Monday, September 27, 2010

The Aldowyn's Musings Podcast Ep. 2: Halo: Reach, SMB's 25th, and more!

In Episode 2 of the aldowyn's musings podcast, Aldowyn, Abujaffer and DarkPC talk about Super Mario Bros. 25th anniversary, Civilization V and the possible return of PC Gaming, Playstation Move, and Halo Reach

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Assassin's Creed II: First Impressions

Today I'm talking about Assassin's Creed II. The first one is one of the two (yes, that few) titles that I have for my 360 that I got sometime last year, because it looked really cool. (Honestly, the AC1 cover is really awesome. I should post a pic of the drawing I did of the creed on the back, with the Assassin's symbol.)

Anyway, it was a good game, but nothing special. Among it's myriad drawbacks were incredible amounts of repetition, unrealistic level design (seriously, those rooftops are literally meant for running around on!), annoying sequences back at Abstergo, and really, really bad AI. Of course, the idea was absolutely awesome, it's the best usage of platforming in a game I've ever played, and possibly seen. Uncharted 2 probably outdoes it, but not by much.

They fixed almost everything. It's just... awesome. ACII has more depth than any action game in recent history: collectibles everywhere, and I do mean everywhere, these really awesome platforming sequences (my favorite part), much, much better pacing and overall story, a whole bunch of new abilities, weapons, and things to customize, and characters that are actually interesting and likable.

First: collectibles. The flags from the first game have been replaced with feathers, of which there are only 100 in the entire (huge!) game, but that's only the beginning! Another minor one is treasure chests. There's 330 of them, and they can have significant amounts of money, but you get more for completing the main storyline and there's no achievement for them. There are also two main side-quests involving collectibles (main meaning hey, they actually have story! Interesting story, too...), the first of which is finding these glyphs left by Abstergo's previous prisoner, known as Subject 16. There's several different kinds of puzzles you have to solve. I haven't finished this one yet, and I have no clue how it's going to turn out. The next one, and my favorite, is the Assassin's Tombs. These are platforming masterpieces unlike anything I've seen. They get steadily more and more complex, from crossing the rafters of a church (harder than it sounds) to a 4-part discovery that.... I haven't finished yet. Still awesome, though. The final one (I may have missed some) are codex pages written by the first game's protagonist's, Altair, that, when decoded, allow you to increase your health or gain new weapons. (One of the first: Double hidden blades. AWESOME!) Oh, and the guy that decodes these codex pages and makes the equipment is none other than Leonardo da Vinci. Who is also awesome. More on that later.

Slightly related is the upgrade system. You use Florins (money) to buy all sorts of things, from weapons and armor, to new shops at your villa (technically it's your uncle Mario's.), and paintings. This system is surprisingly deep, with the ability to upgrade all your different shops, increasing the town's value as well as giving you discounts, and renovating the town with everything from brothels to barracks to churches, which also increase the value of the town. The town's value determines how much tourism you get, and thus how much money you earn. The money is put into a chest every 20 minutes, but you have to come get the money every hour and 20 minutes or it's lost. The only reason I can think of for this decision is to remind people that they really do need to come upgrade the villa and buy armor and stuff, which is actually kind of brilliant--if they did it on purpose.

Oh, and I want to talk about the weapons, and then the combat. There's so many weapons this time around! There's two kinds, swords and small weapons, analogous to the sword and knife from the first game, and there must be well over a dozen of each, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. You can also disarm enemies and use their weapons, which is awesome to the point that you can easily win an entire fight just be disarming enemies and killing them with their own weapons ad nauseum.

The entire combat system is also considerably deeper. Along with the disarm move, there's also a strafe move that can be really cool if used right. One time I was fighting one of my main assassination targets and his guards, and, after I killed his guards, I just sidestepped around his attack, ended up behind him and stabbed him in the back. That move is pretty hard to accomplish, but it looks absolutely awesome when you pull it off.

The pacing is much steadier this time around. The main storyline isn't so sharply split into investigations and assassinations, but there are pros and cons. The build-up is much more enjoyable, with a lot more story, but the actual assassination tends to fail to distinguish itself from what happened before. I kind of miss the main assassination missions from the beginning, where you use all the information you gathered to find the best place to strike, and then go and carry out your plan. The enemies don't seem to get enough time in the lime-light either-- the story tends to focus on the people helping you accomplish your goal, instead of why your target is so evil. There are exceptions, and these exceptions are marvelous, but sometimes it's just a little anticlimactic-- probably my least favorite change from the first one. What I would have done is just made the build-up sequences more interesting forms of the ones from the first game, instead of random-seeming thefts and interrogations like the first game.

My last topic tonight is the characters. The total of likable characters went up from 0 (ok, Malik was pretty cool sometimes. Probably the most fleshed-out of the characters.) to 3. There are two new characters back in the real world, along with Lucy (who gained several levels in awesome) helping with the project, and both of them are pretty cool. Shawn is this British guy who investigated his way into finding out about Abstergo, and the assassin's picked him up before they could off him. At first, he seemed like just a jerk, but after a while he turned into that awesome British jerk kind of guy. The other one, Rebecca the Animus 2.0 tech, is less awesome, but still cool.

Finally, there's da Vinci. So cool. He's just so eager and nonchalant, going about building all these awesome inventions. He comes off as fairly innocent sometimes, but is occasionally surprising. I'm not quite sure why I like him so much, but I do. And I'm sure I will more once I get to test out his greatest invention...

Anyway, Assassin's Creed II is awesome. They've fixed almost everything about the first one, come up with a bunch of new awesome things, and put it all together seamlessly to make a really, really awesome game. Sign me up for Assassin's Creed III!

I should finish it sometime this week, and look for a more traditional review a little bit after that. Early next week, perhaps. Oh, and don't forget to listen to the Halo: Reach podcast that should be up fairly soon! (It's supposed to be up, I'm not quite sure what happened.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Origin of Aldowyn the Wanderer

So, here's the origin of my D&D character, Aldowyn. He's a 25 year old half-elf sorcerer, with good INT and CHA ability scores and a really, really bad wisdom score. (4, if you really want to know.) I'm going to try to do a series of posts on his adventures, and this is the first. We haven't played any of this, it's just an intro so the DM can learn about my character and figure out how the PCs end up together. That's why the end is a little shaky, there's no story to put there yet!


The Origin of Aldowyn the Wanderer

I was 13 when it happened, when I was abandoned to my fate – maybe 9 or 10 in human years. My mother was an elf, the widow of one of the village champions who had died in an orc attack, decades before I was born. She had never remarried, and left the village for some reason I never discovered – to find her purpose in life, maybe, I don’t know. When she returned, she had a human husband and carried a baby beneath her heart, ready to give birth any minute. My father, that human, left as soon as I was born, leaving me nothing but my name as his legacy.

My mother tried to pretend nothing had changed, that I had just appeared in the woods one night, and tried to protect me from the discrimination of the rest of the village. In truth, the rest of the village treated her differently, to say nothing of me.

I was a bastard -- a half-elf, with a human father, and elven mother, and most of the adults treated me as one. The children, however, remained innocent, ignorant of the bigotry and racism of their elders. They saw me for who I was. With my natural affinity for people and my problem-solving skills, I quickly became their informal leader. We often adventured into the calm woods surrounding our village, foraging for nuts and berries, sometimes just to explore. All in all, it was a good life.

Or it was, until disaster struck me for the first of many times. I was only in my eleventh year, and I do not care to elaborate on the events of that day, even those that I haven’t blocked from my mind. All that needs to be said is that, after all that transpired, a child lay dead, and I was to blame.

I was very nearly stoned out of the village, but my mother and the chief, who had never really paid attention to me, intervened on my behalf, and in so doing saved my life. I know not why he did this – he had locked himself in his hut with an article he had possessed as long as I can remember, and when he came out, he knew exactly what was happening and proclaimed that I must live.

So live I did, though nothing was the same after that. The adults treated me worse than ever, and the children were almost afraid of me after the events in the forest. My mother tried to take me in, but I became almost wild, venturing into the woods alone for days at a time, contemplating my situation and praying for guidance to our god, Corellon Larethian, the Protector. Life passed.

The day it happened, I was out in the woods. The usually bright and cheery woods were dark and quiet, as if the forest itself was afraid of something. I had retreated into the woods because one of the older children had insulted my father and I. After dark, as I was preparing to sleep for the night, I heard a crackling noise. I looked towards the source of the noise, the village.

It was burning. The red glow stained the sky; the smoke obscured the sun. I rushed back, not knowing what I could do, but knowing I must do something to save the village that had succored me in my infancy. I slowed down as I neared the village, using my meager skills to hide in the forest, and saw for the first time those who were destroying my life.

They were drow, dark elves of the Underdark. I had never seen them, but they were unmistakable with dark gray, almost black skin, white hair, and malevolent red eyes. There were over two dozen of them, warriors, rangers, and mages with great evil beasts at their side. My eyes were drawn to one in particular, leaving the hut of the chief. He had the look of confident arrogance, and almost radiated the feel of magic. At his hip hung a cruel-looking scimitar, visibly crackling with electricity. A huge cat prowled at his side as he strode through the village, casting down any of our warriors who dared oppose such a powerful adversary. The last thing I noticed, just as he put it away in his pack, was the chief’s artifact. The drow leader, for such he was, glanced through the woods, and I jerked down, making so much noise I thought a deaf man could have heard me, but his eyes just passed over my hiding place.

I ran. I ran like a coward, no longer thinking of saving the village, just fleeing from that terrible mage with his piercing eyes and otherworldly magic. Before long, I tripped on a tree root and fell on my face. I quickly rolled over, only to see one of the drow warriors standing over me, looking almost as surprised as I felt. I yelled, feeling something stir deep within me, saw a flash of light, and the dark elf fell back, dazed. Not understanding what had happened and barely believing my good fortune, I leaped up and continued my flight. Nothing else of note happened, and I escaped the forest unscathed except for a few scrapes and bruises. I followed the moonlight and starlight to a nearby human town, where I found a corner in a stable and stayed out the night.

The following morning when I woke up, I thought it had all been a terrible nightmare, until the stench of the human’s mounts reached me. It all came rushing back, and with it came a cold, terrible feeling. Right there, in the muck of the stable, I vowed that I would discover who it was that attacked my town and killed my mother. I thought of my father, and reasoned that he would share my thirst for vengeance—as well as satisfy my own curiosity concerning who I was.

Thus my journeys began. I wandered from town to town, seeking information on the dark elves and my father. I learned little, although I did acquire some knowledge of my newfound powers of sorcery. I also acquired a familiar, a raven I named Nighthawk, who became my companion through out my travels.

Years later, as I was becoming disheartened, I fell in with a group of adventurers, on a great quest. Little would I know how this quest tied into my own, and how both would come to shape my life -- and indeed, that of the world.

September Update

Hey everyone, I'm sorry it's been so slow this month. School is nuts, and I've been trying to start up a few things. There's the podcast we've started (DarkPC posted the link to the intro in the last post), and I've been trying to start up a D&D group with a few friends. I've also been actually playing some more video games lately. I was working on Ocarina of Time and Link's Awakening, and I finished Assassin's Creed for the second time, getting all my achievements back. I've borrowed Shadow of the Colossus (awesome game, btw) and FF Tactics Advanced 2, so I've been playing those, and I'm going to borrow Assassin's Creed 2 from a friend.

I'm going to try and get a job at Gamestop, at least for the holiday season. It just fits so perfectly with me... if I can get it in between homework, this, and my actual gaming.

That last bit isn't just video games, either. We're pretty serious about that D&D group. I even wrote up a pretty awesome origin story for my character, which will be the post immediately after this. It'll hopefully be the first of a series about the exploits of my character. I'm hoping to get in a session every week or so, and it should be pretty awesome!

Oh, one last thing. I'm going to try to get published (and paid by!) on the Escapist Magazine. They take articles from the community, and there's some issues coming up that I could come up with a pretty good article for, so hope I manage that!

So, you have the podcast, that new series on D&D, a bunch of random stuff like I've been doing, and maybe some other stuff to look forward to! It's been a crazy month, but it looks like I'll have some more time to work on the blog, so, I'll see you soon!

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Aldowyn's Musings Podcast!!! Ep 1: The Intro

The First episode of the Aldowyn's Musings Podcast is Up!
A Very Quick Intro with DarkPC and Aldowyn!

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9/23 Update: We are now on iTunes!!!!!! Click The Link! >> Aldowyn's Musings Podcast on iTunes!

Directions to download on the Website: Right Click then Click IE: Save Target as, Chrome, Firefox: Save Link As, Safari: Download Linked File

Click on the post title to head to the page with the podcast, and it will be available on iTunes as soon as its approved by Apple!