PC Games Review

Get to know an MMO – Star Wars: The Old Republic

A continuing series where I look at current MMO games from a Free to Play perspective (as I’m too much of a cheapskate to pay for a monthly fee unless the game is REALLY good).

I wanted to try this as soon as I’d heard of it – a new Star Wars game from Bioware?  Great!  I was disappointed when I saw it was a MMO, but if anyone would get some benefit of the doubt, it’s them.  I gave it a shot in the beta, and it was pretty darn fun.  I couldn’t justify a subscription as I always feel like I don’t have enough time to play that would justify it.  Now that it’s ‘free’ to play, well, here I am.

Just as during the beta, the most impressive part of TOR is the story – expansive, detailed, worthy of the Star Wars name.  Just what you’d expect from Bioware.  It doesn’t stray too far from the usual MMO combat, but it looks great.  The right touches are there from the source material, all the right races, and a deeper look at much of it.  If you consume the ‘Expanded Universe’ books and comics, you’ll be at an advantage.  One other nice touch is your companion – they have their own stories, can sometimes be romanced if you’re into that sort of thing, and can cover some of the gaps in your own abilities.  Beyond that, the game seems pretty similar to others of it’s type, just really well done.

“Free” to Play Annoyance Factor:  High.  Look, it’s not completely the game’s fault.  I think any MMO that didn’t have a free to play model in place day one will have these annoyances, but it’s still worth pointing out.  What do you keep away from the FTP folks?  How obvious will it be after the change?  Unfortunately for The Old Republic, it’s pretty damn obvious.  I played a Jedi, and I got my lightsaber after the climactic battle that ends your training.  I got a rare hilt in the loot drop, but guess what?  Can’t use rare gear unless you subscribe, or buy an ‘authorization’.  So just put that on the shelf as a souvenir, I guess.  There are whole rows of vendors in some areas that are for real money stuff (or at least, I couldn’t figure out how I’d use them).  This link shows you all of the restrictions FTP players face.  I understand they need to have compelling reasons for people to subscribe, but it gets annoying to get hit over the head with it so often.

Despite all of that, the game is quite a bit of fun.  I actually considered subscribing after playing it again for this post, but ultimately decided it still wouldn’t be of use to me.  Even though I really wanted to pimp out my lightsaber.

Featured Review

Continuing Game Review: Dragon Age 2

Note:  Continuing means I will revisit this as I get farther in.

Of course I couldn’t avoid Dragon Age 2 for very long, considering how much I loved Dragon Age: Originsand all the related DLC/expansion content.  So here I am, almost through with Kirkwall (pre-Deep Roads expedition), and enjoying it quite a bit.  I’ll put the rest after the jump as there may be SPOILERS.

Console Games Featured PC Games

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim First Impressions

I’m only maybe 5 or 6 hours into Skyrim, but I feel like I’ve seen and experienced enough to give you my first impressions.  It’s a downright beautiful game, it set my detail level to ‘High’ based on my specs and it was just ridiculous how good it looks.  I think there’s been an emphasis on the Elder Scrolls games after Morrowind to try and get you into some action right away, and Skyrim does not disappoint.  You start the game as a prisoner (as per usual with these games) and being taken to your death.  You escape when, as they shove your head down on the block for the headsman’s axe…well, you’ll see.  A member of a rebelling group of Nords (the Stormcloaks) helps you, and depending on how you want to play it you can join them if you like.

Let me pause right there and explain how The Elder Scrolls games are different than some other popular computer RPGs.  In The Elder Scrolls, your character is intentionally a blank slate.  You start in prison or under arrest in some way – did you actually commit a crime?  Are you wrongfully accused?  Maybe you stole to feed your family, or you killed someone who was attacking your wife.  You decide, and role play it that way.  Let that color your decisions for the rest of the game.  It’s freeing, especially if you’ve been playing linear RPGs for a while, but for some folks it can feel a bit directionless.  You are helping to create your own story, which for some people is not as much fun as starring in their own interactive movie.  I love it, though.  Similar to that is the fact that Bethesda doesn’t like to limit what you can do, and you can often find quirks in the game which you can exploit to your benefit.  It’s up to you not to game the system too much and ruin your experience.  If you’ve ever had a DM who had to house-rule something particularly gamebreaking out of a DnD session, same idea.

Below, I will talk about my early game experiences, and there are some minor spoilers.

Featured PC Games

Old Game Tuesday – Wing Commander: Privateer

She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid

One of my all-time favorites, and to me, the best game of the Wing Commander series, is Wing Commander: Privateer.  Unlike the other games of the WC series, in this one you play a free pilot with your own inherited ship.  At that point, you are completely free to do what you want.  Fly around and hunt pirates, trade goods between worlds, do a little pirating yourself, whatever.  There are mission computers in each base that give you randomized one-off missions, and there IS a plot to follow, when you feel like it.

Privateer was one of the first (if not THE first, since it was 1993) games I played that was open like that.  It was months before I actually found the guy that started the plot – my memory is they only sort of mentioned him at the tail end of the manual (“talk to Sandoval, in New Detroit”) and once in a while the bartenders mention him too.  I just enjoyed visiting the various ports, upgrading my ship and weapons, trading goods, fighting pirates the whole nine yards.

The game runs well for me via DosBox (though your mileage may vary), but there are some other options to play in Windows if you don’t want to tangle with that.  Privateer: Gemini Gold is a remake using the Vegastrike Open-source flightsim engine.  I have downloaded but not played that yet, but if there’s interest I can do up a review of that as well.  Nice thing there is you can play Privateer on Windows, Mac and Linux.

I know flightsim type games have never really regained the foothold they had back in the 90s, where X-Wing, Tie Fighter and the Wing Commander series were some of THE games to play, but if you have any nostalgia at all for that era, or just want to play a classic of the genre, try Privateer.

Console Games PC Games

Future Games I Want

  • Dragon Age 2. Still gotta try the demo, but really, I’m all over it.  (have it now, see my reviews)
  • The Elder Scrolls:  Skyrim.  My favorite characters in Morrowind and Oblivion were both Nords.  Looks really, really cool.
  • Portal 2.  Please assume the party escort submission position.
  • Batman:  Arkham City.  Sweet trailer, sounds like a ton of improvements to a game I already enjoyed.  YES.

More as I think of them, and put your suggestions in the comments.  I love RPGs most of all, but RTS, FPS, Sim and adventure games are all welcome.  I have a DS, Xbox360, and a gaming PC.

Featured PC Games

Old Game Tuesday – Baldur’s Gate

When I was younger, there was a certain class of gamer nerd that even I didn’t ‘get’.  They did their gaming with large sheets of paper and miniatures and a whole mess of dice.  The closest I’d ever gotten to that was a few books that had you roll dice to determine the outcome of battles (Choose Your Own Adventure style).  I mostly ignored this phenomenon, though, as you played mostly by talking, which my younger self didn’t exactly excel at in front of others.

Eventually, I became friends with some of those guys, and a couple even rented the apartment in our duplex.  I never did join them in their strange ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ games, but as they were avid PC gamers also, I encountered DnD via other means:  Baldur’s Gate.  If you’ve read these columns before you know I love RPGs, though most of my playing had been done on console to that point.  Since the game was so highly recommended, I gave it a try.

It wasn’t easy to wade into, no doubt, as your character customization had a dizzying array of options, from different races, classes, weapon skills, and the like.  You were joined along the way by up to 5 companions at a time (though more were available).  The DnD rules (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition back then) were adapted to run real-time, but you could pause to think and plan, and that sure was a good idea early on.

So why Baldur’s Gate?  The immersion factor, for me, was great.  As you start out in the typical idyllic home life, getting taught the interface and talking to NPCs, you can also (if you are careful and listen) get some backstory from monks chanting throughout Candlekeep (the library/castle you start in).  I thought it was unique in that not every bit of story was just something you had to read in a text box (or get from talking to all these people directly, don’t they have anything better to do?).  It was easy to miss, but it added so much.

You really had a sense that, despite being a person of destiny, you were also just a kid who could easily get exploded into a shower of gibs if you weren’t careful.  You had to plan your actions, and you could pause the game at any time to do so.  It’s a game mechanic that has served Bioware well, all the way through their current ‘spiritual successor’ to the BG series, Dragon Age.  It introduces actual strategy into what you do, makes you think about where you should position your wizards and archers, who to pound first with your fighter, and so on.  You find yourself judging the likelihood of an ambush, watching your hitpoints carefully, and generally acting more like real adventurers than engines of destruction.  You DO get to the engine point at higher levels (mostly in BG2) but there is still a ton of challenge to be had.

I’ve gone on for 500 words here, but really, this is one of those ‘roots’ games.  If you want to know where modern computer and console RPG gaming came from, you need to start here.  DO IT.  Go for the eyes, Boo, go for the eyes!

Console Games Featured Review

Dragon Age: Origins, Awakening, and the DLCs

I don’t think I ever officially review DA:O in this space (but I love it), but I thought that now that all the DLCs are out and the game is basically done, I’d take another look at the ‘story based’ addons.  SPOILERS ABOUND.

First, in case you can’t tell, I love the game.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t be still playing and talking about it.  The story is deep, and some of the moral choices made me think.  I enjoyed many of the characters, and a single player game is a nice change of pace from trying various MMOs and being continually disappointed.  Here are some quick-hit thoughts on the game, the expansion, and the DLCs:




My First Warden. Destruction, personified.

For Origins itself: Good story, like the characters and the interplay between them, though the darkspawn as an enemy are not too exciting.  Some pretty tough fights, difficult choices and cool gear (sorry, that’s the Diablo player in me talking).  The Origin story aspect is really what I love, though.  It really can work to make each play-through different, where you meet someone again and now they take on a whole new importance.  Very few RPGs compel me to play through over and over, but this one is (on the third go-round now).

Awakening: Excellent.  Talking darkspawn are much more interesting, the Mother is gross, the new companions are quite interesting to me for the most part, especially Nathaniel Howe (again, moreso if you’ve played the Human Noble origin).  I kind of wished this module could’ve made notice of Soldier’s Peak somehow, as it did seem odd to have gone to all that trouble to reclaim it for the Wardens, only to ignore it when it might still be needed.  Would’ve loved to be able to bring a different companion over (though Oghren is cool enough) but I understand the voice acting limitations there.  Cost too much when it came out, but has quite a lot of content, to me at any rate.

Warden’s Keep: So-so for me, it does tell a bit of story you may have been wondering about:  Why were the Wardens expelled from Ferelden?

The Stone Prisoner: Little sidequest set to get you a new companion, Shale.  One of the Golems made by the Dwarves, the module adds a bit of fun to the whole game as Shale is a funny companion to have around, and unique to go into combat with.

Return to Ostagar: The gear you reclaim here had been passed by, stats-wise, by the time this DLC finally came out, but I wager it will fit in better within the course of the regular game.  For Duncan and King Cailan!

Darkspawn Chronicles: Just not interested in it.  Not well reviewed, and I like my Warden, thanks.

Leilana’s Song: A favorite of mine, but then Leilana was my love interest in my first play-through.  You play as Leilana as she helps her mentor/lover bring the Orlesian game of intrigue and assassination to Ferelden.  If you ever wanted to know her story, here it is.  Also seems pretty hard to me, though it may just be the fact that it’s lower level stuff than Awakening.  Not really very replayable, though there are different choices you can make for different endings.

Golems of Amgarrak: A return to the Deep Roads for your Warden (though sans your other companions), as you search answers about a group of Dwarves trying to recreate Caridin’s work in Golem creation.  The final critter you fight is supposed to be the toughest battle in any part of the game, though I am not there yet.  Fun, tough, but again, I miss my companions.

Witch Hunt: Hinted at during the Origins campaign, it was finally released just recently:  the story of what the heck happened to Morrigan after the Blight was ended.  Except that it more hints and some of those answers, which bothered some folks mightily.  I loved it, and not only because you get your dog back right smack-dab at the beginning!  I am easy to please.

Well, that’s about all of it.  I’m not going over all the little piddly DLCs (like the Feastday pranks or whatever).  Any other thoughts on Dragon Age out there?

A Question Of Motivation

First, the Sabres…from John Vogl over at the Buffalo News:

“We didn’t compete,” captain Craig Rivet said. “We didn’t compete at all. They played a playoff game and gave everything they had, and we looked like a bunch of guys that wanted to wait and hopefully win a hockey game.

“It’s pathetic. It’s very upsetting. They’re a team that’s hungry, and we look like a team that’s just going through the paces right now.”

The good news is, there’s time for this to be corrected, and I don’t imagine it will be a huge problem once playoff games start.  On the bad side, though, that sounds a lot like a description of teams from the past two seasons.  If Rivet and Ruff can’t yank them out of this mini-funk, I don’t trust these guys to self-start.  Not many games left to get into the playoffs on a high note.

In other news, my PC is overheating.  Think I just need to reseat my HSF with some new thermal compound and all will be good.  But it sucks until then, as any gaming is out of the question.


Read the interviews, check the trailers held within, and rejoice. One of the founders of FASA, Jordan Weisman, acquired the license back for the Battletech universe, and is creating a new game! This was one of my favories series, and as I’ve mentioned, one of the games that caused me to want to try PC gaming again (Starcraft and Quake 2 being the others). They are taking the game back, chronolgically, to 3015 and is being treated as a reboot of the universe. I am genuinely excited, and will be following this one closely.

Console Games

Educational Games That Don't Suck

As you may know, aside from being a hockey (and general sports) nut, I’m also a colossal nerd. I’m also a Daddy, and my son has naturally taken to some of my favorite hobbies, like computer games. This article from InventorSpot gives a few examples of games that can help educate without losing the fun factor. Mentioned are school classics (Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, The Oregon Trail) and some extremely popular games in the real world (Sim City (2k is still my favorite), Age of Empires II). I’d add Number Munchers in as well. What other games might you use to sneak in some educational value?

Make OpenOffice Work Better with Word

I’ve used OpenOffice on occasion, and am quite happy with the features it has as far as word processing go. However, conversions back and forth to Word can be spotty. Cnet has an article about how to make OpenOffice play nice with Word docs. Won’t make it perfect, but some of the changes will definitely improve your chances of getting the docs exchanged with minimal formatting impact. Spotted at Lifehacker.

GIMP Plugins

TechZilo has a post with links to more than 40 very useful GIMP plugins. There’s a good mix of things, for example new filters, anti-aliasing plugins, the ability to stitch together panoramic images, and a Save For Web plugin. Some links at the bottom as well for folks who may wish to author their own plugin.