Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening review

Here are my thoughts of the recently released expansion for the 2009 RPG of the Year. I won't be doing into as much depth this time as lot of what I said in my original review of the main game also applies here. This review may also contain spoilers of the main game.


Format: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Bioware
Expect to pay: £15 - £25 (retail version), £19.99 (Steam version)
£31.99 (PSN version), 3200 points (Xbox Live version),


First things first - don't expect an audio-visual overhaul with this release, the graphics are pretty much identical to the original Dragon Age. So you get the same muddy, somewhat last gen looking textures, decent musical score and quality voice acting. There are fewer big name actors filling out the cast this time, but Robin Sachs is there in one of the more important NPC roles. Considering that Awakening takes place in an entirely different part of Ferelden, it is somewhat disappointing that the environments look so similar to what has come before. The foresty bits here look just like those set in the Brecilian forest last time for example. Some all new settings would definitely have been appreciated.

Luckily though things pick up a bit when you examine the plot and characters. There are 6 characters that you can recruit into your party for the duration of this expansion, 5 of which are completely new and one who is a returning character from the main campaign. Of the new bunch, I really liked Anders, the mage who has run away from the Circle of Magi no less than seven times, and Nathaniel Howe - son of the scheming wanker Arl Rendon Howe who was a prominent part of the Origins story. Throwing you together with a supposed enemy and then helping him restore his family name was an entertaining way to pass the time. I didn't feel that I got to know the returning character (Oghren) in the main campaign because I ended up recruiting him last, so it was nice to spend more time fleshing out this character here and eventually he became a valuable part of my party. There are also plenty of humourous pieces of dialogue between the many characters as you roam around the world, and I would frequently stop what I was doing just to hear what they had to say.


Other new stuff includes two new specialisations for each character class and new abilities to go with them, and a raised level cap to 35. There are also more achievements/trophies to earn as you would expect. With the new specialisations the rogue and warrior classes are now more of an even match with the mage, who was way more powerful (and cool) previously.

Whether or not this package offers good value really depends on how you decide to buy it. The disc based version and the Steam version are a decent price and you probably won't feel short changed at the end of the 15-20 hours that it will take you to complete the story (assuming you do all the side quests as well). The PSN and Xbox Live versions though are grossly overpriced in my opinion and really not worth it. The story also comes to a rather abrupt end, and it's a shame that you only get to play around with the new characters for a little while - hopefully Bioware will bring them back for further DLC or possibly a fully fledged Dragon Age 2.

So then, Awakenings doesn't do anything to radically change the Dragon Age experience, but if should you fancy a trip back to the realm of Ferelden, you will be suitably entertained while it lasts - just make sure you don't get stung by a horrendously expensive downloadable version.


Overall: 7 out of 10

Here's Boris - leader of the Amaranthine neighbourhood watch scheme.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Classic or Crap? Volume 2

This time, instead of letting the hand of fate choose a game for me, I already knew what I wanted to talk about. I have fond memories of this game, but I wasn't sure whether it would stand the test of time. So let's take a look and see if this is as good as I remember it...

2. Double Dragon - Game Boy - Taito - 1990


When I was younger (I forget exactly what age but I think it was in my early teens), I was taken off on holiday with my mum and my grandparents to Majorca. Sitting around in the sun all day isn't really my style, so aside from a bit of swimming and reading, my trusty Game Boy was all I had to keep me sane. I only had a few cartridges for it, and amongst them was a new one - Double Dragon. I played the game to death over the course of that week, gradually getting better at it until I could reach the final stage. I never did quite complete it, and soon it was time to go home. To my complete horror upon returning to the UK, I discovered that I had left the cartridge in the hotel room, so I never played the game again until recently.

I was already extremely familiar with the arcade original by the time I had the GB version - while not the first scrolling beat 'em up it certainly made the genre extremely popular, and soon many other games copied the style, including Golden Axe, Final Fight, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, and many games produced by Capcom. The Game Boy port of Double Dragon is actually one of the best versions of the game available, with crisp, clear and flicker free graphics, recognisable renditions of the music from the coin-op, a surprising array of moves that can be executed with just two buttons, and it captures the feel of the arcade game even if the stages aren't 100% accurate. It even had a two player mode via the link cable (though I never got to try this).


When I fired up the game again recently with the help of a Game Boy emulator for the GP2X, I still had great fun playing it and was impressed at how good it looked. Taking a quick look at eBay, copies can be found for a fiver, so if you still have your GB, GBC, Super Game Boy or Game Boy Player, track down a copy and show it some love.

Verdict:
Classic!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Recent Pickups: 15/03/10

This year, my new years resolution was to post at least one new article on this very blog every week, which last week I failed to do for personal reasons I can't go into. Rather than admit defeat though, I intend to get back on track by posting at least twice this week instead, starting now. I've been a part of the YouTube gaming community for a little while now, subscribing to lots of interesting people and even posting the odd video of my own from time to time. One of the common types of video that people tend to post is the pickups video, and I've decided to transfer the idea into words. I also intend to put together a video of this post which I will embed soon. So without further procrastination, let's take a look at my recent gaming purchases with a few comments on each.

Final Fantasy XIII - PlayStation 3 - Square-Enix - £40
This is the big one that fans of JRPGs have been waiting for, and if anything it has split opinion amongst the fan base even more than the controversial FFXII. Initially, I wasn't a fan of the battle mechanics as it seemed that Square-Enix had dumbed down the game to the point where you were just mashing the X button and watching your party do everything for you, but as you progress more and more layers of the game are peeled back, and by the time you are sent out into the big bad world and left to fend for yourself (about 25 hours in), you have a fully featured RPG with fun, fast paced and strategic battles, many opportunities to customise your characters, and dozens of options side quests to take on. Granted, the game funnels you down a linear path, with nary a reason to stray aside from the odd treasure sphere, which will piss a lot of people off, but the story and characters are entertaining enough to keep me interested

Final Fantasy XIII Official Piggyback Strategy Guide: Collector's Edition - £20
Along with the game itself I also picked this gorgeous looking hardback strategy guide from the best people in the business - Piggyback. Although I have to admit, aside from the odd tricky Eidolon battle the guide has proved somewhat unnecessary so far as there is only one main path through most areas, this is all set to change once I finally reach chapter 11, where it opens up.

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony Premium Edition - PSP - £23

This is actually the fourth time the original Lunar has been released, though each time the game has been substantially reworked. This latest version is no exception, containing new scenes, a rewritten script and a remastered soundtrack. Speaking of the soundtrack, this Premium Edition also comes with a CD and a dozen bromide cards featuring the girls from the game, all in a nice chunky box. I imported it from http://www.videogamesplus.ca/, a site where I've been buying my import RPGs for years. They come highly recommended - the games are cheap and they typically take about a week to get to the UK from Canada.



MadWorld - Wii - £6.99
I spotted this whilst food shopping at my local Morrison's and it was so incredibly cheap that I couldn't resist picking it up. Other than the fantastic black and white art style and commentary by Greg Proops, I have to say I'm not really too keen on the game though. Gore doesn't really do it for me, and the gameplay gets very repetitive very quickly. Though it's a shame that "mature" titles like this aren't performing very well on the Wii, I have to say in this case the game isn't anything special.

Rocket Racing - PS3/PS3 (Minis) - £3.99
This game sounded interesting and promised quite a lot of game for a very small outlay, so I decided to take a chance and purchase it yesterday. I'm still getting used to the controls but it does appear to be a very polished and enjoyable little 2D racing game, well suited to the PSP.


Gamespite Quarterly Issue 2 - The Greatest Games of All Time - £20 (deluxe hardback edition)
I have been a regular reader of gamespite.net since owner Jeremy Parish was known as Toastyfrog, but it was only when Gamespite Quarterly Issue 3 was featured in a recent issue of Retro Gamer that I decided to order a copy myself, albeit Issue 2 rather than 3 because the content was more appealing. The deluxe hardback version features extra content not present in the standard version (37 extra pages) and is a really entertaining read. I certainly intend to go back and buy issues 1, 3 and 4 now.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Podcast Roundup

This time around I'm going to recommend a few podcasts that I listen to or watch on a regular basis. Most of these are fairly well known among the gaming community but there might just be something here that you weren't aware of!

Audio Podcasts

Retro Gaming Roundup
This is a joint project hosted by two US hosts (SocalMike and Scott) and one based in the UK. It's very funny, especially when they all decide to drink alcohol while recording and then trying and decide on the top 10 games of particular category. While the show is only put out once a month rather than weekly, it can reach almost seven hours in length so you'll have plenty to listen to. The show has also just celebrated it's one year anniversary so congratulations and here''s to the next 12 months of shows!

Active Time Babble
Jeremy Parish, Kat Bailey and various other members of the 1UP staff discuss everything RPG related once a fortnight, in a companion podcast to their blog called The Grind. Recent episodes include one that was mostly devoted to Final Fantasy XIII, and one discussing the merits of Star Trek Online and roguelikes.

Retronauts
Another podcast hosted by Jeremy Parish, which goes out on alternate weeks to ATB. They recently did an episode all about the Lunar series, which is great as I'm currently waiting for my copy of the PSP remake to arrive in the post!

4 Guys 1UP
The last of the 1UP podcasts that I listen to on a regular basis. This one has gone through various guises over the last year or so as people come and go, but it will hopefully be around in this form for a while. This one has a more general focus on gaming.

Monroeworld Gamecast
Born from the ashes of Dual Screen Radio and Wii Minute Radio (which were both excellent podcasts that will be missed), Shane R. Monroe, Chris Hentschel and Alex J. Lopez have teamed up to produce this brand new show. There's only one episode released so far but it's good stuff.

RPGCast
RPGamer.com's flagship podcast, discussing the latest news from within the genre.

RPG Backtrack

Another one from RPGamer.com, but this time taking a more retro slant - they focus on games that are at least 2 years old. There are some excellent episodes devoted to the likes of the Ogre Battle games, Shining Force, and Final Fantasy. The show stopped for a while in September but they've just come back with a brand new episode devoted to the Castlevania games that feature RPG elements.

Sarcastic Gamer podcasts
The team from Sarcastic Gamer product five different podcasts including Blue which is about all things PlayStation, and Pink which offers a female perspective on gaming.

Video podcasts


Co-Op
Put together every week by Area 5, Co-Op focuses on anything and everything gaming related, from brand new big budget releases to downloadable and indie titles. They recently changed the format slightly and started putting out live shows, but these are still made available online if you can't catch it as it goes out.

The Totally Rad Show
Not solely devoted to games, but each week Alex, Jeff and Dan do discuss a game that they've all been playing. TRS comes highly recommended for geeks everywhere because it also covers movies, TV and on occasion, comic books.

Non-gaming related podcasts

Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo's Film Reviews
Every week Dr K gives his opinion on the latest movie reviews - very funny, informative and more often than not, accurate.

HD Nation
This is the place to come if you love Hi Definition content. How to get the best from your set up, be it Blu Ray player and TV, Media Centre PC or one of the various HD streaming/pay-per-view boxes.

iFanboy
If you're interested in comics, then this is well worth watching each week!

That's it - the Forza Motorsport 3 review is still coming, I promise. I need to pick it up again for a bit over the weekend to refresh my opinion because it's been a little while, and then I shall make a start on it.


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Survey time