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      After the recent release of “Alice: Madness Returns,” I  picked up a copy. With each copy, console gamers also got a free download of  the original “American McGee’s Alice.” Before playing the new Alice, I had to  go back and beat the original again. While many things were just as I had  remembered, I’m glad […]
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      One of my favorite games of all time is Donkey Kong Country 1 and 2. When I heard they were making a new one, I was super excited, but also somewhat skeptical. So a few months ago, I picked up a copy of Donkey Kong Country Returns to try out the new game. My fiancee also joined […]
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      ***Note: this information is from before Cataclysm. There have been major changes to the class. See my sources below for more updated information.*** When I rolled Druid on the first character I legitimately got to level 80, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I leveled Feral Cat, and when I hit 80, I realized […]
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Battle of Bethesda: Oblivion vs. Fallout


In 2006 Bethesda Softworks released Oblivion, the much anticipated fourth game in the massive RPG series The Elder Scrolls. Two years later, they came out with the third game in the FPS roleplaying Fallout series, which was also raved about even before its release. The two newest games in these role playing series have a lot of things in common, but which one has better stats overall?

Story: Oblivion

No spoilers here, but Oblivion’s many quest lines are much more involving and lead to much nicer perks than Fallout, especially compared to its somewhat disappointing final cutscene. Fallout’s story is not without intrigue though; quests often involve more options based on your character’s ethics, such as the quest chain involving Megaton and its unexploded atomic bomb.

Character: Fallout


The ethical system in Oblivion, based on Fame and Infamy points, has been improved with Fallout’s  spectrum of Good vs. Evil. With dialogue, rather than having to play a simple Speech mini-game, Fallout’s options are based on a character’s morality and also stats, and, and there are often many hilarious exchanges possible with the survivors, which include children and zombies.

Environment: Tie

A detailed landscape filled with creepy zombies, abandoned ruins, and strange creatures: this could describe either game, and both pull it off in different ways. Walking into a Necromancer’s lair in an Ayleid ruin can be as breathtaking as standing at the top of a mountain and watching the sunrise in Oblivion. Fallout’s post-apocalyptic ruins of the Washington, D.C. area are highly realistic, and at the same time the retro-futuristic 1950’s-inspired style gives us an interesting and highly detailed take on life after nuclear war.

Combat: Oblivion

As an FPS, Fallout’s combat options revolve around gunplay and, to a lesser extent, melee fighting. The V.A.T.S. (Vault Assisted Targeting System) is a nice way to make every shot count, with the option of turning battles into somewhat more turn based affairs, kind of like bullet-time. Oblivion’s options are based on stealth, magic, and melee combat. Though the V.A.T.S. system makes battle a bit easier, combat in Oblivion offers more options to combine specialties without forcing any choices.

Overall: Oblivion

Although Bethesda has definitely tweaked some of the engaging elements that made their games great, there are still some features of Oblivion that have yet to be topped. But whether or not you prefer fantasy and fireballs to zombies and Vault Boy, you’re still going to get sucked into a highly realized world where you have all the power.

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Top 5 games to play as a couple


Plus there's always rhythm games like Rock Band.

Play video games for the health of your relationship. It’s a great activity to do together—a fun, relaxing, competitive, addictive, bonding experience. It may be a habit or a hobby, a shared passion, or something you’ve never thought about before. Either way, here are some suggestions for games to play with your significant other.

Left 4 Dead

L4D is a quick and dirty zombie FPS. High customizability is a plus: choose your difficulty, play campaign or versus, play for 30-60 minutes or more, etc. Because it’s co-op, you can practice teamwork, cooperation, and communication. Isn’t every guy’s fantasy to save his girl from a Hunter pounce, the whole knight in shining armor thing?

Dokapon Kingdom

For more on this underlooked party game, click here. A little healthy and fun competition can be a good test of your sense of humor. And you can play two player versus bots. Monopoly plus RPG equals win.

Borderlands

For more experienced players, Borderlands is another good co-op that is a bit deeper for the more narratively-inclined, and is a nice combo between the shooting fun of L4D and the overwhelming details of WoW. Check out a review of Borderlands here.

You can easily make Mario Kart a little more interesting.

Mario Party & Mario Kart

Mario games are classics; most people have played them in some form, and can easily transition into the newer versions. There is also a ton of Wii shovelware games that may serve the same purpose, such as Wii Fit or Wii Sports.

Fatal Frame

It’s like watching a scary movie, only SCARIER. In this single player survival horror, players use a camera to capture the souls of ghosts. With plenty of atmospheric tension and jump moments, you can turn the lights off and snuggle up when you get scared (then laugh when your partner screams like a girl).

Why do you WoW?


I am an RPG lover. I’ve been through conventional ones and dual class RPGs, including Diablo 2, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Borderlands, Dokapon Kingdom, and recently World of Warcraft. Yeah, I used to be big into WoW, I leveled a character up to level 40 before I had to quit.

And now? I’ve been playing for 2 weeks, and I’m already level 38 on my Night Elf Druid. That was basically 3 days worth of playing. Nonstop. I did occasionally eat food and sleep, but I thought about WoW, and ate while I played. Soon, the addiction will fully take over, and I will be playing every spare moment, doing dailies and raiding and re-specing and…

So why is it so hard to stop playing? I’ve tried to figure out what makes WoW so addicting. It’s not the plot for me, or the characters. It’s definitely not the amazing combat; fighting is fun, but I’m not into PvP and I’m not big enough to raid yet.

My theory on why WoW is so addicting is threefold. One, the escape from reality afforded by most games. Monotonous questing and killing is a great way to blow off steam and relax with some menial task, like knitting or cleaning. RPGs are good for this, and WoW does the RPG bit right, with good leveling, abilities, and talents.

Two, you can be a total noob and still make progress, especially if you’re a twink, or on a private server. (Jk.)

Three, the people make it fun. On private servers, there are not enough people to do real raids, and the guilds aren’t terribly active. On official, there is a definite community, with a working auction house that always has nice stuff, and people to raid with (not just random puggers). It is a massively multiplayer RPG for a reason, and I think this must be the main reason.

This is a game that is meant to be played with others, often because 1 character can’t do it all. You can’t tank and heal and do DPS, not and do them all well. Even my druid can’t do as much as I can with my rogue partner. By myself, I can take 1 guy at a time, but with my boyfriend on his rogue as a leveling partner, we can take 4 mobs at once.

So I have a question for any readers out there. Do you WoW? Why do you WoW? Why do you continue the meaningless quests, the mindless leveling? Is it your character, the sense of accomplishment (or Achievement whoring), the adorable Murlocs—what makes you keep coming back?

Borderlands: If Fallout 3 and WoW had a baby


A multiplayer FPS RPG. Shoot things and get better stuff. Sounds awesome, right?

Set on the futuristic planet Pandora, part trash dump, part Western movie set, part desert wasteland, it kind of looks like Fallout 3, or the planet from Trigun. Your mission is to find the way to open the mythical Vault, a long sought-after treasure trove located somewhere on Pandora. On your quest, you get to kill shit, loot stuff, level up, and, you know, help out the townspeople and all that crap.

FPS element: Pick your weapons: sniper rifle, melee, shotgun, repeater pistol, revolver, SMG, combat rifle, rocket launcher, grenades. RPG element: Pick your special power: go into invincible Phasewalk mode, throw down a turret, send a hawk after your enemies, or go berserk and pummel the mobs.

Level cap is 50, and it works much like a simplified version of World of Warcraft  or Diablo. You get points for leveling that you can put into 3 skill trees. The roleplaying elements are somewhat stilted though. You can’t expect a lot of character development in a multiplayer game, because characters are already pretty much pre-built, but you can choose how to tackle obstacles with your gun and skill tree choices.

So, if you hate dealing with complicated stats and plots (ala Final Fantasy) and like the level up system of Fallout, where it’s more like perks that add to your gun and melee killing abilities rather than learning new ways of magically disposing of enemies, you’ll probably enjoy this system.

Quests are pretty standard RPG-deals; kill something, collect something, talk to someone; nothing interesting. While the multiplayer option is cool, it’s not perfect. Playing on LAN is pretty simple, but I did have a few incidents with glitched quests. I haven’t had any luck with getting an internet game going yet. Plot-wise, I feel like the game promised more than it delivered. It had some neat ideas, but it leaves you hanging at the end without really explaining anything.

The game environments are very smooth, yet somewhat uniform (I got lost fairly often). The music is highly reminiscent of a Western, and when you’re about to fight a horde or a boss, you get a nice musical cue to let you know ‘oh crap, time to take cover.’

Upsides: good leveling system, cool powers, awesome zombie island expansion.

Downsides: multiplayer has its problems, disappointing finale, somewhat limited enemies, sometimes too similar environments.

Overall, the badass gameplay makes up for the lack of narrative elements, and the multiplayer function increases its playability and replay value. Borderlands is an awesome game to pick up and play with a friend to make you feel like you’re a couple of bandits, or to solo and feel like Clint Eastwood. Welcome to Pandora– “it’s a beautiful day, full of opportunity!”

Munchkin: Dungeon-Crawling Card Game


The holidays usually mean spending time with your family. That means time you could be spending playing video games is being wasted decorating trees, baking cookies, and getting presents. What if you could play games AND spend time with family, without having to perform the traditional holiday chores or listen to Aunt Muriel gab on about her seven cats? 

Munchkin

Munchkin

Why not try the game of Munchkin, a multiplayer card game where you fight monsters, get sweet loots, backstab your friends, and level up to win? It’s like a simplified, fast-paced version of Dungeons and Dragons, so it’s pretty simple to teach non-nerds, but it’s complicated enough for gamers.

“This award-winning card game… captures the essence of the dungeon experience… with none of that stupid roleplaying stuff. You and your friends compete to kill monsters and grab magic items. And what magic items! Don the Horny Helmet and the Boots of Butt-Kicking. Wield the Staff of Napalm… or maybe the Chainsaw of Bloody Dismemberment. Start by slaughtering the Potted Plant and the Drooling Slime, and work your way up to the Plutonium Dragon…” 

You can customize the rules as much as you want, so you can dumb down the rules for newbs until they figure it out. And because it has some pretty silly descriptions and crazy rules, each round is unpredictable and hilarious and always keeps you on your toes. Wanna be really crazy? Turn it into a drinking game! 

Dungeons!

Dungeons!

The original Munchkin version is traditional D&D/RPG style, but there are 9 other stand-alone versions with expansions, plus you can also mix and match to your heart’s content. Other versions include: Munchkin Cthulhu (Lovecraftian style), Munchkin Bites! (vampires that don’t sparkle in the sun), Munchkin Booty (pirates!), and Munchkin Fu (ninjas!). Included: 168 cards, 1 six-sided die, and a rule sheet, for about $25. Official site! 

Chibithulhuq

Chibithulhu

An average game can take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, longer if you’re playing Epic Munchkin (with dungeons, special abilities, and a higher level cap). It’s a multiplayer game, so 3-6 players makes a good match (4 is ideal). The cards themselves are pretty cool too, with cute descriptions by Steve Jackson and illustrations drawn by John Kovalic (my favorites from Munchkin Cthulhu are H.P. Munchcraft and Chibithulhu). 

So if you need a new game to keep your family occupied, for your next LAN party, for the next time the power goes out, or for Patch Tuesday, try out a Munchkin game. It’s a fairly involved game, and once you play it once, you’ll probably be hooked. So kick down the dungeon door and dive right in to the Munchkin universe!

Leveling IRL


Ding! 
Ding!

I return to one of my favorite topics always on my brain: how is life like a video game? Today my topic shall be leveling up. It’s an RPG concept that is easily applied to real life experiences and events.

I think of age as like your level. At level 1, you don’t have much. You’ve got crappy starting equipment, no money, no concept of money yet. You’re still figuring out the system, how everything works. By level 5, stuff is either really easy or really hard. You’ve gotten an idea of how to do what you want. You may struggle with not having much in the way of equipment or money, which makes the little things matter that much more. There are probably more un-interactive or static cutscenes than you’d like and than you’ll probably remember later.

 In your 20’s, you look back at where you’ve come from and realize how little you’ve really accomplished in the grand scheme. You gain experience in lots of little ways, and sometimes in leaps and bounds. Nothing is quite as hard as it seems, but you don’t really realize that until something harder comes at you. At 25, you may not be sure yet who will be permanent party members or who will just be cameo characters. The plot is still kind of a mystery.

I’ll have to reserve my judgment on the next levels until I reach them myself, but based on this game logic your middle age levels have some pros and cons. You’ve finally made some money and traveled a bit. You may have some nice transportation (like a 1972 Mercedes Airship in metallic mint green) and a fully furnished house (somewhere to keep all that loot with easy access to merchants). But whether you’re living in Tenpenny Towers or the shack in the Imperial City, it doesn’t change the fact that you’ll be facing tougher challenges than when you were lower level. More boss fights (that may, for example, kill you and cause you to restart) and more minions to deal with (middle management-types have a 50% weakness to fire), but more experience with your chosen profession/class and more .

 The plot may be thickening, with family or work, or it may be dragging on as the game gives you a chance to catch up on some exploration and leveling. You may have invested energy in leveling characters who leave halfway through the game for some ill-defined reason. You’ll probably never reach level 100 unless you power level, which isn’t really much fun all the time. Some people obsess over it (see healthy foods, exercise, or good genes/character class). And no one really knows when they’ll finish the game. It may be after power training all your Pokemon to level 75 to beat the Elite Four. You may have an idea based on the plot and other cues that the final boss fight is coming, and the game will end soon. Or the game may never really end; like so many plotlines in life, you may keep going back to them even after you think they’re done.

 I realize there are a few problems with this extended metaphor. There are many guides to life, but no one’s quite gotten them right yet, no matter what they claim. The Konami Code will not help you; you can’t really cheat to get ahead, beyond a basic gold glitch or item dupe. Spoilers are actually a good thing; if you have an idea of what’s coming based on others’ experiences, you have a better chance at surviving. You don’t really have as much control over party members’ actions as you might like. And, finally, sometimes level doesn’t really matter. Sometimes you get pwned by a boss half your level, or get lucky and beat one twice yours. Sometimes you need to rely on your Luck, or Personality, or Defense, to get you through. And at the end of the day, you never really know which level up will be your last, so you should try to enjoy every single level. Ding!

Underlooked Games: Party RPG Dokapon Kingdom


A thief prepares to take out a town's boss.

Dokapon Kingdom: Party-RPG-Board game all in one

An awesome game you never knew you needed.

The Dokapon Kingdom box says of itself “the friendship destroying game,” a “party game,” and “Win: this game is full of it.” It’s a multiplayer-board game-RPG for the Wii and PlayStation 2 where you roll a dice to move your character around the board, fighting monsters, leveling up, collecting treasure, freeing cities, and battling your friends in the race to win a kingdom. You can play with up to four people using only one controller.

There are 3 initial character classes: mage, warrior, and thief, but as you level and get proficient in your class, you can class change into some neat hybrid classes like cleric (my personal favorite). Your character fights monsters and gains experience to level up and items to recover, pump up stats, or play nasty tricks on opponents, like curse them and steal money/items. You can even fight each other.

Battle is kind of like rock paper scissors. You have to figure out what your enemy will do and react accordingly. You take turns on offense and defense, so it’s definitely turn-based. On the offense, you can Attack, Strike, Give Up, or use a special attack, like Fireball, Steal, or Heal. Each choice on offense and defense will show you the result; if you Attack and your opponent Counters, you usually do a good deal of damage, but if you Strike and he Counters, he may defeat you in one hit.

On the defense, if you think a beast will Attack, you choose Defend. If you think a mage will use a magic attack, you choose your magic defense. Or you can Counter to deal 200% damage back against a powerful Strike. If you choose wrong, you risk leaving yourself open to an attack you can’t defend against. If you choose right, you can finish off your enemy in one round. If your character dies, you have to wait a few turns, then you start back at the castle.

Around the board, you have several kinds of squares. Shops where you can buy items, weapons, and spells, monster spaces, loot spaces, and the most important, towns and castles. At these, boss monsters (whose stats you can see) have taken over the towns, so you have to defeat them to claim your town. They are spots to rest and heal at, plus you can invest in them and collect taxes and items, or even take over someone else’s town.

It’s really addictive, and there aren’t many games like this (Itadaki Street is the closest thing I know of, and that wasn’t released in the U.S., which is a grand oversight in my book). It’s cutesy and fun, with boatloads of replay value and tons of ways to play. It’s as deep as an RPG and as fun as a party game, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a different gaming experience.

Penny Arcade

Penny Arcade