First Impressions: Borderlands

I just wasted 12 hours of my time playing Risen. So I thought I'd take a break from it and give Borderlands -a game which I've neglected since its release last Monday- a spin. Borderlands is a shooter/action-rpg that is set in a post-apocalyptic world. The first thing I noticed about the game is definitely its visuals. The art direction and the cell-shaded graphics just rocks, it's like a comic book in motion. The gameplay, however, is pretty much what I've expected it to be: quests, kill, reward. It would've been nice if they added some dialogue options. But, I guess, this is better than playing a standard shooter game. I hope the game gets better in its later levels. For the meantime, I have to finish Risen and then Dragon Age before I let this game entertain me.

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The Draconian Hype Machine

Dragon Age: Origins comes out a week from now, finally. That's probably why BioWare and EA Games are stepping up their ad campaign. So everything you see in gaming sites right now are just "pre-order Dragon Age" banners (which are working effectively because I already pre-ordered my copy from Steam). In addition to the massive ad campaign, EA also threw out a stand alone character creator for the game and also a Dragon Age web-based game.

Beautifying my character.

When I pre-ordered my copy of Dragon Age: Origins at Steam, I was surprised to see that there's a stand-alone character creator available for download. That, of course, made me a happy camper. RPG enthusiasts, such as myself, always get stuck at the character generation area of the game, trying to tweak the look of our characters to make them pretty or ruggedly. So I really appreciate EA and BioWare by making a character creator available early on. Now I can take my time making my character, save the progress and then load them once I get my retail copy. Dabbling with the creator and uploading your character via BioWare's social network will also net you an exclusive item.

Combat in Dragon Age: Journeys is fun and addicting.

Then there's
Dragon Age: Journeys which is a web-based game developed to feed the hype. It's a perfect game if you're already itching for the real deal. At first, I thought that this was just going to be a simple hack n' slash game, like most web games are. But I was surprised that this game actually have a working RPG system -level progression, skill customization, dialog options- and a fun tactical turn-based combat. Plus, you'll also receive unique items for Dragon Age: Origins if you take the in-game survey and unlock some achievements in the game.

EA Games and BioWare did really well with their ad campaign for Dragon Age: Origins. Both the knick-knacks they gave away before the release date of the actual game are fun, especially Dragon Age: Journeys. I just hope that Dragon Age: Origins will live up to its own hype.

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Pearls and Chains

Finding new music has taken a back seat for me lately. It's just I've been busy to do anything besides ripping my old CDs (tons of them) into mp3 files, with a much higher bit rate this time, to upload into my new iPod Touch. But, despite being time-deprived and all, I still managed to find out about -and also purchase- the new albums of Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains.

Alice In Chains

I thought it was the end of Alice In Chains when Layne Staley (vocalist) died a couple years ago. But then they did a reunion tour back in 2007 with a new vocalist, William Duvall, in tow. Although I never really expected them to record another album. That's why I almost cried when I heard their first single, "Check My Brains", from their new album, Black Gives Way to Blue. The album is really good, heavy but full of melody, and it even sounds as if Layne never really died. It's probably their best one ever since Dirt.

Pearl Jam

I'm not really a big fan of Pearl Jam, and I only own a few of their albums. But I really like their new album, Backspacer, a lot. Although Pearl Jam fans, especially the ones who like their older work, might be put off by this one. No more meaty riffs or a screaming Vedder here. They stripped down their sound to a minimum and what's left is just good ol', lighthearted rock & roll.

Both bands are almost at the 20th year of their career. But, after all these years, they still rock. While both albums aren't "album of the year" material, they're still worth listening compared to most crap that is out right now. So to all former fans, it's time to re-discover these bands. If you haven't heard of Alice In Chains or Pearl Jam before, then now is the best time get acquainted with them.

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Book Review: Zeitoun

9.3 of 10
by Dave Eggers
Buy Hardcover Edition from Amazon

Back in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, there were reports of chaos tearing the city apart. However, I couldn't help but think that some of these events were just exaggerated by the media. It was just too surreal to happen in the United States. That's why when I found out about Zeitoun, a non-fiction book about a man who tried to help storm survivors, I didn't had any second thoughts of getting it. I was hoping that the book would provide me with some clarity of what really happened inside ground zero of post-Katrina New Orleans. But what I found out was far more disturbing than what the news had delivered.

While the book did mention causalities caused by roving gangs and crazed snipers who were reveling in the lawlessness of the city, what Abdulrahman Zeitoun had to endure is far more worse than those. Zeitoun (as known by his friends and clients), a Syrian-born American and a well-known painting contractor in New Orleans, remained in the city during the storm to keep an eye on his properties. After the storm, he explored the flooded city with a canoe and managed to help a couple of people (and even abandoned dogs). But when he was about to leave the city, he was instead accused of being a member of Al Qaeda and was sent to a makeshift prison without access to a lawyer or even a single phone call.

Zeitoun is one of the books that I won't easily forget. The ordeals that Abdulrahman and his family have to go through, of being a victim of Hurricane Katrina and post-9/11 racial profiling, is just too gut-wrenching to cast aside. The book tells a very very tragic tale. But it will also open your eyes. It gave me a glimpse of how the government operates under a crisis such as Katrina's magnitude -that they would rather build prisons than shelters and assume that every survivor is a terrorist, all in the name of national security. It also reminds me, and solidifies the fact, that the Bush Administration really did fuck up. If you're looking for a great book to read, grab Zeitoun.

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First Impressions: Risen

I'm currently playing a game called Risen, and I'm really liking it a lot. The gameplay, being developed by Piranha Bytes, is a lot like the Gothic games. So if you aren't familiar with the combat of Gothic series, be prepared to save often because you're going to die a lot. I can't say much about the story though since I just started playing it. But the setting kinda reflects our current world, in whereas people are also burdened with financial problems. The game's graphics, however, is really really horrendous. But if you're a true RPG fan, you need to try this game. I assure you, you won't regret playing it.

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I know a lot of people don't like Windows Vista that much. Me, having a huge memory on my machine, I don't have problems with it. Nonetheless, I'm excited about the new Windows 7. Why? Well, just check these tests conducted by CNET, because it's kicking some Apple ass. Also, if you're not convinced by the test (and the Family Guy Endorsement), look for articles online that compares Windows 7 and Snow Leopard. Some of these articles may favor one or the other. But it really shows that Microsoft is finally taking the fight to Apple. So, now, as a PC user, I can walk with my head up high, and not having some Mac user sneer at me as if I'm sub-human.

Plus, I'm also excited to see how my gaming PC work on Windows 7. Although I won't be getting the new OS until I secure some vacation days at work. New OS means a clean install and, to me, that's a lot of work.

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Game Review: Arkham Asylum

Batman: Arkham Asylum
9.2 of 10
Platform: Windows
Developer: Rocksteady
Publisher: Eidos Interactive

Buy game from Amazon

I never really cared when they announced that a new Batman game was being developed, even though I'm a huge bat fan. It's because I try to steer away from popular superhero games as much as possible. Most of these games -developed without an ounce of love or passion- usually rate from mediocre to really bad. I suppose that's the kind of result expected from milking a franchise. But there are exceptions, of course. I did enjoy X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse and Marvel Ultimate Alliance. So after giving the demo a go, I made another exception and bought Batman: Arkham Asylum. It turned out to be a pretty sweet game.

The game opens up with a nice cinematic of Batman escorting The Joker back to the Arkham Asylum -after he attacked the City Mayor's office- for incarceration and psych treatment. But as soon as they arrived, The Joker manages to free himself from his guards and took over the entire asylum. With the aid of Harley Quinn and other inmates, The Joker now holds a number of hostages inside the facility, as well as trapping Batman within.

The Dark Knight.

Since the storyline is co-written by Paul Dini (who also produced and wrote the highly praised Batman: The Animated Series), you'll be happy to know that the game is as solid, dark and adult as Batman can get. While it may not be as grand and mature as The Dark Knight or Arkham Asylum (the graphic novel which I thought the game was based on), the game isn't Adam West's Batman either. There are a lot of violence and foul language present in this game. So even with the cape and cowl, the game doesn't feel campy from beginning to end.

Graphics and Sounds
The visuals is another factor that drives the game's dark and mature atmosphere. The developers did a pretty good job with Arkham Asylum's art direction, depicting it well as a part grand and part creepy place. The character designs are also great. Batman's suit is probably one of the highlights as it takes on a more damaged appearance as the game progresses. But my favorite eye candies would have to be the ladies, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, with their criminally sexy attire that shows most of their anatomy.

The newer, sexier version of Harley Quinn.

The audio in this game is also masterfully done. The voice overs, especially, are my favorites since voice actors like Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Mark Hamill (The Joker) from Batman: The Animated Series are here to reprise their roles. The score isn't bad as well, and it even has the epic feel that reminded me of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The combat sounds are also very crispy and crunchy. So there's no need of a huge "BAM!" or "KAPOW" caption popping on the screen every time Batman's fist connects to his opponents lower jaw.

Speaking of breaking jaws, there are two types of combat in Arkham Asylum. The first one is a straight-forward approach, in which you beat every goon in melee. The second is a stealthy approach, in which you deal with silent takedowns from behind or inverted takedowns from up top. While the melee combat is exciting and adrenaline pumping, I prefer the stealthier approach. It's just satisfying, and very Batman-like, to swoop down from the roofs, give some goon a glide kick, then disappear back to the roofs and watch as the other goons wet their pants in fear.

Throwing Batarangs at Bane and Joker's goons.

Besides his combat prowess, Batman also have an array of cool toys, ranging from grapple gun to explosive sprays, and you get to play with all of them. However, you only get the standard Batarang and grapple gun at the start of the game. Other gadgets will be unlocked as you go further along in the game. These items, along with your Batsuit and combat skills, can also be upgraded using the XP earned from beating down goons. Upgrades vary from incresing your suit's toughness, improving your gadgets, or learning a new attack.

Another part of the gameplay is called The Riddler's Challenge. It's an exploration part of the game that plays out like an easter egg hunt, in which you need to find hidden items using The Riddler's clues given to you. You can choose not to take the challenge since it doesn't affect the main game. But finding these hidden items, which varies from trophies and invisible question marks, is really fun. Plus, it will also earn you some XP and unlocks character biographies, inmate interviews and challenge rooms.

Batclaw, my new shiny toy and I can't stop admiring it.

If the story mode and exploration isn't enough to keep you occupied, you can also get yourself inside one of the challenge rooms to sweat things out. Challenge rooms are closed environments levels that were taken from the story mode. So you're basically just revisiting these levels, and replaying the fight between Joker's goons. However, doing these challenges will earn you a score, a rank on the leaderboard and achievement points on Microsoft's LIVE network. While this isn't my cup of tea, I know a lot of gamers who wants to put their name out there as the top dog will enjoy these challenges for hours.

The Batman franchise have always been at the forefront of re-imagining superheroes, scooping them out from the cradle and putting them in an adult world. The Dark Knight Returns brought mature themes into superhero comic books, Batman: The Animated Series put some seriousness into cartoons and The Dark Knight brought in as much realism into superhero films. Batman: Arkham Asylum is no exception to this since it also made a superhero game much more adult-oriented. It is also a well-made game, from its combat to voice-overs. It's a good thing I tried it out, or else I would've missed out on one of this year's best games.

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I can't wait!

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Early Christmas

It already feels like Christmas since I just got myself a 64 GB iPod Touch (Hopefully, this will prove that I'm not an Apple hater). I also got my sister an HP Mini 110 Netbook for her birthday. Now I'm super broke.

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No More WAR!

Warhammer Online is the only MMORPG that I truly enjoyed the most. But, like they say, all good things must come to an end. So, as much as I love WAR, I answered "yes" to the question above and canceled my account.

This wasn't an easy thing for me to do, however. But after giving it much thought, I decided that it is frugal and practical if I severed my ties with the game. Because (a) I won't have much spare time during the Holidays, and (b) there are tons of upcoming games that I want to play. So canceling my account in WAR will ease up my time and money.

Hopefully, when the Holidays are over, there will be some people left playing this game. So I can come back and pounce on them.

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On Fire

One of the reasons I like Steam is because you can track down and show off your gameplay hours. But it doesn't seem to work with my MMOs (Warhammer and Aion). I think it's probably because those games uses another launcher, disabling Steam's ability to track down the number of hours I've spent with those games -which is a lot- and it's quite vexing. That's why I finally decided to try Xfire.

Xfire is a social app for gamers (kinda like Facebook) that can also track down the hours you've spent on a game. But, in addition, it can also take screenshots and videos which you can upload on their website. This app has been around for a while now. I just didn't bother to try it until our guild leader suggested that I should use this to take vids for Warhammer instead of Fraps.

So now that I'm on Xfire, why don't you check out my profile, skron80, and add me as your friend.

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I was planning to go out earlier to check out some decent headset to replace my current one. But the weather was just so dreary and cold that it made getting up from bed a bit harder than usual. So I decided to stay home instead and browsed the net for gaming headset reviews. But one thing lead to another, and before I knew it I was already checking out Direct2Drive's website.

Playing as a Rouge in Drakensang.

Apparently, Direct2Drive is celebrating their 5th Anniversary (who knew?) and their offering some of their PC games for as low as $5. It's quite an impressive list too (click here). There are a lot of good games to be had in there. Unfortunately, I already have those games. However, I did buy Drakensang: The Dark Eye, which is a newly released RPG. I haven't played it though...not yet, at least. So I can't recommend the game. But if you don't have any of the games on their list, then here are my top 5 recommendation, in order of importance:
  1. BioShock
  2. Civilization IV
  3. Company of Heroes
  4. World in Conflict
  5. Pirates

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On Elves, It Looks Good.

I didn't even realize, until yesterday, that I have around 80 blue extract sitting in my Knight's bank and inventory. So I decided to make some blue dye for my new Annihilator armor set. However, the color turned out to be a light blue green and not the kind of blue I was expecting. It really looked lame on my Knight's armor. So I re-dyed my armor back to Scorched Brown color, and auctioned all the blue dyes.

Dyed in Sea Guard Blue, High Elf White Lion (Left) and Empire Knight of the Blazing Sun (Right)

No one bought the dyes, of course, even though it was really cheap. The players probably knew that it was a bad color. I was going to sell the dyes to a vendor but decided to play around with it instead. So I divided all the dyes and sent them to all my other characters. Surprisingly, the color actually looks good on all my Elven characters. It's probably because they're effeminate, and that makes the lighter colors work well with them.

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