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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.

 

Playing Hearthstone

Hearthstone TCGHeartstone is Blizzard’s digital card game and foray into the Free to Play market.

I was lucky enough to randomly receive a beta invite, and I’ve been playing for many hours over the last week or so.

Hearthstone has two great things going for it:

  1. Extremely high production quality
  2. Warcraft

In typical Blizzard fashion, Hearthstone runs flawlessly, looks great, and wins over the imagination with awe-inspiring attention to detail in everything from the cards to field of play.  Appealing to the WoW fanboys and live streamers doesn’t hurt, either.

The game itself is fun.  Although a somewhat watered down version of Magic the Gathering, there’s enough depth to develop a deck and deploy a strategy.  Games are very quick, and all strategies tend to revolve around overwhelming your opponent with creatures.

Selling booster packs will make Blizzard a gazillion dollars.  Blizzard definitely captured the feel of opening a pack and discovering the cards by having players place the booster pack on the table and turn over the 5 cards you get one at a time.  You read that right: 5 cards.

Paying for booster packs will give an enormous advantage, exactly like it does in every TCG.  Making Hearthstone your hobby will be expensive, but if you’re a TCG junkie this one is well worth the investment.

Titan delayed until 2016

wow escalation

It’s like they were trying to tell us something…

Okay, so maybe I was wrong about Blizzard wanting to use the natural lull to wrap up WoW and hype their next game.  In usual Blizzard fashion, Titan is rumored to be delayed until 2016.  And by delayed they mean 70% of the team is reassigned and they are starting over. Didn’t we all see this coming? Pretend you did. This reminds me of Ghost; when Blizzard was going to release the console game at the end of the original Xbox’s generation (not to be confused with Xbox One) but decided not to at the last moment and completely cancelled the game.  Most of the reasons why Titan is delayed are likely technology based, but part of me hopes deep down they want to make a truly different game.  They probably realized there’s no such thing as a WoW killer, and the more people try and label the next game a WoW killer, the more it solidifies WoW when players come running back to resubscribe.

But really, what the heck are they going to do with WoW?! Now I’m positive they’re going to really mix things up and go F2P or some new hybrid model.  Do they need to? No, but people are realizing that WoW is old and they’re wanting to move on and do something new.  Blizzard has to provide their players with a reason to keep playing, or create a new reason to attract large numbers of players.  Either some amazing changes to WoW gameplay, and amazing expansion packs (*cough* Burning Legion *cough*), or a shakeup.  WoW still has millions of people more than the next game, but I can’t imagine they’re really okay with the numbers dwindling without a plan to gather them all up and funnel them into a new game.

The only thing I know with absolute certainty now is that World of Warcraft is going to get bigger before it gets smaller (google: define escalation).  I was looking forward to a conclusion rather than the temptation to return when the next huge evolution of WoW inevitably drops.

Hearthstone: Let it be the first of many

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft Logo

I was about to tweet this, but I decided to blog it instead.  I really, really like the idea of game studios, who are entrenched in massive projects or well known for a particular type of game, stepping out of their comfort zone (as Chris Metzen calls it) to create even more games on the side.  Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a great and recent example.  Blizzard is known for making amazing RTS, action-rpg, and MMO games.  They’re known for taking years and years to develop a game, sometimes announcing half a decade before release.  Blizzard has, in a way, gone stagnant over the years and become quite predictable.

When Hearthstone was announced, I was pleasantly surprised by the elegant simplicity.  Watching the video (viewable after the break), I think Blizzard wants to think of it more as ‘epic simplicity’ where it’s nothing but simple fun.  Bottom line, they’re using this really familiar, really rich property to fuel other creative ideas.  A card game isn’t necessarily unique or innovative, but for Blizzard and fans of their franchises it sounds like a cool game to pick up and simply enjoy without investing so much; quite a departure from their typical games.

Of course I want to see Blizzard continue their traditional grand releases, but I would love to see them turn this into a new tradition of small team projects releasing much quicker, smaller, and epically simple titles.  This direction is perfect for a fan like myself.  I may be tired of World of Warcraft, but I truly love the Warcraft universe.  I want to see more imagination and creativity from studios — many different studios (including Blizzard). I want to enjoy new and familiar games in entirely new ways.  Everyone wins if that can be accomplished.

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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.