Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Digits & Dragons
  by Greg Allen
November 2006

Christmas Game Guide: Digging through the Coal

Ah winter, when the temperature drops, rain and snow come down, and everything dies. How thankful I am that some genius put all of the best holidays in this season and turned this time of grey and gloom into a wonderful season to spend time with friends, family, and shiny new games.

Now, if you are thinking about getting some games as gifts or even going out to pick up some loot for yourself, be careful where you spend your hard earned dollars. Perhaps more at Christmas time than any other season, there are loads of good-looking box covers enticing you shell out $50 for whatever game is hidden inside. But wait! Unlike buying a stuffed Power Ranger or box of Legos, what you see on the box of a game is most definitely not a guarantee of what is inside!

There are ten times as many worthless games as there are quality titles, so do your homework before you buy! Or, if you are looking for games for someone who loves fantasy and role playing games, just keep on reading and I'll steer you to some new releases that will be sure to score you points with that gamer on your list.

Presents for PCs

For the fantasy PC gamer on your list, the options really aren't too vast this holiday season. Oh sure, there are plenty of titles on the shelf, but if you don't do your homework ahead of time your lovely gaming gift will be used about as much as the loaf of fruitcake still in the cupboard from last year.

Fear not though, there still are some tasty nuggets on the coal-filled shelves. First on your list for your fantasy loving gamer should be Neverwinter Nights 2. NWN2 was released last month and is a faithful continuation of the excellent and long-lived original, Neverwinter Nights.

Neverwinter Nights 2 does a great job of keeping what worked in the original and then adding features that give greater depth and customizability. Fans of the original will be glad to see that the customizable characters, great online compatibility and extensive toolsets are all back in the realm of Neverwinter, and all looking better than they did before.

Even though there are graphical improvements, those improvements don't come without a steep cost to performance. I have a fairly decent machine and even with medium settings I found my poor computer struggling whenever there was a lot of movement and action. While this is understandable in a drop-dead gorgeous game like Oblivion, I'm not sure why NWN2 is so rough on resources.

Beating down dwarves - now prettier than ever!
As I stepped into NWN2 for the first time, one of the first things I noticed was the great music and ambiance created through sounds and well planned and voiced dialogue. NWN2 begins in a town fair-like setting that immediately reminded me of the opening of Chrono Trigger (probably the best Super Nintendo game ever made). Something about the non-threatening, try-what-you-want atmosphere made fiddling around with all of the new menus and options a real breeze and I was soon adjusted to this new interface.

The biggest graphical improvements come with the magic.
Despite some performance slowdowns and a poor inventory management system (you think trying to keep your own pack organized in games is hard? Try doing it for your whole party!), NWN2 is really a gift that keeps on giving. The cooperative mode and the growing number of player-made modules will keep your gamer pleased for many holidays to come. If there is one game to get for the fantasy PC gamer, this is it.

If you want something with a little faster pace or something more in the realm of strategy, there is an expansion to The Lord of The Rings: Battle For Middle Earth , titled The Witch King, that fixes many of the problems I had with the original release. Whether or not you think it is worth it to buy both a game and its expansion just to get one decent game is up to you, but if you already have the original, getting The Witch King is a no-brainer.

While the PC is my platform of choice, there are still some pretty great titles available for the plethora of consoles out there.

For the Playstation Fan

Playstation owners have always been treated well by RPG developers and this last year has been no different. Squaresoft continues to keep Sony's system relevant, and if you don't already have Final Fantasy XII, your decision is done. Final Fantasy XII was well worth the long wait from the last single-player adventure and continues to push the envelope both in presentation and in storytelling.

Final Fantasy - Good any way you give it!
Speaking of Final Fantasy, if you want to get a gamer a great gift that isn't a game, consider the soundtrack to any of the Final Fantasy games. These instrumental masterpieces are great to study to, work to, or relax to, and will bring back fond memories of some of the greatest games ever made. You probably won't find the CDs in most music stores but if you go online, through iTunes or Amazon.com, they are pretty readily available. If you are making this purchase, be sure to get the original soundtrack or the performances by an orchestra and not the "music inspired by" collections - those are really weird and New-Agey.

Oh, and if you have a PS3? Well, your hardcoreness both impresses and scares me. Too bad there are no games to play on it - better luck next year!

For the Xbox player on your list

If you are shopping for RPGs for the Xbox or Xbox360, you should probably give up - nobody buys an Xbox for the fantasy games and it really isn't targeted to that group. There were some decent top-down games like Baldurs Gate 2 and Dungeons and Dragons: Heroes, but even those are five years old and look it.

No, RPGs probably aren't the way to go for Xbox owners. Stick with the shooters the Xbox was targeted towards; that's probably why it was bought in the first place. If you have an Xbox360, check out Gears of War. You've probably heard of it already but it is the killer game that the 360 has been waiting for (since who knows when Halo 3 will be out!). The teamwork, strategy, and post-apocalypse setting are the perfect recipe for a good action title. Get your twitchy thumbs ready!

Whichever way you like to play, there are plenty of gems, and plenty of flops. Just because a movie looks cool (Eragon), doesn't mean it will make a good game (stay away from the Eragon games at all costs!). Just because a game has cool box art does not mean what's inside will live up to the packaging. Do yourself or your giftee a favor and take the time to get something worth playing. Just don't be surprised if you don't see them until spring!

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