Learning New ARTS

Courtesy Riot Games
She’s like a miniature Tank Girl. Moreso than Strongbad, she is ‘tiny Heavy’.

I’ve had an interest in strategy games for many a year, from the tabletop war simulations like Squad Leader and Risk to 4X computer games in the style of Civilization and Master of Orion. I’ve made a series of entries on StarCraft 2. But like Master of Orion taking the 4X formula into SPACE, there was a precursor of the original StarCraft that shook up the standard RTS setup.

It’s a custom map for Warcraft III called Defense of the Ancients.

Often abbreviated “DotA”, the game does not focus on base construction or unit composition, but instead casts each player on the opposing teams as a single hero unit, supporting the automatically-generated waves of disposable peons called ‘creeps’ as they attack the enemy base. Each hero or ‘champion’ has a set of unique powers that they “level up” RPG-style and can also purchase items to bolster their abilities. This heady mix of RPG gameplay and RTS rhythm and competition has come to be known as either DotA-type, Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games or Action RTS – ARTS.

I missed out on the initial DotA stuff, and actually had to dig out my old collector’s edition disk of Blizzard’s seminal RTS. Unfortunately I also require the expansion, The Frozen Throne, and while I have some copies of the disc I don’t know if such copies will be recognized for legitimate online play, even on a custom map. I don’t need Blizzard’s secret police knocking down my door. So while I wait for my next paycheck, I’ve been getting to know this variation on the game a bit more through Riot Games’ free-to-play take on the genre called League of Legends.

From what I understand thanks to some help from the fine gents and ladies of Team Liquid, there are some fundamental differences between League of Legends and the original DotA. The overall impression is that Riot’s entry into the ARTS is ‘easy mode’ as champions do not need to worry about getting in final hits, proper use of town portal scrolls and the mechanics of the more limited eengine. DotA sounds more unforgiving and, by extension, more rewarding than LoL. I’m looking forward to trying it out.

What makes games like League of Legends appealing is something I’ve alluded to previously. While you can get into team matches in StarCraft 2 they are not the crux of the game’s multiplayer scene. This may be the perspective of an admittedly casual gamer, but when it comes to extended sessions of games keyed for multiple players, going solo against a single opponent can get very lonely. I’ve had a few good experiences so far in LoL teaming up with others. I’ve had some bad ones, too, but I chalk that up to some of my fellow players being quick to blame newcomers like myself instead of examining their own shortcomings. Because that’s hard!

Anyway, League of Legends is at least helping me grasp the basics of this ARTS genre. Steam is working on a direct sequel to DotA itself, while Blizzard revealed that they are creating their own proprietary version with characters culled from their various IPs. I don’t feel pressed for time by either of these, and I do plan on firing up the original DotA once I’ve acquired a fresh, legit copy of Frozen Throne. For the most part this will strictly be for enjoyment, rather than some attempt to develop competitive skills.

I know I may never break into any level of professional gaming, nor do I want gaming to turn into a job to the point that I cease enjoying it. After all, if I had to focus entirely on one game for hours on end, things like League of Legends might pass me by completely. I’m entertaining the notion of starting an adventure in Terraria with a couple others, I plan on coaching a friend in Magic the Gathering and there will always be new single-player games to explore. However I spend my leisure time when firing up Steam or a console, the goal will not necessarily to be a top-level pro or boast the highest APM, but simply to have fun.

That’s what games are for, after all. Right?

General Post-Blizzcon Thoughts

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

BlizzCon has come and gone again. And again, I didn’t get to go. Sadface. But next year! Next year will be THE YEAR OF CONVENTIONS! I’m totally going to cons next year. It is a moral imperative.

Anyway, while I wasn’t present and couldn’t shell out for the live stream, I did keep an eye on my Twitter feed and a couple other news sources to piece together what the rather mad and admittedly skilled yacht-owning developers at Blizzard have in store for their fans. Let’s go IP by IP.

World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria

“Isn’t it a little late for April Fool’s?” – Danielle

So, yeah. Pandaran.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the pandaran brewmasters. But to me they’ve always been on the fringe of Azerothian stories, kind of like the bounty hunters in Star Wars. Remember how LucasArts released a game all about one of those bounty hunters because they wanted to make him a “breakout hit” from Attack of the Lame Screenplay? The overall reaction was “meh.” That’s an appropriate reaction here, as well.

Now, taking the game in a PvP direction and away from the PvE content that has not really been up to snuff since Burning Crusade is probably a good thing, as Old Republic‘s voice-acted labyrinthine quest chains are probably going to blow WoW out of the water. And the environments and new character models look great. I just can’t shake this feeling that, like in previous expansions, the other character models will remain as dated as they have been for years. There’s also the fact that adding the Monk as a basic class, while good on paper, means that all of its abilities need to be scaled and balanced against the others. I don’t know if doing Monk as a Hero Class would have been more or less work. But the game already had balance issues, mostly pointed out by the PvPers, and with Mists being aimed for PvPers, you’d think some thought would have gone into making sure things are well balanced. The talent system is reportedly “overhauled and improved,” but I for one won’t be holding my breath. Between Skyrim and Guild Wars 2, I’ll get all the fantasy RPGing I can handle, and then some.

Diablo III

“…like giving crack to a heroin fiend…” – Ross Miller

I’m also somewhat lukewarm about Diablo 3. I enjoyed both Diablo 2 and its expansion, and I’m sure that the sequel will be enjoyable as well in the same “click your way into the dungeon, click your enemies to death, click your way back” fashion as its predecessor and Torchlight. My objections to the lack of character customization leading to the Witch Doctor being a walking stereotype aside, I’m sure the game’s engine is solid, the skills of the various classes fun to use and the story as dark as the previous iterations.

In this case, it’s more a matter of prioritization than anything. I want to play Skyrim and get into Guild Wars 2 far more than I want to play Diablo 3. I must admit, though, that pitching the WoW yearly pass to players by throwing them a gratis copy of this game is a stroke of genius. Well done, Blizzard, enjoy the new yachts!

Blizzard DOTA

“lolwut” – Me.

I love the tongue-in-cheek nature in which this was presented at BlizzCon. I’ve played a bit of League of Legends and I like the gameplay that feels like the handsome bastard rogue child of RTS and RPG. Doing so with known characters has a frankly shameful amount of appeal. I just love the notion of mincing in as Jim Raynor and blasting the snot out of Arthas over and over again. Or Illidan. Let me show you just how prepared I am, bitch.

Anyway, it could be fun. I’ll be keeping my eye on this one.

Speaking of Jimmy…

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm

“ZOMG PROTOSS GOT SHAFTED, NERF TERRAN” – Every Protoss player ever.

Campaign looks interesting, wish Kerrigan’s skin was still as dark as it had been in the original game, blah blah blah.

I’ll talk more about the units and other initial changes in tomorrow’s post, but what struck me as the torrential amount of backlash from a lot of the StarCraft community. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, as many players have made it a point to constantly decry how one particular race is dominating the others or the ways individual units can or should be tweaked to defang a prevalent strategy. Personally I don’t put a lot of stock in public outcries in this matter, partially because I have no basis by which to gauge the power of units relative to skill as I don’t have much skill myself, and partially because I think that most of the forums on which I see this sort of caustic feedback are too loosely moderated to sort out the ruffians and bandwagon-jumpers from the people who have honest, well-reasoned opinions on the state of the game. I should really listen to the podcast of the same name more.

Thoughts on new multiplayer units and the changes I’m aware of tomorrow. Stay tuned.

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