RSS icon Bullet (black)
  • Snow Removal: The Game

    Posted on March 4th, 2015 Shawn No comments

    Kid from Florida, asks friend over Xbox Live, “What games did you play this winter?”

    Kid from New England responds, “Well, in early January I started playing this game called Snow Removal. It’s a very small world RPG without much of a story. It’s the typical single life and a health bar kind of thing. Although the game has a crazy amount of white in it, the graphics are are as real to life as they get. Started off pretty fast with fast collection of XP, and had some basic achievements to get, Shoveling, Snow Blowing, stuff like that.
    Then the advanced levels were unexpected.

    Snow Blowing Achievment


    Right when you figured it would be more of the same, just harder, it took a real turn. Had to scrape snow off a roof before the roof collapsed. This involved getting at it from the ground, frustratingly hard, but boring. Then the real tough part was climbing on the roof either from ladders or out windows, to shovel it off. At that part, everything is so slippery and has a steep pitch, that one wrong move will lead to immediate death. It was best played in co-op. That gets you the Roof Raking achievement.

    Roof Raking Achievement - Co-op

    Roof Raking Achievement – Co-op

    But, the challenges continue, where you have to shovel, snow blow, roof rake, and other stuff, while in sub-zero temperatures. You actually have to dress your character properly, or he will get frost bite and lose health.
    What’s crazy is, I thought I’d get over this free-to-play game relatively fast. By the time March came, I was still playing….TWO months later.
    After you gain the most XP, there’s some type of Prestige mode, which basically starts you all over, just with only one bar of health. That’s where I’m at now.
    I wish this game wasn’t so addicting, but it is.
    So, what have you been playing this winter?”

  • Rock Band, CCR DLC Now 75% Off

    Posted on November 26th, 2010 Shawn No comments

    It’s pretty simple, if you don’t already own the Creedence Clearwater Revival 12 song pack for Rock Band, you are crazy not to pick it up right now. For today only (as far as I know), the entire 1600 point pack is on sale for only 400 points (which is the cost of two singles).

    So, if you are low on Xbox Live Points, swing by Amazon for a 1600 point card…

    …and then head over to and get in on this amazing deal. Here’s the direct link to the deal [Thanks to RockBandAide]

  • Fable II Free on Xbox Live

    Posted on October 16th, 2010 Shawn 1 comment

    This is the tale of how I stumbled on a free copy of Fable II. Hopefully, you did too.

    Friday was a somewhat typical day. I worked a few hours from the office, and the rest of the day from home. My trusty Twitter client (SocialScope) installed on the BlackBerry, updates me when great deals are found via @slickdeals. That’s a community driven deal finder web site, which has saved me hundreds of dollars in less than a year.

    At 3:22 PM, I received a tweet from @slickdeals announcing a free game download of Fable II. My immediate assumption, it was a typo and that only Chapter 1 of Fable II was being offered for free. The first chapter deal has been made available in the past, which I picked up. It was a nice way to get familiar with the game, and hoping you’d buy the rest of it. Plus the single chapter informed you when you earned an achievement, but teased you as it wouldn’t give you the achievement until you purchased the next chapter of the game. I never purchased Chapter 2 or the full game.

    So, when this tweet came in, I headed over to to learn what was up. Hmm, still looked legit, but it had to be a typo.

    I clicked the link from SlickDeals, which brought me to the Xbox Live Marketplace, displaying Fable II and the price listed as FREE. Without hesitation, I logged into my Xbox Live account from the web and was returned back to the Fable II screen…but now it said the price was $19.99. I refreshed my browser and the price was replaced with “Already Purchased”. Very confusing indeed.

    Quickly, I fired up my Xbox, logged into my account, and looked at my downloads. Fable was listed as a 6.59GB download and was currently 2% completed.

    I started reading the SlickDeals comments where people began stating that at the 59% point of downloading, their download ended and Fable II never ran. Others stated that the link had vanished a couple hours later.

    At 5:04 PM, looks like Microsoft began damage control as a tweet from @thevowel stated that Chapter 1 was only in the download.

    Around 7:00 PM, I checked the Xbox again to see I had no active downloads. Looking at my game library, Fable II showed up. But, was it only Chapter I or the full game? I fired up the game and started from the beginning.

    Just a few minutes into the game, I received my first achievement. So far this is looking better than the “only Chapter 1” version which was released last year.

    I didn’t complete Chapter 1 last night, though with the 6+ GB file and receiving achievements, all signs point to me (and others) having scored a free copy of Fable II. No one should be expecting the @stepto ban hammer, since the download was legitimate and no nefarious means were taken to obtain it.

    If this works out, and I get hooked on this game…it may be a great marketing campaign to get me interested in Fable III (coming to stores on October 26).

    UPDATE: Confirmed, I have played for a few hours today (Saturday), am well past Chapter 1, and have obtained a slew of achievements. This deal was totally legit and now I’m hooked on Fable II.

  • Start a NEW Band, Rock the World

    Posted on October 8th, 2010 Shawn 1 comment

    With only 17 days left until the release of Rock Band 3, it’s time to start organizing some bands for fun and a little online competition.  With that, my Rock Band 2 bands “Dunder Mifflin’s Finest” and “Friendz & Family Plan” haven’t had the much play in recent months, so I’m recruiting new players. Think you got what it takes?

    Looking for players in search of gold stars. Expert and Pro players are encouraged, but all levels are welcome.

    For me, I’m planning to be on Expert Pro Drums from day 1, swap over to Expert Pro Vocals on occasion, and try my hand at Pro Keys.  As far as guitar and bass go, that’s not my bag.

    I’m up for some primary players on all instruments, plus some backups. I’ve also sent a message out to my Xbox Live friends list.

    Drop me a line in the comments, Twitter, or Xbox Live if you want in.

  • Xbox Live Gold Membership, Price Hikes

    Posted on August 31st, 2010 Shawn No comments

    You may have seen the email today stating that on November 1, Xbox Live Gold memberships will be going up in price. The old/new pricing structure is below.

    Old Price New Price
    1-Month Gold Subscription $7.99 $9.99
    3-Month Gold Subscription $19.99 $24.99
    12-Month Gold Subscription $49.99 $59.99

    You may also remember from an E3 announcement that family plans will be coming this year as well.  If I remember correctly, you can have four Gold accounts for only $99, which blows the new announced pricing structure out of the water. If you have friends or family that you feel comfortable splitting the cost with, go that route.  If you are a loner, hurry up and stock up on 12 month Xbox Live Gold cards before the price goes up.

    Here’s more from today’s announcement:

    With an Xbox LIVE Gold membership, you can play blockbuster games such as Halo: Reach with your friends online, you can also stream movies from Netflix* and music from right to your TV. You can even connect with friends near and far on Facebook® and Twitter™. Gold members also enjoy exclusive discounts and early access to game demos. And, this holiday, Xbox LIVE is adding new Gold features, including ESPN and Video Kinect, with Hulu Plus coming on Xbox Live in 2011.
    Because you are a loyal member, we want to give you the opportunity to lock in your current price with an additional discount. Log on to Xbox LIVE from your console to review and take advantage of these limited-time offers.
  • Rock Band 3 Setlist Update #2

    Posted on July 6th, 2010 Simon 1 comment

    We already have confirmation on 22 tracks that will be included with Rock Band 3 this fall.   RockBandAide has posted a screenshot from the International Trailer which show the following tracks in the song selection screen:

    • Blood, Sweat, & Tears – Spinning Wheel
    • Chicago – 25 or 6 to 4
    • Faith No More – Midlife Crisis
    • INXS – Need You Tonight
    • T.Rex – 20th Century Boy
    • YES – Roundabout

    Earlier in the month, canadian retailer Gamestop let customers know that by pre-ordering Rock Band 3, they would receive the following tracks as DLC (presumably via a redeemable code):

    • Talking Heads – “Burning Down the House”
    • Deftones – “My Own Summer”
    • New Order – “Blue Monday”

    The site does not go into detail about when the tracks will be available – as you recall with Rock Band 2, fans waited for months until the ‘bonus tracks’ were released.   Hopefully these are made available on the same date as the retail release (as in the “All You Need is Love” DLC when Beatles: Rock Band came out).

    There is a lot to be excited about with what has been revealed thus far.   “Roundabout” and “25 or 6 to 4” are both 70’s prog-rock classics, “Burning Down the House” was conspicuously absent from last year’s Talking Heads DLC and is destined to be a party favourite.  Here’s the video from 1UP that contains the aforementioned setlist sequence.

  • Green Day: Rock Band – First Impression

    Posted on June 9th, 2010 Shawn No comments

    Ok, every game blogger has written a review for Green Day: Rock Band already. So, why should I? Well, I’m pretty sure I will have a different spin on it, plus I will definitely focus on some different aspects of the game.

    Opening Cinematic

    Let’s start at the very beginning, the start up video when you pop in the disc. Lot’s of red and black imagery with bizarre looking characters, grenade explosions, and a make-out scene. My first take ,”boy that was short.” And then, “this is going to scare the sh** out of my kids”. I’m underwhelmed by that opening. It’s not very vibrant, it’s short, and not very welcoming…of course it is reflecting the dark lyrics of Green Days songs, so I suppose it’s fitting.  Though, it does not hold a candle to The Beatles: Rock Band opening cinematic.

    Rock Band Stage Kit

    I have very bad news here.  Just like with The Beatles: Rock Band, the light/fog capabilities on the Xbox 360 Rock Band Stage Kit do not work with Green Day: Rock Band. This (to me) is a HUGE disappointment. Especially since Harmonix was trying to recreate the live Green Day experience in this game. Why would they not include the lighting effects of this device?


    Drummers out there, you will struggle on many Green Day songs…and other songs will be a breeze. Needless to say most of you will play through this once and come back again to perfect it. It follows the traditional Rock Band 4-lane drumming, so it’s still the very familiar and comfortable format…though you will have some lightening fast hi-hats and fills.


    The 3 part harmonies are wonderful. Keep in mind, I love singing Green Day during drunken karaoke outings…so this is fitting territory to me. Even the 6 songs previously released for Rock Band DLC, have been updated with 3-part harmonies. It’s done well, and very fun to sing with others in the same room.

    If you want to lower Billie Joe’s vocals to hear your own, you have to pause the game and select “Lower Vocals” from a menu, just like The Beatles: Rock Band. That’s unfortunate, where Rock Band 2 would allow the vocalist to lower/raise vocals during game play.

    Set List

    I’m super biased. American Idiot, Bullet In A Bible, and 21st Century Breakdown are three of my most listened to CD’s over the past five years. Oddly enough, after Insomniac came out in 1995, I stopped buying Green Day albums until Idiot came out.  The on disc set list, for me, is the best Rock Band on disc set list to date. Now, you know my bias…I will move on.

    Pre/Post Song Visualizations

    There are three venues. With each venue, there appears to only have one or two pre-song and post-song visualizations. The visualizations get old fast, watching Tre stand on his drum throne. I’m wishing those visuals were more varied.


    Playing Xbox Live last night, I saw about 15 people on my friends list playing. I played with some, and searched for players as well.  Match making was fine.  There were times when no one was available for match making…I’m hoping it’s just because the game is new and not many were online yet. I did have a couple players disconnect mid song, and the old typical issues still exist. If a player gets disconnected, you slowly fail out of the song…versus my suggestions to drop that player and continue on.


    I have seen some of the photos that are unlockable. The photos are cool, but the text to go with them sucks.  The text just says “Photo unlocked by achieving 3 or 5 stars in XXXXX song”.  Instead of The Beatles: Rock Band where unlocked photos would have contextual info about the photos origin. I haven’t unlocked any videos yet, but am looking forward to them. I haven’t played any challenges yet, but I know there are full album challenges which I can’t wait to try out and hope the song transition visualizations are more varied.


    I love the set list, I love the graphics, I love the harmonies. I love the speed and menuing. It’s a lot like TB:RB with Green Day in place. The export capabilities and hints of more DLC continue to add future life. For $50-$60 (depending where/when you buy), it basically is the cost of DLC with added capabilities. If you love Rock Band and like/love Green Day, it’s a must have.

    I am disappointed with a few things, most notably the lack of Stage Kit support.  I will get over it, as I enjoy the music above all else.

  • PAX East 2010 Schedule – Official & Beyond…

    Posted on February 24th, 2010 Shawn 4 comments

    PAX East is coming up soon.  If you missed my earlier post on “What Is PAX East and Who Is Going?“, just read the post for an intro.  Since the official PAX East site still does not have an official schedule posted (plus there will be many unofficial events), I’m starting to organize events in (and around PAX East).  I will continue to update this as we get closer to the event, which is in Boston, MA March 26-28 twenty-ten.

    UPDATE: Events in red are confirmed. Events in black are 90% accurate, and I ‘m in process of confirming with various schedules.

    Friday March 26

    2:00 PM – 3:00 PM – Journalists vs. Developers: The Ultimate Grudge Match– Manticore Theatre

    Game developers can’t stand those damned journalists, the way they pick apart your three years of hard work with a review they wrote in an afternoon. And journalists don’t understand why game developers won’t listen to all of their great ideas! What happens when we force some of the industry’s most opinionated writers and developers to hash out their issues in front of an audience? Will they finally see eye-to-eye, or kill each other in public? Watch as writers Chris Kohler ( and Patrick Klepek (G4) square off against game creators John Drake (Harmonix) and another guest from the industry.

    Panelists Include: Chris Kohler [Editor, Games,], John Drake [Publicist, Harmonix Music Systems], Patrick Klepek [News Editor, G4] SOURCE

    2:00 PM – 3:00 PM – Grassroots: Why Gamers are Getting Involved and Why You Should Too– Naga Theatre

    Over the years we as a community of gamers have had our fair share of nemeses ranging from politicians, activists, and…ahem…lawyers. And make no mistake, as one discredited opponent fades away there will be more to fill the void. Find out how we’ve been fighting back, where we’ve found success (and failure), and how you can help the cause. SOURCE

    2:30 PM – 3:30 PM – Radio Free Nintendo: A Live Nintendo Podcast for Grown-Ups– Wyvern Theatre
    Radio Free Nintendo has delivered a weekly discussion on all things Nintendo since mid-2006, in a convenient podcast format. This outspoken and funny group of Nintendo experts comes from the oldest and largest independent Nintendo website in the world, Nintendo World Report. We love Nintendo games, except when we don’t, and we appreciate/criticize Wii and DS games in the context of multi-platform gaming. We know the best Metroid upgrades, the worst Zelda dungeons, and what makes Sin & Punishment sublime. We own more WiiWare games than you knew existed. And we’re not afraid to compare Mario with Ratchet & Clank or Prince of Persia.

    Panelists Include: Jonathan Metts [Contributing Editor, Nintendo World Report], Karl Castaneda [Contributing Editor, Nintendo World Report], James Jones [Features Editor, Nintendo World Report], Jon Lindemann [Director, Nintendo World Report], Karl Castaneda [Contributor, Nintendo World Report] SOURCE

    3:00 PM – 4:00 PM – PAX East 2010 Keynote – Main Theatre
    Best known for his role as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek The Next Generation and Gordie in Stand by Me, Wil Wheaton has since become one of the most prominent and vocal bloggers of our culture with topics ranging from his personal growth as a geek, to Star Trek, to naturally gaming. We are super excited to have Wil present the very first PAX East keynote. It’s going to be awesome.

    Speaker: Wil Wheaton SOURCE

    3:30 PM – 4:30 PM – It’s Got A Good Beat, And I Can Kill Zombies To It – JamspaceSince the first kid heard the four-note Space Invaders theme blasting out the arcade doors, music has played a powerful role in the history of digital games. Join panelists Aubrey Hodges (Doom, King’s Quest, Spy Hunter, Madden NFL), Jim Bonney (Mortal Kombat, John Woo’s Stranglehold), Tom Salta (H.A.W.X, GRAW 1 & 2, Red Steel), Gene Rozenberg (Henry Hatsworth, Madden NFL) and Duncan Watt (League Of Legends, Brothers In Arms: Hell’s Highway, Need For Speed: Undercover), for an audiovisual trip celebrating great videogame music – from the past, to the present… and into the future. Audience discussion encouraged.

    Panelists Include: Duncan Watt [Founder/Creative Director, Fastestmanintheworld], Tom Salta [Composer], Gene Rozenberg [Composer, 38 Studios (Maynard, MA)], Aubrey Hodges [Audio Director/Composer, 38 Studios (Maynard, MA)], Jim Bonney [Audio Director/Composer, Irrational Games] SOURCE

    3:30 PM – 4:30 PM – Online Gaming Communities and “Real Life” Relationships– Manticore Theater
    Are you are a member of one or more online gaming website communities? Perhaps the friendships and relationships you formed online have made their way into your everyday “real life”. You are certainly not alone. We will discuss the communities we have created and support, and how they impact real life relationships for gamers of all types.

    Panelists Include: Derek “DSmooth” Nolan [Co-Founder / Host, / 2old2type Radio Podcast] Stewart “Wombat” Nacht [Co-Host, CAGCast], Derrick “Codemonkey” Schommer [Co-Host, 2old2type Radio Podcast], Dane “Waterborn” Tullock [Community Manager,], Kareem “Daigoji Gai” Harper [Social Media & Online Marketing Manager,] SOURCE

    3:30 PM – 4:30 PM – Puppet Masters – The not so Invisible Hands of Video Game PR– Naga Theater
    Four masters of video game PR talk about the role of public relations in the video game industry. They’ll cover the buying and selling of souls, crafting and controlling messages, the rise of community, and how social media is changing how they do business.

    Panelists Include: Charles Husemann [Editor in Chief, Gaming Nexus], Arne Meyer [Senior Manager, Marketing Communications, Naughty Dog], Aram Jabbari [Manager of Public Relations, Atlus], Stephanie Tinsley Schopp [Owner, Tinsley PR], Chris Paladino [Promethium Marketing, Director of Community Relations] SOURCE

    4:00 PM – 5:00 PM – Penny Arcade Panel #1 – Main Theater
    Make sure to get there early for this one, as its one of the most well attended panels of the show. Two mics on stage, two mics in the crowd. Line up for your questions and Gabe and Tycho will do their best to accommodate! And god, please no “who would win in a fight” questions. If you can’t make this particular Q&A, be sure to catch the second Penny Arcade Panel. SOURCE

    4:00 PM – 5:00 PM – Design an RPG in an Hour – Wyvern Theater
    We’re making a pen and paper RPG, and you’re invited to the design meeting! During the panel, you’ll address the problem-solving and analytical questions required to design a successful game. During the discussion, we’ll cover the basics of game theory and how to outline, centered around an example you’re participating in.

    Panelists Include: David Hill [Game Designer, Machine Age Productions], Filamena Young [Game Writer, Machine Age Productions] SOURCE

    4:30 PM – 5:30 PM – IWADON: A Tribute to an Unsung Hero of Game Music– Jamspace
    Game composer Hiroyuki Iwatsuki (Iwadon on Twitter) has been writing game music for 20 years, but now for the first time his work is gaining international recognition. Game Music 4 All, a videogame-inspired music and nerdcore news site, is collaborating with artists from all over the world in arranging Iwatsuki’s remarkable and often overlooked music for the 8-bit Nintendo, Game Boy, Super Nintendo and Xbox Live Arcade in assorted musical styles. The tribute compilation will be made available online for free in time for PAX East, along with lengthy liner notes in English and Japanese. In this panel you’ll learn all about Iwatsuki’s unique history in games and the making of the IWADON tribute from site founder Genoboost (Anthony Ruybalid) and research organizer Jeriaska.

    Panelists Include: Anthony Ruybalid [Founder, Game Music 4 All] Jeriaska [Correspondent, GameSetWatch] SOURCE

    5:30 PM – 6:30 PM – Storytelling in the world of interactive fiction– Wyvern Theater
    Text adventures have been quietly experimenting with narrative gaming for thirty years. Five authors from the amateur interactive fiction community discuss the design ideas in their games — reordered storylines, unreliable narrators, deeply responsive NPCs — and how they apply to other kinds of games. (Rob Wheeler (mod.), Robb Sherwin, Aaron Reed, Emily Short, Andrew Plotkin) SOURCE

    6:00 PM – 7:00 PM – NVIDIA Presentation – Main Theater
    Come see NVIDIA unveil the next generation of PC gaming. Want to see what’s hot and what’s next? If you’re even vaguely a fan of PC games and miss this special event, you’ll likely be spending the next few months kicking yourself. Line up early as seating is limited. ‘Nuff said. SOURCE

    9:30 PM – 11:00 PM – GET LAMP Panel/Screening– Naga Theatre
    Premiere of Get Lamp!
    The current plan as approved by the PAX organizers is the showing of the main GET LAMP episode at 9:30, followed by a panel on stage of people interviewed for the film, and then some showings of a few more features of the DVD after that, including the Infocom and Bedquilt episodes.

    Saturday March 27

     8:00 AM – 8:45 AM – The First Annual Joystiq Blueberry Muffin Tops Breakfast BAND PICK-UP – location not announced
    Due to the overwhelming number of people coming to PAX East and the fact that the room can only hold 300 people at a time, we’ve decided to implement a bracelet system for entry. To obtain the bracelet, we’ll post Alexander Sliwinski’s location and picture here at on Facebook and on Twitter @JoystiqBBMTat 6 a.m. on Saturday morning. He’ll be in very close proximity to the convention center. To obtain a bracelet you’ll need to show your PAX East badge to him when he arrives at 8 a.m., as the breakfast will occur within the convention center. (Alexander Sliwinski) SOURCE

    9:00 AM – 11:00 AM – The First Annual Joystiq Blueberry Muffin Tops Breakfast SOURCE

    1:30 PM – 2:30 PM– Memes, Microcultures, and 2D Chicks: Our Future in the Otaku Gamer – Wyvern Theatre
    Alex Leavitt (Comparative Media Studies, MIT) explains how a new generation of entertainment is succeeding in a market which chooses to de-emphasize the games in favor of the characters. And as the Japanese fans influence the industry through their own amateur initiatives, what will the future of American gaming hold when online fandoms adopt similar appetites? (Alex Leavitt) SOURCE

    8:00 PM – 1:00 AM – Gamers Gone Wildhosted by SFX-360 & 2old2play – Lir, 903 Boylston Street
    Rock Band tournament, Cosplay contest, Xbox 360 raffle, prizes. 21+ and no cover charge.

    9:30 PM – 11:00 PM – The Joystiq Podcast LIVE! – Manticore Theatre
    Alexander Sliwinski & Justin McElroy gaming journalists of

    UPDATED!! 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM – Major Nelson Radio Podcast LIVE!– Wyvern Theatre
    Larry Hryb (Xbox Live’s Major Nelson) and the podcast team (e, Stepto, and Laura L0llipop) will record their regular podcast, in front of a live audience.

    Sunday March 28

    11:30 AM – 12:30 PM – Panel on security for Xbox Live– Stephen Toulouse, Director of Policy and Enforcement for Xbox LIVE, location not announced

    2:30 PM – 3:30 PM – Game Journalism Panel – location not announced
    Kyle Orland of Crispy Gamer, Gus Mastrapa (Wired, Crispy Gamer, The Onion AV Club, Past, X-Play, Edge), Susan Arendt of The Escapist, Chris Grant of Joystiq (Editor in Chief), Lev Grossman of Techland and Time Magazine SOURCE

    More Announcements, not yet dated/timed/located:

    • day/time not announced – Bringing Up the Next Generation of Geeks – location not announced
      • (Dave Banks, Natania Barron, John Booth, Doug Cornelius, Michael Harrison, and Corrina Lawson) SOURCE
    • Music acts:
      • Anamanaguchi
      • Jonathan Coulton
      • MC Frontalot
      • Metroid Metal
      • Paul and Storm
      • Protomen
      • The Video Game Orchestra
    • Exhibitors:
      • 2K Games
      • Dell
      • EA
      • Harmonix
      • Microsoft
      • Nintendo
      • NVIDIA
      • Rockstar Games
      • Sega
      • Ska Studios
      • The Behemoth
      • Turbine
      • Twisted Pixel Games
      • Ubisoft
      • Wizards of the Coast SOURCE
  • RB: DLC 02/07/10 – The Who’s 2010 Superbowl S-Mashup

    Posted on February 8th, 2010 Simon 3 comments

    This year’s NFL Superbowl halftime show was a rock’n’roll medley by legendary rock icons “The Who” called the Superbowl S-Mashup.  The medley features five of their greatest all time hits arranged together to form a seamless song.  The majority of these songs are already available as master tracks or DLC in the game, which should be no surprise, as The Who are one of the game’s main acts with 19 tracks available to play.  The songs in the S-Mashup are, in order:

    • Pinball Wizard (Rock Band 2)
    • Baba O’Riley (DLC)
    • Who Are You ? (DLC)
    • See Me, Feel Me  (New)
    • Won’t Get Fooled Again  (Rock Band 1)

    The song is rated as a 5 star difficulty (bass and drums and vocals).  Here is a preview of the medley in two parts.  The song is a mere 160 points, but if you’re like me, you already own the master tracks and would rather play those all the way through.

  • My February Obsession – Dragon Age: Origins

    Posted on February 8th, 2010 Simon 2 comments

    This winter I find myself obsessed with one game in particular, Bioware’s suitably epic “Dragon Age: Origins“.  By epic, I mean it’s truly “Lord of the Rings-ian” in scale.  DA:O is a deeply complex, story driven RPG for the PC and XBox 360.  For the hardcore enthusiasts, this is Baldur’s Gate 3 without the Dungeons & Dragons licensing to weigh it down, and instead contains some very creative writing to keep the story moving forward and provide a fresh perspective on hack & slash roleplayers.  Dragon Age is anything but predictable and has a handfull of major plot twists that will lead you to multiple endings.

    Welcome to the world of Felderen, one that is in critical danger of being overrun by an unending horde of demons called The Blight.  Your army is defeated and your friends and family are all dead.  Your mission is to raise an army by any means neccesary to battle back the cadres of undead and evil minions.  Along the way you will encounter all the modern RPG trappings:  Companions, leveling, spellcraft, looting, dungeons, crafting, and inventory management.

    You play the role of a young Grey Warden, a new initiate to a warrior tribe that is charged with the defense of the realm against the Blight.  There are six unique origin stories that setup the rich storyline.  Each origin is entirely unique but ultimately unites you with the same starting companions, albeit through entirely different means.  For example, starting as a Human Noble has you fleeing from your home castle as it is being raided by rogue mercenaries, while starting as a Mage has you taking on the trials of the “Harrowing” which is the final test that all mages must survive.  Origin tales lead the character to the first major battle at Ostagar where they meet certain defeat.  After the conclusion of your Origin, you are uncerimoniously deposited in Ferelden with a long list of quest options ready to explore.

    What you do from that point on, is what makes this game very compelling indeed.  Should you choose to seek out more companions, it will comfort you to know that you won’t be lonely on this journey,  you may recruit almost a dozen characters to join your cause, some of them are inherently good and righteous, and others are dark and evil to the core.  The world is ‘open’ but not exactly a ‘sandbox’ – you are not free to explore every inch of the realm (like in Elder Scrolls: Oblivion) but there are a large number of locations to visit on the main map.  More sub-locations open up as you visit each major city and discover new areas.  You won’t feel lost, but the maps can feel a bit claustrophobic sometimes, particularly when battling more than 10 enemies at once in some of the narrow corridors.

    Combat is strategic, and is conducted in realtime for all characters in the battle. You must always control one of your party in combat.  The rest of your party’s actions are governed by “Tactics” which are a set of commands that each member follows before doing something.  The use of Tactics in the game are what make the combat interesting and challenging, but they require a large amount of experimentation and trial-and-error to get the characters to perform at their best.  Rather than have your party constantly charge into battle, you can use Tactics to cast buffs, heals, and support your tank characters instead of attacking the closest bad guy.  Frequently you’ll be wondering why they are standing still, as it’s easy to set a command that they cannot actually complete due to one condition or another.  Don’t get me wrong, it sounds more difficult than it really is, there are lots of default tactics that you can quickly switch between and they all seem to be effective on some level.  Tactics are what make the combat unique and challenging, and is most of DA:O’s true appeal.

    The voice acting is another one of the game’s biggest attractions – Tim Curry, Claudia Black, & Kate Mulgrew.  Bioware never fails to attract some intriguing and talented voice actors. I’m a huge fan of all three Stars:  Trek, Wars and Gate – so an extended scene featuring Vala Maldoran (SG-1) and Captain Katherine Janeway (Voyager) was quite memorable.

    There are two final things that I find noteworthy.  First, your main character can have a romantic encounter with most of the main companions, and quite a number of NPC’s.  This trend began in Bioware’s “Mass Effect” and has appeared in all of their games since, and while there are no pre-rendered XXX cutscenes to be seen, the sexuality can be very overt at times and therefore this is not at all safe for a younger audience.  Secondly, and this is more of a warning for younger players,  DA:O contains explicit, over-the-top blood and gore that often covers your party from head to toe, even in the cutscenes (yes, the gore is persistent).  Almost all of the death animations are hyper-exaggerated to include graphic dismemberment with fountains of blood covering everything on the field.    I find this to be excessive and detrimental to the story pacing, but not enough to want me to turn off the option.

    I picked up this game in January at Electronics Boutique, trading in two titles (Call of Duty 4 and Civilization Revolution) and paying an additional $19.99.  Bioware has included a few nice rewards for being the first person to purchase the game, both of the rewards are free DLC in the form of a quest addon & companion (The Stone Prisoner) and some unique armor (Blood Dragon Armor, also works in Mass Effect 2).  You can get a further headstart for free, by playing and completing the mini flash game, Dragon Age: Journeys, which will net you a few more helpful items in your starting inventory.  I was so impressed with the ‘bonus’ items, that I also chose to pick up the additional DLC as well for 960 points, and I probably would not have done so without the incentives that came in the retail box.

    Dragon Age: Origins will soon have its own expansion in the form of Dragon Age: Awakenings which is released in March 2010.  This is a full expansion with which you can continue your adventure with your original characters from Origins in an entirely new area in Ferelden.   Bioware is quickly becoming famous for loading savegames from previous titles and reviving some of the choices you made in the new game (like they have done with the Mass Effect series) so it should be interesting to see some of the original characters and locations from Origins make an appearance or reference in Awakenings.

Get Adobe Flash player