Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Site Updates: Why We're Taking So Long

Well it's been around a month and still no site. Sorry about that...beyond my control at this point. Our provider is still working to get everything up so don't consider updating your bookmarks yet. Let me post a sort of list for you all...


- URL requested and received.
- All posts transferring to the site.
- Usernames are able to be added.
- Commenting works.

To Be Done:

- Homepage.
- Adding images to the homepage / icons.
- Cleaning articles; housekeeping.

So yes...a lot is being done just very slowly. Hopefully we'll have something by the end of the month. *Hopefully*. Until then, I'm going to start adding more articles so Harrison Laine doesn't kill himself.

As always thanks for reading.

Harrison Laine's Listed: Top 13 Most Underrated TV Shows part 3

Harrison Laine's Listed: Top 13 Most Underrated TV Shows part 2

Harrison Laine's Listed: Top 13 Most Underrated TV Shows part 1

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dragon Age II: Well polished sequel, or corporate cash in?

It's likely you've heard about Dragon Age II. It's even likelier that you've heard one of two things for it. You've either heard that it's a well deserved sequel to a great game that improves on many of the original's flaws in almost every way, or you've heard that it's a short, linear cash in of a game that isn't worth your time or money and smears on the Dragon Age name. So which is it? Well, sit back, relax, grab a drink or something, and I'll tell you.

First of all, if you don't know, Dragon Age II is the sequel to 2009's Dragon Age: Origins, which in my opinion is one of the best WRPG's ever made. I really like the Thedas setting, and this is Bioware, if someone can whip up a good decent story with some great gameplay, it's them. Mentioning that however, a lot of changes have been made from the original game. For one thing, your locked at a default race, human, and there is no real Origin story to pick from. This was kind of disappointing for me. I played a City Elf in Origins, and it was fun as hell. I think this is because now the main character is fully voiced, not to mention the story wouldn't make sense if you were an elf, considering your entire family is human. In DA II, you pick your gender and class, Warrior, Mage or Rouge and pretty much start off from there. I picked a Rouge, same as I did in Origins. The Rouge offers a more fast paced fighting style that relies on fighting unaware enemies and crippling them for the rest of your party to inflict major damage, so keep that in mind. Not to say a Rouge can't be a head on attacker if you spec it the right way, but I played as the sneakier Rouge rather than the powerful one. The early part of the game takes part in the same timeframe as Dragon Age: Origins, but Act 1 starts off shortly after Origins ends. You can also import your Dragon Age: Origins save file like in Mass Effect 2, but there's no real bother to do so. Your a different character in a different area, so not many of your choices carry over. The only real significance your imported save file will have is at the very end of the game, because it's foreshadowed to have a lot of significance in Dragon Age III.
Kirkwall, city of chains

While Dragon Age: Origins spanned over the entire area of Ferelden, Dragon Age II takes place in a single city, with the exception of the prologue. This leads to what I think is the biggest flaw in the game, the lack of unique areas. Once you get to Act II, you've pretty much seen every single area in the game, save for a few. It reuses a lot of the caves, and you just explore different sections of them. It's a bit of a bummer, considering the devs had a whole new area to play with. Another issue is the loading times. It reminds me of Mass Effect 1's elevators, except this time it's just loading screens with animations. The story doesn't start off too strong either. There's no real significant plot until Act II, and it doesn't really get going until Act III. However, Act III makes up for Act I & II by far. I don't want to spoil too much, but it really get serious about then.
Screenshot comparisons of Dragon Age: Origins and II respectively (PC Version shown)

One difference between Dragon Age: Origins and II is the gameplay. While Dragon Age: Origins was a slower, more tactical approach, Dragon Age II seems more of the "Hack and Slash" variety, focusing more on fast paced combat and a more action approach. This improved the game a bit, but I kind of liked the more tactical approach Dragon Age: Origins took. Another improvement that Bioware made was to the visuals. The graphics look better, but they still look a bit odd. It also doesn't help that Dragon Age II can't seem to comprehend two characters touching each other. When two characters physically interact, it looks choppy and poorly done. To the best of my recollection, Origins had this problem as well, but nowhere near to the extent that II has it.
The companion select screen (Not all companions shown)

Of course, what would a Dragon Age (Or Mass Effect) game be without the characters? Bioware has always put a focus on character interaction, and I think Dragon Age II shows that off pretty well. The only thing is, unlike Dragon Age: Origins, you can't strike up conversation with your party on he field, only at the party members home area, and even then, they'll usually only talk if they feel like it, or if they have a companion quest they want you to do. The cast is good though, I would say about equal to Dragon Age: Origins. Players who played Dragon Age: Awakening will recognize Anders, who makes a return in II, but with a bit of a personality change due to certain factors. Merrill also makes a return, she was a temporary companion in the Dalish Elf Origin, but other than by name, you'd barely recognize her. Good for that though, she was damn terrible looking in Origins. One great thing that remains is the party banters, when two characters talk to each other. I always stop and listen when one of these happens, the conversations are awesome. Also, expect some unexpected characters to make a return in Dragon Age II. Of course, what would a Dragon Age (Or Mass Effect) game be without the sex? It makes a return in Dragon Age II, but it seems really toned down from Origins. Unlike Origins, where you can bone your romance whenever you feel like it, Dragon Age II takes the more Mass Effect approach, where you can do it once, and maybe a kiss before the final battle. Also, all of the romance characters swing both ways. I guess Bioware didn't want to limit the romance options based on gender.
The Arishok and a few other Qunari. The Arishok plays a large role in Dragon Age II

Should you get Dragon Age II? It depends. While it's not a bad game, on the contrary, it's actually really good, it isn't quite as good as Origins. Storywise, it's about 20 hours long doing a moderate amount of sidequests, and has it's own story that lives up to the Dragon Age name. However, it does suffer a bit from being the middle child of the series, as Mass Effect 2 did, as it has a beginning and an end, but only to it's own story, not the grand scheme of things? What is this grand scheme? It's mostly revealed at the end of Dragon Age II, and it sets the stage for III. That being said, it's a massive cliffhanger ending, and a damn good one. Makes you wonder who you'll get to play as in Dragon Age III, because it seems equally likely you could play as either your Dragon Age: Origins character, your Dragon Age II character, or a completely new one. Personally I'm hoping to play as my Dragon Age: Origins character, but that's just me. It pulls some underhanded tricks though, DLC is already released, as well as useless weapon packs for the three character classes. It reeks of EA doing this rather than Bioware, but still, it's a bit of a cash in. Still doesn't make sense that you couldn't get the DLC free with new copies of the game as Dragon Age: Origins did with "The Stone Prisoner", considering the Dragon Age II DLC has a companion in it you couldn't otherwise get without it, as The Stone Prisoner did.

So should you buy Dragon Age II? The answer is yes. If you liked Origins, then you should definitely pick this one up as well. It's not as good as Origins, but it is more than deserving of the Dragon Age name, and the events will probably be crucial for Dragon Age III.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Shogun 2: Total War gets it right.

Shogun 2: Total War, is the newest in a series of games released by The Creative Assembly, returns the series to its roots: Japan. Combining the best traits the series has, and omitting some critical flaws, and most importantly, making it stable, makes this possibly the best in the series.
Beautiful morning. Shame its going to full of screaming and death. Oda Clan Ashigaru (Commoners) form the main line of most armies, but the Oda Clan can field them with better morale, which comes into play later.
Like all Total War games, Shogun divides your time in two ways. On a map of Japan, you manage your "Clan" (Japan was not united at this point in history, 1500-1600 was inter-clan warfare) and manage your relations, like any good sim game. The difference happens when two armies meet. Instead of an autoresolve like most games of this type, you get the option to lead your army into battle, with the numbers of your men accurately portrayed. If you have an army of 1000+ troops, expect to see them all. Tactics, and an understanding of military strategy, is essential to success.
Unlike Empire or Napoleon Total War, muskets play less of a role. However, correct use of imported European matchlock firearms and cannons can turn you from humble clan leader to Shogun. At close to medium range, a volley can decimate even the vaunted Samurai. They are vulnerable to cavalry, as well as any melee troops able to survive long enough to get in close.
Troops are split into roughly 4 categories: Spear, Gun, Bow, Cavalry. Spears can keep away cavalry, and are often cheaper to produce, but suffer against melee opponents. Bows and Guns are both weak to melee, but can inflict horrid casualties. Cavalry is best used in surprise attacks, away from spears. Special units, such as Fire Bombs and Cannons, can throw a monkey wrench into this mix. Morale plays a keen role, as in all Total War games. Samurai, relishing combat, fight hard, but know when it is prudent to fallback. Ashigaru, being made of much less stern stuff, retreat much faster, and keeping the battle in your favor is the best way to ensure your force doesn't quit the field, or rout, in the face of a minor reversal. Your General can rally fleeing troops, but his death can lead to your army routing even faster. The General has varying stats, based both on your input at level up screens, and his own personality. A dour, boring soul often can run a town well, but lacks the charisma to lead the troops. A hard-drinking boisterous general can often fight like a devil, and convince his troops to do so as well, but is worse at running towns.
An Oda General, behind his troops. A timely charge from a general can lead to victory, but his death can lead to defeat!
On the technical side, this game runs smooth. My computer, not the greatest but better then most, could barely run Empire and Napoleon on full settings, lagging and had many crashes. Shogun 2 on the other hand, runs smooth as silk on all ultra settings, but for better performance I run grass, trees, and shadows on only high. Nevertheless, the game looks amazing. The soundtrack, with ethnic Japanese style music, and overall presentation is impressive.
The animations and individual fighting between men is great, and really makes you immersed in the game. Here, a Mori Clan Yari(Spearman) engages an Oda Clan Matchlock Gunner, but is kicked in the chest by the wily Oda soldier.
Overall, the game is impressive. I haven't had a chance to try multiplayer, with single-player being the focus of this review, but even based on just that, not giving this game a chance is criminal. The sheer amount of content, and polish, makes this game far superior to its predecessors, Napoleon and Empire. Skeptics would be wise to try the demo. The game balances firearms and old-style combat in an interesting way, and for the history buff or Japanophile, this game is a must.
Charge! An Oda Cavalry unit bears down on the unsuspecting Mori Clan Army.
As always, comments are appreciated. Hate or Love it, I would like to know what you all think.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Site Update: Getting the new site, layouts, user IDs, etc.

Okay so I know I promised a by now but there's a LOT I need to finish. Right now we're working on getting the user IDs working, comments loading and a proper design for the site.

I might actually need some designers / photoshop artists so if anyone is interested in joining the cause that would be great.

Anyway until next time.

Harrison Laine's Old Dogs review