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Romantic (UK)

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The Gathering Storm
The Gathering Storm
by Robert Jordan
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly excellent, 11 Jan. 2010
This review is from: The Gathering Storm (Hardcover)
I must confess that I found the previous two Wheel Of Time books disappointing, and I did regard reading this volume as more of a "let's get the serious over with then" chore than a joy...

But happily it proved all that negativity completely wrong!
The pace is brisk & exciting, and crucially we're not swamped with ever more new secondary characters - we even finally get to wave a few characters off after eleven volumes with a cast of hundreds clamoring for face-time.

Looking forward to next installment!

Frostbitten: A New Hunt Begins... and an Ancient Secret Is Revealed (Otherworld)
Frostbitten: A New Hunt Begins... and an Ancient Secret Is Revealed (Otherworld)
by Kelley Armstrong
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A return to form, 11 Jan. 2010
A happy return to form for the Women Of The Otherworld series, after slipping for a book or two.

Simply a nice rip-roaring yarn, deftly reminding me why Kelley Armstrong is my favorite female author of recent years.

Champions Online (PC)
Champions Online (PC)
Offered by Gateway Gaming
Price: £0.01

9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A polarizing game - I strongly recommend you try before you buy, 1 Sept. 2009
This review is from: Champions Online (PC) (Video Game)
I play tested Champions through multiple pre-launch phases, and after my first few sessions I had a horribly low opinion of it - but after giving it more time and seeing the devs in action I have come to respect the game. However; the overall experience taught me that this is a game built upon deeply polarizing foundations, and consequently I strongly recommend you try before you buy (whenever that option next becomes available)!

The biggest issue: the innovative art style. If you hate this when you see it up on your screen for the first time, I'm afraid you simply won't be able to tolerate playing Champions.
My personal issue with the art direction is that I got no sense of the CO world being 'tactile'. Whether outlines were on or off, it seemed like my character wasn't connecting with the environment at all - floating along scrolling backgrounds performing animations in isolation. This discontent got worse post-travel-power when the Z-axis became even more fluid; actually got worse still when I tried ground-based ones with my character effortlessly & jarringly bounding up vertical slopes and the like.

For all its strengths, I couldn't see passed the flaws in the creation system - primarily the difficulty making an attractive Human face and the options (even some of the basics) that weren't lifted from City Of Heroes (or were lifted and remain jarringly low-resolution).
This is certainly a system that makes the best man-bug/man-shark/man-droid primary-color-clad freakazoids in the history of MMOs, but (aside from uncanny recreations of Bruce Campbell) even hours of labour never produced a passable unmasked Human male for me.

The greater issue though is that the Power system is considerably more freeform than it is accommodating; what I mean is that it supports all gameplay elements in a single character, but not within a single framework or - more importantly - character concept.
For instance you can model your character on Hawkeye or the Green Arrow with a snazzy interpretation of trick archery, but for the teamwork & defensive Powers you'll want and eventually need suddenly your character is going to have to become psychic, dabble in the supernatural arts and outfit themselves with hi-tech force-fields...
You're certainly free to create any character concept, but to be competitive/effective/functional you need to dilute more and more the higher you level - all you really have free reign over is which particular flavor of DPS you prefer.

Finally; if my own experience is any indicator, the quest & story presentation may prove unsatisfying-to-unbearable to MMO veterans. I have played many text-in-box presentation games over the years, but just something about the windows, fonts and generally vanilla writing of Champions had me speed-clicking through windows as never before.
While I personally just found reading in Champions to be tedious, a note of warning - some of my family members found the font & color combination simply unreadable and were in real discomfort trying to read more than a line or two (this was at 1680 x 1050 resolution for the record).

I'm giving Champions two stars regardless because I can see that it is well crafted and obviously well-suited to the taste of many other gamers, but again I sincerely urge people to try before they buy - the downside of a unique presentation style is that some people are going to see it up on their screen and simply abhor it, no matter what features the game possesses.

The Way Of Shadows: Book 1 of the Night Angel
The Way Of Shadows: Book 1 of the Night Angel
by Brent Weeks
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real find, 21 Jun. 2009
I cannot say how long it has been since I've picked up a pure fantasy book that hasn't been mediocre-to-disappointing, so my expectations were low going in to this one blind... but I'm so glad I gave it a chance!

An excellent, complicated, story told very well - cannot recommend highly enough.

The Awakening: Chloe Saunders is on the Run and Raising Hell, Literally (Darkest Powers)
The Awakening: Chloe Saunders is on the Run and Raising Hell, Literally (Darkest Powers)
by Kelley Armstrong
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Another Excellent - Though Brief - Installment, 10 Jun. 2009
I can see that the other reviews have covered all the plot and general excellence, so I'll just chime in that I enjoyed the book very much also.

I was tempted to deduct a star because this installment REALLY is short - I just read it in one three hour sitting - but it seemed churlish when the book is clearly designated 'young adult' and only an intermediate part of a series, so I knew what to expect.

Roll on book three!

Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe (Xbox 360)
Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe (Xbox 360)
Offered by Ace Goods Co. Ltd
Price: £29.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Fun for an hour or two, 4 April 2009
MK vs DC is definitely a solid little game, with excellent graphics, some new ideas and an interesting premise... but offers barely any bang for your bucks.

There are 20 characters plus 2 unlockable, but no other unlocks, no character creation mode and no other game modes (unless you count the combo challenges which are essentially practice mode with prompts) - not even any alternate costumes !
This is a pretty shocking omission considering the MK universe is rife with characters who are basically just palette swaps with alternate projectiles, and the DC universe offers just as much potential for simple fan service (e.g. Bizarro, Zoom, Sinestro).

The engine is solid - though I did found the basic XBox controller to be a pain for inputting special moves (forever jumping when pressing sideways) - and the story mode production values are definitely a new high for the DC series.
Complexity has been thoroughly eliminated however, with all fighters reduced to 1 stance, 2-3 hit combos and 5 or so special moves apiece.

Overall ; MK vs DC is just horrible value for money compared to both rival & previous games - rent, avoid or wait for the sale of the century.

It is a genuine shame too, because if the effort had been put into to bring it up to modern standards this title could have been a contender.

Living With The Dead: Number 9 in series (Otherworld)
Living With The Dead: Number 9 in series (Otherworld)
by Kelley Armstrong
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A decent read, but heading nowhere once again, 19 Jan. 2009
I still have faith in Kelley Armstrong and her Otherworld series but, after the weak No Humans Allowed and the anemic Personal Demon, this book has me up to two-and-a-half strikes now...

The somewhat perplexing trend of depowering heroines has been followed to it's natural conclusion at this point ; from barely-powered Jaime, to anti-powered Hope, to completely powerless Robyn.
I'm all for more men of the Otherworld action in books, but for a series called "Women Of The Otherworld" I just don't get what is going on here ?
I became enamored with the series back when Elena was damsel, investigator & (gory) heroine all rolled into one ; if I were just looking for 300 pages of damsel in distress followed by a shoot-out or Muscular Older Man Saves The Day! (TM) then there are whole other genres of the stuff to read from.

I don't want to keep harping on about how little Hope brings to the table, but honestly I don't know what Mrs. Armstrong is thinking with her.
She features prominently in this novel also, and is cast even more solidly as an action hero... but EVERY time she is near violence or villainy, she is paralyzed by indecision and crazy mojo juice.
Hope manages to sustain her 100% record of losing EVERY single brawl she engages in too, to further deepen the mystery of what exactly the point of her is.
Is she intended to be ironic ? A parody of post-Buffy heroines ?

In summary :
Well written, interestingly - and originally - paced, yarn.
As ever, Kelley Armstrong writes a despicable & compelling villain to loathe.
As previously, let down by making the main character too weak by half then marginalizing her to supporting cast halfway through - only this time the substitute is no better equipped for stardom either.

Readable of course, but - for the first time - eminently missable.

Fallout 3 (Xbox 360)
Fallout 3 (Xbox 360)

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Game - A Few Warnings Though, 2 Nov. 2008
This review is from: Fallout 3 (Xbox 360) (Video Game)
All round a great game, and whilst not an epic it will last you much longer than Fable 2 or Bioshock.
I would recommend it to anyone with a fondness for Bioware games or quality first-person RPGS in general.

A few warnings though for prospective players, stuff which I haven't seen mentioned in the many ( deservedly ) positive professional reviews :

1} Guns = good ! The rest = not so much...
A lot of attention has definitely gone in to melee weapons, grenades, heavy weapons etc, but in practice they really aren't viable other than as support for Small Guns / Energy Weapons.
Challenging combat ( i.e. not cockroaches or unarmed ghouls ) invariably comes down to shoot & run tactics in order to build time your AP gauge to recharge ; staying within melee range will just get you killed against anything tough / numerous enough to withstand your opening attacks.
You'll also never find sufficient ammunition for larger weapons to get you through infested areas - the big guns are purely for taking out rare heavy hitters.
Much thought & fiendish ingenuity went in to mechanics like the ability to Pickpocket live explosives on to foes, but you won't have the resources or opportunity to focus on such trickery - it'll take out one guard, but you'll still have 3 in the next room, then 3 in the next room...

2} Make war, not love.
If you hadn't picked up from 1} ; you have to fight in Fallout 3, and fight a lot.
I would say that it might just about be possible to pacifist your way through the main story as a non-fighter, but even if you could you'd be missing 90% of the content.
Unlike previous Fallouts, you will need AT LEAST one combat skill ( specifically the use of either small gun ) to succeed.

3} Many steps forward, a few steps backward.
Things Fallout veterans will notice have changed, for the worse...
* Cannot rest using the PipBoy / while travelling - have to find an unowned bed to rest now, and convenient ones to map travel to are very rare ( unless you go a-murderin' ).
* Cannot pass time using PipBoy, even though day & night cycles are more important than ever - yes ; shops and key residents are inaccessible at night, but you have no way to skip to daytime now.
* Weapon descriptions no longer reveal their AP cost, and combined with the new AP bar system you will never know the exact requirements other than by trial and error ( and even that is fuzzy with so many blade & bludgeon variants ).
* Melee attacks ( / AoE weapons ) can no longer be aimed at body parts, only guns shots can - I don't get this at all, given they designed a fancy combat new system VATs.
* Eye targetting has been removed, making heavily armored targets horribly more resilient than ever before ( groin targetting is gone too, but that hardly mattered anyway ).

I don't find those issues to be at all game-breaking myself - and I think newcomers to the series will be more than satisfied playing as gunslingers that save the 'rpg' stuff for town - they're just changes that may disappoint some super-sledge swinging old schoolers.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 21, 2009 4:25 PM BST

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (PC)
Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (PC)
Offered by * The Game Monkey *
Price: £1.27

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Decent And Ambitious Production, Currently Uninspiring, 25 Oct. 2008
There are plenty of posted and professional reviews that you can read for details of this games' strengths, so I'll just abbreviate : pick-up-and-play, strong(ish) IP, innovative, low requirements, rapidly improving.

Etc, etc.

I'll skip right to the reason I wrote this review, for the benefit of any undecided layers out there with the same priorities as me : this game fails to inspire.

There is a lot of debate concerning game mechanics and such, but if you place great weight on the 'shiny' side of MMO gaming ( as I do ) this is some of the stuff you'll want to know that doesn't come up so much...

* Characters are ugly - all of them but the two scantily clad female Dark Elf careers, which you'll either love or loathe.
Character creation options are barely there, and unreasoningly shallow to boot ( e.g. all Empire men are stubbly, Elven helms have set hairstyles 'attached' to them ).

* Your attire follows linear progression, and looks largely identical for most careers after graduating from the introductory zones.
This is done to maintain reconizable career silhouettes in PvP and to "protect the IP", but as a consequence your character will look near-identical as you level up & identical to all others of the same level as you.
And no ; there are currently no parallel armor sets - your only choice is between the look of your best armor and the ( minutely different ) look of your previous now-inferior sets.

* Trophies are a big disappointment, and dyes are horrible.
Trophies are boring, poorly lit and FAR smaller than suggested ( you get brooches not severed heads ).
The default dye colors available are absurdly limited and unappealing, dye crafting is no better, leaving only erratic dye drops which generally lead to only a clownishly uncoordinated palette being at your disposal.

* All story arc and all quests are linear - nothing to replay, nothing to establish or distinguish your character.

* Itemisation is erratic and predominantly bound to your Renown ( PvP ) rank - nothing desirable can drop from general play, and nothing you find sub level 38-40 ( of 40 ) will be of any value to you after that point.
WAR is 'the anti-Diablo' in this regard, since there is NOTHING to find from general play and both PvE & PvP foes offer you NOTHING but points towards your character progression bars.

I hope that those points illustrate why I find WAR uninspiring - there is just nothing there to give my own character and general gameplay any sense of involvement.
Instead of "my character is a level 30 Swordmaster" it feels like "this level 30 Swordmaster is my character", if that makes sense ?

All the pieces are there for a great game, except for whatever intangible factor is necessary to make me CARE.
Without it : well there's just no motivation to play.

Fable II (Xbox 360)
Fable II (Xbox 360)
Offered by inteci
Price: £7.00

5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Game, But Very Short, 25 Oct. 2008
This review is from: Fable II (Xbox 360) (Video Game)
Fable II is certainly a good game in my estimation, and a significant evolment of the previous installment.

It is fairly shallow - romance in particular is hampered by the ugly ugly folk you can choose between - but this sandbox world is endlessly charming.

However... this game is far shorter than I expected it to be.
Maybe I have been spoiled by the scale of MMO RPGs that have dominated the PC RPG market in recent years, but I was honestly shocked and dismayed when I discovered just how tiny Fable II is.

Don't be fooled by the box claim that the world is 10 times large than Fable ( I ), because IF it is then all the extra area was given over to empty countryside.

Fun : yes.
Charming : certainly.
Happy to have paid £40 for it : no.

I would recommend waiting for the price to come down, because if you are an RPG fanatic this only represents one weekend's worth of entertainment ( two if you replay it against your nature ).
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 31, 2008 5:48 PM GMT

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