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Dragon Age Origins: Greatest value in gaming history?

I have played Dragon Age Origins all the way through twice. First time, as a human male rogue, second time as a female mage, and now I am playing a female warrior dwarf. Just for fun, my regular party is all female ... Morrigan, Wynne and Leliana. With my dwarf warrior, that is a pretty unstoppable group.

But my main point is how wonderfully different each game has been. The story changes dramatically. Of course, the third time, I know all the ins and outs, so I can breeze through. So I notice all the subtle stuff. When Wynne starts talking to Leliana, I stop everything and listen. This stuff is amazingly entertaining.

Third time in, I am getting an idea of how to deal with my NPCs, and that is oddly the most important aspect of Dragon Age. Keep your party, keep them happy. And yet I play it in RPG fashion, keeping true to the morals I have set for my character, who (this time) is good and generous. It's fun to balance the conflicts of my little group.

On my greatest value premise, I probably bought this game used off eBay for $30, and now I have played it 2 1/2 times through, probably five total months of daily gameplay. Truly fascinating stuff. I waited many months to play this third time, and played several other games in the meantime, but Dragon Age again reminds me of how fun and engrossing an RPG can be.

Wii Fit vs. EA Sports Active, which should you choose?

I have been using EA Sports Active for a month, after also using Wii Fit for about two months. The programs are very different, but actually, compliment each other perfectly. I have been doing the EA Sports Active 30-day challenge, on the medium setting, which usually ends up in a 20- to 25-minute workout with a good amount of cardio and lots of sweat. Great.

But before I launch EA Sports Active, I launch Wii Fit and weigh myself, then do a short routine of Yoga and strength exercises ... Half Moon, Sun Salutation, Tree, Single-Leg Extension, Push Up and Side Plank, Jackknife, maybe Single Let Twist. That takes about 12 to 15 minutes and it gives me some stretching and strength warm up before I hit EA Sports Active. EA usually launches right in with a run/walk routine, then lunges, curls, etc. Perfect.

The only weakness of EA is the silly resistance cord, which is too flimsy to really work out your upper body. If I shorten it, I am sure it will break. I need to find something as an alternative. But the leg strap is high quality and works great.

I do love Wii Fit because it emphasizes balance, well-being, stretching and it does keep track of my weight. I do love EA Sports Active because it gives you fun, preselected patterns of routines that work on all areas of fitness and all muscle groups.

The balance board isn't that important to EA Sports Active. I think it adds a great twist to the boxing routine, where you mix punches and kicks. And it can turn tennis into a fun way to do side lunges. But it isn't crucial to the program.

So you definitely do not need Wii Fit and the balance board to make EA Sports Active a great program. But I think the combination of Wii Fit's balance exercises and EA's cardio exercises and great preselected daily routines is perfect to keep me fit.

If you are thinking of buying only one, I would say ... EA Sports Active. It costs a lot less and will deliver more fitness results, because it works you harder in preset programs.

On the other hand, the balance board is a brilliant add-on and it makes Wii Fit an amazing program. And I love what Wii Fit does for my balance and strength.

Get them both.

Storm of Zehir, my review

I am going to disagree with a lot of reviewers -- Storm of Zehir offers a lot to like in an RPG game. Maybe it is for us old-school RPGers. I have played every Neverwinter game, more than once, and nearly all of the others, the Icewinds, the Baldurs, the Morrowinds, Sacred, Titan Quest, Planescape Torment, etc. Zehir fits right in with many of the early ones.

Story line? Forget it. I still have no idea what the Lord Zehir was, and I don't care. Was Sa'Sani my friend or just evil? I have no idea.

Zehir is important because it advances the Neverwinter game platform. The Overland Map, which is a real challenge at the beginning of the game, adds some complexity and freedom to this series. I played a Rogue/Shadowdancer, so eventually that character as party leader could avoid attacks 90% of the time. By midway through the game, the attacks on the Overland Map become only a nuisance. Early on, they are tough, but they let you roll up experience.

I liked the Overland Map. I think it is an idea that can be built into greatness if this Neverwinter series continues.

I also liked the ability to form my own four-person team, and then have a few NPCs to add along the way. I created a basic four - fighter, rogue, cleric and sorcerer and added the druid NPC early on and just stayed with him.

I wondered if I would 'bond' with my anonymous self-created team. I was surprised how much I grew to like them, even though they have no chatter like you get in the Baldur series.

Money and trading? In the great RPG tradition, you start off dirt poor with crappy equipment, and stay that way and then eventually have 1000x the money you need. There is very little to buy from the vendors in this game. I got through the game with mostly 'good' but not 'great' weapons and armor. You can do your own crafting -- that is encouraged -- but please. Crafting?

The resting system definitely deserves attention. I did not like it. Let me rest after a battle!

In Zehir, you can rest in towns and sometimes on the Overland Map, but that is risky. In the 'dungeons' -- even big mutlilevel ones -- there often no places to rest.

The end battle is extremely difficult. It is a chess match and you need to play it just right. If you aren't rested, with a full array of buffs and spells, you have no prayer. And yet I found nowhere to rest before entering this huge battle. I had to traipse three floors to the Overland Map, and then cruise away to find a place to rest. Come on now. That is boring.

My end conclusion is that I really, really enjoyed playing Zehir. I looked forward to each day's session and Zehir has that great game 'Zen' that clears your mind. The end battle was very satisfying. It took me four times to figure out a way to beat it.

And then the game is, poof, over.

I am not complaining. I loved it.

Neverwinter Storm of Zehir ... surprisingly fun

I've played all the Neverwinter games, and all the Baldur's Gate and Morrowinds and Icewind Dales, and even Diablos and Sacred and Planescape Torment, so I guess that makes me an RPG wacko.

I had low expectations for Storm of Zehir, given the middling reviews. While I have enjoyed every single Neverwinter adventure, I will admit being frustrated by Mask of the Betrayer's silly and annoying spirit-eating premise. I cheated out of Spirit Eating and ended up loving the game. But it is usually the characters standing at your side that reel you into a game. The emotional connection. A really good game creates that, even with NPCs.

Still, I love that in Zehir, you create your own base team of 4 characters. I like making my main character a rogue (half-drow), because you always need one character who can move out ahead of the team, stealthy, and find traps, open doors and pull the bad guys back to their deaths.

I created a standard team: Rogue, fighter, sorcerer, cleric. Along the way I picked up the NPC druid.

Since I created 4 out of the 5, I didn't think there would be much chance for an emotional connection. But when you are fighting side by side, saving each others butts, it starts to happen. I find during most battles I take control of the sorcerer and let my fighter and rogue battle up front, sometimes with the cleric. The sorcerer can just lob in huge damage from afar. Lovely.

The cleric heals and the druid buffs. The fighter tanks and the rogue pulls and scouts. Everyone has a role.

The game mechanics have issues ... why can't I rest? Why don't the buffs last longer than a single battle?

What the heck are these trading bars? I am having trouble with that, and the game also emphasizes crafting, which I consider a bore.

But there is a great flow and I always look forward to another game session. The team battles are great fun. You can really map out strategy, placing the team in one room, using the rogue to pull and then separate the bad guys. If you don't do it that way, you die.

So far, Zehir is an 8 out of 10 for me. And I am having a blast.

Journey to the lite side ... I got a Wii

I've never owned a console game player, since the original Atari. So that dates me. I have been a PC gamer, though, for more than 20 years, way back to the Commodore 64.

I've seen PC games slip away in importance as a series of great consoles were released. Many of my friends loved the PlayStation. Many liked the Xbox. But I just didn't want to go there. I think PC games still work for me, because me favorite genre is RPG and the PC is an ideal platform for RPG.

This year, I set out to get a Wii, partly because the motion-sensing controllers really intrigued me. I played tennis at a friend's house during a party and that got me hooked. This is really different!

So the Wii took about 30 minutes to set up. The instructions were A+, top quality. Everything worked. In minute 35, my wife, who never plays computer games was playing tennis and bowling with her 80-year-old father. There was no learning curve. Just do it.

That is extremely impressive. I know the Wii is probably a bit of a joke among serious gamers, but I am actually looking forward to playing my first download, Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Again, the game appears very simple but I am finding my first Zelda game to be pretty tough. That will keep me coming back.

And I need to beat those ducking bastards in boxing, too.