Archive for November, 2009

The End of an Age…a Dragon Age that is!

November 25, 2009

It’s official, I finally finished Dragon Age: Origins last night. It was a good time and I had to blow off a friend to do it, but it was worth it…wasn’t it?

To be honest, the ending left me with a ho-hum feeling. I see SynCaine over at Hadcore Casual had some of the same thoughts as I do, and Tipa at West Karana also had some more thoughts in her review of the game. Don’t get me wrong, I still think this is a great game and I already started replaying it as a bad guy this time (or rather a bad woman). I guess the ending just didn’t live up to the goodness that the rest of the game offered. It reminded me of the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s IT. Not the story mind you, but rather the feeling I got watching it as a kid. The movie had me terrified to go to bed at night for days (it was released as a TV miniseries; I was 12 or 13) and then I saw the ending and all the fear that I had was gone in an instant as the actors punched the snot out of a poorly animated spider thing to kill “IT”.

What I’m getting at is that though the final battle and the epilogue, it kind of erased all the coolness from the story that had been told before. Anyone else feel like that? I thought the rest of the story was great, but the ending needed a better writer! I wanted a Se7en or The Sixth Sense ending, but instead I got IT. Is it a coincidence that the last time I felt this way was when I played KOTOR II? That game was touted as being rushed out the door for Christmas, was this one too?

Anyway, like I said, I still think it is a great game and worthy of another play through, but please…please people finish the story with some panache rather than the equivalent of a sign that reads THE END.

-Pid

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Color Me Confused About SW:TOR Classes

November 25, 2009

A while back I wrote a post about why I wanted to play a bounty hunter in The Old Republic when it comes out. To make a long post short(er) I thought that playing a non-force class would be the way to go because it would be less popular but the bounty hunter would be popular enough to not make it obscure. Now they just released two more Force classes and it would appear that my reasoning is not quite as good as it was before.

Syp just posted a poll over at Bio Break that allows you to vote on what class you would play. While it only had 148 votes when I looked at it, the leader with 30 votes was …wait for it…the bounty hunter! I was a little surprised, but when I thought about it some more I guess it makes some sense. Now that there are two force classes per side, each will vie for a chunk of the force user player base. If you add up the total of the Jedi Knight and Consular votes it is about the same as the bounty hunter tally. Strangely, if you add up the sith force users it is considerably less.

Now as a scientist in real life I should know better than to make heads or tails out of a poll with so few votes cast (especially an online poll), but it does make me wonder if I should consider changing my mind. With the new classes in effect, it will spread the force users into four classes instead of just two. This could be a blessing if the classes are unique and have separate equipment lines and talents. I realize a Jedi is a Jedi whether it is a melee fighter or a support class (they are both hefting a big laser sword after all), but if you use a little meta thinking, they are two separate MMORPG classes with potentially two separate MMORPG roles to play. For those that want to be a Jedi but not be the meat shield, they now have an alternative.

As the lore goes…it fits to some degree, and as game mechanics go it could work rather well if implemented properly. The devs still have some work balancing out the other classes and such, but maybe now I can make that Darth Maul character and not be like the ten million other ones…just the two million!

-Pid

Do you want to play this (offensive) level?

November 24, 2009

Have you purchased Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 yet? I just did, and if you haven’t, you’re missing out. I will do a more in-depth review when I complete the game but, for now, this will have to suffice. I bought the Xbox 360 game, and have played through about 6 missions. I also devoted some to the Xbox Live portion of the game. Across the board this is the best FPS I’ve ever played.

There is something to be said about a game that contains a level offensive enough to warrant a prompt asking you if you want to skip the level at no penalty to the game play. Not to give away to much, but in the 4th mission you go undercover as part of a CIA op and buddy up with a high-stakes terrorist. In order to maintain your cover, it’s a game of monkey-see, monkey-do. Everything they do, you better damn well do it, or you’re dead. (I’ve spent some time in the military, and plan on working in the intelligence community someday, nonetheless, this level made my skin crawl.)

The graphics in this game are even better then CoD4:MF. The detail is amazing on the characters, weapons, vehicles, and buildings. Some new features, in the latest installment of the CoD Series, are:

The ability to use Predator UAVs to drop some serious weapon payloads on some enemy b****es, different handgun stance
A new stance when holding the handgun, you hold the handgun in your right, your left forearm rests under your right one, and you hold the knife in your left hand, allowing for super-quick slicing and dicing.

New item: Riot Shield, protects you from front from just about everything. Visibility sucks after it’s been pelted with a few hundred bullets. You can’t shoot when using it, but can use it as a melee weapon.

Heartbeat sensor weapon add-on: On a cold and icy mission, you make use of a heartbeat sensing screen affixed to your rifle allowing you to be warned of oncoming baddies who aren’t happy to see you, should you forget to look at the sensor, like I did 🙂

I played CoD 4:MF and there is a fair amount of down time between heated battles. If you didn’t play it, I’m not saying that you had time to make in-game dinner in between missions. If you played it, you know what I mean. Modern Warfare 2 is NOTHING like that. If you’re not knee-deep in bodies, it’s because you are outrunning a few hundred rounds with your name on them.

OK, enough talking about it! Go buy it, and play it. Cause that’s what I’m going to do!

DA:O DLC Overload!

November 19, 2009

How much DLC is too much? I just saw that Bioware already has plans to release more Downloadable  Content for Dragon Age. I haven’t even finished the original release yet! How much time do these people think I have? They are targeting five bucks for the DLC which is titled Return to Ostagar and will take players to the aftermath of the Darkspawn battle that resulted in much death and destruction (including a few NPC’s).

I know this is apparently the new business model, but sheesh, the game hasn’t even been out that long. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll be like the rest of you suckers and buy this when it drops, but I am going to commit to be grumpy whilst I am playing it, at least on the outside!

-Pid

Dragon Age: Origins, The Meatshield Review

November 19, 2009

I know there are what seems to be limitless reviews of this game out there, so I will try to make this one slightly different by breaking down the game into its core elements. For reference, I have not yet completed the game, but I have logged 30 hours or so and the game says I have completed 28% of the content and explored 59% of the world. I imagine this keeps track of all the side quests so I am more than likely 70% through the main story arc. I started as a Human Noble Warrior. I will make it simple and either give a thumbs up, down, or sideways for each review point.

STORY

This is a single player RPG and thus the most important factor to whether the game is good or not (at least in my opinion) is the story. In that vein, as has been expressed countless times over, this game hits a home run. You truly feel a connection to the story and develop feelings about the characters within. You may love ‘em or hate ‘em, but you tend to form real connections to the characters portrayed in this game. The cur scenes are interesting and voiced excellently. Pleasingly you actually participate in the cut scenes. My complaints with the cut scenes though is that they are a little long, and they voice act all the characters except yours. This is minor, but it does kind of break the immersion as all the other characters speak out loud and then you speak in text. If they could spend all that money on voice acting for all the other characters, it would really make the wow factor increase tenfold if they could voice the player dialog. By and large thought the story is excellent and really makes you think before you pull the trigger on some of your responses. Regardless of anything else in this game, it is the storyline that makes you load it up again and again, and lose sleep in the process!

Result: Thumb up!

GAMEPLAY (mostly about combat)

The gameplay for this game is in my opinion not one of its strong points, unless you are really into taking a very long time on most of the encounters. I am by no means a rookie to RPG games and have played most of the Bioware games (I did miss Mass Effect) but the normal difficulty seems to be a little too challenging. I am all for having difficult settings for the die hards and those that really like challenging themselves, but I believe that the normal level should allow you to play 75% of the battles without having to reload. It seems that this setting is closer to having to reload after every other battle to every third battle if you don’t micromanage every one of the party members. Also, depending on which order you choose to complete the missions in, you don’t get a healer character possibly until late in the game unless you have your battle mage start dallying in healing skills.

The way the battles are laid out is very similar to Neverwinter Nights 2, but the camera doesn’t seem to be the pain that it was in that game. You can pause the battle whenever you want and switch between any of the party members to focus on. As a warrior character there is not a lot to do really and you will often find yourself switching to the mage to cast the right spell at the right time.

The AI of the party members is controlled by a system of tactics which allows you to program specific responses at certain situations in a battle i.e. cast heal when an ally is below 25% health or switch to a melee weapon if being attacked in melee. In theory this seems to be a good idea, but characters start with very few tactics slots and slowly gain more. Additionally, the characters will now deviate from there tactics to cast a different spell or have a different response even if it is clearly obvious to you that one is needed.

One of my biggest gripes is the rate in which your mana or stamina (essentially mana for non-magic users) replenishes. My character essentially got to use three maneuvers per battle and if it was an exceptionally long one, I might be able to eke out a fourth. The battle just really isn’t all that interesting if you are just standing there watching your character swing his sword once in a while with no skills to use. Some form of skill queuing would be a great boon here, or even a turn based system option.

Result: Thumb sideways

GRAPHICS

I won’t go into too much detail here, but the graphics for this game are very good for the genre. They are not Crysis good by any means, but for an RPG, which typically are not known for their spectacular graphics, the game is very pleasing to the eye. There is some serious clipping with certain armor sets, but that is to be expected with all the different item sets available in the game. It was only really annoying in one cut scene that I remember in which Alistair was sitting down and his arm kept disappearing into his legs. The combat animations are very fun to watch even if they do get repetitive after the umpteenth battle. It never gets old to see your character push a foe off of his sword with his shield or watch a 2H sword character do a reverse two-handed stab into a darkspawn gullet to finish it off.

The game does manage to capture the various feels of the zones that you traverse through very well. When you are traveling in the dwarven areas, it feels cramped and dark. When you are in the open areas, the flora and fauna are well done. There are four main quest arcs and they take you into four unique feeling areas.

Result: Thumb Up

BUGS and Etc.

There is a major bug in the game that apparently only effects computers with an AMD quad core processor. In any event, there is some form of memory leak in the game that makes the game performance slowly ebb to the point where it is unplayable. There is a workaround for it that helps the situation, but it definitely still rears its head the longer you play. Aside from this I really didn’t see anything else that was memorable. Also not really a bug with the game but rather an annoyance, I wanted to include some screen caps in the review, but I uninstalled the stand alone character generator from my system and it apparently deleted the screen shot folder from the full game…along with all of my screen shots. Doh!

Result: Thumb down for AMD users, otherwise thumb up.

PLAYING TIME and REPLAYABILITY

The game is vast and even after the time I have invested in it, it seems that I have quite a bit of playing to go to finish the main quest arc. I have been trying to do most of the side quests that I find, but have not gone out of my way to finish them. I imagine the game is very time consuming on higher difficulties and as the game wore on I switched to easy mode just to plow through in a timely fashion. As I mentioned before, the story is what makes this game a gem and not so much the gameplay. The game is to the point where I am getting anxious to finish it and just “Git er done” to borrow a phrase.

While I have not even completed the game once yet I can see that the game is definitely worth a second play through. Also each origin story is different so you may want to play each beginning just to see the differences. I typically play through these types of games at least twice. The first time through I play without using any outside help like walkthroughs and I typically try to stick to the same NPC’s in my party. The second time through I typically play following a walkthrough guide from GameBanshee and try to play a character with the opposite demeanor than the one I played first. So my next time through I will play a rogue or mage that is a total jerk to everyone. Sounds like fun!

Result: Thumb up

DOWNLOADABLE CONTENT

I preordered the game with access to some of the DLC. I have played one of the two DLC zones and while it was well done it seemed tacked on to the main game. As a result I haven’t made the second area a high priority. I originally played the keep DLC to get the storage chest, but later a dev at Bioware provided a mod to add a storage chest to your camp making the one at the keep obsolete. There is a suit of plate available in the keep that is very good for tanking at lower levels, but other than that, I could have done without it.

Result: Thumb sideways

FINAL THOUGHTS and SCORE

Despite the performance issue I have on my computer, I have had nothing but fun playing this game. It has a compelling story and an interesting game world. RPG veterans will be very pleased with the game though it really doesn’t make any groundbreaking leaps in the genre. Notably though, the game is aimed at a mature audience which makes it atypical from the norm and a bit of a change of pace as the content delves into some mature moral situations. This is to the game’s credit though as it really gets you to “feel” the game rather than just observe it. I definitely recommend the game to any RPG fan although fans of open ended games like Oblivion might find themselves a little too pigeon holed into the story arc. There is enough freedom to tackle the story in whichever order you please though so it is not completely on rails. Rookies to the genre might find the game a little tough to succeed at as they begin, and I suggest starting on the easy setting if you are new. All in all it is a very memorable and fun game that has hours of content. I highly recommend it.

Final Rating: Thumb way up!

-Pid

From Failure to F2P

November 13, 2009

Robbiebit (who has yet to post here) and I were playing Dungeons & Dragons Online a few days ago and then recently (before the news) we thought to try out the unlimited trial of WAR. I have to say that for the casual MMO guy that I am, these games really fit the bill. Why is that? Perhaps a little background would help. (Feel free to skim because this turned out to be a bit longer than I anticipated)

My first stint in playing MMORPG’s was when Star Wars Galaxies came out. I was newly married and in graduate school and while the game was fun, I was more or less playing alone and mining farming resources. I decided that I really didn’t have the time or money to keep up with it and promptly sold my account on ebay. Apparently that is frowned upon but back then I had no idea. I ignored WOW when it came out because I was knee deep in graduate school and was experiencing fatherhood for the first time. Free time was at a premium here.

In 2006, my brother-in-law then told me that his buddy was setting him up with an account on Everquest and for whatever reason I decided to give it a whirl. This was the first time I had played an MMO where I actually knew someone in the game world and I was hooked instantly. I created a halfling druid named Piddleglum, but everyone just called me Pid. I was playing as frequently as possible and was having a blast. It reminded me of the times in undergrad when I played a MUD with some of my dorm mates. Life was good, but after a while the time I was spending in the game was testing my marriage (I was also unemployed at the time after graduating from graduate school) and some in game personality issues really made me reconsider my subscription. I know, this is a terribly unique experience, but bear with me.

Warhammer Online came out and I dove into that and ate it up for a while. The early game was a blast for me, but then in tier 3 I justcouldn’t drag myself to log into the game. Between the terrible performance on my computer, the lack of a coherent guild or groups, and the utter spamfest that RvR turned out to be really killed the game for me. I subbed for 3 months after the initial month, and only played for 2 of them.

During all of this time my brother-in-law was crafting a kings ransom in EQ but not really playing all that much. There was an announcement of the closing of a progression server on EQ and I misinterpreted the details of it to think that all servers were going to wipe any characters below level 10. I resubbed to EQ and then played for 5-7 months before realizing that this aging game just really didn’t appeal to me. My brother-in-law and Robbiebit were playing as much as I was and that camaraderie was awesome, but soon my B-i-L was not signing in and the game is pretty tough without a group even with the new mercenaries. I just couldn’t justify paying $15 a month for an aging game that had little to offer if you weren’t a raider or in a well established guild.

I tried my hand at Champions, but it didn’t fancy me that much. Then DDO said hey we are going F2P and now Robbiebit and I play it once a week or so. The game is tough for a duo and Robbiebit never played pen and paper D&D so he is a bit lost, but for the money, you can’t beat it. I splurged on the Drow race and Favored soul, but haven’t otherwise spent a dime on the game. We are level 4 and play when we get a chance, but not avidly. It is a win-win situation as the game is very polished and has gobs of content, but I don’t feel the need to “log-in” to get my money’s worth. Awesome!

WAR recently announced its endless free trial program and I thought, is this possibly the path for all future “failed” MMO’s? (WAR and DDO were considered failures by many.) If they can’t sustain a population that is viable through regular subscriptions, will this be a fail-safe device to at least get a little return on the investment? Only time will tell, but until then I will be casually playing DDO and waiting for the next “failure” to give a free trial out too.

-Pid

Bachelor Weekend

November 12, 2009

So my wife is off to some scrapbooking retreat type thing this weekend and apparently the kids are going to their aunts house so that means…BACHELOR WEEKEND! While there are a few projects I need to work on around the house, I do also plan to dedicate some serious time to finishing up (hopefully) Dragon Age and writing some form of a review. I know there are like 4.3 million reviews of the game thus far, but I am hoping to come up with a style for any future reviews that I may do. I also want to write a bit about DDO and WAR so I’ll try and cram that in there too. Maybe the finish on the hallway can wait another week!
-Pid

The Chewing Gum of Tomorrow

November 10, 2009

Sorry for posting just to link to another site, but I thought this was one of the cooler stories I have read in a long time. Apparently there is work on a chewing gum that will act as the delivery agent for insulin as well as other pharmaceuticals! At least now as we push maximum density from playing video games and ignoring the rest of life, we can treat our obesity induced diabetes without having to get up from our computer!

bigleaguechew

-Pid

A Vote for the SPMMORPG

November 9, 2009

I read an interesting post today from br3ntbr0 at ITG and he was commenting on how he has never played a Single Player RPG before trying Dragon Age: Origins and how he was really pleased with his experience thus far. He mentioned it was a breath of fresh air for him not to have to deal with all of the prepubescent garbage that you have to deal with in most MMORPG’s these days. He did rather miss the camaraderie of his friends playing and wishes that the NPC party members were a group of his buds.

Spinks at Spinksville mentions

Bioware have learned a lot since the days of Baldurs Gate and Knights of the Old Republic – BG had a large game world and lots to do but never really grabbed me as a story. KOTOR leapt for the jugular with a character based storyline but made the player so much front and centre that it was almost embarrassing to play. I felt awkward knowing that the game was so blatently all about me.

In Dragon Age, you are the hero. You will do great and terrifying things, but there’s a whole world in this game and a lot of other people too. You will affect them, they will affect you.

I find both of these posts interesting individually, but more interesting when taken together. I have a feeling that the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic just may be the combination of both of these ideas. I am hoping that SW:TOR is essentially Dragon Age the MMO. I personally don’t care for the massively portion of MMORPG’s and would prefer games that are more intimate. I like the persistent world thing and love playing online with friends in an RPG environment, but quite honestly I could care less about the rest of the MMO population at large. I know, I am an antisocial hermit, but it works for me. I tend to be the guy who doesn’t warm up to new people but slowly develops a very solid relationship with a few.

From what I have read about SW:TOR, you take on quests and your party or whatever can go along with you and participate in the quest. It would be neat if they could participate in the quest as the NPC’s in Dragon Age do, i.e. being able to interject into the conversation and whatnot, but the decisions that really count for the quest will lie in the hands of the actual “owner” of the quest.

Clearly Bioware is touting SW:TOR as a new MMORPG experience with their “4th pillar” story element to their game. Many people are worried that this will be a “Single Player” MMORPG, but to be honest…this might be just the MMORPG I have been looking for!

SWTOR-Pid

Aspirin for Your Dragon Age Headache

November 6, 2009

For anyone having long load time as well as slowly deteriorating performance issues in Dragon Age: Origins as described in my earlier post, I have tried the workaround posted in the forums here and it appears to have worked satisfactorily. The load times are still about a minute, but game performance has increased dramatically. I have now set all settings to max at 1680×1050 and the game is running splendidly for at least 3 hours straight. This should keep you moving until an official patch. FYI this only works on AMD systems and I believe it is only for multicore processors.

-Pid