading. Most people seem to be looking at the vast quantities of cash being spent as some kind of indication that the club is building a strong side. But let me ask you this, if Chelsea went out and spent £1 billion on a wheelbarrow, would that make them title favourites? Of course not, the amount of money spent means nothing, it's what you spend it on that matters.

For all the eye-watering expenditure, this is a team whose first choice goalkeeper was Brighton's third choice last season. This is a team that is without a proven top flight striker in the squad. A team whose starting central defence partnership is an unproven 20 year old academy product and a 40 year old who's lost his pace. This is a team that began the season with only one central midfielder (at least until this week's last minute panic signings, another cool £200 million out the window). You might well ask yourself, what the hell have they been spending all that money on? And you'd be right.

So, no, I don't buy all the hype that Chelsea are back. This is a threadbare side with massive holes in the squad and razor thin depth. A side that has sold off its strongest assets and gambled their future on unproven talent (literally, if those 8 year contracts don't work out, this club could very well go bust). I haven't even mentioned the fact that the club sacked its medical team and replaced them with celebrity doctors from Hollywood (and we wonder why their injury rate is through the roof all of a sudden) or that the club literally has no shirt sponsor currently. Club management currently seems unable to perform even the basic functions of running a club, and until that changes I don't see anything above a midtable finish in the cards, no matter how many billions they spend.

Key Signing: Christopher Nkunku (if he ever comes back from injury)
Key Man: Reece James (if he ever comes back from injury)
Verdict: In a good season, they might break into the Europa League places. Most likely, smack in the middle of the table.

Nickname: Eagles, Glaziers
Ground: Selhurst Park
Capacity: 25,486
Last season: 11th
Manager: Roy Hodgson
For a club that is entering its second decade in the top flight, a surprising air of uncertainty remains over Crystal Palace. Every time the club looks set for an upturn in fortunes, setbacks occur. The exciting Vieira boom didn't last, and now the Eagles find themselves looking for a new identity, a new long term strategy.

The man tasked with helping the club to find its way forward is none other than Roy Hodgson, now 76 years young and embarking on his second stint as Palace manager, third stint if you include his playing career. The thinking is clear: Palace face an uncertain future, and the presence of a much loved steady hand brings reassurance to both players and fans alike. Whether this will lead to success is much harder to divine. 

The big development in terms of playing staff will be the departure of the talismanic Wilfried Zaha, an ever present figure at this club over the past fifteen years. While his best may be behind him, replacing his presence will nevertheless be a tall order. A will now rest on the hotly tipped youngster Michael Olise, a player who had been tipped with a move away this summer but now seems set to stay. A more direct replacement for Zaha might end up being the new signing Matheus França, a young Brazilian with a reputation for his exciting, attacking play. His addition to the squad might just be the boost Palace need.

Key Signing: Matheus França
Key Man: Michael Olise
Verdict: I don't expect Palace to be a relegation risk, but this is very much a transition year and expectations should be set accordingly.

Nickname: Toffees
Ground: Goodison Park
Capacity: 40,170
Last season: 17th
Manager: Sean Dyche

In the annals of underperforming Premier League teams, few earn their place more than Everton. For a club with such a significant history and dedicated fanbase, they just can't seem to do themselves justice. After years of stagnation, the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti a few years back seemed promising, but turned out to be a false dawn. Frank Lampard briefly got pulses racing, but failed to take the club forward. Now, the man the club has chosen to take the Toffees to the next level is... Sean Dyche?

Dyche has a reputation as a tactician, someone who can grind out the necessary results no matter how ugly. Crucially, he has a reputation of someone who can guarantee survival, but I'm not sure this is really earned. Everton's issues run deeper than just the manager, but it's hard to see even Dyche doing much with this threadbare squad. That the marquee signing of the summer looks set to be a 38 year old Ashley Young says it all.

Add to this the spectre of investigations and uncertain ownership, and it paints a gloomy picture for Everton's prospects in the short term.

Key Signing: Ashley Young
Key Man: Jordan Pickford
Verdict: The alarm bells are ringing. Everton are not a side you expect to see relegated, but it's a real risk this season.

Nickname: The Cottagers
Ground: Craven Cottage
Capacity: 22.384
Last season: 10th
Manager: Marco Silva

Tipped by many for relegation last term (not here though, because I am not a hack), it's fair to say that Marco Silva's side exceeded anyone's expectations by achieving a top half finish. Indeed, right up until the tail end of the season, they were within touching distance of European qualification.

Unfortunately, one of the main driving forces behind this success, Aleksandar Mitrovic, has departed the club this summer. Fans will undoubtedly be looking to new signing Raúl Jimenéz to take his place up front. At 32, the Mexican forward is hardly a long term solution, but for the meantime he represents proven Premier League quality

Elsewhere, the club has done well to keep hold of its key performers, midfielder Palhinha and youngster Harrison Reed, but it is that former Arsenal keeper Bernd Leno who may prove most essential in determining the club's prospects this season.

Key Signing: Raúl Jimenéz
Key Man: Leno
Verdict: Should be safe, even without Mitrovic, but repeating the feats of last season seems unlikely.

Nickname: Reds
Ground: Anfield
Capacity: 54,074
Last season: 5th
Manager: Jurgen Klopp
The great Klopp era of Liverpool dominance may already be over, or so the conventional wisdom goes. Ever since their title win, Liverpool have struggled to live up to expectations, and will be disappointed to participate in just the Europa League this season. 

The Liverpool squad is facing a bit of a shake up this season. The captain Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Firmino have all gone to Saudi Arabia. Milner, Keita, Oxlade-Chamberlain, also departing. Taking their places in the squad will be Brighton's World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister, and the hotly tipped Hungarian midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai. This is still a strong squad, but it's difficult to say that they look stronger than last season. Liverpool will be hoping that last term's struggles were a blip rather than an indication of some deeper problem.

Klopp, surely, has achieved legendary status for his past success with the club, but he won't be able to live on that forever and fans will be expecting to see some progress back towards the top of the table this season.

Key Signing: Alexis Mac Allister
Key Man: Mo Salah
Verdict: Will expect a top four finish.

Nickname: The Hatters
Ground: Kenilworth Road
Capacity: 10,356
Last season: Promoted (3rd)
Manager: Rob Edwards
Most pundits' heavy favourite for the drop this season. I am not most pundits... but it's hard to disagree here. The Premier League is probably the most competitive league in the world. It's not enough to be a good side. Even the bottom ranked teams are good squads bristling with talent, and when you look at this Luton squad, it's difficult to see how they compete with those around them.

If recent history is any guide, the newly promoted teams that stay up need to have some spine, and some top flight experience. This Luton team earned their promotion chiefly through their solid defensive play and conservatism. But Premier League offences will ask much greater questions, and it just isn't clear that they will be up to that task. At the other end, Carlton Morris brings goals and had a great season in the second tier, he will no doubt be key to the Hatters' chances. 

As for top flight experience, this is something sorely lacking from this squad. Even their summer signings have tended to be a mix of promising EFL players, rather than those that have proven themselves at the highest level. They may yet step up and prove everyone wrong, but it's a tall order.

Key Signing: Thomas Kaminski
Key Man: Carlton Morris
Verdict: Favourites for relegation.

Nickname: Blues
Ground: Etihad Stadium
Capacity: 55,017
Last season: Champions
Manager: Pep Guardiola

Champions, and favourites to win it again for a record breaking fourth consecutive season. Manchester City's squad is one of the world's strongest, has depth for miles, and probably the single best footballer on the planet in Erling Haaland.

If they weren't already formidable enough, they've strengthened well this summer. Joško Gvardiol is one of the best defensive prospects in world football today, Mateo Kovačić is a highly underrated player who will show his best at City, and Doku provides a different option going forward when plan A doesn't work. It's difficult to think of a real weakness in this side. Kevin de Bruyne's injury problems definitely pose a concern, especially with City's failure to sign Pep's top target in Jude Bellingham as a long-term replacement, but they're not exactly short of options in the short term.

City's greatest obstacle may simply be statistics. No one has ever managed to win four top flight titles in a row in this country, and there's a reason for that. Football is an unpredictable game. Injuries happen, teams under and over perform. Anyone can win on the right day. Still, there's no doubt that City start the season as the most likely team to win by far.

Key Signing: Joško Gvardiol
Key Man: Erling Haaland
Verdict: Title favourites.

Nickname: Red Devils
Ground: Old Trafford
Capacity: 74,879
Last season: 3rd
Manager: Erik ten Hag
A big season for Manchester United. It's been some time since the club could rightly consider itself among the very highest calibre of football clubs, arguably not since Alex Ferguson's retirement. But this year, there's the sense that Erik ten Hag may finally be turning things around. Last season's modest silverware, the EFL Cup, may not seem like such a grand prize, but it's a start. More significant will be the late season surge in form that saw United return to the Champions League.

This is a much more balanced United side than we have seen in many years. Shaw, Wan Bissaka and Varane have really come into their own as a defensive unit, while the captain Bruno Fernandes has led by example going forward. But it's last season's signing of Casemiro that might just have been the lynchpin to pull this whole thing together, and he has quickly become an integral cog in one of the league's tightest midfields. 

Their summer business has been strong, with the big money signings of Chelsea midfielder Mason Mount and the addition of further firepower up front with Rasmus Højlund. But the most significant addition will likely be André Onana, a goalkeeper who has long been tipped with a Premier League move, who now looks set to finally bring stability to a position that has been something of a question mark for United in recent seasons. This team means business, and it will be a sore underperformance if they don't finish top four with ease.

Key Signing: André Onana
Key Man: Casemiro
Verdict: Top four is the minimum expectation, but they have their target set on bigger things.

Nickname: The Magpies, Toon
Ground: St James' Park
Capacity: 52,305
Last season: 4th
Manager: Eddie Howe

What a difference a year can make. Newcastle, formerly the butt of so many jokes for so many years, have been transformed by their new owners from one of the worst run clubs in the country to one of the very best. The result was the Toon making an unlikely return to the Champions League for the first time in two decades.

The club's Saudi owners have defied every fan's worst fears and shown themselves to be measured and shrewd operators, spending well and hiring the right people. Eddie Howe has matured into one of the great managerial stars of the English game. This is a good team, to boot. Nick Pope is one of the finest shot stoppers in the country, Kieran Trippier that rare breed of defender who contributes as much going forward as most attacking players. Sven Botman, Miguel Almirón, both hugely impressive pieces of business. This squad is the envy of any in the league.

They're still building, too. Harvey Barnes and Tino Livramento are great additions, but it is the signing Milan's Sandro Tonali, considered to be one of the most exciting young midfielders in the world, that really makes a statement. These owners are ambitious, and they fully intend to take the club all the way. They might get there eventually, but it probably won't be this season.

Key Signing: Sandro Tonali
Key Man: Kieran Trippier
Verdict: The additional strain of Europe will pose challenges, but I think this squad is good enough to push for top four once again.


Nickname: The Reds
Ground: City Ground
Capacity: 30,445
Last season: 16th
Manager: Steve Cooper
Nottingham Forest survived their long-awaited return to top flight football, just about. But repeating the feat and, in doing so, avoiding the dreaded second season syndrome, will be a tall order. 

As has been the case with so many of these previews, it's not that Forest have a poor side, it's that they are up against some very good sides indeed, even just to survive. 

In order to compete at this level you need goals, and in this side those are going to come from Taiwo Awoniyi, last season's top scorer for Forest and the key focal point in this side's attacking play. Steve Cooper has got his side playing an attractive progressive game, but the flip side to that is vulnerability at the back, and it is conspicuous that Forest conceded the third most goals of any side last term. The signing of fullback and Chelsea academy product Ola Aina to help shore up that defence may prove a shrewd signing in a problem area. 

Forest have done the smart thing in bringing in some proven Premier League talent, but most of those players are on the wrong side of 30, and it's not clear how many of the younglings they're supposed to help mentor will ever reach that level.

Forest would gladly take a boring season of consolidation if it meant another season in the top flight, but when you look at this squad, there's a genuine question of whether they have what it takes.

Key Signing: Ola Aina
Key Man: Taiwo Awoniyi
Verdict: Not a foregone conclusion, but definitely one of the risks for relegation.

Nickname: The Blades
Ground: Bramall Lane
Capacity: 31,884
Last season: Promoted (Runner up)
Manager: Paul Heckingbottom
Even the younger Premier League fans may remember Sheffield United's last adventure into the top flight (it was just four years ago, after all). That brief stay was almost the stuff of legends, achieving a near miraculous top half finish in their first season up, only to go right back down, rock bottom, the following season. The Blades will be hoping for a little more sustained success this time around, but the first order of business is survival, and they face a big challenge to accomplish that.

The summer after promotion is usually a glut of development. The Premier League is a massive step up for any club, and most look to spend their considerable TV windfall to ensure that that they have a squad capable of competing. It is concerning, then, that Sheffield United arguably begin their season with a weaker squad than they ended last season. They've lost their top scorer from last season, as well as a few bright loan signings, and their replacements have little in the way of proven quality.

A lot will depend on newly signed forward Bénie Traoré, ostensibly their main threat up front now, as well as Tom Davies, newly signed from Everton, and one of the few arrivals with Premier League experience. Of the players that remain from last season, there is some genuine quality. Anel Ahmedhodžić has shown himself to be a very influential player, both at the back and also as a goal threat on the other end. He is partnered at the back by the hugely experienced Chris Basham and talented youngster Jayden Bogle. That defence will be key to United's survival chances, because they look threadbare elsewhere.

Key Signing: Bénie Traoré
Key Man: Anel Ahmedhodžić
Verdict: Will be in and around the relegation battle.

Nickname: Spurs
Ground: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Capacity: 62,850
Last season: 8th
Manager: Ange Postecoglou
Whisper it quietly, but Tottenham could be in for a good year? One might expect the club to be a place of doom and pessimism now that the talismanic Harry Kane has departed for greener pastures. But new manager Ange Postecoglou has managed to instil an impressively optimistic atmosphere around the club, and there is a genuine sense that they could build something here.

Postecoglou is an interesting manager. He's achieved some impressive feats in his surprisingly long managerial career, but equally he has shown a tendency to flame out in a spectacular fashion, and remains unproven at the highest level. Still, he has a reputation for being able to squeeze a surprising amount out of very little, which will serve him well at a club like Tottenham. I say this not to be glib, but because that really, truly is an important requirement when managing a club run by Daniel Levy. The club's recent managerial recruitments have tended to focus on the star man, Mourinho, Espirito Santo, Conte, and they haven't worked. Perhaps they needed to think outside the box all along.

Let's not beat around the bush, Harry Kane's departure is a big blow. But the man is 30, it had to happen at some point. The big question mark, then, is where are these goals going to come from. While the club has been busy in the transfer market this summer, they have notably not brought in a star striker by way of replacement. One has to assume that much of the club's fortunes will rest on Son Heung-Min, now surely the central figure in this squad. 

While they may not have brought in a striker, they've spent that Harry Kane money wisely, bringing in the goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario, wing back Pedro Porro, and the talismanic star of relegated Leicester City, James Maddison. Even without Kane, this is a strong squad that could make a good go of pushing for top four this season.

Key Signing: James Maddison
Key Man: Son Heung-Min
Verdict: A strong top four contender..

Nickname: The Hammers
Ground: London Stadium
Capacity: 60,000
Last season: 14th
Manager: David Moyes

I think people have been sleeping on West Ham a bit this summer. That's saying something coming from me, a commenter who typically mocks the media's fascination with The Hammers and that bold new era of success that never comes. 

True, West Ham were far from impressive last season, stumbling their way to a finish in the lower mid table. They've also lost their star man Declan Rice this summer. But his sizeable transfer kitty has been put to good use, with well over £100 million spent on the trio of James Ward-Prowse, Edson Álvarez, and Mohammed Kudus. Ward-Prowse, in particular, I have always considered to be an underrated player, whose set pieces alone should win the club points this season.

While it's hard to get too excited about a side managed by David Moyes, West Ham's is a squad surprisingly stocked with top level quality. Last season's record signing Lucas Paquetá has proven to be an influential figure in the squad, while Antonio remains a handful up front. The defence is sturdy and has depth. But the underrated lynchpin of this team is Jarrod Bowen, shrewdly signed from Hull some three seasons ago for relatively little, by today's standards. As a winger, Bowen creates problems for any defence and is frequently the channel through which West Ham launch their most effective attacks.

So what can this side achieve? I think pushing into the top half of that table is a very realistic target, perhaps with a push on the Europa League places.

Key Signing: James Ward-Prowse
Key Man: Jarrod Bowen
Verdict: Will push for Europa League qualification, finish in the top half.

Nickname: Wolves
Ground: Molineux Stadium
Capacity: 32,050
Last season: 13th
Manager: Gary O'Neil

Last, but not least, Wolves. For a number of years, Wolves were seen as one of the next big things in English football. With deep pockets, some shrewd business, and hugely ambitious owners, Wolves were shaping up to be a very fine squad with the potential of pushing on into Europe. That era seems to have passed now, with the club slumping in the last few seasons to lower mid table. A chaotic summer, with seemingly little in the way of a long term plan, leaves the club adrift, with the risk that things could go horribly south if not steadied soon.

This all came to a head with the sensational departure of manager Julen Lopetegui, just days before the start of the season. His choice of replacement, Gary O'Neil, has raised more than a few eyebrows. The fact is, the club finds itself in a dire financial mess, which has resulted in an exodus of key players, most notably Rúben Neves, Raúl Jiménez, Adama Traoré and Nathan Collins. Despite this, they've gone for the big money signing of Matheus Cunha, their hand forced by the terms of last season's loan agreement. This outlay has forced the club to be somewhat stingier in the rest of its business, with a number of mostly free transfers coming in, including the re-signing of Matt Doherty from Atletico.

Nothing about this situation instills confidence for the upcoming season. No one wants to say it, but Wolves really need to consider the possibility of being drawn into the relegation battle. We've seen it time and time again, but chaos off the pitch can often be as fatal as lack of quality on it.

Key Signing: Matheus Cunha
Key Man: Neto
Verdict: Without further reinforcements will struggle, and perhaps risk relegation.

Predicted table:
1. Manchester City
2. Manchester United
3. Arsenal
4. Liverpool
5. Newcastle
6. Tottenham Hotspur
7. Chelsea
8. West Ham United
9. Aston Villa
10. Brighton
11. Brentford
12. Fulham
13. Crystal Palace
14. Burnley
15. Wolverhampton Wanderers
16. Nottingham Forest
17. Bournemouth
18. Sheffield United
19. Everton
20. Luton

Friday, 7 July 2023

Developed by Nintendo
Published by Nintendo
Genre Action-Advenutre
Platform Switch

legend zelda tears of the kingdom breath wild nintendo switch 2023 sequel game

"How do you follow up one of the best videogames ever made" is not a question that most developers will ever need to answer, but for Nintendo this is familiar ground. 

When The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time released in 1998 it built the foundations of 3D gaming that developers still follow to this day. Widely considered among the greatest games of all time, following it up seemed an impossible task at the time. Yet somehow Nintendo not only managed to build and release a sequel in two years, but that sequel, Majora's Mask, was considered by many to be even better.

How did they do it? Nintendo realised they would never be able to top the scale of its landmark predecessor on the available hardware, so instead they looked to other ways they could innovate the formula. The result remains one of the most unique and brilliantly designed games ever made.

So in crafting a follow up to 2017's Breath of the Wild, a groundbreaking masterpiece of open-world game design considered by many to be the very greatest of all games, can Nintendo do it again?

There will be some gameplay spoilers here, and very mild story spoilers (nothing beyond the opening section).

One thing that struck me in the build up to The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is just how little we have seen of the game pre-release. Ordinarily for such a big release the publisher would blitz the media with advertising and previews, yet in this case we saw little more than a few cryptic teaser trailers until just the last few days prior to release, and practically nothing in the way of story or gameplay details.

What we did know was that Tears of the Kingdom began life as a DLC expansion for Breath of the Wild, before growing in scope to the point where it was ultimately broken out as its own standalone project. This fact, combined with the lack of pre-release information, had given way to some concern among the fanbase. Fears abound that this would amount to little more than a glorified expansion pack, reusing assets and setting with only meager additions. I am pleased to say that this is very much not the case.

It is true that Tears of the Kingdom "reuses" the same world map as Breath of the Wild (more on that later) and reuses many of the same graphics and other assets. This might lead you to wonder what they have spent the better part of the last six years doing. As with Majora's Mask, it seems that much of Nintendo's focus in this case has gone towards gameplay innovation. 

One of the things that made Breath of the Wild great was its complex physics system which managed to seamlessly combine many granular mechanics in ways that were conducive to very clever puzzle design, but equally could be exploited by creative players in ways that the game developers could never have imagined. Attaching leaves to logs to create a makeshift boat. Using inflatable monster parts to create a hot air balloon, or even just something as daft as a catapult to launch players across the map. Even now, six years after release, players are still coming up with new ways to use these physics systems to achieve weird and wonderful things. With Tears of the Kingdom, Nintendo clearly looked at what players were having fun doing and said "yeah, let's have more of that." 

Fuse is a new power that allows Link to attach items to weapons, shields and arrows. This includes just about any item in the game world. You can attach rocks and monster parts, gemstones, even food items. This serves a few purposes. Fusing items increases their durability, which is essential in Tears of the Kingdom as the game opens with an event that "decays" all weapons in the world to the point where they will break after just a few uses. Different items will also confer certain attributes or bonuses. This may be something as simple as increased damage, or defense. Fusing certain items may give you increased temperature resistance, or allow you to set fire to or freeze things. Attach a "puffshroom" to a shield to create a cloud of smoke. Attach a fan or spring to a shield to send enemies flying. Attaching spikes, horns and certain stones to a shield allows you to effectively dual wield weapons. Attach a Keese eye to an arrow and it will home in on enemies. Those are the obvious examples, then there's the less obvious. Attach a minecart to a shield and you have a skateboard. Attach a spear to another spear and you have a stupidly long weapon that can attack enemies from great distance. There are hundreds of items in this game, each with their own properties and benefits. The possibilities are staggering. 

Then there's ultra-hand. Ultra-hand takes essentially the same concept as Fuse but expands it to the entire world. So instead of attaching items to your equipment, you can now attach different objects to each other. This might be useful to create a platform, or ramp, or a makeshift boat. Or you can attach them to one of the myriad of new "Zonai devices". There are dozens of different types of these devices, ranging from fans, to wheels, to balloons, gliders, cannons, springs and much more. By combining these devices with the objects around you, the game opens up truly endless possibilities. You can build just about anything you can imagine. For the purposes of gameplay, the idea is you can build yourself cars, boats, even aircraft. But already there are some truly creative people out there putting together all manner of contraptions, combining wheels and springs to create a functioning suspension system for all-terrain vehicles, fashioning giant walking mech-robots or automated flying laser drones. I saw one Reddit user create an automated egg farm that worked by attracting and then trapping chickens. Another figured out that frozen meat is simultaneously quite durable and has zero friction, making it an excellent contact point for a hovercraft. And this is just the beginning. The game has only been out a matter of weeks and I can only imagine what people will be building a year from now. 

Even before we get onto the rest of the game, what Nintendo have built here is incredible. To have crafted such a rich, complex system of physics and mechanics, complete with a very direct element of player agency, in all its unpredictability, is hugely impressive. There's little else like it. The fact that they did this and that it is so seamless, so polished, so bug free, is really nothing short of a miracle. Nintendo allegedly delayed this game by a year just to add polish, and it shows. Other developers would do well to take note.

But of course this is not Garry's Mod, or some kind of physics sandbox. This is still a Zelda game, and just because Nintendo have devoted a massive effort to these kinds of features does not mean that the rest of the game has been neglected. 

Tears of the Kingdom is very much a full-blooded Zelda adventure, complete with an epic story, colorful cast of characters, and a sweeping array of different locations to explore. In fact, while I expect most of the attention will be on the new powers, it is here where I feel Nintendo have most improved on Breath of the Wild. As brilliant as that game was, it did have a fairly simplistic story, with a cast of characters who barely featured, and disappointingly slight dungeons to explore. It was quite a lonely experience that was very much focused on its sandbox qualities and puzzles.

Tears of the Kingdom has a much more ambitious story, more thrillingly presented. It has characters that are actually present throughout the story and play a major role in your adventuring. In fact, in a first for the franchise, Tears of the Kingdom actually features "companions" to a limited degree, who will accompany you through dungeons and fight alongside you. The dungeons are also bigger, more numerous, and feature actual unique bosses rather than just the same one reskinned with a different coat of paint. The world itself is much livelier. There are more people out and about doing things, more side quests, more characters.

Then there is the world itself. This was, for me, the true star of Breath of the Wild. This incredible open world rich with hand-crafted detail, every inch of which could be explored. It was a treat simply to load up the game, pick a direction at random, and go explore. Very few games before or since have managed to achieve what that game did. As I have previously mentioned, Tears of the Kingdom reuses the overworld from Breath of the Wild, and pre-release this had me worried that the game might feel stale, or a rehash of what came before. If so much of the joy of the first game was exploring this world, then how could this game possibly recreate that feeling using a world that I've already explored?

It turns out I needn't have worried. Yes, this is the same Hyrule that we have previously explored, and yet, somehow, it feels fresh. It's clearly been remixed to a fair degree, ensuring that just about everything is new or changed from what you will remember.  Nintendo have also been clever in guiding players (through quests and world design) to spend more time in areas that you won't have explored as much in Breath of the Wild (eg Hyrule field), and less time in areas that were used extensively (eg the Great Plateau). Perhaps it is a testament to just how impressive the original design was, but I was quite surprised by the extent to which this felt like exploring a new world.

Pre-release much has been made of the addition of a new "layer" of sky islands, effectively a new overworld above the old one. These I actually found a little disappointing. The sky islands are fun enough to explore, but they're mostly quite small and lacking in depth, and since they are only dotted sporadically around the world they don't come even close to matching the scale of the surface level world.

But Nintendo had one final trick up its sleeve. The underground layer, a whole new layer of world to explore that was never even mentioned in the pre-release trailers. That's right, Tears of the Kingdom effectively features three over-worlds: the sky level, the surface level, and the underground. This underground layer covers the entirety of this giant world of Hyrule and it is absolutely massive. It is just unfortunate that more isn't made of this underground layer. The amount of space here is huge, but for the most part it is used mainly for farming crafting materials, boss fights, and the occasional side quest.

Perhaps my biggest issue with this game is how the "companions" have been implemented. To be clear, I like the idea of companions in Zelda, it's a good idea, but it has been used poorly here. Companions function essentially as surrogate equipment. Whereas in a previous game you might have had an item that allowed you to get a speed boost, or electrically charge your weapons, in this game you "activate" your companions in order to do so. This in itself is not a terrible concept, the problem is that these abilities aren't tied to a particular button or menu, rather you need to actively chase down your companion and activate the power physically while standing right next to them. This is incredibly tedious, especially as companions are coded to always stand behind the player so as to not block the camera, meaning that while you're chasing them down, they're often running away. Imagine having to do this in the middle of combat. It's surprising, considering how polished and well thought out the rest of the game is, that this one mechanic is so janky and poorly conceived. A rare example of poor game design.

But, this aside, my other criticisms with this game are very minor.

As mentioned above, while the surface layer of the world has been impressively reused, more could have been done to make the other layers as compelling to explore. 

Some of the menus and interfaces remain a bit too fiddly, especially when trying to fuse an item to an arrow, for example, which requires you to scroll through a list of potentially hundreds of items and gets tedious quickly.

While most of the puzzles and shrines are great fun, occasionally you will find one that is either poorly or unfairly designed, or poorly explained, in a way that causes frustration rather than enjoyment. In particular, the puzzles that rely on "platforming" style gameplay tend to feel a bit weak. Zelda has never been a platformer, and the controls simply aren't responsive or precise enough to make that kind of gameplay feel anything other than an irritation.

Minor annoyances aside, you'd have to say that Nintendo have somehow done it again. They've followed up a landmark game with yet another landmark game, one that expands and objectively improves upon just about every element of its predecessor. Tears of the Kingdom is simply brilliant, and there's really no other way to describe it.

Sunday, 4 June 2023

Genre Synth-pop
Label Virgin
Producers Anthony Gonzalez

m83 fantasy best new album 2023

Every band has that one album that's so good that it serves as a milestone against which all future albums must be compared. For M83 that album is 2011's Hurry Up, We're Dreaming.

Considered one of the seminal albums of the 21st Century so far, it's proven an unsurprisingly high bar for the French synth-poppers to meet. The immediate follow up, Junk, marked a major change in direction and was met with decidedly mixed reception, while the fully instrumental DSVII represents the only other output we've seen in the years since. 

Now, some 12 years later, we finally have a genuine successor to Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, Fantasy. An album which very nearly achieves the impossible.

Musically, Fantasy takes a page from its illustrious predecessor. The heavily 1980s influenced dreamscapes return, with imagery and texture inspired by the films of your childhood. But there's an added edge here, something drawn on the indie and shoegaze roots of M83's earlier work that keeps the music from sounding like empty nostalgia.

It works very well, these songs are excellent.

Lead single Oceans Niagara is just pure 1980s adventure film. It's the Goonies, it's The Neverending Story, it's The Last Starfighter. A mainly instrumental track that is at once wistful and romantic, yet explosive in the "chorus". It's a perfect summary of what M83 are all about in musical terms.

Much of the album follows this formula, drawing you in with the welcoming synths of a Hollywood score, before achieving lift off through an ecstatic wall of sound. A prime example being Amnesia, another radio-friendly number that drives forward with a chorus that's practically tripping over itself to break free.

As with M83's previous work, these euphoric highs are broken up by moments of introspection; the day-dreaming Radar, Far, Gone, the reckoning of closing track The Dismemberment Bureau. But the album's high points are undoubtedly when M83 goes bold. The mid-album epic Earth To Sea, might just be one of the band's finest tracks yet, certainly one of the biggest, most soaring.

In its best moments, the music of Fantasy is as good as anything M83 has ever recorded, possibly with even higher highs than Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. Yet there's something that holds this album back from true greatness.

Hurry Up, We're Dreaming was not just a collection of great songs, it was a great experience as a whole. When you listen to that album from start to finish, it feels like going on an adventure, with emotional beats that follow the narrative course of an epic movie or novel. And much like a great movie or novel, when you reach the end you feel saddened, like something has ended. 

Fantasy doesn't quite evoke the same feeling. These songs are great, but there's no single thread running through them, one song doesn't logically flow into the next in the same way. This doesn't feel like a single journey all the way through, rather a collection of unrelated ephemeral moments. Thirteen really excellent things rather than one really excellent thing. 

As a result, Fantasy never really feels more than the sum of its parts in the way that its predecessor did. It is an excellent album without doubt, perhaps one of the best of the year, but it never quite reaches that zenith to place it alongside the truly great albums of our times.

Must Listen :
Earth to Sea
Oceans Niagara
Dismemberment Bureau

Monday, 29 May 2023

Another Premier League campaign in the history books and it was a season of heartbreak for many. Arsenal led the way for most of the year before faltering in the final weeks. Tottenham similarly looked set for Champions League qualification before a late fall saw them drop out of contention for any European competition. At the foot of the table, recent Premier League champions Leicester city shockingly dropped down to the Championship. Chelsea also existed.

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And now I am going to take the unprecedented step of jumping straight to the end of season awards, because this season is not worth talking about in any greater detail.

The Ephemeric Premier League Awards 2023:

Winners: Manchester City 

Relegated: Leicester, Leeds, Southampton

Player of the Year: Erling Haaland (Manchester City)

U-21 Player of the Year: Bukayo Saka (Arsenal)

Best Goalkeeper: Nick Pope (Newcastle)

Top Scorer: Erling Haaland (Manchester City) (36)

Most Assists: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) (16) 

Manager of the Year: Unai Emery (Aston Villa)

Best signing of the season: Erling Haaland (Manchester City)

Worst signing of the season: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Chelsea)

The Ephemeric Premier League Team of the Season 2023:

english epl bpl premier league best team xi of the season 2023
So there we have it, another season of Premier League football gone by. We'll see you again next season!

Saturday, 22 April 2023

Directed by Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic 
Written by Matthew Fogel
Produced by Chris Meledandri, Shigeru Miyamoto
Starring Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jack Black, Charlie Day, Seth Rogen
Studio Illumination
Running time 92 minutes

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There are no good videogame movies, or so the conventional wisdom goes. Any time a celebrated videogame series is adapted to other media, this old chestnut invariably rears its head. Only, it's not really true and hasn't been for a while. Just this year we've had an adaptation of The Last of Us released to high critical acclaim, while the last few years have seen not one, but two Sonic the Hedgehog movies and Detective Pikachu, all certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. So it is perhaps not so unheard of as the wisdom would suggest. What is fair to say is that videogame adaptations have a low hit-rate. While there are plenty of good ones, most are not (the reason for why that is the case is a discussion for another time). 

So when Nintendo decided to try their hand at adapting Mario to the big screen this year, it predictably spawned the usual breathless headlines asking whether this would be the film to break the (mostly mythical) videogame movie curse. Lazy journalism aside, the point stands that there is a lot riding on the success of this film. Nintendo clearly has visions of an expansive cinematic universe, yet has historically been very protective of its IP - understandably so given their early misadventures into Hollywood in the 1990s. So the real question is simply, have they finally cracked the movie industry?

The Super Mario Bros Movie is an adaptation of Nintendo's beloved mascot. Fully animated by the people at Illumination, best known for Despicable Me and Minions. The decision to award such a flagship IP to a studio known for fairly forgettable kids movies certainly raised a few eyebrows, but in truth it's hard to imagine any of the top tier animation studios agreeing to adapt someone else's IP so it shouldn't have come as a surprise. 

It is fair to say that this is a cut above the typical Illumination movie in terms of quality. The animation is gorgeous and highly detailed, the writing is witty and there's a general sheen of quality throughout. The film is also jam-packed full of references and your favourite characters from the games. It's actually fairly impressive how much they've managed to cram into a short runtime without it falling apart completely. There's Mario Kart, Donkey Kong... they manage to sneak in a few obscure references to Jump Man and Kid Icarus. We even get the obligatory "your princess is in another castle" gag. The score also makes extensive use of the music from the games, to good effect. This is all very pleasing to a videogame nerd such as myself.

The characters themselves are fairly well translated to the big screen. Mario and Luigi are basically the Italian-American plumber stereotypes you expect them to be. Donkey Kong is a lovably arrogant jock. Toad is delightfully zany (a good call there). But the real star of the show has to be what these writers have done with Princess Peach. In the games, Peach is almost always just there as a squeaky-voiced damsel in distress, just waiting to be rescued by Mario. Here, she is reimagined as kind of a badass. Tough, independent and capable. A truly great character for young girls to be watching in a movie. I really hope Nintendo follow suit with this interpretation of the character in their future games. 

The cast is also mostly pretty good. Anya Taylor-Joy, of course, is great as Peach. Jack Black gobbles up every scene he's in as Bowser. Charlie Day turns out to be pitch perfect casting as Luigi. If there is one somewhat weak spot, it is, unfortunately, the main character. It's hard to see Chris Pratt's casting as Mario as anything other than betting on starpower. His performance here is mixed, and not just because of his inconsistent accent. 

Unfortunately, but for these strengths there's just not much there under the surface. This is quite a shallow movie. There's not much of a real story so to speak and the characters have only minimal depth to them. No one really has an actual character arc. There's no hero's journey, Mario doesn't learn and grow from his experience. He starts off as a plucky, if underappreciated, plumber who wants to save Brooklyn, and ends up basically the same guy. The same goes for Princess Peach, who starts off a badass, and remains so throughout the film. They could have at least added some tension in the form of Peach being initially skeptical or cold towards this mysterious newcomer, Mario, or have Mario start off as jaded and cynical before growing into the hero we know and love, but they don't. There's perhaps a slight hint of growth for Luigi, who starts off a bit of a coward before finding some bravery at the end, but it's all very perfunctory.

You might argue that this is the fault of the source material, after all the Mario games are more known for gameplay than story and have rarely attempted any kind of character development or consistent worldbuilding. But a good adaptation needs to consider the elements of the source material that do and don't work in a new medium and adapt accordingly. The Sonic movie is a good example of this. Paramount correctly decided that simply transposing a game onto the big screen wouldn't work and instead focused first and foremost on making a good film, using elements from the IP. At the time, that film was criticised by many from straying too far from the source material, but the Mario movie is a golden example of the opposite, what happens when you adhere too closely to the source material.

The film does also struggle a bit for trying to fit too much into its short runtime. As noted earlier, the film doesn't completely fall apart into a mess, but it does sometimes feel a bit slap-dash, like a sprint to see how many references and elements they can squeeze in, with little rhyme or reason to any of it. It's good that they introduced all these elements, it gives me hope that there is more to come when Nintendo grow this into their envisioned cinematic universe. It is my hope that this serves mainly as an introduction, and that the next projects flesh these elements out a bit more.

To be clear, this is definitely not a bad movie, but set your expectations appropriately. This is a fun little romp with a lot of bright colourful gags for kids, and nostalgia for adults. It's unfortunately a bit shallow and forgettable, but the real value may yet be realised in how it sets up the future Nintendo cinematic universe.

Sunday, 9 April 2023

Developed by Avalanche Software
Published by Warner Bros Games
Genre Action role-playing game
Platform PC, Playstation, Xbox, Switch

hogwarts legacy avalanche rowling harry potter best game 2023
For years, fans have been asking for a game like this. If you asked a group of people what their dream videogame would be, often you'd get a response along the lines of "an open-world Harry Potter RPG that lets you live and go to school at Hogwarts." It's become something of a meme to ask why this game doesn't exist. You can see why. Harry Potter and the Wizarding World is, after all, one of the biggest franchises in the entire entertainment industry, with a built-in fanbase conservatively estimated in the multi-millions strong. Not to mention a fanbase that is notable for its passion, to the point where brick and mortar Wizarding World merchandise shops exist all over the world, with people routinely buying their own wands and Hogwarts regalia. A game that allows those fans to live out their fantasies seems like an obvious money-maker.

Well, they finally listened to the memes and did in fact make that game. Hogwarts Legacy is an open-world action RPG set in the Wizarding World of the late 1800s. In this game, players will design their own unique character, attend classes at Hogwarts, explore both the castle as well as the surrounding countryside and villages, and embark on an original adventure alongside a colorful cast of characters and fellow students. On the surface, it's everything fans have been waiting for.

Unfortunately, before we can really dive into reviewing this game, we need to address the elephant in the room. The creator of the Wizarding World, J. K. Rowling, has taken a lot of heat in recent years for making transphobic comments that have offended many and sparked an outraged response, to the extent that many have called for a boycott of all things Potter-related, including this game. While I obviously do not condone hate speech, nor the specific comments in question, I also feel strongly that the actions of one person do not justify disregarding the world of hundreds of others. Game designers, writers, and everyone else who has devoted years of their lives to creating this game, potentially the biggest project of their careers to date. They deserve to have their work evaluated on its merits, and not have their livelihoods trashed for the bad fortune of being in close professional proximity to Rowling. That is all I will say on the subject.

On first impression, it is surprising and impressive just how much this game tries to do. This game has clearly been designed with the fans in mind and goes to great lengths to provide fans with as complete a Wizarding World experience as possible. The staples are all here. Players can customise their wand in both appearance and various components. Players get sorted by the Sorting Hat into their house (and can choose if they don't get the sorting they desire). Players make friends, attend classes. You can fly your broom as well as various mounts including Hippogriffs and Thestrals. There is a chunky main quest line as well as numerous side quests. You can even play a few games around campus: broom racing, Summoner's Court and duelling. 

This is all more or less what I was expecting. What I was not expecting was for the world to be quite as vast as it is. Hogwarts itself is spectacular to explore. A whimsical, twisting, Eschereque maze of a setting filled with secrets and puzzles. It is everything that Hogwarts should be. But there is also a wide world outside of Hogwarts. Huge amounts of countryside and smattering of villages and towns, all full of various quests and collectibles. Hogsmeade itself is present and full of activities, some substantial, others more for flavour. 

There is a "player housing" type experience in the form of the Room of Requirement, a remarkably customisable space that players can decorate and furnish with all manner of items they discover from exploring the world. Much of this is superficial and solely for the enjoyment of the player, although there is a practical component from the various crafting mechanics and items.

Most surprising is the deeper than expected beast-rearing mini-game. That's right, Hogwarts Legacy draws heavily on the Fantastic Beasts films as well, with players able to explore and "rescue" various beasts, which can then be kept in a vivarium. Beasts can be pet and fed in exchange for various crafting resources, they can be bred, with a surprisingly deep set of genetic traits.

This is all so "extra" that it's surprising the game isn't a sprawling, chaotic mess. There's a lot here, a lot that didn't need to be here, but it's all very well executed and holds together. It's even more impressive considering the developer. With the greatest of respect, Avalanche Software has historically been a purveyor of fairly minor ports and licensed products. They have never come even close to taking on a AAA project of this ambition and scope. For them to have taken this project, and delivered on it to such an extent is a remarkable accomplishment and a huge step up for this team. But there are moments where the seams start to tear, and Avalanche's inexperience with projects of this scale begin to show. 

There are glitches. I've seen everything from crashes, to duplicating inventory items, to randomly falling through the floor. Most of the time the bugs are fairly minor or can be corrected by reloading an earlier save file. Sometimes the bugs do prevent progress, such as one I encountered when exploring a treasure cave, but was unable to proceed because my character randomly floated into the ceiling and got stuck. I will say, however, that I never encountered such large bugs along the main story quest, only while exploring. Still though, this is a console game. The hardware is identical for everyone. There is really no excuse for such noticeable bugs remaining at launch.

There are also a few moments where the game design can't keep up with its ambition. The game is large, but there's only the same three types of enemies, wizards, goblins, and spiders. This might seem like a fairly minor complaint, but when you're playing a side quest that takes you into yet another spider cave for the 30th time, it starts to get a bit tedious.

It's also quite a lonely game. For a franchise which focuses so much on friendship and the adventures of a core cast of characters, there is surprisingly little emphasis on this in the game. Your character does have friends in this game and they are pretty good, but outside of a few specific quest instances, you can't really do anything with them. It would have been nice for there to be more ways to interact with these characters, be it in sports or mini-games, attending more classes together, or some form of companion system where they can join you on your adventuring. It is hard not to feel like something is missing from the experience without that.

The quality of writing is noticeably variable. The main quest is fine, if unremarkable. Some of the side quests are excellent, others highly forgettable. In general, the game is at its best when it keeps you in Hogwarts, doing quests with your classmates and professors, so it is disappointing that there isn't more of this (such as those additional character interactions, as noted above).

It is also worth noting what this game is not. This is not a life simulator. There is no relationship system with your classmates. You can not repeatedly attend classes or go through the student life (as you can in, for example, Rockstar's Bully). I don't want to criticise a game for what it is not, but I can imagine a lot of Potter fans disappointed that there aren't more of these types of things in the game, especially when they've gone to such lengths to add unnecessary immersion in other areas.

But while it can be a bit rough around the edges in places, it comes pretty damn close to delivering on that vast potential. While it isn't perfect, Hogwarts Legacy is an excellent adventure game that will delight fans of both the source material and the genre in general. If these developers can tighten up the weak aspects and flesh out its strengths, the sequel could be spectacular.

Sunday, 2 April 2023

On March 30, 2023, a grand jury convened by the Manhattan District Attorney, unanimously voted to criminally indict the former President of the United States, Donald Trump. While the exact charges remain under seal, they are believed to include more than 30 fraud-related charges, including at least one (perhaps several) that rise to the level of a felony. It is a historic moment in American history, but to call it a shock would be untrue. Frankly, if anything about this surprises you, you just haven't been paying attention.

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This has been coming for a long time. Donald Trump's criminal investigations are numerous and it has been pretty clear for a while now that he would face some form of indictment eventually. The only question has been which investigation would get to him first. There is some irony to the fact that a man currently under investigation for Espionage Act violationselection interference in Georgia as well as the attempted Jan 6 coup d'etat would first be brought down by sleeping with a porn star, but as we will soon see, there are very real and serious crimes here, the facts of which have long been established in law. It is no surprise to see these charges lead the way.

It is expected that when the charges are revealed, they will include various fraud charges. It has been widely anticipated that these would include charges in relation to hush money payments Trump made during his first Presidential campaign to cover up an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, but the most recent understanding is that the charges are broader than that and will cover additional dealings.

While the specific charges have not been officially detailed, there is a lot we can infer from publicly available information. Hush money payments are, themselves, not illegal. Misrepresenting their purpose in tax and business filings is illegal. This in itself would be a misdemeanor charge. What elevates this illegality to the level of felony is where the fraud has been perpetrated in the act of covering up another crime. In this case, the crime being covered up is believed to be some form of campaign finance violation, with these payments constituting a campaign contribution in kind that were either not properly disclosed or that exceeded the maximum contribution limits. Once the official charges are revealed, we will learn more.

From what we can tell, this investigation began with the Mueller Report (remember that guy?). Robert Mueller's report outlined ten instances in which Donald Trump may have criminally obstructed justice, but ultimately declined to indict on the basis that charges could not be brought against a sitting President. It was widely overlooked at the time amid this more dramatic headline, but Mueller also identified a number of other potential legal matters that were referred to other investigators. One of these matters related to potential wire fraud and FECA charges in relation to Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen, which were then referred to New York investigators. These charges mark the culmination of this line of investigation.

How Serious are the Charges?
Very serious. Financial crime may not be as dramatic or easily understandable as some of the other things for which Trump is being investigated, but they are significant crimes for which people go to jail.

How Likely is Trump to be Convicted?
Of course, no one can make any reasonable prediction on this without knowing what the charges are and what evidence exists. That being said, from the information available now, our starting presumption should be that it is quite likely.

There are a few reasons for thinking this. Firstly, this is a grand jury charge. Grand jury charges usually result in a successful conviction. The main reason being that in order to even make the indictment to begin with you need to convince a jury that there is a prosecutable case. Different juries may come to different conclusions, and the burden of proof is different, but unless significant new facts come to light it stands to reason that if one jury is convinced, another could also be convinced.

More directly on this case, however, is that many of these facts have already been established in law. Cohen was ultimately charged in relation to these same crimes in 2018 and found guilty. Even more damning for Trump is that in that 2018 Cohen indictment, Trump himself was named as an unindicted co-conspirator. At the time, more than 1,000 Federal prosecutors formally issued a statement that Trump would have been indicted had he not been protected by presidential immunity.

So it is pretty clear that as far back as 2018 prosecutors felt there was a case against Trump here. I, for one, have been expecting an indictment on this since the day Trump left office and have been mystified as to why it has not materialised until now. Many speculated that it may have been shifted aside in favour of the larger ongoing investigations. It turns out this was not the case.

There have been suggestions that the case is weak, or that other investigators passed on filing charges. This is demonstrably untrue. Mueller didn't pass on the case, he referred it to New York because he felt it was outside the purview of his investigation. The Manhattan DA's predecessor didn't pass on it (in fact he explicitly came out saying that he felt there was a prosecutable case), the investigation simply wasn't complete until now.

There have been suggestions that there is political motivation behind these charges. This also appears unlikely. The investigation, of course, began under Trump's own administration, who clearly held no bias against him. This DA has, notably, passed on bringing charges in other Trump investigations (the asset valuation investigation), for which he was heavily criticised, making clear that he is being selective in his cases rather than simply grasping at whatever he can get. Most clearly, this indictment was voted on by a grand jury, not by the DA. So even if he was a partisan hack it wouldn't matter, the jury ultimately decided that there was a prosecutable case.

So ignore the spin, ignore the revisionist history. These charges are serious, and there is every indication that the case is strong, valid, and will end poorly for the former President.

What is Trump's Potential Legal Exposure?
This is difficult to say without further detail on the charges. But if, as believed, they include felony fraud charges, these could result in a maximum sentence of 4 years in prison each. If there are misdemeanour charges, these could each also result in a maximum sentence of a year, with fines or community service also a possibility. 

The problem Trump faces is that there are believed to be more than 30 such charges. These add up. If Trump is convicted on all charges, he will likely face many years in prison. At his age, that could potentially be the rest of his life.

How Will This Affect Trump Politically?
This is a legal matter. As far as I'm concerned, politics shouldn't come into it at all and so this part of the discussion should not be relevant. That said, Donald Trump is a political figure, one who is currently running for President, so such questions are inevitable.

I can't believe I need to say this, but being criminally indicted will not benefit Donald Trump politically. Anyone who suggests otherwise is speaking a load of nonsense or trying to drum up outrage and clicks. These are the same people who were convinced Americans didn't care about Jan 6 and that Republicans would accordingly romp to a MAGA-fuelled tsunami in 2022 that never materialised. It's not reality.

First, the obvious, Americans in general do not sympathise with Donald Trump on this matter. A wide majority of Americans believe that Trump did wrong and that the investigations against him are fair. Trump himself has extraordinarily low favorability ratings with Americans at just 34%. Trump and the MAGA wing of the Republican party have fared poorly in recent elections, losing three election cycles in a row (2018, 2020 and 2022) as moderates flee in droves. His political influence only seems to be declining.

So even if his indictment does fire up support from the Trump base, his base alone does not appear to be enough to win a national election. The polling suggests that no one outside of his base is particularly sympathetic and it is difficult to imagine that changing. All the moderates who left Trump after Jan 6 aren't going to suddenly come back when he's been charged with mass fraud.

Then there is the practical impact of criminal indictment. If Trump is in the middle of a trial, or even in prison, that is going to reduce the amount of campaigning he can do. No more rallies, no live appearances. Anyone who thinks an effective modern Presidential campaign can be run from a prison cell clearly hasn't thought it through.

The Republican primary, however, will be interesting. Trump's wing still comprises a significant portion of the Republican voter base. So while their being fired up probably doesn't help Trump in a general election, I can see it potentially having an impact on the primary. Ultimately, though, I think this says more about the state of the Republican party than anything else. To be perfectly frank, if Trump's Republican rivals can't capitalise on such a gaping vulnerability, they're clearly in big trouble for 2024.

So despite what the right wing propagandists are telling you, despite what the media's outrage-mongers are saying to drive clicks, sometimes the obvious reality holds true. Being criminally indicted is bad for Donald Trump. To suggest otherwise is absurd.

What Happens Next?
The legal process can be long, this case is likely to drag out for a while yet, perhaps even beyond the 2024 election, but the future looks bleak for Donald Trump.

It looks even more bleak when you consider that this is just the first and, in the eyes of many, possibly the least substantial of Trump's legal exposures. It's entirely likely that Trump will be hit with further criminal charges in Georgia, or for Federal crimes, before this case is resolved.

For now, just appreciate what this moment represents. A man who has, for so long, evaded any manner of consequences for his actions, finally has gotten his comeuppance. Finally we have seen the proof that no one is above the law, no matter how powerful. I've seen a lot of sentiments reflecting on this as a dark, somber moment for the country. But I don't see it that way. This is an emphatic victory for America. This is a victory for democracy, the rule of law, and the fundamental values of fairness and equality on which the country is built.

Sunday, 12 March 2023


oscars 86th academy awards 2014
Welcome back to The Ephemeric. It is Oscar season again, and once again March is the month in which I know not the light of day. I could make the same joke as last year by copy pasting the intro blurb, but instead I'll just get straight to some predictions so we can all go on with our day.

This was actually a pretty tricky year to call. I am very torn between The Banshees of Inisherin and Everything Everywhere All at Once for the bulk of awards. Both are love it or hate it kind of movies that could really go either way depending on who's voting. Meanwhile many of the technical awards are being contested by an array of sumptuously produced but otherwise aggressively "just ok" films like Elvis, Avatar 2 and The Fabelans. I'm usually pretty accurate with these predictions, but who knows, this year could spring a few surprises!

Best Picture

  • All Quiet on the Western Front – Malte Grunert, producer
  • Avatar: The Way of Water – James Cameron and Jon Landau, producers
  • The Banshees of Inisherin – Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin, and Martin McDonagh, producers
  • Elvis – Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Gail Berman, Patrick McCormick, and Schuyler Weiss, producers
  • Everything Everywhere All at Once – Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, and Jonathan Wang, producers
  • The Fabelmans – Kristie Macosko Krieger, Steven Spielberg, and Tony Kushner, producers
  • Tár – Todd Field, Alexandra Milchan, and Scott Lambert, producers
  • Top Gun: Maverick – Tom Cruise, Christopher McQuarrie, David Ellison, and Jerry Bruckheimer, producers
  • Triangle of Sadness – Erik Hemmendorff and Philippe Bober, producers
  • Women Talking – Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Frances McDormand, producers
And the winner: Everything Everywhere All at Once
Who should really win: Everything Everywhere All at Once
Explanation: I am torn this year between EEAaO and Banshees of Inisherin. Banshees is a brilliantly made movie, one of McDonagh's best, but EEAaO is one of those once in a generation slices of insanity that will enthrall some and repulse others. My initial impression was that Banshees was the superior film, but EEAaO has grown on me since I saw it, for its ambition, its imagination. I think it will win the big prize today.

Best Director

  • Martin McDonagh – The Banshees of Inisherin
  • Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – Everything Everywhere All at Once
  • Steven Spielberg – The Fabelmans
  • Todd Field – Tár
  • Ruben Östlund – Triangle of Sadness
And the winner: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert - Everything Everywhere All at Once
Who should really win: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert - Everything Everywhere All at Once
Explanation: As best picture goes, so also does best director often go. Hard to argue with a director who is able to make audiences weep over a scene of two rocks arguing.

Best Actor

  • Austin Butler – Elvis as Elvis Presley
  • Colin Farrell – The Banshees of Inisherin as Pádraic Súilleabháin
  • Brendan Fraser – The Whale as Charlie
  • Paul Mescal – Aftersun as Calum Paterson
  • Bill Nighy – Living as Mr. Rodney Williams
And the winner: Brendan Fraser – The Whale as Charlie
Who should really win: Colin Farrell – The Banshees of Inisherin as Pádraic Súilleabháin
Explanation: Another tricky one to call. Everyone is falling over themselves with praise for Brendan Fraser this year. But one suspects that a significant part of it is the story behind his career, his abuse and the shameful treatment he received. People like the story of the Brendan Fraser comeback. On the merits of performance, my pick goes to Colin Farrell for delivering a career best performance in Banshees.

Best Actress

  • Cate Blanchett – Tár as Lydia Tár
  • Ana de Armas – Blonde as Norma Jeane
  • Andrea Riseborough – To Leslie as Leslie Rowlands
  • Michelle Williams – The Fabelmans as Mitzi Schildkraut-Fabelman
  • Michelle Yeoh – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Evelyn Quan Wang
And the winner: Michelle Yeoh – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Evelyn Quan Wang
Who should really win: Michelle Yeoh – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Evelyn Quan Wang
Explanation: No argument here, Michelle Yeoh is queen.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Brendan Gleeson – The Banshees of Inisherin as Colm Doherty
  • Brian Tyree Henry – Causeway as James Aucoin
  • Judd Hirsch – The Fabelmans as Boris Schildkraut
  • Barry Keoghan – The Banshees of Inisherin as Dominic Kearney
  • Ke Huy Quan – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Waymond Wang
And the winnerKe Huy Quan – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Waymond Wang
Who should really win: Ke Huy Quan – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Waymond Wang
Explanation: None here either, Ke Huy Quan's performance in EEAaO was astonishing, especially considering Quan has been out of acting for such a long time. That rare example of feel good hype that is actually justified by the work. What a story, what a performance.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Angela Bassett – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever as Queen Ramonda
  • Hong Chau – The Whale as Liz
  • Kerry Condon – The Banshees of Inisherin as Siobhán Súilleabháin
  • Jamie Lee Curtis – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Deirdre Beaubeirdre
  • Stephanie Hsu – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Joy Wang / Jobu Tupaki
And the winnerJamie Lee Curtis – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Deirdre Beaubeirdre
Who should really win: Stephanie Hsu – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Joy Wang / Jobu Tupaki
Explanation: I have a feeling the Academy will choose to recognise Curtis, as much for her performance as for her body of work over the years (as the Academy tends to do). I would actually have awarded this to her EEAaO co-star Stephanie Hsu, whose performance was simply spellbinding.

Best Original Screenplay

  • The Banshees of Inisherin – Martin McDonagh
  • Everything Everywhere All at Once – Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
  • The Fabelmans – Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner
  • Tár – Todd Field
  • Triangle of Sadness – Ruben Östlund
And the winnerEverything Everywhere All at Once – Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Who should really win: The Banshees of Inisherin – Martin McDonagh
Explanation: Let me just say, EEAaO and Banshees would both deserve this prize should they emerge victorious, and with the way the hype train is going I expect they will go for the former. Banshee's masterful character study and wit makes for a marginally more deserving winner, in my opinion.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • All Quiet on the Western Front – Edward Berger, Lesley Paterson, and Ian Stokell; based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque
  • Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery – Rian Johnson; based on characters created by Johnson and the film Knives Out
  • Living – Kazuo Ishiguro; based on the original motion picture screenplay Ikiru by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni
  • Top Gun: Maverick – Screenplay by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie; Story by Peter Craig and Justin Marks; based on the film Top Gun written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr.
  • Women Talking – Sarah Polley; based on the novel by Miriam Toews
And the winner: Women Talking – Sarah Polley; based on the novel by Miriam Toews
Who should really win: Living – Kazuo Ishiguro; based on the original motion picture screenplay Ikiru by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni
Explanation: For my money, there is one standout film from this list, Kazuo Ishiguro's beautiful Living. A film that has flown surprisingly under the radars of the American awards bodies. Subtlety is a British trait, after all.

So there you have it, The Ephemeric's picks for the year. Enjoy the Oscars tonight, and when the results go as predicted, remember that you heard it here first! 

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