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Dragon Age: Origins... And the death of the D&D approach?

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Dragon Age: Origins isNot the spiritual successor I expected.

[This discusses my initial reaction to the Xbox 360 version of the game]

Dragon Age: Origins was billed by the Bioware elite as "the spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate". As a medieval, fantasy-role-playing game – their first since that fabledgame, and Neverwinter Nights—it seemed a reasonable statement. However, the very fact that it's a fantasy-role-playing game is about the only thing similar between the two titles. For better or worse.

As a massive fan of Baldur's Gate growing up, I expect hardcore D&D from Bioware. This time, they've chosen to flesh out their own world, known as Ferelden, whose chief enemies are not truly kobolds, Orcs and mind flayers, but Dark spawn. This is commendable. There is, in point-of-fact, no reason for Bioware to limit themselves to the pre-generated world of the sword-coast, Balduran, and the Forgotten Realms… regardless of how awesome that might have been.

What is bizarre, however, is the new character creation and development systems, which are far more of a spiritual homage to Mass Effect than anything related to Baldur's Gate. Indeed, in Dragon Age, expect to apply new skill points every level—your 10 constitution won't be limited to that number throughout your quest, and as such, your bound-in-stone character sheet from the Baldur's and Neverwinter series has no place here.

Secondly, when a party member is downed, they do not die and require resurrection as in Baldur's gate, but simply rise and begin automatically healing when the enemies are dispatched like in Mass Effect and the KOTOR series. Once again, to me, this harms a lot of the difficulty of the game, and even takes some of the intensity of battle that was always so prevalent to Baldur's straight out of the game.

What is more, if you're a mage, forget about (1) having a grand spell book to memorize spells in, (2) a limit of casts per day, or (3) even a long casting period in battle.

(1) Instead, you have you have a bunch of different 'talent tree' sections to select spells from at levelling up, which are divided into categories, and which appear much more limited than the spells offered in Baldur's Gate 2, or the Neverwinter series, especially when one allows the fact that in both games there are also spell-scrolls to pickup and learn from to increase an ever-brimming spell book.

(2) Related to (1) this also means that you can cast any given spell as many times a day as you like… In fact, you can cast it several times in each combat, and are, in fact, expected to. Allow me to liken this system to both Mass Effect's ability and biotic-power experience, as well as that of world of Warcraft…which is to say: Your spells in Dragon Age are limited not by uses per day, but simply by a cool down (60 seconds, 30 seconds, what have you). Now, for me, this is a huge issue, because Baldur's gate promoted a much more intellectual approach to battles because spells had to be selected and used judiciously per day, instead of over-and-over again to dispatch of foe.

(3) The issue of a long casting time is a minor one, but call me a sucker for hearing my mage spout some kind of Latin while he charges up a massive and all-powerful lightning bolt to devastate my enemies. I do miss the waving of the hands, the spouting of "Sanctoo, Alleeyaa, Faaaairoh! *unleashed*, quite a bit. Instead now, with Dragon Age, I pump out single-target lightning bolts every 30 seconds, and to me, the epic nature of unleashing one is entirely lost. –as is it's in game power.

All of this promoted a mage experience that was more like being a Consular, Sith force-user, or Biotic than an actual mage that would come from the 'spiritual successor' to Baldur's Gate. Granted, this is more accessible and fast-paced, but it comes at the cost of an moreinvolvedand more strategic feel. In fact, all of this caused me to start a Rogue before I got too far with my mage (I'm going to try him again soon, don't worry).

That leads me to my final point: Close combat is where it's at in Dragon Age: this game seems mostly designed with that in mind, and the spraying of blood best exemplifies where the developers intended the battle to most often be won.

In the end, for me, Dragon Age is nothing like Baldur's Gate. So far, it has been a fascinating game with a fantastic story, and an interesting approach, but it is in no way like those venerable expiriences of my fondly remembered past…

…and it makes me worry that we've lost that demanding, hardcore, and more strategic, true-to-D&D experience for good…

After all, If Bioware is moving away from it, then who in the world should be expected to stay?

Give me your thoughts on Dragon Age, and especially, how the PC version plays. Let me hear what you think about all this. Am I just stuck in the past, or have others felt this too?

Let me know.

-Desalbert

The Stack: Fight Night Rd.4 Vs. UFC Undisputed 2009

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I thought I'd introducea new blog segment which I like to call "The Stack" (and anyone who plays Magic The Gathering will appreciate the reference). Here, I intend to give my personal impressions on two games. However, unlike an "Impressions" article, these two games won't be looked at in a vacuum, but rather, how they compare to each other to determine which game is more impressive, and ultimately, which one deserves your money. Sometimes the games will share a number of qualities and focuses, and sometimes, just a genre or less. For now though,The first ever entry on The Stack is none other than EA's Fight Night Round 4, and THQ's UFC Undisputed 2009.

First of all, I've been playing a good deal of each game, and it's important to get this out of the way first: Neither game is perfect. They're both combat sports and they both have their deficiencies. In both games, the Career (and Legend) modes both have quirks and perks. Both titles certainly leave something to be desired here in many respects, as training in either game is either blatantly difficult to do manually (as is the case in fight night) or almost entirely text based (as in UFC). Though both offer a sparring mode in your career, neither is really that entertaining. Luckily, in Fight Night, you can evade these problems by conducting auto-training, which renders training to the same text-based-attribute-improvement affair that UFC is... Except with UFC, you have to go through sparring sometimes with no way to skip it. Even worse for UFC, you typically have to go through 9-13 training manuveres before a single fight, whereas, in Fight Night, you can do anywhere from 0-4 (depending on when the fight is booked).

More to the point though, the Legend mode in Fight Night Round 4 is far superior in my opinion. This due to several virtues. The create-a-boxer mode in Legend (while not perfect) is much more interesting than UFC's decent-depth but bland offering. Where you'll pick fromone of three striking-approaches, and one of three ground-approaches in UFC, Fight Night allows you to choose a stance approach, a boxing-approach, your best punch, and even your blocking-approach Not being a boxing fan, this at first seemed daunting, but after playing UFC, I felt much more connected to the creation of my boxer, with a greater understanding of what I could expect from him after all of these changes. And here, just as in UFC, what you choose will make a big difference in your approach to the end result of beating someone down, it's just that there are simply more options in Fight Night, thus, more approaches. And to say that a boxing game has more variety than a mixed-martial arts game is saying something... at least, about the breadth of options in its career mode.

In Fight Night, as in UFC, the name of the game in career mode is to work your way up the rankings to become a champ. In Fight Night, you start in the Amateur tournament, which gives you a brief glimpse of boxing with headgear. After that, you begin at the bottom of your 50-strong weight category (whatever one you chose) and begin building your record, or paving the way to an early retirement. The interesting thing about Fight Night here, and the more compelling, I find, is that you start fighting prospects and chumps, and, in order to get a shot at being great, and being on Pay-per-view, or in MSG is to win and KO poor bastards. That means you'll be fighting in dumps with no dramatic entrances or ring girls to start. With UFC, even though the premise is the same (up and down rankings and so on), while you may start at UFN with the ultimate goal of reaching the UFC card, the atmosphere of the UFN seems UFC-like enough, with commentary, ring girls, camera men and everything. As such, I kind of felt like I'd already 'made it' before I even started, whereas, in fight night it's really a good strong struggle to even feel like you're a someone. You could go on a tear, knock 5 guys out and get a Televised matched-- lose that, and you're back to jack. Thus, inFight Night beinga Boxing celebrityis fickle, and I just didn't feel like that (as of yet) applied with the UFC game. There, you'll just get emails asking you to do better, but then offering you yet another spot in yet another undercard, despite you being 0-5 and useless, for example.

Fight Night's Legend modeis a little rough around the edges still though, especially in that some weight categories are chock-full of made-up fighters that share a name or two, too often (Ricky Lee, David Lee, or Anselm carter, Anselm Robinson, as a made up example. In each weight category you'll have only a few recognizable names, and interestingly, from Roy Jones, to Muhammed Ali to Mike Tyson, most of them exist in their prime, just like you are (except for a few older folkslike Duran and Klitchko). Luckily as well, in order to cut down on the number of pre-generated, name-sharing boxers is to download boxers that others have made and add them to your legacy mode. This could include everything from fictional greats like Rocky Balboa, to omitted champs like Bernard Hopkins, and others, and it really adds to the legacy mode, when not only do Tyson and Ali and foreman battle, but also, Ali and Butterbean, or Tyson and Rocky.

Beyond career more, both online modes are lacking. Although Fight Night has options for a boxing league, complete with belt acquisition, in addition the ranked fight now mode it shares with UFC, neither sport is all that fun online, due to the difficulty. It seems, so far, that only the best of the best play online, so it can be real tough. Of the two, Fight Night is still the victor, as UFC's online mode is bare-bones and much less noob-friendly. (I was submitted in 10 seconds once, and knocked out in 40, in another).

But none of these modes matter, of course, if the fighting isn't great. For Fight Night, it truly is. It's engaging and flashy, and even in a dingy gym, ringing someone's bell and watching their face ripple and bruise after a solid,combo or an obtuse haymakeris still a great experience. In UFC, theflashiness and fluidityjust isn't there. The fighters seem much more stiff, as do the animations, and the nature of the sport is such that, while fight night's stick controls are intuitive, UFC's masses of button-pressed combinations are anything but.

Granted the combination system (akin to a wrestling game's approach) may appeal to those who enjoy that sort of thing, but for most of us, Dodging a punch with the left, and throwing a counter-hook with the right will be more enjoyable than a stiff looking kick, or a jittery ground game.

Fight Night just oozes the kind of Styyle that the UFC game really needed. The repetitious nature of both sports is such that you need to really feel compelled to get back in the ring and go toe-to-toe just one more time, and for my money, Fight Night Round 4 is miles ahead of UFC Undisputed 2009 in that department for reasons of flash, attitude, and the actual depth and breadth that I mentioned earlier.

As a newer fan of the UFC sport, it surprises me that I had such a favourable reaction to Fight Night, but that just shows the game's quality over and above THQ's offering,

Thus, for my only combatcliché in this article:

"And still, the undisputed, undefeatedCombat Sports GameChampion of the wooorld,

FIGHT NIGHT ROUND4!!"

There you have it; Fight Night comes up on the top of this Stack.

-Des

(This has been "The Stack" brought to you by me, Desalbert—updated impressions may also be added as time goes on)

C&C 4 on the way?! (new Command and Conquer? )

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Today I was greeted by a new (and very large) EA Survey, after a few run of the mill questions, I realized this was something different when they started asking me about my opinion on a new Command and Conquer game.

Here are the most important details I had to deal with, in their relevant entirety:I apologize for the basic formatting and formatting issues with this post here, obviously, the actual survey looks far different, but gamespot has a way of nullifying that.

Q: Command & Conquer 4 allows C&C fans to finally experience the epic conclusion to the 15-year Tiberium saga with innovative RPG-like player progression, persistent in both single player and Multiplayer modes, co-op play, and new stylized, live-action cinematics.

Based on the description, what do you like about this game?

Please be as specific as possible.

My Answer:The notion of player progression that is consistent is always a nice attribute, (if done well) being the RPG fan that I am. As well, the possibility of that progression being continuous through multiplayer is...interesting if not a little strange. I say strange because this leads me to harbour the possibility that this so-called C&C4 may very well have some MMOG(Massively Multiplayer Online Game) qualities to it. This is a very tight rope to walk successfully, especially if a service charge is required (IF my assumptions are correct). Other interesting things in the above description are the "new **** live-action cinematics". Generally, in the past and present the cinematics have been hit and miss. Most recently, for me, they have been a miss, simply because they have been too corny and too sex-appeal driven, and the acting has simply been too predictable. I like my RTS games to be serious in the majority, not funny. That said, what I do like is the word "stylized" because it makes me hope that maybe they'll be very high-quality futuristic, or, perhaps done with some sort of rotoscope motion or similarly interesting artful film techniques. Interesting. I also favour the notion of this finally being a conclusion to the series, as I believe it is simply 'time'.

Q: What do you dislike?

Perhaps I have mentioned a few things already in my previous answer, but there are more. Firstly, although I enjoy the possibility of an rpg progression, it does make me wonder about the RTS nature of the game. I assume it will be real-time strategy, but how true to that will it be? As well, (once again) will this be a C&C MMO, and if it is, how will that work? Furthermore, how will "RPG-like" player progression that is persistent in single and multiplayer effect the balance of the multiplayer competitive scene? (a number of questions can be raised in that regard... if it is still an RTS, then, does player progression mean the player as a "general" who unlocks more units and super powers as they achieve ranks? If so, the balance of the multiplayer game begs questioning. Further, I find that an RTS with co-op is kind of like 'wasted effort' because I don't believe it adds much, and if that effort takes away from the game as a whole with time, money and team-members spent, then I could do without it. As an aside, what would be interesting would be to implement a multiplayer (not just co-op) campaign experience where you are perhaps allied with a friend, but also pitted against another player who is playing the opposing side of a campaign mission. This would be intriguing, because it would do away with the bore and predictability of AI in the campaign mode which C&C and others are often prey to. Of course, that's IF a multiplayer campaign is done well.... Then again, maybe you should hire me before you steal that idea :)

Q:

How would you rate the appeal of the following statement?

"Experience the epic conclusion to the Tiberium Saga."

A: Very appealing

Q: Why do you say this?

A: Because it's time for the series to end, and end respectfully.

Q:Which of the following features would you like to see in a future version of Command & Conquer?

Please select all that apply.

[]Introducing the first mobile base in RTS games: The Crawler. Focus on the action as the Crawler becomes your all-in-one base, which can be deployed and redeployed anywhere on the battlefield for even more strategic options

[]Play with all new, bigger and badder, units from GDI and Nod, including the Crawler, the first ever mobile base in RTS games

[]Play in the first ever Cl(a)ss-based C&C game - a new challenge for C&C and RTS players to master

[] Dive into an all-new story written by a new scriptwriting team and told through trademark C&C cinematics taken to the next level with grittier, stylized FMVs in the vein of Minority Report.

[]Play the campaign on your own or tackle it with a friend, as co-operative campaigns return

[]Play in epic 5 vs 5 online multiplayer with all new objective-based game modes

[] Play in the first RTS game with MMORPG like player progression in which you are rewarded every time you play. Every unit you kill in single player, multiplayer, or skirmish gives you experience points that allows you to level up your abilities and unlock new units, powers, and upgrades to your arsenal.

There you have it, the majorly important verbatim of a survey I too, that seems to express a direction for the next C&C game,including the features we can expect.

Of course, in my opinion, the series needs a lot of new life... the last few have just been unbelievably stale.

Regardless, please please please, give me your thoughts on all of this! :D

My very own xbox

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So finally, futureshop where I live was having a sale on a bunch of games and things, and finally, never having bought a ps3 after the sale of my wii like I said I was going to, I decided to buy an xbox 360 for myself instead. This was partly because I'm planning to move out in 2 years (cross your fingers and hope it lasts that long before it RRODs) and because my friends and brother and I play Gears 2 a lot and I'm tired of sharing a screen with him, and tired of playing in the basement.

I debated all night with my buddies about whether I should get a ps3 or an xbox 360, and for me, the few games I want to play on the ps3 (heavy rain, especially) as awesome as they are, couldn't add up to being able to play with all my friend's once I'm in Toronto. If I had the ps3, sure, it'd add variety to my house hold, given that I have a shared xbox already, but in the end, it wouldn't have nearly as much longevity as my own xbox would... especially considering my future plans.

So now, I bought my very own personal xbox premium (I didn't go for the elite) and although having it hooked up in my brother's room upstairs isn't exactly ideal, I bought it, it's mine, I don't have to share it, and when I move out, I'll have it to take with me.

The next step is to buy Halo 3 (yes, I don't have it yet) borrow a memory card to transfer my saved files, and save up for a thin screen to mount on my wall in my room to bring my xbox in here.

Sounds like I need money :)

The End of the Wii for me

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Hey everyone,

I don't think I've had too many people read my blogs, but nonetheless I shall write.

I sold my Wii the other day-It was, admittedly, an action akin to a confession: I wasted my money.

For a gamer like myself, the Wii could never hope to satisfy me. I love intricate and deep stories.

The Wii has almost none.

I enjoy fierce competition.

The Wii isn't so inclined

I realize I love achievements/trophies, and centralized online components

The Wii has no such thing

Simply put, all my attempts to reinvigorate my wii purchase with a new game-whether Mario Galaxy, Resident Evil 4, or Mario Kart (among others) went horribly awry. After all, realizing that the wii really has none of the features that I love about gaming, makes me wonder why I even bothered.

I guess I got seized by the hype.

Regardless, that's over now, and the money I received for the wii, my games, and every god-awful accessory I purchased will likely be turned into a PS3.

I will, of course, be removing all Wii games from my collection on my profile, and I will forever refer to the decision to buy a wii in the first place as a horribly misguided experiment.

As well, the purchase of a PS3, unfortunately, will mean that I failed in my New Years resolution not to buy new games this year, except for 2... But it was a long shot, while my resolution should have been to get rid of my Wii! :P

Take care everyone!

-Des

The Promise: Settling in for a long year....

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So when I looked at my library of games one day, I realized that there were so many great titles that I owned that I had really never given a fair shot to. From GTA 4 to Fallout 3, the reason is because I always buy new games, and so many others get swept under the rug, no matter how awesome they are.

Because of this injustice, I have resolved to promise myself that I will not buy another game in the year 2009, other than Dawn of War 2, and, at the end of the year Dragon Age. Between these two games, the ONLY exception I will make is also for the Witcher, for 360; but beyond these two -or, three- I will resolve only to play and enjoy the games I had long ago pined for when they too were in the midst of development.

So that is the promise. To play these great games I own, and review them too!

To aid my gaming journey, and now that Christmas is over, I resolved to aquire a few other games, one, by the graces of my brother at Christmas (FarCry 2 for 360) and the others: part of the madness that is the Steam Holiday Sale.

Aye, the Steam Holiday Sale. I bit the bullet hard on this one.

I ended up getting three titles, basically. One, was Mount and Blade, the other, Heroes of Might and Magic V collection, and the last being Indigo Prophecy. All for around 65 bones- Not bad.

So, with those three additions, my voyage is set, and it will only make 2 certain stops along the path of 2009 gaming.

Wish me luck.

-Des

Face of Mankind Returns

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Yes! I could not be more excited for the return of the best MMO expierience I've ever had!

The entirely player-driven and entirely underappreciated Face of Mankind will make its return in the nearer future, and it sounds like it will be back to all its politicking, backstabbing, and faction-warring glory-- with free accounts!

Do me a favour, hell, do yourself one, and check the game out at www.faceofmankind.com, and check out the forum updates to see some of the awesome features and additions to the game!

I hate to have done this bit, but honestly, I'm so excited that I simply could not resist plugging it here.

Thanks everyone!

Bought Fallout 3

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Yes! Fallout 3 is Mine! I finally got around to purchasing it, but alas, I won't get around to playing it until late tonight.

While University demands dictate due dilligence I will soon have room for some fallout dilliigence of my own!

If anyone who reads this has played it, let me know what you think!

Becoming a Blogger...

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The appeal of blogging is great, I can tell.

I mean, I suppose it's the effigy of real free speech, isn't it? After all, we all get to go on the internet, and, in relative anonymity, we get to speak our minds, gain 'followers' and nay-Sayers, and generally have our time up on the soap box. Now, I just wanted to say, as my first 'blog' entry that, I do indeed believe that blogging might be our first real taste of freedom of speech.

Without anonymity, many a politician must choose his words carefully, often truncating his beliefs so as to remain wholesome. The same goes for teachers, news anchors, or just anyone inside an industry that gets paid to speak. Of course, once you speak out in the open, whether getting paid to speak, or as a well known Icon, you suddenly become accountable for whatever it is you say. You become scrutinized to the point where it affects your life.

Now, that's not to say we bloggers, who are fast creating our own internet identities are not held accountable or scrutinized by others; because, we are. The difference though, of course, is that the scrutiny, joking or even anger at our expense incurred via being a blogger doesn't haunt us anywhere but on the net.

With that in mind (as likely obvious as the concept was), I plan to begin blogging, about games, life, concepts, theories, and whatever the hell else interests me that I think users at Gamespot may care to read.

So, here's to a plane of existence known as the internet that exists separately from real-world consequence

Here's to my first taste of real freedom of speech, with no strings of outside pressures, or real-world word-mincing.

Yes,

Here's to blogging.

-Des (If you do read this, please leave a comment of any kind so that I know someone make care to read what is written—even though, as most bloggers do, I'll write it anyway)

Thanks everyone.