Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Quick Blurb Review: Southland Tales

What the hell is this? No, seriously, Southland Tales has to be one of the most confusing things I've seen in my life. I haven't been this baffled after a movie since seeing The Nine Lives Of Fritz The Cat. These are the kind of movies that some people will look back on and say, "Oh, this film speaks about the culture at the time." Hey, future analysts & critics, it didn't make sense in our time, so it sure as Hell won't make sense in yours.

The movie stars The Rock, or Dwayne Johnson, as an amnesic actor who gets caught up in some huge political conspiracy and we have a supporting cast of Sarah Michelle Gellar, Justin Timberlake, Mandy Moore & Sean William Scott amongst other random appearances ranging from Jon Lovitz to The Punisher himself Thomas Jane. The performances here are good...I guess, but it's just the overall film doesn't really give the actors anything to work with.

The story...oh, God. It's like there's hardly a fucking story. It feels like a bunch of scenes run together as if the whole thing was improvised. Seriously, the movie starts with a nuclear attack on Texas and then it spirals into something about the end of the world. Some really weird and random crap happens for two hours and then we are treated to one of the weakest plot twists that's so bad it makes White Noise blush. I won't bother saying it because it's not like it'll make sense anyway.

How's the background music? Forgettable. I don't remember a single note of it. The cinematography is okay, but again, nothing special. Some parts of this film are so random that it seems funny, but I know it's not supposed to be.

This movie was really fucking confusing, but not in the way The Happening was where you didn't know what to think at the end. Southland Tales doesn't make a lick of sense. It's about as sensible as wiping before you poop! This move makes less sense than having sex with your teacher so you can fail your courses! This movie doesn't give you any sort of clear path to follow whatsoever and if you're like me, once all this political nonsense comes into play, you're completely lost. You give up any hope of this movie making sense an hour into it. Had the film been followable, it would probably be fairly decent, but no. I actually debated turning the movie off but come on, if I can sit through The Love Guru, I can sit through this.

The final verdict on Southland Tales is that this movie was a complete mindfuck that'll leave you scratching your head but not in a good way. I can see some pretentious jackass from Harvard being able to defend this movie, but my brain hurts from trying to figure it out. If you like unsolvable cinematic riddles and complete box office flops, then check it out.

-The Cynic

P.S. This film is listed in the comedy section at Roger's Video, yet it feels more like a drama/thriller. This movie was not funny. At all.

The Incredibles - Is It That Bad?

Disney & Pixar seem to be a perfect pairing. They've put out some of the most memorable animated movies of recent & quite arguably all time, but one movie always seemed amiss to me...The Incredibles. The first time I saw this movie, I was pumped to see it and was hoping for a funny/action family film. Yet, once the credits rolled, I walked away disappointed. I don't know why but I was just really let down by this movie. It just wasn't that entertaining, or funny, which is odd for a Pixar movie, and it didn't have the gripping feel of some of the superhero movies I had seen by that time. So I dismissed The Incredibles as a disappointment and left it at that. It even ranked #5 on my Top 7 Most Disappointing Films. In fact, I considered it "Pixar's St. Anger." Now, I've caught a LOT of crap about this over the years and having mentioned it in passing, it was suggested that I give it another go. So I went out and rented it to determine one thing: is The Incredibles really THAT bad?

For those of you who haven't seen it, the story revolves around Bob Parr, aka Mr. Incredible, as he lives the glory of being one of the world's greatest superheroes. However, one of his actions lands him with a lawsuit that results in many superheroes under fire. Eventually, there is a ban on superheroes and any remaining heroes have to be only their secret identity. Fifteen years pass and we see Bob and his wife, Helen, formerly known as Elastigirl, living normal lives and trying to raise their three children, all of which have powers of their own. Bob still hangs out with Lucius Best, aka Frozone, and reminisce about the old days. Don't wanna spoil it too much, but basically something comes up and Bob is called back into action that results in his family getting involved too.

Okay first, what I liked about the movie. I really thought all of the voice actors did a bang-up job here. There is not a single lack-lustre performance in this film and that's very hard to come by nowadays. Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee, everyone. Another thing I really liked about this movie was how good the animation and detail put into every scene was. The character designs may seem cartoony but that actions & movements are so believable that it doesn't feel like a cartoon in parts. There are scenes where even the background environment looks stunning and makes you wonder if they shot blank footage of an environment and animated the characters in afterwards. I'll admit that the scene bashing capes was pretty amusing and I'm surprised no other films had mentioned this kind of thing. There are a lot of nods to various characters like The Invisible Woman, The Flash, Cyclops, The Mole Man, Morph, Robin, Iceman, just to name a few. Finally, the movie clocks in at just under two hours but it doesn't drag on at any point, so you get a nice fluent pacing with this film.

And now what I didn't like about the film. One of the jokes the movie likes to make is how Mr. Incredible is out of shape. It's funny the first couple of times but after awhile, I grew tired of it. I'm sorta on the fence about this one thought because while it grew tiresome, it also made you feel bad for the guy who longed for the good old days and despite growing unfit, he still does what he feels needs to be done. My biggest complaint about The Incredibles is that I didn't find it all that amusing, not in the way that other Pixar films are where the laughs are frequent. I got a chuckle or two out of this movie but that was about it.

So time for the final verdict: Is Disney/Pixars The Incredibles Really That Bad? Honestly, no, it isn't. Back when I first saw this movie, to me comic book movies were mostly guys and gals in suits fighting crime and not much else so I wasn't truly prepared for this one. Coming from Disney/Pixar, I was expecting a movie with plenty of laughs and memorable characters but I don't feel this movie delivered, but as a superhero film I hoped for a gripping story with plenty of action and tensity to keep me wanting more, which I don't feel this movie delivered. However, after reading comics like The Watchmen, The Walking Dead & The Stand where the comics aren't about fighting crime in a supersuit but more about the character's internal struggles to be at peace with themselves and realize their place in the world, I can now appreciate the overall story more than I could when I first saw it back in November 2004. While The Incredibles is still my least favorite Pixar film, I do feel that I owe it and its fans an apology for comparing it to Metallica's St. Anger. This movie isn't that bad, but I wouldn't say it was all that good either.

-The Cynic

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dragon Age II: First Thoughts (Length Warning, but there's pictures!)

So I've been playing me some Dragon Age II (after having to redo 3/4 of the Awakening playthrough I had all ready to go because I oopsed and accidentally deleted the wrong save game). I've put in about 11-12 hours, and I thought I would share my thoughts on the game thus far. I can only go on what I've seen and done up to this point, so this is not an analysis of the entire game. I will try to keep things spoiler-free.

The Good:

1) The characters. I am LOVING the characters so far. I take back every "meh" thought I had about Varric and Merrill, I'll tell you that. Here are the party members/characters so far and my thoughts: (note, I haven't recuited everyone, which is why Fenris is missing. And some I've talked to more than others, hence the uneven amount I talk about each)

Varric (voiced by Brian Bloom)
I don't know what it was, but I wasn't really interested one way or the other in Varric prior to the game's release. I don't know what it was, especially given how much I loved the dwarves and their culture in the first game. But I was wrong, Varric is great! He really is an enjoyable character, from his party banters, to your conversations with him, to what I've seen of the interaction of him and Cassandra. Plus, once you have a few points to spend, you can get some pretty nifty upgrades for that crossbow that are pretty sweet. I also really, really like how the dwarves don't have Scottish accents, like every other dwarf out there, and Varric has a great voice for his personality.

Bethany/Carver (voiced by Rebekah Staton/Nico Lennon)
Now here's my one and only spoiler. I don't really know anything about Carver. I've been running with Bethany in this playthrough, but next one I will be able to give you something on him. Bethany is an interesting character. She's a mage, and understands what your family went through to keep her (as well as your character's father) safe from the Templars and the Circle. In a way, she wants to be normal, but it's not overwhelming. As a mage, once you get some talent points into the various trees (I have her specced as a DPS mage), she will destroy enemies. The sisterly banter is really fun, and is a nice addition to the game.

Aveline (voiced by Joanna Roth)
Two words: lady tank! This is what Mhairi should have been. Aveline is a sword-and-shield tank you meet very early in the game. She's a sweet person, loyal and a believer in the good and right decisions. She can also smash in a hurlock's skull with her bare hands and lift a full-grown man like a child. Maybe you won't like her if you play a Renegade-type character, but even a "Paragade/Renegon*" type should be fine without venturing too far into rivalry (unless that's what you want, I suppose). I love Aveline, personally, even if she and my Hawke don't see eye to eye all the time.

Anders (voiced this time by Adam Howden)
Oh Anders, what did they do to you? *sniffles* Yes, Anders is in many respects still the awesome, snarkly mage that we all loved in Awakening (well, I didn't the first time through but I didn't really give him a chance, either. I blame Alistair withdrawal). But at the same time, he's not the same. He's more melancholy. And without saying what he tells you, I can tell you this, not ONE of my Wardens would have stood for it, and I'm sure my Queen Cousland would have used all her backing to make those responsible pay. My Aeducan Commander would definitely not have allowed such dishonor (what does a dwarf care for the Chantry anyway?). After a personal quest and conversation, in which I tentatively attempted a flirt line or two, I just wanted to hug him and send him back to my Amell warden so they could run off and be happy apostates together. But, we shall see how the game progresses.

Merrill (voiced by Eve Myles)
I didn't know who Merrill was when she was announced, although she was in Origins. Reason being, I hadn't played the Dalish Elf Origin (although the Cynic did). Luckily, my brother came over and played through as a Dalish Elf. Merrill in Origins was bland and kind of bossy. Merrill in DA II is adorable. She's like Sigrun, minus the harsh, casteless upbringing, and with an extra dose of naivete about how Kirkwall's society works. The new Welsh accent is really cool too, and differentiates the Dalish more from the City Elves and the Dwarves, which I really like. And she's a mage, so with her, Anders, Bethany, and my warrior Hawke, it's wonderful destruction every battle.

Isabela (voiced by Victoria Kruger)
Holy tits, Isabela's back! Now I've only just recruited her, so I haven't been able to ask her who in Thedas does breast implants, how she can stand upright with those, or where her pants have gone. I have, however, already been told where she's staying, in case I want to come keep her company. I wonder if she'll tell you she slept with your Warden (if you did), or about the possible threesome or foursome (I did the threesome with Alistair). So yeah, I can't tell you much about Isabela just yet, other than she's a dual-wield rogue.

Sebastian (voiced by Alec Newman)
Now I know what you're thinking; another noble-born archer with a dead family? Now, I haven't actually recruited Sebastian yet, but I have met him in game, and he isn't just a Nathaniel Howe clone (doesn't seem stoic enough). I shall have to see once I have him in my party, of course. His circumstances seem different enough to make him a different character just for that. More to follow once I know him better (but oh mah goodness, dat accent!).

There are also lots of great NPC's that you meet in the game. Cassandra is one such character. I'm looking forward to seeing some more cutscenes with her in them to see more of her and about her. It is also interesting to see more of the Qunari, including the Arishok. Also, Flemeth! She is as mysterious as ever, especially if you played the Witch Hunt DLC for Origins, but with a badass new look. And is once again magnificently voiced by Kate Mulgrew. I want more Flemeth! You also have a mabari, this time as a summon, which was a fantastic idea. I named him Gimli this time. As I said, I haven't really gotten all that far in the game, so I am probably missing lots of awesome characters I simply haven't met yet.

2)The Story. We are building up to something exciting. I doubt this game will be able to bring the overarching story to resolution, but I can see the set-up to continue it in further games (like the end of Mass Effect 2, which was holy shit to say the least). Mages, Chantry, Templars, Qunari, Flemeth, Wardens; there are so many angles (and more than this even) that are going to align with and against each other into something cataclysmic, whether for good or ill is still up for debate. And right now we see this through the eyes of a Fereldan refugee scraping their way up from nothing in Kirkwall. I can see it being a bit like Mass Effect 2, in showing a very specific story, but as a build-up to the events of a later game.

3) The redesigns for the races. I was very skeptical about these, but I like them a lot. It makes the races different, rather than a Star Trek-ish they all look like humans but adjusted for height and maybe prostheses, like ears. It makes them more individual as separate races. Humans and Dwarves seem to have had the least alteration, basically just updating their graphics into the new desgin. Flemeth, Elves and Qunari have had the largest changes, including the horns the Qunari were supposed to have in Origins. Although, not all Qunari have horns, as Sten is a notable exception.

Velanna (left) in Awakening, and Marethari (right) in Dragon Age II showing the new Elf look.

Sten (left) and a horned Qunari (right). You can definitely still tell they are Qunari when you talk to them. It's very cool to see more of them, and learn about their culture, such as the Tal'Vashoth and Qunari mages.

Flemeth in DA II and DA:O (inset)

4) The graphics. The graphics were vastly upgraded and the entire style of the universe was overhauled for DA II. And I like it. Maybe it won't impress everyone (in fact, I know it won't), but I like it. I'm sure a lot of people will complain it's too simple and lacking in detail, but I like the simplicity, without feeling like they're trying to cram as many pixels in just because they can. Now, I played the demo for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and it looked very, very pretty. But you know what, the Dragon Age universe isn't pretty. It's dark, it's dreary, it's not a nice place. But then again, I'm not terribly picky about graphics, so maybe I miss the point entirely when it comes to that.

5) Gameplay and combat. These two things also went through a massive overhaul. The dialogue well from Mass Effect makes it's DA debut. And you know what, I like it, after being sure I would hate it. The icons that show the intent (sarcastic, diplomatic, flirt, etc.) is an awesome addition, and makes it much easier to plan the conversation. the UI is easy to navigate and the combat talents have been organized into easy to handle talent trees with upgradable skills. Combat is wicked now. It's faster and more effective. When you hit a button for a spell, it happens now. It's much more responsive and you feel more in control. Your character also moves faster in combat, making the overall experience very satisfying.

6) Voice acting. Was there a doubt here? Several changes were made, such as the voice of Anders and Merrill, and switching the Dalish Elves to have Welsh and Irish accents. But overall, the voice acting is every bit as good as you expect from Bioware. A lot of people were iffy on the voices for Hawke. I haven't played male Hawke at all, but I like Lady Hawke's voice. I'm glad it's a little more feminine sounding, otherwise she would have sounded (and thusly been compared to) Commander Shepard. I love Shepard and I think her voice is perfect for her, I'm just glad they went for something a little different here, and I think it works. There was some complaints because they sounded too posh to be from Lothering, but Hawke's mother was nobility, so it does make sense.

7) Preset Hawke. I love character creators. I will spend an hour in just the character creator, especially in a first playthrough, looking at all the options. I've never really cared about the presets since I love customizing my own. But damn, I'm going to have to try out default Lady Hawke. She is probably one of the prettiest defaults ever! Not only that, even the default name is awesome. I've never used a default name in an RPG (if I could change it) until now. But I just couldn't think of anything I liked better than Marian. So I went with it. I did change up how she looked, though.

default Marian Hawke

My Marian Hawke

The Not So Good

1) Tiny Writing Syndrome. I know, I know, it's the fault of my old-ass, obsolete TV. Doesn't mean I can't complain about it. The text is tiny, especially for loading screens. I can read it, but I generally have to sit closer to do so. I don't really even pay attention to the loot I'm picking up because it's too hard to read whatever the damn thing is. Unfortunately, until I acquire a new TV, I'm stuck with it.

2) Anders' voice. Now, I have no problem with the voice actor who plays him in DA II. And I now know why they changed it and why he isn't voiced by Greg Ellis but I wished they'd done it the other way so that he was. I think it could have worked the other way too. Oh well. It's a bit of a fangirlish complaint, but it wouldn't have been my preference. His current VA does do a really good job though, and really illustrates how he's changed based on how the world has treated him.

Final Verdict- So Far

Well, obviously I'm enjoying it, or I wouldn't have written a novella on my first thoughts. It's a darker game, that's for sure. Damn dark. There are still moments of levity and snarkiness, but I agree with others that there doesn't seem to be as much. Or at least, it is more overshadowed by the grittier part. But we shall see as I play more. I read an interesting review that compared it to the old RPG Planescape Torment, which I think is an apt comparison. It's bleak, concentrated mainly in one area (in and around the city-state of Kirkwall) rather than a whole country, and while an excellent game, it won't be for everybody. I think the best way to describe DA II, at least so far, is Planescape Torment crossed with Mass Effect 2 in the Dragon Age universe. Not to say it doesn't feel like a Dragon Age game, because it very much does. Though I'm still in the First Act, I will say that I am really enjoying the game and am looking forward to getting more time into it.

Well thanks to everyone who slogged through yet another ridiculously long post with me. As a reward, The God Drums, in their entirety. The videos trippy though, even for Lud. :D

See you guys next time!

*Paragade- combination Paragon ("good") and Renegade ("evil") more to the Paragon side.
Renegon- same idea, but opposite to Paragade.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Jurassic Park: The Devils In The Desert #3 Review

You're probably wondering where the new YouTube content is. Well, frankly there's a lot of shit happening at once right now and I'm just running to catch up. I have them scripted, but I have to film the damn things. So in the meantime, let's talk about Devils In The Desert. Spoiler alert.

Issue 3 starts with a scientist from the university that the Alvarezes trying to bribe InGen about the events in southern California but Allan Cobb, the director of biological studies at InGen, tells him that he should've bribed before giving out valuable information and kicks the scientist out, threatening to sue if he goes to the press. The scientist then calls an old friend of his to organize a hunting trip and we cut to Agent Harding in the hospital with the Dr. Alvarezes and the Sheriff Tobias as Cobb and Dr. Kanada from InGen arrive and examine the Pteranodon corpses and they determine there were six eggs but perhaps only four or so survived into maturity. Deputy Jackson calls Tobias and tells him that he and his sons have found three of the Pteranodons. The guys from InGen haul out some special All Terrain Vehicles that they use for population control on the islands and begin to deploy their traps on the Pteranodons, but a group of hunters show up, only to have one of them killed (the poor sap on the cover) and another gravely injured in the process. InGen and the deputies tell the hunters to take a hike and then InGen's guys take away the two captured Pteranodons. Dr. Alvarez tries to convince Cobb that there might be a third Pteranodon flying around but Cobb is being a stereotypical evil businessman basically telling her to stuff it. As Cobb drives off, Tobias, Jackson and Alvarez devise a plan to begin their search for the remaining Pteranodon...

This issue is not terrible but I don't find it as good as the last two. I dunno if it just feels like nothing really happens or if I'm sick of the asshole businessmen stereotype or if I am getting a little tired of the whole "trying to hook Sara and Will back up" angle. Another minor gripe that I have is that the guys from InGen keeps saying the "islands," even though Isla Nublar was destroyed, but I've gone on that rant a few too many times. Other than that, I'm looking forward to next month where the series wraps up and maybe we'll have an announcement on the next Jurassic Park story arc from IDW Publishing.

-The Cynic

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It's Here!!

Today (March 8th) we were off to EB Games, where this was waiting for me:


Hurray for release dates and pre-orders! That, my friends, is the Signature Edition. With oodles of delicious, free bonus content; like an Exiled Prince with a hot accent, a wardog (who I will have to think of a new name for, because I can't name a second dog Hannibal, despite how awesome that sounds), and a pile of other goodies. There's even has a tie-in if you bought Dead Space 2, much the same as the DA:O-ME:2 Blood Dragon Armor. I'm super excited about this game and I will have my first impressions up very soon, don't worry. :D

While we were out and about we also picked up a) a bigger hard drive for our 360-which we needed quite badly, especially with DA II, Mass Effect 2, and Warriors of Rock. And b) a renewed Gold Membership, which means I can do my Demo Reviews more efficiently as I won't have to wait the extra week for the games to switch to Silver. So excitement all around! Now if I could just shake this tummy bug, we'd be grand.

So yes, I will have something up with my first thoughts on the game as soon as I can!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Music and "Relevance"

Okay, so I've been trying to hammer this post out for a while now, so here goes.

I have noticed something when it comes to talking about music. Especially people who write articles about music for various publications. It is the word relevance.

Relevance: having significant and demonstrable bearing on facts or issues. Synonyms: applicable, germane, apposite, appropriate, suitable, fitting (from, as my physical dictionary is currently AWOL).

I keep seeing this word pop up in musical articles and I have always wondered about this particular choice of wording. For some reason the phrasing of such statements always put me off, and not just because it usually implied that the newest flash in the pan was more "relevant" than older, well-established acts, or not in a comparison but still implying that said older, well-established acts were not "relevant". Up until now I've just sort of taken this position on the whole thing.

Then I read this article talking about the Superbowl Halftime show from this year, where the Black Eyed Peas were the headlining act. This was the line that started this whole thing:

Sure, the band's music is aimed at "mindless partying," and Fergie's glittery top was "absurd and somewhat laughable," but the Peas had more relevance than previous baby boomer acts..."

My reaction to this was as follows:

What? The show put on by the Black Eyed Peas was panned almost across the board as underwhelming, stale, inane, and just more of the same with nothing new and interesting added to the act (TRON costumes notwithstanding) to their regular show repertoire.

Why? Why are the Black Eyed Peas more "relevant" than past performers? Let's look at the halftime shows for the five years previous to this one.
2010: The Who
2009: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
2008: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
2007: Prince, Florida A&M Marching Band
2006: The Rolling Stones
2005: Paul McCartney
2004 was of course the famous "Nipplegate" show with Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. Now then, all of these previous five shows were performed by famous and well-established acts, and that's putting it mildly (I mean really, The Who, The Stones, and a Beatle?). These are big names, that have not only had hugely successful careers of their own, but have influenced countless acts that have followed. And it isn't as if the songs by these artists aren't well known. Anyone who watches CSI knows at least as many songs by the Who as incarnations of the show that they watch, for example. Either way, these are some of rock's biggest acts. Ever. That is not an exaggeration.

And, how do you qualify this? What really bothers me about these statements about how "relevant" a band/artist is is that there is never any kind of qualifier for this. These statements are made without ANY context at all. What is the criteria for determining the "relevance" of a musical act? The number of hit songs? If so, according to what charts; Top 40? I-Tunes? Billboard? Something else? Does relevance have to do with how popular an act is at that specific moment in time? And again, how is that measured? Is it how fast a concert sells out? Because in the past two years or so both Metallica and AC/DC stopped in our area and the tickets sold out in 10 and 30 minutes respectively. Did I mention that the 30 minutes to sell out AC/DC was because the played the football stadium instead of the arena
, and so had almost three times as many seats?

Anyways, what it really comes down to is this; what is the basis for the statement of one artist/band being more "relevant" than another? Can you back this up somehow? As someone who's chosen field of study deals a lot with context and where citing and having sources for one's information is very important, I cannot stand having someone throw out something like this with nothing behind it. So please, tell me why The Black Eyed Peas, or Ke$ha, or Justin Bieber are more relevant than bands like The Beatles, Judas Priest, or Black Sabbath. Tell me why you refer to an act with a career longer than the lives of these "relevant" acts, in this way? Explain your reasoning behind the idea that a band or artist who has been an inspiration to countless others is not relevant. Is Judas Priest less relevant because they were one of Pantera's influences? Or Metallica because of bands like Trivium? On the pop side, Lady Gaga lifts tons of stuff from Queen, Madonna, and David Bowie. I argue that they will ALWAYS be relevant for the two reasons I have stated; for the accomplishments of their own careers, and for the inspiration they provide to younger acts. They are well within the definition of relevance; as
having significant and demonstrable bearing on facts or issues. The acts of today would not be what they are without those that came before them. Therefore you cannot classify an a band or an artist as nonrelevant*, except in the context of specific genres or in talking about a specific artist (Beyonce was probably not influenced by Ozzy Osbourne, for instance). But that is the key, there MUST be context.

I apologize that this has become a big wall o' text post, but I have found myself greatly irritated by this, and not just because they are usually referring to bands I like compared to ones I don't. No, I don't like the Black Eyed Peas, or Ke$ha, or Taylor Swift, or Justin Bieber. But other people do, and that's awesome that they found artists that they like. Just like not everyone is going to like Def Leppard, Disturbed, Judas Priest, and Rammstein because I like them. That is totally cool, it's individual taste. What does irritate me is when artists are labeled as nonrelevant by journalists simply because they aren't on the Top 40, or the latest tween/teen craze. Just because an artist doesn't factor into your little bubble of oh-so-knowledgable pop-scene journalistic sense, doesn't mean they aren't relevant to someone else, or to a whole other genre you haven't considered. I say pop-scene because this is where I most frequently see this type of thing. Then again, these are the people that at one time, Vanilla Ice was relevant, and Rick Astley (twice!).

I must now bring this rant to a close, or I'll lose my cool it will be a big, never-ending mess. If you've made it all the way through, then congratulations and thank you for slogging through with me. I hope that I've made myself clear in my argument, but feel free to leave a comment here if I haven't, or if you have thoughts on the subject. I will leave you all with a song about the awesomeness of music (despite how crappy the rest of the world might be) from an awesome artist. Yes, it's a pop song (shock! I know!), from the one pop artist I love. Enjoy all and we'll see you next time!

*I know I should use "irrelevant", but it doesn't fit as well. Sue me.
Regarding the date on this post, the date reflects when I started writing this. It was actually posted March 6th at 1:47 am.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Demo Reviews: Dragon Age II

After an extra week of waiting I finally got to dig into this demo on Tuesday. Since then, I have played it twice and the Cynic has played it once. Now that it's had time to sink in, let's have a look. As usual, spoilers ahead.
Dragon Age II takes place during and after the events of the first game. You play as Hawke, either male or female, on your quest to become the Champion of Kirkwall, and whatever that entails. As with the first game, you have a slew of companions, some of them romance options, that accompany you on your travels. The difference here is that one of these companions, depending on your class, will be a sibling. You will either have a Carver, a warrior, or Bethany, a mage.


You are introduced to three other possible companions at this time. First you will meet Varric, a dwarf who also serves as the narrator. He's a rogue that carries a crossbow.

And chesthair.

Next is Aveline, a sword-and-shield tank warrior, who already has a reserve spot in my party, especially after the demo.
Lady Tank FTW!

And finally, some of you might remember Isabela from the first game. Yes, the one with whom you can have a three-or-foursome with that will teach you the Duelist spec. Well, she's back with a spankin' new revamped look for Dragon Age II.
Holy massive boobage, Batman!

I won't get into too many spoilers here, but there are two other returning characters that I'm really excited about. The first is Flemeth, once again magnificently voiced by Kate Mulgrew. She also has a vastly new look from the eccentric old-Wilds woman bit she pulled on our Wardens.
New Flemeth look, but still the same awesome character.

The other is everyone's favorite mage from Awakening (and I'm certainly not talking about Velanna): Anders! I won't get spoilery, but suffice to say, Anders has changed. And I'm so psyched for his story.
Oh, and ladies, this time he's romancable!

Anyways, onto the game itself. I played through twice, as a warrior and a mage (both female). The Cynic played through as a male rogue.

Although why you would when default Lady Hawke is this pretty is beyond me.

The rogue class doesn't really appeal to me, but the Cynic was having fun with it. It's a very acrobatic class, but at least on the demo, the DPS is quite low overall. This is for a very low-level dual wield build, however, and later talents may boost that. My first choice was warrior class, as that is my preference. It's about the same as Origins, only minus the dual-wield talent. The faster and more reactive combat definitely gives this class more flair, and I had a lot of fun with it. Mage is very fun. The same talents are available, now divided into talent trees, but the mage seems more melee now than before. You can actually hit enemies with your staff when they get too close. It's nice to actually have that recourse. The casting of the regular staff bolts is much faster as well, as is casting and cool-down times of other spells. The mage is definitely formidable, and I can't wait to see some of the high-level talents like Blizzard and Chain Lightning out to try. I did get a chance to use Crushing Prison during the demo, and it was gleeful.

As everyone knows, the graphics have been updated for this installment as well. Personally, I like the look. It still looks like Dragon Age, but nicer, if not... pointier. Things are spikier, especially armor. Although some familiar things will be there, although updated; such as the Templar Armor, which seems a little more toned-down this time around. The regular mage robes look nicer, and default Hawke (who you can see in the top pic) is actually wearing mage armor. How is that not exciting? The demo ran smoothly for us, both cinematics and in-game without a problem, and the facial renders during conversations looked very nice.

Onto the gameplay. A lot of things were locked in the demo, like the inventory, the character creator, and such, but it was nice to see that those things were still there. The radial menu was more or less the same, but the map has been separated from the rest of the menu. Not a huge deal, but something to be aware of. The dialogue wheel, which I was against at first after having some surprising responses in Mass Effect, is very well executed. The icons that accompany the responses make things much easier (although it seems to follow the Mass Effect pattern of: Top answer-nice/Paragon, center-sarcastic/ME-neutral, bottom-dickbag/Renegade). But there were no other options such as flirt, so we will have to see when all of that is available as well.

The combat. This was a big thing, the change to the combat. And you know what? I like it. No more shuffling around enemies and allies to get to your target. No more waiting for the character to get in position to use a talent. It's faster, it's fluid, it feels better. You can still play tactics and give orders if you want, or you can hack-n-slash. You can also still switch between party members the same way. There will also be the option for auto-attack in the full game, for anyone who wants it. I greatly enjoyed it, and I'm happy that this was implemented.

The voice acting. Now, this is BioWare, so of course it's going to be good. Your character is now voiced, and I like both the male and female Hawke voices. However, if you wanted a Commander Shepard-type voice for your Lady Hawke, I'm afraid you might be disappointed. Lady Hawke's voice is much more feminine, and it's a nice change, as you wouldn't want your characters to sound too similar to one another (despite the fact I adore FemShep's voice <3). From what I can see, you shouldn't be disappointed by the voice acting.

Did I have any complaints. Maybe just one. The text. I know that console games (yessir, I'm one of those evil, mouth-breathing cretins known as a console player lol) are taking into account the widescreen and high-definition and all that stuff that comes with today's TVs. It just sucks that it results in text been very small on my giant, old tube TV (how archaic!). Although it's not too bad for the most part, and not as bad as Two Worlds II, where part of my screen was actually cut off (thankfully it could be adjusted) because of the aspect ratio setting.

Final thoughts? Well, I only have to make it to next Tuesday before I get my grubby little meathooks on the full game. Until then, PLAY THIS DEMO. I definitely recommend it, and not just because I'm a fangirl. It really is a lot of fun. The world created in these games is an amazing one, and you would not do wrong to give it a try. I give it 4 1/2 hurlocks out of 5.