Thursday, June 30, 2011

Preview: Tonight's Futurama

It looks like tonight's Futurama will feature Bender "dying" ... and no doubt the wacky hijinks that will ensue in order to return him to robot life.

I have to say I wasn't exactly impressed with the first two episodes of the series last week. Hermes and LaBarbara are fine characters, but to have the season premiere focus be on these two (not that there was much focus at all), is still a little questionable.

There is also a decidedly tangible feeling that the show is trying too hard to be Family Guy - plots are not as tightly written as they were in the series' first run, and depend on too much randomness to move along. This was something that the first half of Season 6 suffered from as well though, at least in the first few episode.s Here's to hoping that the season will pick up!

Check out a preview below. I am debating about whether or not to review individual episodes, or to review entire seasons as I did with Game of Thrones. Whatever I decide ... I'm sure you'll figure out when I post the review. Heh.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Spotlight - Yun and Yang from Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition

Via IGN, comes this interesting character overview of two of the new characters from SSF4: Arcade Edition. Personally I've so far been a big fan of Yun, who's attacks mix strength and speed pretty well. Not that I'm any good at the game mind you.


More Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition Videos

Flip throw for the win, anybody?

What to Watch Out For: Bastion

Today's WTWOF spotlights Bastion, an upcoming XBLA (Xbox360 Live Arcade) action RPG from Supergiant Games. For those of you who were readers of Gamespot before 2006-2007 or so, you might recognize one of the developers on the project: Greg Kasavin. Before he left for Supergiant Games, Greg Kasavin was Gamespot's resident RPG expert, with most of the big-name RPGs going his way for reviews. For the most part, I tended to agree with most everything he said; that hopefully means Bastion will not disappoint.

It's Hammer Time.
 
Bastion stars "The Kid," - and that's pretty much all I know about the main character. The game is set in a gorgeously drawn world ... and that's about as much as I know about the world too. As you can see, a lot of the details for this upcoming downloadable arcade game are still vague, but what we do know is quite intriguing. Among the features the game is touting is a level design that sort of coalesces into place as you progress. Further, every action you take as "The Kid" is narrated in real time by a somewhat snarky narrator, giving your adventure a very humorous storybook feel.

The backdrops are really quite gorgeous.
This seems like a very promising gem for fans of quirky, stylish, action RPGs. Bastion is slated for release July 20, 2011 for XBLA (1200 Microsoft Points) and later on the PC. Check out the Reveal Trailer below!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Supreme Court Says No to Fahrenheit 360-PS3-WII

In case you haven't heard, the Supreme Court struck down a California law passed in 2005 that made selling "violent videogames" to minors under 18 illegal.

Via FindLaw, "The majority opinion focused on the ban's violation of First Amendment rights. Justice Scalia, writing the majority opinion, explained that violent video games are not illegal and protected under the First Amendment, just like other literary and media outlets like books and movies."

The article continues "In fact, Justice Scalia also cited to a variety of children's books that depicted violence, including Grimm's Fairy Tales. He described how the fairy tale of Snow White included descriptions of how the 'wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers 'til she fell dead on the floor.' And, that Hansel and Gretel killed their kidnapper by baking her in an oven. And, that Cinderella's evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves."

It is true that there are plenty of mediums of entertainment that are saturated with violence: books, television, cinema - nothing is immune.


For those of you who don't get the title, it's a reference to Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451.


No, I don't think it's tacky to compare videogames to the literature that was being suppressed in the text. But yes, if I feel I need to explain the title, then I should probably rework it.


Shrugs.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Spotlight - Rolemaking in RPGs

Via Rampant Games comes a blog post on creating characters and why - for the author - it's not an essential part of the RPG. He has some good points; after all, character generation is almost exclusively a western RPG feature. JRPGs seem to do just fine without it (Final Fantasy anyone?). It's not essential for someone to enjoy a game; indeed, sometimes it's even a turnoff. When you just want to leap straight into the action, a long-winded series of menus telling you to make a "toon" and assign all your starting statistics may be a daunting and unappealing task.

Remember this, anybody?

Purely from a storytelling perspective, when you define all the characters for the player, it's easier to develop a stronger, tighter narrative. You don't have to consider questions like "oh, but what if the player chose to make his character this." You don't have to worry about whether or not the story is logical with what the player has imagined his character to be. You don't need to concern yourself with consistency between the player and the game. The game has already defined everything, including the player, their character, and their role in the story.

Limiting player choice in creating their characters can thus, arguably, be what strengthens the story of a particular game. Final Fantasy 7, for example, forces you to play Cloud Strife. But is the game any weaker because you're not allowed to create your own character? Not really - in fact, given the story of Final Fantasy 7, using any other character besides the predefined Cloud Strife wouldn't make sense. Using a more recent example, the Mass Effect series - while allowing you to change your class and some superificial characteristics of your character - still forces you to play (a somewhat predefined) Shephard. And the narrative is strengthened, because of this. Can you imagine a Mass Effect game without Commander Shepherd at the helm?

Commander Shephard
So what is the common denominator between the stories in FF7 and Mass Effect? The stories in these games are not about the player; they are about the characters. Final Fantasy 7 is definitively a story about Cloud Strife; Mass Effect is Shephard's story. Make no mistake, these are good stories too.

Why then, when I look back on the last couple of years and almost all of my favorite RPGs have included character generation as one of its features? Dragon Age - Origins, Star Wars - Knights of the Old Republic 2, Neverwinter Nights, The Elder Scrolls - Oblivion. The list goes on. And for me, the answer to my own question is that the stories in these games aren't about somebody else. They're about me.

How relatable is he?
                     + Carries a giant sword
                     - Is an Amnesiac
                     - Is broody and emo
                     - Has ridiculous hair
                     - Carries a giant sword



Okay, not me like in real life. But they are about a character that I made, a character who I know everything about. The stories in those games I mentioned above are all personal stories, involving my own role-making if you will. Something about having my character in a story makes me care that much more about what happens. If you hated Cloud or Shephard, it's likely you probably couldn't finish Final Fantasy 7 or Mass Effect; the challenge for these types of stories is trying to make a relatable protagonist. Well, when a player is given the option to make his/her own character, there's almost no chance that he won't relate to his own creation.

Does it take more effort? Yes, certainly. Is it worth the effort? That depends on the story you're trying to tell.

One of the things that was heavily decried on the Dragon Age 2 forums was how much character generation was being stripped down. Dragon Age - Origins had featured such a strong character generation system, allowing you to choose race, gender, class, starting statistics and skills. Apart from that, they also allowed you to choose between six different origin stories. Dragon Age 2, on the other hand, allowed you to choose your gender and your class. That's it. They even forced you to play a character named Hawke, a la Mass Effect.

The end result was that the Dragon Age series changed from being a personal story for the player ... to Hawke's story. This by itself is not necessarily a bad thing (see my review for the full assortment of things gone awry in DA2). Still, it was a bit disappointing to know that I would not be playing my own character in the second Dragon Age, after the first experience was so captivating.

How relatable is he?
+ You can get rid of the god-awful beard
- You're stuck with his annoying family ...
- His actions don't produce results
- Love interests include known carriers of STDs ... and terrorists.

I get the sense that there is a trend forming, where character creation in RPGs is being left behind in favor of accessibility and approachability. Dungeon Siege III, Dragon Age 2, The Witcher; the last few big name RPG titles have all featured very limited character creation (if at all). Still, for those of us who enjoy making our own characters, we at least have Kingdoms of Amalur and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim to look forward to.

I hope.

Friday, June 24, 2011

WTWOF: Captain America - The First Avenger (2011)


Oh Jessica Alba. If only you could have
more than one expression on your face
at a time, maybe Fantastic Four would
have survived.
Followup Edition! To round out this summer's multitude of comic-based superhero movies (including Thor, X-Men, & Green Lantern all in the last two months) comes Captain America: The First Avenger. The film stars Chris Evans as the titular hero, though you might also remember him as the Human Torch, from the widely panned Fantastic Four movies. Considering both Captain America and the Fantastic Four belong to the Marvel universe, I'm guessing this will preclude any Captain America/Fantastic Four crossovers.

In case you were wondering why the movie boasts "the First Avenger" as its subtitle, I might point to the subtle hints that Marvel Studios has been dropping since Iron Man in 2008. You know how each film kinda has subtle hints about what's coming up in the next film? And how there are quite a few characters that crossover between movies? Yes folks, Marvel Studios is planning an Avengers film - directed by Joss Whedon - and to be released in 2012.

Captain America follows Steve Rogers, a man who attempts to join the army during World War II, only to be deemed physically unfit for service. Opting instead to volunteer for an unconventional and secret military operation, he is transformed into super soldier. Together with his sidekick, they combat a Nazi plot to take over the world.

The film is actually the last of the standalone movies to air before the team formally unites on the silver screen next year. Though I'm personally not exactly a big fan of the Captain, I'll probably see the film anyway. Can I just say though, doesn't it seem like Chris Evans goes from being a man with a head that's too big for his body, to a man whose body is too big for his head?

F for fudge.
Catch Captain America: The First Avenger in theaters, July 22, 2011. See the latest trailer below.

WTWOF: True Blood Season 4 Premieres Sunday, June 26

In today's "What to Watch Out For," the spotlight is on True Blood, which returns this Sunday, June 26 with its fourth season. True Blood is probably one of the goriest, grimiest, disgusting-est, show on HBO. It's also one of the most fun to watch and like HBO's other recent mega-hit 'Game of Thrones,' True Blood is also based on a series of novels: The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris. The difference is that while Game of Thrones follows the plot of the novels with near-complete fidelity, True Blood isn't afraid of straying far, far away from the books.

True Blood follows Sookie Stackhouse and her unusually supernatural life in Bon Temps, Louisiana. Vampires have declared themselves to the world, and a blood substitute named "True Blood" is developed so that Vampires do not need to attack humans in order to stay alive. Most people still view vampires with at best trepidation and at worst open hostility, however.

Sookie is a mind-reader, though - at least initially - she does not know why she seems to be the only person with this power. She meets Bill Compton, a vampire, who is immune to her telepathy and becomes drawn to him. They develop a somewhat unconventional romance from there, and the story follows their attempts at dealing with crazed serial killers; anti-vampire organizations, an unlimited supply of new mythical creatures, and even vampire politics.

So in spite of that horribly brief summary, what exactly does True Blood have going for it? Well let's see: Interesting characters? Check; Intricate story arcs? Check; Fast-paced action? Check; Unabashed nudity and gratuitous sex? Check.

Oh and Vampires. And Werewolves. And Shapeshifters. And who knows what else. Check check check check.


Now, admittedly there has been some controversy over whether or not True Blood has been declining in quality. One common complaint is that the characters on the show (and in the books) are constantly being revealed as some sort of supernatural monster. Some of the story arcs on True Blood have also been criticized. I myself was not a fan of how the third season concluded; the season brought us to new heights of suspense, only to let that feeling disperse in a series of thoroughly anticlimactic episodes leading up to and including the finale.

Still, I'm curious to see what True Blood has in store for the fourth season. From the trailers, it seems a new set of antagonists will be introduced, new romances might be kindled, and just more guilty pleasure fun. Check out the teaser below and see HBO's youtube account for more videos.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Website Spotlight - Timeless Social Events Planning

One of the advantages of having your own blog is that you can shamelessly promote your own and your friends' new business ventures. Introducing Timeless at www.timelesssocialevents.com.


If you're like me and are absolutely terrible at event-planning, then please give Timeless a look! I've known one of the co-founders for a couple of years now, and I can personally attest to the dedication and skill that she brings to the events she has created over the last two years. Timeless can take care of you for many of your event-planning needs including - but not limited to - birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, weddings, quinceaƱeras and debuts.


If you're in the Los Angeles CA area, have an event coming up and are interested in seeing what Timeless can offer you, send a quick message to them here. Make sure to include the type of event, planned date, planned number of guests, and an estimated budget in your form. They will work with you and your budget to create an unforgettable event experience and ensure your memories are timeless.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What To Watch Out For: Futurama, New Season begins Tomorrow 6/23!

Futurama!
The second half of the sixth production season (or the seventh on-air season, or even possibly the eighth season according to iTunes) will be debuting tomorrow night with back-to-back episodes on Comedy Central. A critical and somewhat cult hit during its initial run, Futurama was eventually cancelled by FOX after five (or four?) seasons had aired. A few successful straight-to-DVD movies later, and Futurama was revived (with an episode appropriately titled "Rebirth") and returned for a sixth (or fifth? or seventh?) season on Comedy Central.

Wondering why the seasons are such a mess? Well, it seems that no one can really agree on where the seasons start and begin, due to Fox Network's decision to air the episodes erratically and out of order. The insertion of the DVD movies in between the original run and the resurrected show also makes things a little confusing. The end result is that I will forever be adding parentheticals to qualify possible other numerical notations whenever I talk about Futurama.

Leela, Bender, and Fry

 ... yeah, forget that. I'm just going to follow wikipedia and say Season 6B begins airing tomorrow. Watch it! Futurama rocks!


The initial run of Futurama had some of the best animated comedy ever to grace the small screen. The series somehow managed to create characters that you could relate to, and yet be completely over-the-top wacky at the same time. The humor was hip and fresh, easily surpassing the Simpsons and Family Guy in depth and sophistication. Funny plotlines were often sprinkled with just the right amount of sentimentality. Case in point: the episode "Jurassic Bark." Watching Fry try to revive his millenium-dead pet dog Seymour and then change his mind at the last second, saying that he knew Seymour had lived a full life without him - only for the show to reveal that Seymour had spent his last years desperately waiting to be reunited with Fry - was one of the most heartbreaking experiences ever on TV.



While the revived season is still stretching its legs, it still had quite a few gems last year. Here's to hoping Season 6B will continue and expand upon that.

Futurama is set 1000 years in the future, where a pizza delivery boy finds himself after being cryogenically frozen. Along with his distant nephew - a 100+ year old mad scientist and his new crewmates (including his cyclops love interest Leela and robot bff Bender), Fry embarks on weekly escapades that boast adventure, excitement, drama and hilarity. See a recap below of the first five seasons narrated by none other than the Spaceman Extraordinaire, Zapp Brannigan, and then tune in tomorrow night!

FuturamaThursdays 10/9c
Recap-O-Rama: 5 Seasons in 7 Minutes
www.comedycentral.com
Comedy CentralTV ShowsComedy Videos

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Review - Dungeon Siege III


After the debacle Bioware experienced with Dragon Age 2, I think Obsidian Entertainment might be bracing themselves for a similar fandom backlash, especially considering how much they changed Dungeon Siege III from its predecessors. While a solid game in its own right, I almost hesitate to call the game Dungeon Siege at all - essentially the only thing that has been retained in this third entry to this popular PC game franchise is the massive amounts of loot you'll find and the story lore. And frankly, the lore was one of the weaker aspects of the first two titles.

Overview

Dungeon Siege III is a third person action role-playing game developed by Obsidian Entertainment, a company practically known for taking over other people's game series. With titles such as KOTOR II, and Neverwinter Nights 2 (and corresponding expansions) under its belt, Obsidian has a reputation for making deep, engrossing sequels filled with interesting characters and topped off with intricate plots.

With Dungeon Siege, this fan-favorite developer has stepped outside of familiar territory; most of their games are pseudo turn-based RPGs - Dungeon Siege III is their first fully real-time action RPG. DS3 tries to combine fast-paced action with Obsidian's renowned storytelling and for the most part it succeeds. Operative words being "for the most part."

You glow? I smash.
 Story:

Unfortunately, the story of Dungeon Siege III falls a bit short of Obsidian's previous titles. The series was never really known for its storytelling, and Dungeon Siege III boasts equally lackluster lore. Because you are forced to select a character that was created for you, the game loses the sense of being a personal story that the first two DS games held (even if those two games did so with the flimsiest of grasps). What you're left with is four characters who you don't really know that much about, each only tenuously attached to the main plot. There is never a sense of character development; rather it feels distinctly like your selected character is just a medium for you to slaughter as many enemies as you can. And while there are plenty of lore entries scattered throughout the world, I was never motivated to read them as I was when playing Dragon Age. In short, the world of Ehb is definitely not as well-developed as Thedas.

Four awesome character designs ... that I feel absolutely no emotional attachment towards.
The main plot is equally forgettable - and short. While certain plot points were mildly interesting, for the most part the game was very generic. I found myself skipping through a lot of the dialogue, simply because I couldn't bring myself to care about what was happening. The main villain is discussed at length, but never really resonates as an antagonist worth all the ho-hum (in fact, she doesn't even appear until the penultimate chapters of the game).  Fortunately, Dungeon Siege games were never really about their stories.

Gameplay:

While Obsidian may have chosen to opt for a completely new style and design for the game, at the end of the day, DS3 still plays fluidly and is - for the most part - pretty fun. You select a pre-designed character out of four available options at the beginning of the game, move through the game world and by the end of the game become an avatar of destruction. The action is fast-paced, the controls (on the gamepad) were sufficient and responsive, and leveling up was always a blast, especially after you've unlocked new tiers of abilities.

Level-ups provide you with talent and proficiency points (and every so often new abilities). There are 9 total abilities you can activate in combat (split among 3 different stances which you swap with the left shoulder button or the block button). The abilities are diverse and feel unique - there is no sense that older abilities are replaced - you will use them all throughout the game. The drawback is that it is the selection of abilities you get is quite limited compared to the previous two games. While you can assign proficiency points to your individual skills to augment them and talent points to your character to strengthen him/her, it doesn't quite make up for the distinct lack of choice you're given.

Lucas engages two ogres in a ... dance-off?

One criticism of the first two games was how they could almost play themselves. DS1 was known to need very little human interaction; while DS2 somewhat mollified that feeling, Dungeon Siege III has fully escaped that ill-repute. There is no question now that DS3 requires human action for you to progress forward. Fights are just the right amount of challenging, requiring you to employ all of your abilities strategically. At some point during the game you'll develop a sweet rhythm for facing enemies, making you a nigh unstoppable powerhouse. Watch out though: every once in a while the game will throw a curveball at you in the form of a new enemy or a particularly tough boss - defeating these challenges is especially satisfying.

Oh, and you can't forget the loot. There's so much loot, it's not difficult to imagine becoming a millionaire within the game. The only downside is I wish there was something for me to spend all my gold on. Most of the shops' inventory is filled with equipment I could easily have found just adventuring. Still, it's good to know Obsidian kept at least this one piece of Dungeon Siege heritage in DS3.

Graphics & Sound:

The game is visually quite attractive; while not as technically impressive as the Witcher 2, Dungeon Siege 3 still looks and sounds quite competent. It manages to maintain a distinct style all its own (and while it doesn't recall the previous two games, it is at least pleasing to the eye). The dungeons and towns are gorgeously designed, if a bit linear, and all the dialogue is voiced. Don't expect Bioware style cinematic conversations, however - most characters seem to be cursed with having only one bland expression, and there were multiple instances where I felt the voice-acting was forced. These are all minor complaints; DS3 still impresses with a level of polish that most players probably wish KOTOR 2 and NWN2 were blessed with.

Other Notes:

With Dungeon Siege III, Obsidian has departed from its typical game development cycle. What is perhaps worse, is that it chose to also depart from certain staples expected of the Dungeon Siege series. Gone is the vast and open world ripe for exploration, stripped down in favor of a decidedly linear string of plot and sidequest objectives. Gone is the ability to create and customize your own character and choose what abilities and talents you pursue. Gone is the PC focus of gameplay - Dungeon Siege III is clearly a game designed for the consoles. The demo Obsidian released two weeks prior to the official release of the game was met with cries of outrage at just how terrible the PC controls were. Similarly gone is the ability to manage multiple characters, though this is replaced with a lackluster multiplayer component. Joining a game does not allow you to earn XP or raise your skill levels on your own campaign, making it somewhat less enticing to play with friends.

Purple Bullet Power, Activate!
Final Thoughts:

Despite this betrayal of the other games in the series, Dungeon Siege III can ultimately still be an enjoyable experience and is still worth at least a quick look for any action RPG enthusiast. What it lacks in story and originality, it makes up for in good old fashioned hack and slash fun. If you're willing to forgive the character selection and development choices, pick up a gamepad (but definitely not a mouse & keyboard) and start sieging those dungeons (for the third time)!

Recommended For:
+ Fans of Real-time Action RPGs
+ Fantasy RPG Fans
+ Dungeon Siege Fans with open and forgiving minds
+ Gamers with Friends - as long as you don't mind not being able to retain the XP and loot you gain while playing in someone else's game.

Not Recommended For:
- Obsidian Fans expecting a deep and engrossing storyline
- PC Gamers without a gamepad
- Dungeon Siege Loyalists

*This review was completed using the PC version of the game. Dungeon Siege III is also available on the XBOX360 and the Playstation3.

Monday, June 20, 2011

TV News: Chris Meloni's Replacement on SVU is In Sight

A few weeks back, it was announced that Christopher Meloni's contract negotiations with NBC had broken down, and that he would not be rejoining Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in its forthcoming thirteenth season. The show has seen some dramatic casting changes in its now dozen years of history, especially in recent seasons where A.D.As seemed to be dropping like flies, but this is probably the most dramatic. Well, via TVLine comes an interesting article about potential replacements that are going to do a few test reads across lead actress Mariska Hargitay. I can't say I recognize any of them besides Kevin Alejandro from True Blood.

All I know is whoever gets cast as Chris Meloni's replacement has some ginormous shoes to fill. Part of what made SVU the strongest of the Law & Order series was the amazing chemistry and character growth between Detectives Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson (played by Meloni and Hargitay respectively). It'll be extraordinarily difficult for the new cast member to come even close to matching the repertoire Stabler and Benson had. All I can say to that person is ... good luck.


Then again, with Mariska Hargitay's new contract only requiring her to be in about the first half of the 13th season's episodes, we might be seeing an entirely new detective team on the show less than a year from now. *SPOILERS FOLOW - Highlight at your own risk* TVLine reports that Olivia will be getting a promotion to a supervising position midway through the season, leaving her spot in SVU open as well. Reportedly, this was worked out between Hargitay and NBC to allow her more time to spend with her kid. Whether or not this means Olivia will be exiting the series as well is yet to be known.

Regardless, of what happens, one thing is for sure - SVU won't be the same without these show forerunners. Best wishes and luck to them both.

What do you think? Do you think Chris Meloni's exit marks beginning of the end for the series? Or are you excited about new, fresh blood coming into the show? Post your opinion in the comments! 

Review - Game of Thrones, Season 1

WARNING: Minor Spoilers to Follow.

Overview:

After two or three episodes of jolting twists and betrayals, the first season of HBO's Game of Thrones came to a (mostly) subdued close last night with dozens of plot threads still left hanging. But you can't really fault the show for that; the season ended almost exactly as the first novel did, covering almost exactly what the novel covered. It is in fact such a faithful adaptation of the books, that long-time fans of George R.R. Martin's series will always know exactly what's going to happen next. For those who haven't read the novels, however, Game of Thrones serves as an excellent introduction to this compelling historical fantasy.


Story:

Game of Thrones, adapted from "A Game of Thrones" by the aforementioned author, is set in the fictional land of Westeros, a world where seasons last for indeterminate periods of time and dragons were once used as war machines to subdue entire nations.. Despite this and several mentions of sorcery and witches, viewers should be aware that this story is in fact very magic-lite. Don't expect Harry Potter or even Lord of the Rings - there are very few flashy effects - magic in Game of Thrones is subtle, more metaphorical than mythical in its application.

Arya wonders what she's doing at a Lord of the Rings convention.

Events prior to the start of the series see the Seven Kingdoms crown King Robert Baratheon, a rebel who successfully defeated the mad-Emperor Aerys Targaryen. The story begins just as political and civil unrest begin to sweep the land once more. The Hand of the King (the King's chief advisor) has just died under uncertain circumstances, and King Robert summons his old friend Eddard "Ned" Stark to replace him. Ned's wife, however, suspects that the Hand may have been murdered by none other than the Robert's wife, Queen Cersei Lannister and her House. Across the sea, Viserys and Danaerys, last surviving heirs of the Targaryen Dynasty, seek to raise a barbarian Dothraki army to reclaim their homeland. In the North, a sinister threat rises to engulf all of the world, with only the dwindling force of the Night's Watch and the Wall to defend against it.

Confused yet? Don't worry - this is only the most simple of background summaries. A whole mess load of other characters and plots are introduced throughout the series. Though the plot of the show follows the novel closely, there are just a few snippets of new scenes embedded into what is overall an unfailingly loyal tribute to "A Game of Thrones." These new scenes provide additional insight into characters and don't distract from the overall plot, but rather add depth and layer to already compelling storytelling. Alliances are forged, honor is tested, and backs are stabbed, all to varying degrees of success but indubitably high levels of entertainment. 

One wall to belittle them all?
 
You would think that the story might become incomprehensible, but it surprisingly does not. Part of the show's (and novel's) success derives from its ability to weave all of these plots together into a fascinating tapestry. While the first episode or two is a little overburdened with exposition (introducing dozens of characters, locations, and cultures in the span of 50 minutes), what follows is a deep, complex tale that is just plain fun to watch.

Writing and Acting:

Despite the seemingly countless faces, the characters are all memorable, with several that are quite easy to root for and a few more that you just love to hate. Some of these characters include Arya Stark and Tyrion Lannister. Arya is the youngest daughter of Ned Stark, a tomboy often scolded for her penchant to play swords rather than sew dresses. Tyrion (played by Peter Dinklage) is a dwarf, an embarassment for the other-wise perfect House Lannister, but he makes up for this deficiency in size with a quick wit and sharp intellect. The Crown Prince Joffrey, on the other hand, is a total douchebag to the 50 bajillionth degree. You can't help but want to smack him upside the face every time you see him, and its a testament to his child actor that he is able to pull off such a instantly despised role.

Jon Snow, Sam Tarly, and Guy whose name I don't remember.

The rest of the cast do not disappoint either; Sean Bean (Boromir!) serves as a wonderful Eddard Stark, and Lena Headey (who fans might recognize from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) plays a wonderfully manipulative Cersei. With such a large cast, the show is surprisingly adept at spotlighting each character just enough to both give viewers a good understanding of each one, while also allowing them room to develop and grow.

Bitch, please. Don't make me go get my terminator.
Production:

Game of Thrones does not disappoint technically, either. The production values are simply amazing, with realistic sets, costumes, and weaponry joining together to really immerse viewers in the Seven Kingdoms. The barbarian Dothraki language created for the show is particularly impressive, and the various actors who have to speak it do so with a smooth fluency as if they were indeed foreign savages. The cities of King's Landing and Winterfell also deserve particular praise for their attention to detail and distinct styles.


King's Landing, capital of the Seven Kingdoms


Warnings:

This is not a show for minors (which, being an HBO original program, is probably self-evident). Still, if you have any qualms about brutal and gruesome deaths (I'm talking throats being slit, violent stabbings, and people being burned alive), then this might not be the show for you. There's also quite a bit of squick factor, including but not limited to rape and incest, so please - don't watch this with a minor! Finally, the series tagline is: "You Win or You Die" - don't be surprised when characters - even beloved characters - are suddenly snuffed out.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Please also note that the first season does feel a little bit like a long prologue. The season finale in particular is also a bit anticlimactic after the penultimate episode's events; you're left with more questions than you began, for sure. Still, given the fact that the show is based on a seven-book epic, we can at least be hopeful that seasons 2 - 7 will sate our thirst.


I wonder if actress Emilia Clarke knew how often she would be getting naked on this show. Oh, now you're going to watch it? Pervs.

Final Thoughts:


Overall, Game of Thrones impresses as a compelling political drama splashed with just the right amounts of action, intrigue, and fantasy. Fans of the novel series would do well to give the series a look; you won't be disappointed with how well the novel comes to life. Fans of the genre should definitely take the time to watch this show. Despite some long-winded exposition, and a season finale that resolves very little, the series is an easy recommendation for any adults who enjoy a good epic tale. You win, when you watch Game of Thrones.


Recommended For:
+ Fans of George R.R. Martin's "A Game of Thrones" from the "Song of Ice and Fire" series of novels.
+ Fans of historical-fantasy.
+ Fans of political thrillers.
+ Anybody who enjoys a good story.


Not Recommended For:
- Children/Minors. Don't let them watch this show!
- People who only care about action - there is a fair amount of fighting and combat, but it is definitely secondary to the plot and story.
- If blood, violence, or squicky squick is not your thing (See the Warnings subsection).
- People who think George R.R. Martin should be working on his next novel rather than working on the TV Show. Two more books still left to be completed in the series. At the rate he's going, the tv show will be done before the novels.

Game of Thrones has been renewed for a second season. Watch the title sequence from the first below, which animates a map of the Seven Kingdoms and gives a good impression of all the major locations within the first season.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What to Watch Out For: The Elderscrolls V - Skyrim

Check out this interview, via gamepro.com, for a bit more about the Elderscrolls V - Skyrim. Skyrim is the sequel to the 2006 critically acclaimed open world RPG, the Elderscrolls IV - Oblivion. Both games were developed/are being developed by Bethesda, who is also known for Fallout 3.


Skyrim has so far displayed a plethora of new features, most noticeably the inclusion of dragons and dragon shouts. Your character is dragonborn - whatever that means - and you have the ability to absorb the souls of dragons in order to gain some of their powers. Some of these awe-inspiring abilities have included summoning lightning storms and breathing fire in the E3 demos that were shown a little over a week ago. You're also now able to dual-wield weapons or even spells.

The Elder Scrolls series' success has largely been due to the massively open world and near-endless amount of quests the player can complete, guild ranks the player can ascend, and just plain exploration the player can do. Skyrim seems to be keeping in line with these conventions. However, I personally always felt that the combat in TES games have left something to be desired, and the story in Oblivion was hackneyed and unoriginal. It remains to be seen if Skyrim will be able to improve upon those two important aspects as well.

See my full review of The Elder Scrolls IV - Oblivion here (Please note this review was done 5 years ago and was using an old reviewing system), and check out the interview below:

 

 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What to Watch Out For: HBO's Game of Thrones - Season Finale on 6/19

 
I'll admit I am a relative newcomer to the Song of Ice & Fire, a series of historical fiction novels penned by George R.R. Martin, a man who has been referenced as the American Tolkien. It wasn't until late October 2010 that I picked up "A Game of Thrones" for the first time (via my ipad, no less - A Game of Thrones is the first novel in the series).

I was hooked. Four novels spanning over 4,000 pages in total came and went with remarkable alacrity. And then in mid April of 2011, HBO began airing their television adaptation of the first novel to wide critical acclaim.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Trailer Mashup: Star Wars - The Old Republic

Via gamebanshee.com comes this mashup of the three cinematic trailers for the upcoming Bioware MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic.


Bioware is touting its entry into the MMO arena as one that doesn't sacrifice story in favor of grinding, looting, raiding, and levelling up. A good story has historically been very difficult to pull off in an MMO setting precisely because of the nature of MMO's. Persistent worlds require exactly that: persistence. However, persistence also makes telling a good story very, very difficult, as any good story always requires great change either personally for individual characters, or for the world as a whole, and oftentimes requires both.

Whether or not Bioware will be able to pull off a successful story through its next venture is yet to be seen, though the features they've implemented so far to support this claim do sound promising: voiced characters, dialogue choices, and multiple ways to resolve quests (light side or dark side).

Visit The Old Republic's website for more information or to catch the original three cinematic trailers, developed and animated by Blur studios. All three of them beat the prequel movies hands down.

What to Watch Out For: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2

Voldemort ponders how best to start eating Harry's face off.
Via traileraddict.com comes the final trailer for the second part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. An epic journey spanning 7 years of Hogwarts time and almost 10 years of real life time culminates in what appears to be a frenetic and action-packed finale July 15 2011.

Think about this - the first Harry Potter movie came out in late 2001.

Boy, I feel old.

Mass Effect 3 Going Mass-Effectedly Multiplayer? [Update 6-17-2011]

[UPDATE 6-17-2011]

Eurogamer reports that Bioware co-founder Ray Muzyka has confirmed Mass Effect 3 will not be the end of the franchise. "This is not the end of the Mass Effect franchise by any means," he affirms.

"We have more things planned. We're laser-focused on making sure Mass Effect 3 is awesome and epic and intense on a galactic scale, and we want to provide a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy ... But also it's a beginning on a brand new adventure," Muzyka continued. "The galaxy is at war. It's a beginning as well as a conclusion."

Not totally unexpected, given the wild success Mass Effect has showered upon Bioware and EA. I wonder what will come next though, after ME3 has been finished. Mass Effect Wars? Mass Effect Online (shudder)?

See the original story below:




Thursday, June 16, 2011

Review - Child of Eden

Overview:

Developed by Q Entertainment and published by Ubisoft, Child of Eden is a first person shooter. But it's also a game unlike almost every other first person shooter out there. Dazzling visual and audio effects, brilliant level design, smooth controls, and a catchy technopop soundtrack form a solidarity with which Child of Eden rises to greatness.

Story:

If you haven't heard of Child of Eden, the game is essentially an on-the-rails first person shooter. The story is set in a distant yet near future, where space travel has been accomplished and the internet is referred to as "Eden." The first child to be born in space, Lumi, is saved into Eden's archives. Centuries later, scientists attempt to recreate Lumi from her record in Eden; to their dismay, Eden becomes corrupted (by futuristic spyware ads?). As the player, you are tasked with purifying Eden of this viral intrusion and saving the new Lumi from being destroyed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Review - Green Lantern (2011)


WARNING: Minor Spoilers Follow

So ... lucky me, I have a friend who works at WB, and she graciously invited me to attend an early screening of Green Lantern. If you're like me and have been cautiously scanning rottentomatoes.com for early reviews, you'll know it hasn't exactly been impressing people as the best comic book movie adaptation. The general consensus is that it's quote "noisy, overly produced, and thinly written, squandering an impressive budget and decades of comics mythology."

I don't agree.

Yes, the background is laid on a bit thick; the opening narration bombards you with exposition meant to quickly catch non-comic book fans up to the setting. Sure, the story is befuddling at some points. There were 2 or 3 moments in the plot where I thought flat-out "this does not make sense." No, I can't deny that some of the characterization is a little weak and some of the plots are a bit derivative. Hal Jordan (played by Ryan Reynolds), for example, doesn't seem to know if he wants to be a wisecracking jackass or a soldier of honor and duty, fluctuating between the two just a little too quickly to be believable.



But who are we kidding? You're not going to a movie about a man who can create "hardlight" green energy with an alien ring for a thoughtful plot and deep characters. Green Lantern doesn't try to be anything other than what it is: a fun, action-packed and exciting adventure. And for the most part it succeeds.

Green Lantern is the story of Hal Jordan, a jet pilot whose prone to giving up for fear of failing (sorry, had to do it). When an alien spacecraft crashes onto earth and its occupant informs him that he has been chosen to be part of what is essentially an intergalactic police force, Hal rolls with the punches and joins up quickly. What he soon learns is that the personification of Fear, named Parallax, has escaped from its ancient prison and now threatens the universe. What follows is Hal's journey to discover the strength inside himself to overcome Fear, and save the cosmos.

Yes, it's corny. Yes it's sometimes hard to swallow. No, it's not completely faithful to the comic book origins. But is it fun to watch? Fosho.

Ryan Reynolds serves as a capable Hal Jordan. Mark Strong is absolutely what I envisioned Sinestro to look like in real life. I couldn't shake Blake Lively from her role on Gossip Girl though. Isn't she in high school? Why is she romantically involved with a 30+ year old Hal? Squick factor level increased.


I'll admit the plot is essentially a thin narrative device for us to see the action, but I have to say the action was pretty spectacular. As a Green Lantern, Hal Jordan is able to conjure up emerald energy into whatever shape or form he wishes, limited only by his imagination. He does so with spectacular bravado in the film, conjuring swords, machine guns, fighter jets, race cars and energy balls, all to different - but useful - effect. The visual and special effects are breathtaking; Oa, in particular, is a vibrant world rendered beautifully - simultaneous alien and still entrancing. Parallax is similarly animated.

I suspect had the film been released before Thor and X-Men: First Class, it might have garnered more forgiving reviews. I can't deny that Green Lantern doesn't quite capture the human and emotional aspect of cinematography as well as the two Marvel Comics blockbusters did earlier this year. Still, for what it was trying to be - a light-hearted action adventure sprinkled with just the right amount of humor - Green Lantern does a fine job.


Finally, I'll go ahead and admit right now that I may have gone into the screening with very low expectations. Do yourself a favor and do the same. Don't go in expecting the next entry in a deep, emotional film filled with social and political commentary. Go in expecting an easy-to-watch action-flick and you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Recommended For:
+ Green Lantern Fans open to a few mythology changes
+ People who don't mind suspending disbelief
+ Like Stunning CG and Visual Effects? Watch it just for that.
+ Scifi/Fantasy Action Adventure Fans
+ Ryan Reynolds. Blake Lively. Need I say more?

Not Recommended For:
- Green Lantern Loyalists
- People expecting X-men: Second Class or for lord knows why, Schindler's List 2
- People who don't like Scifi, fantasy, comic books, or action movies - what are you even doing here?
- People without suspension. Suspension of disbelief, that is.
- Ryan Reynolds. Blake Lively. Need I say more?

Movie-goers be warned. The screening I attended was for 3D, but I hardly noticed any 3D effects at all. Save yourself a few dollars and go to a regular showing.


Green Lantern Feature Trailer From Trailerpulse

Some People Still Read - Dragon Age: Asunder

Yes, some people still read. Me included (though not as much as I probably should). Sometimes sitting back with a good novel can be more thrilling than watching a movie or playing a game; there's the advantage of being able to see into a character's mind instead of merely watching him do things on screen.

Dragon Age: Asunder is the third book in a series of novels set in Thedas (which btw, stands for The Dragon Age Setting). Yes, Bioware's David Gaider has been tapped to write a third entry in a series of Dragon Age novels. The previous two stories centered on the character of Maric, son of a Ferelden Queen who rebelled against an occupying Orlesian force. In the first title, DA: The Stolen Throne, Maric undergoes trials and tribulations to reclaim his home from the invaders. In DA: The Calling, Maric is given a taste of the Darkspawn threat, and is called upon by the famed Grey Wardens to help track down one of their own, a Grey Warden that has seemingly betrayed his duty.


If you didn't play Dragon Age and have no idea what I'm talking about, then these books are probably not for you. If you did play Dragon Age and are itching to find out just a little bit more about the stunning lore that Bioware has put together for their fantasy franchise, I definitely would recommend that you buy or borrow these books from your local library. The first two novels were set before the events of Dragon Age: Origins and provide an interesting perspective and backstory on some of the events that occur in the game. David Gaider (Lead Writer for Bioware on all the Dragon Age games) weaves an interesting and compelling plot in both stories and while they might not be as intricately woven or designed as "A Game of Thrones," they do a great job of quenching any thirst for fantasy literature you might have.


The plot of Dragon Age:Asunder will detail the separation of the Templar Order from the Chantry, and references events that occur in Dragon Age 2. According to Mr. Gaider, it's best if you play the game first, if you plan to play it at all, as there may be spoilers in the novel. According to a press release issued by Bioware, the story will center on an Orlesian Mage named Rhys, who is accused of various murders within the so-called "heart of Templar Power" within Orlais. If you played Dragon Age 2, you know that the mages and templars of the world do not exactly get along. I won't say much more for fear of spoiling anything, but if you want to know more, I've embedded a video interview with David Gaider (courtesy of Bioware Pulse), where he discusses this upcoming novel. He also shares a bit of advice for aspiring writers and game developers - but don't listen to that; I have enough competition as it is.

;)

You can purchase The Stolen Throne and The Calling via Amazon (Kindle editions available).



Watch live streaming video from biowaretv at livestream.com

What to Watch Out For: Kingdoms of Amalur - Reckoning


E3 has been abuzz with this eye-catching new title from Big Huge Games with storyworld designed by R.A. Salvatore. If you read or watch any of the previews of the game, it seems as if BHG is trying to combine the real time action combat of Fable with the open world and character development system of the Elder Scrolls series. We haven't been treated to much of the story yet, though we do know you'll be able to customize a character from a variety of races. You begin the game having just been resurrected from death with your memory wiped clean; one of the goals you'll pursue besides monster-slaying is finding out who killed you and why.

So far the story doesn't seem to be taking too many risks. The open-ended character development system and the action combat seem very promising though; You're never locked into one "class," but rather choose various talents and specialities as you level up, mixing and matching as you please. Warrior-Mage and Rogue-Mage Hybrids seem to be the popular choice among the video demos seen at E3.

I'm just looking forward to dual-wielding chakrams. Any game that lets you channel your inner Xena gets a plus in my book (See them in action at about 0:34 below, courtesy of gametrailers.com).


See the E3 Debut Trailer below. Kingdoms of Amalur - Reckoning is slated for a Q1 2012 release.


Kingdoms Of Amalur: Debut Trailer - Watch more Game Trailers

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

First Impressions - Child of Eden (XBOX 360 with Kinect)

A first person shooter that makes your hands the weapons? Plus, dazzling visuals, a technopop soundtrack that's as addictive as it is catchy, and just a wonderful level of polish and and style.


Let's just say this game shows a lot of promise. Can you really blame me for being attracted to shiny pretty things?


Child of Eden is available today, June 14, 2011, on XBOX360 and supports the Kinect platform addition for motion sensing. PS3 owners can expect their versioN (compatible with Move) sometime in September of this year.

Review - Dragon Age 2 (DA2)


Overview:

It is perhaps impossible to review Dragon Age 2 without making comparisons to its predecessor. Dragon Age: Origins was a stunning achievement in late 2009, winning multiple game of the year awards and lauded as one of the best RPGs of the generation. Considering the daunting tasks that the game had to achieve and how well it succeeded - creating an immersive setting, establishing a fun and tactical gameplay system, and building a strong fanbase for future games to capitalize on - it's no wonder that the game took 5 years for the RPG veteran Bioware to complete.

Comparatively, Dragon Age 2 was released in March of 2011, less than 1.5 years from the release of the original in November of 2009.

That was probably the first clue that something was wrong.

Admittedly, a large part of the effort that went into making Dragon Age: Origins was completed with the first entry in the series: establishment of lore being the main part. Still, 1.5 years is a short turnaround for an epic RPG series, and I was worried that the brief development time might impact the quality of the sequel.

I was right to be worried.

Story:

Dragon Age 2 throws you back into the immersive and wonderfully-crafted world of Thedas, a world where perhaps only 1.5 years ago you were playing a Grey Warden fighting a seeming hopeless war against the Blight. While your warden's adventures took place mostly in the nation of Ferelden, Dragon Age 2 focuses on your character's life in Kirkwall, a coastal city to the north of the blight-stricken Ferelden. This time around, you're forced to play a human (gender and class selectable) named Hawke, and the story largely follows your escapades in becoming a champion of the city.


The overall plot of the game is told through a framed narrative: An NPC named Varric recounts your tale to an enigmatic Seeker trying to uncover how exactly Hawke rose to power in Kirkwall. The gimmick is an interesting one, though it's employed too sparsely to have any meaningful impact; essentially, the game is divided into three major acts and a brief prelude over a 10-year period, with Varric narrating the intermissions between each act. In a 40-50 hour game, the plot device seems tacked on at best, though it does boast excellent voicework and some good humor.

The individual acts succeed (for the most part) on their own storytelling merits, with some throwbacks to your previous decisions (and if you import a DAO save, your Warden's decisions in the first game). Where the story falls apart is trying to tie those loose threads together: Dragon Age 2 doesn't have the same epic feel that Origins so proudly bore; years pass between each act and it's difficult to see how exactly the pieces of the story fit together, largely because they don't. The end result is like playing through a disjointed sequence of events, rather than a tightly constructed tale. While the tale of Hawke's rise to power is still an interesting one, you realize Hawke rises to Champion not because you saved the city or amassed a fortune: Varric simply tells you it happened during the 3 year time jump.


Gameplay:

When Varric's not telling your story, you take control of Hawke and - depending on your class - maul, backstab, or blast your way through the multiple main and side quests. The core of the gameplay is combat, and here the sequel really shines. While DAO's combat was exciting, it also had a very plodding, almost lazy feel to it. When I watched Alistair slash enemies, he did so with such methodical slowness that it felt almost as if he was trying to move through molasses.

Dragon Age 2 has sped up combat significantly, and it really feels much more fast-paced and alive than its predecessor did. Combat animations are flashy and impressive, and no longer do enemies and allies suffer from "shuffling" syndrome - combat abilities are executed immediately and with ferocious intensity. The introduction of "cross-class combos" also adds a distinctive tactical flare to the game, and a critical element to take advantage of on the harder difficulties. All classes are able to use certain abilities that inflict various status effects on enemies, opening them up to receive further punishment from your allies. Pulling off a cross-class combo is deliciously satisfying, and this feature combined with all the other changes really improve the overall flavor of combat.


Leveling up is a fun experience too. Gone are the single-line of talent points from the first game: instead, players now use a tiered and chained set of talent trees. Various selections unlock new abilities and players can also choose to improve their existing abilities rather than to diversify. The improvements are significant, so no talent point feels like it's been wasted. By the end of the game, Hawke truly is a formidable master of his craft with dozens of spells and fighting talents at his disposal. The one questionable change from the original game is the removal of skills. Previously, skills such as persuasion and pickpocketing could be improved with each levelup: these skills have all vanished, for no apparent reason. Overall though, the game remains a lot of fun to play.

That said, there are a few changes from the original series that are baffling: first, the overuse of exploding enemies. Enemies vaporize into chunks of blood and gore at the mildest of whacks, smacks and tiffs, and it definitely removes the sense of gritty realness from a game that otherwise is deeply immersive (this has been remedied in a recent patch, to my knowledge). Second, and perhaps more glaring is the removal of the tactical camera present in the PC version of Dragon Age Origins. DAO's tactical camera on the PC version of the game was really a godsend, enabling players to get a wide view of the action and plan their battles accordingly. The removal of that camera is an inexplicable loss.


If only those changes were the only ones to mar Dragon Age 2's otherwise polish. Unfortunately, the short turnaround cycle shows very early on exactly the toll it took on DA2's presentation. First, the encounters - while the first Dragon Age was filled with hordes of evil monsters and darkspawn trying to devour your party, each encounter was carefully crafted and allowed room for tactics to make a difference. Dragon Age 2, unfortunately, relies on what has become infamous as the "wave" mechanic. You first encounter one wave of enemies and engage them; just as you defeat the last one, you realize that literally out of nowhere, new enemies have fallen from the sky or popped out from the earth to swarm you once again. Just as you think you're done mopping up the last of these, a third wave hits you. Mind you, these aren't flying birds or burrowing worms that are attacking you - bandits, undead, darkspawn, and even guards appear out of nowhere to ruin your careful positioning and artificially increase the difficulty of the battles. The result is always a battle of attrition, and a test to see which side can keep their health bars going the longest. Dragon Age 2 employs this tactic for almost every fight in the game. No, I'm not exaggerating; it almost ruins the fun from the new combat flow.

I suppose that the wave-system of enemy encounters might be chalked up to a poor design decision, and in no way related to the constrained time frame between game releases, but there can be no question about my next issue with DA2's design. Recycled Areas. Forums are ablaze with people lamenting Bioware's decision to reuse areas for quests that are supposed to represent different locales. The first Mass Effect also suffered from this problem, but it was a minor nuisance in that game at best: it only really impacted the smallest of sidequests in that game. In Dragon Age 2, the recycled areas cover not only sidequests, but main-plots as well. Every single cave, dungeon, sewer, or estate is literally an exact copy of the one before it. The effect is totally immersion-breaking and an unbelievable misstep for a developer that is lauded for its storytelling skill. Setting is an important part of storytelling; if the setting never changes on the screen, your story will suffer.


When you're not tackling the main quests or being assaulted by endless waves of enemies, Hawke can also pursue (in standard Bioware form) romances among the many companions he'll get to know along his journey. Gay and Straight options are both available, and there's even an option that is doomed (*cough* Aveline *cough). For the most part, these romances are deep, engaging, and have that poignant quality that makes you go "Aww" despite the fact that you're staring at fictional characters animated through lines of code.

Side quests litter the games multiple acts with various degrees of quality, though most are forgettable fetch and deliver quests. Interestingly enough, Bioware actually streamlined the fetch and deliver system so that you don't even need to be asked to find something anymore. Side Quest items are automatically marked for you and Hawke is magically able to identify trash without any knowledge of its significance or its owner. It's somewhat amusing to hear Hawke muse "I hear you've been looking for this," and then hand over random junk to an NPC he's never spoken to and has no connection with.

I suppose it does cut down on the backtracking though.

Graphics & Sound:

Dragon Age 2 features revamped art style, in an effort to distinguish the franchise from more generic fantasy tropes. For the most part, these art style changes have been a hit or miss. The race of Qunari, for example, have absolutely been improved from the original game, where they looked essentially human. Now, they have their own, unique look that easily identifies both the race as well as the Dragon Age game. Darkspawn, on the other hand, seem to have been dumbed down from the horrifying terrors they were in Origins to albino zombies.


From a technical standpoint, Dragon Age 2 serves competently (though it can't compete with games like the Witcher 2). On my average rig, I experienced no major bugs or glitches, and animations and models were done superbly. The environs were adequate, though they quickly became stale, especially with the recycling of maps mentioned previously.


DA2's voice work continues Bioware's tradition of excellent acting and cinematic storytelling. Every character and line was delivered with skill, and I really liked the way Hawke's tone would change based on your play style - Diplomatic Hawke was definitely different from Aggressive Hawke. Other characters are competently voiced as well, and the actor who plays Varric - as both the narrator and comic relief - does an excellent job.

Inon Zur returns to score the sequel to DA Origins and his soundtrack features more memorable tunes that are interesting in their composition and just fun to listen to. Several romantic scores wiggle their way into an otherwise combat-heavy musical experience.

Final Thoughts:

I can't help but feel Dragon Age 2 could have been so much more. Some of the design decisions are hard to question. If more time were spent developing new areas instead of redesigning the art style for one. Or if more time was spent implementing unique encounters rather than dumping loads of forgettable side quests onto the player. Hindsight is 20/20, I guess.

It's interesting to see Metacritic's score for the game - professional reviewers average out around 80 while user reviews average at 45 (PC version). Is there some sort of professional conspiracy happening? Not really - Dragon Age 2 by itself is really a good game. It's just that in comparison to the glow of its predecessor, good just doesn't cut it.



Recommended For:
+ Fans of Dragon Age willing to be open-minded about some of the more obtuse design choices.
+ Fans of RPGs
+ Gamers who Don't mind Deja Vu (Recycled Maps, Forgetabble Side quests)
+ Fans of Bioware Storytelling
+ Gay Romance Points

Not Recommended For:
- Dragon Age Loyalists
- Baldur's Gate Loyalists
- People who think other people talk too much
- Homophobes

*This game was reviewed on the PC. Dragon Age 2 is also available on Mac, XBOX360 and the PS3.