Friday, November 15, 2013

Look back at Dragon Age: Origins

Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

Now, I know I reposted my review on DA:O from my old livejournal, but to be honest, I was acting like a fanboy, rather than a reviewer.  I did that one back before I knew the history of EA and what they had done to other companies.  I didn't know what they did to Origin Systems (creators of Ultima and Wing Commander) and Virgin Interactive (and how they killed the infamous Thrill Kill).  I'm looking back at this game without the hope of a fanboy, after seeing what EA has done to the once great Bioware in the subsequent four years.

With that said, DA:O is considered to be "the spiritual successor to their critically acclaimed Baldur's Gate series", and I can see why this is said.  It feels a LOT like a 3D version of Baldur's Gate 2 would.  The environments, the combat system, the character models; they all look like what you'd expect were Baldur's Gate were on (then) next gen hardware.

That said, this IS Bioware's IP, so no Drow, no Illithid, no tieflings or Aasimar, no orcs, and no Bhaalspawn.  Instead, we have a new setting, new racial interactions and a new wealth of lore.  For example, elves are second class citizens in this setting, instead of an "elder race" like you see in the DnD setting.Human society revolves around "the Church" and oppresses anyone with magical talent, and dwarves exist in a state of constant conflict with the darkspawn.  I won't get into any of the lore, because after 4 years, you can find it in plenty of places on the internet.

However, it is the darkspawn that DA:O is focused on; a new Blight has begun, and Duncan, the Warden-Commander of Ferelden, is looking for a new recruit.  It is here where you go through the six origins; 2 dwarven, 1 human, 2 elven, and the mage, which can be elven or human, since dwarves can't do magic.  All 6 origins happen though, since this game, and the Witch Hunt DLC, gives you indication that they all happen, and, had Duncan not intervened, the potential Warden would have died (or ended up imprisoned, in the case of the Magi Origin).

This game has 3 classes, but you can take on more of the DnD archetypes with the specializations. For example, Bard, Ranger and Assassin are all Rogue specializations.  A mage can become a cleric with the Spirit Healer spec, as well as a shapeshifter, and a Warrior can easily become a Berserker.  This game also introduces you to several of its own specializations, like Reaver, Templar and Champion for Warrior, Blood Mage and Arcane Warrior for mage, and Duelist for Rogue.

Anyway, the classes operate as expected; Warriors can use all weapon styles, but have no AOE or ability to undo locks or use stealth. Rogues are restricted to dual weapons or bows, but are great DPS with backstab and stealth, and can unlock detect and take down traps, but also has no AOE.  And Mages are still glass cannons, dishing out massive direct damage, debuffs, DOT and AOE, and the ability to heal your allies, but unless you take the Arcane Warrior spec, keep them out of melee.

But what separates this game from DnD is that armor isn't restricted to class, nor are weapons (except the mage staff, obviously).  Armor is based around the strength stat (unless you're an Arcane Warrior), so are two handed weapons and most one handed weapons. Dexterity how you boost damage with your bows and daggers.  And unlike Baldur's Gate, you don't need Dexterity for "to hit".

This game follows the Blight, which I won't get into, since it will take forever to fully explain it, and you can find it anywhere on the internet by now.  But the basic gist is something similar to what Shepard does in ME3; gather allies to throw at the Archdemon.  But there's more to the political situation, which I will not go into, since that would spoil the game for you, if you haven't played it yet.  And if you really want to be spoiled? You can find it anywhere on the internet.

The characters are well written, and I love listening to the interactions between the party when you are walking around the map and you hit a "conversation spot".  You've got Alistair, a human warrior templar/Grey Warden who is the bastard son of King Maric, Leliana, a bard from a foreign land, Zevran, an elven assassin hired to kill you, Wynne, a mage of the Circle who specializes in healing, Oghren, the dwarven berserker, the mabari warhound that you either save from the Blight disease or (if you are a human noble), comes with you from the start, Morrigan, the Witch of the Wilds (who features prominently in the DA:I trailer) and Sten the qunari, whose peole have become the bane of DA fiction ever since DA2. (Make no mistake, I like Sten. I just hate the people that brainwashed him.) I could rant for days about the qunari, but it all stems from four things; their "convert or die" mentality, their COMPLETE denial of personal freedom, their enslavement of mages, and their use of qamek for those who will not convert, but are too useful to kill.  Qamek forces those it is used on to become a living zombie, something that actually exists in Haitian voudoun.  This is a horrifying thing, so whatever "good" the qunari might have achieved with their society, this reprehensible tactic says, to me, "we are evil, we will crush you underfoot and enslave you, and we must be destroyed before we turn everyone into zombies".  Fuck the qunari.

Sorry about that.  And in all honesty, I didn't hate the qunari in this game, because all we knew about them was from Sten.  Who is not evil; just brainwashed.  And while he's not exactly deprogrammed when the game ends, he is SOMEWHAT open to new ideas.  Just not enough to abandon his evil brainwashing society.

Dammit, there I go again with the fanboy rage.  Let's see, something else to tackle...

 Ah, yes, the gameplay.  This game is about tactical combat, and controlling the battlefield, but in a different way than Mass Effect.  It all depends on what classes you bring into battle.  Each companion is built for a specific playstyle from the start, though some are more customizable than others. Mostly because you get them earlier in the game, but I digress.

Anyway, the best way to handle the battlefield is to have an individual who can unlock things, a healer, a tank and a DPS.  All of those roles can be filled by the PC, so whom you bring along depends on what class you chose; mages can't unlock things for example. 

The game's story continues with Dragon Age: Awakening, which brings in new characters and is in a new setting.  It takes place 6 months after the Archdemon is destroyed, and you are dealing with the clean up of the Blight.  It brings in Anders, an apostate healer, Velanna, a dalish mage who left her clan, Nathaniel Howe, the son of Rendon Howe, Sigrun, a casteless member of the Legion of the Dead, Justice, a spirit from the Fade stuck in a dead body, and the returning Oghren.  All but Justice become Grey Wardens, though Justice inhabits the body of a dead Grey Warden.  So this expansion pack is about rebuilding Ferelden's Grey Warden and dealing with the last vestiges of the Blight.  If you start the game without importing your DA:O save, the game uses Bioware's intenal canon and brings in a Warden-Commander from Orlais.  And that brings a level of politics that you don't get if you import your character from DA:O.  If you import your character, however, you're heralded as the Hero of Ferelden, and the choices you made in DA:O are reflected in this game. I won't get into what choices those were, since those are plot points in DA:O.

This game also has several DLC packs; Warden's Keep, The Stone Prisoner, Return to Ostagar, The Darkspawn Chronicles, Leliana's Song, The Golems of Amgarrak and Witch Hunt.  All introduce new items into the main DA:O and DA:A campaign, but some of those are more fun than others.  Warden's Keep and The Stone Prisoner are day 1 DLC, and both cost money now.  Stone Prisoner gives you 2 new quests, and a companion. Warden's Keep gives you armor that upgrades depending on your level (and can upgrade if you either sell it or put it in the party chest you get once the questline is done), and the best sword in the game.  Return to Ostagar gives you an armor set, a sword and a shield, as well as the weapons that Duncan carried.  All of these items tiers' are dependent on your level, and can be upgraded the same way.  And all three of these DLC packs are only playable from inside your Origins' save file; no import for these three,

Leliana's Song and The Darkspawn Chronicles are self contained stories, and both give you items for both DA:O and DA:A.  Leliana's Song is about how Leliana ended up in the Chantry, which, while conflicting with the story she tells you in game, is a good buy.  Darkspawn Chronicles is a what if story; you play as a darkspawn during the assault on Denerim, but during events that happen if the PC Warden didn't survive the Joining.  You gain a tier 7 sword for both Origins and Awakening, but in all honesty, I find this one boring.

Golems and Witch Hunt continue the story, and happen after the events of Awakening. Golems happens first, and gives you some VERY good gear in Origins and Awakening that sells for a LOT in both games.  You control the Warden (or Warden-Commander, if you played are importing your Awakening save file), and are essentially doing a dungeon crawler.

And Witch Hunt?  It is a "trip down memory lane"; and it means more to the DA:O Warden than the Orlesian Warden-Commander.  The plot? You got news that Morrigan is back in Ferelden, and you want answers.  And if you romanced her? You have a personal stake in it; she's got your son.

Now, this game isn't without flaws.  One thing that really bugs me is what I like to call "origin specific taunts".  When you choose your character's voice at character creation, you pick how the voice sounds in the game, and there is a specific list of taunts for the voices.  Problem is that the taunts are the same across the board. Which is fine for the Human Noble, Mage and City Elf; they all have pretty much the same culture.  But for the Dalish Elf and dwarves? I'd have liked to hear references to their culture; usage of the elven language and invocation of the elven gods for a Dalish, for example.  But this is a minor gripe, and since I'm not normally paying attention to battle taunts, it's not that big a deal.

All in all, this game and the expansions it has are a fun game, but under NO circumstances should you buy this new.  EA owns Bioware now, and under NO circumstance should you give more money to them than necessary. Which is why I advise you to NOT buy the Darkspawn Chronicles, for example, and why I tell people to buy a subscription to SWTOR, but not cartel coins.  Bioware deserves the quiet death it is in for as soon as possible, so we have more good games to remember than bad ones.

I know this took a maudlin turn compared to my initial review four years ago, but let's be serious; Bioware's golden days are over.  We're not going to see games like DA:O and DA:A again.

And no, this isn't going to turn into another retrospective. DA2, while fun, pisses me and a lot of others off, and I am not looking forward to Dragon Age: Inquisition, because it focuses on something I have no interest in playing.  This game set is the only one I fire up with any regularity, and to be honest, this is the way I want to remember Dragon Age.

I'll review something else soon, but for now, Happy Gaming!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Fable Retrospective: Fable 3

Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

"One step forward, two steps back" is the best way to describe the changes made between Fable 2 and Fable 3.  Don't get me wrong, everything that was changed works properly, is intuitive to use, and is fun.  But some of the changes that were made changed things that worked far better in the two previous games.  So for this review, I'm going to do a list about the changes that were made.

1. Combat. This game brings back the ability to block, flourish and manually aim with your gun from the start.  You even get a charged shot with your gun,  which does double damage, but doesn't drop the amount of shots you have in your gun before reloading. (Don't ask me how it works, though.)  And spells work exactly the same as Fable 2, with one awesome addition; Spell Weaving.  What this allows is you to cast two spells at once, giving you different effects with different combinations.  They also got rid of the Chaos Spell (which was useless in my book) and the Slow Time and Raise Dead are now potions.  So you can cast those two spells at will, giving you a huge advantage in battle. However, you lose two things; the ability to focus on one enemy in melee combat, and the loss of the health bar.  The former has no excuse for, but the latter, they replace it with a system that brings had red creeping around the borders of your screen and the quickening of a heart beat.  And while that's all well and good, unless you know the system well, you're either going to waste healing items when you don't need to, or you're going to wait too long to use them and get knocked out.  And getting knocked out makes you lose all progress on the guild seal you were building toward. (Something I'll get to when I get to leveling.)

2. Pause menu. Instead of a simple text menu, you have the Sanctuary, a place that you retain control of your character, and walk around to view the weapons, spells, clothes, tattoos, beards and hairstyles you have, how much money you have, as well as your stats that will be viewable by your Xbox Live partners.  You also have a map that allows you to fast travel to the different areas of Albion and take on quests, and a later ability to transfer your own funds into the kingdom's treasury (which is a plot point on the game, which I will get to later.) The problem with this is twofold; first, you've lost the ability to view your quest and healing items.  So if you've forgotten how many healing items you have or what quest items you have, you're screwed.  The other is that if you need to pause to use the bathroom, Jasper won't shut the hell up.  And that can get annoying if you have to leave the game paused for a while.

3. Money. Money actually has importance to the plot this time, and is far easier to the come by this time.  The jobs this time are more enjoyable, and are more QTE than "hit the sweet spot". And while QTE are annoying, they are more of a game than what you had to do in Fable 2.  You also gain money far faster from rent, and you gain more per building too.  And while you no longer get money when offline, it doesn't bother me. I felt like I was cheating using that "reset the clock" trick, it was a necessity with how annoying it was to get your initial capital in Fable 2.  However, you now how to buy the ability to buy property and shops in with the leveling system.  And while it's not that bad (you get the ability to buy houses at the second gate, shops at the 4th), it sucks that you can't buy what you want when you want.  The other bad thing is that houses now deteriorate; you have to repair houses every few minutes, or they will deteriorate so far down that you won't get rent from them until you repair them. And when cash flow is low, that is annoying.  However, you won't need to worry too much early on, if you manage to get all 10 silver keys that you can get your hands on before you get to the second gate; you get 50,000 gold from a 10 key silver key chest in Brightwall Village, and you can have all 10 keys by the time you have your hero weapons (full details are on the Fable wiki, but the you'll get 2 in the Castle you start in, 3 in Mistpeak, 3 in Brightwall Village, and 2 in the dungeon you get your hero weapons.)

4. Weapons. You're restricted to 4 types of weapons this time; longsword and hammer, and pistol and rifle.  But you don't lost any customization; there are a TON legendary weapons (50, to be exact), and you have the weapon morphing for your hero weapons.  The morphing is done by how you play your character; everything from how much income you've generated, to how many chests you've opened, to how you interact with the people in the world, to what spells you use, etc.  The problem with this is that you can't get all 50 legendary weapons in a single game, and the weapon morphing doesn't work the way you hope.  You get maybe a dozen legendary weapons in a save file, so you're going to be trading either over Xbox live, or between save files. And weapons morphing? You qualify for certain morphs by performing the needed actions, but all the morphs are considered when you upgrade a chest, and one is chosen at random.  So if you want your weapons to look a certain way, you're going to need to save and reload your game.  Which means, unless you have multiple characters saved, you're going to be quitting out of your game each time. (PC gets multiple save files, Xbox doesn't. So if you're a PC player, ignore that line.)

5. Villager interaction. This game introduces the Expression and Dynamic Touch mechanisms, allowing for interaction that wasn't possible in the previous 2 game. You no longer have the "follow" and "wait" expressions; you take the hand of a villager instead. Even if they don't want to follow you; then, you drag them. Expression touch allows you to personally interact with villagers; you can now shake hands, hug, kiss, dance with, fart on, and threaten villagers in ways impossible in previous games. However, the way the previous 2 games does things was better.   You can no longer choose what expression you want; you do what the game wants you to do. And I've gotten people I've been pulling along stuck on objects when performing escort missions, and I had to push their character model with mine.

6. Leveling. This game centralizes renown, job rating, and combat leveling into one place; Road to Rule.  The currency of the Road to Rule is the Guild Seal, which you get from combat, completing quests, and interacting with villagers.  However, you gain VERY little toward your guild seals in combat, and a LOT from villager interaction. And since enemies stop respawning in areas you've cleared out after a few missions, and won't start respawning until you've completed the next story mission (unlike Fable 1 and 2, where they respawn every time), you've to go supplement your guild seals with making villagers either like or hate you.  However, you can safely ignore the job upgrades, since I told you about the 50k gold silver key chest in Brightwall, so it's still entirely possible to max out your combat skills by the end of the game.

Despite all these gripes, however, the game is fun to play.  Yes, it sucks that I can't target a hob mage in combat, but I can still kill him with my gun and AOE spells no problem.  Yes, it sucks that houses deteriorate, but they still make you money, and it's not quick and easy to repair them.  Yes, the leveling system sucks, but once I learned it, it never worked against me. And above all, you don't lose out on any customization for your character either; there are still a TON of clothes you can acquire, and you can dye them any way you like. I enjoy playing this game, and you will too.

As for the story; 50 years have passed since the events of Fable 2. The Hero of Bowerstone unified Albion under his/her rule (though only her if you have a female hero save file on your hard drive. Otherwise, it the Hero of Bowerstone's gender defaults to male), and has died and been entombed under the Castle.  You play as the second child of the Hero of Bowerstone, and you learn the new system through the story; how to change your clothes, the dynamic and expression touches, and the combat system.  After combat training, you find out your brother, Logan, is about to execute protestors, and your boyfriend/girlfriend wants you to stop them.  You're forced to choose who Logan executes; the protestors or your boyfriend/girlfriend?  After you've chosen (or if you don't choose, Logan executes both), you scream to your brother "I will NEVER forgive you for this!" and he has you escorted to your bedroom.  From here, Sir Walter Beck, the old king's/queen's (that's what the previous game's Hero is called in game) closest adviser, takes you away from the castle, and into your parent's tomb to get the Guild Seal, and your first spell on the Road to Rule.  You're then led to the Sanctuary, where you are given your mission; gather allies, supporters and gain the necessary strength you need to lead a revolution against your brother.  Once you've gathered your army and made yourself strong enough for the fight, you're off to Aurora to find out why your kind-hearted brother turned into a tyrant, and gain the last bit you need; a navy.  From there, the invasion begins, and you fight your way to the castle to depose your brother.

After you take the castle (not a spoiler, btw. I mean, did you REALLY think you were going to lose this fight?), you are coronated as king/queen, and put your brother on trial. It is here that you learn the plot for the second half of the game; that "the darkness" that took Aurora is going to invade Albion in one year's time, and Logan was doing what he could to prepare for it.  But since he wasn't a Hero, he is unable to fight it effectively.  It is your job to prepare for the upcoming battle; both yourself, and your kingdom.  And it is here that I bring up the treasury; you need 6.5 million gold in order to save everyone in your kingdom. If you choose to be a good and benevolent monarch and keep your promises to the people who helped you in the revolution, you will need to transfer either either 8.5 million from your personal funds if you choose to done 2 quest items into the treasury, 9.7 million if you don't.  If you choose to break your promises and continue the way Logan did things, you will need to transfer 2.05 million if you choose to keep the quest items for your personal funds, 850,000 if you donate them to the treasury.  You have 1 year to do this (which is broken down into 5 sections) before the final battle is at hand.  You need all the money you need in the treasury by the end of day 121 (on Xbox. You have 1 more time period on PC), so make sure you factor in your choices for that day into your funds transfer.  You get all the information how much each day of judgement will cost you on the Fable wiki, so I won't do it here.

Once you reach Day 1, you are warped to the Road to Rule one last time, given your heroic form, and are sent to the day of the battle. And I must say this is the second best ending out of the three; not as good as the fights against Jack of Blades, but FAR better than Lucian.  I won't spoil it, though.

At this point, you can play the Traitor's Keep DLC, which occurs after the end of the game, but I haven't played it, because Fable DLC requires a constant connection to Xbox live.  Same with Understone, which can be played after the Masquerade quest before you become a monarch.

All in all, despite its problems, Fable 3 is fun. Do not pay more than 15 dollars new for it, though. 

I won't be tackling Fable: The Journey or Fable Heroes, because I don't own or want to own either.  Heroes is an Xbox Live download, and requires Xbox Live to play, and The Journey is Kinect, and I hate motion control.

I may do a wrap up like I did with Mass Effect, and I'll figure out what I'll do next. Until then, happy gaming!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Fable Retrospective: Fable 2

Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

The time has come for me to talk about the changes between Fable 1 and Fable 2.

First off, the interface has been streamlined.  All menus have been centralized under the start button.  You no longer have to hit the start button for the options and ability to save, and you no longer have to hit the back button for character stuff; it's all under the start button.  Second, you no longer have to draw your weapon; hitting the attack button for that weapon draws it, or uses the spell you have set for that weapon.  And while this takes away the ability to do my favorite mini game from Fable 1, the fist fighter's gang, you no longer have to worry about attacking someone without a weapon drawn.

Spells have been streamlined too; you don't have as many, but all spells have an AOE and a single foe attack, but they are the same spell.  All spells charge to 5, and like the previous game, some spells are more useful than others (in my book, at any rate).  Spells that return from Fable 1 are fire, lightning, slow time, force push, ghost sword (though now named blades and function as an attack spell), summon (summon dead now), and two new ones, vortex and chaos.

Weapons have been streamlined as well.  There are still separated into one and two handed versions, but now one handed weapons are exclusively swords, while two handed weapons are exclusively not.  Swords are longswords, katanas, cleavers (though with a different model), and the newcomer, cutlass.  Two handers are the mace, axe and hammer.

Ranged weapons have expanded immensely, now that guns are part of the picture.  This also makes armor obsolete, but you don't sacrifice customization for your character without it.  Anyway, there are four types of ranged weapons; crossbows, rifles, pistols and blunderbusses. Furthermore, the crossbows, rifles and pistols have their own subdivisions. The crossbows have light, heavy and repeater variety.  Rifles and pistols have the flintlock, clockwork (which screams "revolver" in my mind) and turret, which appears to function as a hand held Gatling gun.

All weapon types have 5 tiers; rusty (or splintery for crossbows), iron (yew), steel (oak), master, and legendary.  But in this game, the legendary weapons are not always the best; only the crossbow, blunderbuss, turret rifle and katana are the best in their class.  The others are meant to give you an edge in the early to mid game until you can get your hands on the master variety of your chosen weapon.

Now, since guns are part of the picture, armor is obsolete, but in the place of armor, we have a variety of clothes and dyes for your character.  You can use these dyes on all aspects of your clothing, as well as your hair and beard.

Furthermore, customization of your character goes further as you can play as both a male or female character.  And yes, I realize this isn't an innovation in the industry, but it is a welcome addition to the game.

And they gave us a dog!  I know nothing of dog breeds, but I've read that he's a mutt, and he changes with your alignment just like you do; he turns golden when you're good, and he darkens when you're evil, and his eyes start to glow red when you get at least 75% evil.  He also notifies you of dig spots based on his exploration level, and finishes off enemies based on his combat level.

The only real gripe I have with this game is making money; gone is the ability to make money through questing.  Now, all your income is either found in chests, through real estate, and through jobs.  And let me tell you, working in this game sucks just as much as working in the real world does.  Which is why you see tons of guides online on how to make money in this game.  My way, though, is an easy one, and requires very little effort on your part.

1. After you get to to Bowerstone, buy all the property you can. This will amount to only the shops on the bridge at this point.
2. Run around town with your dog. Since he should have exploration 3 from your journeys in Bower Lake, you should find a couple thousand more, as well as gifts you can sell for more gold. Purchase any other shops you can, and upgrade your weapons.
3. Save your game and quit.  From here, disconnect from Xbox live by removing the LAN cable from the console.
4. Modify your clock settings to 12/31/2025. You make money every 7 minutes of game time, but you also make money while the game is off, but at a slower rate.
5. Boot up your game, and wait a few moments until your income shows up. Save your game, and go back to your desktop.
6. Go back to your clock settings, and set it to 1/1/2005.  Return to the game, and buy any property with the money you just gained.  Save your game when this process is complete, and quit the game to the desktop.
7. Repeat steps 4-6 until you have purchased every piece of property in Bowerstone Market.  Once you have done this, set your clock to 1/1/2005 again, enter the game, save it, then set it to the current date, and you should have either just under or just above a million gold.

I'm not sure how well this will work with the PC version, and you will temporarily lose access to any DLC you have up to this point.  But I figure that, if the game is that stingy with money unless you perform monotonous jobs in order to buy property, then I feel justified in this.

One more thing before I move on; the mini games.  I don't know anything about them, because I don't play them.  They aren't fun to me, so I can't recommend playing them for anyone else.  They are gambling games, and others swear by them, but I don't like gambling. 

Oh, and the shooting gallery in Westcliff is fun, but requires a LOT of practice to win anything.  If you don't have the patience, I'd say pass on it.

As for the game's story, it's still very by the numbers.  The boy or girl you play, who is later revealed to be a descendant of the Hero of Oakvale, is a homeless child in Bowerstone Old Town who is swept up into events that far outshine your expectation.  Theresa from Fable 1 advises you and your older sister Rose to buy a magical music box that ends up being a plot device at the end of the game.  Lucian Fairfax finds out that you and your sister are able to use this artifact, and has you brought to his castle, where you and your sister are revealed to be Heroes.  But since you're "not of the three" and that "one of you must be the fourth", he shoots your sister dead, and shoots you as well.  Somehow, the shot propels you out the window, down the castle and onto the streets of Old Town far below.  But as Theresa says, "death is not your destiny today", and she nurses you back to health.  She spends the next decade training you as a Hero, and when you finally come of age, she sends you off to the "final test" to unlock your true potential.  Once that is done, the next time you see Theresa, she gives you your mission; find "the three", so you can stop Lucian.  (The three being the Heroes of Strength, Will and Skill. Basically, one individual who exemplifies one particular discipline.)

I enjoy this game, as well as the two DLC packs, Knothole Island, and See the Future.  I haven't played these in a while, since if you don't have a constant connection to Xbox Live, they aren't available, and I haven't had that in almost a year.  I do remember them as fun, and that See the Future's ending gives a teaser for Fable 3; you become a Monarch, and you have at least one child, who goes on to have a greater destiny than yours ever was.

This game is part of Microsoft's "Xbox Platinum hits" and can be bought for 20 bucks new.  It's a fun game, so long as you get the issues with money out of the way early.

I'll be tackling Fable 3 soon, and after that, I'll figure out what my next review will be.  Until then, Happy Gaming!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Rights of youtubers: Fair Use of Copyrighted material

Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

Today, I'm going talk about a growing concern for content creators on youtube, bliptv, springboard and many other video hosting sites.  This concern is the use of copyrighted material in their videos, and the videos being forcefully taken down because of it.

 Now, before I go into how to combat this, I must first go into what a copyright is.  Generally, it is "the right to copy", but also gives the copyright holder the right to be credited for the work, to determine who may adapt the work to other forms, who may perform the work, who may financially benefit from it, and other related rights. It is a form of intellectual property (like the patent, the trademark, and the trade secret) applicable to any expressible form of an idea or information that is substantive and discrete. Copyright initially was conceived as a way for government to restrict printing; the contemporary intent of copyright is to promote the creation of new works by giving authors control of and profit from them.

In short, it is meant to protect inventors, movie makers and music creators from the government and giant corporations from taking their ideas and works and screwing them out of the credit and financial gain they deserve.  The problem with this is that giant corporations have managed to use this as a way to screw the little guy.

So how do we combat this?  Simple; 17 U.S.C. § 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976.  This is the famous "Fair Use" defense. What this entails of is the use of material of copyrighted material for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research. 

Now, sites like youtube exist on two things; the content creators, and large companies that hold the copyrights for music, videos and games.  Youtube errs on the side of caution, and when a large company flags something for copyright violation, youtube takes the video down and warns the content creator.  However, they are willing to fight for their content creators if they know their rights, and are in the right.

So how do we know protect ourselves? By knowing what we are creating.  Most youtube content that contains copyrighted material falls under three main headings; review, commentary and parody.

Review: This one is the easiest one to understand, since people like the late Gene Siskel and the late Roger Ebert made careers off this.  This falls under the "criticism" clause of Fair Use.  This allows people show clips from a movie or game, or have sound from music, so long as they criticize the work (second dictionary definition of the word, not the first).

Commentary: This one encompasses your standard let's play, though it also protects when someone "riffs on a movie".  If you talk over the footage, you are protected under Fair Use. (This is why video walkthroughs tend to get taken down more often than let's plays; they are not protected as commentary under Fair Use.)

Parody: This one is sketchy.  On one hand, guys like Weird Al Yankovic have been making a living doing this for the better part of 30 years. On the other, I can't think of a way to justify this under Fair Use.

So what do we do?  Simple; know what we're making.  If you can't guarantee that what you're doing falls under review or commentary, contact the holder of the copyright.  Most of the time, this requires a message to a record or movie company, asking for permission. 

If your work IS protected, then a disclaimer in both the description on how it's protected, and before your video officially starts. A vocal "This video is protected as (whatever it is) under the Fair Use clause." and a full description of the text from 17 U.S.C. § 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976.

I know this is unfair to non-US content creators, but remember this; youtube and copyright holders are American companies, and the rules of US Copyright Act of 1976 is the law they are invoking, and it is the law that we all must use to protect ourselves.

I know that's what I'm going to do when I have the equipment I need to start my show.

For now, know your rights, and happy creating!

Fable Retrospective: Fable:The Lost Chapters

Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

Today, I'm going to tackle Fable: The Lost Chapters. (Fable: The Lost Chapters being the game that Lionhead wanted to release when Fable was released back in September of 2004, but due to time constraints, they had to chop it down. TLC gave us bug fixes and extra content at 1/5th the cost.  As such, both Lionhead and I consider the TLC "expansion" the true first game, and I will be referring to this as "Fable 1".)

Now, when we talk about Fable 1, we must consider what it isn't, and what it is.  Those of us who followed this game in the gaming magazines and websites know that Peter Molyneux excitedly talked about what he wanted for this game in the media, and was unable to keep to these "promises" due to technology and time constraints.

What this game isn't:

  • A free roaming RPG.  You have to play an Elder Scrolls game for that.
  • A game where NPCs emulate your appearance.
  • A game with family development (though you see this in the next two games)
  • A game where your choices affect the world around you (though you see this in the next two games)
  • A game with multiplayer (though you see this in the next two games)
 What this game is:

  • Overhyped by its own developer (though most of it was excitement about the ideas he had)
  • A by the numbers action RPG
  • Funny
  • Fun
 Now that I've got that out of the way, I'll get into what I actually think of this game.

Fable 1 is a game where you play as a descendant of William Black, whom I spoke about in my last blog entry.  As such, he is able to control all three Hero disciplines.  It is also very cliched when it comes to its setup.  It starts with our protagonist daydreaming about being a Hero, and being woken from his father and told "Hey, it's your sister's birthday! You got her a gift, right? NO? Well, for each good deed you do, I'll give you a gold piece. Use that to buy her a present."  And this is is where you are introduced to movement, interacting with characters and objects, the basics of the combat system, the alignment system, and the game's sense of humor.  In short, it's very British. :)

After you get your sister's gift, you go and meet her playing in the field at the edge of town. (Before you go and see her, you should go inside your house and read her diary. You learn that she's got the gift of prophesy, even at a young age.) After giving her your gift, you are just about to head back home with her when you witness a villager being murdered by bandits.  Your sister screams for you to hide, you do so, and you witness the "your home is burned, your family killed cliche" cutscene, are saved by Maze of the Guild of Heroes, and go into the second phase of the opening: becoming a member of the Guild, and learning the intricacies of the combat system.  It is here you get your first melee weapon, your first ranged weapon, your first spell, and the all important Guild Seal, which is crucial to the next two games; it is implied that the Guild Seal that the Fable 2 and 3 Heroes get is the one that the Fable 1 Hero gets.

Upon graduating your training, you're taught how to level up, and the game truly opens at this point.  Since this game's protagonist is a member of William Black's bloodline, you can build your Hero any way you want. Want a ranged based character? A melee fighter? A mage? A hybrid of two? Completely possible, though it's very easy to build a Hero that's maxed out on all three disciplines.

The game starts you slowly; once you get past the opening, the neophyte Hero takes on minor quests (like killing the Wasp Queen), and slowly moves in difficulty and notoriety until you finally are allowed to fight in the Arena.  It's here where you are taking on quests and creatures that normal people have nightmares about, and you continue like this until you become a legend.

The story unfolds slowly as well; after the Wasp quest, Maze meets you, reminds you of your desire for revenge, and tells  you that your sister may still be alive. After a few more quests, you are told to meet Maze in Oakvale, and are told "meet the Blind Seeress" at Twinblade's quest.  You do so, find out she's your sister, and move forward to the Arena after a few quests.  At the Arena, you are introduced to Jack of Blades, the game's villain, and are told that your mother lives after winning.  You meet your sister shortly after, and head off to break your mother out of prison.  Once you break her out after being imprisoned for a year, the game heads toward the original game's ending.  It is here where you chose to either kill your sister and keep the Sword of Aeons, or toss it away (though future games say you tossed it away, since your sister shows up in every game after this one). After this, you make a time jump, and are awakened from a year long boredom to find that Jack survived your battle, and is stronger than he was before.   You do a few more quests, and face down Jack in his ultimate form.  And this is where the game gives your its final morality choice, though I won't reveal it.

Which gives me a good segue into the morality system.  In addition to its role as training and housing for the Heroes of Albion, the Guild also acts as a job broker for Heroes.  If anyone has any needs for a Hero, they create a Quest Card and the Guild has them set out for the Heroes, so long as they have enough renown.  The Guild works as a contract broker, leaving the morality of the Quest to the Heroes who take them.  Which means you can be as good or as evil as you want, and your appearance reflects this.  If you are good, your hair lightens and you eventually gain a halo. But if you are evil, your start losing your hair, you grow horns, and gain other unsavory additions to your appearance.

This game is LOADED with mini games.  You've got the pub games; coin golf, card pairs, cart sorting, spot the addition, shove ha'penny and blackjack.  I have no idea the rules for any of these besides blackjack, because I don't play them.  You've also got the fist fighter's gang, where you fight do something you can't do in any game after this; fight a group of guys with your fists (and feet if you manage to get a flourish) for money, renown, and when you get to the one in Knothole Glade, a trophy.  There's chicken kickin', which is self explanatory.  And finally, you've got the fishing competition.

Now, I briefly mentioned type of fighter you can be, so I will go into it here.  This game has 5 tiers of weapons; Iron, Steel, Obsidian, Master and Legendary.  You have two types of melee and ranged weapons; one or two handed weapons, and longbows and crossbows.  Furthermore, you have different types of melee weapons within those types; longsword, katana, cleaver, mace, and axe (the two handed weapons forgo the katana and cleaver, and pick up a great hammer in their place).  So you see, you have quite a few options for your playstyle.

As for magic, there are three schools of magic, with a half a dozen spells within each school, give or take.  Some are far more useful than others, which is why I'm going to go into my preferred spell load out here.

Now, I tend to build a hybrid of all three character types, so my load out is built for that, but I'll first discuss my recommendations for melee and ranged based character.  First, the melee; you're going to want Heal Life, Assassin's Rush and Multi-strike to three, then Slow Time, Berserk and Enflame to 3.  From there, bring all that you can to 4 (Heal Life and Berserk are dependent on your alignment; Heal Life can only be mastered by good Heroes, and Berserk for evil.)  For ranged, you want Heal Life, Enflame and Multi-arrow to 3, then Ghost Sword, Slow Time and Force Push to 3, then all to 4.  Once you master all the spells, go with whatever you wish, though there are a few spells to avoid no matter how you play; Summon, which you don't get XP from the kills your ghosts make, Drain Life, which is time consuming and plants you in the spot, and Turncoat, which is the same as Drain Life.

As for my loadout, I go with Heal Life, Assassin's Rush and Multi-Arrow to 2, then Slow Time, Enflame and Berserk to 2, then bring them all to 4 (depending on alignment, of course), before hitting Ghost Sword, Multi-strike and Physical Shield to round it out.  I mandate Heal Life on all my builds, because there are three mandatory escort missions in the game, and since enemies can attack your escort, and Heal Life heals both you and allies, it's pretty much a necessity.  I also have Enflame on all builds, because it is great crowd control; it has both knock down and heavy damage.  And Slow Time is self explanatory; slows everything around you, allowing you to move and attack freely.

With all this said, though, this game does something that feels strange to come back to after playing Fable 2 and 3; you've got to draw your weapon before you can use it. If you don't, you're hitting people with your fists.  More than once early on, I would want to hit something with my sword, only to swing my fists at it. (Same with my bow, though I'd roll or block, since the gun button from the next two games is the block button in this game.)  So if you're coming back to this game after playing the next two, make sure you refamiliarize yourself with the controls while you're still weak.

Now, even beyond combat, this game is all about customizing your character.  There are dozens of hairstyles, beards and tattoos to modify your base appearance, and clothing that boosts your good or evil alignments, or neutral ones that boost neither.  You've got villager clothes, leather armor, chainmail and heavy plate, and you've got will user clothes, and dresses if you choose to cross-dress.  The TLC part gives you a slew of hats, and two new armor sets.  And you can mix and match your clothes any way you want.

This game has an epic story, but never takes itself too seriously; it has a TON of humor.  For example, the book quest. Hearing Mr. Gout read some of those books to his students is hilarious.  And there's this game's obsession with chickens; too funny.  And there's a LOT of other stuff that I don't want to mention, since it would spoil the fun for you.

This game is fun, though watch out if you play it on the Xbox 360; the emulation isn't perfect, and it crashes randomly.  I have played this game through 4 times for this review (1 each for the spell load out that I recommended for melee and ranged only, and 1 each way I normally play for good and evil), and it has always crashed at random intervals.  So my tip in this situation is save often; after every quest and whenever you enter a new area between quests.

And for those who don't want to worry about the intermittent crashing, there's good news.  Lionhead has announced that they are working on Fable Anniversary, a HD remake of Fable: The Lost Chapters, with updated graphics, achievements, faster load times, and the option to use a control scheme more in line with Fable 2 and 3.  This game is expected to drop in February 2014 (though it says December 2013 through pre-order on Amazon), so look forward to it if you're interested in the game.

You can pick this game up for 10 bucks new for Xbox, 15 for PC, and you'll enjoy yourself thoroughly.

For now though, look forward to my Fable 2 review, and happy gaming!