Gaming Round-Up: TSW’s Spin-off, Diablo III’s Patch, Heroes, WoW, and More

I really want to start making a dent in my massive backlog of already written blog posts, but the world just keeps throwing new juicy blog topics at me. Today, there’s a bundle of gaming news to cover.

A preview shot from Funcom's new horror game, The ParkFuncom announces The Park:

Here’s something absolutely no one saw coming: Funcom is putting out a single-player spin-off of The Secret World.

The Park is a horror title set in the Atlantic Island Amusement Park on Solomon Island. Presumably this means it will be set before the events of TSW — this is probably one of the horror stories that got the park shut down.

The amusement park was always one of the more interesting and unusual places in TSW. Aside from being creepy as all Hell, it’s one of the few storylines in the game with no real connection to the game’s main arcs, so this makes for a good choice for a spin-off.

I’m also glad to learn this was Joel Bylos’ secret project. For some reason it comforts me that Joel didn’t really leave the Secret World — he’s just working on a different part of it. Maybe he’ll come back to the MMO later.

Horror games aren’t usually my cup of tea, but I’m enough of a Secret World fan that I’m pretty much guaranteed to buy it.

A preview shot from Funcom's new horror game, The ParkI’m more interested in what this will mean for Funcom as a whole, though. The latest financial reports have been quite dire, and as a fan of TSW, this has me very worried. I hope The Park will be successful enough to turn things around a bit, and maybe boost TSW as well. Hopefully people who like The Park will then want to play TSW.

If Funcom is smart, they’ll take a page from Blizzard and do some cross-promotional rewards. Buy The Park and get an exclusive outfit in TSW, or something.

The really interesting thing is that this might open the door for more TSW spin-offs. The Secret World is such a vast and unique setting that the possibilities are virtually endless. You could get twenty games just from Innsmouth Academy and the League of Monster Slayers.

What I’d most like to see are Nassir’s time in the “special” Special Forces and a prequel about Halina Ilyushin from the Facility. I think she’s one of TSW’s more compelling antagonists, and she deserved way more attention than she got.

Diablo III: Is it about my cube?

In other news, this week saw the release of patch 2.3 for Diablo III, which is arguably the largest non-expansion patch the game has yet seen.

The new Ruins of Sescheron zone in Diablo IIIThe big new features are the Ruins of Sescheron zone and Kanai’s Cube, an artifact with a number of powerful abilities, most notably the capacity to extract powers from legendary weapons and equip them on you character as a new set of passive abilities.

I was very impressed with the Ruins of Sescheron. I have often ragged on D3’s subpar graphics, but Sescheron is absolutely beautiful and without a doubt the best looking place in the game to date.

The detail of the zone is excellent, and not just in terms of visuals. There’s all-new, fully voiced lore — including the incredibly welcome reappearance of Abd al-Hazir — as well as several memorable new monster types. The yetis gave me a nice jolt of nostalgia for Diablo II — which is a bit weird since I didn’t like that game very much.

The Cube is also quite an interesting concept, though I haven’t been able to get much use out of it yet. To my eternal regret, I disenchanted nearly all my spare legendaries before the announcement of the Cube. All I’ve been able to throw in so far is my old level 60 Mirrorball.

But that disappointment is entirely on my own head.

I am eternally impressed by how Blizzard keeps putting out new free content for Diablo III. In any other game, something like patch 2.3 would be a $15 DLC. Blizzard could certainly get away with charging that much for it. But they’re literally giving it away.

The corpse of Elder Kanai in Diablo IIII am increasingly struck by the stark differences between World of Warcraft’s team and the rest of Blizzard. While StarCraft 2 sets a new standard for developer communication with weekly development updates and Diablo III throws free content at players for funsies, WoW is defined by shameless greed, out of touch development, and tone-deaf communication.

Blizzard is still a fantastic company. But you’d never know it if all you play is WoW.

Heroes of the Storm: Infernal Shrines and map rotation woes

Heroes of the Storm also got a significant update this week with its second Diablo-themed map, Infernal Shrines.

Unfortunately, I’ve only had the opportunity to play the map once so far, but based on first impressions (which could prove totally wrong once I have more experience), I’m not sure I agree with the people saying this map is more prone to snowballing than others. My team had a massive advantage for the first half of the match — we won something like the first three or four Punishers — and we still went on to lose badly.

Painful as that was for me personally, it does show comebacks are very doable on that map, and that’s a good thing.

The loading screen for the new Infernal Shrines map in Heroes of the StormOn the whole it seems a fun map. Having the bosses target players as much as structures is a nice change of pace, and I like the way they borrowed monster affixes from Diablo III. Arcane seems especially deadly.

On the downside, the fact that some affixes do seem better than others adds an unhealthy degree of randomness to the map, and the amount of skeletons you need to kill to summon a Punisher seems to favour AoE-heavy heroes, which are already pretty popular in the metagame right now.

Then again, I play Jaina and Tassadar. Maybe I shouldn’t complain.

The addition of another new map also means the map selection has once again been cut down to increase the odds of Infernal Shrines appearing for the first week. It’s a good idea in theory, but it has some flaws.

It kind of sucks if your favourite map is one of the ones (temporarily) cut, and you still have only a one in six chance of getting the new map, which tends to make one pretty sick of the others. I have seen way too much of Tomb of the Spider Queen lately.

You could do custom games, but you lose out on matchmaking, and it’s kind of a pain in general if you’re not lucky enough to know nine other people who are interested in doing custom games.

World of Warcraft: I’m back, baby

The swamps of Tanaan Jungle by night in World of WarcraftYes, despite all my harping on Warlords of Draenor, I have finally returned to WoW. I missed my characters, and I want to get the legendary ring for my rogue.

For the most part my previous thoughts on WoD remain true. It’s a sea of blandness and mediocrity occasionally spiced up by some brain-achingly bad decisions. Garrisons remain the main saving grace for me, though I somewhat understand from where the hate for them springs.

The grind needed to unlock flight isn’t improving my view, either. It’s not really that bad a grind in terms of how long it takes, but the stuff you’re doing is just so agonizingly tedious. Apexis dailies are a special kind of Hell. I mean, I even like the idea of just filling up a progress bar through whatever is at hand, but they’re tuned to be so slow. Every time I kill a mob and see that bar move only 1%, I die a little inside. Add to that crowds of players killing and looting everything in sight, and it’s just miserable.

On the plus side, I finally started leveling my warlock in earnest, and the Frostfire Ridge storyline turned out to be by far and away my favourite part of the expansion so far. Was a great reminder that Orcs are actually pretty awesome when they’re not being stripped down to Saturday morning cartoon villains.

I found the culture they established for the Frostwolf Clan to very fascinating — basically translating the canine pack mentality to a full society of sentient beings — and Durotan is just all kinds of awesome. The way he shut down Ga’nar was just brilliant.

Bladespire Fortress in te Frostfire Ridge zone in World of WarcraftVery pretty zone, too.

Reviews: Defiance, “The Awakening” + Dark Matter, Episode Eleven

Defiance, “The Awakening”:

As the name would imply, the Omec have awoken. In small groups, they filter down to Earth to help Kindzi usher in her reign of terror. With Yewl’s unwilling aid, they begin to gather their strength, feasting on the innocent people of Defiance.

A promotional image for DefianceThis is not an episode for the squeamish.

Meanwhile, Stahma tries to make peace with Alak now for fear Kindzi will soon hunt her down, inadvertently endangering him and Luke in the process.

I can’t say I particularly enjoyed this episode, though I’m not entirely sure why. I guess you could chalk it up to my general disinterest in the Omec. Or perhaps I’m getting a little tired of death, gore, and horror after an entire season of it with no real relief.

There are some obvious flaws in “The Awakening,” as well, though nothing too egregious.

For instance, I felt Amanda’s breakdown was rather out of character. Not unjustified, but still out of character. After the way she chewed up and spit out Pottinger, I can’t believe she’d just give up like that.

Also, the situation with Alak feels contrived. He’s so worried about Kindzi, but he seems in no rush at all to leave.

One odd theme of this episode: Agreeing with characters I don’t normally agree with it.

The Omec in DefianceStahma is right — this whole mess is entirely Amanda’s fault. She was warned repeatedly about what would happen if she allied with the Omec, and she just didn’t listen. And even more shockingly, I agree with Berlin — Irisa’s plan of trying to make peace with the Omec is foolish.

I will nerd rage so hard if they try to redeem the Omec. The entire point of their arc to date is that they are really just monsters, and “The Awakening” has only reinforced that. T’evgin was the only halfway decent one, and he was still brutal, arrogant, and unforgivably callous.

There are two highlights to this otherwise mediocre episode, though, and it will surprise no one familiar with Defiance that their names are Datak Tarr and Meh Yewll. I don’t even want to spoil anything. They’re just awesome.

Overall rating: 6.8/10

On a related note:

I had some free time the other day, so I memed:

Yuke Liro represent, yoI was quite surprised a Google search turned up no other versions of this.

Dark Matter, episode eleven:

I once heard Raymond E. Feist describe his books as “ripping good yarns.” I viewed this as his way of saying that his books are less about expressing some deep message or being the height of artistry and more just about providing fun and excitement.

The eleventh episode of Dark Matter is a ripping good yarn.

The logo for Dark MatterPicking up immediately where episode ten left off, episode eleven shows the crew of Raza hopelessly under the thumb of Waxler and his ruthless band of mercenaries.

The show takes some time to remind us that yes, these are really awful people. One takes the worst of it, but nobody is exactly enjoying themselves.

Then awesome happens.

I’m not sure how much I should say about the latter half of the episode. I generally try to avoid spoiling things in any major way. On the other hand, while it’s a very fun twist, it’s one that could easily be seen coming, to the point where half of the fun of the episode was waiting for it to happen.

What I will say is that it is a very fun, action-packed episode, and very satisfying after the tension of the last episode.

This is also another case of Five taking a more active and heroic role than usual, which makes me very happy.

The cast of Dark MatterIn general, this is an episode that will likely please the feminists among us. I think they’ve atoned for that awful fembot episode now.

I have a couple complaints, but they’re very minor and don’t significantly detract from how entertaining episode eleven was.

The first is that we still don’t have much more insight into the true nature of the crew or how they got into this situation. I think we’re rather due for an info dump. Certainly I was expecting one.

I’m also a little underwhelmed that One’s speech didn’t ultimately amount to anything. As Six said, it was a good speech.

Then again, if the guys had done more, it would have detracted from Five and such. So maybe it’s not such a bad thing.

Overall rating: 8.1/10