There are really only two games I’d consider playing competitively on a regular basis. I don’t think I have the skills to play a first-person shooter anything but casually in multiplayer, and while I used to play CounterStrike in university, I can’t see myself devoting the time necessary to the game now, let alone coughing up money every year for the latest iteration of the best “spunk-gargle-weewee” game around. I’m also not one for fighting games like Street Fighter; again, I’m much more casual with that sort of game, and Divekick is more my speed with that sort of thing. The two games I look towards as a true test of my skills and that engage me enough to drive me to improve constantly are Magic and Starcraft. While I still want to return to Legacy in Magic, Standard will be more economical, but that’s a post for another time. Even more economical is StarCraft 2 – unlike Warhammer or Warmachine, there’s no miniatures to buy or paint, and no need to find a table big enough to play on. The only investment required is time. And lean tissue in the brain.
Getting back into StarCraft 2 after a long break isn’t easy for anybody. Heart of the Swarm has hit since I last played on the ladder, and that may have changed things up drastically. My only recourse is to change with them, and that means starting over again, from scratch, to build myself back up into a better gamer. What I like about StarCraft as opposed to say, Magic, is that the random element is minimized and, on higher levels of play, non-existent. It’s entirely skill and strategy. But before I can get anywhere near that level, I have to get my bare bones basics nailed down. And that means mechanics. That means making workers.
Building workers is pretty much the foundation of any future play. It’s the fuel that runs a player’s engine in StarCraft. It’s the mana of Magic, the production certs of Axis & Allies, the planetary resources of Twilight Imperium. I can’t spend any time worrying about build orders or army composition counters or even the meta-game at large. Not yet, at least. As much as I love to tie my strategic and tactical gameplay into a greater philosophy or Sun-Tzu or something, there’s a reason soldiers start at boot camp and aren’t just shipped into combat. Eren in Attack on Titan doesn’t strap on the Three-Dimensional Maneuver Gear and get right to titan-slaying without some serious training. That’s the way it has to be for me, as well.
So I’ve looked up some notes on the changes to the game, watched some videos by Filter, and started drilling against the AI. Not to practice tactics, not to ensure wins, not to nail down build orders. I’m just making workers and basic units, focusing on the workers. So far, Terran and Protoss are going fine. Zerg, I’m struggling with. But I’ll get there. And when I do, at that point I’ll jump on the ladder and start fighting live opponents. Though ‘fighting’ may be a bit of a stretch, as all I’m likely to do is bunch up all of my basic dudes and lob them at the enemy with no real tactics involved.
Then again, I don’t think many people at Bronze level will know what to do when 50 Marines or 30 Zealots or 40 Roaches come knocking at their door en masse 10 minutes into a game. I guess we’ll see once I have my benchmarks nailed down.
It’s been a week now, and so far I’ve resisted the call of Diablo.
Diablo III continues to make headlines, and not always in a positive way. I’ve been trying to curb my extraneous spending a bit since PAX, both to recover from that phenomenal trip and to save for the upcoming move. But I can’t deny I’ve noticed just how many people I know are playing the latest action-RPG from Blizzard and Activision. I can definitely understand why, as I’ve played more than my share of its predecessor and the expansion.
The gameplay is the right mix of mindless leveling-and-looting catharsis fresh from the most basic of D&D campaigns and interesting storytelling in a fascinating setting. Seriously, Diablo tends to nail the ‘dark gothic’ atmosphere other games strive for. The Witcher also does this well, while Dragon Age and Kingdoms of Amalur just feel like more regular fantasy settings with extra blood spattered on. It also helps that the story itself is rather nuanced, with interesting characters and prevailing themes of power, betrayal, deception, and the struggle against hopelessness. Diablo III looks to very much carry on all of these traditions.
So why aren’t I playing it?
The first indicator that something was off in Diablo III came from the character designs. For the most part, they’re fine, good examples of Blizzard’s art direction, but the Witch Doctor gave me pause. A character basing their attacks on hexes and summoning minions, not unlike Diablo II‘s Necromancer, and the best design Blizzard could come up with was a half-naked dark-skinned man with a bone in his nose? I’m sure they wanted to differentiate the class from the others in the game as well as the Necromancer, but there’s no law saying characters like this have to look a certain way. I mean, consider Dr. Facilier from Disney’s The Princess and the Frog:
Back in Diablo II the character of color was the stalwart, righteous paladin, a role usually given to generically handsome white men. To do the stereotypical Witch Doctor thing felt like a step backwards, and gave me a measure of pause.
That said, I did try the beta for a few hours and found the gameplay to be just fine. I could see myself playing it for hours, to experience the story and collect loot, but my next problem came up in the form of the always-online aspect.
I know that Diablo has a very heavy and lively multiplayer scene. It makes sense that you’d want to have an Internet connection to be a part of it. Requiring said connection for single-player, however, puzzled me. While logging achievements and downloading patches are part and parcel of gaming these days, requiring a constant connection to a remote server to play a game by yourself that you’ve purchased strikes me as somewhat silly. This was confirmed for me on launch, when the Blizzard servers collapsed under the onslaught of people wanting to play their new game and kept everyone from playing it. People paid $60 US or more for the privilege of playing Diablo III, and the very developers of the game said “Nope, sorry, you can’t play it now, not even in single player, no matter how much money you’ve already paid us. We’ll fix it… eventually. But hey, you don’t have to worry about those nasty pirates right now!” Of course when people did manage to get connected, many found their accounts had already been phished, hacked, or otherwise compromised. This probably could have been at least somewhat mitigated if people could play single player without the constant connection.
Finally, there’s the real-money auction house. Now, I’m not above making more than one contribution to a game I enjoy playing. I’ve bought points for skins in League of Legends and gold for items in Tribes: Ascend. However, the monetization of an in-game auction house feels a bit sketchy to me. Asking people to perhaps invest in some cosmetic character changes or a hot new item by purchasing them directly from the developer is one thing. Taking a cut directly from the cash made by players as they exchange items is quite another. As far as I know, the RMAH isn’t active yet, and I know it’s an optional thing that I wouldn’t have to get involved with, but just knowing it’s there makes me uncomfortable.
Put it all together, and you have the reasons why I’ve resisted the call of Diablo. It’s a shame, because from the beta, I could see the potential for the game to be fun. I played a Monk for a few hours and punching minions so hard they explode was very satisfying. However, between the design decisions, the idiotic always-connected aspect, and the rather seedy RMAH, I can say I won’t be playing Diablo III.
Another season has begun in the universe of StarCraft 2. And where does it find me? Yep. Bottom rung. Nothing’s really changed.
Or has it?
With the new job settling into a rhythm that I can cope with, I’m starting to plan more and stress less (at least a bit). Into those plans I’m trying to include things like eating better, exercising more (perhaps joining a gym?) and playing at least 3 matches of the aforementioned game a night. Why? The reason’s simple.
I’m tired of being terribronze.
I consider myself a casual gamer, in that I don’t really have aspirations of playing professionally at any point. I don’t want the game to become a job. And as envious as I am of the likes of Day and TotalBiscuit who’ve managed to make gaming the central focus of their lives without the fun getting sucked out of actually playing said games, I do not have the financial freedom or liberty from obligations to make that drastic a career change. I’m pushing it as it is trying to find enough time to write in the space between seconds every day.
So why do I care about the arbitrary ranking I have in a online strategy game?
I guess it comes down to a measure of pride. Not the most noble of intentions, but there you have it. I fancy myself a bit of a smarty-pants. I got teased about it a lot in school. I was never good at physical activities, sports or even dancing, save for choreographed bits on-stage. I did all right in fencing, tennis and judo in college but it’s been a long time since then and my skills are rusty as hell. My brain, though? Sharp as ever. At least I’d like to think so.
Gaming’s a place where your physical prowess means nothing. It’s all about what’s going on upstairs. Strategy games are one of the ultimate expressions of this, and if it’s happening in real time? Even better. You need not only the capacity to plan and execute complex tactics but the timing and presence of mind to do so quickly and under pressure. It takes discipline and tenacity.
That’s the big, overarching thought, at least. I’m also not fond of losing to cheese and I’d like to think it happens less often in higher leagues.
The mere act of playing more often seems to help. Just a few days after the opening of the season and I’m already maintaining a position in the top 8. Granted, it’s among 100 players as terribronze as myself, but it’s better than nothing. My strongest matchup is still against Zerg while Protoss continue to beat me regularly. Even so, I seem to be winning more than I’m losing. I just have to keep it up.
Because at the very least, it’s keeping my brain in shape. And I don’t even have to pay a monthly fee to do it.
Yesterday I promised I would go over the pending changes in StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm in detail, and I do try to be a man of my word. Without further ado, here’s my take on the changes coming for the Terran, Zerg and Protoss races.
The core gameplay of the Terrans looks to be remaining unchanged. You can still create “bioballs” of Marines, Marauders and Medivacs and try to roll your way to victory. The standard mirror match composition of Marines, Siege Tanks and Vikings also looks to be viable in the expansion. But with the unit changes coming, I for one would like to see some variations in Terran strategy.
I’ll admit, as someone who once looked up to Optimus Prime, there’s a part of me that’s all for declaring “Hellions, transform and roll out!” every now and again. And combining the two transforming units, Hellions and Vikings, into a single force for highly mobile scouting, harassment and map control appeals to me. I can’t shake the feeling that part of the reason the Hellion attack changes from a line to a cone in walker mode is because people kept whining about how much they miss the Firebat, but given how slow Hellions in battle mode are compared to how Firebats worked, I see them filling different roles.
The Firebat and the Goliath both made cameo appearances in the Wings of Liberty campaign, and fans of the original game have been clamoring for them to come back. Instead of the Goliath, however, Blizzard introduced the Warhound, a medium-cost walking mech unit with decent anti-mech ground attacks and rapid anti-air. The Thor has been bumped up to the “hero” tier once occupied by the Protoss Mothership – more on that in a moment. The nice thing about the Warhound from where I sit is that it fills a necessary niche in mech-heavy armies but isn’t the sort of thing you can just spam for the win. It must be part of a balanced force with a specific focus, and I really dig that. It’s the reason I liked the Aspect Warriors of the Eldar in Warhammer 40k, but let’s stick with one nerdy strategy game at a time. The thing that really bothers me is how it looks. It feels too… delicate for Terran. Terran units tend to have a bulky, armored look to them, balanced by the sweeping curves of the Protoss and the spiky bits of the Zerg. The Warhound seems a bit spindly.
Finally we were introduced to the Shredder at BlizzCon. Yet another Factory-produced unit, this tiny robot gives Terrans some new options for controlling their opponents. I’m assuming it’s going to be less costly than the Siege Tank, as that tends to be the go-to example for Terran static board control. It sets up a radiation field that does damage over time to any unit standing in or passing through it, as long as the unit is not friendly. This mechanic, again, points to developers wanting Terrans to put a little more thought into map placement and unit control, instead of just holding down a button or two to coast to victory.
Other Terran changes include a speed boost on cooldown for Battlecruisers, Reapers regenerating outside of combat but losing their demo charges, Ghost cloaking getting tweaked and of course Thor changing to a one-at-a-time “hero” unit. Overall, I think the changes are going to shake things up a bit for Terrans, and this is a good thing, as no race in StarCraft should be pigeonholed into a single strategic line of thinking.
So the Zerg are at the core of the upcoming expansion, with the storyline of Kerrigan continuing and all sort of variations on Zerg broods being introduced. But the focus of much of the buzz was on the multiplayer units. Zerg is a macro-intensive, reactionary race, and there was speculation as to what changes Blizzard would make to help the gameplay remain vital in the expansion.
Enter the Viper. Currently, Zerg players need to evolve an Overlord into an Overseer to have mobile detection capabilities. The Viper will be able to inject other Zerg units with a parasite that turns them into detectors, eliminating this somewhat superfluous evolution. The Viper also coughs up a noxious cloud that obscures vision of ranged units, reducing their effectiveness. Finally, you’ll soon hear Zerg players bellowing “GET OVER HERE!” as the Viper has an ability in the style of Scorpion from Mortal Kombat, pulling high-priority units usually relegated to the backs of groups to the forefront for easy elimination. Put these elements together and you have a diverse, airborne caster unit that speaks to the versatility, adaptability and overall scariness of the Zerg. I think it’s going to add a lot to Zerg play.
The only other brand-new unit the Zerg seem to be getting for ladder matches is the Swarm Host, described as an artillery unit. When burrowed, this prolific little Zerg produces tiny creatures called Locusts, that rush to their rally point to devour whatever’s in front of them. An individual Locust has, at this point, about 90 HP and a basic melee attack, but if there’s a line of Hosts outside the enemy base, each producing two Locusts every 15 seconds, and suddenly your opponent is being starved out of their base and you have another entire host waiting for them to storm out. It allows a Zerg player to exert more control on the enemy and gives them some breathing room to expand, tech, or build forces.
Ultralisks have often been ignored by Zerg players, but with the burrowing charge ability they’re getting, I expect we’re going to see a lot more. When a Zerg player evolves to Hive technology, Hydralisks will be able to move much faster and Banelings, the adorable kamikaze bombers of the swarm, will gain the ability to move while burrowed. Did I mention burrowed units are essentially cloaked? It’s a frightening prospect, which might be why I like it so much.
I can’t speak to the Protoss situation any more than I can the Zerg, as I’m still struggling to get out of Bronze League focusing on Terran, and the new season is likely to be no different. However, I have noticed that a lot of Protoss players seem to either go for all-or-nothing early attacks or build up a huge ball of death for the assault. Very little raiding goes on.
The Oracle will seek to change that. This flying unit, designated as support, does some very interesting things in the early game. Its two main abilities lock down structures’ production and prevent minerals from being harvested. Without attacking workers, they deliver a one-two punch that can cripple the enemy economy, allowing the Protoss to dash ahead to bigger and better units.
The Replicant is a robotic unit that uses nanotechnology to clone an existing enemy unit. Rather than adding another body to the core army of the Protoss, the Replicant is meant to allow Protoss players more flexibility in responding to enemy pressure and tactics. Photon cannons take a while to set up, while a Replicant can pop a Siege Tank or Shredder into existence for some impromptu map control. Likewise, a Replicant can become an Infestor or Banshee for quick harassment while the death-ball gains mass. I can see where Blizzard is going with this, but I have to admit, my initial reaction was that they were taking the piss.
The Protoss will boast a new capital ship in Heart of the Swarm called the Tempest. Its primary attack is an area of effect anti-air pulse designed to clear the skies of light air units such as the Viking and Mutalisks, long the bane of many a Protoss fleet. It also has an air-to-ground attack to supplement the other units in said fleet, and from what I understand, it dominates the skies with its crescent shape. It appears to be more efficient at what it does than the Phoenix, but in light of an unseen cost I can understand Protoss players railing against it.
That unseen cost is the loss of the Carrier. A quintessential Protoss unit, the Carrier is being nixed because of its size, build time and the fact that few pros are using it. Same for the Mothership. Instead of this massive, expensive unit that is almost always the primary target of the opponent’s entire army, the Protoss will get a recall ability on their Nexus that works similarly to the Mass Recall ability of the Mothership, but has more flexibility. The Nexus will also acquire a defensive ability that should deter mineral line harassment.
Overall, I think Blizzard is doing the right thing in tweaking certain aspects of the playstyles they’re seeing in Wings of Liberty. I can’t speak to the viability of the new units or how the changes will affect the games to come, as I neither got a hands-on experience with them nor do I play all three races. However, hopefully there will be a public beta period where I can give these new units and tactics a try, and will expand on my thoughts then.
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.
“…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!
“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.