All words presented in this blog are purely opinion, not fact - unless specifically stated otherwise in the post.

Friday 28 December 2012

Dragon Age Re-post

As I'm still away I've set up an old review from my old blog to post today.
I gotta be honest, I didn't re-read this, my opinion may have changed.


Legend tells that darkspawn were not always the vile creatures that tear at the flesh of man woman and child alike. Once they were mages, mages who attempted to usurp the throne of gods.
These men were cast out, left to transform, bend, mutate into vile creatures; the first of the darkspawn. Tortured souls led by the Arch Demon.
These creatures killed and destroyed everything in their paths, it appeared that nothing could stem the tide, until the grey wardens came. Men and women, dwarves, humans and elves, warriors, rogues and mages alike who had given up everything in order to defeat the darkspawn and the arch demon, and they succeeded. For a time.
Thousands of years and a hundred battles later and the grey wardens feel the stir of an arch demon once again.
It is here that Bioware lands you, at the entrance way to the latest blight of Ferelden, to create a character in the middle of a world torn asunder by magic, politics, greed, ambition and hatred to make things right, amass an army, become the next grey warden and the final line of defence against the darkspawn.

Before I continue I want to clarify the rest of my review with the following statement;
Saying that I am a fan of Bioware is like saying that Christians think Jesus was an all right guy.
Which means that anything positive I say should be taken with a grain of salt and anything negative should be treated as gospel. This being said I try to be as impartial as possible, so hopefully this review will be accurate, not a Bioware promotional seminar.

Next in line is the games character creator. As with most character creators in modern gaming this one is fairly intricate, offering the ability to define your characters facial appearance down to the minute details of the characters eyes. Still, while it is a very customisable editor that lets both hard-core and casual players create relatable characters it isn't by any stretch the best editor out there. It has too few options for my taste and solely allows head editing, this is common place in many RPGs, of course, (Mass Effect, Elder Scrolls, Fallout) but when the capability is out there I don't see why not allow the player to create a character of their own description, except that it might look a little odd to have a 300 lbs. 6 ft. woman charging angrily into battle at the head of the wardens, granted it would look balls, but it should be the players choice.
The player must first choose their gender, Male or female, a pretty straight forward decision as this adds nothing and takes nothing from the characters stats. The only real difference it makes is slight dialogue changes and character interactions this all and ever so slightly different opening stories.
After this the player is given the choice of race, Human, Elven or Dwarven, each have their own possible back stories, and individual style, Humans and elves can be any class of character, while the Dwarves are limited to Rogue and Warrior. However the biggest difference is in their starting stats. Human characters have the highest cunning, while they share high strength and dexterity with Dwarves, who have the highest constitutions, and the Elves have high willpower and magic but fairly average stats everywhere else. To decide which race is best for you depends on two things, which you feel comfortable with and which class you intend to become.
Players are asked to choose between three classes, Mage, for the mystical ability loving, highly intellectual player, Warrior, for those who have a passion for brute strength and thuggery or the rogue for those back stabbing, dextrous tricksters out there. Each class has four sub-classes, that widen their abilities, but that's information for later in the review. Each class is primarily ruled by 2-3 stats. Warriors are based on Strength, Dexterity and a little Constitution. Rogues are ruled by Dexterity, Cunning and a little Will Power. While the Mage uses Willpower, Magic and a drop of Cunning.
Lastly you are given an option of 6 back stories and choosing them depends on both your character's race and class, and on your own idea of what your character is like.
Humans must either choose the noble back story (you are the youngest son of a lord of Denerim, flee the castle as another lord takes everything you hold dear), or the mages back story, the elves may choose to be Dalish (forest dwelling elves with hatred for humanity in their hearts) city dwellers (impoverished elves living under the oppressive boot of humanity) or, again, use the mages back story. Dwarves may choose to be of noble birth or impoverished, what these two options mean I can't tell you, as I have only played four of the six back stories to date. Finally magic users of both Human and Elf kind are forced to join the circle of mages, offering them only one entrance into Ferelden, something I maintain as a lost opportunity. Giving the players an apostate back story to choose from, in my opinion would be pretty cool.
After deciding how you want to play the game you are then given 5 stat points to place how you wish in order to improve your character. I personally chose a Male Human Mage, on my first play through, throwing all of my stats on the Magic basket.
A skill point to give you an extra one of the 8 skills. As a mage I automatically started with a Combat Tactics slot and an Herbalism slot, so I opted to add one point to coercion in order to be better and conning people into believing my bull shit.
And (in the mages case) 2 spell points to spend on the 16 different paths of four spells, all set out in groups of 4 under the titles 'Primal', 'Creation', 'Spirit' and 'Entropy'.
I chose to go the route of the elemental and throw a point into buying an ice spell and a point into creation magic to get 'Heal'. You know... just in case.

Finally done with character creation I was thrown into my background story of the Circle of Magi. A tale of oppression, fear, love and loss. Good magic and Blood magic, I won’t ruin the story or any readers, however suffice to say My character ends up accidentally breaking some of the most carnal Magic user laws in existence, causing the grey warden, 'Duncan' to take an interest in me and whisk me off under the law of conscription to become a Grey Warden as the King and the Grey Wardens are about to fight off a blight.
Upon arriving war camp in a little place called Ostagar I am greeted by none other than the king, who welcomes me to the crusade. After talking to his highness I am sent to find my first permanent group member, the ex-Templar, Grey Warden, Alistair.
I quickly establish myself as capable, after performing various tasks around camp and then going out into the wilds to retrieve ancient agreements of aid, where I meet the sarcastic but ultimately alluring Morrigan, my future second permanent team mate, she shows my group to her mother, who returns the deeds to me and sends me on my way.
Skip to the battle for Ostagar and Alistair and I are sent to a signal tower to light the flare which signals the flanking attack of general Teyrn Loghain, however once I followed these instructions I was overwhelmed by forces, only to wake up later in Morrigan’s home, having been saved by her mother.
It appears Loghain turned on the King and fled, naming the Grey Wardens as traitors.
Now I am forced upon a quest to make Loghain pay for his crimes, to gain the support of Elves, Dwarves and Wizards for a final fight against the dark spawn and destroy the arch demon or good.

Dragon age: Origins is an action packed engaging story with many colourful characters and scenarios along the way. Players collect group members with incredibly well designed personalities around them to help against your foes.
The combat is done using off-screen statistics and dice rolling, as with most Bioware games of merit, however this is easily its best iteration.
There is an obvious feel of progression throughout the game without the feeling of becoming overpowered. As the player gets stronger the enemies come with more force. As with all games the gameplay gets tedious over time, however with the engaging and original characters as well as the heavily story based gameplay this minor issue gets easily overlooked, where in other less well thought out games it wouldn't be.
The world feels real, ancient and the player really feels for the state of it and of the people all around them.

I personally love this game. It's the best game I played in 2010 and I'm still re-re-re-re-playing it.

If I had to give it a score out of 10 I would give it a 9/10, seriously. The only thing letting it down is its graphics. As awesome as the game is my initial reaction watching trailers and looking at screen shots was that it'd be terrible, but I was wrong, thank the maker I was wrong! The story, the gameplay, the expansive world and unforgettable characters all make up for the 2008-2009 graphics engine. More than make up for it.

- James

Tuesday 25 December 2012

Twenty-Three of Fifty-Two


Love Actually

Ok, I love this moving. I've loved it the first time I ever saw it, nearly ten years ago and I'll still love it 10 years from now. Love actually, isn't like most films with a single plot that starts at point A and ends at point Z. It's a group of stories from the perspective of a group of people who are connected in a number of ways.

I should point out as well that it has an amazing cast of British and Irish actors, including such greats as Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Martin Freeman, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andrew Lincoln, Keira Knightly, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman and many more.

There are way too many stories here to go into the plot of the film. There are too many characters to talk about all of them (though they are all amazing characters) so I'll just comment on a couple of them, my favourites.

I think the reason I like this film is because it's very realistic - with the exception of Kris Marshall's character 'Colin Frizzle' who goes to America and manages to have a five-some with a bunch of American girls (Ivana Milicavic, January Jones, Elisha Cuthbert and Shannon Elizabeth, all way out of his league) - the romances that work out makes sense, but they don't go over the top. And some of them don't work out. Something I rarely see in this kind of movie is the romance not working out, but three of them don't, Hell Liam Neeson's character's wife is dead before the film even starts.

My two favourite characters are Andrew Lincoln's 'Mark' who is in love with his best friend's wife (played by Kiera Knightly) and Martin Freeman's character 'John' who falls for a girl he's working for. Interestingly enough he's pretending to have sex with her, playing with her breasts etc... As a stand in for some real actors long before he's even started dating her.

I like Mark because he's a nice guy who's keeping his friends wife at arm’s length to keep from revealing his feelings, only to have them push and push and push until it all comes out just before Christmas. I think I like him because he's me. It’s exactly what I’d do in the same situation and I've been in a couple situations like it.
Same with John, while I'd never be in that situation specifically (naked with a girl before even asking her out) I would definitely be as awkward as him- I most definitely am as awkward as him with girls.
They're scary and confusing ok?!

It's a great film with a story line for every member of the family. From the Prime Minister falling for his common, potty-mouthed secretary to the recently widowed man helping his step son to get the girl before she leaves the country at Christmas.

Even the unsuccessful stories leave the viewer with a sense of accomplishment, warmth and resolution.

- James

P.S. Merry Christmas Everyone! I'm going to be pretty absent for the next couple of weeks, back on the 7th of Jan. There are a couple of things scheduled to go up on the blog and if I get a chance and see something interesting I'll post. Otherwise; See you in January When Rix and myself will be starting a podcast of random shit.

Monday 24 December 2012

The End Of The World As We Know It

So we survived the Mayan prediction of needing to change our calendars!
The Mayan Apocalypse happened and we were none-the wiser. Maybe it was less and insta-kill and more the initiation of a D.O.T. effect (Damage Over Time). I guess we'll never know. Even if the world ends a year from now we'll have forgotten about the Mayan prophecy and moved on with our lives.

I wonder what it'll be next. I mean, this year we've seen two raptures and an apocalypse (seriously, our civilisation is of hardy stock to be able to survive an apocalypse AND two raptures).
But after that, what could possibly be next? World war three?  The rising of the old gods? cthulu? the zombie apocalypse?

I'm hoping for the Zombie Apocalypse, so long as its the slow shambling kind. As I already mentioned; I'm getting prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse, though my bow is at my friend's house 114 miles away so maybe wait for me to get my bow back before I have to defend myself against any zombies.

All joking aside; there was never going to be any apocalypse. not only did the Mayans never predict the world ending, but there's some speculation as to whether 21/12/2012 is the same for us who reset our dates based on the supposed birth of a christian Deity they wouldn't knwo about and for them. Although it's worth pointing out that if they were seeing into the future then it's possible they glimpsed a calendar.

The Mayan's didn't predict the end, tehy simply stopped predicting. I can think of a number of reasons they'd do that. They saw this time as so far in the future that they didn't need to calculate any further for a while. They were attacked and killed by the spanish. their early predictions didn't come true so they decided it wasn't accurate and scrapped the project.

Who knows why, but we can see, quite conclusively that it wasn't because there would be no world left on the 22/12/2012.

- James

Friday 21 December 2012

Twenty-Two of Fifty-Two


Battle Royale

My only problem with Battle Royale is that it's a rip off of Hunger games. This is a major concern, except I've never seen/read Hunger Games, from what I've heard Battle Royale is better and Battle Royale came out first, by quite some margin.

Battle Roayle is out in three mediums, Book (original), movie and Manga. I've read the manga and watched the movie (and its sequel, but the sequel was not a good movie).
The premise of the book, and thus the movie and manga (which is the reason we're here) is that all the young people of Japan became too unruly. It became so bad that the government had no choice but to initiate the program. A state sponsored TV show where a class of year nine students are chosen at random to be taken to an evacuated, undisclosed location, given weapons and forced to kill each other. If they don't? The collars that are attached to their necks are blown and they die.

Bet you're looking back on your school years more fondly now?

Can you imagine being taken to an island and being told that you have to kill your friends, otherwise either they will kill you, your brand new fashion accessory will  kill everyone or someone in your class you aren't so chummy with will do it.

It's an emotional story that goes into the characters histories in a way that the movie overlooks.  The main character, Shuya Nanahara, chooses to help a girl to survive. Through a series of unlikely alliances they try to survive and take the establishment out while they're at it.

The Manga is gritty, gruesome, emotional, dark and thoroughly entertaining.

It's definitely worth a read, though it's fifteen volumes and thus quite expensive. Still worth a read.

- James

P.S. I'm caught up, and just in time for the Mayan non-apocalypse.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Twenty-One of Fifty-Two


Republic and Imperial Commando series

These books were a very interesting take on the star wars universe that I had never seen before. From the point of view of a small group of elite soldiers, the Republic Commando books showed the nitty-gritty side of the Clone wars, the perspective of the clones.

Everyone knows how the Jedi fared in the Clone Wars, and we know what happened to the clones at the end, but what about up until that point?  Were they just mindless flesh robots unable to emote, or were they something more? It asks questions like 'does a clone have a soul?' and 'does DNA determine your personality?' and answers them quite spectacularly.

It shows how the Clones are treated in day to day life, shows how they are considered expendable, and are sacrificed if their injuries are too severe. It's an amazing set of books that does characterisation really well. After all, if every character looks the same then the character is what has to set them apart.

The books are loosely based on the game of the same name, but focussing on a different squad of commandos (though the squad of one of the characters, Darmun, is mentioned in the first level). The squad from the game show up a couple of times but they aren't the sole focus.
The books follow a squad formed of the survivors of other squads, hastily packed together to form an elite squad right before the assignment and one padawan who doesn't seem very good at anything, though as a Jedi she is put in charge. As the books progress more characters come to the fore front, but for the most part these five characters are the primary focus.

Usually I would take a moment to plead with you to read these books, but I'm not going to do that. They were really good and I wouldn't have missed reading them for anything, but a couple of years ago Lucas arts retro-actively changed everything about a prominent race in these books, making it impossible to continue and making these books non-cannon, all to make a single episode of Star Wars Clone wars cartoon series.
It was awful, they did bad and should feel bad, but regardless Karen Traviss was removed from the star wars writers list and the books stopped without a conclusion.

They were great, but don't bother if you need an ending.

Angry-Star-Birds - James

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Twenty of Fifty-Two



L is, simply put, awesome. He's the Sherlock holms of Anime. Autistic, brilliant and rich with a major sweet tooth, L - we never discover his real name - is a consulting detective who finds solving crimes fun, much to the distaste of the police he is working with.
For his entire career L has remained un-seen, communicating with people through audio chats and via his butler. Nobody has ever met him, until the case of Kira and the Death note when he approaches the Japanese police, realising that he must become more involved to find this killer.

In only a few hours L discovers more about Kira than the police had in the entire investigation. He and Kira spend the first half of the Anime and the Manga in a dangerous cat and mouse game. L makes a move and Kira counters it. L even goes as far as to invite Kira into the fold to watch him closer.
Eventually Kira, the main character does outwit L, but not before he discovers his identity.

The reason I like L is because he's not the normal anime good guy. He's weird, a little creepy, he has obsessions that go beyond sexual - in fact he's not remotely interested in sex as far as I could tell - He's brilliantly intelligent, forcing us to think on our feet as we try to keep up with him and Kira's incredible battle of wits and he doesn't care what people think. He's just in it for the mystery.
L is the opposite of Light Yagami and yet so similar to him in many ways. If it weren't for the death note the two of them would likely have become great friends.

L really is a great character and Deathnote is worth watching/reading if only for him.

- James

P.S. Just so we're clear, this isn't just the 'of 52' blog now. I'm just trying to catch up with what I missed. Usually I'd just do two a week or something to catch up, but I have a Christmas film scheduled for Christmas week and want to write it for Christmas week!