Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dr. Who, Splinter Cell: Conviction and Dragon Age DLCs disappoint, and two hilarious Two Worlds videos.  

TV: I mentioned a while ago that the wife and I were going to start watching the most recent Dr. Who series, and we're nearly done with the first season. (It's available as an instant-watch on Netflix, which is pretty righteous.)

Neither of us were fans of the older series, nor did we know very much about it. Personally, I knew it was about sci-fi time travel, I knew about the TARDIS (mostly because TARD is in the word) and the few little bits I had seen of the older stuff all looked incredibly low-rent and not really our thing. That said, we had been hearing a lot of really positive talk about this reboot so we figured we would give it a shot.

I'm really glad we did.

We are almost done with the first season, and we've been loving it. I think one of the things I appreciate most about it is that there's a great variety in the content -- sometimes it's straight-up goofy, sometimes it's really serious, perhaps even touching, sometimes it's just about the rubber monster. We never quite know what each episode is going to be about, and I love that.

For example, the recent two-parter we watched was almost like a ghost/zombie story set during WWII, but at the same time it gave little bits of history and perspective on what life must have been like during the blitz, there were several really touching personal moments that came up, and the episodes even managed to include teen pregnancy, nanobots, and a happy ending that genuinely made me smile. That's a pretty broad spectrum of areas to cover, yet the doctor managed to pull it off with aplomb.

That's some pretty good television, if you ask me.


Games: I finished off Splinter Cell: Conviction a day or two ago, and after having been through the entire thing, I walked away feeling extremely dissatisfied and disappointed at the direction Ubisoft took it.

In a nutshell, it was shallow, repetitive, and veered so far away from the stealth play that made the series what it is, that the end result was essentially unrecognizable to me. Rather than a smart, sneaky game asking players to get in and out of areas like a high-tech ninja, Conviction is set squarely in shooterville, encouraging gunplay and explosions in a way that these games never have before.

There are already tons of action games in this vein and hardly any stealth titles being published today. If the future of Splinter Cell is going to be another run-and-gun shoot-fest like this one was, then I won't be spending any more time with Sam Fisher -- and that would be a shame.


Games: After finishing Conviction, I decided to clear the backlog and finally get around to the most recent Dragon Age: Origins DLCs -- Darkspawn Chronicles and Leliana’s Song.

I was actually to go into detail about each one, but as I was writing, the effort felt more and more pointless. To make a long story short, both pieces of DLC were extremely shoddy and shallow, and not worth the money they cost. After finishing both and feeling taken advantage of afterwards, I started to wonder if the prospect of DLC for story-based RPGs is even tenable.

In a game like Oblivion or Fallout 3 where the player is essentially free to wander the world, I think adding new adventures and new locations is a simple thing and makes a lot of sense. There are always new places to explore, so expanding the realm is a natural fit.

However, in a game like Dragon Age where so much of the experience relies on time spent with the characters and progress made in the story, it seems much harder to come up with some DLC that doesn't feel like a cash-in.

Aside from the fact that the production level of the pieces I played was rock-bottom, I felt no sense of worth to what I was doing -- no real feeling that the effort I was putting in was amounting to anything. Both DLCs felt like one-offs with no real attachment to the main campaign, and since I completed the main campaign long ago, there was even less reason to play it -- I mean, let's be serious here… I don't think anyone is coming to Dragon Age for the quality of the combat.

Maybe I would have felt differently if I had the opportunity to play these DLCs before finishing the main game, but I'm not sure. A little part of me is thinking that with story-based RPGs of this kind, the main campaign and primary experience is all I'm going to need.

(… so let's hope that developers don't start talking those parts away behind $4.99 unlocks)


Games: I never had the chance to play the first Two Worlds, but I didn't hear good things about it. However, I have been keeping an eye on the upcoming Two Worlds II, and it's actually looking pretty hot.

While we wait to see whether or not the sequel can redeem the mistakes of its predecessor, I want to give SouthPeak huge props for being able to laugh at themselves -- they produced a series of videos poking fun at the first title, clearly recognizing the generally unfavorable way it was received in the games community.

It takes a lot of balls to publicly own up to something like that, and even bigger balls to do it in a humorous way. I respect that. Even better, these videos are actually hilarious. If you haven't seen them, you can click HERE for part one and HERE for part two.

I think you'll be glad you did.

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