Steam logs hours played and not days played, so hours are becoming easier to track in the long run. So, as the title suggests, I'm about 33 hours into the game; and to keep up the pattern, there are three things I'd like to talk about. The first is another gameplay aspect that's new to New Vegas, companions. No, not that kind of companion. Your companion options seems to be a pretty select list (if run into four so far), which may or may not be determined by what DLC you happen to purchase. The eyebot, ED-E, who is currently one of the maximum two that you can have follow you around seems to be a likely candidate for that last item. So far, they don't seem to be much other than extra guns that follow you around. Sure, each has their own little story, and perhaps I haven't gotten far enough to see where those stories become relevant, but so far they haven't added much more than some extra inventory space and firepower. Not that I don't appreciate either of those things, but it's not Dragon Age by a long shot. Then again, I don't think that's what they were aiming for either. The second item on my list is an update on factions, and holy shit are there a lot of those now. Their basic function hasn't changed since what I observed on day 1, but there presence and pervasiveness do have a notable impact on how I play the game. Primarily, this comes in the form of who you can talk to (and therefore accept quests from) and who starts randomly sending assassination squads to kill you. This is where that extra firepower comes in handy. The story seems to be shaping to a point where the various factions and your relationship with them may play a larger role, but I haven't found out for sure and I probably wouldn't mention it here if I had. You know, spoilers and all. My third and final item for today, is quests. Oh my god, quests. I finally get to New Vegas and suddenly, I've got new questions coming from all over the place; main quests, side quests, optional quests within quests, quests-that-don't-show-up-on-your-quest-list-type quests... we've got all kinds of quests going on. It almost at a point where it's overwhelming, not really because of the quest volume, but because it's nearly impossible to figure out where you want to start. There's something about this game that makes everything feel very connected. Very few side-quests seem like detached errands, and I think the various factions help with this. Suddenly you're not just doing something for someone, but you're also doing something against another group. I think it's also overwhelming in that I just don't have the time I'd like to devote to playing through the game. I can get in a few hours at a time here and there, but it's not enough to make any kind of rapid or even semi-rapid progress. Still I've been very impressed with the quests so far. Like I mentioned earlier, the side quests and everything feel very much a part of the game; they don't feel detached. Sure, the story behind every quest isn't amazing and exciting (e.g. Missing laser pistol, please find. K thnx bai!), but I get a really different feeling from them than say the side quests in the Elder Scrolls series. I remember reading a reviewer describe questing in Morrowind as a prolonged game of fetch, whether it's for some item or someone's head. Not to say that this didn't stop me from sinking what was probably close to a year of my life into the game, but that was a feeling I often had. I can even recall that same tediousness in Fallout 3, but this time it's different. I can't quite put my finger on why that is exactly, but it's better; and for now, that's what's important.
Uncanny X-Men #509 This week's cover features Psylocke, another one of my favorite X-Men characters. Greg Land's cover art features Psylocke split into two of the bodies she has inhabited, that of Betsy Braddock and Kwannon. As you might gather, her back story is a pretty interesting one. While she isn't the sole focus of this issue (Uncanny X-Men does like its multi-story plot lines), it issue does serve as Psylocke's return to the 616 universe. Almost more interesting than reading the issue for me was reading people's opinions of Greg Land. There isn't much of a vetting process associated with what covers are featured here and which ones aren't. Sometimes, it's me making a run to a comic store, or digging one out of my collection at home, and arbitrarily choosing one I think I could write more than a few sentences on. This process has given me reason to pay more attention to the actual cover artists, which is something that I usually didn't pay much attention to. Which is a little strange, since comic cover art was what drew me into comics to begin with; no pun intended. Regardless, most of the cover artists I've looked at don't get much beyond their own website (if they even have that). Greg Land is the first that I have found who has something like this. It's actually pretty good, and its search result placement is pretty impressive and probably a little dis-concerning for Greg whenever he does a Google search for himself.
As a preface, this might contain spoilers depending on what you consider a spoiler. So if you're avoiding all Bat-related coverage before seeing the movie, you should avoid this as well. Or you can continue reading on below... To make what I'm guessing will turn into a long story short, I really liked the movie. Despite myself, this wasn't even one of those, "OH MY GOD THIS IS AWESOME AND I MUST SEE IT AND I WILL LOVE IT UNCONDITIONALLY," kind of things (sometimes those things happen, for better and for worse). After walking out of the Spider-Man premiere in the proceeding weeks, I was actually nervous, and almost borderline convinced that it wasn't going to be very good. After a friend and alcohol infused night spent watching Batman Begins and The Dark Knight back to back, my faith was restored to a more moderate level. However, I never really believed it would turn out great. Perhaps it was expectations management, or maybe the event's reasonably-priced cash bar, but I was happy to find those expectations exceeded. One thing that really made the movie for me was the portrayal of Bane. I know that people took several issues with Bane, and some of them I can understand, but none of them were a sticking point for me. After seeing the movie, I went back and read a lot of the articles and interviews that I had shunned earlier, and I was surprised to read how many people were concerned with Bane's voice. Yes, it was modulated, but not into Sanskrit. I thought it was beautifully done, and I thought Tom Hardy was able to use it with an incredible range that added a lot of depth to what could have easily been a villain with a robot-voice. Another concern, one which was more prevalent in reviews after the release, centered around Bane's comic backstory and the film's accuracy in that respect. It's a concern that I can understand, but I think this is an example of an adaptation that follows the basic lore but changes some of the details. Again, I can understand someone who is upset by this lack of loyalty to the source material. We've been blessed with a recent abundance of well-made, story-accurate superhero movies; but while this may deviate from that norm, I don't think it detracts from the quality of the film or story at all. Bane's semi-traditional Venom storage tanks have been replaced by his mask. Though different, they both serve a similar purpose to the character (one provides him with strength and the other protects him from debilitating pain) and they both serve as his one real weakness. The prison that he grew up in, that shaped him, may have been slightly different, but it's hardly of consequence. His relationship with Ra's al Ghul was a little different in the film, but not completely fabricated. In the comics, Bane was chosen by Ra's al Ghul to be his successor much like he did Batman, and this eventually ends in a falling out between the two. So were things exact? No, but in my opinion, they did the character justice, and in some ways, elevated him above his usual portrayal as a villain who simply breaks his enemy physically. I could keep going on, but there were a lot of these kinds of elements where I found something I wasn't expecting, and that was fantastic. Needless to say (because I've already said it several times), I enjoyed it a lot. I'm not going to be as ravenous in my opinion as some, but I would urge you to see it if you have even a slight inclination to do so.
The Steam Summer Sale is a maw I can never avoid. It's like all my money is temporarily converted into store credit, and there's nothing else I can do with it. Sure, the money is leaving, but there's a resignation to fate at the onset of the process that makes it borderline acceptable. Although, truth be told, my delayed gaming cycle makes this time much less painful. Any major title that I had to play the day it came out (Arkham Asylum/City, ME3, etc.) I bought and played, but there was never really enough slack time between playthroughs (and sometimes second and third playthroughs) to pick up the other titles that had dropped along with them. I missed both Dead Space games but was able to pick them up this week for like $20. The other nice aspect of the Steam Summer Sale is that I can try out titles that I wasn't willing to front their initial $50 release price. I haven't played any of the Saints Row games, but I picked up The Third and all the DLC for it for under $30. It's things like this that compound the mixed feeling the sale gives me. I always spend more money than I intend to, but I'm never dissatisfied with the results. It's something you too can experience for yourself, but only for the next two days... and when it comes back around next year.
X-Men Legacy #223X-Men Legacy #224 I got distracted with Fallout: New Vegas last Wednesday, so I've decided to make up for it with a comic cover double feature! These are the covers for X-Men Legacy issues 223 and 224, parts four and five of the five part Salvage series. Both covers were done by Lee Bermejo and Morry Hollowell, and both covers illustrate the two struggles the series addresses. The first being Xavier's final confrontation with Danger, and the second being Rogue's struggle to control her powers. It was a fun series to read and a big transition point in Rogue's story. So if that's of interest to you, it's probably worth picking up.
Like I mentioned in my day one post for New Vegas, not opting for the Hardcore mode was slowly wearing on me, and I decided to restart anew and be "hardcore", as the kids say. I have to admit, I was a little lacking in description of what hardcore mode entails, and so far, I've been impressed with the way it alters gameplay. The prompt for selecting the Hardcore mode could have just as easily said, "Would you rather play an RPG or a FPS?" In my option, Hardcore mode really makes you play the game instead of just running around and completing missions. In addition to needing water, your character also needs food and sleep on a semi-regular basis. When you sleep, you wake up hungry and thirsty; the same goes for waiting and fast travel, except that neither of those things helps your character get sleep. It's also interesting to see how consumables affect these three measures as well. Certain foods, like cactus fruit, decrease thirst as well as hunger, drinks like whiskey dehydrate you, and Nuka Cola reduces your need for sleep. I also left out changes in how you are injured and how you are healed. Stimpacks no longer instantly give you a bunch of HP; instead, the heal you gradually over time. Also, stimpacks don't heal crippling injuries. For those you need a doctor's bag or to actually see a doctor. Ammo weight was something I remembered correctly, but it's impact was a little more noticeable than I thought it would be. Not only do you have to limit what weapons you have on you, but it makes you scrutinize your entire inventory. You no longer just need to carry weapons, armor, and stimpacks. Now you have to strike a balance between weapons, ammo, armor, food, water, and medicines. There is a house in town you wake up in that you can sleep in and make use of; I thought it was abandoned at first, but I think it's Easy Pete's. I ended up using it to store things that I found and wanted to save, like weapons and ammo I wasn't using or parts and ingredients I didn't want to carry. I also started storing excess food and water there so it wouldn't weigh me down, and in a sense it became a home for my character. I don't know if a house is something I can actually acquire later in the game (I seem to remember owning one in Fallout 3), but for now this one is mine. Along with that, I'm starting to worry that a global event or change in the story line will destroy the town and everything I've saved along with it. I've even been considering finding places to stash stuff elsewhere in the game as a means to hedge that risk. It's these kinds of things that make me say that this mode makes you really play the game. Sure, some of these aspects exist outside of it, but the same risks aren't there and the ones that are don't really feed off each other the same way. It's the cumulative effect of each new element that, to me, creates an entirely different playing experience. When I played my first day in normal mode, I said the game was essentially Fallout 3 with a few different gameplay elements, but nothing really game changing. In that mode, I may have been right, but in Hardcore mode, I think they really brought something different to the table. It's something I am really happy to have found, and I hope BioWare can leverage something similar in future titles. That being said, I do have one gripe. The karma system is cutting into one of my favorite post-apocalyptic activities, looting. Perhaps this is done on purpose, but it appears to be a true karma system in that stealing of any kind, even stealing from bad people, is bad. It makes sense, but it's bothersome. I spent a good hour or two, clearing a prison of a gang that had taken it over; I had gone there to recruit a new sheriff for a nearby town, but the asshole I was looking for promptly shot at me the moment I walked into the room. However, I noticed that after I helped myself to the plethora of supplies in the now abandoned prison camp, everyone treated me like a bad guy. My reputation was affected by each item that was taken, so I effectively was a bad guy. However, I suppose this adds another aspect of realism that isn't attached to the Hardcore mode, and it is simply another choice you have to make as a character. I guess I was just hoping for a little more leniency in the dead bad-guy swag department. Oh well.
Fallout: New Vegas

"New Vegas... Is that like Old Vegas that's
still in the box, wrapped in plastic?"

So along with the new name, I'm trying a different kind of format for these game reviews. Even though I'm typically able to play though Call of Duty titles in a day, this won't be the case for a lot of other games. I've instead decided to go with more of a milestone oriented review process; do first day and last day reviews as well as intermittent mid-game reviews. This way, I'll be able to write more at more relevant times without getting tired of writing altogether. So we'll see how that goes. Anyway, like a lot of games I have, New Vegas has been sitting in my Steam library for a while, waiting for that magical alignment of me being at my apartment, having free time, and having an internet connection will allow me to download and start playing it. Well, as of writing this, it happened yesterday. Starting a new game is one of my favorite things in the world, especially when it comes to RPGs. Despite being almost exactly like the previous Fallout title (Fallout 3), everything still felt new and exciting. I spent my usual hour or two just running through Fallout's in-game character setup process. I bought Fallout 3 when you still bought physical cases that contained a disk, random inserts on thin, shiny paper, and sometimes even a game manual, and since I didn't have that last item to read through and remind me, I completely forgot about the Perks system. You were also given the option to choose certain Traits (no more than two) that your character could have. Unlike perks that are exclusively positive, traits had an up and down side. I thought the options were pretty cool, and they really made you think about how you were planning on playing the game. Another aspect of New Vegas that I don't remember being as prominent is a faction and reputation system. I remember there being reputation in Fallout 3, but I don't remember them being tied to individual factions. You run into a few right off the bat, so it could be a fairly extensive list of factions out there, but they appear to fall into either the Good or Bad category regardless of what they are called. More on that to come I'm sure. Since I purchased New Vegas off Steam only a couple months ago, it came bundled with all the DLC included with it. I like DLC that adds missions, but one item gave me extra gear at the onset of the game. When I first noticed this, I quit and tried to reload without those files initialized, but I couldn't seem to get that to work. That was a little annoying because I thought it cheapened the experience of the game. Being useless at the start of the game is kind of the point; usually you have to learn to walk before you get the grenade launcher, except for today. I suppose a potential balance to this is the game's "Hardcore" option.

Y U NO GET ACHIEVEMENT?!?!

As you can probably guess, Hardcore mode has more difficult enemies, but it also adds weight to your ammunition (makes you think twice about that hoarding instinct) and the obstacle of exposure. Being outside without adequate water (radiated or otherwise) will make you dehydrated, a condition which I can only assume will be detrimental to your character. It was a mode I opted-out of; but I'm starting to regret that choice, and there's a high possibility that I'll start over with it enabled before I get any farther along in the game. The game allows you to turn it on or off at any time, but there's an achievement for completing the whole game with it enabled so I figure why not go for it before I get more than an evenings worth of playtime in. Like I mentioned earlier, the gameplay, environment, terrible inventory system, and to an extent the characters are near identical to Fallout 3. Crafting items is a little different with the addition of a reloading station to breakdown ammunition and create other types and fire pits that combine with your survival skill and allow you to make anything from steak to poisons. At this point, I haven't really had the need to do much with these items, but I think they add more of a survivalist element to a world that supposed to be post-apocalyptic. Not that the environment doesn't do a good job of portraying that on it's own or anything. It looks very much like a desert wasteland, and the destinations I've been to so far, though limited, haven't been repetitive. Still, it feels very much like the same animal; and if my draw to games was less centered on the story and the experience it creates, I might find it a little disappointing in that respect. Luckily, that's not me, and I'm enjoying it thoroughly.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, my original title for game reviews wasn't so original. However, after a little crowdsourcing, a friend suggested "LAG" as a title and I decided to go with that. I spend a couple nights trying to figure out a subtitle to go along with it, and I just now decided to turn it into an acronym. I still wanted to highlight the key aspect of these reviews (their belated nature), and I also thought the term "appraisals" was a little more fitting for what I've done so far. To me, the word "review" implies a depth of content that I am yet to reach. Still, it's something to shoot for; and since I haven't done any sort of regular writing since I developed this site, I probably shouldn't be setting my expectations too high right off the bat.
X-Factor #237 I was at a comic shop last week looking for cover to feature, and I found this one. With the Spider-Man premiere this week, I wanted to find good Spider-Man cover, and this one jumped out at me. This cover, done by Carlo Barberi, features Spider-Man becoming the Man-Spider with Michael Morbius in the background. I was surprised to see it on an X-Factor comic, but I thought it was a little too awesome to pass up. The normal issue cover features Polaris, Banshee (Theresa Cassidy as Banshee), and Wolfsbane in red Mustang convertible, and it's a little more applicable to the actual story line in the comic.
The Amazing Spider-Man I know this will end up being a fairly short post, because I'm not going to dissect the plot or talk about the story; that and I have a meeting in about 15 minutes. I'm not really qualified to dissect movies anyway, and I hate spoilers so there's no incentive there either, but seeing the midnight premiere and not getting home until 4am was so awesome that I have to write something about it. I think my girlfriend, who got us the tickets (thanks, baby), made a really good point as we were walking out of the theater. She said, "I thought it was cast really well, and it's amazing how much of a difference that alone can make." It was, and it did. It makes sense to try to compare them to the original Spider-Man movie series, but as soon as you visualize the comparison, it essentially becomes moot. The differences are so great and obvious that they all but cease to be comparable. In my mind it's another tally in a column that I cannot get enough of, well made, true-to-form comic book movies. I loved it, and I aim to see it at least one or two more times before it leaves theaters. Oh, and there's a secret scene after the first bit of credits, so stay for that if you go.