Thursday, December 27, 2012

[Book Review] Blood and Snow

Blood and Snow
Blood and Snow by RaShelle Workman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was my face during this whole thing starting from the very first lines:


I know many people enjoyed this, but I'm not sure this story is for me. It managed to do every single thing I hate about some YA novels, but the premise was interesting, which is about its only saving grace right now with me. I'm putting the rest of these books (novellas really) on the bottom of my TBR pile where I will wait for the day I feel compelled to continue this story. Hopefully later parts will make me forgive this part because it has potential, but this was not it for me.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

[Book Review] Anna Dressed in Blood

Anna Dressed in Blood
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been watching horror movies and reading horror books nearly as long as I’ve been reading. Nothing much scares me or surprises me anymore with the genre, but I still enjoy the genre because of the atmosphere the stories present as well as how the stories are told. I think horror novels are some of the more inventive lords of fiction. And while the BIG BAD may not scare me, I always find that there’s a certain amount of trepidation I feel for the characters, for lack of better word, when viewing/reading horror if the story is well crafted—even though I know 90% of the time they’re going to make it out of the story mostly intact. Anna Dressed in Blood was no different. I didn’t find the story scary, but I loved this certain level of eeriness this story possessed.

This book was recommended to me by Amazon because of other recent books I'd read at the time. I usually only give their recommendations a cursory glance at best, but the cover was a real eye treat, the title was interesting, and the fact that the protagonist was a male made we want to give this a try. I’ve had this book for a while, started it, but put it down in favor of something else. A friend and I buddied up and read the book together after finishing another book that I loved.

It’s not often that we get a male protagonist in the young adult genre. Perhaps that's not a fair assessment. Maybe there are a fair amount of male protagonists in the genre, but if there are, they are obviously far outnumbered by their female counterparts and easily missed in the genre because of that. Here we have this teenage boy who has been slaying ghosts for the past three years of his life, moving from one haunted town to the next, secretly preparing for what he thinks will be the biggest fight of his life. Anna was supposed to be the true test of his skill, the slaying that would determine if he was ready for that fight. But even before he meets Anna, he becomes a bit obsessive about her, and after he meets her, he finds out that she's not his usual phantasm.

I liked how Blake crafted the story almost like a modern ghost tale you'd tell your friends around the campfire, and it retained a level of intrigue that kept me turning, things rippled under the surface and were gradually revealed as readers moved deeper into the story.
I really have to applaud her in Cas' character development. She did a wonderful job of capturing that youthful arrogance, pride, fear, and self-doubt. Something I feel so many young adult authors don’t do as well. This may be just a bias as an adult reader, but so many young adult authors exaggerate the things that define teenagers, which ends up annoying me to no end. It doesn’t feel natural. It’s like reading some gross caricature of teenagedom, their virtues and flaws magnified to a ridiculous degree. It’s hard to empathize with some other heroes and heroines for this reason even when I understand their position in the story. I didn’t have that problem with Cas.

Sure, the kids in this story did things that made me roll my eyes, but not in complete exasperation. It was more of an amused eye roll that I might give teenage antics in real life than an "unbelievable" eye roll. Now that's not to say that there weren't some moments when things did get a little too much, even for the fantastic nature of the story, but Blake had far less moments of that than many young adult authors.

I appreciate that Blake presented magic, even black magic, as not being inherently good or evil, but solely a weapon for the good/bad intentions of those who wield it. I get tired of so many books treating magic as a black and white, good and evil thing while ignoring the complexity that magic brings. I really liked that two of the good guys were practitioners of black magic (and Cas' mom practices white magic), one even had a great deal of experience with voodoo, which is often maligned in fiction. So, it's always nice to see an author trying to show the balance that white/black magic brings to the world without assigning good or bad to them.

I had a hard time believing that Cas isn't behind in school even though he's changed 11 schools in three years. I don't care how smart he is because schools follow different curriculums and a whole host of other things that would have an affect on his education, especially with so much his focus going into the ghost hunter thing. I also didn't think the murders that happened after Anna’s “release” were well done. I mean, it was predictable that they’d think it was her. I don’t have any problem with that, but it was a such a weak presentation and hardly seemed worth the effort of trying to cast doubt on Anna for the characters and the readers. There was nothing about those murders that made me even remotely believe that Anna had anything to do with them, especially since Cas says that there are numerous ghosts in any town. Most of them are nonviolent, but it’s conceivable that there would still be a few who were not.

I was also mildly disappointed in how predictable the deaths of Will, Chase, and Mike were. You could tell they were expendable characters to be used as cannon fodder to spare the other main characters. Mike's murderous indifference to Cas' life, drunk or not, seemed a bit forced and out of place for me. It seemed like she was trying to dredge up early sympathy for Anna by making her something of a hero for Cas, which was unnecessary as we learn more and more about through the story and eventually completely through her memories. And that, to me, was more than ample for readers to feel sympathy for Anna, especially when you consider that most violent ghosts are usually innocent victims who died angry. Anna was no exception.

Now, Blake played with theme of Anna being Cas' savior instead of the other way around again later in the story, but that was exactly the moment when Cas needed her. I liked how Anna wasn't a reduced to a quivering girl ghost who needed the slayer to rescue her after she relived the horror of her death. Instead, she was able to reconcile who she was with the monster that'd been placed inside her, making her more than formidable and in complete control of both aspects of herself. Now, some people may say that Anna being the supernatural protector is predictable, and that's a fair judgment. But I liked that the main female protags in the story are not diminished by their male counterparts. Anna doesn't protect more than she complements Cas. She doesn't stop him from being who he is, but she's more than aware when he needs her help. And I loved how strong she was, both mentally and physically, strong enough to not hesitate to make a pivotal decision in the big fight and strong enough to drag the BIG BAD down to hell or whatever, sacrificing herself in the process.

Carmel was another character I appreciated. Yes, she is the perfect All-American girl, but she's not stuck on herself. I know we often get popular girls in stories with a golden heart as much as we get the bitchy popular girl, but Carmel is more than aware that her status gets her everywhere. She doesn't dispute the arguments presented about that and isn't beyond using her popular girl status to her advantage. And she's also not the sweet girl who stands by helplessly. She has a protective streak a mile wide for her friends. She seems to lose most of her calm and cool demeanor when faced with situations she perceives as threatening to her friends more than herself. I absolutely adored the description Cas gave of her running in with an Amazon scream to help him and Anna at the end. Very reckless on her part, but she'd been presented as the type of person to do that, even when the odds were against her, throughout much of the story. And I love that despite the fact she was the popular girl she was seen as a warrior rather than a nuisance in her own right.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was such a fast paced great read that I was zooming through, eager to see what happens next, and I will definitely be reading the next part in this series ASAP.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

[Book Review] The Last Werewolf

The Last Werewolf
The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

More like 2.5 stars, and mainly because I thought the book was well written. But it was a real struggle to get through for me. I had pretty much had to force myself to finish this because I hate quitting books, especially when they're not technically terrible. The language and style was exceptional, but I found myself spending so much of the book saying, "Can we get to the point?" which is so rare for because I tend to love rambling and wordiness in books. I was just tired of the protag by the 8th chapter, and after that, the story would get good, but then pull back. I don't know what this book was trying to do to me.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

[Game Review] Max Payne 3

"The way I see it, there are two types of people. Those who spend their lives trying to build a future. And those who spend their lives trying to rebuild the past." - Max Payne

Let me start this post off on the right foot and say that I love Max Payne, and there will be mild spoilers in these thoughts for all three games.

I have loved Max since the first game—a decade ago. No matter what games I moved on to, how much I enjoyed them, Max Payne has always had, and always will have, a top spot in my heart. The original game was, for me, a haunting, desperate tale of one man’s descent into darkness. His story is full of typical tropes for sure, but tropes are fine when done well.

In the first game, you start the story with Max who’s living an ordinary, mundane life as a cop and family man. After he loses everything, Max begins to basically live his life balls to the walls. And even though you want things to get better for Max because he’s such a tragically good guy, the grimness of the situation is it doesn’t. This follows him into the second game and culminates in the third game where we find him guarding people he doesn’t care for, living in a country where he doesn’t speak the language, and basically trying to do everything humanly possible to end his life short of swallowing his own gun.

We were teased with Max Payne 3 for years. I think, for us hardcore fans of the series, that we’d pretty much hardened our hearts to the rumors because it was such a letdown to hear that it was in production. Sure, we wanted the third game to see how Max’s tale would end, but if there was one thing we’d taken from our antihero, it was to never bet too much on hope. And then, finally, there was something to substantiate the rumor. Now, I’m a Rockstar fan, but most of my respect comes from how they handle their offerings. I think that they’re consistent if nothing else—something I wished another unnamed company I love would take a couple of hints from. Rockstar wouldn’t release this game until they felt it was ready for the public, even if that meant pushing it back. It was worth the wait.

Gameplay was a ton of fun. I spent most of my time bullet dodging. Bullet time never gets old in that series, and it’s executed so well. A few people I know said they played for that aspect of the game alone. I’m glad they included a cover method in this game since covering was a bit part of the first two games, but there was no real “method” for it. You just found something and hid behind it the best you could. But in this third installment, they really worked it, even taking into account the “type” of cover you’re using such as making bullets chip off parts of your cover, pass through it, or even destroy it if it’s something that’s a little flimsy like some type of wooden structure. I couldn’t help but LOL at a bullet-ridden Max who insisted painkillers and booze would see him through this. Like Max you have a bullet hole going clean through you, I don’t think booze is going to get it.

The controls were mostly great. In the beginning, it felt like I had to remember so much stuff, but after playing through, it was pretty easy to remember. Sometimes, I had to fight the gun scroll wheel, but I made it through. I had a few instances where I’d get stuck in cover for few seconds before Max would move. Didn’t happen often, but when it did, it was fairly annoying, especially in the middle of an intense gun fight where I was already on the edge of my seat.

Storywise, I felt like Rockstar did a wonderful job of ironing out a lot of the corniness that the first two games had. Max has always narrated his story, but in the first two games, some of the things he said were just a bit too schlocky for my tastes and/or left me rolling my eyes. That never deterred me from enjoying the games, but it was a thing. I’m sure others probably enjoyed that cheesy noir feel that Max sometimes gave players, but I’m glad to see they found better ways for Max to express himself in this game. And I absolutely loved the visual punctuation on some of the spoken lines in the game. I thought that was a nice touch and worked well.

I was a little apprehensive when I heard that most of this game would take place in Brazil. The dirtiness of Max’s surroundings in the first two games mirrored the moral decay at the heart of his story, so I worried at first how beautiful, vibrant Brazil would work with this game. I was afraid it wouldn’t translate well, but my fears were unfounded. Brazil provided a perfect backdrop for the third game, putting Max in an environment where the vibrancy tried to mask the ugliness under the machinations of many of the characters. Max was out of his element, and he knew it. Many of his inner monologues did a great job of pointing that out without being too droning. The juxtaposition of this lively environment really meshed in profound ways with Max’s determination to continue down his troubled path to rock bottom.
We watch Max abuse his signature painkillers while downing a copious amount of booze to soothe his pains—both physical and mental, holing himself up in ratholes that reflected his dire mood. Max admits that he could’ve handled many of the situations he’s faced with better, but his disposition made him careless, thoughtless, rash. He tries to remind players that he no longer is a good person and deserves whatever sordid death comes to him while ignoring the qualities that make him a good guy at heart. He never stopped being a cop or feeling that his duty is to serve and protect. He complains about the shallow people he protects, and while he tries to say his behavior to protect them is just suicidal stupidity on his part, on some level I think that Max still feels his role is to protect others from the “bad guys.”

But at the same time, Max isn’t a cop anymore. His cop instincts are now tempered with many gray areas that allow him to be more “understanding” in some ways, even where normal people would think such understanding isn’t warranted, such as how he allows Serrano to exact revenge for what the doctor put him and his people through. Max had every right to blow Serrano’s face off when they met again, but at that point, Max sees a broken man, maybe even a reflection of himself. “He looked pathetic, a man defeated. I walked away and left him to his own personal nightmare.” But Max did encounter Serrano one more time before walking out of that hotel forever when confronting the doctor harvesting organs, leaving Serrano to mete out justice, even saying that he was rooting for Serrano in some odd way when he says, “My old pal, Serrano. We'd both been unwitting clowns in this sorry circus. Part of me hoped that he'd made it out that hotel alive.”

If there was one series that I expected to end on a heartbreaking note, it was this one, and it would’ve been deserved. When Max shaved his head, said he’d become the monster they wanted him to be, and prepared to make his last stand, I just knew Max was going to go out in a blaze of glory. This game has always felt more like a graphic novel, a Punisher-eque, modern noir type story that you followed rather than played. There was never much reason to believe that this story would end on a positive note, and if Max didn’t die, it would be a Pyrrhic victory at best. And from the opening scenes of the game, I felt this would be the case. Again, I was wrong.

The ending wasn’t all butterflies and happiness, but it gave closure. It felt like Max had finally found his peace and his next journey would lead to healing rather than more mayhem. It was such a simple, quiet ending that was fitting of the series—assuming this is the last we hear from Max. It doesn’t promise you he’ll be happy, but it seems to leave the possibility that he will (or won’t) open to players’ interpretations.

I don’t have much bad to say about this game. I love the story, I loved the new faces they introduced, and I just loved this game. The things that annoyed me are so minor in comparison to the things that I liked that I don’t even think they’re worth talking about. This game just brought back all my feelings about the game, cementing the things that made me fall in love with Max from the beginning.
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Thursday, December 6, 2012

[Book Review] The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spoilerish. Hm. Where do I start with this? I really enjoyed this book. I would be lying if I said that part of the reason I picked up this book wasn’t because the writer is a woman of color. It’s so rare to see people of color writing and representing ourselves in high fantasy stories. I’m starting to see more urban fantasy novels featuring, and being written by, PoC, but high fantasy still sometimes seems a little taboo for PoC. And maybe I’m wrong, and I just haven’t been pointed in the direction of the plethora of fantasy novels written by PoC because they’re hidden away in the AA sections and rarely mentioned if ever mentioned.

I found out about this book through Tumblr when people were posting fanart for the series, and the little information that I was able to glean about series piqued my interest. Once I started this book, I couldn’t stop reading. Yeine was a great narrator, not one of those narrators who spends too much time turning over every single detail they’re taking in and making a story feel convoluted with unnecessary information. I also liked that she wasn’t perfect. So many heroes spend a bulk of their story saying why they’re not perfect while being basically perfect with such irrelevant flaws that are really more like strengths. Yeine doesn’t have to remind readers she’s not perfect, you see it in her actions, her choices, and her responses. She's a woman doing the best she can in a precarious situation and it shows.

I also liked this world that Jemisin created that seems to be a blend of so many cultures and religions. I found the history of the gods fascinating. Their perception and understanding of things differ so much from how a human experiences these things, and I think Jemisin captured their dichotomy between them and humans, even between each other, so well. I loved the “oh-so-human-yet-not” angle she played with the gods. They often remarked that humanity’s flaws were their flaws because they created everything.

I couldn’t help loving Sieh, Nahadoth, Zhakka, and even Kurue and Itempas. While I squealed all over Naha, Sieh, and Zhakka, Tempa (Itempas) was so fascinating to me, even though he didn’t make a real appearance until the end of the book. Just the nature of how humans and other gods spoke about him made him feel omnipresent and powerful--and even a bit terrifying. Because while Naha outwardly showed his danger, Tempa came off as cool, calm fury. When we finally “met” him, I wished we’d had more time to get to know him.

What I really liked about Jemisin’s book sort of falls in the same vein as how I feel about G.R.R.M.’s books in his A Song of Fire and Ice series. While these stories are set in fantasy settings where magic is present, there’s something real and visceral in how they portray characters. They manage to capture a lot of human nature in their characters and make it something more than just a fantasy novel. These stories really know how to make you relate to the characters and ruminate on their machinations.

Now, Jemisin works with the high fantasy and magic way more than G.R.R.M does, in my opinion, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that these are people--and gods--making mistakes, acting on emotions, and not just a “magic made ‘im do it!” scenario, which I highly appreciate.

There are characters I would’ve loved to explore in more depth like Scimina, Dekarth, and Relad. I felt like some of the revelations we came to about Dekarth and Viraine happened a little too quickly at the end there like it would’ve been better if more of this unfolded throughout the story instead of everything getting the big reveal near the end of the book, even if you pretty much suspect that’s how it will end. And I really wish we'd learned more about Darr. These are a couple of reasons that I didn’t give this a full 5 stars, but more like 4.5 stars.

Helluva story overall. I started the next book almost immediately, though I haven’t gotten in very far. Usually when I realize that the next part of a series won’t necessarily follow the characters that I’ve come to love, I feel a little apprehensive, but Yeine’s story mostly felt complete. (And I’m sure the gang will still factor in.) Did I feel Jemisin could’ve dragged this story on for a couple of books? Maybe, but only if she’d stretched out the story told in this book. But I’m actually excited to read about another character’s adventures in this world.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

[Book Review] Never Give in to Fear

Never Give in to Fear: Laughing All the Way Up From Rock BottomNever Give in to Fear: Laughing All the Way Up From Rock Bottom by Marti MacGibbon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book completely on whim. It was one of the free Kindle eBooks being offered on Amazon's site recently. Normally, I probably wouldn't have read/bought a book like this unless it came highly recommended from people that have similar reading tastes as I do. However, since it was free, there was no real risk involved, so I figured that I might as well read it.

I'm not very familiar with Marti MacGibbon. I've only read blurbs about her here and there. Usually when I'm not familiar with the person whose autobiography/memoirs I plan to read, I put them off for a slow reading day. However, the promise of this book dealing with addiction, human trafficking, and eventual redemption are part of the reasons that I went ahead and started this rather than shelving it for another time. I'm a sucker for redemption stories.

Marti's humorous telling of her story is filled with dark, wry humor that often comes off a bit self-deprecating, which is a little different. Often, former addicts tend to come off a little preachy. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, it can be a bit off-putting when you just want to read a real, raw story, which is what Marti presents in her book. Her struggle with her addiction and wanting to be a good mother to her daughter presented an interesting angle to her story as well.

She says addiction and denial made her believe that she was in control of her life for so long, even when all the signs said she wasn't. Quite simply put, I'm amazed at everything she went through and how she found the strength to carry on even after a near-debilitating addiction and being sold into sex slavery by an acquaintance. She is very fortunate because so many women in her same condition are not here to tell their stories today.

I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. My heart really ached for her as I read this. It was almost like reading a confession from a friend rather than an account of her life. The writing was personable and engaging, even if parts of it were a little repetitive. Much of this book focused on her downward fall rather than her eventual redemption. I wouldn't recommend this if you're a person who is easily triggered since she is very candid about her drug abuse and various dangerous situations she's found herself in.

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Friday, November 30, 2012

[Book Review] Superheroes: The Best of Philosophy and Pop Culture

Superheroes: The Best of Philosophy and Pop CultureSuperheroes: The Best of Philosophy and Pop Culture by William Irwin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is my 4th venture into the Pop Culture and Philosophy series. I've previously read Watchmen and Philosophy: A Rorschach Test, X-Men and Philosophy: Astonishing Insight and Uncanny Argument in the Mutant X-Verse, and Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul.This book is a culmination of the best essays from various comic related books in the series.

A few of these I'd already read in the previously mentioned books, but there were quite a few that I hadn't read. These essays touch on things such modesty, forgiveness, justice--things you'd expect to read about in a philosophy book about superheroes. However, I did like that they also tried to touch on technology (The Stark Madness of Technology), happiness (Does Peter Parker Have A Good Life?), finding the balance between two extremes (The Blackest Night for Aristotle's Account of Emotions), and exceptionalism, specifically American exceptionalism (Is Superman an American Icon?).

Many of these essays started off rather "meh..." to me, leaving me wondering at first how this is considered the "best," but they quickly picked up. I think my personal favorite in the book is Captain America and the Virtue of Modesty followed closely by The Blackest Night for Aristotle's Account of Emotions. And while I think most of them did a fair job in stating their case, I could never really understand where one writer was going with The Stark Madness of Technology. But there is always at least on essay in these books that seems to just ramble along with no real destination in my opinion.

I would've liked to have seen an essay on the villains. I know this is about the heroes in comics, but you can't have your heroes without your villains. So, I was mildly disappointed that I didn't get at least a Joker essay in this.

One thing I love about this series is how the writers are able to make philosophy understandable for the layperson. Concepts and ideas that can boggle people are explained in easy to understand terms, breaking it down into the simplest examples and ideas, even if you're not into philosophy. No, this is not a perfect book and many things will still be a little beyond the grasp of some people, but I think they mostly do a very good job with making this series inclusive of philosophers and non-philosophers alike.

I was able to snag this in ebook format on Amazon they featured it as one of their free books deal, and as of this writing, it's still a free ebook. If you've read most of the comic related books in this series, this is skippable since it pulls from those sources. If you're looking to get your feet wet with this series, this is a decent place to start.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Guild Wars 2: The Shiny and the Not So Shiny

I always have to start any thoughts that deal with a fantasy setting with a caveat. High fantasy is not my preferred setting. I have nothing at all against it. I enjoy fantasy books, games, and shows/movies, but I’m much more into urban fantasy, modern settings, cyberpunk, space drama, technophilia, etc. So, I tend to be much pickier when it comes to anything high fantasy related because I lose interest quickly if there’s nothing to anchor me there. End caveat.

I played Guild Wars and enjoyed it very much. My main character was a necromancer/hunter named Tara Xan (her name was supposed to be Xantara, but GW1 had that first name/last name rule then), and I had good times with her. When Guild Wars 2 was announced, it was almost a given that I’d be purchasing and playing the game. I’d been keeping up with the updates, and while I didn’t participate in the beta, I would look at the information other players posted as well as reading official news from the site. I was pretty excited for it.

And I was completely enamored at first, distracted by all the shiny, but after two months, I’m really starting to pay attention to what I do and don’t like about the game.

PvE is handled well. I like that in PvE, during events, you’re working with your fellow players rather than against them. You don’t have to be on a team to benefit from group events, and you don’t have to feel like you need to do more than the next person to get a payoff from an event. In fact, the whole PvE method of playing seems to foster more camaraderie than rivalry, which makes it one of the better PvE environments I’ve played in. Players often help each other when they see someone in need. Players are also not shy about asking for help when they find themselves in a tough situation, and everyone is rewarded equally.

This game is dynamic enough that you’re required to play your profession in (mostly) a smart manner. Having the best gear and specs doesn’t mean that you’re going to burn through everything in the game. You’re still faced with enough of a challenge that if you’re not really prepared for what’s going on around you, you could find yourself respawning at the nearest waypoint before you know it. I’m sure people have probably found ways to make any given profession seem near godly, but for the most part, the game tries and (mostly) succeeds in trying to put everyone on equal footing.

You’re always scaled to the relative level of the zone you’re in if you’re leveled much higher than the zone. If you’re in a zone that is level 1-15 and you’re L30, you’re scaled to the appropriate level. Even in the same zone, you make go through multiple level scales as you move to different areas that are higher or lower levels. This is not true of a low-level player going to a PvE zone that is much higher than they are, though. You’re just suicidal if you’re a L20 trying to fight in an L60 zone.  I know some people hate this aspect of the game, but I do enjoy it. It keeps me challenged in all zones.

Experiencing the vast world of Tyria through other races is a big plus as well, especially since in the last game we could only play as humans. And I think it’s particularly interesting that the charr were included as a playable race in this game. I do understand the disappointment surrounded around not being able to really acknowledge your Guild Wars character(s) contributions to this new era or connect them in some tangible way to a new human character, though, but a little creativity goes a long way in creating a shared history for your old character and your new one. I only have one real complaint here. Sometimes, I still feel there is a heavy human slant on the story as characters move away from their “home” areas and start to branch out since so many human characters like Queen Jennah play such an important role in the story right now. I haven’t completed any of the personal storylines to the end yet, so this opinion may change in the future.

Crafting is fun in this game… once you figure it out. I’m not the type of person who hates crafting, but in some games, it can be tedious, but often necessary. While the crafting is pretty straightforward, there was a brief moment when I had no idea what I was doing until I slowed down and paid attention. I enjoy seeing what new combinations I’ll come up with by combining various materials together. It also helps that the experience gained from it can be nice.

I can’t speak on sPvP or WvWvW because I haven’t really experienced those two areas, and I don’t know when I will. But overall, I’m a casual MMO player, and this allows you to be as casual or as hardcore as you want to be. I know I probably haven’t covered everything I liked, but let’s go on to the not-so-shiny parts.

All the utilities on my L61
I’m an alt-o-holic. I love making new characters, so what I’m about write pains me. I’ve gotten to a point in this game where I ask myself, “Why would I want to make another character in this game? What would be the point?” No matter what type of character I make in this game, I will always have the same weapon skills and the same utilities. There will be no variety, except for the little variety I add myself in how I decide to play my character. I’ll give you an example. I could make two engineers and play one as a demolitionist, which I am doing now, and I could play one as a turrets expert. However, it’s actually possible to do that with just one character since I discovered, with my L61 Guardian, that you can technically get just about every utility with one character.

Add that to the fact that there is little variance in the personal story. You have some control over your story and choices, but not that many or even choices that impact the story in profound ways. You’re always going to come to the same conclusion no matter what you do, and there’s nothing wrong with that per se since that can be said of just about all games. However, when you add lack of skill/utility change with lack of story change, your answer equals monotonous. If I had the chance to get excited about possible weapon skill choices as I leveled and utilities that I cared about, I wouldn’t care that the personal story is only so-so. Likewise, if the story was phenomenal but the skills/powers were handled as they are now, I would still be eager to see the rest of the story. 

Have to take 5 powers to get more crap
Utilities aren’t that great in this game, and you don’t know how much it grates my nerves that I have to take so many utilities I don’t want and/or are too crappy just to get to my next set of utilities just to find out I have even more crap that I don’t want. Yay! There are way too many repeat utilities with just one more condition or one more boon, and some of them are way too ineffective with ridiculously long cool downs to be of any real use. And some of them leave me scratching my head wondering when such a power would ever be useful except in very specific circumstances where they still might not be that useful.

The weapons are the biggest disappointment for me, though. I liked that they restricted what you can use based on class, but weapon skills are so ridiculously limited. You only get five attacks no matter what, and they will always be the same based on what weapon you use no matter what. You don’t get to select what you want with your weapons. No, the game essentially tells you, “This is what you’re going to get with your weapons. And that’s that. Love it or leave it.” You also can pretty much level all your weapons up the minute you get past the “tutorial” part, which means that you’ll know what you prefer before level 10, but you’ll also be playing those same weapon skills with no change for the next 70 or so levels.

And while I appreciate that this is done partly to make characters self-sufficient in or out of a group and not try to fit themselves into a mold of being a tank, healer, or whatever, it’s still dull. It seems like there would be more weapon skills to make gameplay interesting without the worry that someone may try to fit into a “defined role.” Everyone has the same skills. Everyone tends to use their skills in similar ways. There’s no real incentive to make another character of the same class because very little would change. You may find a few creative ways to use your skills, but not many.

All the skills my L61 has (and will ever have)
The personal stories in this game are okay. Some parts are more amusing or touching than others. I feel like there should’ve been more depth to, at least, the parts of the storyline that are personal to characters, but I guess giving it any substantial depth might’ve made it hard to make it unique to the players’ characters. But if they added more depth to other parts of the creation of the story or more substantial decisions/actions/responses in regards to the personal story, I think they could’ve come up with something more worthwhile. Not saying the whole thing should’ve been dictated to the point that there’s no leeway for players to craft their own tale, but so far, I haven’t been truly impressed with any personal story in any race.

You can only do your personal story up to a point, and then, you’re bound to get to a place where your next quest will be much higher than you can handle alone or even with a group. There’s nothing wrong with that, but then, you’re left to grind in the meantime by exploring and filling hearts (completing tasks in different areas for NPCs). I like that this encourages exploring, but why are there no real side quests rather than just area tasks, gathering, and vista hunting?

Red number means it's higher than my current level

Why aren’t there short side mission stories? Why can’t I do a short mission where I might personally help an NPC find out what happened to a friend/family member that joined the separatists and are now missing? That would break of the monotony of filling hearts where you fundamentally do much of the same things, anyway. And if you have a character of every class like I do, then, you’re pretty much doing the same things repeatedly in the same zones to level up.

Events do help break that up a little, but you do the same events with some variation at times in the same area so many times that it becomes part of the grind. Why should I keep helping Curtis defend his farm from bandits every 10 minutes? Curtis, it is time for you to consider a career change and a possible relocation from the area you reside. What do you expect to happen when there is a bandit camp 50 yards away, Curtis? Did you think they would bring you cookies because you’re neighbors? Did you not invite them to your slumber party and now they’re pissed?

Curtis, please...
And that brings me to another thing that irks me about the story. Relations between so many races are tense, especially charr and humans, and there’s this big deal about uniting the races and the different guilds to fight the dragons. However, when I’m doing hearts in charr dominated areas as a human, there’s no chance for a human to express grievances if they’re doing things that a human might not think is good taste (ex. pillaging human graves with the charr) or even express dissatisfaction if a charr says something that a human might find generally offensive when conversing with them. Why would the human that I’m playing, who is just now learning to work with and trust the other races in my canon for her, not speak up in the dungeon when Rytlock is baiting the human ghosts? And this works the other way around, as well, and with other races besides the humans and charr.

I have some other things that annoy me (like the bots keeping areas bone dry when I need to fill a heart), but I think I’ve written enough for right now. Working my way through storylines that I’m vaguely interested in and exploring/doing quests with my friends are the main reasons that I’m still playing, but I’m starting to break away a little to play other things like Borderlands.
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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Tempest Plays Mass Effect: Labs (Nick Shepard)

Made it to the labs finally. For those of you who watched me stream the other night and saw how many glitching problems I had while trying to play, you'll know that this is a big achievement indeed for me right now.

Note: A little change to how I will be posting these videos. Sometimes, my connection really hates Livestream for whatever reason. It'll drop the connection with Livestream Procaster, which results in the stream dropping and picking back up. So, I have Procaster set to record my streams. I'll be uploading those to Youtube and posting them here if my connection and Livestream continue to hate one another.

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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Mass Effect: Peak 15

Going home today, but I was able to get one more streaming session this weekend (and I managed to play Guild Wars 2 a bit this weekend). Getting close to the rachni queen and Benezia with Nick. I seem to burn through these rachni quicker as a sentinel than I did with some other classes.

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Friday, October 5, 2012

Mass Effect: Can't Drive, Don't Care

I'm in Chattanooga for a wedding, but of course, I brought my laptop for a little gaming session. Our hotel has wifi, but I'm using the connection on my phone since tethering on 4G is probably much faster than anything these suites have... and possibly more reliable. Streamed a little gameplay for friends before running off to the church for rehearsal. So, here's a little more Nick Shepard braving the cold tundra that is Noveria while nearly flipping the Mako and other craziness. Rachni!

Watch live streaming video from digitaltempest at
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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Razer Naga: Ave Satana

First, I’m pretty sure that Razer’s three headed serpent is a hail to Satan, symbolizing their devotion to their dark lord because it kind of feels evil when I put my hand on the glowing mouse. I’m just saying. You pretty much have to make a pact with the devil for this kind of product. People don’t just dream these things up without dark intervention.

I used the mouse with my engineer on Guild Wars 2 first since she was the one that pushed me over the edge and made me say, “I think I need to have this mouse right now before somebody gets hurt.” I tried some various combinations while fooling around in the kiddie zones in Queensdale. At first, it was a bit frustrating, but that was not the mouse’s fault. That was just general experimenting getting on my nerves because I wasn’t finding too many setups I liked or if I did, there was one little thing threw the whole setup off for me.

Anyway, I just gave up on my engineer for the night and worked on some of my other characters where I was finding some of the same frustrations, so I defaulted all the binds in the options menu back to their original state and started from square one. Then, I changed what I normally do in the options—such as, changing “tab” to target nearest enemy—but kept it simple. And finally, gameplay started getting better for me. Right now, it’s just a matter of consciously reminding myself to hit the keys on the side of the mouse and not the keyboard as well as becoming familiar with what keys are where. I appreciate the middle row has ridges, but I still have to peek to make sure that I’m hitting 4 and not 5.

Earlier yesterday, I’d downloaded a program that would toggle my right mouse button at my leisure because I’m not too fond of how the game handles mouse look. It worked perfectly when I was using my old mouse, but the Naga somewhat negated me using that. This mouse makes it much easier and much more comfortable to hold down the right button to look navigate/look around because it’s much bigger than my wireless mouse. My wireless mouse was designed to leave a very small footprint, and I can use a lighter grip with the Naga than I did with my old one because this mouse isn’t as “stiff,” for lack of better word.

In fact, it feels better to hold the right mouse button down now. It seems to help anchor and position my fingers correctly on the side buttons. Didn’t get any hand cramps just yet, but I haven’t put it to the real test yet.

I thought I would set up some macros like bombs continuously launching as long as I’m holding down the key for it since it has no recharge time, which I guess could technically be done with fast cast in the options menu, but that’s so unpredictable. I still found that I was throwing bombs 20 miles away from my target with fast cast, even though my mouse was positioned correctly. But then, I thought, “Let me check the policy on this.” I know ANet is dedicated to stopping bots, and I’m know a big part of how bots work can be contributed to programs changing scripts or them using complex macros to achieve their goals.

However, ANet is so vague about what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable as far as that goes. I know, on one of the threads I was reading, official personnel told someone that just creating a macro to toggle the right mouse button isn’t a real problem, but still largely left some more “gray area” questions unanswered about it. So, I’m just going to err on the side of not doing it, not that I understand how to do it in Synapse yet anyway. I’ll play around with it later.
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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mass Effect: Adventure Time with Male Shepard

I've been trying--rather unsuccessfully might I add--to finish the Mass Effect series with a male Shepard. I wanted to do a complete series run with at least one male character. I do have a male character that I finished Mass Effect 2 with on my PS3 and have started Mass Effect 3 with him, but he's pretty much stalled right now.  I don't know if I'll ever go back to him to be honest. I played most of the game on mute because I just couldn't take the voice.

I'm just not a fan of Mark Meer's Shepard voice. I think Mark Meer in general is a great voice actor. However, I just don't like where he went with Shepard's voice, and maybe I'm biased because I started the game with female Shepard. And Jennifer Hale's voice is wonderfully expressive, and I guess I just expected the same quality with male Shepard. However, I still think male Shepard has better facial expressions than female Shepard.

I've put the idea in my head that Shepard talks like he does because he thinks he's being calm and collected when his face is revealing all his emotions. Look, I have to do what works for me to make me be okay with that voice.

Anyhow, many of my female Shepards are patterned after awesome women I know in real life with some exaggerated traits--some who sort of dictate how I play "their" character. I'm looking at you, Chance. That has made the experience that much more fun and personal for me, so I decided to give that try with a male Shepard, patterning him after one of my longest and best male friends, Nick.

I've been streaming the playthroughs for Nick who has provided some interesting commentary on my choices for him, and I haven't muted the game one time. I'll sit at my computer flailing because I killed Cree Summer Macha Doyle during the Feros missions, and Nick's telling me, "You did good, child."

Just started Noveria, so I'll probably update with more of these. And no, I have no idea what to do as a sentinel. I prefer vanguard, infiltrator, and soldier.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

AvX: What Am I Even Reading?

I’m just going to be honest. I really did not intend to read this because I didn’t want to read another wash, rinse, repeat story about anything dealing with Phoenix. I’m over that, but I was interested to see how this annulment business came about with Storm and Black Panther, and I wanted the full context. To be clear, I’ve always thought that was a couple that came into fruition because, hey, they are both black and African—totally legit reasons for making them hookup. Amirite? They went through such lengths to give them a shared background rather than building up to a meaningful relationship between the two. Now, they don’t seem to know what to do with them together.

What I left with after nine issues and reading some of the tie-in stories is a sour taste in my mouth concerning so many things in this event. I’m not even going to get started on all my Storm feelings right now because this would just make this even longer than it already is, but I’m sure I’ll find some time to scream about it later in its own post once I read more of this. So, I’ll gloss over some (read: not all) of the things that have annoyed me.

There aren't really any spoilers from this point, but this is long.
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Friday, July 20, 2012

Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 Thoughts

This is long overdue. I’ve been sitting on it for about 3 months now for no good reason even though I’ve been done with both Dragon Age and Dragon Age 2 that long. I guess you can chalk it up to laziness or being sidetracked by other things.

Dragon Age: Origins

I started playing this earlier this year, but neglected to finish it for a bit when Mass Effect 3 came out. I did manage to finish it while I was playing Mass Effect 3, though. It was my “go to” game when I needed a break from aliens and thinking about reaper stuff.

I think Mass Effect has ruined me a bit since now I expect all of Bioware’s games to be voiced, which is funny considering I have played and enjoyed KOTOR, KOTOR II, and Jade Empire--none of which are voiced. Mass Effect was the first Bioware game that I’ve felt really emotionally invested in. That’s not to say that I don’t have a ton of feelings about other games including this one. Mass Effect just holds a bigger piece of my heart than the rest of them, though.

However, I did enjoy Dragon Age for the most part. Fantasy games can be sort of hit or miss with me, so I wasn't sure how long this was going to hold my interest. I don't have anything against fantasy. I'm just more of a sci-fi, cyberpunk, urban fantasy person.

I was not a fan of the combat system they had in place. it became a bit of a pain to try to target with my mage when Alistair kept blocking my line of sight. I also don’t like spending a lot of time positioning characters so that we get our tactics just right. It made me feel clumsy and slow while playing, a feeling that I have even now playing through with my rogue.  However, none of that is terrible enough to make quit playing, though. It’s not the worst system I’ve ever had to play with BY FAR.

I think part of the reason I didn’t give it up is because I loved the story. Dragon Age is an immersive, sprawling tale that really could keep the player drawn into it. It was more like reading a novel you dictated more than just some game you’re playing. And I think that’s something that Bioware is good at--getting the player wholly involved in the story of these characters, making it more than just a game for many people.

Dragon Age 2

This should be known as the game that vaguely has something to do with the first one, but not really. Despite the fact that you can import in a save, it doesn’t really have that much of an impact on gameplay in DA2 (at least not in my case). There is such a disconnect here that I feel you could play this game without playing the first game. That’s unusual for me to say because I am the type of gamer that has to play the first game before going on to any of the sequels.

I really loved the new game mechanics, though. I tend to prefer action oriented, on-the-spur gaming rather than micromanaging every single aspect. This allowed me to do that a little more than in the last game where it seemed like I was pausing every 10 seconds to make sure that my group had some sort of tactics going on in order not to end up dead.

One thing that sort of got on my nerves with Dragon Age: Origins was all the dialogue choices. I didn’t necessarily think Dragon Age 2 needed to go the way of the dialogue wheel (which tends to label “good” and “bad” choices a la Mass Effect style and take some legitimacy away from your choices), but I did think that some of the dialogue choices were excessive in DAO. I mean, honestly, how many ways do you really need to say “no”?

The story in this one felt... rushed. Even though it spans over 10 years, it really was a short game. While I think this is a fun game in its own right, I’m disappointed in it because it seemed unbalanced and lacking in focus.

I wasn't too thrilled with not being able to equip my companions as I saw fit. As I mentioned before, I don’t care for micromanaging, but I do like to give my companions something awesome every now and again that I think will be useful in battle.

Find armor that you’d like Aveline to wear? Silly, you can’t change your companions gear. You get a lot of equipment in this game. However, your companions are pretty much limited to some weapons and accessories. Their armor can change, but mostly by finding pieces that are specifically for them.
So, that means I spent a lot of time loaded down and selling crap that nobody could use--including my character.

I was under the impression that this was going to continue to be about the Darkspawn threat that I thought was still a threat even though my hero killed the Archdemon. However, instead of that continuing theme that defined Dragon Age: Origins and followed me into Awakenings, I’m faced with this civil war that is brewing between templars and mages that I don’t really care about because the unbalanced storytelling really didn’t give me a chance to connect and care about their problems.

So, we’re presented with another major theme. Something I’ve noticed with Bioware games, as much as I hate to say this, is that if there are too many major themes something is going to be nixed and ignored as if it never existed. And it seems like it’s about to be the Darkspawn bits. Not that it won’t be interesting to see what happens between the mages and the templars. I just really don’t care and would rather be finding out what the wardens are on a super secret mission for and where is Morrigan and the OLD GOD baby. However, I will reserve judgement until I actually see Dragon Age 3.

I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t play as the other races in this one. To me, one of the things that I associate with a fantasy game is the ability to play as other races in the game. And this game, while certainly giving me a few good choices, didn’t seem to have many major choices that the first game had (or maybe not enough major choices that I cared about).

This was an okay game. Fun for what it’s worth, but not as great as it could’ve been (and was expecting).
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Things That Burn Me Up

When someone trivializes the pain and suffering of others.

It is never okay to make stupid, insensitive jokes about people who have gone through a harrowing experience, even if you preface it with, "LOL. I know this is terrible, but..." To me, it shows a lack of empathy and understanding on your part, the complete inability to put yourself in someone else's situation and question how you would handle something like that.

I just can't with people like that because I don't understand them, and I don't want to understand them. I can only hope that they are never faced with a situation that really rips their life apart, that they never are faced with someone mocking their pain while trying to downplay what shitty thing they are about to say with, "LOL. I know this is terrible, but..."

What's worse? When they keep it moving and act like they didn't just say something truly disgusting.
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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut: You Cannot Escape Your Destiny, Shepard Redux

First, let me explain where I stood on the original ending debate. When I first saw my ending, I was pressed. Initially, I rejected it.  However, I thought about it for a couple of days. I didn’t really discuss it much because I didn’t want too many opinions tempering my thoughts. After a few days, I still wasn’t satisfied, but I didn’t hate what they did more than I hated the execution. The lack of closure bothered me more than that—along with some of the plot holes and the Normandy’s confusing jump. I wanted to know that my Shepard didn’t do this in vain. 

I was ready to hear opinions after that, specifically from people who liked the endings. I faced another problem there. Most of the discussion about the endings brought out two kinds of people. The kind who have nothing to say beyond “Meh… Endings suck.” And the ones who accused disgruntled fans of being “whiners.” I wanted to hear argument about both sides that were well thought out and find out why they felt the way they did about the endings. So, I did discuss the ending with someone who liked them that was very well thought out. Those discussions did a lot with helping me to make peace with my ending while seeing why someone might really love the ending they got.

I was never really one of those people who wanted the ending changed completely (but I didn’t discount the argument of people who did want those endings gone). I never wanted to roll around in the rubble with my LI. I didn’t want an Ewok dance party. Hell, I didn’t even expect my Shepard to make it out of this trilogy alive. I just wanted it to make sense somewhere, somehow. The Extended Cut of the endings did its job in mostly making me feel like Shepard had accomplished something even after the fallout.

Everything after this will be spoilerish, and this is longish. I'm not sorry for it.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

She's Gaming: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

I started this game with my cohort Sparkle. The following is actually ramblings that I posted on Tumblr. It's just some very brief ramblings about the beginning of the game. And when I say we're playing this together, I mean that we're flailing at each other from our respective corners of the nation over instant messenger.

Neither of us got very far. I don’t even know if Sparkle made it to the helipad, yet. I spent way too much time talking to people who were gossiping about Jensen, arguing with Pritchard, and confronting some dude who questioned Jensen’s mental state. And of course we had to laugh and exchange screenshots and talk about the adventures of Tsundere!Frank.

This conversation I had in the helicopter after meeting with Pritchard to reboot... I liked how he (Sarif?) asked me if I wanted to just smack around the baddies a little bit or did I want to make them bleed. And then he asked if I wanted to get up close and personal or if I wanted to do long range kills. Is this standard procedure in the game or just an example of how I can choose to basically run a mission however I want? Because if given a choice, I don’t want to stealth anything if I don’t have to.

Speaking of which, how the dialogue choices are handled makes me happy. I think, out of the games I’ve been playing lately, this one handles it the best. It’s less visually intrusive than the dialogue choices in The Witcher, but more detailed than Mass Effect’s paraphrasing system. (Those are the two games I’ve been playing recently.)

The only thing that I’m finding myself annoyed with is the crouching/cover thing. The switch to 3rd person view doesn’t aggravate me as much as I thought it would, but I hate that when I leave cover I’m almost always crouching. Now, there would be nothing wrong with that if I’d made Jensen crouch before going into cover, but I usually don’t. I just go into low cover by holding the command key for it, and I wish the game would recognize that and put me back in a standing position when I leave cover. Nitpicky, I know.

But other than that gripe (and I have one other, but I want to see if it continues to happen before complaining about it), I like it. I had a rocky start with the controls, but we’re going places now.
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Monday, June 11, 2012

She's Gaming: The Witcher Chapter One

Slightly spoilerish, maybe.
At this point, I am surprised at how amused I am with this game. I still have my beef with the combat, but I even like the combat a little more now that I’m getting some variations in my moves and have picked up the Igni sign to go along with Aard. I’m enjoying the story more now that I’ve followed Geralt and finished the first chapter of the game.
Geralt is hilarious, and he is largely why I’m finding myself so amused. At first, I was a little put off by how deadpan he is, but I like how he’s turned out to be this snarky monster hunter, and at some points in the game how he’s all, “Oh, that is so unfortunate… dramatic pause… Yo, where’s my money you promised me?” It’s as if I’m just expecting him to insert a Kanye shrug in some of these conversations. I call him Casually Disinterested Geralt.
I thought it was hilarious how, even though Geralt needed this information on the Salamandra and the villagers’ trust, he still had the audacity to ask that they pay him (usually 200 orens, but he’s open to haggling) along with giving him the information for the trouble of taking care of the monsters for them, and they agreed to this. Villagers, how do you work? Geralt is a hustler.
I’m learning a lot about life by playing this game. I think I can incorporate these things into my daily life. Things I’ve learned from playing The Witcher:
  • It’s okay to fight monsters in the middle of the night while drunk.
  • It’s okay to extort money from people you need favors from.
  • It’s okay to aspire to be a professional gambler.
  • It’s okay to let the villagers get killed by ghouls because they leave behind stuff you can use… like money.
  • It’s okay to meditate in a forest full of monsters at night.
  • It’s okay to sleep with anything that is vaguely female when you do something vaguely nice for them.
  • It’s okay to have drinking contests to extract information from others.
Why am I not surprised the darkness in the villager’s hearts, the obvious moral decay in that town, is what attracted The Beast? But moral decay seems to be the theme in RPG games. Anyhow, I knew it wouldn’t be Abigail or something she conjured up. That would’ve been too easy and predictable. However, I did half expect The Beast to turn out to be the Reverend, which probably can still be viewed as just as predictable. But the villagers did turn out to be monsters in their own right.
That battle with The Beast gave me some fits. I don’t think I leveled up properly for that battle because as I mentioned before I’m mostly just winging it with talent points distribution. I think I died like 3 times before finally getting it. Abigail helped a little by healing me as long as she wasn’t distracted. I tried to keep the barghest off her to keep her focus on the healing, but she was stab happy. Anytime I knocked them down with Aard, she was right there stealing my quick kills when she should’ve been healing. And what’s this about toxicity? I got my first warning about that during that fight.
Just a general gameplay note.
I like how they handle the journal/codex/books in this game. Usually reading the information that journal/codex entries and books provide is optional. While I’m the type who devours those entries because I love things that add to the story, some people skip it, especially if it adds nothing to how they play the game.
In this game, reading your journal/codex entries and books are pretty much required. You can only learn about alchemical ingredients you can skin off a monster if you’ve read about them or if someone told you about them. Entries will also tell you their weaknesses, tactics, and what fighting style is most effective against them. I’m thinking the same goes for herbs. You have to know about them first before you can find them.
Your journal is your recipe book, as well, telling you the ingredients and the quantity needed for potions. And unless you’re playing on easy, every bit of that information comes in handy. I’m playing on normal difficulty which stated that some alchemy would be needed (easy doesn’t require alchemy; and hard requires quite a bit of mandatory alchemy). At first, it didn’t seem like I would need alchemy, but I learned better as I progressed. So, buying books in this game isn’t a wasted effort.
Another general note: the reused character textures. That’s driving me nuts. I know that happens in tons of games, but there was a moment when I thought I was looking at Vesna’s dead body and it was really a woman named Ilsa. I can see it more for some of the unimportant characters you don’t interact with, but maybe not so much for characters you have a high likely hood of encountering.
Started Chapter Two last night, but I’m at the very beginning. I just got far enough to gamble with my new elf friend and fight for the right to go down in the sewer and exterminate a cockatrice. Mikul has made it to my Kill Bill death list. I’ll get that little bastard, even if I have to write a fanfiction about it if they don’t give me that honor in the game. LOL.
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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

She's Gaming: Witcher Thoughts

Just some random gaming thoughts on The Witcher. Maybe slightly spoilerish, I dunno.
Still working my way through this game. I actually ended up restarting it to record a little bit of my playthrough and to go through the tutorial again and really pay attention to the mechanics of the game. I’d only been half paying attention to the information given during my old save, which is probably why I was so lost.

The combat system still isn’t my favorite and feels clunky and awkward, but I’ve picked up enough of a steady groove with it to not die as quickly as humanly possible. I’ve only died maybe two times since playing this game with many near deaths under my belt. You almost had me Nadir, but behold, the power of mutton!
I’m still only so-so with the leveling and potion making. The potion making is starting to make more sense as I do it more. I’m still having some issues where I’ve learned a formula, gathered material for the formula, and made the formula, but it’s still not showing up in my inventory. Where the hell is the Specter Oil I made? That would come in handy at night against the drowners, ghouls, and barghest I’m encountering since I don’t have a silver sword yet. In fact… Should I have one at this point?

And no, I’m not messing up the potion. I’m aware that could cause my formulas not to show up, but I’m pretty sure that is not the issue. I’ve been very careful about it. Vesemir’s “don’t screw this up” talk makes me take extra care to check and double check what I am doing with these potions.

And while leveling isn’t hard work, I’m still a little lost on what I should be doing exactly. I just kind of click on random things and then hope I haven’t messed up something completely. Okay, I do understand it a bit better than before, but I’m still just going with whatever it lets me take at the time. I still maintain that I was not leveling up in my old play through because I see that a message comes up on the screen about meditating to increase my skill. And I swear I never saw that message before I restarted the game.

The characters are a little disconcerting with their lack of facial expressions and very little tonal inflection. And some characters do use a lot of emotion in their speech, so it’s even more amusing to listen to them speak passionately about something without changing their facial expressions.  The Reverend is hilarious to talk to for this reason. I don’t consider this too much of a big deal since I’ve played games that were much worse in that facial expression department.

Right now, I am still at Vizima (which I want to keep calling Virmire because of Mass Effect, but settle on Vizmire). I’ve made it further along than with my old save at this point,  but I know I’m playing very slowly. My first playthrough will always be the longest and slowest because I try to do and learn as much as I can. Subsequent playthroughs are much shorter. I’m helping that old coot of a reverend light his damn eternal fires and trying to get villagers to trust me.

I like how Geralt is all about that cash. The reverend has information and help that Geralt needs, and Geralt still says, in that so calm voice, that he’s got to get paid if he’s going to do this. And the old coot agreed to it. I also like how Geralt basically shoehorned in on the monster hunter’s business and has the hunter paying him to fight monsters. Smart man. Geralt and I are going to get along just fine. He knows my heart.

I’m also starting to see just how snarky Geralt is. I compared his demeanor to Ryo Hazuki’s from SHENMUE. His voice is always deadpan like Ryo’s, but unlike Ryo who is a bit gulliable (and rightly so since he’s a teenager), Geralt has all this deadpan sarcasm at his disposal. I’m loving all these calm “You said what to me?” moments he keeps having with people, and they’re all like, “Nothing. I didn’t sass you, sir.”

The only real off-putting thing is the women in the game. I already knew that sex between Geralt and the females he’s helped is the reward of choice. I have nothing against sex in games. I’m that gamer that explores all the sex options in a game and make ridiculously immature jokes. However, it’s still borderline creepy in this one. The porn star moans… God, save the queen. Is your vagina magic? Because if it’s not, I’m going to need y’all to start coming up off some money or some potions or something. And I don’t know why I keep expecting something other than that from them when the game pretty much says, “Nope, vagina it is.”

I am enjoying the game a bit more, even if I do spend some time muttering at my screen about potions and leveling and wondering why this random dwarf told me to fuck off in those exact words. Stay tuned.
Continue Reading…

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

She’s Gaming: Max Payne 3 (No Spoilers)

For those who have known me a long time or regularly talk to me about gaming, they know that Max Payne is one of my top ten gaming series ever. Max Payne was the first game that I purchased when I got an original Xbox ages ago and has remained a favorite since. To say that I’ve been anticipating this latest game is the understatement of the year. The only thing I anticipated as much is Mass Effect 3.

I will admit I was a little apprehensive about how the noir feel of the game would work with the new setting. Not saying that noir is restricted to settings like East Coast, USA, but I always associate Brazil with colorful, vivacious, and fast-paced. Things I don’t associate with noir (aside from fast-paced). However, as a gaming company, I think that Rockstar is consistent if nothing else and dared to hope that they wouldn’t disappoint.

So far, I like it. Nay, I love it. Starting with the opening where Max is trying to drink his torments away, giving cryptic, slightly crazed rambling clues about his life (which I hope will be expounded on as the games goes on for new players), I was hooked. This opening soliloquy establishes what fans of the series know--Max is continuing his downward trend.

Brazil is just as vibrant as I imagined it would be in the game, which is different for the series, but at the same time, it really emphasizes how out of his element Max really is. His whole demeanor clashes with the fun, ritzy, shallow lifestyle that he’s being exposed to, and Max being Max is quick to point out how much he hates it. Rockstar has, in my opinion, successfully fused the gritty, dirty elements of the first two games with this new vibrant setting. But don’t take that to mean that you don’t see some old locations.

Bullet time returned, of course, and we got something new called Bullet Cam, which slows down the last kill, allowing players to fire even more shots into a baddie for a dramatic finish. Then, there’s another new element called Last Man Standing. I’m not sure how I feel about Last Man Standing, yet, which forces a dying Max into bullet time to take out the threat. Successfully killing the other guy uses one painkiller automatically and restores a little bit of Max’s health. On one hand, I like the concept. On the other, I feel like that may be a painkiller wasted. I’ll see as I progress further. 

I am enjoying this journey. There was one scene in the very beginning that had my heart pounding from excitement. And for me, some of the joy in this series has always been the story. Max's story is tragic and doesn't seem to give players much hope, but you want to know what happens next despite all that. Now some may think there's too much commentary going on with Max reminding you every three seconds how dire a situation is, but I liked that they've revamped an old style with some fresh elements. 

I hope the game continues to stay awesome as I continue, but if I know Rockstar, it will.
Continue Reading…

Friday, May 11, 2012

She’s Gaming: The Witcher Initial Impression

Initially, I started this after I beat both Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age: Origins, but I still had a lot of Bioware feelings left. So, I ended up finishing Mass Effect 3 again and beating Dragon Age 2. Now, I think I’m sick of all the Bioware feelings and need a change of pace for a bit. Not that I’m going to actually stop talking about all things Bioware with everyone or even playing through the games. That’s beside the point, though. The Witcher will be my main focus along with Max Payne 3.
Initial response: I’m intrigued. The voice acting leaves a little be desired, but the opening cutscene definitely held my attention with Geralt battling the striga in a pretty epic battle. The graphics are pretty good, but I am not one of those people who has to have these better than perfect graphics for a game to be enjoyable. I’m currently still defending Kaer Morhen. I’m plodding through it slowly because I don’t know how I feel about the combat right now. It’s giving me some issues. 

Okay, maybe that’s not the problem. I think it’s the camera that’s presenting the problem. In combat, since most of it is close range combat, it can be a little hard to keep targeting what you’re trying to kill with the sword. I’m using the OTS (over-the-shoulder) camera right now, and it makes me feel like I don’t have enough room to maneuver. I think I’m going to have to try something different with the camera when I start back to playing.

I know there will be three fighting styles, but right now I only have two--the quick fighting style and the heavy fighting style. I really like the quick style, but I’m learning that this game is going to require that I switch out styles to defeat certain enemies, which is fine. That’ll keep me from mostly button mashing my way through this... I think. I don’t really have much more to say. I’m still very early in the game, so I’ll leave you with this.

I love how he is holding this sword, guys. I swear that is exactly what I would look like if you game me a word in real life and told me to go forth and conquer.
Continue Reading…

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Mass Effect 3: You Cannot Escape Your Destiny, Shepard

Okay, I broke this up into two parts because I talked about my personal feelings on the game and the changes in the gameplay. They didn't mesh so well together, so I've broken them up. We'll start with my personal feelings on the game first. Also, my feelings have morphed a little as I thought about this, so I wanted to post what I initially felt and then add a final word.

This marks the finale to a sweeping space drama. The reapers have arrived, and they’ve started to systematically destroy all organic life. Shepard is again at the helm preparing to make a final assault that will hopefully save all organic life and “take back earth.” It’s up to Shepard to do everything he/she can to unite organic life and build an interspecies army to oppose the reapers along with finding the resources he/she needs to strengthen their attack.

I really enjoyed this game right up to the last twenty minutes or so.

The Mass Effect world is just as engaging as the first two games and added even more great elements over what we already had. It took me a while to write this because I wanted to truly think about how I felt about this because of how I interpreted the endings at first (and there is an addendum at the end of this). Conversations with friends about it have been over the top mostly because of the endings. We’ve debated it, denied it, headcanoned it, laughed at it, cried at it, but at the time of this writing it is, what it is.

So, I wanted to thank some people for putting up with some ranting from me.

And regardless of the endings, I wanted to thank Bioware for introducing this world to us, for lovingly crafting it. You can see they put so much of their heart into it. It’s been a long time since I was this attached to a game. I’m not sorry for all the hours I’ve devoted to this game or for even getting a Spectre tattoo. This will always remain one of my favorite game series ever. The characters, the stories, everything about it is just so damn perfect. Well... not Mako or the Hammerhead, but that’s a different story. It even opened the door to me meeting some of the most amazing people online and offline.

Slight spoiler warnings from this point forward, but only slight.

The story is amazing. I loved it. While I love many games, so few games make me truly passionate about them, and whatever gripes I have with the ending doesn't take that away from it. The fact that it's even sparked this much ire in fans shows how much this series has touched so many people who have played this series. 

This third game felt like the perfect culmination of all my hard work in the last games. I loved watching the consequences/rewards of my actions meant for the characters I loved so much. The tone of this game was so somber, as expected since this is the end, but there were many great moments both happy and sad that made this game extraordinary. So many tears were shed and so much laughter bubbled from my lips.

And even for the decisions that weren’t major, it was nice to see some of them weaved into the story, and I appreciated how they were consistent with some things like the arguing couple, refund guy, and Conrad Verner, bringing them with us from game to game with us like they were old friends. When I first saw the arguing couple in Mass Effect 2 still arguing, I was so pleased and again with refund guy and again with Conrad on Illium. Those were some of the moments that made the game magical for me. They cared enough to make this world "feel" consistent and real.

And that doesn’t end in this saga. This was a labor of love--even if I don’t agree with everything and there are other things I would’ve liked to have seen--I think they did so much to really connect the characters and their players. Sure this is a game, but it’s a game that really tries to reach out and make you care about it beyond “Pew! Pew! Pew! Shoot ALL the aliens!”

The endings. First, allow me to say this. The ending(s) didn't upset me as much as it did many other fans because these options are still fine for SOME situations, but I do still feel that the ending(s) severely crippled an otherwise great game. The options presented were interesting and could have been well done, but in my opinion, the last twenty minutes effectively pissed on all the things that you’d accomplished in the first two games and made it feel like it was all for naught, not to mention the earth-sized plot holes because really, Bioware. Retconning your own canon. You’re not DC or Marvel.

On Shepard’s end I coped with the ending I chose, but for the Normandy... I don’t even know what to make of that. I think that was my main gripe (aside from wondering if I even should’ve imported my Shepard, but I would’ve missed so many great moments). That seemed so off. The ending for this game felt incomplete mainly. There seems like there should’ve been a final option to tell the catalyst that you’d go down burning with earth rather than come to some “compromise” ending with the reapers. I don’t know if the writers just got lazy there, if they were rushing to meet their deadline after a delay, or if they felt they’d written themselves into a corner, but the ending(s) were a little disappointing.

If you enjoyed it, I’m happy for you. I’d love to hear why for more reasons that just “it was different” or “Shepard wasn’t supposed to live.” I’m tired of that. That tells me nothing. I want a well thought out reason why you like it, what made you like it, how you interpret the events. Maybe I’ll love what you have to say and headcanon it. And for that reason, I don’t think the endings should be completely scrapped. I think they will make fine endings for some, but that doesn’t take care of the plot holes... yet.

That’s neither here nor there, though, and I don’t want to end this sounding bitter because I’m not. I truly enjoyed this series. Will I ever replay it? Probably. I still have many Shepards to herald through to the end, but as far as creating new Shepards go, I’m done for right now. One of these endings is perfectly acceptable for all my Shepards, but if there was anything that I got from this game, it was that the end reflected my overall choices and not just that moment. So, it’s not really desirable to end them all the same, even if some come with slight variations.

An ending doesn’t have to be “perfect” to provide closure, but it needs to give some feeling of finality. I never expected there to be a promise of my Shepard surviving, especially not my renegade. I expected her to go down in a blaze of glory, and I would’ve even been okay with that, if she’d just ran into battle at the end and no real outcome was given because that’s how I’ve played her, to be that person. Then, I truly could have ended the game how I wanted in my mind.

Addendum: I just wanted to add this because I didn’t want to rewrite what I initially thought of the endings. I wanted people to see what went through my mind first with those endings because I think that’s important. I think that’s part of what they wanted. 

I’ve decided that either this is the most brilliant way a game has ever ended that got saddled with some plot holes and too much ambiguity or I’m looking at a steaming pile poo that they better try to pass off as brilliance once they make an actual statement about it. (And this post on BSN probably sums up many of my feelings best. Warning for extreme spoilers.) This still doesn’t negate some questions I have in regards to the ending (or even the feeling that in a way this is still too limited a choice), but if this is where they were going, well-played, Bioware. Well-played.
Continue Reading…


This blog is a mishmash of thoughts, pictures, and rantings among other things about games I've played, games I will play, and games I am currently playing. From time to time, I may post book reviews that I've written that are about different games and/or game worlds. Feel free to recommend games or add me on the platforms I've listed. I don't do competitive multiplayer much anymore, but I'm always down for some co-op these days. I'm usually DigitalTempest everywhere unless otherwise specified.



PSN: DigitalTempest | XBL: DigitalTempest | Steam: DigitalTempest | Raptr: DigitalTempest

2016 Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge
Tiara has read 6 books toward her goal of 52 books.

Tiara's bookshelf: currently-reading

The Elfstones Of Shannara
tagged: upcoming-reads, currently-reading, 2016-audiobook-challenge, classi...
Gardens of the Moon
tagged: currently-reading, fantasy, z-narrator-ralph-lister, 2016-audiobook...

Tiara's bookshelf: read

really liked it
Review to come.
tagged: 2016-star-wars-reading-challenge and 2016-audiobook-challenge
The Girl from the Well
liked it
More reviews @ The Bibliosanctum TL;DR Review 2.5 to 3 stars. Not badly written… I’m just disappointed by the squandered potential. I’m going to reread Anna Dressed in Blood to make myself feel better about this Longer Review: T...
tagged: 2016-women-of-genre-fiction-reading, horror, and young-adult
Thirteen Reasons Why
I don't think this quite captures the complexity of bullying and suicide, and some of the issues that Hannah started facing toward the end of the novel really seemed to detract even more from the feelings she was going through by having ...
tagged: young-adult, popsugar-2016-reading-challenge, 2016-audiobook-challe...
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
liked it
Spoiler free review to come.
tagged: 2016-star-wars-reading-challenge
The Phantom of the Opera
really liked it
tagged: classic-horror, classics, audiobook, 2016-audiobook-challenge, horr...

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