Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dragon 2 or 1.5? The aftermath of Denerim and the path Bioware chose to make Disappointed? Yes/No/Stab in the throat!

*Be warned, potential spoilers*
I've been meaning to write about this game for the past week and words fail to come to me as to how I can express and explain what this game is. Suffice to say that I am pleased in some aspects and confused in others. so let's work at this one at a time.
The Dragon Age sequel has definitely improved in the visual category, so much that I had to reduce most of the graphic settings on my computer in order to run it more smoothly and my Inte i5 CPU 650@3.20GHz, ATI Radeon HD 5450 and 6 Gigs of ram is decent enough to run any game at a high setting. 
Bioware has always been a favourite of mine, crafting amazing worlds, creating characters you grow attached to and writing amazing scripts and stories. One cannot deny they've done much in the realm of rpgs. Suffice to say that I was a little shocked at what was to be found when playing the game.

Now mind you I have yet to finish the game, to be honest I have a hard time wanting to play more as the game feels diminished, gone is the big arching story line that got me absorbed in DA:Origins, now I find myself grinding dozens of side quests in order to get enough money in order to move on. Same with the environment, yes the city of Kirkwall is large, especially with its numerous wards that you can visit during the day and night along with the handful of areas outside of the city but it all feels too constricted and limiting with its set paths.
The characters in the game have been great I do admit, who knew a dwarf with a shaven beard can be so cool? The friend/rival system which allows your companions to gain different bonuses depending on how they see you is a great aspect but the now limited equipment they can use really shows a part of how they've stripped the game as a whole. Especially when throughout my adventures I find a many great items to use yet most are restricted to Hawke who will never use most of them when they do not fit their chosen class. You can still further develop and learn more from your new allies but they have taken away the camp/hq style forcing you to visit each character in their place of domicile that are scattered throughout the city which I find slightly irritating, especially when one wants to progress with various companions at once. At least the banter between teammates is still as amusing and unique as ever.
The list of things I enjoy in the game are few and far in between. The menu has changed a little. No more can you see all of the downloadable content you’ve acquired from the main menu as was prior even though you have an option for it. These little nuances keep building up though perhaps I am nitpicking too much. It is noteworthy that you may upload the story of your previous DA:Origins hero so you may hear about them in this version, along with a few familiar faces such as Flemmeth, Bodahn and Sandal (Enchantment!) and some new class trees you can explore in.
I find there is little to not enough in this time to consider it worthy of the title of a sequel, perhaps a larger expansion, a Dragon Age 1.5 if you will but overall not what I was expecting from such a well-established and veteran company such as Bioware.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How to not perish at PaxEast (or any other con) and live to tell the tale! My first ever big convention and trip to Boston!

Wow...that's how I would describe PaxEast. That’s it and thanks for reading!
Kidding aside, I had the most amazing time over at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center where Penny Arcade was hosting their 2nd annual PaxEast and I admit, I was a total fanboy when I was there. Yes, as an aspiring writer I could've been more productive and professional by talking with various big name and indie developers asking them all sorts of questions about their products but as this was my first time outside of Canada and at my first major video game convention I wanted to just enjoy it, and enjoy it I did. It's quite funny how one can wish they could spend more time there and wanting to go back home at the same time because by the end of the 3-day event I felt lethargic, sore and sleep-deprived, I never felt closer to a real zombie in my life, especially since I spent most of the week-end with a Plants vs Zombie cone on my head.
Now I'm going to "try" and summarize my experience, but be warned, it will be extensive. Skip below if you want to read about specific games:
As Dimitri Martin once said, location location location, and PaxEast picked a great spot as the convention center is attached to the Westin hotel, which by the way was a great hotel that had all of the amenities a convention goer needed: a working warm shower, a really big comfy bed and a coffee shop (Starbuck’s) in the main lobby. It was also attached to the convention center so we never needed to dress warmly as we walked to and from our hotel room.
The convention center itself had three floors; level 0 was the main floor where the exhibit hall was. It housed all of the game developers, from the well-known Rockstar, Ubisoft, 2K, Valve, Bethesda, EA and Turbine who all came out in force, to indie groups like Torn Banner Studios (Chivalry), SBRN Games (Ash), HalfBrick (Raskulls) and The Tap Lab (TapCity). A few game development schools like Becker College were also there to recruit future students along with various hardware companies like NVidia, Alienware, Logitech, Kingston and Asus, There were also a few video/card/board game and clothing vendors. Honestly there are many, many more but I’m too lazy to list all 118 companies, and I’m sure you could find a complete listing elsewhere I’ll give you my most memorable ones below.
Also on level 0 was the massive tabletop room, where after they close the main hall for the evening, you could go and relax with the fellow board and card game geeks while trying out new and old games until 2am. This is one of the features of PaxEast that impressed me. Various attendees volunteered their time to show and teach people games they’ve never tried, especially for D&D 4th edition where many tables were setup and dice were rolled to teach first time players. This is where I tried Ascension, a derivative of Dominion, for the first time. The people were friendly and anyone who walked by could join in or just watch the game be played. Another section had a free play area where tables of donated board games sat waiting to be picked up and played once you registered it with the Pax volunteers aka Enforcers. Various times random people were looking for others to join in on a game, they even had an LCD panel with a Looking For Group twitter board so people could organize themselves. I even had a chance to play a game of Munchkin Zombies with a couple who’ve never played Munchkin games so myself and my friends happily showed them and we had a good time beating each other up. I also had the chance to play Dominion for the first time  (funny note, we had to rock/paper/scissor with two other people for it when we found it) which all of us agreed was a must buy as it was fun and fairly easy to learn, sadly only the expansions could be found for sale anywhere. Many tournaments of Magic, Pokemon, Settlers and WoW TCG were had in this hall as well. There were also more board and card game who gladly sold me the board game Smallworld.
Once you’ve battled your way through level 0, level 1 contained a more relaxed area where various meeting rooms were converted to free play areas (minus the Cat Theatre where some of the panels were held). You could sign up to play modern consoles (lots of Marvel vs Capcom 3 was being played), PC and Bring Your Own PC (for those who reserved a spot) There was also a room dedicated to console tournaments, a handheld lounge where all the Pokemon trainers hung out on comfy beanbag chairs, and designated Dance Central and Rockband areas. What was best is that none of these required any extra money to be spent as it was all included with your event pass.
After defeating the console boss you move onto level 2 where the more aspiring and professional attendees went as it contained most of the rooms where the panels were held, aptly named Manticore, Wyvern, Naga and the IDGA Dev center and Reckoning lounge. Sadly I only attended two panels, State of the Industry: What are your career options? and Snagging the Marketing or Writing Job of Your Dreams. I found out that you either have to be really dedicated to what you want to see and show up early to wait in line as space was limited or roam around to see everything else on the main floor. More often than not various interesting panels were at the same time or right after another, which along with the numerous prize giveaways in the exhibit floor ensured you couldn’t see and do everything. In hindsight, this is a good idea on PAX’s part to avoid having large crowds in one place. The floor also contained a couple of rooms for classic consoles from Atari to N64 (where a great tournament of Bomberman 2 was going on full of gasps and cheers) and a room dedicated to classic Arcade machines (4-player Gauntlet, Beer Tapper or Dragon’s Lair, anyone?) thanks to an American arcade company whose card I sadly lost.
Level 3. Location: Main Theatre. Final Boss. Well ok, not really but this is where Jerry Holkins aka Tycho and Mike Krahulik aka Gabe held their keynote, Q&As, along with the Omegathon (which I sadly did not see, I’m hoping all of the missing panels and what not will be on the dvd). Rooster Teeth aka Red vs Blue, X-Play and the concerts were also held here.
All in all it was an amazing experience, one that will have to be repeated over and over again in order to see everything as the event had aspects that were catered to specific types of people whom would only go see those (ie: media to the game booths, aspiring game industry people to the panels, professional gamers to the tournaments) which makes it difficult to get into those if you have no specific genre like myself.
Various things were also learned on this trip: Don’t bring food on the trip except for drinks and snacks that you can eat before crossing the border, buy easy to eat foods once in town from the grocery store to cut down on meal costs, travel with friends whom you can handle for long hours and bring plenty of fresh clothing, especially socks as you WILL be warm and aromatic by the end of the day and the other event goers will appreciate it. Bring plenty of money just in case for emergencies or for when you spot things you didn’t expect and want to get but try to keep to a budget. Be kind to other attendees as there will be crowds and guaranteed bumps as you stare wide eyed at the game trailers and the well-dressed cosplayers, especially to the Enforcers who volunteered their time to help you and ensure the event and your experience goes smoothly.Stay awhile and listen (*grin*) to the hardworking developers and merchants who’ve taken the time to show you what they’ve made as this encourages them to keep up the enthusiasm for what they love to do: making great quality games and items. Also don’t worry about bringing an extra bag for the free swag as more often than not there will be someone who will be giving out large bags for you to store your free t-shirts, hats, buttons and other items in (though try not to overload it as they will break) so a trip or two a day back to your hotel room is a must.
Special notes and things that I liked at PaxEast2011: The cosplayers who’ve made awesome costumes and take the time to stop for pictures (which to some would be every other minute). Favourites included the Pyro (whose foam axe was confiscated for being too real) from TF2, a Commissar from Warhammer, a female Mass Effect Shepard and heroine from Dragon Age 2, Saria and Sheik from Zelda: Ocarina of Time, a male and female version of Assassin’s Creed as well as Valkaria Chronicles, three well done Ghostbusters, a Joker, Harley Quinn (whom they let keep her real baseball bat) Scarecrow trio, the PvZ group (two girls in pot/sunflower costume, two guys dressed in suits with a zombie head), who were awesome when they were rocking it out at the Rockband booth and a slightly scary and hairy legged Chun-Li of Street Fighter. There were lots more but I couldn’t recognize all of them. Big thanks to Tycho who I spoke with briefly and who shook my hand before he remembered about the germ thing as well as Gabe, Morgan Webb, Adam Sessler, Blair Herter and Scotty Kurtz who all signed my X-box 360 controller.
For pics of the event, go here:
Games that really got my eye:
Chivalry from Torn Banner Studios, whose realistic medieval battle game really impressed me as it is based on skill where the mouse acts as your hips which directs how you swing your sword or fire your arrows, battles arranged from free for all to attacking/defending the castle. No levels or upgraded gear is obtained. Only customization of armour can be garnered from doing well which is where skill comes Beta will be out in a few months, out possibly at the end of 2011 or beginning of 2012.
Raskulls from Halfbrick which is out now on Xbox Live. It’s a fun and cute competitive party game where you race your variously dressed little skull characters through coloured blocks that you shoot through in order to get through and hopefully trap your opponents behind you.
TapCity from The Tap Lab is a free social iPhone and soon to be Android game where you can use real buildings from google earth and attack them, once obtained you can turn them into various types of buildings like a castle or bee hive and have it defended with dinosaurs, lasers and what not. The social aspect comes in where you can get your friends to check in on the battle and the more people you can get on your side the more it can sway the battle no matter how strong the opponent is.
Orcs Must Die! by Robot Entertainment was one of my favourites and a must-buy on my list. It’s like a tower defense game where orcs and other creatures run along a defined path and your champion spends points to place traps like floor spikes, shooting arrow walls, spring boards and swinging ceiling spiked balls that help as you attack and try to prevent them from reaching the other end.
Geek Chic is not a game developer but a company who caters to geeks with taste and well-lined gold pouch as they create well-crafted solid wood tables that you can use as coffee and dining room tables which open up and convert into the ultimate board and/or miniature table with tons of room for attachable cup holders and drawers lined with foam shaped to your preferred console controller They also create armoires and bookshelves to safely store your books and miniatures in style.
Firefall by Red 5 is a free to play 1st and 3rd person team class based shooter that quickly reminded me of Tribes which by chance one of the developers of this game was from. Each class has three skills that refresh over time and has lots of team customization from emblems, names and so forth. I’m looking forward to this later on in the year.
DragonNest by Eyedentity is a free to play mmorpg with stylised anime inspired characters that uses various main classes that grow with various sub-classes as you play. Combo attacks chained with special moves make the game enjoyable, though invisible walls that prevent you from jumping down a ledge annoyed me somewhat. The graphics were well done and on the cute side, the creatures you fought were well detailed and looked like monsters instead of cute fluff balls of doom.

Now some of you may say, wtf mate? Where are all of the big games we’re so excited and hear about? Exactly, you’ve all seen and heard about the games like KotOR, LA Noire, Duke Nukem Forever, Battlefield 3, Portal 2 and Brink, though all of them had amazing booths and great trailers to look at but that’s the thing, what’s the point of regurgitating the same info? All I could really say about them is that you had to be up really early to be far enough ahead in the queue to even have a chance to try some of these games, especially for the Star Wars demo which allowed everyone inside to play for 45 minutes. But the line was so full that one would have to spend their whole day waiting to even get a chance to try it. The point of my trip wasn’t so much for bragging rights but to just have fun, I knew I would see plenty of videos of the convention from the media and reviews of the demos by others so unless I was getting paid or a convention veteran what would be the point of it? I saw what I wanted to see, tried what I wanted to try, happily spent all of my money feeding the Merch and had a great time with my friends. Objective accomplished, xp earned, level up and cue the victory music (FF3/6 for me please!). =)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tactics Ogre: Let us cling together review

Ok let’s be honest and get the obvious out of the way first. Firstly, yes this is very similar to Final Fantasy Tactics as it was made by Quest but Quest who made the Ogre Battle series before FFT came out lost several key members who then left for Squaresoft to then make FF:Tactics and Vagrant Story so you could say that this is a variation or improvement of it. Secondly, as like me, a lot of you are who only played and knew of Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen back on the SNES were hoping for something similar to it, but where Ogre Battle was the 5th chapter in the series, Ogre Tactics is the 7th and places itself further along in the saga of world known as Valeria and thus required a different approach. Also to my surprised this game has already been re-released previously from its SNES roots to the Sega Saturn and Playstation back in 95-96. The PSP version, which was only recently released in February doesn’t really matter as I am so entrenched in (much to my girlfriend’s chagrin), is a re-make, not that I’m complaining.

 For lovers of turn-based rpgs this game will not disappoint. A lovingly epic story unfolds as you guide your young protagonist Denam, his sister Catiua and best friend Vyce plan to get revenge on the country and people responsible for destroying their hometown and loved ones. Through fate they end up joining the Walister (their clan) resistance whose people have been suffering from prejudice and tyranny from the other two major powers (Galgastan and The Bakram-Valeria kingdom) after the death of the king who unified the country. After showing your bravery in battle the leader gives you your own group of soldiers whom you get to name and get sent out to fight for the cause. After a few battles where you get used to the mechanics of the game, things get interesting as the game sends you down various paths depending on the choices you make, from the alignment (Lawful, Neutral or Chaotic), plot and moral choices, which offer plenty of replay to get all of the dramatically different endings and characters that can only be recruited on certain paths.

Rich story script can be found in cutscenes and during battles.

As for the mechanics the game offers numerous classes and throws a twist on them by only allowing you to change between them by using Marks that you find through loot and from the shops though some can only be found by defeating certain enemies which can give you pause when it comes to character development though the game encourages to do so as various skills can only be learned through specific classes, example: the Trajectory skill which shows you the arc your arrows will fly, without it you will learn the hard way that even if you can hit your chosen target with 100% success, it can still land in your friendly comrades back (ouch!). It did made me wonder why archers and melee classes had access to it yet not to the casters who can still fireball your allies if they don’t have a clear line of sight. Note that xp and skill points are divided by all participants and levels are determined by class level and not by character alone, so as you recruit your new Beastmaster, they will start at lv1 unless already brought up higher by others which can make things difficult with item level restrictions. Along with keeping to the tarot system from Ogre Battle you can use the cards to cast beneficial or detrimental effects, though compared to the bags of loot on the battlefield the cards cannot be retrieved unless specifically moving a character onto it which also bestows a small permanent stat change.  One of the more fun and intriguing mechanic in the game is the chariot wheel which allows you to backtrack up to 50 turns in a battle, so if you ever wondered what would’ve happened if you casted a different spell or dispatched the priest instead of that knight then you can give it a go. Though for you purists and stat fanatics, the game keeps track on how many battles you’ve won without using it.

Archers are a favorite of mine for their distance and high damage.

With a well written story, beautifully drawn character portraits, crisp graphics (my favourite being the spell and weather effects, the lighting storms especially) and challenging gameplay it is a must have for the PSP system and rpg fans alike, especially for the long car trips like the one I will be doing from Ottawa to Boston for PaxEast. I give this game an A.
Please feel free to post your thoughts about the game and give it a thumb’s up if you enjoyed this review. Thanks! =)
PS. I found myself smiling a bit at the game’s spells as they used French words for them and as it is my first language it made me chuckle as I read their descriptions and nodded happily to see that they fitted fairly well.