Nerd Fuel: Barnie’s – Barnie’s Cafe Blend

The quest for the perfect coffee continues. It seems like one of the biggest problems I have with finding new coffees to try is variety. So, for this Nerd Fuel entry, I decided to take my coffee shopping out of town. Instead of my local Wal-Mart, I hopped one town over to the nearest Publix grocery store. I’m happy to report that the trip was well worth it. There was much a better selection than I expected. In fact, I had a bit of trouble deciding what to go with. But in the end, I chose; Barnie’s Cafe Blend.

Barnie’s coffee is not new to me. In fact, there was a Barnie’s Coffee and Tea in the local mall where I grew up. But it has been many years since I’ve enjoyed their products. I remember being fond of their house coffee, so I figured this was the perfect product to start with.

Being a house blend, this is a coffee that’s designed to please just about everyone. It’s a medium roast that’s smooth, with a rich, yet mild flavor. It’s not as aromatic as many other K-Cups I’ve brewed, but this did not seem to be indicative of the flavor at all.

If we’re being honest, most house/signature blend coffees pretty much taste the same. They are typically blends of the same beans just in slightly different measures. Sure, there are some subtle differences, but most casual drinkers are not able to tell the difference between them. As far as flavor goes, this coffee fits the “signature blend” mold pretty well. That being said, one thing that stands out about this coffee is: quality. Many mass-produced coffees (even my favorite Donut Shop brand), often has a “B-grade” feel to it. This was not at all the case with Barnie’s Cafe Blend. The grinds tasted fresh and the roast was perfect to the point where I think even a casual observer would be able to detect the difference. I was quite impressed with what I found in this box.

This coffee comes a premium price, but if you’re a stickler it may very well be worth it. This is a new favorite of mine.

Score: 4 out of 4

Would buy again?:  Yes. A tad pricey, but a coffee of unparalleled quality.

FFXIV: Version 4.5 Update

Well, the latest FFXIV patch has been out for a few weeks now and I’ve had plenty of time to dive into all of the new content. I know I’ve recently expressed a slight dissatisfaction with the game lately. So, I’m happy to report that this patch has done quite a bit to address many of my concerns. First of all, as I predicted, SE did indeed announce the next expansion for Final Fantasy XIV. FFXIV 5.0, aka: Shadowbringers will become available this summer. As expected, this update begins to build the bridge that takes players from the events of Stormblood to this upcoming chapter in the saga.

To hold fans over, SE has packed this update with plenty of new content. So, let’s a take a closer look at this most recent update to the game.

Version 4.5 delivers the following content:

  • New main scenario and side quests
  • New dungeons
  • New raids
  • New trials
  • New job: Blue Mage
  • New Treasure Hunt content
  • Squadron/Grand Company updates
  • Housing updates
  • New minigame: Mahjong
  • Blue Mage-specific content: The Masked Carnivale
  • Various refinements, balancing changes, items, and Q.o.L tweaks
  • UPCOMING: The ability to switch servers while in-game.

Most of this update seems pretty standard; new dungeons, raids, etc. Of course, the big news here is the addition of a brand new job. Blue Mage is the first “limited job” for Final Fantasy XIV. What does that mean exactly? Well, first of all, the job is currently capped at level 50. Also, players cannot queue for regular duties when playing Blue Mage. However, Blue Mages are able to enter a new event known as The Masked Carnivale. This content is designed specifically for the Blue Mage job. Keeping these odd restrictions in mind, the class itself seems very geared towards solo players – which is not really a bad thing, in my opinion.

Sadly, due to the limited role Blue Mage seems to play, I predict that most players will likely blow through the content and then forget it even exists. Of course, SE can combat this by keeping it relevant with future updates. But with their attention turning to the upcoming Shadowbringers expansion, we’ll just have to see how this all pans out. I would hate the see something as significant as a whole playable job left to rot by the wayside.

Regardless, this patch is packed with enough improvements that it actually rekindled my interest in the game. I’ve found my excitement in FFXIV renewed to the point where I’ve played nearly every day since the update arrived. That’s certainly a step in the right direction.

I give this patch a rating of:  A

Dungeons & Dragons: Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica

Ever since Wizards of the Coast purchased D&D back in 1999, I’ve often wondered if they would ever consider merging it with their flagship trading card game Magic the Gathering. Well, it took almost twenty years, but with the release of the Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica, it has finally happened. That’s right, the lore-rich world of Ravnica is now an official D&D campaign setting. I will admit that while I’m glad to see 5E expand beyond the Forgotten Realms, Ravnica was not exactly what I was hoping for. – Regardless, let’s see where this book takes us.

As you might assume, this is essentially a sourcebook for anyone interested in playing a game set in the world of Ravnica. In case you are unaware, Ravnica is an enchanted city that encompasses the surface of an entire world. Prior to this, it existed only in the lore of the Magic the Gathering universe. The book provides a summary of Ravnica, it’s denizens, currency, guilds, political structure, etc. Due to the massive size for the world itself, the book focuses largely on an area called The Tenth District. This zone is more than large enough to keep players busy for years to come.

A large part of this book details the ten guilds that each strive for dominance in Ravnica. Players creating a character in this world are urged to affiliate with one of these organizations. The book does a great job at helping players choose a guild that suits their playing style and even provides some tips for role playing, etc. For DMs that decide not run a game set in the world of Ravnica itself, it’s still possible to incorporate these guilds into a homebrew campaign if they so choose.

One of the main selling points for this book is the introduction of new playable races; Centaurs, Goblins, Loxodons, Minotaurs, Simic Hybrids and Vedalken. Naturally, several of these races are either exclusive to Ravnica or unique variants of traditional creatures. But, crafty DMs are always able to draw inspiration for their own games using the information found here. This book also offers two new sub-classes that, despite being very Ravnica-specific, could also be adapted to other campaign worlds with a little effort. Aside from the information detailed above, this book also contains a trove of new magical items and monsters.

To me, the majority of the information found in this book is really only useful for DMs and players that actually intend to run a campaign set in this world. Sure, some of the monsters from the bestiary can be plucked out and used elsewhere. But everything else seems tied to campaign setting itself. With this in mind, if you’re a fan of MTG and D&D, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for. There’s more than enough information in this book to get yourself started. If not, this might be one supplement worth skipping.

Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition Products:

Starter Set

Core Books:  

Player’s Handbook   –   Dungeon Master’s Guide   –   Monster Manual

Supplements:

Volo’s Guide to Monsters    –   Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide  – Xanthar’s Guide to Everything – Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes   –   Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica

Adventures:

Hoard of the Dragon Queen   –  Rise of Tiamat    – Princes of the Apocalypse  –  Out of the Abyss   – Curse of Strahd   –   Storm King’s Thunder  –  Tales from the Yawning Portal  – Tomb of Annihilation  –  Waterdeep: Dragon Heist   –   Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage

Original Adventures Reincarnated:

Into the Borderlands    –    The Isle of Dread

Record Shop: Nirvana – Incesticide

As some readers to this blog may know, when I was young I was a musician. One of my goals with these “Record Shop” posts is to share the music that served as a source of inspiration for me back when I was learning how to master the guitar. A quick read through some of these entries will undoubtedly reveal Nirvana as one of my major influences. While it’s true, I idolized Kurt Cobain and his songs, one of the main reasons I found Nirvana to be so influential wasn’t because he was some “genius songwriter”. But is it because his music was especially easy to play. Even with only a few months of guitar lessons under my belt, I was able to pick up a guitar and play along with the majority of Nirvana’s songs.

One of my favorite Nirvana albums was actually also their most obscure. I’m talking about Incesticide. This album was released shortly after Nevermind and is actually a compilation of non-album tracks, b-sides, and other rarities. To me, it really showcases a very interesting side of Nirvana. The songs included on this record range from polished pop-rock songs to grimy noise  – I absolutely love this collection. So, let’s jump right into it:

1: Dive – The album starts with this grooving rock track that was originally included as a B-Side for the Sliver single. This song embodies just about everything that I really loved about Nirvana. A driving bass line, grungy guitars, and Cobain’s guttural vocals. If I had to pick a song to serve as the perfect example of Nirvana’s sound, this might just be the one.

2: Sliver – Next up is A-Side to the previous track. The Sliver single was released by Sub-Pop Records during the period between the release of Nirvana’s first album Bleach and their blockbuster hit Nevermind. “Sliver” is a pop song (something that was rare for Nirvana at the time), but it’s one that still manages to maintain that unique feel that only Nirvana could provide.

3: Stain – This is an older track from the Bleach era. It originally appeared on Blew (an EP released shortly after Bleach). As such, it has the same kind of vibe that many of Nirvana early songs provide. It is gritty and dirty sounding. If you’re a fan of Bleach, this is a track will really put a smile on your face.

4: Been a Son – This song was also originally released on the Blew EP. However, the version included on this record is a newer recording. Like “Sliver”, this another fine example of Cobain’s pop-song prowess. It’s a quirky, catchy tune. A fan favorite.

5:  Turnaround – Here we have a cover of a rather obscure Devo song. The interesting thing about this tune for me is just how faithful it is to the original in a number of ways. (Despite being played on guitars instead of synthesizers). Admittedly, one of the weaker tracks on the album, but still very well done.

6: Molly’s Lips – Another cover song – this time by one of Cobain’s favorite indie groups; The Vaselines. The original song had a very lo-fi, new wave sound to it. Nirvana’s version is much harder and driving. This is a very simple song, but one that I’ve grown to love. One of the highlights of the album.

7: Son of a Gun – Another Vaselines song. Admittedly, I had never heard of The Vaselines until I was introduced to their music through this album. Both songs are very catchy and surprisingly pop-ish. Of the two, this is my least favorite. But it’s still a pretty solid track.

8: (New Wave) Polly – Here we have an alternate version of “Polly” from the Nevermind album. This version features the full band and a much faster tempo. It’s a fun listen, but I very much prefer the original version.

9: Beeswax – This is an obscure track that was originally released on the Kill Rock Stars compilation album; a record showcasing talent from the Seattle area. This is a weird, sloppy, grungy sounding track. Cobain’s vocals are screeching and almost indecipherable at times. But it really embodies the raw energy that I found so fascinating about Nirvana. I love tracks like this.

10: Downer – This song was included as a bonus track on the CD version of Nirvana’s first album Bleach. It was included on this collection as well. To be honest, “Downer” is one my least favorite Nirvana tracks but I understand its inclusion.

11: Mexican Seafood – This is another compilation track. It’s originally from a very obscure record called Teriyaki Asthma; a collection featuring tracks produced by Jack Endino. This is one of Nirvana’s earliest recordings. Like “Beeswax”, it’s very loose and gritty – an example of my favorite type of Nirvana.

12: Hairspray Queen – This track is also one of Nirvana’s very first recordings ever, but until Incesticide, it was previously unreleased. This song is a hot mess – but I love it. The vocals are all over the place. The bass line is lazy and funky. The guitar jumps from solid rock to mindless noise – it’s beautiful chaos. This is a not a song for casual fans. But I absolutely love it. One of the beast tracks on the album for me.

13: Aero Zeppelin – Another early track that was finally seeing the light of day. The whole concept behind that song is based on the fact the main riff sounds like something off of an Aerosmith or Led Zeppelin album. It’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek track. A decent tune, but one of the low points for the record.

14: Big Long Now – This is an outtake from Bleach. As such, it very much sounds like it belongs on that record. It’s a slow, atmospheric track. But one that doesn’t really shine when put against some of the other tracks on this collection.

15: Aneurysm – The original version of this song can be found on the Hormoaning EP that accompanied Nevermind. This version of the track is a bit faster and a little more polished. To me, this track along with Dive are the highlights of the album. Nirvana at their finest.

While this album is available on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, it suffers from an unusual dilemma. Some of the tracks on this collection are still owned by Sub Pop records. As a result, there is no streaming license on most platforms. This means when streaming Incesticide, a number of tracks will not be available. In some cases, this doesn’t stop at streaming. A few digital music stores even exclude these tracks from purchases. With this in mind, Insecticide is still best experienced on Compact Disc.

When listening to albums, I always suggest enjoying them on a nice Hi-Fi stereo system, or on a portable device with a good pair of headphones. Being a compilation, the order of the tracks is not really that important. But I find the record to be balanced pretty well in its structure.

 

Review: Ultima VI – The False Prophet

My review of the final chapter in the second Ultima trilogy is finally here! Yes, it took a bit longer than initially expected. But I’m proud to finally share my thoughts on Ultima VI: The False Prophet. As mentioned above, this game serves as the final entry in what is often known as the “Age of Enlightenment Trilogy” (the sub-series that began with the classic Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar.)

So far, every entry in the Ultima series has always managed to showcase some of the most cutting-edge technology of its day. The same is true for Ultima VI. But this time, we actually see the biggest advancement in the series so far. This is largely due to the fact that Ultima VI was developed specifically for the PC. All other games in the franchise were first developed for Apple and then ported to other platforms. The end result of this decision is a title that features full VGA graphics, a native MIDI soundtrack (for PCs equipped with soundcards), and even a revamped UI -Complete with mouse support! Like Ultima V, this entry also allows players to import their character from the previous scenario.

Back in the day, only the very best PC would be able to experience Ultima VI in all of its glory. At the time of Ultima VI‘s release, sound cards were not standard issue in PCs. So a vast number of players never got experience the game’s soundtrack . Thankfully, players today are able to experience the game as originally intended if acquiring a copy from GOG. As always, GOG does a great job of configuring DOS Box emulation so that the game is delivered almost flawlessly.

This game takes place several years after the events of Ultima V. Once again, players assume the role of The Avatar – a man from Earth who found his destiny in another world known as Britannia. Typically, The Avatar travels to Britannia using a magical blue-colored portal that appears not far from his home. However, one night during a mysterious storm, lighting strikes the site where the portal appears. The Avatar ventures to the scene to investigate and finds an unusual red-colored portal waiting for him. Upon emerging on the other side, The Avatar is accosted by a band of monstrous gargoyle-like creatures. Just as he about to meet his doom, he is rescued by companions from the previous Ultima games and take refuge in Castle Britannia.

The Avatar learns that the Gargoyles have only recently appeared in Britannia. In the short time since their arrival, they have captured several of the world’s Shrines of Virtue. The Avatar is tasked by Lord British to determine the reason behind the invasion and to help restore order to Britannia. Over the course of the game, they player will learn the truth behind the gargoyle’s presence and discover that not everything is as it seems.

As you can see, Ultima VI continued the series’ trend of excellent storytelling. As usual, this game takes what seems to be a black and white scenario and surprises the player with a level of insight and morality that simply just wasn’t seen in games at the time.

As I mentioned earlier, this game showcases a huge advancement in technology when compared with its predecessor. We now have a game world that is virtually seamless and maintains a constant scale. That’s right, no more zoomed-out overworld map. No more first-person dungeons. Everything is now presented in a colorfully rendered birds-eye view. But the enhancements are not just visual. There’s a number of revamps that make this Ultima much easier to play and control. For example, managing equipment has never been easier. Items possessed by characters now appear visually and can be clicked on and manipulated. This is important because for the first time in the series, we also have a new crafting option. Items can be combined and merged to create new, different items. Being able to do this via a point-and-click UI is a must. But that’s not all. Even talking to NPCs has been enhanced – there’s now an animated headshot of the character you are interacting with and keywords in the conversation are now highlighted and clickable. All of this may sound basic these days. But at the time, these were some really revolutionary advancements.

Since the game can now be controlled via mouse, the UI has evolved to accommodate this change. A panel of action buttons appears across the bottom of the screen. These allow players to execute any number of commands; such as drawing their weapon, picking up objects, inspecting objects, etc. Of course, players can still use the keyboard if they choose – and in fact will need to do so occasionally when talking to NPCs. But no longer will players have to memorize a slew of hotkeys and commands. This, in my opinion, is the best thing that could have happened to the Ultima series.

Like some of the previous games in the series, Ultima VI is largely an open world game. But this time, the level of “openness” is taken to a whole new level. Now, players can pretty much venture anywhere they see fit and experience the game at their own leisure. This is a good thing because Ultima VI is beast of a game. Being open-world makes it much easier to tackle a game of this size without it feeling like an endless grind.

All of these changes really make Ultima VI shine. Plus, it paves the way for what’s about to come down the pike with later installments.

Difficulty: Medium –  I’ve heard it said that Ultima VI is one of the harder titles in the series. Personally, I don’t find this to be the case. To me, it seemed much easier than most. For example, one of the features in the game is being able to travel around via a magical item called the Orb of the Moons. With this item, its very easy to simply travel to Lord British’s castle for healing pretty much whenever needed. Plus, the game itself just seems to be much more forgiving overall.

Story: The storyline is again one of the best parts of the game. The introduction scenes are masterpieces and it only gets better from there.

Originality: Just when the series was starting to feel a little stale, the developers stepped up and provide an entirely new experience. Everything from the UI to the overall feel of the game is new and improved.

Soundtrack: Ultima VI has a basic midi soundtrack. As such, the quality can vary depending on how your sound card handles MIDI playback. Regardless, the music is catchy and timeless.

Fun: For CRPG lovers, it doesn’t get any better than this. This game has it all: classic RPG elements, engaging gameplay, an open world – you name it. If that’s your cup of tea, Ultima VI is one heck of a ride.

Graphics: Ultima VI marks a drastic upgrade in terms of graphics. Of course, the game looks pretty rough by today’s standards. But when compared to what came before, its easy to see just how far the developers came in such a short time.

Playcontrol: For the first time in the series we now have a point-and-click UI. This makes controlling the game much more intuitive. Unfortunately, the default emulation of DOS Box does seem to introduce a little bit of lag to the mouse on modern systems. This isn’t terrible, but it does take a little getting used to.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: Fantasy violence.

Value:  Ultima VI is available on GOG as part of the “Ultima IV, V and VI” trilogy. The entire bundle is available for the low price of $5.99. For this price, three games of this caliber is an absolute steal.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Ultima VI is again, one of my favorite entries in the series. It was released in a time when CRPGs were reaching their golden age and it shows. Ultima VI takes everything that made the series great and blended it with a number of new ideas and design changes that really put it in a class of its own.

Available on: GOG

Other Games In This Series:

Akalabeth    –    Ultima    –    Ultima II    –    Ultima III    –    Ultima IV    –    Ultima V    –    Ultima VI    –    Ultima VII    –    Ultima VIII    –    Ultima IX

Ultima Underworld I    –    Ultima Underworld II

Savage Empire    –   Martian Dreams

Ultima Online

Shroud of the Avatar

 

Dungeons & Dragons: Waterdeep – Dungeon of the Mad Mage

I’ve been a fan of D&D for nearly all of my life. And in that time I’ve dabbled a bit with every version of the game. With that in mind, I can honestly tell you that 5E has been my absolute favorite edition of the game. And Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage is a prime example of why. Here, we have an adventure that takes one of D&D’s most iconic settings, The Underdark, and not only gives us an epic adventure, but provides us with a sourcebook that will be used by DMs for years to come.

This adventure is a continuation of the previously released; Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. As such, it is designed for players of 5th-20th level. I use the word “adventure” very lightly when referring to this book. Yes, there’s a set-up and story included in these pages. But to be completely honest, what we really have between the covers of this book is one completely massive mega-dungeon. That’s right, Dungeon of the Mad Mage features no less than twenty-three floors of sheer dungeon-crawling delight.

Being set in The Underdark, the game designers pulled content from nearly every prior edition of D&D and revised/repackaged it for inclusion in this product. I don’t say that to imply that this module is nothing more that recycled material – it’s certainly not. If anything, I tell you this to convey just how much care and respect Wizards of the Coast is showing to legacy players by making sure they cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s. The fact that this modern version of D&D is being made by fans for fans has never been more obvious. Aside from being used in this adventure, all of the maps and content included in this book is a virtual treasure trove of reference material for DMs.

The sheer volume of content in this book cannot be understated. There’s hours and hours of material here. With that in mind, this adventure is not for rookie DMs. On second thought, it’s not for rookie players either. Everything about this product is aimed at an experienced audience. Old school players will likely find themselves smiling at a number of hidden references and Easter Eggs as they playthrough this adventure.

Considering that this adventure is very focused on dungeon crawling, it’s safe to say that it might not appeal to everyone. Many players and DMs (especially old-school players) enjoy this type of gameplay, while others do not. Personally, this is one adventure I’m really looking forward to running.

Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition Products:

Starter Set

Core Books:  

Player’s Handbook   –   Dungeon Master’s Guide   –   Monster Manual

Supplements:

Volo’s Guide to Monsters    –   Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide  – Xanthar’s Guide to Everything – Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes   –   Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica

Adventures:

Hoard of the Dragon Queen   –  Rise of Tiamat    – Princes of the Apocalypse  –  Out of the Abyss   – Curse of Strahd   –   Storm King’s Thunder  –  Tales from the Yawning Portal  – Tomb of Annihilation  –  Waterdeep: Dragon Heist   –   Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage

Original Adventures Reincarnated:

Into the Borderlands    –    The Isle of Dread

 

 

Nerd Fuel – Starbucks – 2018 Holiday Blend

Merry Christmas! I just couldn’t let the Christmas season come and go without sampling some kind of seasonal coffee. Usually, there’s any number of holiday varieties available on the store shelves – gingerbread, peppermint, etc. But this year, I found the options at my local grocer to be rather slim. But at least they did have a good supply of Starbucks’ annual holiday blend. So while it’s somewhat of a shame that I wasn’t able to try a few different coffees this year, there was the old standby.

For the last three years I’ve bought a box of whatever Starbucks is offering and I’ve always been pleasantly surprised. This year is no different. In fact, I actually think the “2018” is quite an improvement over last Winter’s release. To recap for a moment, I found the 2017 Holiday Blend to be just a tad too bold (despite being labeled as a medium roast). This year, I was happy to discover a much more balanced blend.

The coffee has a very pleasant aroma during the brew – one that actually matches the flavor for a change. The taste is quite rich and complex. There is a hint of maple with what I think is a slight cinnamon aftertaste. But neither are very overpowering. It’s a masterful blend. Absolutely perfect for this time of year.

The last few months have found me getting up at three-thirty in the morning for work. To be honest, I don’t think I could have faced the bitter-cold Winter mornings without this hearty blend. Highly recommended

Score: 4 out of 4

Would buy again?:  Yes. This is one of Starbucks’ better holiday offerings since the 2016 Blonde Roast. I highly recommend this one to any “amateur aficionado” like myself.

Review: Ultima V – Warriors of Destiny

Next on the list of Ultima titles is one of the most underrated entries in the series; Ultima V – The Warriors of Destiny. This is a game that often gets overshadowed by its predecessor. But in my opinion, it is worthy of just as much attention. This title takes all of the advancements that made Ultima IV such an enthralling game and continues the trend, evolving the genre even more.

In this game, the Avatar is summoned back to Britannia by several of his old companions. Some time after the events of the last game, Lord British has gone missing. In his absence, Britannia has come under the control of the nefarious Lord Blackthorn, a tyrannical ruler who has twisted and corrupted the eight virtues into rules of terror. He enforces his version of the virtues with the help of some mysterious beings called “The Shadowlords”. It is up to the Avatar to unravel the secrets behind Blackthorn’s rise to power, discover the whereabouts of Lord British, and bring Blackthorn’s rule to an end.

This entry of the series also marks the first time players can carry over their progress from a previous game. That’s right, if you’ve managed to complete Ultima IV, you can import your character into this new chapter. Doing so will grant you a bit of a boost, giving a small reward to loyal fans. (I should note that enabling this functionality can be a bit tricky with modern versions of the game due to the way DOS Box is configured by default. But it’s still manageable – more on this later).

As I mentioned above, this game takes much of what made Ultima IV great and improves on it ever so slightly. For example, there is now more interactivity with both NPCs and the environment, more commands at the players disposal (ie: search, push, jimmy, etc). Also, the game now incorporates an active clock. This means that time passes in Britannia as the game progresses. As a result, NPCs “live out their lives” according to the time of day. This adds a whole new dynamic for the the player to consider when exploring and gathering information. For example, some NPCs may only be available during certain times of the day.

The Shadowlords mentioned above also play an integral part in the game. They will appear at various times, often changing the behavior of nearby NPCs.  Learning their schedule and how to determine their whereabouts becomes important at later stages of the game.

All of these tweaks and advances help transform the world of Ultima V into a living, breathing place. This, combined with what might be the best storytelling in the series thus far, really make this game one of the more engaging entries in the franchise. I don’t say that lightly. On more than one occasion, I found myself in awe of what I was experiencing. This was true the very first time I played the game years ago, as well as with my recent playthrough for this review. Some parts of the game’s storyline were so far ahead of its time that it is literally jaw-dropping.

On the technical side of things, Ultima V also brings a graphical boost to the franchise. But oddly enough, the DOS version is still absent a proper soundtrack. Thankfully, the fan community rectified this with an unofficial patch. As mentioned in my previous Ultima reviews, the “Ultima Patcher“ restores the MIDI soundtrack found in other versions of game. It also contains optional fixes for bugs that were never corrected by the game developers. Plus, this patch was designed specifically with the GOG version of the game in mind. This means that is provides an easy solution for importing your previous Ultima IV file.

All in all, Ultima V is a great evolution in an already legendary series. But, for all its advancements, the interface still stays stubbornly rooted in what has come before.  The alphabet-soup control scheme is starting to feel even more cumbersome with the addition of so many new commands. But, in the grand scheme of things, this complaint does little to detract from just how good this game actually is.

When it comes to classic CRPGs, I hold Ultima V is just as high esteem as the legendary Ultima IV.

Difficulty: Hard –  Out of the entire series so far, I’d say Ultima V is by far the most difficult title. This is especially true in the early part of the game. Players who import their character will have a slightly easier time, but the challenge still remains. Taking notes and drawing maps is a must. Even then, the game can throw some pretty mean curveballs.

Story: Again, the storyline is where this game shines. I really like the direction Richard Garriott decided to take with this title. The concept of someone corrupting Lord British’s virtues and perverting them for their own gain is both original and exciting. Players who enjoyed the earlier titles in the series will also find some nice ties to the original trilogy (but I’ll say no more or risk spoiling it).

Originality: By this point, the Ultima series has settled into a time-tested formula. Yes, there have been advancements made to the game. But, we’re starting tread into territory that feels familiar. So far, this is not really a big complaint. But it wouldn’t take much for things to start to feel a little tired.

Soundtrack: As noted above, the vanilla DOS version of the game includes minimal audio. However, patches are available to add the midi soundtrack into the game. The game score is pretty simplistic and can get a bit repetitive at times. But, it is fitting and rather enjoyable.

Fun: For gamers who are not used to old-school CRPGs, Ultima V will likely be a tough pill to swallow. But, for those of us who absolutely love the genre, Ultima V is one of the finest examples of a game done well.

Graphics: A step up from prior entries in the series. The game looks ancient when compared with modern offerings – but in its day and time the graphics were bleeding edge.

Playcontrol: The controls for this game are very antiquated by today’s standards, but they are easy enough to figure out. You control your character with the arrow keys and execute all other commands with various letters on the keyboard. Reading the manual is a must. But even with the game manual, there’s a large number of commands to learn. It certainly takes a little getting used to.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: None.

Value:  Ultima V is available on GOG as part of the “Ultima IV, V and VI” trilogy. The entire bundle is available for the low price of $5.99. For this price, three games of this caliber is an absolute steal.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Ultima V is one of my favorite entries in the series. Like its predecessor, I consider it to be a classic that belongs in the library of any serious CRPG fan. To me, this game defines the classic old-school role playing game experience.

Available on: GOG

Other Games In This Series:

Akalabeth    –    Ultima    –    Ultima II    –    Ultima III    –    Ultima IV    –    Ultima V    –    Ultima VI    –    Ultima VII    –    Ultima VIII    –    Ultima IX

Ultima Underworld I    –    Ultima Underworld II

Savage Empire    –   Martian Dreams

Ultima Online

Shroud of the Avatar

Review: Ultima IV – Quest of the Avatar

Continuing right along with my playthrough of the Ultima series, we’re brought to the fourth entry in the franchise – the heralded Quest of the Avatar. To say that this game was groundbreaking is an understatement. Just as Ultima III set the bar for CRPGs for decades to come, Ultima IV took what was now a tried and true formula and dared to push the boundary even further. For what might very well be the first time in a CRPG, the goal of the game did not revolve around defeating an evil monster or rescuing a princess. Instead, the purpose of Ultima IV is self-improvement. Simply put, to be the best person you can be.

The game is set ages after the original trilogy. After the events of Ultima III, a time of peace and enlightenment graced the world of Sosaria. Now under the gentle rule of Lord British, the world has now been renamed, Britannia. Concerned that citizens of this world might grow complacent, British created a trial of sorts. A quest to obtain the pinnacle of virtue. Whomever could manage to complete this quest would be dubbed the “Avatar” – a model citizen for all others to emulate. It is this quest that the player will undertake.

The game begins with the player answering a series of moral questions. Players are encouraged to answer these honestly, according to their own moral compass. The game then takes the answers provided by the player and assigns an appropriate starting class.

To get the most out of the game, I highly encourage that players read and answer the questions according to their own personal beliefs. Too often, people will look up guides online to try to get the starting class they want. But, Ultima IV is a game that really focuses on spiritual growth and as cheesy as it sounds, you can actually get quite a lot out of the game by following it through to completion. With this in mind, I suggest going into the game as blind as possible (especially for first-time players).

So what does all this mean? Does this imply there’s no fighting or violence in Ultima IV? No. But for the first time in the series, actions have consequences. No longer can you mindlessly steal weapons and armor from shops, or mow down weak creatures for no reason at all. You must approach the game from a standpoint of virtue. Only attack evil creatures or fight in self-defense. If an evil monster tries to flee from combat, let it run instead of stabbing it in the back, etc. By conducting yourself in a moral way, your character will continue to rise in virtue. This is the only way to complete the game.

Like Ultima III, this is a party-based RPG. But you only create a single character at the start, the rest are NPCs that are recruited along the way. As you explore the game and talk to various townspeople, you will meet the rest of your party members over time. In fact, talking to NPCs is really the key to success in this game. Without doing so, you’ll have no way of learning where to go or what to do. Taking notes is a must in Ultima IV.

The game itself is very open-ended. Players are free to explore gameworld as they see fit. One huge difference in Ultima IV compared to other entries in series is travel. Yes, you can travel on foot and sail by ship. But one of the main modes of transportation is by “moongate”. Similar to the time gates from Ultima II, these are basically portals that appear in various locations according to the phase of the moon. Moving through a moongate will warp the player to a completely different area. Learning the locations and destinations of these moongates is also crucial to the success of the game.

Another big change to the series that was introduced in this game is the magic system. In Ultima IV, spells are cast using a variety of reagents. So players must always be sure to keep enough spell components on hand if they want to be able to use magic. Spells and the reagents needed are often learned by talking to NPCs. So again, note taking is a must for this game. This is a concept that is likely foreign to many younger gamers. But for us old grognards, this was a way of life.

Despite many of these new concepts, the rest of Ultima IV will feel familiar to fans of the series. There’s still monsters to fight, weapons and armor to buy, and dungeons to explore. But where this game shines is in its radical approach to character development and storytelling. As a result it remains my favorite entry in the original series.

When playing this title today, the GOG version seems to work best with modern hardware. But even then, it is highly recommended that you apply the patches contained in the “Ultima Patcher“. These offer a variety of improvements to the game, while still maintaining the original vision of the developers.

Difficulty: Hard –  When played as intended, Ultima IV is surprisingly difficult. Players will really need to think before they act, take extensive notes, and think outside of the box. Patience is required to master a game like this. That being said, if you sit down with a walkthrough the game is ridiculously easy.

Story: The storyline is the really where this game stood above all its peers. Throwing out all of the standard tropes and cliques really gave this title a unique and engaging story to enjoy.

Originality: This game is the direct result of Richard Garriott’s willingness to buck the system and do something different. Against the advice of many in the industry, he insisted on making Ultima IV a game that focuses on spiritual growth. By doing so, he created a title that will forever stand out as one of the greatest games of all time.

Soundtrack: As noted above, the vanilla DOS version of the game includes minimal audio. However, patches are available to add the midi soundtrack into the game. The game score is pretty simplistic and can get a bit repetitive at times. But, it is fitting and rather enjoyable.

Fun: If approached with a patient mindset and the willingness to learn, Ultima IV is a very rewarding and entertaining game. Younger players who are used to the hand-holding of today’s titles will likely have a tough time wrapping their mind around a title like this. But there’s a lot to love in Ultima IV if you’re willing to open your mind to it.

Graphics: The base graphics in the DOS version are very similar to what’s seen in Ultima Trilogy. However, there is a patch that provides enhanced VGA graphics.  My screenshots show the game with these enhancements applied. Patched tiles aside, the biggest change to the game’s graphics come in the form of opening and closing artwork. Even though it appears simply by today’s standards, the full color scenes that are displayed at the beginning of the game were absolutely cutting edge at the time.

Playcontrol: The controls for this game are very antiquated by today’s standards, but they are easy enough to figure out. You control your character with the arrow keys and execute all other commands with various letters on the keyboard. Reading the manual is a must. But even with the game manual, there’s a large number of awkward commands to learn. It certainly takes a little getting used to.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: None.

Value:  You’d think that a game as legendary at Ultima IV might still command a premium price. But, you’d be wrong. In fact, Ultima IV is available free of charge to everyone. The easiest way to get your hands on it is through GOG, but it is also available elsewhere online at no charge. With this in mind, there’s no reason not to give this classic game a try.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Ultima IV is the Ultima game to play. This game was revolutionary in a way that’s hard to explain today. There was simply nothing like it. This game captivated me when I was young and I daresay it actually helped make me into a better person. I recommend this game to anyone who is looking for something different and willing to take the time and patience to master it.

Available on: GOG

Other Games In This Series:

Akalabeth    –    Ultima    –    Ultima II    –    Ultima III    –    Ultima IV    –    Ultima V    –    Ultima VI    –    Ultima VII    –    Ultima VIII    –    Ultima IX

Ultima Underworld I    –    Ultima Underworld II

Savage Empire    –   Martian Dreams

Ultima Online

Shroud of the Avatar

Nerd Fuel: Donut Shop – Chocolate Glazed Donut

It’s been several months since I sat down and did a new coffee review. To be honest, that’s been mainly due to two reasons. First, I have a new work schedule that’s been highly unusual. Currently, I find myself waking up around three-thirty in the morning and heading to bed around eight in the evening. Second, there’s really not been anything interesting showing up on the shelves of my local grocery store lately. But recently, I noticed a new box sitting among all of the familiar faces! In fact, it was a new variety of Donut Shop; Chocolate Glazed Donut.

As you know, I’m a fairly big fan of the “Donut Shop” brand. The original Donut Shop and Donut Shop Dark are two of my personal favorites. So far, the only real miss I’ve encountered from the brand was from the “Vanilla Cream Puff” variety. To me, most flavored coffees tend to have a very phony taste. This was certainly the case with the other Chocolate Glazed Donut coffee I reviewed a couple of years ago. So needless to say, I purchased this box with the expectation that I might be disappointed.

The first thing I noticed about this coffee was the delightful aroma during the brew. It did indeed smell like the inside of a donut shop. On first taste, the coffee takes on a bit of a “chocolate syrup” sort of flavor, followed by a cocoa-like after taste. It does actually taste very much like a glazed chocolate donut. In many ways, it is very similar to Green Mountain’s “Donut House” Chocolate Glazed Donut coffee, only without the overly-strong artificial flavor.

Personally, I’ve not really a huge fan of chocolate flavored coffee. But out of all the different varieties I’ve tried, this cup was certainly the most enjoyable. So if you’re a really big fan of chocolate donuts and coffee… well, this is probably what you’re looking for.

Score: 3 out of 4

Would Purchase again?: Maybe. Chocolate coffee is not really my forte. But, this is quality stuff. For a flavored coffee, this is a top-tier offering.