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OXO Good Grips SimplyTear Standing Paper Towel Holder, Brushed Stainless Steel
OXO Good Grips SimplyTear Standing Paper Towel Holder, Brushed Stainless Steel
Price: $24.95
69 used & new from $21.92

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keeps Paper Towels Tidy and Easily Accessible, February 17, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I've had this product for about a week now. The design is simple and not particularly eye-catching, but it isn't ugly either. It blends into the background nicely in a kitchen with stainless steel appliances.

I like the arm feature, mostly because it holds the edge of the paper towel neatly against the roll so that it stays tidy, and I never have to hunt for the edge because the arm doesn't allow the roll to spin around to different positions during handling.

The arm on mine maintains the tension well, even when the paper towel roll is almost empty. The holder itself isn't super heavy, but it's heavy enough to be stable. It took a little practice, but I'm able to tear off a paper towel one-handed without too much trouble. However, if I have both hands free, I find that I still prefer to use two hands. Perhaps this will change after I've had the holder longer. From the reviews I skimmed through, it seems like one-handed tearing doesn't work for everybody. Maybe part of it is due to varying tension between one holder and another, and maybe part of it is due to technique. I find you have to pull on the paper towels so that the perforation hits the top edge of the oval part of the arm as you start trying to tear off the paper towel. The top edge helps break apart the perforation. The edge isn't sharp; it's just narrower at the top so it breaks through easier.

I also like the fact that I can just slide the paper towel roll over the top and it's ready to go without any extra steps. I suppose this is a fairly normal feature in a paper towel holder, but my previous holder required a knob to be unscrewed from the top before I could put the paper towel roll on, then I had to screw it back on afterwards. This became surprisingly tedious and, more often than not, I would forgo using the holder altogether and just plop a roll of paper towels on the counter.

Pioneer DEH-4400HD CD Player W/ HD Radio
Pioneer DEH-4400HD CD Player W/ HD Radio

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Inexperienced User's Review, October 26, 2012
I want to preface my review by saying:
1. I'm not an audiophile and I'm still using the speakers that came with my car.
2. I did not install this by myself. (Geek Squad did it for me.)
3. This is the first time I've ever upgraded the radio in my car.
So, if you have more experience with car radios and you're mainly interested in technical details, you may want to skip my review.

For the most part, I'm very happy with this unit. It's certainly far better than any of the standard radios I've had. I wanted something that could play files off a USB stick because I wanted to be able to listen to my own music during my morning commute (when all my local radio stations seem to think I want to listen to them jabber about random, inane stuff), and I wanted to be able to listen to audio books without having to mess with CD's. So far, this seems to work very well. Information is displayed about the current song playing (this is displayed when listening to the radio also), you can hit a button to put the tracks in shuffle mode, and you can scan through the different tracks to choose a specific one. I believe folders are supported also, but I haven't played with that yet.

I've also been impressed with the HD Radio aspect of this unit. For those who are as clueless as I was, many radio stations have HD versions of their radio stations. From what I understand, these radio stations sound better and can be picked up more reliably. Some stations even have multiple HD channels that play different things. These stations are free, but you need an HD radio to hear them. This unit can pick up the HD radio stations. I now have access to radio stations I didn't even know existed in my area. Fortunately, I now have 18 FM presets to work with. If you aren't interested in having HD Radio, you could probably find a cheaper radio that will still do what you need.

I've seen several reviews, here and elsewhere, that say this unit is difficult to operate. I would disagree, *IF* you're the type of person who's willing to read a manual. (It's only a few pages.) The unit certainly seems more complex at first if you're used to the simple radios that come with most cars. When I was driving home with my newly installed radio, before I'd had a chance to read the manual, I was hitting buttons that didn't do what I expected them to. But, once I got home, I spent about half an hour in my garage with the manual and played around with the different buttons. The manual is pretty easy to understand, and the buttons make perfect sense once you understand how they work.

For example, I think some people have been confused by the big round button. If you don't push this button and just spin it, it will increase/decrease the volume. If you push the button, it becomes your menu. At this point, spinning the button will cycle through your menu options, NOT change your volume. Pushing the button again selects the menu option that's currently displayed. Then you may have submenus to cycle through, by spinning the button again and pressing it to select an option. To go back a level in the menu system, you simply hit the left arrow which is found to the left of the big round button. If you hit the left arrow enough times, you'll back out of the menu system altogether and your knob will function as a volume adjustor again. There are several other buttons that do different things, but it's all really easy to understand if you just take a little bit of time to play with the radio while reading the manual.

The only real complaint I have so far is regarding the text on the display screen. If you're driving in bright sun, you CANNOT read this text no matter what color you make it. I sat at a traffic light in the sun and cycled through all the colors trying to find one I could read. At best, I could tell there were words on the screen but I couldn't read them. This could be a problem if you live in a sunny state like I do. Not all sun is a problem; it depends on the intensity and the direction it's coming from. What I've found is that, when the sun got bright enough to induce me to pull my visor down even though I was wearing sunglasses, that was when I could no longer read the display. Being able to change the colors is cool, but I'd rather be able to always read the screen if I had to choose between the two. I did not have this problem with my original radio. Sometimes the sun would create a glare that made it harder to read, but I could still make out what it said.

Dance Central 2 - Xbox 360
Dance Central 2 - Xbox 360
Offered by jerseys4thewin
Price: $20.98
251 used & new from $0.45

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tons of Fun, Good Exercise, and Much Improved over Dance Central 1, December 21, 2011
General Dance Central Info
I've had Dance Central 2 (DC2) for a few weeks now and it's a ton of fun. First of all, for people not familiar with Dance Central, the best thing about it is that you're really dancing. You aren't just making certain body movements at certain times and you can't cheat to get a good score without doing any real work. Here's some basic info about how the game works:

- The songs are all listed in order of difficulty level so, if you aren't a skilled dancer and you want to ease your way into things, you can just start at the top of the list and work your way down.

- Each song has three choreographed routines: easy, medium, and hard. The routines build on each other. For example, many of the moves you learn in the "easy" routine will also be in the "medium" routine, but there might be fewer repetitions of the same move in a row so you have to switch between the different moves faster. There will also be some new and more challenging moves thrown into the mix.

- If you want to dive into a song with no clue what you're doing, you can do that. But, for those of us who like to be prepared, each routine has a "Break it Down" mode where you can learn how to do the moves for that routine. You learn a few individual moves, and then there's a "recap" where you put those moves together and practice dancing a small portion of the song. Then you learn a few more moves, do a recap, and so on until you've learned the whole routine.

- You don't have to memorize the moves. Each move is associated with a flash card which consists of the name of the move, a static drawing that illustrates the main movement involved, and usually an indicator of whether you start with the left or right side of your body. The flashcards are displayed both during "Break it Down" mode and while you're doing the actual dance to the song.

- While you're dancing, you can also see the next couple of flash cards so you can prepare for upcoming moves. It's surprisingly easy to dance to the flash cards, and the flash cards themselves are quite clear. There's just enough info on the card to remind you what to do. There's a dancer on the screen performing the moves, so you can also follow the dancer.

I'm not a great dancer and I have trouble with some of the moves but, when I finally learn them and I'm doing them correctly, I can't help grinning like an idiot while I dance. The more trouble I have learning a move, the more rewarding it is when I finally get it right.

The Kinect is pretty accurate in its feedback about whether you're doing the dance moves correctly. Small details won't necessarily get picked up; there are still limitations to the technology. For example, there was a move I was doing slightly wrong for quite a while, but I didn't realize it because I received a "Flawless" whenever I performed it. I was moving my arms and legs correctly, but I was holding my arms facing inward instead of outward. (This was the "Huh" move in "You Know You Want Me", which I think is actually a DC1 song.) But, aside from small details like that, I feel like the game is accurately recognizing and reacting to what I'm doing.

Dance Central 1 versus Dance Central 2 - Improvements Made
There are great improvements in DC2 versus DC1. For me, the "Break it Down" improvements were definitely worth getting DC2 for, even though I still had a ton of unplayed content in my DC1 game.

- In Break it Down, you can slow down and speed up a move like before, but you can also go back to a previous move or skip to the next move. You can go through every move in the routine, or you can select only certain moves. These features make the process much less frustrating.

- In Break it Down, you can record a video of yourself while you perform a single move and then watch and compare yourself to the dancer. It's great for laughs -- I can see just how stupid I look performing a move! And sometimes it helps me understand why I'm not getting a good score on a move that I thought I was doing correctly. I do wish there were more video options. I'd like to see myself perform an entire song, or a series of moves in Break it Down. Even a random recording of me dancing a small segment of the main song would be great.

- I love the new voice recognition, although I've really only used it in Break it Down mode. Being able to say commands makes it much easier to take advantage of the different learning features. I had a lot of trouble hitting the "slow down" or "try again" options in DC1. I just wish the voice recognition worked flawlessly. I've run the recalibration on my Kinect, but it doesn't always pick up what I say if the instructor is talking and there are some songs it seems to have trouble with. I have to try to at least get the "XBOX" spoken at a moment when there's no talking going on, then it will usually recognize the rest of what I say. If I play with headphones on and no noise from the TV, then it works much better. The good news is that, even when voice recognition doesn't work, you can hold your right arm out similar to the way you hold your left arm for the Kinect Guide, and a voice command menu will come up that you can use your hand to select from. It's slower than just saying the command though, and sometimes speed matters if the final recap is almost over and you're trying to go back so you can try the recap again. Once the final recap ends, you have to start over from the beginning if you're trying to get 100% on the entire Break it Down routine.

- I like that you no longer auto-pass a move in Break it Down mode unless you get a "Flawless" on your initial attempt. In DC1, even a "Nice" would skip you past the requirement to pass a move 3 times. Sometimes I move along with the dancer when I'm being shown a new move for the first time, and sometimes I get close enough to get a "Nice". In DC1, if I did that, the next thing I knew it was moving on to the next move when I didn't really have a clue what I was doing on the last move. If you're told to perform the move 3 times, then "Nice" is still good enough to count as a pass. It's just no longer sufficient on that very first attempt before you're told to do it 3 times.

- Another great feature in DC2 versus DC1 is that it keeps track of your calories everywhere, even in "Break it Down". I think I actually burn most of my calories in "Break it Down" trying to ace all the moves! So I was missing out on a lot of calorie counting in DC1 because it only kept track of calories burned during the performances.

- I like being able to turn the freestyle section off, which couldn't be done in DC1. I have no dancing skills, and I prefer the structure of being given specific moves to perform. I also enjoy the longer routines you get with the DC2 songs when freestyle is turned off.

Dance Central 1 versus Dance Central 2 - Steps Backward
There are a couple features from DC1 that I preferred over DC2:

- In DC1, when the on-screen dancer demonstrated a move in Break it Down, the dancer performed ONLY that move. In DC2, the dancer is seen performing the tail end of the previous move and the beginning of the new move. I guess the purpose is to let you see how to transition between the moves, but I find it a little confusing, especially on the more complicated moves. When learning a new move, I want to know exactly what movements are involved in that single move. Then, when I do the recaps, that's when I'm ready to learn how to string the moves together.

- In DC1, after performing a song, it told you what percentage of moves you passed. I really miss that. Unless I'm going blind, DC2 doesn't tell you this. In DC2, it tells you how many "Flawless" and "Nice" moves you made, but it doesn't tell you how many you missed or got an "Almost" on. I want to know whether or not I passed every move. I don't always catch the feedback I get while I'm dancing, because I'm more focused on doing the moves correctly and keeping an eye on the flashcards for the upcoming moves.

DC2 isn't perfect, but it's pretty close. It's an amazingly fun game that never fails to make me smile while I play it. Sometimes, when I watch a video recap of myself performing a move, I'm surprised to see I was smiling because I thought I was being all serious! And, as a side benefit, this game provides some exercise too. The improvements in DC2 versus DC1 were significant, so I look forward to seeing what they do in future releases.

Body and Brain Connection - Xbox 360
Body and Brain Connection - Xbox 360
Offered by Blue Monster LLC
Price: $35.99
45 used & new from $4.15

63 of 64 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Riveting, but Entertaining, March 17, 2011
I've had this game for a little under a week now and I've enjoyed it. It's not a game I find myself wanting to play for a long period of time, but then it really isn't designed for that. The premise is that you will complete three exercises every day. You can play any of the exercises whenever you want, but you are recommended to play three specific exercises each day, and the choices change around a bit each day. Whenever you want, you can also take a test that will measure your current brain age to see if your regular exercises are paying off. If I don't choose to play extra exercises, I'm usually done for the day in under 15 minutes.

The games are cute, and they don't bore me, but neither would I consider them riveting. Once I've completed my three exercises, I'm usually ready to move on to something else. Note that I have only played in single player mode. I'm sure competing against somebody else would increase the entertainment factor. However, I don't really consider it a bad thing that I don't spend a ton of time playing the game. I do my daily brain exercises, and then I move on to one of the more physically active Kinect games that I find more entertaining.

I haven't had any real issues with the interface. When navigating menus, if you read the manual, it tells you it will not activate any buttons when your hands are close to your body. You move your hand around to where you want it, then push your hand in front of you a bit further to make the program activate the button. On the one hand, I often find myself forgetting to move my hand further out because the other programs I've played with don't require this. But I quickly realize my error when this happens, and one benefit is that I haven't once accidentally selected the wrong thing like I have in other programs. When playing the exercises, I haven't had any issues at all with the program recognizing my movement exactly the way I expect it to. One thing I particularly like is that, while arrowing through instructions or comments, or while scrolling from left to right through multiple screens of choices, the arrow is activated instantly when you put your hand over it. This makes it faster to read through the material. Other buttons have the typical delay while it fills in the little wheel to give you time to change your mind.

Some reviewers have expressed concern that the comments from the Dr. can be overly harsh when you don't do well on an exercise, and that the difficulty can be high for younger children. I can't speak from a child's perspective as I've only played this myself and I'm in my mid-30's, but I can see where some of the exercises would be difficult for a child. That doesn't mean they can't improve if they practice them. As far as the comments go, I haven't found them to be particularly harsh. Usually I've found I agreed with his comments. On the rare occasions when I received an F on something (I'm horrible at that Pacman game!), the Dr. said something along the lines of "I thought you'd be better at this." And I had to agree with him -- I did too! I guess if negative comments from a video game can hurt your feelings, then that's something to take into account when deciding whether to purchase this. But they don't bother me. Yes, my avatar looks sad when I do poorly. But I don't go around grinning like an idiot when I'm doing poorly at something either, so why should my avatar? She perks back up quickly enough after her short moment of pouting.

War for the Oaks: A Novel
War for the Oaks: A Novel
by Emma Bull
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.83
99 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Caused Sleep Deprivation!, September 11, 2010
I won't sum up the plot, because many other reviewers have already done that, but I will tell you what I thought of the book. I thought War for the Oaks was an excellent book. With my current schedule, working full time and going to school full time, I usually only have time to read for a few minutes before bed. I can barely keep my eyes open after a few pages, so it has been taking me quite a while as of late to get through a book. Not so with War for the Oaks; it kept me up well past my bedtime for several nights this past week.

War for the Oaks is written in the third person, but the entire book takes place in the point of view of the main character. This isn't like an epic fantasy novel with a huge cast of characters, a complex storyline, and alternating viewpoints and storylines. I greatly enjoy epic books like that, but I also enjoy books like this one which consist of a more straight-forward story where you're only focusing on one main storyline and following it through from the beginning to the end. The story kept moving at a fast pace, making it difficult to stop reading. Every time I reached a new chapter I couldn't resist reading the first paragraph or two to see what would happen next, and the next thing I knew I had finished reading the chapter.

The characters were likeable, especially the main ones, and I found them believable and realistic -- within the confines of the fantasy, of course! There was a fair amount of romance in the story. Romances in some stories feel forced, as if it's only there because it's expected. However, in War for the Oaks it was done well, woven in throughout the plot in a believable and appealing way. The dialogue had a lot of humor in it, which made the book even more pleasant to read. The plot was straight-forward and simple, nothing earth shattering, but it was engaging when combined with the interesting characters and the enjoyable writing style. I will definitely be reading other books by this author sometime in the future!

The Riven Kingdom (The Godspeaker Trilogy)
The Riven Kingdom (The Godspeaker Trilogy)
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $6.99

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you struggled with the first book in the series, don't be afraid to give this one a try!, August 16, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
If you struggled to get through all the darkness and unlikable characters in the first book in this series, but liked the author's writing in spite of yourself, I recommend that you give this second book a try. The same compelling writing is there, but The Riven Kingdom tells a different story with, for the most part, different characters. These characters are also flawed, but they are very likable, and most of them are trying to do the right thing. I read this book in less than half the time it took me to get through the first book.

This is a very different type of story than the one told in Empress, but it doesn't completely abandon that storyline. It tells the story of an island, Ethrea, where nobody has ever heard of Mijak or the people who live there. These people have their own internal problems which they are trying to overcome, and most of the story revolves around that. One character from Mijak does end up in Ethrea fairly early on in the story. (If you read the first book, you can probably guess who.) There are also three chapters scattered throughout the book that take place in Mijak to let us know what's going on there in the meantime. But other than that, don't expect to see much from the characters in the first book. I suspect we'll see more of them in book 3. The things that frustrated me in Empress start to get explained in The Riven Kingdom. You can see how the foundation laid in the 1st book is going to tie together with the overall story. I'm looking forward to reading the 3rd book and seeing how the author brings everything to a conclusion.

There was more humor in this book. Just small, light moments with the characters that made me chuckle.

The only thing that really drove me nuts in this story was the way the character from Mijak said "yes", "no", and "sorry" in the Mijak language throughout the entire book. The people of Mijak and the people of Ethrea speak different languages, so the character from Mijak had to learn the language of the people from Ethrea. While they were learning to communicate, the main characters in Ethrea also learned some Mijak words. I think it's cool when a book has some made up words in its own language that are used throughout a story, but this was different. Eventually this character was doing a decent job of communicating in the language of Ethrea and yet still persisted in saying these three words in the Mijak language even while correctly translating much more difficult words. Not only that, but all of the main Ethrea characters would use the Mijak language for those words whenever they spoke to the character from Mijak. It was just silly, and annoyed me more and more as the story went on. The Mijak word for "yes" rhymes with "no", and I had trouble keeping them straight for some reason. I had to pause every time they used the word to make sure I knew whether they were saying yes or no. Still, it's a pretty minor nitpick, and might not bother other people as much as it bothered me.

The author took a risk with the way she began this series, and I'm not sure it paid off. The first book was dark and frustrating and, even though it was interesting and well written, it was painful to read. If the number of reviews for the 1st book versus the 2nd book are any indication, it seems that many people gave up after the first book. On the other hand, it seems some of the people who loved the first book were disappointed by the second book because of how different it was and because it didn't have many of the same characters. It's almost a no-win scenario. This is frustrating because, from what I've read so far, this series is worth reading.

Empress (Godspeaker Trilogy)
Empress (Godspeaker Trilogy)
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $6.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very Mixed Feelings, August 12, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Note: This review is as spoiler free as I can make it and still explain my reaction to the book. I don't believe I revealed anything that would spoil the story for anybody. But if you've already decided to read this book and would prefer to go into it with no prior knowledge about the story whatsoever, you may want to skip over my review.

I find it difficult to write a review for this book. I had very mixed feelings about it. At times I couldn't put it down, and at other times I couldn't bring myself to pick it up. I disliked many of the characters. The main character, Hekat, started out as a sympathetic character, but I liked her less and less as the story went on and couldn't stand her by the end of the book. The characters were flawed. They definitely weren't one-dimensional stereotypes. Of course I prefer characters to be flawed because it makes them more interesting but, on the flip side, it can also be difficult to read a story about characters you actively dislike.

I think the thing that gave me the most difficulty with this book was that the main characters were all focused on serving a real ("real" in the context of the fictional book) God who gave tangible signs about what he wanted people to do. And I often hated what it was he wanted the people to do. It gave me a sense of futility and frustration when reading the book... the people never did anything without asking the god what he wanted them to do, and you knew they were always going to be successful (although there might be unforeseen consequences) with what they did because the god wanted them to do it. I wouldn't go so far as to call the book predictable. In fact, it might be the opposite of that because everything I kept expecting and hoping to happen never happened. It was almost unpredictably predictable, if that makes any sense, because I kept expecting something to change the course of what was happening. Yet calling it predictable isn't really fair, because I never knew exactly what would happen next and I couldn't have told you precisely how the story was going to end. Yet everything seemed inevitable by the time it happened, like I was trapped in a series of horrible and inevitable events that I had no power to alter. And maybe now you can see why I'm having a hard time writing this review!

I kept waiting for some turning point. Something that would prove the god wasn't what he appeared to be, or that there was more to what was going on than what was revealed in the story. There were a few possible indicators that this might be the case, particularly near the end of the book, but I'm not sure if I interpreted things that way because it's what I wanted or because it was intended by the author. (I've been avoiding spoilers, because I want to find out for myself.)

The writing was good. The story was told well, and the characters and the world they lived in were believable and interesting even when I didn't like them. It's just the content of the story that I struggled with. If we could give half-star ratings I would give this book 3 ½ stars, but I can't bring myself to give it 4. I enjoyed this book quite a bit on some levels, and was greatly frustrated by it on others. I did download the next book in the series onto my Kindle immediately after finishing this first book, so I liked it well enough to continue with the series.

The Dark Eye: Drakensang - PC
The Dark Eye: Drakensang - PC
Offered by RarePCGames
Price: $9.75
21 used & new from $0.15

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Just Plain Fun, July 19, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I enjoyed this game a lot. It's been ages since I've had trouble tearing myself away from a game. I kept wanting to play just a little longer to see what would happen next, or to explore one more area. It's difficult to put my finger on just what I found so addictive about it, because the game did have its flaws, but it was just a lot of fun. RPG's are my favorite genre, but I have to admit that sometimes they can get tedious. They're prone to repetitive dialogue and/or a lot of running back and forth to the same places to complete quests. Some RPG's leave you wandering around all over the place aimlessly looking for new things to do. Others have battle after battle with very little story. Drakensang wasn't like any of that; it was just plain fun.

Even when you had to traverse the same areas again, new quests would sometimes pop up that weren't there before so the area didn't get too dull. In dungeons, as you advanced deeper into them and achieved your main goal, a previously inaccessible route would often open up giving you a quick way back without having to retrace the long route you'd taken to get there. It happened often enough to be a bit humorous, but the convenience was worth the lack of realism.

The quests kept me entertained and weren't too generic. If I had any complaint about them, it would be that the map often shows you where to go. If the main goal of the quest was to find someone or something that was missing, then it didn't usually show you the location. So it could have been worse, but it did make things easier than I would have liked. You can hide the mini-map and avoid looking at the map altogether, but I find it difficult to navigate without a map.

The NPC's were interesting and fun to talk to. Boring NPC dialogue can kill my enjoyment of a game faster than just about anything, but I enjoyed the dialogue in Drakensang. However, there aren't a lot of dialogue options for your character. Don't expect it to be anywhere near the level of the Baldur's Gate games. Even when you have multiple options, they generally lead to the same result and there aren't any outright "evil" dialogue options. Your character is going to be fairly noble whether you like it or not. :) This didn't bother me much since I prefer to take the "good" dialogue options when I have a choice. But even if you usually go the "good" route, sometimes it's fun to briefly explore the "evil" options just to see what will happen. With Drakensang, I rarely felt a desire to reload and try different dialogue options.

I liked the graphics a lot. I haven't played enough recently released games to say how they compare with the general quality of graphics out there today, but I thought they were nice and at times downright beautiful. I enjoyed the music too. It wasn't overly obtrusive, and it fit the mood well. Sometimes I would catch myself humming along with it, or whistling one of the tunes shortly after I'd stopped playing the game.

The story wasn't particularly unique, but it held my interest and kept me curious about what would happen next. I thought the ending was too abrupt. I would have liked to have been able to go back and talk to some of the interesting NPC's who had been involved in the story and get their take on how everything turned out and what their future plans were.

This is definitely a linear game. If you hate linear games no matter what, then you'll want to pass up this game. If you like linear games, or you're willing to put up with it if the game is otherwise good, then I'd recommend giving this game a try. I can enjoy both types of games, but I actually prefer linear games. I enjoy the feeling of knowing I've seen just about everything there is to see without having to spend hours aimlessly wandering in remote locations that have nothing of interest except yet another cave with more monsters and treasure that I'm probably just going to sell.

Some people have said they didn't like the camera, but I didn't have many issues with it. I do prefer a 1st person view in 3D games rather than the 3rd person view in Drakensang, but I quickly found a method that worked for me. If you hold down the right mouse button, the camera swings around to face the direction you move the mouse. I would swing the camera around so that it was a little ways behind my characters. Then I would continue to hold the mouse button down to keep the camera locked behind my characters. Since "w" means forward not from the orientation of your character, but rather from the orientation of the camera, all you really have to do is hold the "w" key down to keep your characters moving forward while you move your mouse as needed (with the right mouse button held down) to make your characters turn to the left or right. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but basically the movement with this method ends up working almost exactly like it does in the game Oblivion, with the only difference being that you have to hold your right mouse button down. With Drakensang there are a lot of different ways to move and orient the camera. With a bit of experimentation, I think most people could find a way that works fairly well for them. The camera does go wonky if you get too close to walls or if you're in confined spaces which could be annoying. It would have been nice if there were an autorun key for those longer journeys, or a way to lock the camera behind your characters without having to do it manually.

I think the biggest thing that annoyed me in the game was that I wanted more control over my characters. I didn't like having to change my characters from aggressive to defensive just to get them to stay where I put them. Even in defensive, if an enemy got close enough, the characters would attack. After a while I got used to it, and you really don't need that precise of control over your characters during combat in this game because it just isn't that complicated. But I still felt a bit handicapped. Another big inconvenience along these lines is that you can't travel very far with just one character. Once you get far enough away that the other characters are at the edge of the mini map, they all start to follow whether you want them to or not. This means that, if you want to use stealth, having one character that's really good at sneaking isn't enough. All of your characters have to be good at it or they'll blow the cover of your stealthy character when they start following.

As far as character development goes, there are a lot of options and a lot of different ways to allocate points toward improving your characters. I was a complete idiot and somehow missed the fact that you can use these points to increase your main stats (like strength, constitution, etc). You can also use them to increase your skill with individual magic spells. I went through almost the entire game only increasing my weapon skills and my talents. I figured out I could increase my magic skills when I was about 75% through the game, and yet I still somehow failed to realize I could increase my stats. Believe it or not, I figured this out right before the last battle in the game! A few of the more challenging battles would have been a lot easier if I'd opened my eyes earlier. I'm not sure how I missed this since it isn't particularly hidden. It was probably even mentioned in the manual, which I read before playing, although I didn't double check after the fact. I suppose, if I managed to get almost entirely through the game with my original starting stats, it shows that the difficulty level is rather low.

A few additional, random comments:
- The glossary in the manual was a nice touch. NPC's often mention gods or places as part of a conversation with little explanation. After all, your character should know those things. Just like I wouldn't expound on what I mean if I say "Germany" or "California" when talking to another person in real life. Instead of having to ask the NPC's about everything they mention and getting an encyclopedic response that breaks the immersion, you can look those things up in the glossary in the back of the manual to get the information. This also means you only have to read the information once, instead of hearing it repetitively from every character who mentions the word.
- Quest items are kept in a separate bag, which was convenient. Not only does it keep them out of the way, but it keeps you from accidentally selling them.
- Going around smashing barrels and crates to find loot was a little goofy. It reminded me of the newer version of The Bards Tale, where the game pokes fun of itself for doing that. In Bards Tale it was amusing, because the whole game was all about poking fun at the various clichés and oddities found in the RPG genre. In Drakensang, it just seemed a little bizarre.
- I thought it took too long to use my animal lore on slain animals to get useful materials, and to use my plant lore to pick alchemy ingredients. It wasn't an insanely long time, but it could get tedious when you've just killed a dozen spiders and you want to use your animal lore on all of them.
- You can save in the middle of combat, which I thought was nice. Not all games let you do that, which can make those long, drawn out battles especially exasperating if it takes several tries to get through them.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 21, 2009 8:47 AM PDT

Farthing (Small Change)
Farthing (Small Change)
by Jo Walton
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
46 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite what I expected, but enjoyable., May 1, 2009
I enjoyed this book. I believe this is the first alternate history novel I have ever read, and it wasn't quite what expected. I expected the story to focus more heavily on the larger events of the alternate history, but instead the main focus was on the murder mystery. The alternate history heavily influenced the events and consequences of what was happening in the story, but it wasn't the forefront of the story. The politics of this alternate history slowly became more apparent through the course of the book and started to play a larger part in the story by the end. However, I would have liked to have seen more detail and explanation for how the world got to the state it was in. There wasn't very much back history provided.

Despite the book being different than I had expected, I found the characters and the story interesting and entertaining. I will likely read the next book in the series in the future. I do agree with other reviewers that some aspects of the story seemed contrived, particularly the way characters automatically knew things with no logical explanation for how they knew them. I can buy into the occasional intuitive leap, but this story had more intuitive leaps than was entirely believable.

Orphans of Chaos (The Chronicles of Chaos Book 1)
Orphans of Chaos (The Chronicles of Chaos Book 1)
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $7.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mythology Knowledge a Must for the Reader, April 21, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
At times, I struggled to get through this book. The overall story was interesting and I liked the main characters. My attention was held for long stretches at a time, but there were also long stretches which seemed to me like a lot of random nonsense. After having read some of the other reviews, I think this novel may make perfect sense to somebody who is well versed in mythology and perhaps in some of the science theories presented in the book. The author assumes you already know about these things (or are willing to take the time to research it yourself) and doesn't explain them. Although I was able to follow the basic story, I knew I was missing out on many of its deeper aspects because most of the mythology went over my head.

My favorite fantasy stories are the ones where the author creates a brand new world with its own rules for how things work and its own intricate politics, which the reader becomes intimately familiar with as they read the story. Orphans of Chaos, on the other hand, relies heavily on knowledge not contained within the book in order to understand what's going on. If you're like me, you might not care for this book. On the other hand, if you have a competent knowledge of mythology and/or are interested in the subject, you may very well love this book as did many of the other reviewers. The parts of the story I fully understood were entertaining.

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