Gaming Round-Up: Heroes, D3, TSW, and Skyforge

I had a bunch of gaming topics I wanted to discuss that wouldn’t quite fill up a post on their own, so I decided I’d just jam them all together.

My team loading into a match in Heroes of the StormLet’s get to it!

Heroes of the Storm: The two queens

This week saw a big patch for Heroes of the Storm, bringing with it the long-awaited release of Sylvanas Windrunner.

Since the patch also included increased leveling rewards — awarded retroactively to those of us already max level — I had an abundance of gold, and I bought Sylvanas at her starting price of 15K gold, also treating myself to her ranger-general skin.

Initially, I found myself somewhat disappointed with Sylvanas’ incarnation in Heroes. She felt very weak, and I struggled badly.

The problem is that she is incredibly squishy, and while her mobility seems good on paper, it’s often impractical. Her teleport relies on a projectile with a travel time that is hardly any faster than normal hero movement speed, and while Withering Fire can be shot on the move, it needs talents to really be a practical choice for harassment or chasing enemies.

I capture some mercenary camps as Sylvanas Windrunner in Heroes of the StormHowever, I refused to give up, and after getting some practice in and experimenting with different talent builds, I managed to achieve a decent level of success. She’s still significantly weaker than other specialists in a lot of ways — she can’t solo grave golems, for instance — but she does have her advantages. If left uncontested, her push power is incredible, and she’s excellent at countering enemy mercenaries and minion waves

Also, her team fight potential is pretty good by specialist standards, though not really much better than Nazeebo’s and Zagara’s, and she is a bit like Illidan in that she excels at finishing off wounded enemies.

Actually, she reminds me of Illidan a lot of ways. They both require extremely high APM compared to other characters, they’re both obscenely squishy but highly mobile, and they’re both heroes who can be either devastatingly powerful or borderline useless depending on the situation and the person controlling them.

I still think she could maybe use a buff to her survivability, either in the form of more health, more reliable self-healing, or a more practical escape tool. Seriously, Banshee Wave is the least practical teleport ever. You can pull off some incredible stunts with it… but you probably won’t. It’s not a good sign when a hero with a built-in teleport still needs to take Bolt of the Storm at level twenty.

The other big ticket item for this patch is the new map, Tomb of the Spider Queen. It’s not quite as bad as I worried it would be, and it’s definitely not as tedious as Dragonshire, but it is a fairly uninspiring map.

The load screen for the Tomb of the Spider Queen map in Heroes of the StormThe game isn’t even out of beta yet, so I doubt Blizzard has already run out of ideas for interesting map mechanics, but that’s the impression one gets from Tomb of the Spider Queen. The map objective basically boils down to, “push lanes so that you can periodically push lanes a little harder”. It feels far more like a traditional MOBA than other Heroes maps, and it’s definitely not as exciting as rushing for a tribute on Cursed Hollow or battling over temples on Sky Temple.

There’s also less team fighting, and mercenaries play a much smaller role since any time you’re not in lane is time you’re not gathering crystals from the enemy creeps.

The map could really use some alternative sources for crystals, like merc camps or occasional crystal dumps similar to the treasure chests on Blackheart’s Bay.

I was also a bit disappointed this patch didn’t include the previewed option to permanently mute team chat — not sure if that’s still coming or not. The unending nastiness of people in this game is really starting to drive me up the wall.

Diablo III: Greed is good

I haven’t been playing Diablo III on any kind of a regular basis for quite some time, but I still pop into it once in a while. It’s a great game to just jump into whenever you have some spare time, and it’s good for stress relief.

The Vault zone in Diablo III

WHAT RICHES

So I found myself running through the lands of Sanctuary again, and I came across some interesting new additions since the last time I’d played.

Since D3 launched, there have been hints of a mythical realm filled with riches hoarded by the treasure goblins, and of the demon who rules over it: Greed.

Ever since, players have longed to explore this place, and now that’s finally possible. Treasure goblins will now rarely leave behind a portal to Greed’s Vault on death, and I was lucky enough to find one.

It is everything I dreamed of. In twenty minutes, I acquired thirty-one million gold, several hundred blood shards, three legendary items, and a rough estimate of an assload of high level gems.

Granted, this was while the community buff with double gold find was active, but still. Talk about a goody room.

The loot after defeating Greed in the Vault in Diablo IIIThis also feels like a good time to mention that my wizard has a legendary item which grants her experience equal to any gold she picks up.

It culminates with a boss fight against Greed herself, who has the absolute best death animation of any boss ever. I must have spent a good ten minutes just opening and closing the chest on her head purely for the juicy sound effect.

Shortly thereafter, I encountered another new addition: a rainbow treasure goblin whose death opened a portal to a version of the infamous pony level. Although I’ve never visited the original Whimsyshire, I have encountered Nephalem Rift levels based on it before, so the joy of butchering rainbow ponies was not entirely new to me, but I still couldn’t resist pausing my bounty farming to explore the full map. Was a nice break from the usual grind.

I’m really impressed that Blizzard continues adding meaningful new content to D3 post launch. Sure, these aren’t huge additions, but this is a game that has absolutely no monetization beyond box sales. Blizzard doesn’t get much, if anything, from adding these new Easter eggs. It’s just a gift to the players.

Whatever issues D3 may have had at launch, it has earned a lot of respect from me.

My wizard exploring the Whimsydale zone in Diablo IIITSW shoves its bag in our face:

This week has also seen a return of the golden golem event in The Secret World. Between a certain degree of burnout and still being a little unhappy with recent events, I haven’t participated all that much, but I did log in long off to buy the latest loot party bag.

Yes, yet another.

It’s starting to feel like Funcom has gone a little mad with power with these things. They started as a special holiday thing, but now they’re taking any excuse to churn them out.

A lot of people are getting fed-up, and there’s a big backlash from certain members of the community. For my part, I am a bit fatigued on the bags myself, but mostly just because they don’t feel exciting or special anymore.

I’m certainly not as bothered as some others. As far as ways to monetize the game goes, this one is relatively harmless. All the rewards are cosmetic, most can be traded, and it can create fun social events. I’m in the habit of running to Kingsmouth and dumping the loot on newbies — seems like they’d enjoy it the most, and I figure if I can give them a positive experience early on, it might encourage them to keep going with the game.

My Dragon demonstrates the new /dance_rockabilly emote in The Secret WorldAnd I do really love the /dance_rockabilly emote from this most recent one.

“Gatecrasher, know that you stand before one charged by Amaterasu and blessed by Gaia!”

…It’s funny how Firefox’s spell check is lacking all kinds of everyday words, but it has “Amaterasu.”

Anyway, on the whole, I don’t think the loot bags are a problem for TSW, but I can sympathize with feeling a bit fatigued by them.

Skyforge’s class reveal:

I’m still not sure what to make of Skyforge, but a recent reveal of their full list of launch classes nudged me back towards the “excitement” category.

Firstly, there are a lot of them. Thirteen to be precise, which is a pretty huge number, especially for a new MMO. World of Warcraft only has eleven, and it’s ten years old.

A preview image of the berserker and kinetic classes from SkyforgeThere’s also a very interesting mix of standard archetypes — paladin, cryomancer, archer — along with more unusual concepts. There’s an alchemist class, which is a very rare archetype that intrigues me. They’re also launching with a monk class, which is an archetype I feel deserves much more attention than it gets.

But by far the most interesting one to me is the kinetic, which uses special gloves to manipulate gravity, hurl boulders, and generally wreak havoc.

That sounds awesome.

I’m still wary of getting excited about Skyforge, though. Word of mouth from the beta is decidedly mixed, and supposedly the developer’s parent companies has ties to the Kremlin, which is rather unnerving given recent world events. I’m not sure I want to support something like that… though I’m sure it wouldn’t be the first product with a shady pedigree I’ve supported. Nobody’s hands are totally clean in this day and age.

Sigh… I’m so conflicted.

Review: Dragon Age: Inquisition

I desperately want to make a Monty Python joke here, but it’s already been done so many times that I would just feel like a hack.

My inquisitor with Solas and Cassandra in Dragon Age: InquisitionFirstly, let me say that Inquisition is probably the single biggest and most content-packed single-player game I’ve ever played. Half the MMOs I’ve tried don’t feel this vast or overwhelming.

As of this writing, I have spent more time playing Inquisition than Mass Effect 3, despite the fact that I played through Inquisition once and I’ve finished ME3 three separate times. And ME3 was a pretty big game.

That sheer scale makes this a difficult game to review because there’s just so much to talk about, but I’ll try and put this all down in something resembling a coherent order.

Overhauls and improvements:

Out of the gate, I felt that Inquisition was a huge improvement over previous Dragon Age games.

I’ve often said that Bioware makes awesome choose your own adventure novels, but no one ever told them they’re a game developer. Inquisition is the first game of theirs I’ve played that’s actually, well, a game.

My inquisitor showing off her skills as a knight-enchanter against a dragon in Dragon Age: InquisitionFirstly, auto-attack is gone, and thank God for that. Auto-attack has no place in a single-player game — it’s questionable whether even MMOs should have it at this point. The only virtue it ever had was compensating for slow Internet connections back before high-speed Internet was common place.

So for the first time in the franchise, combat is something the player actively engages in rather than a glorified QuickTime event where you just watch the game play itself.

That is a very, very good thing.

There are some other subtle changes to combat, as well. Boss fights feel a bit more complex, with varied and interesting mechanics. Dragon fights, in particular, are epic and thrilling struggles — it’s just a shame the game didn’t include more encounters like that.

Oh, and you can throw jars of bees at people.

Jars of bees.

Also, the tiny and ultra-linear maps we’re familiar with from previous Mass Effect and Dragon Age games are gone, replaced with vast and largely non-linear zones and sprawling dungeons.

My inquisitor riding her Pride of Arlathan stag mount in Dragon Age: InquisitionInitially, I enjoyed this a lot. It’s great to be able to just ride off in any direction and find something to do, and the zones are absolutely overflowing with quests, lore, and goodies. It’s overwhelming at times.

Playing Inquisition reminded me of nothing so much as a single-player version of Guild Wars 2. There’s the same sense of exploration, the same ability to go in any direction and find some activity almost immediately.

I found this very liberating.

And you can jump now. As a proud jump-spammer, I welcomed this.

But you may have noticed I’m using the past tense a lot.

Quantity over quality:

Unfortunately, while Inquisition feels like an MMO in many positive ways, it also becomes clear after a while that it has inherited the bad habits of its multiplayer cousins, as well. Specifically, a preference for breadth over depth, quantity over quality, and busywork over memorable experiences.

My party in Dragon Age: InquisitionAs with ME2 and Origins, this is Sidequest: The Game.* The main and character storylines — the whole reason anyone in their right mind plays a Bioware game — became something of an afterthought compared with picking flowers, sightseeing, collecting shards, putting together mosaics, and other random tasks.

*(This phrase shamelessly stolen from one of my readers.)

A shocking number of quests are just bland kill and collect tasks with nothing but a short text intro, such as you would see in your average WoW clone MMO — which is even more surprising coming from a company whose MMO sold itself on its lack of text-based questing.

The same endless potential for exploration that initially delighted me eventually began to feel more like a burden. There is very little variation other than cosmetic differences between the many zones, and they all start to feel the same after a while. There are a few exceptions — such as the Fallow Mire, a thoroughly enjoyable zone featuring several unique mechanics such as undead rising to attack you if you ever touch a body of water — but mostly it just felt like repeating the same tasks endlessly.

Infinite exploration is only a good thing if you can consistently provide the player with new and interesting things to discover. Otherwise, each new zone ceases to be an exciting new frontier and instead becomes a checklist of chores to complete.

This still isn’t as bad as it could have been. The gameplay improvements kept things at least somewhat interesting — I don’t think I could have even finished the game if it was still using the mechanics from Origins.

The armies of the Inquisition in Dragon Age: InquisitionBut certainly this is a game that was longer than it needed to be. I’m of the opinion most games these days are too short, but padding things out with mountains of busywork isn’t an improvement.

Character, story, world:

The character and story elements — the real meat of the game — also seemed to take a step backwards in Inquisition. The ability to tell when a character has new dialogue options  — one of the best innovations of Dragon Age 2 — is gone, bringing back the need to visit every single one and check for yourself.

The character development is also surprisingly weak for a Bioware game. There is much less character-specific content than I’ve grown used to, and many characters feel sadly underdeveloped. Iron Bull, especially, is a huge case of wasted potential — no pun intended.

The writing seems a bit dodgy in places, as well. Sera’s inconsistency I can accept because I think that’s sort of the point of Sera, but I don’t think Cassandra was supposed to be bipolar, yet that’s how she came across. Half the time she hates my guts, and the other half the time she thinks I’m the most awesomest person ever, and there’s no apparent rhyme or reason for the shifts.

The shame is that a lot of the characters are very interesting. I wanted to learn more about them, but I just didn’t get the chance.

My inquisitor and Sera in Dragon Age: InquisitionOn the plus side, this does show that the characters were mostly of a high quality. Dorian, Solas, and Sera were my favourites — each of them thoroughly awesome in a different way — but Iron Bull, Blackwall, Varric, and Cole were also quite enjoyable.

There are even some weighty contributions from characters from the past games — including some that totally surprised me — and those were very cool, if a bit bizarre in some cases. Meeting your in-game son — except he’s not your son because you’re playing a different character this game — is weird as all Hell.

I do regret we didn’t get to see Anders, Merrill, or Fenris again, though.

The main storyline was mainly enjoyable yet also oddly disappointing. Mostly, it feels unfinished. It deals with all sorts of incredibly important things related to the very foundations of Thedan history, but most of the questions raised by it are left unanswered, and the feeling the game left me with was less “Wow!” and more “Huh?”

The villain is probably the coolest and scariest antagonist Bioware has yet produced, but his role in the game is infinitesimally small, and it’s another case of what feels like wasted potential.

And the ending was stupendously underwhelming. I just kind of sat there thinking, “That’s it? Seriously? Did I miss something?”

Corypheus in Dragon Age: InquisitionOn the plus side, while I didn’t feel quite as free to do as I choose as I did in DA2, I was able to have a lot of control over the direction of the world, and I was mostly able to achieve the goals I set myself at the outset. Life in Thedas is now much better for mages and Elves and much worse for Templars and Chantry traditionalists. That’s a good feeling.

As always, there are still some issues with story decisions being more obtuse than they ought to be. This time, I accidentally got my whole clan killed. I guess the Inquisition is my clan now…

On the aesthetic front… Well, I feel like I should be heaping praise on Inquisition’s stunning, ultra-realistic graphics, but despite their obvious beauty and technical splendour, I found myself vaguely underwhelmed by the game’s visuals.

They made things so realistic that the graphics lost any semblance of style or personality, and Inquisition suffers from the same problem as Origins: Every single environment looks like it could have come from any high fantasy setting anywhere ever. By comparison, Kirkwall was a setting that exuded a very distinctive history and personality.

On the other hand, the music is fantastic. I’m almost tempted to upgrade to the deluxe edition just to get the soundtrack.

Bugs (and I don’t just mean the jars of bees):

A bizarre bug in Dragon Age: Inquisition

Most of the bugs weren’t this hilarious.

One other thing needs to be mentioned before I wrap up this review, and that is that Inquisition is a surprisingly buggy, unstable, and unpolished game, especially for such a big budget title.

Bugs are extremely common and run the gamut from the minor and hilarious to the catastrophic. The game crashes frequently, and there are all kinds of minor hiccups and irritants. There was a mystery quest marked on the mini-map but never found. Sometimes the landscape randomly turned neon green. The list goes on.

Even when it wasn’t bugging out, the game often ran sluggishly or with an excess of lag, despite my having a very powerful computer and not even running it at the highest settings.

That’s really not acceptable, especially for such a prestigious brand as Dragon Age.

* * *

On the whole, I did enjoy my time with Inquisition, but after over a hundred hours and nearly a month, I’m kind of glad it’s over, and as much as I would love to experience the game as a different class and/or while making different choices, I’m not sure I’ll ever have the patience to play it again.

My party in Dragon Age: InquisitionOverall rating: 7.3/10 As with all previous Dragon Age titles, Inquisition could have been an amazing game but fell just a little short of the mark, and despite some major improvements, I didn’t find it as satisfying as Dragon Age II.

I really miss Merrill.