Review: Defiance, “Bottom of the World” + Heroes of the Storm Alpha

Well, this was unexpected.

The opposing team in the tutorial for Heroes of the StormAfter months of waiting and more or less giving up on being able to play Heroes of the Storm before the hypothetical open beta, imagine my surprise when a big cheery email in my inbox declared I had been invited to the technical alpha. I checked my Battle.net account, and sure enough, it was legit.

That more or less demolished any chance I had of being productive that day.

It’s too early to have any really detailed thoughts, and I can’t say whether or not this game will hold my interest over a long term — historically, competitive gaming has not been my cup of tea. But I do feel confident in saying that I think Blizzard has another smash hit on their hands.

This game is addictive. Fiendishly, obscenely addictive. It’s similar to Hearthstone in that the learning curve is virtually nonexistent, and in stark contrast to DotA 2, it is incredibly fast-paced and action-packed from beginning to end.

Overall, Heroes of the Storm seems to be exactly what Blizzard was shooting for: a simple, low stress brawler full of action and excitement.

It’s running pretty smoothly for an alpha, too. The servers get jiggy with it now and then, and I sometimes get kicked from the queue for no apparent reason, but the gameplay is surprisingly polished.

Fighting plant horrors in the Garden of Terror in Heroes of the StormSomething that surprised me was how satisfying the versus coop versus AI option is. The humans still win most of the time, but at least you have to work for it. Normally versus AI options in games like this are exceedingly easy and play nothing like a real game, but the AI does a decent job of replicating humans. This could be a viable option for when you don’t feel up to PvP.

I also enjoy that they did attempt to include something resembling a story in the game, mainly in the tutorial. It’s completely goofy and ridiculous, but that’s what makes it endearing.

Another nice touch is how the various heroes will chat and call out to each other throughout the battles. And the repeat click Easter eggs from Blizzard’s RTS games are back with a vengeance.

Unfortunately, the characters I’m most interested in (mainly Nova and Tyrande) are not available for free this week, but I’ve been sampling what there is. Most of my time is going to Valla and Malfurion. Sonya was also surprisingly fun, though I’m not a fan of playing melee in a game like this.

Valla, in particular, is a hero I would recommend to newcomers. She’s very forgiving, but she has the potential to be quite deadly.

A large battle in the Heroes of the Storm tutorialI’m still in the honeymoon phase with the game, so take this with a grain of salt, but right now, Heroes of the Storm is exceeding my expectations.

Review: Defiance, “Bottom of the World”:

One day, things will start to go Rafe McCawley’s way.

Maybe.

“Bottom of the World” sees Defiance visited by an Earth Republic ambassador with whom Nolan and Amanda have been previously acquainted, much to their regret. While touring the gulanite mines with Amanda and Mayor Pottinger, the ambassador is caught in a cave-in, killing her and trapping Amanda and Pottinger.

Suspicion, of course, immediately falls on Rafe McCawley, and with his history with the E-Rep, his prospects don’t look good.

His family life is little better, as he continues to butt heads with Quentin.

Speaking of family trouble involving the McCawleys, “Bottom of the World” also sees Alak attempting to mend fences with Christie, but his spurned mistress is making things complicated there.

A promotional image for DefianceFinally, Irisa attempts to steal a powerful piece of Ark tech from the Earth Republic as part of her “pilgrimage.”

This is a very busy episode, but that’s a good thing, as not every plot is all that interesting. This was very nearly just a filler episode, but it advances enough storylines to still feel meaningful.

The biggest weakness of the episode is the main plot with Amanda and Pottinger trapped in the mine. It’s not bad, but it’s very generic. It’s exactly the sort of race against time to pull off a daring rescue that we’ve all seen a thousand times before on other shows.

It also has the least relevance to the show’s ongoing arc of everything in “Bottom of the World.” It does advance the relationships of Amanda and Pottinger as well as Nolan and Berlin, but it’s nothing Earth-shattering. No pun intended.

Rafe’s story was a bit more interesting. Mostly because Rafe is always awesome in everything he does.

I really do hope things take a turn for the better with him at some point. I don’t think anyone on this show has been through quite as much Hell as him — except maybe Amanda — and while Rafe is no saint, he is less deserving of misery than most of Defiance’s other residents.

Graham Greene as Rafe McCawley in DefianceI’m not sure how I feel about Quentin right now. I can totally see where he’s coming from, but he is being much more of a prick than he needs to be.

The ongoing saga of Alak and Christie is something I’m a little mixed on. I still think Christie’s as interesting as watching paint dry, and it’s getting rather painful to see Alak continue to shoot himself in the foot over and over again.

But now that Stahma is involved… this could be going places.

By far the most interesting part of this episode was the ongoing saga of Irisa and her “divine” mission. I may not be the biggest fan of Irisa’s character, but I am very interested in learning about whatever alien tech voodoo she’s unleashing.

We still don’t really know what’s going on, but whatever “Irzu” has planned, it seems to be about to come to fruition.

Arkfall transformed the Earth into an entirely new world. What will Arkrise do?

Overall rating: 7.5/10

There Is No “One True MMO” + Warlords of Draenor Cinematic and Release Date

If you spend any time in the MMO community, you’ll know there’s a tremendous amount of bitterness and cynicism to be found among players. Part of this is undoubtedly just down to the usual Internet crankiness, but a lot of the negativity springs from the fact that people are seemingly waiting for a “one true MMO.”

A space mission in WildStarCall it a WoW killer or whatever you want, but people are constantly waiting for that perfect game that will be all things to all people and dominate the genre. And of course, such a game never comes, leading to an unending cycle of disappointment.

In my latest article for WhatMMO, I speculate on the origins of this desire for the perfect game, and the toxic effect it has on both players and developers alike.

Warlords of Draenor cinematic, release date, and Lords of War animated series:

Blizzard has just wrapped up their Warlords of Draenor livestream.

It was really a lot longer than it needed to be, featuring a lot of recaps and interviews on things we already knew about the expansion, as if they were announcing it all over again. It seemed like an attempt to reclaim some of the momentum they lost after last year’s BlizzCon.

But eventually, they did get to the good stuff.

They began with the first installment of a new animated series in the style of the Burdens of Shaohao. This one, Lords of War, spotlights some of the more prominent warlords of Draenor.

It’s pretty good, I have to say. Framing it with Varian and his flashbacks to the horrors he witnessed as a child was a good idea, and the whole thing is very badass and Warcrafty.

Then there’s the cinematic itself.

Despite my ambivalence (to put it kindly) towards Warlords of Draenor, I have to admit this is pretty cool. Definitely a step-up from the extremely disappointing Mists of Pandaria intro. Seeing Grom confront Mannoroth again, albeit in a totally different time and setting, and all of the throwbacks to Warcraft III were definitely nerdgasm moments.

My one complaint is that they don’t appear to have brought back the Warcraft III voice actor for Grom Hellscream, and I’m not sure I like the new guy right now. Doesn’t seem to have quite the same gravitas as his predecessor.

On the other hand, Gul’dan sounds amazing. Captured his character so perfectly.

The cinematic concluded with the release date: November 13, 2014.

Oh, that’s bad.

We were all expecting a mid-October release, and even that would have been shockingly late by anyone’s standards. Now we’re looking at an utterly unprecedented fourteen month content drought.

That’s insane. That would be unforgivable in any game. For it to happen in a subscription game, and one as successful as World of Warcraft, with an expansion as small as Warlords of Draenor… it’s madness.

A screenshot of Telador in World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorWe’ll likely never know what, but something clearly went badly wrong during the development of this expansion. This is a disaster.

I may not be terribly enthused with WoD, but even I’m ready for it to come out by now. The game needs new content — any new content. If nothing else, I want to get to level 100 so I can start soloing Cataclysm raids.

And I must admit, I’m warming to the idea of WoD a little. I still don’t like it, and there’s a long list of things I’d rather have for an expansion, but it seems like it’s meant to be more of a Mirror Universe-style tangent than a total rewriting of WoW lore, so that’s a bit more palatable. And some of the new zones look pretty cool.

That release date will also give people only a handful of days to reach max level in time for the ten year anniversary event. Not good.

Well, the upside of my extremely low interest level in WoD is that it doesn’t bother me overmuch if it’s absurdly late. And this means I’ll get to do Hallows End this year.

What say you, dear reader? Are the cinematic and Lords of War to your taste? Does the release date have you angered? Share your thoughts.