Tag Archives: r.a. salvatore

Hasbro Dungeons & Dragons Drizzt Do’Urden and Guenhwyvar

Just a man and his cat.

I was quite surprised when Hasbro unveiled a deluxe action figure set starring the Forgotten Realms hero, Drizzt Do’Urden. Drizzt was a character I was familiar with going back into my middle school days when I traded Star Wars novels for Dragonlance. Even though my nose was buried in stories about Raistlin Majere and Tanis Half-Elven, a lot of the other kids around me were reading the latest from R.A. Salvatore. Drizzt was an instant hit, a dark elf warrior exiled from his subterranean home turned good guy. He was armed with a pair of magic scimitars, had a magic panther as a sidekick, and was basically unbeatable in combat. When I had exhausted Dragonlance, a campaign setting for the game Dungeons & Dragons that saw its peak in the 80s, I finally checked out what was coming out of the Forgotten Realms setting and would eventually read several books starring the legendary drow.

That’s a fine looking piece of cardboard.

Hasbro has owned Dungeons & Dragons through subsidiary Wizards of the Coast for over two decades now, but few knew if the company really planned on doing action figures. Plenty of 80s kids have longed for stuff based on the old cartoon series, while folks like me who grew up with the novels published by TSR have wanted to see some of those characters captured in plastic. Drizzt kind of came out no where though and Hasbro elected to sell the set, which includes his panther, Guenhwyvar (who I am just going to call Guen from now on because that name is ridiculous), through its Pulse storefront. This generally means collectors could pre-order the figure and expect delivery months later. Hasbro was likely skittish about going straight to retail with the figure because it was an untested character at a premium price ($40), though there are plans to distribute it through other retailers in the future (I think).

I love the artwork on display here.

For me, I liked Drizzt well enough when I was reading the books decades ago. He’s cool, though his stories got very repetitive for me so I would never call him one of my favorite literary characters. I won’t deny though that he’s perfect for an action figure and his popularity makes him a great first choice for a figure. I saw it, and I thought it looked cool, and eventually placed a pre-order. My decision to buy this figure was one part enjoyment of the actual piece, and one part a desire to just support the brand in hopes of getting a Raistlin down the road. That property, Dragonlance, has some legal troubles though that will probably make it difficult for me to get what I want, but I can dream, can’t I?

There’s a lot of stuff in that box.

Drizzt arrived after a delay of about a month. All kinds of shipping problems in December threw things into disarray, but thankfully Drizzt wasn’t on that ship that lost a ton of cargo in a storm. The figure comes packaged in a very nice box with an unusual shape. The front is curved and embossed with a dynamic illustration of Drizzt and Guen. Sliding that off produces a window box with the figure itself and a nice, wintery, backdrop. It’s easy to reseal, which is always a plus with figures that come with a bunch of extra stuff, and would be attractive for mint-in-box collectors, though to display with or without the slipcover would be a tough call.

He’s free!
I think of his open hand as his kitty-patting hand.

Drizzt is a little tricky to extricate from the plastic bubble inside as he has this big cloak that slips through the plastic, plus his scabbards go through it as well. Once removed he’s a pretty sturdy figure with a fair amount of heft to him due to that cloak. He stands right at six inches and seems like the kind of figure that could slip into other displays fairly easily. His armor is incredibly detailed with lots of little paint flourishes through out. My figure is pretty much devoid of any signs of paint slop or quality control issues of any kind. His joints were all free and easy out of the box and there are no defects I can spot. This is a very well made figure, though also still pretty familiar to anyone who collects stuff from Hasbro. I really like the gray-purple of his flesh and you can see the purple in his eyes. He has an angry facial expression with windswept hair perfect for a battle pose. He has a pair of gripping hands with vertical hinges (finally, Hasbro!) that have just enough of an opening in them that it’s fairly easy to slip one of his two swords into each hand. He looks great, and this is a later version of Drizzt as opposed to a first appearance. It reminds me of the look the character sported in the artwork for The Hunter’s Blades Trilogy. There’s a lot of black, green, and gold and the leather portions of his armor have a touch of blue. It’s textured really well too and looks like worn leather, though the armor is so pristine that it doesn’t look like something he’s ever actually battled in. The fur lining on the cloak is well done and there’s a hood sculpted into the back of it that’s been pushed back. This is just really nice and it’s good to see Hasbro sink a little more money into this release than it would a mass market figure for Walmart or Target. As they should, since they’re charging a premium for it.

If you really want to see what this figure can do you have to ditch the cloak.

If you’ve had a Hasbro figure recently, then you should know what to expect in terms of articulation. Drizzt’s head sits on a ball peg so he can look around, but his cloak plus his hair will severely limit that head articulation. Of course, you can remove the cloak and get better articulation, if you wish. The base of the neck is also on a ball peg which aids him in looking up and down when the cloak is not an issue. The shoulders are ball-hinges with a slight butterfly joint as well. The pauldrons on his shoulders can be manipulated a bit to get them out of the way when posing. He has swivels at the shoulders, double-jointed elbows, wrist swivels, and the previously mentioned vertical hinges. In the torso he foregoes a diaphragm joint in favor of an ab crunch. I am on record as not caring for ab crunches, but this one at least looks fine. He can also twist at the waist and swivel at the thigh, which are ball-hinged. He has double-jointed knees and can swivel at the foot. He also has hinges at the ankle and a generous rocker. It’s a solid assortment of articulation and Hasbro did a good job of working with the intricate armor on this figure to get as much articulation into it without disrupting that sculpt. The skirt pieces of the armor are very flexible so they only interfere a bit. I would have preferred a diaphragm joint in place of the ab crunch, but it’s fine.

Kitty statue.
Extra stuff that will mostly entertain actual players of Dungeons & Dragons, something I haven’t done in over 20 years.

Drizzt comes packaged with quite the assortment of accessories and optional parts. He has two heads: an angry one and a smug one. I really like both, but I tend to prefer that cocky look to the yelling one. He also has two hairstyles which you can swap between the two heads. One is windswept and the other is static. I had a hard time getting the static hair to work in tandem with the cloak, but others may have better luck than me. The cloak can be removed by popping off the head, but be careful when doing do as sometimes his neck will release which is kind of a pain. Try to hold the neck in place as best you can. He also has an extra set of hands which include a fist and an open left hand. The fist is kind of useless and I would have preferred two style hands, but oh well. The open hand works with his little, black, kitty statue which is supposed to be Guen. That’s what the cat is when not in the material world. There’s also a D20 die done in a sparkly, black, green color that’s pretty neat for people who play D&D. Drizzt also has a necklace he can wear which features a little unicorn head. This is the symbol of the goddess he worships or identifies with. It fits over his head fine, but gets lost when the cloak is on too. It’s also too light to have a natural hang and I find I prefer the character without it, but it’s there if you like it. There are also monster cards hidden behind the cardboard insert in the box. I know some of them, like the beholder and ice dragon, but some I don’t know what they are. I wish they had a little bio or something on them instead of some fake language.

You probably don’t want to mess with this guy.
Let’s add a little magic to those blades!

Of course, Drizzt also comes with his prized, twin, scimitars: Twinkle and Icingdeath. They’re well sculpted and painted and look terrific whether in-hand or sheathed. I find they don’t necessarily match up with the descriptions given for each in the books, but there have been prop Drizzt swords made over the years and these seem to match those. I think it’s Twinkle that has this neat metallic, blue, finish on the pommel that’s especially nice looking. The vertical hinges of his hands help in wielding them properly and Drizzt just looks cool with a blade in each hand. He also has two effects pieces for the blades that looks like ice magic, or something. They slide onto the blade and lend themselves well to dynamic poses. The only drawback is they add considerable heft to the swords. If there is one issue I have, it’s that Drizzt’s arms are a little loose for his swords. I still was able to get him into some interesting poses, but I’m concerned if I leave him on a shelf with these things on the blades his shoulders may weaken until he can’t keep his arm up. In particular, the left arm is the one I have the most concern with. I suspect this may vary from unit to unit.

Say, “ahhhh”

Lastly, Drizzt is accompanied by his good pal, Guenwhyvar. I don’t know why Salvatore settled on such an obnoxious spelling, but he has a tendency to do that with a lot of stuff in his novels. The panther is about six inches long and quite sleek with a lustrous black coat with maybe a hint of purple in some places. There’s a lot of points of articulation on this cat too. There’s a ball-joint in the torso that provides some ability to pivot, a ball-joint at the base of the neck, and a ball-joint at the base of the head with a hinged jaw. The legs appear to be ball-jointed at the base, but can’t do much other than move forward and back a little. The rear, right, leg is pretty tight on mine too. Each knee can swivel and bend and there’s another hinge past that and a third hinge at the foot. That’s on the hind legs, the front legs have one less hinge. The feet can also rock side to side. The tail pegs into a ball joint and kind of just hangs out. It’s a lot, but it’s not all functional. I can’t, for instance, get the kitty to sit in a convincing fashion. She can get into a pounce position, but for the most part I think people will just pose her in a fairly neutral position looking a bit menacing with that mouth open.

“Just five more minutes then I’ll feed you.”
As much as it pains my wallet to admit, he would look cool with an orc to slice and dice.

That’s a lot of stuff for one figure release, and I think this is a great value at $40. Of course, since it is a mail away situation you’ll have to pay shipping to acquire Drizzt so his real cost is more like $50, but it’s still pretty good considering a Lightning Collection Power Ranger is about $20 and of lower quality. For your money, you get a really nice looking and functional action figure plus a fully realized panther figure. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a few shortcomings. I wish the engineering on the panther was a bit better, and I find myself really surprised that Drizzt didn’t come with one more hairpiece that included his hood. Maybe they couldn’t figure out a way to get a hood to fit over the existing hood and didn’t want to turn that into a separate, floating, piece like they have done with the masks on some of the Marvel Legends. Otherwise though, there’s nothing really missing or that I wish the figure came with. I mentioned wanting a second open hand in place of the fist, but I don’t know if I can resist posing him with both blades drawn anyway.

I figured I should probably toss-in a comparison shot with other lines since this is a new line for Hasbro.

If this is the start of Hasbro’s descent into the old TSR portfolio, then this a great way to kick off a line. I suspect Dungeons & Dragons will never be a huge part of the Hasbro figure lineup, but if they can get a couple figures out a year that would be better than what came before it. My hope is for them to head to Dragonlance, but I’d be pretty surprised if the company didn’t hang around Forgotten Realms for awhile and fill out Drizzt’s allies. They may also look to the iconic Monster Manual for some creature ideas in place of characters from the various novels. Unless this figure fails to sell, but I’m pretty optimistic that it will attract enough attention to warrant more figures. If you like what you see here and want Hasbro to do more, you can head over to their website now and order your own Drizzt. I think you’ll be pleased with what you receive.

It’s cold and lonely in the north: get a cat.

Kingdoms of Amalur Demo Impressions

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (2012)

As a Red Sox fan, I was made aware of future Hall of Fame pitcher Curt Schilling’s video game obsession early on.  Perhaps not as early on as Diamondbacks or Phillies fans, but certainly well before the formation of 38 Studios (at one point, Green Monster Games), the developer behind the latest RPG Kingdoms of Amalur:  Reckoning.

Schilling was a noted EverQuest junkie.  For those unfamiliar, EverQuest was World of Warcraft before WoW.  It wasn’t the first massively multi-player online RPG, but it was certainly the first one to reach a large audience.  Schilling was not at all embarrassed by his nerdy obsession, and why would he be?  He was a multi-millionaire athlete with a hot wife.

It’s been a good, long while since Schilling decided to stop just being a fan and decided to create games for himself.  When that announcement was made I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I thought maybe he’d get into developing on a small scale with iPhone type games, and if he got into the big boy stuff, it would be a MMORPG for the PC, which seemed to be the only game he was into.  Or, as is often the case with this kind of wishful thinking announcement, I figured I’d never hear about 38 Studios again and the company would be dissolved before Schilling lost too much money.  When the first trailer for Kingdoms of Amalur surfaced over a year ago I was both surprised and officially intrigued.

In 2009, 38 Studios made a big acquisition when it acquired small developer Big Huge Games.  Big Huge Games is mostly known for its work with the RTS game Rise of Nations, but it was allocated to Reckoning in an effort to create a single-player experience.  Schilling also brought on board noted fantasy scribe R.A. Salvatore to help design the game world and create a robust history.  Todd McFarlane was also brought in for character designs giving 38 Studios an almost all-star quality.

Suddenly, Reckoning had a lot going for it and the first reveal only made fans more interested getting their paws on a finished product.  Just this past week a playable demo was released for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 and I gave it a test run.

First of all, Reckoning is a third-person western style RPG.  If you don’t know what that means (you must not read this blog regularly) it just means the game is more like Skyrim than Final Fantasy.  You’re given control of one character and right away you get to customize him to your liking.  You can be as detail oriented as you wish or go with a randomly generated character produced by the game.  There are four base races to choose from that each are more suited towards a particular play style (one makes for an obvious mage, the other warrior, and so on).  The game then lets you pick a deity for your character to follow which incurs some bonuses to certain stats, or you can go atheist if you wish.  The level of customization is pretty much on par with recent entries into this genre such as Dragon Age and Skyrim.

Reckoning places a lot of emphasis on combat, and mostly succeeds in crafting some fun gameplay mechanics.

The demo has you play through an introductory level of sorts.  It gives you some context and, as expected, lets you know that your character is unique and somehow really important to this game’s world.  It’s pretty standard stuff.  From what I gathered from the giant opening cinematic, is that the game is focused on war between mortals and immortals.  These immortals (they have a special name that I forgot) are not immortal in the literal sense, it would be seem.  They die when you fight them, and during the cinematic one gets stabbed through the chest and appears as dead as anything else.  I’m going to assume their immortality comes into play after “death” and that they’re resurrected or something.  Regardless, the story has potential but doesn’t seem all together different from the first Dragon Age when you get right down to it.  It’s good vs evil and the evil guys are way cooler and more ferocious looking.

The introductory dungeon does a good job of giving you a chance to try out seemingly everything.  It encourages you to give melee a try and even throws in some stealth and magic play.  When it comes to an end you select your character class and start customizing it the way you want to play.  The game breaks everything down into three parts where character class is concerned:  warrior, rogue, and mage.  They have their own unique heading instead of that, I know the rogue abilities are called finesse and the warrior ones might be maul or something.  Each one has its own tech tree and at each level up you get 3 points to spend however you wish.  Even if you’re playing a mostly warrior type character you can invest points in the other two schools.  Considering you get 3 points at each level, it seems like it won’t take that long to fill-out a tree but we shall see.  As you spend points in each one the game keeps track which allows you to open up class advancements in each one.  For example, the base finesse class can become a thief or an assassin as more points are invested in it.  You can also dual and triple class if you like variety, which definitely has me intrigued.  I suspect few will play one dimensional characters.  Apparently, as part of the game, you’ll be able to meet characters that (for a fee, I assume) will wipe away all of your point allocations and let you reallocate them from scratch.  This means if you’ve played the game for 30 hours as a warrior but decide you want to switch it up and be a mage/thief, you can!  That seems pretty cool to me and is a good way to let your players experience everything the game has to offer without starting over.

While Bethesda tries to make their creatures seem plausible, Reckoning just wants them to look cool.

Visually, the game is a pretty solid looking title.  It reminds me a lot of EA’s (the publisher for Reckoning) other RPG series Dragon Age.  Both go for a clean look with a rich color palette, which is in contrast to Bethesda’s Skyrim which has a gritty feel with a muted, gray palette.  The character designs also follow a similar philosophy in that they’re straight-up fantasy fare.  Where Skyrim tries to take these creatures and make them seem realistic, Reckoning just throws them in.  This gives some characters, like the gnomes, an almost toon quality to them.  Structurally, the game is also similar to Dragon Age in its approach to the environment.  The map is huge, though in the demo I was obviously restricted to a small piece, but it looks like Reckoning will favor condensed but connected areas as opposed to Skyrim’s wide-open terrain.  This makes sense considering the game’s focus on combat.

How is that combat?  Quite good actually.  At first, it feels like Reckoning may be another button masher like Dragon Age 2 or (gulp) Dynasty Warriors.  Instead, there is importance placed on blocking or parrying and there are time-sensitive special moves you unlock as you advance in levels.  I was concerned when I first started playing that combat would be too simple but the longer I got in the more varied the opponents became.  I could probably approach it like a Diablo and just keep attacking and spamming potions but I found myself dodging and weaving amongst my enemies always trying to avoid being ganged up on.  There’s also a special slow motion type attack that’s triggered by a meter.  When activated, it slows everyone down but your character and you can deal out some serious damage.  It’s player activated so you’ll find yourself saving a fully charged meter for a tough encounter, at least I did.  Main attacks are done with one button, while special abilities and spells are mapped to a trigger.  The game makes liberal use of the radial menu popularised by BioWare for easy access to potions.  There’s also always a secondary weapon mapped to another face button on the controller letting you change things up on the fly.  And like with Skyrim, you can also enter a stealth mode and try to sneak up on enemies to deal massive damage.

Reckoning looks pretty nice, and the combat seems fun, but I’m not sure where I stand on the product as a whole.  I like its ambition, I like pretty much everything I talked about, but there’s stuff I don’t like.  For one, the game’s camera is way too loose.  I liken it to the inFamous series as it has a similar feel.  The camera also feels like it’s too close to my character.  I found myself constantly spinning it around with the right analog stick to get a look at something.  The character also has a floaty feel and landing hits on enemies just lacks something that I can’t quite place my finger on.  The game just doesn’t feel as fun to play as it should, given all that’s gone into it and all that it gets right.

Downloading this demo will also score you some sweet armor in Mass Effect 3.

This game is ultimately going to be compared to Skyrim because both fit into the same genre and will be released relatively close together (Reckoning hits stores February 7th).  The experience of the two is vastly different though.  Skyrim is more an exploration, sandbox kind of title.  Reckoning has a large map, but exploration seems like it will be more tedious than wondrous.  There’s some emphasis placed on free will in Reckoning as well (you can pick pocket, target civilians for attacks and so on) but some of the world’s real feel is dampened by archaic video game conventions like breakable boxes strewn about.  I can run into some guy’s house and just start smashing things for loot and he doesn’t give a shit, which is disappointing.  This game reminds me more of Microsoft’s Fable series than Skyrim, though I think the finished product will be superior.

In the end, I feel like I can’t offer a fair assessment of Kingdoms of Amalur because I’ve just been playing too much Skyrim.  I’m nearing 150 hours with that beast and playing something different just feels too foreign right now.  I have legitimate concerns about Reckoning, enough that I know I won’t be a day 1 purchaser.  That was unlikely anyways as I have too many games I have yet to play as is, but I’m definitely holding out for some full reviews.  And after my experience with Skyrim and its stability (terrible) I’m a little gun-shy to jump right into a new, massive game before knowing how well it runs.  I do recommend that people try this demo out.  It’s quite generous and after the tutorial dungeon you’re given 45 minutes to do whatever you want.  They closed off some areas and I think they removed a lot of the NPC audio to make the download smaller, but you get a good test run.  What will make this game a success or not is how well player’s enjoy the gameplay mechanics and quest variety.  Skyrim offers the same quest over and over but gives it unique context, plus the world is just fun to explore and I’m not sure Reckoning’s will have that same feel.  The story-telling and NPC audio in Skyrim is often times less then stellar but if the quest has me doing something interesting I can overlook it.  If Reckoning just has the player fetching items and clearing dungeons endlessly it may get boring pretty quickly.  We’ll just have to wait and see.  My expectations after playing the demo though are that it probably won’t eclipse Skyrim as the definitive fantasy RPG experience, but should at least top my pick for 2011’s most disappointing release, Dragon Age 2.  And if so, that’s a pretty nice spot to occupy.

%d bloggers like this: