Nerd Fuel: Laughing Man – Ethiopia Sidama

For this Nerd Fuel post, I’ll be taking a look at the last of Laughing Man’s K-Cup pods; Ethiopia Sidama.  This coffee is Laughing Man’s light roast offering, but unlike most “light roast” coffees, this is not a blend but rather a single-origin.

As you might has guessed from the name, these beans are sourced from the Sidama region of Ethiopia. Personally, I’m not a big fan of Ethiopian coffee on it’s own. To me, most Ethiopian single origins that I’ve experienced tend to be too earthy and also somehow manage to be semi-acidic. I do tend to like blends that contain Ethiopian beans, but on their own I’m just not a fan. This coffee is no exception to that rule.

That being said, the quality of this coffee is obvious. It’s rich and flavorful. It smells absolutely delicious as it brews. So, this is really a matter of personal preference for me.  If you tend to enjoy coffees that contain a deep, earthy taste. You would likely find this to be a coffee of interest.  Despite my own personal distaste for it, I can fully recognize the quality to be found in this cup and have no problem drinking and even enjoying it. But, for me – there’s other coffees I’d rather be drinking.

Score: 3 out of 4

Would Purchase again?: Doubtful. While this is an undeniably quality coffee, I’m neither a fan of light roasts or straight-Ethiopian coffees. That doesn’t mean that might not enjoy it, so don’t hesitate to give it try. As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Review: Resident Evil 2

Back in November I reviewed the original Resident Evil game. Today, I’m going to take a look at the sequel. As most gamers are aware, the first Resident Evil proved to be an extremely successful game.  It spawned a slew of sequels, remakes, and even films. The original game has gone down in history as a classic. So, you might wonder how the successor of such an iconic game might stand up…  let’s find out.

First, let’s discuss the version of the game I played for this review. For this playthrough, I used Resident Evil 2 (Dualshock Version). This is the only edition of the game available on the US Playstation Store. It features the original release with added rumble controller support.  This version also includes two additional unlockable modes of play. The Dualshock Version is widely considered to be the definitive version of the game.  Is important to note that there was a Nintendo 64 port of the game. The N64 version did include some interesting additions such as alternate costumes, etc. But excludes some of the features from the Dualshock Version.  Finally, there was a release for the Gamecube as well. However, this version is nothing more than a direct port of Dualshock edition on a Gamecube disc.

This game takes place about two months after the end of the first title. (If you’ve not played the first game, it’s highly recommend that you do before jumping into Resident Evil 2 – the game will make little sense if you don’t.) By this time, the T-Virus has spread like wildfire and Raccoon City is teeming with zombies.  The game follows the stories of two individuals; Claire Redfield  (sister of Chris Redfield from the original game) and a Raccoon City police officer – Leon Kennedy.  Claire has come to Raccoon City in hopes of finding her brother, unaware of the virus and the current state of affairs. It doesn’t take her long to realize that something is terribly wrong. After a nearly fatal encounter with a zombie, she is rescued by Leon. Together the two of them head towards the police station hoping to find both shelter and answers. However, a tragic accident causes the two to become separated.  Split up and alone, Claire and Leon must explore the seemingly abandoned police station in search of answers. Assuming of course, they can manage to survive…

In many ways, Resident Evil 2 is very similar to the original game. The controls, the graphics, and the overall presentation are nearly identical. Like the first game, players can choose between three difficulty levels. There’s also an arranged (Rookie) version of the game as well.  Also, like the first game, players can choose which character to play (Leon or Claire). The main difference here is that the experience for one character can change slightly depending on choices made when playing the other character. For example, if you choose to play as Leon, you can either take of leave some items that you come across during your playthrough. If you decide to leave them, then once you complete the game – you can play again from Claire’s perspective. During this second playthrough, the item that Leon left behind will be available for Claire to find and use.  To get the full experience of Resident Evil 2, you will want to play through the game with each character.

The game originally came on two different discs. A Leon disc and a Claire disc. When starting the game for the first time, you can choose to start with either character. So, this really gives you a total of four different scenarios in which to enjoy the game;  Leon’s story followed by Claire’s, or Claire’s Story followed by Leon’s.  The gameplay does changes slightly depending on which order you decide to go with. – Completing all four will unlock a little mini game-mode called “Extreme Battle”.

From a lore perspective, Resident Evil 2 does a fantastic job of taking the storyline from the original game and expanding on it. In the first game, the backstory was interesting, but seemed a bit shallow at times.  In Resident Evil 2, more behind the scenes info is revealed. Suddenly, I found myself hooked on the lore behind the game.  The storytelling is told through a combination of exposition, cutscenes, and in-game breadcrumbs. So, the more you explore, the more easter eggs and details you can manage to discover. It’s all masterfully done.

Just like the original, Resident Evil 2 does a good job of building tension in attempts to scare the crap out of players. The spooky environments, ambient noises and jump scares are all very well done. In some ways, even more so than in the original. The voice acting in this title also seems to be a tad better than that of the original game, but… not by much.

My biggest fault with the title is again, the clumsy controls. This game works just like it’s predecessor. Again, are stuck with a stiff, tank-style movement scheme. Which, at the time, was pretty standard. But these days, the playcontrol is cumbersome and archaic. Despite this issue, I found the game to very enjoyable. The good certainly outweighs the bad.

Difficulty: Variable –  The Dualshock version features three levels of difficulty: Easy, Normal and Arranged. Just like with the original game, the easy option reduces the difficulty of the game considerably. Monsters are weaker, and ammunition is more plentiful than in Normal mode. The Arranged version here is different than “the arranged version” found in the first game. Here, “Arranged” (AKA: Rookie Mode) starts you off with access to some very powerful weapons and infinite ammo.  – Regardless of which version you play, I found the game only gets easier as it goes along. The first few moments of the game can be very intense and you’re often being swarmed. But as you play and manage to secure areas and increase your arsenal – things get a lot easier.

Story: This came continues the story laid out in the original game. More details are provided that help to clarify some of the more mundane aspects and to really flesh things out. Despite introducing us to some new characters, the connections to the first game are clear and very well done.

Originality: In many ways, there’s a lot about this game is very familiar to the first title. But, Capcom managed to keep things feeling fresh with a change of scenery and a few new enhancements. Having multiple/concurrent character scenarios is quite an original idea that really sets this game apart as well. While Resident Evil 2 is very much a sequel to the original, it manages to stand on it’s own.

Soundtrack: Just like with the first game, the soundtrack is very minimal. The music is sparse and often used as a tool to build tension. But, when there is music to hear, I found it to be an improvement over that found in the original game. RE2 also uses ambient sounds to help set a spooky tone. All of it is very well done. The only complaint I have here are some minor gripes with the voice acting. But to be honest, I’ve heard worse.

Fun: Resident Evil 2 is a fun, entertaining successor to the first title. Again, it would be the perfect game to play on a dreary stormy afternoon or late in the evening with all the lights off.

Graphics: The pixelated graphics and the low resolution FMV movies are very dated by today’s standards. But at the time of the release, they were considered very well done. Just like with Resident Evil, RE2 still manages to capture the spooky atmosphere it needs to unnerve it’s fans. 

Playcontrol:  Again, this is one the weakest point of the game for me. The characters in the game is controlled using the old, clunky “compass rose tank” style of movement. Players used to modern 360 degree movement will need some time to get adjusted. Overall the controls feel stiff and antiquated. But in the long run, they are manageable with a little practice.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: YES – Extreme violence and gore. 

Value:  This game is available as a PS One Classic on the Playstation Network for $9.99. Even today, this price is well worth it.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – I have to give this game a four star review, but for slightly different reasons than the original. Whereas the first game scored some major points with atmosphere, this game beats it on storyline. Plus, being able to experience it from multiple scenarios and actually have them inter-lap to some extend is brilliant. At the time, it was a brand new experience.

Available on: PSN

 

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

Resident Evil  –  Resident Evil 2  –  Resident Evil 3: Nemesis  –  Resident Evil: Code Veronica  –   Resident Evil Zero  –  Resident Evil 4  –  Resident Evil 5   –   Resident Evil: Revelations   –  Resident Evil 6  –  Resident Evil: Revelations 2   –   Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Resident Evil HD Remake

The Umbrella Chronicles   –  The Darkside Chronicles

Umbrella Corps

Nerd Fuel: Laughing Man – Dukale’s Blend

For my next Nerd Fuel review, I’m taking a look at another Laughing Man coffee, the Dukale’s Blend. This coffee is named after the farmer that Hugh Jackman met on his trip to the coffee farms of Ethiopia.  If “184 Duane St.” is to be considered Laughing Man’s house blend, “Dukale’s” could be called their signature offering.

This is a medium roast coffee. It has a deep, earthy flavor to it. Despite being a medium roast, it has a pretty full flavor. But to me, it’s a bit too “muddy”. I cannot say for sure, but I’m pretty certain that a good portion of this blend is made with Ethiopian beans. Ethiopian coffees have a very distinct flavor, and I taste quite a lot of it in this cup. – So your personal preference will play a big part here.

The quality of this coffee cannot be denied. I find it to be much better than many others out there. But, I don’t feel it compares to some of the other options Laughing Man brings to the table. Overall, it’s going to be largely a matter of personal taste.

Score: 3 out of 4

Would Purchase again?: Maybe. When compared to Laughing Man’s Colombian or Duane St. Blend, I find this one to be a distant 2nd. Regardless, it is a very good cup of coffee. Fans of Ethiopian coffees might find a real treat here.

Review: The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time

I don’t get many reader emails,  maybe 3-4 a month. But when I do they are usually requests for me to review a particular title. Of all the review-requests I receive, Ocarina of Time is by far the most requested title. So, for many, (myself included), this review has been a long time coming. Finally, I’m going to share my thoughts on this legendary title.

I’m sure that nearly every person reading this review, or even this site in general is familiar with this game. But just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last twenty years, let me bring you up to speed. Ocarina of Time is the fifth entry in Nintendo’s famous “Legend of Zelda” series. It was originally released in 1998 on the Nintendo 64. It is nearly universally-heralded as the best “Zelda” game in the series, and almost equally lauded as one of, if not THE, greatest video game of all time.

I was fortunate enough to play this game a few years after it was originally released. So, even though I missed out on the initial craze, the game holds a deep nostalgia for me – as it does for many gamers.  My first experience with the title was in 2003, when it was re-released as part of The Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition compilation for the Gamecube. This version of the game is a nearly perfect port of the N64 title. The collection contained both the original version of the game as well as a remixed version dubbed “Ocarina of the Time: The Master Quest”.  The Gamecube version of the game was released just a few months before the birth of my first son. I have many memories of playing this game during late nights with my infant son in a bassinet by my side. This playthrough was my first time re-visiting the game since those days.

For those interested in playing it, the game is available in it’s original version on the Wii U virtual console, or on the Nintendo 3DS as “Ocarina of Time 3D”. For this playthrough/review, I did in fact play the 3DS version of the game. Either one is well worth your time, but I will state that the 3DS version, in my opinion, is the definitive version of the game. Aside from improved graphics, and some minor button assignments/playcontrol tweaks, the games are virtually identical. Plus, the 3DS version does come with the Master Quest (unlocked after completing the main game).

I will go on record as stating that, to me, the original N64 version had some major playcontrol issues. But, I am one of those rare people that generally disliked the Nintedo 64 controller. Playing the Gamecube port of the game was even more awkward. In my opinion, the 3DS version offers the superior playing experience all the way around.

(Original N64 version –emulated )

Of all of the games in the series so far, Ocarina offers the most in-depth story in terms of lore. Many of the backstory concepts mentioned in the other games are given an epic, detailed treatment in this title.  The Legend of Zelda timeline is so convoluted and complex, that it’s nearly impossible to summarize in a simple way. So, I won’t get into how this game is related to others in the series. But it is important to understand that many of the games take place centuries and ages apart from each other. The hero “Link” and the princess “Zelda” are not always the same individuals from game to game. At the time of it’s release, Ocarina was the earliest title in the series chronologically.

This game focuses on a young child named Link. Link lives in a small woodland village inhabited by a slyph-like race called the Kokiri. Each Kokiri has a fairy companion, each one except Link. One morning, Link is awoken from by a fairy named Navi, who informs him that she was sent by the great Deku Tree, the guardian of the forest. Link soon learns that the tree has been poisoned by an evil man from a desert far to the west. His goal is rule the entire world. Link is sent on a quest to help stop this nefarious villain. His first stop is Hyrule Castle, where is instructed to meet with Princess Zelda. Link’s quest will take him to various locales all over the land of Hyrule. (Many familiar from other games in the series). During his journey he will even gain the ability to travel back and forth through time. All in effort to thwart the evil Ganondorf!

Ocarina of Time is the first 3D title in series. By this time, Nintendo had learned much since the days of Mario 64. The camera issues found in that game were now largely a thing of the past. For me, Ocarina was one of the first nearly flawless 3D-rendered games released for a console at the time. Let’s not confuse the term “3D” being used here with actual Three-Dimensional Technology. Because the most modern version of the game “Ocarina of Time 3D” is an ACTUAL 3-D title. Making use of the Nintendo 3DS technology, the handheld version of the game is presented in a real 3-D format. (and very well done!)

(3DS version)

Aside from the visual presentation, the game follows a format that fans of the series are familiar with. Scattered across the land are numerous dungeons. Each dungeon is filled with various puzzles that must be solved in order reach the end, where a boss awaits Link. As in other games, each dungeon also contains a special treasure that gives Link new skills or abilities. These skills or items allow Link access to new parts of kingdom, thus progressing the game further.

It certainly possible to speed through the game by simply following the prompts given to you throughout the game story, but just like other Zelda titles, players who take the time to explore the world and uncover all the nooks and crannies will have an easier time. Ocarina has a number of sidequests sprinkled throughout the main game. Each well worth the time of any serious player.

The hype behind Ocarina of Time is strong. As I mentioned earlier, it is considered by many gamers to be one of the greatest games ever made. That’s quite a bold statement. But, it’s also one that I cannot deny. There’s isn’t much about this game that isn’t perfect. Everything from the storyline, to the artwork, to the music – are simply spot-on. The level design is insightful. The puzzles are challenging (but not impossible). The game as a whole is nothing short of breathtaking. I find it difficult to declare that any game is “perfect”. But if any one title is deserving of such a declaration, it is this one.

Difficulty: Medium –  Ocarina of Time does not offer multiple levels of difficulty. But as one might would expect, the game starts off relatively easy and progresses in difficulty as it goes. Most of the challenge in the game comes in the form of various boss fights. For a first time player, several of these encounters can be very frustrating at first. But as typical with most games of this type, each battle has certain mechanics. Once learned, these battles become much easier.  Players willing to take the time to explore and complete the optional side quests will also have a much easier time.  For players of the 3DS version, The Master Quest becomes playable upon completion of the main scenario. This version of the game features a higher degree of difficulty and rearranged puzzles and challenges.

Story: The story presented in Ocarina of Time is nothing short of epic. All the lore from the previous Zelda titles can be found here, and are explained in great detail. The game also serves as the origin story for Ganon, the protagonist for most of the series.

Originality: This title features the gated/progression style that players familiar with the series are already accustomed to. However, when combined with a new 3D presentation, Nintendo manages to breathe new life into this time-tested formula. One new stand-out feature in this game is the actual “Ocarina”. Throughout the game, Link is able to learn new songs that can then be played on a virtual ocarina. Playing these songs can have various effects depending on when and where they are used. This concept is executed by turning the buttons on the controller into actual notes on ocarina itself. This makes for a unique and memorable experience.

Soundtrack: The music in Ocarina of Time is nothing short of fantastic. The soundtrack for the game ranges from emotional to infectious. I personally found myself whistling the ocarina tunes when not playing the game. In fact, the Song of Storms has been stuck in my head for nearly thirteen years. It’s no wonder that the score from this game is a frequent attraction at symphony halls worldwide.

Fun: Ocarina of Time is a blast. It’s addictive. Playing this game resulted in many late night sessions over the last two weeks. I’d often find myself saying, “That’s it. Once I’m finished with this dungeon, I’m turning it off for the night.” Only to find myself pick it right back up fifteen minutes later.  The game can be frustrating at times, but as a result it also ends up being even more rewarding.

Graphics: At the time of its original release, the 3D graphics were state of the art. However, like many games from that era, it has not aged well. Playing the original game on the Wii or Wii U virtual console does give it a bit of a visual boost than playing it on the original hardware. For most players, I do recommend the 3Ds version. The graphics on this new version are not only sharper and less jaggy, but many of the textures have also been improved.  – I should also note that when playing 3DS games, I typically don’t play with the 3-D turned on. But the 3-D effects in this game were so stunning that I actually spent the majority of my time playing in full 3-D mode. (I played this on the New 3DS which features improved 3-D effects, so your mileage may vary)

Playcontrol: The original N64 version seems to have some annoying playcontrol issues for me. But as mentioned earlier, I’m personally not a fan of the N64 controller as a whole. Playing the original game on the Wii or Wii U Virtual Console nearly requires a Classic Controller, in my opinion. But even then, the game feels very “off”. The controls for the 3DS version are overall well thought-out and intuitive.  Having played this title on every available system, I have to declare that the 3DS offers the best playcontrol of the lot.

Downloadable Content:  N/A

Mature Content: Cartoon violence

Value:  This title is available on the Wii U virtual console for $10. The 3DS version is usually found for a mere $20. Either of these prices are a steal for what you can get out of this game. It’s important to note that the 3DS version does come with both the original game and the Master Quest. So, it’s really two games in one.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Giving this title anything less than a perfect score is unthinkable. It is a stellar game that provides hours of entertainment. As mentioned numerous times above, you’ll often find this game on the list of all-time greatest games. It is certainly worthy of that honor.

Available on: Wii and Wii U virtual console,  Nintendo 3DS

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

LoZ –  LoZ IILink to the PastLink’s AwakeningOcarina of Time – Majora’s Mask – Oracle of Season & Ages – Wind Waker – Four Swords – Minish Cap – Twilight Princess – Phantom Hourglass – Spirit Tracks – Skyward Sword – Link Between Worlds – Breath of the Wild

Nerd Fuel: Laughing Man – 184 Duane St. Blend

Next up on my list of coffees is another offering from Laughing Man; the 184 Duane St. Blend.  –  Named after the location of the actual Laughing Man coffee shop in New York city, this is the obligatory “house blend” from Laughing Man.

This is a very mild cup of coffee. It has a nice earthy, roasted scent to it. It’s very smooth and extremely drinkable. It does have a somewhat complex flavor, but this is common with many house/signature blend coffees. I find to be very enjoyable. To be honest, even though I haven’t posted reviews of them yet, I’ve tried all of Laughing Man’s K-Cups and this is my probably my favorite. It’s just as good as their Colombian in terms of quality, but not near as bold. So, it’s very much a matter of opinion as to which is better.

Overall, this a very solid choice. It’s a coffee that’s mainstream enough to serve to nearly any guest, at any occasion, but unique enough to stand out as well. The care and quality is obvious. But, as with Laughing Man’s other branded coffees, it  does come at a bit of a premium price tag.

Score: 4 out of 4

Would Purchase again?: Yes. The Duane St. Blend has really become a favorite of mine. It ranks right up there with the infamous “Donut Shop” coffee for me. It’s moderate enough for nearly any coffee drinker, but also luxurious enough to stand out on it’s own.

DLC Review: Final Fantasy XV – Holiday Pack

With the release of the Moogle Chocobo Carnival, the full contents of the Holiday DLC pack are now available to owners of Final Fantasy XV. So here, is the first of what will be many DLC reviews for FFXV.

This chunk of downloadable content is a bit odd and not really what I expected to see from XV’s first optional update.  First, let’s talk about the two different versions of this add-on, then we can dive into the contents. To start, there’s both a free version and a paid version (available to season pass owners). Both versions come with a handful of useful/game enhancing items, a vanity costume and a pass to a new special gameplay mode: The Moogle Chocobo Carnival.

The paid version includes several more DLC items, a second vanity costume, and some exclusive photo frames for Prompto’s pictures.

The add-on items are nice, but include nothing that really change the way the game is played. The real meat of this update is the Moogle Chocobo Carnival.

The Carnival is actually a new mode of gameplay that is accessible from the “Special” option on the main menu. It is essentially a solo mini-chapter. During this mode, you play as Noctis as he explores the fun filled streets of Altissia during the festival. Basically, the goal here is to collect “mog-medallions” that can be exchanged for prizes. These prizes range from exclusive vanity items (car decals, etc) to useful consumables. Medallions are earned by participating the carnival activities and doing various festival-related quests. Anything earned here will carry over to the main game.

This makes the carnival into a useful tool for players who have not yet completed the game, but it seems rather pointless for players that have already finished the main scenario. Perhaps, my opinion on this will change once we see how other DLC plans pan out. One big question remaining, is the inclusion of a special key item called the “Dream Egg”. This item is obtainable if you manage to collect enough Mog Medallions and attend a special fireworks session at the end of the carnival. Popular opinion with fans is that this egg may play a larger role in future DLC.

Finally, it is important to note that the Moogle Chocobo Carnival content is only available for a limited time. After 2/20/2017, this playable content will be removed from the game. It is unclear if there are plans to bring this back in the future, so players may wish to jump on this content before its  gone and earn that egg!

The Holiday Pack does not include any new trophies or achievements.

All in all, this DLC seems to add little to the overall game at large, but it can be a fun distraction and does feature some welcome items and enhancements. SE’s decision to make the majority of this content available for free is a big plus as well.

Overall Impression:  A curious choice for a first DLC release. The vanity and practical items are welcome. The carnival is quirky, but fun. Unclear how this will fit into the game at large. It’s unclear why SE decided to make a large portion of this DLC into a time-sensitive feature. It seems counter-productive to spend the time developing something like this carnival only to remove it from the game 30-days later.

Value: This DLC comes with both a paid a free option. Having it included with the season pass makes this a no-brainer. Non season pass holders can also enjoy the free version of the holiday pack.

Nerd Fuel: Laughing Man – Colombia Huila

Well, my week-long vacation is starting to wind down but it’s been very productive. This week I’ve clocked in a lot of late nights, many of which were fueled by coffee. For these next few coffee reviews, I’m moving away from the holiday offerings and focusing on some more mainstream selections.  Recently, my local store started carrying the Laughing Man brand.  For those who don’t know, Laughing Man is a popular coffee shop owned by the actor Hugh Jackman. As the story goes, Mr. Jackman went on a trip to Ethiopia, where he met a coffee farmer. The two of them collaborated and Laughing Man Coffee was born.  Recently, Laughing Man and Keurig teamed up to offer K-Cup pods. The rest is history.

There are number of Laughing Man options available for Keurig owners. I’ve tried them all, and I’ll be sharing my review in the next few post. For this first review, I’m going to look at the Colombia Huila offering.

Colombian coffee is very popular. Most major brands offer some type of Colombian option. Laughing Man’s offering is a pure, single-origin coffee. It’s a dark roast, but it’s not at all bitter. In fact, this cup is very smooth, almost silky. It does have a semi-sweet and deep wood-smoke aftertaste that I find quite pleasing. However, if you’re simply not a fan of dark roasts, or generally don’t care for Colombian coffee, this might not be a coffee you’ll enjoy

Some people swear by single-origin coffees. They claim that they offer a purity and singular taste that cannot be rivaled by any blend. I generally prefer blends and in fact, usually find single-origin coffee to be a bit bland. But in this case, I have to walk that back. This coffee is absolutely fantastic. It is simply delicious, yet complex and interesting.  Laughing Man coffee does sell with a premium price tag. A box of 16 cups, sells for about $12.00 in my local store. But I have to confess, it’s worth the price.

Score: 4 out of 4

Would Purchase again?   Yes. This is a great tasting, quality coffee. It makes for a good early morning cup of joe. Some might find the roast to be a little too dark, but I find it very enjoyable.

DLC Review: Baldur’s Gate (Siege of Dragonspear)

A few months ago, I posted a review of the PC classic Baldur’s Gate. If you haven’t seen it, you can find it here. I owned the original game back in the old days, but for my review I dove into the new Enhanced Edition.  Baldur’s Gate was so popular that it spawned a sequel. This has also recently been given the “enhanced” treatment and I plan on playing and reviewing it soon. But that’s not what I’m going to talk about today, instead I’m going to look at a special DLC add-on to the original Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition; Siege of Dragonspear.

You see, there’s a bit of gap between Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II. Siege of Dragonspear was designed to fill that gap and bridge both games together. Dragonspear picks up right where the first game left off. It is very much integrated into the main scenario. Not as well as the official “Tales of the Sword Coast” expansion – meaning it’s not built into the main game itself. Instead, you start the Dragonspear scenario as an option from the main menu. But I suppose there were some limits to what the Beamdog Studios team was able to do when it came to the original game.

The storyline here builds on the aftermath of the original game. As the city of Baldur’s Gate recovers from the events of the first scenario, a new potential threat emerges in the form of a religious fanatic who is marching her armies towards the border. Her full intentions are unclear, but her actions have been deemed hostile and the hero of Baldur’s Gate is sent to investigate and resolve the issue. – For fans of the legacy games, I will tell you that this scenario makes perfectly clear EXACTLY what happens between BG and BGII.  Dragonspear ends immediately before the beginning of the Baldur’s Gate II.  So If you’ve always wondered just what occurred between the two original games, this DLC has your answers.

All in all, the storyline found in Siege of Dragonspear is nothing short of wonderful. It’s classic D&D at it’s best. The dungeons and puzzles are all perfect. Several classic D&D monsters can be found tucked away in the new game world, and for an old grognard like me, stumbling across them brought a big smile to my face. However, despite scoring big points in nostalgia, Siege of Dragonspear is not without its faults.

My biggest issue with this DLC is that it’s absolutely riddled with bugs. There are UI issues, sound issues, the game has a tendency to crash if there are too many characters on the screen at one time (and in some areas of the game, there are A LOT of on-screen characters). Oftentimes, Dragonspear has the feel of a fan-made mod and not that of an official release. Even with all it’s problems, I find it hard to complain too loudly. Beamdog Studios did a pretty decent job of borrowing elements from both Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II to help build the perfect tie-in.

Bugs aside, my only other gripe with the game has to be the price. Siege of Dragonspear is marketed as an add-on chapter for Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition. Yet, they are charging a premium price of $20. I suppose considering the amount of content found in this DLC that’s a fair price, but considering everything, it still feels a little too steep for me.  Even with the new areas and characters that this chapter adds to the game, I feel like a $10 or even a $15 price tag would be a bit better.

Overall Impression:  A solid, but buggy add-on scenario for Baldur’s Gate.  True to the original game. A must have for hardcore D&D and Baldur’s Gate fans.

Value: A little on the pricey side. But, it is nearly a full game’s worth of content. You’ll have to be the judge here.

FFXIV: Version 3.5 Update

The latest update for Final Fantasy XIV has finally arrived. Version 3.5 (The Far Edge of Fate) is here and with it, we see the final winding down of the Heavensward story and the slow build up to the recently announced version 4.0. Playing through the new main scenario quests included in this patch make it clear that the narrative of the game is about to change. It’s being handled very similar to the way the transition from 2,x to 3,0 was presented. As always, Square Enix has proved themselves to be master storytellers.

As the 3.x storyline winds down, this patch provides two new dungeons and one new raid to hold fans over until the big update to 4.0 this summer. Along with this new major content, there are also a number of new sidequests and other activities for players to enjoy.

Breaking down to contents of the patch, we have the following:

New Main Scenario quests and side quests

New Trials

New Raid content:  (Dun Scaith)

New Dungeons

New Limited Time Cross-over Event  (GARO! Anime  PVP-gear content)

New Anima Weapon tiers

New Player Housing options:  (Portrait/Picture frame system, new house servants)

The Triple Triad card tournament refinements  (FINALLY NO MORE CHEATING)

UI Updates

Cross-Server Party finder!

A slew of refinements, big fixes, new items, materials, mounts, minions, etc.

As you see, there’s a lot going on with this patch. One of the biggest core changes to the game involves the new cross-server party finder. This change allows players to seek out party members with players from other servers. This is certainly a welcome change. However, at the time of this writing, (and maybe its just a coincidence) it seems to have affected the overall server stability. I had experienced a number of crashes and connection issues since this patch was released. Something that I’ve never encountered before.

Along with everything this patch has brought to the game, I want to take a moment to mention something that it’s taken away. With the release of this patch, the content known as “Exploratory Missions” is no longer accessible. Exploratory Missions (aka: The Diadem) is essentially a large-scale battleground system. This content was extremely popular in the early days of 3.X,  but it soon fell out of favor with players and became a largely forgotten system. With Patch 3.5, SE has removed the content from the game as they work to refine it and make it more attractive to players. The current plan is for it to reintroduced in an upcoming “3.5 part 2” patch. As a fan of Exploratory Missions, I look forward to see what changes are made to this area. I hope that SE can make it relevant again.

All in all, patch 3.5 is a welcome update to the game. It serves as the last MAJOR patch in the 3.x line before the release of Final Fantasy XIV 4.0.

Filled with content, fixes, and refinements, I give this patch the following score:  A

 

Nerd Fuel: Green Mountain – Toasted Marshmallow Mocha

Every January I take a week’s vacation. I do this so that I can spend a whole week relaxing, catching up on my honey-do list, and so I can have a chance to refresh my brain before jumping in and tackling all that the new year has to offer. It’s my way saying goodbye to the holidays. So, with that, I’ve come down to the last seasonal coffee I have in the line up to review. For this Nerd Fuel post, I’m going to share my thoughts on Green Mountain’s  Toasted Marshmallow Mocha.

This is an odd cup of coffee. When brewing it, you get a nice toasted marshmallow aroma. It smells absolutely incredible. In fact, I reminds me a lot of the little freeze-dried marshmallows you might find in a box of Lucky Charms. It’s also the first thing you taste when you take a sip, but it’s quickly replaced with an awful cardboard-ish after taste. This is actually the mocha, but to me, it clashes with the marshmallow flavor. Both flavors are very artificial. They taste cheap and just overall… bad. This is not the quality I had come to expect from Green Mountain.

Somehow I managed to drink my way through 18 cups of this since the start of the winter season, and it never got any better. I tried it a number of ways too. I drank it black, I used my favorite Sweet Italian creme, I tried milk and sugar, I even tried a variety of different flavored creamers. Nothing helped me to enjoy it. I don’t know what to say about this selection. Maybe it could be good in some kind of shake or iced concoction. But I won’t be spending the effort to find out. This might be the worst K-Cup I’ve tried thus far.

Score: 1 out of 4

Would Purchase again?: No. Cheap artificial flavoring. Bad after taste. Overall, a real stinker.