The Amazing Spider Tank

The Amazing Spider Tank
Spider-Tank, Spider-Tank. Does whatever a Spider-Tank does. Can he swing from a web? No he can't, he's a tank. Look out! He is a Spider-Tank!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Destiny Patches and "Improvements"

So Destiny has been out for a good while now, and Bungie has had time to take in comments, look at their game and how people are playing it, and then implement changes they think benefit their game and player base.

For the most part I have agreed with a lot of the little tweeks: Auto Rifles are too powerful and although it saddens me because they are my favorite (not just because they were powerful), it probably needed to be done. Most recently they've said they will add "baby bumpers" to the Atheon raid to prevent players from pushing him off the edge. This is a good idea. That's clearly a bug and an exploit that defeats the spirit of the raid, I'm fine with that.  Bungie has also made it so engrams will give you at least that same rarity in item (ie green engrams will give you at least a green rarity item, and so on). Before you could finally get a purple engram, only to give you a blue item. It was frustrating.

However, there have been a number of changes that I have disliked a lot. For one they have decided to make it so 3 random players are teleported during the final fight against Atheon, instead of the furthest 3. This is ridiculous in my opinion. Now they have stated that they want everyone in the raid group to be able to do everything, so it's at least in line of what they said they wanted to do, but I personally think it's a mistake. During the raid everyone has a role. You have your groups of 2 players (normally) that take care of various sections like mini fireteams. During the Templar fight you have your various roles including the dedicated relic holder and Atheon-teleporting prevent-er (worst title ever). Then for the final boss we had roles of 2 portal guardian, floater, 2 oracle killers, and a relic holder. And now Bungie has stated that they are making the last boss choose 3 randoms and now anyone can be teleported and now everyone must be able to be any one of roles. Now that does make it more difficult, and a raid should be difficult, but I think it will just cause more panic and frustration. I imagine the hatred for certain poor players, that just don't happen to be good with a relic or guarding a portal, will be so great as to turn them off to the whole thing. I now dread taking in a new player to the raid for the first time, as I will have to cram so much information into their skulls and demand so much skill for it to be enjoyable for anyone (as nobody wants to fail tons of times). We had our roles throughout the whole raid, why not allow us to continue doing that, instead of implementing yet another RNG (random number generator) aspect to the game.

Second, they nerfed the Mythoclast. The Mythoclast is the hardest gun to obtain in the game (It can only be gotten as a random drop for beating the raid on hard) and is rightly the most powerful. I personally don't have one, but I would love to. Bungie reduced it's damage by 34%. Ouch. At the time of this writing they have announced that they will modify it further saying that they didn't want to hurt the PVE aspect of using this weapon as much, as they mainly wanted to nerf the gun from a PVP standpoint, but that brings me to my next point:

It seems that Bungie is mainly listening to former CoD players and little kids. Most of the changes in the game have been in the form of modifying weapon damage because of the multiplayer aspect, but it has spread to the PVE section as well. The forums and multiplayer in general are filled with what I'm assuming are little kids (whether they are immature kids in body or mind), who just whine and complain when they get killed in a match, screaming that everything is "OP". So instead of Bungie just calming down and letting those players either learn from their mistakes and become better, or just quit the game to everyone's relief, they are catering to them and going overboard on their modifications, almost ruining the best gun in the game. As I said they are trying to fix that mistake, but it just goes to show how impulsive they are being to cater to the biggest whiners.

They are also the ones that are screaming about the RNG element in this game, and are crying because they don't have every exotic in the game. Destiny has an RNG system in place and is very similar to an MMO in that aspect. That means that getting the various good loot is random. I have run the raid many times and I've only gotten one of the raid armor pieces, and that's what has kept me stuck on lvl 29 with over 50 ascendant shards waiting. Am I crying about that? No, that's part of the game, that's part of the grind. But instead we have a bunch of immature and impatient players (the staples of the modern gamer it seems) demanding that Bungie just give them everything that they want. This is the reason the Queen's Bounty event was such a disaster. We had little kids crying over not getting any legendary armor (even though they could guarantee themselves to get armor if they just played strikes or multiplayer enough and built up the marks and just buy it). Bungie just gave it to them. And to make matters worse, they removed the only reason us veterans had for playing in the event by removing the rewards we could get by destroying the said armor for ascendant materials.

Bungie also removed the loot cave in the game. I also think this was a mistake. Or mainly I think that this has started a chain of events down a slippery slope. In games like this people will be looking for the easiest way to level up or to get materials or money or kills or whatever. That will never change. The loot cave was the easiest place to get various engrams (although personally I never got anything decent but it was nice to upgrade my Cryptarch with all the worthless green and blue engrams), but Bungie took that away because they didn't want people to exploit the game I guess? The problem with that is that it wasn't really an exploit. Players were killing enemies in the game and hoping that through killing a ton of them, they would get a couple of engrams and maybe some good gear. That's just playing the game. Now people will just find the next "loot cave" (ie the greatest concentration of enemies) and use that to get better stuff. Will Bungie keep nerfing the game to the point that enemies only spawn every hour? What do they want us to do? If you want us to play other modes or strikes then you should make it worth our while. Strikes right now take too long and the bosses are just bullet sponges. I personally still love playing them but I understand that if you are trying to get some new gear, that is not the best way to go about doing that.

This brings me to my last point, and that is that although Bungie has been making a lot of little changes in the game, it has never been about adding anything, only taking it away. All of the hotfixes and patches seem to come from Bungie saying "you are not playing the game the way we wanted, so we're going to take something from you". Games need stuff like that, and it's good that they are trying to fix bugs and glitches, but that shouldn't be the only thing. Where's the stuff that makes our game better through addition? I have seem many good suggestions on the forums from players who are honestly trying to give good feedback and info on how the game could be improved (ammo synthesis quick-use buttons or raid matchmaking for example), but stuff like that hasn't been implemented. So much of what Bungie promised us has been a huge let down. The game isn't the sprawling open world that if we see it we can go to it. They story has been very lackluster so far (almost nonexistent). And although I keep hoping they will add stuff to make it better, I have not seen it.

Despite all these complaints I have I still enjoy the game. But I want it to be better. I want it to be the game we all thought we'd be getting. I just hope Bungie actually starts putting some stuff into the game that makes it better.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Hearthstone Review

Have you heard of Hearthstone? It's officially called Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft so that should clue you in a little more. It's the next thing to come out of the industrial mogul Blizzard Entertainment, who has been riding on the coattails of the World of Warcraft forever it seems. At the time of this review, Blizzard has announced that it has cancelled its huge, multi-year project that was called Titan. Theories abound with why this was done but my money is bet on them realizing that a little game with fewer designers can turn quite a profit. Now enter Hearthstone.

That orc totally just pwned that gnome

Although this game is still relatively new being released in March, 2014, it has quickly risen the ranks to become a dominant force in esports. As of September the game has over 20 million registered accounts, including yours truly. Hearthstone is called a free-to-play digital collectible card game. It's available on the Microsoft and OS X systems as well as the iPad and Windows 8 touch devices. I believe iPhone and Android will be coming soon. The key point in that description is free-to-play or (f2p). That really does means you can play the game for free, and is obviously a great way to get people interested in your game.

New games frequently can have an issue grabbing onto a new audience. You either have to ride on an awesome game with great mechanics, you need to have a very popular IP, and you need it to be cheap or free to grab players. Hearthstone does it all. Set in the colorful and exhaustive universe of Warcraft, Hearthstone is simply an addictive 1v1 card game that one can play for free.

Now of course the next question everyone asks is if it really is free? Sure you can play for free, but what about micro-transactions or the concept of pay-to-win, which means that in order to be competitive one must spend money to actually succeed in the game. I am mixed when it comes to answering this question. On the one hand it really is free to play, you can play the entire game and even do it professionally without spending a dime. It might just take a long time.

You can get new cards by doing a couple of things: For one you start out with a considerable amount of basic cards as well as 5 cards for each class. There are certain cards that can be achieved by leveling up a hero, of which there are 9 classic Warcraft classes that include Druid, Hunter, Mage, Paladin, Warrior, Warlock, Priest, Rogue, and Shaman. At every other level up to 10 you unlock a pair of basic class cards. Once you've gotten all of the heroes to level 10 you will get a bonus pack of cards, which consists of 5 expert cards that can be any type of the 4 rarities (common - white, rare - blue, epic - purple, legendary - gold) but will at least include one rare. You can also craft individual cards using Arcane Dust (more on that later).

Why does the Paladin have a quest above his head?

There are a few ways to get packs: They can be gained as a reward from completing certain quests, or through the Arena (more on that later). They can also be bought with either gold or with real money. Packs cost 100 gold or $1.50 each (although you can buy the packs in bulk for a discounted price with real money). There is also the first expansion called the Curse of Naxxramas, which was a little mini single player campaign where you could face off against AI and get a lot of very decent cards by slowly unlocking the various stages.

Unlikely to ever happen...
There are also a couple of ways you can earn gold. 10 gold is awarded for every 3 games won in Play mode (vs real people, not AI), up to 100 gold max per day. There are regular quests that net you gold, which act more like achievements, such as unlocking every hero or winning 100 games. You can also earn gold through daily quests. Each day you get a new quest, and there is a variety of ways to complete them such as winning 2 games with a certain class or play 40 spells. These daily quests usually give you 40 gold but it can go up to 100 depending on the quest. You can also get gold from playing the Arena, where at the end you can get gold and packs and cards depending on how well you do.

So in theory one could spend 45 minutes a day playing, assuming that in that time you could finish your daily quest and win an average of 5 games. You'd make around 450 gold in a week, which is 4 and a half packs per week. However, keep in mind that you will get at least 1 rare in every pack, but most likely won't get a ton. So in order to get those really good legendary or rare cards will require quite a lot of packs.

So all that is the long way of saying that it is technically possible to earn every card by not spending any money, but it will take a long time. So it depends on how into the game you want to get.

Alright, I actually haven't even talked about gameplay! Yeesh. So the game is 1v1 and turn based. You choose a hero to play, build a deck of 30 cards, and the goal is to lower your opponent's hero's health of 30 to 0. Each turn you draw a card and get 1 mana crystal (the game's resource). During your turn you can play minions, equipment, and spells to attack your opponent or opponent's minions. Each card requires a certain amount of mana to be played, with the pool refreshing each turn (no carry over). With your mana crystal pool increasing each turn, this means that the big guys shouldn't be coming out until later in the game. Minions have attack and defense ratings and will lose health when they are hit and once they hit zero, they are discarded. Once you win or lose, you gain experience, which goes towards leveling your hero.

When it comes to deck building Hearthstone takes a unique and refreshing approach in that you cannot have any more than 2 of any specific card in your deck (except for Arena mode). Also, you cannot have more than 1 of any specific Legendary card in your deck. This goes a long way to making the game accessible in my opinion. No more will you have to grind and hope to get lucky to get 4 or more of any card. It can still be a grind to get 2 but at least it's a little easier.

Another way Hearthstone does a great job of making the game accessible to new players is their crafting system. Using a resource called Arcane Dust. You can get Arcane Dust as a reward in the Arena, or by disenchanting (destroying) cards. So you open a few packs and get 5 copies of a Leper Gnome? Well just disenchant 3 of those for some Arcane Dust. You can now use that Arcane Dust to craft any card of your choosing. With enough Arcane Dust you can craft any card in the game (except for promotional or basic cards) and that is awesome. What isn't awesome is how much Arcane Dust you need. For example disenchanting a common card only gives you 5 Arcane Dust, while crafting one is 40. Of course there are the legendary cards that while disenchanted give you 400 Dust, crafting them cost 1600! So obviously you won't be crafting entire decks soon after you start playing, but I'm glad that the system exists at least.

So much Dust!
 There are 5 modes in Hearthstone that you can play: First there is Practice mode which allows you to play a deck vs AI. You can choose an easy or hard difficulty as well as the choice of which hero you play against. This is the easiest way to learn the game without consequence and a great way to level up your heroes in the beginning. Next is Play mode, where you will be matched up against a real player with "equal" skill. You can play a friendly match or a Ranked match. The latter consists of a 26 tier rank system in a month-long season that can get you cosmetic alternate card backs but not much else at this moment.

Next is Arena mode (finally) which is my favorite. It costs 150 gold or $1.99 to enter. You are given a random choice of 3 heroes to play with, and then you draft a 30 card deck and then play matches against real opponents until you lose 3 games. While drafting you are given a choice of 3 cards at a time, pick one, and then continue. It involves a ton of luck but I really think it's a great equalizer as everyone is picking from the same pool of cards, meaning it doesn't matter if your opponent owns all the legendary cards in the game, what it comes down to is a good draft. You get rewards based on how well you do before you lose those 3 games, with the higher tiers (up to 12 wins) getting you enough gold to pay back the entry fee, a pack of cards, as well as the possibility of single cards and Dust. You are always awarded with one pack so at worst you will lose 50 gold (and you usually get some gold even if you don't win). This is the best way to get packs in my opinion. My current record in Arena is 9 wins and I got almost 300 gold and a pack as my reward so that was pretty slick.

Mmmmmmm loot

Then there is Adventure Mode, which is Hearthstone's answer to single player content. You fight against various bosses who have unique powers and cards. They are a fun puzzle to solve and I really hope they add more stuff like this. The Curse of Naxxramas was an Adventure Mode and it was great. Plus, there are some really good cards you can get by unlocking everything. Unfortunately, it costs gold or real money to unlock the various stages of Naxxramas, but the cards you get are totally worth the trouble in my opinion.

You beautiful OP Sludge Belcher you

You can also Duel people on your friends list but I have not been able to do that yet. I've wanted to, but I must have missed something about it because I was not seeing a way to play against a friend. So far I can only talk to them.

Although I have loved Hearthstone, and expect to play it a lot more, I do still feel like it's a young game that needs some more stuff in it in order to last. There needs to be a tournament structure built into the game. There are ways you can have tournaments outside of the game but it's always through a third party, and it's not intuitive to a layman like myself. The ranked play is fun but it just isn't enough. I want to see brackets and rewards that go beyond an alternate card back (although those are still fun).

Nothing says "I play this game a lot" like a good alternate art card back

I also have issues with the grind aspect of the game. Yes it is free to play and yes you can eventually get all the cards, but the game still feels like you have to grind a little too much. But then again since it is free maybe that's too much of the entitled gamer in me.

I love how quick the games are though. You can finish a match in 5 minutes and that's awesome as a filler when you have some spare time. It's very easy to just pick up and play this game as well. The concepts and strategies are simple to learn, and difficult to master. I like that in games. Heroscape, although being a board game, did that. A little kid can play Hearthstone and have fun, but there is room for a professional community in the game where the best usually win. That is a hard balance to get and I think Hearthstone's gotten it.

The game is also beautiful despite being able to be played on most computers. Warcraft has always managed to be a very pretty theme with the cartoon aspect of it's characters, but they are rendered beautifully in Hearthstone with good battle animations on the cards. You can even get lucky and find gold versions of the various cards that have fluid animations on the cards themselves, adding a collectible and bragging rights aspect to the game.

All in all, however, Hearthstone has provided many hours of entertainment and I'm sure there will be many more. Apparently there is a new expansion that should be coming out before the year's end and I can't wait to see where they go from here.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Review

So I've been so excited about Shadow of Mordor ever since they first released info on it. Lord of the Rings themed game focused on brutal action and showcasing a new Nemesis system that allows your foes to remember you? Count me in! Naturally I pre-ordered it and eagerly awaited its release.

                                                                 I am death incarnate!

I have managed to play the game for about 15 hours by now and I beat the game the other day. I still have many more abilities I want to unlock in order to become the ultimate BA but I feel as though I have enough information to put forth a general opinion of the game.

So far I am loving the game. The graphics are beautiful and it's just fun walking around admiring the landscape; From the arid Mordor crags to the more lush, farmable area of Mordor that apparently exists. From the quaint goblin towns to the vast fortresses where you have to sneak from parapet to parapet to avoid the wrath of a hundred orcs. It really is a fun world. That being said, I of course would have loved to see more areas. A more dedicated forest area or northern area would have been a lot of fun to explore, and maybe we shall see that in the future as a DLC or a second game, who knows?

The action is awesome. I can't get enough of the swirling melee. You have so many different ways of fighting that it never gets old. Building up a hit streak in order to pull off an execution is always entertaining, but you can always get in some arrow shots and vaults over shield-bearers to mix it up. You can really create your own style when it comes to combat. Want to just go in and start wrecking people in close combat, you can do it (good luck). Want to sit back and snipe everyone in the head, you can do it. Want to use the environment to your advantage and just sit back and watch the carnage as orcs go running from Mordor flies and get mauled by Caragors (think Wargs but half lion instead of hyena), go for it. Want to sneak around like one would in Assassin's Creed, slowly killing off the orcs in a stealthy approach, that's also possible. There are many other ways that you can go about doing this with combinations up the wazoo. I love everything about it.

 There is not a ton of customization in the game there is still a lot to do. You can upgrade your 3 mains weapons: You dagger Archan, your sword Urfael, and your bow Azkar can all be upgraded with various runes that can be collected in the world and from fallen enemies. You also have two skill trees to upgrade: One from your wraith side, and one from your ranger side. These 2 skill trees allow you to become the great BA ranger/wraith everyone wants to be. There of course are tons of little trinkets and hidden lore artifacts and relics throughout the world that you can find on your quest for 100% completion.

Although the game is accurately portrayed as an Assassin's Creed with a Lord of the Rings theme, it feels refreshing enough for anyone to enjoy it as something new. There's a lot more to the combat and from what I've heard that is similar to the Batman Arkham games. The game is also at the same time both more forgiving and more punishing. It is more forgiving in that there is no falling damage because you are a wraith, and you can even unlock abilities that allow you to "teleport" to an enemy for the kill. This is a thematic way of making the game just more fun to play. Who wants to struggle around trying to find a safe way to climb up or climb down? Just let me do it and get on with the action! The way it could be less forgiving is because of the Nemesis system.

If you haven't heard of this, it's basically the draw that the game uses to get in any gamer. This system randomly creates your foes and gives them several different strengths and weaknesses. These various captains of Mordor can be viewed in a kind of pyramid hierarchy. You can gain intel from various foes and allies in the game and learn what the strengths and weaknesses are, and then you can exploit them. In the beginning of the game you will be basically learning these things in order to find the easiest way to kill the orcs, but later in the game you have the ability to brand the orcs and command them to do your bidding. The Nemesis system also can create personal stories within the game in that your foes will remember you. Did you run away from an orc, he'll remember that and taunt you the next time you see him. Did you throw him into a fire or stab him in the eye? He will sport some nasty burns or a sweet eye patch. Did he kill you? Well then you have successfully leveled him up, making him harder to kill as well as giving him ammunition to make fun of you the next time you see him.

                                                         Just look at that cute mug

I haven't run into the same script more than once, and I've killed thousands of orcs so far. Although it's only the captains and war chiefs that have this system, even your run-of-the-mill orcs can get promoted if they should kill you. They get some flashy new armor and a cool name, as well as some new strengths and weaknesses for you to exploit. I love branding orcs and sending them to go betray their master, or to go get initiated as a bodyguard for someone else. You can brand someone and watch them climb the ranks as you help them destroy their rivals, successfully go on hunts, and generally thrive in the unforgiving orc society.

What also is interesting is that anytime you die, or anytime you fast forward the game, you can see the world really come alive. The orcs have their own agendas that they will carry out with or without you. Say you get killed by a random orc. Not only will that orc get leveled up and become a captain, but all the other orcs in the army will have done stuff too. Some may have taken it upon themselves to become the war chief and have killed the top orc and taken their place. Others have warded off enemies or gone on successful missions and leveled themselves up that way. And then there are just some other random baddies that have shown up on the board, awaiting your swift justice. It really makes the world feel real and alive. It's a fun system to just watch.

 One main point I'd like to make that other reviews have not mentioned is that the Nemesis system "punishes" a player in weird ways. Let's say you are not very good at video games, or you are just impatient and like to ignore in game hints and start fighting. You will most likely die several times in this game and because of the system, all the enemies around you will grow stronger. The game "punishes" you for not being good. Now you can always just go around and level up by killing orcs and doing side missions, but I find it interesting that you can constantly make the game harder by continually dying. However, you will take advantage of and see the Nemesis system really shine. Most reviewers have great tales of that one orc that constantly bothers them and keeps on returning (remember that an orcs not officially dead until you decapitate him). This brings me to my next point: The Nemesis system also "punishes" you for being too good. I am not a professional gamer, nor would I consider myself one of the best casual players, but I am decent enough and in this game I have played the game in what I think is the way it was designed to be played. I mean this in that when there is a powerful orc I need to take care of, I learn the intel on the orc and then I exploit the weaknesses and avoid the strengths so I can take him on while I have the advantage. I do not just charge in when he has 50 other orcs around him and several bodyguards and hope to just win. I cause him to run away scared when I find out he's afraid of Caragors and I unleash them in his area, then I chase him down so I can deal with him one on one and easily dispatch him. Now while I have been very successful in doing this, I feel as though I am missing out on the fun parts of the Nemesis system. I have not built any fun lasting relationships with any orcs. Sure there has been the random orc that has killed me, or an orc that I killed that somehow actually survived and now remembers me, but those are few and far between and the ones that do are properly killed in our next matchup. I almost want to just go up to an orc and get myself killed just so I can build up a fun rapport, and that is odd and doesn't seem like what the designers had in mind.

The story was entertaining enough. You are a ranger who was "killed", and then possessed by a wraith, and now you want revenge for the death of your family. A simple enough story that has been told before, but nonetheless a tried and true classic that I don't mind playing again. The story delves (not too deeply though as we don't want to awake the Balrog), into some previously unmentioned lore when it comes to the Rings of power. I have loved this part of the game. The main story, as well as the countless little hidden tidbits thrown about the map as collectable items, have really shown some more light into the Lord of the Rings history. It even goes into some stuff only talked about in the appendices of the books, which I as a Tolkien nerd find amazing!

                                              Wow Bert really went through a spike phase

I have some questions about the lore in the game that I think should be mentioned (without using major spoilers): In the game all the various animals you can kill/dominate are new to the world as far as I know. There are Caragors, which are basically bigger Wargs, who are half lion rather than hyena. There are Graugs, which are huge troll/Rancor beasts that could probably eat trolls for breakfast. Then there are little cousins of the Fell beasts flying around not really bothering anybody, but something you can shoot out of the sky for hunting rewards. The orcs in the game aren't really orcs either but rather are referred to as Uruks. Why did they do this? Were wargs and trolls just not BA enough? I can understand from a lore point that you don't want trolls roaming around in the light seeing as though the Hobbit ones turn to stone in the light, but we've seen plenty of other trolls in the Peter Jackson series (which is obviously where this game gets its art), that can be in the sun. I'm assuming that they wanted bigger and badder things to fight, but it seems a little video game gimmicky. The orcs turning into Uruks at least have some lore validity since Uruks in the books are the leaders of orcs that aren't afraid of the light.

Another minor issue is that the major villains in the game are not really built up enough. You CAN build up a relationship with the various orcs in the game, but you don't really do anything with the main villains. Sure, they murdered your family and cursed you to undeath, but you quickly forget about them as you go about killing the other random orcs. This, and the fights against the villains were very forgettable, which to me is a little sad considering how awesome the fighting is.

However, the sidekicks and allies in this game have been decently fleshed out and have been some of my favorites in gaming. The little sniveling orc Ratbag that introduces you to a lot of the game is hilarious and I love the dynamic between he and Tirion. The wraith that occupies your body is also very interesting in more ways than I care to talk about because of spoilers. There is also a dwarf in the game that is highly entertaining as you go around with him hunting various creatures in the wild. I wish there were even more story bits and interactions with these characters and the time you spend with them is far too short in my opinion.

                                                                    Silly Ratbag

There is of course a season pass with this game that will be adding some fun new story elements that I obviously cannot wait for.

Despite the minor issues I have with the game I must say this has been a very entertaining experience so far. Even after you finish the game you can still roam around the world killing orcs. I am tempted to just kill all my war chiefs and fast forward the world so I can kill new ones all over again. I can easily see myself replaying this at random points in my life when I have an itch to kill some orcs.