Where did Blizzard go?

warcraft 2What the heck happened to the company responsible for the Warcraft RTS games?  I was thinking about Warcraft Orcs and Humans, Warcraft 2, and Warcraft 3 today and the hair on my arms stood straight up — those games are ridiculously good; Dare I say they are downright epic.  I can still hear the voice in my head…  “The once mighty army of Azeroth lay among the blackened and charred remains of Stormwind Keep.”  The image of that orcish armada sailing across the great sea is burned into my memory.  I’m getting chills right now just thinking about it!

starcraft 2When I think about Warcraft back then compared to what it is today I am baffled by how badly Blizzard strayed off course.  When I think about ‘Warcraft’ why aren’t Footmen, Peons, Grunts, Gul’dan, and the Bloodlust top of mind?  Why can’t I think “yes me’lord, righto,” and “work work!”  Why do I think about arenas, raids, gear, and MMO mechanics instead?   Why has the direction changed to such an off-putting product strategy?

warcraft 3The same can be said for Diablo and Starcraft.  All of Blizzard’s properties are slipping.  I feel like Blizzard is so focused on ‘being Blizzard’ that their core competence has gone from making games to making headlines.

I’ve come to know a lot of the Blizzard team over the years.  Blizzard is a really good company with great employees, but you guys are losing sight of the mark.  You are losing your identity and forgetting what’s most important: The Games.

diablo 2As a true fan of your properties, I’m devastated by the direction you are going.  I appreciate the business side of things like eSports, and I know times have changed, but there used to be such a timeless perfection to your games.  I miss it, a lot.

Can you please bring back the spark, the magic, the zug-zug… that classic feel?  I think you know what I’m saying.

 

Heart of the Swarm Campaign

Heart of the Swarm BoxartI just beat the Heart of the Swarm campaign, and I have to come right out and say I absolutely loved the story.  The gameplay was really fun (more on that in a moment), but what kept me pushing through all of the missions was an unquenchable need to know how the story progresses.  I wont to spoil anything, but I felt a lot more connected to the characters this time around.  The story kept me engaged throughout, and began building up (not destroying as some people think) the Wings of Liberty campaign.  Heart of the Swarm paved a road right to the next expansion.

Gameplay wise, HotS offers a lot of variety.  Normally I don’t enjoy the ‘take control of a single character’ type of missions, but in the HotS campaign I felt Blizzard added a lot to make it feel almost… almost closer to an RPG (dare I say WoW?).  The boss battles were somewhat hokey, and definitely contrived from the WoW boss experience: Don’t stand in the fire.  But they’re fun, and add yet another layer of non-standard gameplay.  Hero abilities and mission objectives were diverse and I can’t say I ever felt the need to rush through a mission because I was bored of a particular mechanic.  In fact, most of the missions ended rather quickly (~20-30 min tops).

Upgrades are handled a bit different this time around.  For most of the zerg units you get to choose 1 of 3 specializations, but you can change them any time you’re not in a mission.  For example, two of the choices for Zergligns are the classic speed increase and the attack speed increase; both are normally upgraded in-game, but in the campaign you choose between them pre-mission.  You also get to do the same for Kerrigan by picking many different abilities for her to use as she levels up and gets stronger throughout the campaign.  Lastly, there are mutations which act as permanent ugprades for the core units.  These mutations are actual mini/short missions where you obtain the genetic alterations and get to test them out briefly before having to choose which of the two mutations you want applied.  The mutations definitely impact strategy.

Overall, I loved it.  I’m going to eventually replay on Brutal mode and see if I can get a few more of the portrait rewards.  Definitely worth the price of the expansion without even taking multiplayer into consideration.

 

Getting Ready for Heart of the Swarm

Kerrigan HotSI knew Heart of the Swarm was coming out relatively soon, but a week ago I realized that HotS was actually coming out in a matter of weeks.  Now the long-awaited StarCraft 2 expansion is only 10 days away, and my excitement is growing.  I might be one of the few people looking forward to playing the campaign more than the multiplayer.

Back in the days of the original StarCraft and subsequent Brood Wars expansion, my skills weren’t bad.  I actually won plenty more than I lost, but now’days I get schooled when I try to play vs. other people.  When SC2 launched, and I jumped into the multiplayer thinking I’d be decent, I somehow managed to make my way into the Diamond League.  Not bad, but after a while I barely won a game.  I think it has a lot to do with what has transcended a hobby or even a game and become a culture, a sport, and dare I say it an art.  Some people really do watch Day9 to learn how to play rather than for enjoyment like I do, and those people practice and improve.  I never had the patience.

Then there’s the custom game scene, which I think as a total failure on Blizzard’s part.  Battle.net 2.0, in theory, works great.  Originally I thought quite highly of it, but that’s partially because I expected them to do great things with it instead of staying mostly stagnant.  The custom games haven’t taken off or become as addictive or interesting as they were in SC1 and WC3.  There’s something to be said for the previous custom map deployment — crude, but effective.

Maybe I’m alone, but I thought the SC2 campaign was a lot of fun.  I enjoyed the story, despite what Blizzard did to Kerrigan.  The campaign for Heart of the Swarm is actually my only reason for deciding to get the game.  I’m going to play through the SC2 campaign again real quick for a refresher.

Anyone else picking up SC2 HotS?  I’m curious to know if any of you are like me and prefer the campaign over the multiplayer.

Age of Empires Online Reviewed, Again

A new feature called Alliance Wars allows you to join one of three alliances and compete for rank, points, and prestige.

When Age of Empires Online first opened its doors for beta testing, we were there.  When it launched, we were there.   But it didn’t take long before we were done with the game due to the lack of traditional Age of Empires feel, and no true free-to-play features.  Things are looking up for AoEO now that the game has received a major patch, and in a way it feels like a relaunch.  What’s new, what’s different, and why should you care about AoEO?

 

Actually Free-to-Play

Microsoft points, Steam wallets, gold, empire points… it was really too convoluted.  Now you only have to worry about two currencies.  Empire Points are what you use to buy booster packs, civilizations, and other goodies from the cash shop.  EP can also be used to buy customizations that I’ll touch on later.  Gold is used for buying in-game things from in-game merchants, and really isn’t much of a big deal.

Okay, why is the game actually F2P now?  You earn EP when you level up, and once your level is high enough you can start doing quests to earn EP.  You even earn EP from the new Alliance Wars.  Bottom line, you can actually play long enough and earn EP instead of being forced to buy.  After playing extensively, I’ve come to the conclusion that in order to get the most out of AoEO you’re going to need to get your hands on a premium civ, and you’re going to spend a very long time earning enough EP by simply playing in order to get that civ.  Follow @AgeofEmpires on twitter and you might get lucky and score a code if you missed our giveaway last week.

They make you work for those points early on.  Freeloaders expecting to walk in and have it all are going to be disappointed.  At first I thought it was way too slow, but the more you level the faster the points come in — and don’t forget, Alliance Wars (below) will give you lots of points. Put in the time, play a free civ for a while and maybe upgrade it when you’ve played long enough, and you’ll be just fine.

 

Want a trout for a club, or a rainbow shield? Now you can at Vanity Island!

Customize with Vanity Gear

In most RTS games, there isn’t much if any customization; In fact, you only know your units from the enemy by color.   One new feature I really love is vanity gear.  You can visit vanity island and purchase cosmetic gear for your units.  Rainbow shields, vegetables for weapons, voodoo masks, and dozens upon dozens of items to express yourself and your civilization in battle.  They’re affordable, can be assigned to units in a brand new tab that doesn’t take the place of other gear, and look great.

 

 

Choose your alliance and gain passive bonuses.

Alliance Wars

Quite possibly the biggest addition to the game is an actual end-game.  When you reach level 40 you can join one of three alliances and earn Alliance Points through quests, PvP, Skirmish, Defense of Crete, Legendaries, or donating materials.  Alliance points help determine your rank within your alliance, which in turn helps to determine how many Empire Points you can earn after each daily, weekly, or monthly contest.  Sabotage the other alliances, buy gear and items from your alliance, and receive passive bonuses to help you in the rest of your game.

Alliance Wars get the players involved with the game, with each other, and create a community.  Alliance Wars are the reason to keep playing and push to the end.

 

New Talent Trees and Balance

A lot of balance changes have been made, and AI continues to be an ongoing balancing act.  In the last two weeks alone I think we’ve seen the AI changed three times.  Players have complained it was too easy, too hard, and I can’t go a play-session without seeing someone screaming in general chat that they just lost.  The game is indeed more difficult, but I enjoy the challenge over simply plowing down the computer.

The new tech trees are also a big improvement. They’ve received an overhaul and they actually make sense now.  Units are automatically awarded to you when you reach a new tier, and you buy upgrades that can be researched during a match or a quest like you would in a game of StarCraft.    Each of the civs have premium abilities that can be unlocked when you buy the civ — you’ll see them as stars on the talent trees, and each of the civs have unique trees.

 

Worth Playing?

Definitely.  Age of Empires Online has come a long way, and I find myself wanting to log in and progress my civ so that I can join in on the Alliance Wars.  I love the vanity gear and the balance changes.  I should also mention that if you enjoy playing a more traditional game of Age of Empires, the champion mode of the arena allows you to simply play against friends and have all tech unlocked and available to you during that match.

To those who have never played Age of Empires Online, this is a game that offers you a persistent city to decorate, quests and challenges to complete, multiple modes to play with and against friends or other people, and an end-game struggle for dominance against other Alliances — and now it’s actually worth playing!

Adventure Log: Smite, Lego Batman 2, more

Keen: Smite, Lego Batman 2, (see image below)

This week was all over the place for me.  The image below isn’t totally accurate as it doesn’t include games played yesterday, or betas like Smite, but it gives you an idea.  I played lots of Smite.  A couple of days this week were pure Smite.  I’m enjoying the feel of that game.  I like how matches can go much quicker than a traditional LoL/Dota2, and I like how with a little team work a match can be turned around.  I still hate how, inherent to all MOBAs, one bad player can ruin an entire match.  I play Vamana almost exclusively.

Lego Batman 2 is a lot of fun.  A common sentiment going around is that this is the best Superman game out there.  Yes, that’s right, Superman.  Lego Batman 2’s full title is “LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes”.  Playing Super Man is awesome because he flies, he’s impervious to just about every attack, and he has laser eye and frost breath.

I’m also giving the TERA seven day trial a go.  We’re only about two hours in and just messing around.  My thoughts haven’t changed on it at all since my original verdict, and I still think this game is beautiful.

Rounding out my time was Age of Empires Online.  I log in and run a few quests, empty my workshops, and mess with my city.  I’m working on my review of the game now that the big summer patch is here and the game is “truly free to play”. Look for it to come this week.

Graev: Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded, Lego Batman 2, backlog stuff

I’m working through my backlog again.  KH:Re:coded needs finishing so that I’m ready for Kingdom Hearts 3DS.  I played the demo and think KH 3DS is going to be great.  I’m also trying TERA with Keen.  It seems pretty cool, but I don’t think I can run it well enough on my computer to get it.

Smite is fun.  I play Agni and combo with Keen a lot.  He sings ‘They See Me Rollin’ when we do well.

I really like Lego Batman 2.  We need to put a lot more time in, then we’ll give our review.