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. 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.


Age of Empires Online Stream and Giveaway

Winners have been contacted for our, Twitter, and Blog giveaways. Our thanks go out to everyone who joined us for a great evening. We hope you’ll join us for more fun in the future.

Age of Empires Online Massive Summer Update

Update: Our ‘NEW’ Age of Empires Online REVIEW is available here.

Age of Empires Online is still offline for a scheduled 36 hour maintenance to receive its massive Summer Update.  I played AoEO when it was in beta, and had a decent experience.  The game was polished and fun with its mission-based gameplay, but I felt that something was missing. The free-to-play model wasn’t really free-to-play because too much of the game required real money to unlock.   I didn’t sense the traditional Age of Empires RTS gameplay, or something unique enough to justify the game going in a different direction.

I was contacted by someone on the community team for AoEO and asked to give the game another look now that the summer patch is here. Over the past few months, AoEO has received several updates in a move to make the game more polished, more like a RTS, and to prepare for the Summer Update.  Graev and I decided to play quite a bit over the past week to get a feel for these changes and to prepare for the coming update.  Not only did we have a good time playing with some of the already-implemented improvements, we’re both actually anxiously awaiting the update.  Here are some of the improvements AoEO is getting in the update:

  • End-game Alliance Wars – Choose a faction and contribute.  The video below explains the Alliance Wars well.  These wars function as a way for players to contribute to an alliance and win challenges, battles, quests, and ultimately earn Empire Points.

  • Overhauled tech trees – Enough points to unlock a whole tree, revised choices and a focus on versatility instead of flat out bonuses.

  • Completely revisited the unit tuning for each civilization.
  • Champion Tech – Introduces new strategies by altering unit costs, damage, and can shift the direction of gameplay.
  • Vanity Upgrades – Customize the way your units look in battle with new vanity items.
  • Each civilization should feel sufficiently different and units within each should feel specialized.

Perhaps the most important change to potential new players is the shift in focus towards a more “free-to-play” model.  Everything (Skirmish pack, Premium Civs, etc.) can now be purchased with Empire Points, and you can earn EP while simply playing the game. If you don’t want to invest the time, you can also purchase EP with real money and unlock them the quick way.

How much of a time investment does it take to earn enough EP to get a premium civ or buy things you want in-game?  That’s the main question I want to answer for myself when I play over the coming days.   I’ll also be paying close attention to the new balance changes, the overhauled tech tree, and the other improvements to form my own conclusions about whether or not Age of Empires Online is a game that RTS fans should be playing.  Watch for our review coming soon.

We’re giving away Premium Civ codes and goodies!

The AoEO Community team was kind enough to give us a bunch of keys for premium civilizations and ‘goodies’ for your city.  We’ll be giving these keys away TODAY at our channel while we check out the new patch.  To be eligible for a key you must follow our channel and be present in the chat.  We’re also giving them out via Twitter (Follow!) and in a blog post I’ll be putting up later today.

UPDATE: Giveaways are over.