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The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 1)
The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 1)
by Patrick Rothfuss
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.20
106 used & new from $2.79

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Kvothe is such a Mary Sue, October 7, 2012
I picked up this book expecting a lot from it. After all, with praise from such high profile fantasy authors, and rave reviews on sites like Amazon, who wouldn't? I love epic fantasy, and I love in-depth character fantasy.

This book is not in-depth character.

There is a lot for Rothfuss to be commended. I find his writing style, though not necessarily elegant, certainly engaging (a sort of Brandon Sanderson-lite) and I could easily go through chapters at a time in one sitting. Also, some of the fantastical ideas? Very cool. Particularly the potential for the Chandrian (especially once you learn the history of the Chandrian) and the ominous future implied by the spider-like Scrael. I also love the idea of naming things - again, cool magic. It's a nicely realized world and a nicely realized fantasy system.

But all the problems of the book come down to the characterization (or in this case, lack thereof). Putting aside Kvothe for a moment, there isn't a single character in this book I felt had any depth. In general, characters fall into two categories: those who instantly like Kvothe for no apparent reason (as demonstrated by his two best friends at the University Wil and Sim - they both like him instantly and have this loyal friendship, but he doesn't show to us any of its development, or why they're both so loyal to him); and people who dislike him simply because they're just jerks. The brunt of the novel is built around an antagonistic relationship with the character of Ambrose whose reasons for disliking Kvothe are so vague (because Kvothe told him off...once?) and it demonstrates how Rothfuss is so interested in examining the outcome of things that he puts no effort into the path that gets them there, emotionally. And the women themselves are another problem entirely. Can we say, de-humanized objectification? Can we say one-dimensionality?

But really, the primary problem is Kvothe himself. It's not just that Kvothe is larger-than-life who succeeds at *everything* (and I do mean everything). I found myself wishing just once that someone else would legitimately triumph over him in some way. Aside from physical confrontations (and those he only loses in the first half of the novel) no one is ever able to best him mentally, intellectually, or emotionally. And I desperately wish that someone had. Rothfuss gives a few throw-away lines at one instance indicating that other students at the University were beginning to resent him. Oh, how showing that would've created sympathy for this character. If I actually believed he was ever caught in any plight he might not escape from (or actually didn't escape or win out!) how much more I would've liked him. I even found myself wondering at one point if the problem was Kvothe's arrogance - but then I realized, of course he's not arrogant, because that would be a character flaw! Kvothe is truly perfect in every possible way, and I found him insufferable as a result. It's not just that he always wins - it's that he always reacts to every situation perfectly. His friends go behind his back to lose him his job? Oh, he knows they were just doing what was best for him. He gets banished from the Archives? Well, it wasn't due to his own recklessness - no, of course, someone else tricked him into it. Eventually, I even started actively rooting for antagonists like Ambrose in the hopes that someone somewhere would successfully take him down a peg. And make no mistake - Kvothe is a Mary Sue. I can't believe how many situations he walks into and wins or fixes for others.

I found myself comparing this to Robin Hobb's Farseer Trilogy, which is also a first-person narrative of a male character looking back over and telling his life story. But where Fitz is tragic and painfully human, Kvothe is likely going to be translated at the end of the series for being so very, very perfect. And while Hobb's books are slow in the same way that this book is, they're compelling, because Fitz and his relationships are complex and compelling. This book reads fine, but very little happens, and as it aspires to be character-driven, it falls flat on the basis of what an unrelateable character Kvothe is. (Also, I feel like the book suffers from having no overarching narrative - which plays into the ending that wasn't really an ending, because there was nothing new learned in terms of plot, and nothing to be resolved). The most exciting part of the book for me came toward the end, when events finally drove Kvothe away from the university and I thought we were going to get more information about the vital pieces of the overarching fantasy story relating to the death of his parents. But it never came.

In the end, I'd say read this book and decide for yourself. But in the meanwhile, I find myself hoping that Rothfuss gets himself more practice on creating characters that are actually compelling.

Mass Effect 3 - PC
Mass Effect 3 - PC
Offered by King Beardo
Price: $13.99
58 used & new from $8.95

17 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best in the series, March 19, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Mass Effect 3 - PC (DVD-ROM)
As a long time fan of BioWare, I loved the entire experience of this game. I've only played through one character I have transferred over from the first two, but already, I'm looking forward to replaying it with future transfers. I believe this game, overall, builds on a combination of strengths from the first two in the series and makes for what as a very excellent gaming experience.

From the release of the demo in February, I've been eagerly anticipating this game, and if you're indecisive, I feel it's a good intro to the feel of the game. Much like the Dragon Age II demo (which, for me, appropriately anticipated the disappointment for that game) I feel that the ME3 demo has the same effect. If you like the demo, odds are you'll have a good experience with the game.

A listing of pros and cons:

+ - The story is the best that it's ever been. Unlike ME1, where the story faded to the background until the finale, and ME2, where the story was more concerned with the collection of party members than the threat of the Collectors, ME3 has a story - Earth (and the galaxy) are invaded by Reapers - and it actually informs the entirety of the game. It's a constant presence in every aspect, from every environment you visit, to each piece of the storyline, which primarily involves the amassing of the galaxy's forces (and by doing so, resolving many centuries-long inter-species conflicts). Unlike the first two game, I actually felt it was a strong story that *mattered*. More than that, it is epic. In a way ME2 never accomplished past its brilliant beginning, and ME1 only managed during its last two hours. I haven't been this tense, nervous, or excited playing a game in a *long* time.

+ - BioWare said they lessened the amount of squad mates to improve character interaction, and it shows. More than that, not just with commentary from your squad mates on missions, there's a much greater sense of them being individuals with lives and personalities outside of Shepard's presence. When you visit the Citadel, various crew members (not just your squad mates) will be found at various places throughout (often changing depending on what point during the game) with unique interactions. Similarly, instead of staying in one place, many will move throughout the ship and be found interacting with one another (my personal favorite was when I came upon Garrus and Joker exchanging jokes). There's also simple interactions that don't necessarily play into cutscenes, which I feel strengthens alongside the ambient dialogue, and has a unique role in the new morality system.

+ - The sheer breadth of environments explored in this game is amazing. Honestly, I was not near this impressed with the first two games; the major plot playthroughs stand out the most significantly, and I was stunned and thrilled at the places I got to see and explore as Shephard. Something even more impressive given how many worlds are visited that appeared in the first two games - and not one is a re-used environment. Long gone are the cookie cutter environments of the first game - ME3 even manages to significantly improve on the second game.

+ - The cover system has been somewhat improved. And I really enjoyed not only the diversity of weapons available (weapons, alongside with armor upgrades - more than what was in ME2 - and credits are scattered throughout combat environments when you explore off the main path) but also the ability to mod each of your weapons. There's also the option to pick how few or many weapons you want to carry, with weight (and class) affecting the cooldown of your powers. I also feel they managed to find a nice balance between the first two games - more diversity and customization than the second, without becoming bogged down in inventory management. When a new weapon or mod is bought/found of the next tier, it automatically is replaced (meaning no time wasted having to sell older versions to clear out inventory).

+ - I also feel the power system found a nice balance between the first two games. More customization (six levels instead of four, with the last three a decision between two different options) without the overblown tediousness of the first game (where I felt so overloaded with points and powers that it was hard to tell if any were making a difference in their use).

- - More auto-dialogue than in previous games. In addition to the neutral (middle) option being entirely eliminated, the option for the player to choose Shephard's dialogue happens much less frequently. I find the writing to be overall fantastic, but it did somewhat take away from the feel of Shepard being *my* character.

- - The journal system is considerably pared down from what it was in the second game. I would even cite this as my biggest beef with the game - and much of the overall sidequest system in regards to planet scanning. Not all quests logged in your journal are done so with enough details of where to go (for example, one quest required me to find the Elcor homeworld and though it gave me the name, it didn't tell me where the homeworld was located). And unlike ME2, they aren't automatically logged onto your galaxy map (the way there would be an arrow with info telling you that this specific quest could be completed at this specific location). What's worse, they changed the planet scanning to one where you send out a radar-like signal from the Normandy, and EDI tells you if she's located anything within that vicinity - but if the system is occupied by Reapers, each scan results in increasing their awareness, and the only way to bring it back down again is to come back after you've completed a mission. I think the idea of it could've worked in theory, except that there's no way to keep track of which parts of a system you've already scanned. So I found myself returning to systems over and over, likely scanning the exact same area with the 2-3 times I had available to me before the Reapers appeared and I had to escape. It definitely gives a feeling of tedium, and I feel is something that could've been easily rectified.

+/- - Once again, aspects of the morality (Paragon vs. Renegade) system have been changed, and though I'm still not entirely sure I understand, I do think it was done for the better. When receiving points after character interactions, oftentimes it will be given as general Reputation points - which, from my understanding, adds to the combined scores of your Paragon and Renegade scores, while keeping them balanced (so the overall changes, while the difference between each bar remains the same, if that makes sense). I think it's a nice idea, because it definitely adds to the ability of playing as pure Renegade or pure Paragon (since not every interaction is going to give points strictly one way or the other). On the other hand, I felt like there were overall fewer Charm/Intimidate options spread throughout the game, and oftentimes when I used them, it was difficult to tell how/if they were making a difference in the conversation.

- - My first playthrough clocked in at just over 30 hours. About ten hours less than ME2. I'm hoping this will improve with more playthroughs, as I attempt to reach closer to 100% completion. A little bit disappointing, though.
EDIT 4/15: I'm actually opting to change my opinion on this - a single-play through is shorter than ME2, but from what I understand, the script was longer, which I imagine was due to the sheer amount of permutations for how the story can play out. Really, the more I read around on-line, the more I find the variety (whether your have Ashley or Kaidan in your squad, who you romance, and a countless number of minor and major decisions from the first two games) and how it can be altered in this game is staggering. It gives an unprecedented amount of replay-value, more than almost any other game I've ever played.

+ - The climax is epic. Much more so than anything in ME2, and I feel it gives the last two hours of ME1 a serious run for its money.

Of course, this is all not addressing the elephant in the room, being the fact that this game has a very controversial ending that has displeased a great number of fans. Though I realize this puts me in the overwhelming minority, I enjoyed the ending. Perhaps it came in part because I went into it knowing that others were upset about it, but despite what I feel others have argued as justifiable holes, it really, really worked for me.
More than that, without wanting to invalidate the opinions of those who disagree with me, all I can offer is my perspective, which is this: It took me long enough to beat this game that by the time I did, I was already well aware the ending was controversial. And in those days leading up to it, I thought about it a lot, and I couldn't name one game that I've played to completion where the ending fundamentally altered my overall experience of a game. ME1 has a fantastic ending, but is still a bit of a chore to replay. Dragon Age II has a so-so ending in keeping with a so-so game - and even if it did have a great ending, it would still be a so-so game. ME2 has a lackluster ending, but is overall an amazing game. And so what really matters to me is how I feel when I'm playing a game. And throughout the *entire* experience of this game, I loved it. When I wasn't playing it, I was thinking about it, and wanting to play it more. And I feel confident that had I been unhappy with the ending, I would still be on here gushing about what a great game this is. Because I feel the experience of a game is more than just one piece, like the ending, or the combat mechanics, or the story, or what have you. If the majority of elements are working - which I feel they are here - then I think, for me, the game can be called a success. Enough so that I'm willing to forgive the elements which I felt were weaknesses (like the journal/side-quests).

So all I can say is that I understand why others are unhappy, but I loved it, I loved the game, and I love the series overall. And I think if you skip this because others warn you away from the ending, I think you're missing out on participating on one of the greatest video gaming experiences ever. Battlestar Galatica is still an amazing tv series, even if it does have an ending this is rushed and incoherent.

I also am appreciative of BioWare's approach to having both Male and FemShep. In an era and industry where it's still too easy for people to dismiss female gamers as a relative minority (and thus don't need to be given notice), BioWare went the opposite direction, incorporating FemShep into the marketing for the first time (with two trailers, and appearances in combat videos), as well as making the insert reversible, so I can have FemShep on my cover. It might not be an issue to others, but as a female gamer, I really appreciate it.

Overall, Mass Effect 3 is an amazing end to an amazing series. For myself, I would rank it up there just below Dragon Age: Origins and Baldur's Gate II among my all time favorites. And I know that I will be playing this for many years to come.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 23, 2012 11:54 AM PDT

Dragon Age 2 - PC
Dragon Age 2 - PC
Offered by DigitalWorld US
Price: $29.99
16 used & new from $14.97

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fun game, forgettable experience, April 9, 2011
This review is from: Dragon Age 2 - PC (DVD-ROM)
Dragon Age: Origins is officially one of my favorite games ever. While I've had other games that kept my interest a month or two, I literally played Origins from Nov 2009 when I bought it straight through to the release of the sequel. Sequels are an opportunity to build on your first game, take what worked, throw out what didn't, and improve. In the case of Dragon Age II, I feel like BioWare overall did none of those. And when compared to improvements made from Mass Effect 1 to 2 and Baldur's Gate 1 to 2, that fact becomes all the more disappointing.

There was much emphasis put on the alteration in graphics, and I'll say overall, I think both are fine. Both games look good, with some of the prettier environments standing out; animations of a few of the darkspawn really stick out as being radically different, but the character models are still generally the same. People hold their hands stiffly and make the same awkward gestures at occasionally non-sequiter moments. It didn't bother me in the first and it doesn't bother me here.

Combat has been sped up, and in theory, the idea of it is fine. And admittedly, it can be more fun to watch (though that appeal can growing boring fast). In general, most abilities are executed almost immediately, and that's a welcome change. That being said, the increased speed actually becomes a problem when combined with some of the other changes. For instance, both the removal of the top-down camera, and the complete inability to disable the AI. Meaning that, to some degree, the computer will be taking control of your party during combat; and I know I for one spent a fair amount of the game feeling like I was never quite entirely in control (except for a few of the harder bosses). And I knew about the top-down camera in advance and thought I might get used to it. Except that when you select a character who's shoved up against a wall, you literally can't see anything. And lining up of Area of Effect abilities is oftentimes shooting in the dark, as the mage/rogue is too far away to get an accurate gauge. If there's no top-down camera, there needs to be some free roam with it of some kind, because the way it is now, it is undeniably flawed.

There are new ability trees, and warriors are now restricted to weapon and shield and two handed-weapons (and dual-weapon rogues can only wield daggers). I was disappointed to lose the dual weapon warrior (which was my favorite from Origins) though I understand wanting to lessen the crossover between the two classes (which was very prevalent in the first game). I actually enjoy the new ability trees, the fact that you can upgrade specific abilities, and that there are cross-class combos, rather than just particular combinations of mage spells. I enjoy both ability trees from each game in this case, though given that especially by the time you reach the end of Awakenings, there's almost too much, I can see the appeal of having a smaller number of abilities, and giving them upgrades that, for example, lessen the duration of cooldown (meaning they can be used more frequently).

90% of the game takes place in the city of Kirkwall. And though it does have half a dozen different areas within the city, as well as the opportunity to explore both day and night, there's no changing the fact that by the end of the game, I was very sick and tired of Kirkwall. Even random ventures out to a few surrounding areas is not enough to temper that fact. And there is a great deal of re-use of caves visited, and the like.

While the PC still has a homebase, like in the first game, the remaining characters all each have their own similar spot in Kirkwall. And while this works on a story level, on a party management level, it just adds to the hassle. There's no way to give a look through of all your party stats, level up, and inventory management. If I want to give Aveline that new shield I just found, she has to be in my party. It's not a huge detail, but it's one of those minor changes that adds to the annoyance of the whole.

The dialogue tree has been replaced with the dialogue wheel from Mass Effect 2, and the PC is now voiced. This is another area in which I have no strong opinion either way, though if forced to choose, I'd probably prefer the tree, as it gave more options, and I always knew exactly what I was saying. I didn't particularly care that my PC was silent; it doesn't really add anything to the game to change that.

All that being said, particularly after playing the demo, I knew going in that it was very unlikely I would like it as much as I did the first. But the single greatest reason why I would peg this game as a let-down is the story. And it's not just the fact that it's a framed narrative (meaning that the beginning and ending are always exactly the same, and none of your decisions throughout ever have serious impact). It's the fact that the whole thing comes across like a series of sidequests. Which, of course, is partly due to the fact that this game has sidequest overload. Gone are the long dungeon-crawling campaigns of the first game - where the main threads to the overall plot would take hours to complete. Instead, 90% of the quests that you participate in read roughly like:
A. Speak to person to initiate quest.
B. Travel to warehouse/cave to defeat foes
C. Report back to person
And it's the fact that the "main quest" reads roughly the same. And on top of that, none of them take more then 15-30 minutes to complete. Also, the game is divided into three Acts, each of which has a climax to its end, and aside from one minor thread between the first and third, there is absolutely no connection between the three. So the overall climax to the game is introduced too late, has very little build-up, and there's no backbone narrative to the game. I never fail to become emotional during the climax and finale of Origins, but when I got to the end of this one, I was, at best, indifferent. If you've seen any marketing for this game, you basically know the story: Refugee rises to become Champion of Kirkwall. Try summing Origins all up in one sentence.

And I'm hard on this game because this is BioWare! I feel that even as the gameplay for games like Baldur's Gate has become outdated, those games had fantastic and epic stories. And this studio has cultivated a well-earned reputation for making some of the best RPGs over the last 15 years! If this had come from a lesser studio - and not on the heels of a great game like Origins - then it would be seen in a better light.

Also, a number of the changes they made really fall into the category of fixing what isn't broken. Things like the top-down camera were working so well in the first game; and them removing it doesn't feel like trying to make a better experience, but rather an excuse to cut corners graphically, so that they could rush production of the game. And with disabling AI, that was present not only in Origins but in both Baldur's Gate. That, and other valid complaints (like not being able to be other races, the removal of all non-combat abilities, etc.) are things that BioWare has had previously. It's not like critics are coming from Fable or WoW and demanding changes to be similar to another franchise.

Did I enjoy playing this game? Absolutely. The fundamental gameplay is addictive and seeking out combat encounters was rather exciting and satisfying. But I never really thought about it once I stopped playing. I even started a second playthrough once I was done to try a different class and alter the emotion of my reactions, but kind of gave up about 5 hours in. I just didn't care; the different classes and minor plot alterations aren't enough to make up for the repetition of environments and the fact that there isn't really a story.

The fact that this came out a mere 16 months after the first one, combined with the limited environments, the overall lack of strong story, and elimination of and alteration to a number of interface and story choices does make it feel like this was a rushed product.

And it's hard not to feel like BioWare doesn't care. They made enough significant changes from the first that disgruntling fans of Origins was inevitable, but they seem more interested in bringing in new fans than even trying work with any of the fans that they already have. A look at the reviews here gives a good sense of that, and you'd be hard pressed to find a fan that loved Origins and feels equally the same about its sequel.

I love Dragon Age: Origins and will still be playing it for many years to come. And while I don't regret buying Dragon Age II, if this is the direction the franchise is heading, I will not be rushing out to buy the third. Because at the end of the day, Dragon Age II is just a pretty good game, when it could have - should have - been a great one.

Iron Man 2 (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Iron Man 2 (Two-Disc Special Edition)
DVD ~ Robert Downey Jr.
29 used & new from $1.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Good movie, disappointing special features, September 29, 2010
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Given the monster amount of goodies and special features for the two-disc version of Iron Man, I was pretty eager to purchase the same for Iron Man 2. But I find myself painfully disappointed. The full content of extras includes two featurettes (totaling 15 minutes), 5 deleted scenes, and a music video. Overall, I find the whole of it to be sorely lacking, particularly in comparison to the first one. The only advantages (for some people) are the commentary by Jon Favreau, and the transferable digital copy. For myself, if I had known it would be so sparse, I would've saved a few dollars and bought the single-disc edition.

As for the movie itself, I liked it as well as the first. They both suffer plot and character issues, but succeed because of the charisma of Robert Downey Jr. Yes, the second one has just a little bit too many characters with just a little bit too much going on, but unlike Dark Knight, it never loses track of its protagonist, still serving at the core of the film, and pushing it along to make it every bit as good as the best of its genre.

Dragon Age: Origins - PC
Dragon Age: Origins - PC
Offered by TnsDeals
Price: $6.99
69 used & new from $0.49

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bioware at its best, January 1, 2010
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Dragon Age: Origins - PC (DVD-ROM)
I was a big fan of the Baldur's Gate games, and when Bioware touted this as the spiritual successor to BG, there was little doubt that I would want to own it. My experience with CRPGs is admittedly limited - primarily to BG, Neverwinter Nights, Fable, and Morrowind. But that being said, I would readily state that this is easily one of the greatest I've ever played - if not one of the greatest RPGs ever.

I'm less than a fifth of the way through the game, and I've clocked in a solid 24 hours of gameplay; at this rate, I'm certain it will take me a full 200 hours to complete just the first time through. That's partly due to the fact that I keep getting distracted from the main plot by the dozens upon dozens of sidequests. And that's not even yet taking into account the significant character stories that will play out depending on who's in my party; or the fact that this is just one of the six origin stories - and when I play again, I can have, in many ways, a brand new experience when I try one of the others. I've also sat down to play it at least a dozen times, promising myself I would go no more than half an hour, and then wind up playing it three hours or more; this game is like crack - I tell myself I can stop at any time, over and over and over.

Combat is at the heart of what I love about this game; I find it to be immensely satisfying. Bioware RPGs are the only ones I've ever encountered where combat is both real-time and party-based. They thankfully switched to a mana-based magic system, and added in a similar stamina-based system for warriors and rogues; so while mages get to learn and activate cool spells - of a wide varying, and in increasing levels - warriors and rogues learn special tricks of their own in battle - taking it beyond simply swinging swords at one another. You can pre-set things by the tactics system, with individual commands for each character depending on each step within a battle. Personally, I like turning the tactics off, and taking full control of each of my characters, determining when and what they do. The only thing I miss is having six people in my party, rather than four.

The other driving force that makes the game so fantastic is the story and character. There are loooong stretches of dialogue and story, and your individual responses can significantly impact the game. Breaking away from the alignment system, characters are not so much classified as "good" or "evil" - but they will approve and disapprove of your actions, which is judged along a point system, depending on how that character feels about you at the time. If disapproval goes too low, that character may leave your party and never come back. (And depending on gender, if approval is high enough with certain characters, it can activate romance.) But it may come about from doing something that all the other party members significantly approve of; Bioware promised that they wouldn't be the obvious "right" and "wrong" decisions to make - there are situations with difficult decisions to be made, and there really is no right answer.

The camera system was a big reason I wanted the PC version, rather than for the Xbox 360, or PS3. I love the freedom of looking around; the fact that I can bring the camera down directly over the shoulder of my character, or that I can pull back to a top-down perspective like Baldur's Gate - primarily useful during combat, with a broad view of the battlefield. Similarly, as someone who recoils at the traditional WASD utilization of so many CRPGs, I actually rather enjoy what's employed here - with the option to use the keys to move your character around, or using the mouse to click on the area of ground I where I want my characters to move, just like in Baldur's Gate.

There's a camp site always accessible, which functions as sort of the hub of the game. While there, you rest of up from injuries (acquired anytime someone falls in battle), re-stock supplies with the dwarf merchant that follows you around, access downloadable content, and initiate conversations with the other members of your party - but even that can be tricky; say or do the wrong thing, and the character you're speaking too may suddenly drop significantly in approval points. Also, in addition to the unique characters for your party, kudos to Bioware for recruiting the likes of Tim Curry, Kate Mulgrew, and especially Claudia Black for voicework - I would consider Black's character, Morrigan, to be like Minsc in Baldur's Gate: you have to play through with 'em at least once.

The individual class systems are more customizable; the character creation centers more on actual appearance - down to the shape of different parts of the face, and so forth - and then you simply select a gender, race, and class. Then, each of the three base classes - warrior, rogue, and mage - has subclasses, one of which you can emphasize on into the game. Similarly, each time a character gains a level, you are given points with which you can assign to increase attributes such as strength, magic, dexterity, cunning and constitution. You also get to decide the new abilities and spells for each character as they level up; rogues can learn stealth and lock-picking, as well as specific combat tricks; warriors can determine whether you want to emphasize a two-handed weapon, two weapons at once, or sword and shield; and mages learn a variety of spells based on nature, spirit, etc. that vary between offensive and defensive. There are wonderful little details that ultimately prove toward making your individual character - and party - entirely unique.

My only, minor criticisms of the game are this:
-The subquests, though fun, are not altogether varied or creative; most the ones I've encountered thusfar usually involve going somewhere, killing a person or group of people for whatever reason, and reporting back. Though I do rather like the added abilities of persuasion and intimidation - depending on your strength and cunning.
-I turned off the persistent gore in the options menu, because I didn't want my characters walking around splattered with blood all the time; but beyond that, I actually find there to be so much to the point that it actually becomes comical. Bioware seems to have become so delighted in including it in this game, they didn't stop themselves from going completely overboard, and it occasionally can make some of the more brutal cutscenes of battle somewhat difficult to take seriously.

A final note about technical requirements: my computer has a chipset, rather than an actual graphics card. The rest of my specs are more than adequate (3 gigs or RAM, 2 GHz processor), so I downloaded the character creator and it worked just fine. I read around a lot online, with varying opinions about whether or not a chipset could handle such a technically massive game like Dragon Age, and finally just decided to buy it on the hope that it would work. I put the graphics on their lowest settings, and always play it with my computer on high performance, and it works just fine. Is it perfect? Of course not. It struggles sometimes with loading, and a few of the cutscenes; and if more than a dozen characters are on screen, the frame-rate drops significantly; but it gets by. And that's all I need. So if you're in a similar predicament, I would recommend trying the character creator, and doing research on gaming message boards, etc. - because even with just a chipset, there is still a possibility that the game could work on your computer.

I love Dragon Age. I'm not even close to finishing it and I already love this game. I play mostly console RPGs, and find they usually become bogged down in repetitive, turn-based combat, utilize immensely flawed real-time combat, or synthesize themselves with other genres. Only Bioware has ever managed to produce what I believe to be the perfect RPG; one that is never too reliant on one element, but rather perfectly balances gameplay, combat, story and character - in the most seamless form as though playing out an epic fantasy story as the main character.

Between Dragon Age and Baldur's Gate II, nobody does RPGs like Bioware.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 19, 2010 10:36 PM PST

Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind - PC
Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind - PC
35 used & new from $5.85

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too epic for its own good, February 26, 2009
Like others reading these reviews, I came late to the game. I'm past the hard-cord crowd, by a few years, looking through some of the older fare in an attempt to see what good has come before. I love the RPG genre, and as someone with absolutely no interest whatsoever in the MMO craze, I'm always eager for a good single-player RPG. Sadly, Morrowind did not fulfill my interest.

I think, most importantly, I would've been better off going into it if I had known that the intent of the game is be as open-ended as possible. As possible as it can manage, to the point that it's difficult to say if there was a plot (I didn't last long enough in the game to find out).

This, in turn, is compounded by some of the minor in-game frustrations I encountered. A big one being that it takes forever to do anything. This, of course, is due in part to the fact that the world you are in is absolutely massive. Unfortunately, it's also due to the fact that the avatar moves at a rather slow pace - even when running. And unfortunately, the "side-quests" are usually more of the fetch-quest fare, that have no background or plot; just minimal, plodding progression. I've played games where it took hours to do one task and was invigorated. When it took me hours to get one thing done in this game, I just felt 3 hours older.

It also doesn't help that combat itself tends to be a frustration. You can equip yourself with a weapon and literally sit there clicking the mouse like crazy trying to hit whatever is attacking you and there seems to be complete randomization as to whether or not you actually hit or miss - though miss greatly tends to outweigh to hit and up the frustration factor. In general, I love real-time battle so much more than turn-based...but even real-time battle needs rules. This game feels like its creators were too lazy to think up any.

A personal, aesthetic criticism is that I'm not a fan of the first-person perspective. True, you can play through the game third-person, but it becomes almost impossible to see your attackers in combat and so is practically useless to do so.

The environment, of course, is fantastic. The graphics aren't the prettiest, in my opinion, but they do rather fit the atmosphere of the game in an odd way. There's a rather dour feeling to the whole experience, and everything from the absolutely outstanding soundtrack to the incredible in-game design, and the 360 degree sound alone is almost engaging enough to keep interest in the game despite its lack of immediate story presentation.

Where this game really excels is the customization. I think that and the extreme non-linear aspects are what would greatly appeal to a particular crowd of RPG fans. There's so many different ways to alter your character - both in the initial creation, but also significantly over the course of the game. If you run and swim enough, your athletics will increase; if you use combat more than magic, you'll become more proficient at melee combat, etc. It really is geared toward ultimately creating a unique character that fits your style.

Unfortunately, it just couldn't keep my interest. Over 20 hours into the game, I had made little progress, and encountered not even a hint of there being a plot. And so I just rather stopped caring and gave up. I love side-quests as much as the next RPG fan, but I find myself more interested in the overall process if there's a bit more linearity or structure - even a side-story to add to the overall experience would've been something.

This was my first foray into the Elder Scrolls saga - I have yet to try Oblivion - but it does rather dampen my interest. I respect and understand that customization and non-linearity will appeal to some RPG fans; but for me, personally, I like there to be a little more meat on the bones.

Rhapsody : Child of Blood
Rhapsody : Child of Blood
by Elizabeth Haydon
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.19
293 used & new from $0.01

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lacks a plot, December 30, 2008
Sure, Elizabeth Haydon demonstrates potential here - but she squanders it in a number of unlikeable ways. First and foremost being the complete lack of plot. Honestly, I'm reading the positive responses and questioning at what point these people encountered a story. I gave up about 100 pages before the end because I had given up all hope of encountering some coherency that tied everything together beyond the incessant need to throw more history at me.

The first third of the book is a travel-log. Rhapsody, Achmed and Grunthor spend a long, long, long, long, long, long, long time traveling across the Root. And then pass through the Fire that re-virginizes Rhapsody. Worst of all, it makes her the most amazingly beautiful woman on the planet, which just got annoying to read. Yeah, Rhapsody's so stunningly beautiful that every male she encounters at her feet literally drops in shock at how incredibly attractive she is; that is not an exaggeration. What started out as an above-average female protagonist - who demonstrated she was intelligent, competent and could take care of herself - devolved into someone who was nothing more than so incredibly beautiful that I couldn't stand to read about her anymore.

The second third of the book is about history. You know, I get it; having a huge long history is great - especially in what is trying to be a high fantasy novel akin to Tolkien or Jordan. I think reading an epic fantasy series where I have to understand that world's history to appreciate everything that's going on is fantastic. But Jordan doesn't give it to you all at once. It comes out bits at a time, logically, over the first few books. Whereas in this novel, it became a repeat of: travel to meet this person - cue long paragraphs of exposition explaining this part of the history...and repeat. I mean, I get that she's in love with her world; I even commend her for her creativity in its conception. But that doesn't mean I want it all thrown at me so often that every time someone (including the narrator) drops around for another history lesson, all I can think is "Again??"

The last third is a combination of the two: they travel to meet more they can get more history. And in all this, she somehow forgot to include a plot. I mean, what is it that ties this all together? She at least gives Rhapsody motivation - albeit a touch contrived - for why she goes with the others down to the Root and across the world and everything. But Achmed and Grunthor are a complete mystery to me; I have no idea in the world why they wanted to travel across the Root, I have no idea why they wanted to move forward in time - or if they even knew their actions were going to move them forward in time - or pretty much anything else. What is their motivation? It speaks to a severe lack of characterization, and despite a few glimmers, I found the three main characters a bit bland.

It also didn't help that, for so much of the book, it's just them. Especially as they will meet more people, who instantly fall for Rhapsody, inexplicably all pledge lifelong relationships, and then three protagonists separate from them for the next entry in the travel-log and such characters are never heard from again. It gets really, really boring.

Like I said, she's created a great world here. I even rather enjoyed it at moments just for it's general atmosphere; and it's hard not to admire the fundamentals of her creativity here. I also commend her for her use of magic - there's some cool and interesting things here, both done with Rhapsody's powers, and also throughout the history of the world, and so forth.

But, seriously - this is one of the most uninteresting books I've found to have encountered in a long while; I can't get in anyway involved when the book is so involved in its own history that it fails to even produce a plot. I just couldn't force myself through the last hundred pages, let alone continuing with the series. Particularly as I'm afraid that they'll likely just be repeats of the notion - more history lessons. I don't read a book for the history of its world; I read it for its characters and plot. Of which this book barely has either.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 4, 2009 8:33 AM PST

Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen - Nintendo DS
Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen - Nintendo DS
Offered by the_gamevault
Price: $114.99
19 used & new from $23.90

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, a remake, November 30, 2008
I was a huge fan of this game 15 years ago, and I have been wanting to own it for years. I found it near impossible to find on the NES, and while Nintendo released the first three Dragon Warrior games for Game Boy Color, it seemed we would never get an American re-release for this game. It was my first console RPG, and the first video game I ever loved - and for those reasons, it will always be among my all-time favorites.

I love the chapter structure - one of the many elements that, IMO, elevates it above the first three Dragon Quest/Warrior games. You spend the first four chapters playing through the story and leveling up a variety of characters that, when you hit chapter five, your own character will then spend the first part of the chapter gathering up. It's a wonderful way of bringing together of what turns out to be a really fantastic storyline - it makes it much more than the simple good protagonist vs. evil overlord, as it gives much depth and appreciation to the people that will eventually become members of your party.

There are many little details I love in the changes that have been made here. Not just in the use of the dual screens - where towns and dungeons are visually spread across the two - and the fact that you can use the left and right shoulder buttons to turn the camera; but also in other things, like the fact that, when in the overworld, the top screen becomes a map that slowly unravels itself as you gradually make your away across it. And the fact that the top screen is utilized elsewhere, giving added info and stats during combat. And the menu system is significantly easier and less arduous to navigate. The only other version I've played was the NES, and every one of these is a huge improvement over the original.

It doesn't utilize the touch screen at all, but it really doesn't need to. This isn't so much about bringing a game to the DS, as it is remaking a classic that hasn't found its way to the US very much. And there are changes to be seen - in character names, and the fact that they try to give a specific nationality to each of the different countries (for example, Alena's country is now Russian-influenced, and she's here referred to as Tsarevna Alena...though the downside being that in Alena's country in particular, the dialogue, I suspect, was meant to be as if they were a Russian people speaking trans-literally in English, and the unfortunate effect is that much of it is unintentionally funny), and also in monster names. And there are some minor geographical differences, but they are few and far between. Overall, the very fundamentals of the game are exactly what they were in the original.

The greatest criticism of the game is really in the combat; it still goes back to the early days of console RPGs that overuses a turn-based combat system that is heavily enforced, with frequent encounters, and as a result, the process tends to become tedious. The AI can also be infuriating at times, if you're ill-prepared, and the chance encounter can be overused at the wrong moments, with near-success of a task going all to pieces thanks to one random encounter that manages to wipe out your entire party. But if you can grit your teeth and get through the tedium, the story is very much worth the experience.

If you've played this game on the NES and enjoyed it at all, this is a must-have. If you're a fan of the later Dragon Quest games and have never tried the early classics, this one in particular comes highly recommend. If you're an RPG fan and somehow missed out on the Dragon Quest franchise all-together, you must give it a try. Dragon Quest, IMO, allows for more freedom and slightly more customization than the Final Fantasy Series, and I've found it allows me to enjoy the overall experience to a greater degree.

Apple 8 GB iPod nano 4G - Purple   (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
Apple 8 GB iPod nano 4G - Purple (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
Offered by can't beat the price
Price: $139.99
52 used & new from $41.99

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The latest and greatest from Apple, November 8, 2008
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
My last iPod was an old, used 4 gig iPod mini. So my purchase of an 8 gig purple has me absolutely delighted. It's thinner, more appealing aesthetically, and I have only a couple of minor criticisms in regards to newer and more recent versions of iTunes.

While both the Coverflow and lack of backwards compatibility on accessories are legitimate criticisms, neither affect me personally. I've never purchased any accessories for my iPod, and I leave my iPod on hold 99% of the time I'm listening to it - which automatically disables the Coverflow.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that much of the harsh criticism for the latest gen Nano comes from the high standards that Apple has set. Not in any way meaning to discredit others' criticisms, but Apple handily dominates the market on MP3 players, and so its users, on average, are going to have higher expectations than those that go for other brands.

Personally, I had a bad experience with a Microsoft Zune Player that made me appreciate how superior the iPod is. Primarily in its customization. The fact that you can't disable Coverflow and the ensuing backlash just serves to prove what's traditional in iPod/iTunes expectations - how much of the little details within your individual usage you can adjust to fine-tune to your preferences; and the fact that Coverflow has no off-switch is an oddity. Hopefully, such a function will be improved with future firmware upgrades.

My only criticisms are:
-I've had a hard time getting iTunes to find all the artwork for my albums - and these are not obscure albums.
-iTunes has been having compatibility issues through my last two PCs, including the tendency to stutter when I run any other program simultaneously, and more recently, it divides an individual album up (not acknowledging all of the songs being on one album) if they have different artists; meaning I had to go through a very arduous process involving giving all the songs on a given album the same "album artist"; an example of Apple, perhaps, taking customization too far. It also wouldn't open as long as I had ZoneAlarm installed on my computer. I still greatly prefer iTunes to other music players, but it doesn't always work very smoothly on PCs.
-My "8 gig" iPod doesn't really have 8 gigs; it has 7.5. When I bought my 4 gig iPod, it only had 3.7. I wouldn't be surprised to learn if the 16 gig really has closer to 15. It feels like a bit of a cheat. Half a gig may not seem like much - around 100 songs - but I have a moderately sized library, and 100 songs could make a difference in the long run.

Overall, I give my new iPod Nano 4 1/2 stars. I absolutely love it. And even though I will be a lifelong PC user, Apple has my loyalty when it comes to MP3 players.

EDIT - 11/18/08
Sure enough, Apple released a firmware upgrade, and it's now possible to disable to Coverflow - under General in Settings, you can tell the iPod not to do anything when it's rotated. But the option for Coverflow can be activated manually with its own addition in the main menu.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 18, 2008 9:33 PM PST

Zune 8 GB Video MP3 Player (Blue)
Zune 8 GB Video MP3 Player (Blue)

4 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Microsoft's half-hearted attempt, November 8, 2008
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I bought the 8 gig Blue Video Zune in a transition over from iPod. iTunes has been having compatibility issues with my PC, and I was interested in trying a different brand of MP3 player. Unfortunately, I should've done more research before making what now feels like a bit of an impulse buy.

The Zune's greatest strength is probably its FM Tuner. You can turn the search on - meaning it'll skip through and find the next station - or off, if you want to go through stations traditionally, every couple of steps up the dial. You can use the click wheel to add any particular stations to pre-set, and if the station is broadcasting it, the Zune will tell you what kind of music the station plays, as well as the name and artist of the song currently playing. And it gives you the option to add a song to your shopping cart, so you can buy it when you get online via the Zune's PC player. Unfortunately, I found the signal strength rather pitiful - as I often shove it in my pocket, then it would kind of fade in and out. And my work place is a half-level underground, and the signal was coming in zero.

Aesthetically, it's very nice. The blue is a very pretty color; it's thinner than my last iPod was (though the same size lengthwise) and the click wheel serves with the same functionality as that on the iPod. And the battery life is about the same length as the iPod nano - around 25 hours (when listening to music).

My greatest criticism of it is in its music interface. It gives you a series of subcategories (genre, artist, album, etc), with a drop-down of all the music below in that order. But it's meaningless. I suppose they thought it would make it easier when searching out one specific album, etc. but it's just as easy to leave it all in one category and find it that way.

What I really hate is the shuffle function. With each of the subcategories, at the top is the option to shuffle through your music, and then it will go through your entire library at random. If you want to listen your entire library with the tracks in order for each given album, you have to make a playlist. And shuffling through that does the exact same thing - shuffling by song, without even the option of shuffling by album. This probably isn't a big deal to most, but I listen to a lot of soundtracks, and shuffle by album is the only way I want to listen to my library.

In the Settings menu, you can also then turn a separate shuffle feature on - which, in turn, will, for example, take an individual album, and play it in a random order over and over. Which makes absolutely no sense. Who wants to listen to one album, out of order, over and over?

These can be seen as minor nitpicks, but they're the kind of details that make me feel like a) Microsoft, knowing that Apple will continue to dominate the market, isn't trying very hard; and b) It continues the Microsoft trend of "I know better than you." In using it, I always felt like access to my own library was restricted, and I could only listen to my music under specific terms.

Add to this the fact that the Zune player you have to install on your PC (separate from Windows Media Player) is a technological disaster. They made it specifically to mirror the interface of that on the Zune, but it's a pain to use. It's a pain to find or alter anything; it's a pain to make playlists on it. And the only Settings functions you can adjust are options primarily related to the online social network. I was so appalled by it that I immediately switched back to using iTunes when listening to music on my computer.

I also didn't like the fact that when it turned off - ever after I left it on pause for a minute - in turning it back on, it would reset itself back to the main menu where you switch between music, videos, radio, etc. Which meant having to go back in and search through to pick up where I left off. Even if I'm listening to a playlist and it transfers it over to the Now Playing subcategory, you still have to scroll down to find that song again. Which makes the Now Playing just as worthless as the rest of the subcategories. And it's just one more detail that makes it feel like the makers of this device weren't thinking out it very practically.

These complaints might not seem like much, but they were enough to make me go back on the Zune and buy an iPod Nano to replace it.

Sure, the Zune isn't the worst MP3 player you could buy. If it's your first, or if you really want something more for a radio, then you might be very happy with it. But if you're transitioning over from another - especially iPod - then, like me, you may find that the Zune leaves much to be desired.

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