As many of you know, I’ve been playing the Dragon Age: Origins Awakening expansion pack for the last week…sometimes at the expense of sleep. Most Dragon Age fans will love it, but newcomers should stick to the original. While I had loads of fun playing it and enjoyed it so much that I decided to give it a second run instead of getting back to Final Fantasy XIII, it definitely had some issues. Using Augustine’s binary system, here are some thoughts (not a review!) on Dragon Age: Origins Awakening.
Good: That characters are fantastic. Oghren steals the show with some outstanding humor. I also enjoyed what Anders, Justice, Nathaniel, and Sigrun brought to the table from a storytelling perspective. The only character I didn’t care for was Velanna. She trumped Morrigan in the “angry magic bitch” department, but didn’t possess any of her sultry charm. For the most part, the writing and voice acting behind the companion characters was extremely well done.
Bad: There are no romances for you to enjoy in the game! Courting Leliana and Morrigan was so much fun in the original Dragon Age. If you’re into bisexual elf assassins or bastard nobles, you could get with Zevran or Alistair. I was extremely disappointed that there are no romances available in Awakening. Perhaps “taming” Velanna would have made her more interesting.
Good: The new specializations, skills, and talents are fun to play around with. While I didn’t think much of keeper and legionnaire scout specializations, the rest were pretty fun and useful. As for skills, being able to craft runes is pretty cool and I like that there were some quests that required rune crafting/potion making. All in all, the expansion added plenty of great ways to expand your characters. Oh yeah, the new “flicker” talent for rogues is totally boss.
Good: The “Manual of Focus” item is a godsend. At the end of Dragon Age, I was just picking skills and talents I didn’t really want because I maxed out on all the ones I needed. With a bunch of new ways to develop your character, being able to totally redo all of your specs is just awesome. It lets you correct any mistakes you made while leveling up or totally change your character’s focus. It’s perfect for players that started the game haphazardly assigning skill points and talents, but really got into the system later and regretted their leveling decisions.
Bad: From what I understand, the dagger/dexterity issue has not been fixed, even though I was told it would be when I saw the game at GDC. Thankfully, my rogues (Raymond and Keebler) are cunning based, but it’s still annoying that this longstanding problem persists.
Bad: The expansion pack is full of bugs. In my first run in Awakening, I encountered more bugs and glitches than in all five of my original DS playthroughs. Some of the bugs are pretty bad — certain quests disappearing, armor not appearing properly, etc.
Good: Sir Pounce-a-lot!
Bad: No Sandal (Enchantment!).
Good: Managing Vigil’s Keep adds a new layer to the game. Deciding on what part of the land to defend and settling domestic disputes brought something new to the DA experience. The cool part is that if you’re not into tasks like that, you can let your seneschal take care of them.
Good: There are some nice cameos by Alistair, Wynne, Herren, and Wade.
Bad: There were not enough cameos. I especially missed Leliana and Shale. It would have been nice to have seen them again.
Bad: Aside from items from the Return to Ostagar DLC, you can’t use DLC items in Awakening. That just sucks. I really wanted to import stuff like blood dragon armor, the Helm of Honnleath, etc.
Even though this expansion pack has some warts, I still loved it. While I was impressed with the originality, graphics, music, and storytelling in Heavy Rain, I enjoyed my time with Dragon Age: Origins Awakening more. If any of you are playing it or considering picking it up, I’d love to hear what you think!
[100% spoiler free, in case you’re worried.] I love Heavy Rain. It’s one of the most impressive games I’ve played in years. Its graphics, music, characters (minus some spotty voice acting), and storytelling are phenomenal. Entertainment aside, it’s the kind of game that moves the industry forward and leads to greater experiences. As much as I want everyone with a PlayStation 3 to buy Heavy Rain, I have to say that it’s a rental for most people — quite possibly the perfect rental.
Before I get to that, I’ll go over various aspects of Heavy Rain. First and foremost, the way the game creates suspense and tension is extraordinary. I was literally on the edge of my couch during several portions of the game. There were a few times when I completed a thrilling chase scene, paused the game, and thought, “When was the last time a game made me feel that way?” That’s just totally cool.
The story is fantastic, which I expected from a Quantic Dream game. Learning the identity of The Origami Killer genuinely surprised me. (The killer is not Jesse Divnich, btw.) There were a few characters that I suspected, but when the criminal was finally revealed I was all, “Wow. I didn’t see that one coming…at all!” What’s even cooler is that the choices you make result in different twists and turns. While the game will take most of you eight or nine hours to complete, I think it’s worth replaying to see how the different paths play out. Like I said in another article, it would be stupid to only play this game once.
Most of you have seen screens and videos of the game, so you know how beautiful it is. To be completely honest, the graphics didn’t really matter to me most of the time. The other aspects of the game were so engaging that I didn’t really pay close attention to the gorgeous visuals. Stepping back for a moment, I’m glad the game looks the way it does. I loved Indigo Prophecy on Xbox, but its ugly graphics often pulled me out of the experience.
Some gamers dislike the gameplay in Heavy Rain, dismissing the entire game as a series of quick-time events. That’s just close-minded. Considering that my favorite games are turn-based RPGs, I don’t see how Heavy Rain’s gameplay is “lesser”. Some gamers with a heavy preference for shooters will find the gameplay slow and dull, but players that are opened to other genres will dig what Heavy Rain — in its entirety — has to offer.
So yeah! Right about now you’re thinking, “If you love the game so much then why do you think it’s only a rental?” Well, it’s $60 and you can can play through several branches and get multiple endings in a week. Most players will get their fill of Heavy Rain by then. They’ll enjoy it and “get” it. While the DLC should extend the experience, I don’t think the majority of gamers will care enough to hold onto the game for its DLC. Is Heavy Rain worth experiencing? Absolutely! Is it worth $60 for most gamers? Probably not. (Related note: remember this old discussion on gaming value?)
As someone that’s peripherally involved in the gaming business, I hate saying that Heavy Rain is a “rent” instead of a “buy”. As someone that can influence the amount of money in your wallet, it’s my responsibility to give you this answer.
Agree? Disagree? Either way, let me know (please)!
I attended a screening of Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic on Tueday. It was full of ultra-violence, disturbing imagery, cool animation, and vagina-shaped thingies. As a standalone animated film, it was okay. As an animated film that promotes a game, it totally succeeded in making me want to play Dante’s Inferno. Here are some assorted thoughts (not a review!) on the movie.
In the first few seconds, I was impressed with the animation style and was expecting something fairly realistic. The first three minutes of the film shattered all of my expectations. It went something like this:
Minute One: Dante’s horse flies upside down. For a second I thought he was attempting to do M. Bison’s “psycho crusher” from Street Fighter.
Minute Two: Dante returns home to find the slaughtered remains of his family and servants. This was just a taste of the gore that was about to come.
Minute Three: The spirit of Dante’s beloved Beatrice Portinari goes full frontal. This was just a taste of the boobs and vaginae that were were about to come.
So yeah! The animation style was impressive and disturbing in that tentacle-porn way. Compared to Planet Hulk, an animated film I recently saw, the art style and technique were out of this world. That said, some people might not like that several different animation studios with distinct art styles contributed to this movie. One of my friends in atendance didn’t like how disjointed and inconsistent everything was. In some scenes, Dante was thin and had long hair. In other scenes he was buff and had short hair. His appearance during the flashbacks reflected whatever style a particular animation house was using.
Perhaps I’m giving the film too much credit, but I chalked it up to journeying through a spiritual realm and perception changing in the various Circles of Hell. Hmmm, after typing that thought, I’m definitely giving the film too much credit.
Oh yeah, the Nine Circles of Hell hurts and works for this movie. Starting in the real world, traveling through the Nine Circles, and having flashbacks is a lot to do in an 88-minute movie. It definitely feels rushed and sometimes forced. Death’s Scythe — one of Dante’s two major weapons — isn’t explained at all; it seems like it’s just a random object Dante finds early in the movie and keeps for the next 84 minutes. Virgil’s introduction is done in like 15 seconds, “Hey, I’m Virgil! You loved my poetry and I’ll be your guide. Try the veal!” The way it does work is that it teases each circle as a level. It made me want to see more of each level and all of the boss fights.
The violence in the movie is completely over-the-top and it can be lots of fun. Some of the fight scenes were awesome, but by the end of the film I had my fill. The impact of Dante’s showdown with Lucifer was lost on me because my brain couldn’t process any more violence. If crazy fight scenes are your thing then you’ll love this flick. It makes Kill Bill look like Bambi.
There are some people — a certain game designer with a masters in English that’s working on BioShock 2 comes to mind — that will be offended by the movie’s liberties. Sure, a lot of details were altered, but the movie (and presumably the game) had far more accuracies than I was expecting. If it gets people interested in The Divine Comedy and leads to gamers reading the books, that’s just a fantastic thing. Besides, if you were expecting a literal translation in this movie or the game then you’re just stupid.
Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic comes out on February 9, 2010 — the same week as the game. This is a mistake. It should be out now to generate more interest in the game. As a marketing tool, it excels at making people want to play on PS3 and Xbox 360. Few people are going to want to buy it after playing. It entertained me, but it’s hard to recommend it as a Blu-ray or DVD purchase. I do think it would be an excellent impulse download on PSN or Xbox Live, so long as you’re expecting tons of gratuitous violence, gallons of blood, and vagina walls.
The following article contains spoilers on the Planet Hulk movie. You’ve been warned, so no crying. Now let’s get to it! Last night I caught a screening of Planet Hulk at the Paley Center for Media. For those of you not familiar with Planet Hulk, let me try to sum it up. The Marvel Illuminati hatch a plot to get Hulk off of Earth. Iron Man — in all of his Civil War dickishness — is worried about Hulk losing control and killing millions. After plotting with Nick Fury to subdue the Hulk, the “heroes” place him in a spaceship and send him to an uninhabited planet. Unfortunately, a wormhole takes him to the world of Sakaar, where a perilous adventure, peace, and tragedy await.
I’m a huge fan of the Planet Hulk comics (written by the excellent Greg Pak), but I was more than a little worried about how the epic tale would translate into an 80-minute move. As expected, a lot of the details and subplots that made the comics so great were lost in translation. What’s left is a violent romp that’s certainly entertaining, but pales in comparison to the source material. Here are some thoughts and observations (not a review) on the movie.
The Silver Surfer is Replaced with…Beta Ray Bill?!? In the comics, Hulk faces off against an enslaved Silver Surfer in the Red King’s gladiator arena. The fight comes off as a gargantuan affair between two beings with enough power to destroy planets. Furthermore, they’re both — to various extents — iconic characters. It’s a clash of the titans! Sadly, this could not happen in the movie. From what I understand, legal issues prevented the Silver Surfer from being used. It’s part of the game and I accept that…but Marvel couldn’t think of anyone better to use than Beta Ray Bill?
There are several problems with Bill being used. Few fans will believe that he can go toe-to-toe with the Hulk. Furthermore, a lot of people don’t know who the hell he is. I can see a lot of viewers thinking that Thor got drunk, slept with a horse, and gave birth to a boy named Bill.
Miek Gets Squashed
When the Warbound make their pact, only Hiroim and Korg tell their back stories. Miek never gets to reveal his background. In fact, Miek never gets to do much of anything in the movie. This is a shame because he’s an interesting character that goes through several changes in the comics. The subplots with his queen and his transformation were great. They gave him depth and purpose. In the movie he’s just a bug thingie that talks like Gollum and gives Hulk a medal.
Savior Aspect Not Played Up
In the books, the people of Sakaar eventually think that Hulk’s there to save the world. He’s shown uniting people with his actions. His blood transforms barren deserts into lush fields. He saves the planet by jumping into its core and pulling together its tectonic plates. Eventually, he becomes a messianic figure. This isn’t really conveyed in the movies. Hulk is a guy the beats up a lot of other guys and his blood only results in sprouts.
The relationship between Hulk and Caiera was a slow burn in the comics. Early on they exchange looks and one-liners. They fight. They grow to respect each other as warriors. They fight some more. After getting to understand one another, they respect each other as people. They become allies. In the end, they become lovers. The movie didn’t have any of the subtlety of the books. The two pretty much fight, become allies, and *bam* Caiera is feeling Hulk up. It was almost jarring.
The Movie Ended the Right Way
Fans that read the comics or graphic novel know that Planet Hulk starts and ends on down notes. The movie doesn’t. It ends with Hulk seemingly appointed ruler of Sakaar (through violence…what a lovely lesson to teach kids), adored by the people and with Caiera ready to get it on. It’s a happy ending for the Green Goliath and I totally agree with what the writers did here. It’s like the main event of WrestleMania — the good guy has to win. You have to send the audience home happy. I know that some purists will scoff at the happy ending, but I believe this was the right thing to do for casual fans. You don’t want people to watch the movie, get depressed, read The Bell Jar, and go kill themselves.
I also have a bunch of shorter, bite-sized observations and opinions on Planet Hulk (that still don’t constitute a review). Here they are:
Awesome Action — You get to see the Hulk break a lot of stuff, smash a lot of stuff, and punch a lot of stuff. You even get to see him squish a bug-like alien to death. There’s a lot of action and violence in this movie…and it’s so much fun. Hulk smash!!!
Unimpressive Art — There was nothing distinct or special about the animation. The art was drab, especially in comparison to the excellent comics. Newcomers might not notice it, but fans of the books will be displeased.
Thor Unleashed — The writers added a few minutes of Thor fighting Korg’s people in a flashback sequence. This was only a couple of panels in the books. The animated action was pretty cool. Beta Ray Bill was slapped into this sequence to give his inclusion a sense of continuity.
Johnny Sakaarson — In my head, the term Sakaarson is pronounced Sakaar-sun. In the movie it’s rushed together so that it sounds like one quick word, as in The Tonight Show with Johnny Sakaarson. It’s a stupid peeve, but it definitely bothered me.
No Bruce Banner Scenes — Reverting to Banner plays an important part in Hulk’s romance with Caiera, but it’s also a vital part of the character. Never mind that there are like 17 Hulks in current continuity. The Hulk is all about duality. Not having Banner as the Hulk’s “other side” seemed wrong.
No No-Name — Warbound member No-Name of the Brood is nowhere to be found in the movie. This is a shame because she comes from an awesome race and gets jiggy with Miek. Not only did the writers strip away all of Miek’s depth, they also took away his sexy time. Poor Miek.
Warbound Incomplete — I mentioned pieces of this already, but you don’t get the complete Warbound experience in the movie. Aside from No-name’s absence, Elloe and Miek do not reveal their background. There was a point in the screening where I thought I passed out for a few minutes. Hiroim and Korg told there stories, Elloe was about to tell hers, and *blam* the next scene happens. I seriously thought that I blacked out and missed a few minutes of the movie. On the plus side, the two origins that were used were well done.
No Racism — One of the most interesting dynamics on Sakaar is between the pink humanoids and the bug guys. The bugs are used by slaves or servants by some of the pinks. The racial tension is palpable, which makes Hulk uniting the planet even more remarkable. This isn’t conveyed in the movie.
Lame Cylon Joke — The movie has an android fighting alongside the Warbound. It’s there for like two minutes before it dies. It mutters, “Oh frak!” before kicking the bucket. I would have preferred No-name or nothing at all over this quickie joke.
Invulnerable Hair — There’s a scene where the Red King is repelling Hulk with a blowtorch-like weapon. Miraculously, Hulk’s hair doesn’t burn off. I suppose gamma-irradiated hair is super strong, but if the flame was powerful enough to keep Hulk at bay for a few seconds then shouldn’t it have burned his hair off?
Caiera the Sexy — In the comics, Caiera the Oldstrong is a large and powerful woman. She’s thick and muscular in a beautiful way. The artists made her cute and dainty in the movie. This doesn’t work at all. Hulk would destroy the movie version of Caiera in bed.
Even though I have a lot of issues with the changes and omissions in the movie, I think a lot of people will enjoy it. The action is great, the skeleton plot works well enough, and the pace is peppy. If you’ve read the books then you’re sure to have issues with the movie. In fact, the more you enjoyed the source material, the bigger your issues will be…unless you realize that there’s only so much you can do in 80 minutes. In that context, the writers did a good job of highlighting key moments of the comics in a severely limited format. There are so many things that I wish were included, but I understand why they weren’t.
[Update 7:52PM PT: The DLC has been pulled because of a bug in the title update.]
Warning: This (not a) review of Dragon Age: OriginsReturn to Ostagar contains spoilers. Read it at your own peril. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it! Return to Ostagar is BioWare’s first bit of Dragon Age: Origins downloadable content since launch. It’s currently available on Xbox 360 for 400 Microsoft points, with PC and PlayStation 3 versions hitting later this month. The DLC lets you revisit Ostagar, the location of the game’s first major (and tragic) battle. Here are some observations and opinions (not a review!) on the DLC.
In terms of gameplay, you’re getting less than an hour per run. Most of you will be able to finish the whole thing in less than 45 minutes. It can take a little over an hour if you like to explore every nook and cranny of each area (or if you suck at games).
As I mentioned in the intro, you get to return to a war-torn version of Ostagar, where King Cailan and the Grey Wardens were slaughtered by the darkspawn. The setup is hackneyed, but it gets you to where you’re supposed to go and gives you a goal. As you progress, you see some flashbacks, learn more about Cailan’s dealings, and retrieve the dead king’s weapon and armor. While I had fun in my two runs, most of these features were mildly disappointing. Here’s why:
Cailan’s Gear Sucks — If you’re playing this after you’ve beaten the game, chances are you have the blood dragon armor and Starfang. They make Cailan’s armor and King Maric’s sword look wimpy. I suppose you could use them for your secondary warrior, but if you’re playing the game with two warriors then you’re doing it wrong.
Depth by Codex — You uncover a set of documents that detail Cailan’s dealings with the Orlesians. They’re interesting and they add intrigue. Unfortunately, it’s all text. I could have gotten the same information and entertainment via email. In fact, if you know someone that loves Dragon Age but is short of cash then you should transcribe these codex entries and send them to your pal via email. That would be a thoughtful gift. And also, Arl Eamon is a dick (another *spoiler*!!!).
Sexy Time — Finding Cailan’s corpse leads to a pretty powerful scene, particularly if Alistair is in your party (more on that later). However, the music used in the flashback sounds too similar to the love-making music in the game. Using a similar melody for mourning and sexy time is just…creepy.
The good news is that there are some other items you come across that are pretty cool. Here are some of my favorites:
Nug Crusher — This hammer has a cool +100 stamina bonus.
Repeater Gloves — A nice set of gloves for ranged combatants.
Duncan’s Sword and Dagger — As shown in the trailer, you get to tackle the ogre that offed Cailan and apparently (*wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge*) killed Duncan. These weapons are much better than the crap that Cailan had…which leads to a few interesting questions. What was up with Cailan’s weaponsmith and armorer? Did he just suck? Why didn’t Cailan pay Wade a ton of money to make better gear? As Will Ferrell said in Blades of Glory, “It’s mind bottling.”
For the record, I played through the DLC twice. The first time I was accompanied by Alistair, Leliana, and Wynne. This is definitely the way to go. The dialogue between Alistair and Wynne is great, particularly a sexually charged (and gross) bit at the end. My second run was with Oghren, Shale, and Morrigan. Oghren had a few lines, but they didn’t really add anything. The other two characters were mostly silent. I was especially disappointed that Shale didn’t have more to say. [Edit: Just finished a third run with Wynne and “secret character”. Their conversations are also excellent.]
For $5, Return to Ostagar is a pretty poor value. BioWare’s launch DLC offered important features that you could enjoy throughout the entire game. The Stone Prisoner gives you Shale, arguably the most entertaining companion in the game, as well as a versatile warrior. Warden’s Keep gives you an amazingly useful storage chest and access to the best sword in the game. Return to Ostagar has its share of goodies, but nothing nearly as useful or entertaining.
Perhaps people that are still in the middle of their first run or those starting the game for the first time will get more out of Return to Ostagar. While I definitely enjoyed my time with the DLC and will surely play it again, I can’t say it’s a “must buy”. Less than an hour of gameplay and gear that’s only above average for $5? If you really love the game and/or BioWare then knock yourself out. Otherwise, give it some thought before you drop your dough.
As I mentioned earlier today, digital comics are now available for the PlayStation Portable through Sony’s PlayStation Network. Comic books from 2000 AD, Ape Entertainment, Archie Comics, Dable Brothers Publishing, Disney Digicomics, IDW Publishing, Image Comics, Insomnia Publications, Marvel, Red 5 Comics, and Titan Publishing are available. Some of the issues are free, but most of them cost $1.99.
Browsing through the store is a snap. The comics are divided by publisher then title. If you can’t find the available issues you want then you’re an idiot.
I immediately went for three comic books I know and love — Astonishing X-Men #2, Marvels #1, and Marvels #2. The “Gifted” storyline in Astonishing X-Men was fantastic and Marvels was one of the best books ever.
Downloading through WiFi wasn’t the best decision I made in this process. The three issues took around 25 minutes to download. It would have been faster to download everything to my PC and transfer the books to my PSP via USB cable. Lesson learned. Now let’s get to the experience!
Setting up an account is easy and is similar to other WiFi services like T-Mobile’s Hotspot. The speeds were way better than I was expecting — faster than the WiFi I’ve used at many coffeehouses and hotels. Obviously there’s nothing blocking the airplane’s signal and there are less people to compete with for bandwidth, but even still, the speeds exceeded my expectations.
The service costs $12.95 for the flight between LAX and JFK. If you’re just tooling around, that’s a little expensive, but if you’re doing work, it’s worth it. Heck, if you’re an Internet addict that enjoys web browsing, instant messaging, social networking, and all that good stuff, $12.95 for five hours of entertainment might be worth. Personally, I can get at least an hour of entertainment using AIM or YIM, saying, “Dude! I’m messaging you from an airplane!!!”
Would you pay $12.95 for five hours of WiFi on an airplane?