Friday, December 30, 2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Joyeux Noël

Happy Christmas, Everyone!  
I hope that you and yours have a wonderful day, and I'll see you again on the 28th.

Image: Source Unknown (Was sent to me by a friend)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Let's Talk About - Mass Effect & Final Thoughts

Bioware's website at one point describes Mass Effect as "Science-fiction roleplay perfected."  With an affinity for sword and sorcery themed games, I must admit to having little previous experience with science-fiction based roleplaying games.  In fact, the only other ones I have played belonged to the Knights of the Old Republic series - also of Bioware make.*  As such, I do not have much to compare this particular experience to, and I certainly do not have anything outside the realm of Bioware to consider.  Therefore, I will simply do my best to evaluate my experience as an isolated event or in relationship to DA:O - the other most recent Bioware I finished.

There post contains minor-ish spoilers in the "Story" section.
 at your own risk.

The Overall 

While Mass Effect was not necessarily everything that I felt it could have been, the game itself did not really disappoint either.  Despite the high praise this game received, and continues to receive from the gaming community, I was skeptical.  I also had high hopes.  More specifically, I had high hopes for Mass Effect's storytelling, and was skeptical about the combat.  As I'm sure you know by now, ranged combat has never been a strong point of mine.  The idea of being restricted to the use of guns, without the comfort of a sword or even a dagger, was quite nerve wracking at the time.  With the game completed, it is clear that I needn't have worried.  While ME's story is not perfect, it is certainly both strong and compelling.  Likewise, the game's combat system is far from perfect, but any issues that arrived with the system were due to in-game bugs and not to my own failings as a gamer.  More of that below.  Given my lack of experience with the Sci-fi side of cRPGs,  it is difficult to make a judgement regarding where this particular title stands when compared to similar titles.  Since it is unfair to evaluate ME beside something like The Witcher, or really even the KOTOR series (due to ties with the Star Wars franchise), I will simply say this.  Mass Effect is far from perfect, but lack of perfection does not necessarily speak to the title's overall quality.  This particular game is a jewel in Bioware's crown for a reason, and I would willingly replay it without hesitation at some point in the future.  Just let me work through some of the other titles I still have waiting in the wings first.

The Story 

On the whole, I felt that Mass Effect's story was quite strong.  I especially enjoyed the fact that, like with Dragon Age: Origins, ME's antagonist's actions were based on something other than pure evil.  In Dragon Age, Loghain's actions were seriously misguided, but everything he did was essentially driven by a love for his country. In Mass Effect, Saran is similarly misguided (or corrupted by Sovereign ), but his actions were initially motivated by a will to survive.  He saw joining the Reapers as the only way to save both himself and Citadel Space.  Even if it led to subjugation, at least everyone would still be alive.  The famous phrase "the road to hell is paved by good intentions," seems to sum up Saran's character best.  No matter how impure his "good intentions" may have been, they were still made in earnest.  The concept of a well-meaning, yet seriously flawed antagonist is by no means original.  It is also not even an idea exclusive to Bioware.  Yet, if written well it can be a powerful means to drive the player character's actions, and not just a tired plot device.  Few things are more dangerous than a "well meaning" individual who commits evil acts.  As such, the player character is given genuine reason to eliminate or contain the antagonist with "good" intentions.  Originally, during the suicide mission, I will admit to feeling like Saran's supposedly altruistic motivations were shoveled into the story for effect.  It was almost as if someone had forgotten to mention it earlier, and so here it was as a "by the way ..." moment.  During the final confrontation at the Citadel though, Meriel's glimpse of the Turian Saran used to be was well executed for maximum emotional effect.

I think that the only genuine gripe I have about Mass Effect is its story length.  It was almost too short.  Be advised that I really do realize the irony of this statement since ME took almost six months for me to complete.  Keep in mind though, that this unconscionably long play time was the direct result of a carpal tunnel flair-up which still plagues me from time to time.  In fact, I wear two wrist braces as I type these very words.  But no, the length I speak of is not so much measured in time as it is in content.  While Mass Effect is its own self-contained story, it is very much aware that it is the first in a series.  As such, the game introduces gamers to an epic world, yet wraps its story up just as players are getting comfortable with the setting, politics, characters, etc.  It's not that the game ended abruptly, it just seemed to wrap up rather quickly.  Remember how long the battle for Denerim was in DA:O?  That section of the game took me hours to complete, and at the end of it I genuinely felt like Perra and her crew had triumphed over a great evil.  While that portion was probably drawn out a little too long, its length served a purpose.  In ME  it was as if I would have missed the ending if I so much as blinked.  Most of the game's missions were relatively short by the standards of what I'm used to, and I was okay with that.  I just had not expected the final "mission" to be just as short.  This does not mean that Mass Effect a bad game by any stretch of the imagination.  It does, however, mean that ME is just a little too aware that loose ends needed to be quickly tied up before it could begin setting up the sequels.

The Combat

There really is not too much to say here.  Mass Effect is a combination of gun shooting, grenade launching, Jedi-like power unleashing, cover-based combat.  For what it is, it generally functions well.  During the battles where cover is essential, proper cover is always available - often in excess.  The ability to pause the game to set up shots was useful, and I also enjoyed directing Meriel's team to "scout ahead."  That really was not necessary, but it was nice to wield some power over her comrades since I could only directly control Meriel.  Mako fighting was likewise functional, but it became rather routine once you got your methods down.  I did enjoy driving the Mako along mountain tops though, and then picking off geth from an almost unreachable distance away.  Those machines never knew what hit them.  That never got old.  Overall, combat in ME was not enough to convince me that guns are better than swords, but the mechanics were functional enough that it did not get in the way of my enjoyment.  One major issue that did crop up though, was Meriel's inability to both hide and shoot. About halfway through the game, Shepard lost her ability to crouch behind a wall, quickly pop up to shoot, and then pop down again.  I cannot even begin to count the number of times she got stuck to a wall, could not disengage, and then refused to fire her gun - even as enemies were bearing down upon her at point blank range.  At other times, Meriel would simply refuse to use Vanguard powers.  This lead to a number of uncalled for deaths where Meriel's refusal to use Throw, at a pivotal point in time, resulted in her untimely demise.  Once I realized when the bug would not let Meriel fire her gun (I still have no clue why she would not use Vanguard powers 75% of the time), it was usually a simple matter of adapting my play-style to the game.  Even so, by the very end of Mass Effect, bugged combat had become the norm instead of the exception.  I'm not quite sure how much more I could have taken of that.

The Miscellaneous

This sounds like such a "girl" thing to take issue with, but I also have a major issue with the romance options in this game.  It is a well known fact that Bioware's depiction of romance has always been rather clumsily handled, but at least DA:O allowed for growth of the relationship.  I really hate to keep bringing DA:O back into the picture, because it and ME1 are different games, different franchises, and different development teams. ME1 is also older, and anything it has by the way of "romance" is more fine tuned than what we saw in the KOTOR series.  My issue, however, is this.  The initiation of romance was so sudden in this story that it felt as if the subject came out of no where.  One minute   Kaidan and Meriel were talking shop, and the next he was talking about how she was throwing him signs that she liked him.  Kaidan became overly friendly, and when Meriel shot him down he talked about having misread the signs.  He then becomes cold and distant.  To add to this mess, everyone on the ship was convinced that Meriel either held a torch for Kaidan or Liara despite all the professional issues that such romantic entanglements would create.  This also happened far too early in the game, well before Meriel had a chance to suss out either party and make a judgement on them or form any kind of personal connection.  As a result, the games seems to portray her (and thus femShep) as a woman who places romantic entanglements before her job.  It goes to reason that the same impression would be given of maleShep too, if I had been playing a man.  This particular approach stands in stark contrast with the image that Bioware has gone out of their way to craft for Shepard.  With a little better timing, the in-game romances would have still begun awkwardly, but they at least would have fit better with Shepard's out-of-the-box persona. As you probably noticed, Meriel ended up choosing to not let romantic interludes distract her from saving the galaxy.  For the story's sake, it was about duty.  In her mind though, it was also because her attraction lay elsewhere.  She was far more compatible, both personally and professionally, with Garrus.  It is  a shame that due to game restrictions Meriel did not have a chance to actually act on that connection she felt.  From a story perspective, however, it probably made for a stronger character.  The manner in which they clicked meant that she trusted him, above all others, to guard her back.  Their similar perspective on life also meant that he supplied necessary emotional support (admittedly without really meaning to ... we are talking more in terms of affirmation here) that no one else could give.  Without romantic notions clouding their connection, he was also able to offer criticism without worrying about the personal repercussions.  Either way it was a very beneficial professional relationship that could have eventually turned into more once the danger was past.  I suppose only time will tell what happens from here.

The Final Impression

Despite the items mentioned above, it is really quite difficult to say too many negative things about Mass Effect. At its core, this game is a solid, engaging science-fiction tale that gives you the chance to save man and alien kind as a figure operating outside of the law.  What you do with that power and responsibility is entirely up to you. While it does have its flaws, these issues generally do not weigh down that game or ruin the overall experience.  The game appears to have a limited amount of replayability as there is not too much to be gained from playing with different personal histories.  With a break in between plays, it would certanly be worth playing again for the story alone.  For instance, I was recently watching a Let's Play of Mass Effect, and noticed details from this person's playthough that had completely passed my by when I was still discovering the game and its world. Some things I had taken to be completely peripheral and meaningless, for instance, actually proved themselves to be portents of what was to come.  I also genuinely think it would be interesting to play the game from an all Paragon/all Renegade stance since this time around Meriel just did what she felt was best with little regard for these categorizations.  (Demonstrated awareness of game imposed morality "meters" generally treads too close to metagaming for my tastes.) It would also be interesting to see how the game plays from a male perspective instead of a female one.  I do not see most story options changing with a gender shift, but the overall tone of some events and individual encounters would certainly shift.

The Verdict

If you have not played ME1 yet, then I highly recommend you purchase the game and give it a try.

Also, it has Garrus.  How can you argue with that?

*Yes, I know that KOTOR 2 was really an Obsidian game, but it is inextricably tied to Bioware through KOTOR 1.  There are also story-based reason I personally call it a Bioware game, but those will have to wait for another day and topic.

ME1 - A War Begun

Meriel arrives on the Citadel as Sovereign tries to take control.  

There are spoilers after the break.  Continue reading at your own risk.

Friday, December 9, 2011

It's That Time of Year Again

12/12/11 - This paper is going significantly slower than expected.  As a result, the posts mentioned here have been pushed back.  Expect them on the 18th. I will start playing catch-up on Mass Effect 2 (the game itself) beginning on the 16th as planned.  Have a good week everyone!

It is that time again folks.  No, I do not mean Christmas ... although that is just around the corner too.  I am actually talking about final paper due dates!  This is the absolute last time I plan on writing a graduate school paper, but in the mean time it is keeping me quite busy.  Tomorrow, when I take a break from researching Post-Colonial African Art, I will finish and post writing Meriel's last Mass Effect journals.  In addition to that, I have two other posts lined up that should take you through the middle of next week.  With Skyrim fever on hold, and papers due by the 15th of December, I plan on playing some serious catch-up with Mass Effect 2 when the 16th rolls around.   Just before Skyrim came out, I actually began playing Mass Effect 2, but I did not get very far before life took over again.  With graduate work out of the way, and thus evenings and weekends free, I plan to get back on a regular schedule and make it through ME2 in a timely manner.  I am so very sorry that ME1 took this long to finish.  Between unexpectedly heavy course loads, studying for comprehensive exams, and carpal tunnel flare-ups; there was unfortunately not much I could do about all that.

Here's to hoping that I did not lose you amidst all the delay, and I'll see you on the flip side.

Image: Source

Saturday, December 3, 2011

ME1 - Against the Clock

Saran's on the move, and time is running out as Meriel races towards the Conduit.

There are spoilers after the break.  Continue reading at your own risk.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Let's Talk About - TES V: Skyrim

Morwen at Skyrim's start

I know that I promised to finish ME1 Meriel's Journal earlier this week (if you are following the dates on Meriel's Story), but that isn't going to happen for one very important reason TES V: SKYRIM IS WORKING ON MY COMPUTER.  I could have sworn that it was not supposed to function given how old my computer and vid card are, but on a whim I decided to try installing it anyway.  To my surprise, the game actually runs quite well.  Granted I am working with the lowest of the low level graphics, and therefore am not experiencing any of the awesome visuals I know the game has.  Also, every once in a while the game seems to get overloaded, and will simply stall for about fifteen seconds. These, however, are very small quibbles since I originally did not think I would be able to make the game run at all.  We shall return to Mass Effect after Thanksgiving, but I wanted to spend the days inbetween simply reveling in the unexpected.

The Packaging
As I mentioned on Friday, I pre-ordered Skyrim for the map.  I personally had expected some kind of low quality paper product (think Oblivion GotY's paper map), but had heard rumors about Skyrim's being canvas.  It seems that the rumors were only partially right.  It was a map made of canvas paper.  True canvas would have been really nice, but that really would be expecting quite a bit I suppose.  The canvas paper, however, is of a very nice thickness.  Overall, I'm pleased with the extra.  I'm not entirely certain it was worth purchasing the game now, instead of waiting for a price drop, but I really can't complain too much since it gave me the opportunity to play a game on day-one, something I've never done before.

I was far less impressed with the outside packaging though.  Bethesda, it seems, has started skimping on their CD cases.  I've bought DVD's from Walmart's $5.00 bin that had more substantial casing than this.  The cover depresses when I try to snap it shut, it does not actually slick closed on the first try, and the little clips that are supposed to hold the map/manual in popped out as soon as I opened the shrink wrap.  That's right.  Popped out.  Those clips are not even part of the case anymore.  I tried popping them back into the case, but only one of them would go, and even then the slightest shake will dislodge it.  As someone who purposefully buys hard copies of games for the physical product, this packaging was more than disappointing.  At least it came with an actual manual though.  A lot of companies seem to be going the pdf manual route now, which it a real shame.  It's nice to see that Bethesda isn't one of them.

The Game
The World
I've put about thirty hours into Skyrim so far, and for the most part it is very impressive.  While it's world doesn't have the strangeness or sense of danger that Morrowind's Vvardenfell had, Skyrim's scenery is  still less familiar (and therefore more engaging) than Oblivion's Cyrodiil.  It's desolate landscape ranges from barren seashores and swampland, to sparsely forested areas and frigid wastelands.  The roads, while well defined, give a sense of prolonged use.  They are missing cobblestones in some places, and in others they disappear altogether.  The farms, villages, and cities spotting the country side make you feel as if they grew up there overtime (instead of the cut-paste feel that Cyrodill's cities had).  
Its Storytelling  
As someone who would rather climb over the mountains then stick to the road, it was particularly rewarding to discover funerary alters and burial sites in the side of some mountain tops.  I could just imagine the soldier's family trekking up there on an annual pilgrimage to place gifts at his grave.  Another time I ran across an area of blood drenched snow.  After fending off multiple wolves, I discovered a soldier's camp.  The soldier was dead and his body looted.  He must have been killed by bandits, because they took anything of potential value, but left behind two of the soldier's freshly killed deer (lucky for me).  It must have been the deer who attracted the wolves.  It's really nice to have the feeling that there are other stories happening in the world besides yours ... stories that don't necessarily result in FedEx quests.
A Brief Good/Bad
The Good
There is so much good that can be said about Skyrim.  For instance, the main quest, what little I've touched so far, is engaging.  I actually want to play it (a first in the TES games). But the MQ is only part of the picture.  More than anything I've been enjoying the NPCs and the ways I interact with them.  See more of that below.
The Bad
On the other hand, the user interface is deplorable.  It was clearly designed for play with a controller, and no concessions were made by Bethesda for those of us who like playing with a keyboard and mouse.  I've gotten used to the UI's weirdness over time, but still do not like it much.  Another thing that really frustrates me is the keyboard mapping.  For the past ten years, the "E" key has been the jump button.  Why then does Skyrim use the space bar for jump?  My firs forty-five minutes of play were (no joke) spent remapping my keyboard controls so that they retained even a semblance of former Elder Scrolls mapping.   The problem with remapping, however, is that keyboard prompts in the UI all too often reflect the factory keys instead of the remapped ones.  For instance, because of some switching around I did, "F" n for some reason no longer favorites an item.  Instead I have to use "R."  On the screen, however, I'm told to use "F" to favorite and "R" to drop.  I have to remember in my head that I actually need to do the opposite ... usually.  Sometimes the keys aren't swapped at all.  I'm not certain what's up with that. Thankfully the interaction prompts that pop up onscreen "press ___ to use chopping block, press ___ to use cooking pot, etc." changed in response to my remapping.  As far as complaints go, however, this is pretty much it.  As a dual wielder (one hand destruction magic and the other a one-handed weapon) I've also experienced quite a bit of character lock-up where the weapon hand gets stuck in the air (thus becoming impossible to use) but my magic hand, though stuck, still functions fine.  After some experiementing I discovered that reassigning magic to the weapon hand (and thus throwing magic with both hands) will fix the issue in combat.  Things like this are annoying, but are relatively easy to over look since they do not drastically hurt my game play.  There is so much else that is right about Skyrim, that its flaws quickly pale in comparison.  I'm just thankful that in some thirty hours of gameplay, my game has only crashed to desktop once.  That has got to be a new record since my unpatched Morrowind used to crash every 30-45 minutes, and unpatched Oblivion  was not much better with a crash every 1-1.5 hours.
Particular Impressions
Property Ownership
Early on in the game I was invited to eat at someone's house.  After a certain amount of time, the food (and a few other items) in the house changed status so that I could take them legally instead of stealing them.  I thought that was a nice touch to actually be allowed to take food at a house where I was asked to eat.  It is frustrating, however, that in-room food at Skyrim inns remains stolen property.  If I rent the room and a bed, shouldn't the food laid out in that room also be mine?  It was in Oblivion (I think ...), but it isn't in Skyrim.  In fact, I "stole" the in-room food at one inn only to find myself tracked down by three very powerful thugs (read: death squad) who were hired by the inn keeper in retribution as I left town.  That's a bit excessive don't you think?  On the other hand, it is nice to see NPCs more aware of the world around them.  For example, while Oblivion's common area containers return in this game, NPCs actually find is strange if they see your rooting through them.  While in a small village outside of the city Solitude, I opened a commonly owned barrel (thus, not stealing).  In the background, I heard one lady ask what I was doing, rooting through a barrel like that.  In response, the NPC she was talking to surmised that I was hungry and must be looking for food.
          NPCs in General
Bethesda will never win any awards for realistic NPC animations or NPC interactions, but the NPCs of Skyrim are a far cry above anything we have seen from them before.  Sure many of the NPCs had recycled dialogue (I really got sick of hearing guards grousing about the probability of my reporting a stolen sweet roll), but for the most part that was to be expected.  What I did not expect, however, was the responsiveness that the characters had to my player character.  For instance, the first time I absorbed a dragon's soul and learned a shout, I proudly trekked back to the city shouting at the top of my lungs. As soon as I was within sight of the city's main door, however, a guard ran up to me and asked that I quit shouting.  He said that it was making the townspeople nervous.  That just made me smile.  Today, a co-worker said that he dropped a couple of daggers he did not want on the floor of a house.  In response, a guard ran up and told him to stop leaving dangerous weapons lying about.  That is just one kind of NPC action.  A clumsy individual, both in RL and in game, NPCs are forever telling me to watch out and to be careful when Morwen runs into a table and knocks something off it.  NPCs will also ask Morwen what her problem is, when she has been particularly careless.  If you run about town with your sword drawn, guards will comment that seeing a woman with her sword out might put them on edge.  At inns, other NPCs will often come and sit down beside my character on a bench when she takes a load off around the inn's fireplace.  I've been playing Skyrim for a week now, and the effort that Bethesda put into these details still amazes me.  It makes my heart happy to see that they were able to improve the world's responsiveness to my character, without sacrificing any of the atmosphere that makes Elder Scrolls games feel like Elder Scrolls games.
Zoomed-in Finishing Moves
I know these probably bug a great number of people, but I just wanted to say how much I love watching the finishing move cut-scenes every once in a while.  Remember how I complained about the combat in Dragon Age II, but adored the extreme magical effects because they made me feel like my magic was actually doing something?  That is what these finishing move cut scenes do for me.  They make Morwen feel like she is really doing something when she's fighting.  This is one addition to the TES series that I heartily support.
The Verdict
Skyrim is a very well thought out sandbox game.  By retaining most of Oblivion's redeeming features (few that they were) and combining them with the things I liked most about Morrowind, this newest entry in the Elder Scrolls series in a true winner.  The PC version is by no means perfect, but I willingly, and easily, overlook and adapt to its faults.  It goes without saying that Skyrim is worlds better than Oblivion.  Only time will tell how well it holds up to Morrowind (it being the gold standard of open-world RPGs), but at this point in time that hardly matters.  If you can embrace the glitches and the charm they bring to all TES releases, then I heartily recommend Skyrim, warts and all.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Release Day!

The wait has ended, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is now officially on store shelves! If you are reading this at 12:00am EST on 11.11.11, then know that I am currently at my local gaming store picking up a pre-ordered copy of my very own.  Yes, I know that my poor computer won't be able to run Skyrim and thus there is no point in buying now ... I wanted the physical map that came with pre-orders though.  I'm a sucker like that for gaming maps.

Later this weekend I'll post pictures of the box's contents just in case you care about that kind of thing.  In the meantime celebrate Skyrim's release by watching the game related videos below.

Happy gaming!

Behind the Scenes - A tour with Todd Howard through the offices of Bethesda in Rockville, Maryland.

The Sound of Skyrim

The World of Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Demo Part 1

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Demo Part 2  

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Demo Part 3  

  Image: Source

Monday, November 7, 2011

ME1 - Grounded

Trapped and betrayed, Meriel is simply ready for this waking nightmare to be over.

There are spoilers after the break.  Continue reading at your own risk.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

ME1 - Decisions

Torfan's gruesome legacy returns to haunt Meriel when she must value the mission over the survival of her team. 

There are spoilers after the break.  Continue reading at your own risk.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

ME1 - Maternal Confrontation

Merial fights to keep an even head as diplomacy and science complicate her team's quest for Saran and the Conduit.

There are spoilers after the break.  Continue reading at your own risk.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Let's Talk About - Dragon Age 2, Part 3

Now that we have talked about the good and the bad, there is one more category left to consider.  Last, but certainly not least, there is one thing that continually makes me cry "why?!" The amount of re-skinning that took place in DA2, makes me wonder if those involved with the game know what the definition of "continuity."

Be warned that Flemeth's section contains a minor DA:O spoiler.

The Perplexing-
Look, I realize that having a sequel allows you to redesign things you were unhappy with in the first game, introduce a new color scheme, or otherwise visually alter your preestalished world.   But please Bioware, re-design and re -skin responsibly!

Flemeth in Dragon Age: Origins
Flemeth in Dragon Age 2

Let's start with Flemeth.  I must say for one, that I love her new look.  Yet, for all its showy "I'm a powerful sorceress" appeal, one can't wonder if her new look is not a bit counter productive.  According to DA:O, she has managed to survive the Templar's efforts to kill her for years because she was not afraid to run, was not afraid to show her strength, and was not afraid to blend in.  Fancy headgear and a long, impractically skin-tight gowns will not help Flemeth remain one step ahead of the Chantry.  Let's also notice for a moment that she has a different skin color, a different hair color, and she looks decades younger in DA2. I am well aware that Flemeth is capable of taking over the bodies of other individuals, as we found out in Morrigan's personal quest in DA:O, but that is not the case here.  When Hawke originally runs across Flemeth in DA2, he/she is seeing the witch after DA:O's trek into the Wilds for darkspawn blood, but before the Grey Warden's opportunity to kill Flemeth for Morrigan's sake (DA:O).  In both DA:O instances, Flemeth looks like the woman at left, but during the inbetween time Bioware somehow expects me to believe that she looks like the image at right.  Morrigan makes it quite clear in the first game that while shape shifters can turn into other animals, they cannot turn into other human beings.  How then does Flemeth manage this feat?  A cleaned up look I could have understood, but this was  a complete redesign ... right down to the witch's new willowy, youthful body.  Atleast the "new" Flemeth knows how to properly apply her make-up.  That is a blessing.

Merrill in Dragon Age: Origins
Merrill in Dragon Age 2

Of all the drastic re-skinning that went on in DA2, this one makes the most sense to me.  DA2 elves were skinny, sprite like individuals while DA:O elves were simply short humans with long ears.  At least DA2's Merrill retained a similar facial tattoo and kind of has the same eye color.  The problem?  Unless you really paid attention during the Dalish origin story in the first game, Merrill is all but unrecognizable this time around.  Her clothing is different, her voice is different, her eye shape is different, her mouth shape is different, and her ears are very different. She retains a green color story and a similar hair cut, but those are hardly identifying factors since everyone and their mother had that same hair style in DA:O.   That of course doesn't even approach the fact that Merrill was a knowledgeable, competent elf in DA:O, and is a seemingly naive, flighty creature in DA2.  The phrase "too stupid to live" comes to mind.  Don't get me wrong, I do not dislike Merrill as a character. In fact, aside from Aveline, she was one of my favorite companions.  I just feel like they should have paid more attention to the small identifying factors that help players draw connections between the two games.

Isabela in Dragon Age: Origins
Isabela in Dragon Age 2

The one re-skinning that blew me away, however, was that of Isabela.  In DA:O, your warden finds this duelest in The Pearl.  She is dressed in traditional rogue's armor, has white skin, and red hair.  Do you know how long it took me to realize that DA2's Isabela was the same individual?  I had no clue they share anything but a name until the internet told me ... while I was trying to figure out why she was not turning up in game.  Somewhere in between her appearance in DA:O, and her appearance in DA2 (which I hazard to not be very far from each other time wise), Isabela dyed her hair brown, started wearing impractical earrings (considering her line of work), got a lip piercing, was reborn with olive skin, and decided that armor was just too passé.  You know what is appropriate duelist attire these days?  A man's shirt, no pants, and thigh-high boots apparently.  If you read my last entry you will note that I never had a chance to play Isabela in DA2, so I can't vouch for her personality in game.  What I do know though, is that the no nonsense NPC (well ... when it comes to fighting anyways) from DA:O would not have been caught dead in the new Isabela's attire.  Ok, so her skin could have been darkened via artificial means, and her hair could have been dyed as part of a disguise ...  But you know what?  I honestly had no clue that these women were supposed to be the same person. What on Earth possessed her character designer to obscure Isabela's origins like that?

Alistair in Dragon Age: Origins

Alistair?? in Dragon Age 2
No words. Just take a look at the handsome individual at top, and then compare him with the individuals underneath. What did they do to my poor, sweet, adorable Alistair?  Alistair 2.0 looks like he was beaten in the face, to death, with a massive frying pan.  When pronounced dead, the design team then resurrected him just so they could go at him with a cast-iron frying pan yet again.  Please tell me I'm not the only one who sees this.

The Verdict-
Going into the game my expectations were very low. They were so low, in fact, that I can't say that any expectations really existed at all. Well, perhaps that is the best way to go into a game since no high expectations can be left unfulfilled and you can't be more indifferent to the title than you already are. All in all DA2 has proved a mixed bag. From a gaming standpoint DA2 exceeded my expectations. (That can't mean too much since the bar was already pretty low, but it has to count for something.) From a fan standpoint the game was a combination of pleasant nostalgia and odd disappointments. It is impossible to say that Dragon Age 2 was a complete and utter failure. It wasn't. There were some bright spots and even a couple strokes of genius that really showed through in this title. It is also, however, nor possible to say that this title was a rousing success. There is simply too much wrong with it to do that. Would I play it again? Most certainly if only to experience the game from a male avatar's perspective. Will I buy it in the future? Not unless it is accompanied by a very very steep discount. Would I recommend it? If you play it as a solo game, and not in the context of DA:O, then you should most certainly try renting the console version or buying the PC version on sale. If you are unable to divorce DA2 from your DA:O experience, however, then forget it. You will only be setting yourself up for disappointment.

Image: Source  
Flemeth Images: Source  
Isabella Images: Source 
Merrill Images: Source  
Alistair Images: Source  

Friday, October 7, 2011

Let's Talk About - Dragon Age 2, Part 2

We've talked about the good, so let's now focus on the bad.  One can pick Dragon Age 2 to pieces until they are blue in the face.  This, in fact, is a feat which has by now been achieved thousands of times over on online forums and in gaming reviews.  As a result, I am choosing to highlight only the most glaring issues I encountered which simply could not be overlooked. Keep in mind that all but one of these were re-occurring problems and not just one time problems that got on my nerves.

Be warned that this will contain mild spoilers.

The Bad -

1) Balancing
The balancing in this game is all over the map. For the record I played a female mage who chiefly used Primal Spells (Stone Fist, Tempest, Chain Lightening) and Elemental Spells (Winter's Grasp, Cone of Cold). She then chose Force Mage as her specialization. For those who have not played a  DA2 mage before, let me make one thing quite clear. Between freezing spells and the Force Mage specialization (specifically Fist of the Maker and Pull of the Abyss) there is pretty much nothing that can stand in your way. I led a party of two mages, one archer, and one swordswoman for most of the game (there was a rare exception when I had no choice but to have three mages and an archer) on regular difficulty, and mowed down everything in my path. There was the occasional battle (generally in the Deep Roads when facing multiple Darkspawn Emissaries at once) that I faced more difficulty [read: they kicked my butt and I had to re-load about 10 times], but these instances were few and far between. Despite the fact that I was tanking my mage (who may I remind you, was ridiculously overpowered), there was a great deal of balance in party. One mage largely used Spirit magicks and Entropy spells, while the other focused on Creation and Arcane magicks. I was careful to balance everything out as best I could so that one character's weaknesses were filled in by another person's strengths, and I really mean that nothing stood in our way (not even a town overrun with Templars and qunari could hold us back). Well nothing, that is, until the second major boss. If you've played the game, then you know who I'm talking about. At the end of the second chapter, my character build, which had previously obliterated everything, was suddenly. completely ineffectual.  My companions were worthless,and only my sole swordswoman stood any chance at all ... and she was only able to make a tiny dent before the boss was re-healed, and the damage-heal-damage-heal-damage-heal scenario repeated itself adinfinitum. If I'd had a poorly balanced party or an ineffectual character build then I would have understood, but that was not the case here. I know very few people with mages (specifically force mages) who managed to kill this boss without an excessive amount of effort on their part, only a couple people with archers who managed to do so, and have since learned that this boss in particular is best fought with a swordsman. That my friends is poor game design. Had I been on a PC, I may have been able to eventually make it work, but the targeting on the PS3 drove me insane.  I truly did not stand a chance. Remember how I mentioned earlier that I had not beaten this game, but had sunk a good thirty or so hours into game play? This is why. I reached the second major boss and then ran into a brick wall ... thirty wasted hours of play. If I had used GameFaqs or the Dragon Age Wiki along the way, this would not have been an issue because I would have known how to build my character for maximum effect.  That, however, is meta gaming, and I should not have to resort to outside sources in order to beat a game (much less a ROLE-playing game) where I'm tying to inhabit a character and let that character's personality dictate the story, dialogue, and choice of weapon/skills. To be honest I have a number of gripes with DA2, but this is my main one.  The other faults this game had were still tolerable, but this one was game breaking. 
2) Combat
I will openly admit that combat might be an issue on the PS3 and not the PC, but I seriously think that is unlikely.  For the most part, DA2 controls were very intuitive, and even for someone without a PS3 at home, the learning curve was far from high.  A few minutes of faffing about during the prologue as all I needed to figure out which button did what. I still prefer PC gaming for these kind of titles, but the console controls were really not all that bad.

What was bad, however was the ability to target in combat. First of all, I'm one of those insane people who loved DA:O's combat style. It was tedious at times, but I loved being able to pause the game, zoom out (which was a feature removed from the PC version of DA2) assign each character individual an action, let it play out, and then do the whole thing over again. Dragon Age 2, however, made this difficult because it really was more of a hack-o, slash-o, maim-a-thon. In DA:O, I sat down, figured out what all my spells did, and then strategically applied them where they would have the most effect. In DA2, however, I relied extremely heavily on area-effect spells ... something I barely used in the first game. In and off itself, this is not a bad thing. The reasoning behind it though, is where the problem lies. I used Area effect spells, because 1) they were stupidly overpowered, and 2) I was never quite certain where my player character [who in this case she went by the name of Onyx Hawke] was targeting. For example, in one instance where I was taking on a host of bloodmages, I begin focused on the main baddie with the intention of taking him out first so that I could focus on his minions afterwards. With Hawke fighting the main guy, I ran the rounds of telling Onyx's companions what to do, and by the time I cycled back to Onyx she was shooting arcane bolts at a group of minions half way across the room. Thinking I had just focused wrong, I fought with her for a while so that I knew she was targeting the main baddie, I went through the process with her companions again, and then came back to her only to find that Onyx was fighting minor enemies surrounding the main baddie, while the chief blood mage was kicking her butt. At other times, when things got hectic, I would point in the general direction of where I wanted Onyx to fight, only to find that after I cycled through the party she was fighting in the correct direction but wasn't attacking the person I thought I had but her in combat with. Often, the only way I could ensure that a character would fight their intended target, and stay focused on that target, was to draw that target into a corner or down a hallway (or in some other way isolate them) so that there were no other distractions. Talk about frustrating. Due to the fact that Onyx was so overpowered, this was generally not a major issue. But, there were a few situations where the only way could win a fight was by lowering the difficulty to "casual" temporarily. It wasn't that these fights were insanely difficult in an of themselves, it's just that was the only way I could beat the encounter when Hawke & Co. refused to stay focused or obey my commands. 
3) Environment
Oh goodness gracious, the environment. Where do I start? Here's the ting. In and of themselves the environments are gorgeous. The caves, especially, showed a lot of detail and I enjoyed exploring all the areas in and around Kirkwall ... the first time around. I know that this is a complaint everyone has, but trust me, it's an issue. If you have visited one cave outside of Kirkwall then you have visited them all. I don't just mean they they just reuse textures (which they do) or that they reuse parts of the layout (which they do). No, the design team literally copied entire environments from region (say near the Dalish camp) and pasted that very same environment in a different location.  With the addition of occasionaly different enemies and maybe new room here or there, you were good to go.   The dungeons were often so devoid of unique indicators that I sometimes had to open my world map in order make sure I hadn't accidentally traveld to the wrong locale.   Half the time, the design team made reused environments "new" by simply unsealing formerly sealed doorways, and then sealing up formerly open doorways. Just a clue folks, that doesn't make it feel like a new environment. That just ends up being really really annoying. If everything else in this game was close to perfection, then I could forgive this. All games have their faults, and even Morrowind (the paragon of RPGs that it is) is guilty of reusing dungeons. The difference here though, is that Morrowind and other open world games are just that - open world. They are so massive that reused locations are expected, within reason. DA2's world, however, was very finite. There was no excuse for the amount of Ctrl+C,Ctrl+V action that took place, and when combined with all the game's other faults it just smacks of laziness. I'm genuinely surprised that the companion dialogue (which was as witty as ever) didn't include a number of random comments like "haven't we seen this place before?" or "I fell like I've been to this place before." I, for one, was certainly saying that outloud, to myself, as the game wore on. 
4) The Missing Person
This is perhaps more of a personal quibble than anything since I have not run across anyone else who had the same problem.  The  issue?  I never found Isabella.  I don't mean that I didn't know where to look for her, after all where else could I look but the Hanged Man or the docks? (fyi - Reading I did after the fact told me she was supposed to be in the Hanged Man.)  No, the problem here is that Isabella simply didn't appear.  After I realized that I had somehow missed my opportunity to collect her as a companion, I pulled up GameFaqs, the Dragon Age Wiki, and just about every other source I could get my hands on.  Every one of these pages mentioned where, when, and how to find Isabella (things I logically did on my own), and no where did I read of her simply refusing to appear in-game at all.  Like I said, this is a personal quibble pertaining to my singular game, but to me it is a major one.  Had Isabella been one of my companions, I'm led to believe that she, in a rather specific manner, would have been my get out of jail free card at the end of Act 2.  Retrospectively, knowing that information would have required a bit of meta-gaming on my part (something I try to avoid), but it certainly would have made it possible for me to continue playing DA2 without having to restart the whole game after hitting a brick wall.  The end of Act 2 a side, it certainly would have been nice to have had a second set of blades to balance out Onyx's glut of ranged fighters.

Tune in Tuesday as I wrap up this three part post.
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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Let's Talk About - Dragon Age 2, Part 1

I want to spend a moment talking about Dragon Age 2.  The love that I hold for Dragon Age: Origins is rather obvious and thus one can understand why the idea of a sequel proved terribly exciting ... until it was released that is.  By this point in time I've heard just about everything people have had to say about the game, and while I had heard a lot of criticism of Bioware from the role-playing community prior to experiencing DA2, I had not actually played the game.  Well ... unless you consider the demo to be actual game play. At this point in time I have not finished DA2, and it is unlikely that it will be finished in the near future.  That said, I have logged a good thirty some odd hours over the course of a week, on a friend's PS3, so it is fair to say that I have had plenty of time to form a well educated opinion about this title.    In this post I hope to lay out my overall impressions of the game.  There were a number of things that were done right, and those really deserve to be highlighted.  A number of other things went terribly wrong, and while I do not wish to dwell on those, some items of business simply cannot be ignored.  Finally, there is one particular decision Bioware made which, for continuity sake, was simply confusing.  It made me wonder if parts of the artistic team were perpetually drunk or otherwise out of it during the design process.  This was originally supposed to be all one post, but it was reaching the length of an epic novel, so therefore it has been cut down into three parts.

Before getting into particulars, however, there are a couple of things that you should know.  

1) I played this on a PS3 instead of the PC (my platform of choice).  I do not own a PS3 nor had I played one prior to this week, but I do own a PS2, and have played it enough to be familiar with basic Playstation controls.  DA2's controls were quite intuitive and they felt like second nature within a matter of minutes.  There are a  couple of complaints I have that might be specific to console versions, so I figured that the platform bears mentioning.

2) I did not play with any help guides, walkthroughs, wikias, or any other aids on hand.  There is no shame in doing so, and I certainly have used them myself with other games, but with this game I did not feel that assistance from a wiki was necessary.

3) Except for one or two instances, DA2 was played on "normal" with the very occasional and very very brief usage of "casual."  I'm more of a story girl than a combat one and as a result it is not unknown for me to play "Easy" or "Casual" so that I can spend more time with the story and less time desperately fighting for my life.  This time though, I wanted to give increase the fighting difficulty since I had done the same in DA:O  and enjoyed the combat tremendously.  DA:O combat and tactics was incredibly satisfying and since a lot of criticism has been lobbied at DA2's combat system I felt that giving it a similar chance to shine was only fair.

Let's start off with the good.  This category is not as robust as I had hoped it would be, but there are a number of things to mention that DA2 does remarkably well.

The Good-
1) Including Dragon Age: Origins
The many many letters that Hawke receives throughout the course of the game often include references to DA:O events.  Some NPCs also make mention of  DA:O happenings and characters.  While these connections may be lost of people who did not play the first game, their inclusion reminds the player that DA2 does not exist in isolation.  Wisely, DA2 didn't simply place a Las Vegas style neon sign near something and go "Look guys!  This was in our last game!  We're so witty!"  Instead obscure references to DA;O events were quite often worked into the numerous letters and notices that Hawke finds waiting for her in her desk at home.  At other times, references to DA:O events (whose timeline parallels DA2's very briefly) are worked into NPC conversations.  Even the most obvious methods of referencing the first game really aren't that obvious.  At one point during the first chapter, Hawke walks past an elf who is haranguing a male human.  The human being in question used to be a werewolf.  I had always wondered how the former werewolves from Brecilian Forest had fared, and this gave me a glimpse into their fates.  The best thing about all the DA:O references is that if you had not played the first game (something which was in no way a requirement), then most of the allusions would have flown right past you.  They did not disrupt game play and they did not stick out as peculiar or otherwise unusual.  I especially appreciated the fact that the Bioware relied on the gamers to recognize connections between the two games for themselves, instead of the developer drawing connections.
2) Story
I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed DA2's story. Having been dubious, since the game's debut, about how one could successfully tell the story of Hawke over time without it all feeling contrived or trite, it was nice to find that Hawke developed quite nicely as the game wore on.  While there is only so much depth that a character can have when any game spans as many years as DA2, NPC based exposition and the town's reactions to Hawke's ever rising social status helped reinforce the tale Bioware was telling.  When bracketed by the Chantry Seeker's "interview," the Hawke felt very much like a famous tale come to life.  Character dialogue, of course, was both engaging and often amusing.  This is Bioware after all.  While high fantasy tropes were indeed abundant, and sometimes I found myself groaning at pedestrian shifts in story, one really has to figure that those come with the territory.  If you can't live with a reasonable amount of "by the book" story elements within a fantasy setting, then you are honestly playing the wrong game from the get go.  I will also openly admit that DA2's focus on the mage vs. Templar dichotomy was truly a stoke of genius.  Playing as a mage, with a former Templar on one arm and an over zealous apostate on the other, I found that Hawke really had a number of hard decisions to make.  I was frustrating at times because Bioware occasionally assumed that you would take a certain action, so no matter what branch of the dialogue tree my character followed, the result would have been the same (I reloaded and tested it to find out).  Those frustrating areas were few and far between though.  I do not know how the story would have felt had Hawke been a fighter or a rogue, but that is one of those things I would like to find out.
3) Companions
Not a great deal needs to be said here since we all know that Bioware excels at fashioning companions who are both witty and effective story elements.  Many of the characters I had not been looking forward to, especially Anders, ingratiated themselves to me by the end of my time in-game.  More surprising, however, was my reaction to Aveline Vallen.  Having seen her character in the demo pre-release, I was quickly put off by both her appearance and her mannerisms.  At no time could I have imagined that she would become my favorite companion.  Since I played as an apostate, and Aveline was a former Templar, the emotional dynamic and personal trust that she and my Hawke shared was quite moving.  It was as if the two shared a sort of sisterhood despite their differences in opinion and background.  From a game play standpoint, it was also nice to see that when Hawke dragged Aveline (as a member of the city guard) into situations of questionable legality, Aveline would make comments about the wisdom of her tagging along.  Other NPCs also seemed to be aware of who Aveline was, and that added a certain element of realism into the picture.  All in all I really have little bad to say about the companions themselves.  They were strongly characterized, well voiced, and added a great deal to game play.  At times, like when Hawke refused to take her brother into the Deep Roads, their actions even shocked me.  It's nice to see Bioware stick to what they know.
5) Magical Visual Effects
I absolutely loved playing an apostate in DA2.  The magick effects were massive, flashy, and really made you feel like the spells were doing something.  I had always had a feeling that DA:O's visual effects, in relation to magic, were not all they could be.  DA2 rectified any failings in that area, and honestly quite outdid itself with very in your face visuals.  Area effect spells actually felt like area effect spells.  Onyx Hawke, my mage, genuinely felt like the power-filled character I wanted her to be, instead of the human-happening-to-channel-magic that my ill fated DA:O mage had seemed.   It was disappointing to see that Dragon Age 2 felt the urge to make everything about the world flashy (what is the infamous phrase? "Press a button and something awesome happens"?), but Bioware really hit it on the head with this aspect of game play.  I can see where more subtle magics would be useful from a role-play standpoint, but my goodness, it was nice to actually feel my my mage was doing something for once.  Magical characters were, of course, even more stupidly overpowered in DA2 than they were in the first game, but that is another story for another day.

In the second part of this posting I will talk about "The Bad" in Dragon Age 2.  Be warned, there is a lot of it.  for every positive element they created, it seems like the designers were intent on making their mistakes even bigger and badder so that they would not get lost in the fray.  the third section, which will come at the end of this week, will feature a number of head scratchers.  They weren't good, they weren't bad, but they made me sit back and say "huh ..."

Tune in Friday to read part two of this three part post.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Jade Empire: Édition Spéciale

What do you know?  My collection has grown once more with the addition of Bioware's 2005 game Jade Empire.  This is one of those games that I must admit to knowing nothing about.  I somehow managed to miss this game when it hit the shelves, and honeslty would not haveknown about its existence at all if certain members of GameBanshee didn't keep talking about it whenever a Bioware related subject is posted on the newsfeed.  On one hand I feel like my lack of knowledge concerning this game is a bit odd since I've been a major supporter of Bioware and thier story-telling abilities.  On the other, I have to forgive myself since Jade Empire is in an unusual, ancient Chinese inspired setting.  Yes the setting is unique, but I've always been more into the "normal" high-fantasy settings and thus might have simply completely disregarded the game on appearance alone (at the time) before blocking it from my memory altogether.  Doing so would have been rather un-gamerly of me, but I can't think of any other way that this title managed to slip under my radar.  Well as it stands, I'm now the proud owner of  Jade Empire: Édition Spéciale, which includes both the English and the French versions.  Acquiring a copy of the French game was completely unexpected, but that is what happens when you buy "new" games sight unseen from companies that largely deal in used games.  You won't hear complaining though, because there are far too few multi-lingual games in my collection.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

ME1 - Out Of Their Minds

Not everything is what it seems when Meriel descends upon the human colonies of Feros.

There are spoilers after the break.  Continue reading at your own risk.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Alpha Protocol

Alpha Protocol came in the mail today.  Released in 2009 by Obsidian, Alpha Protocol is a third person action cRPG.  (Or as the box say, it's an "espionage" cRPG.)  When the game originally hit the shelves I didn't pay it any mind because, to my understanding, it deals heavily with stealth and utilizes gun play as a central component.  I'm sure that it's been mentioned before this, but ranged weaponry and I have a very strained relationship.  My success rate with guns, bows, and crossbows is rather abysmal without a good targeting system; so generally if a melee option exists I'll opt for that instead.  Recently, however, I've begun to realize just how many games have flown below my radar due to their reliance on ranged weaponry.  Thus, after repeated references to, and recommendations for, the game from Game Banshee contributors, Alpha Protocol has joined my rapidly growing to-be-played library.

Another thing that has also previously deterred me from purchasing AP, is the fact that reports regarding its "brokenness" abound.  We aren't just talking one or two obscure references here.  References to its broken nature (largely in the form of bugs but also regarding balance issues) appear in customer reviews, professional reviews, and even serve as qualifiers for otherwise positive recommendations.  Considering AP was distributed by Obsidian I suppose this isn't too much of a surprise, but when negative comments are that common, one will certainly think twice about sinking their money into a release.  Something that I've discovered lately though, is that despite all its nay-sayers, this game has continued to intrigue me. The basic premise, or at least what little I understand of it, is perhaps not exactly earth shattering material.  What I've heard about AP's dialogue system and character development though certainly makes me sit up an pay attention.  Only time will tell what I'll ultimately think of the game, but for now I'm thrilled to finally own Alpha Protocol and hope to get to it soon.  Once comprehensives are finished there (theoretically) will be a lot more time on my hands, so hopefully that won't take too long.

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

First Impressions - Devil May Cry 2

Studying for Comprehensive Exams has been consuming just about all my time these past months.  You reach a point after a while, however, when you just can't take any more and will snap if you do not take a break. This is where Capcom's Devil May Cry 2 (2003) recently entered the scene. Yesterday found me picking up Devil May Cry 2 and Devil May Cry 3 for the PS2, and then popping the first game in to see what it was all about.  Given my rocky relationship with JRPGs, I must be honest here and admit that I only picked these up because of Unskippable's video for DMC1, and Yahtzee's reference to keeping enemies "afloat with a cushion of bullets" in DMC4.  Given comps, there hasn't been much time to properly play DMC2 yet, but after zooming through the first mission it seems like a great deal of fun overall.  I have clearly undervalued the cathartic nature of shooting projectiles in the past, because gunplay, for once, is far more satisfying than swordplay.  There is nothing quite like jumping a mile into the air and then keeping yourself  there amidst a sea of gunfire.  The game's gun play is even exhilarating enough to forgive the world's worst fixed camera, the inability to see half your enemies, and the fact that Dante runs like a man trudging through knee-deep mud.

Verdict: Hello there, my new stress relief game of choice.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

... and what a busy week it was.

9/3/11: I know that I still haven't posted for a very long time.  No, I haven't disappeared, dropped the blog, or been swallowed up by the Earth.  Ever since this post though, things have just been unexpectedly insanely, insanely busy.  I've been studying for my comprehensive exams - a massive 8 hour writing test that I must pass in order to get my degree.  This studying (combined with work et. al.) has left little time for anything else, much less gaming.  I WILL return to form come the week after next, when this blasted test is over, and my graduation is (hopefully) secured.  Talk to you then!

Original Post :
Talk about crazy.  Last week or so (as you may have noticed) not much was posted because my internet kept dying.  I have quite possibly the worst internet carrier around and as a result I and the entire local area found ourselves without internet service for large spans of time.  At one point I was out for over 24 hours.  During the times that my internet was up I did managed to type almost all of the next entry in Meriel's story, and that will be posted this Monday(7/25).  I had hoped to get it out earlier this week, but ultimately I underestimated the inherent difficulty of typing on a laptop when one has three hyperactive dachshunds vying for attention, burying under the computer, lying on the keyboard, and incessantly licking my hands everytime they move.  Alright! Waiting until my stint as a dog-sitter is over it is!  On the upside, the family I am sitting for has both a PS3 and Dragon AgeII which means that I have been logging some serious time in Kirkwall this week with Hawke and her companions.

Next week be looking for the newest update on Meriel, a discussion on Dragon Age II, and a Mass Effect edition of "Amusing Oddities."  See you on Monday!

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