Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Bane of Souls now up at Goodreads.com

Yes, it's a few months since the book was released, but I've finally gotten around to joining Goodreads (which seems pretty cool from a reader's perspective as well) and adding Bane of Souls to it.

One thing I especially like about the site is that you can give a rating of 1-5 stars without also having to write a review. It's a simple but clever separation, as very few people actually write reviews.

Bane of Souls can be found at the following link, so if you've read it please add it to your shelf and consider rating/reviewing it:

There are no trivia/quizzes as yet, but I do plan on getting around to adding some questions. I probably won't use the blog feature, as I have this one for general use and the official site's writing blog (http://thaddeuswhite.weebly.com/writing-blog.html) for more focused articles about writing and how things are coming along.


Monday, 22 October 2012

Dragon's Dogma Vs Skyrim

I've recently been playing a new game of Dragon's Dogma, which is one of the most surprisingly good games of recent years.
But how does it stack up against the 800lb gorilla of RPGs that is Skyrim?


Dragon's Dogma:
The menu's are reasonable but could be a little slicker. Conversations are pretty basic, but there are a few significant choices to make.

However, the game's greatest asset is it's bloody fantastic combat. Not only is it a challenge, the difficulty is just about spot on. So, you will die, but not every fifteen seconds. Enemies could be slightly more varied but there are a decent number of larger monsters which are a joy, especially at lower levels, to fight. Even better, there are nine classes (three to start with) and the fighter, strider and mage fight in very different ways. Importantly, they're well-balanced and fun, and, during the course of a game, a player's job can be switched easily.

Character creation offers a single race, but otherwise has average or extensive options (height, weight and stance being especially distinctive from the 'make your face' approach of other character creators).

The single save slot and auto-save feature, however, is a pain in the arse, and I really hope they sort that out for Dragon's Dogma 2: Rhetoric Returns [ok, I made the subtitle up].

I love the race options, and whilst it's nice being able to vary muscularity a height/fat slider would've gone down nicely.

There's no class system as such, enabling a character the opportunity to specialise or become a jack-of-all-trades from the start. However, fighting in a melee style is pretty simplistic, the spells are far less impressive than Dragon's Dogma and fighting as an archer is a bit clunkier. The absence of a customised main pawn/sidekick also weighs against Skyrim.

Menus are pretty user-friendly, although they do lack a fantasy feel, and there are often a good range of choices in conversation. However, when it comes to serious choices to change the outcome of the central quest line or that of a guild there are almost none.

Unlike Dragon's Dogma, Skyrim has a sensible saving system allowing for tons of saves.

Dragon's Dogma's brilliant combat makes its gameplay the better by a clear distance.


Dragon's Dogma:
The quality of graphics for characters and items are perfectly reasonable, without being fantastic. Spells (and their effects, such as immolating a cyclops' arm) look either pretty good or very good. The gradual change of lighting effects for the day/night cycle look very nice. Landscapes look reasonably good without being fantastic. Gran Soren, the main city, isn't bad graphically but the city does look bloody boring.

The large range of clothing/armour available fits well together and doesn't lead to items meshing poorly.

Character faces look good (and have nice dirt/tattoo options), enemies are nice and realistic in appearance and the province of Skyrim looks amazingly good. Even better is the knowledge that just about everywhere visible can be visited. Snowy climes, icy seas, dense woodland, open tundra, misty bogs, all look great. The cities are at worst functional (Falkreath) and at best distinctive visually (Solitude). The spells are a significant improvement on Oblivion and I love the fact that every single object can be looked at in the menu. Reading the books can be quite entertaining, actually.

In almost every area Skyrim matches or, more often, surpasses Dragon's Dogma.


Dragon's Dogma:
Bit of a mixed bag, to be honest. Lots of the voice-acting is hampered by a poor attempt at ye olde English (for a top notch effort at this play the fantastic Vagrant Story), and the quality of voice actors is highly variable.

Creeping rats and shrieking bats sound better, and the spells (always a high point) often sound pretty good. The music (that shocking J-rock opening track aside) is pretty good.
The voice-acting is significantly better than Oblivion, and I love the Nordic voice actors (especially the lady who voices Mjoll the Lioness). The scripts are generally good (or at least make sense and don't use the word 'aught' three times a sentence) too.

The sound effects for magical effects, most especially the lightning spells, are very good, and the music soundtrack is excellent. The main theme in particular is fantastic.

Skyrim wins, courtesy of better voice-acting and an outstanding score.


Dragon's Dogma:
Whilst not very original, there's nothing wrong with Dragon's Dogma's storyline. A mighty dragon destined to destroy the world has emerged, and you play the man or woman who must slay it.

Whilst not very original, there's nothing wrong with Skyrim's storyline. A mighty dragon destined to destroy the world has emerged, and you play the man or woman who must slay it.

Erm… I'd give it to Skyrim. Although superficially the storylines are basically identical, Skyrim has a far better defined world, more lore, a greater sense of why the dragon's about and killing things. Late on, Dragon's Dogma does actually explain quite a lot, but overall the experience of Skyrim's story is better than its rival.

Longevity/Replay value

Dragon's Dogma:
The world is pretty big, and effectively made larger by the difficulty of fast travel. There are also many classes (on my first playthrough I mastered 3/9 of them) and the player creates both their own character and main sidekick, increasing the possible variables.

There are only a few serious choices to make, but they do seem to make a very significant difference to the end of the game.

On the downside, the central story is linear and once completed the game ends (or a New Game Plus begins), and there's really only one way to do a given side quest.

The world is bloody enormous (in fact, it's probably as big as a world can get before its size becomes a liability rather than an asset), but can shrink quickly courtesy of carriages to cities and very easy fast travel.

The main storyline is entirely linear, and the guilds are almost entirely linear also. There is, however, greater variance regarding racial choice for the player-character, and because of the way perks and levelling works characters can be wildly different (it takes some time to become a journeyman or master mage, for example).

Whilst I love the combat in Dragon's Dogma, my own experience suggests that the enormity of Skyrim makes it far more replayable. A first time playthrough also takes significantly longer.

Bugs and other problems

Dragon's Dogma:
One save slot and auto-saving is bloody stupid. I think even Sonic 3 had three save slots. That's the only serious gripe that springs to mind.
Originally it froze all the damned time. Now, it freezes but relatively rarely. It's still a pain, though.

Occasionally weird things occur (mammoths falling from the sky, a giant trapped in the road outside Whiterun etc) but they tend not to be too serious. I did once, however, get a Companions quest to find something, and it wasn't there. Thankfully, my ridiculously frequent saving meant I could go back to a minutely earlier save and continue from there.

Dragon's Dogma will give you less buggy woe than Skyrim.

This is quite difficult. Dragon's Dogma has a great combat system, but in every other area (save freezing) Skyrim is better. If an immersive world, whether regarding lore, graphics, sound or a definite sense of place, is a must-have for you then Skyrim must be considered the better. If all of that stuff is superficial to you and you just want to dive in and enjoy killing things, go for Dragon's Dogma.

As for me? Er…. I'd probably, just, go for Skyrim. I love good voice-acting, lore and a game I play for hundreds of hours. Dragon's Dogma is a great game and I'm delighted it's getting a sequel, but if I had to pick one, it'd probably be Skyrim.


Thursday, 18 October 2012

Fiddling with the blog

Hello, everyone. I've had this blog for over a year and a half now, and I'm going to change a few things. Nothing too drastic, mind. I'll still be focusing on fantasy and history with the occasional foray into science and sci-fi. But I am going to start promoting a select band of ye olde posts on Twitter, which will hopefully get some more attention to those posts and a few more followers.
I'm also going to add an Interviews page. At present I've only done the two (but they're a very good two: Toby Frost, author of the Space Captain Smith series, and Terry Mancour, author of the Spellmonger series) and I plan on adding more.

I've been quite busy writing (and map-making, more on that in the next post) of late, and I'll be a bit more active writing posts now.


Sunday, 14 October 2012

F1 2012 review

I bought this game a few weeks ago, and having finished one full year of career mode, the season challenge and most other modes I think I know enough to write a full review.


I've played half-distance Career races at the first 3 (of 4) difficulty levels, and found them to be set at very good intervals. The lowest level, amateur, ceases to be a challenge after a few races, but intermediate was a bit trickier for a while. I'm up to professional now, and find that to be rather more serious, without being so tough I feel like I'm always on the back foot.

The tyres work extremely well. When tyres are grassy or get gravel on them it does rob them of grip temporarily, and trying a wet tyre on a dry track or vice versa is not a good idea. If you look after your tyres then after losing time to someone who's gone charging off you can make yours last longer, make up the time as they post slower laps and then pass them during the pit stops.

Weather was a key, and great, feature of F1 2010 and the same applies to F1 2012. Sometimes it can rain on one part of the track but not another, and differing parts dry out at different rates too. Rain can be very light or extremely heavy, and this can make tyre choices difficult and very important, and the AI drivers can get it wrong too.

Crashing is always fun, but damage is limited in terms of the bits flying off the car. I think this is due to the FIA not wanting the game showing cars being smashed to little bits. The effect is that losing a front wing (entirely or just a little bit) looks great but a full blown crash will do more limited damage than might be expected (you can lose wheels).

Happily, the drivers aren't entirely realistic, as Maldonado and Grosjean don't crash all the damned time. AI seems to be significantly better than F1 2010 but could still be improved. Cars are generally good at getting out of the way when you're lapping them and the starts seem a bit less crash-prone.

The penalty system (on the default light-touch setting) is much improved. It's not perfect (I once got hit from behind and then got penalised for 'causing a collision') but the instances of undeserved penalties are far fewer, and you can sometimes get away with deliberately damaging another car (not that I would ever do that). The biggest problem with it coincides with the AI. When you get blue-flagged (meaning you have to move aside to let a car about to lap you past) if you don't do it very quickly you get a penalty. However, the other lapped cars know exactly how to do this and then pass you immediately, because they know exactly how many cars are lapping, where they are and so on.


The graphics are very nice. This shows up most especially when there's wet or changeable weather. Following a car in heavy rain now means you get spattered with the rooster tail (the spray of water behind an F1 car in the wet) which reduces visibility almost to zero.

The cars, of course, look very nice and the tracks likewise. Effects such as the dipping sun in Abu Dhabi or the floodlights reflecting on the cars in Singapore work very nicely.


Maybe I'm going mad, but I do think there's a difference between the engines of different cars. And this is a good thing.

The engineer, whilst often telling me what happened 3 seconds ago, has a decent, clear voice. David Croft excitedly explaining certain scenarios (in Season Challenge, for example) didn't do much for me, but I very much enjoyed Anthony Davison's track guides.

Longevity/replay value

Hard to assess without sinking hundreds of hours into a game, but I'd say there's quite a lot. There are variable modes and numerous difficulty options, and the full season offers a great, and lengthy, challenge.

I would say that there's strong replay value. As well as bumping up the difficulty for the second year of a season there are quite a lot of different options.

Bugs and other issues

The frame rate is an issue. I did not think it was before, but in Suzuka (Japan) it slowed down significantly. Not enough to make the game unplayable but enough to dilute my enjoyment of it. It also slows down elsewhere, but usually it's not very serious.

The extreme speed of the sport also means that the race engineer (who I decided ought to be called Jeremy, as he was noisier than he was useful) often said things that were out of date. Not a serious issue, but it does jar slightly.

So, if I were to give it a score, it'd be 8.5/10.  


Monday, 8 October 2012

XCOM preview

If I hadn't bought F1 2012 so recently (full review probably coming later this week) I'd be tempted by XCOM Enemy Unknown, which comes out on the 12th for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

The game is a turn-based strategy (TBS) and an updated version of a game from long ago (which I must admit I'd never heard of previously). It's been done by the chaps behind Civilization, which bodes well.

In XCOM Enemy Unknown the player leads the defence of Earth against an alien invasion. There are varying unit types (sniper, heavy and so on) on both your own sides and that of the dastardly aliens. Units also have multiple weapons, with more powerful ones requiring the unit to remain still for a turn. Cover also plays a role, and explosive attacks can be strong but destroy enemies and their weapons, reducing salvageable remains and thereby reducing research possibilities. Aliens can also be captured for interrogation, revealing further secrets.

Graphics look to be more functional than fantastic, and voice-acting is hard to assess (but from what I've read it's ok without being great).

In between missions (there are circa 70 with a playthrough estimated at 20 hours) the player can determine research priorities and whether to pour resources into upgrading weapons and armour or helping out countries/regions in distress.

However, most of the game will spent doing the missions which, from the videos I've seen, look like good fun. The video below features interactive gameplay which gives a decent idea of how things might work out:

With Dishonored out on the same day and The Last Of Us due out early next year I'm not sure what I'll be buying next, but I'll be keeping an eye on XCOM's reviews.


Friday, 5 October 2012

Red Dwarf X

Well, Dave has been banging on about the return of Red Dwarf for ages. Given Back To Earth's lacklustre reception it was perhaps surprising that series X was commissioned, but I'm glad it was (incidentally, the scutters tell me XI will be following soon).

As might be expected for a show that's migrated from the BBC to Dave there are a few differences (different outfits, new model Red Dwarf, an advert break in the middle) but it felt very much the same.

I think the live audience helps, and the jokes are pretty good. The crew are a bit older, and it shows, but the chemistry's as good as ever.

Special effects are miles better than the old series (which had charmingly ropey effects) and similar to, or maybe a bit better than, VIII. (For those wondering, it seems Back To Earth counts as season IX).

I'm not going to talk much about the plot, in case anyone hasn't seen it but plans to later, except to say that it makes rather more sense than a typical episode of New Who. Which is nice.

Probably the most notable absence is that of Holly. It's not clear whether or not either of the old Hollies or a new one will end up making an appearance/becoming a regular.

So, it was an enjoyable and amusing episode, not quite vintage but definitely worth watching, and I'm hoping the rest of the series will be as good or better.